96. Watching their Rome burn.

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Sorry, I’ve not written anything for a while. The daily news has become so outlandish that the art of wry observation has been killed off. It’s like a weather report has been interrupted by an extinction event meteor strike.

People keep asking me to explain why the UK is shooting itself in the foot and I suppose the easy answer is that Britain hates itself deep down. Britain is one of the first industrial countries and is the first one to become sick of industrial endeavour. The jadedness is pervasive. No-one’s really facing it. Employment is historically at a high level, but most of what people do at work they freely accept is pointless.

If Britain turned up in outpatients we’d send it to the crisis café, where it would do breathing exercises and group drumming therapy. Britain is paranoid, but not in a psychotic way. Britain is using the primitive defence mechanism of projection to blame its problems on others, much as Gotham City eventually turned against Batman. Britain will not be given drugs and universal benefit; it will not be allocated to a care coordinator. Britain will be given a self help leaflet and ‘signposted’ to the Tuesday allotment project. Sadly there is no therapist designed to treat whole countries. Although we have Prince Harry ‘starting conversations’ and the government’s behavioural insights unit.

But will that be enough to rescue us from our angry self loathing? Or do we need a proper superhero? Or even a more universally hated enemy, now that ISIS is receding and Northern Rail have settled their strike?

Beneath paranoia lies a longing for there to be someone out there who is interested in us– preferably in a good way, like a guardian angel, or Nick Knowles from DIY SOS. If they care in a negative way, such as a stalker or the taxman, that is still better than the complete indifference of a dark, empty universe. If Brexit is a cry for help, rather than a death throe, it relies on someone taking notice.

We cannot rely on International Rescue since David Milliband took over. I seriously doubt whether David has got the time to monitor every radio network in the whole world 24/7 like the Tracey brothers used to do. The closest we can come to Thunderbirds is the Air Ambulance, which is why we love it so much and keep putting coins in the collecting tin.

Maybe the giant corporations will look after us. I know that Google Rewards checks up on me regularly, knowing which shops I have been into or near. Unlike my guardian angel or Nick Knowles, Google Rewards reveals itself to me regularly with short survey messages. At the moment it wants to know whether I have spent any money in the shops and in particular what means of payment I used. Quite often it asks me how I feel about Argos. I don’t think Google would come to my rescue in an emergency, but importantly it does pay a small fee for each bit of information I send in. It might only be 6p each time, but it means at last I can say I am a paid writer.

Up there somewhere, my imagination tells me, there’s a person at a monitoring station looking at a screen, looking at what I am doing, ready to beam me up out of any trouble spot – this is what I call the rescue fantasy.

If I break down in my car I will call the AA. If I’m in a road accident the ambucopter will arrive, circle overhead for a while and land in nearby school playing fields. If my tooth breaks off the dentist will fit me in the same day and fix it during the Ken Bruce Show on Radio 2, both of us muttering answers to the popmaster quiz.

The local GP surgery reached out to me recently, inviting me for my 5 yearly check up. It’s called Health Check with the Nurse, though it is a health check with a health care assistant nowadays. In some more prosperous parts of the world it’s maybe a Health Check with a Regional Dean of Internal Medicine, or an underemployed WHO ambassador like Robert Mugabe. Next time here I suspect it will be health check with youtube and a mirror.

Anyway, the point is there is someone out there who cares about you, even if they have ulterior motives, like targeted advertising or stopping you getting diabetes.

And we’ve looked upon our parliament and political leaders to take an overview and guard us from our own foolishness. In return for their efforts we scream ‘nanny state’. But now we find our elected leaders fighting among themselves. Our ambucopter has landed, only to reveal the pilot and paramedic beating each other unconscious in a fist fight.

Some good things are happening, like the minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland, limits on fixed-odds betting terminals and quiet carriages on LNER. The police are asking us to report motorcyclists without helmets, accepting they will be anywhere within a ninety mile radius by the time details have been taken on the non-urgent line.

If The Rescue Fantasy was a movie here’s how it could all still work out:

Prince Philip has a dream of a devastated Britain that looks ever more like the set of a Mad Max movie. No More Heroes by The Stranglers plays loudly in the background.

He sends for Harry and symbolically hands over the key to the Royal Land Rover and Harry’s old army pistol. ‘You’ve got exactly 40 days to save this country from its own danged-bone-headed foolishness. You’ve been talking a lot about starting conversations, Harry. (eyes narrow) Now I’m telling you to finish the conversation.’

Training montage of Harry ploughing through piles of books: Freud, Durkheim, Nelson Mandela; exchanging ideas with world leaders; mindfulness exercises with the Beckhams; in the lab with Brian Cox; and finally, on the firing range with Prince Philip.

Cut to Parliament. Just like in Crimson Tide, at gunpoint, Harry relieves the prime minister of command, ‘You’re unfit for duty madam. And that’s the end of the conversation’.

Epilogue scene, the truth and reconciliation committee, chaired by Ant and Dec, symbolically reunited, takes evidence from the perpetrators. Harry, in the background allows himself a half smile.

Brief shot of angry Putin, smashing his vinyl copy of No More Heroes.

The End.

Post credits shot of the new Nissan X Trail, made in Sunderland after all.

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82. Euripides Trousers …

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Bees. They just get on with it.

Up until recently being a teenager was not regarded as a mental disorder. After David Cameron urged us to hug a hoodie, teenage angst was virtually eradicated from the  diagnostic landscape.  But now, some people seem to want to regard teenagers not just as sad victims of poor trouser design, but as Patients.

Someone’s looked at the lyrics of The Kids are Alright by The Who and recognised that they really meant the opposite. The Times is running a campaign about children’s mental health. A lot of assertions are being made that children are unhappy, that they are living through unusually stressful times, that they are victims of the modern world.

Horrible articles are being written about teenagers, suggesting they are unfathomable monsters and the National Theatre is running Medea again. I’m sorry, but this children’s mental health campaign feels like a moral panic. Who is stoking it up, and why?

Somehow or another, ‘subjective well being’ has become confused with becoming mentally ill. I’m a hypochondriac, but does that really affect my chances of getting ill?

Here’s a test of your subjective well being, the one used by the Children’s Society, the people who gave us the christingle:

Here are five sentences about how you feel about your life as a whole. Please tick a box to say how much you agree with each of the sentences: My life is going well; My life is just right; I have a good life; I have what I want in life; The things in my life are excellent.

Subjective well-being is arguably a test of how smug and complacent people are. How would John Lennon have scored? How would we have wanted him to score?

Before we go any further, how desirable is it for everyone to think the things in their lives are excellent?

Children are apparently scoring worse in such studies since 2008. And UK children are being dragged down the international league table by girls’ concerns about their appearance. British girls are second last, only South Koreans scoring lower, despite their excellent android phones.

It’s election time, so Nick Clegg is using the present tense when he should be using the future subjunctive, which apparently exists in Spanish. He’s claiming that stuff is happening, like expanding children’s services, that just might happen one day but probably won’t. He is comparing children’s mental health services to cancer services. If doctors did that they’d be accused of an absurd fixation with the medical model.

Libby Purves, still top of my list for head of state once we become a republic, compared children’s mental un-health to cholera, though admits that there is ‘no single pump handle’ to sort out.

To Libby’s credit, she soon recognises the problem is not like cholera at all.  She blames children’s unhappiness on: divorce, drug use, exam anxiety, peer pressure, early sexualisation, information overload, loss of contact with nature, ubiquitous screens, TV, games consoles…

Just like our generation suffered so much from CDs and colour TV. Just like our parents generation was thrown into abject misery by antibiotics and Walt Disney.

And she goes on to suggest a list of practical solutions: a smartphone ban in schools, art classes, choirs, safe outdoor spaces, park keepers, bus conductors, beat coppers and finally, ‘volunteering and youth groups to be made fashionable and fun’.

No doubt Libby is on the right track in terms of placing the issue firmly in the Sociology Department. There’s a squeeze on social capital and no sign of quantitative easing. That’s not to say that useful modern inventions like apps and text messaging are deleterious to social capital – quite the reverse is true judging from the queues in Costa and Macdonalds.

Very soon, the children’s mental health campaign will have to contact Blur to see if they can borrow the slogan Modern Life is Rubbish. But remember, that album was released in 1993, which to the under 18’s is somewhere between Roman times and Wolf Hall. Modern life really was rubbish then, before graphical user interfaces and flat screens. And it was probably rubbish in 1893, the year when the US Supreme Court declared the tomato officially to be a vegetable.

And isn’t the rest of The Times newspaper filled with all the stuff that Libby regards as a cholera fountain? The cholera in question being market-driven, intra-sexual competition. There’s a lot of stuff about girls who hate themselves and almost nothing about bus conductors or park keepers. In the fashion section all the items are unfeasibly expensive apart from one token item from Primark. Any article about anything whatsoever, such as which is the best digital tyre pressure device, will be accompanied by a picture of a thin female person, probably one of the tiny girls employed to make the DFS sofas look massive. If Libby finds that pump handle she ought sort out some of her co-workers with it.

People have been casting aspersions on younger generations throughout history. This is perhaps the first time that teenagers are being castigated by being labelled mentally unhealthy. It’s a change from being considered morally deficient or stupid, but just as fatuous.

Mostly, there is no sense in medicalising the problems children face. There are no specific treatments or therapies that will help them and no army of skilled professionals waiting for Clegg to deploy them.

Luckily, there is little evidence that youngsters are any more mentally unhealthy than any other age group. Mental illness, like most other illnesses, gets more likely when people get older, like rust on cars. Children don’t get mentally ill in the same way as adults, not very often anyway. Although it is unbelievably awful when a suicide occurs in a young person, teenage girls’ rates of suicide are three time lower than middle aged women and twenty times lower than middle aged men.

People are not growing huge thumbs as a result of texting or walking into traffic because of ear phones. A teacher asked me recently whether schools should have mindfulness programs. But surely, a school is a mindfulness program?

Attempts are being made to impose guilt on schools and companies for being competitive, with the aim of selling them mental health services to patch up any bruised egos. The Times is doing something similar within its internally contradicted hand-wringing departments of greed and anti-greed. Thankfully our children our savvy enough not to join the stampede down to CAMHS.

Anyway, they can’t run in those trousers.