The more awful things are, the calmer I am. When child three dropped a glass jar of pancake batter onto the kitchen floor, I cleared it up and made scrambled eggs for breakfast instead; I can run a birthday party for twenty, thirty small children at the drop of a hat and come up smiling. It’s true that I was completely floored when a loaf of bread wasn’t taken out of the oven after I’d phoned home and asked that the bread be taken out of the oven, but the only person I got cross with was myself, for thinking it was so important. I absorbed all the anger of my parents’ marriage and kept very still as the bitter divorce played out, because I thought that meant I was ok. Capability gives the illusion of control.
We show our calm, capable side far more often than we show our vulnerable, weak one. It’s partly a response to the needs of others; it’s partly because we need our worlds to be safe, and that’s far more likely when we’re holding it together. Our household is largely dependent on drugs that sound like expendable star systems in Star Wars; I navigate our ship through the asteroid belt that is the current system for maintaining regular supplies in a way that would make Princess Leia proud. We can’t stockpile, because we’re not allowed; regular blood tests are necessary for every renewal of the prescription. There’s a point at which you have to weigh up the benefit of a medicine against the damage it causes, and we’ve become very good at walking that tightrope. With Brexit looming, and the uncertainty over medical supplies in the event of no deal, and the increasingly likelihood of no deal, it’s easy to spiral into panic, and to curse the rules that allow us only a month’s worth of medicine at a time. We’re sensible, I argue in my imaginary conversations, taking the pharmacist by the shoulders and shaking her, we’re not going to take it all at once, we know what we’re doing, we’ve been doing it for a long time now. Give us a bit more, I think, just enough to tide us over …
But the problem lies, not with the pharmacist keeping to the rules, or with the rules themselves, but with the strange ugliness has taken hold of this country. Somehow, the idea of sovereignty (whatever that means) is worth more than my husband’s continued health; somehow, democracy means making this country poorer, less stable and less kind. It’s all such a ghastly mess. Nothing is ok, and yet we have to be. No one knew what Leave would look like when they voted; now we do, and yet we’re not allowed a People’s Vote, because the people voted Leave and they’ll get it whether they like it or not. There is no sense, no humanity in our current government. It’s tempting to say, and no future, either, but somehow they limp on, with no effective opposition to put them out of their misery.
As a nation, we’re keeping calm and carrying on, but to what end? Brexit isn’t an accidental breakage or a children’s party where the entertainer’s failed to turn up. It’s not even a twit burning the bread. The whole referendum has been a story of arrogance, misinformation and manipulation, and now the nation is being force-fed the results.
And so the third new rule is this; thou shalt place responsibility where it belongs. Child three didn’t mean to drop the jar; that could have happened to anyone. But James should have taken out the bread, and divorce should be conducted with the interests of any children at its heart. Politics should be conducted in the interests of the nation, not the individual. Calm and collected for accidents and emergencies; anger and raised voices in defence of kindness and common sense.