Pissed-off Toff contemplates the spectacle of a nation in thrall to an insignificant dullard who is now hailed as a national hero … and draws his conclusions.
At 8 o’clock in the evening a couple of Wednesdays ago, my enjoyment of a stiff G&T in the drawing room of the large flat that I occupy in Westminster was interrupted by the sound of clapping in the streets below, accompanied by the intermittent din of spoons banging on saucepans.
Was this, I wondered, a revival of the weekly ritual whereby an obedient nation pays homage to the accursed NHS? Not quite, it turned out. But almost … because this time the clapping was not for the fifth-largest employer in the world, but for an OAP who had poured a little more gold into its already bulging coffers.
Yes, I was vaguely aware of this story. How could I not be, when the papers were plastered with pictures of the doddery old codger in question, invariably sporting his not-very-distinguished war medals?
Why, though, did this annoy me so much?
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Born in Yorkshire in 1920, the young Tom Moore enjoyed tinkering with motorcycles; a hobby thanks to which he spent the war in India, far away from any field of conflict. Here, his entirely agreeable duties as a Brigade Motorcycle Trainer enabled him to pay regular visits to a girl in Bombay. Indeed, for Moore, the war was a paid holiday; an extended safari; and the only thing of any interest that ever happened to him in a life that was as dull as it was protracted.
Demobbed on his return to Blightly, he did various workaday jobs in the building trade, and during his retirement he lived with his daughter’s family, “cooking lunch every Sunday and fixing the lawnmower,” to quote his obituary in The Daily Telegraph. Then, in early April of last year, shortly before he turned 100, he thought it might be a good wheeze to raise a little cash for the NHS by walking one hundred laps of his daughter’s garden over the course of ten days.
Perhaps he was just bored. Or perhaps he wanted attention. In any case, the sight of this OAP clinging on to his zimmer frame while he tottered round his suburban garden appealed to news editors in search of a harmless ‘and finally …’ item; and by the time Moore’s fundraising campaign closed when he turned 100 at the end of April of last year, he had raised £32 million and was fêted as a national treasure.
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It is at this stage that the itch of annoyance, slight to begin with, now becomes difficult to ignore.
Yes, £32 million is a lot of money. I could make very good use of it. For the NHS, however, it is a drop in the ocean. Consider the figures. Moore’s £30-odd million is one-five-thousanth (yes: one 5,000th) of the NHS’s annual budget of about £150 billion. This sum would, I have worked out, keep the show going for just one and three-quarter hours. Plus, why raise money in the first place for this bloated institution which already leeches cash from the exchequer, and for which we all pay through our noses?
So what has Moore achieved? He has, perhaps, provided further goldplating for the pensions of the countless well-paid bureaucrats whose ease and comfort is the real reason for the existence of this model of extravagance and inefficiency.
Then there are Moore’s two books, which appeared overnight after his pastoral meanderings yielded unexpected dividends. Relishing the fame acquired at this eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute, our entirely undistinguished OAP wrote – or, I’d guess, arranged to have ghostwritten – an autobiography entitled Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day. There was also a version for children, called One Hundred Steps.
But when it is clear that over the last twelve months our country has turned into a dictatorship more sinister than anything that Orwell foresaw, and when it is clear that freedom is dead, the message that “tomorrow will be a good day” is beyond trivial.
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So Tom Moore – or Captain Sir Tom Moore, as he was referred to in the last months of his life – was of no consequence and quite without interest. Of considerable interest, however, was the nation’s extraordinary reaction to a minor PR stunt that came good, and to the man who occasioned it.
“For his birthday he received 180,000 cards and 170 portraits of himself from artistic admirers,” his obituary in The Daily Telegraph informs us; and “he pumped his fist in the air as a Hawker Hurricane and a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain […] performed a fly-past in his honour. Later in the day there was a second fly-past from two Army Air Corps helicopters.” Later still, he was made an Honorary Colonel of the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, and the poor Queen was induced to give him a knighthood, conferred in July of last year.
Anyone would have thought that Moore had single-handedly prevented a nuclear holocaust, or that he had defeated Satan himself. But no: he had just tottered round his garden a few times. And yet now he was a hero greater than Nelson or Churchill.
All of which was merely an amuse-gueule for the horrors to come, when – phew! – the man died earlier this month. Now the mawkishness goes into overdrive, and in the absurd accolades which ensue, with each speaker seeking to outdo the last in hyperbole, we see our country at its pious worst.
“Captain Sir Tom Moore was a hero in the truest sense of the word,” burbles Boris Johnson. “In the dark days of the Second World War he fought for freedom and in the face of this country’s deepest post-war crisis he united us all, he cheered us all up, and he embodied the triumph of the human spirit. He became not just a national inspiration, but a beacon of hope for the world.”
As usual, almost everything the Johnson clown says is false. It seems that he can’t help it. In this case, however, I would point to just one untruth which – let us be charitable – is perhaps not so much a deliberate lie as an example of the laziness and slapdash incompetence for which our half-delinquent Prime Minister has been well-known since his earliest days at Eton.
Because Captain ‘Sir’ Tom Moore did not ‘fight for freedom’, as Johnson puts it. On the contrary, he had the cushiest of wars, messing about with motorbikes in India and then serving as a dispatch rider in Burma. Not like my uncle Anthony, an ace Spitfire pilot who risked his life on regular missions, was shot down by the Germans, imprisoned by them, escaped … and then lost his life on the last day of the war in Europe; so that I never knew him.
Or how about this accolade, equally false, from Justin Welby, OE … a.k.a. the Archbishop of Canterbury: “Captain Tom was the very best of us,” he intones. “An example to us all.” No he wasn’t, Welby. He was an entirely insignificant character. A fraud, in fact.
The journalists join the orgy of piety, too. With her trademark kitchen-sink hairdo, Judith Woods – of Telegraph fame – annoys me in any case. So that when she claims that “we owe our lives to countless doctors, nurses and healthcare staff fighting Covid-19 on the frontline,” I am already twitching. No, Judith, I do not owe my life to the NHS. I owe it to my parents, to a healthy outdoor upbringing, to a strong constitution, to the love of my friends, and to a remarkably resilient liver.
Anyhow, it gets worse: “[Captain ‘Sir’ Tom Moore] was the embodiment of the country pulling together,” the housewife informs us. “Each of us doing our bit to defeat the unseen enemy, however challenging the circumstances.” Doing our bit to defeat the unseen enemy, eh? I suggest that “scared witless and cowering at home” would be closer to the truth.
* * * * *
What, then, do we say of a nation which, as it happily collaborates in the destruction of its historic liberty at the hands of fools, clowns and tyrants, celebrates a nonentity like ‘Sir’ Tom Moore who, we are incorrectly informed, ‘fought for freedom’? When truly heroic soldiers who have had limbs blown off in Afghanistan receive no proper recognition for their terrible sacrifices, what at do we say of the incontinent emoting over a boring old fart who is now a national hero?
Does that not suggest something rather worrying? That we have perhaps become a nation of weaklings and cowards? That we deserve everything we get, because we have brought it upon ourselves, with our own weakness and cowardice in the face of an all-but-non-existent threat which, as I write, has allegedly killed just 1.5 per cent of 1 per cent of the world’s population. In other words, 0.015% (yes: nought point nought one five percent; i.e. close to zero) … and even that is probably an overestimate.
Yet for this Coronavirus, escaped by chance from a lab in Wuhan but by no means the end of the world, we have shut down our lives. Could it be, then, that our veneration of the infinitely dull ‘Sir’ Tom Moore and our absurd pretence that he was a hero bear witness to our idiocy, and also to our contemptible lack of any sense of proportion? And to our complete lack of balls?
For unwittingly causing a light to shine on this, perhaps the dreary old fraud deserved that knighthood after all.
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PS For my account of the origins of the virus – an account with which, I read, the US State Department is inclined to agree – go to the Big Issues section on this blog, and look for the piece entitled Fluke scoop – the origin of the Coronavirus. It’s one of the earlier pieces in the section.