Politics

Robert McNeil: Might the pop songs of Abba make me into a better person?

AS readers know, I disapprove of parties and dancing, believing them corrupters of the soul and signposts to moral degradation.

Accordingly, I wouldn’t have liked to work at No 10 Downing Street. The endless demands to partake in social events would have dispirited me, and my refusal to join in would have seen me thought peculiar.

In addition, I’ve never understood the appeal of Abba, whose music was a theme of one of the parties. Some of the Swedish outfit’s tunes are quite catchy, I’m told, if you concentrate and really listen to them. But, in general terms, it’s just bubblegum pop, not the kind of music to which the busy and important man of affairs can devote much time.

Once, it’s true, I was dragooned into attending a performance of Abba: The Musical. Come to think of it, in a foolish lapse of judgment, I organised this, as a birthday party present to someone. It was in London, at, I believe, the Palladium. Describing these details to you now, when I am a recluse communing with the birds, trees and sea, I begin to wonder if I was hallucinating.

Perhaps, in reality, I took the dear lass to a prog rock concert in Troon. I did once take her unwillingly to a three-hour long Star Trek film in, I think, York. To sweeten the event, I treated her to a slap-up meal beforehand. Unfortunately, the food was rich and, what was worse, I was persuaded by wicked cosmic forces to inhale a small vat of wine to accompany it. As a result, I dozed off at the cinema as soon as the lights went down, and the poor lass had to watch the inter-galactic proceedings, in which she had little interest, on her own.

To return to Abba, as much, I think, to their surprise as anyone’s, they became a worldwide cult, which isn’t really the word. True, they were, and are, worshipped. But their followers are not coerced into so doing. They do do of their own volition, and I’ve observed that the band attracts quite a nice brand of person, paying their rates on time and giving their whole-hearted support and encouragement to whichever government is in power at any time, just as I do.

As such, doubtless at Downing Street I’d be the disposable schmuck dispatched with a suitcase to smuggle in the drinks, as was the practice lest observing lieges took umbrage.

Oddly enough, by force of circumstances, I’ve been off the drink for five days, and came to regard it as a dreadful poison. Released from my incarceration, I even demurred when I discovered there was a Hibs game on the telly that evening, an event that only the bravest can face without strong sustenance at their elbow.

But it’s the drink that undoes people at parties. Oddly enough, I tend not to drink much on the rare occasions when out socially because I know, from toping copiously in the privacy of my own home, that I’m likely to start talking rubbish (at home, to myself) and getting into fights (at home, with myself or my Lord of the Rings mantelpiece figurines).

Perhaps cheery nonsense such as the pop music of Abba lifts a chap’s mood, and means they just have a good time and don’t get morose. I find this difficult to envisage. Do you think if I listened more to Abba, and less to Gentle Giant or Spock’s Beard, that I could become a better person?

And, if I became a better person, could I get a job at Downing Street? I doubt if I’d be good at policies, still less at dancing. But I could probably be trusted to go down to the Westminster Co-op and fill up a suitcase with plonk.

The joy of gloom

I have actually read a couple of novels by the Russian writer, Jimmy Dostoevsky, and while I remember litte detail about them, I did enjoy the authentic atmosphere of gloom, nihilism and despair. It made a change from Star Trek adaptations and cowboy novels.

Now we’re told that sales of the existentialist classics, including Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground, have risen dramatically in Britainshire, due to an increased interest in angst and pessimism.

Kevin Birmingham, author of literary biography The Sinner and The Saint, said: “The appeal is that Dostoevsky’s view of human nature seems more apparent now: we’re irrational, egoistic, and self-destructive.”

This is correct though, like everbody else, I do not think it applies to me. Just to everybody else. I’m rational and empathetic, though you could make a case for my being self-destructive. I still support Hibs.

Dr Birmingham added: “Readers of Dostoevsky’s novels wouldn’t be surprised by global affairs of the last several years. These are all Dostoevskian. There is an abiding fear that there are no foundations, no ultimate sense of truth or justice …”

Yes, I have felt this at times over the years but, deep down, I believe passionately that there is an ultimate sense of truth or justice. The evidence is there, in the Star Trek adaptations and cowboy novels.

Heels on the hills

This column disapproves of people who take too much equipment into nature. However, you do need a good anorak and decent pair of boots. But folk are going up mountains in stiletto heels or sandals, and posing for social media photos. Then they need rescuing. Seriously, kitten heels for Ben Nevis? Take a hike.

Meat and greet

Lab-grown meat is the future. Militant meat-eaters might dislike the idea – there’s no killing! – but it’s bound to tempt many vegetarians. Haggis, devised by a Scottish firm, is the latest delicacy being readied for production in the lab, meaning there’ll no longer be any need to hunt the terrified beasties in the hills and glens.

Daft half-horses

Advances in digital technology could see the Elgin Marbles recreated perfectly, so that the originals could be returned from Britain to Greece, thus ending the argy-bargy between the two controversial countries. Though the marbles depict a load of nonsense with centaurs (half-human, half-horse), some people believe them to be historically interesting.

Return to sender

One in three fashion purchases online is returned, costing firms £7bn a year. And, while a huge warehouse in Glasgow manages to make many items suitable for resale, around half nationally are dumped. Terrible waste. If only other online customers were like your correspondent, who doesn’t like returning things in case it upsets people.

High tea

British Airways is bringing back complimentary food and drinks after ditching them from economy class six years ago in a cost-cutting exercise. Many people dissed the food, believing it to be poor quality, but your hero here always found it fantastic. Sometimes, I’d book a flight to America just to get something decent to eat.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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