Monthly Archives: August 2010

Socking it to Ms Sutcliff

Rosemary Sutcliff lived most of her seven decades from a wheelchair. She produced a succession of the best historical fictions in the language. You’ll likely find most in the shelves of junior fiction: they are worth recovering for adult reading, and re-reading.

Her embroideries on the Arthurian legend are fine, indeed: Sword at Sunset is as near to a “realistic” Arthur as we are likely to get, and remains a Malcolmian prime recommendation.  By the general consent of others, her best is The Eagle of the Ninth.

Adults will be hearing of Ms Sutcliff through a film adaptation, The Eagle, early next year. What survives the cutting-room floor remains to be seen; but the director, Kevin Macdonald, stated an original intent:

determined to be as authentic as possible, with the tribesmen in the movie all speaking Gaelic. In order to achieve a little contemporary symbolism, the Romans will be played by American actors…

The theme of the movie will be the clash of cultures between the might of the Rome and a small tribe with its own customs and traditions.

A foot-note

Meanwhile, the publicists have been at work; and evidence pops up in today’s Observer, with Robin McKie discovering that Roman legionaries wore socks with their sandals.

This is no great news. Military types, even the god Mars himself (as left), depicted on reliefs seem to flaunt some natty ankle-wear.

The  modern English derives from the Latin soccus, defined by the Oxford Latin Dictionary as:

a kind of low-heeled, loose-fitting shoe or slipper worn by Greeks … (worn by comic actors, hence a symbol of comedy).

That doesn’t quite work for Catullus 61. There, as TCD freshman Malcolm found himself translating, in all seriousness, a bit about the Roman god of marriage sporting a yellow soccus on a white foot.

Mail-order Roman socks

Further light has been shed by recent excavations along Hadrian’s Wall. A few years ago archaeologists scrabbling through the rubbish tip at Vindolanda Roman fort turned up hundreds of wooden pieces, which, on further scrutiny, were shopping lists, memoranda, and letters. One in particular (number 346) seems to have been the contents list for a parcel:

… I have sent (?) you… pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants …

Ermine Street

A few weeks back, the Lady in his Life and Malcolm drove circuitously between London and Northern Ireland via the Stranraer-Belfast Ferry. That introduced them to the major roadworks on the A1 Great North Road.

At Redfellow Hovel, the 14 miles of the A1(M) between the Alconburys and the Peterborough Showground are always referred to as “the John Major Memorial Highway”.  This is because it was a project near Major’s constituency home (and convenient to his constituents), was begun in his premiership, and was at the dawning of those Private-Public Partnership operations.

Similarly, the £318-million upgrading of the A1 further north, providing major delays through North Yorkshire, may well qualify as a Gordon Brown footnote to history. The preparatory surveys, years ago, showed that there was a major Roman site at Healam Bridge. One of the “finds” involves fibre traces on a sandal nail.

Next year,  Ms Sutcliff’s “Marcus” strides the silver screen.

Malcolm will be watching out for his socci.

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Filed under Britain, films, History, Literature, reading

Dirty doings

The first flush was Nicholas Watt in Friday’s Guardian:

David Miliband poses the greatest threat to the Conservative party of all the candidates in the Labour leadership contest, David Cameron has said in private remarks that could change the dynamic of the campaign just days before millions of ballot papers are posted.

A well-placed source told the Guardian: “David Cameron said the candidate he hoped for was Ed Miliband, and the candidate he most feared was David Miliband.”

Ah yes! Those “well-placed sources” and “in private”! Taking precious time out from body-boarding and nappy-changing, the Great Cameron finds time to fret over the best interests of the Labour Party.

This quickly reached The Spectator‘s Coffee House blog, but attributed now, and verbatim to:

Kool-aid drinking Tories.

Today, for Murdoch’s other scandal sheet, The News of the Screws, Fraser Nelson, pushes the boat out a bit further, under the headline:

Picking ‘Red Ed’ a risky gamble only Cam can win.

Let’s see:

  • Nicholas Watt seems to get regular plugs in the columns of The Spectator;
  • David Blackburn is a regular in The Spectator;
  • Fraser Nelson edits The Spectator.

So no obvious link there.

Meanwhile, bless his little cotton socks, Sunny Hundal, at Liberal Conspiracy, was whit more cynical:

Isn’t it convenient the “well placed source” said that just when the ballots go out? If I was that journalist I’d think – ‘hmmmm, is there an agenda here?’ …

What you have here is someone who wants the Labour party to believe this stuff.

The Coalition wants him because it’s far easier to associate David Miliband as heir to the recently failed Labour government.

Rather conveniently, someone then feeds this story to the Guardian at the right time just to make sure they get the man they want. They want to be assured of the right target on 25th September.


It all confirms Malcolm’s intended vote: for Ed Miliband.

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Filed under Ed Miliband, Labour Party, leftist politics., The Spectator

What happened to Lansdowne Road?

How can you buy all the stars in the sky?
How can you buy two blue Irish eyes?
How can you purchase a fond mother’s sighs?
How can you buy Killarney?

Nature bestowed all her gifts with a smile:
The emerald, the shamrock, the blarney:
When you can buy all those wonderful things
Then you can buy Killarney.

Made a few bob for that endearing old Derry rogue, Josef Locke.

That’s incidental to Malcolm’s shocking discovery.

Which concerns a gross piece of coca-colonisation. And suggests sponsorship money can buy anything, even history.

Malcolm recalls being at Lansdowne Road on 1st March 1958.

He always believed he then saw Noel Henderson’s Ireland beat Arthur Smith’s Scotland 12-6. Cecil Pedlow on one wing scored two tries, while Tony O’Reilly on the other wing definitively didn’t. The game also sticks in Malcolm’s memory bank as the great Jackie Kyle’s last international.

Except that afternoon, according to, Malcolm wasn’t where he thought he was. According to, he was transported several decades into the future and was actually at the Aviva Stadium.

The curse of (and on) Aviva

As far as Malcolm is concerned, Aviva has form.

Once upon a time the largest insurance company in Britain was the Norwich Union. It had its headquarters in Norwich, and proudly displayed the iconic Norwich Cathedral spire as its trade-mark.

Then, at the turn of the millennium, the NU merged with a couple of other companies. Head Office shifted down to London, and the new corporation became the meaningless “Aviva”.

To rub the salt in any Norfolkman’s gaping wound, the Norwich spire persists, mocking like the Cheshire Cat, as that segment of yellow processed cheese in the Aviva logo.

That’s bad enough.

It seems sponsorship money is even retrospective. It is capable of …

Imperialising the history of Lansdowne Road!

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Filed under Dublin., Norfolk, Norwich, Rugby

Modern Ireland?

Find in it the Irish Times Weekend Review

Under the title It was a bit of a kip, but it was our kip, John O’Donnell reviews Ger Siggins and Malachy Clerkin’s Lansdowne Road: The Stadium; the Matches; the Greatest Days.

The on-line text omits a couple of paragraphs from the print version. A bit of bowdlerising here, perhaps; but this anecdote should not go uncelebrated:

A few weeks after the Dáil had liberalised the sale of contraceptives the French team lining out in March 1985 included Jean Condom opposite Ireland’s Willie Anderson. “Our Willie Is Bigger Than Your Condom” read the inevitable banner.

Maybe. That game finished 15 apiece, with Corkman Michael Kiernan kicking all the Irish points.

That is

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Times, reading, Rugby

Nine of one and, fortunately, only ten of the other

Linda Greenhouse is worthy of note here and everywhere. For thirty years she was the New York Times‘s indefatigable observer of the US Supreme Court. She is co-author of a major work on the rocky road to Roe v. Wade. She is the biographer of Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who must qualify as Tricky Dick Nixon’s most fortuitous and most liberal mistake. She continues to lecture at Yale Law, and to write an alternate-Fridays column for the Times.

In Malcolm’s view, who tries to understand these arcane things, she should be declared a National Treasure.

Her latest piece, which came out today, seeks to unravel how the Supreme Court approaches the continued complexity of religious displays.

Now, we foreigners need to remember that overt state-sponsored religiosity is forbidden under the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, we rest assured that all those Red-State fundamentalists remain eternally faithful to every one of the Ten Commandments, which must therefore be displayed in every court-house, and even every classroom.

After all, were they not delivered personally, and in full technicolor© by Charlton “Chuck” Heston himself, and fully  be-garbed as Moses?

And, furthermore, was not Chuck ordained by the National Rifle Association?

So, click the link and go forthwith to Ms Greenhouse’s piece, and enjoy.

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Filed under New York Times, US politics

Lots of fun on Highway One

Malcolm, at least when he is possession of a wallet (for which see previous post), is a sucker for the magazine shelves of his local WH Smug. A couple of glossies play vicariously to his wanderlust, so he rarely misses issues of Coast and Lonely Planet Magazine.

The latest issue of Lonely Planet has an “Awards” feature. Thus Malcolm found (page 62) the Most incredible journey was the Trans-Siberian Railway. Listed as the last of the “runners-up” was:

5: Driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco

This prompted Malcolm’s objection: Why would anyone do it in that direction?

Go north, if one must, on the eighteen-wheeler hell that is Highway 101.

Don’t forget to crank the CD/iPod to max for the “Ventura Highway” stretch:

America (the ’70s group, bonehead!) at full blast is as essential mood-music for this stretch as “Tales from the Vienna Woods” is for that last stretch of the E60/A1/West-Autobahn from Kirchstetten into Vienna:

Now, Malcolm offers that notion for free as the basis for an article: music to match roads to. Sponsored cover CD an optional extra.

OK, we’ve survived 101.

Turn off at Salinas, and take the better part of half a day to do the National Steinbeck Center (actually, well worth it), then take 68 back to the coast, which drops us nicely back on to Highway 1 at Monterey. There must be many teachers of EngLit who (like Malcolm) came away with the iconic T-shirt listing of Steinbeck’s works on the back, and, afront and to affront the philistines:

I guess there are never enough books

Next for Monterey and the Aquarium, If we do it properly, there’s another half-day or more gone for ever into the personal memory bank. Cue for another plundered vid (though the Flash headliner on the Aquarium’s website and the whole range of other multimedia resources there are crisper):

Time for food. The Aquarium, on the site of the Hovden Cannery, is as much as the average stomachs can take of the kitsch that is now Cannery Row, but which has to be traipsed to reach Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Redfellow ensemble lunched (quite nicely, too, and with added local India Pale Ale) at Domenico’s on Fisherman’s Wharf.

So, with Monterey done and dusted, we head south. It’s worth the fee to do the Pebble Beach 17-mile Drive (in fact, a bit under ten miles) and we get to view that iconic tree (right).

Onwards! To the main event!

Coming south, one has the sea immediately to the passenger side: since the Lady in his Life is doing the driving bit, that means Malcolm gets the beer and the thrill-ride. And that’s why Malcolm fails to grasp Lonely Planet magazine‘s sense of direction.

As Malcolm understand the “official” definition,  only bits of State Highway 1 are designated as “Pacific Coast Highway”. The particular bit to which Lonely Planet magazine refers runs between Monterey and Morro Bay. That takes in:

  • Carmel-by-the-Sea (foggy and pricey: only do the Hog’s Breath if you must, there’s no chance the boss will be in, but everybody asks),
  • Point Lobos (dive! dive!),
  • Big Sur,
  • Bixby Bridge (Photo-opportunity! photo-opportunity!),
  • Nepenthe (a sure stop and snacking point: who remembers it was Orson Welles’s/Rita Hayworth’s intended hideaway, but they never got there?),
  • then the glorious rocky stretch down to Ragged Point,
  • after which the PCH runs through grass pastureland,
  • book ahead for a tour of San Simeon (we’ll be back again: just believe the decadence, as right),
  • then Cambria (nice, but walk Moonstoone Beach: we might actually find some),
  • Harmony (blink and we miss it: but we are now entering serious wine country),
  • to end in sight of Morro Rock (between the late Fall and early Spring, we look for eucalyptus trees to find monarch butterflies).

The definition of “Pacific Coast Highway” seems to extend beyond that. To take an example: Malibu Pier is 23017 Pacific Coast Highway (and, in Santa Monica the addresses seem to run south-to-north). Malcolm suspects PCH addresses run all the way to the Airport, at least: by which time one has really reached the pits.

But you knew all of that.

Malcolm was already, thanks to the depredations of those Romas, was prepared to be easily irritated. It rankled that Lonely Planet had missed the great bits further north.

One year the Lady in his Life and Malcolm had intended the whole caboodle, from Vancouver to LA. It didn’t work out that way, and the expedition had to be severely abbreviated. They made Crater Lake (right) the weekend before it shut for the season. The previous day had brought them to Sisters, where morning frost had warned the location was a thousand metres in altitude and it was getting late in the year.

Since the lodges were not taking guests, they overnighted at Grant’s Pass (making sure to buy anything pricey, which included a MacBook, before leaving no-sales-tax Oregon). Then onto 199 and the Redwoods Highway.

Along here, there are 10 and 15 mph speed limits at certain points: suddenly, pulling aside for an oncoming vehicle (which is definitely ignoring any speed limit), with a wheel already in the roadside scuffle, an inch from a long drop, the limits seem over generous. After the descent through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, 199 brings us onto 101 (far tamer than the bit heading up from LA) at Crescent City.

Plough on!

There are some good bits, for example across the Klamath River, but the next stopover should be Arcata, the “greenest” town in the US, and home of Humboldt University. The town gets lively, loud and (ahem!) aromatic on a Friday evening in term time.

After that, it’s stick to 101: nice country, up and down, but not a lot to note. At Leggett — if we’ve entered the town we’vwe gone too far — we take the signposted right onto Highway 1. That brings us down, via a couple of highly enjoyable (at least for passenger Malcolm, trusting the Lady’s driving) hairpins , to Shoreline Drive (which promptly kinks inland and away from any sight of shore).

Have faith: we get back to the sea shortly, and there are some spectacular beaches (all deserted: the sea here is cold) until we reach Fort Bragg. This, of course, is not the Fort Bragg of US Army Special Forces fame (that’s in South Carolina). This is a decent small town, full of retirement homes, yachties and the like: and several decent cheap motels. Fort Bragg has two quite different attractions: Glass Beach (effectively the old town dump rendered down by wave-action) and the Skunk Train (40 miles inland to Willitts, and then back again because that’s about it, in restored equipment from the 1920s).

Back in Fort Bragg, you’re not far from the next place of real note: Mendocino.

This wooden town has gone through more names than any con-man: Buldam to the Pomo Indians, Big River, Meiggstown after the railway speculator who tried to make this an alternative to the Bay Area, Mendocino City, and a stand-in for Monterey (in East of Eden) and “Cabot Cove, Maine” (in Murder, She Wrote).

Pretty well the whole burg is now a listed building: book into the Mendocino Hotel overlooking the Bay and damn the expense. Watch the sunset, though. Next door is the wine store, where Malcolm had an intensive course on the virtues of Cabernet Sauvignon at the cost of buying a small supply of excellent Big Yellow Cab.

Should you see a t-shirt advertising that brand, perambulating Muswell Hill, North London accost and greet Malcolm.

After Mendocino, Highway 1 lives up to its alias, Coast Highway, until Bodega Bay, after which we can cut inland to 101 or dog-leg back onto 1 (now Shoreline Highway) past Point Reyes. Either route lands us back at the Golden Gate Bridge, with the SF skyline in the background; which was where Lonely Planet‘s original thought also ended.

Malcolm sincerely apologises is any or all of that was introducing Granny to her soft-boiled egg.

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Filed under Beer, films, Green Party, History, leisure travel, Literature, London, Mac, Music, pubs, Quotations, reading, travel

Not a nice day

It wasn’t the weather, which has been wet and pre-autumnal in dreary London.

Everything went swimmingly well until mid-afternoon.

The Lady in Malcolm’s Life and the Old Boy himself had the need to collect documents in High Holborn. This, by common and unspoken consent, was the excuse for a liquid lunch.

OK, they got it wrong: the bus turned left out of Gray’s Inn Road into Holborn, when they needed to go right to High Holborn. Eventually, though, the correct location was found, the envelope collected and — by one of those nice happenstances — there was the Cittie of Yorke conveniently ccross the road.

Normally, this post would now become an paeon of praise to one of London’s better watering-holes. Unexceptional, if unexciting pub meals; more than adequate jakes; and Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter (it’s a tied house) at a sensational £1.99 a pint.

What’s to gripe about?

So, all went swimmingly until mid afternoon. The Lady headed home, and Malcolm made an excuse to go the other way.

A couple of unnecessary side-trips and he was at the bottom of the Tottenham Court Road, waiting for a 134 bus. A 24 came along: that would take him half-way, and it was raining. Good enough: he could change at Camden Town.

Suddenly Malcolm was dealing with a soul in need. A heavily-pregnant girl, on all appearances a Roma, was waving a paper into Malcolm’s face. She seemed to want the directions for St Thomas’s Hospital (which is in precisely the other direction). Any reader who already knows what comes next will share Malcolm’s moment of malevolence, to which we shall shortly come.

Sure enough, Malcolm’s wallet had been cleanly picked out of his inside breast pocket by the girl’s accomplice.

For once Malcolm had his mobile phone with him. Within minutes he had called home and told the Lady to stop all debit and credit cards. She went further and put a stop on a couple of those loyalty cards as well. The good news is the last £10 note in that wallet had recently, and to mutual benefit, found its due place in the till of the Cittie of Yorke. So no great damage done, except to Malcolm’s self-esteem and personal convenience.

Now it is only a matter of time awaiting the replacement of those cards, the travel pass, and anything else. There’ll be need to replace the British Library pass, but that comes free with a crime reference number, and doubtless other bureaucracies to be contacted.

Our Malcolm, that most liberal of souls, fully admits it (and here we have that moment of malevolence): he is suffering angry mental flashes involving a Roma girl, a rope and a lamp-post. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, he fully knows. For once, though, he briefly finds himself in solidarity with your average benighted Daily Mail reader and President Sarkozy.

Perhaps his mood this Thursday night would not be so grim had it not been for the “care-in-the-community” episode on Tuesday. Then, a patient from the nearby hostel accosted Malcolm in the entrance to the local supermarket, came face-to-face, and spluttered a mouthful of some sticky liquid directly into Malcolm’s face.

Do, as Malcolm’s Norfolk-born granny superstitiously asserted, these things always come in threes?


Filed under bigotry, crime, Daily Mail, Hampstead, Liberté Égalité Fraternité, London, Norfolk, Paris, prejudice, pubs, underclass