19 June 2016

Thought for the Day is an anachronism, but there is one (only one) that has ever stuck in my head. It was broadcast in 2012 by Lionel Blue and it was about Europe, particularly about Europe immediately after the war. This is the transcript from the BBC website:

While spring cleaning, I found a packet of postcards I’d sent to my parents from Holland just after the second world war. To my surprise I’d forgotten how grey wartime food was. At the end even potatoes and bread were rationed. We dined on snoek. But in Holland, I wrote frenziedly, real cream oozed out of cakes, and sandwiches overflowed with meat. And with an exchange rate of ten guilders to the pound, living was cheap. 8 bob a day covered my youth hostel, cigarettes and chips. I couldn’t afford dances or cinemas and I wasn’t allowed in sex shop being too young. So I mooched around looking for freebies which is how I fell from heaven into hell.

Along a well built street I noticed a ruined facade. A faded notice said Hollandsche Schouwburg - Dutch Theatre- but there were no programmes. I tried a door, it opened and in the gaunt roofless theatre, an English notice among bunches of sodden flowers said this was the collecting place of men women and children awaiting deportation to the death camps. Their sufferings it said were indescribable. I sat down and wept.

Back at the youth hostel the students comforted me.
There was light ahead, they said. Schuman. Monnet and Adenauer were starting an iron and steel community, to make future Franco-German wars impossible. It was indeed the first step towards the present European Union.

But now I’m frightened. I see the same signs that accompanied the end of the Weimar republic and the rise of the dictators. Currencies in trouble. Swastikas at football matches. Massacre at Srebrenica. The search for scapegoats, the rise of media demagoguery. Loving ourselves but not our neighbours as ourselves. The endemic problems of European tribalism, economic and spiritual. Heaven and hell are very close, and the devil is in the detail. To finish on a foody spiritual note - here’s a saying from Lao Tse a Chinese prime minister of long ago who became a contemplative hermit in his old age, unintentionally founding a new religion.

‘Govern a state as you would make an omelette’ he said-‘with care.’ I’ve never personally succeeded with omelettes so I can’t help there. Mine broke up into scrambled egg which with a dollop of Jam is truly gorgeous. Sometimes if you’re lucky or if you pray hard enough, failure can turn into success. May it be so with Europe!

Whatever the failings of post-war Europe and the EU (and there are quite a few), I want Britain, and England, to remain part of an organisation that exists, at its foundation, to favour cooperation and agreement over war and animosity. Everything else is frankly just noise.