Monthly Archives: April 2019

Oh, for a lottery wind-fall

There’s an art auction to the Royal Dublin Society next Monday.

Two items leap out:

a nice Jack Yeats:

That’s “Spring Tide, Schull Harbour’. Probably some five-figures worth: currently a bit below €40k.

I spent several school holidays at Schull in my early ‘teens. I reckon I may have swum off that very spot, if not certainly from very close by (I remember the slimy kelp, and may bear scars from the abrasive barnacles).

a superb Paul Henry:

Evening in Achill. Can anything be more redolent, more Paul Henry, more railway poster? And yours — as of now — for no more €120k

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Yesterday’s lunch: the Durham Ox, Crayke

The Lady-in-my-Life, #2 Daughter and I lunched in this cosy corner of the Bar at the Durham Ox:

Ignore the candle: this was lunch. Do note the carved panel, with the fox-and-geese fable.

Check out the number 40 timetable for a perfect illustration of how Tory austerity has denuded rural areas of any kind of public transport. As a consequence here we have an excellent village pub, in a delightful setting, with no access except for motorists. Breaks one’s heart.

That said, the view from the car-park, southwards across the Vale of York, is worth the trip in itself:


  • Ordnance Survey Landranger map 100: Malton & Pickering.
  • Grid Reference: SE 56205 70514


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I Kidd you not

Of all the ornaments to Rupert Murdoch’s (slightly) more up-market tabloid, Patrick Kidd has to be one of the more polished.

He did the daily Parliamentary Sketch with aplomb and wit, until elbowed aside to provide space for the repetitive gybes and tropes of Quentin Letts-Not. Kidd is an enthusiast for the works of the Wonderful Wodehouse, as here:

As darkness started to engulf Europe near the end of 1938, PG Wodehouse not only lightened the gloom with his best comic novel but showed how Britain could get through the next few years. “Never let a pal down” is the code by which Bertie Wooster lives and, while he may be mentally negligible, his optimism, honour and decency (coupled with having an awfully clever sidekick to get him out of scrapes) epitomised the British spirit.

Neville Chamberlain was in Munich having a chinwag with Hitler when this tale of cow creamers, policemen’s helmets and leather notebooks was serialised in a British newspaper. It reintroduced some of Wodehouse’s finest characters: the newt-fancying Gussie Fink-Nottle, the formidable Aunt Dahlia, and that droopy, soupy specimen Madeline Bassett, with her most extraordinary views on stars and rabbits. Above all it gave us the vile Roderick Spode, commander of The Black Shorts and a brilliant send-up of all fascist dictators.

Beat that, Quentin Least.

Yesterday Kidd returned to his happy hunting ground: the follies of the Kippers, with this peroration:

Mr Batten beamed indulgently at his juvenile comrades acting like toddlers smearing excrement up the wall in a cry for attention, I thought of Ukip leaders past — Henry Bolton, who said he could strangle a badger with his bare hands and ended up living in a hotel with a model half his age; His Excellency Sir Paul Nuttall PhD, the Ashes-winning Nobel laureate and CV fabricator; Diane James, who wrote “under duress” as she signed her leadership form and lasted a fortnight; and Mr Farage, a shy, modest man who always refused to do any broadcasts after more than five pints — and regretted the demise of a party of dignity and professionalism.

For a few moments, reading Kidd’s piece, I sensed the spirits of Plum Wodehouse and Heil Spode! still walking amongst us. One for joy: one for sorrow.

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Revision aid: why ‘Good Friday’?

The road to Calvary Catu-rātis:

Catterick, still a garrison town (though even that is not what it once was), appears on Claudius Ptolomy‘s map of AD150. Not as a military post (which it already was) but as a marker between climatic zones.

Redfellow Hovel is just off the modern A19 road. Once upon  time: Dere Street. I had always assumed the line of this continuation of the Great North Road, on from its coaching-days terminus in York, followed that of the Roman road from Eboracum to Catterick and points north:

The British History website (from which I ripped that map, above) corrects me:

Road 5, from the N.W., enters the city at a point 275 ft. S. of Shipton Road (N.G. 588533). Its course from the lane at the back of the Homestead Gardens to Water End (N.G. 58955315 to N.G. 59135291) was formerly marked by a parish boundary, now obsolete (see 60 ins. O.S. (1853), Sheet 4) but the laying out of the Gardens has obliterated both road and boundary. Opposite the entrance to the Gardens in Water End the road was exposed in 1893 in a sewer trench at a depth of 1½ ft. (O.S., Object Namebook, Sheet 174 N.W. plan 6, 137); it was 24 ft. wide. S.E. of Water End the road was marked by another parish boundary, now also obsolete and represented by the boundary between the grounds of Clifton Croft and the back gardens of houses in Westminster Road; this continued the original alignment for 175 ft., then, after a slight change of direction at the N. end of the outbuildings of Clifton Croft (N.G. 59145288), it marked the road for another 690 ft. to N.G. 593527. Some 770 ft. further S.E. on the same alignment the road was found in 1954 in a position 26 ft. N.E. of St. Peter’s School Swimming Baths (N.G. 59455256); it was composed of cobbles and clay and approximately 25 ft. wide (YPSR (1954), 13–8). Prolongation of the line would pass through the gateway of St. Mary’s Abbey; according to a 13th-century document quoted by T. Widdrington (Analecta Eboracensia (ed. C. Caine, 1897), 121–2), the abbey grounds included the site of an ancient street. The road was clearly designed to pass in front of the fortress, to the S.W. gate and the river crossing before it.

I still take the short-cut through the grounds of St Mary’s Abbey, across the outline of the abbey chancel, and across  the (now) York Museum Gardens, and so into Lyndal and Coney Street.

Usually the A19, coming into York, is a static car-park, particularly so when the bourgeoisie are delivering or collecting their spawn from the two prestigious private schools either side of Redfellow Hovel.

This morning we headed out, and — mirabile dictu! — the road was clear. This prompted the thought that the godless English respect (by non-observance, and staying at home) only two main Christian occasions: Christmas Day and Good Friday. The first because there’s little ‘news’ (outside the Murdoch press). The second because it’s a sombre sort of Sunday — and, until recently, it was Sunday opening hours at the pubs (noon to 2:30pm and 7pm to 10:30pm).

But why is this Friday ‘Good’?

It seems to have been ‘Good Friday’ since the time of Edward I Longshanks.

Around 1300 we have a version of St John’s Gospel:

A-morewe, ase on þe guode friday, ase he deide on þe rode.

However, the OED predates that with a Dutch Goede Vrijdag from around 1240.

But still no clue about the day’s ‘goodness’.

Friday is, in superstition, on balance a ‘bad’ day, not only because of the Crucifixion, but because it was also supposed to be the day Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise. The Hatton Manuscript in the Bodleian has this, from the 11th century (my Wessex dialect of Saxon being … err … a bit rusty, in modern English:

If he be born on Friday or its night, he shall be accursed of all men, silly, and crafty, and loathsomevto all men, and shall ever be thinking evil in his heart, and shall be a thief and a great coward, and shall not live longermthan to mid age.

‘God’s Friday’?

I’ll hard many sermons, preached today, will offer that as an ‘expalnation’. It is as likely be followed bty a frolic on the German Karfreitag, with a derivation from the High German for wail, sorrow or lamentation. Since many German Lander retain laws banning entertainments and sports on Karfreitag — and enforce them —  I see that point. My study of philology in many decades past, but I do not instantly see why the different ‘O’ sounds in God and good could easily be confounded.

Bottom line

I suggest there is an easier explanation for ‘Good Friday’. It’s an extreme form of litotes (‘a rhetorical understatement in which a negative is substituted for a positive’) or meiosis (‘lessening’). This involves the use of euphemism for a harsh truth.

So, I’ll correct my opening statement. Just after breakfast time this morning, the A19 road through Clifton and Bootham was clear of traffic. This afternoon, the Lady in my Life informs me, the centre of York is solid with bodies. The Brigantes (the tribe that inhabit these parts in Roman days) are indulging in their modern religious observance of retail therapy.

Then, and only then …

… did I reach down my Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1970 edition. Nothing on ‘Good Friday’, but there’s this:

Goodman’s Croft.
The name given in Scotland to a strip of land or corner of a field left untilled in the belief that unless such a place were left, the Devil (called Goodman as a propitiatory gesture) would spoil the crop.

Sure enough, that’s there in the OED, with a citation from 1650:

It was demandit if ther wer..heir..any plot of land unlabored, dedicat to the dewill, called the gudman‘s croft.

As for ‘goodman’, after a long listing of usages for, among others, ‘landlord’, the OED has:

7. Scottish. euphemistic.
The devil. In later use frequently in the auld goodman. Now archaic and hist.

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A slime-mould rejuvenates …

Today, to the massed adoration  of a tight circle of fiends — sorry, ‘friends’, the egregious Nigel Farage is relaunching as the ‘leader’ of the Brexit Party.

His previous success was based on his Leave.EU campaign — financed by Arron Banks, based on lies and misrepresentation, involving gross manipulation over the rules of campaign financing. No: we still don’t know where the multimillions came from. We can be sure, though, they were crooked.

And then there’s the small matter of Farage’s involvement in one of the great market frauds of all time: the hedge-fundies ramp. It’s all described, in detail, by a Bloomberg investigation.

Essentially, it come down to:

  • double-dealing by polling companies, telling the public enough to deceive, but having a wholly-different set of findings for their shadowy contractors;
  • Farage used as a stooge for the con trick.

In short, the hedge-fundies spent as much as a $1 million on ‘Operation Pomegranate’. A detailed poll was commissioned from YouGove. On the night of the #Brexit vote, Farage had knowledge of this YouGov exit poll . This indicated the ‘Leave’ win. Even so, Farage twice (just to make sure) went on TV to announce a ‘Remain’ win. That drove the pound sterling above $1.50 for the first time in months. The hedgies ‘shorted’ sterling, and made their killing.

If a reprobate did that in a betting shop, it would likely be a criminal offence (compare and consider what Paul Newman, and Robert Redford did to Robert Shaw in The Sting). In the casino that is ‘the financial markets’, that’s all fair-and-dandy.

We do not know what Farage’s financial resources amount to — as a former currency trader, he ought to be well-heeled, and have intimate knowledge of such shenanigans. Estimates of his wealth range upwards from £4 million, into many multiples thereof. That kind of stash doesn’t arrive just by serially fiddling EU expenses.

Today’s launch of his new vehicle didn’t go to any detailed plan. Nobody had bothered to register ‘The Brexit Party’  for a website. So the Remainers did it for them. Oh, jolly japes.

Any political operation needs and deserves a memorable logo. So, where did we see this one before?

Hillary Clinton’s effort from 2015-16 was variously described as ‘unoriginal’, ‘clunky’:

the reviews of her campaign’s new logo design—a patriotic blue, red and white “H” with an arrow pointing right at the center—were uniformly negative. Why is the arrow red (the Republican color in the US), some asked, and why is it pointing toward the right? Were voters going to interpret it as an imminent shift towards more conservative positions? Others plainly stated that the logo didn’t say anything at all.

Farage’s lot even managed to hint the ‘H’ there. But black-and-blue? That’s really cruisin’ for a bruisin’ …


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A story of a book

Here’s where this started:

Oxfam Books in York’s Petergate has just received a going-over, and is in the state of fresh-paint-smell that royals must think is the usual when visiting the wider world.

Michael Joseph put this one out in 1941. The cover shows mottling. The paper is a bit on the war-time crude side, but shows little sign of ‘foxing’. I could replace the falling-apart paper-back copy that has followed my house-removals over the years; except, when I look up, I find I must have discarded that one a while ago.

By 1941 Forester already had the first three Hornblower novels behind him — which made it a full score of previously published works. He was among the pantheon of fictionists. In a way, then, The Captain from Connecticut, is almost a pot-boiler.

Enter spooks

From 1941, the British Information Service at Rockefeller Plaza, NYC, was a branch of the British Consulate, and at root a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Foreign Office. Its business wasn’t quite disinformation: such would be crude propaganda. The aim was ‘nudging’ American opinion in Britain’s favour.

At first, the output was high-minded: T.S.Eliot was induced to maunder on at length, generating Defence of the Islands.

Jan Stuther had been writing Mrs Miniver for the London Times since 1937 — the life and times of a upper middle-class lady in a period of turmoil. The column evolved into a 1940 novel (about the Miniver family in the opening months of the War). The novel went into the New York Times best-sellers list, and was snapped up for William Wylder’s 1942 movie, which was saved from sentimental mawkishness by Greer Garson as the title character.

More soft-soap from Helen MacInnes and Above Suspicion. It is 1939: an Oxford academic and his wife are off for a continental holiday. They are induced by British intelligence to carry messages to an anti-Nazi agent. The couple are then pursued across Europe by the evil enemy. The sub-text is Helen MacInnes was also Mrs Highet. Gilbert Highet taught at Columbia University, and was extremely close to MI6.


Also on the plantation was CS Forester. He had come to America when Warner Bros. had commissioned him to turn Hornblower into a screen-play. At the outbreak of War, Forester left California for home to ‘do his bit’ — to be told by the Ministry of Information to get back again.

Forester was also a newspaperman, immensely bumptious over his reporting as a London Times correspondent on the Spanish Civil War, and on the take-over of Czechoslovakia. This gave Forester an ‘in’ to the American magazine market, for which he churned out a steady out-pouring of uplifting pieces.

That is where we should place The Captain from Connecticut. Anyone who reads it (as I am re-reading) would instantly spot the overlaps with The Happy Return, a.k.a. Beat to Quarters, the third (published 1937) of the original Hornblower sequence. Hornblower had his Lady Barbara Wellesley; Josiah Peabody has his exotic Mlle. Anne de Breuil.

Only connect

Roald Dahl’s active service ended in crashing his Hurricane in the Western Desert (the autobiographic account in Going Solo should not be trusted further than it can be thrown). He was posted to the Air Mission in Washington,  we can presume as a come-on for the ladies of the diplomatic circuit.

Three days after his arrival, still not sure what he was meant to be doing, Dahl found Forester on the other side of his desk. Forester wanted Dahl’s account of the crash, as raw material for another article. The two adjourned for an extended lunch at a restaurant near the Mayflower Hotel. Somehow Forester didn’t get the material he needed, and Dahl lost track. Dahl apologised for his vagueness, and offered to send some notes later.

What Dahl turned out was a complete account of a heroic crash, totally fictionalised, which he had the Embassy type up under the title A Piece of Cake. This he sent off to Forester. Forester forwarded the piece to his literary agent, Harold Matson. Matson  submitted it to The Saturday Evening Post. The Post liked it, to the tune of $1,000 (from which Matson deducted his easily-earned 10%). The Post then changed the RAF slang title to the more prosaic Shot Down over Libya, and Dahl’s first published work appeared anonymously.

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