Category Archives: Penguins

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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Filed under Ann Treneman, Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, economy, Elections, Guardian, Labour Party, Lib Dems, Literature, Murdoch, Nick Clegg, Paul Waugh, Penguins, politics, Quotations, Rudyard Kipling, Scotland, Scottish Parliament, SNP, social class, Steve Bell, Times, Tories.

Bug-eyed monstrosity

Around the end of the First World War the sway of the British Empire extended over 13,010,000 square miles of land, more than a fifth of the Earth’s surface and of its population. The guys and girls of Sinn Féin (among others) were doing something about reducing that grasp.

To mark the dominion over palm and pine the King-Emperor George V instituted the Order of the British Empire, including the B.E.M.:

the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service (usually known as the British Empire Medal) was awarded in similar circumstances as the lower classes of the Order of the British Empire, but usually to people below management or professional level. In the uniformed services, it was awarded to non-commissioned officers of the armed forces, officers below superintendent rank in the police, and personnel below divisional officer level in the fire services.

Just the thing to mark the retirement of the long-serving bar steward at your local Conservative Club.

Today there is no “British Empire”. There remain fourteen “British Overseas Territories“: they amount to less than 740 square miles, plus the Falklands and South Georgia, and a nebulous claim to swathes of the Antarctic ice-cap. Total population: around a quarter of a million, excluding the Falklands sheep and lots of penguins — rather less than Wolverhampton, a few more than Aberdeen (though such places are notably and sadly deficient in penguins).

Eight of the fourteen are so speck-like they do not even rate a position in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. Surely the 3,000 Falkland Islanders could give the 4,655 of Monserrat a game?

Still, we have joyous news:

A medal for local heroes that was scrapped nearly 20 years ago as part of a bid to make the honours system “classless” is to be revived, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.

The British Empire Medal (BEM) will be awarded again from next year to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee…

Mr Cameron said: “I am delighted that we are going to start using the British Empire Medal again.

“The medal will be handed out in recognition of the dedication and hard work so many provide to their communities.”


Just when it seems we have run out of eccentric anachronisms, there is this:

The revived honour will again be bestowed on recipients by the lords lieutenant.

However, those awarded the BEM will be entitled to attend a Buckingham Palace garden party with others whose work has been recognised.

How naice to go to Buck House for a torrential summer rain-storm and recognise others whose work has been rcognised.

Great Galloping Panjandrums!

Now Malcolm is prepared to wager a small amount that the recognition factor for the local lord lieutenant ranks even lower than for MPs and local councillors. So, he had to look it up:

Lord-Lieutenants are responsible for the organisation of all official Royal visits to their county.

On the day of an engagement they escort the Royal visitor around the different locations – not simply The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, but any member of the Royal Family.

Lord-Lieutenants also carry out other duties in their county, such as the presentation of decorations (where the recipient is unable to attend an Investiture), The Queen’s Awards for Export and Technology, and Queen’s Scout and Queen’s Guide Awards.

Lord-Lieutenants are also responsible for ensuring that The Queen’s Private Office is kept informed about local issues relating to their area, particularly when a Royal visit is being planned.

Malcolm is lodging a complaint that the BBC website was guilty of lèse-majesté by failing to give the Lord-Lieutenants their proper capital letters and plural form.

Web-footed note

To complete a morning that out-reached the merely bizarre, Malcolm discovered that the British Antarctic Territory (population >50, and all transients) has its own coat of arms, complete with stately penguin. Irresistible, and so given recognition above.

However, BAT (these acronyms are telling us something) does not feature on the FIFA list either.

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Filed under BBC, Britain, broken society, David Cameron, History, Literature, Penguins, reading, Tories., underclass, working class

Ambler, Italian detectives, and other stories

A Dublin epiphany

Last week’s Times Literary Supplement had a piece, “Uneasy borders”, by Ian Thomson, celebrating the re-issue of Eric Ambler’s five great spy-thrillers.

In passing, the joy of the TES (apart from the crossword) is that it has a long shelf-date. The odd week or two in reaching the middle pages matters nary a whit.

The review reminded Malcolm of his joy, half-a-century gone and a capital city away, in discovering The Mask of Dimitrios. He rescued a tattered copy — as he recalls, old enough to have the original title of A Coffin for Dimitrios — from the sixpenny box of Greene’s bookshop.

Inciting reading

Now, there is an art in developing a life-long reader. For a girl it might be the knack of discovering the “Blyton buster”: the author or series which would wean her off the evil and addictive Enid onto more solid stuff. The contemporary equivalent is something like the Goosebumps series, which leads on nicely to the whole glam-vampire genre. With a boy it remains more problematic …

Malcolm’s personal moment of truth (as he has described before) involved crossing the aisle at Wells-next-the-Sea public library, deserting his usual W.E.Johns in the “juvenile fiction”, and finding, fat and fruitful, in the adult fiction, T.H.White’s The Once and Future King.

But how did he get to Ambler? [A Malcolmian aside]

The school library had first-editions of Ian Fleming’s early Bond novels. In one way, that was a bad mistake: had a half-guinea copy of Casino Royale been carefully stashed in a cupboard for the intervening 56 years, it might today be traded in for a new family car. In another way, for the youthful custom, Fleming was a natural step on another ladder.

Many grubby adolescent hands had thumbed those school-library Flemings (particularly anything like a “saucy” bit). There was a natural progression: from W.E.Johns to Fleming to (say) Nevil Shute and … well, in Malcolm’s case, to Ambler and a lifetime of reading.

Subversive Ambler

Those five Ambler re-issues were all written in the dog-end of the ’30s, of Auden’s low dishonest decade, between the rending of Spain and the murder of Poland:

Yesterday the belief in the absolute value of Greece,
The fall of the curtain upon the death of a hero;
Yesterday the prayer to the sunset
And the adoration of madmen. But to-day the struggle.

Ian Thomson reminds us of Ambler’s own view, in the autobiography Here Lies Eric Ambler:

Few persons of sense and only a small group of eccentric politicians thought that a general war could be postponed indefinitely.

Into this impending cataclysm Ambler launches his protagonists:

  • Desmond Kenton, a down-at-heel, disreputable journalist, in Uncommon Danger, of January 1937;
  • Josef Vadassy, a language teacher, in Epitaph for a Spy, of 1938;
  • Nicky Marlow, unemployed engineer, in Cause for Alarm of September 1938;
  • Charles Latimer, former professor, now turning a crust as a writer of detective stories, in A Coffin for Dimitrios, of 1939;
  • Graham (who, as Malcolm recalls, is never granted a forename), an armaments engineer, in Journey into Fear, of September 1939.

Notice something there?

We have, for the passing egalitarian moment, escaped from the sleuthing, adventurous toff. Ambler departs from the model of the established order:

and all their lookalikes.

We have here a recursion to the Victorian/Edwardian tradition of the middle-class, professional hero> We have gone back to the paradigm of those”ordinary” commuting Carruthers and Davies, of that seminal first “modern” spy-novel (and still one of the greatest), Erskine Childers’s The Riddle of the Sands. There are good, commercial reasons for that: do you, or do you not, buy your next self-identifying phantasy from the suburban station bookstall?

So, in large part, Ambler’s characterisations are the result of the times and the man. Ambler was never a Party member; but he was a fellow-traveller. His lead characters, therefore, adhere to the lefty, popular-front persuasion. The nasties are, inevitably, fascists and Nazis of the period. His characters are frequently of mixed-nationality — as, indeed, is Anglo-Swiss James Bond. Today, they would presumably be euro-socialist. And, why not?

To see where the Ambler legacy leads, refer to the excellent works of Alan Furst. Or of Philip Kerr. Malcolm’s shelves do, honourably.

Onward and … err … upward?

All of which brings us to where Malcolm is today: reading Michele Giutttari.

Now, what is it with Italian detectives? The odd couple of feet of Malcolm’s attic shelving are already taken by:

  • Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen, who didn’t quite reach a round dozen,


That’s the Venetian connection in the main (though Zen got around a bit). This weekend, simply because of what was on the table at Waterstone’s in Hampstead, they have company with:

  • Giuttari’s Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara of the Squadra Mobile in Florence (already up to his third in English translation).

Ah, it’s a hard life,
stretched out on the sofa,
with a pile of books to devour,
and, at any chapter’s end,
an ever-ready source of coffee

from the kitchen next door.

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Filed under crime, Dublin., education, Fascists, History, leftist politics., Literature, Penguins, reading

It’s the little things …

Malcolm is, as we have all seen, easily distracted, easily diverted, even easily amused. As we have observed previously (last October 3rd, to be precise), he is — and, this time, let us quote correctly — :

a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles.

For example: penguins.

Why, Malcolm wonders, have we been taken over by hordes of them? Bill-boards, tv advertising, and now Christmas cards:To Malcolm, it all seems slightly strange. There is nothing particularly seasonal about sphenisciformes, and (apart from zoos) they are alien to these northern climes. He is not aware that even the most surreal of Nativity plays discovered a penguin at the manger. Many of the jokes (and penguins are to jokes as branch-water is to bourbon) are contrived and weary: even Gary Larson approaches them with care:
One obvious attraction is that they draw very easily: a raindrop outline, flippers, a bill, and so save graphic artists a fortune in coloured ink.

But Christmas penguins?

Certainly this year they seem to have decimated the robins.

Now robins are Christmassy for a very special reason. The Christmas card was invented by John Calcott Horsey in 1843: “at Summerly’s Home Treasury Office, 12 Old Bond Street”. “Felix Summerly” was, in fact, Henry Cole, an assistant to Rowland Hill, innovator of the Penny Post (and some also ascribe the design of the “Penny Black” to Cole). To Cole, and his influence on Prince Albert, we owe the development of the museums in South Kensington. And from Cole and Rowland Hill, via the uniform of the Victorian letter-carrier, to the robin is easy (see right).

Malcolm feels an affinity for robins, and one in particular. When he tends his rolling acres … well, square-yardage … of north London clay, Malcolm is closely overseen, and directed very vocally, by Mr Cook, his patron robin. Mr Cook comes round to make sure the soil is turned over to his satisfaction, and is sufficiently wormy. Hence Malcolm feels Mr Cook has a status similar to Rudyard Kipling’s Mr Hobden:

… whoever pays the taxes old Mus’ Hobden owns the land.

And, before we move on, Malcolm catches us by the arm for an afterthought.

Those Victorians, like Cole, Horsey, Rowland Hill, and even the Prince Consort, lacked something. In an age of self-improvement and self-interest, they lacked the perception and prescience to patent (and protect) their innovations. After all, they were inventing a new era of mass communications, as much as the Jobs and Gates generation did more recently. Instead of jealously guarding their royalties and their rights, the Victorians saw it all as a public service.

Had they taken a more egocentric view, a inflow of foreign remittance, such as amasses minute-by-minute at Cupertino CA and Redmond WA, might have taken a different route.

As it is, the mark of their success is that Britain alone issues postage stamps without any name for the country of origin. That is only right and proper, just as the US alone has no internet country-code top-level domain.

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