When the rain came yesterday afternoon, Malcolm was emerging from the supermarket, laden. What to do? Silly question: turn right and, wind assisted, into the John Baird. Two pints of Fortyniner (yes: 4.9%) fortified the parts enough to struggle home.
What with Harvey‘s at the Hansom Cab on Friday, this was becoming something of a south-coast end to the week. As to that latter joint, follow Malcolm’s hot-link to John Walsh’s review for background, but trust not the views and comments therein: it’s a far, far better joint than than Walsh describes.
A Malcolmian aside
There’s this current vague (French, noun, female gender) for emphasising how many boozers are closing. And, yes, that’s sadly soundly-based.
The Irish Times is currently regaling us with an extended cri-de-coeur from Paul Cullen, under the title The pub loses its pulling power — as if any real pulling (apart from the subsequent interpersonal exchange of bodily fluids) has been going on in a land long devoted to top-pressure CO2 delivery.
Cullen rattles through the predictable:
Various reasons have been put forward for the collapse of the sector. For much of the past decade, publicans griped about the smoking ban and changes to drink-driving laws. Yet these changes took place some time ago — the smoking ban was introduced in 2004 and the first changes to drink-driving laws date back to the introduction of random breath-testing in 2003.
In the next paragraph Cullen hits a nerve through a quotation from Professor (of marketing) Mary Quinn:
“As people got richer and more sophisticated they weren’t prepared to sit in a dirty pub any more. Young people in particular wanted newer, brighter, more modern places to meet in.”
Which presumably explains why the pub-owners have a habit of ripping out old, authentic interiors to instal older ersatz ones.
So let’s address the problem from a different view-point. Why are some pubs (such as the Hansom Cab, and even the Baird) adapting and prospering, and why? In both those cases, along with the Nicholson’s houses, the Stag and The Bridge House, which all feature regularly in Malcolm’s life, and have been hat-tipped here, it’s because they have moved on from the days of the boozer. All are places where one can eat and drink — and drink good beers — in some comfort, the company of one’s nearest-and-dearest, without embarrassment. What if they tend to the trendy, to be dismissed as “gastropubs” or whatever? What if their prices permit decent facilities and amenities?
Oh, and reliable and regular public transport certainly helps. Though austerity, and loss-leader supermarket alcohol pricing most certainly don’t.
Back to the main event
Malcolm, remember, is in the corner of the Baird, with his pint of Fortyniner. He could (and eventually does) get out the copy of the Times for the world according to Murdoch. First, though, some light relief.
This week’s Times Literary Supplement has a couple of decent, deserving pieces among the other stuff: now why was Malcolm caught by an Antony Scull review of Simon Baron Cohen on A new theory of human cruelty? What grabbed Malcolm more was Brian Vickers running the rule over Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson — A Life.
This one looks very tasty indeed. Currently Malcolm’s other bedside book is John Stubbs’s delightful and delighting Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War, now available in paperback. Despite the title, Stubbs takes a long run-up, and prefaces the deal with the seminal figure of Jonson. Stubbs is sufficiently tangential to appeal to Malcolm’s butterfly mind — he is as near to a reincarnation of old John Aubrey as one could wish.
Moving on from Vickers on Jonson, the TLS has a two-column scamper, in the tail-gunner slot, by Ferdy Mount on Ronald Blythe’s latest, At the Yeoman’s House. This is a matured and marinated treatment of the book: all the main reviews came in a couple of months since. Mount starts with this observation, from the particular to the general:
Ronald Blythe has not budged much. In eighty-nine years, he has moved only a few miles down the Stour valley, and he has never left his home on the Essex-Suffolk border for more than a month on end. Nor did his ancestors, a long line of Suffolk shepherds who took their surname from the River Blyth, which dawdles past the great windows of Holy Trinity, Blythburgh, into the estuary at Southwold. Rootedness on this scale may seem odd to us who like to feel footloose, but it comes naturally to our great country writers: Thomas Hardy and William Barnes in Dorset, Richard Jeffries in Wilts, and John Clare in Northants (though William Cobbett did get about a bit). They stand out from other writers, too, by coming from the labouring classes as often as not, the sons of stonemasons and farmers, and in youth often labourers themselves. They have now and then been joined at the plough by the sons of the professional classes, such as John Stewart Collis and Adrian Bell, but the native sons of the soil are somehow different.
The cover (as right) of Blythe’s “elegy in a harsh key” (nice one, Ferdy!) is a 1954 John Nash oil-painting, The Barn, Wormingford, almost certainly the view from the top-floor studio of Bottengoms Farm (back to Mount for this):
… the very old farmhouse Blythe has lived in ever since he inherited it from the painter John Nash, whom he nursed when he was dying … For centuries, Bottengoms was a farm with seventy ill-favoured acres, from which the yeoman, defined by Cobbett as “above a farmer and lower than a gentleman”, scratched a precarious living. Gradually the acres fell away into other hands. In the 1920s, what was left was sold for £1,820, in 1936 for £1,200, and in 1944 Captain John Nash, Official War Artist, snapped it up for only £700.
Mount (born 1939) sums up on Blythe’s meditation:
This is a production of old age, gentle but not soft, othe tough-minded and charitable. Blythe is a lay Reader in the Church of England and nearly became a priest, like William Barnes and George Crabbe and Gilbert White before him. Yet I find his unillusioned, lyrical tone curiously similar to those ruralists who were lifelong atheists, Thomas Hardy and Richard Jeffries. It is as though the unblinking countryman’s eye has no room for religion, one way or the other.
Are we wholly happy with “unillusioned”? What other descriptor would possibly work there? Du mot vrai! Anyway, when Ferdy Mount ploughs through today’s Sunday Times, he will find Minette Marrin arguing that the Church of England exists for those who need “religiosity”, but not demanding beliefs, in their lives:
A sense of the numinous, a longing for ceremony, a love of the religious punctuation of the year, a need for a regular time to examine one’s conscience, a passion for church music — these are all things that appeal to Anglican unbelievers such as me and to unbelievers of all traditions.
On which, Malcolm would nearly as happily drink to Ms Marrin as to the third baronet Mount of Wasing Place.
Towards the bottom of the second pint …
… Malcolm reached the back page of the TLS, and the weekly miscellany. This week’s was a trifle disappointing — a long snarl at copyright-cuddling by the James Joyce Foundation (as if we needed to be told), then a nip on the ankles of “St” Jeanette Winterson. In between there is a bit of uplift, delicately balanced on passing wind about Lawtalk: The unknown stories behind familiar legal expressions.
It starts like this:
Heard the one about the dying man who insisted on studying to be a lawyer? After a great deal of trouble to his family, he qualified just in time. As he received his degree, a a relative aced the question: Why? “One less lawyer”, said the man as he expired.
The rest of this three-paragraph scamper covers the origin of
- The law is an ass
Yes, Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist, but “an obscure seventeen-century play called Revenge for Honour“. Not only “obscure”, though it merits a wikipedia entry and it was attributed to George Chapman: The Review of English Studies, as far back as 1935, reckoned this was a “worthless play”, but noticed it borrowed from Othello.
- with all deliberate speed
Famously, or infamously, from Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter’s draft for the 1954 Supreme Court judgement on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Yet, the term appears in Walter Scott’s Rob Roy. The TLS doesn’t help much here, but Malcolm can assure all and sundry that a visit to Chapter Nineteenth, in volume two, will locate this:
The Bailie … was obviously relieved from his impending fears of ridicule, when I told him it was my father’s intention to leave Glasgow almost immediately. Indeed he had now no motive for remaining, since the most valuable part of the papers carried off by Rashleigh had been recovered. For that portion which he had converted into cash and expended in his own or on political intrigues, there was no mode of recovering it but by a suit at law, which was forthwith commenced, and proceeded, as our law-agents assured us, with all deliberate speed.
That neatly exemplifies the ironic ambiguity which must also have been in Frankfurter’s mind, in 1954.
Oddly, both Lawtalk and the TLS assume that this is also from Rob Roy, though the TLS adds:
The same novel popularised “blackmail”, though the practice is as old as shame itself.
Malcolm cocks a wry eye at the MS Word “z” in what was once, back in the eighteenth century again, and derived from the French populariser (though the OED is happy with “popular adj. and n. and -ize suffix“). Yet, there’s more to this than meets the eye. The exact use of blackmail is in the Editor’s Introduction to the Waverley edition of Rob Roy:
At Tullibody Scott had met, in 1793, a gentleman who once visited Rob, and arranged to pay him blackmail.
Do the TLS, and the authors of Lawtalk recognise that “blackmail” originally meant something very different from its modern context? The original meaning was a tribute extorted by the Border revers, and nearer in meaning to “protection money”. This is the sense in Rob Roy.
We have the Chicago author James T. Farrell to thank for the evocative “jailbait”, over which the authors of Lawtalk lay down the law: “The term is best used sparingly: if intended or perceived as a slur upon the character of a girl it is offensive”.
She’s not hard on the eyes but she’s jail bait.
I’m not interested in little girls. Particularly not in jail-bait like that one.
- play the race card
British politicians in the 1960s who spoke about immigration were accused of playing the race card, but the proper use applies to a person under duress invoking the spectre of discrimination as a trump card — you’re only doing this because I’m black/ Chinese, etc.