Monthly Archives: October 2009

B.F. (Cantab)

Apart from the icy Fenland winds of mid-winter, the matter of selection is another of Malcolm’s irritating, long-standing disputations with the University of Cambridge.

It goes like this:

Once upon a time there was a truly outstanding applicant coming their way. He was accepted by one of the venerable Cambridge colleges on the basis of gaining two just E grades in his A-levels: then, as now, the very basic level of higher-education qualification.

The applicant’s personal problem was he didn’t know whether he was being offered a place on the basis of his sporting excellence (he was also a cricketer and a footballer of some quality) or that of his intellect. When another, provincial, red-brick university set the standard higher, he went for the challenge, and surpassed it.

The bod-in-question went on to pioneer a new academic sub-discipline. He once told Malcolm there had been only four people in the UK capable of assessing his Ph. D. thesis: today he presents papers to conferences attended by thousands.

Probably no loss to Cambridge and its prestige; or for the bod-in-question. Possibly, had he the additional kudos of “Cantab” after his titles, things might have moved a bit faster, his resourcing been a trifle more generous. Perhaps, too, the quiz-machines in the pubs of Cambridge might have set the bar a trifle higher: the bod-in-question reckoned to tour the drinking dens of his adopted city and finance his drinking habit (and more) thereby. He was, indeed, banned from at least one hostelry because of this: the fleecing of the machines, that is, not the imbibing.

Whether he would have remained the all-round good egg he is, well, that is an imponderable. He might have acquired the usual Cambridge chip worn on the Cambridge shoulder. He might have ended up cheering on Cambridge United, at home and away.

If there is a “moral” here, it is not to trust others’ notion of “excellence” above all else. And to find one’s own way in the world.

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Virgin on the ridiculous

[A posting which should have gone up on Tuesday]

There’d been the odd drop in the connection — an odd hour here and there. Irritating, but unusual. Resented, but forgivable. Then the whole Virginmedia shebang shut down: ‘phone, cable, TV feed.

  • The Pert Young Piece’s iPhone accessed the Virginmedia status page, which smugly reported no incidents, no problems, no maintenance, nationally or locally. So the fun began. There is, allegedly, a free number on Malcolm’s Virginmedia mobile with which to report faults. The recorded message said merely and tersely that the service was inoperative.
  • The 0800 number, accessed at mobile phone rates, amounted to an interminable list of “enter-the-number” options. All led to a lengthy recorded announcement telling granny how to suck eggs. Eventually there came the promise of a real human. Alas, no: Virginmedia’s idea of music. Which went on, and on … Until patience, and the thought of the bill, meant termination.
  • The 0845 number? Ditto.

After something like fourteen hours, all services were restored.

Malcolm promptly fired off an email of complaint and enquiry. There is a promise of a reply within 48 hours.

Sure enough, the reply arrived the following day. No help could be offered without full details.

This was odd, because Malcolm had supplied his telephone number and email address (both Virginmedia). However, playing the game to the end, Malcolm replied: this time supplying absolutely every possible jot-and-tittle of address, telephone numbers (both land-line and mobile) account number … the works. It is now nine days, and still counting without any response.

The local newspaper indicated that others were in the same boat: two streets away, the main cable had been incinerated or nuked or whatever.

Fair enough. Such stuff does happen.

Monday morning of this week was Malcolm’s time in the dentist’s chair. Returning, he switched on his mobile to find a voice-mail waiting. The visiting gardener at Redfellow Hovel had taken a spade through the feed. Once again, there was no phone, no net, no cable tv.

Now the feed was laid by Virginmedia’s predecessor but two: then trading (unsuccessfully) as Cable London. The cretin of an installer had laid the feed diagonally across the soil of the front garden, then put it out of sight a couple of inches down. No protection, no armouring, no conduit: a bare cable just below the surface. The mind boggles that it lasted this long (but also tells how assiduously Malcolm gardens).

Can things get worse?

Oh, yes, indeedy.

Virginmedia are unable to send out an engineer for a full week.

As the character in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath had it (or something very close): every time I hear the word “service”, I wonder who’s getting screwed.

Malcolm is currently exploring alternatives to Virginmedia.

This is also why blogging service may be somewhat haphazard in the near future.


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Enjoying the 25-hour day

Only once a year. Perhaps an hour should be chopped off Saturdays; and awarded to Sundays on a regular basis.

The first intention, drafted on Friday, was Saturday mid-day in Kew Gardens, and a leisurely afternoon in one of the gastro-pubs. The damping dreck floating earthward on Saturday quelled that intention. So, having drained the central-heating and refitted the valves in the Pert Little Piece’s bedroom on Saturday, what about trying for it on Sunday?

Sunday dawns, technically an hour earlier than usual. Hmm: looks a bit dull. Perhaps not. Let’s have a pub lunch in Greenwich instead. Haven’t been there for a while. Agreed.

Catch the 134 bus. Decant onto the Northern Line. Umm! Archway station is closed. On to Tufnell Park. Y’know Malcolm can now count the number of times he’s used Tufnell Park on one finger.

Hello! What’s this? The Docklands Light Railway is suspended on the Lewisham branch. Rapid reconsideration of route required.

Right! Got it! Northern Line to London Bridge, South-Eastern train to Greenwich or Maze Hill.

Worked like a charm. The Lady and Malcolm amble down from Maze Hill to Thames-side. If any pile deserved, was made, needed to become the site of a prestigious university, it surely is the former Royal Naval College, of Charles II vintage. Why not invite any of the great universities of the world to set up a constituent college here? Alas, it got the University of Greenwich.

At the river, the Lady and Malcolm encounter the kind of cerulean blue sky that would have given John Constable palpitations. Sharp right turn into Crane Street brings our intrepid expeditionaries to The Yacht. This has to be one of the most divinely-located grog-shops in the galaxy. Unfortunately, today, there’s a block booking. Food would be considerably delayed. The Lady is for feeding.

Swift retread to the Trafalgar Tavern. Resolution: early repeat mid-week visit.

Now, the Trafalgar is not quite as good as it gets; but it’s pretty adjacent. Things, at first, look grim: pint of Adnams? Sorry, no: it’s off.

Now, from previous experience, Malcolm has learned to trust the Guv’nor’s opinion here. So it’s Sharp’s of Rock as a good alternative. Not only Doom Bar but — Me Hercule! Sharp’s Own! Put Malcolm down for at least a couple, instantly. Oh, and a bottle of Chilean Cabernet.

Now, if Malcolm had to declare his preferences of a lifetime, they would lead with Adnams of Southwold (the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree); and, for whisky, Glenmorangie (smooth: an taste inherited from his discriminating mother) and Jura (for something more peaty), with Highland Park as a close runner up. West of the Irish Sea, Black or Green Bush, depending on who’s buying.

The truly perceptive will have noticed a common factor: all of these producers are coastal. The salt waters is in their veins.

As the Lady in his life and Malcolm wait for one cod-and-chips, and a steak-and-ale-pie, they ruminate on this great discovery.

A leisurely, extended sit ensued, occupying a window-table, in that great bow window, watching the changing tide. Scanning towards Limehouse in one direction, and to Blackwall in the other, it is hard to identify a single building of distinction in the panorama of the North Bank. Surely, considering the billions expended, here was one of the great architectural opportunities of the late twentieth century wasted.

The Sunday papers dissected, opinions on the world exchanged, food digested, the extra glass consumed, it became time for homeward.

Whereupon the Thames Clipper hove in view, and delivered our excursionists to Embankment pier. Across the road and into the Northern Line.

Now: coming down a new departure point was Tufnell Park. On the way back, why not? Dare they? They did!

They left the train at Mornington Crescent (another first) and across Hampstead Road for the 134 bus.

Home, to find that all the clocks needed altering. And the pre-set oven had worked perfectly.

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Filed under Adnams, London, pubs

Future scandals

Who was the first to note that Labour’s political scandals involve money: the Tories’ involve sex?

All of Malcolm’s adult life the stupid party have entertained us with shenanigans. We’ve not had anything as juicy as the whole Profuma mess, but the odd MP, brother in the clergy, dangling from a noose, with pink knickers and an orange in an unusual location, comes to mind.

So, it’s good to see the Mail already getting in the right — even far-right — mood. Let’s welcome Ms Liz Truss, Tory PPC for South-West Norfolk (where Malcolm first exercised his franchise). Despite all her other abilities and assets, what concerns the Mail is her record as a marriage-breaker:

Liz Truss, 34, selected yesterday to fight a safe Tory seat, had an 18-month relationship with 45-year-old Mark Field – a liaison which cost him his first marriage.

When the affair was exposed three years ago, Mr Field, MP for Cities of London and Westminster, was Mr Cameron’s culture spokesman. He is now on the backbenches.

A cynic might say (as Malcolm’s first boss declaimed: “Saturday night! All change!”) that this is NFN: the medical abbreviation for “normal for Norfolk”. Still, it seems that peace, forgiveness and good will has not broken out in the Constituency Association:

Last night, a woman claiming to be a member of Ms Truss’s constituency association rang The Mail on Sunday to say they had not been made aware of the affair.

She said: ‘I am disgusted. Everyone is entitled to a private life, but she should have mentioned this. She should do the decent thing and step down.’

Malcolm looks forward to more, much more, of the same to enliven any grim, dour days of Cameroonie double-dip depression.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Daily Mail, Norfolk, Tories.

Yet more hair of the dog

Just when Malcolm thought it was safe to raise a head above the parapet again, another brickbat of a reminder wings its way in.

This time it’s all about the boyo Brendan’s brother, Dominic Behan.

Dominic Behan could write as well as his brother. Anyone in doubt of that should get hold of his (sadly, out-of-print) autobiography, Tell Dublin I Miss Her. By chapter 18, Love is Teasing, he’s feeling the stirrings of late adolescence. Stuck up in the Dublin Mountains with other recruits to the bould IRA, he’s having his doubts:

England is to blame for the situation since if she didn’t occupy my country there would exist no national ‘problem’ to serve the old fogies and the young idealists; if Britain left us alone the young people would see that there is not much profit to be gained, ever, in dying for rocks and lakes. They would learn how the real problem in Ireland is one of developing the economy of the country to suit the needs of its people. As you can see, I’ve been talking to people outside the ranks of the rebels – for the first time.

We had been told to stick close to our own camp and have no truck with that crowd out of the Labour Youth movement who were camping up over the hill in Killmisheogue, but since most of them were ex-Fianna members, it was very difficult. Not that I ever attempted to say any thing about them, or keep away from them — like Larry McHale’s dog, I’d go a step of the road with anyone. It was just that, well, the bloke in charge, Billy Reevan, had something about him, and she was fifteen years of age and called Teresa Reevan.

All of that was happening just up the hillside from what, for a couple of miserable years, was Malcolm’s boarding school.

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Catty comment on McHale’s mutt

Helpful hints are always welcome at Redfellow Hovel. They are not frequent. Unlike all the wingeing criticism, snide sarcasm, heartbreaking stories from “Dear Friends” with mega-million money worries in West Africa, and miscellaneous stray spam.

So what’s to be made of a suggestion that James Joyce got the Larry McHale dog reference wrong?

Apparently there is an Edwardian three-act political farce, The Eloquent Dempsey, by one William Boyle. It was one of the early plays performed at the Abbey Theatre company, who took it on tour around the archipelago, playing it in rep. along with Yeats’s Deirdre.

In the play a character announces:

“You’re like Lanna McCree’s dog — piece of the road with everybody.”

At which reference Malcolm’s own recollection clicks back into gear.

Dáil Éireann was giving the Special Powers Bill the second reading. One of the proposals was to extend the period of detention provided for by the provisions of the 1939 Offences against the State Act. Deputy G. Fitzgerald was enjoying himself, laying around in tremendous form:

The Minister made no positive effort to explain why such internment is necessary, because internment this is. Deputy [Barry] Desmond spoke in divers tongues. Like Lanna Macree’s dog, he went a bit of the road with everybody. He referred to the fact that four times in the Minister’s brief he gave the reasons why this measure was necessary. In a surprisingly brief and inadequate introduction to such a measure he said four times this was in response to a demand from the Garda Síochána.

That is an obvious direct borrowing from Boyle’s script.

There is yet another variant, used by Tom O’Dea in the Irish Times (January 2001), putting the local version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire firmly back in the cupboard:

Gay Byrne must perceive that Millionaire is a prefabricated piece of multinational junk television accorded him by vain trendies in RTÉ who take off down the road after every passing caravan, like Leannamachree’s dog.

Even that has a history: any bets that Tom O’Dea had been reading An Fear Rua (sadly no relation) on the topic of the 2000 Eircell Hurling All Star nominations:

Offaly this year were a bit like the apocryphal ‘Leanna Machree’s Dog’ – they went a bit of the road with everyone. Their strangely ‘liom leat’ performances have been rightly put in perspective by the selectors by in giving defeated semi-finalists Galway ten nominations over six for Offaly, who actually made it to the final.

Or, possibly, the same idiom from the same source, in a politico-sporting observation:

Remember a few years ago when Dick Spring TD, in the colours of Ireland, failed to hold a dropping ball in Lansdowne Road and cost Ireland a Triple Crown? … Ask Albertus Magnus, the Longford Slasher Reynolds, and he’d probably say Dick spent most of his time in politics dropping clangers, if not balls. Now, the latest Kerry politician to join the ‘Fabien Barthez School for Butter Fingers’ is none other than Fine Gael’s Spokesperson on Sport and Recreation, Jimmy Deenihan.

… His policy is a bit like the story of oul ‘Leanna Machree’s Dog’ … who was prepared to go a bit of the road with everyone who passed by.

Who ever owned the damn dog, it’s there in the canon with Paddy McGinty’s Goat and Nell Flaherty’s Drake , all aboard Johnson’s Motor Car:

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Filed under Ireland, Irish politics, Irish Times

Lanty McHale’s perceptive dog

When the world was very young, Malcolm was a simple innocent. Even then he thought there was something peculiar about the doings at the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham.

Now, don’t get Malcolm wrong. He’s no great believer: weddings, funerals and the occasional ordination are stretching his limits. He visits religious buildings (of all faith and none) as assiduously as he then drifts into the nearest pub to recover. It’s entirely for the architecture, artwork and history, y’know. Worship, as far as he is concerned, should be ritualistic and theatrical. West End production values involve the language of the 1662 prayerbook terminated by a thundering, all stops out, Bach or Buxtehude voluntary. Am Dram hell is the touchy-feely, make-it-up-as-we-go-along, evangelical stuff, with non-optional dancing and hand-waving.

In short, Malcolm has his limits. He never recovered from mass at Chartres being celebrated by a guy with a guitar. Similarly, even in the simplicity of pre-adolescence, the Walsingham smells-and-bells, with acolytes in lace surplices, prancing round holding aloft a ceremonial umbrella (as Malcolm distantly recalls, this was termed a “baldachino”) seemed a trifle OTT. There also seemed to be an unwonted amount of embracing and bodily contact.

When, a few years on him, he remembered that the cats around the place were named Faggot and Dyke, he got the message.

Religious dissent

Once upon an age long ago one lot of Christians incinerated the other lot, depending on the relative local take on”consubstantiation” versus “transubstantiation”. Bewildering as that now seems, it is as nothing compared to the present alignments. At one end of the Anglican “communion” (as if they could share anything!) are the misogynists, convinced that no woman might touch the sacred chalice. At the other are the homophobes, equally intent on enforcing Leviticus 18:22. Both conceive they are on the wrong end of some “liberal” persecution and conspiracy.

Pipped by the papacy

All but the most unworldly pontiffs have been political: the recent run has merely advanced the art to new levels of professionalism. Into the froth of rampant Anglican paranoia gently drops Joseph Alois Ratzinger. He pacifically murmurs, from St Matthew:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

And off the disaffected scurry, not bothering to read the small print. Apparently, too, making sure to trouser the goodies accumulated over recent centuries from the gifts of the faithful.

So, Malcolm, how does this relate to Lanty McHale and his hound?

It so happens that Malcolm was leafing through James Joyce’s Stephen Hero, and came across:

“Put this in your diary”, he said to transcriptive Maurice. “Protestant orthodoxy is like Lanty McHale’s dog: it goes a bit of the road with everyone.”

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Filed under History, Homophobia, Norfolk, Religious division