For too long, out of a high-minded desire not to spoil anyone’s pleasure, this column has avoided the subject of the Olympics. But when I came to London this week, after an absence of ten days, I found I could remain silent no longer. My walks through St James’s Park, so good for body and soul, and so much more efficient for getting where I wish to go than other means of transport, have been banned. The park is closed. This is partly to allow Olympic beach volleyball to spoil Horse Guards, but also, apparently, for ‘security reasons’, the great tyrant’s excuse of our times. According to the Royal Parks, the park will not ‘return to its pre-Games condition’ until the spring of 2013. For anyone unOlympic living, working in or visiting London between now and September, there is nothing but boredom, inconvenience and officially sanctioned insolence on offer. Thanks to the loathsome ideology of the Olympics, which manages somehow to be fascist and internationalist at the same time, free expression has been banned, and anyone using the Games symbol or the word ‘Olympic’ in any way is threatened with arrest. We have to sacrifice our capital city’s roads so that sporting officials can drive round at their ease. Fifteen thousand soldiers — nearly a fifth of our entire army once it has been shrunk by next week’s cuts — will be unwillingly on hand to pump up the bogus prestige of the event. The total cost to the taxpayer is monumental. Needless to say, everyone who can is getting out of town for the period, and the recession will deepen as a result. Hotel revenues and houses let for the Games will achieve nothing like the prices that were predicted, and ticket sales for some sports are also weak. Airlines are already having to offer discount fares. Theatres and restaurants will be deserted, and public transport will fail. Unlike the Jubilee, this is not a great popular festival, but an assertion of power by our grasping, arrogant, boring global elites.
But not everyone suffers. The opening ceremony, called ‘Green and Pleasant Land’, involves the re-creation of the best of British landscape in the Olympic stadium. Vast amounts of the best English turf will be required, and then, to replace what has been used for the day, much the same quantity again. The good news is that this rich earth is cut from the perfect Scunthorpe soil of the Normanby Estate which belongs to the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield.
Recently, with no fanfare, it was announced that Lord Guthrie, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, is to be made a Field Marshal. The rumour is that his appointment will give cover for the imminent promotion of the Prince of Wales to the same rank. My initial reaction was pleasure, because no one deserves it more than Charles Guthrie, and it is good to see the illustrious title, last conferred in the 1990s, coming out of abeyance. On reflection, though, I am not so sure. At a time when the armed forces are being squeezed, it feels like a crumb of false comfort. It reminds me of when Peter Mandelson gave the George Cross to the RUC — an appropriate gesture, but also a sign that the government had shafted them.
We often speak of the ‘Protestant work ethic’. But reading Sir Terry Leahy’s new book, Management in 10 Words (Random House), reminded me that there is such a thing as a Catholic work ethic too. Sir Terry is the son of an Irish carpenter, prevented by war wounds in the Merchant Navy from pursuing his trade, who then become a greyhound trainer in Liverpool. The boy, one of four, worked hard and won a scholarship to a local fee-paying school, went thence to UMIST, and eventually conquered the world through retail. It is clear from his book that the value of what Catholic social teaching calls ‘solidarity’ took on, in his mind, a commercial application. I enjoy the fecklessness which is usually associated with Catholicism, but, in a world in which amazing numbers of people seem to be brought up with no values at all, it is clear that many Catholics have a work ethic, because they have a wider ethic.
A much-loved neighbour of ours, Ian Cox, who died earlier this month, used to run a hotel in Pevensey. One day a German couple came to stay. At breakfast the next morning he asked them if they had slept well. ‘No, we have not,’ they said indignantly, ‘a seagull has made its nest in our cupboard.’ Ian went up and evicted the seagull. The following morning, he asked the couple again if they had slept well. ‘No, we have not. A seagull came and pecked at our window all night.’ One has guiltily to admit that much of the comic pleasure in this story comes from the fact that, as in Fawlty Towers, the guests were German. A more extreme example was provided by the late Lord Lambton, who rented out one of his houses in Tuscany to a German couple. One day they rang him in a fury to complain that there was a rat in their kitchen. Tony took a spade, went over to the house, beat the rat to death and threw it out of the door. As he left, he said, ‘Typical Germans! You kill six million Jews, but you can’t deal with a bloody rat.’ The couple tried to sue him in the Italian courts, I believe, but they were unsuccessful.
Mervyn Griffith-Jones QC famously asked, in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial, ‘Is this a book that you would allow your wife or servants to read?’ Now our culture has so reversed that the pornographic bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey seems to be restricted to women readers and withheld from the delicate eyes of men. So I have not read it. But I am interested by the cover. It depicts a silver woven silk tie, of the sort favoured by William Hague, and nothing else. So the tie, for long shunned by anyone wishing to be fashionable, has been rehabilitated as an erotic object. This must be good for middle-aged male morale.