It’s the little things …
Malcolm is, as we have all seen, easily distracted, easily diverted, even easily amused. As we have observed previously (last October 3rd, to be precise), he is — and, this time, let us quote correctly — :
a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles.
For example: penguins.
Why, Malcolm wonders, have we been taken over by hordes of them? Bill-boards, tv advertising, and now Christmas cards:To Malcolm, it all seems slightly strange. There is nothing particularly seasonal about sphenisciformes, and (apart from zoos) they are alien to these northern climes. He is not aware that even the most surreal of Nativity plays discovered a penguin at the manger. Many of the jokes (and penguins are to jokes as branch-water is to bourbon) are contrived and weary: even Gary Larson approaches them with care:
One obvious attraction is that they draw very easily: a raindrop outline, flippers, a bill, and so save graphic artists a fortune in coloured ink.
But Christmas penguins?
Certainly this year they seem to have decimated the robins.
Now robins are Christmassy for a very special reason. The Christmas card was invented by John Calcott Horsey in 1843: “at Summerly’s Home Treasury Office, 12 Old Bond Street”. “Felix Summerly” was, in fact, Henry Cole, an assistant to Rowland Hill, innovator of the Penny Post (and some also ascribe the design of the “Penny Black” to Cole). To Cole, and his influence on Prince Albert, we owe the development of the museums in South Kensington. And from Cole and Rowland Hill, via the uniform of the Victorian letter-carrier, to the robin is easy (see right).
Malcolm feels an affinity for robins, and one in particular. When he tends his rolling acres … well, square-yardage … of north London clay, Malcolm is closely overseen, and directed very vocally, by Mr Cook, his patron robin. Mr Cook comes round to make sure the soil is turned over to his satisfaction, and is sufficiently wormy. Hence Malcolm feels Mr Cook has a status similar to Rudyard Kipling’s Mr Hobden:
… whoever pays the taxes old Mus’ Hobden owns the land.
And, before we move on, Malcolm catches us by the arm for an afterthought.
Those Victorians, like Cole, Horsey, Rowland Hill, and even the Prince Consort, lacked something. In an age of self-improvement and self-interest, they lacked the perception and prescience to patent (and protect) their innovations. After all, they were inventing a new era of mass communications, as much as the Jobs and Gates generation did more recently. Instead of jealously guarding their royalties and their rights, the Victorians saw it all as a public service.
Had they taken a more egocentric view, a inflow of foreign remittance, such as amasses minute-by-minute at Cupertino CA and Redmond WA, might have taken a different route.
As it is, the mark of their success is that Britain alone issues postage stamps without any name for the country of origin. That is only right and proper, just as the US alone has no internet country-code top-level domain.