Monthly Archives: April 2014

Pot Snr and Kettle Jnr

David Cameron, in PMQs, avoiding the questions over the shoddy sale of the Post Office:

You are right, Mr Speaker, that there is a lot of history in this shouting, because of course in the past with all these privatisations we had the shouting of the Kinnocks, the shouting of the Prescotts and the shouting of the Straws. Over Easter, I was looking at Labour’s candidates and I saw that son of Kinnock is coming here, son of Straw wants to get here and son of Prescott wants to come here. It is the same families with the same message—it is literally the same old Labour. That is what is happening.

There is some small merit in Cameron’s quackings. It was also there in Neil Kinnock’s well-known (and ripped off) speech to the Welsh Labour Conference in May 1987:

Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick? Did they lack talent, those people who could sing and play and write and recite poetry? Those people who could make wonderful beautiful things with their hands? Those people who could dream dreams, see visions. Why didn’t they get it? Was it because they were weak? Those people who could wake work eight hours under ground and then come up and play football, weak those women who could survive eleven child-bearings? Were they weak? Does anybody really think that they didn’t get what we had because they didn’t have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment? Of course not. It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand.

Well, Stephen Kinnock, Will Straw, and David Prescott have inherited platforms upon which they could stand. As does Emily Benn. This being Labour Party politics, though, they still have to prove worth and merit (and hard work) to climb through the ranks.

A whiff of hypocrisy

Cameron’s canard [*] has a privileged quack.

He delivered that dynastic dig with the Cabinet Minister, Francis Maude, beside him. Francis Maude is MP for North Warwickshire 1983-1992 and retreaded MP for Horsham since 1997. Francis Maude is the son of Angus Maude, MP for Ealing South 1950-58, and retreaded MP for Stratford-on-Avon 1963-1983 (a seat he inherited from the disgraced John Profumo).

On the Tory benches we find a couple more surviving political dynasties:

  • Nicholas Soames is the son of Christopher Soames MP, grandson of Winston Churchill MP, and thereby a line all the way back to the 1st Duke of Marlborough. The marriage of Georgiana Cavendish (of the Devonshires) to Earl Spencer involves a whole mesh of entanglements, including Anthony Eden and sundry other worthies, and unworthies.
  • Nick Hurd, son of Douglas Hurd MP, grandson of Anthony Hurd MP, great-grandson of Sir Percy Hurd.

I have to admit defeat in unravelling the various marriages and connections of

  • the Pitts and Stanhopes,
  • the multitudinous Longs,
  • the intertwined Greys, Lamptons, Warings, not forgetting the Douglas-Homes.

And the man himself

Cameron’s great-grandfather was Sir William Mount, Tory MP for Newbury 1918-22, a post inherited from his father, MP for Newbury 1885-1918 and so Cameron’s great-great-grandfather. But there’s more:

On the day a young unknown called David Cameron was due to attend a job interview at Conservative Central Office, a curious phone call was received from Buckingham Palace.

‘I understand you are to see David Cameron,’ said a man with a grand voice. ‘I’ve tried everything I can to dissuade him from wasting his time on politics but I have failed.

‘I am ringing to tell you that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man.’ …

The mystery Palace caller who smoothed Cameron’s path to Conservative Central Office has, frustratingly, yet to be unmasked.

It might be fair to assume it was Captain Sir Alastair Aird, then Comptroller and later Equerry to the Queen Mother and husband of Fiona Aird, Cameron’s godmother. That was Cameron’s belief, but the Airds vigorously deny it.

Cameron’s office suggested the caller might have been Sir Brian McGrath, a family friend who was private secretary to Prince Philip. But he, too, though named as a referee for the job, denies it firmly.

Nonetheless, thanks to the phantom string-puller, when Cameron reported for duty at Conservative Central Office on September 26, 1988, he stepped on to a fast track to political office.

There’s a touch of the MRDAs in those denials.

Countess-of-Erroll-and-Lord-HayYet Cameron has a direct link to the greatest in the land. So I feel entitled to repeat myself, yet again:

  • Prime Minister David Cameron is the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of King William IV.
  • William IV was third son of George III.
  • William’s liaison with Dorothea Jordan produced eleven children, given the surname FitzClarence. Elizabeth FitzClarence (right, as Elizabeth Hay, Countess of Erroll — the son died at the Battle of Waterloo, aged 17) married the 18th Earl of Erroll, and the subsequent descent makes David Cameron a fifth cousin of Queen Elizabeth.

[*] Malcolmian aside

Yes, canard is directly borrowed from French.

Let’s hear it from the authoritative OED:

An extravagant or absurd story circulated to impose on people’s credulity; a hoax, a false report.

Littré says Canard for a silly story comes from the old expression ‘vendre un canard à moitié’ (to half-sell a duck), in which à moitié was subsequently suppressed. It is clear that to half-sell a duck is not to sell it at all; hence the sense ‘to take in, make a fool of’. In proof of this he cites bailleur de canards, deliverer of ducks, utterer of canards, of date 1612: Cotgrave, 1611, has the fuller vendeur de canards a moitié ‘a cousener, guller, cogger; foister, lyer’. Others have referred the word to an absurd fabricated story purporting to illustrate the voracity of ducks, said to have gone the round of the newspapers, and to have been credited by many. As this account has been widely circulated, it is possible that it has contributed to render the word more familiar, and thus more used, in English.

Littré was Émile Maximilien Paul Littré, the lexicographer who produced his Dictionnaire de la langue française, after 30 years of effort, in 1873. His entry for canard is here, and includes:

Populairement, conte absurde et par lequel on veut se moquer de la crédulité des auditeurs. Cette nouvelle n’était qu’un canard.

Je suis fâché de ne vous avoir pas traité comme mon enfant ; vous le méritiez mieux que ce donneur de canard à moitié qui nous promettait tant de châteaux en Espagnela Comédie des proverbes, III, 7

How to finish here?

In honour of the canard, let’s apply the duck test:

Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says ‘duck’. But the bird certainly looks like a duck. Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he’s wearing a label or not.

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Filed under Daily Mail, David Cameron, History, Labour Party, prejudice, Tories.

More bull



The wonderful WWW will provide several mangled summaries of this incident. Here seems to be the fullest, contemporary account:

It finally happened — a bull got into a china shop today.

The bull — Royalist Dandy Victor of Twin Oaks Farm, Morristown, N.J. — was led through the shop by Fred Waring, orchestra leader. Both nearly died of fright.

It was on a bet. Waring lost a football wager to Paul Douglas, newsreel sports commentator. The pay-off was disappointing. From now on, “like a bull in a china shop” no longer denotes clumsiness with overtones of wreckage and havoc. It means acute timidity, plus resignation.

What happened? Just $1.17 worth of china was destroyed — by Douglas, not the bull. Douglas broke a plate and a teacup in the hope of arousing “Dandy” to anger and action. Dandy just blinked and turned his head away.

Dandy is a two-year-old, 1000-pound, beaver-hued Jersey owned by Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, one of the country’s foremost cattle breeders.

The china shop was the ultra-exclusive one of William H. Plummer, Ltd., at 695 Fifth Avcenue. The owner Frederick J. Cuthbertson permitted the use of his place — not for the publicity, he said — but because “we’re making history”.

There were at least 100 witnesses, including Mrs. Waring, Mrs. Frelinghuysen, and former Gov. Harold H. Hoffman of New Jersey.

Waring wore a dinner jacket and opera hat. He chose conservative garb, he said, because he didn’t want to excite the bull. Douglas put on a red sash and a toreador’s jacket, red with gold braid. He wore a bull fighter’s hat.

“I got nothing to lose,” he said.

Dandy had on a fancy brown and orange blanket.

Dandy pushed his nose through the entrance of the shop at 10:05 a.m. Waring, shivering “from cold”, tugged at the leather strap attached to the halter. Dandy rolled his eyes and looked scared. So did Waring.

Dandy and Waring then manoeuvred up the aisle under a $3500 Pâte-sur-Pâte vase designed by Solon at the Minton factory in England. The photographers’ lights bothered Dandy and he tossed his massive head and horns. Waring said, “For Pete’s sake don’t switch your tail; I’m paying for this.”

Cuthbertson looked on pretty calmly for a man who had just estimated the value of the merchandise in Dandy’s path at “$50,000.”

Waring broke the plate, made faces and shouted insults but Dandy just edged away.

The three paused beside a $35 china bull. Dandy didn’t look at it. He gazed timorously at the photographers, wincing every time they shouted suggestions to Waring. The orchestra leader hung his hat on one of Dandy’s horns and the bull all but moaned.

Then the trio turned the corner and moved down the opposite aisle and out of the store, Dandy quickening his pace at the door as though glad it was all over.

Douglas said, “I’m satisfied.”

Waring, who had shouted “Goodby, dear” to his wife when the procession started, mopped his brow.

Outside an office girl on her way to work said to her companion: “Lookit the cop. Something must’ve happened.

Just history being made, that was all.

There’s just enough of the Runyon-esque there, for those fine citizens from Brooklyn — Harry the Horse, Spanish John and Little Isadore — to be lurking just out of focus.

An ox in a china shop?

Obviously no bull could be in a china shop before the eighteenth century gave us the full experience of retail therapy. So,  on Monday 4th September, 1769, we encounter Mr James Boswell in London’s Soho:

In one of the streets of Soho I met Mr. Sheridan, whom I had not seen for many years. I lie under many obligations to him, as he took a great concern about me when I was a very idle, impetuous young fellow, and had me often in his house in the kindest manner. So I was happy to meet with him, and promised to come and dine with him without ceremony, when I was not engaged. I then called on Mr. Thomas Davies, bookseller, whom I must always remember as the man who made me acquainted with Mr. Samuel Johnson. He is a very good kind of man himself, and has been long my acquaintance. He told me that Mr. Berenger, the Master of Horse, who it seems is mighty delicate and polite, said that Mr. Johnson was, in a genteel company, like an ox in a china-shop. He overturns everything.

The following morning, Boswell was up betimes, caught the “Oxford fly” at 7 a.m., breakfasted at Slough, dined at Henley, and got to Oxford about six. I put up at the Angel Inn. Which, it strikes me, is not bad for a horse-drawn trip along rough roads. Paddington (and Boswell would need to have crossed London to get even that far) to Oxford is today less than an hour by the best trains. But be warned:



Allow me to correct Mr Boswell. Richard Berenger was not the Master of Horse (i.e. Officer Commanding the Royal stables) in 1769: he was the “Gentleman of Horse”, the 2 i.c. — and, incidentally, the last before the post was abolished, on Berenger’s death, in 1782.

Walter Scott’s variation

The metaphor hadn’t stagnated when Walter Scott used a version in a footnote [Note V] to Chapter VII of The Fortunes of Nigel (published 1822):


It will perhaps be recognised by some of my countrymen, that the caustic Scottish knight, as described in the preceding chapter, borrowed some of his attributes from a most worthy and respectable baronet, who was to be met with in Edinburgh society about twenty-five or thirty years ago. It is not by any means to be inferred, that the living person resembled the imaginary one in the course of life ascribed to him, or in his personal attributes. But his fortune was little adequate to his rank and the antiquity of his family; and, to avenge himself of this disparity, the worthy baronet lost no opportunity of making the more avowed sons of fortune feel the edge of his satire. This he had the art of disguising under the personal infirmity of deafness, and usually introduced his most severe things by an affected mistake of what was said around him. For example, at a public meeting of a certain county, this worthy gentleman had chosen to display a laced coat, of such a pattern as had not been seen in society for the better part of a century. The young men who were present amused themselves with rallying him on his taste, when he suddenly singled out one of the party:—”Auld d’ye think my coat—auld-fashioned?—indeed it canna be new; but it was the wark of a braw tailor, and that was your grandfather, who was at the head of the trade in Edinburgh about the beginning of last century.” Upon another occasion, when this type of Sir Mungo Malagrowther happened to hear a nobleman, the high chief of one of those Border clans who were accused of paying very little attention in ancient times to the distinctions of Meum and Tuum, addressing a gentleman of the same name, as if conjecturing there should be some relationship between them, he volunteered to ascertain the nature of the connexion by saying, that the “chief’s ancestors had stolen the cows, and the other gentleman’s ancestors had killed them,”—fame ascribing the origin of the latter family to a butcher. It may be well imagined, that among a people that have been always punctilious about genealogy, such a person, who had a general acquaintance with all the flaws and specks in the shields of the proud, the pretending, and the nouveaux riches, must have had the same scope for amusement as a monkey in a china shop.

Which paragraph amply illustrates why the reading of Sir Walter Scott is less practised in modern times. It also shows he has a deft sharpness to his quill.

As Scott explains:

Sir Mungo Malagrowther, of Girnigo Castle, … claims a little more attention, as an original character of the time in which he flourished.

Having little or no property save his bare designation, Sir Mungo had been early attached to Court in the capacity of whipping-boy, as the office was then called, to King James the Sixth, and, with his Majesty, trained to all polite learning by his celebrated preceptor, George Buchanan. The office of whipping-boy doomed its unfortunate occupant to undergo all the corporeal punishment which the Lord’s Anointed, whose proper person was of course sacred, might chance to incur, in the course of travelling through his grammar and prosody. Under the stern rule, indeed, of George Buchanan, who did not approve of the vicarious mode of punishment, James bore the penance of his own faults, and Mungo Malagrowther enjoyed a sinecure.

112Ah! Such details are what make study rewarding.

I suspect that Sir Mungo Malagrowther, of Girnigo Castle, in borrowing some of his attributes from a most worthy and respectable baronet may have been borrowing from Sir William Stewart 11th Laird of Grandtully Castle (as left).

And a right devious … err … twister he seems to have been, at that:

Sir William is known in family tradition as ‘William the Ruthless’, and it is to his cupidity and lack of scruple that the Steuart-Fothringham family owed their prosperity. To his seat of Grandtully Castle – until recently in the ownership of Henry Steuart-Fothringham — he added the nearby Murthly Castle by devious means. It is said that he threatened to reveal – or, in family tradition, simply to pretend — that the owner Abercrombie of Murthly was sheltering Jesuits unless he agreed to sell Murthly Castle for an absurdly low price.

Perhaps a worthy ancestor for one of Runyon’s citizens.

Finally, the finished phrase

A few years after Scott’s monkey, we meet Captain Marryat’s simile towards the end of Chapter XV of Jacob Faithful [1834]. The Turnbull household (a significant name) anticipates social climbers of later novelists and generations:

As soon as Mr. Turnbull was dressed, we went down into the drawing-room, which was crowded with tables loaded with every variety of ornamental articles. “Now this is what my wife calls fashionable. One might as well be steering through an ice-floe as try to come to an anchor here without running foul of something. It’s hard-a-port or hard-a-starboard every minute ; and if your coat-tail gybes, away goes something, and whatever it is that smashes, Mrs. T. always swears it was the most valuable thing in the room. I’m like a bull in a china-shop. One comfort is, that I never come in here except when there’s company. Indeed, I’m not allowed, thank God. Sit on a chair, Jacob, one of those spider-like French things, for my wife won’t allow blacks, as she calls them, to come to an anchor upon her sky-blue silk sofas. How stupid to have furniture that one’s not to make use of! Give me comfort; but it appears that’s not to be bought for money.”

Or, just like Messers Waring and Douglas, we can put the presumption to the test:

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Filed under History, Literature, reading, Scotland, Walter Scott

Farrage (from Latin: farrago — mixed fodder for cattle)

I see that Farage (according to James Forsyth) is coming over all wimpy over a Newark by-election:

Nigel Farage told me on Monday how closely he was watching the situation in Newark. He introduced the subject by saying, “there’s one other thing that could change everything”.

But Farage’s comments to me yesterday make me think that he’s unlikely to stand in Newark. He said that he’d ‘been looking at candidates’ and mused on how just one MP would make such a difference.

There then follows a convoluted comparison of the UK (2014-15) with Canada (1989—).

So, two observations:

  1. The Canadian parallel is guff to a factor of Xⁿ. History, especially political history, doesn’t replicate itself, even less so across national and temporal barriers.
  2. What is not surprising is that Farage, as he did at Eastleigh last year, looks like bottling it — he must be acutely aware he has only the single shot: fire it at Newark, and fail …

The bottom of the whole matter is that UKIP, and Farage in particular, are one-trick ponies. Once the public becomes bored with over-exposure of that trick, the circus moves on, and Farage is left diminished. On the other hand, it may well be the case that when UKIP folds (as in the medium term it must — and probably back into the Tory libertarian wing, where it properly belongs), something far nastier may emerge to take its populist, nihilist place.

Wednesday morning afterthought:

I enjoyed reading Benedict Brogan’s Morningbriefing, and comparing his views and word-choice with mine:

Good morning. He’s bottled it. That will be the snap verdict of Nigel Farage’s decision not to stand in Newark. “I’m a fighter, I’m a warrior,” he laughs on Today, dismissing the charge. Arguably, the Ukip leader has made the right calculation. As he says he is not local, and he can read the numbers as well as any of us. He also acknowledges that if he lost, “the bubble would burst”. Too right. The Tories are well entrenched in Newark, even after the harm done to the image of politics by Patrick Mercer. Ukip’s prospects, even in a by-election, are not great. It’s not really their turf. Mr Farage says that the best tactic is to select someone local who stands a chance. As Nottinghamshire man Ken Clarke said on Today, “whatever else Nigel is, he’s not an idiot”.

Meanwhile …

 The statutory Malcolmian literary analogy:

Now, a previous post introduced me to the character of “Nestor Ironside”. Captain Ironside, A Souldier, is also a character in Ben Jonson’s satire The Magnetic Lady, or Humours Reconciled.

In Act 1, scene vii of that largely-forgotten drama we have:

Sir Diaphanous Silkworm (a Courtier):

I ha’ seen him wait at Court, there, with his Maniples
Of papers, and petitions.

Mr. Practise (a lawyer):

He is one
That over-rules tho’, by his authority
Of living there; and cares for no man else:
Neglects the sacred letter of the Law;
And holds it but a dead heap,
Of civil institutions: the rest only
Of common men, and their causes, a farrago,
Or a dish made in Court; a thing of nothing …

They are speaking of Mr. Bias, a Vi-politique, or sub-secretary, soon to be lauded (ironically) by Sir Moath Interest, a Usurer, or Money-bawd, as:

Apply him to your side! or you may wear him
Here o’ your breast! Or hand him in your ear!
He’s a fit Pendant for a Ladies tip!
A Chrysolite, a Gem: the very Agate
Of State, and Politie: cut from the Quar
Of Macchiavel, a true Cornelian,
As Tacitus himself! and to be made
The brooch to any true State-cap in Europe.

The Vi-, by the way, is a shortening of “vice-“. It wasn’t only Bill Shagsper would/could coin neologisms.

Nice — if confusing — pun on Cornelian (the gemstone, the various Corneliuses of history) there. It works even better post-Jonson, because — in drama — there is the Cornelian dilemma, named after Pierre Corneille, which amounts to choosing the better of two weevils (another pun, much employed in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series).

Somewhere in all that nonsense I sense representations of the puffery and flummery that differently but alike infects

  • self-promoting, would-be Vi-politiques, such as Farage,


  • jobbing journos, such as the indefatigable and over-stretched James Forsyth, in search of an instant paragraph or two.

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Filed under Benedict Brogan, History, James Forsyth, Literature, politics, The Spectator, Theatre

A to B to 5W+H

This is an experiment in finding connections. Whence does an idea — or at least its literary history — derive? And so I started (since our kitchen is being Amtico-ed) with …

Back room


Of course I started with Frank Loesser’s song and Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again:

 See what the boys in the backroom will have,
And tell them I’m having the same.
Go see what the boys in the backroom will have,
And give them the poison they name. 
And when I die, don’t spend my money
On flowers and my picture in a frame.
Just see what the boys in the backroom will have,
And tell them I sighed,
And tell them I cried,
And tell them I died of the same. 

Can’t find the precise clip, but here’s a heavily-nicotined substitute (which certainly gets the smokey flavour):

Before 1929

That was good enough for me until I hit upon references to a Sidney Perelman column of 1978 in The New York Times Magazine. He was reminiscing of Tad Dorgan, cartoonist for the New York Journal. Perelman noted that the speech-bubble in one Dorgan cartoon of the Prohibition era was “See what the boys in the back room will have”. Dorgan also seems the originator of “Yes, we have no bananas”


Dorgan died in 1929.

Are we there yet?


No way. Here pseudonymously comes Richard Steele, in The Guardian, number 85, for Thursday, 18 June 1713.

The previous issue, number 84, contained a letter from “Johannes Misochirosophus” of the Middle Temple to “Nestor Ironside”, complaining about the habit of

… our minor orators, who display their eloquence in the several coffee-houses of this fair city, to the no small annoyance of considerable numbers of her majesty’s spruce and loving subjects, and that is a habit they have got of twisting off your buttons. These ingenious gentlemen are not able to advance three words until they have got fast hold of one of your button; but as soon as they have procured such an excellent handle for discourse, they will proceed with great elocution.

 Which helps us with the notion of “buttonholing” a listener; and to which, of course, “Nestor Ironside” entirely concurs.

In The Guardian, number 85, Daniel Button, of Button’s Coffee-house, complains:

Mr Ironside,

I have observed this day you make mention of Will’s Coffee-house, as a place where people are too polite to hold a man in discourse by the button. Every body knows your honour frequents this house; therefore they will take an advantage against me, and say, if my company was as civil as that at Will’s, you would say so: therefore, pray your honour do not be afraid of doing me justice, because people would think it may be a conceit below you on this occasion to name the name of

Your humble servant,

Daniel Button.

The young poets are in the back room, and take their places as you directed.

Daniel Button is no fiction. He had been a servant of the Countess of Warwick. He then set himself up running a coffee-house in Russell Street, just off Covent Garden. That was patronised by Addison and his fellow wits — except when the Countess had annoyed Addison, when they would off to the rival establishment.

Even that is not the entirety of the story. Addison would finally marry Charlotte Rich, née Myddleton, countess of Warwick, in 1716. Lady Warwick had been left a widow, in 1701, at the age of twenty-one. She and Addison had, according to Thomas Hearne, reputedly been “an item” since 1705:

‘Tis reported for certain Mr. Jo. Addison is marry ‘d to the Countess-Dowager of Warwick.

The actual, later marriage was not a success.


That would have been it, until I remembered dusty days in the College library, bored out of my chuff, and seeking relief in the works of Robert Greene.

220px-GroatsworthWhat must first have caught my eye originally was Greene’s celebrated put-down of:

… an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a country.

Then I found Greene was a good Norwich lad, who had gone happily bad — his own claim was he:

married a wealthy gentlewoman called Doll, spent her fortune, and then sent her with a child back to her Lincolnshire family [in the DNB entry].

Besides a whole mish-mash of other stuff (including half-a-dozen stage-plays, from which the apprentice playwright Will Shagsper freely borrowed), Green was an early pamphleteer, knocking out a new one every six months.

He carved out a speciality of muck-raking, affecting the persona of a reformed rake, exposing the corruption and shystering of late Sixteenth Century London. In one of these, A notable discovery of coosnage, he has the story of how the “Flax-wife” realised she had been short-changed by the coal-merchant:

 Hereupon she cald to her neighbours ; being a companie of women, that before time had also bene pincht in their coles, and shewed them the cosnage, & desired their aide to her in tormenting the Collier, which they promist to performe … She conueid them into a back roome (some sixteen of them) euerie one hauing a good cudgell under her apron; straight comes the Collier, and saith, Mistres, here be your coles: welcome good Collier, quoth she, I praie thee follow me into the backe side, & shoot them in an other roome.

The ladies then hold a mock-trial, find him guilty, thrash him soundly, and send him on his way.

In every case, then, the “back room” is not a place to be visited unprepared.


The other connection here is “back room boys”. That’s Beaverbrook, in a broadcast which was transcribed for The Listener of 27 March 1941 (no podcasts for another sixty years):

Now who is responsible for this work of development on which so much depends? To whom must the praise be given? To the boys in the back rooms. They do not sit in the limelight. But they are the men who do the work. Many of them are Civil Servants.

I find it indicative of something that the Canadian Beaverbrook was reaching for an alternative to an American metaphor already in use: “backstage”. On which, I backtrack:


Dwight L. Bollinger, doing the October 1942 Among the New Words column, found a 1940 precedent in the Topeka Journal of 4th May 1940:

Berle … does a lot of backstage speech writing and economic research for Roosevelt.

That’s Adolf Berle:

author of The Modern Corporation and Private Property, a groundbreaking work on corporate governance, and an important member of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt‘s “Brain Trust“.

Not quite a “special relationship”

Lest anyone assume “backstage” here amounts to no more than being a phrase-monger and script-polisher, Berle was of the belly of the military beast. His job after Harvard Law was economic research for the US Army, then being part of the Woodrow Wilson team at the Paris Peace Conference. He made his money (and his considerable reputation) as a Wall Street lawyer during the Republican years, before re-entering the “back rooms” of presidential politics. He may well be the “hidden hand” which has directed US foreign policy in the Middle East. Berle saw the economic significance of oil; and was instrumental in Roosevelt’s amended Executive Order 8926 of 18 February 1943. This made it clear that:

the defense of Saudi Arabia [is] vital to the defense of the United States.

Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes was already on the ball, urging that the US take an active part in organising the Gulf concessions:

to counteract certain known activities of a foreign power which presently are jeopardizing American interests in Arabian oil reserves.

Spit it out, Harold: the “foreign power” was (and is) the UK.

Once again, “backstage” or the “back room” has a sulphurous whiff about it. [By the way, Chris Faraone did a nice piece, Who Killed the Smoke-Filled Room Anyway? A Brief History, for Esquire last autumn.]

1943 — and we’re almost finished.

220px-Small_Back_Room_dvdAnyone of my generation should have encountered Nigel Balchin’s 1943 thriller The Small Back Room, of which Balchin did a screenplay for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The film appeared in 1949.

The story works on two levels: as thriller and psychological study.

The protagonist is scientist Sammy Rice, tasked to solve a mystery of booby-traps being dropped by the Luftwaffe. The climactic moment is when Rice solves the puzzle, realising the device has two trip-fuses.

Parallel with this, Rice’s private life is in chaos. He feels mismanaged by his superiors. He is in pain from an artificial foot. He reports to alcohol. His girlfriend can stand him no longer, and leaves him, taking the cat.

A happy ending: Rice is restored to favour in his work. The girl returns, bringing the cat. All is fine and dandy.

And there, ladeez an’ gentlemen, is my Who, What, Where, Why, When and How of the back room.

 Perhaps we can do it again, sometime.

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Beyond surreal

A confluence of two successive tweets :


Isabel, dear heart, an emergency stop is what urbanites would do. The true country type keeps going, then stops, in hope the road kill is still sufficiently intact to be cookable (I’ve even seen it done by the footplate crew of the ex-GER Claud Hamilton, bringing the grammar school kids home from Fakenham to Wells). As in Cannery Row, chapter 13:

steinbeck-canneryEddie driving, they backed up over the rise, over the top, and turned and headed forward and down past Hatton Fields. In Carmel Valley the artichoke plants stood grey-green and the willows were lush along the river. They turned left up the valley. Luck blossomed from the first. A dusty Rhode Island Red rooster who had wandered too far from his own farmyard crossed the road and Eddie hit him without running too far off the road. Sitting in the back of the truck, Hazel picked him as they went and let the feathers fly from his hand, the most widely distributed evidence on record, for there was a little breeze in the morning, blowing down from Jamesburg and some of the red chicken-feathers were deposited on Pt. Lobos and some even blew out to sea.

The cattle-freight issue is a bit more problematic. It’s the triumph of bovine excretion over aeronautical technology. Strip out the crap, and the core matter of that Independent report is:

Pilots sent out a distress signal and received permission to come down at Heathrow Airport, London.

Yet when technicians inspected the cows’ deck they found no evidence of flames or even smoke.

Cows emit large quantities of methane and maintain body temperatures slightly higher than that of a human – the combination of which may have explained the sounding of an alarm.

I cannot attest to the extent of methane in cows’ emissions (mostly orally, rather than the other direction). I gather the human produces about 7% methane in that species’ fart-gas. This might help:


A back-of-an-envelope calculation suggests that 400 cows, packed into a 747, would produce about 11 kilos of methane in a couple of hours.

This is serious stuff:

German cows cause methane blast in Rasdorf

Methane gas released by dairy cows has caused an explosion in a cow shed in Germany, police said.

The roof was damaged and one of the cows was injured in the blast in the central German town of Rasdorf.

Thanks to the belches and flatulence of the 90 dairy cows in the shed, high levels of the gas had built up.

Then “a static electric charge caused the gas to explode with flashes of flames” the force said in a statement quoted by Reuters news agency.

Emergency services attended the farm and took gas readings to test for the risk of further blasts, said local media.

Cows are believed to emit up to 500 litres of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – each per day.

Which is why it isn’t advisable to keep cows in a greenhouse.

Where this comes home to me is the memories of the 8p.m. B&I crossing out of Dublin, North Wall, for Liverpool.


In the days before obsolescent 747s were reduced to cattle-carriers (though that experience cannot be too different for bipedal “walk-on freight” in “cattle-class” on transatlantic flights) the ferry would pull into Birkenhead to unload the cows, then pull across the Mersey to deposit the humans.

Choose the wrong day and one was woken by either the roar of still sea-sick kine, or the odour of their deposits.

All that apart, the job of hosing out the fuselage of a 747 cattle-carrier doesn’t attract.

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Jumping on the bandwagon

That previous post, taking from Anne Treneman, had Dodgy Dave the Snakeoil Salesman:

It is rather extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman comes here, having not said that [Maria Miller] should resign, saying that she should have resigned. It shows all the signs of someone seeing a political bandwagon and wanting to jump on it. He is jumping on this bandwagon after the whole circus has left town.

I see there some dangers of a stale metaphor.

The OED‘s earliest citation for band wagon is from 1855 and the Life of P.T.Barnum, who must have known something about circuses and bandwagons:

In our subsequent southern tour we exhibited at Nashville (where I visited General Jackson, at the Hermitage), Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Vicksburg and intermediate places, doing tolerably well. At Vicksburg we sold all our land conveyances, excepting the band wagon and four horses, bought the steamboat “Ceres,” for six thousand dollars, hired the captain and crew, and started down the river to exhibit at places on the way. At Natchez our cook left us, and in the search for another I found a white widow who would go, only she expected to marry a painter. I called on the painter who had not made up his mind whether to marry the widow or not, but I told him if he would marry her the next morning I would lure her at twenty-five dollars a month as cook, employ him at the same wages as painter, with board for both, and a cash bonus of fifty dollars. There was a wedding on board the next day, and we had a good cook and a good dinner.

 I like that, not just for the pragmatics of Barnum’s domestic arrangements, or even for that dry style. It also shows that the band wagon (two words) was the only item the circus didn’t leave behind and so onto which one might jump when the circus had already left town. One can see why, if this specimen is anything to go by:



We have to wait nearly half a century for band wagon to become a metaphor.

The OED has a bizarre citation from the Congressional Record 25th August 1893:

 It is a lamentable fact that.. our commercial enemy..should come along with a band wagon loaded with hobgoblins.

Indeed. Just the kind of thing that makes one seek the full source for explanation. Now, have you tried to access the Congressional Record for 1893? It is, apparently, out there on the net; but glacial it hardly approaches. So far I have not managed it, but I suspect it may be something to do with the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

Note, though, that band wagon is still two separate words.

Teddy Roosevelt is of the two-word party in a letter of April 1899:

When I once became sure of one majority they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon.

 That would be when he was tiring of life in Albany as Governor of New York, and when the New York Republicans were tiring of his radicalism, and the meeting-of-minds led to his nomination for the Vice-Presidency.

As far as I can see we didn’t get to bandwagon (as a composite single word) until the end of the 1950s. I wonder how many would recognise that Juggernaut of Barnum’s as a “band wagon”.

Oh, and the OED has Juggernaut as:

A title of Kṛishṇa, the eighth avatar of Vishṇu; spec., the uncouth idol of this deity at Pūrī in Orissa, annually dragged in procession on an enormous car, under the wheels of which many devotees are said to have formerly thrown themselves to be crushed.

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Filed under Ann Treneman, David Cameron, History, Oxford English Dictionary, Times, Tories.

A canine lickspittle

Anne Treneman doing the parliamentary sketch on yesterday’s PMQs:

Dave accused Ed of jumping on a political bandwagon. At the words “bandwagon”, some Tory MPs, who, like Pavlov’s dog, cannot control themselves, started to whoop. Michael Ellis, a strong contender for lickspittle of the year, actually pounded his feet on the ground.

The rest is good stuff. At least I feel that Ms Treneman was really there, unlike Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail who never fails to witness Cameron and his the big, swinging dick:

QUENTIN LETTS sees Cameron wipe the floor with Ed at PM’s Questions

Nice repetition there: hate to think this squit was a pale imposter’s:

An odd moment: on the squashed benches, as Nigel Adams (Con, Selby  & Ainsty) was about to ask a question  on coal mines, his local pit having just  been closed. Mr Adams reached into what he thought was the right pocket of his suit jacket and, to his surprise, pulled out a packet of fags.

Turned out the MPs were packed so close to one another he had accidentally picked his neighbour’s pocket.

Oh, so droll! Oddly enough, I had found myself commenting on the several aching gaps of empty green leather toward the rear on the Tory side. Easter hols, y’know.

But, to stay with Ms Treneman. 

The much-coveted Order of the Brown Nose award

The much-coveted Order of the Brown Nose award

The Pavlov tendency is strong among Tories. With good reason:

With the parliamentary expenses scandal fresh in the memory, it takes a bold politician to suggest rewarding politicians.

Step forward David Cameron, who has revived the parliamentary and political service honours committee.

There was a time when Tory MPs of a certain vintage could look forward to a knighthood, as ordinary workers would look forward to a long-service watch.

The Liberal Democrats, too, used to dispense political honours – failed parliamentary candidates could sometimes look forward to an OBE by way of consolation, although for many in politics public service is its own reward.

The new committee will also consider awards for members of the UK’s devolved assemblies …

Kudos then to Paul Flynn, who nailed it:

Paul Flynn, had another suggestion for those behind the new awards: “Did you consider if you were rewarding people who were the whips’ favourite, the order of the lickspittle or the order of the toadie, which would be appropriate?”

Take your pick, Michael Ellis.

Sad to say, Mr Ellis may not be with us for long. His majority is below 2,000. His seat, Northampton North, changes hands with each change of government. The strong Lib Dem vote (28% at the last outing), will be wilting next time — and will not naturally lean Tory either.

Which leaves one question:

Why do Tories insist on living up to the “stupid party” reputation?

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