The Binmen, as I affectionately dubbed them to only mild raptures from the floor, do their jobs a lot better than is generally supposed. They are a good-natured bunch but, even so, preparing to address 500 of them did nothing to calm my spirits as I strode from Paddington to Victoria in the rain, determined on exercise before the ordeal.
As I tramped and thought how careless it was not to have mended the holes in the soles of my shoes, I tried out a couple of jokes about how recycling might put the Binmen out of business (it won't, by the way). But the only recycling I had met that morning was of McDonald's packing cases into Portakabins for the homeless in Hyde Park's underpasses. I did not think it quite guestly to make Paul Merton-type jokes.
The issue of what to say later was put out of my mind as I indulged in the spiritual tourism of hearing the last few minutes of the Latin mass while gazing up at the Eric Gill stations of the cross in Westminster Cathedral. I keep waiting for something to happen at these moments, but instead all I noticed was how dusty the reliefs were. So I did the only thing you can when a work of art in the flesh fails to spark you: I bought the postcard in the hope that something might happen later.
At lunch, I had the slight feeling that my speech upset a man I rather admire, so I left the almost-glamorous surroundings of the hotel and wandered up Piccadilly to see the Sickerts at the Royal Academy - in the hope of forgetting what a barn door my mouth is.
As expected, I enjoyed the Impressionism-in-the-rain effect he creates, and duly admired the elliptical portrait of Lord Beaverbrook, looking as though he might take bites out of you. But peasant that I am - and, as a backwoodsman, have every right to be - I did not know that Sickert was preoccupied with eroticism. How on earth someone who seems to slosh dark paint about with a trowel can capture the gleaming pallor of a woman's breast, and yet convey the warmth and softness of that part of the body which defines both qualities for most men, I do not know.
I was marvelling at this feat when I bumped into Richard Mabey, the only really good writer on nature we have (although his tone is a little too whimsically mournful for my taste). He said robustly something to the effect that only a wimp would let fashion stand between him and all the cholesterol he wanted (I had been wittering on about my heart). 'The trouble with you,' he said, 'is that you keep pretending to be someone you're not.'
I think he meant that self-repression, not bacon sarnies, had done for my arteries.
I had made the mistake of crowing to him about my writing a book on the future of the world and how the human species is, and will continue to be, a Good Thing. I advocate that we reconcile ourselves to the technological adventure because it has been and will probably remain a key factor in making life tolerable. Still, hot from lunching at industry's expense, I felt a bit sore at Mabey's remark and went on round the paintings rather glumly.
But, hell, I am a reactionary. Of course, it's not something you can be proud of; just like nursing one's prejudices, it is more or less inexcusable to relish one's dissident opinions just because they irritate the liberal consensus. So much modern gloom is plain sloppy thinking - although I admit to wishing some contemporary notions would go away.
I have, for instance, just been ploughing through a report on the health status of my fellow Herefordians. Even the health police - I know one or two and they are, of course, good eggs (sorry, there's no such thing, apparently) - are surprised to find that people in this overwhelmingly rural and backward county have given up bacon, eggs and butter.
They are even cutting back on steak, and yes, presumably that includes the best steak in the world from the cattle whose gene stock was compiled in fields I could see from this house if it weren't for the bungalows in between. Some of us jog a bit, as though arthritis weren't a bad enough scourge already. We try to stop smoking; most of us do not drink in quantities other than those the report calls 'sensible'.
We plough through our greens, we eschew cakes and sweets (yes, probably even those made by Cadbury's up the road from here at Leominster).
I am glad that Herefordians will live longer, although I think they could get the result with a lot less fuss simply by leaving their cars behind sometimes and biking, or even walking to the bus. But I am not thrilled that they are part of the modern, neo-bourgeois, namby-pamby, fad-ridden, health-conscious world. And, of course, I hope against hope that it will be proved one day that eating more or less what I liked for most of my life did not shorten it. For the time being, I am gloomily suspicious of eggs.Reuse content