Long time, no C (or A or B)

First  familial visitations, then Hogmanay in Edinburgh. Result: an absence of blogging.

So, to the recent scrapbook.

Where better to start than Steve Bell’s retrospective for The Guardian; and that iconic cartoon of 12th January 2010:

Bell’s own caption-comment takes that into the sublime:

This cartoon marked a turning point, in that I’d been trying out various ways of doing Cameron, from man boobs through to jellyfish, and this seemed a natural development. It said a great deal about his smoothness, but opened up a lot of new, symbolic and rubbery possibilities. By way of a bonus, Cameron does not favour the depiction. He came up to me at a Spectator party at the Tory conference in October, and asked me how long I was going to carrry on with it, before advising me: “You can only push a condom so far”.
Then, also in The Guardian and this very day, Polly Toynbee nails that rubberoid jelly to the wall:

Far more shocking is the spectacle of Cameron and Osborne’s unabashed, barefaced and premeditated mendacity. Begin with the great broad questions about which they so reassured voters. Three days before the election, Cameron said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, “any cabinet minister … who comes to me and says ‘Here are my plans’ and they involve frontline reductions, they’ll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again”. Yet £81bn in cuts now rain down on frontline services.

Would VAT rise? A month before the election, Cameron said:Our plans involve cutting wasteful spending … our plans don’t involve an increase in VAT.”

As for the NHS,We will stop top-down reorganisations of the NHS,” said the coalition agreement, yet now what health secretary Andrew Lansley calls his “revolution” rolls in. The coalition promise that “we will guarantee that health spending increases in real terms” has gone the same way. Two months before the election, Cameron eulogised universal child benefit:I wouldn’t change child benefit, I wouldn’t means test it, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” On education maintenance allowances, Michael Gove said, just before the election: Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.On tax credits, the promise was to cut them only for families on £50,000, but the budget book shows families with an income of just £30,000 lose all credits. Liam Fox promiseda bigger army for a safer Britain, but it now loses 7,000 soldiers.

The People’s Polly has been regaining her stride in recent weeks; and here is in devastating form. Her devastating word there is “mendacity”. For which, let’s pause for thought:
From the Latin: mendax. “Prone to tell falsehoods, untruthful. Giving a false impression, deceiving. That falsely affects to be or masquerades as.”

In the dictionary (pages 1097-8) between memoria, “the collective memory of the past” and mensularius, “a banker, money-changer”.

Required reading

At this time of the year, the gloom of mid-winter imposing a seasonly-affection reading disorder, Malcolm is typically looking for something on the light side. Having run out of Henning Mankell’s Wallenders, Malcolm thought to have a go at Jo Nesbø. The Devil’s Star worked a treat for a taster. Then into The Redbreast. Much grimmer, more complex stuff than Malcolm had anticipated; but crime should be sordid, not glamorised. So far, so good. The Snowman was the one Malcolm had been sharpening his teeth for, and widely applauded as one of the genre’s great reads of 2010.

So, into Edinburgh’s Waterstones, conveniently half-way between the palatial Wetherspoon’s at The Standing Order (once the Union Bank, a classical Victorian extravaganza) and the delightfully seedy Oxford Bar, hidden away in Young Street. The world and his wife fill the former to capacity; lonely souls come looking for Inspector Rebus and his makir in the latter. In both they find relief and respite in Deuchars.


So, The Snowman is heaped high: take one. Ah, it’s one of those three-for-two offers. So what else to go with it? Well, let’s try the early Zafon, The Prince of Mist, and … err …

Well, any port in a storm. Neil Oliver’s A History of Scotland? Why not? Malcolm has a small shelf of Scottish histories. This one won’t add to the sum of human knowledge; and it’ll be fun picking up the errors.

When the very expensive BBC TV series, of which this is a natural spin-off, was developing, there was a small tsunami of dissent among Scottish historians. The treatment was too “anglocentric” and Oliver, as front-man was too populist. Which, with that £2 million plus of investment in the series, both amount to no-brainers. As audience-figures have shown.

The book of the TV series of the history of the country

So that is what Malcolm, in requiring TLC and a bit of light relief, has been reading these last days. He has to confess he enjoys it greatly.

Take, for example, Oliver’s warm-up to chapter 7, King Jesus, on the volcanic and self-destructive religious feudings of the seventeenth century:

A Scottish Presbyterian man is headed for a new life in Australia when his ship hits an uncharted reef and sinks. Alone of all the passengers and crew he survives the wreck and swims to a little uninhabited island. Twenty years later another liner is blown off course by another storm and onto the same reef. This time a handful of survivors make it into a lifeboat and they row themselves to the Scotsman’s island.
He greets them warmly and takes them on a tour of their new home. They soon realise he has worked hard to create a comfortable, civilised life for himself.
‘This is my house — complete with running water,’ he says, walking them past a well-built timber building with a roof of palm leaves.
‘Here’s my garden and my vegetable plot,’ he says, smiling broadly. ‘I can grow fruit as well, anything I want — the climate is so wonderful.’
‘And over there — slung between two palm trees — is my hammock, where I like to watch the sun set each evening.’
One of the survivors takes a minute to gaze around and then poijnts to a stone building on a nearby hill.
‘And what’s that?’ he asks.
‘Oh, that’s my church,’ says the Scotsman.
Another survivor points to an almost identical building right beside the first one.
‘And that?’ he asks.
“That?’ says the Scotsman. ‘Oh … that’s the church I don’t go to.’

Immediately we see why Oliver must be the despair of professional historians: anecdotal, irreverent, readable, and not a footnote or sociological multi-syllable in sight.
Oliver adds:

You almost have to be a Scot to get the joke.

It works quite nicely in Northern Ireland (perhaps the whole of Ireland) too.


1 Comment

Filed under BBC, bigotry, blogging, crime, David Cameron, Detective fiction, Guardian, History, Polly Toynbee, pubs, Scotland, Steve Bell

One response to “Long time, no C (or A or B)

  1. Pingback: Training there and back again | Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service

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