The children are so sleepy

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn is a non-politician doing a politician’s job.

Why didn’t anyone spot this a year ago? Well, they did, including many gleeful Conservatives. But a lot of Labour supporters were incredulous with joy. At last, a leader who didn’t tell porkies!

The result is that we are in a general election campaign, and the only person in the country who is placed to lead the fight against Theresa May and her Bruiser’s Brexit is cornered into answering questions about Trident on the Andrew Marr Show, and is promptly contradicted by his own, panicked, shadow cabinet. He had not meant it when he said that defence policy, which includes Trident, would be “reviewed.” The Labour Party was wholly committed to weapons of mass destruction that would be fired (probably) from beneath the waves as an apocalyptic act of vengeance against a foreign power that had attacked our island. Quite right, too, said Michael Fallon, adding that he personally was ready to launch a first strike if sufficiently cross. By this time Tim Farron had weighed in, saying that the Lib Dems also were true blue on Trident.

Having neatly demonstrated to the nation Mr Corbyn’s unfitness to be Prime Minister, Andrew Marr passed on to air strikes.

It is always like this. Nuclear weapons are amazingly popular considering how nasty they are, but then no-one ever does consider how nasty they are. In any case, it is classified information. They are an emblem of patriotism, notwithstanding the increased incidence of cancers around their places of origin. They exist without fully existing. They are there to be manipulated like pieces on a chessboard, for one gain or another, probably political. We might be well on the way to getting rid of them by now but for Margaret Thatcher, who realised, after extraordinary noises had come out of a summit in Reykjavik, that, if they were to be abolished, she might lose the next election to Neil Kinnock. She flew to Camp David, and Ronald Reagan proceeded no further with some very promising talks with Gorbachev.

Thus Britain’s four Trident submarines, one of which recently fired a missile in the wrong direction, have, just by existing, probably influenced the outcome of this general election.

The weapons themselves are never supposed to do anything.  They’re a deterrent, aren’t they? We want them to go on slumbering in their secret nests, creating – absurdly – a sense of security.

But they don’t do nothing. They never do nothing. They may or may not be “active as a deterrent.” Military thinking has largely moved on from deterrence to first strike, partly because nukes will not deter terrorists but, on the contrary, attract them. However, they are certainly active in encouraging proliferation of their own kind. The reason for this is that they are believed to be a deterrent. If they’re good for us, they’re good for everyone. This is irrefutable.

These are bellicose times. (Start a war with Spain? What a splendid idea!) It’s a good time to play the “Are you a nuclear realist or a nuclear wimp?” game, particularly when your opponent is known to be a nuclear wimp.

However, Jeremy Corbyn is not a nuclear wimp. He is one of the few politicians who have the courage to name the beast. He believes nuclear weapons are a useless evil. He thinks they endanger all life on the planet whether they are detonated or not, and are an obscene waste of money. He is right.

CND has been fighting this battle for decades, and a Brexit blog is not the place to reprise it. However, I want to return to that Trident missile which lost its satnav last summer. Theresa May knew about it, and kept quiet about it, during the Commons debate on whether Trident should be renewed. Whether it would have made a difference is irrelevant. If MPs do not have all the appropriate information at their disposal in such a debate, the debate is a sham – and so, incidentally, is Theresa May’s pose as The Vicar’s Daughter. However, what is really alarming about that bit of hi-tech errancy is that it keeps happening.

The military, which is romantic about itself, calls accidents involving nuclear weapons “broken arrows.” There have been 32 since 1950. Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, published three years ago, describes some. Schlosser starts with the Titan II missile on which a young mechanic dropped a wrench in 1980. It ruptured the missile’s fuel tank, which began to leak. Nine hours later the missile exploded, destroying the launch site and killing an airman. There was no nuclear explosion, although there could have been; in that case, there would now be no Arkansas.

More than once during the Cold War, a commander’s finger was poised over the launch button when he was dissuaded by a subordinate who did not believe the information he was getting from the warning system. Chatham House has a report on incidents that nearly led to nuclear war: 13 since 1962.1  Once, an exercise tape had been left in the system. Once, it was a faulty computer chip. Once, it was a Norwegian research rocket that had a radar signature similar to a Trident’s…

It’s not just the technology. President Mitterand left the launch codes in his suit pocket. So did Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter’s suit was taken to the dry cleaners.

And it’s not just the weapons. This week is the 31st anniversary of Chernobyl. I went to watch a documentary 2 filmed at a 2001 conference in Kiev, facilitated by the WHO, about the effects of nuclear radiation.  Scientists and physicians from many nations presented their findings. Also present were representatives of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose remit is to promote the “peaceful use of nuclear power.” The film focused on new evidence that ingestion of radioactive caesium 137 after the explosion caused damage to the vital organs of children, which at a certain level became irreversible. The IAEA denied the validity of the evidence.

Then we saw the children. Serious, polite, fluently pronouncing the names of medical conditions  they should never have heard of; they could pronounce them because they had them. Systemic collagenosis. Infarctions. Cardiac crisis… An old lady, tending her goats, spoke about the changes in the village. Once, the street had been noisy with children. “This was before radiation.” Now there were eight children in the street “and they are so… sleepy,” she said.

The conference’s final resolution, which would form the basis of government guidance on radiological protection for the future, did not accept the new evidence about caesium 137. It was never going to. The IAEA has muscle the WHO lacks, although they are both agencies of the UN and theoretically equal, because it reports direct to the Security Council. The World Health Organisation is prevented from researching into the medical effects of radiation without the IAEA’s approval.  After the Chernobyl disaster, it was banned from the contaminated area for five years. The IAEA estimates the number of deaths resulting from the explosion at around 35 and the number of seriously contaminated at a few hundred. Kofi Annan estimates the number of victims at nine million.

The nuclear power industry cannot be separated from the production of nuclear weapons. Its reactors produce the fissile material that goes into the warheads. However, nuclear reactors would still pose a danger to human health – and everyone else’s – if their products did not go into bombs, and even if the reactors never exploded and were never overtaken by earthquakes, tidal waves or subsidence, because those products are in themselves highly dangerous. And some of them will survive for a length of time we can barely imagine.

Worried about this and, unlike our own government, resolved to do something about it, the Finns  are constructing a vast bunker 500 metres underground in which to store their radioactive waste for a hundred thousand years. There’s a documentary about this, too: a haunting, eerie film called Into Eternity.

This least appealing aspect of nuclear power explains why Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a fan of Sellafield, and why he lost the Copeland by-election.

What can one say about all this? In political terms, Corbyn’s stance is a disaster. In moral terms, it is the only conceivable stance. What do we want?

I know what I don’t want. It is presumably apparent from this blog.

The Chatham House Report observes that, often, nuclear war has been averted by a refusal to follow orders.

I do find that hopeful.

 

1 Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Policies for Today. Chatham House Report, April 2014.

2  Nuclear Controversies and the WHO Cover-Up.

 

Snap!

 

I’m not going to be calling a snap election. 4/9/16

There is not going to be a general election. 30/3/17

We agreed that the government should call a general election… 18/4/17

We should be used to this sort of thing by now, but many people seem surprised. “She has gone back on her word!” they exclaim. She has been doing it since June 23.

Naturally, it’s somebody else’s fault. It’s everybody else’s fault. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP. “Unelected members of the House of Lords.” There isn’t really anyone else, is there? Well, Caroline Lucas, but even Theresa May can’t pick on a target that small. They are all “our opponents.” They are getting in the way of Mrs May’s Brexit. They have to be rendered impotent by the power of the thumping majority she hasn’t got but will have after the general election. It is in the national interest.

This is a piece of opportunism – the Labour Party is at least 20 points behind the Tories in the polls and can hardly go lower – dressed up in the usual hypocrisy, and there is no need to think further about the reasons the Prime Minister gives for it. The reasons she doesn’t give are more interesting. One is the stranglehold a cabal of extreme right-wingers is widely assumed to be exerting on her policy. According to this assumption, one of two things will happen after the election. The first is that May will use her increased majority to cut the ground from under this cabal and go for a softer Brexit, while also being in a better position to sell to the electorate the compromises she will inevitably have to make with the EU. The second possibility is that an increased majority will enable her to go for an even harder Brexit than is being advertised.

Short of treadmills and a diet of bread and dripping, it is difficult to see what the second might entail. In Europe, where they still bask in the rays of the Enlightenment, there is hope that May would prefer the first option; however, in Britain, where that sun set last June, we understand too much about British masochism and British perversity, and we have read Orwell and know that a nightmare can always get worse. And dripping, after all, is as British as a blue passport.

Certainly – and she isn’t saying this, either – an election win, with any majority, will give May the mandate she lacks for Brexit at present. As an unelected Prime Minister, she would always suffer from the perception in some quarters that she wasn’t quite the full pound sterling. As an unelected Prime Minister pushing through a variety of Brexit that was not voted for, and almost certainly wouldn’t have been, had it been on the ballot paper, she is particularly vulnerable.

Another reason passed over in silence is that already, before the talks have started, Brexit is cracking like old concrete. Both the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency will re-locate from London to continental Europe despite the Government’s attempts to keep them here. They will take more than 1,000 jobs with them, and a great deal of international prestige. Adding to the Government’s discomfiture, the other 27 member states unanimously agreed that trade talks with Britain cannot start until the exit terms are agreed. May’s diplomatic strategy of glower-and-threaten has largely contributed to this outcome.

And there’s everything else. Prices are going up. Immigration is not going to fall by much. The line of car manufacturers wanting a special deal to keep jobs in the UK is growing; farmers are demanding from the Government the subsidies they used to get from the EU; research scientists want the funding they will lose to be replaced; the environment can’t just be ditched although there are people who think it can; there are even the arts, shivering somewhere in a corner… And there’s only one source all this much-needed largesse can come from, which happens to be also the only source that can keep the poor old NHS afloat (remember the NHS? it was on the side of a bus once)… Where is all this bad news leading?

To an election, quick, before the damn’ thing comes off the road.

That can’t be faced. Instead, we’re told that negotiations are going to be “more difficult than the Government expected.” If it didn’t expect them to be difficult, the country is in serious need of a new government anyway because this one is incompetent. But then, we knew that. We knew from its backtracking, its refusal to answer questions, its complacency, its frequently-revealed ignorance and the seemingly endless blunders of Boris Johnson.

However, this government is far worse than incompetent. There is a flavour in Theresa May’s announcement that is frankly inadmissible in a democratic country. She cannot tolerate dissent.

In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill.

The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.

…If we do not hold a general election now, their political game-playing will continue…

The BBC’s Nick Robinson bravely challenged her on these statements, asking her how many times she had been defeated in the House (none), and pointing out that the opposition had a duty to oppose. He also reminded her that debate is normal in a democracy. Her response was typical. She denied that she wanted to crush opposition, paid lip service to the freedom to challenge the government, said that the problem was the stated intentions of the opposition parties, and went back to talking about the best possible deal. In sum: denial, a momentary hint of a dystopia in which it is criminal to think against the government, and a triumphant return to the usual meaningless fudge. The issue itself, resting on an examination of her words, was evaded. This is the May steamroller.

The future is not bright if a Prime Minister with no respect for democratic norms is returned with a large majority. Any voter who does not want to be ruled by an autocrat with an apparent sense of divine mission would be wise to vote in such a way as to avoid this fate, whatever they think about Brexit. It’s true that, in the electoral system we have, the effect of a vote is very often not what the caster of the vote intends, and there isn’t time before June 8 to reform the voting system. But the redoubtable Gina Miller, whose courage gave MPs an opportunity to challenge Article 50 which they then threw away, has some good ideas about that. See http://bit.ly/2omfK1l

Meanwhile, a bit of harmless fun can be had from the latest emission of fog from Downing Street.

The Government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe…

Oh good. What is it?

Let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit …

Fine. You start.

We want a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union…

Deep and special, strong and successful… What we are being offered is a pizza.

As for the “opponents” who threaten to wreck Brexit: they are, of course, shadows on the wall. She put them there because she needs opponents but she has none. They rolled over. She rolled over them.

There is one point on which I agree with Theresa May.

We need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done.

Yes. We do. So let’s do it.

 

Beautiful wall

 

 

America has form with Mexico.

Northern Mexico was a savage place in the early nineteenth century. Largely desert, cut by canyons and mountainous, theoretically ruled by a government one thousand miles to the south which often enough could not impose its will on its own backyard, it was roamed by bands of Comanche and Apache who had never submitted to anyone and existed in a state of war with the few scattered towns. Those towns defended themselves as best they could; some were military colonies founded by the Spaniards, others survived by hiring mercenaries. This violent anarchy is unforgettably depicted in Cormac McCarthy’s terrifying novel Blood Meridian.

In the 1820s, after Mexico had wrested its independence from Spain, the Mexican government offered land in a north-eastern corner of the country to immigrant settlers, in the hope that they would create a buffer against the indigenous tribes. Settlers flooded in from the neighbouring United States. They did not adapt well to Mexico; they despised its laws and disliked its centralised government, and it became clear that some of them wished to import the slave economy of the southern USA (Mexico had abolished slavery). In time Mexico stopped the settler programme, but by then it was too late. The settlers wanted independence, and drove Mexican troops out of the state.

Mexico would not allow Tejas (later Texas) to secede, and sent troops to re-take the territory from the Americans, who had fortified themselves in an old mission, the Alamo. The assault, under General Santa Anna, was carried out with a lack of restraint that rallied more Americans to the Texan cause. Six weeks later the Alamo was “avenged” at the battle of San Jacinto, which routed the Mexican army. Santa Anna, captured, agreed to Texas’s independence but then, released, rescinded his agreement on the grounds that it had been given under duress. Its status remained disputed.

In 1845 America annexed Texas. Mexico had warned that this would lead to war. In 1846, an American provocation in border territory led to a skirmish, and war followed.

For Mexico the war was calamitous. At the end of eighteen months of fighting, fully half of Mexico’s territory passed into American hands, signed away in return for 15 million dollars by the incompetent Santa Anna, who was now President. Thus America acquired the present states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and most of Colorado. This was in addition, of course, to Texas.

There were protests, in the heart of the nation that committed it, against this fantastic piece of armed robbery. Ulysses S. Grant regarded the war “as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.” Emerson said victory over Mexico would “poison” America. Thoreau was briefly jailed for refusing to pay taxes to support the war, and wrote On Civil Disobedience as a response. Several hundred Irish soldiers defected from the US Army to form the St Patrick’s Battalion and fought alongside the Mexicans.

If you stroll through Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, you will see six marble columns, each surmounted by a bronze eagle, in an amphitheatre. This monument commemorates the Niños Héroes, six military cadets who disobeyed the order to surrender and fought to the last. One, it is said, threw himself off the cliff of Chapultepec wrapped in the Mexican flag. It is very rhetorical, very Mexican, and very sad.

Every Mexican knows this history and, to my knowledge, very few Americans. But it is impossible to understand the way America is viewed in Mexico without knowing it.

When, therefore, Donald Trump announced he was going to build “a beautiful wall” along the US/Mexican border, Mexicans could have been forgiven for thinking that it was 171 years too late. They might also have reflected that Mexico would be a better place if there had been a wall keeping out American guns, American Hallowe’en customs, American fizzy drinks, American sliced white bread, American interference in Mexican internal affairs, American interference in Mexican foreign policy, America’s “drugs war,” American subsidised maize (which has destroyed Mexican agriculture) and mass American immigration to San Miguel de Allende. But they are a polite and proud people, and will not say so.

Nevertheless there will – or will there? another day, another policy – be a wall, and it has to look like something, and so some unfortunate charged with making the President’s whims reality has invited designs. Some of them appeared in a fascinating spread in The Guardian on April 10. They are a mixed bag, and a few seek to upstage their master’s chauvinism by downright barbarity. Thus, one of them incorporates into its design a trench filled with nuclear waste. Another, trying its best, combines solar panels with an affectionate look back at Stalag Luft 4. There are designs that answer to Trump’s vulgarity with fake battlements and resemble a crazed wedding cake. There are hi-tech dystopias with barbed wire and concrete.

But – take heart! – there are others that subvert and mock their remit. There is one that consists entirely of three million hammocks, strung end-to-end. This deserves a Nobel Prize.  Admittedly it will not keep anything out. But still less so will the design that refuses to grasp Trump’s basic concept, and depicts an open, sunlit landscape of fields and woods and soaring eagles. This is a place that belongs to neither country, but is Otra Nation. It’s beautiful: it is beautiful precisely because it is not a wall. Will Trump understand this? No, he cannot.

And of course the Mexicans have a design. (They have many, but the Guardian page shows only one.) It is splendid: it is bright pink. I don’t think Trump will like it.1  It is subversive also in its breadth: in the photograph one cannot see the other side of it. In that case, it is not a wall, is it? A wall must have two sides. A wall you can walk across widthways  is…

At this point something that had been nudging me for the past ten minutes came out and showed itself. It’s a science fiction story by Arthur C. Clarke. I had long forgotten both the title, The Wall of Darkness, and the author, but Google helped. It is as follows:

There exists a star-system consisting entirely of one sun and one planet, and on the planet a gigantic wall has been built. It completely encircles and blocks access to the southern pole. It is believed that it bars the way to some terror that should never be glimpsed; that to see it would bring madness. The wall appears impossible to scale; the region is shrouded in perpetual semi-darkness and is very cold. One day someone braver than the rest decides to find out what is on the other side.

He constructs a scaffolding and climbs up. At the top, he can see nothing but the wall, stretching away into darkness. He starts to walk.

He walks and walks. It gets darker and colder. He is leaving the sun behind. Soon it is far distant, as if at the end of a tunnel. He goes on walking.

After a long time, through the blackness he sees ahead of him a pinprick of light. He is afraid, of course: there is a nameless terror dwelling here. But still he goes on walking, doggedly, like a sailor who might be about to fall over the edge of the world.

And that, in a sense, is what happens. For the pinprick of light grows bigger, and it is hanging in the middle of the sky, and as the darkness disperses he realises that he is walking towards the sun. But that is impossible. He has left the sun behind. He is walking away from it.

There is no nameless terror, we understand at the end of the story. The wall was built by a government, long ago, that wanted to protect its people from – or to deny them? – a knowledge that was deemed too difficult for them to cope with.

I will not tell you what that was and spoil a good story (still available in Arthur C. Clarke’s Collected Stories, Gollancz, 2001).  I will only say that the universe is not the way Donald Trump thinks it is.

Happy Easter.

 

1   Clearly he didn’t, because it has now vanished from the website. It must be somewhere.

 

 

Gib

 

 

 

 

My father grew up in Gibraltar. At the beginning of World War I his father, an electrical engineer at Devonport Naval Dockyard, was sent to the Naval Dockyard at Gibraltar to work on an electrification scheme. The whole family went. I have a photograph of my father from that time, dressed up as a “Spanish fisher lad.” His smile is earnest and trustful. He believes in what he’s doing. It is a touchingly innocent scene and reeks of empire. It was 1917.

England “acquired” Gibraltar in 1704 by the normal means of invasion with the sword. It was part of the War of Spanish Succession, and the English force was part of an Anglo-Dutch army whose main objective was containing the power of France. English possession of this strategic rock jutting into the Mediterranean, eight miles from the African coast, was formalised in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Spain has never been reconciled to the loss of it and in the 18th century made two attempts to re-take it by force.

In 1830 it became a British colony; Spain maintains that it still is, although Britain now classes it as an Overseas Territory. It played an important part in the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War and World War II, and is presumably vital to Britain’s intelligence and communications network in the Mediterranean region. None of this is an argument for hanging on to it at all costs if a workable arrangement with Spain can be reached, and one nearly was in 2002, when a shared sovereignty deal was agreed. It was presented to the Gibraltarian people, and they overwhelmingly rejected it. The British Government seems to have given up at this point.

Gibraltar resembles one of those mythical monsters that has the head of one animal and the body of another. Physically Spanish, politically British, a modern tax haven with a deeply conservative world outlook, and a working population that identifies as British but commutes constantly across the border with Spain. That border has to stay open for its economy to function. Spain can close it, and has done (Franco did for 16 years), or just make transit difficult, which it also does.

What would such a population want but membership of the EU with its single market and free movement of goods, people and services? And what would it fear, deep down, but government by Spain?

And thus they voted. To remain in the EU, 96% (in 2016). To remain under British sovereignty (in 2002), 98%. Only as long as Britain remained in the single market would these two be compatible.

And, thinking about this, you might realise, if you were in Downing Street, that only as long as Britain remained in the EU would Spain continue to be quiet over Gibraltar. Theresa May appears not to have done, although the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, warned her that trouble was in the offing. She didn’t think the Rock deserved mention in her letter of farewell to the EU. The response to this omission was swift. Donald Tusk’s reply contained the following sentence:  “After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.”

 

The news that Spain will not seek to veto any application by an independent Scotland to join the EU hit the airwaves shortly afterwards. For Theresa May, that is a near shot across the bows.  It was largely overlooked, however, in the hysterical reaction to The Sentence. The grammar was wobbly 1 but the meaning was clear: if the UK didn’t come to an agreement with Spain over Gibraltar, Gibraltar would be denied the benefits of any deal Britain had reached with the EU. Admittedly, at present it looks unlikely that a deal will be reached that anyone would want to be part of, so bargain-basement are this Government’s diplomatic skills. But, if it were, Gibraltar would be left out in the cold.

The gunboats weighed anchor at once. Admiral Lord (“something of the night about him”) Howard sailed straight for the enemy vessel and engaged it with a shot just above the waterline from his trusty ship the Maggie. He recalled the Falklands and said he was absolutely sure “our current Prime Minister” would “show the same resolve.”

Stirring stuff, eh? Get ready for another Task Force. Do you remember the dockside waving of handkerchiefs, the long voyage cloaked in secrecy (it was before GPS), the bombing of Port Stanley airfield by Vulcan bombers apparently risen from the grave, the breath-bated “I counted them all out and I counted them all back again”? Mrs T’s commanding “Rejoice at that news!” outside Downing Street on the surrender of South Georgia? It was all so exciting.

Well, Lord Howard seems to want to bring it back again. So do other people who should know better. God help us if, in Europe, they believe the nightmare vision of Britain that is evoked: thousands of grey-haired people sitting bolt upright in their recliner chairs fiddling with the remote, hoping to see a rerun of the Falklands War with another bunch of Hispanics.

Downing Street is embarrassed, and has distanced itself from its barking-mad Tory grandee. The Intelligence and Security Committee has tutted. Jack Straw, who worked on the failed 2002 agreement, has said, sensibly, that it is in the interests of Gibraltarians for a deal to be done with Spain “in the new circumstances”, which they didn’t vote for. But it is the fact that they didn’t vote for the 2002 shared sovereignty proposal that is the sticking point.

Spain is flexing muscle – newly-acquired, and that’s Britain’s doing – but is only pursuing its legitimate interests (how would we feel if the positions were reversed?), and warned Britain a long time ago that a British exit from the EU would re-awaken the Gibraltar issue. The more intractable problem is that the Gibraltarians will not accept reality and that the British Government is, again, refusing to shoulder its responsibility to take responsibility when “the will of the people” yields an outcome that is contrary to common sense and sound politics. It thinks it can make capital out of outraged “patriotism,” whipped up by politicians of yesteryear who do not take responsibility for anything either.

Seventy-five years after my father came home from Gibraltar, I heard him say something in Spanish. He had never done this before, in my hearing, although he had often mentioned “Gib.” As it happened, I was learning Spanish myself. His accent sounded perfect. I thought of my hours spent wrestling with the use of the subjunctive in a conditional clause in which the condition has not been fulfilled. I asked him why he hadn’t kept his Spanish up after he came home; he could have spoken it with his brothers. He shook his head. The other boys at his school in Plymouth had laughed at him and called him a “dago.” He was deeply sunburned; he looked Spanish. As soon as he could, he dropped everything that identified him with that foreign place; the language went first. But he hung on, devotedly, to his memories of it. Gibraltar became, in his mind, Eden.

Did it have to be like that? They needn’t have mocked him: they could have helped him settle back in. He would have rewarded them: he had things to talk about of which they knew nothing. He would have felt validated. He might not have retreated, in later years, to the entrenched positions over which my mother sighed and I fought him.

But none of this was going to happen in England in 1920.

I think now: when is this country going to grow up? When is it going to stop hating foreigners? When will it accept that the empire is gone?

Until it does, it has no future. All it has is a past, and even that past is not the past it thinks it is.

 

 

1 “Without agreement between” would be OK. “Without an agreement between” would be OK. “Without the agreement of” would be OK. “Without the agreement between” is not, because it supposes an actual agreement which does not exist. Unless it is referring to the agreement of 2002, but then it would say so.