Monthly Archives: February 2009

Malcolm has left the building

For the next few days Malcolm is lurking in the thorny thickets of the County Armagh.

Those with a strong stomach, and a taste for his fine line in narrative might care to visit Malcolm Redfellow’s World Service.

There one will be regaled with a short series of The not-so-great and the not-so-good who have had walk-on parts in Irish, and World history.

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“What does Twitter say about us?”

Headline borrowed from the Sunday Times.wife1

Obviously an article that Malcolm instantly by-passed, discounted, dismissed, ignored.

Malcolm has no thoughts on the subject, beyond what Nich Starling, the Norfolk Blogger, had already considered at some length, sandwiched between far more worthy topics, such as the security of the Bacton gas terminal and Tory education policy (both of which he found severely wanting).

In contrast with Starling’s commendable scepticism, Iain Dale features his Twitter feed. This tells us more than we need to know about Dale and his penchants. Malcolm has no objection to Dale publicising “appearances” and audiences on minority TV and radio channels: that is how Dale earns his crust. Yesterday, though, Dale was telling the world he came close to referring to a fellow broadcaster as a “c*nt”.

Consider what is evidenced there: Dale has sufficient contempt for his audience to assume they would be somehow assuaged by the use of an asterisk.

Malcolm pauses innocently to wonder what possible word could he imply.

  • “Cant” is an obvious possibility: there is so much of it spouted on the Right to be habit-forming, but the word is usually a substantive or a verb.
  • “Cent” might imply something $ or €: one of which would be anathema to the Right.
  • “Cont” is a rare variation of “quant”, which is the East Anglian variation of “punt”.
  • The OED knows of no such word as “cint” or “cynt”.

Which leaves only one other possibility

Let us be clear here. This is, in Malcolm’s view, one term of abuse which goes a step too far: not because it is obscene (when the Wife of Bath employs it, it isn’t), but because, used metaphorically, it is chauvinist and sexist. It is as hateful as those other loaded terms: “cow”, “bitch”, “sow”. Doubtless when Dale, in an e-mail, referred to Malcolm as a “twat”, he was again unaware that he was evidencing acute gynophobia. Since Dale is a wordsmith by trade, he is either lexically-deficient or very sloppy with his metaphors.

Mentioning the unmentionable

The polite press always have problems when they are reporting “taboo” words. One needed to refer to the Guardian to discover what term Peter Mandelson had used of the head of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. Others, more squeamish, tip-toed round the issue:

That is reporting the words of others. Dale, going further into taboo territory, is a first-person narrator. It is the horse’s mouth. So, what justifies the use of the asterisk?

  • Is he suddenly shy of the word, one which he finds acceptable elsewhere on his blogspot?
  • Is it some kind of decoding exercise, to test the linguistic and intellectual capacity of the average Dale reader?
  • Is there some Bowdlerising mechanism in the Twitter system?
  • Is it just another Old Wife’s Tale? [OK: Malcolm only threw that one in for the bad pun, and to justify the use of the piccy from the Ellesmere Chaucer, so he could brag that he’d seen the original in the Huntingdon Library.]


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Another triumph for British technology

First there was the success of recreating a 1940s A1 Peppercorn Pacific:

What could follow that?

Well, there’s this

News from BBC Science/Nature’Superguns’ of Elizabeth I’s navy

Elizabeth I’s navy from around the time of the Armada was evolving into a far more powerful force than previously realised.

That’s from Scienceweek: the latest news from the Scientific, Research and HighTech world.

And, for our next trick, chipping a flint axe-head.

Note: Malcolm’s trivial observations here are subject to a serious rethink elsewhere. Even further ruminations can be expected now he has located his copy of N.A.M. Rodger’s The Safeguard of the Sea.

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A wall-eyed view

wall1Nice, gentle canter for Frank McNally in today’s Irishman’s Diary. It’s a serial meditation based on the theme of “wall”: precisely the kind of outing Frank can manage stylishly, without working up a sweat.

Just the thing to go with a mid-morning tea-break, particularly when one has negotiated, and tried to comprehend the Byzantine mayhem that is the (heavily-doctored) Anglo Irish Bank report.

The punch-line is the theft of the granite wall, alongside the Liffey, across the river from St James’s brewery:

… equipped with heavy-lifting equipment, thieves broke into the site one night and make off with 24 square metres of it. In a poignant footnote, the stolen material was described as “priceless” by the then deputy city engineer, a man called “Tim Brick”.

Thank you, Frank: don’t call us; we’ll call you.

Only with the preceding paragraph did Malcolm find any point of mild dissention. McNally had been dealing with the old idiom to give the wall:

which, according to Brewers’ Dictionary, meant to “allow another, as a matter of courtesy, to pass by. . .at the side furthest from the gutter”. (The risk of having something emptied on you from an upstairs window might occasionally diminish this courtesy.) The dictionary also notes another phrase, “to take the wall”, meaning “to take the place of honour”. Thus Shakespeare’s: “I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s (Romeo and Juliet I:1).

Ok, Frank, we’re with you there, all the way, until when you chickened out. It’s the low-comedy first scene of Romeo and Juliet, and it illustrates why the designers of the National Curriculum got it so wrong:

SAMPSON: A dog of that house shall move me to stand: I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s.

GREGORY: That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall.

SAMPSON: True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall.

Oh dear, the first of a series of crude knob-jokes that proliferate through this hallowed text. Did nobody warn the Secretary of State?

Or, perhaps, Frank intended us to ruminate further on his wall motif. He did, after all, imply a connection with the current economic problems:

IN A certain school I know, when children misbehave, they may be asked to stand for short periods at the “Balla smaoineamh”, or “Wall of reflection”…

Where would we erect a State-sponsored Balla Smaoineamh? Well, it would have to be somewhere central, I suppose: probably in Dublin. In fact, the city already has the “North Wall”, just down the road from the Financial Services Centre. So for various reasons, that might be as good a place as any.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have suffered the fate that inept Sampson fantasised for Montague’s maids:

we have gone to the wall, and been well-and-truly screwed.

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Filed under Frank McNally, Irish Times, Quotations, reading, Shakespeare

Humping a zebra?

zebrasThe great traffic-calming industry was in its infancy. Malcolm was attending a Haringey Labour do. Among the gathering was the late, great Naomi Sargant. Malcolm recalls her scabrous delight that a raised pedestrian crossing was sign-posted as a “humped zebra”.

Now, many years later, the whole of North London is bespeckled with traffic pinches, chicanes, road humps, bus lanes, mini-roundabouts, pavements with attitude problems that affect strange excursions into the carriageways. One does not have to descend into the twattery and prattishness of a Brian Coleman reasonably to wonder whether the disease can go any further.

Yet, here comes a flyer inviting Malcolm to a community meeting. Normally, nothing would stop him cavorting at such an occasion. Imagine the unlimited delights of and evening  spent in the company of the local bourgeois in a draughty hall. It makes root-canal work seem a soft option.

Sadly, Malcolm will be out of the country.

Since Malcolm and his family moved to Redfellow Hovel, local traffic has increased exponentially. 5 a.m. is a wakeful contest between the TNT lorries (bringing the good news from Murdoch to the world) and the early 747s coming in over the Pole. At any time of the day or night the Metropolitan Police scream by, hee-hawing their way to an emergency or a tea-break. The Fire Brigade thunder up the hill in tandem.

Cars, driven by the young fuelled by alcohol, regularly loose it and pile into the front garden of the house on the bend. Once it was a young diplomat’s son, accompanied by two hysterical girls, so drunk he could only crawl when he dumped the car.

So what’s wrong with “traffic calming”?

In itself, very little. But a little goes a long way.

Why is it necessary to have seventeen humps on a half-mile road? When they’ve moved the pavement, reduced the parking spaces, it’s only a matter of time before parking charges follow. There’s a severe learning experience for those who have used the road for years, and suddenly encounter a new obstacle.

Then there is the thought that most of the homes in Malcolm’s street were built before twentieth-century building regulations. Many have quite shallow foundations, and are founded on London clay. Subsidence is either a past horror or a continuing fear. Add in the vibration from heavy trucks hitting humps, and …

What Malcolm expects is a heavily-engineered proposal: pavements realigned, multiple humps, major budget items. Jobs for the boys.

In fact, a couple of mini-roundabouts at the two debouching streets would suffice more than adequately.

Or even a complaisant zebra, all passion spent.

Oh, and another happy memory of Naomi Sargant. When her husband, Andrew McIntosh was ennobled, she reverted to her maiden name. Malcolm likes to think that was a good socialist transcending the example of Lord Passfield and Mrs Sidney Webb.

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Monday in Tudor Street

Monday afternoon found Malcolm ensconced in the Black Friar, with a fine pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord. Quite why the Black Friar is not on every London tourist trail is a mystery, but, until it is, one to be celebrated in a quiet sit, drink and think. Malcolm knows of no watering-hole quite so exotic in London EC: a frolic of Edwardian excess — marbled walls, bas-relief statuary, mottos on walls, panelling … and an excellent choice of ales.

He was there for a tryst with the lady in his life. She arrived, a traditional and honoured few minutes late. They together debunked across the road, and into Tudor Street.

logo1There, at number 2, they entered the newly-removed and newly-opened Irish Club, redolent of fresh paint, and everyone trying to come to terms with the new technologies. A further curiosity: no draught beer on offer yet.

This, Malcolm is convinced, will become a place of regular resort.

The building now occupied by the Irish Club was once the Journalists Club (as an elaborate plaque to the right of the main door gives evidence). Now that Fleet Street is dead to newspapers — only a few overseas and provincial papers have even token offices there, any more — the trade has lost cohesion in the flight to the fringes of the City.

Once, come late evening, this area thundered to the presses starting up for the first editions. Just down Tudor Street is Bouverie Street, where the late, great News Chronicle was based, until it was fouly murdered by the reactionary cads of the Daily Mail. That was back in 1960; and the kindest thing that can be said about the demise of the one great campaigning liberal paper is that it left the way clear for the once-Manchester Guardian to transplant to London.

Now, come a February twilight, the tradesmen heading home are the barristers from the Inns of Court, each towing a suitcase of legal tomes.

We have too many laws and too few liberal newspapers.

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It feels like another dodgy statistic, because in Malcolm’s mind it doesn’t quite add up:

Married couples are in a minority for the first time since records began as fewer people choose to tie the knot, new figures indicate. They showed that couples are less likely to get married now than ever before, with the number of weddings at a 100-year low.

The marriage rate, a more accurate guide to the long-term trend, also fell sharply to a record low in 2007. Experts say that since the number of marriages is closely tied to the fortunes of the economy the proportion of married couples is likely to shrink even further in 2009.

Only one in 50 single women now marries each year, and only one in 43 single men. Those are the lowest marriage rates since they were first calculated in 1862. At that time weddings were largely the preserve of the wealthy, with everyone else settling for common law marriages.

That’s the opening of a two-page spread in yesterday’s Times. Curiously, in the print edition Rosemary Bennett’s story is classified as “Society: News”. By the time it reaches the web version, she has been discriminated into a gender ghetto as Home > Life & Style > Women > Families.

Look again, and carefully, at the last of those quoted paragraphs.

Malcolm cannot make it tally. The UK population, as of mid-2007, is estimated at 60,970,000: 6Other statistical tables suggest that the total population is rather more than 49% male and slightly less than 51% female. So how is there such a discrepancy between the number of singles, male and female, marrying? Even if that is cleared up, there remains another glaring inadequacy here. Whence comes the evidence that, before 1862, marriage was substantially the state of the wealthy? Malcolm can assure all and sundry that is not his experience of rootling through the family histories of quite humble stock.

All clarifications welcomed.

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Filed under Britain, broken society, Conservative family values