Category Archives: films

The Archimedes principle

Compare and contrast:

1. Wart meets Archimedes (The Sword in the Stone):

Merlyn took off his pointed hat when he came into this chamber, because it was too high for the roof, and immediately there was a scamper in one of the dark corners and a flap of soft wings, and a tawny owl sitting on the black skull—cap which protected the top of his head.

‘Oh, what a lovely owl!’ cried the Wart.

But when he went up to it and held out his hand, the owl grew half as tall again, stood up as stiff as a poker, closed its eyes so that there was only the smallest slit to peep through – as you are in the habit of doing when told to shut your eyes at hide—and—seek – and said in a doubtful voice:

‘There is no owl.’

Then it shut its eyes entirely and looked the other way.

‘It is only a boy,’ said Merlyn.

‘There is no boy,’ said the owl hopefully, without turning round.

2. Rafael Behr (a.k.a. “Contributor Namy”) in today’s Guardian:

The heckles in the House of Commons can be as revealing as the speeches. When the prime minister was taking questions about her Brexit plans on Monday, Anna Soubry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe, asked about the no-deal scenario – whether the UK would “jump off the cliff”. At which point a male voice, dripping with derision, chimed in: “There is no cliff!”

Behr’s article is worth the trip, for illuminating us on the desiderata of the Tory head-bangers:

Interrogate the Brexit no-dealers on detail and they concede that their plan hinges on a doctrine of pain for gain. They advocate the abandonment of tariffs, inviting the world’s exporters to flood Britain with their wares. Thus would a beacon of free trade be lit on Albion’s shores, inspiring others to repent of their protectionist tendencies. This might bring cheap produce to supermarket shelves (consumer gain) but sabotage UK farmers, who would be undercut by an influx of American and Antipodean meat (producer pain).

Manufacturers would suffer too, but that is an intended consequence of opening the doors to invigorating winds of competition. The whole point is to sweep away inefficiency and blow down zombie businesses while fanning the flames of innovation. In this model, the UK economy is a vast pre-Thatcher coalfield that refuses to accept its obsolescence and must be made to confront it by force. If the timid will not jump into the future, they must be pushed.

Sadly that would take down the Irish economy with that of the UK. In the small matter of €1.3 billion of Irish exports to the UK each month, a fair chunk is essential chemicals and pharmaceuticals.


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Filed under Comment is Free, Conservative Party policy., EU referendum, Europe, fiction, films, Guardian, politics, Tories.

Separated at the Vicarage?

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May 19, 2017 · 9:31 am

Advice to a Pert Young Piece

She’s about to have a major encounter with the electorate.

She’s good. We and she are about to discover how good.

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Filed under films, Labour Party, London, politics


51NccgkfMYL._SY445_I passed a Saturday lunch-time TV. It was running Pal Joey.

Couldn’t stop. Busy.

Admission: I’ve never watched it all the way through.

I wanna! I wanna! Gimme! Gimme!

So it’s back to Amazon, huh?

By the way, Rita Hayworth’s non-strip is still one of the most erotic moments in ’50s movies.


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195I4361_-4430_30I like David Crystal’s The Story of English in 100 Words.

Chapter 15 discusses the use of Arse.

I’d suggest this is an essential shibboleth.

First, you don’t get very far in (British) English without appreciating its many applications. Crystal has that one:


Lard-arse, which has displaced heavy arse in British common usage, seems to have crept in from Australia (the OED has its first citation from the Sydney Morning Herald of 27 August 1988). Having noted that, there’s lard-arsed in Thomas Heggen’s 1946 novel, Mister Roberts. My recollection has it that, ten years on, filmed by John Ford, with Henry Fonda and James Cagney, Frank Nugent’s script bowdlerising it to “lazy”.

We might wonder how the word became Obs. in polite use (as the OED has it): Crystal suggests:

It was inevitable that, as the word began to be used for the human posterior, the association with animals and with excrement would turn it into a ‘dirty word’.

Second, it illustrates what Bertrand Russell argued for the Saturday Evening Post, back in 1944:

It is a misfortune for Anglo-American friendship that the two countries are supposed to have a common language.

In passing, that’s the most likely candidate for the truism often blamed on George Bernard Shaw:

The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.

However, as far as I know, nobody has located that expression in any of Shaw’s works.

Crystal considers how we have evolved two variants: the British arse, and the very-different American ass. Obviously another form of bowdlerising. That prompts two thoughts:content

  • There was the convincing US bumper sticker: Democrats are hot! Ever hear of a fine piece of elephant!
  • My American son-in-law was squeamish about his first-born being introduced to Walter the Farting Dog, until The New York Times had it on their best-seller list.

All that’s left for this post is:

  • Are you an ass-man, or an arse-man?
  • Right arse and righter arse: is Kelvin MacKenzie a bigger arse than Richard Littlejohn? Or are they just two cheeks of the same one?

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Filed under films, History, human waste, Quotations, reading

A very peculiar practice

Back in 1986, Andrew Davies wrote a black comedy for BBC TV, A Very Peculiar Practice. It went to a second series, and had a spin-off (a failed pilot?) based on the collapse of Communist Poland.

Well, odd-to-the-point of surreality as Davies’s take on the modern concrete university was, I think my day in St Andrews could match it.

St Andrews is a small town at the end of the East Neuk of Fife. It has a population of some 14,000, of whom half must be the around 7,000 students at the oldest university in Scotland. About a third of the student body come from south of the border, which must make it freakish among Scottish universities outside Edinburgh.

That last factoid might, just might have a connection with a not-quite-recent royal matching.

Oh, and attached to the town is a golf-course or three.

Wander the main drag, and note the proliferation of young-fashion stores.

That leads me to muse there is another oddity about the student population. It seems very, very well-heeled. Most undergraduate populations tend to the scruffy jeans-and-hoodie. St Andrews has a large contingent remarkable for what I tend to term the Morningside Glide. Morningside, for the uninitiated, is the terribly-naice suburb of Edinburgh, and was the natural home of Miss Jean Brodie. The Morningside Glide involves a young woman, clearly a bourgeoise of means, even aspirant bon chic, bon genre, swanning along with total insouciance, almost certainly wearing a tweedy cloak or (at the very least) well-draped shawl, who insists she walks straight at you, expects you to give way, and can look right through you. So clear the way.

Meanwhile, down on the Old Course, I was able to observe a foursome completing their round-of-golf. To be kind, they were not particularly good. But then, since this is still High Season, they would be paying £170 each for the pleasure and privilege. The grass is impeccably maintained, of course.

A very peculiar and expensive practice.

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Filed under education, films, Scotland, travel, underclass

“This is the most unfriendly country I’ve ever been in. Why is everybody so touchy?”

As the sands in the upper glass run low, and I recognise the imminence of mortality, I run through all the sins of omission in my life.

Originally, it was Ovid, addressing Eos/Aurora/Dawn. He asked her to imagine she was with her paramour, Cephalus. She should rein back her horses, that the poet may spend longer with his beloved:

at si, quem mavis, Cephalum conplexa teneres,
clamares: “lente currite, noctis equi!”

Then, in one of the most astonishing eros-et-thanatos twists of Elizabethan literature, Marlow grabbed hold of it and put it into the mouth of Faustus, contemplating the imminent arrival of Mephistopheles, to collect the debt of his soul:

faustus1624Ah, Faustus,
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damn’d perpetually!
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of Heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come;
Fair Nature’s eye, rise, rise again and make
Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul!
O lente, lente, curite noctis equi.
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The Devil will come, and Faustus must be damn’d.

Faustus must have been on the A-level syllabus, the summer I started grammar school. Fakenham Grammar had an old marl-pit out in the farther reaches of the playing-fields. This had, imaginatively, been transformed into an open-air theatre-arena. And the sixth-form did Faustus.  I don’t ever expect much from student drama, so I’ve rarely been disappointed. Something happened that summer afternoon we were crocodiled out for a performance: and I hope it was more than the squibs and smoke contributed by the science teachers as special effects.

I know those lines slid effortlessly into my semi-conscious. Which was just as well, because I was later able to recover them for my TCD Finals.

Jump cut

poster227x227What with this pot on my left wrist, aches and pains, and general lethargy, for Sunday afternoon I’d turned up a copy of The Man from Laramie. With all due respect, sixty years on, iTunes are gold-bricking it to expect a tenner to view this one. That, in itself, has to be a testimony to how well the film has aged.

This was the last of four horse-operas Jimmy Stewart and Anthony Mann made together — allegedly it’s Mann’s attempt at King Lear. You may see the connection: I’m not convinced myself.

What I see is a Cold War Western, a natural stand-along for the Stewart/Mann outing, Strategic Air Command, earlier that same year.

The first thought is: why? Why did the Western become the staple commodity of Hollywood in the post-war period? In 1947-50, a third of the output was made up of Westerns. The tension is always between the cult of expansion (power) and the survival of the individual — the iconic hero is always the idealised man-alone. Nor can we ignore the economic systems being presented in Westerns, almost always in terms of cattle, and at a time when the United States was monopolising the world’s food supplies.

Then there’s the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. What could be more “American”, more unCommunist, than a Western theme? With Hollywood already traumatised by the break-up of the big studios by Anti-Trust, the audiences being seduced by television, thank heaven for big skies on bigger and better screens, and lots of Technicolor.

There has to be that element of “conquest”. After 1945 the United States bestode most of the world as a super-power: it had its only rival — the Soviets surrounded. There is a simplistic comparison there with the final “closing” of the Wild West. Frederick Jackson Turner marked that:

In a recent bulletin of the Superintendent of the Census for 1890 appear these significant words: “Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports.” This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.

Melvin Lasky, the CIA’s all-purpose culture-vulture, features prominently at the start of Frances Stonor Saunders’ Who Paid the Piper? Lasky went to the East German Writers’ Conference and excelled himself:9781862073272

Appalled by the timidity of his superiors, he compared Berlin to ‘what a frontier-town must have been like in the States in the middle of the 19th century — Indians on the horizon,and you’ve got to have that rifle handy or not your scalp is gone. But in those days a frontier-town was full of Indian fighters … here very few people have any guts, and if they do they usually don’t know in which direction to point their rifle’. [page 28]

The Man from Laramie is set at a moment when the West is almost wholly settled. At Coronado (definitely not the glossy SoCal resort but a place that repeats, like cucumber, in fantasy Westerns), the Apaches are a constant threat — more on the sound-track than actively so, except for the necessary end at which “Vic Hansbro” (the Arthur Kennedy character) necessarily wishes on himself. So we are some moment before Skeleton Canyon (1886).

Specifically, The Man from Laramie comes just after the very acme of Westerns:

  • 1952: High Noon (anti-HUAC?)
  • 1953: Shane (the Man alone)
  • 1955: The Man from Laramie
  • 1956: The Searchers
  • 1957: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
  • 1958: The Big Country (water-rights=nuclear standoff?)

I’m looking, though, for an added ingredient in The Man from Laramie. I see it in the McGuffin, the mystery — who sold the Apaches the rifles? We think we finger the arch-villain, the psychopath “Dave Waggoman” early on … except. And in this respect, The Man from Laramie is anticipatory. The early Cold War spies — Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs — had been ideologically driven. Their successors would be mercenaries, just as Vic Hansbro.

Meanwhile, those horses are damn quick.

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