Category Archives: Gender

All Fools’ Day comes early

The morning gem is from The Independent:

The Nuclear Security Summit is in its second day in The Hague and has brought leaders from 53 countries together to discuss ways of combating nuclear terrorism. The catering company responsible for feeding the leaders and delegates has made a controversial staffing decision: No female serving staff are working in the plenary room where the main talks are being held. Instead, only men over 25 have been given the privilege of serving the working lunches at the World Forum.

Why? Oh, tell us, do!

According to Dutch national newspaper the Algemeen Dagblad, the director of the catering company, Hans van der Linde, was looking to create a “uniform” look amongst his staff. They quote him justifying his decision in the following manner: “If 20 gentlemen are serving and three platinum blonde ladies, then that spoils the image.

“The personnel needs to act in as reserved a manner as possible, and you can’t achieve that by adding a couple of pretty, conspicuous ladies to the mix,” he added.

Platinum-Blonde-1931-ColumbiaC’mon, Malcolm! Cue the Margot/Harlow joke!

Look it up for yourselves.

Presumably any 25+ year old male waiting staff with platinum-hair had a regulation brunet (note the subtle vocabulary) rinse for the occasion. And none were “conspicuous”.

It gets worse!

In an attempt to clarify himself, van der Linde spoke to Radio 1 about keeping his female employees out of the plenary sessions. He denied ever mentioning hair colour, and told the station that he had initially come up with “the creative idea to only employ ladies to serve the world leaders, and to have them do that in little Delft Blue dresses.” His idea was apparently rejected by the ministry of Foreign Affairs, who made it clear that a more sober appearance would be appropriate. Van der Linde added: “We also have to go up a very steep flight of stairs, so little dresses wouldn’t be practical, as you wouldn’t be able to lift your legs high enough”.


Somewhere along the way this all became a Finbarr Saunders cartoon strip.

Fnarr. Fnarr.

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Filed under Europe, films, Gender, Independent, politics

As night follows day

One thing was inevitable: Lynne Featherstone MP would be chirruping her approval of ‘Gids’ Osborne’s money-grubbing:

Great news – the amount you can earn before being taxed will rise to £9,440 this year. That’s £600 less tax to pay for working people, since the Liberal Democrats entered Government in 2010.

Nice of Ms Featherstone to gross up four years of tax to produce a nice number. Bet that took a load of expensive research.

But, not so!

There’s the extra VAT for a start. Since the Tory policy, pre-2010 Election, was definitively no increase in VAT, may we assume that the extra 2½% impost was a LibDem addition to ConDem domestic economics? In any case, we see Division 10 on Monday, 28 June 2010, and Ms Featherstone voting for the increase.

Shall we add in the other taxes — the kind of things Leona Helmsley reckoned were only for “the little people”?

May we start with energy tax?

Over three years, energy costs were up by nearly a quarter. A typical household bill of £1200 in 2011 will by now have devoured the entirety of that £600 tax relief. And, if it were a pensioner couple, half the winter bonus went too. Let’s not overlook that green energy tax, which is paying hundreds of millions to the wind-farmers, and 6% return on capital — half of the bunce straight out of the pockets of those working people close to Ms Featherstone’s heart.

Or what about transport tax?

In 2010 a single journey, zones 1-4, on the London Tube was £4. Today the cheapest fare, anywhere — even a single zone — is £4.50. The comparable zone 1-4 fare is £5.50. That’s an increase of 37½%!

Do we hear Ms Featherstone complain on our behalf?

“The spare room subsidy”

Then there’s the iniquitous Bedroom Tax — exactly the imposition on those lower-income working people for whom Ms Featherstone’s LibDem heart bleeds.

Even LibDem Voice (as recently as 19th March 2013) recognises it does not pass ‘the Fairer Society test’. Apart from the headline article, by John Coburn, we see on the comments some real Lib Dems in full agreement.We’d gladly hear Ms Featherstone contest Tony Greaves’s point:

The “bedroom tax” – what all the Housing Associations I know are calling it anyway – is a typical policy devised and imposed by people who would never live in social housing, who would not apply any such restrictions on themselves, who have little understanding of what it is like to live on a low income (that is to say be poor), and have little knowledge or understanding of how social housing actually works, or the circumstances in such local communities.

It is a thorough disgrace and just one of the whole series of government attacks on poor people and people who are not as fortunate as themselves and as their civil service advisers.

Did Ms Featherstone ever vote against this Bill? Oddly, whenever major small-l liberal issues make it to a Commons vote, Ms Featherstone appears invariably otherwise engaged. Hard work being bottom of the ministerial pecking order at the Department for International Development.

Reg Varney in a fright wig

A juicy morsel there, and about the most repeatable, from the Daily Mash, on Ms Featherstone’s previous gender-issue outing.

Let us celebrate that Ms Featherstone found the time and energy to put aside her other endeavours to demand — to demand! — that The Observer sack Julie Burchill. Since Ms Featherstone is pernickety about citing her ministerial commitments, lest she offend collective solidarity, this must fall under her DFID responsibilities, along with counting her air-miles. So, perhaps Ms Featherstone could contradict, with examples, Nick Cohen’s claim:

I have worked through the worst days of Bernard Ingham and Alastair Campbell’s manipulation of the media, but I have never before heard a minister in a democracy call for writers and editors to be fired for publishing an opinion, however offensive and controversial it may be. That the minister in question calls herself a “liberal” means that Featherstone is not just a menace but a hypocrite too.

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Filed under economy, Gender, George Osborne, London, Lynne Featherstone

Rejoice! TINA’s back!

It jumps out of the screen (or, if you can find a full text, the page):

If there was another way I would take it. But there is no alternative.

Yes: David Cameron has tripped off to Keighley and made a speech, saying … well, absolutely nothing. Except that he is the current possessor of Ma Thatcher’s handbag, and is prepared to filch the odd trifle therefrom.


That’s from 1980, when the Tory government was already heading further and further into the slough of despond.

Consider this, from Anthony Wells’s ukpollingreport:


Thatcher’s key economic speech of 1o October 1980 was her  Conference “not for turning” address to the Tory faithful:

If our people feel that they are part of a great nation and they are prepared to will the means to keep it great, a great nation we shall be, and shall remain. So, what can stop us from achieving this? What then stands in our way? The prospect of another winter of discontent? I suppose it might.

But I prefer to believe that certain lessons have been learnt from experience, that we are coming, slowly, painfully, to an autumn of understanding. And I hope that it will be followed by a winter of common sense. If it is not, we shall not be—diverted from our course.

To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the “U” turn, I have only one thing to say. “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”

“It’s déjà vu all over again”

And Yogi Berra is still with us (now in his later 80s).

The problem common to Thatcher in 1980, and Cameron in 2013 is: who is their audience?

It is, in short, their own party — and in both cases the speeches are defence mechanisms, self-defences against an increasingly unhappy and fractious parliamentary party. We need to recall that in 1980 Thatcher was not, by any means, the autocratic Tory leader that Galtieri, his Argie military cronies, and near on a thousand unnecessary corpses made her.

Cameron’s electoral problem

It isn’t just the Eastleigh business. The 1979 General Election meant that Thatcher’s Tory benches included 22 Scottish MPs (with 31.4% of Scottish votes) — Cameron has just the one (and 16.7% of the votes). In 1979 Northern Ireland returned five (of the ten in total) MPs as Ulster Unionists (with 36.6% of the poll) — on all matters economic, the UU MPs voted with the Tory Whip: today there is not a single Ulster Unionist MP remaining, despite Cameron’s explicit involvement and rebranding of UCUNF.

Let’s continue.

In September 2012 The Economist had a definitive description of:

The great divide
Economically, socially and politically, the north is becoming another country

The piece went still further back, and deeper into the socio-economics of English history:

The north remains poorer than the south, with sharply lower employment rates and average incomes. In 1965 men in the north were 16% more likely to die under the age of 75 than men in the south. By 2008 they were 20% more likely to, according to a study published last year in the British Medical Journal. This is not just because poor people die young: rich northerners apparently live shorter lives than their southern peers…

Whereas government spending is spread fairly evenly across the country — nurses and teachers are needed roughly in proportion to the population — private-sector growth has been heavily concentrated, mostly in and around London. Between 1997 and 2010 gross value-added, a measure of output, grew by 61% in the three northern regions. In London and the South East, it shot up by 92%. According to a study by the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change at the University of Manchester, the state accounted, directly and indirectly, for 64% of the jobs created in the north between 1998 and 2007, against just 38% in the south.

It also considers the electoral impact:

The Conservative Party is retreating in the north, too. Its problem is not just that northern seats tend to be poorer, and thus more likely to vote Labour. Broad mistrust of the Tories, cemented during the 1980s recession, means middle-class voters in the north are actually more likely to vote Labour than are working-class voters in the south. Policy Exchange, a think-tank, points out that Conservatives held two-fifths of northern seats in 1951. They now hold less than a third, mostly in rural areas. In the cities, and in former-coal mining areas, the party is all but invisible. In July the Sheffield Conservative Party was forced to relocate to nearby Rotherham, as it is so short of cash…

And, of course, so much of what ConDem austerity economics has done disproportionately impacts upon the North and the devolved regions: the attacks on public employment, the squeeze on municipal budgets, replacing poor employment with even poorer-paid part-time work, lower productivity, rack-renting public housing, energy costs, transport costs … What, will the line stretch out to th’ crack of doom?

Cameron’s revolting women

This is the most jaw-dropping of the lot: women have turned against the Tories. In every post-War election until 2005 women voters preferred the Tories: it has been a declining gap (it was +12 in 1974), but in the last two general Elections, it has reversed. When one digs down into the most recent YouGov/Sunday Times poll, we find the gender gap is now a chasm:


Note that: a 12 point gender deficit for the Tories.

A curious beast

Peter Hoskin on ConHome finds only luke-warm words for Cameron’s speech (and it was an extended one) today, at Keighley:

David Cameron’s speech on the economy today is a curious beast. Here we have the Prime Minister pronouncing on growth, competition, debt and all that – but it has a thin flavour to it, as though it’s just an appetiser for the Budget in a couple of weeks. There are no new policy announcements, nor anything we haven’t really heard before. Yet perhaps that is the point: Mr Cameron emphasises, à la Lady Thatcher, that “there is no alternative” to the Coalition’s current plan. He speaks of consistency and continuity. It reads like a message telling everyone – from the restless Tory backbenches to Ed Balls and Vince Cable – not to expect a change in course.

That addresses the “what” of the speech (or, perhaps the “what-not?”), but not the more telling “where” (Keighley!)  and “why?” (because he’s dans le merde!). On the other hand, that’s precisely what Nick Robinson has caught on (and saying far more succinctly and elegantly than Malcolm managed here):

Perhaps most revealing, though, is that he feels the need to make this speech at all and who it is aimed at. It is a restatement of the government’s central economic purpose aimed at:

  • his own party, which is why he is borrowing Margaret Thatcher’s language
  • the North of England
  • and women

Look at this paragraph to see what I mean :

“I know things are tough right now. Families are struggling with the bills at the end of the month. Some are just a pay-cheque away from going into the red. Parents are worried about what the future holds for their children. Whole towns are wondering where their economic future lies. And I know that is especially true for people here in Yorkshire and in many parts of the north of our country who didn’t benefit properly from the so-called boom years and worry they won’t do so again. But I’m here to say that’s not going to happen. Because we have a plan to get through these difficulties – and to get through them together.”

A man! A plan! A canal! Panama!

As good a palindrome as you’ll get in these parts to remind us just how much of British politicking involves going round in circles and disappeared up one’s own … canal.

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Filed under ConHome, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., David Cameron, Gender, History, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, polls, Scotland, ukpollingreport, Yorkshire

Is the future really bright?

The memory is clear from the revival of Close the Coalhouse Door. Malcolm was a bit rusty on the exact Alex Glasgow lyrics, but help was at hand:

“— When its ours, Geordie lad, when its ours:
There’ll changes bonny lad, when its ours!”

“— Are you sure we’ll be all right? Is the future really bright?”

” — (Oh, for God’s sake, man) We’ve won this bloody fight!
An its ours, all ours!”

pic8So, on 1st January 1947, the miners of the North-East (and across Britain) sincerely believed nationalisation would change the nature of pit-work. For many it did: the very next year, Malcolm’s Uncle Ernest Copley was leading the stay-down strike to keep open the Waleswood Colliery. That campaign failed. Today the only mine in the South Yorkshire coalfield is Maltby.

The message, as always, remains: Be careful what you wish for, you may get it —

“— When its ours, Geordie lad, when its ours:
Man, the wife’ll be reet glad when its ours!”

“— Tell me Jackie, whats in store? What will she be grateful for?”

” — Why, I’ll stop in bed, wi’ her,
When its ours, all ours!”


You’d find a similar bubble cruelly popped by Malcolm d’Ancona in the Torygraph, as he suggests:

Westminster’s Tory tots must do some growing up

The mutineers are living in a Hogwarts fantasy world – where all it needs to achieve growth is a wave of the magic wand

“The Tory century”

He opens:

The Conservatives have a do-or-die decision to make before the next general election – and it is not about the identity of their leader. They must decide if, having dominated the 20th century, they are serious about being a party of government in the 21st. They must decide if they want to retain their reputation as the nation’s crisis managers. They must decide if they want to be seen as political grown-ups, or a bunch of overgrown kids using Westminster as a playground.

At this stage of the Parliament, Ed Miliband was expected to be the tribal chief facing a leadership crisis, and the Lib Dems the party answering hard questions about their commitment to office. Yet, in February 2013, it is David Cameron who is being undermined by talk of a leadership contest, and the Conservatives who – in some garrulous cases, anyway – are more deeply preoccupied by internal party intrigue than by the governance of the country.

Well, well: that must make Asquith, Lloyd George, Clem Attlee — not to mention Beveridge and Nye Bevan — all makers of 20th century Britain, equally all natural Tories.

As for being the nation’s crisis managers, there was that 1946 business when Hugh Dalton had to despatch J.M.Keynes to Washington.  Or the other one, 1974-9, when Denis Healey was coping with the economic ruins of the Heath administration. Odd how, in the parallel universe populated by the d’Anconas, “clearing up the mess left by the previous government” is persuasive only when it falls from Tory lips.

As for the c-word, we could have a good’un cooking right now, as even the Torygraph‘s James Quinn recognises:

Sterling caught in a quiet crisis

It’s only “quiet” until the screaming starts. That could come along very soon; and — as Quinn glosses George Soros (and even the IMF) — the fault is not longer “the previous government” but:

austerity was the “wrong policy at this time”

Have the Tories lost the plot?

Well, some most definitely have — which is d’Ancona’s beef,  following that excellent, if mischievous, Guardian editorial earlier this week

Meanwhile, Andrew Rawnsley takes the argument a step further into the shrubbery — and has something very nasty stirring in there. He emphasises the chasm between Tory myth and Tory reality:

There are few things so forlorn as a cliche that has turned into the opposite of the truth.

Ah, yes, Andrew: the miners of ’47 had just that experience. But, sorry to interrupt, pray continue:

One such is the aphorism of Lord Kilmuir, the Tory grandee, who declared that “loyalty is the secret weapon of the Conservative party”. If you were to tell this to David Cameron, he’d surely laugh. So would all his recent predecessors as Tory leader. It was not even true in Kilmuir’s day as he discovered when he was summarily sacked from the cabinet by Harold Macmillan in the 1962 “Night of the Long Knives”.

The trademark of much Tory history is that the party frequently kills its leaders and its leaders often betray their friends. Ted Heath was toppled by Margaret Thatcher. She was defenestrated and replaced by John Major. That saved the 1992 election for the Conservatives, but the Thatcher regicide injected a virus into the party’s bloodstream that has made life hell for every leader since. His party so tortured Mr Major that he felt compelled to reapply for his job in the “put up or shut up” contest of 1995. They re-elected him and then promptly went back to torturing him. After their 1997 defeat, the Tories went through three leaders in eight years before they arrived at David Cameron. Just half way into his first (and possibly only) term as prime minister, they are at it again. His party swirls with talk of knives being sharpened, signatures on no-confidence letters being collected and assassination plots being hatched.

 Much as Malcolm likes and admires Rawnsley, a piece by Peter Franklin for ConHome, over five years ago, ran on remarkably similar lines. Franklin concluded:

I’ll leave you with another cliché, but one that’s as true as it’s ever been:

There’s no ‘I’ in team.

There’s no ‘I’ in loyalty either. Disloyalty, however, is another matter.

For once, Rawnsley isn’t taking us anywhere, and his perceptions are as mundane as Malcolm’s too often are. We can forgive him, however, for fingering the guilty (as the dissident Tories would see it): Cameron himself —

… his unforgivable crime for many of them: not winning a proper Tory victory at the last election, which fuels the growing fear in Conservative ranks that the same will happen next time. Mr Cameron’s enemies within are absolutely correct that this was a big failure, but they are quite wrong when they go on to say it was because he did not offer enough right wing meat to the voters. The party tried that in 2001 and 2005. In 2001, after four years of Labour government, the Tories made a net gain of just one seat. In 2005, after eight years of Labour and the Iraq war, the Tories made a net gain of less than 1% in the share of vote. There has been some fascinating analysis of voters who thought about voting Conservative in 2010 but in the end didn’t. The conclusion from these studies is that swing voters were unpersuaded by the Tories not because they were insufficiently right wing, but because they were not detoxified enough. Mr Cameron is now paying the price for that.

The “detoxification” cliché

 Rawnsley doesn’t need to spell it in full. The poison in the Tory blood will be evident again next week.

We learn — depending on your source — that 130 or even 180 Tories will vote against the gay marriage bill. That’s more than half the non-payroll vote, even half the parliamentary party.

To what end?

The bill will pass. Nobody outside a small group of the politically-committed will notice the passing. Tim Montgomerie gets that one:

There’s lots of nonsense emanating from certain pollsters, notably ComRes, about gay marriage having a disastrous impact on Tory fortunes. YouGov’s Joe Twyman has Tweeted an important link which shows that the effect might well be negative in the short-term but that – AT WORST – it will reduce the Tory vote from about its current 34% to 33%…

Joe’s numbers don’t account for the generational issue. Younger voters really cannot understand the opposition to same-sex rights. The Conservative Party rebels on gay marriage are putting themselves on the wrong side of history.

As of now, the ConHome comments on that article run to some two gross: far too many are defiantly, aggressively the wrong side of the generational issue and the wrong side of history. Yes, many of those can be dismissed as the usual rants from UKIPpers and (by the sniff of it) escapees from the local tin tabernacle.

Then the mainstream Tory press is reporting a new grassroots campaign, and here things may be a bit more serious. Despite protestations:

… along with many faithful, local Conservatives, we have become increasingly concerned at the policy direction of the Party and the apparent rejection of cherished Conservative principles.

This appears, for now, to be a single-issue campaign:

We are particularly disappointed at the manner in which the leadership is seeking to push through the redefinition of marriage, squeezing out the debate, scrutiny and accountability that Conservatives so value. Yet we fear that this experience is symptomatic of a wider problem – of a leadership that is out of touch with its grassroots.

This campaign is mighty mysterious: no address, a mobile ‘phone number and contact only via an anonymous web-site. But that’s how guerrilla warriors work. A cynic might wonder if this is another front of that dubious Coalition for Marriage, or, if not, why a parallel fifth column was required.

No, Mr Cameron, your future is none too bright. Is it?

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Filed under Andrew Rawnsley, ConHome, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, folk music, Gender, Guardian, History, Homophobia, Observer, Theatre, Tories.

Was Malcolm’s suggestion #900?

Exactly a year ago, this blog was acknowledging the contribution John Rentoul has made to journalistic sanity, not least through his sequence of Questions To Which The Answer Is No.

It looks as if Rentoul finished 2012 at #898. Despite Rentoul’s constant and valid carping, the meme continues, and must be well over the #900 mark with its next updating.

When Malcolm hit upon’s contribution to the farrago, he had to post it to Rentoul’s blog. Students of the bizarre ought similarly to appreciate:


The original source of that, Pacific Standard, is a West Coast bimonthly, with an associated website. A casual flick through the contents suggests a useful trawl for Rentoul:

And so on …

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Mr and Mrs Smith, indeed

Here’s a good ‘un from the BBC site, stripping out a bit of detail from the 2011 Census:

Blackpool is the divorce capital

The Lancashire seaside resort has the highest percentage of people who are divorced – 13.1%, compared with the average for England and Wales of 9%. This also includes those whose same-sex civil partnership is dissolved.

Seaside resorts are often near the top of the divorce league – but no-one is really sure why.

classes-cultures-england-1918-1951-ross-mckibbin-paperback-cover-artWell, here’s a clue, from Ross McKibbin (crazee name, crazee guy — © Glenda Slagg, though sadly missing this issue):

Divorce, therefore, remained expensive, demanding and often sordid. Increasingly, those who were determined to divorce arranged for one of the partners, usually the husband, to be caught in a well-staged ‘adultery’ with a professional co-respondent in a hotel room [*]. This was not a practice the country could be proud of and the 1923 Act never satisfied most feminist groups, divorce law reformers, proponents of a more relaxed sexual morality, or even some churchmen.

The footnote there [*] reads:

Seaside resorts were favoured, particularly Brighton. Divorces procured this way came to be called ‘Brighton quickies’.

Malcolm adjudges Mr McKibbin there guilty of some remarkably-talented nudge-nudge, wink-wink innuendo.

The Brighton Museum actually (and this is from Slow Sussex, believe it or not):

celebrates the resort’s role as a venue for a dirty weekend. This famously was the place a couple could get ‘a Brighton quickie’ divorce. the husband would hire a private detective to observe him signing into a hotel, with a hired ‘mistress’ acting the part as ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’. A chambermaid would ever so accidentally open the door to see the couple, and the deed was done.

140Even more bizarrerie: the only reference to all these shenanigans in the Oxford English Dictionary takes us to Rodney Quest’s dubious The Cerberus Murders of 1969 and the other end of the country:

I get reasonably well paid—enough to enable me to … have a dirty weekend in Scarborough now and again.

Err … wrong decade (by at least three) and wrong location.

Why else was the Brighton Belle so busy — and charging ‘supplementary fares’  — on a Friday night?

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Browne study

Bishop Michael Browne of Galway would almost qualify as a “not-so-great and not-so-good” had not “Bill” done a previous, and better hatchet-job:

Michael Browne was catholic bishop of Galway in from 1937 to 1976 and seemed to exemplify everything that was wrong with the church… He was among those who led the hierarchy’s objections toNoël Browne’s mother and child health scheme. He supported a boycott of protestant businesses in Co. Wexford during a dispute over a protestant woman married to a catholic man who refused to educate her children at the local catholic school. He described Trinity College Dublin as “a centre for atheist and communist propaganda”. He forced the segregation of the sexes on Galway beaches. He seemed so perpetually angry that his episcopal signature — “† Michael” – was popularly rendered as “Cross Michael”. He supervised the construction of a grandiose new cathedral in Galway that local wits dubbed the “Taj Micheáil” (pronounced Meehaul).

That post also involves the late Brian Trevaskis, a perverse and interesting character who was a feature of TCD, overlapping Malcolm’s time.

{9D2643CF-FC87-4117-8002-F730D2E33175}Img100The Fethard-on-Sea business was nasty in the extreme, and contributed mightily to the sectarian prejudices of Northern Protestants well after the original episode. Tim Fanning’s The Fethard-on-Sea Boycott is probably the fullest account. A summary of the main events is on Gareth Russell’s blog.

Anyone of a fair mind (and even other) would surely recognise that Browne was off-piste in oh-so-many ways. Or, “The Irish bishop stands on ceremony and sits on everybody,”as Seán O Faoláin put it. However, let’s pass on all that.

Going through the motions

Once upon a shitty time, when Galway hadn’t made much effort to filter its effluents, that was the experience of swimming in Galway Bay. To be strictly honest, across the city and county, there remain ample opportunities for improving water-quality. In 2007 it was cryptosporidium. In 2008 it was levels of lead. In 2011 it was oily waste. In 2012, e-coli.

Anyway, allegedly Bishop Browne liked to swim. Unencumbered by swimming costume. And to air himself in the Galwegian sunshine thereafter. Doubtless among males of similar disposition. He had a sign put up on the beach at Salthill, prohibiting women therefrom.

Elsewhere Bishop Browne was very much against any mixing of the sexes, even clothed, on beaches:

“Everywhere has changed in my life time”, [Christie Moore] says. “I remember Galway winning three-in-a-row; the Bishop of Galway banning “mixed bathing” — the dirty minded bollocks; Des Kelly and The Capitol being Number 1 in The Irish Charts; when there was only one De Danann; Michael D presenting me with a platinum disc; Moving Hearts falling asunder in St.Patrick’s Hall, and reforming two hours later in The Skeff.”

Out of the strange came forth sweetness

170px-Lyle'sGoldenSyrupWhich isn’t quite how Judges 14:14 has it, nor (as is better known in every British kitchen to the present day) how it appears on the Tate & Lyle golden syrup tin. Yet it has a relevance here.

Bishop Browne’s prurience was the contrarian inspiration for an early Seamus Heaney poem, Girls Bathing, Galway 1965:

The swell foams where they float and crawl,
A catherine-wheel of arm and hand.
Each head bobs curtly as a football.
The yelps are faint here on the strand.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
Miraculous on this western shore;
A pirate queen in battle clothes
Is our sterner myth. The breakers pour

Themselves into themselves, the years
Shuttle through space invisibly.
Where crests unfurl like creamy beer
The queen’s clothes melt into the sea

And generations sighing in
The salt suds where the wave has crashed
Labour in fear of flesh and sin
For the time has been accomplished

As through the swallows in swimsuits,
Brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed
They wade ashore with skips and shouts.
So Venus comes, matter-of-fact.

That now appears by the Galway Bay Hotel, opposite the beach — still ‘the Ladies’ Beach’ — on the Salthill Promenade, one of half-a-dozen bronze plaques celebrating poems along the Cúirt Literary Trail.

The poem seems  superficially a slight thing, almost a piece of juvenilia. That’s Heaney’s deception: it anticipates so much of what Heaney’s later work would become. It is highly complex in its allusions and, appropriately in this context, in its undertow.

The incident is, on one level, from Marie and Seamus’s honeymoon.

The form is almost a ballad: quatrains of four-stresses to the line. There is the characteristic Heaney conflation of past and present, the classic and the work-a-day: So Venus comes, matter-of-fact. The implied visual references include Botticelli’s Nascita di Venere and St Catherine with her wheel: that, along with in fear of flesh and sin, must imply continuing martyring of women in Browne’s gynophobia.

Strange meeting

Grace and ElizabethThere is is the nod to Irish tradition and history: the pirate queen in battle clothes is Gráinne Ní Mháille/Grace O’Malley/Granuaile/The Sea-Queen of Connacht.

Gráinne, another woman of strength, is depicted in the frontispiece to Anthologia Hibernica, no humble suppliant. She had been summoned  in  September 1593, to Greenwich to  encounter Elizabeth I. The Queen acquiesced with all of Grace’s demands — to the profound disgust of Richard Bingham, Lord President of Connacht, who regarded her as nurse to all rebellions in the province for this forty years.

All that without the implicit physical sexuality: Brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed.

Bishop Browne knew not what he had provoked.

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