As we get to the business end of Lent, in the week the church still names Holy, I have been having some thoughts about the spiritual dimension of Brexit, or, more accurately, what addiction to the 24-hour news cycle is doing to my brain. As I wrote a few days ago, so ensnared did I feel by my imagined need to stay up to date with every nuance of this story, part nervous breakdown, part slow motion car crash, both of them self-inflicted, I found myself needing to resort to a Brexit week off.
Though it did me the world of good (not much changed while I was away), I still found myself breaking my fast with relish, diving into the wreck of op-ed pieces and blogs for a catch-up fix with considerable glee. I even tweeted about it, something I have not done since Christmas (I like to keep some standards…).
And yet, I can’t be alone (except for the Daily Mail) in breathing a sigh of relief that MPs have packed their bags and given themselves a two-week break from it all. Whatever your opinions of MPs as a species, and Parliament as an institution, I need to remind myself that this is essentially a very human drama. Ditto Holy Week. Whatever your opinion of religion, organised or not, wouldn’t a week or two of other news (Gaza, anyone? Sudan? The Climate? I mean, actually, the Climate!) be good for us?
Gorging on the latest Very Well Written Demolishing of Theresa May’s leadership style, I happened onto something which really shifted my perspective on the whole thing. It is the second in a series of podcasts from the London Review of Books called ‘The State of…The Nation’. (The first, just as good, is ‘The State of…The Internet’. Both are proper pots of coffee jobs, with notebook and pen, no distractions, and definitely no Twitter scrolling. You need to listen. Both are real conversations. End of advert.)
For me the key passage comes about half way through (around 22 minutes if you want to fast-forward to it, but don’t do that, please, go for a drive or a walk or have a bath and soak) where the speaker takes our 24-hour news cycle to task for its lack of incisive reporting on the whole thing. Spoiler alert: he specifically targets the BBC (Marr and Newsnight), but I think you could insert pretty much any programme into his sentence, with the exception of Channel 4 News, for the critique to still hold water. What do they actually add, the speaker asks? We seem to have forgotten that experts on key issues like manufacturing, the Irish border and farming still exist. But do we ever hear from them? What we hear is one journalist talking to another, in words that amount to: neither of us knows what is going on (but we have time to fill, so we are going to carry on talking because we are paid to). Remember how people used to speak of having a ‘good war’? With notable exceptions (I mean you, team Brexitcast), the BBC has had a shocker.
I am therefore going to try, to try to use Holy Week to have a breather from Brexit. I am going to use the excuse of the extension (nobody knows till when) to actively not pursue it. The word ‘holy’ means ‘set apart’, I learned the other day. What will I set apart my week for? Silence, walking, solitude, reading, swimming, maybe even prayer. Maybe even writing. It may take me the whole week to get there. It may take me the rest of my life.