Daily Archives: April 30, 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.


Leave a comment

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:

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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