Brussels spouts

54 Bootham, YorkThe stroll from the Redfellow’s Kozy Kot to Bootham Bar takes seven to ten minutes. On the way, at 54 Bootham, we pass W. H. Auden’s birthplace: quite a grand joint, well-suited to a well-heeled medic like Wystan’s pa.

Recipe for the upbringing of a poet: ‘As much neurosis as the child can bear’.

I rarely fail to acknowledge, to pay respect to the memorial plaque on the wall. Even on a chilly, wet morning like today.

Bringing home the bacon …

Well, there was a time when a selection of Auden’s verse was an A-level staple. So, in that way, Auden brought home the bacon for me over several years.

Today it wasn’t bacon: I was carrying M&S casserole steak, and the other makings (we’re surviving on slow-cooking, fries, and micro-waving until the new kitchen is installed).

I smell blood and an era of prominent madmen.

Once back to Kozy Kot, I caught up with Isabel Hardman’s piece on Nick “Calamity” Clegg’s Deputy PMQs performance. The bit that caught Ms Hardman’s eye was about Danny “Ginger Rodent” Alexander. The full exchange went like this:

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab):

Has the Deputy Prime Minister seen the comments of the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor, who said on Monday that “Nick Clegg complains quite often that Danny Alexander has gone native in the Treasury. I think there is some truth in the fact that he has gone native in the Treasury.”
He said:“The relationship between George and Danny Alexander is very, very good.”The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware of Stockholm syndrome, in which captives increasingly empathise with their captives. What is he going to do to de-programme “the Treasury one”

The Deputy Prime Minister:

I have just seen those quotes from the hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson) — I am not sure if he is in the Chamber — who claims that he is extremely close to the Chancellor, knows his mind and that he is his “wingman”. He is as good a wing man as Icarus was in flying off on his own wings, judging by his comments. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury is doing an outstanding job on behalf of the Government and the Liberal Democrats. Only last week he said that further cuts for the wealthiest in society would happen over his dead body. That and so many other examples show that his Liberal Democrat heart is exactly where it should be.

The “honourable member” targeted there is Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East. Wilson is/was Jeremy Hunt’s bag-carrier (now, it seems Gids Osborne’s batman) and therefore parliamentary plankton. Quite why Clegg trawled so low remains inexplicable.

Daedalus and Icarus

The whole metaphor here seems rather confused.

The basic stimulus to the intelligence is doubt, a feeling that the meaning of an experience is not self-evident.

If we read Clegg aright, the “Icarus” is Wilson. Which is fair do’s. Ten years and two parliaments to reach the dizzy heights of PPS. Should the Beaker/ the “Ginger Rodent”be possessed of a political “heart”, it must lie well to the right of any sternum. Any spine would be more difficult to find.

Anyway, it fitted well with the passing glance to Auden:

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong, 
The Old Masters; how well, they understood 
Its human position; how it takes place 
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; 
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting 
For the miraculous birth, there always must be 
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating 
On a pond at the edge of the wood: 
They never forgot 
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course 
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot 
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse 
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. 
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away 
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may 
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, 
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone 
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green 
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen 
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, 
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

The critics tell us that Auden visited the Brussels Art Gallery in 1938, and viewed the painting by Brueghel, which the poem is basically about. No, just the last half-dozen lines, chaps. There are a couple of other “Old Masters” — by one or other Brueg(h)el — referenced. In The Massacre of the Innocents (which, at the last count, wasn’t in Brussels, but Vienna) there are half-a-dozen examples of dogs go[ing] on with their doggy life, and — famously — the bloke having a wee up the wall.

Properly, too, it’s more commonly Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. You have to look hard for Icarus: all you get are a couple of legs, and some loose feathers. Which is the whole point.

Clegg, during those five years at the EU Parliament, may have found time to wander down Belliardstraat to the Musée.

Almost all of our relationships begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both partners run out of goods.

Alexander, of course, was parachuted into the Treasury (and out of the Scottish Office) only because David Laws lasted just twenty-two days before his sins (£40,000+ of fiddling) found him out.

You shall love your crooked neighbour, with your crooked heart.


All the quotations above are from Auden, when they are not from Hansard. No poet/critics/essayists were harmed in the making of this post.


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Filed under Nick Clegg, politics, Quotations, reading, W.H.Auden, York

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