The news that the daughter of Hans Rausching, the Tetra-Pak tycoon and Europe’s richest man, has bought the esteemed literary magazine Granta can come as no surprise. For a certain kind of wealthy person, owning a literary mag amounts to a kind of cultural bling. While others wish to have a bracelet of diamonds around their wrist, these types want to be encircled by a costly little coterie of waspish intellectuals.
With her millions, Ms Rausching can afford to run Granta as an extravagant loss leader – which these magazines always are. Hell, the Rausching fortune is so large that she could even make some bold, literary experiments. Why not, for example, actually print the magazine on milk cartons? How much more likely it is that Andrew Motion’s limpid verse will be staggered through by the ordinary reader, if it’s poised strategically next to the sugar bowl.
Alternatively, she could commission Nicholson Baker, the doyenne of literary minimalism, to write a monograph about Tetra-Paks, to be published on them. Baker’s definitely the man for the job: he once wrote an entire novel about a man’s lunchbreak which included lengthy passages on Velcro and matchbooks. Perhaps he could tell us why it is that Tetra-Paks have taken a step back in design terms? They used to have handy cardboard spills that hardly ever spilt. Now my breakfast is dominated by the intense annoyance of little cardboard loops which invariably snap, leaving me to open the milk with a knife.
The Japanese turned their back on firearms for 300 years, the Tasmanian aboriginals gave up fishing, the West has had an awful decline in milk cartons – while all their heir can do is play the bluestocking. Clearly the barbarians are at the gates!
It’s difficult for those of us who enjoy recreational walking above all things not to feel a sneaking admiration for Lance Dyer, the man who recently walked through the Channel Tunnel to France in flip-flops. Sadly, Mr Dyer is not in the best of mental health, while the other man who’s performed this astonishing feat, was also a bit flaky. He was a Russian who claimed to be on his way to join the Foreign Legion, and after his 32-mile trek in 1998 the tunnel people swore blind they’d tighten their security to a point where such jaunts were impossible.
What everyone wants to stop, naturally, is the ugly prospect of hordes of poor people from the south braving annihilation by high-speed trains to take up lucrative posts in the British burger-flipping industry. But what I say is that such considerations shouldn’t prevent the tunnel being opened up once a year, so that those of us with the right bona fides have the opportunity to walk to the continent. I can think of nothing more likely to promote European unity than the resurrection of this land bridge; and I’m sure the sight of us British walkers emerging, blinking into the Normandy sunlight, clad in our attractive shorts and cagoules, will warm the hearts of even the most chilly Gaullist.
Babyshambles by name – babyish shambles by nature. What an hysterical circus that surrounds that pied-piper of dissolution Pete Doherty. Desperate fans in Brixton scaled barbed wire in order to hear Doherty and his band strum their ditties of adolescent angst at the academy. Nothing wrong with that I say – what’s being a teenager without a few anti-establishment antics? Why, I remember my own happy youth, in thrall to Sid Vicious, another smacked-out nihilist with a nice bass line. No, the only trouble with Doherty, so far as I can see, is that the only thing he wishes to destroy is himself. C’mon, Pete – have a go at Tony Blair if you think you’re hard enough.
Since the terrible earthquake struck Pakistan and Afghanistan on the weekend there has been a predictable course of events. I say predictable, because the past couple of years have been defined by a steady, horrific beat of major natural disasters, much in the way that the 1970s were defined by aviation disasters. The Asian tsunami, the Bam earthquake, Hurricane Katrina – if anyone is predisposed to believe in “Acts of God”, than this deity must be a sinister, cold-hearted entity to crush so many lives, and leave so many sentient beings writhing in agony.
Then the appeals begin, the Disasters Emergency Committee reconfigures, pledges are made by governments, international bodies and wealthy private individuals. Then comes the negativity. Some say the infrastructure of Kashmir – the worst affected region – is incapable of supporting the relief effort, because of neglect by the Pakistan government; others opine that the money pledged won’t be delivered. Cynics suggest that US and British aid is a function of political considerations – a need to woo the Muslim world. Still more worry that the very private individuals who the charities appeal to over the heads of their governments, are suffering from compassion fatigue. They’ve given too much – and don’t believe their maxed-out credit cards are truly making the difference.
I don’t think anyone capable of feeling compassion ever truly suffers from compassion fatigue. What we in the affluent West really suffer from is an increasing realism about what we can do. Natural disasters get us to dig deeper than manmade ones, because we recognise that there’s more chance of non-partisan responses in non-political situations. We feel removed from the places where these things are happening, and the procession of harrowing media images enhances our sense of moral dislocation. We begin to entertain the suspicion that giving is to do with making us feel better about ourselves, rather than helping to save lives.
Then, when we’ve weighed up all the arguments and ground to a halt, we reach for the phone and the credit card and we give anyway; because we already have a cashmere woolly, while in Kashmir they’re freezing to death.