I was in England recently, on a ten day visit. I came home ragged from the sheer pace of English life. In this case, I was in, variously, London, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, and West Yorkshire (why did those bureaucrats who decide these things change the name? What’s so incomprehensible to them about West Riding, Yorkshire? Ho-hum).
As usual on visiting dear old Blighty, I was overwhelmed by the numbers of cars and other road vehicles, the crowds of people and the implied general wealth and well-being, with their perfect tarmac roads, big new cars by the dozen, and shops on every hand. In England I am always a long way from home. I was alert to something that pertains to my earlier comments about the ordering of a modern capitalist society. The vast majority of people I met were enjoying the good, if currently difficult end of the economy, though of course, on the streets I saw people of every walk and hobble, so this is only a personal and insupportable point of view, but heck! it’s a blog, what do you expect?
In a society essentially sustained by and in service to the Consumer, by-laws in particular, but all laws to a degree, are taken as a kind of advice for public behaviour and occasional regulation; suggestions sometimes lifted to the level of compulsions, to aid our convenience. If a law inconveniences an English consumer, it was made apparent (if it hadn’t been obvious for most of my life) that he/she ignores said law. For instance, go to Paddington Station. Fancy a smoke (if you’re a smoker)? There’s a large tarmac entrance in the street-side wall of the station that is open for lorries and such to have access to the platforms. The street outside is heavily plastered with No Smoking signs, posters on the walls, stencils on the pavements, even on the damn tarmac. Well, this is where it is generally agreed you go for a smoke, when you’re in Paddington and in need of one. I suspect even the station master has given up and is glad to have an unofficial designated place; makes cleaning up easier.
At a loss for any real power, politicians and bureaucrats occupy themselves with finding ways to impose on the population laws and regulations, and as they increasingly do this*, inevitably they encroach on things the Consumer considers no-one’s business but their own. Drinking and recreational drug control is a good case in point, but I’ll come back to that another time. Apart from those, in the EU, they also seek to control what we choose to eat. They say it’s for our own safety, but they would say that, wouldn’t they? They are, after all, public servants, aren’t they, and this is a good way to serve us surely? Up to a point Lord Copper, as the saying goes…
Here’s a real and significant difference between the English and the Irish. The English are like the rest of the European Community. If the bureaucrats in Brussels send out a directive that, for example, a minimum health requirement in a particular food product is set to cover a several millions to one chance that you might get a nasty tummy ache if you eat this stuff every day for the next forty years (the great pig industry scare in Ireland, in 2010 or thereabouts, was based on a threat of this miniscule scale), the Irish obey it to the letter. The rest of Europe naturally ignore such directives, so the French continue to eat unpasteurised cheese and other milk products, as do the Italians and the Germans, and the Romanians (these being the EU countries I have visited since the EU came into being) eat any and everything edible, as far as I could tell. In Ireland you can buy pork with crackling in the English Market (sic) in Cork, a few butchers in Dublin and probably a few other places I haven’t come across, but that’s it. For the vast majority of shoppers such a delicacy is not available. Bacon with rind on, on the other hand, is unavailable anywhere, except via a discreet deal with an old friend who is a butcher who slaughters his own pigs.
Why do the Irish so readily assume and accept this humble role? The Irish film industry is instrumental in productions of Hollywood blockbuster (or whatever is the term for a long-running, popular TV show) proportions. But Ireland’s home-grown industry hardly ever goes over €10 million on its own, and generally sticks under five million if it can, thinking largely in terms of the grants that can be got from the Irish Film Board and the Section 480 tax breaks to be offered to potential investors. Not to say that the industry everywhere isn’t struggling for finance. I have met quite a few producers and other people in the Irish industry, and it seems fair to say that when it comes to big budgets they don’t expect to initiate a large scale production, They seem unwilling, or perhaps uncomfortable is a better word, to take the wheel of a juggernaut, a €40 million budget or some such project.
Or maybe this is unfair. Maybe most people in Europe are no different, and certainly most people like to obey the rules, the laws, to live the quiet life. It’s just a feeling I get. As if the whole of Ireland were as remote from the modern world as the place where I live in deepest Kerry.
* Between 1997 and 2007, the period, coincidentally perhaps, when The Right Hon. Tony Blair M.P. was Prime Minister, in that ten year period, the British Parliament passed more bills into law than had been passed into law in the entire preceding history of Parliament since the 13th Century or thereabouts, some seven hundred years. Those boys and girls in government and its bureaucracy have too much time on their hands.