Monthly Archives: November 2019

Catullus XVI

I do recall Catullus being a set text. I don’t recall Carmina XVI being featured:

Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,
Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi,
qui me ex versiculis meis putastis,
quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum.
Nam castum esse decet pium poetam
ipsum, versiculos nihil necesse est;
qui tum denique habent salem ac leporem,
si sunt molliculi ac parum pudici,
et quod pruriat incitare possunt,
non dico pueris, sed his pilosis,
qui duros nequeunt movere lumbos.
Vos, quod milia multa basiorum
legistis, male me marem putatis?
Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo.

It’s Catullus defending himself and his poetry against accusations of indecency, of being — in modern terms — a sissy snowflake. He tells Aurelius and Furius to ‘get stuffed’. Those names in full are Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus and Marcus Furius Bibaculus. The latter, it seems, had had it off with Catullus’ ‘playmate’.

Because it was the one verse that seemed to get missed, we eager students instantly spotted it for what it must be. Rather as we had recognised the lines in Chaucer that were asterisked out. All good stuff, but it’s the opening line that had us all close to bewilderment.

Pedicabo: obviously future simple, “I will … what?” Lewis and Short doesn’t instantly help. First we are cross-referred to paedico, which is fair enough. Then a quick nod at Greek: παιδικός. OK, with you — adjective, masculine, of a child. Then the open-ended definition: to practise unnatural vice. So, we are left to guess precisely what ‘vice’ is involved. Though, to be honest, not much guesswork is needed there.

irrumabo: again future simple, again “I will do something to you”. Diligent work gets us to page 1003, middle column, of Lewis and Short:

Which is either gender deceptive or clouded in the extreme. The clue is there Catullus and Martial: both a bit on the naughty side. But what’s this Auct. Priap.? On page vii, under Abbreviations used in referring to Ancient Authors and their Works, that’s Auctor Priapeorum, v. Priap. They’re not making it easy, are they? The third page on (page x), we get:

Priapea, a collection of satiric and erotic poems and fragments happened to L. Müller’s Catullus.

Time for a retrospection.

The literary archaeology of Catullus

It would seem there was a single manuscript text of Catullus floating around in the first millennium. Isidore of Seville could quote from the poems, which is in the very early seventh century, at a time when the Visigoths were barely tolerating academic and intellectual activity. And then it all goes dark. Bishop Ratherius, around AD996 , runs into some of Catullus’ poems, in Verona. Thus is credible, because Catullus came from an equestrian (i.e. the rank below ‘noble’) family of Verona — so the local boy.

Vicenza is the next major stop, thirty miles or so, on the railway from Verona to Padua (and then on to Venice). Vicenza is where Catullus next crops up.

By the early fourteenth century, Vicenza was controlled by the della Scala family from Verona, in particular Can Francesco della Scala, Cangrande. Cangrande deserves credit as Dante’s patron, but is credibly the main transmission for Catullus. A Vicenzan layer, and associate of Cangrande, Benvenuto Campesani, knocked out a bit of verse celebrating ‘Franciscus’ who had ‘rediscovered’ the work of his fellow-Veronan, Catullus. After which, it was open house for all comers on Catullus. All the way down to the classic German edition by Müller in 1885.

Müller came into the hands of Sir Richard Burton, who did metrical translations in 1890. This was published, discreetly and by an off-colour published, by Burton’s widow in 1894. The Burton rendering of Carmina XVI is only partly helpful:

I’ll —— you twain and ——
Pathic Aurélius! Fúrius, libertines!
Who durst determine from my versicles
Which seem o’er softy, that I’m scant of shame.
For pious poet it behoves be chaste
Himself; no chastity his verses need;
Nay, gain they finally more salt of wit
When over softy and of scanty shame,
Apt for exciting somewhat prurient,
In boys, I say not, but in bearded men
Who fail of movements in their hardened loins.
Ye who so many thousand kisses sung
Have read, deny male masculant I be?
You twain I’ll —— and ——

What ‘——’ could have been in Burton’s manuscript is anyone’s guess. Burton’s collaborator there was publisher (and pal of Oscar Wilde) Leonard C. Smithers, who did a parallel prose version — again not helping too much:

I will paedicate and irrumate you, Aurelius the bardache and Furius the cinaede, who judge me from my verses rich in love-liesse, to be their equal in modesty. For it behoves your devout poet to be chaste himself; his verses — not of necessity. Which verses, in a word, may have a spice and volupty, may have passion’s cling and such like decency, so that they can incite with ticklings, I do not say boys, but bearded ones whose stiffened limbs amort lack pliancy in movement. You, because of many thousand kisses you have read, think me womanish. I will paedicate and irrumate you!

Where’s all this going, Malcolm?

Well, here. The archive of the Literary Review re-issued, from 1982, Peter Stothard reviewing The Latin Sexual Vocabulary by J N Adams:

In the Penguin translation of Catullus two words are left untranslated. ‘Pedicabo et irrumabo vos’, writes the poet of his foes Furius and Aurelius and ‘pedicabo et irrumabo vos’ is how it stays in Peter Whigham’s English version. The first word means ‘I will bugger you’. When the present writer turned as a schoolboy to Lewis and Short’s Latin dictionary he learnt that pedicare meant only to perpetrate some nameless ‘unnatural vice’. The second word is also often translated as ‘to bugger’. The same Lewis and Short gives an even vaguer definition ‘to treat in a foul or shameful manner’. The real meaning of irrumareis one of the revelations in Mr J N Adams’s masterful new guide, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, to which perplexed schoolboys and scholars will henceforth be able to turn for unerring advice on these erstwhile delicate matters.

After which, as they say, ‘all is revealed’. Refer there for a complete explanation.

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Mystery of the day: alumin(i)um

A constant niggle: why does the second ‘i’ in that name appear/disappear somewhere in transit between the US and the rest of the known world?

The OED solves it, to some extent:

aluminium n. coexisted with its synonym aluminum n. throughout the 19th cent. From the beginning of the 20th cent., aluminum gradually became the predominant form in North America; it was adopted as the official name of the metal in the United States by the American Chemical Society in 1925. Elsewhere, aluminum was gradually superseded by aluminium, which was accepted as international standard by IUPAC in 1990.

IUPAC is the ‘International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’, and is based — wait for it! — in North Carolina.

The confusion over the two versions goes back to 1808. Sir Humphry Davy ‘discovered’ (i.e. described) the element in alum, and so ambiguously named it with both spellings at different times, but particularly as ‘aluminium’ in his Elements of Chemical Philosophy (1812). Webster’s Dictionary adopted ‘aluminium’ in 1828 — just after Friedrich Wöhler isolated the element for the first time, and seems to have stuck with that.

Yet even that is controversial: the Dane Hans Christian Ørsted had produced impure aluminium two years before Wöhler.

In general, scientists preferred the -ium version to correspond to other metallic elements.  Sheer cussedness, newly-asserted American isolationism, and a predilection for Webster had the American Chemical Society opt for ‘aluminum’, as the OED notes in 1925.

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In a galaxy far, far away …

… the Leader of the Labour arrives on the stage of the Confederation of British Industry:

With your permission, Mr Chairman, I’d like to ask this audience a couple of questions:

Which of you own your company outright? Can you raise unhand for me?

Mmm. So all of you are mangers or executives of your companies? Do you agree there?

Oh, good.

So you serve at the will of the shareholders of your companies.  Yes?

Thank you!

Are you not just another employee? Different only in pay and status from the guy who sweeps your loading bay?

In which case, why are you not members of a trade union?

Well, perhaps, the CBI is your trade union.

And why are you not supporting the Labour Party, which will invest in British Industry? Which will improve your commercial and industrial development?


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Down hill all the way

The image is Swaledale, after a recent downpour. The Swale flows into the Ure. The Ure into the Ouse. And that Ouse runs under the bridges of the ancient city of York, and through the public bars of the much-photographed pubs of King’s Staith.

Here in York itself we are only too conscious of the imminent flood. I live — what? — three or four hundred yards (and a dozen vertical feet) from the areas the River Ouse may quickly decide to occupy.

The Environment Agency runs a useful website, which we watch — with attention. Today all the alerts are for east and further south on the Derwent. There’s also a map, marked in red and orange of possible problems: it covers a great deal of the city and its surrounds:

That’s the background.

Now for the real gripe.

The rail journey south from York (a frequent one in our house) crosses the polders of south Yorkshire. The amount of water sloshing around is almost frighting. There are a couple of places where vast liquid expanses stretch either side of the slight rail embankment.

Government mouthpieces are always specific how much has been spent on past schemes. As if that is a palliative to anyone swishing out yet another ruined carpet, or negotiating with the loss-adjustor over a newly-installed prized kitchen. Or even if one’s home is no longer insurable. More money is inevitably promised for the future. Some of that promised largess may, year on year, transpire in the form of new earth banks, and a few steel barriers. All of which speeds the flood further and faster downstream.

This puts me in mind of one classroom demonstration (not as spectacular as phosphorous, potassium or sodium): a simple one involving a passionate geography teacher, a sand-table and a trickle of water. In real time we grammar-school pupils watched a river age, cut a ravine, make ox-bow bends. I still have the Geography book prize (M.R. James, Suffolk and Norfolk) for Form 1, Fakenham Grammar School, 1956. Come to think of it: several of my cohort were inspired to study Geography at Uni, so that inspiration worked.

To the real question, then …

Do the experts of the Environment Agency thoroughly model the effects of their works ‘up-stream’?

It is, after all, the flood prevention works on the upper River Don (in Sheffield, for example) that could be bailing the waters down on the swamped folk of Fishlake. 8cm of rain on Sheffield has to go somewhere, and it’s still there in Fishlake and Stainforth. If the problems of Fishlake are solved in next year’s budget, what does that bode for Thorne and Ealand, further down stream? And so the problem is dumped into the River Trent.

Autumn-going-into-winter has been unnaturally wet in these parts. Heavy downpours on the hills are a natural phenomenon — see Swaledale at the top of this post. But so is the inertia and short-sightedness of government and its ‘hands-off’ agencies.

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away:

JEREMY CORBYN may have “alienated the Surrey vote” after his latest attempt to try and blacken the Tory reputation in the northern constituencies.

Today, the leader tweeted in response to the Prime Minister’s decision to chair a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee to discuss the next move in regard to severe flooding in Yorkshire, after receiving a letter from Mr Corbyn. Mr Corbyn tweeted: “Boris Johnson should have done this on day one. I’m sure he would have if it were Surrey.” [The Daily Express, 12 November 2019]

Forgive me while I count the number of safe Labour seats in Surrey.

Corbyn’s treatment in the Sheffield Star and the Doncaster Free Press was more sympathetic. You are entitled to wonder why …

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Jess Phillips writes — and speaks to me

The comment column by Jess Phillips, in Sunday’s Observer, includes a succinct and direct assertion of where I (like many others) stand:

The Labour party is not perfect but I have seen in my own life how it is the greatest vehicle for positive hopeful social change. It is the only vehicle, I think, that has even an outside chance of fighting the divisive decade we are living in.

That means speaking up when Labour gets it wrong too, but any woman in our party will tell you that fighting for progress from within and increasing your numbers in the ranks is the only way to do it. Progress within and without our movement was never given easily, it always had to be won, with resistance and persistence.

I’d agree with every word of that.


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Adam Boulton’s wet-job

I have to wait until the Lady-in-my-Life has finished her filleting of Murdoch’s rag. When I am finally awarded access, on a Sunday my first interest is Adam Boulton’s column.

It is usually a bit off-piste for standard operation Murdochery, but today he was — sadly — right there with the song-sheet:

Tom Watson fancied himself a fixer, but he has smashed the hopes of fellow moderates

First off, Tom Watson’s is a betrayal:

When worried citizens gather to bemoan the unappetising choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn as the next prime minister, when Labour Party moderates play the blame game, as they frequently do, and ask, “Where did it all go wrong?”, then a heavy burden of responsibility rests on the narrowing shoulders of the outgoing member for West Bromwich East.

Absolute twaddle. The bulk of Labour membership has not been carried away by the Momentumists and the Cult of the Lord High Horseraddishist. Look for a blame-game and we Labourites lay deep ordure over the sub-Leninist clique. Of which Tom was never one.

After ten or so short, snappy paragraphs taking us through the political history of Tom Watson, we get:

In his resignation letter there was no criticism of Corbyn; instead he thanked the leader for his “decency and courtesy”. Cynics wonder if he will have to wait long for a peerage courtesy of Corbyn.

What else should one expect? Watson is as adept with a compliment as he is with a verbal shiv. Tom Watson has been around a long while. I’m surprised he feels he has had enough, but he is of an age when recalibration and re-appraisal come naturally. Now … before it’s too late. Another five years of hard grafting would probably make it too late. To carry on a theme (poems learned at school) from the previous post:

I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind …

Were Labour to go into government after this Election, the best Tom could expect would be one of those courtesy ministerial jobs. Were Labour not to enter government after this Election,  Tom would be well and truly shafted by the politburo (they tried once at Brighton).  One of the laws of partisan politics: when the writing’s on the wall, read, mark and inwardly digest. Whatever one makes of Watson, another front-bench nodding donkey he is not.

Boulton’s minor theme is the inadequacies, the impotence of the Labourites, without the politburo, in the parliamentary party:

The sense of betrayal and fury among the moderates is red hot…

With Watson gone, some moderates fear the battle for Labour’s soul is over. The left has won and controls the party’s levers of power.

And then Boulton, who is a shrewd observer, swiftly changes tone:

But a third of Labour MPs attended the early meetings of Future Britain. There are still more than 100 candidates standing who have previously attempted to depose Corbyn.

There will be lots of Labour campaign leaflets going through letterboxes with no mention of the leader on them. Pat McFadden, a Blairite former minister and constituency neighbour of Watson, explained to Wolverhampton’s Express & Star: “Political parties are a bit like cathedrals. They don’t belong to the generation of today, but rest upon the work of generations.”

That is true. I’d also suggest we should look at who is being nominated as prospective MPs. The politburo have exploited the last-minute parachute-drop (the case of Sally Gibson at Bassetlaw is wholly obscene). Even so, a whole string of nominations went through where the successful candidate soft-pedalled any tendency to worship at the shrine of Horshraddishism. Those election leaflets are going to be very interesting: read between the lines (as Dewey Finn would advise). Labourites (remember: I’m defining those as outwith-the-politburo) are preparing for the succession. And they are well aware of Pat McFadden’s principle.


McFadden has Donegal roots (his family were as Gaelige until his parents’ generation). He cut his political teeth in Scottish Labour. Both are  hard schools.

The Labourites I thoroughly admire and respect are those who know where they came from. Such like will not wilt or go away. Their influence will be only too apparent in the next parliament. Boulton recognises that Tom Watson’s departure was solitary:

Watson has not had an army of supporters quitting with him. Jess Phillips intimated that she would join a splinter party if Watson tried to set one up. He didn’t, so she is now considering a run for the deputy leadership. This contest will reveal a lot about Labour’s internal power struggle. Much will hang on the general election outcome.

True, o King! But hardly a cutting observation.

What McFadden says applies to both main parties. The shame of the Tories is they have become infested and infected by the garagiste tendency.  Garagiste? That was the insult Julian Critchley threw at the Tory leadership around the Great She-Elephant, Margaret Thatcher. An example: only a garagiste could deny the Whip to such classic High Tories as Sir Nicholas Soames, Ed Vaizey, Margot James, and Richard Benyon (cooler second thoughts restored them) — but Philip Hammond, Dominic Grieve and David Gauke (all thoroughly reasonable) remained cut adrift. Probably because they were too decent. When the Tory cathedral needs defending, they will be greatly missed.

My guess about Labour in the next parliament? Despite screams and yells from the Horseraddishers, the telling voices will be on the Labourite side. There will have to be a woman as Leader or Deputy Leader (I cannot see why not both). The Long-Baileys and the Piddocks may have the crude numbers in voting members (though even that is fading fast): Jess Phillips and Angela Rayner have the mental horsepower and projection.

One last thought: be careful what you wish for.

I have a sense that Boulton was getting his copy in early. Were there to be a Tory win, what is as certain as night following day is editorials and opinion-pieces declaring This finishes Labour for a generation/for ever (delete as appropriate). That was current in 1959 (but along came 1966) and again in 197o (closely followed by Harold Wilson rising from the political dead), and loud as ever in 1987 (quickly followed by the summary execution of Margaret Thatcher), and in 1992 (what happened in 1997?). And so the dance of political deaths continue.

Political triumph and disaster are two sides to the same coin. Very often we only know which way the coin landed long after the initial toss. #Brexit will not, like the coin in a magic trick, vanish in the early hours of Friday 13th.

Wikipedia telescopes the continued oscillations of British politics — Shares of the vote in general elections since 1832 received by Conservatives (blue), Liberals/Liberal Democrats (orange), Labour (red) and others (grey) —  into a single diagram:

Welcome to the game that never ends.


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Sunday advertising

Each Sunday, folding the two ‘newspapers’ into the bag, I josh with the Sainsbury’s assistant that I’m carrying home mainly advertising supplements. Particularly so this week.

Home, and coffee. First the important stuff: Andrew Rawnsley  this week telling me the obvious, none of the English political ‘leaders’ are worth a toss. Then a quick flick of the reviews. Then anything else.

Which, this Sunday, is eight pages of Irish tourist board advertising, in the staples of the Sunday Times colour supplement. I’ve said it before, so I’ll repeat: some of the best writing in the prints happens when they’re trying to sell me something.

This one involves country walks, and Helen Fairbairn in six locations. Including:

My schooling involved forced feeding and learning-by-rote, including poems. The very earliest one may have been Walter de la Mare’s Silver, and it’s still there lumbering up synapses, well over six decades later:

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees …

I doubt seriously I should be grateful for that one. And — hey! — what about shoon, casement, white breasts, and silver feathered sheep being inflicted on tender minds?

And yet … and yet …

Back to Ms Fairbairn, there were some poems and non-poems that crept unbidden into the memory. John Donne. Tennyson … and —

The old brown thorn-trees break in two high over Cummen Strand,
Under a bitter black wind that blows from the left hand;
Our courage breaks like an old tree in a black wind and dies,
But we have hidden in our hearts the flame out of the eyes
Of Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.

The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea,
And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say.
Angers that are like noisy clouds have set our hearts abeat;
But we have all bent low and low and kissed the quiet feet
Of Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.

The yellow pool has overflowed high up on Clooth-na-Bare,
For the wet winds are blowing out of the clinging air;
Like heavy flooded waters our bodies and our blood;
But purer than a tall candle before the Holy Rood
Is Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.

Yeats was not just a prescribed author. He had (briefly) been at ‘our’ school — the High School, then at the top of Harcourt Street, —  was one of ‘us’. The ‘us’ were, in large part, the scorned hereticals, the assorted non-Roman Catholic minorities, doomed forever to be crushed, with malice aforethought, beneath the weight of Blackrock, Clongowes, Terenure on the rugby field.

That’s Yeats in his early Celtic Romantic period (it first appeared in 1894). Cathleen ni Houlhihan is Maude Gonne (she relished the poem and the tribute — though she hardly deserved it). The scenery is ‘Yeats Country’, which used to be Sligo before the PR-merchants rebranded it. Knocknarea is the ‘Mountain of the King’, and atop it is the cairn supposedly above the grave of Queen Maeve.

Anyone who has been anywhere near will recognise the wind and the storms. My alternate trips under bare Ben Bulben Head seem to happen when the Atlantic Ocean is belting down horizontally in stair rods. The version sold to the diaspora is calmer, sunnier: they even put up statues of symbolic ‘Welcome Home’ (more prosaically it commemorates those lost at sea — and, for once in Irish statuary, is rather fine), as at Rosses Point —

Nice, though, to encounter an old acquaintance on a bright Sunday morning.

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Who needs HS2?

That previous post included this:

A moment’s thought — it’s that butterfly mind again — would have made me define what that shows.

In that previous post my point of interest was the line of coal wagons in the background: the 21-ton standard that remained consistent from their inception in the early-Victorian period to their demise around the time of this photograph.

The foreground is the Thames-Clyde Express. This was the Midland Railway’s pale —  but in part spectacular — effort to home in on the Scottish trade. From St Pancras it went the Midland Main line via Leicester, Derby, Nottingham to Chesterfield and Sheffield., on s-l-o-w-l-y (mining subsidence) through Wakefield to Leeds. Then came the fun bit: Skipton and the Settle-Carlisle route and eventually Glasgow St Enoch.

By the nature of that route, the Thames-Clyde Express and its equivalent, The Waverley (to Edinburgh), ran over three hours longer than the LMS Euston service (the Royal Scot) or the LNER ‘streaks’ from King’s Cross. Nor did the Midland ever have the heavy fast horsepower of the East and West Coast Main Lines. On the other hand, the Midland route provided a direct line from the Midland cities to the North: something badly missing even now.

Which brings us to the grit in the sandwich. Today the route from London to Sheffield is hauled by 125s — and a single unit, rather than the top-and-tail pair used previously by the East Coast routes. Today, too, both East and West Coast Main Lines are electrified — but the electrification on the Midland main line is only reaching Market Harborough, effectively still London commuter territory. Note: not even as far as Leicester. One looks in vain at (for example) Nottingham for any catenaries.

There is an alternative to HS2, at a fraction of the cost. It would reach Manchester not-quite as speedily as the West Coast line presently does. It would link the Midlands cities. But the initiative isn’t there. And it’s not as ‘sexy’ as HS2.

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Another day in Notts

One pernicious character failure I have is inability to remain wholly involved in any interest for extended periods. I detest my low threshold of boredom. What happens, then, are brief and passing enthusiasms, subsumed in extensive trivialities. Where this originated may be explained at the end of this post.

To kick off, though, there are all sorts of details to relish in the story of Boris Johnson’s visit to George Spencer Academy in Stapleford.

Stapleford lies just off the M1 motorway, as it skirts west of Nottingham. A geographer would spot this as a natural place along the Erewash Valley for a trading town to develop. Once early industrialisation had taken root, there was need for power. That power came from coal. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the river was improved by the Erewash canal. The Midland Railway followed.

The once vast Toton sidings, serially expanded for hump-shunting coal trucks, are just down the road from Stapleford.

Here’s Toton around 1958: coal wagons are still evident, but the age of steam is winding down,

Toton is now largely redundant, supposedly going to be one of the termini for the never-to-be-completed east branch of the mythical HS2 line.

Stapleford is just above being a ‘hard-scrabble’ town. Just enough lucrative trade to keep it fluid. Just enough working class to keep it sane. The contemporary version of a ‘trading town’ is the succession of ‘distribution centres’ and warehousing, poshly termed ‘logistics’. These vast barns line the motorways and mark their main junctions.  As a result there’s too much zero-hours work for long-term job security.

The boys and girls of George Spencer Academy are fed into this modern mill system, and into ‘service’ industries, all greasing the wheels of commerce. George Spencer was the long-time head (near forty years) of the Church Street Boys School and his name went to the 1960s Foundation School and Technology College — note the start of the wriggling away from the bipartite grammar/modern division of secondary education. Now George Spencer is an  academy and sixth form college sharing a campus.

Dangerous stuff, these post-adolescents. So for Boris Johnson’s visit the sixth-formers had to be kept well away from the Great Man, even locked out, lest they lob him the odd embarrassing question — or worse.

That’s the story to date.

But I did notice the postal address of George Spencer Academy: Arthur Mee Road.

That needs glossing for anyone much younger than myself. The man himself, local Stapleford boy made good (though he moved south to ‘better himself’):

He carved a place for himself on the back of the Harmsworth Press, catering for the aspirant working class with The Harmsworth Self-Educator and The Children’s Newspaper. He earned a fair screw from the Daily Mail owners, but was never properly rewarded. In return he was prolific in his output.

Mee left his mark on the pre-WW2 generations — which meant his works were still current post-War, on offer in public libraries, and through my growing-up. And that, I guess, is where my butterfly mind was framed.

As an afterthought, Ian Sansom is satirising Mee as Swanton Morley (‘the People’s Professor’) is his County Guides mysteries. The series was up to number four — Norfolk, Devon, Westmoreland, Essex — the last time I looked.

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The fractious fifteens

First with my own children, and now with their children, I find the most difficult age is around fifteen.

This crept into my waking awareness today. Still half-asleep I wondered did it apply also to that human creation, the calendar?

Perhaps that was also a product of a piece of clickbait that caught my attention as I was drifting off last night. It was totally forgettable (so I’m not able to hotlink) but placed ‘Britain’ way down the list mainly because of weather and #Brexit —something like 40th of 48 states and micro states, each identified by a single stock photo and a smartass comment. Knowing what is being done down the road from here to the Don Valley, from Sheffield through to Doncaster and beyond, I’d agree on the one point. The rail links around Sheffield are still hors-de-combat — but that is standard operating practice for anywhere north of Watford and dependent on Northern Rail.


Anyhoo … in the dawning half-light, and not fully of this life, I was musing on the fifteens.

In our century (my second century) 2015 gave us David Cameron’s only General Election victory — and the first Tory majority since John Major’s. Wow! Didn’t Cameron squander it!

He’d consistently clutched the coat-tails of the Euro-frothers. In 2009 he was the last of the party leaders to forgo a pledge for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. He was being outflanked by the proto-kippers and ‘bastards’ in his own party on one side, and by the LibDems on the other (Nick Clegg wriggled out of the Lisbon Treaty referendum pledge by going for a straight In/Out alternative). Even so, any #Brexit was a non-event in the 2010 General Election: it registered around one per cent on the list of polled  ‘problems’. And then, in 2015, not only had Cameron made his commitment, he felt the need to deliver on it.

So in 2015 we got the legislation machine cranking up the 2016 referendum, from which all subsequent woes derive.

Let’s not focus too long on 1915: that second decade (like the fourth) of the twentieth century shows the whole world going mad and homicidal.

1815? Waterloo and the final defeat of Napoleon, and the clean-up of Europe.

The Congress of Vienna gave the great of Europe a chance to powder their wigs, polish their decorations, be-sash themselves,  and draw up a European schema. This in turn allowed more sensible male fashions to evolve, and the great nations of Europe to develop new and exciting ways of going to far-flung regions and exploiting them. Meanwhile, back at home, all those wars needed paying for, which meant the lower orders were well and truly skinned. Across the Atlantic, the Thirteenth Congress decided not to relocate the seat of government away from Washington, and to rebuild the burned White House. Then the admission of states across the Mississippi could begin in earnest. Oh, his wife accompanying her brother to the Congress, Horatio Hornblower got his leg over Marie de Gracie.

1715? Britain — more specifically the great magnates of England  — had decreed a German princeling, unable to communicate in English, would give the aristocracy a chance to rule the underlings without royal intervention. That would probably have worked a bit better had the Electress Sophia survived a bit longer — she was, after all, grand-daughter of James VI and I Stuart (which maintains a closer dynastic connection with past history) and daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, the ‘winter queen’ (which provides the story-book magic necessary to royalty). Instead Britain was lumbered with a porcine George of Brunswick, a very unromantic 54-year-old, who had finally tooled into England four months into his nominal reign, accompanied by eighteen cooks and two mistresses. Robert Walpole ran the country. Scotland had a Jacobite Rising ending at Sheriffmuir, and there were riots and worse across English cities.

My drowsy mind, now awakening fully to another Yorkshire day (though this one somewhat less wet) had conceived the notion that the second decade of most centuries was to be avoided, and the mid-year of that decade was particularly prone to nasties.

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