I am fascinated by the way the British are so cautious about some things (careful, peanut packet contains nuts!) and so utterly reckless about others (more debt, help yourself sir, no, no, don’t bother with any independent advice).
A friend of mine who is half English, half Belgian pointed out what should have been obvious to me, namely, that the issue is not one of concern but of liability. The “careful contains nuts” brigade do not have any views about the well-being or intelligence level of their customers, they are merely anxious to avoid being sued. The financial institutions are much less concerned about this as the market is famously lightly regulated and they can get away with blue murder.
My Anglo-Belgian friend points out that the Belgian banks are far more paternalistic and there are no credit cards in Belgium merely deferred debit cards; everyone must pay off in full at the end of the month. An English friend tells me that her bank in Belgium was horrified when she and her husband decided not to take a fixed rate mortgage. “But” they said, “it’s twenty years, anything could happen.” They decided to chance it on the basis that it was only variable up to a ceiling of 2% more than the fixed rate.
The Belgians are also delightfully relaxed and normal about children’s safety, something I feel is not the case in Britain and increasingly not the case in Ireland. I was reading about the Madeleine McCann case in Le Soir a couple of weeks ago. The editorial was very disapproving about England and referred to its dreadful history touching on various tragic cases of abducted children. I did have a slight feeling of ‘hang on a minute, watch out for the mote in your own eye’. But it seems to me that the real difference is that though at some level, in Britain, people know that their children are statistically very unlikely to be abducted, they don’t act that way. In Belgium, despite everything, they still do.
NaBloPoMo – O is for pretty much everything
Flann O’Brien is a genius, he also wrote as Brian O’Nolan and Myles na Gopaleen. If you have never seen a ‘Keats and Chapman’ story and you like poor puns, I can recommend an excellent Christmas present for you. If you have never heard of ‘the brother’ your life is about to get a lot happier. The catechism of cliche is a thing of wonder. There is a little background information on the great man here. When I was growing up a hard backed brown volume called “The Best of Myles” was my father’s constant companion. I would occasionally sneak off with it only to be forced to replace it promptly following a bellow from my indignant father. I was going to give you a Keats and Chapman story but they are all rather long and the goodness of the internet does not appear to extend to providing a copy of a text. I am, however, selflessly going to retype something from the catechism of cliche. If you don’t love this, you have no soul. If it reminds you of my style, you have no tact.
“Is treatment, particularly bad treatment, ever given to a person?
No. It is always meted out.
Is anything else ever meted out?
No. The only thing that is ever meted out is treatment.
And what does the meting out of treatment evoke?
The strongest protest against the treatment meted out.
Correct. Mention another particularly revolting locution.
‘The matter will fall to be dealt with by so-and-so.’
Good. Are you sufficiently astute to invent a sentence where this absurd jargon will be admissible?
Yes. ‘The incendiary bombs will fall to be dealt with by fire fighting squads.’
Very good indeed. Is that enough for wan day?
It is, be the japers.”
John O’Farrell wrote what I think is the funniest book I have ever read. It’s called “Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter” and it incapacitated me with laughter in private and, regrettably, in public. Yes, I was the hysterical woman on the tram. I read two of his other books but though perfectly acceptable, they did not live up to this brilliant, brilliant book.
I got a present of an Ardal O’Hanlon book from the, now former, publishing exec. Ardal O’Hanlon is an Irish comedian most famous for playing the gormless Fr. Dougal on the “Father Ted” series. I thought his book would be funny, it was not. I thought it would be poorly written. It wasn’t. I don’t think it sold very well either though. I’m not sure anyone expected Father Dougal to write a dark brilliant story of Irish small town life (sort of like Pat McCabe, but to my mind much better – is it coincidence that he and McCabe come from the same small town? I think not – stay safe, stay away from Monaghan). I would never have bought it in a million years but it was brilliant. I don’t think he ever wrote another and this seems to have sunk without trace which was a shame.
My husband brought a complete set of P.J. O’Rourke books to our marriage. I like him. I can’t help myself.
Do you realise that if it weren’t for Ireland and the diaspora, I would have no entries under O?