I was taught that nature abhors a vacuum, although Mother Nature's capacity to react to despoliation of our increasingly ravaged planet may too be diminishing. What has become evident to me from recent events is that human nature will likely drive those closest to vacuous politicians to fill that space with self-serving policy initiatives and corruption. Power frequently attracts those who lust after it either to feed their egos or fill their pockets, and exercising power, at least by proxy, appeals to many.
Ha, you may say, he's talking about Donald Trump and his administration, where both motives very visibly apply. But what about closer to home? Does populism inevitably mean political vacuity or worse, when politicians purportedly seek to make the world a better place? How much effective scrutiny of our rulers is actually taking place? A narrow, and in Scottish terms at least, vastly under-resourced media, is certainly failing us. The established checks and balances of civil society that traditionally protect our freedoms and democracy appear to be evaporating into a mist of 'initiatives' and reviews, or simply no meaningful government response whatsoever.
The current parliamentary inquiry into the Scottish Government's complaints procedure following a damning judicial review is reputedly 'designed to fail', and those behind 'malicious prosecution' by the Crown Office in relation to the Rangers administration remain apparently for the most part unidentified, and entirely unpunished. Meanwhile, Police Scotland assiduously seeks to harvest data from the citizens they are there to serve, while failing to investigate substantive evidence of criminality at the highest levels of government. Without equity in application of the rule of law, and a police ethos that puts public service first, democracy is seriously at risk.
I have never been a great fan of book reviews. In the trade, I believe, their appearance in promotional advertising used to be likened to a tombstone. Carefully selected phrases to flatter and comfort. A shade cruel but apt. Since lockdown, reviewers have dropped further in my estimation as they have failed to move with the times and supply the essential facts about a book.
Wittering on about 'penetrating observation of the human condition' or 'subtle understanding of emotional interplay' does not help me. Nor do Richard and Judy offer more than superficialities. I want, I need, to know the dimensions, the thickness, the weight of every book. Otherwise, how does one establish if it can be stored – and where ?
Checking my records, I find that – on average – a minimum of four books a week are purchased for the household. (Kindle purchases are not included. The complete works of Balzac delivered for free would skew any serious analysis.) No, we buy four real books a week and often more. Amazon and Abe. World of Books and Wordery. Even Shaun Bythell from Wigtown and a charming chap from Portobello who took £10 off a rare paperback. These are our new friends and deliverers.
In happier days, the lightweights floated rapidly back into circulation via the local charity bookstores. No longer. The heavyweights found a spot on a groaning shelf. No room left. So upwards of 200 books are currently climbing the walls of our bedroom and dining area. In piles that wobble. So back to my complaint. Before purchase, one should know if a book is a good, or a bad, piler.
For example, Simenon paperbacks are not a good buy. Maigret works alright but his other (much better) classics do not. Often they are too thin and vary too much in size. Andrea Camilleri, on the other hand, stacks really well. Often up to two feet high. So does Ann Cleeve when she is writing about Shetland or Vera but not the Ramsay stuff. Too flimsy.
Charles Cummings is not reliable. The hardbacks are okay but in paperback the thickness makes them unstable when taller than five volumes. Same goes for Peter May, Ian Rankin, and Robert Harris. The latter's V2
is a veritable buttress but The Second Sleep
slumps far too easily. Another sound foundation is Robert Galbraith on whom a two foot wall can be built with confidence. And probably should be... Hilary Mantel is equally good. Never mind her Bookers, her books really stack.
The same cannot be said for Gerry Hassan (his Labour Party in Scotland analysis is such an odd size and just won't fit anywhere), sporting paperbacks (Heart's Golden Years
wilts under pressure), or nature handbooks (Insects of Britain
is too small and fiddly). And one should have been warned about photograph collections that might pave a floor but two high are akin to trip wires.
One final contradictory thought. Book reviewers must be suffering more than anyone. Charity shops used to be a ready home for 'Review Copy Only' volumes. What do the literati do now? As piles of books encroach upon their living space, they must feel like Kafka characters dreading the postman's arrival. By 2022, they could be interred by books. Me too.
So, shopping, we all do it at some point. Some pretend they don't, others say they do the minimum under sufferance. Some even only when they are absolutely forced through hunger or thirst. At the risk of being accused of an 'ism', I would say that I have also noticed many, mainly male drivers, sitting in the driving seat of their car whilst parked up in a supermarket car park. Catching up on the news as they await their poor passenger, who I imagine is battling their way around the aisles, searching for the elusive product, brand or even just that week's offer.
I realise that writing yet again about shopping isn't very imaginative. However, to be truly and brutally honest is really only one of a small number of free activities we are currently able to partake in given the continuing lockdown. I was, pre-lockdown, what you would describe as a contented or even happy shopper, spending plenty of time raking around town. My big ticket sought after items were socks designed by Paul Smith, which you would find almost continuously on sale at Jenners. Lucky I have a number of pairs currently tucked away at home. It is almost as if I had anticipated this terrible crisis we find ourselves meeting, head on.
On that note, I believe Edinburgh is at one on this matter collectively asking itself, what we will do if, as may happen, the grand old store were to close for the last time? The pandemic is being met with stoicism by the citizenry, but I fear the loss of this iconic place would be beyond the pale for some if not most Edinburgers or should that be Dunediners? The store façade is beautifully ornate, whilst internally, the best description for the hotchpotch and warren of corridors, ornate stairs, internal lifts and surprise dead ends would be, Anarchic chic. No-one would ever design a Jenners but still, very few would want it to be any other way.
In contrast, earlier in the week, I took a trip to one of the leading supermarkets, near my home. I have to say, I was appalled by the patronising tone of their marketing/advertising. I was strolling along the fresh fruit aisle and noticed something that stopped me in my tracks and made me do a double take. The price ticket showing for 'own brand' oranges also contained the exclamation 'New!' I mean what kind of organisation feel their clientele require that level of assurance, even in a pandemic? I can imagine the collective tut this would have brought forward in any Jenners' shopper had they witnessed such a thing.
Returning to Jenners, one abiding thought is that they owe me! I am not sure that t-shirt I bought as a Christmas present, for my youngest son, Mark, fits properly and it is looking like I won't be able to return it. What a bloody waste of money! Yikes, seems I have finally become an acclimatised Edinburgher. How long until I begin uttering the immortal phrase 'ye'll have had yer tea'? And god forbid, I start referring to the bairns, not the weans...
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