Monthly Archives: September 2008

The violent Ward

In the bad old days, between visiting the bear-baiting and the ratting pit, a gentleman might while away the idle hour by tripping down to Bedlam and laughing at the lunatics.

Today, we live in more enlightened times: we have to make do, mainly, by mocking the afflicted in the form of the babblings of the benighted Boris. This week:

‘Boris Island’ airport may replace Heathrow

The London mayor plans to shut down the city’s main airport and build a new four-runway hub in the Thames estuary

This, of course, is yet another retread of a notion first floated back in February. It re-emerges everytime the acting (in every sense) Mayor feels short of recent publicity (as in June and again in August). Notice the cyclical element: Malcolm wonders if it coincides with phases of the Moon.

Then again, in the search for a no-longer cheap laugh, we buy the Sunday Times each week, and enter a parallel world of frothing mouths, bilious viciousness and unmitigated nonsense.

Inside each issue comes the Ingear — sorry, proper use of capitals is forbidden in this zone: so ingear — section: “cars⎮gadgets⎮adventure” (again, there’s this adventurous use of non-punctuation). This is the ninth circle of journalistic Hell, where we are admitted by the modern Antaeus: a.k.a. Jeremy Clarkson. It is a region exclusively populated by petrol-heads, technology-chasers and similar lost souls.

Malcolm rarely visits this madhouse without coming away totally baffled. Where do they find these people?

Today’s issue outstrips all credence:

  • Some idiot, obviously seeking his second childhood, intends to strap himself onto a self-designed, jet-propelled wing, leaping out of a light plane over Calais, lighting the blue touch-paper, and spending a dozen bowel-clenched minutes hoping he can make Dover.
  • The Dodge Viper “loaded with extra venom” can do everything a Porsche or Lamborghini can, and for less than £55,000! Wow! Just what we need to bring home the bacon from the Supermarket. And so environmentally-friendly, too.
  • And look here, page 15: a British company is machining bits of a worn-out Spitfire (vintage 1942) into 120 wrist-watches. Only £6,450 each. Recommendation: Wearing an authentic piece of British history on your wrist is a back story you don’t get with a Rolex.

But for the ultimate obscenity, that’s on page 3 (natch!). It’s headed “Viz Top Tip”, so by an imaginative stretch it might just be an irony. Or so Malcolm hopes:

First snowball of the year

Hammer six-inch nails through a cricket ball and roll it around in fallen leaves. Hey, presto! An autumn snowball. Cheap, and great fun for the kids.

There’ll likely be a couple in every school playground by Monday morning.

The statutory article about knife-crime is on page 12 of the main news section.

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The best abdication joke yet?

For those of Malcolm’s generation and of republican sympathies, there is still some mileage in the doings of 1936.

For a start, it made Éamon de Valera able to machinate his new Constitution. Now, why should the phrase Kinder, Küche, Kirche leap to Malcolm’s mind with that reference?

Malcolm, a child of the war years, obviously has no direct memory of the Abdication crisis. Even so, when, back in 1978, Thames TV put out a mini-series of Edward & Mrs Simpson, it somehow made the addicted girls of the Fifth Form promote Malcolm to the main authority on next week’s exciting episode. This had two results:

  • The painful query to Malcolm: “Do you remember it, Sir?” and
  • Curiously-truncated essays written in answer to a CSE examination-paper question on the Addication Crisis, when only the first four of the seven episodes had so far been broadcast.

Confusion thrice confounded

Malcolm admits he has never quite reconciled his opinion of Prince Edward, the alleged sympathiser with the Hunger Marchers, with the Duke of Windsor, alleged Nazi fellow-traveller.

Then there was the story about the Northern Irish school inspection (this anecdote needs to be related with a strong Ulster accent to work).

The Inspector was putting the class through a Biblical general knowledge test, which had been more than successful until the question: “Who was Samson?”

The hand went up at the back of the class. The Inspector’s finger picked out its owner. The girl’s voice piped up: “Please, sor: Missus Sampson’s tryin’ to steal our King!”.

Enough!

Thanks to the marvellous London Open House programme, late this afternoon Malcolm found himself confronted with a novelty, something never previously encountered: a full-length portrait of King Edward VIII in full ceremonial fig: Garter robes, uniform of Admiral-of-the-Fleet, and all flags flying (see black-and-white reproduction of the VistaVision and Technicolor original above).

This needs some detailed explication, so …

… here beginneth a Malcolm aside.

At Temple Stairs, on the Victoria Embankment, just where the City of London fades into Westminster, is moored HQS Wellington. It has been a Thames-side fixture as far back as Malcolm’s recollection; but he had never quite worked out its significance.

It is, in fact, the floating Livery Hall of the Master Mariners’ Company. Today, it was open for visits.

Edward, Prince of Wales, had been titular Master of the Company when it was chartered in 1930. The Wellington has two oils of this period: one is the then-Prince of Wales receiving the charter: in Malcolm’s opinion a long way from Sir John Lavery’s best; the other is this formal portrait.

So here comes the joke

The guide was a former Captain of the Merchant Marine. In him, Malcolm recognised an anecdotalist of merit.

He pungently described the approved method of turning a Shell oil-tanker in the narrows of a Venezuelan river: ram it into the river-bank, use the engines full-bore to swing the stern, and hope it didn’t bring too much of the jungle wild-life on board, around the ears of the unfortunate bow-watch.

He narrated the Wellington‘s early career, before the Second World War. It had been the flag-carrier for the British Empire around the minor islands of the Pacific. This involved impressing the natives (hence the grand quarter-deck, well suited for receptions).

It also involved the delivery and collection of Foreign Office radio-operators to such isolated communities. There they would stay for a couple of years, routinely Morse-coding to London that another day had passed without any major calamity. Invariably these were young men, lonely, unloved and a long way from Mummy, and so tended to seek comfort and form local associations in the course of the posting.

Apparently, the Wellington in its rounds would be routinely delayed as bo’s’uns and such-like heavies had to be dispatched ashore to locate and drag back time-served officials, who perversely preferred a tropical paradise and the perks that went with it to a dingy basement in the Foreign Office.

Now the guide stood before this grand royal portrait, and offered the view of a seaman.

Giving up being King for the woman he loved might be understandable. Even forgivable.

But no seaman could comprehend why anyone could sensibly forgo the rank of Admiral-of-the-Fleet to become Third Mate of an American tramp.

[Footnote: Malcolm realises that not everyone would appreciate that Bessie Wallis Warfield was married, first, to Earl Winfield Spencer (an American naval flier): they divorced in 1927. She then married Ernest Simpson, and began an affair with Edward, Prince of Wales. The Simpsons divorced in October 1936. The Abdication came in December 1936; and Edward married Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson in June 1937.]

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Art not only imitates nature, but also completes its deficiencies.

That’s Aristotle, you dullards and philistines.

But today we talk mountains.

The BBC website has one of those delicious stories that do no greatly matter outside these low-lying northern islands:

A Welsh hill has been upgraded to a mountain after three walkers found its official measurement was just too low.

Mynydd Graig Goch in Snowdonia was originally put at 1,998ft (609m), just short of the magic 2,000ft (609.6m) that qualifies as a mountain.

But the walkers found its true height is six inches over 2,000ft (609.75m).

Then, inevitably, the link is made to:

the 1995 film set in Wales which starred Hugh Grant as The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain.

In director Chris Monger’s quirky comedy, a Welsh community fought the attempts of two English cartographers to downgrade their local mountain to a hill.

OK: that’s the Aristotlean cultural bit.

Now for a quick traipse around those old familiar Malcolm Redfellow recollections.

The stream of consciousness starts with …

Very flat, Norfolk.

That quotation, from Noël Coward’s Private Lives is even more … err … pointed in its original context:

Elyot: I met her on a house party in Norfolk.
Amanda: Very flat, Norfolk.
Elyot: There’s no need to be unpleasant.
Amanda: That was no reflection on her, unless of course she made it flatter.

Deary me, what could the Master have been implying to his audience in 1930, round the Lord Chamberlain‘s back? Should anyone suspect that Malcolm is reading into text that which is not there, such would not be the view of Sheridan Morley: his 1996 review for the International Herald Tribune was headed: Suitably Sexily Tortured, and began:

Arguably the greatest comedy written in the English language since The Importance of Being Earnest, Private Lives is a technical exercise of immense difficulty for two superlative light comedians plus a couple of stooges.

It contains the second most famous balcony scene in the whole of dramatic literature, but precious few actual jokes (“Women should be struck regularly, like gongs,” is more of an aphorism and nowadays considered sexist) and there is almost no action of any kind.

However, Malcolm is acutely aware that he springs from one of England’s largest counties. In all of Norfolk’s 1,308,416 rolling acres, the highest point is Beacon Hill, near West Runton, just 338 feet above sea-level (that’s all of 103m). It seemed quite elevated when the St Nicholas’ Wolf Cub pack from Wells-next-the-Sea went for a day-trip in the early 1950s.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest

And thank you, Percy Bysshe. We’ll keep your particulars on file, in case we need you in future. Meanwhile, don’t call us: we’ll call you.

Later, of course, like Shelley’s Skylark, Malcolm made it to more elevated regions. By the end of the 1950s, he was sitting on top of Mount Gabriel, looking out across Roaring Water Bay to the Fastnet Rock and beyond. That’s up at 404m (1325 feet). That’s before NATO put up the radar domes (and, equally, before the boyos patriotically took them out again). About the same vintage, he was at similar altitude on Kilmashogue, with its eery megalithic tomb (left) and a bitter-sweet view of the Mail Boat heading out to Holyhead.

Then there was the odd peak in the Savoie Alps.

He recalls, one superb summer day, making the peak (and even more the slithering down) of Tour de L’Angle Est, above Lac du Bourget and Aix-les-Bains. So by now he’d got to 1562m (5,125 feet).

He excludes the heights above the Route de Grenoble, coming out of Briançon, which were largely achieved by téléphérique.

Aix itself, lake (almost across which Malcolm once rowed) and countryside remain a favoured place: before the innovation of cheap air-fares, it was a regular stopping-place on the drive home from Provençale summer holidays. Savoie white wine with a decent meal: what’s not to savour? From there, through the tunnel under La Dent du Chat and out of the mountains to lunch at Bourg-en-Bresse, before the north-ward lemming-rush to start of Autumn school term.

Mile High City

Then, in the early 90s, Malcolm was in Denver, Colorado, spending in part ill-gotten gains from an “early-retirement”.

Suddenly he was landing, courtesy of North-West Airlines, at 1,655 m/5,431 feet: probably higher almost anywhere reached previously. Later there would be a moment at the Continental divide, illustrating to daughter that,

“If I spill some drink here it’ll go to the Pacific. But if I do it here, it goes east to the Mississippi”.

So much for the pedagogic urge.

Daughter’s revenge was to feel tired and need a piggy-back up the final few hundred yards to the top of the easiest of Colorado’s 14ers. And that remains Malcolm’s personal “best”: though, at the time, he seriously wondered if he was in the early throes of a coronary. It was only when he reached the summit, to see the local boast that he was now higher than “Oregan’s celebrated Mount Hood” that he spotted the reason. Daughter would do better, camping overnight at 17,000 feet in the Himalayas before crossing the mountain pass a thousand feet or so above that.

So, here’s to you Mynydd Graig Goch.

You made it.

Hill, you’ll be a mountain soon… (which, even for Malolm, is a bit of a tangential connection).

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Neat and tidy. Tidy and neat.

No, not the refrain from one of the “Mister Men” books.

It’s Malcolm pick-of-the-day. And today from the Times miscellany page, the Daily Universal Register, an innovation since the last re-vamp, and well worth the effort.

A dream house…

In Somerset

Weylands: A grade II* listed house, with ashlar hamstone façade, in West Lambrook, ten miles from Yeovil: four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a beautifully landscaped garden

Upside: Owners have resisted large-scale modernisation since a skilful modernisation in the 17th century.

Enough! Enjoy!

Malcolm has no great enthusiasm for estate agents, but feels he should acknowledge this delicious dwelling is available from here.

Evaluation:

Upside:

  • The whole “look” and tone of the Times has improved since the arrival of the new editor, James Harding. There’s still the Murdochian dark side hanging over its politics and attitudes; but it is less of a chore to read. Many of the graphics are superb.
  • How can one not like the assumption that the reader can cope with ashlar hamstone* as a term? And be impressed that someone bothered to put the cedilla in façade?
  • Then, the Times seems rather better at presenting the property than the estate agent’s original illustration. A neat trim has removed the telegraph pole (right of image) — a positive. Though the reduced length of lawn shown by the Times may be less so.
  • The dry wit of that last quoted sentence … priceless.

Upside:

Is this too trivial to appear on the Times web-site? If it does appear, Malcolm has been unable to find it.

__________________________________________________________________________

Malcolm’s public service announcement:

* Hamstone is the local limestone, so called because it comes from Ham Hill, a bare handful of miles, if that, from the site of the house.

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Divided loyalties: being Anglo-Irish

Malcolm has cut many corners over copyright in the two years of his blogging. This one goes further than that, but in a just cause.

It is a letter in today’s Irish Times:

Irishmen in British uniforms

Tom Cooper (September 1st) forcefully expresses his disdain for Irishmen in British uniforms, whom he sees as conniving in a long history of British oppression. But the warp and weft of personal family tradition is never quite so cut and dried. As we say in our Protestant family, Irish history is a twisted rope. It can bind us together, hang us, or guide us.

Not long after the second World War, my late father-in-law, Tom Stoney, was a senior pupil at Harrow School. Winston Churchill, who was a former pupil there, was paying a visit and a group of prefects were lined up to be presented to him. When Churchill reached Tom, his housemaster introduced him: “This is Thomas Stoney, from Co Mayo in Ireland.”.

Churchill harrumphed and disdainfully remarked: “The bloody Irish, what have they ever done for our wars?” Tom, only 17 years old, drew himself to his full height and retorted: “Thanks to your wars, sir, I have no male relatives; no father – he died in the last war, and no uncle, he died in the Great War.” Jaws dropped, and the housemaster bustled Churchill down the line of other blushing prefects.

A little while later, Tom was summoned to the housemaster’s study, expecting a beating or worse. He found Churchill, who shook him solemnly by the hand and asked forgiveness for his intemperate remarks.

Tom, a gentleman and a rebel of ascendancy stock, became a Church of Ireland clergyman, and never owned a British passport. He was an Irishman, and his old passport was green. In his years as a priest in the North he confronted loyalist thugs, removing their barricades with his own hands from across the streets of his parish, and loudly played songs of the IRA on his gramophone at the open window of his rectory study window whenever the Protestant marching bands passed by on July 12th.

He was a very fine shot who learned his marksmanship from a worker on the family estate, one Larry McGovern, a commander of the West Mayo brigade of the IRA. He also honoured the sacrifice of his father and uncle, both of whom he never knew.

In 1916, my own great- grandfather, also a Church of Ireland clergyman, was confounded when his son was refused a commission in an English regiment, the Durham Light Infantry, because he came from Wexford. He wrote to the War Office and we have a copy of the letter still. It begins: “At a time when Ireland is accused of not pulling its weight in the great struggle against German militarism, I find it incredible that my son, winner of the All Ireland schools’ engineering medal, is refused a commission in an English regiment because of his nationality.”

Within a year, Fred was killed at Ypres leading a platoon of the Royal Irish Rifles against a German machine-gun position. He was 20 years old.

One day I may have to explain to my sons about the divided loyalties they inherit as proud little (Anglo-) Irishmen. So I will invite them to respect the sacrifice of soldiers of the old IRA, like family friend Larry McGovern, who fought for Irish freedom, and remember their own forebears in the British forces who died to make that freedom worthwhile; for an Ireland in a Europe ruled by fascists, communists and militarists would have had no freedom worth the name.

I will also go on to say that I give thanks that they, and all others like them, are alive in an age and in a country where they need not take up arms for any cause, no matter the uniform, no matter the flag. As I have explained to British friends, had Ireland joined the Allied side in the second World War, the wounds of the 1920s Civil War would have opened again in Ireland with terrible consequences.

The policy of Irish neutrality established at that time, and the Christian path of peace which informs it, remain causes well worth living for, whether son of the Planter, or son of the Gael.

Yours, etc,

JULIAN ELLISON,

Ardagh, Newport, Co Mayo.

Totally admirable. Totally proper. Well-written.

Kudos and respec’

The Ven. Tom Stoney

Malcolm believes the Tom Stoney mentioned here, Mr Ellison’s father-in-law, to be the late Tom Stoney. He was a graduate of Oxford, and also a TCD-man.

He served as a Church of Ireland curate, first at Portrush, then at Carrickfergus. In both places he would have had ample opportunity to play Fenian songs at marching Orangemen. He then became the rector of Broughshane, County Antrim, later being appointed Archdeacon of Dal Riada.

Broughshane, “the garden village of Ulster” (take the A42 out of  Ballymena, just past the golf course) has won more awards for its floral decorations than any small town deserves. Stoney’s legacy lives on in that, too.

He served his parishioners, and those of other denominations, well through the years of the Troubles.

He died last year, living in retirement in Mayo, aged 73, a truly admirable man.

Rosturk

Mr Ellison and his family, living at Newport, will not have fallen far from the family roots, just down the Achill road.

Rosturk Castle sits on the Corraun peninsula in Clew Bay, looking east. There could be few finer places to live.

The present structure was “improved” by Robert Vesey Stoney in the Victorian period. For the period, it is quite restrained, even attractive a pile, but suffers from the heavy hand of Walter-Scottish romanticism, complete with crenellated towers and arrow-slit windows.

The Stoney connection was broken when the house was bought by a Dublin medic, Dr Healy, in the 1970s.

Larry McGovern

According to a brief memoir by WIllie Sammon, Larry McGovern was a surviving volunteer of the bloody Clooneen Cross ambush of 18th May 1921.

The whole Newport IRA battalion, all 41 men, with 22 rifles between them, turned out to way-lay the Black-and-Tans. One of the Specials’  Crossley tenders out-flanked the IRA men, and mowed them down with a machine-gun: five dead and seven wounded. There was one dead Black-and-Tan.

The Tans then initiated a major pursuit operation, which involved another IRA death.

In a later ambush at Crawkenny, on 2nd June, the Newport battalion engaged a Tan and RIC convoy in a fire-fight. The Tans suffered a dozen casulaties and surrendered. As a result, the Newport battalion of the IRA became well-equipped and well-supplied with ammunition.

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Wear your Palinista with pride

Repeatedly. as he passed down and back up Las Ramblas, Malcolm was offered all those items without which life is never complete:

  • football shirts for teams he’d never heard of,
  • straw hats,
  • cuddly donkeys,
  • pictorial key-rings,
  • dubious sexual appliances …
  • and “palinistas’.

These last, apparently and in Spanish, are the fashion gear sported by the late Arafat (see right, with almost-suitable gesture).

Since last week the term acquired new dimensions of meaning, with Senator McCain’s well-considered and deliberated choice of Sarah Louise Heath Palin as running-mate. Governor Sarah looks well deserving of  “Cactus Jack” Nance Garner‘s  “bucket of warm piss” (Malcolm accepts no euphemistic substitutes).

The well-travelled Governor Palin has at least two stamps in her new (as of 2007) passport:

Two whole days in Kuwait, visiting the fine men (and women?) of the 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment. This required the statutory photograph in steel camouflaged helmet and flak jacket (Kuwait, of course, being currently a war zone — or not). However, the John McCain media machine insists:

GOP VP Nominee-to-be Sarah Palin has been to the Iraq Theater of Operations.

So, come on, girl: hands on hips, chest out for the lads, grin at the totally-unexpected camera, cue YouTube clip …


The after day her photo-op in Kuwait, she was in Germany. To visit the wounded at Landstuhl:

Let’s hear it again from the McCain gospel-of-truth:

She also has been to Landstuhl, Germany to visit wounded soldiers – unlike the decision of Barack Obama on his overseas trip to skip a visit to wounded soldiers since he could not make a media event out of it.

What was that about Americans and their sense of irony?

Which brings us to the third nation on Governor Palin’s extended world-tour: Ireland. The original McCain story was quite definite: Palin had visited Ireland.

Well, yes, for an aircraft refuelling stop.

  • Did she venture off the ‘plane?
  • Did she enjoy the Shannon duty-free facilities?
  • Did she pass from “airside” to “landside”?
  • Did she get her passport stamped?

The problem of definition here — what constitutes a visit to Ireland — could be significant. Far more significant than the McCain team appreciates.

So, brazenly stealing an idea from Myles Gloriosus, Malcolm offers a preview of this autumn’s Dáil Reports, probably on Questions to Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha:

Deputy S. O’TOOLE (South Clare Liberation Front): To ask the Minister whether Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska honoured this country with a visit last year.

THE MINISTER OF STATE: With you permission, Ceann Comhairle, this answer falls to me.

I am assured by my opposite number in the US State Department that Governor Palin did land at Shannon International Airport last July 26th. The passport control at Shannon, however, have no record that Governor Palin formally entered the country.

Should Governor Palin, in whatever capacity she occupies after November, wish to make a lenghier visit to Ireland, I am sure we will make her very welcome.

TDs: Hear, hear!

Deputy O’TOOLE: I am grateful to the Minister of Sate for that clarification. I wholly agree with his welcome to Governor Palin in the future: after all, in our present economic state, we need all the visitors we can get…

Fewer TDs: Ha ha! Hee hee! Hear, hear!

Deputy O’TOOLE: … However, in the light of the statement that Governor Palin was in the confines of the International Airport, but also in Ireland, and therefore in our jurisdiction, how does that change the Department’s view of our powers over extraordinary rendition?

The MINISTER OF STATE: [drools; quivers; collapses].

Note:

No Vice-Presidents, moose or polar-bears were harmed in the writing of this blog …

… unlike any poor buggers on the rendition flight above.

At Shannon, 13th July 2006, under the armed guard — observe the Land Rover to right of the frame — of the Irish Army.

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