Our columnist Carla Carlisle takes aim at everything from Remainers and Leavers to Donald Trump and the weather – and ends up remembering that the world has ground to a halt many times before, only to keep on going.
After I left home, my father wrote to me once a week. He typed his letters and I read them with the speed and carelessness of youth. Often, I’d find a letter in a coat pocket that had languished unopened for weeks. I saved all too few, but snatches reside in my head. In one, he wrote that he was reading The Man without Qualities by the Austrian novelist Robert Musil. I can smell from memory the magic marker he used to draw a thick black square around a quote from the protagonist Ulrich: ‘One can’t be angry with one’s own time without damage to oneself.’
This was my father’s way of warning me that, if I spent all my time at demonstrations and writing incendiary articles for the college newspaper, I would not graduate, I would be unemployable and I would die poor and lonely.
Ulrich’s words have floated back to me because it’s hard not to be angry about one’s time during the long, hot summer of Brexit, Trump and Drought. I even see the signs of the damage: since the Referendum and the election of Trump, I’ve gone from a size 12 to a size 14, my hair has lost its shine and my eyebrows have faded from view. Even the rooms in this ancient house are looking down at heel.
Part of the problem is that my day begins with Farming Today, which is a cataclysmic account of climate change, dire predictions of the effect of Brexit on farming, interviews with farmers who keep 2,000 cows indoors and milk them three times a day, pigs dying of heatstroke and sheep wasting away because grass has turned to straw. Long gone are Balzacian reports of the price of daffodils in Cornwall: farming today is Hell on Earth.
‘I want to hog-tie and handcuff the foxy climate-change deniers and put them on a bonfire of their vanities, preferably in the empyrean fields of Suffolk, where temperatures reach 33˚C’
I perk up a little when Today comes on, not because the news is good, but because Martha Kearney’s voice is balm against the chaos. She keeps me company in the kitchen, where I grind my bird-friendly, shade-grown beans. In fact, the best news to emerge during these fearful times is that seven cups of coffee a day are not detrimental to your health, although it might be hard on your loved ones.
My first cup gets me through The Times print edition and The New York Times online. The second is reserved for my Matins: a ceremonial read of the obituaries. I register the age of the distinguished departed – 94 seems to be the most popular – before I gaze at the name and then indulge in a patch of reverential peace as I wander through other lives (industrious, fertile and brave) and other times (arguably more turbulent than the summer of 2018).
Although I think of myself as an acolyte of the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, best known for his Serenity Prayer, I’ve gone off the idea of asking God to grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The morning walk with the dog leaves us both panting, stopping to watch dust hovering over fields in which crops fight for survival. The reservoir looks more like a crater than a source of life and in the glare of the sun, I walk with my eyes shut.
Instead of serenely accepting that the farm looks as if it’s appearing in a documentary on the Dust Bowl, I want to hog-tie and handcuff the foxy climate-change deniers and put them on a bonfire of their vanities, preferably in the empyrean fields of Suffolk, where temperatures reach 33˚C.
Then, there’s Brexit. I voted Remain, but now I’m mad at everybody. I’m mad at the feebleness of the Remain campaign and I’m mad at Leavers for their colossal inepti-tude at planning the exit.
Whenever someone pontificates ‘this is a Democracy and the people have spoken’, I hear H. L. Mencken’s version: ‘Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.’
The most obvious sign that my anger has damaged me is that I’m suffering from politically induced schizophrenia. One minute, I long to turn the clock back and wake up to find everything as it was before the Referendum; the next, I’m chomping for a no-deal exit. Brexit seems like war: easy to begin, but difficult to get out of.
‘You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else’
And, forgive me for bringing it up, but there’s Trump. Every evening at 6pm, we sit down with a glass of wine to watch the news. Then, at 7pm, Monday through Thursday, we watch Beyond 100 Days. This calls for another glass. It’s the second glass that triggers an ominous realisation: I have become my parents.
During the Watergate era, their evenings began with the clack of the ice tray, then the crackle of bourbon cascading over ice. They had lived through the 1930s and the Second World War, but were mesmerised by what was going on in the White House. They believed in their inner souls that the future of the country was at stake, but that was nearly half a century ago and America is still standing, promising proof that countries generally outlive the men occupying the top spot.
Luckily, I’m married to an optimist, who expects it to rain any day now. He voted Remain, but is Born Again and predicts a bumpy year or two before the country flaps its wings and soars. He’s convinced America will recover from the Trump years and quotes Winston Churchill: ‘You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.’
I’ll drink to that. Meanwhile, praise the Lord for screw tops.
Carla Carlisle is tempted to hunker down and shut the world out for the next four years – but she won't.
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