It is the St Leger this weekend, and though I have cured myself of the sickness of horse racing, I might have a look in at the oldest classic for old times’ sake. My betting fortunes on the race have been mixed (using mixed in its normal sense: catastrophic). From not many efforts I have found the winner three or four times in recent years. The most recent was Simple Verse, who won on the day but was disqualified for something that didn’t happen. She was reinstated on appeal two weeks later, but the bookmakers, BETFAIR, chose not to make good and pay her out as the winner. Before that I had a rare, large, bet on the then 6/4 favourite, Camelot, a week or so before the race. The opposition, as it so often is in the St Leger was poor, and he was then an unbeaten Derby winner bidding for the Triple Crown. He was beaten into second at 2/5 by Encke, a horse, who it transpired a few months later, had been given performance enhancing drugs. The bookmakers, BETFAIR, chose not to make good and pay Camelot out as the winner.
It’s probably best if I gloss over the day when Sixties Icon, the only plausible winner in a particularly poor line up, won. He was my selection until the window cleaner turned up to collect his monthly bill and said to me that he’d have it on Sixties Icon rather than collect the cash.
I look at the racecard for Saturday still somehow convinced that the race is a lucky one for me.
I know better than most, having been raised by a small minded man whose sole cause in life was to have the last word in any argument, what it is to run up against the indifference of the machine that closes all avenues of redress to an unsettled argument. And as I think about it now, I realise that the infuriating grinding despair of impotent appeals has informed my expectations of each new encounter in my life. When you lie, with the boot of your oppressor against your neck, listening to him declaring his usual valediction for the just finished argument, ‘Am I right, or am I right?’ two contradictory responses form on your lips: one, that it is not worth the fight, and you surrender; and two, that as long as there is breath in your body you will hate him, and deny him redemption, no matter how abject his future supplications might be.
I cannot reverse this handicap with which I live; it is deep set and will prejudice each new relationship that comes my way, but I sense a levelling up is on the way that will bring the lived experience of brick wall diplomacy into the lives of others too. For soon we will know that Brussels was never the home of the bureaucrat, and that the pressed-flannells and blazered, clipped-moustache and Brylcreemed, Imperial Leather flavour ruddy-faced, busybody was our great export to the world. Whether it was by conquering and oppressing, or by assuming the role of most important ally, we were the ones who made the rules, interpreted them as unforeseen circumstances arose, and applied them. Ours is the nation of petty fanatics; sticklers for the rules, who insist on compliance no matter how ill-suited to the circumstances they might be – only that there are rules, and that it is our responsibility to see them enforced.
Imagine we were still in the EU, and they had presided over the death of Geronimo?
Everyone who needs to, knows that TB tests in animals are unreliable; everyone who needs to, knows that an alpaca with TB will not live long. Yet despite this, DEFRA fought for years for their right to be right. There will of course be people within DEFRA like my father, who fervently believe that they are right, because it is them that hold the view, and they will continue in that same belief until definitive proof is presented by PEOPLE ON THE SAME SIDE AS THEM that they are wrong, at which point they will reluctantly and slowly move to the new normal. There will be others in DEFRA who knew all along that their tests were flawed and that it was perfectly reasonable to reject them and to ask for something better; that it was an unjustified waste of resources to protect their flawed system in the courts. But they will stay loyal to their side of the dispute because they cannot afford for the other side to win. Often in law, the argument that the ‘floodgates of litigation will open’ is used as a means to deny a reasonable change in the law – get that: that many people could be the recipients of justice, but the court system will be overwhelmed, so we can’t. Sorry. In business, the same false notion is attached to the idea of precedent – if we allow this, everyone will be at it; if we tell the world that the TB tests don’t work, it’ll be chaos. So, we’ll perpetuate this lie because we have to keep the unruly bastards in their place. Imagine it otherwise? People getting justice for animals – chaos! Let us leave the system as it is – that the only means open to those who would object to the execution of Geronimo is to make the assertion that, like the same hysterical naysayers from long ago who resisted paganism/religion/no-religion/capitalism/slavery/feudalism/weapons of mass destruction/climate change, they have a hunch that they’ve been treated unfairly. Then we’ll laugh at their urchin faces squashed against the snot-stained windows.
Put those two groups together, my father’s – the determinedly ignorant; and the technocrat managers – the knowingly venal, and they make for a formidable group, as they always have. Not so much the sons of Empire who have been tutored by other sons of Empire, as the sons of men, for it is invariably men, who once burned and drowned witches on the evidence of their scientist and lawyer friends who assured them that their cases had been proved to the very highest standards demanded by the law. Never mind that experience teaches them that their understanding of law and science will change, and that before long they will stand together to condemn the very views that they espouse today. No, let enlightenment arrive through the protocol we have established to permit change. Until then, we will unite in our ignorance, for what is justice? It is not innovation, but consistency.
Imagine them now not an ignorant technocrat, who in the pious execution of his perceived duties drags an innocent animal screaming in terror to its unjustified death, but in fact as someone who’s never been to school, merely church, and is charged with keeping order in Kabul, with nothing but an AK-47 rifle between him and his oppressed subjects. They are all the same. Only time and place changes what they look like.