As I looked at the glinting empties, I realised why it was so drinkable. It wasn’t just the superior Surrey loam, or the skill of Denbies the vintners. There was a reason it was so light and quaffable – a reason why people’s hands reached for it reflexively instead of other more pompous wine; and that was that it was literally easy to drink. The bottles had a screw cap, not a cork, and so there was no faffing around with some piece of 17th-century technology.
It was just twist-pour-glug! I thought of the advent of screw-cap wine bottles – now seen even on posh French wine – and I thought what saps we all are. For years we have been told that a cork is essential. For decades it seemed sacrilegious to put good wine into a screw-cap bottle. Wine had to breathe through a cork, said the “experts”, and we all pathetically and snobbishly complied. And now it is obvious that it was twaddle all along. It was pure mumbo jumbo and superstition.
A screw cap in no way impairs the quality – and helps the party go with more of a zing. The scales have fallen from our eyes. It happens all the time, doesn’t it? We are all taught to believe something – as a matter of quasi-religion – that turns out to be total cobblers. It’s like the ban on electronic devices on aeroplanes. For years we have been told by experts that it is crucial to turn these off during take-off and landing, or else the control towers will somehow lock on to our laptops and cause the planes to fall from the sky.
For years the cabin crew have come round and told us in regretful tones that we must comply with this precaution – and though many of us have secretly wondered whether it is all rubbish, we have always obeyed, on the grounds that someone somewhere must know more about it than we do. Then one day – in fact I think it was only last week – they tell us that it was all a myth. It was a misapprehension. You can send a text at take-off, and the plane will stay airborne after all.
The experts solemnly assured us that something was vital for our safety and security – and it turns out that they were talking through the backs of their necks. I wonder, sometimes, whether we will see the same phenomenon in our discussions of the EU. Like the old-fashioned cork or the ban on mobiles on planes, the EU has been assumed to be indispensable. For more than 50 years we have been told that it is a vital part of the “security architecture” of the world.
It was set up by idealists, in the shocked aftermath of the Second World War, to “lock in” Germany: to make sure that no German leader ever went mad again; to stop Germany rolling around the continent like a loose cannon. Well, look at Germany now. Does anyone fear German military revanchism today? The idea is bonkers. Then we were told that the EU was vital as a “bulwark” against the Soviet Union, and communist aggression.
Well, look at Russia today. The main dispute is now about whether Ukraine should be more aligned with Brussels or with Moscow, and even then, no one in western Europe is much exercised. Communism is dead. The threat has been exploded. The “bulwark” argument has been shown to be, er, total bulwarks.
In the next couple of years we are entitled to pose the question: what is the POINT of the EU? I don’t mean, what ghastly penalties will Britain suffer if we should decide to get out. We all know the kind of scaremongering we can expect from the likes of Nick Clegg – the “millions” of lost jobs, the vanishing foreign investment, the giant mutant rats with gooseberry eyes: the kind of stuff they said would happen if we failed to join the euro. I want to hear the positive arguments FOR the EU.
Why have we bubblegummed together this hapless congeries of independent states? Is it to be a united force in international trade negotiations, when the EU’s agricultural subsidies so royally stuff the farmers of developing countries? Is it to have a joint foreign policy, when the EU has been so ludicrously disunited on everything from the Falklands to Libya? Is it to agree standards for widgets, when that could surely be done without this apparatus of supranational law?
Maybe there is a positive vision to be set out – I am just not hearing it yet. Let me give a final example of this phenomenon – the lingering of old ways of thinking, old habits, to the point where they become superstitions. As I was writing this, there was an unfamiliar ringing noise behind me. Prooot proot, it went. It was the landline! I don’t know about you, but in our house the landline has passed into virtual disuse.
The only people who ring it are cold callers; everyone else calls the mobile phone of the person they want to reach. I am starting to wonder whether the landline is actually necessary these days. Is there some elf ’n’ safety reason why a household needs a landline, as we career towards 2014? Do we need a fixed line telephone, or can we do perfectly well without?
I am not sure: but at the moment it feels as if the EU is the Bakelite handset of 21st-century geopolitics, yesterday’s answer to the problems of the day before yesterday. If there is a positive case for this spatchcocked federation, we need to start hearing it now.