Category Archives: Steve Bell

A knot of Toad’s (sic)


Be patient! All will be explained!

Malcolm, when he became a man, failed to fulfil St Paul’s (and Sosthenes‘) injunction (I Corinthians 13:11) to put away childish things. Hence he continues to indulge in unsuitable literary fictions, squibs and satires, model railways, and daftnesses such as the cartographic graphophilia we had yesterday.

Some more of the same

Today’s Independent has it that one of the Head Lars [The tutelary deities of a house; household gods: OED, from Roman mythology] of English education has taken the hump against our Secretary of State for Education:

Education Secretary Michael’s Gove’s exam reform will “wreck” the English education system, the head of admissions to Oxford University warned yesterday.

Mike Nicholson told a conference in London that reforms to A-levels were “another great example of the Government’s tendency to meddle in things they should probably really leave alone”.

Mr Nicholson added that there was “widespread concern – not restricted to the secondary sector but also higher education” to push ahead with reforms to GCSEs and A-levels at the same time, adding: “The impact of bringing in both is going to just wreck the English education system.”

He added that plans to make the AS-level exam a standalone qualification would have “tragic consequences” for efforts to increase the participation of disadvantaged students at university.

Despite the Indy’s claim that Mr Nicholson’s comment will be a blow to Mr Gove, one severely doubts that Gove will be greatly discomfited by this. He has an infinite capacity, even a perverse intent, to épater le bourgeois, especially the cohorts of educational professionals thereof. Such are derided, apparently, in government as “The Blob”:

In the eponymous 1958 film, The Blob was a protean jelly-like alien that terrorised a small Pennsylvanian town. Indescribable, indestructible and seemingly unstoppable, it consumed everything in its path as it grew and grew. Until, that is, the overblown amoeba got its comeuppance at the hands of Steve McQueen. The Blob entered the political lexicon in the mid-1980s, adopted by William Bennett, education secretary in the Reagan administration, as a term to describe the amorphous coalition of a bloated education bureaucracy, teacher unions and education research establishment that Bennett argued always obstructs or stifles school reform. After his resignation from Ofsted a decade ago, Chris Woodhead began to warn that British education was menaced by a Blob of its own, every bit as slimy, ruthless and voracious as the American original.

Well, of course, if Woodhead — educational resilient, Murdoch pet, and holder of advanced views on pupil-teacher relations — says so, it must be true.

On the other hand …

If that defines the mainstream of educational thinking (and practice), how do we type-cast Gove?

Let’s refer to the other (third oldest?, in view of those cave-painters whom, it transpires, were largely … shudder!women) profession — that of image-makers and cartoonists.

Many have Gove as the archetypal schoolboy — most elaborately by Chris Riddell for The Observer:

Riddell's Gove

Steve Bell takes the Govian pout and extends it into a full-blown bill:


Hmmm … Malcolm rather takes to ducks, as they do to water. They are harmless (if messy, especially in and around York University’s Halls of Residence — and York used to brag the highest “duck quotient” of any). They amuse. As on the riverside terrace at the Trout at Wolvercote, their quacking is a pleasant accompaniment to a sunny summer’s Sunday pub-lunch.


For Malcolm, then, Gove is far too devious, opinionated, ruthless, destructive, political to be duck-like. So, sorry, Steve Bell.

Non anas, sed anura!

That’s your actual Latin, says Sandy. Or Julian.

Any government tends to be determinist, overbearing, authoritarian, to “know best”. This one, especially the majority Tories, exceeds the mark. All authorities, experts, experience, history and precedents have to be scorned with sado-Osbornomics, HS2, climate-change, decanting the over-housed into non-existent smaller properties, inflating the biggest property bubble yet, handing out contracts willy-nilly to Serco, Crapita, G4S and other serial offenders, fighting unwinnable wars (against “terror”, drugs, whatever).

And the most arrogant, presumptuous, imperious of the lot is Gove. His neo-Con attitudes are alleged to have spited the formidable William Hague, who seems to refer to the Education Department as “the Foreign Office across the street”. He went, as one account more gutter-sniping than the BBC would have it “apeshit“, when the Commons backed off from a Syrian involvement.

Remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything 

That seems to be from Captain William Winde (1642-1722), architect of what was there before Buckingham Palace, and the earliest version of the Oliver Cromwell remark to Sir Peter Lely.

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education,

Thanks to Mike Nicholson (see top of this post), there is now a neat, literary and Oxonian parallel for Gove:

‘ … Ho, ho! I am The Toad, the handsome, the popular, the successful Toad!’ He got so puffed up with conceit that he made up a song as he walked in praise of himself, and sang it at the top of his voice, though there was no one to hear it but him. It was perhaps the most conceited song that any animal ever composed.

The world has held great Heroes,
As history-books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared with that of Toad!

The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr. Toad!

Finally, our title for today: the collective for a group of toads is a “knot”.

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., education, Independent, Literature, Michael Gove, Observer, pubs, Quotations, reading, Steve Bell

The end of Swiveleyesation as we know it?

Another magnificent coinage by the great Steve Bell:

Steve Bell 21.05.2013

Yesterday Malcolm was attempting to find some kind of historical context — or, failing that, the comedy of errors — which has led to the present Great Tory Bad-Hair Day.

Today Benedict Brogan writes his Morning Briefing for the Telegraph blogs, and sweepingly assumes it’s all water down the sink. Happy Days are Hair Again. The skies above are clear again. So we’ll sing a song of cheer again:

Well, almost:

Cast your eyes along the waterfront this morning after the night before and you might conclude that things are fairly dire for Dave. He’s suffered another major rebellion (I know, I know it was a free vote, but he still failed to persuade his colleagues to follow his lead), there’s lashings of backbiting, and he’s been reduced to sending a pleading ‘Dear Mr Loon, I still love you’ letter to his members, something even American commentators have picked up on as a bad look. Nick Watt, a keen reader of Tory runes, spots a sea-change in attitudes to Dave among MPs and raises the prospect of a move against him in The Guardian, with more letters going in to Graham Brady. As I mention in my column, grown ups inside No10 realise that they are stuck with a number of what they refer to as ‘legacy issues’, from not winning the 2010 election to the gay marriage idea.

200px-Candide1759The rest of Brogan’s musings stretch for, but don’t quite reach a Panglossian optimum:

Much of what has excited us in recent weeks will have passed the voters by, and after tonight’s vote gay marriage will be on its way to becoming law, and passing out of the current political debate. With the economy slowly improving and Labour wallowing, the Tories surely should be able to claw themselves off the rocks. This will require a fair wind, and a commitment by Mr Cameron and those around him to sharpen up. It also means not surrendering to the bullying disguised as advice from those agitating against Dave, whether it’s David Davis or Lord Ashcroft. The recess starts today, a good opportunity for everyone to calm down and for the PM to have a think about how he organises himself from now on.

[For the record, Voltaire in 1759 is parodying Leibnitz of 1698: not many people know that.]

Legacy issues

Such was the vein into which history-mining Malcolm was driving his shaft with yesterday’s piece. Let us then consider what rich ore Brogan has found:

Gay marriage served as a stark reminder of just how far removed Dave’s world view often seems from his troops. As The Guardian notes, the inter-generational divisions in the Tory party were particularly stark. Sir Gerald Howarth, the former defence minister last year knighted on the PM’s advice, warned in yesterday’s debate of an “aggressive homosexual community” in the country. Edward Leigh lamented that the “outlandish views of the loony left of the 1980s” had become “embedded in high places”.

Really? Really! It’s all those gays? Hardly!

Brogan concludes by passing us and the tar-baby onto Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. Ganesh asserts it’s 2010 and All That:

… the election that should detain David Cameron is the last one. The prime minister’s estrangement from his party has many causes – the inexhaustibly vexed question of Europe, the same-sex marriage bill he takes to Parliament this week – but the rancour really set in with his failure to win in 2010. This original sin led to coalition with the Liberal Democrats, a political miscegenation that turns Tory stomachs, and broke the unspoken covenant that allows a leader to be as autocratic as he likes as long he delivers. Last week, a prime ministerial ally was reported to have disparaged the party’s grassroots as “swivel-eyed loons”. “Arrogant losers” tends to be the rejoinder.

Ganesh then reprises the course of the 2010 Tory election campaign, concluding:

For all the campaign’s haplessness, the Tories ended it with roughly the same poll lead over Labour as they began it. Mr Cameron was still preferred by voters to his party. The campaign was a non-event, as they usually are. The real reason for the Tories’ failure had more to do with the economic insecurity that nagged at voters when shown blueprints for austerity by a party they already mistrusted. That the economy was slithering out of recession at the same time hardened their risk aversion. Fiscal clarity made for bad short-term politics, and yet the blame has somehow gone to other, softer aspects of the Tory offering.

The Conservatives did not fail because they were seen as high-minded metropolitans, but because they were too redolent of the same old Tories. They had changed too little, not too much. The people who should have been vindicated by 2010 were the modernisers. But their chronic passivity, their lordly distaste for a fight, has allowed a misremembered version of that election to become the definitive history. This is undermining Mr Cameron and shaping a future in which only the ideologically orthodox can lead the Tories.

That is indeed the “high-quality journalism” that the FT prudently reminds low-life, thieving types (like Malcolm, shamelessly ripping of those extracts) needs paying for. [Again, for the record, Malcolm happily pays for the print edition, especially at weekends, if only to pre-empt what he knows the Sundays will regurgitate as original thought.]

Two small details (1):

Those televised debates (and Cameron’s foolish participation in televised debates that he flunked) really screwed up the opinion polls. In a different context (to which we may come in a moment), Malcolm was reviewing just how the 2010 polling went. The answer is not very well:

2010 polling

Got that? The main impact of the televised debates was to flatter the LibDem vote by anything between 3% and 6% (which amounts to gross “data artifact“), while under-rating Tory support just slightly, and Labour’s quite significantly. One might feel that Cameron & co. have been blinded by those errors ever since.

Two small details (2):

On their perception of the election result, and of the “reliability” of the LibDems, the Cameron & co. “modernisers” entered their Mephistophelean pact with Clegg & co. — two capitalist combines monopolising the market for their short-term profit. Let’s have another 18th-century great intellect’s view on that:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (see page 111 in this e-text)

An alternative history

Wind back to Friday, 7th May, 2010, with the last of the 649 results coming in (the 650th, a safe Tory seat — Thirsk and Malton, was delayed by the death of a candidate). This is what we saw:

  • Tories: 305 (and bound to be 306);
  • Labour: 258, plus Caroline Lucas, the Green for Brighton Pavilion, and Sylvia Herman, likely to attend infrequently but then vote with Labour (so call it around 260);
  • Lib Dems: 57, plus Naomi Long for Alliance in East Belfast (so 58 at a pinch);
  • DUP: 8;
  • SNP: 6;
  • SDLP, Plaid Cymru: 3 apiece.

The Speaker is neutral, though votes for the government in a tie, and Sinn Féin are non-attenders (so, n=650-6). A cynical calculation is the cash-strapped sand bruised Labour and LibDem contingents aren’t too keen on a quick re-run; but, more to the point, there are at least a score of odds-and-sods turkeys there who can’t afford to vote for Christmas (sayn n=650-26). The most basic “working majority” would be, in practice, well short of the nominal 326 (the calculation above suggests 312 at most)— and Dave’s Tories are within a spit of just that.

So, in the short term, Dave’s Tories could talk the talk, cobble a “confidence and supply” arrangement with even the DUP (306+8=314), and walk the walk through until a second election in the autumn. By which moment Tory coffers, uniquely among the main operators, would be topped up by the grateful and expectant clique of bond-traders and hedge-funders.

A second election, please note, that could have been contrived by losing a vote of confidence on some populist issue (immigration?). A second election, too, in which the Tory economic record would be buffed up by the tail-end of Alistair Darling’s economics (it was only in the autumn of 2010, thanks to Osborne’s austerity, that the UK economy went into flat-lining).

In short, had Cameron done the right thing, the Tory thing, he would now likely be sitting on a secure Tory majority, and figuring his way to calling the next election at his choosing, on his terms, and not on those of the LibDem dictated Fixed-term Parliaments Act. He would also have enjoyed the benefits of a greater patronage for Tory backbench nonentities, not having to service the self-esteem of LibDem nonentities.

All the Tory back-benchers, and the wannabes out in the cold have done that math. The iron has entered their souls.

One last thing

We were looking there at how the polling companies had cocked it up. Enter the new-boy on the block, Survation. Ben Brogan (see above) gave that a nod in passing:
The fightback could just start here. Though from a low base if you believe a new Survation poll in The Guardian. It has the Tories down to 24 pc – just two points above Ukip.

Look closer, and we find The Guardian, doesn’t give Survation more than the time of day.

Andrew Sparrow counters with the YouGov/Sun numbers:

Last night Survation released a poll showing the Tories just two points ahead of Ukip.

Here are the figures.
Labour: 39% (down 1 from YouGov in the Sunday Times)
Conservatives: 31% (up 2)
Ukip: 14% (no change)
Lib Dems: 10% (up 1)
Labour lead: 8 points (down 3)
Government approval: -34 (up 5)

Finally, let’s hear it from Anthony Wells (whose shock-factor is also set to minimum):

Survation have put out a new poll, the topline voting intention figures are CON 24%(-5), LAB 35%(-1), LD 11%(-1), UKIP 22%(+6). The 22% for UKIP is the first poll to show them breaking the twenty percent mark.
In many ways the high UKIP score here shouldn’t come as a surprise, for methodological reasons Survation tend to show the highest levels of UKIP support so if ICM have them at 18% and ComRes at 19% I would have expected Survation to have them in the low twenties. Striking it may be, but the increase in UKIP support is actually in line with what weve seen elsewhere, just using a method that is kinder to UKIP.
More interesting is the drop in Tory support, down five points on Survation’s poll in April. The poll was conducted on Friday and Saturday so at least partially after the “swivel eyed loon” story broke (it came out in Saturday’s papers, so broke about 10pm on Friday night). All the usual caveats I apply to any poll showing sharp or unusual results apply. Sure, it might indicate a shift in support, but just as likely its a blip – wait to see if it is reflected in any other polling. As Twyman’s Law of market research says “anything surprising or interesting is probably wrong”.

As Wells implies, there, swallowing Survation might not produce the glorious summer the Kippers expect. More likely, “up like the rocket, and down like the stick”: UKIP is hardly the best-presented pyrotechnic in the box.

Swiveleyesation may endure yet.

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Filed under Alistair Darling, Autumn, BBC, blogging, Britain, Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, democracy, DUP, economy, Elections, fiction, George Osborne, Green Party, Guardian, History, Homophobia, Literature, policing, polls, Steve Bell, Tories.

“Welfare tax”?

Go to the BBC video of yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

Enjoy Miliband winding up Cameron on the Bedroom Tax.

Remember: in Cameron’s world, it’s not a “tax”, it’s a “benefit”. That was his effort, responding to Miliband’s first question. What is the “benefit” of losing £25 a week? That was enough to shock Malcolm — and got to Steve Bell as well:

Steve Bell 7.2.2013

Indeed the crude brutishness of Cameron’s manner made Malcolm miscue. So back to the BBC video.

The crucial moment comes about 7 minutes and 15 seconds in. Cameron is waxing loud and lyrical about Miliband’s policy deficiencies (though why Labour needs to be lumbered with detailed policy commitments this far out from a fixed election date is another matter).

Malcolm believed he heard Cameron say:

What this Government is doing is building more houses and controlling welfare bills. But, frankly, the question is one he has to answer, too. If he opposes the welfare tax, if he opposes restrictions on increased welfare, if he opposes reform of disability benefit, if he opposes each and every welfare change we make, how on earth is he going to get control of public spending.

What the Hansard reporter heard (or was persuaded was said) is subtly different:

The Prime Minister: What this Government are doing is building more houses and controlling welfare bills. Frankly, the question is one that the right hon. Gentleman has to answer, too. If he opposes the welfare cap, if he opposes restrictions on increased welfare, if he opposes reform of disability benefits and if he opposes each and every welfare change we make, how on earth is he going to get control of public spending?

Fair enough: on about the third hearing, Malcolm concedes Hansard is probably right, and Malcolm’s hearing is adrift. Still, the message lingers.

What is fiendishly wrong here is that people in social housing are being punished for disability, or for wanting to stay in long-established homes. They are also being caned because:

  • wages are criminally low, and are being driven even lower by deliberate government policies;
  • rents in the private sector are too high, and still rising.

Let’s take those in turn, and refer to two items in this current issue of Private Eye:

1. Giz a job

SURF, Scotland’s independent regeneration group, which aims to improve health and wellbeing in deprived areas, received 400 applications in response to an advert for a part-time admin job. Chief Executive Andy Milne also received an email from the folk at Liga UK, who were keen to let him know that they were a “government-funded training provider who help young people gety into the workplace”.

Liga helpfully suggested that Milne consider converting the paid job into an “apprenticeship” placement. After all, it suggested, “If you do take on an apprentice for this role, you only need to pay them £100-£270 per week.” Liga UK also offered a further inducement of the £1,500 placement fee from the government.

What Ligaq failed to mention was that if SURF agreed to shove the poor recruit out of the promised job, Liga could also claim an apprenticeship placement “success” and pick up its own fee. Milne asked Liga why on earth the government would want it to displace a real job with an apprenticeship. He is still waiting for an answer.

By no coincidence, just a week ago Channel 4’s FactCheck Blog ran the rule over:

… the latest stats on apprenticeships in England today, which show that more than half a million people began a placement in 2011/12.

That is costing the government (i.e. the tax-payer) around £1.4 billion — yes, billion — in 2011-12. Moreover, nearly a fifth of these placements run for six months or less. Such turn-over must be money in the bank for the likes of Liga. Moreover, as FactCheck adds:

… a few months spent learning how to stack shelves and a three-and-a-half year stint at Rolls-Royce both count as the same.

2. Gimme Shelter 

Welfare reforms brought in by the coalition were already bringing down rents, said a confident David Cameron in January last year. “What we have seen so far, as housing benefit has been reformed and reduced, is that rent levels have come down, so we have stopped ripping off the taxpayer.”

But have they come down? It seemed unlikely at the time, although it reflected a widespread belief in government that the local housing allowance (the form of housing benefit paid to private renters) was somehow causing rent inflation.

A year on, and with more housing benefit cuts due in April, rents are stubbornly refusing to go anywhere but up. A report from Shelter based on the government’s Valuation Office Agency figures says rents have risen 2.8 percent in the past year. That’s faster than the 1.7 percent rise in house prices and comes at a time when wages are at a standstill.

Several areas saw double-digit rises, including an eye-watering 10.8 percent in one local authority with which Cameron should be fa,iliad: West Oxfordshire, home to his Witney constituency.

This Shelter survey, The Rent Trap, is on-line. It covers only English local authority areas (as, indeed, does the Tory party’s world-view).

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Filed under Comment is Free, Conservative family values, David Cameron, economy, Ed Miliband, House-prices, Private Eye, Scotland, social class, Steve Bell, Tories.

Travesties of Richard III

In his media blog, Roy Greenslade had a frolic, ticking off (in both senses):

Newspaper columnists found the coincidence between the downfall of Chris Huhne and the disinterment of Richard III too good a coincidence to ignore.

He listed:

That under the headline, itself a direct lift from Freedland:

Chris Huhne’s downfall heralds a winter of discontent, say newspapers

He could have added many, may more, including Peter Brookes being busy, busy in The Times:


It’s how they draw it

Suddenly there is a re-discovery that Richard of Gloucester suffered as did Jessica Rabbit:

I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.

UnknownThose of us who chewed our way through Paul Murray Kendall‘s biography, still in print but originally published in the mid-1960s (the copy on the Redfellow Hovel shelves arrived through marriage to the Lady in Malcolm’s Life, soon after), are not surprised by the re-appraisal.

Kendall achieved a small literary sensation with that book. Yet, it wasn’t ‘revolutionary’ among medieval historians — or even Shakespearean critics. Shakespeare’s immediate sources for his history plays (we’ll come back to those in a while) were:

  • Edward Hall, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke (1548);
  • The Third Volume of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587);
  • The Mirour for Magistrates (1587).

Each of those “borrowed” from Thomas More’s hatchet-job, written between 1512 and 1519, buttering up to Henry VIII.

The_Daughter_of_Time_-_Josephine_TeyEven Kendall was long after Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, which came out in 1951 (and was much later the CWA‘s greatest mystery novel of all time). For all the brilliance of this novel, it in turn has a remarkable origin.

Sir Clements Markham

Young Markham, born of an ecclesiastical marriage (he a canon of Windsor, she the daughter of a Yorkshire baronet) joined the Royal Navy at the age of fourteen. That took him to the South American station, where he learned Spanish, and then to the Arctic search for Franklin. He passed for lieutenant, then left the Navy for adventure and exploration, with Peru and the Incas a lasting interest.

When his father died, he needed a regular income and joined the India Office. One of his missions was to bring seeds from Peru to India that quinine might be cultivated and produced in India and Ceylon. Then he set about building a department for geographical research (not as innocent and academic as it might sound) at the India Office.

His frequent (and unauthorised) absences from the India Office took him to Abyssinia and the Arctic, and led to his forced retirement. he was already deeply involved in the Royal Geographical Society. This commitment meant, later, he was a prime mover in the Antarctic expedition of 1901-4. Indeed, it was his insistence on a navy man, rather than a scientist, that put Robert Falcon Scott in command (and he arranged the relief vessels that brought the expedition home). His reward was Scott naming Mount Markham.

All that is incidental, but establishes Markham’s credentials.

Since had been involved in something of a spat with historian James Gairdner, over Gairdner’s 1878 History of the Life and Reign of Richard the Third. In  1906 Markham responded with his own thoroughly-researched Richard III, His Life and Character, seeking to establish that Richard of Gloucester was a maligned and misunderstood man. This, then, was the prime source for Josephine Tey’s novel.

The Shakespearean connection

First up, Richard III is an early play. It is generally dated at 1592, and needs to be seen at the end-piece of the “First Tetralogy”, after the three parts of that dreary apprentice-work, Henry VI. It’s a history play, not a tragedy — and even further from the mature tragedies Shakespeare knocked out a decade later. It owes a lot to the bombast of Christopher Marlowe, whose Edward II (probably of 1593) then showed Shakespeare how it ought to have been done, and so changed the English chronicle play into something more solid and coherent.

When all the misquotations and false connections between the play and the exhumation of these skeletal remains have been exhausted, perhaps someone other than Malcolm may find time to muse on whether Shakespeare later regretted his grotesque Richard.

Henry IV (both parts) — not Henry VII, please note, has a shadowy King Henry tormented by the way he came by the throne from Richard II. As he may well have been; but it’s in the context of the moment (compare Hamlet) and Shakespeare’s persistent interest in the morality of regicide — George Buchanan, Scots poet and philosopher, but also tutor to James VI and I, deserves consideration here. When we reach the end of the Second Tetralogy, Henry V has a prayer, the night before Agincourt:

Not to-day, O Lord,
O, not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!
I Richard’s body have interred anew;
And on it have bestow’d more contrite tears
Than from it issued forced drops of blood:
Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay,
Who twice a-day their wither’d hands hold up
Toward heaven, to pardon blood; and I have built
Two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests
Sing still for Richard’s soul. More will I do;
Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after all,
Imploring pardon.

And so to the car-park

After Bosworth Field, the Franciscan Friars of Leicester took possession of Richard III’s body. Polydor Vergil, Henry VII’s official ‘Historian’, tells that Richard was buryed two days after [presumably 25 August, 1485] without any pompe or solemn funerall … in the abbay of monks Franciscanes at Leycester. In summer 1495 Henry VII had a tomb and monument built in the abbey choir: Walter Hylton, a Nottingham worker in alabaster, got £50for the job.

In 1538 the Greyfriars of Leicester were closed down, and bits of the abbey were either sold off, pilfered, or left to decay. Robert Herrick (yes,indeed: same lot) later bought the land and had a house built on the site. When Christopher Wren (no, not him, but his dad) came a-calling in 1612, he saw the memorial Herrick had erected:

a handsome stone pillar, three foot high, bearing the inscription Here lies the body of Richard III, some time King of England.

After that came the legends, including the plaque on Bow Bridge, set up by a local builder, Ben Broadbent, in 1856.

After which, with urban redevelopment, slum-clearance and the various monstrosities local authorities impose on the landscape, Richard’s supposed burial site disappeared under the tarmac.

And now [1]?

We have an incomplete skeleton. Carbon dating suggests late 15th/early 16th century. The DNA narrows it to 1% of the population — which still leaves considerable doubt. There is the spinal curvature, which could connect to the anecdotes of Richard’s reported deformity (of which there was a lot about in those days). There is the location, none too distant from Market Bosworth. A lot of coincidence and circumstantial evidence; but it needs an imaginative leap to “this is Richard III”. That’s what Mary Beard means by I want not just a story, but a validated story.

And now [2]?

Steve Bell’s cartoon for The Guardian had a take, different and refreshing to the usual (for which, see Brookes of The Times, above):

05.02.13: Steve Bell on Gordon Brown's legacy

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Filed under Guardian, History, Shakespeare, Steve Bell, Times

And treat those two impostors just the same

OK: that one started with those reports of Cameron and Clegg posturing, and imposturing at the CNH tractor plant at Basildon.

The photographers, out on the jolly, seemed to take pleasure in capturing very odd body language (example, right), while the columnists were just out for a laugh, The Guardian‘s Michael White as much as anyone:

Almost exactly two years after their fateful tryst in the Downing Street rose garden, David Cameron and Nick Clegg are sick and tired of people likening their coalition knee-trembler to a marriage. Politically speaking, they’re not even engaged. And, if they were, they’d be dividing up the CDs after last week’s election battering.

Where better to shake off the taint of matrimonial metaphor and renew their alliance on a more business-like footing than in Basildon? No one goes on honeymoon to Basildon. Southend perhaps, but not to the 60s new town, home patch of the legendary reality TV show, The Only Way is Essex. So Essex it was.

Just to be on the safe side and eradicate the last vestigial scent of the rose garden romance (how could they have behaved that way on a first date?), their minders dispatched the pair to the thriving, Fiat-owned New Holland factory where they assemble 26,000 tractors a year, mostly for export. If only all Britain could be like this!

The macho, male-dominated backdrop thus provided for the Cameron-Clegg anniversary speeches, plus Q&A, was strangely evocative of the Soviet era of heroic five-year tractor plans and targets regularly smashed, at least on paper.

Ann Treneman, in the new “Dave-not-so-friendly” Times [£], was up for the odd zinger, too:

A mere two years ago Dave and Nick strolled down the garden path, birds singing, sun shining, bees buzzing. I suppose the danger signs were there last year when they spent their first anniversary at the handball arena in the Olympic Park. But tractors?

Next year, who knows? Maybe it will be an abattoir.

The award for Murdochian butchery, though, must go to Michael Savage’s twitter message:

The tractor factory Cam and Clegg are visiting appears to make Big Blue tractors that pull little yellow trailers…

Another dimension of If

Joy, indeed, to find old-friends back among the strips in The Guardian. Steve Bell has brought back Seaman Kipling, apparently for the Falklands anniversary:

The penguins can never be far away — another of Bell’s inspired creations.

No Bell artefact could possibly be cute and cuddly. His penguins are not the photogenics featured by the London Zoo. They have teeth. They bite. As did Professor Pongoo, who ran fifth (behind two assorted Hendersons and a couple of Tories  — by the way, it looks as if the Scottish Tories haven’t quite got the hand of this transferable vote business) in the Edinburgh Pentland Hills Ward. As is widely reported and commented upon, Pongoo was well ahead of the LibDem. Which is one of the two “astonishing statistics” about that Ward: the other is that all but fifty of eight thousand ballots cast were deemed “valid votes”. The strong temptation must have been to scrawl Trams!, and leave it at that— one issue above all else did for any hope the Edinburgh LibDems had, as well as for any vestige of a competent reputation. What doesn’t get so noted in the reports is that Pongoo also bit off the Green candidate. That ought to be worthy of note, for the Greens in Scotland are pro-SNP referendum, and had a working relationship with the SNP in the 2007 Assembly, so have some claim to be a “national” party.

One last thought

For now, at any rate.

There’s a lot of imposturing pretence in politics at any time. With the revelations we are promised from Leveson, courtesy of Mrs Brooks and Coulson, there’s rather more than usual this week.

For all the palaver over the Queen’s Speech, it took much padding to get it to stretch out over a mauvais quart d’heure.

So, back to Kipling and If.

We are blaming it on you, Cameron and Clegg. Even among your own, many doubt you. You have, most assuredly, dealt in lies. As Peter Cruddas crudely expounded, some men, those laden with lucre, clearly count with you … too much. You walked and talked, and rode, with Murdoch’s, and — with that and the 50p tax rate — were seen to lose the common touch. You can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of twaddle and distortion. You certainly don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.

Your reward: even the Bookies are giving odds that that Labour will be the biggest party after the next Election.

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(A long way) after Fra Angelico

Guido (not that one, silly!) di Pietro had serial goes at the Annunciation. In his adult life he was Brother John from Fiesole — because Fiesole was where he took his Dominican vows. Flash forward a century and Vasari added “the Angelic” bit. Add in another four centuries or so, and he’s become “the Blessed”.

It was just as well the Blessed Fra Giovanni da Fiesoli Angelico (serial Californian divorcees get off lighter) hadn’t screen-printing as a medium. We’d be knee-deep in Annunciations and Crucifixions. As Malcolm muttered, after an extended Florentine traipse around the Accademia and the Uffizi on successive days, “you can have too much of a good thing”.

However, this is the one we all remember:

It’s in the Diocesan Museum at Cortona. It’s a big one (some two yards each way). And it’s one where Gabriel looks almost aero-spatially possible.

So why is Malcolm doing Fra Angelico? Has he become seasonal, and gooey? Nah!

It’s Steve Bell’s cruel take on the thing:

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Squits?  Or, should you prefer, squitters. Is there a more appropriate term? Does it need explanation?

Aside the first:

Keith Skipper, once of Beeston (near Dereham) and lately of Cromer, has made something of a trade-mark of the term (as left). It is a raw material, a fundamental effluent, for his Eastern Daily Press columns. His Friends of Norfolk Dialect and other activities warrant more recognition than the MBE he was awarded.

Furreners (i.e. anyone born ten miles away from wherever in Norfolk one lives, but especially the benighted many who originate beyond the Waveney and Ouse) may scorn the Norfolk dialect. Fortunately it has a learned champion: Norwich-born ornament to the University of Lausanne, Peter Trudgill. Trudgill once wrote a seminal paper on the correct way to represent “bootiful” in standard orthography.

Let’s see if WordPress is up to capturing the true, the blushful Hippocrene —

Keith Skipper speaks

Running wild

In Malcolm’s North Norfolk youth “the squits” was a common (ambiguous, but both accurate) term for the affliction. Any childish fidgets were liable to be met with: “Wha’s up wi’ you, bor? Got the squitters?” An older Malcolm, with a book in a pub, would likely be greeted by a casual acquaintance: “Wha’s thet squit yar readin’ there?”

This, though, is a term of venerable history, which Malcolm will proceed to divulge.

It’s even in the ultimate authority, the Oxford English Dictionary:

It also appears in its variant:

Rambling through the OED it is good a diversion as any. It never fails to be profitable. As there. The last of those citations (and there are three more, not shown here, terminating in royally-related approval of the word by Lord Harewood in 1981) locates the word in Suffolk dialect. In a form which has remained unchanged since its original Viking import.

Interesting, too, that the word became a more modern metaphor used by radar-operators, which is also recorded by the painstaking OED.

Back, for a moment, to those citations. The OED has no fewer than two dozen other citations attributed to that “A. D’Anvers” and his her Academia of 1691:

The good Mrs D’Anvers, in this citation, shows that in the late seventeenth century the modern Dubliner’s “feck off” was more widely employed.

At which psychological moment, we need a Malcolmian aside:

Numerous commentators mine the rich ore of Hibernicisms in hope of proving a variety of political half-truths about national stereotypes. Joyce got there before them in the extended parable of the tundish (see Chapter five of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Stephen Dedalus has this extended conversation with the dean, the English convert … a poor Englishman in Ireland. What the dean calls a “funnel” Stephen declares to be called a tundish in Lower Drumcondra … where they speak the best English.

It later transpires that, predictably, tundish is no Hibernicism, but has a perfectly respectable English heritage. The dean is, reputedly, a portrait of Gerald Manley Hopkins.

Horsing around

Malcolm has a theory that the difference between the two East Anglian folk (Nor— and Suf—) is that the Norfolkman has a habit of substituting “qu” for other hard consonants — hence a “quant” is elsewhere a “punt”. The OED has a perverse notion that the qu substitution derives from some medieval scholarly penmanship. As if.

Digging round the word “quaint” produces some particularly-remarkable findings. Try line 615 of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue (though that text uses the euphemism not used in the Oxford manuscript  — a euphemism for a euphemism, no less).

Back to the drainage

The squits problem has produced an infinite variety of expressions. All suggest (cf: French pox  — which is first cited by the OED from thePrivy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York, in 1503) that such difficulties are of foreign origin.

How shall I loathe thee?

Let Malcolm count the ways:

Gippy timmy; Delhi belly, Montezuma’s revenge; the Turkey trots; the Cairo two-step; the Karachi crouch; the Turistas; the backpacker’s unpacker, the hersey squirts, the Navajo spackle job … continue ad infinitum.

Above all, it is something we get from them.

So, quite organically (sic) the German authorities naturally assumed their recent outbreak was from Spanish cucumbers. Which did wonders for the Spanish export trade, and provided Steve Bell with his theme for this week’s If column:

One conclusion: 

The relationship between homo sapiens and Escherichia coli is universal and enduring. And the Germans might ponder on the origin of he who gave it to us:

The career of Theodor Escherich (1857–1911) qualifies him as the first pediatric infectious diseases physician. His landmark bacteriologic studies identified the common colon bacillus (now known as Escherichia coli), and he was very committed to pediatrics, serving as chairman of several prominent departments of pediatrics, including the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vienna and St. Anna’s Children’s Hospital in Vienna, Austria, arguably Europe’s most prestigious pediatric position.

… it may be somewhat arbitrary to identify a specific individual to be considered to be the first bona fide pediatric infectious diseases physician. In this article, we define applicable criteria and argue that such an individual can be identified—the Austrian pediatrician Theodor Escherich.

So, it’s also the Viennese disease!

No cucumbers were harmed in the making of this blog-entry.

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