What goes around comes around

What goes around comes around: fighting the same battle today as in 1830?

What goes around comes around: I first heard that saying in the Midlands. The French would say plus ça change. If you’ve ever tried to make a difference in your bit of the world – your family, your workplace, whatever – you will, like me, resent the suggestion that everything is cyclical: because, if you accept it, maybe you’re having to admit that any change you may achieve is at best transient.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”: the oft-misquoted Geroge Santayana (1863-1952) suggests that we canbreak out of the cycle, but only if we learn lessons from history – something few governments or leaders seem inclined to do. Indeed, the political world provides more evidence than most fields that human life and endeavour are fundamentally cyclical.

Looking back a decade, the then Governor of the Bank of England, Lord King, frequently restated his belief that economics should be boring if everything fiscal is to run smoothly.  During the credit crunch and global financial meltdown economics became anything but boring: in the school I ran then, young people signed up for the subject in droves. I repeatedly asked excellent economics teachers how the crisis had come about: I never received an answer that convinced me, being constantly assured that the economy moves in cycles, and such periodic downturns are inevitable.

I was reminded of how what goes around comes around – a colloquial description of cyclical history – when, in Oxford yesterday, I encountered a rather charming protest. Campaigners claim the creation of a new Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, with associated major housing development, will destroy the wildlife haven of nearby Otmoor.

The Otmoor cart: they will not be moved!

As the picture above illustrates, the protesters chose a historical theme. Their banners refer to the occasion when, in 1830, Otmoor’s inhabitants fought against the enclosure of their common land. Up to 150 disguised themselves and repeatedly destroyed the newly planted hedges. When they were finally caught at it and taken to Oxford gaol, the city’s inhabitants set upon the guards and freed their prisoners. Today’s protesters claim they’re fighting a similar battle now.

By all means dance your protest: but remember you’re on a bus route!

Thus people in period costume disported themselves in an old Otmoor hay-wain, while morris dancers negotiated the hazards of performing on a bus route. It was somewhat hilarious: but the environmental argument is a serious one.

Perhaps this wasn’t so much another illustration of history turning full-circle as the shrewd packaging of a well-organised protest. But, as it happened, this was my second déja vu of the day.

How did this lovely stonework…

Just down the road, I had been surprised to see the elegant architecture of All Souls College on the corner of the High Street and Catte Street (which leads through to the Bodleian Library) swathed in plastic. I felt I’d seen this before: how could I find out? In the best tradition of investigative journalism, I asked the college porter who, of course, is an authority on everything there is to know about the College. It had indeed been similarly encased more than 40 years ago, when I was an undergraduate – hence my memory of the sight.

… start looking like this?

That was a period when, like historic cities up and down the land, Oxford started to remove centuries of black soot from its walls and clean its golden stone. All these years later, as I find myself living once more in Oxford, it’s apparently time for the college to be cleaned again.

At this point I could turn more serious and point out how nationalistic, isolationist and xenophobic voices being raised around the world echo those which led us into two world wars: and how such voices, pouring scorn on the international structures (NATO and the European Community to name two) that have largely maintained global peace since 1945, are nowadays gaining too much traction. But instead I’ll end on a lighter note.

In yesterday’s Times I noted a report of guidance on gender, sexual and relationship diversity published by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. According to BACP, “being a woman in a British cultural context often means adhering to social norms of femininity, such as being nurturing, caring, social, emotional, vulnerable, and concerned with appearance.”

Blimey! I thought in this modern world, where (as we useless and feckless men know) women are rapidly taking over and even commanding warmer offices, (a) we must never accuse women of being emotional or concerned with their appearance and (b) they’re neither in any case, because they’re too busy shattering that glass ceiling and getting on with running things.

The BACP got into trouble over this: it almost suggested that the gender revolution has, like everything else, gone full-circle and returned to a climate where women have to leave the room and powder their nose when things become heated in the office.

Mercifully, this curious guidance admits its own bizarre claim is not universally true. Indeed, BACP caused yet more offence by saying that such weakness is not displayed by women in the north: “in some northern working-class contexts femininity is associated with strength and aggression”.

Not only in working-class contexts, I’d say.  Plus ça change: what goes around comes around. But not in this case. I’m not sure northern women have everbeen less than tough.

As if we divven’t kna that already: so if it made yer radgie, pet, divven’t worry yer pretty little heed!


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