In days of yore, Autumn was poetically associated with mist and mellow fruitfulness. More recently, for those of us using the trains, it has also become associated with the menace of “leaves on the line” – the curious ability of a little vegetation discarded by some (careless – or perhaps, malicious) deciduous plants to bring the 21st century rail network to its knees (and, yes, I do realise that a network probably doesn’t have actual knees). However, it also seems to have become associated with the conference – and not just the pear!
I found myself speaking at two such conferences last week, have another couple next week and yet another towards the end of the month. You readers may mock (or merely ignore) my output but there is a greater call for my services than you might have imagined! It’s not just a local audience – my victims have been drawn from across the whole of Europe, and even given positive feedback after being exposed to my “content” (proof – if proof were needed – of the reality of Stockholm Syndrome).
Actually, one of my recent gigs was held in the French Salon at Claridge’s – so a brief opportunity to discover how the other half live (I did feel dreadfully common). It was nice – but if I needed somewhere to stay for the night, give me a student room at a Cambridge College or a budget hotel chain every time and I’ll spend the money I’ve saved on something which would give me more enjoyment.
However, it is not just me attending conferences – our political masters (and would-be masters) are at it as well. In the past, these conferences tended to be held in remote seaside locations (presumably using similar logic to the siting of nuclear power stations), but now they infest our inland conurbations without a second thought.
Of late, some of our politicians have taken to speaking without notes – and being lauded for this as though the achievement were comparable to that of a talking dog. In all my years of public speaking, I have only once used notes – and that was only because the conference organiser insisted on it – and even then I ad-libbed extensively. It would seem that poor old Ed Miliband came a little unstuck with this approach and forgot one of the key strands of his speech. I know how easy it is when talking off the top of your head to lose track of your key messages, though I’ve found this can (usually) be fixed by introducing a strong narrative element to your talk. Still, missing possibly the most important element of your talk does indicate very poor short-term memory, a tendency to get carried away by the sound of your own voice or too many messages for a single speech (to all of which I would have to plead guilty in my own less than illustrious past). Loath as I am to admit it, less can often by more when haranguing a crowd.
Both Labour and now the Tories seem keen to convince us that, if elected, they will spend more money on the NHS. Now, I know I dropped biology in the 3rd form and so am no expert – but I’m pretty sure that the primary objective of the NHS is to heal the sick, not to spend money. Money may enable it to achieve its objectives, but I think I’d rather see some promises couched in terms of health-based outcomes rather than spending ones. One could easily increase NHS spending by purchasing a Ferrari for every senior NHS manager, but whilst this may offer a lifeline to the Italian economy (and please at least some of the NHS management) I would be sceptical that it would do much for waiting lists, antibiotic resistance or the nation’s health. I suspect spending more money is just easier than actually tackling any of the real issues which affect the NHS which I am quite certain (as it is a large organisation established by and involving human beings) wastes vast quantities of money (if, by chance, it doesn’t then it truly is unique and should be extended to cover a far wider range of activities – it would certainly be able to teach “the man” a thing or two!).
In the last couple of days, the Tories have continued to live by the dictum that if you thought the previous Home Secretary was reactionary then just wait. It would seem that in the pursuit of soi-disant extremists my rights and liberties as a citizen are to be still further eroded. I did wonder if this was, in fact, nothing to do with fears about the more frothingly insane members of Islam (and the young and impressionable that they have influenced) and is in fact a package of measures targeted at UKIP. Then again, given some of the views coming from her own party, Ms May may find she has scored something of an own goal.
Still, at least someone has finally had the courage to take a stand against the evils of human rights: as a non-human myself, I feel that far too much is being done to molly-coddle the fleshy pink and/or brown bipeds that infest this planet. Time they realised that they are allowed to exist (if at all) at the sufferance of their political masters (and the small number of wealthy individuals and corporations that are their masters, in turn). Rights should only exist where they can be taken and held by force – whether that be physical or fiscal in nature – which has surely been the message that the world’s religions and philosophers have been banging on about for millennia. I’m sure none of us want to live in a world where the rich and powerful might be brought to account should they chance to murder a citizen (or several) on a whim.