48. Loyalties Tested
When Angus Lordie emerged from Big Lou’s coffee bar he had a great deal to think about. It had been an eventful morning, what with Lou’s surprise announcement, and the retrieval of Domenica’s blue Spode teacup. His artist’s eye detected a certain symmetry in these events – the welcoming of the Pretender represented an absurd, misguided attempt to rectify what was seen by some as a historical injustice; the restoration of the teacup was also an attempt – and a successful one at that – to set right a wrong.
Now Angus knew that there were those who would regard the whole matter of the teacup as a small thing, a minor issue between neighbours that should hardly merit our notice. In the scale of wrongs which plagued the world, the theft of a teacup, even one which was of sentimental value to its owner, might seem to count for very little. Certainly it was dwarfed by the crying injustices with which humanity had to contend; but that was not really the point, at least in Angus’s view. Every small wrong, every minor act of cruelty, every act of petty bullying was symbolic of a greater wrong. And if we ignored these small things, then did it not blunt our outrage over the larger wrongs?
It was, thought Angus, a question of zero tolerance. When Mayor Giuliani decided to tackle petty street crime in New York, he realised this fundamental truth: the small things stand for the big things. And by stopping minor street crimes – littering, riding bicycles on the pavement, pushing people out of the way and so on – he signalled that anti-social behaviour of any sort would not be tolerated. And the result? One of the safest large cities in the world.
Mayor Giuliani, thought Angus, would not have tolerated Antonia’s removal of Domenica’s blue Spode teacup. And nor had he, Angus Lordie. He had gone into Antonia’s kitchen, quickly located the cup in question, and returned it to Domenica. Then they had both left the flat, locking the door behind them. Domenica had been effusively grateful and had invited Angus in for a further cup of coffee, but he had declined, as Cyril was restless now and wanted some exercise. They would walk together up to Big Lou’s and have the second cup of coffee there.
“I’m immensely grateful to you for getting my cup back for me,” said Domenica. “It had been rankling.”
“As well it might,” said Angus. “It’s never comfortable seeing evil flourish unchecked.”
“I don’t know if I’d quite call it evil,” said Domenica. “But it was certainly an act of dishonesty on Antonia’s part.”
“And what do you think she’ll do when she discovers that it’s not there?” asked Angus. “Will she suspect us?”
“She might,” Domenica replied. “But even if she does, she can hardly complain. After all, we merely took back what was rightfully mine. She has no leg to stand on. She is quite without visible means of support.”
“White-collar crime,” mused Angus. “Stealing somebody’s blue Spode teacup is, I suppose, an example of white-collar crime. Which makes Antonia a white-collar criminal.”
“Well, there you are,” said Domenica. “It just goes to show how frayed are the bonds that bind us one to another in this society. It used to be that you could trust your neighbour…”
Angus shook his head. “That was when we had a society,” he said. “That was before they dismantled the idea of community; the idea of being a nation.”
Domenica looked doubtful. “But there’s still a lot of talk about community. Don’t we even have a Minister for Communities or some such thing?”
Angus shrugged. “Possibly. But so much of that is just pious talk. The things that really bind people to one another are a shared sense of who you are – a shared identity. Common practices. Common loyalties. Those are the things that bind us together. But what is being done to those things now? They are being dismantled. Deliberately and with specific intent they are being dismantled. Look at Christmas. Look at those think-tank people who advocated diminishing Christmas so that those who adhered to other faiths would not feel excluded. The truth of the matter, though, is that the celebration of Christmas has been going on for an awful long time in this country and is exactly one of those customs that make us a community rather than just a random collection of people who happen to live in the same place. And you can say the same thing about a hundred other manifestations of our national culture. We have a national culture, just as other countries have. We have one, and we are entitled to say that we want to preserve it. It’s a great mish-mash of social customs and observances; of ways of greeting one another; of memories of nursery rhymes and poems and people. All of that. And these wretched, arrogant relativists and pluralists are setting out – on what authority, one asks? – to dismantle it, bit by bit, so that there is nothing, absolutely nothing left. They prevent people from being who they are; they forbid them to express themselves in the name of preventing offence; Cyril’s offensive to cats, but is he to stop being a dog? They pour scorn on those who have a sense of themselves. One might weep. One might weep for everything that is being taken from us, our fundamental, basic identity as Scots, as Britons too – all of that.”
He paused – and drew breath. “And don’t think for a moment that this sense of having something taken away is restricted to bourgeois dreamers, to middle-class romantics, to hopeless irredentists; don’t think that. Look at what very ordinary people have lost, and think about that for a moment. What has happened to working-class communities in Scotland? To miners, for example. To fishermen? Who? You might well ask. To men and women who work with their hands? Who again? These people are being swept away by globalisation. Swept away. Now they’re all so demoralised that they’re caught in the culture of permanent sick notes. And who speaks for the young Scottish male, as a matter of interest? Nobody. Where’s he going to live? What’s he going to do? Nobody cares. He’s finished. Abandoned. And he knows it. And all the solace he can get he will have to get from football and drinking. That’s the only meaning he can find for his life. Football! And an ersatz electronic culture of mindless cinematic violence from the cynical pyrotechnicians of Hollywood. But don’t get me started, Domenica.”
“I won’t,” said Domenica.