Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Can history be about to repeat itself?

It was the perfect weekend: the sun shone, birds sang, spring flowers bloomed and early lambs no doubt gambolled in the fields. Not that I appreciated any of this, as I was holed up indoors continuing my exhaustive trawl through a selection of suicide websites.

Frankly, I have no idea how anyone who has embarked on this quest ever comes to end it all. Every site I have found manages to be profoundly discouraging, asking whether the reader has given adequate thought to the impact on others, the irreversible nature of the act, the possibility that intense regrets will arise halfway through, and the fact that it is likely to hurt. A lot. So far, the last has proved the clincher in my case.

So why I am even making enquiries into the subject? Depression, that’s why. The sort of completely unjustified depression that even possession of a beautiful young family apparently cannot lift. It is a strange affliction, in my experience usually striking those who have nothing in particular to be depressed about. Those who are really stricken with critical illness, disability or poverty are usually far too busy coping with their practical difficulties to allow themselves the luxury of wallowing in misery.

Being depressed is unforgivably self-indulgent, as is writing about it here. Unfortunately this only adds to the self-disgust which fuels the condition.

How to snap out of it? Well, left to my own devices I would still be lying in bed, feeling sorry for myself, but Mrs Hann has insisted on getting us on board a train to London. Months ago I booked to see Placido Domingo singing in Handel’s Tamerlano – an opera by my favourite composer, and a great chance for my wife to hear one of the world’s greatest tenors in the autumn of his career. Naturally he has cancelled.

The following night, someone kindly invited me to a dinner with the Tory polemicist and biographer of Enoch Powell, Simon Heffer. Naturally he has cancelled.

I originally intended to base this column on a dinner last week with Sir John Major. I still find it hard to believe that the man was Prime Minister of this country for six and a half years; he will always seem like a feebly unsuccessful footnote to the Thatcher era. I do not know whether he cancelled or not, as etiquette seems to demand for any event I am scheduled to attend these days; but we certainly did, owing to the indisposition of our babysitter.

A shame, as it would have been handy to explore the parallels with current events. An unelected and uncharismatic Prime Minister, with a reputation for touchiness, succeeds a wildly successful leader who has delivered three thumping election victories in a row. The incumbent at 10 Downing Street is regarded with contempt and the country is yearning for change: how can the opposition possibly lose?

As I recall, John Smith managed it by announcing detailed plans for thumping tax increases, while his leader Neil Kinnock went raving mad and held a triumphalist rally in an arena in Sheffield that turned the nation’s collective stomach. Every Tory in Britain breathed a huge sigh of relief, then realised shortly afterwards that it would have been much more in the party’s interests to have lost the election.

Can Gordon Brown repeat the Major trick? Since I confidently predict that whoever wins the coming poll will shortly afterwards plumb record-breaking depths of unpopularity as they embark on the necessary budget-balancing spending cuts and tax increases, part of me feels that it is only fair that he should be charged with sorting out the monumental mess he has created.

Come on, Dave, get that rally booked and remember the crucial catchphrase, “Well, all right!” Despite the grim outlook, just picturing that scene has almost cheered me up.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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