A knot of Toad’s (sic)


Be patient! All will be explained!

Malcolm, when he became a man, failed to fulfil St Paul’s (and Sosthenes‘) injunction (I Corinthians 13:11) to put away childish things. Hence he continues to indulge in unsuitable literary fictions, squibs and satires, model railways, and daftnesses such as the cartographic graphophilia we had yesterday.

Some more of the same

Today’s Independent has it that one of the Head Lars [The tutelary deities of a house; household gods: OED, from Roman mythology] of English education has taken the hump against our Secretary of State for Education:

Education Secretary Michael’s Gove’s exam reform will “wreck” the English education system, the head of admissions to Oxford University warned yesterday.

Mike Nicholson told a conference in London that reforms to A-levels were “another great example of the Government’s tendency to meddle in things they should probably really leave alone”.

Mr Nicholson added that there was “widespread concern – not restricted to the secondary sector but also higher education” to push ahead with reforms to GCSEs and A-levels at the same time, adding: “The impact of bringing in both is going to just wreck the English education system.”

He added that plans to make the AS-level exam a standalone qualification would have “tragic consequences” for efforts to increase the participation of disadvantaged students at university.

Despite the Indy’s claim that Mr Nicholson’s comment will be a blow to Mr Gove, one severely doubts that Gove will be greatly discomfited by this. He has an infinite capacity, even a perverse intent, to épater le bourgeois, especially the cohorts of educational professionals thereof. Such are derided, apparently, in government as “The Blob”:

In the eponymous 1958 film, The Blob was a protean jelly-like alien that terrorised a small Pennsylvanian town. Indescribable, indestructible and seemingly unstoppable, it consumed everything in its path as it grew and grew. Until, that is, the overblown amoeba got its comeuppance at the hands of Steve McQueen. The Blob entered the political lexicon in the mid-1980s, adopted by William Bennett, education secretary in the Reagan administration, as a term to describe the amorphous coalition of a bloated education bureaucracy, teacher unions and education research establishment that Bennett argued always obstructs or stifles school reform. After his resignation from Ofsted a decade ago, Chris Woodhead began to warn that British education was menaced by a Blob of its own, every bit as slimy, ruthless and voracious as the American original.

Well, of course, if Woodhead — educational resilient, Murdoch pet, and holder of advanced views on pupil-teacher relations — says so, it must be true.

On the other hand …

If that defines the mainstream of educational thinking (and practice), how do we type-cast Gove?

Let’s refer to the other (third oldest?, in view of those cave-painters whom, it transpires, were largely … shudder!women) profession — that of image-makers and cartoonists.

Many have Gove as the archetypal schoolboy — most elaborately by Chris Riddell for The Observer:

Riddell's Gove

Steve Bell takes the Govian pout and extends it into a full-blown bill:


Hmmm … Malcolm rather takes to ducks, as they do to water. They are harmless (if messy, especially in and around York University’s Halls of Residence — and York used to brag the highest “duck quotient” of any). They amuse. As on the riverside terrace at the Trout at Wolvercote, their quacking is a pleasant accompaniment to a sunny summer’s Sunday pub-lunch.


For Malcolm, then, Gove is far too devious, opinionated, ruthless, destructive, political to be duck-like. So, sorry, Steve Bell.

Non anas, sed anura!

That’s your actual Latin, says Sandy. Or Julian.

Any government tends to be determinist, overbearing, authoritarian, to “know best”. This one, especially the majority Tories, exceeds the mark. All authorities, experts, experience, history and precedents have to be scorned with sado-Osbornomics, HS2, climate-change, decanting the over-housed into non-existent smaller properties, inflating the biggest property bubble yet, handing out contracts willy-nilly to Serco, Crapita, G4S and other serial offenders, fighting unwinnable wars (against “terror”, drugs, whatever).

And the most arrogant, presumptuous, imperious of the lot is Gove. His neo-Con attitudes are alleged to have spited the formidable William Hague, who seems to refer to the Education Department as “the Foreign Office across the street”. He went, as one account more gutter-sniping than the BBC would have it “apeshit“, when the Commons backed off from a Syrian involvement.

Remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything 

That seems to be from Captain William Winde (1642-1722), architect of what was there before Buckingham Palace, and the earliest version of the Oliver Cromwell remark to Sir Peter Lely.

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education,

Thanks to Mike Nicholson (see top of this post), there is now a neat, literary and Oxonian parallel for Gove:

‘ … Ho, ho! I am The Toad, the handsome, the popular, the successful Toad!’ He got so puffed up with conceit that he made up a song as he walked in praise of himself, and sang it at the top of his voice, though there was no one to hear it but him. It was perhaps the most conceited song that any animal ever composed.

The world has held great Heroes,
As history-books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared with that of Toad!

The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr. Toad!

Finally, our title for today: the collective for a group of toads is a “knot”.

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., education, Independent, Literature, Michael Gove, Observer, pubs, Quotations, reading, Steve Bell

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