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It’s not just what you say, but how you say it

Phonetics matters, ladies and gentlemen. Mispronounce a word, and you can find yourself in trouble, or even in prison.

…for telling us how not to mispronounce Niger

Hence, by way of public service, I’ve been warning people for years to watch how they pronounce Niger and Nigeria.

A slip of the tongue can easily cause offence, and anyone feeling offended may – these days almost certainly will – seek restitution. Even if people don’t really feel offended, they’ll be instructed by authorities to re-examine their feelings and manufacture credible outrage.

Yet David Collins, a geography teacher in South London, either never heard my warnings or regrettably failed to heed them. When the subject of West Africa came up in class, he told his 14-year-old pupils not to pronounce Niger like the word than which nothing worse exists in the English language, nor indeed in our whole galaxy.

To clarify his meaning, he then helpfully provided the mispronunciation to be avoided. Predictably, his pupils didn’t feel helped. They felt offended.

The school administration instantly provided a means of expressing their wrath. Pre-printed complaint forms were issued, and the pupils were encouraged to fill them in, pulling no punches.

(Apparently, most schools provide forms for the pupils to rate their teachers. Someone ought to educate our educators that schools are different from supermarkets. Customer satisfaction forms are appropriate in the latter, not in the former. Unlike a supermarket manager, a teacher must be seen as a figure of authority who educates, not serves, his flock. Nor is it a good idea to encourage the young to snitch.)   

Shaken to its foundation, the school has felt compelled to restate its uncompromising position on its website:

“As part of our commitment to British values and spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, each half term sees a focus on a key issue relating to diversity: gender, LGBTI, immigration, race, different needs (including mental health and being differently abled) and religion. Each half term, our students can purchase badges, make pledges to show their commitment to reducing discrimination and donate to relevant causes.”

These 65 words illustrate, in conjunction with this whole episode, the catastrophe of our education, indeed the dying twilight of our whole civilisation.

A general observation first: no school capable of expressing itself in the kind of English that sounds like a bad translation from the German should be accredited to teach our young.

Since those ‘educators’ themselves speak pidgin English, it’s no wonder their pupils have to be told how not to mispronounce Niger. They evidently haven’t been taught that the first syllable in that word is what phoneticians call ‘open’, meaning ending in a vowel.

That vowel is almost always pronounced as a diphthong. At the same time, the g-sound is usually softened in a pre-vocal position. Hence any pupil aged 14 should naturally pronounce Niger like the name Nigel without the final consonant.

That’s how that country’s name always used to be pronounced in English. However, with the recent tendency towards faux authenticity, we’ve been ordered to use the Franglais pronunciation of Nee-ZHER.

That’s ridiculous: we anglicise many French names, such as Paris or Rheims, so why not Niger? But never mind that – my point is that no one with even a rudimentary knowledge of English would mispronounce that word in the criminal way.

Since the pupils of Chestnut Grove Academy in Balham possess no such knowledge, they have to be told. And the school’s administrators themselves should be told that British schoolchildren are called ‘pupils’, not ‘students’, as they are in America.

Most terms in the school’s mission statement are as offensive as the racial slur in question.  For brevity’s sake I’ll only single out “mental health and differently abled”.

The second term denotes those unable to learn much of anything. But we, the newly sensitive we, can’t say that, can we?

Yes, they may not possess the requisite ability to learn how to read, write, add up and pronounce ‘Niger’. Yet that mustn’t be construed as their having no abilities at all.

They do have abilities, but different ones. For example, those pupils could sell you a gram of coke faster than you can say ‘juvenile delinquent’, and the especially abled among them could perhaps hotwire a car in 20 seconds. I may be looking on the negative side here, but that’s only because I haven’t a clue what those different abilities may be.

As to ‘mental health’, I propose that this term be banned on pain of public flogging. Alas, this proposal hasn’t been, nor ever will be, acted upon. In fact, mental health of the young is one of the hottest news topics these days.

The logical antonym of ‘mental health’ would be ‘mental illness’, like clinical depression, paranoid delusions or schizophrenia. Hence this term belongs in psychiatric literature, not general usage. But ‘mental health’ persists in general usage, designating the opposite of a lousy mood, sadness – or outrage one is mandated to feel whenever Niger is mispronounced.

According to current data, 55 per cent of British youngsters have sought professional help for a deficit of ‘mental health’. Nevertheless, one has to discount, after momentary hesitation, the possibility that over half of our young people are, clinically speaking, nutters.

It’s just that they are drowning in the sewage of psychobabble flooding the classrooms of schools like Chestnut Grove Academy, which is to say most schools. Psychobabble and aggressive, fascisoid wokery are portrayed as the right, increasingly only, tools for inculcating “British values”.

These values are of recent vintage. In the past, the British used to be a nation of warriors, explorers, adventurers, inventors, entrepreneurs, risk takers, sturdy individuals able to take the rough with the smooth.

Now they are mass-produced to become effete snowflakes who respond to anything upsetting by running to Mummy or, when slightly older, to a shrink. In between such visits, they are indoctrinated with the tenets of the socially and culturally destructive pseudo-morality guaranteed to turn them into perverse, brain-dead barbarians.

It takes much hatred of Britain to describe the outcome of this subversive effort as ‘British values’. The prefix anti- must have fallen off by accident.

But what if history starts out as a farce?

When Marx wrote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, he didn’t account for the possibility of the reverse sequence.

The actors have played their parts

Yet the Biden-Putin summit, inaugurating the interplay between Russia and America for the next four years, shows that this possibility is very real. We were served up a farce, and a tragedy may be just around the corner.

Biden has been hailed in the American press for his self-restraint, belying the steely resolve underneath. No one seems to realise that Putin played Biden – and the sycophantic ‘liberal’ media – for a sucker. People in the West don’t seem to grasp the salient difference between the two chaps.

Biden’s words may not be deeds, but they still are words. The nature of Western governance is that politicians may be held to account for things they say. That’s why they so often, practically always, utter vacuous, noncommittal statements, trying not to give their opposition an opening. They can’t just say any old thing and hope to get away with it.

Putin’s words aren’t words. They are KGB ops, solely designed to deceive, provoke, unsettle, trick – whatever works to complete the mission.

The mission is to defeat the West politically, to force it to accept the legitimacy of the Russian regime and Putin personally, giving them a free hand to do as they will. Such a victory must not only be won, but it must also be seen to have been won.

Acting on his childhood experience as a self-described “common Petersburg thug”, later parlayed into a career within history’s most murderous organisation, Putin knows how to declare victory without actually uttering words to that effect.

The technique he uses comes straight from Petersburg’s back alleys, where the bully knows he can say anything he wants without anyone daring to disagree. The message is, “Oh yeah? So what are you going to do about it?”

Just look at the way he handled the issue of Navalny, whose Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF) has been a thorn in Vlad’s side for years. To jog your memory, Putin’s Lucretia Borgias poisoned Navalny with novichok.

Yet they didn’t get the dose quite right, which is always a problem. Too high, and the poison will be instantly detectable in postmortem. Too little, and the target may survive.

That’s what happened in this case: Putin’s hitmen only succeeded in putting Navalny in a coma, not in a coffin. Still unconscious, he was taken to Germany for treatment, and his life was saved.

Navalny then returned to Russia, knowing he’d end up in prison. So it proved. He was accused of jumping parole and sentenced to 3.5 years in a penal colony.

When queried about this, Putin delivered his back-alley jive. Navalny, he said, had committed a crime by escaping to Germany. Hold on, Vlad, but surely, being in a coma, he didn’t have much choice in that matter? Oh yeah? So what are you going to do about it?

Then Putin corrected a widespread misapprehension. People treat Navalny and his ACF as legitimate political opposition. In fact, they are nothing but terrorists, teaching their supporters how to make Molotov cocktails.

But Vlad, the ACF was established in 2011, and in the intervening 10 years they haven’t committed a single terrorist act. Nor is there a shred of evidence that they are planning one. Oh yeah? So what are you going to do about it?

Biden tried to answer that implicit question by threatening “devastating consequences” should Navalny die in prison. By the looks of it, the devastating consequences will take the shape of another stern expression of deep concern.

Anyway, why weren’t there any consequences, devastating or otherwise, when the previous opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was shot dead a few feet from the Kremlin wall? Or when another opposition leader, Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered? Or after dozens of other dissidents (Starovytova, Shchekochihin, Sheremet, Litvinenko et al.)  were ‘whacked’ in Russia and elsewhere?

Where were the consequences of a London restaurant being poisoned with polonium and half of Salisbury with novichok? What about that Chechen émigré shot in Germany? Boris Berezovsky garrotted in London? Alexander Perepelichny poisoned in Surrey?

And why just threaten consequences? Why respond to the Navalny poisoning with merely token sanctions against a few Russian officials? That was supposed to send a signal to Putin, but a much stronger one was sent by Biden’s suspending sanctions against Nord Stream 2 contractors, effectively strengthening Putin’s ability to blackmail Europe with his energy cosh.

Biden did mutter something about human rights in Russia, giving Vlad a chance to embellish on the answer his foreign minister Lavrov once gave to his British then-counterpart David Miliband: “Who are you to fucking lecture me?” (At the time I was shocked by the split infinitive.)

What about those poor souls, said the Petersburg thug, who expressed their peaceful political opposition in Washington on 6 January, 2021? Hundreds of them were arrested, many will go to prison. Where are the human rights in that, eh?

Hold on, Vlad. They weren’t arrested for voicing dissent. They were arrested for storming the US Capitol, with five people dying and 140 injured as a result. So that analogy doesn’t work. Oh yeah? So what are going to do about it?

Then Biden raised the issue of cyberattacks on US political and commercial institutions. We have hackers too, threatened Joe. We can retaliate – will retaliate, especially if you hit one of our 16 vital infrastructure facilities.

Biden apparently named those lucky 16 to Putin, but he kept the public in the dark. Those outside the red line must be on edge, and even those inside can’t relax if they can’t be sure on which side of the line they fall.

Biden also expressed his deep concern (that dread phrase again) about the recent concentration of Russian troops on the Ukraine border. Hey, those were Russian troops moving around Russia, objected Vlad. Our troops, our country, we can do as we please.

And anyway, the Minsk Protocol is still in force, and it’s the only valid basis for even discussing the Ukraine. Putin was referring to the 2014 ceasefire agreement that followed Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine. Actually, Russia has been violating those accords with such metronomic regularity that they can only function as part of the aforementioned ‘Oh yeah?’ stance.

Much more germane to the conversation would have been the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, whereby the US and the UK guaranteed the Ukraine’s security in exchange for her relinquishing nuclear weapons. Yet invoking that document would have added a touch of realism to the unfolding farce, and Biden didn’t want to step out of character.

Until recently, Putin had only talked in that openly mocking way to the paper-trained Russian media and, through them, Russian people. Now he clearly feels strong enough to adopt the same public posture before the West, which doesn’t bode well for any of us.

For Putin seems certain he can now run his op worldwide and succeed, as he did in this case. Biden got nothing out of those talks, whereas Putin got exactly what he needed: an equal place at the international table.

Biden implicitly endorsed that elevation by calling Putin “a worthy adversary” with whom he spoke “the same language”. And he accepted Russia as “a great power”. QED

With a meagre three per cent of world GDP, Russia certainly isn’t a great economic power. But she punches way above her economic weight because she possesses a large number of nuclear warheads. It’s the greatness of a schoolyard bully, not of a bespectacled straight-A pupil.

Now, China, with over 18 per cent of world GDP, is a great economic power, which makes many observers, including some who ought to know better, regard her as the greatest threat to the West.

First, I’m not aware of any rule saying that the West can have only one threat at a time. Second, I see no evidence that China presents an immediate political threat. One doesn’t see Chinese troops in action anywhere in the world, and neither does China try to undermine Western elections and buy up Western politicians and parties wholesale.

Third, and most important, Russia and China are both ruled by disgusting regimes that hate the West. That makes them natural allies who can launch a two-prong offensive against us, economic (China) and political (Russia). I don’t know if any formal agreement has been reached between the two, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were in the near future.

China may eventually accumulate enough wealth to put a python-like squeeze on Western economies and monetary systems. Russia can at the same time keep “probing the West with the bayonet”, in Lenin’s phrase.

China, with her vast industrial capacity, doesn’t need political pinpricks to achieve her goals. Russia does, and one of the goals is to be accepted by the West as a “worthy [meaning equal] adversary”.

That goal was largely achieved in Geneva a week ago, with Biden agreeing to play his role in the farce.

We must have more rapes

I know this sounds just awful. But it’s one of the possible conclusions to be drawn from this morning’s Sky News report.

Its presenter, Kate Burley, whose politics would place her somewhere between Jeremy Corbyn and Notting Hill, interviewed two government ministers, one in charge of domestic crime, the other of crime in general.

Isn’t it wonderful how finely our government divides responsibilities, each calling for a separate ministry? That’s definitely a step in the right direction. Racing along that road, I’m sure we’ll soon have a Minister for Muggings, one for Racial Slurs, another one for Burglaries… No, scratch that last one. Burglary has been decriminalised in the UK, or as near as damn.

Anyway, Kate nailed both Tories to the wall with her questions about a report showing that fewer rape cases are now being brought to trial. She held both politicians personally responsible for that outrage, and they both expressed the requisite regrets and abject shame, promising to do something about that scandal in short order.

Kate’s assumption – nay certainty – clearly was that misogynist cops, prosecutors and judges refuse to pursue rape cases. Possibly that’s because they think it takes two to tango. Or else they feel that women egg men on by wearing short skirts. Or perhaps those fossils get off on rape stories and see them as nothing but titillating entertainment.

Now if that’s the case, then justice isn’t being served, and things have to change. However, both ministers and their inquisitor didn’t even broach the possibility that the reason there are fewer rape cases being tried is that fewer rapes are being committed.

That would explain their predicament and light up a clear path to corrective measures. They should encourage men to rape more women more often.

That would instantly drive up the number of such cases reaching the Old Bailey, getting the government off the hook and putting a wide smile on Kate’s face and also on the visages of Jeremy Corbyn and every resident of Notting Hill.

Here I have to disappoint them. I’ve given up rape, partly because the pillow talk is too limited. A loquacious chap like me wouldn’t be happy with such foreplay exchanges as “Shut up or I’ll slit your throat!” and “Please don’t!” Then again, now that I’m in my dotage, most women could probably take me in hand-to-hand combat.

But the strong, silent types among my male readers should be able to oblige, which I strongly encourage them to do. We none of us want to upset Kate Burley.

Then there’s another possibility worth mentioning. That there may be fewer cases with enough evidence to bring to court.

Here we hit the nail right on the head. For the belief reaching dominance fast is that the standards of evidential proof in rape cases ought to be much laxer than in any other crime (with the possible exception of racial slurs, which will soon be handled by a specially designated ministry).

Let’s try to get to the bottom of that. In the past, a crime of rape offended two entities: the victim and the law. Hence it was treated like any other crime against person or property, where the offended parties fell into the same two categories. The plank of the evidence sufficient to dispel reasonable doubt was set high in all such cases – and, more important, equally high.

That has changed, as far as rape is concerned. For this crime offends not against two entities, but three: the victim, the law – and, critically, the woke ethos raised to a level of religious orthodoxy.

This adds a metaphysical dimension to the forensic procedure, and metaphysics doesn’t necessarily depend on physical evidence for its vindication. The ideal the likes of Kate Burley see in their mind’s eye is for every man accused of rape to be charged, tried and found guilty, regardless of any proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Even if that particular defendant didn’t rape that particular woman, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel – you can’t miss. There’s a rapist lurking in every man’s breast, isn’t there? Of course, there is. Every feminist worth her salt will tell you so.

Then, if the chap is actually guilty, it’ll be a crime punished. And if he isn’t, it’s a crime prevented. No man can be scrubbed clean of the original sin of being a rapist either in actuality or waiting to happen.

Still, it’s good to see that on a slow news day both our media and government officials have been able to isolate the most critical problem plaguing Her Majesty’s realm. The narrower the focus, the clearer the vision – and Godspeed to all of them.

The French are undergoing a cultural collapse

The words are simply refusing to come together in a sentence. So I’ll have to write them one by one.

This is dill, mes amis. Good with fish.

Young. French. People. Know. Nothing. About. Food. Any. Longer. I’m sure you can string these words together. But can you understand their full implication?

It’s as if Italians stopped pinching women’s bottoms on public transport. Or Russians, drinking toxic amounts of vodka. Or Britons, chanting “If it wasn’t for England, you’d all be Krauts” at football matches. Or Americans, confusing Austria with Australia, Sweden with Switzerland and not giving a damn. Or the Dutch, producing and consuming mountains of mediocre cheese.

If such calamities occurred, all those people would still be there in body. But their soul would be gone, their idiosyncratic character no longer recognisable.

That’s why I’m worried about the French. For gastronomy is a part of their national character that’s both essential and immutable. Or so I thought.

Then, over the past few years I’ve had many opportunities to observe young French people, and not just uneducated ones, struggling to identify some basic food items.

We have (or rather had before the lockdown season) a small Sunday market across the street from us in London. Many of the tradesmen and half the customers were French, the latter mostly working in finance.

One would expect those young professionals on the rise to continue the fine traditions of French gourmandising. Yet every now and then they displayed woeful ignorance.

Once, for example, I observed a well-dressed couple thoroughly befuddled by the sight of parsnips and swedes. They were looking at that exotica the way Man Friday looked at the salt shaker in Robinson’s hands.

The novelty struck them to the core. They asked each other if they had ever seen such amazing things, and neither of them had. What are they called? Not a clue.

Being by nature an obliging sort, I helpfully provided the French words for parsnip (panais) and swede (rutabaga). They looked at me not so much with gratitude as with awe, the way Venetians must have looked at Marco Polo who, on his return home from his voyage, told his friends that those odd Chinese cut dough into long strips and then boil them. “Delizioso, amici!

If reasonably educated Frenchmen can have such lacunae in their culinary knowledge, what kind of expectations can one have of youngsters working in French supermarkets? Pretty low, I dare say, and they live down to them.

People working at checkouts routinely fail to identify simple foods, especially vegetables and herbs. Hence they don’t know how to run them through and have to call for help. The help arrives after some five minutes, in the shape of their older manager who looks as if she thinks the holdup is our fault.

This morning, for example, a young man, probably a student doing a summer job, didn’t know what dill was. My supplying the word missing from his lexicon, aneth, didn’t ring a bell, and neither could he locate that mind-boggling item on his computer.

Penelope had to run back to the vegetable section and look up the item code, which took some time, much to the displeasure of the people behind us in the queue. She then told me not to use such language in public, even in English.

A trivial matter, you would think, and so it is. Or rather would be if it weren’t indicative of a general decline in taste.

I’ve been shopping in rural French supermarkets for some twenty years now, never missing an opportunity to peek into other shoppers’ trolleys. And let me tell you, their contents have changed even during this relatively short time.

If a generation ago most trolleys contained fresh vegetables, good bread, fruit and the ingredients for the ubiquitous local staple, boeuf bourguignon, nowadays they squeak under the weight of frozen pizzas, ready-made meals and revolting fizzy drinks.

It’s 20 years ago I’m talking about, not 450 or so, which was when Catherine de’ Medici married the French king Charles IX and brought some Italian chefs over in her trousseau. The Italians then taught the French that there was infinitely more to cooking than just roasting a whole wild boar on a spit.

Credit where it’s due, the French turned out to be able pupils, who have since created a great cuisine of their own. So great, in fact, that it has gone into much of what adds up to their national character.

One wonders, if they are busily abandoning that part, what other parts are also falling by the wayside. Quite a few, I’d suggest.

Inexplicably, French youngsters of the lower classes are beginning to mimic the behavioural patterns of their British counterparts. As in all such cases, the worst aspects find it easier to cross national borders.

For example, on weekends young Frenchmen often present at hospitals in a lager-induced coma – they seem to think that drinking 20 pints of beer is as cool as listening to rap and punk, which they assume all rosbifs do. Then there are tattoos and facial metal, practically unseen in France twenty years ago.

At that time there was not a single tattoo parlour in our regional centre, Auxerre. Now there are half a dozen, and one sees their customers roaming the glorious medieval streets and making me look away in revulsion.

These are small details, but they are the kind in which the devil lives. I could easily extrapolate from there into the general collapse of Western, not just French, civilisation. But that would be superfluous – you don’t need me to observe our universal relapse into barbarism.

Alas, it’s also observable in weightier areas than just fruit and veg.

French beef with English sausages

Politics, global or domestic, is inherently dishonest. Whatever disagreements arise, they hardly ever have much to do with the face value of the argument.

It’s like a woman telling her husband she is dumping him because they are emotionally incompatible, whereas what she means is that he isn’t making enough money. Or a man ostensibly divorcing his wife because she has failed to match his spiritual growth, whereas in fact he wants to marry his plump secretary.

If the jilted spouse takes issue with the enunciated reason for the split, the two will be at cross purposes in the ensuing conversation. They’ll be talking about different things.

Thus it’s pointless to argue with the French about any customs checks on Lancashire sausages travelling to Northern Ireland or furniture going the other way.

Boris Johnson and his Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab are wasting their breath trying to explain to Manny that Northern Ireland and England are two parts of the same country, the UK. Yes, they are separated by some water – but then Corsica and Réunion island are still parts of France even though they aren’t on the mainland.

Manny may not be a particularly educated chap, but his geography stretches this far. He knows all that. He also knows, and so does Boris, and so does Dominic, and Manny knows they know, that this isn’t what the real argument is about.

As far as Boris is concerned, Manny can choke on Lancashire sausages, and Manny wouldn’t mind seeing Boris shove them into the place that’s normally exit only. His beef isn’t with the sausages but with Brexit.

Manny is a fanatic of the EU, correctly sensing that it has been contrived specifically and exclusively for people like him. Hence he takes Brexit personally, knowing that it has put the EU – and hence his own political future – into jeopardy.

As far as Manny is concerned, Britain doing well outside the EU is a catastrophe on several levels. The most obvious problem is that other EU members may decide to follow suit, and that house can survive only so many departures.

The less obvious but more immediate problem is that Manny’s most dangerous domestic opposition comes from nationalist parties that are at best lukewarm on European federalism.

The poster adorning this article was produced by Action française, a political think-tank cum party that’s the nearest France gets to real conservatism. This royalist, Catholic child of Charles Maurras is too small and out of touch with modernity to present a serious threat, but it does state a Frexit position cogently.

Manny realises that Frexit is another way of saying Down with Macron!, which has been said with increasing frequency after his inept handling of the vaccination programme. That failure rankles, especially against the backdrop of Britain’s success, as spectacular as it was unlikely.

The threat comes from Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement national that’s neck and neck with Manny’s lot in the polls. Now, Mlle Le Pen refrains from calling for Frexit in so many words. But she cleverly uses anti-EU rhetoric to stoke up the nationalist feelings of her natural constituency.

Her message is simple and syllogistic. The EU is Manny, and Manny is the EU. The EU, acting through Manny, is killing Frenchmen by its vaccination fiasco. So even if you may not want to get rid of the EU yet, the next best thing is getting rid of Manny by voting for Marine.

If I advised Macron on political matters, I’d recommend that he put some serious distance between himself and the EU. He could easily match Le Pen’s diatribes without committing himself to any action and certainly not Frexit.

But that would be like expecting a candidate for Iran’s presidency to state publicly that there is a god other than Allah, and Mohammed isn’t his prophet. The words would just refuse to cross his lips, partly out of conviction, but mostly for fear of alienating his core support.

Manny will never stop trying to make Britain’s post-EU life as difficult as he can. If we were run by statesmen rather than spivocrats, we could easily pay him back in the same coin – for example, by promoting the anti-EU sentiments that are rife in some member countries, especially those in Eastern Europe. (I’d also suggest supporting Rassemblement national, but Putin is already doing that, and I wouldn’t want him for an ally.)

But that’s not going to happen, is it? Messrs Johnson and Raab will do some shadow boxing with Manny without ever landing a punch. They’ll argue some obscure legal points, go back and forth for a while before finally giving in.

Or they may not give in – ultimately it won’t matter. One way or the other, EU gauleiters, which is what all those national presidents and prime ministers are, will find a way to cut off their nose to spite Britain’s face. Such is the nature of that very beastly beast.

Are we all wimps now?

Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch yesterday, having suffered what looked like cardiac arrest.

The medical team acted instantly, administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation within minutes. That saved Eriksen’s life, and he is now stable in hospital. He may never play football again, but it looks like he’ll live.

A distressing event for everyone concerned, no doubt. Yet the weeping and wailing surrounding it is perhaps even more distressing.

The players on both teams were crying like babies. So were many spectators. So were some TV presenters. So, if their accounts are to be believed, were many viewers.

Now, I am capable of empathy as much as the next man, and I’ve never thought of myself as a callous person. Had I been present on the scene, I know I would have been upset at the sight of a young man fighting for his life. But I certainly wouldn’t have sobbed uncontrollably.

To be fair, some of the players did the right thing: before the medics rushed in, they had administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and then formed a live ring, shielding the stricken man from gawkers.

Others, however, just wept, joining the worldwide lachrymose choir. One begins to think that Boris Johnson’s call for a more “gender-neutral”, “feminine” society wasn’t so much a call as a statement of fact.

Here I have to disagree with Sarah Vine, poor Michael Gove’s wife. According to her, the two desiderata are mutually exclusive: it’s either gender-neutral or feminine, not both.

This just goes to show how futile it is to apply semantic standards to semiotic messages. Never mind the seeming oxymoron. What her husband’s boss was trying to communicate was the fashionable contempt for men and especially their traditional traits.

In that sense, gender-neutral, feminine, hermaphroditic, neuter all mean the same thing: not men, at least not men as God made them. Only men recast in the feminine mould are still allowed to get away with keeping their primary sex bits – they have atoned for the deadly sin of manhood by adopting feminine characteristics.

Reacting to unpleasant sights with tears is a visible manifestation of the invisible self-castration. Such a reaction shows that, though a person was unfortunate enough to have been born with a penis, he is doing all he can to get in touch with his feminine side. Full marks for trying, but do let’s go through the communal ritual of shedding tears.

The match in question was between two Scandinavian sides, Denmark and Finland. Their players are thus heirs to the stern Nordic character of the Vikings. Their forebears cut a swathe through half the world, killing, raping, pillaging and only ever crying with joy, at the sight of their enemy’s headless body swimming in a puddle of blood.

Not that I condone such behaviour, but what on earth has happened to them? And what has happened to the grandsons and great-grandsons of the Britons who lived through the Blitz hardly ever losing their nerve and even sense of humour? People who decorated their bombed-out shops with signs saying “Come in, we are even more open than usual” were no cry-babies. Now their descendants weep when a chap they don’t know suffers a cardiac event.

I’m not going all macho, certainly not so much as to say “men don’t cry”. We do, with sufficient provocation. Grief, bereavement, a dreadful disease striking someone we love, losing a child or a beloved woman may all bring tears to our eyes.

We do try to fight them, but sometimes the fight is lost. We still try because self-restraint, the ability to control effusive emoting is what we do, what we have always done. This quality is most commonly associated with men, but women blessed with good taste and a strong backbone may display it too.

Now this laudable stoicism is despised. Everyone is supposed to wear his heart on his sleeve, with the inevitable result of that organ getting caked in grime. ‘Boys will be girls’ seems to be the mandated new version of the old phrase.

Mr Johnson ought to be careful what he wishes for. He should also pray (within his new-found Catholic rite) that Britons will never again find themselves at war, seeing their comrades blown to scarlet bits in front of their eyes, or their houses smashed to rubble. The spineless castrati he sees in his mind’s eye will go to pieces – and so will the country.

Wokery may be an election-winner, but also a country-loser. Feminise enough men, and society will lose its balance, like an acrobat losing his footing on the tightrope.

It’s not only actions but also words and ideas that have consequences, some of them grave, some irreversible. The on-going woke orgy can have just such an effect on society, and then it’ll be like tuberculosis. When the symptoms appear, it’s too late to do anything about it.

Abandon reason all ye who enter here

Wokery is a popular sport, but a steep entry fee is charged at the arena. All entrants must leave their brains at the door, and these may not be reclaimable on the way out (if anyone ever does leave).

Good block, Boris. Now let’s see that left hook.

That’s no great hardship for most wokers of the world because they have no brains to begin with, except in the strictly anatomical sense. A few, however, may possess some intelligence, and those overachievers do have something to lose.

Boris Johnson who, I have to remind you and myself, is a Conservative prime minister, is nobody’s fool. But intelligence means little, nor indeed will last long, when not propped up by character. If any proof of this observation is still required, Mr Johnson is happy to provide one.

Speaking at the G7 conference, he urged the world to come out of the Covid pandemic by “building back greener and building back fairer and building back more equal and… in a more gender-neutral and, perhaps a more feminine way.”

I suppose this twaddle means that, having spent much of his adult life practising assorted vices, including some highlighted in the Decalogue, Johnson now feels like signalling virtue.

And he doesn’t care how pathetic that makes him sound. Wokers never do: their communications aren’t semantic but semiotic, bypassing reason altogether.

They don’t take the trouble of trying to understand what they are saying because they know their audience won’t either. As long as the people’s nerve endings are tickled the right way, anything goes.

No one decorticates those semiotic messages to see how they hold up to semantic scrutiny. Doing so is seen as bad manners in woke circles, enough to get one blackballed.

Since I’ve already suffered that fate, I take people’s pronouncements at face value, trying to understand what they actually mean. Allow me to indulge this obsolete habit again by looking at Mr Johnson’s statement from some sort of reasonable vantage point.

“Greener” means a wholehearted commitment to the climate change hoax. Though lacking any scientific justification, it has to be avidly gobbled up by the woking classes on pain of ostracism.

Either Johnson doesn’t know that the climate crusade is merely an extension of the Marxist urge to undermine our civilisation or he knows it, but says such things anyway. You decide which is worse.

“Fairer… more equal” covers a multitude of sins, or rather woke virtues. When such words are uttered by prime ministers, they tend to mean economic levelling through extortionist taxation.

Also implied is kowtowing to Marxist campaigns like BLM, and indeed Mr Johnson has urged England fans to support the obscene Marxist rite of ‘taking the knee’ at the European Championship.

“Gender-neutral” means… well, you tell me. Encouraging more children to decide which of the 72 sexes identified so far better suits their neurosis? Possibly. A call for a legal ban on masculine pronouns? Perhaps. Demand for unisex public lavatories? Maybe. Blanket support for the Marxist subversion of the family? Yes, at least implicitly.

“More feminine” is a clarion call to arms for the share-care-be-aware warriors. Masculine qualities, such as fortitude, courage and combativeness, enable people to resist a war on everything they hold dear, specifically one waged by Marxist subversives.

Castrating men spiritually, morally and ideally surgically is a way of preparing the ground for the implantation of Marxist saplings. Mr Johnson seems to be willing to act as gardener, and he wants us all to give him a helping hand.

In other words, conservatism, as understood and practised by the Tories, is a lighter, still somewhat less virulent, form of Marxism. And if you have any doubts on that score, consider Julie Burchill’s plight.

Though not an especially deep writer, Miss Burchill is a brilliant one. She has an instantly recognisable voice of her own, which is a necessary if not sufficient part of writing talent. Such writers are rare among our columnists, and they ought to be cherished.

Miss Burchill may churn out nonsense at times, but she comes up with funny lines more often, and one of those has landed her in trouble. The Telegraph, historically a Tory mouthpiece, has sacked Miss Burchill from her weekly column for racism.

The evidence for this vice, than which, as we all know, nothing viler exists, came from her comment on the name the Sussexes gave to their new-born daughter, Lilibet. “What an opportunity missed!” rued Miss Burchill. “They could have called her Georgina Floydina.”

Whose febrile brain detected racism in this line? Miss Burchill was clearly mocking not Lilibet’s mixed race but her parents’ unwavering loyalty to woke causes, no matter how cretinous or subversive.

Alas, she failed to grasp that any other than a hagiographic reference to George Floyd in any context is ipso facto racist. “George Floyd was a drug-addled thug”? Racist. “George Floyd is an imperfect role model”? Racist. George Floyd was killed resisting arrest”? Racist. “George Floyd has become an icon for Marxist sedition”? Racist.

And even if it’s not George Floyd who is the object of satire, taking his name in vain must still be seen as sacrilege, while doing so in reference to Harry and Meghan is also lèsemajesté – especially if some lowly staffer at the Palace evinces displeasure.

Boris Johnson is a Conservative prime minister, and The Telegraph is a Conservative newspaper. I feel I must keep reminding you of this, lest you forget. Easily done, that.

“Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy”

Such was my friend’s reaction to the news that a member of the grateful public slapped Manny Macron in the face.

Manny, getting slapped down

Manny was doing his Tour de France, a meandering road at the end of which he hopes to secure another few years at the helm. A lot of flesh is being pressed, but some of the flesh strikes back.

Neither my friend nor I have much respect for the president of France (nor, truth be told, for any other modern politician). We see him as a typical EU spiv with narcissistic tendencies and an unquenchable thirst for power that he is incapable of using wisely.

Nor does Manny’s maniacal hatred of Britain do much to endear him to either of us. His isn’t that de rigueur Anglophobia that the French political classes often profess but seldom feel.

No, had Britain stayed in the EU, Manny wouldn’t mind us very much. As it is, he sees the British as traitors to that great idea, a denatured pan-European state run into the ground by the likes of Manny for the benefit of, well, the likes of Manny.

Still, neither my friend nor I felt sorry that the attacker had wielded only his open palm, not a knife or a gun. You see, we are both conservatives, a term that denotes not so much a political philosophy as style, manners, tastes and temperament.

That’s where conservatism starts, and the political or any other philosophy is strictly derivative, although of course not nonexistent. And attacking politicians we don’t like with knives, guns or even open hands is too uncivilised for us.

Such is the problem: civilised, conservative opposition to the modern order is limited to elderly gentlemen like us, who are too few and too isolated to constitute a viable political force. Our style, manners, tastes and temperament prevent us from screaming off soap boxes, rabble-rousing, organising riots and revolutions – or even slapping the likes of Manny for the sake of attracting attention to our cause.

The arrested attacker was shouting Montjoie, Saint-Denis! – that battle-cry of the medieval Kingdom of France was first mentioned in the Song of Roland. Also arrested was his friend sporting the fleur-de-lis and filming the incident.

Both the motto and the livery betoken royalist, which is to say impeccably conservative, credentials. But we can’t see those chaps as fellow conservatives. In all likelihood they are fascisoid radicals, a species occupying an altogether different rung in Lamarck’s ladder.

The situation is becoming increasingly reminiscent of Germany circa 1933. There were only two dynamic political forces at the time, the Nazis and the communists. Hence the Germans either had to choose one or the other, or watch from the sidelines with a sardonic smile on their faces – the option taken up by most conservatives.

The battle lines are drawn in different places now, but the similarities are obvious. Political power throughout the West is in the hands of an increasingly detached dirigiste elite, unerringly steering our civilisation to a gruesome end.

Real conservatism is for all intents and purposes extinct, and the only noticeable opposition comes from radical groups painted in various hues of brown or red. The more dirigiste the state contrived by the elite, the more it serves not the country but itself, the more violent the reaction – and France is as dirigiste as they come, in the West at any rate.

Whether the rebels scream “Black lives matter”, “Power to the people”, “Save the planet” or for that matter “Montjoie, Saint-Denis” is just a question of phonetics. They all claim they are offering a substantive alternative, but it’s one between the rock and the hard place.

My friend and I don’t want to be governed by either Manny, his attacker or the British (or American) equivalents. We’d like to see in government sage, prudent, courageous statesmen, and neither the self-serving spivs currently on offer nor their febrile attackers.

And we are dreaming of such statesmen as we watch a herd of pigs gracefully flying through the air. Alas, they are unlikely birds.

So sports and politics don’t mix, do they?

Yesterday I wrote about the pathetic ritual of England footballers ‘taking the knee’ before matches.

The greatest tennis player of all time?

Chaps, someone who feels compelled to signal virtue is guaranteed to have none. Virtue is a silent, undemonstrative quality that can only ever be manifested tacitly.

That’s why I despise rich people who insist that the recipients of their largess emblazon the donor’s name on their façades. “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth,” teaches a recognised, if nowadays ignored, authority on virtue.

Yet tennis beat footie to woke stances, which is par for the course. Being more of a middle-class game, tennis attracts more people susceptible to woke diktats.

A salient trait of the middle classes is fear of causing offence. Those above and below the middle classes tend not to give much of a damn, and they don’t care who knows it.

They are secure in their social standing, whereas the middle classes often aren’t. So they may feel they risk dropping a rung or two on the social ladder should they defy newfangled orthodoxies.

However, whereas football powers that be emphasise the racial end of the woke spectrum, their tennis counterparts are more concerned with feminism. Hence for the past few years men and women have been getting equal prize money at the Grand Slam tournaments.

That flies in the face of both arithmetic (the men spend on average twice as much time on the court) and the sacred egalitarian principle of equal pay for equal work. It also ignores the commercial principle of supply-demand: men’s matches attract much bigger audiences, both live and on TV.

Yet no one has accused wokers of the world of being rational: they live by their visceral instincts, the prime of which is resentment of our civilisation as it is, and especially as it has been. This is expressed by rote, through a series of ironclad mantras spouted whenever someone pushes a relevant button on their inner jukebox.

Come the season of major tournaments, some of those mantras become all-pervasive. One of them is invariably uttered whenever a commentator describes Serena Williams as the best female player of all time.

The show host will contort his facial features into a grimace of sanctimonious opprobrium and say: “Why female player? Isn’t she the best tennis player of all time, full stop?”

Like all woke mantras, this is so meaningless as to be borderline idiotic. Any full-time male player, including those on the veterans’ and US college circuits, would beat any female player, including Serena.

Anyone who has ever swung a racquet in anger knows this. Moreover, Serena herself knows it. When an interviewer asked her a few years ago if she was ready to take on Andy Murray, Serena just laughed. “I’m not going to play Andy,” she said. “He’ll beat me love and love in six minutes flat. The men play a different game.”

Yes, the game is different. It’s just the prize money that isn’t.

The usual, specious, argument is that the men’s total prize pot at the lesser tournaments is bigger. That may be, but comely female players have much greater opportunities to supplement their income with endorsements and model work.

Eugenie Bouchard, for example, made $6.1 million last year even though she has never won a major. And Anna Kournikova, who only won $3.5 million in career prize money, has a net worth of $60 million. It’s not just fun but also money that blondes have more of.

However, I feel I know how to reconcile the two sides, those who claim Serena is the best woman player ever and those who insist she is the best player tout court.

Putting on my Solomon hat, I can offer a solution that ought to satisfy both parties (or not, as the case may be). Serena is neither the best tennis player of all time nor even the best woman player.

She isn’t the former because any male player you’ve ever heard of could beat Serena without working up a sweat. The only criterion by which she could be deemed superior to, say, Federer or Nadal is that she has won more Grand Slams: 23 to their 20 each.

All God’s children love objective comparison criteria, but that’s not comparing like with like. Since we’ve already established that women play a different game, bean counting simply doesn’t apply here.

But I agree that the number of Slams is a useful measuring stick when we compare players leaving their mark within the same game, in this case women’s. Well, by that criterion the best woman player of all time is Margaret Court, not Serena Williams.

Court has 24 majors to her credit, compared to Serena’s 23. One might say that Serena at her best would have beaten Margaret at her best, which is God’s own truth. But that argument doesn’t work any better here than it does when we compare men’s and women’s tennis.

The women’s game is now different from what it was half a century ago, when Margaret Court was active. Thus we can take that hypothetical comparison out of the equation and simply go by the objective numbers, 24 versus 23.

But that’s where politics comes in. Mrs Court just doesn’t cut it as the best of all time.

She is a white woman and a Christian pastor. And she is outspoken in her rejection of woke orthodoxies, such as homomarriage and sex change. She doesn’t believe that Fanny can be your uncle and Bob your aunt – so her name never comes up as a candidate.

Serena, on the other hand, ticks all the appropriate boxes. And the one she doesn’t tick, the number of Slams, can be simply redacted from the ballot.

I wonder if Greta Thunberg plays tennis. If she does, Serena (and Margaret) better watch out: both of them could well be taken out of contention. After all, if politics is a factor in determining who is the best player of all time, why can’t it become the only factor?

Working classes vs woking classes

Those bloody proles just don’t get wokery, do they?

Political precedent: England footballers salute the Führer at 1936 Berlin Olympics

Twice the England team played its warm-up matches in Middlesbrough. Twice the players took the knee before the whistle. Twice they were booed.

That slap in the face of the woking classes caused much ire in the press. Words like “idiots”, “morons”, “stupid”, “louts” were sprinkled liberally all over the match reports – and that’s just in the ‘conservative’ papers.

The FA and its apparatchik employee, England manager Gareth Southgate, were aghast. Those fans just don’t understand the deep meaning of that gesture, they rued. They think it’s political, whereas in fact it’s anything but.

Having thus explained what the genuflection wasn’t, the FA bigwigs were reticent in elucidating what it was. I get it, not political. What then? Aesthetic? Charitable? Socioeconomic?

TV commentators confuse the issue further. This is a gesture of protest against social and economic injustice, explained one. Social injustice, said another on a different occasion, never mind the economic part. Racial injustice, added a third. Somehow gender injustice never got a mention, which left me feeling short-changed.

Let’s backtrack to the origin of the gesture, shall we? A year ago, George Floyd, a recidivist criminal high on drugs was caught in Minneapolis trying to pass a counterfeit banknote. The police arrived, and Floyd put up a fight resisting arrest.

When he was subdued, an overzealous cop pinned him down with a knee on Floyd’s neck, accidentally killing him. No great loss to mankind, one would think, but the subsequent trial found the cop, Derek Chauvin, guilty.  

He is facing a long stint in prison, which is likely to be cut short. Policemen guilty of killing black criminals don’t enjoy a high life expectancy in American prisons, especially when their crime has been widely publicised.

Once the news of the incident broke, the radical Marxist organisation Black Lives Matter sprang into action. Riots spread all over the US, with white people attacked, cars set on fire, shops looted, restaurants trashed. As its symbol, BLM adopted the genuflecting pose, thereby expressing symbolic solidarity with Floyd (who once held a gun to the belly of a pregnant black hostage).

BLM thugs would approach white people in the street, demanding they “take the knee”. Those who refused would be assaulted, at best verbally, at worst physically. How anybody could have thought that Chauvin would get a fair trial under the circumstances is beyond me. An acquittal would have set the whole country on fire.

While the attendant thuggery achieved only a limited popularity, the genuflecting gesture got internationally adopted in all the usual quarters. Those residing there see the entire history of the West as an uninterrupted string of crimes against non-white races, and hardly anything else but that.

Or alternatively they can see history as a crime against ‘our planet’. Or against women. Or against workers. Or against… doesn’t matter what it’s against. What matters is that it’s a crime, and only destroying this awful civilisation can secure a restitution.

These rebels in search of a cause always lurk in the shadows, waiting for two things. First, a pretext for the mob to go on the rampage. Second, encouragement that can only come from an osmotic feeling that the woke establishment is on their side.

Floyd provided the former; the ‘liberal’ media around the world, the latter. The actual, rather trivial, incident has since been blown up into some sort of existential conflict, a clash of civilisations, having little to do with the face value of Floyd’s demise.

To reach that stage, the woking classes had to go through several implicit extrapolations, each more asinine and false than the other.

First, what happened to Floyd wasn’t an isolated event but yet another link in the millennia-long chain of injustice. Second, since the black population of US prisons is three times their proportion in the overall population, this can only be a result of systematic discrimination – and if you dare to suggest any other reason, you are a fascist, racist, white supremacist and generally a bad egg. Third, what happens in the rest of the West is a mirror image of the situation in the US.

I suppose it takes an advanced degree from a top university to come up with such bilge. But woke idiocies aren’t supposed to stand up to scrutiny. They are supposed to activate the reflexes of the share-care-be-aware crowd, providing a welcome relief from their daily toil of saving the planet. And in this case they succeeded yet again.  

Suddenly, Britons living 4,000 miles from the scene of the incident are certain they are directly affected. It’s as if it was their own air ducts, not just Floyd’s, that got constricted by Chauvin’s knee. And it’s the bloody Tory establishment what done it, runs the ubiquitous, if unspoken, refrain. It’s Jacob Rees-Mogg who is to blame, if only vicariously.

And who better to feel this collective psychosomatic pain than our oppressed footballers desperate to eke out a living on £250,000 a week. It’s they who are ordered to take the knee before every match, expressing their solidarity with recidivist criminals.

Quite apart from anything else, this strikes me as illogical. Why just the ball-kickers? Why not actors and musicians before performances? Why not everybody on entry into a public space? Don’t Catholics genuflect when entering a church? Of course they do. There you go then.

The trouble is that most football fans haven’t got advanced degrees from top universities. Football, once described as working-class ballet, attracts a crowd short on academic credentials but long on common sense.

Some of them, a minority, are out-and-out louts ready to kill anybody wearing an offensive strip. But most are like those working-class Hartlepool voters who refused to vote Labour because they sensed it no longer has anything to do with labourers and everything to do with toffs out of touch.

The woke crowd has a lot to thank Covid for. Until a couple of weeks ago, the lockdown had kept the fans out of stadiums, and the FA could order the footballers to indulge in that obscene rite without any fear of backlash.

The situation has changed, and a few thousand fans are now allowed to attend. Hence they can flip their collective two fingers (or, under the corrupting influence of American movies, one) at the woking classes. Booing is their way to do just that, and it’s not the expression of innate racism the wokers claim it is.

Much has been made of England’s home advantage in the upcoming European Championship – many of its matches will indeed be played in English stadiums. However, if every match starts with a thunderous booing, I wonder how much of an advantage it’ll turn out to be.

Common folk are rather reticent in England, and it takes quite a bit to elicit a violent reaction from them. They aren’t French, you know. But once properly enraged, they can ride roughshod over alien sensibilities.

The woke crowd has made a stylistic error by enforcing woke rituals in a decidedly non-woke environment. Hope they’ll live to regret it.