Why are we gobbling up turkeys?

I grew up on Sherlock Holmes stories, and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, published in 1898, was one of my favourites.

“Don’t know about you, Sharon, but I don’t fancy Christmas”

The story is about a thief who steals the eponymous gem and hides it in the crop of a Christmas goose. The goose is then bought by a member of the Goose Club… and so forth.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Conan Doyle didn’t make up the Goose Club. It was set up in Victorian times to help poor people save up for their Christmas bird, which emphatically was goose, not turkey.

Turkeys first appeared in Britain in the 16th century, as an American novelty, but they were popularised much later, courtesy of Dickens whose Scrooge sent out for one. Yet only after the Second World War did they become standard Christmas fare in the UK, mainly under the influence of Hollywood films and other things American.

The question is, why? True, turkeys are now mass-produced and are consequently much cheaper than geese. But seriously now: if a poor Victorian could save up for his Christmas treat, surely so can just about anyone in a modern, more affluent Britain?

I appreciate that one goose won’t feed a large family, although bulking up on other things can solve that problem. Still, a fat goose can stretch for six, and a fatter one for eight. How many of us have more people sitting at the table after the Queen’s speech? Especially now, at Covid time?

The salient difference between goose and turkey, other than their size, is that the former is delicious and the latter tastes like Styrofoam would if people ate it. In fact, if price is the main consideration, perhaps they should – Styrofoam won’t set you back as much as even a turkey will.

I haven’t staged the experiment myself, but I suspect that, if you cook a nice Styrofoam brick like a turkey, brining it with salt, fruit and spices for days and then slow-roasting it for hours, it’ll taste just like turkey.

Nor far from our place in France there’s a farm where they can custom-rear a small bronze turkey for you, and a good cook can make it palatable. But even a combination of Auguste Escoffier, Michel Roux and Raymond Blanc couldn’t make it taste as good as a goose roasted with some tart fruit by an average home cook.

And have you ever tried roasting potatoes in turkey fat? Don’t lie to me; you haven’t – there is no turkey fat. However, any goose will yield at least a pint of the delicious stuff halfway through cooking time, and if you’ve never roasted spuds in it, you haven’t lived.

So let me repeat the question, why? Why this obsession with a dry, tasteless bird that’s barely edible at its best and gives Styrofoam a good run for its money at its average?

One can understand why Americans like it. After all turkeys have a sacramental significance there, having provided a major source of sustenance for the first settlers. Hence Americans eat them at Thanksgiving and, by force of inertia, at Christmas as well. But we aren’t Americans, are we?

Well, yes and no. The ‘no’ part is self-evident, but the ‘yes’ requires some explanation. Which is that America exerts a gravitational cultural pull for proletarians of the world, who sense she is one country where their values (otherwise known as the American Dream) hold sway uncontested.

Hence, the more proletarianised a country, the more affectionate she’ll be towards the badges of Americanism, such as McDonald’s, Coca Cola, hot dogs – and turkey at Christmas. The French, for example, prefer different Christmas foods, and Italians welcomed McDonald’s only a few years ago. That means they are still ahead of us in trying to preserve some vestiges of their own tradition, although they too are slipping.

Just this morning I passed several American cars parked in a rather upmarket London street. One of them was a Mustang 5.0, the American muscle car par excellence. Now, who in his right mind would buy that abomination when he could buy, say, a BMW M3 for the same money?

After all, the BMW is infinitely superior in just about every meaningful specification. Except one: it isn’t American. Therefore it lacks the cachet of Route 66, a pack of Camels rolled into a T-shirt sleeve, baseball caps worn backwards – the whole enchilada, as young Britons have begun to say.

When a former colleague of mine rebuked his 12-year-old son for something or other, the boy replied: “Don’t make a federal case out of it.” Where did he learn that phrase, considering that we have no federal courts in the UK?

The usual explanation centres around American films, acting as the vanguard of cultural imperialism. But that’s a facile explanation: after all, Americans don’t force anyone to watch those films, drink that mucky Coke, eat Mickey D burgers made out of God knows what – or gobble up turkeys at Christmas.

Britons aren’t being raped. They are putting out consensually, and that act of cultural surrender demands an explanation. You now know mine.

That puritan Angie Merkel

Now that we know it was Angela Merkel who effectively quashed Brexit negotiations, all sort of pundits try to explain why.

Following Byron’s lead, I’ll attempt to “explain the explanation”, specifically the most preposterous one. For, according to a respectable opinion former, Angie is so obstreperous because she resents Boris Johnson’s libertinage.

You see, as a daughter of a Lutheran pastor she has a deep puritan streak that makes her cringe with revulsion at the very sight of her debauched British counterpart. That’s why she shouts a stern nein every time that pervert offers a way out of the deadlock.

I shan’t reiterate my own interpretation of her opposition to a painless Brexit. God knows I’ve written about it often enough, the last time only a couple of days ago. Suffice it to say here that Merkel’s reasons have nothing to do with her sexual probity, and everything to do with her urge to discourage other departures from the EU by making Britain’s life as hard as possible.

However, it’s amazing that the occupation of Merkel’s father attracts so much attention, while her own very dubious past in East Germany so little. The photograph on the left, one of many similar ones, was taken when a young and impressionable Angie must have been most influenced by her family’s unwavering Protestant values.

Yet my impression is that she had courageously cast aside the shackles of Lutheran dogmatism and followed her own, steadily ascending, path. But, while applauding her inner freedom, one ought to mention that her commitment to any other, more conventional kind was at the time distinctly understated.

In her East German youth, Merkel held a nomenklatura position of agitprop chief at a regional committee of Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ), the youth organisation typologically similar to its predecessor that also had Jugend in its name.

Just as Hitlerjugend had close links with the SS, the FDJ was the breeding ground for the Stasi. The two organisations always worked hand in glove, even though the FDJ nominally reported to the party.

This organisational arrangement was the same in all communist countries. That’s why the high command of the secret police was everywhere more likely to come up through the ranks of youth organisations than of the party proper. Thus, for example, the Soviet KGB was from 1958 to 1982 run by three consecutive chairmen (Shelepin, Semichasny and Andropov) who had made their bones in the nomenklatura of the komsomol (the model for the FDJ).

As a student in Moscow, and occasional freelance interpreter, I had the chance to observe komsomol functionaries and their Eastern European counterparts in close-up. Just take my word for it: neither sexual prudery nor teetotalism figured high on their list of virtues.

Their conferences mostly followed the same pattern: dreary communist business by day, drunken orgies by night. This continued a pattern established in the early years of komsomol, when every female member was institutionally obligated to accept the advances of any male comrade.

In those days, free love was inscribed on the banners of the revolution, and organisations such as the Union of the Shameless thrived in Russia. One of their leaders was the propaganda honcho Karl Radek, who led nude marches through Moscow. And Lenin’s mistress, Inessa Armand, preached that sex was as basic as drinking a glass of water. One hopes, for the sake of her sainted lover’s memory, she didn’t mean drinking it in one gulp.

Following Marx’s prescription, women were regarded as communal property, and some local party committees, such as the one in Saratov, even issued written directives on how often, when and by whom women were to be “used”.

By the time I, and for that matter Angie, grew up, things had become more, shall we say, bourgeois. Various moral codes had been spun out by the party, castigating sexual licence as strictly a capitalist vice. But another moral code, that formed by the amoral legacy of the revolution, had irretrievably seeped into the people’s DNA.

That much all communist countries had in common. Yet there were local variations, such as official nudist organisations that existed in East Germany, but not in the Soviet Union. Numerous photos of Angie surrounded by similarly unclad youngsters suggest she belonged to one such setup.

While there’s no evidence that she indulged in anything other than youthful exhibitionism, it would be presuming too much on human virtue to suppose that no tactile contact among hordes of naked, hormonal youngsters ever ensued.

Incidentally, even as Chancellor, Frau Merkel can’t resist the urge to flash flesh. The décolletés of her evening dresses, for example, show more breast than many women have altogether. And photos of her cellulite barely contained by swim suits still abound in newspapers.

That, however, is only of marginal interest. What’s more relevant is that any holder of a nomenklatura position in the FDJ, such as young Angie, had to work in close contact with the Stasi, which in turn was but an extension of the KGB. Such organisations served world communism, a doctrine as evil as it is atheist.

Eastern European countries, the GDR among them, allowed more leeway in religious matters than the USSR did, but no sincere believer had any hope of career advancement – and it was out of the question for such a person to hold a nomenklatura position. Nor, as a matter of fact, would a believer accept a post of that kind.

This part of Merkel’s background is more germane to her subsequent career than her father’s ministry is. In any case, I doubt that the Rev. Horst Kasner rejoiced in the sight of his daughter cavorting naked in mixed company.

He would have been more likely to associate such displays with Nordic pagan rites than with anything remotely having to do with Christianity. So do let’s allow the poor man rest and piece and focus instead on Angie’s relevant CV. There’s much more there to excite our imagination.

Brexit is no piece of cake

Brigitte, Manny Macron’s foster mother, rang the other day and asked me over for a cup of tea. “You’ve got to come, Alex,” she cooed, sexily stressing my name on the last syllable. “Mon petit just won’t listen to reason.”

Realising this was perhaps Britain’s last chance to avoid a no-deal exit from the EU, I decided to brave Covid, curfews and quarantines. I really had no other choice – the two countries could no longer do without my mediation.

I arrived at the Elysée Palace yesterday, just in time for tea. As I approached the salon, I overheard Manny complaining: “Maman, why did you have to invite that sal con de rosbif?”

At that point I came in, interrupting Manny’s tirade and instantly changing his expression from petulant to almost welcoming. After perfunctory greetings, Brigitte led us to the table which she had prudently laid with styrofoam cups, plastic cutlery and paper plates. She and I exchanged knowing smiles.

Such parsimony was the legacy of Manny’s numerous tantrums, in the course of which he had already smashed a Louis XIV tea service against the wall cup by cup, thrown a Sèvres vase out of the window without opening it first, and chased Brigitte all over the palace with a Henry IV ‘Ravaillac’ dagger.

The centrepiece of the table was a traditional Christmas log cake, the bûche de Noël. Brigitte expertly sliced off three pieces, each about two inches thick, and put them on our plates.

She then said grace: “Our father, which art in Brussels, hallowed be thy federalism, sacred be the fruit of thy loins, a single European state. Bless this repast in the name of Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman and all thy other angels and archangels…”  

Before she finished, Manny reached over the table and dug his plastic fork into my piece of the bûche, which elicited an instant reproof from Brigitte: “What on terre are you doing, mon petit?”

“Nothing, maman,” said Manny. “I just want my slice of the cake.”

“But you already have your own slice, you imbécile,” said Brigitte. “You have your cake and you can eat it.”

“But maman,” objected Manny. “If I eat my cake, I no longer have it, but no? Yet if I first eat Alex’s, I’ll still have mine, isn’t that so?”

“I can see,” frowned Brigitte, “that I did a better job teaching you logic than manners. You can’t just aider yourself to our guest’s piece of the bûche. He might think you were brought up by a fishwife.”

“Don’t remind me!” screamed Manny and threw his plastic fork on the floor with some force. “Those rosbifs want to have our fish and eat it! I’ll nuke London before I let them steal our poisson!”

“But chéri,” objected Brigitte, “they say the poisson is really theirs if it swims in their territorial waters. It’s like Alex’s bûche…”

Exactement,” agreed Manny and used his plastic knife to lop off about a third of my slice. “You don’t understand, maman. What’s ours is ours, and what’s theirs is… well, ours too. That’s what l’Empereur taught us.”

I almost opened my mouth to remind Manny of Waterloo, but stopped myself. After all, I wasn’t brought up by a fishwife.

At that point the phone rang, and Brigitte picked it up. “Oh hello, Boris,” she said, “how wonderful to hear from you, tenth time today… Yes, I know you never got the chance to talk to mon petit… Hold on a second.”

She covered the receiver with her hand and said to Manny: “It’s Johnson for you”.

“I don’t want to talk to that con,” said Manny, shoving the rest of my bûche into his mouth. “But chéri,” said Brigitte, “he’s been calling all day…”

Maman, what part of va t’faire foutre doesn’t he understand?” screamed Manny. “Just tell that crétin to leave un message!”

Brigitte talked to Boris for another couple of minutes and hung up. “He says you can’t have your cake and eat it, mon petit,” she told Manny.

“But well sure I can,” said Manny and triumphantly held up his own paper plate with a slice of bûche gloriously intact.

All that was left for me to do was bid the couple good-bye, lamenting yet again the gross inadequacy of my diplomatic skills. On the way out I wondered what that bûche tasted like.

As the door shut behind me, I heard Manny speaking on the phone to someone else. The only words I could make out were those he kept repeating: “Jawohl, Mutti!”  

EU negotiators learned from the best

Shortly before the start of the Second World War, Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s foreign minister (and son-in-law) talked to his German counterpart, Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Michel Barnier’s role model

In his diary, Ciano recalls asking Ribbentrop how the negotiations with Poland were going. “Any chance of a settlement?” “We don’t want a settlement,” replied Ribbentrop. “We want war.”

Any observer of Britain’s on-going negotiations with the EU may be forgiven for feeling that Ribbentrop’s spirit wafts in every time the parties sit down. For that episode provides a useful blueprint for the EU’s strategy, and it’s good to identify the source of its inspiration.

Like Ribbentrop, the EU functionaries are only pretending to negotiate for a mutually beneficial outcome. Underneath that thin veneer of pretence they too want war, if only, one hopes, figuratively speaking. Their aim isn’t to end Britain’s EU membership in an equitable manner. It’s to punish Britain for jeopardising the survival of that awful contrivance.

Britain has a vested interest in continuing to trade with EU countries, helping both parties to prosper. This is consonant with the legacy of the great trading empire Britain once was. Conversely, the EU, contrary to its protestations, doesn’t see this issue even in terms of its own prosperity, never mind Britain’s.

Its aim is to make Britain suffer pour encourager les autres. And if spiting Britain’s face involves cutting off the economic noses of the 26 EU members, it’s worth it.

From its very conception, the EU has been a political, not an economic project. Its overriding objective is to create a single European state, with the economy being strictly subservient to that goal. That’s not to say the economy is of no consequence –  it does have two roles to play: seducing the poorer countries into membership and camouflaging the underlying political imperative.

This arrangement was enunciated in so many words by many EU founders, most famously by Jean Monnet. Our purpose, he wrote, is to build a single European state by incremental steps, each sold to the world as pursuing strictly economic objectives.

It’s essential to the EU’s survival that members already reeled in don’t wriggle off the hook. And if by some miracle one manages to do so, it’s imperative that it suffers. Otherwise the others, especially those outside the EU core of Germany, France and Benelux, may get funny ideas too.

Hence the pathetic little game being played by heirs to Ribbentrop in softening their demands one day, then tightening them the next. Some of those demands are unthinkable for any sovereign country even to consider.

For the essence of sovereignty is a country’s ability to live by its own laws and no one else’s, and also having control over its borders on land and at sea. Show me a country that doesn’t exercise those rights, and I’ll show you a fiefdom of an outside political entity.

Yet the EU demands that Britain respect a mythical ‘level playing field’. That means Britain complying with all EU laws and thereby agreeing to garrotte herself with the red tape so beloved of most national, and all supranational, bureaucracies.

Moreover, Britain is expected to obey not only the laws existing at present, but also all the future ones to be begotten by the fecund minds of EU functionaries. One does wonder what part of sovereignty those chaps don’t understand.

Then there are those fishing rights, ostensibly meaning only that EU trawlers will continue to be able to catch about £12 million’s worth of fish within the internationally established 12-mile zone. Now, £12 million is a lot of money to you and me, but for either negotiating party it doesn’t even qualify as pocket change.

Hence, given bilateral good faith, an accommodation could easily be found to keep those Breton fishermen happy. But the other side, those heirs to Herr Ribbentrop, aren’t negotiating in good faith. They too want war, if only of the trade variety.

That’s why they demand that Britain unconditionally relinquish control of her territorial waters, thereby becoming the only sovereign country in the world to accept such an arrangement. Actually, they don’t want to make demands that could be accepted, only those that any sovereign country is bound to reject.

Thus what’s at stake here isn’t the derisory amount of £12 million’s worth of cod and haddock, but the principle of sovereignty. And this is something that the Johnson government can’t betray without triggering social unrest and probably a vote of no confidence – even considering its 80-seat majority.

There’s no doubt that, by combining a version of Napoleon’s Continental Blockade with one of Ribbentrop’s negotiating methods, the EU can create problems of both economics and convenience for us. But then, as the great American adman Bill Bernbach once said, “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you something.”

We didn’t vote to leave the EU to gain riches; we did so to regain our sovereignty. The Brexit vote was a political answer to a political question, and it was unequivocal.

Now, I shan’t pursue the analogy between the Third Reich and the EU further than it goes naturally. And I certainly don’t hope that Michel Barnier will eventually be strung up like Ribbentrop. The differences between the two are blindingly obvious – but then so are the similarities.

Their shared cause is creating, under the aegis of Germany, the Leviathan of a giant European superstate. Ribbentrop’s role in that project was as evil as the project itself, whereas both Barnier and his masters are merely immoral, cynical and misguided.

When Britain resisted the former, the response came in the form of the Blitz bombs raining on London. Resisting the latter will only cause a minor inconvenience. A price well worth paying in both cases, I dare say.

So you know how best to handle Covid?

Or, to paraphrase, would you be able to do a better job of it than Johnson & Co?

Many scribes (not to mention Pharisees) answer this question in the resounding affirmative, displaying a most enviable self-confidence. I have only one word to say to them: Sweden.

Standing proudly alone among the high-rent European countries, Sweden refused to commit the crimes Johnson et al. are charged with. The Swedes didn’t countenance lockdowns, escaping their dire consequences for the economy and basic liberties.

Instead they declared business as usual, hoping to be protected by herd immunity. Hence they joyously filled cafés and bars, with their exorbitant booze prices. They attended sporting events and parties. And in between they continued to go to work, keeping the economy ticking along nicely.

Alas, one problem with emulating herds is that they tend to end up in the abattoir. So it has proved in this case.

At first, Sweden was doing better than the rest of Europe, or at least not worse. But then the abattoir got open for business.

The infection rate began to climb up, and so did the death count. At some point, the death rate in Sweden got to be ten times higher than in the adjacent and demographically similar Norway.

Then Sweden again began to do as well as other major European countries. But that was fool’s gold: the other countries had relaxed their restrictions, which made their infection and death rates go up to Sweden’s levels – not Sweden’s levels go down to theirs.

In response, the others tightened up again, and now Sweden’s infection rate is more than twice that of Britain, Germany and Spain. This doesn’t mean that smug smiles are wiped off the faces of our self-righteous scribes – nothing can have such an emollient effect. But the rest of us ought to ponder the related moral issues.

So far there have been some 40,000 Covid deaths in Britain, despite the lockdowns, social distancing, facial masks and what have you. Now suppose, in the absence of such iniquities, this number would have been multiplied by 10?

This isn’t a hard supposition to make. After all, our population density is 11 times that of Sweden. If Sweden at some point managed to outscore Norway 10 to 1, why couldn’t we? No reason at all.

Suddenly we leave the area of economic fluctuations and libertarian principles, entering instead a terrain densely strewn with tombstones. It’s possible, nay probable, that, had we followed Sweden’s lead, Covid would have claimed 400,000 British lives, rather than 40,000.

Numbers are of course even more impervious to the subjunctive mood than history is. So let’s keep it less precise and just say that the draconian measures adopted by HMG have saved thousands of lives.

This isn’t to say that HMG has handled the crisis impeccably – far from it. It could have been more efficient about testing, for example. Yet it has redeemed itself to a large extent by pushing the Pfizer vaccine through the regulatory process at what in the context of state bureaucracy can only be described as lightning speed.

Incidentally, such rapid action would have been impossible had Britain stayed in the straitjacket of EU red tape. So, if anyone still needs arguments in favour of leaving, he can add this one to the tally.

Yet the moral questions remain, even though libertarians tend to pose them in arithmetical terms. After all, they say, we don’t really know how many lives those Covid restrictions have saved. What we do know is that the economy has been dealt a mighty blow from which it may not recover for a generation, if ever.

Since libertarians tend to think along the lines of economy über alles, they regard the economic debacle as more catastrophic than any, especially hypothetical, loss of life. Economic freedom is a god on their Olympus of liberties, and it’s perhaps superior to other deities for being more tangible and measurable.

Yet liberties, economic or any other, are always suppressed at dangerous times. Since Covid could have conceivably claimed as many British lives as did the Second World War (about 450,000), our times are dangerous enough. They therefore call for desperate measures.

Admittedly, this argument isn’t watertight. Much of it is too speculative to dispel all doubts. Some are bound to persist.

And this is where the argument becomes moral. For it’s my contention that any doubts should be resolved in favour of preserving human lives. Hence if it’s highly possible, or even likely, that the Swedish way would have cost thousands of lives, then it fails on morality even if it succeeds on economics.

I use a similar logic when arguing, on purely secular grounds, against abortion. My point is that allowing abortions in the first trimester or up to any other point is based on an arbitrary decision of when during gestation human life begins.

The only indisputable moment is that of conception – any other is open to reasonable doubt. And even our system of criminal justice doesn’t require a tighter standard of proof than that. Hence, since it’s at least possible that a foetus is actually a human being at any stage in its development, abortion constitutes manslaughter.

So, as it turns out, does Sweden’s insouciance in handling Covid. Witness the fact that, faced with a steeply climbing death rate, the Swedes are now introducing lockdowns all over the place, tacitly acknowledging that their laissez-faire approach was wrong.

As to HMG, I’d give it a B- for its handling of the pandemic (as opposed to its economic aftermath). Which brings to mind a professor of some recondite discipline at Moscow University. When marking exam papers, he always said: “Only God rates an A, I rate a B, meaning that you, young man, rate a C at best.”

I maintain that only God Almighty could have tackled this crisis perfectly. So HMG has done rather well.

Thank heaven for little athletes

I hope I shan’t compromise my liberal credentials by observing that, for some unfathomable reason, men tend to outperform women in sports.

Way to go, girl!

That is, the reason is unfathomable only to liberals like me. We desperately want men and women to be not just equal but the same. And if sports, with their annoyingly objective criteria of success, show some differences, we like to ascribe them to purely environmental factors.

Take her dollies, pink pinafores and lace away from a little girl, expose her to the same training as boys get, and she’ll grow up competing with men on equal terms. Such is our article of faith.

But then I look at male and female athletes, who have indeed undergone identical routines of training, diet and conditioning, and latent doubts begin to gnaw at the pit of my stomach. For the men still have a much higher muscle mass and a much lower fat content – and these are just the differences visible to the plain eye.

That’s why men and women have always competed in separate events: exposing female athletes to the innate physiological superiority of men would be unfair. If the women’s 100m record stands at 10.49, it would be silly to make them sprint against men, whose record is almost a second lower (9.58).

However, it pains me to report that the bodies governing sports have always applied antediluvian criteria to establishing what constitutes a woman. We know that a woman is anyone who identifies as such. Yet those troglodytes insist on certain biological markers, showing gross insensitivity to everything we hold sacred.

Now, as every liberal knows, communist countries were much more advanced than the West in every respect, social, political – and scientific. That’s why they insisted on fielding female athletes who weren’t everyone’s idea of, well, a female.

Yet back in the old days the only way to establish an athlete’s sex was to pull his/her/its knickers down and have a look. That procedure, declared the communist countries, was demeaning to the honour of communist athletes. Hence they refused to comply, and international federations went along – God forbid communist probity be offended.

Thanks to such sensitivity, ‘female’ athletes from the USSR and Eastern Europe were harvesting a rich crop of cups, medals and records. However, in 1966 perfidious capitalists prevailed and chromosome testing was introduced. Suddenly, it became hard to insist that providing, say, a saliva sample was degrading.

A magic wand was thereby waved, and a lot of questionably female athletes from communist countries (the Soviets Tamara and Irina Press, Tatiana Shchelkanova, Klavdia Boyarskikh, the Rumanian Iolanda Balàzs, the Pole Ewa Klobukowska and many others) announced their retirement.

But then progress arrived, or rather accelerated. The liberal personkind has won the battle of the sexes, and those fascisoid biological markers have fallen by the wayside. As we now know, the difference between men and women is purely a matter of personal choice – and quite right too.

Yet those international federations remain stragglers on the march of progress. They obtusely insist that intersex persons (who used to be called hermaphrodites), especially those who are closer to men than to women, enjoy an unfair advantage. That’s why they ought to be kept out of some – not, God forbid, all – athletic events, such as running the Olympic distances of 400, 800 and 1,500 metres.

But the liberals have launched a massive campaign to repeal such discriminatory restrictions. And naturally, in order to succeed, any such crusade must have a celebrity figurehead. Acting in this capacity here is Caster Semenya, Olympic champion in some of the proscribed events.

I shan’t bore you with the details of her courageous decade-long fight to admit men into women’s events. I use the word ‘men’ advisedly and obsoletely, to designate anyone who, like Miss/Mr/Ms Semenya, was born with XY chromosomes and male levels of testosterone, if, one likes to believe, without a certain male appendage.

Thanks to her heroic efforts, international bodies are now prepared to overlook those silly chromosomes. Yet the fight is only half-won since they still insist that Miss/Mr/Ms Semenya suppress her testosterone levels either chemically or surgically, to bring them down into the range normally associated with women.

As a fully paid-up, card-carrying liberal, I’m aghast. And I’m not the only one.

Our cause is valiantly defended by an organisation called The Human Rights Watch, which describes such restrictions as abominable. For one thing, argue its spokespersons, there’s no evidence that high testosterone levels improve performance.

I’m sure they acknowledge that there’s plenty of physical, measurable evidence (all those seconds and metres). But they also know, as I do, that the ultimate truth isn’t physical but metaphysical. And, metaphysically speaking, the 13-second difference between men’s and women’s 800m records is trivial, not to say nonexistent.

“These regulations demean women, make them feel inadequate…,” runs the organisation’s statement. “Modern sport should adapt itself to support inclusion and non-discrimination rather than perpetuate exclusion and discrimination.”

Hear, hear. Moreover, “These regulations are damaging because the underlying assumptions are inherently sexist – that women athletes are always inferior to men athletes, so we must police women’s sports in order to protect women. This policing does nothing to protect women; it only serves to harm them.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s time we brought down those artificial, socially constructed barriers to give the persons of all currently identified 74 sexes equal access to all sporting events.

To that effect, I hereby propose that all competitions be opened to all sexes. Since male physiology confers no performance advantages whatsoever, at least on the solely relevant metaphysical level, let them all compete together – and may the best man/woman/other win.

As to Miss/Mr/Ms Semenya, she should be given the highest award of her native South Africa, elevated to sainthood in every church where that institution exists, and given the status of Honorary Woman. We must give our heroes their due.

Mea culpa

“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend,” wrote EM Forster, “I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”

The choice would be hard, and mercifully I’ve never had to face it. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never betrayed either my country or a friend, although I was once accused of treason by a KGB interrogator.

In a display of youthful polemical audacity I replied that I didn’t consider the Soviet Union my country, meaning I couldn’t betray it by definition. Then get the hell out, suggested Major Gazonov (I’ve changed the first letter of his surname, don’t know why). Thought you’d never ask, I said – and here I am, 47 years later.

My appetite for polemics, though no longer youthful, is still well-nigh insatiable. And four years ago it led me, well, not to betray a friend, but to upset one, and a really good man to boot. I did that in an article arguing in favour of what I thought was best for my country, Britain.

The issue was Brexit, and the friend in question was Brian, Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore. For many years he and his delightful wife Gillian used a flat next to ours as their London pied-à-terre. Their main residence was then in Belfast because Brian was the Law Lord of Northern Ireland.

Better neighbours one couldn’t wish for. We looked after the Kerrs’ flat when they were away, and they let us use it when we had an overflow of guests. From time to time we’d have a drink together, talking about nothing in particular, as friends do sometimes.

Whenever serious topics came up, we veered off by unspoken consent, sensing that our political views, specifically on the EU, were somewhat different. Actually, as I recall, Gillian’s were then closer to mine than to Brian’s, but that didn’t really matter. They both exuded goodness and kindness, and late in my life such qualities had moved closer to the top of my ratings than they were when I was overcome with hatred for everything Maj. Gazonov represented.

Then in 2009 the Kerrs moved out because that judicial abomination, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, was instituted, and Brian became one of its first Justices. We lost touch until a couple of years later, when we ran into the Kerrs by chance in a Westminster street. They invited us over for a drink in their new flat nearby, and we had another lovely evening in their company.

Brian suggested I visit him at the Court when it was in session, and I said I would, knowing I wouldn’t (my curiosity about the workings of that institution is rather understated). In any case, we lost touch again. You know, one of those things, you tell your wife why don’t we call so-and-so, she says definitely, but somehow you never do.

Then in 2016 Brian was one of the Supreme Court Justices who made a ruling that slowed Brexit down, and I wrote a piece about it. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but let’s just say that sometimes I neglect to pull punches in the heat of debate.

Frankly, had I thought Brian was likely to read my article, I wouldn’t have written it: our difference apart, I genuinely liked him. Then neither was I facing an EM Forster choice: had I shown kindness to that nice man, I don’t think my country would have felt betrayed – she probably doesn’t care about my scribbles one way or the other.

Alas, read the article Brian did, and he was sufficiently upset to ask someone on his staff to write to me and remonstrate. Under normal circumstances, my natural response to such missives consists of two words, of which the second is ‘off’. But on that occasion I offered profuse, and sincerely felt, apologies.

Brian was the last man I would have wanted to upset or, worse still, insult, and I felt rotten about having done so. I feel even worse about it today, having read his obituary in The Telegraph. For Brian died on 1 December.

We offer our condolences to Lady Kerr and her two sons, and hope these will be received in the spirit in which they are offered, that of sympathy and love. Mine are also tinged with regret and another, alas posthumous, apology.

Upping the stakes though, I’m not sure how I would handle EM Forster’s dilemma if I were confronted with it. Come to think of it, neither evidently was he.

Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore, RIP

Drag grandpa to the nick

Hundreds of Russians who fought in the Second World War are in for a pleasant outing. The Investigation Committee led by Gen. Bastrykin has asked them to come over and finger perpetrators of Nazi wartime crimes.

1939 caricature celebrates the Pact

Actually, ‘asked’ is the wrong word. They were issued summonses, each ending with a warning that “If you fail to appear without a valid reason you may be arrested according to Articles 54 and 113 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.”

Now, the youngest war veterans are at least 93 years old: 1927 was the last conscription year of birth. Considering the state of public health in Russia, people who have exceeded the average life expectancy by a third would find it hard to make the trip even under the best of circumstances – which these aren’t.

Those over 65 are actually forbidden to leave home due to Covid. Just in case they dare disobey, the state has thoughtfully removed their discounts for travelling on public transport. The arithmetic can’t be faulted: since most crumblies survive on a pension of £100-150 a month in our money, they can’t afford even bus fare.

Now they’ll have to: since the Investigation Committee combines the functions of our Crown Prosecution Service, Special Branch and MI5, its summonses aren’t to be ignored. Not that those who have lived under the Soviets are likely to ignore such orders.

Most of those nonagenarians are probably trembling in mortal fear. Indelibly burned into their minds is the memory of such summonses in times olden, when a visit to any law enforcement agency typically started with a beating and ended in imprisonment, or worse. Today’s heirs to that fine tradition are perhaps laxer on imprisonment, but beatings and torture proceed unabated.

My heart goes out to the poor old chaps, while my mind is focused on understanding this bizarre development. Gen. Bastrykin is happy to clarify: “The Nuremberg trials did not convict all those responsible. Irrespective of whether or not they are alive, we must name those names.”

This desire to name names is commendable, and would be even more so if it weren’t so selective or, in this case, superfluous. After all, quite apart from the Nuremberg trials, Nazi crimes have been exposed thousands of times over.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Soviet citizens were punished for wartime misbehaviour, be that collaboration, cowardice, desertion or simply allowing themselves to be taken prisoner (my father was lucky: he got away with merely an internal exile for that last crime). Some of them were punished more than once.

Solzhenitsyn writes about collaborators who served long prison sentences and were released – only then to be ‘uncovered’ years later, retried and executed. I still remember the look of utter consternation on their faces as the televised verdicts were announced. Hours after the trial they were shot, faster than you could say double jeopardy, to the accompaniment of encomiums for the vigilant ‘organs’ that had tracked the vermin down.

Even assuming that those few who have evaded the dragnet are still alive, hauling old people off their deathbeds and taxing their fragile memory 75 years after the war ended looks futile. Moreover, it looks misdirected.

After all, Soviet crimes are much fresher in people’s memory. Many of the perpetrators are still in good health, some of them still active. It was thanks to their tireless efforts that 60 million Soviet people died in CheKa-GPU-NKVD-KGB cellars and concentration camps, while millions more lived through imprisonment and forced labour. Yet not a single one of those loyal citizens has been prosecuted.

Even today a third of all adult Russian men have done some prison time, which proportion is impressive but hardly surprising. After all, the country is run by the same organisation that in the unlamented past turned it into a nice blend of labour camp, morgue and army barracks.

So fine, do name names by all means. But not just those few of the remaining Nazi criminals, but also those of the multitudes of Soviet screws, executioners, interrogators and simply snitches, millions of them. And here we get to the crux of the matter.

For the ludicrous campaign of abuse against old men is designed precisely for concealing, or at least drawing attention from, the crimes perpetrated by home-grown monsters. The scions of those ghouls are committed to vindicating the past, thereby justifying the present.

Glorifying Stalin’s USSR, especially of the wartime vintage, is a key part of this effort. No country is still banging on about the Second World War as much as the Russians, the message being that yes, you the plebs may live hand to mouth, but only because the Soviet Union heroically bore the brunt of Nazi aggression.

The war has been sacralised and turned into a sort of pagan orthodoxy. For the sake of verisimilitude, this requires show trials of heretics, those who dare besmirch the figurines sitting on the totem pole.  Hence Putin’s henchmen have introduced a law against “re-writing history”, meaning exposing the lies of Stalin’s version of the war.

In the good tradition of a thief crying “Stop thief!” the loudest, they are accusing others of what they themselves are doing. For example, an historian was recently charged under the new law for stating the simple fact that it wasn’t just Hitler but also Stalin who attacked Poland in 1939.

During the brief quasi-democratic interlude in the 1990s, the Russian government denounced the Nazi-Soviet Pact as the actuator of the world war. This has now been repudiated by Putin personally, who has reverted to Stalin’s lies about the USSR’s peaceful intentions, as witnessed by the Pact.

Similarly, in 1991, after decades of barefaced lies, the Russian government finally admitted that it was the Soviets and not the Nazis who executed 22,000 Polish officers in Byelorussian woods. Now Stalin’s lies have been taken off the mothballs and jammed back into the brainwashed minds of the credulous public.

According to Gen. Bastrykin, Putin’s university classmate, the veterans’ testimony is necessary to preserve “historical continuity” and ensure “a happy life for future generations”. Some continuity. Some happy life.

Knowland’s sacking is justified

When railing against the dismissal of the Eton master Will Knowland the other day, I was guilty of slapdash research.

Mr and Mrs Knowland

Before putting my hands on the keyboard, I hadn’t listened to his lecture, The Patriarchy Paradox, going instead by long quotations cited in the newspaper reports.

That oversight has now been corrected, and I’m happy to report that the sacking verdict is looking more justified.

If I were the Eton provost, the post now held by Lord Waldegrave, I might sack Mr Knowland myself, in the unlikely event that I would have hired him in the first place. Yet my reasons for this conclusion are different from Lord Waldegrave’s.

His Lordship’s two cuts of beef are that Mr Knowland pushed a “false narrative” and, when ordered to make amends, disobeyed “internal discipline”. Both gripes are spurious.

Far from being false, Mr Knowland’s narrative is accurate on every rational level, supported as it is by copious scientific and historical evidence, not to mention the blindingly obvious observations made by anyone not blinded by ideological afflatus.

Mr Knowland takes issue with the currently dominant view that any differences between men and women are merely social constructs. This view has no foundation in biology, anthropology, zoology, history, psychology or anything else having to do with reason.

It’s nothing but a garbled signal of misconstrued virtue, sent out by a coalition of strident fanatics as long on emotional frenzy as they are short on rational thought. That much is clear, and it would be even clearer to anyone who can find half an hour to listen to Mr Knowland’s lecture.

The only factual quibbles I’ve seen so far have to do with his assertion that “rape, is not a unique claim for male oppression of women because male-on-male rape in jails dwarfs male-on-female rapes outside them”.

Then, responding to a comment underneath the video clip, he added that “the only serious scientific studies ever done on the subject estimate that… 40-60 per cent of rape accusations are false.”

I can’t prove or disprove Mr Knowland’s data because I haven’t seen the studies in question. At first glance, the proportion Mr Knowland cites looks on the high side, but I’m in no position to argue one way or the other. However, pedantic quarrels over details shouldn’t in this case change the essence of the argument, which is worth discussing.

There’s no doubting that a) many claims of rape are indeed false and b) the definition of rape is broadening by the day, while the required standards of proof are loosening at the same rate.

We read endless reports of careers and even lives destroyed by such false accusations. Moreover, their frequency tends to increase in proportion to the social and economic standing of the accused.

Thus, say, a professional footballer is more likely to be falsely accused of rape than, say, a professional carpenter. Striker Ched Evans found that out the hard way by spending two years in prison only then to have his conviction quashed. (He was later found innocent on retrial.)

Such examples are made so much more numerous by the police being overeager to press charges, and the courts to convict, on a woman’s say-so.

If you were to accuse me of stealing your watch but fail to produce any evidence to that effect, the case would never even go to trial. If it did, the prosecution would be laughed out of the courtroom. Yet women may claim rape decades after the supposed fact, with the alleged perpetrators prosecuted and often convicted.

Newspapers are also full of stories of women who claim rape after getting in bed with a man, indulging in imaginative foreplay and then saying no in mid-stroke. The man is expected to practise instant coitus interruptus or else be accused – and probably convicted – of rape.

Just as the definition of rape is getting broader, the definition of consent is getting narrower. Nothing but an explicit statement (ideally written and notarised, though oral may still do at a pinch) of “I hereby consent to sexual intercourse” exculpates a frisky male.

I’m not trying to trivialise real rape, which is indeed a heinous crime. However, if every ‘no’ whispered by a naked woman in bed were taken as a legally enforceable injunction, the birth rate in Britain would drop way below the replacement level.

In fact, rape is trivialised not by me but by those who expand its definition, thereby putting on the same level a vicious degenerate jumping a jogger in the park and a man who refuses to believe his wife really does have a headache.

Rape is also trivialised by fanatic feminist propaganda, teaching women to regard every man as an oppressive, raping brute. Any sexual impropriety – an unwanted kiss, a hand on the knee, a pat on the rump – is supposed to be treated as sexual assault, rather than bad manners, insensitivity or flirtatious behaviour.

If this tendency continues, and if no statute of limitations applies to such ‘crimes’, every man in His Creation – including, regrettably, me – will be branded a criminal. That would constitute the ultimate trivialisation: if everybody is a criminal, nobody is.

I have no doubt that Mr Knowland can support his data with appropriate references. After all, everything else he says is amply documented. But that wouldn’t make any difference to Lord Waldegrave et al.

They object not to the substance of the argument but to the very fact that it’s made. Mr Knowland’s appeal to freedom of speech rings hollow in the empty spaces of woke crania.

Lord Waldegrave’s other charge, violation of “internal discipline”, is eerily reminiscent of the Soviet Union I remember so fondly. There, in the name of party discipline, people were supposed to repent crimes they had never committed and mouth gibberish they found repulsive.

When told to remove the lecture from the Eton website, Mr Knowland instantly complied. However, he did refuse to remove the text from his own YouTube channel, which features a disclaimer that the views expressed therein are his own and not his employer’s.

He invokes free speech, in the naïve belief that the notion still obtains. It clearly doesn’t, and neither does the distinction between discipline and tyranny.

Eton’s insistence that it has the authority to police statements made on its employees’ own media is tyrannical and therefore unjust. Hence anyone working there has not only the right but indeed the obligation to resist.

Now, if you’ve read this far, you may be tempted to backtrack to the beginning of this piece and wonder why I’m now more amenable to the sacking of Mr Knowland. Well, I’m happy to explain.

As any conservative, I’m a strong believer in social and cultural hierarchy. Eton, historically, is the hatchery of fledglings slated to inhabit the upper perches in that vertical structure.

For such a hierarchy to perform a valid social function it not only has to exist, but be seen to exist. Hence, each of its levels must come with a clearly visible badge, exclusive and at the same time aspirational.

Obviously this goes against the grain of our decultured, deracinated and demoralised modernity. So much more the reason for vigorous rearguard action to be fought by our ancient institutions, such as the monarchy, aristocracy, church – along with Eton, Rugby, Harrow and other exclusive schools.

They should flaunt their hierarchical badges, thereby flouting the mob ever ready to stamp them into the dirt. One such badge, perhaps the most visible, or rather audible, of all, is the accent.

In the past, schools like Eton had easily identifiable accents, each subtly its own but all generally upper-class. Yet Mr Knowland’s lecture, unimpeachable as it is on content, fails on form.

For he speaks with, at best, a middle-of-the-road accent, as far removed from the traditional Eton phonetics as, say, Essex from Belgravia. Moreover, he makes frequent references to the kind of proletarian TV shows that no Etonian of the past would have even heard of.

Had Mr Knowland been dismissed on such grounds, I’d be the first to applaud. Yet Lord Waldegrave knows that even obliquely referring to such standards would lead to his own dismissal faster than you can say ‘toff snobbery’.

Hence, rather than trying to inoculate society against the soul-destroying egalitarian contagion, Eton happily falls its victim. There goes England.