Monthly Archives: November 2011


Since Malcolm posted The bottom of the barrel earlier today, he has had a sense of unease.

Let’s consider a couple of the road schemes, as itemised by  page 11 of today’s Times:

£20m investment to reduce congestion, improve junctions and increase resilience.

This was the one that gave Malcolm a faint sniff of bacon being grilled.

It amounts to sorting out the link from Cambridge (the top end of the M11) to the A1(M). Yes, it should have been done a while back, probably as soon as the John Major Memorial Motorway (curiously convenient for Major’s home at Great Stukeley) between Alconbury and Peterborough was conceived:

IMPROVING the A14 was yesterday (Tuesday) named a Government priority by the Chancellor – with £20million for “immediate improvements” and a report on the road’s future by early 2012.

Chancellor George Osborne, presenting his Autumn Statement in Parliament, said money would be released for safety work and announced a study to find a long-term solution for the road.

The immediate funding will pay for junction upgrades at the Girton and Spittals interchanges and additional signage for drivers, while an all-options engagement programme, labelled ‘The A14 Challenge’, will give the public, businesses and local authorities their say.

The study will examine the potential of the previously-scrapped Fen Ditton to Ellington upgrade, assess other methods of reducing congestion – by improving freight alternatives and public transport – and the options for financing the project, possibly through a toll road.

That looks like a bit of bunce for two MPs: Jonathan Djanogly (Conservative, Huntingdon) and Shailesh Vara (Conservative, NW Cambridgeshire). Assuming the LibDem vote collapses (almost a given), and doesn’t go disproportionately Tory (as if), Vara could just about be in difficulties at the next General Election — especially if UKIP continues to make inroads into Tory core-support. So, Djanogly (who hasn’t had the happiest of relations with his constituency association) and Vara (small fluff over expenses) have both got feathers to stick in their caps, while all it has cost is a bit of tarmac and a lot of consultant fees.

None too far distance we have a bigger-ticket item:

A14 Kettering Bypass
£110m for widening between Junctions 7 and 9.

The Tory MP for Kettering is Philip Hollobone. The boundary review would make the constituency co-terminous with the borough. In 1995-99 and 2001-3 Labour had political control of Kettering council. Hollobone’s seat therefore becomes more marginal.

That’s as far as Malcolm has reached in looking at the political implications of these projects. A quick flick of some of the others — Nine Elms (Tory Wandsworth) gets a whiff of a link to the Northern Line tube, the Oxford-Bedford rail link (restoring, in part, the old Varsity line, largely across Tory constituencies) — also has overtones of a partisan timbre.

Doubtless others will take up the chase.

Oink. Oink.

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Malcolm has a new Mac set-up. Complete with 24-inch monitor. Nice.

Doing the business, though, he managed to trash his external drive with the accumulated iTunes tracks. Over half-a-gigabyte’s worth. Not so nice.

So there is a whole stack (geddit?) of reloading to be done.


First off the pile was a mess of Julie London (the erstwhile Miss Gayle Peck, Mrs Jack Webb and Mrs Bobby Troup).  No obvious reason: can’t think why (but those 33 rpm covers, as right, might be a clue).

And so, playing in the background, Malcolm had the Calendar Girl album smokily crooning.

This is from 1956, and comes from a time when some degree of planning, of “concept”,  went into the construction of an LP. And the cover has those sub-Vargas images, which were ironic and cheesy even back in 1956.

Next, the tracks have an obvious sequence:

  1. June in January;
  2. February Brings the Rain, a Bobby Troup number, just to prove he did more than Route 66;
  3. Melancholy March;
  4. I’ll Remember April;
  5. People Who Are Born in May;
  6. Memphis in June, which has a Hoagy Carmichael provenance, but not one of the all-timers;
  7. Sleigh Ride in July;
  8. Time for August;
  9. September in the Rain;
  10. This October, another Troup piece — but then he was producing;
  11. November Twilight;
  12. Warm in December; and
  13. Thirteenth Month.

Being honest, there’s only a couple there (those hot-linked above to YouTube) worth the keeping.

States of mind

What put this all in Malcolm’s mind was a bit of iPoddery that had kept him going on the JFK-LHR red-eye. It is embedded in the collected works of Blossom Dearie, and in particular her version of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz listing of a score and one States:

Copper comes from Arizona,
Peaches come from Georgia,
Lobsters come from Maine,
The wheat fields are the sweet fields of Nebraska,
And Kansas gets bonanzas from the grain.
Ol’ whiskey comes from ol’ Kentucky —
Ain’t the country lucky?
New Jersey gives us glue (which Malcolm always miscues as “gives us ‘flu”),
And you, you come from Rhode Island —
And little Rhode Island is famous for you.

Cotton comes from Louisiana,
Gophers from Montana,
And spuds from Idaho.
They plough land in the cow-land of Missouri,
Where most beef for roast beef seems to grow.
Grand Canyons come from Colorado,
Gold comes from Nevada —
Divorces also do —
And you, you come from Rhode Island,
Little ol’ Rhode Island is famous for you.

Pencils come from Pennsylvania,
Vests from West Virginia,
Tents from Tentassee.
They know mink where they grow mink in Wyomink;
A camp chair in New Hampchair, that’s for me.
Minnows come from Minnowsota,
Coats come from Dakota, but why should you be blue?
For you, you come from Rhode Island —
Don’t let them ride Rhode Island, it’s famous for you.


OK: Malcolm is a sucker for those witty, and usually arch, lyrics as patented by Cole Porter, which so regularly involve a list-poem. Before Porter here was William Schwenck Gilbert, who was pushing the limits in his own Victorian way.

And list-poems, which involve as simple a device as can be imagined, should not be scorned.

If the simple term is an embarrassment, there’s the fancier “catalogue poems”. Every teacher of English will have used them as a stimulus (see, for a US source, Betsy Franco’s Conversations with a Poet: Inviting Poetry into K-12 Classrooms). The Library of Congress web-site has a list of 180 modern list-poems, a few of which are none-too-bad — Malcolm likes in particular #122, Paul Muldoon’s two Soccer Moms, Mavis and Merle, who harken back to 1962, and:

remember Gene Chandler topping the charts with Duke of Earl
when the boys were set on taking the milk bar’s one banquette
and winning their hearts.


When Malcolm was still at the chalk-face, one starter was Christopher Smart’s For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry. In more ways than one, that has to be the ultimate “cat-alogue poem.” Malcolm suggests it’s the only bit of Jubilate Agno — written, in a lunatic asylum between 1758 and 1763, but only published in 1939— which is still in circulation. But then, what we now term “free” verse took a while to catch on.


At the sophisticated end of the market, what is Chaucer’s General Prologue if not a list-poem? —

But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space,
Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun
To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And whiche they weren, and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne;
And at a knyght than wol I first bigynne.

Or chunks of Shakespeare:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,—
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Or , much earlier still, all those thundering begat-ings of the Book of Genesis?

Or the 250-or so lines of Book II of the Iliad with the list of the Achaean army? Which, therefore, had to be imitated in every subsequent epic, and hence Milton’s parade of the demons in Pandaemonium.


Rupert Brooke gets into the flavour of the thing dismissing the towns that aren’t Grantchester:

Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of that district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington …

Which seems remarkably akin to the trillings of Ms Dearie.

The great Porter

But there’s always the magnificent Cole himself: You’re the Top; Anything Goes; Always True to You in My Fashion, and many more. Among which, notably, to be cherished for its high camp, low humour and presumptuous culture:

The girls today in society go for classical poetry,
So to win their hearts one must quote with ease
Aeschylus and Euripides.
One must know Homer, and believe me, Bo,
Sophocles, also Sappho-ho.
Unless you know Shelley and Keats and Pope
Dainty Debbies will call you a dope

Note that knowing ho-ho — Gaydar on the twitch. After which count the titles and  into Brush Up Your Shakespeare:

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The bottom of the barrel

If we need convincing that times are hard, look no further than, eponymously,  The Times‘s list of les Grands Projets that are supposed to bring Britain out of its slough of economic despond. Or as David Wighton’s piece puts it: Quick fixes to get economy up to speed.

Wighton sets the scene:

Thirty-five road and rail projects got the go-ahead yesterday as George Osborne made infrastructure investment the centre of his economic package.

So, where’s Blasted Boris’s airport (some £50 billion)? After all, that has again been a main feature in The Times these recent days, even given the Wighton Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval as recently as … well implicitly, today, actually:

Maintaining a hub airport was identified as a key government commitment yesterday as part of 500 infrastructure projects worth more than £250 billion to be deliver over the next few years.

Only later, in the fourth paragraph,do we realise this is all pie-in-the-sky stuff, because:

About two-thirds of the £250 billion will come from the private sector and the Government is in talks with two sets of British pension funds that are expected to invest more than £20 billion over the next five to ten years.

£20 billion! Wowza! That’s a whole 8% of the £250 billion already at the “in talks” stage. Perhaps a third or a quarter of just one year’s income received by UK pensions funds  —money that has to be invested somewhere. Convincing, what? And the UK pensions pot totals in excess of a trillion — so there’s a contribution, even if not a staggering one.

But George Osborne is sadly not thinking as BIG as Mr Wighton. He is proposing those 35 projects cost much as £5 billion for the next three years. Which is a fair bit of difference — a factor of fifty-fold reduction to be a trifle more precise.

And those 35 projects really do scrape the tun’s bum:

  • a by-pass for Immingham (£6.3 million);
  • up-grades on the Tyne and Wear Metro (£4 million);
  • replacing a railway bridge in Derby (£6.9 million);
  • a couple of park-and-ride schemes in York (£21.9 million, which seems a grotesque inflation);
  • a bus station in Rochdale (£11.5 million).

But what really caught Malcolm’s eye was the item for “More Sheffield supertrams”. Malcolm has ridden the Sheffield trams, and (like those of Nottingham, but sadly not that intended to bring the Croydon trams into and across central London) they are very nice indeed. Still, can anyone imagine a previous Chancellor of the Exchequer  — a Gladstone, a Disraeli, a Lloyd George, a Churchill, even (heaven help us!) a Philip Snowden — bragging about four extra trams for Sheffield?

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What’s the time, Mr Wolf?

Half past kidding time.Time to kid again.

Except this is no playground game.

Two Sundays back, Malcolm was struck by Andrew Rawnsley’s opener:

What do the following have in common? Angela Merkel, cold weather, Ed Balls, Silvio Berlusconi, the wedding of William Windsor and Kate Middleton, British civil servants, Brussels bureaucrats, people concerned about global warming, employment tribunals, trade unions, banks, bank holidays, Liberal Democrats, energy prices, Gordon Brown and the world?

The answer is that they have all been deployed as excuses by members of the government for why the economy is so dire. The proliferation of alibis offered by ministers, and their inability to stick to the same one, is a symptom of increasing desperation about the unravelling of their economic strategy.

That is now quite a meme among columnists, and here is Martin Wolf, in his blog for the FT, reprising it as a punch-line

The big facts are that the UK is set for a lost decade and a longer period of stringency than expected. The government’s position is that there is no alternative. That has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So blame foreigners: that always works.

Wolf’s piece is devastating, and particularly so since it is delivered from the highest financial platform in town. What Wolf was saying, far more eloquently than Malcolm’s gloss, is tomorrow’s orthodoxy:

  • that Osborne was the warm-up: the main event was the OBR report down-grading “growth” predictions — we have, in effect “lost” 3.5% of 2013’s GDP between last March and now, and with it one huge whack of “structural” deficit;
  • that what is on offer from Osborne is regressive (the burden falls unconscionably on the poor), and moreover
    • that “credit easing” is less about boosting the economy than lowering borrowing costs — which puts into proportion that swagger about the disparity between UK and German borrowing costs,
    • and that the British obsession with a “property-owning democracy” skews the economy by throwing money at domestic bricks-and-mortar when the Germans prudently put it into industrial investment;
  • that any Treasury plan to restructure or, in the current argot, “rebalance” the economy has given way to gimmickry — in other words, eighteen months into this ConDem thing, the government has completely lost the plot.

In all that, Wolf manages a vicious swipe at the Thatcherite “right-to-buy”:

why should gifts be made to people fortunate enough to live in social accommodation? This is not really a “right to buy”. It is a right to loot.

Any time now Cameron will start considering his “legacy”, that specious divide between the failed politician and the venerated statesman. About the same time Osborne will be looking for his ace-trump to see off Blasted Boris in the Tory inheritance stakes. As things stand, all either will be remembered for is that massive embuggerance of Britain’s “lost decade”, of which the main beneficiary will be Alex Salmond and the SNP.

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Ginger rodent and Paxo stuffing

Last evening’s Newsnight had Danny Alexander, as Financial Secretary (surely one of the most remarkable elevations since Caligula would have advanced Incitatus to consular rank), being given the treatment by Jeremy Paxman.

The highlight was the revelation that the ConDem coalition goes into the next General Election committed to a further £30 billion in cuts for the subsequent parliament. Fair enough, except the Treasury hasn’t a clue where almost £29 billion of that whoops-oh-nasty is coming from.

This used to be known as a “black hole”. It is, in passing, about one-and-a-half per cent of the UK’s GDP.

Catch the occasion on iPlayer.

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MRQ (Mall Rat Quotient)

So the Pert Young Piece and Malcolm were hanging over the balustrade, observing the Black Friday throngs at the Short Hills Mall, and waiting the return of the Lady in Malcolm’s life from her retail mission.

To pass the time a new system of mensuration was constructed.

The standard Mall Rat (sMR) is mid-teens and upwards, has straight hair below shoulder length, and wears skinny jeans with boots (see below, however). Invariably the sMR hunts in packs of two or three sMRs.

After that initial identification, we have to add plus points:

  • Ugg boots — in the prototype ratings, this was considered an essential, but on mature reflection and evaluation allowed as a bonus;
  • a Starbucks cup (one point)
  • cell-phone at the ready (one point), applied to ear (a further half-point), with yet another half-point for it being an iPhone, and ostentatiously so;
  • bags with store identifications, one point each to a maximum of six (though Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch obviously qualify for an additional half-point each.
  • gesturing with a credit-card, presumably Daddy’s, doubles the total.

Other sub-species of Mall Rat have been observed in the wild

  • The MRIT (Mall-Rat-in-Training): this is a young teen who hasn’t quite developed into the mature specimen;
  • The mMR (mini-Mall Rat), even younger still, and not yet sufficiently developed to have an individual consuming expenditure habit;

The mMR will of course be accompanied by a MMR (maternal Mall Rat), who has many characteristics of the sMR.

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Places not to inhabit, no. 94

A truly glorious morning in the Great State of Noo Joisey. The Lady in Malcolm’s Life and the upcoming brood all off to see the Macy’s parade. Number One Daughter cooking up a storm for the Thanksgiving dinner. An ample sufficiency of quality coffee. And the New York Times beside Malcolm in this non-wilderness.

And therein lies the rub.

It’s on page A27. The Mayor of Gun Barrel City, Texas, has a problem with late-night drinking:

Mayor Dennis R. Wood … tried to stop the town from allowing restaurants to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. on the weekends.

If that wasn’t enough, try this bit:

God, jobs, politics, chain restaurants and diner disputes, all in a friendly little town that happens to have a two-pistol logo above the doors of City Hall.

Mayor Wood lost his proposition by 262 votes to 481.

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