A plan so cunning, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel!

That’s Blackadder, but everyone of sense knew so.

Yesterday, in The Observer, Andrew Rawnsley was also with the fauna:

Number 10 scheduled David Cameron’s supposedly “definitive” speech on immigration for the Friday just gone in the hope that this would draw a line under that argument, persuade his party to shut up about it and clear the way for the chancellor to swivel the nation’s focus on to the economy this Wednesday. Like many of Downing Street’s cunning schemes, it has not worked to plan. The media, having been encouraged to believe that the prime minister’s speech would be a “game-changer”, have reacted with a sense of anticlimax when he stepped back from advocating the new controls on EU migration that had floated out of Number 10 beforehand.

One blackly humorous Labour figure jokes: “The media management has been so cack-handed that, for a moment, I thought we’d done it.”

One has to agree that no all is going well with the once-impeccable Tory Fibs Factory.

I mean, consider what went up this morning:


There are three coded messages there:

  1. Keep right to Amble on with slow delivery;
  2. Danger!
  3. If you’re a Tory woman, you’ll always be out in the cold,  looking over a cold shoulder.

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Filed under Andrew Rawnsley, BBC, David Cameron, Observer

Psalm 146, verse 3

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

And certainly never in opinion polls.

However, is it time to muse on whether something is actually happening?

For months there has been stasis the numerology — which may be why the gurus expiate on the UKIP figures. Now, look at this:

Stephen Bush

MV5BMTk1MjE3MjQ0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTcyMTcyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR7,0,214,317_AL_I was wary when Stephen Bush took over the Telegraph Morning Briefing. He has proved to be witty, original and perceptive. His adaptation of the running item on opinion polls left me cold, particularly as the line-charts never seemed to do any thing (which, since it’s a running average, is actually quite convincing). And no, over the last few days, signs of movement. Odd? How long before the Mrs Tweedys of the Press realise that “the chickens are oop to summut”?

Five months to go!



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Filed under Daily Telegraph, polls, Stephen Bush

LT bus 7 from Our Lady of the Snows?

Here I am, still following Robert Louis Stevenson (in my rediscovered Collins Classics 1956 edition) as he plods across the Cevennes.

He has reached:

my strange destination, the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of the Snows.

There — vows of silence seeming somewhat elastic — he is not short of conversation. He has too much of it, of a propagandist nature. But I have my revelation.

Just as Richard Holmes tracing the steps of RLS, I find I am merely a follower.

I turn a page, and onto my recumbent body falls a flimsy scrap. It is one of those London Transport bus tickets, in the days when there were real conductors taking fares, when the tickets were issued from a kind of metal coffee grinder strapped to the conductor’s chest.

So: the problem.

If it were I who received this token from a distant past, what was I doing at stage 8 of route 7? No date to help. The number 7 still trundles down Oxford Street. It shuttles to and from Acton and the British Museum.

I cannot ever recall using a number 7.

A mystery? A forgotten event? Or — most likely — a previous reader of this book?

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Filed under London, reading, Religious division, Robert Louis Stevenson

Time’s winged chariot

marvellAh, yes! Andrew Marvell. Not long ago, I was down there, paying respects to his statue in Hull, alongside the vast and impressive Holy Trinity Church (bigger, more prepossessing than many a Cathedral).

But let him and his vegetable love (which must be one of the weirdest come-ons in erotic verse) rest by the tide Of Humber.

Except Time is relative. For the young, it races. Then it slows to a methodical bovine plod — as in the open vowels of Marvell’s antithetical slow-chapped power.

Here I am in York, a bit further north from Hull and the Humber. And this day has been a heavy, slow one. The wraiths of low clouds were barely skeining past the upper parts of York Minister, when I passed by this morning. The paving stones of Petergate were greasy wet. Even the odd Asian tourist was having difficulty working up enthusiasm for his photo-opportunity. There was a hollowness to the toll of Great Peter, the Minister bell, under the rabbit-grey sky.

That’s your “foreshadowing”: here at Malcolm Redfellow‘s we run a traditional, structured service. Most of the time.

“Peter”, “vegetable”, “rabbit”: no prize as to where I am meandering here.

The gap between the ages

A couple of posts back, I was much taken by Richard Holmes and his Footsteps, Adventures of a Romantic Biographer. Out of necessity, I found — not the fine library edition I once had —but a battered Collins Classics pocketbook edition. Then I was comparing Homes with his model,  RLS,  trekking across the Cevennes.

And I came to this:

It was bleak and bitter cold, and, except a cavalcade of stride-legged ladies and a pair of post-runners, the road was dead solitary all the way to Pradelles.  I scarce remember an incident but one.  A handsome foal with a bell about his neck came charging up to us upon a stretch of common, sniffed the air martially as one about to do great deeds, and suddenly thinking otherwise in his green young heart, put about and galloped off as he had come, the bell tinkling in the wind.  For a long while afterwards I saw his noble attitude as he drew up, and heard the note of his bell; and when I struck the high-road, the song of the telegraph-wires seemed to continue the same music…

On both sides of the road, in big dusty fields, farmers were preparing for next spring.  Every fifty yards a yoke of great-necked stolid oxen were patiently haling at the plough.  I saw one of these mild formidable servants of the glebe, who took a sudden interest in Modestine and me.  The furrow down which he was journeying lay at an angle to the road, and his head was solidly fixed to the yoke like those of caryatides below a ponderous cornice; but he screwed round his big honest eyes and followed us with a ruminating look, until his master bade him turn the plough and proceed to reascend the field.  From all these furrowing ploughshares, from the feet of oxen, from a labourer here and there who was breaking the dry clods with a hoe, the wind carried away a thin dust like so much smoke.

I must admit to being taken up short: the combination of the song of the telegraph-wires and a yoke of great-necked stolid oxen in just a few lines.

And this was … when?

The book appeared in 1879, and Stevenson made the trip the previous year: forty years after the refinement of the electric telegraph, and about as many before the petrol-powered agricultural tractor. Stevenson was not just the prototype back-packer, with his over-sized sleeping bag (which he reminds us, was big enough for two), he was also a witness to the changes happening and to come.

A touch of Benjamin and his cousin/wife Flopsy

Twin-tracking Holmes and RLS is rewarding. It can also be doze-inducing. That was when “Peter”, “vegetable”, “rabbit” came together.

My semi-somnolence somehow induced memories of putting infant daughters to sleep — also that definitive forty years previous: another taste of the Humber-slow flow of time. The trick was the slow, measured level-voice, reading whatever was to hand, which might be Beatrix Potter.

It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is “soporific.”

I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then I am not a rabbit.

They certainly had a very soporific effect upon the Flopsy Bunnies!

When Benjamin Bunny grew up, he married his Cousin Flopsy. They had a large family, and they were very improvident and cheerful.

I do not remember the separate names of their children; they were generally called the “Flopsy Bunnies.”

As there was not always quite enough to eat,—Benjamin used to borrow cabbages from Flopsy’s brother, Peter Rabbit, who kept a nursery garden.

Sometimes Peter Rabbit had no cabbages to spare.

When this happened, the Flopsy Bunnies went across the field to a rubbish heap, in the ditch outside Mr. McGregor’s garden.

Mr. McGregor’s rubbish heap was a mixture. There were jam pots and paper bags, and mountains of chopped grass from the mowing machine (which always tasted oily), and some rotten vegetable marrows and an old boot or two. One day—oh joy!—there were a quantity of overgrown lettuces, which had “shot” into flower.

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Filed under Literature, reading, York, Yorkshire

A Re-Tweet

The national inoculation against UKIP and Farage is in that Flook strip from Wally Fawkes (and George Melly?).


Remember: your heard it here first.

From henceforth, it’s Ethelred Clotte and the League of Insular Morons.

Join the anti-People’s Army resistance.




Share this if you have an active brain-cell.

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Filed under Daily Mail, UKIP

An oaf short of an oeuvre?

— We get it, Malcolm: that’s a crude pun on “an omelette short of an oeuf”.

Last night was too betaken by Thwaites’s Wainwright‘s. So the brain is trying to catch up with Wednesday. One of the many joys of life in “old” York is the variety of pubs. Even in what, I’d reckon, is the best appointed boozer in town, the Wainwright’s runs at £3.50 a pint. Just too tempting.

The case of the missing book(s)

To be subtitled: the book of the missing case.

But, once at the keyboard — an honour and a delight, wrapped in a conundrum. Refer, instantly, to the comment appended to that previous post. It’s from the Great and the Good Christopher Fowler, and every word is worth a guinea a box (and I reckon my tin ear has been well boxed therein).

I was wrongly calculating, at first sight, that the one I am missing is The Casebook of Bryant and May, Keith Page’s comic-book version of a Fowler script. That approaches as stellar a team as Humphrey Lyttelton/George Melly/Compton Mackenzie/Barry Norman writing the Flook story-lines for Wally Fawkes to illustrate. And many of those have a lingering relevance (though the Mosley reference may pass by unnoticed):

FlookBSomething will have to be done to remedy the omission (which I now see is Brant & May 5: The White Corridor).

Officia praetermissa atque relicta

[Acts of omission: that’s yer axshul snobby Latin. Not to be deployed in Rochester or places where White Vans park.]

In the mid-summer of 2013,  Redfellow Hovel, in Norf Lunnun, decamped to Redfellow Cottage, in North Yorkshire. Over five dozen boxes (and Tesco vegetable pallets) of books were part of the shift. Another dozen were diverted to the Pert Young Piece’s flat in “edgy” Crouch End.

By the nature of these things, not every book arrived where it should have done. Hence I find I am two Le Carrés short of the full set, and I know that a couple of the Fowlers are in N8. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

The accretion of books

Out of that came another thought.

How do book accumulate?

Obviously, it’s because certain people should never, ever be set loose in a book-shop armed with cash or card. The result is always a bag-full. I am one such person.

Beyond that, there is an “osmosis of genre”.

While I read the usual crime-review columns (the New York Times is far more regular and observant than any of the UK press), news-and-views are most easily found through one or other of the crime-fiction blogs. On the other hand, life is too short …

There are obvious “essentials”: the regular springtime with Donna Leon, a new Carl Hiaasen (not excluding the kid lit), Andrew Martin, Martin Cruz Smith, Rankin but of course, Philip Kerr (especially if Bernie Gunther is at the heart of another pickle), Alan Furst, a Jasper Fforde (if only) — and that promised Bryant & May by Fowler (due next March).

That’s marked out a fair bit of the yearly round. Yet it doesn’t fit the time available. So it’s the casual buys, often whipped off the two-for-one-and-a-half Waterstones tables that fill the gaps. That, for an example, is how I caught up with and spent a happy few days knocking off the Kyril Bonfigioli sequence.

Follow that notion through

It means that I am likely to encounter a new-to-me writer through a paperback. That ought to cause the chain reaction: hunt out the other books, keep up by buying hard-backs when published, and replacing the paperbacks if and when a second-hand hardback percolates through Oxfam.

Yes, there are drop-outs in the process: I gave up on Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series around L is for Lawless. Michael Dibdin died on me. I still trying to get on with Anne Cleeves. I started well with David Downing’s John Russell, but the last couple glare at me from the Guilt Pile. Robert Harris became a bit of a chore: An Officer and a Spy is in the Guilt Pile, unfinished. I have a habit of losing Christopher Brookmyre, half-read, in pubs — though the opening of Quite Ugly One Morning (the first Parlabane) is the teccie equivalent of Wodehouse’s Jeeves Specialrather like the royal doctor shooting the bracer into the sick prince.

Which is what I needed this grey morning.

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Filed under Ben Aaronovitch, Chris Brookmyre, Christopher Fowler, Detective fiction, Donna Leon, fiction, Ian Rankin, John le Carré, Philip Kerr

Literary deviation

Foxglove SummerI’d waltzed through Foxglove Summer, the new Ben Aaronovitch — Constable Peter Grant despatched to l’Angleterre profonde.

Ah, now! It is greatly to be hoped that the TV rights (surely the adaptation is inevitable?) on the Rivers of London series fall to the BBC, so the scripting can be doctored by the likes of  Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.

77ClocksThen, something for the weekend, an older (but to me, latest) Christopher Fowler to come my way: Seventy-Seven Clocks. Ummm, I have to say the Bryant & May mysteries have matured, like last year’s Christmas pud, since that one — the third in the sequence? — waspublished. Anyway, that means all ten of the sequence knocked off. All the notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

What next?

“Always, scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Sansom?”

Well, none too quickly for me.

The latest Shardlake, Lamentation, from CJ Sansom, is another solid chunk of cellulose and hard-back — a nice production to take up shelf-space alongside its predecessors. That was the intended next one off the guilt-pile; and, indeed, I had reached Shardlake channelling his inner Sherlock among the printers of St Paul’s Churchyard.

More on that later, perhaps.

Essaying the Cevennes

FootstepsThen, idly, my hand fell on Richard Holmes (no connection with Sherlock), and his Footsteps, Adventures of a Romantic Biographer from the mid-80s. This had been one of my many lurkers for years now.

I tried a few paragraphs, and was hooked. Shardlake and Sansom may have to wait.

Suddenly I’m with a young Holmes, just eighteen (and therefore the summer of 1964):

After ten years of English boarding schools, brought up by Roman Catholic monks, I was desperate to slip the leash. Free thought, free travel, free love was what I wanted. I suppose a foreign affaire de coeur would have been the best thing of all; and that, in a way was what I got.

Oh, so neatly, so elegantly Holmes integrates a thorough appreciation of RL Stevenson, and close observation of the French landscape, along with delicious vignettes of the people he meets on the way.

Obviously I then looked for my Travels with a Donkey, a nice embossed library edition and the Walter Crane illustration, too. It has gone AWOL.

I shall have to content myself with Holmes in the mad Parisian early summer of 1968, reconciling himself with the parallel experience of Wordsworth in 1790:

Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy! 
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood 
Upon our side, we who were strong in love! 
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, 
But to be young was very heaven!

I’m going to enjoy every page.


Filed under Ben Aaronovitch, C.J.Sansom, History, leisure travel, Literature