Icelandic is reputed to have 46 different words for snow, but then there is a lot of it around. English has a similar multitude of different colloquial idioms for insanity, for much the same reason. So, just to take the ones that begin with the phrase ‘as mad as’, one can take one’s pick from over a dozen English idioms: as mad as a hatter; a March hare; a box of frogs; a hornet; a wet hen; a bear with a sore head/ ear/ leg; a bag of hammers; a badger; a cut snake (which used just to be ‘as mad as a snake’ until someone, somewhere, presumably decided that a snake would be madder if someone cut it, and the expression caught on); a two-bob watch (obviously a little archaic, given inflation and metrication); a balloon; and a rat under a bucket. There are more than enough local idioms for us to be able to disdain the visa-less entryists from places like Australia, such as ‘mad as a gum tree full of galahs’, and we would obviously want to eschew outlandish imports as we take back control of the English language. The choice gets much wider if one looks to metaphors, such as ‘barking mad’ and ‘off one’s trolley’, or to synonyms for ‘mad’, as in: ‘nutty as a fruitcake’; ‘crazy like a fox’; and ‘daft as a brush.’
So, with reference to Michael Gove’s statement yesterday that, ‘At the end of this year, we are leaving the single market and customs union regardless of the type of agreement we reach with the EU,’ the choice is wide open when it comes to trying to find suitable idioms for a cabinet as barking mad as this one. Speaking for myself, I am wavering between ‘as mad as a box of frogs’ and ‘as mad as a rat under a bucket.’ The ‘box’ of the former conveys the tightness of the confines of the narrow ideology within which a cabinet consisting solely of English nationalist Brexiteers choose to hop around, bumping into each other and their ideological ceiling in the darkness, and vocalizing in ever louder and uglier tones. Frogs tend, however, to get a generally benign press, thanks no doubt to the likes of Kermit (and, with a modicum of species leeway, Toad of Toad Hall) in spite of the fact that some frogs, like the poison-dart frogs of South America, are suitably poisonous. The ‘bucket’ of the latter idiom conveys a sense of equal darkness but more space for rapid U-turns, and even less penetrable walls, but implies a solitary madness, belying the more appropriate collective insanity of the frogs. There is no question, though, that rats get a deservedly bad press (Toad of Toad Hall’s counterpart, Ratty, we remember, was actually a water vole, not a rat): they assist with the spread of disease, and they have a reputation for greed, deviousness and working in the dark.
The box of frogs is taking back control of our borders via an Australian type points system for which there are special exemptions for Health and Care workers but not for Social Care workers, whose origins make me wonder whether ‘as mad as a gum tree full of galahs’ might not have been the most appropriate idiom after all. Those of us who have better memories than Boris Johnson may recall that in his first speech as Prime Minister he said: “And so I am announcing now – on the steps of Downing Street – that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all, and with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.” As an ‘older person’, I would have found this prospect vaguely hopeful had I believed him. In January this year, six months later, Boris admitted in a BBC interview that he hadn’t had a plan after all, and that it might take five years to formulate one. He had been lying again, as we should have expected, but the BBC, needless to say, was too deferential to point that out. Now we know at least part of the plan: he is transferring his ‘whack a mole’ propensities to all those who need social care. Social care workers are supposedly ‘low skilled’, they don’t earn enough to qualify via the galah points system, and they won’t be exempted. There are already 122, 000 vacancies in the care sector, so good luck to older people when it comes to being given the dignity and security they deserve.
When the box of frogs can’t even make up its collective mind as to whether to require people to wear face coverings in shops, what possible chance could it ever have of coming up with a solution to the challenge of finding a fair and equitable way of funding and staffing social care for an ageing population? Even without the gratuitous further damage that will be wreaked on our economy by adding a no-deal Brexit to the damage caused by Covid-19, older people in UK should probably have known that they could wave goodbye to any chance of long-term dignity and security as soon as this government came to power.