16 JUNE 1990, Page 7


The universities, with their genius for latching on to fashions just as they are on the wane, now seem keen to embrace what passes as `Thatcherism'. I say 'passes as' because I do not believe Mrs Thatcher is solely responsible for that mixture of greed, belief in public relations, material- ism and bureaucracy which has gripped the upper classes and now is invading the universities. It is sad because it is to universities we should look to counter the evils of our time. But they seem anxious to lick the boots of government and big business, and to show how they appreciate `the contracts' they are offered. Birming- ham University boasts that it is the seat of the new academic appraisals board. Yet `contracts', as the main method of finance, and an academic league grading professors etc, are the antithesis of what a university should stand for. They might as well offer themselves to the Department of Trade and Industry and become technical col- leges. We need 'thought and reason exer- cised upon knowledge'. Yet Aberdeen University has I believe abolished the teaching of philosophy while, to judge from the cover of its graduate magazine, it now glories in a new filing system. I fear that we shall not be saved by computers alone any more than the invention of the telephone and the typewriter, or favour- able balances of payments, prevented two world wars and the communist and Nazi revolutions. However, I suppose we can- not blame universities for looking to the source of their bread and butter. But I doubt whether in the long run it will do them much good.

Iconsider myself a liberal with a small and big `L'. I have no desire to run other people's lives but I think that I like my fellow men. It worries me rather, however, that I lack one mark of so many deep-dyed liberals — a love of the telephone. I first noticed that telephone obsession in my mother-in-law, Violet Bonham Carter. One of her many endearing qualities was to endow anything or anyone she liked with all the virtues. In the case of the telephone, she had convinced herself that it was cheap. She maintained all calls cost the same. Eric Lubbock, an embodiment of Liberalism, sat in the Liberal Whips Office, the telephone clapped to his ear as are comforters to the lips of children. When I went to Russia I had as a guide a reincarnation of the Liberal girls of my youth. Highly intelligent, brusque and excellent, astringent company. When I asked her if she had expressed any objec- tion to the atrocities of Stalin she replied, `Of course not, I was rather young and anyway I would have been shot.' On the rare occasions when we came in sight of a telephone she seized upon it. My friends in Russia told me that she used it to report on my movements. I knew better; after mov- ing in liberal circles I recognised a tele- phone addict when I saw one. Telephone deprivation may have been one factor in Gorbachev's revolution. And finally Benn, as he has decreed we must call him leaving out the Wedgie'. A bit dotty perhaps but a liberal and a telephoner: the only member of the Commons that I know of who is interested in political theory. During his Bristol by-election he held seminars which got young people interested in politics, something lacking today. There have not been many constitutional changes of late. One, life peers, is wholly due to Benn and the referendum is partially his. It is sad that no university has given him an honorary degree. But political innovation is not very academically respectable, otherwise Nor- man Macrae, late of the Economist, would have had one long ago. He is certainly a liberal, but I do not know if he is a telephone addict.

T he Greenhouse Effect has briefly visited Orkney. We have had some toler- able weather, fairly calm and warm by day and occasional light drizzle by night. I don't understand the fashion which says that the weather is the most boring subject. Perhaps it is boring, but less boring than accounts of last week's football match or much that passes for news in what are called newspapers (though most of their contents are the regurgitated opinions of the journalists' world). At this season of the year the rabbits can be watched playing on my lawn far into the night. One patriarchal rabbit sits like Jonah under the gourd on a low wall watching his juniors playing tig when not eating my flowers. The game, I imagine, is the rabbit equiva- lent of chase the girl and bodes ill for the future. But though lacking a sense of social responsibility rabbits have a certain charm. In the small field of perhaps an acre at the back of my house (where the farmer runs a convalescent home for sheep and cattle) a lamb has discovered what an excellent bed its mother makes. When in need of a snooze, after asking its mother to lie down, it climbs on her back and dozes off. I bet few human mothers, and no fathers, hu- man or animal, would put up with such behaviour. In the field too there is a calf apparently looked after by two mothers. As well as the regulation rabbits there are bantams. They all seem to get on very well, unlike human beings. The behaviour of child torturers, football thugs and the IRA is not 'animal' but all too human. This is the month for the English to behave like humans in Italy.

Iseldom find a word used in what is to me a new and pleasurable way. But I have had two small polyps removed from my intestine. I rather like the word 'polyp' (I thought it was a shellfish). But what particularly gratifies me is that they were said to be 'benign', 'benign polyps'. Perhaps it is a pity that I have lost them. Consider the words that have been mas- sacred or abused, e.g. 'gay', 'exciting', `challenge', 'profile' (as in low), 'social' (as with market), 'society', 'concerned', 'car- ing'. We now have professional 'carers', I believe. I am surprised that the old tradi- tion of professional mourners has not been revived. Soon no doubt you will be able to hire paid `keeners' for memorial services.

Every activity has to be allocated to an arm of the bureacracy. It must then be pursued by education leading to theses and doctorates leading to a career structure. If you read the advertisements on the Under- ground while waiting for the trains delayed at Earls Court you will see the treatment of men and women as children carried to a degree only equalled by government hand- outs. What do you do if the ticket machines don't work? Stand on your head? No, oddly enough, consult an official. The enormous army of government public rela- tions came out with a poster suggesting that if your room was cold in winter you might shut the window — and bearing a diagram to show you how to do it. Soon we shall have eating instructors and a cam- paign with television ads to stop us trying to cram food into our ears.