What does that Richard Dawkins really know about “the enemies of reason”? Has he met my friends? I sat watching his programme with two mates. One is a professor but still has at least ten extrasensory perceptions a day; the other is Scandinavian and was brought up by theosophists. Say no more.
We kept arguing as I was defending Dawkins, but he is so smug and fundamentalist it's a chore. So I decided to get my own back by taking them to an evening of astrology and mediumship. There were a dozen of us in a small town hall being lectured by a tense young man whose aura I found disturbing. He told us terrorism was happening because of the position of Neptune and I upset him by asking whether the fact that scientists say Pluto is no longer to be classified as a planet has any bearing on the charts. He basically told me to shut up. Then we got into the medium stuff. One message involved grass. Wow! A woman in the audience did indeed have a lawn and the spirits said it needed cutting. "I see dead people and they are concerned about mowing the lawn"?
I felt a Dawkins-like surge of self-righteousness. Then it began to get a little odd. The guy started to tell us about his visions of God, and how a change was gonna come and that he was an important part of it. Then he stuck up a slide to show us what God looked like: it was a kind of pylon. I thoroughly proved my point to the enemies of reason! But we still had to go home and watch Sally Morgan, celebrity psychic.
Madder and madder
Late in the day I know, but I recently had my first proper experience of blogging. I wrote a piece on the Guardian website about Andrew Anthony's new book, The Fallout: How a Guilty Liberal Lost His Innocence. This is a book about Andrew's midlife angst, which undoubtedly resonates but politically takes us into the needlessly macho territory of Hitchens, Cohen et al, and those "visionaries" who feel personally let down by "the left". The book produced a tsunami of commentary on the blogs: some fair comment, some abuse, and amazingly long and protracted conversations between regular bloggers. It was more familiar to me than I thought - perhaps because as a columnist I often get letters that bear no relation to what I have written about. I might do a piece on Gordon Brown and I get a letter from a woman worried about excess body hair. A piece on "lifestyle cancers" produced a note from a man who hates all the unnecessary background music on TV. If these were bloggers then hairy woman could communicate with extremely annoyed bloke and leave me out of it. Is that the spirit of blogging or have I missed a trick?
My favourite summer event was Broadstairs Folk Week. I didn't know I liked folk until I realised it meant almost any kind of music. Last year I saw a Punjabi rock outfit and this year the utterly wonderful Bellowhead. True, there is lots of quite dull Morris dancing but there is also lots of strangeness. Grown women in nightwear dancing with their teddy bears; Pig Dyke Molly; mummers, faces blacked, hats full of pheasants' feathers; and all kinds of fools. Bearded men dressed as babies with dummies. Best of all are the "hooden horses", an East Kent tradition - men in black hessian capes with hinged wooden horse heads ("If ye the hooden horse does feed, throughout the year thou shall not need"). Hooden horses are very unruly and are accompanied by a carter and a betsy or a "man-woman". Trust me, an awful lot of cross-dressing is involved.
All this madness and irrationality is a total blast and I wouldn't want a world without such magic. Would Dawkins?
And so to the cute things kids say bit. Well not cute really, just so un-PC you don't know what to do with them. In a Hasidic area recently my six-year-old noted loudly: "They are strange aren't they, these Jew children." Am I to lie and say they don't look strange? Having done Islam at school, one of her friends also regularly shames her mother by shouting out, "Look is that one?" every time she sees a Muslim. Must we stop our children loudly remarking on obvious cultural difference? I don't feel guilty or liberal about it, but I can't say it's always easy.