Somebody Else’s Country

I was reading a week or two back that, over 2000 years since the event, archaeologists had discovered the site of Julius Caesar’s Roman invasion of Britain, at Ebbsfleet on the Isle of Thanet in 55 BC. Caesar didn’t stay very long, and it was another 100 years before the real Roman invasion and conquest of Britain began.

And I supposed that, back then, and almost certainly again in the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066, Britons found themselves living in Somebody Else’s Country. And in both cases it took about 400 years for them to take back their country.

And after 1 July 2007, I’ve always had the feeling of living in Somebody Else’s Country.

There wasn’t actually any invasion of Britain that took place on that day, but it certainly felt to me that there may as well have been one, as smokers became second class citizens, and were kicked out of Britain’s pubs. A revolution had taken place, and Britain was under new management by people with values and beliefs as different from mine as any Roman’s or Norman’s.

Is it going to take 400 years to get rid of them?

Watching a fragment of Channel 4 news yesterday felt like watching Somebody Else’s TV Channel. It certainly wasn’t mine. For I don’t think about Donald Trump as being some sort of noxious, vicious racist like they were calling him on Channel 4. I think he’s someone who’s trying to take back America from the people who seem to have taken it over much like they’ve taken over Britain. I’m hoping he succeeds. But I’m not sure if he is succeeding. I’m still half-expecting to hear that he’s been toppled in some sort of coup, and Hillary Clinton has been declared to have been the true winner of last year’s election, and therefore the true President of the United States, and Theresa May and Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker to be all smiles as they welcome her as she arrives on a state visit wearing one of her dumpy little pantsuits.

For I don’t watch Channel 4 news any more. Nor BBC news. I don’t even have a TV set. Why should I want to listen to John Snow and Krishnan Guru-Murthy? They don’t listen to smokers like me. So why should I listen to them?

And when you stop listening to someone, and they stop listening to you, it’s inevitable that you’re going to gradually start thinking differently about things than they do. For we’re all changing very slowly, all the time.

Not that Channel 4 seems to have changed very much. John Snow and Krishnan Guru-Murthy seem to have been working for Channel 4 for 20 years or more. And John Snow has just got older, and Krishnan Guru-Murthy has just got fatter. So it looks like Channel 4 is very static these days.

It reminded me of an experience I had many years ago. At university I’d had a very close friend, who dropped out while I stayed on. Over the next few years, I gradually lost contact with him as he went travelling around the world. But I always felt that somehow or other I would one day meet up with him again.

And indeed, one day I did. About 10 years later I happened to see him being interviewed on TV, and learned enough from the report to find out where he was living, and sent him a postcard, which he received, and not long afterwards we met up again.

But when we met, I soon realised that we’d both changed slightly over the previous 10 years. He was the same person, but he was also subtly different. I’d thought of him as being someone who was very rational, and also highly charismatic. But I now felt that somewhere during those 10 years, while he had retained his charisma, he had lost his inquiring rationality. And I felt that I had become a lot more inquiringly rational than I had ever been when he knew me. And so, while it was delightful to see him again, we had both been following slightly different courses in life, and had now moved far apart, and we no longer had very much in common. And so, with some regret, I let the old friendship die for a second time.

The same sort of thing happens with TV shows. You get to know and love a bunch of characters in a TV news programme or comedy series, but 10 years later it no longer quite works for you any more. The news doesn’t seem new, and the comedians no longer seem funny. Or it’s somebody else’s news, and somebody else’s comedy: not mine. They stopped listening to you, and you stopped listening to them, and you’ve been drifting slowly apart ever since.

And after 1 Jul 2007, I’ve always been drifting further and further apart from a political class and a mainstream media which had stopped listening to me, and to whom I in my own turn had stopped listening.

And when that sort of thing happens, you get shock, surprise events like the Brexit vote or the Donald Trump vote, because people have been drifting further and further apart, and yet remained almost entirely ignorant of the gradually accreting change, because they haven’t been listening to each other.

About Frank Davis

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9 Responses to Somebody Else’s Country

  1. Tony says:

    I find it astonishing that TV guests and even presenters routinely describe Trump as a racist, misogynist, homophobe and islamophobe. Yet I cannot see any evidence that he is any of those things.

    Surely each and every such accusation is defamatory. I am very strongly in favour of free speech but I think such behaviour is completely out of order. If I acted that way towards any of them, even in a blog or tweet, they would threaten legal action against me.

  2. smokingscot says:


    Just waiting for some anti-smoking jackoff to luxuriate in telling us that Christine Keeler died of complications with her long standing COPD condition.

    And boy did she down ’em!

    She was 75 years old and probably did more in her life than a dozen of those puritanical controller types do in theirs.

    • nisakiman says:

      When I lived in London in ’69 – ’70, I knew one of the protagonists in the affair quite well. He was the Jamaican ‘jazz singer’, Lucky Gordon, and when he got to know you, he’d drag out all the paper clippings to show you.

      “And that’s me and Christine outside the Old Bailey…”

      He was a funny guy. I really quite liked him, scoundrel though he was. He died earlier this year, I saw in the news.

      Christine Keeler was very striking in her day, judging by the pictures. Seems like she went to seed a bit as she got older. But then, don’t we all…

  3. Lepercolonist says:

    Last week I read a biography of the father of Information Theory, Claude Shannon. Without his magnum opus, ‘A Mathematical Theory of Communication’ we would not be here on the internet.

    Claude Shannon smoked cigarettes or a pipe his whole adult life of 84 years. This genius probably did his best thinking with a cigarette in his mouth.

  4. waltc says:

    “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” (Though, maybe less relevantly, I also like Marlowe’s: “The past is another country. And, besides, the wench is dead.”) Looking at America today– maybe especially New York City today–I, too, feel I’m living in a foreign country; either that, or that I once lived in one and moved without moving. Not simply that the physical landscape has changed, the customs have changed, the language is different, But then Paris in the 80s wasn’t foreign to me at all. I felt right at home there. Though Paris today is a place I wouldn’t recognize and a language I don’t speak. Which leads me to think it must have been this way always, for all generations that get jarred by the swings of history. (Think of the Victorians waking in the Jazz Age. Surely it made them cross.) But this time, we seem to have gone the other way and reverted, if not to Victoriana, then a pinched, conformist 1950s with McCarthyism reversed so the censors are on the left, the forbidden drugs reversed from marijuana to tobacco, and the sexual code about to take another turn for the worse. Like all generations, we always believe that our world is the world and, like all generations, we’re doomed to a rude awakening. (Where are the snows of yesterday? , and Why are those wenches dead?)

  5. Philip Neal says:

    Profiles of Britain in British newspapers like the Guardian often read as if they had been written by foreign correspondents from some other country. Tea, populism, the left-behind working class, North-South divide, Oxford Union, rain. You would think you were reading a report about a brief fact-finding visit, not the place the authors actually live in.

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