Tonight’s little effort has a mainly literary and lyrical theme to it (well, at least that’s the aspiration) but as an amuse-bouche-cum-apero, I simply cannot resist a classic example of ABGOTFO. A familiar call-sign of The Slog is IABATO – It’s All Bollocks And That’s Official – but in 2018 an even more common syndrome is ABGOTFO – A Blinding Glimpse of the Fucking Obvious.
Some of you will already know that a part of my working life was devoted to doing communications research among consumers. I can tell you without fear of contradiction that at least 60% of all research commissioned took place purely because a commercial or marketing director wanted a nice chart full of reassuring numbers to show his doubting board of directors that the launch advertising campaign for Gleamo (claiming to kill 107% of all toilet germs) was bound to succeed because 99.98% of homeowning respondents told interviewers in a survey that they preferred a clean and fragrant toilet to a dirty smelly one. That is ABGOTFO.
Now I learn (in a press release sent to me this morning by European Social Surveys) that its fieldwork shows there is ‘significant public support in Europe for the introduction of universal basic income and a European Union-led social benefits scheme’.
The level referred to is just over 60%. Wowser.
But astonishingly, this varies from 34% in the very fat and rich countries to 80% in the very poor countries with low levels of welfare expenditure. Or put another way, the EU member States likely to cough up more for this largesse are less keen on the idea than those who are more likely to receive money because of it. Would you believe it?
Proof positive yet again that a federal Europe couldn’t possibly lead to any internecine tensions, and one currency for everyone is clearly the way to go. Hold me back, I can’t wait to get to that nirvana known as Fiskalunion.
All socialist Remainers still reading: obviously this isn’t funny at all, so let’s move on to the second half of the post.
One of the undiluted joys of having more time in retirement is the reading of classics one made a mental note to devour in April 1977, but just never quite got round to the reading part. Have you ever tried eating a book? It’s alright until you get to the spine.
Anyway, hunting the library shelves last week, I came upon The Beautiful and Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third novel published in 1922. It is truly weird to realise that I bought it fifty years after Fitzgerald wrote it, but in less than three years time, the book will be enjoying its centenary. Putting on the years is like that: you start off being older than coppers, then teachers, then Prime Ministers, and finally National Treasures.
It’s hard to know where to begin the lessons, reiterations and wisdom I got from the novel, written when the author was just twenty-six years old. To start with, it is a work that every relativist idiot should read in order to grasp how far down the North Face of intellect our civilisation has descended in the last hundred years. I offer this delicious extract in order to make the point:
‘The stark and unexpected miracle of a night fades out with the lingering death of the last stars and the premature birth of the first newsboys.’
The book is an account of two unfeasibly privileged Mayflower-to-Ivy-League lovers at large in a New York not yet rudely awakened by the 1929 Wall Street crash. And yet it is so much more. It is solid evidence of how starkly frank attitudes were expressed without embarrassment in those decades long before virtue signalling became an Olympic sport. It describes with exquisite ease the worldly innocence of young hopefuls. It records a time in which smoking, heavy drinking, strict sexual morals and casual snobbery existed side by side with wit, flippancy and the sanguine acceptance of both grim reaping and the ideal of “forever”. To read Fitzgerald’s prose is to be given clear pictures in the mind of fox furs, bobbed hair, viciously plucked eyebrows, flappers sporting half-spherical hats and post Great War decadence.
I do not know whether F Scott Fitzgerald penned his phraseology with the consummate ease of a precocious talent, or whether he slaved over every analogy and insight. I don’t care. All I know is that I found myself reading some paragraphs aloud to myself, the better to hear the joy I felt in reading them.
There is of course a cynicism to the prose – he was after all an ironic observer of the leisured classes – but the main thing he achieves with this is a form of humour that makes the reader smile involuntarily. I do, however, think it is important to recognise that Fitzgerald preceded Evelyn Waugh’s approach to describing the British upper classes in the 1930s, while offering far more depth of insight than his nearer contemporary P G Wodehouse. This is not to belittle Wodehouse: the two men had entirely different aspirations. And Waugh had an ability to evoke the belly-laugh that the other two lacked.
I suppose my point is that Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was that rare thing, a novelist of his time who wound up an important historian of “the Jazz Age” who both informs and entertains. And The Beautiful And Damned is a genuine classic. Creepily, the book predates and yet somehow predicts his relationship with and marriage to Zelda, a woman whose schizoid condition and manic materialism probably exacerbated Fitzgerald’s alcoholism.
He died of a heart attack, aged 44, in 1940.