The General Election is nigh and politicians infest the media like a plague of pesky flies, irritating me with their repetitious rhetoric. I have given up shouting at the TV and radio, it’s too stressful: instead I turn off when I hear the dreaded “let me be clear”, a phrase which seems to have been universally adopted as a prelude to their well-rehearsed question-dodging techniques, so obviously learned in media-training classes. It has become de rigueur for politicians to claim clarity while delivering obfuscation. Let’s be clear is the mantra but diversion is the real objective. Political candidates prefer to set the agenda – as in Theresa May’s obsession with Brexit “negotiations” – so as to play to their strengths or, as Thomas Pynchon put it, If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers. In our relatively free-speaking society there may be plenty of discussion and debate to help us make informed, rational choices despite the hectoring, but electing leaders is not, alas, an entirely rational process.
During these weeks, even social gatherings are best avoided if you don’t want to become embroiled in the same old arguments about how the country should be governed. Maybe that explains why I took to the cinema so many times this week. In a darkened cinema you can escape the turmoil for a while. I saw three foreign films: the Finnish The Other Side of Hope; the Iranian Inversion; and the Chinese I Am Not Madame Bovary. One thing they have in common is that they deal with universal human dilemmas, albeit from different cultural perspectives. A uniquely Finnish deadpan sense of humour banishes mawkishness from the tragic story of a refugee. Deep Iranian traditions are challenged as a single woman takes charge of her own destiny. Overbearing Chinese bureaucracy presses down on a woman wronged in matrimony. Ultimately, these three stories are social commentaries and left me pondering the comparative politics of each country in relation to our own.
Perhaps a more effective escape from current politics is through poetry. The daily routine of readings that my partner and I recently established has lately become sporadic. This I do not blame on the elections but on my own tendency to be distracted by various, sometimes fleeting, interests. In order, therefore, to re-focus, I have been following up a few suggestions made by my readers. One such is from an American friend. “Try Caedmon Records,” he said, “I used to work for them, years ago.” So it was that I came to buy, on eBay, a 1954 vinyl pressing of William Carlos Williams reading his own work. (I was also seduced by the contemporary cover-art of Bill Sokol.) My winning bid of £7.99 secured me an ex-library copy but, in addition to the P&P, there was the extra expense of buying a record player, mine having disappeared around the time of the great CD switch. However, I easily acquired a small machine, retro-styled to the late 50s, and we sat together to hear the great man recite. I have to say that, putting aside the quality of the poetry and the novelty of the experience, I was disappointed by Mr. Williams’ voice, which is unimpressively high-pitched and girlish in its timbre. Still, it is authentic and, if you listen carefully, you can hear the occasional honk of an American car-horn as it passes by the studio.
Finally, I decided to catch the first episode on TV of The Handmaid’s Tale, since I have not read the novel. It is a disturbing vision of a future totalitarian USA and, even more disturbing given some of the views expressed by the incumbent President, not many steps away from becoming reality. It scared me into thinking I had better tune back in to the electioneering and do my bit to make sure it doesn’t happen here.