Monthly Archives: March 2012

After egging come the goons

Somewhat telling, Malcolm feels.

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Filed under Britain, broken society, politics, Religious division, Uncategorized

For what it’s worth

Despite Galloway and Bradford West, for the last week the polling has been consistent: Tories 34%, Labour 44% and LibDems 8%.

That means the ConDems are jointly or separately well-adrift. For comparison, a General Election with that result would give Labour an overall majority somewhere around 110-120.

Which neat conceit holds as much water as now-teetotal Galloway did in his Groucho Club days.

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Filed under Britain, Labour Party, politics, polls, Tories.

Overdue, but well welcome

The headline essay for this week’s New York Times Book Review supplement is by Pete Hamill. Nice graphic, too (as above) — if closer to the CTA than the County Clare. The topic is Kevin Barry’s superb City of Bohane. Just published in the US, a full year on from the UK and Ireland.

Hamill manages something between a litcrit gush and an entrant for Private Eye‘s Pseuds’ Corner:

“City of Bohane,” the extraordinary first novel by the Irish writer Kevin Barry, is full of marvels. They are all literary marvels, of course: marvels of language, invention, surprise. Savage brutality is here, but so is laughter. And humanity. And the abiding ache of tragedy.

The form resembles an Icelandic saga welded to a ballad of the American West, although the location is in a place somewhere in Ireland, around the year 2053. In prose that is both dense and flowing, Barry takes us on a roaring journey, among human beings who are trapped in life its own damned self. Nostalgiagrips many of them, even when they slash angrily at sentimentality. None of it is real, yet all of it feels true. This powerful, exuberant fiction is as true as the Macondo of Gabriel García Márquez, the Yoknapatawpha County of William Faulkner and, in a different way, even the Broadway of Damon Runyon. Those places were not real. The stories remain true.

However, Hamill probably does a better job than Malcolm did, months past.

Malcolm has hopes we haven’t visited Bohane for the once-and-only.

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Filed under fiction, Ireland, Literature, New York Times, reading

“Hear the loud alarum bells —”

It’s Edgar Allan, albeit postumously:

Hear the loud alarum bells – 
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune …

There is, Malcolm sincerely believes, a venerable bell somewhere in Essex inscribed:

Success to the Church of England and no enthusiasm!

That dates it to the eighteenth century, when “enthusiasm” amounted to John Wesley’s Methodism.

This all neatly (at least to Malcolm’s contorted mind) equates to Charles Moore’s remarkable column for the Telegraph. In Moore’s case, the message seems to be:

Success to the Tory Party, and no modernisers.

The particular target is Francis Maude, who is the Aunt Sally of the moment:

When I first heard Francis Maude’s suggestion on Sky News that we might all stock up “a bit of extra fuel with a jerry can in the garage”, I did not, I must admit, panic. His remark seemed a little unwise – and you could hear, by the way he immediately began to qualify it, that he thought so too – but I let it pass.

What I was forgetting is that ministerial words about an immediate problem with basics like fuel or food is the only sort of ministerial statement which people believe. It was like when Edwina Currie, the then junior health minister, said in 1988 that most egg production was infected with salmonella. People stopped buying eggs. After Mr Maude spoke, they swarmed to the petrol pumps.

Moore is surely correct in his assumption that the whole “let’s bash Labour by inventing a fuel crisis” ploy was profoundly misconceived and appallingly implemented:

No doubt many people reading this column are happy that Ed Miliband’s and Ed Balls’s dependence on a large trade union should be exposed, but very few, I suspect, appreciate being made into mugs. (And the political effect, of course, is the opposite of that intended: Unite now looks virtuous, and is much better placed to win its demands.)

So this gerrymandering with jerry cans, along with the rows about pasties, dinners for donors and granny taxes, sheds light on the present discontent. People detect selfishness.

So the argument is widened, and neatly so:

As modernisers such as Mr Maude rightly never tire of pointing out, voters judge politicians more on motive than on policy. It may sound an odd thing to say on the day after George Galloway got back into Parliament, but what people crave is authenticity.

Quite what is “authenticity” in politics is debatable. Blair (“I am a pretty straight sort of guy“) tried — and fell spectacularly short. Cameron has proved, in this too, to be the “heir to Blair”. Moore has all of that, and more.

When such as Moore rings an alarum, things are getting desperate:

Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek …

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, Literature, politics, Tories., Trade unions

6th October 1991: day to live in hilarity.

That was when Wales played Western Samoa, at Cardiff Arms Park, in the second Rugby World Cup. And lost 13-16. Wales went out of the tournament at the pool stage, and Anonymous coined the gem: “Thank the Lord we weren’t playing the whole of Samoa!”

Reading an education news-item, this — perhaps because of the tangential Twickenham connection — inexplicably sprang to Malcolm’s mind:

Education Secretary Michael Gove has suggested a proposed new Catholic school should limit Catholic pupils to 50% of its intake.

Business Secretary Vince Cable wrote to Mr Gove about the proposed school, which is in his Twickenham constituency.

Mr Gove said the proposal for a cap was “very sensible”.

But a Catholic Education Service official said turning Catholics away and admitting others just because they were not Catholic would be “odd”.

What was particularly “odd” in that story was this:

The deputy director of the Catholic Education Service, Greg Pope, said Catholic parents in the area had been asking for the school.

So, if the deputy director is a Pope, what’s his superior called?

[In fact the “Interim Director” is Monsignor Marcus Stock. But that both spoils the joke, and raises other questions.]

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Filed under BBC, education, Lib Dems, London, Religious division, Rugby, Tories.

“A spring from a vintage car”

From the BBC website:

That, and the contents of Dr Johnson’s garden pot … 

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Filed under BBC, History, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire

“An itinerant charlatan …”

Malcolm loves words (you may have noticed).

One reason is, like Pliny the Elder on African wildlife, out of the dictionary there always comes something new.

Some words, though, need a bit of thought to be properly to be pinned down and anatomised. One such, for Malcolm, would have been mountebank. Until this morning the best synonym he could have managed would have been snake-oil salesman. That seems to convey the theatricality and distaste the term implies. Sir Philip Sidney’s An Apologie for Poetry may have given us the word:

For heretofore, Poets have in England also flourished. And which is to be noted, even in those times, when the trumpet of Mars did sound loudest. And now, that an over-faint quietness should seem to strew the house for Poets, they are almost in as good reputation, as the Mountebanks at Venice.

Yes: that’s about it; and the Oxford Dictionary neatly cleans up:

 a. An itinerant charlatan who sold supposed medicines and remedies, freq. using various entertainments to attract a crowd of potential customers. Later also (more generally): an itinerant entertainer. Now chiefly hist.

 b. gen. A charlatan, a person who falsely claims knowledge of or skill in some matter, esp. for personal gain; a person who pretends to be something he or she is not, in order to gain prestige, fame, etc.Formerly used freq. of corrupt clergy and others assuming false piety or religiosity.

Neatly adding as the etymology:

contracted form of monta in banco (1598 in Florio), lit. ‘mount on bench’ … with reference to the raised platform used by itinerant salesmen.

Malcolm trusts any passing reader observed that he would have had some difficulty explicating the term “until this morning”. For, out of the mists of obscurity appears a walking, talking, bench-climbing illustration of the all-purpose mountebank:

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Filed under BBC, Britain, politics, Quotations