The only way of cutting off the constant stream of idiots and imbeciles and feeble-minded persons who help to fill our prisons and workhouses, reformatories, and asylums is to prevent those who are known to be mentally defective from producing offspring. Undoubtedly the best way of doing this is to place these defectives under control. Even if this were a hardship to the individual it would be necessary for the sake of protecting the race.
In Scotland’s grittier pubs, a simple rule has long applied: no football colours and no talking about politics. With enough drink, talking about either can lead to violence — and pint glasses are expensive to replace. With an ordinary general election, the prohibition is easy to obey. The wrong buggers might well win, but they can easily be removed at the next election.
A referendum, however, is different.
In the course of a queasy hour in Harley Street 30 years ago I learned a great deal about the brain — what Woody Allen called ‘my second favourite organ’ — and altered the course of my life in sports writing. Dr Peter Harvey concluded: ‘Boxing is a contest in which the winner seems often to be the one who produces more brain damage on his opponent than he himself sustains.’
Last weekend, after a boxing match for the British middleweight title, Nick Blackwell was in an induced coma with bleeding to the brain.
Last month a friend invited me to lunch at the Garrick Club. As an impoverished writer, I don’t get many offers like this, so the week before, in a state of anticipation, I took my good suit out of the cupboard to check it wasn’t too rumpled. To my horror there were two holes the size of a five-pence piece in the trousers. Moths! I tore through my wardrobe and found web-like trails all over my coats, suits and sweaters.
It’s chucking-out time at my local pub, and the high street is full of idiots. They’ve all had a lot to drink, but they’re in no hurry to go home. They’re looking for a party, somewhere loud and lairy to go on to. They’d settle for more booze, but some speed or skunk would be even better. It’s a scene I’ve seen a thousand times, but lately something’s changed: these tearaways aren’t teenagers — they’re in their fifties and sixties.
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It was past midnight in Norwich. There was a keen wind rifling up London Street. It was dark and it was January. I was hoarse, my feet hurt and, more to the point, I was cold. I had been punishing myself for four-and-a-half hours reciting poems by Eliot, Larkin, Wordsworth and Whitman.
The NHS is rarely far away from a crisis. Even so, the last few months have been particularly tough. The junior doctors’ strikes have grabbed the headlines, but perhaps even more worrying for the future of the NHS is the state of its finances. Trusts are falling deeper into debt, yet the biggest budget squeeze is still a year away. It may be time, then, to rethink the way the health service is funded.
Once, it seems, Sandro Botticelli played a trick on a neighbour. Next door was a weaver who possessed eight looms. He and his assistants kept these in constant use, creating such a judder-ing racket that the poor painter was unable to concentrate on his pictures. Botticelli implored this fellow to reduce the noise, but to no avail. So eventually the artist carried an enormous rock on to his roof, poised so the slightest vibration would bring it crashing through the noisy weaver’s premises.