Monthly Archives: November 2014

LT bus 7 from Our Lady of the Snows?

Here I am, still following Robert Louis Stevenson (in my rediscovered Collins Classics 1956 edition) as he plods across the Cevennes.

He has reached:

my strange destination, the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of the Snows.

There — vows of silence seeming somewhat elastic — he is not short of conversation. He has too much of it, of a propagandist nature. But I have my revelation.

Just as Richard Holmes tracing the steps of RLS, I find I am merely a follower.

I turn a page, and onto my recumbent body falls a flimsy scrap. It is one of those London Transport bus tickets, in the days when there were real conductors taking fares, when the tickets were issued from a kind of metal coffee grinder strapped to the conductor’s chest.

So: the problem.

If it were I who received this token from a distant past, what was I doing at stage 8 of route 7? No date to help. The number 7 still trundles down Oxford Street. It shuttles to and from Acton and the British Museum.

I cannot ever recall using a number 7.

A mystery? A forgotten event? Or — most likely — a previous reader of this book?

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Filed under London, reading, Religious division, Robert Louis Stevenson

Time’s winged chariot

marvellAh, yes! Andrew Marvell. Not long ago, I was down there, paying respects to his statue in Hull, alongside the vast and impressive Holy Trinity Church (bigger, more prepossessing than many a Cathedral).

But let him and his vegetable love (which must be one of the weirdest come-ons in erotic verse) rest by the tide Of Humber.

Except Time is relative. For the young, it races. Then it slows to a methodical bovine plod — as in the open vowels of Marvell’s antithetical slow-chapped power.

Here I am in York, a bit further north from Hull and the Humber. And this day has been a heavy, slow one. The wraiths of low clouds were barely skeining past the upper parts of York Minister, when I passed by this morning. The paving stones of Petergate were greasy wet. Even the odd Asian tourist was having difficulty working up enthusiasm for his photo-opportunity. There was a hollowness to the toll of Great Peter, the Minister bell, under the rabbit-grey sky.

That’s your “foreshadowing”: here at Malcolm Redfellow‘s we run a traditional, structured service. Most of the time.

“Peter”, “vegetable”, “rabbit”: no prize as to where I am meandering here.

The gap between the ages

A couple of posts back, I was much taken by Richard Holmes and his Footsteps, Adventures of a Romantic Biographer. Out of necessity, I found — not the fine library edition I once had —but a battered Collins Classics pocketbook edition. Then I was comparing Homes with his model,  RLS,  trekking across the Cevennes.

And I came to this:

It was bleak and bitter cold, and, except a cavalcade of stride-legged ladies and a pair of post-runners, the road was dead solitary all the way to Pradelles.  I scarce remember an incident but one.  A handsome foal with a bell about his neck came charging up to us upon a stretch of common, sniffed the air martially as one about to do great deeds, and suddenly thinking otherwise in his green young heart, put about and galloped off as he had come, the bell tinkling in the wind.  For a long while afterwards I saw his noble attitude as he drew up, and heard the note of his bell; and when I struck the high-road, the song of the telegraph-wires seemed to continue the same music…

On both sides of the road, in big dusty fields, farmers were preparing for next spring.  Every fifty yards a yoke of great-necked stolid oxen were patiently haling at the plough.  I saw one of these mild formidable servants of the glebe, who took a sudden interest in Modestine and me.  The furrow down which he was journeying lay at an angle to the road, and his head was solidly fixed to the yoke like those of caryatides below a ponderous cornice; but he screwed round his big honest eyes and followed us with a ruminating look, until his master bade him turn the plough and proceed to reascend the field.  From all these furrowing ploughshares, from the feet of oxen, from a labourer here and there who was breaking the dry clods with a hoe, the wind carried away a thin dust like so much smoke.

I must admit to being taken up short: the combination of the song of the telegraph-wires and a yoke of great-necked stolid oxen in just a few lines.

And this was … when?

The book appeared in 1879, and Stevenson made the trip the previous year: forty years after the refinement of the electric telegraph, and about as many before the petrol-powered agricultural tractor. Stevenson was not just the prototype back-packer, with his over-sized sleeping bag (which he reminds us, was big enough for two), he was also a witness to the changes happening and to come.

A touch of Benjamin and his cousin/wife Flopsy

Twin-tracking Holmes and RLS is rewarding. It can also be doze-inducing. That was when “Peter”, “vegetable”, “rabbit” came together.

My semi-somnolence somehow induced memories of putting infant daughters to sleep — also that definitive forty years previous: another taste of the Humber-slow flow of time. The trick was the slow, measured level-voice, reading whatever was to hand, which might be Beatrix Potter.

It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is “soporific.”

I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then I am not a rabbit.

They certainly had a very soporific effect upon the Flopsy Bunnies!

When Benjamin Bunny grew up, he married his Cousin Flopsy. They had a large family, and they were very improvident and cheerful.

I do not remember the separate names of their children; they were generally called the “Flopsy Bunnies.”

As there was not always quite enough to eat,—Benjamin used to borrow cabbages from Flopsy’s brother, Peter Rabbit, who kept a nursery garden.

Sometimes Peter Rabbit had no cabbages to spare.

When this happened, the Flopsy Bunnies went across the field to a rubbish heap, in the ditch outside Mr. McGregor’s garden.

Mr. McGregor’s rubbish heap was a mixture. There were jam pots and paper bags, and mountains of chopped grass from the mowing machine (which always tasted oily), and some rotten vegetable marrows and an old boot or two. One day—oh joy!—there were a quantity of overgrown lettuces, which had “shot” into flower.

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Filed under Literature, reading, York, Yorkshire

A Re-Tweet

The national inoculation against UKIP and Farage is in that Flook strip from Wally Fawkes (and George Melly?).


Remember: your heard it here first.

From henceforth, it’s Ethelred Clotte and the League of Insular Morons.

Join the anti-People’s Army resistance.




Share this if you have an active brain-cell.

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Filed under Daily Mail, UKIP

An oaf short of an oeuvre?

— We get it, Malcolm: that’s a crude pun on “an omelette short of an oeuf”.

Last night was too betaken by Thwaites’s Wainwright‘s. So the brain is trying to catch up with Wednesday. One of the many joys of life in “old” York is the variety of pubs. Even in what, I’d reckon, is the best appointed boozer in town, the Wainwright’s runs at £3.50 a pint. Just too tempting.

The case of the missing book(s)

To be subtitled: the book of the missing case.

But, once at the keyboard — an honour and a delight, wrapped in a conundrum. Refer, instantly, to the comment appended to that previous post. It’s from the Great and the Good Christopher Fowler, and every word is worth a guinea a box (and I reckon my tin ear has been well boxed therein).

I was wrongly calculating, at first sight, that the one I am missing is The Casebook of Bryant and May, Keith Page’s comic-book version of a Fowler script. That approaches as stellar a team as Humphrey Lyttelton/George Melly/Compton Mackenzie/Barry Norman writing the Flook story-lines for Wally Fawkes to illustrate. And many of those have a lingering relevance (though the Mosley reference may pass by unnoticed):

FlookBSomething will have to be done to remedy the omission (which I now see is Brant & May 5: The White Corridor).

Officia praetermissa atque relicta

[Acts of omission: that’s yer axshul snobby Latin. Not to be deployed in Rochester or places where White Vans park.]

In the mid-summer of 2013,  Redfellow Hovel, in Norf Lunnun, decamped to Redfellow Cottage, in North Yorkshire. Over five dozen boxes (and Tesco vegetable pallets) of books were part of the shift. Another dozen were diverted to the Pert Young Piece’s flat in “edgy” Crouch End.

By the nature of these things, not every book arrived where it should have done. Hence I find I am two Le Carrés short of the full set, and I know that a couple of the Fowlers are in N8. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

The accretion of books

Out of that came another thought.

How do book accumulate?

Obviously, it’s because certain people should never, ever be set loose in a book-shop armed with cash or card. The result is always a bag-full. I am one such person.

Beyond that, there is an “osmosis of genre”.

While I read the usual crime-review columns (the New York Times is far more regular and observant than any of the UK press), news-and-views are most easily found through one or other of the crime-fiction blogs. On the other hand, life is too short …

There are obvious “essentials”: the regular springtime with Donna Leon, a new Carl Hiaasen (not excluding the kid lit), Andrew Martin, Martin Cruz Smith, Rankin but of course, Philip Kerr (especially if Bernie Gunther is at the heart of another pickle), Alan Furst, a Jasper Fforde (if only) — and that promised Bryant & May by Fowler (due next March).

That’s marked out a fair bit of the yearly round. Yet it doesn’t fit the time available. So it’s the casual buys, often whipped off the two-for-one-and-a-half Waterstones tables that fill the gaps. That, for an example, is how I caught up with and spent a happy few days knocking off the Kyril Bonfigioli sequence.

Follow that notion through

It means that I am likely to encounter a new-to-me writer through a paperback. That ought to cause the chain reaction: hunt out the other books, keep up by buying hard-backs when published, and replacing the paperbacks if and when a second-hand hardback percolates through Oxfam.

Yes, there are drop-outs in the process: I gave up on Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series around L is for Lawless. Michael Dibdin died on me. I still trying to get on with Anne Cleeves. I started well with David Downing’s John Russell, but the last couple glare at me from the Guilt Pile. Robert Harris became a bit of a chore: An Officer and a Spy is in the Guilt Pile, unfinished. I have a habit of losing Christopher Brookmyre, half-read, in pubs — though the opening of Quite Ugly One Morning (the first Parlabane) is the teccie equivalent of Wodehouse’s Jeeves Specialrather like the royal doctor shooting the bracer into the sick prince.

Which is what I needed this grey morning.

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Filed under Ben Aaronovitch, Chris Brookmyre, Christopher Fowler, Detective fiction, Donna Leon, fiction, Ian Rankin, John le Carré, Philip Kerr

Literary deviation

Foxglove SummerI’d waltzed through Foxglove Summer, the new Ben Aaronovitch — Constable Peter Grant despatched to l’Angleterre profonde.

Ah, now! It is greatly to be hoped that the TV rights (surely the adaptation is inevitable?) on the Rivers of London series fall to the BBC, so the scripting can be doctored by the likes of  Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.

77ClocksThen, something for the weekend, an older (but to me, latest) Christopher Fowler to come my way: Seventy-Seven Clocks. Ummm, I have to say the Bryant & May mysteries have matured, like last year’s Christmas pud, since that one — the third in the sequence? — waspublished. Anyway, that means all ten of the sequence knocked off. All the notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

What next?

“Always, scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Sansom?”

Well, none too quickly for me.

The latest Shardlake, Lamentation, from CJ Sansom, is another solid chunk of cellulose and hard-back — a nice production to take up shelf-space alongside its predecessors. That was the intended next one off the guilt-pile; and, indeed, I had reached Shardlake channelling his inner Sherlock among the printers of St Paul’s Churchyard.

More on that later, perhaps.

Essaying the Cevennes

FootstepsThen, idly, my hand fell on Richard Holmes (no connection with Sherlock), and his Footsteps, Adventures of a Romantic Biographer from the mid-80s. This had been one of my many lurkers for years now.

I tried a few paragraphs, and was hooked. Shardlake and Sansom may have to wait.

Suddenly I’m with a young Holmes, just eighteen (and therefore the summer of 1964):

After ten years of English boarding schools, brought up by Roman Catholic monks, I was desperate to slip the leash. Free thought, free travel, free love was what I wanted. I suppose a foreign affaire de coeur would have been the best thing of all; and that, in a way was what I got.

Oh, so neatly, so elegantly Holmes integrates a thorough appreciation of RL Stevenson, and close observation of the French landscape, along with delicious vignettes of the people he meets on the way.

Obviously I then looked for my Travels with a Donkey, a nice embossed library edition and the Walter Crane illustration, too. It has gone AWOL.

I shall have to content myself with Holmes in the mad Parisian early summer of 1968, reconciling himself with the parallel experience of Wordsworth in 1790:

Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy! 
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood 
Upon our side, we who were strong in love! 
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, 
But to be young was very heaven!

I’m going to enjoy every page.


Filed under Ben Aaronovitch, C.J.Sansom, History, leisure travel, Literature

One has to wonder

Anthony Wells tacitly poses the question:

YouGov’s two sets of voting intention figures are CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 15% in the Sun on Sunday poll, and CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 16%, GRN 6% in the Sunday Times (Sun Times tabs are here, Sun on Sunday should be up tomorrow) – so still showing the two main parties very close to one another.

On which, I have just two observations:

  • One particular: the same polling operation (YouGov), paid by the same other operation (Murdoch, via News UK, a subsidiary of NewsCorp), produce two sets of numbers. Admittedly the statistical difference is slight, but it is the difference between a “tie” and a “lead” — which is also (especially for a reader of The Sun) the difference between three points for a 1-o win and a single point for a 0-0 draw . By (quite obviously) no coincidence that slight but telling difference represents different narratives, which — curiously but neatly — fit those of the two “news”papers.
  • More generally, that little lot about sums my view of opinion polls and their interpretation. And that is more significant.

To repeat myself:

Opinion polls, outside of an imminent (that is a span of days, not weeks or months) election are totally valueless. There is no constraint, no check on findings.

Since, by definition, such polls cannot be validated by votes-in-boxes, they are, also by definition, valueless.

However, they fill “news” columns, provide editors and their subs with a predictable supply of column fodder. They keep the paper’s tame “expert” in employment: this, without exception, is a university psephologist or another self-serving crony in the polling business —in both cases, then, with a vested interest in keeping this balloon inflated. As Private Eye always says, “Trebles all round”.

Above all, they are statistical constructs, derived from arcane algorithms based on assumptions about the population on which the small samples are based.

Hence, they exist within “margins of error”.

The bottom line

My objection is not to the polls, which are harmless, the wind-blown spinnings of a spider:

… so light a foot
Will ne’er wear out the everlasting flint:
A lover may bestride the gossamer
That idles in the wanton summer air,
And yet not fall; so light is vanity.

[Which is Shakespeare’s better advert for Durex: the other is King Lear, Act IV, scene 6].

Yet, consider the spider.

Its work is neatly illustrated by the Independent on Sunday‘s two (usually reliable) commentators. John Rentoul opines:

David Cameron could not believe his luck. He was about to lose a by-election to the most irritating bunch of people a moderate Conservative prime minister could imagine, when Ed Miliband decided to distract journalists with a class-based comedy caper.

One of Cameron’s aides was so astonished by the Opposition’s mistake that he could hardly contain himself when we spoke the next day. The gist, with the expletives deleted, was that Miliband and his advisers had lost possession of their faculties, but this was mixed with outrage at their sheer lack of professionalism, as if he felt his craft had been insulted.

“The broadcasters were unsure if they were going to report it,” he said, of Emily Thornberry’s condescending tweet about England flags and a white van in Strood. “So they phoned Ed Miliband’s office and were briefed that he had never been so angry. It was like putting petrol on a fire.”

Got that? The whole narrative-thrust of the Rochester by-election is being dictated by the Downing Street spinners.

In parallel, Steve Richards then invites us into the age of anti-politics, concluding:

The loathed politicians agonise and differ over what to do about these big issues, but few notice. Thornberry has gone for taking a photo. White Van Dan is a celebrity. The main party leaders feel gloomy about being loathed and yet are perceived as arrogant and indifferent. Welcome to the mad world of British politics in a dangerous state of flux.

Hold on a mo: if you allow your narrative to be dictated by faceless spin-doctors, manipulating the crudest end of the Murdoch tabloid empire, what do you expect?


Back at the ranch, in the meanwhile, George Osborne’s “long-term economic plan” has just gone rotten pear-shaped, but was downgraded in The Times (once, proudly, “a newspaper of record) to page 60, on 22 November — you’d have found it sandwiched between nougat and toy trains:

Public sector borrowing between April to October this year rose £3.7bn compared to the same period the previous year, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) from April to October 2014 was £64.1bn…

Government cash requirement from April to October was £56.2bn, an increase of £20.3bn compared with the same period the previous year…

Public sector net debt excluding public sector banks (PSND ex) was up £97.1bn in October 2014 compared to October the previous year.

The speed of the spinner’s tongue versus the eyes of even the most adapt commentators?

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., economy, George Osborne, Murdoch, politics, polls, Sunday Times, Times

The Widow’s Mite

St NicholasI don’t recall when I first engaged with Economics 101, but it may have been in the choir stalls of St Nicholas, Wells-next-the-Sea, in the mid-1950s. So probably it was during the season of Trinity, and I was tuned in (as a boy soprano might) to the prescribed New Testament reading:

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

22.4.2010: Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Not “termites”: two mites!

Ok, let’s resort to the ultimate authority, the OED:

Any small coin of low value; originally applied to a Flemish copper coin, but in English used mainly as a proverbial expression for an extremely small unit of monetary value (see also sense 1b). Occas. used to denote a more specific unit, as a farthing, a half farthing, or (esp. in accounting) some smaller fraction of a farthing. Now hist.

Yes: I’ve had to explicate that further, in another context, by bating a stiver. That was in connection with Robert Browning (stanza ten) and Der Rattenfänger von Hameln:

The Piper’s face fell, and he cried,
“No trifling! I can’t wait! Beside,
I’ve promised to visit by dinnertime
Bagdad, and accept the prime
Of the Head-Cook’s pottage, all he’s rich in,
For having left, in the Caliph’s kitchen,
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor–
With him I proved no bargain-driver,
With you, don’t think I’ll bate a stiver!
And folks who put me in a passion
May find me pipe to another fashion.”

A stiver?

Indeed: as defined — again – by the Oxford English Dictionary:

A small coin (originally silver) of the Low Countries; applied to the nickel piece of 5 cents of the Netherlands (one-twentieth of a florin or gulden, or about a penny English).

In other words: the smallest coin of the realm.

Not quite an episode of the madeleine, then

More one of post-prandial ginger cake and a relaxed second bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

For, it was then the Lady in my Life drew my attention to Polly Toynbee:

… last week Ed Miliband bet the bank – plus bankers’ bonuses – that ballooning inequality was the great issue of our time. He’s not alone, as the International Monetary Fund, the World Economic Forum and even Mark Carney of the Bank of England identify it as the root cause of long-term economic woe: if too many are paid too little, who buys the goods and pays the taxes?

In his “zero-zero economy” speech Miliband threw off inhibition to hammer out his long-term theme – how inequality, insecurity and low pay cause a standard of living crisis that looks dangerously like the new normal. This is Labour’s authentic message, not political calculation or a left lurch, but what the party’s for. The pretence that Labour is anything else always reeked of the Westminster dissembling and inauthenticity that drives voters away. For both main parties, the middle ground begins to look more like a death zone than the winning turf.

Or to put a few numbers in there:

 Those earning over £2.7m contribute 4.2% of all income tax, while the lowest-paid third contribute 4%.

Polly is citing from the Telegraph‘s despairing How top 3,000 earners pay more tax than bottom 9m.

The difference is those top earners do it out of shed-loads of “disposable” income — monies which are available to deploy after all living costs,  including the Bentley,  the au-pairs, and the Swiss chalet,  have been settled.

The poor pay their whack, like it or not, in constrained deductions, such as VAT on essential living, and the new taxes, beloved by “conservative” Tories, such as the Bedroom Tax and ever-ramped transport costs.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, economy, equality, Guardian, Literature, Quotations, social class, socialism., Wells-next-the-Sea