Category Archives: prejudice

How socially-prejudiced is that?

Yesterday our local political discourse was enhanced by an otherwise-unremarkable Tory back-bencher [*]

A Conservative MP has been suspended from the party after it emerged she used a racist expression during a public discussion about Brexit.

Anne Marie Morris, the MP for Newton Abbot, used the phrase at an event in London to describe the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

She told the BBC: “The comment was totally unintentional. I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused.”

The Conservative Party later confirmed she had had the whip withdrawn.

Announcing the suspension, Theresa May said she was “shocked” by the “completely unacceptable” language.

“I immediately asked the chief whip to suspend the party whip,” she said in a statement.

I was much taken by Stephen Bush (of the New Statesman) instantly producing a 26-point check-list, notably this bit:

10. How on earth do you become an MP while being so stupid as to use the N-word at a public event?
11. I mean, surely, even if you are an honest-to-God, white sheet-wearing KKK racist, your basic self-preservation instinct kicks in and goes “Hmm. Wait a second. I wonder if this might possibly backfire?”
12. I mean, come on, aren’t these the same people who go on about political correctness gone mad?
13. Anne Marie Morris presumably had to defeat at least one other person to be selected as the Conservative candidate.
14.Imagine how rubbish you must be to lose to someone who uses the word “n****r” at a meeting in 2017.
15. Anne Marie Morris is 60.

Some of the follow-ups have come close to that. There was Paul Waugh’s Waugh Zone for HuffPo, which deserves repetition:

Given the damage done, it’s hard to see how Morris can regain the Tory whip, no matter what the ‘investigation’ by Tory campaigns HQ concludes. Which raises the issue of whether she will be booted out for good, and whether she would quit to trigger a by-election. Her majority in her west country seat is 17,000.  But as this year has taught everyone, electoral norms can be upended.

Morris had already been forced to distance herself from her electoral agent and partner Roger Kendrick last month, after he claimed “that the crisis in education was due entirely to non-British born immigrants and their high birth rates’.” Kemi Badenoch, the Tory MP for Saffron Walden, told the Telegraph she spoke to the Chief Whip “to express my dismay, and I am pleased that decisive action has been taken”. Maidstone MP Helen Grant said she was “so ashamed” that a fellow Tory could use the phrase without knowing its history (and it’s an awful history) or impact.

[*] Lest we forget, Matt Chorley, for The Times Red Box categorised the lady:

Anne Marie Morris – who until this point was best known in the Commons for waving a sling around while wearing Deirdre Barlow’s glasses – used the n-word yesterday at a public meeting.

All of which stirred the Redfellow Hippocampus to two thoughts:

1. How far we have come in my lifetime.

I became politically active in the 1960s — by which I mean I discarded the political attitudes I inherited, and adopted an alternative set. Whether that also means I “started to think for myself” is more debatable.

What did shock was what happened in the 1964 General Election for the Smethwick constituency. It wasn’t that the Tory — against the national swing — took the previously Labour seat. It was how it was achieved. There have been any number of re-drafts of that bit of unpleasantness. At the time it was generally accepted that

  • there was effectively a colour-bar being operated for social housing in the borough, in pubs, youth clubs and social centres;
  • that, officially or not, the Tory campaign was sustained by propaganda such as the leaflet (right) — note that it comes without the “imprint” required by electoral law;
  • that Harold Wilson was entirely justified in declaring the elected Tory a parliamentary leper. Many Tories were deeply uncomfortable about the elected MP as a fellow: even Enoch Powell (whose “rivers of blood” speech came two years later) refused to campaign with him.
  • that the local Trade Union branches and whatever were not beyond reproach.

In our innocence, we — and I include myself explicitly — believed such horrors had gone away. As if …

2. Just how racist is our language?

Put the woodpile (above) aside.

We could quibble about “nitty-gritty” (and many have done). Indeed, almost any use of “black” and “white” could be construed as a racist offence, if one was so determined.

And then there is (sharp intake of breath) “calling a spade a spade”. However that one dates from 1542, and Nicholas Udall translating Erasmus Apophthegmes ii. f. 167:

Philippus aunswered, yt the Macedonians wer feloes of no fyne witte in their termes but altogether grosse, clubbyshe, and rusticall, as they whiche had not the witte to calle a spade by any other name then a spade.

Erasmus, in turn, was translating Plutarch’s Greek into Latin, and hesitated over a literal rendering of to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough, which some ascribe to Aristophanes. His hesitation might plausibly because “fig”, as the Oxford English Dictionary has as the second meaning:

Obs.
A contemptuous gesture which consisted in thrusting the thumb between two of the closed fingers or into the mouth. Also, fig of Spain, and to give (a person) the fig.

Which Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Pistol (Henry V, Act III, scene vi):

Pistol: Die and be damn’d! and figo for thy friendship!
Fluellen: It is well.
Pistol: The fig of Spain!
Exit

Preferring the epicene, Udall goes for the horticultural reference. The racial slur dates only from the 1920s, and apparently from New York, and specifically Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem (1927).

And one more to finish

What about “beyond the Pale”?

Note the capital “P’. Any delineated space could be a “pale”. In Ireland it had a specific connotation:

The area of Ireland under English jurisdiction (varying in extent at different times between the late 12th and 16th centuries, but including parts of modern Dublin, Louth, Meath, and Kildare).

By implication, anything “beyond the Pale” would be among the wild Irish. As one who has frequently been called a “West Brit”, I know we have our archipelagic variant of Crow Jim.  Now consider all those places with a district “Irishtown” or even “Irish Street”. Without exception, they will be less favoured, and more down-market. In medieval Dublin, Irishtown was the bit outside the city walls, down to the slob-lands of the River Dodder. Only last week, the Irish Times had this:

A plague of flies of “biblical proportions” has descended upon the Dublin 4 suburbs of Sandymount, Ringsend and Irishtown, according to residents and local businesspeople.

Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys said he had received “hundreds” of complaints from locals in recent days over the fly infestation, which has forced people to keep their windows shut and resulted in the closure of some businesses.

Tony “Deke” McDonald, who runs Deke’s Diner at the Sean Moore Road roundabout in Ringsend, said the infestation was the worst he had ever seen.

“It started around four or five days ago with a swarm of biblical proportions. People would be used to flies in the summer, but I’ve been running the diner 17 years next week, and I’m 30 odd years in the area, and I’ve never seen the like of it. There [were] hundreds of them.”

It didn’t take more than moments for Dublin wit to crack in, saying Ringsend and Irishtown deserved all they got, for social-climbing and pretension to post-code D4.

Then there’s Louis MacNeice describing:

…. Smoky Carrick in County Antrim
Where the bottle-neck harbour collects the mud which jams

The little boats beneath the Norman castle,
   The pier shining with lumps of crystal salt;
The Scots Quarter was a line of residential houses
   But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and halt. […]

I was the rector’s son, born to the anglican order,
   Banned for ever from the candles of the Irish poor;
The Chichesters knelt in marble at the end of a transept
   With ruffs about their necks, their portion sure.

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Filed under Belfast, bigotry, Britain, Conservative family values, culture, Dublin., Ireland, Irish Times, New Statesman, Northern Ireland, Paul Waugh, politics, prejudice, Quotations, Racists, Tories., underclass

How far from Earls Court to Trumpton?

One event the wikipedia entry on Earls Court somehow fails to mention happened on Sunday, 16th July 1939. Oswald Mosley harangued some 30,000 black-shirted fascists in what must count as Britain’s biggest indoor political huddle. When Mosley raised his arm to invite the fascist salutes of of adoring legions, a voice called out: “Yes, Oswald, you may leave the room!” — to be promptly set upon by unkindly, booted guardians-of-the-piece.

Whatever delights the horrid old hanger has offered since, for many of a certain age — a bit older than my aged self — that taints the spot. Even my visits to the Great British Beer Festival there didn’t wash away the taste. Then again, I was there for the 2001 Eagles concert; and that was less than uplifting.

So, despite the well-meant furore over Boris Johnson’s stitch-up to redevelop the site, and turn it into another barren waste of Qatari-owned flats, I’ll not greatly miss it. That Art-Deco façade deserved better, just possibly.

It’s all a long, long way and while since the Earl’s Court area was “Kangaroo Valley”, bed-sit land for passing (and soon passed-out) Australasian youths — with fag-shop accommodation ads infamously: “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish”, posted alongside assorted fly-blown “models”. At least Boris Johnson’s gift to the developers, and a new Asian ownership may lead to an upgrade in tart cards.

A chilling surprise

Cooking that gross of words, I went looking for a Youtube or similar illustration for Mosley. I was presented instead with this:

Warning

Thank you, DuckDuckGo, for that useful reminder of the workings of our surveillance and suspicious society.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

We do indeed live in a connected world.

Out of Oswald Mosley’s gang sprang several post-war rightist groups, of varying unsavouriness. Similarly Archibald Ramsay’s secret Right Club (the subversive, aristocratic, anti-semitic, pro-fascist “patriotic society” of 1939) never really went away. His Red Book (which turned up, in code, after his death) supposedly itemised his Tory sympathisers.

It doesn’t do to scratch too hard at the MI5/MI6 nexus — types like Peter “Spycatcher” Wright and Chapman Pincher, his fellow-travelling journalist mouthpiece — to realise how weirdos festered in our securocrat demimonde.

Then there was the phenomenon that was Enoch Powell. It is difficult to credit that such a sophisticated intellect was ignorant of the consequences of his “Rivers of Blood” speech (20 April 1968) — equally difficult that it was entirely divorced from the 8 May 1968 gathering of Cecil King and Hugh Cudlipp of IPC (the newspaper operation),  Lord Mountbatten of Burma and Sir Solly Zuckerman, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. Discussion point: a plot to overthow the elected Labour Government with a self-appointed cabal. Zukerman, to his eternal credit, told the others they were into “treason”, and walked out. Later that year, the Times editorial, written by its editor William Rees-Mogg (father of the even more effete Jacob), pressed for a “coalition” administration, with an agenda not too dissimilar to that of the loony King & co.

Yet, when Ted Heath sacked Powell from the Tory Front Bench, a thousand London dockers and meat-porters marched on Westminster to demand his restoration, and repatriation of “coloured” immigrants.

How far is all that from the UKIP phenomenon?

Well, none too far, should we believe the Daily Mail (which knows something about fascist tendencies):

Channel Four News broadcast comments from teachers at Dulwich College that the teenage Farage was a ‘fascist’ and a ‘racist’ when a pupil at the private London school in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A letter from 1981 claims Mr Farage, now 49, was even heard ‘shouting Hitler Youth songs’. The claims did not prevent him being appointed as a prefect at the school.

The Ukip leader last night played down the significance of the claims, which he said were made by left-wing teachers who disliked his views. He denied singing Nazi songs.

Classic stuff, eh? With additional persecution-mania to boot (left-wing teachers at a fee-paying public school? — see also what’s next).

Then came the Telegraph‘s not-quite-earth-shattering revelations:

Few politicians had dared to praise [Enoch Powell] in public until 2008, when Mr Farage, who at the time had been leader of UK Independence Party for two years, named him as his political hero, saying: “While his language may seem out of date now, the principles remain good and true.”

Mr Farage added: “I would never say that Powell was racist in any way at all. Had we listened to him, we would have much better race relations now than we have got.” Then, in January this year, Mr Farage was read parts of the “Rivers of Blood” speech on Sky News’s Murnaghan programme and said he agreed with the “basic principle” of Mr Powell’s words.

Mr Farage has only ever admitted to two meetings with Powell, who died in 1998. In his autobiography, Fighting Bull, Mr Farage described how on meeting Powell as a teenager at Dulwich College, the MP “dazzled me for once into an awestruck silence”.

We have, by this stage made some direct connections:

The knee-twitch bone connected to the <sigh> bone,
The shoulder bone connected to the raised-arm bone,
The brass-neck bone connected to the brain-dead bone.

Which brings us back to small-town persecution-mania. And Mr David Coburn MEP. Who, is a very interesting MEP, indeed.

Obviously he so thoroughly impressed the UKIP selection team that they overlooked his Bexley background, to see in him an ideal nominee to head their Scottish Euro-parliamentary list (a proud Scotsman too proud to live and vote in Scotland). They overlooked, too, his Leeds University law degree (failed) — Kipper selection panels are very generous in interpreting CVs, as with Mrs Boulter. They overlooked a homophobic gayness about him [single-sex marriage is just for some queen who wants to dress up in a bridal frock and in a big moustache and dance up the aisle to the Village People].

However, Coburn — to the greater delight of all sensate beings — has excelled himself:

A parody Twitter account depicting Ukip’s members as characters in Trumpton, the setting of the 1960s children’s programme of the same name, has been denounced by one of the party’s MEPs. 

David Coburn did not see the funny side of @Trumpton_UKIP, which has fictionalised the small town’s politics since September. 

On the parody account, the town of Trumpton has come up against the influx of migration with a roll-call of firemen “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grudzinski . . . wait! what!???” and opposed CHS2, a high-speed train connecting the town with nearby Chigley, promising “vote #ukip Get Steam Trains!”

Mr Coburn has instructed his followers to report the account to the social media site’s regulators. The MEP has also announced plans to take legal action for a breach of copyright.

“Loser! Loser!”

As of the time of writing Mr Coburn has 9,155 Twitter followers. Trumpton_Ukip has 21 thousand.

iu

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Filed under History, politics, prejudice, Scotland, sleaze., UKIP

The homosexual flag came out of the closet…

Ever since Oxford and Cambridge Joint Board GCE English Language A made us explain “what is wrong in the following sentences?”,  I’m a fan of weird misplaced modifiers.

  • There’s a man at the door with a wooden leg called Phil. [What’s his other leg called?]
  • The antique dealer put her large chest at the front of the shop.
  • The statue’s erection completed the town’s square. [Those two guaranteed to raise a laugh in any classroom.]

Not to mention the “half-Shropshire chicken” on a local pub’s lunch menu. [What’s the other half of its ancestry?]

An all-time favourite, from an actual examination script:

  • Henry VIII wanted a divorce because his wife wouldn’t give him a son. So he asked the Pope, who wouldn’t give him one either.

But this one had me totally pole-axed, for more reasons than one:

Gay flag

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Filed under Irish Times, politics.ie, prejudice, schools

Still, just, on the rails

The problem with magazines (and I’m an addict) is the Chinese meal one: you have one, and an hour later you need another. I may take a newspaper (or two) on a train journey; but I know it/they won’t keep me going the full distance, two hours or so between King’s Cross and York.

Back TrackA bit back I splurged on the last-but-one Back Track, “Britain’s leading historical railway journal”. What prised the £4.20 out of my wallet was Michael H.C. Baker on Dublin to Belfast, half-a-dozen close-printed pages on the old Great Northern line. My experience of that route started in the days when the Ulster Transport Authority and Córas Iompair Éireann had taken the line over, but when steam locomotives were still in use. Soon after steam gave way to diesel. To this day, you find many, if not most still refer to the service by the 1950s name, “The Enterprise”.

In all honesty, the trick was to arrange for one of the CIE services: the catering was superior.

As Baker’s conclusion admits, the rail link between Belfast and Dublin is under a cloud, if not under direct threat:

Not so long ago there was serious talk of electrification and an hourly service but rail travel in the Republic has fallen by 25% of late. Ireland now has a motorway and road network which means that almost all journeys between Dublin, Belfast and the principal cities and towns are quicker by road than rail and long-distance coaches have made great inroads into railway revenues. The ‘201’ Class has not proved to be the most reliable of locomotives, chiefly on account of the fact that they have to provide all the heating, air conditioning and other auxiliary power for the carriages, although converted BR-built Mk 3 generator vans now do the job which should overcome the problem.

In March 2011 the Northern Irish Minister for Regional Development listed 32 permanent speed restrictions — the permitted maximum south of the border is 90mph — between Dublin and Belfast. £40 million of upgrading had been scheduled just for the section between Lisburn and Lurgan but this was “now deferred indefinitely due to budget constraints”. Worse, Northern Ireland Railways have said that £500 million is needed to bring the ‘Enterprise’ service up to “an acceptable standard” and it has “so frequently broken down that it is no longer fit for purpose”. Its average speed of 43mph (69km/h) is very nearly the slowest inter-city route in Western Emope. Oh dear, of dear! Some of these statements are a perhaps understandable plea for an ideal which can never be obtainable and an inter-city route of less than 120 miles with a number of stops is never going to rival, for instance, Paris to Marseilles or London to Edinburgh. I always enjoy my journeys between Dublin and Belfast and no doubt will in the future. One minor, not very expensive, outlay could be in the buffet car where a replacement for the seats which must be left over from the Spanish Inquisition would not come amiss!

 

That any kind of rail transport still exists across Northern Ireland is despite the ingrained prejudices of years of Unionist government. Let’s not pretend: the UTA closures of the 1950s and into the early 1960s were, in part, sectarian politics: too many of the old GNR railmen were Roman Catholic. When the Benson Report of 1963 proposed the closure of all links to Derry, it was the old Northern Counties Committee line, through largely Unionist country, that survived, and the “Derry Road”, from Portadown and on through Catholic country, which was axed.

There are, today, just four lines remaining: to the Border (and therefore on to Dublin), the NCC track to Derry, with a spur to Portrush, (most of which is spectacular, but single-track — and the station at Derry is inconveniently the wrong side of the Foyle), and the two commuter lines — the Bangor line along the Gold Coast of County Down (which ought to service George Best Airport, but contrives not to) and the Larne line (which once linked to the ferries to Stranraer).

The obvious missing link is the mothballed Ballinderry link from Lisburn and Knockmore, past the back of Aldergrove (Belfast International Airport) to join the Derry Line at Antrim. Reviving that is the ever-rumoured, oft-promised, never-delivered story, most recently just last month:

Northern Ireland could finally get a rail link to Belfast International Airport.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has proposed a series of feasibility studies which could eventually mean the first major track extensions to the rail network since the wholesale closures of the Sixties.

In a new document outlining the future of rail investment for the next 20 years and beyond, the minister proposed looking at the potential to create a new route serving Belfast International Airport.

Add a spur to Dublin Airport (which was implicit in the original proposal for Dublin’s Metro North) and the two main runways of Ireland are directly connected, and as adjacent as Heathrow is to the West End. That, of course, involves a degree of finance, and a lot more imagination.

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Railways, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, prejudice, railways, reading

Getting the boot

To celebrate the England football team’s performance at the World Cup, the BBC web-site has a feature by slang lexicographer Jonathon Green:

Mullered and 61 other words for beaten at sport

BoasWish I’d thought of it first.

The cliché has it that the Inuit have 52 words for “snow”. That originates from a 1911 book by Franz Boas. However, thecanadianencyclopedia.ca disputes this, and suggests a proper count is nearer just ten. Just as the Inuit may know the right (and wrong) types of snow, so the English should know precise terms for levels of defeat suffered in any sport which they claim to have invented.

I believe that the first international sporting fixture may well have been played at Leith in 1682. The Duke of York (later James II) and  John Paterstone represented Scotland against two English milords, and trounced them (trounce being the 63rd word Green should have found). SO the English sportsman should be inured to set-backs.

How to segue from that to the next thought?

Ummm …

Well, we might ponder on the English addiction to irony and self-mockery. It is, for sure, expiating our inner prejudices and guilts. Through the likes of George Macdonald Fraser’s magnificent gargoyle, Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE. he was fun, and only as the joke soured did the political-correctors get in on the act (Fraser did a piece on just how this developed). By the same token, we have just had a small susurration about the sexism of the Samantha redouble-entendres in I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue (check some choice examples here).

51x7GmbKYFL._So, for the antidote to political correctness, in a sporting context, allow me to reintroduce you to Peter Tinniswood’s Brigadier, and the very first chapter in his first outing:

Root’s Boot

During the course of a long and arduous career in the service of King and country I have had the honour in the name of freedom and natural justice to slaughter and maim men (and women) of countless creeds and races.

Fuzzy wuzzies, Boers, Chinamen, Zulus, Pathans, Huns, Berbers, Turks, Japs, Gypos, Dagos, Wops and the odd Frog or two — all of them, no doubt, decent chaps ‘in their own way’.

Who is to say, for example, that the Fuzzy Wuzzies don’t have their equivalent don’t have their equivalent of our own dear John Inman and the delicious Delia Smith, mother of the two Essex cricketing cousins, Ray and Peter?

I have no doubt that the Dagos have their counterpart of our Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, and I am perfectly certain that the Wops, just like us, have lady wives with hairy legs, loud voices and too many relations.

Indeed it is my firm opinion that all the victims of this carnage and slaughter were just like you and I — apart from their disgusting table manners and their revolting appearance.Poor chaps, they had only two failings – they were foreigners and they were on the wrong side.

Now as I approach the twilight of my life I look back with pleasure and with pride on those campaigns which have brought me so much comfort and fulfilment — crushing the Boers at Aboukir Bay, biffing the living daylights out of the Turk at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, massacring the Aussies at The Oval in 1938.

But of all these battles one remains vividly in my mind to this very day — the Battle of Root’s Boot.

The incidents pertaining to this conflict occurred in 1914 during the MCC’s first and only tour to the Belgian Congo.

Who on earth had the crass stupidity to give the Congo to the Belgians in the first place is quite beyond me.

I am bound to say that I consider the Belgians to be the most revolting shower of people ever to tread God’s earth.

Eaters of horse flesh, they let us down in two world wars. They’re hopeless at golf. They drive on the wrong side of the road, and they’re forever yodelling about their blasted fiords and their loathsome fretwork egg-timers.

Is it any wonder they made such a confounded mess of running the Congo?

When we went there in 1914, there was not one decent wicket the length and breadth of the country, and the facilities for nets were totally inadequate.

And, if that weren’t enough, during our matches there were at least two outbreaks of cannibalism among spectators, which I found totally unacceptable, and which I am convinced were responsible for the loss of our most promising young leg spinner, M.M. Rudman-
Stott.

He was sent out to field at deep third man in the match against an Arab Slavers’ Country Eleven, and all we found of him after the tea interval was the peak of his Harlequins cap and half an indelible pencil.

But of these setbacks we were blissfully unaware as in high good spirits we set off from Liverpool in April 1914 aboard the steamship, SS Duleepsinjhi.

The party was skippered by the Rev. Thurston Salthouse-Bryden, a former chaplain to Madame Tussauds and a forceful if erratic opening bat who distinguished himself in 1927 playing for the Convocation of Canterbury by scoring a century before matins in the match against a Coptic Martyrs Eleven.

TyldesleyI had the honour to be vice captain and OC ablutions, and among the notable players in our midst were the Staffordshire opening bowler, Thunderton-Cartwright, who was later to become rugby league correspondent for The Lancet, and the number three bat and occasional seamer, Ashton, F., who was later responsible for the choreography of the Royal Ballet’s highly acclaimed production of Wisden’s Almanack, 1929, featuring Alicia Markova as Ernest Tyldesley.

Of all the players in the party, though, the one who made the profoundest impression on all who met him (and some who didn’t) was the all-rounder, Arthur Root, a distant cousin of the Derbyshire, Worcestershire and England player, Fred Root, of the same name.

Root was what we in the ‘summer game’ call ‘a natural’.

During the voyage he kept us constantly entertained with his reading in Derbyshire dialect of the works of Colette, and his rendition on spoons and stirrup pumps of the later tone poems of Frederick Delius.

Root had charm, wit, erudition and the largest pair of feet it has ever been my privilege to encounter.

Indeed on the outward voyage they were directly responsible for saving the life of a Goanese steward who fell overboard seven nautical miles sou’ sou’ east of Ushant.

The poor wretch was applying linseed oil to the Rev. Salthouse-Bryden’s self-righting lectern when a freak giant wave washed him overboard.

With the lifebelts being in use for a rumbustious game of deck quoits, Root with great presence of mind threw the only object available to him into the sea — to wit, his right boot.

The dusky Indian steward clambered into the pedicular container and was instantly hauled aboard by the boot laces.

Little did we realize then how vital that boot was to be to our safety and well-being many many months later.

We disembarked without incident at Matadi and set off forthwith for the interior.

What a noble sight our native bearers made as they trudged along the primitive jungle trails carrying on their woolly heads the essential paraphernalia of our expedition — sight screens, portable scorebox and heavy roller.

The capital city, Leopoldvilie, was reached in three weeks.

How strange it was to our English eyes — no tram conductors, no Bedlington terriers, no Ordnance Survey bench marks.

Our only consolation came when Root discovered the local branch of Gunn and Moore’s where we bought leopard-skin cricket bags, scorebooks bound in genuine okapi hide, and the Rev. Salthouse-Bryden purchased an object warranted as a Bantu baptismal love token, but which to my untutored eyes looked more like H. M. Stanley’s left testicle.

We won each of our four matches in Leopoldville by an innings and ‘a substantial margin’, the Belgians ground fielding, as we had anticipated, being of a typically abysmal level.

A nation of congenital butterfingers, the Belgians.

We then set out for what was to be the most difficult and dangerous opposition of our entire tour — three unofficial Test matches against the Pygmies.

We left Leopoldville on a sultry August morning and did not reach our destination until late November 1914.
During the long and onerous trek we had the misfortune to lose three members of our party:

Evans-Pritchard, E. E.: stung by scorpion.

Leakey, L. S. B.: trampled by buffalo.

Attenborough, D.: retired hurt.

It was a nuisance to lose two wicket-keepers and a ‘more than adequate’ middle order batsman in that fashion, but nonetheless our party was in good spirits, when we arrived at Potto Potto to be greeted by officials of the Pygmy Board of Cricket Control.

The chairman, a gnarled, wizened little creature, who, incidentally, bore a marked resemblance to the distinguished light comedy actor and chanteuse, Mr John Inman, made us most welcome, offering us victuals and a choice of his most beautiful wives.

‘Just like playing for Derby against Notts at Worksop,’ said Root, and one and all joined in his hearty and innocent laughter.

On the advice of the Rev. Salthouse-Bryden we declined the feminine offerings but accepted the victuals which were served in the great adobe, thatched pavilion by elderly matrons of the tribe.

It was during the subsequent revelries that the first hitch in the proceedings occurred.
By prior arrangement we were to provide the balls to be used in the match, and, as a matter of courtesy, our baggage master, Swanton, presented a box of same to be examined by the Pygmy officials.

Imagine our horror when the minute, dark-skinned fraternity passed the balls from hand to hand, sniffed them, shook them and, with expressions of sublime delight, ate them.

Worse was to follow when the severely truncated tinted gents offered us the balls they wished to use — row upon row of small spherical objects, gnarled, matted, wrinkled and pitted.

For a moment we gazed at them in stunned silence.

Then the Rev. Salthouse-Bryden exclaimed:

‘Saints preserve us — they are shrunken heads.’

What could have been the very severest of fraught situations was saved by our ever-genial giant, Root.

Picking up one of the heads in his massive fist, he examined it briefly and then said:
‘Don’t worry, skipper. We’ll use this ‘un. It should be just right for seaming after lunch.’

The day of the first unofficial test dawned bright and clear.

The Pygmies won the toss and elected to bat.

PillingThe two Pygmy openers made their way to the wicket to the accompaniment of the howling of monkeys and the screeching of gaudily feathered parakeets, and as I watched them take the crease from my vantage point at deep extra cover, it was for all the world like looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars at a dusky wee George Wood and an extremely sunburned Mr Harry Pilling.

Our opening bowler, Thunderton-Cartwright, came bounding to the wicket to deliver the first ball of this historic match.

It whistled from his hand at ferocious pace.

But all to no avail.

On the puddingy and unresponsive pitch the ball thudded mutely into the turf and rose no more than six inches from the ground.

‘Bouncer,’ yelled the Pygmy opener.

It was a cry taken up in unison by the masses of minuscule spectators packed in dense masses in what was, I believe, their equivalent of the Warner Stand.

An ugly incident seemed certain to ensue.

But at that moment, totally unexpected, came the crackle of small arms fire, and across the distant river burst a column of native Askaris.

As the Askaris waded across the river, firing indiscriminately from the hip, the Pygmies fled as if by magic.

As bullets whistled past our ears we flung ourselves to the ground, only to hear the following words which plunged an icy dagger to the depths of our hearts.

‘On your feet, Englische Schweinhunds!’

We looked up to see three white men, dressed in khaki drill, with shaven heads and leering duelling scars upon their cheeks.

‘Huns,’ we cried in unison.

Indeed they were.

Why hadn’t MCC informed us that war had been declared?

Why hadn’t the Test and County Cricket Board notified us that marauding parties of German colonial troops were rampaging through the territory?

Why was there no news in The Cricketer of the conflagration that was to rewrite the map of Europe and suspend for four years all Test matches between England and Australia?

Such thoughts flashed through my mind as we were bound by the straps of our cricket pads to the portable scoreboard, and the Askaris lined themselves in front of us in firing squad formation.

It was then, as death stared us in the face, that we were addressed by our skipper, the Rev. Salthouse-Brvden.

‘Oh, Lord,’ he said. Thou hast in Thy wisdom decreed that our innings shall be closed.

‘It is pleasing to Thine eye that in that great score-book in the sky it shall be written of our party, “Death stopped play”.

‘So, Lord, give us the strength to face the long walk back the celestial pavilion like men and members of the MCC, or whichever is more appropriate.’

It was at that moment that I noticed that Root was improperly dressed for the occasion.

His right boot was missing.

Before I could speak he motioned with his eyes towards the distant river.

An amazing sight met my eyes.

Floating silently in the current was a large right cricket boot.

And in it, paddling silently, was a war party of our erstwhile Pygmy opponents.

The Huns and Askaris, totally unaware of the approaching sporting footwear, paused to gloat over their triumph.

It waas to be their undoing, for in an instant the boot touched the river bank, the Pygmies sprang out through the lace holes and, screaming like dervishes, unloosed their poisoned arrows against them.

It was all over in seconds.

The Askaris and their vile Teutonic masters lay dead at our feet.

The match was resumed the following morning.

We had the good fortune to win, when Root took the last three Pygmy wickets with the last three balls of the match.

Years later he was to maintain that this was only possible owing to the slight inconsistency in the second new ball, which caused him to produce prodigious variations in swing and bounce.

And with a smile and a gentle nod of his genial head he would say:

‘I reckon it were the duelling scar in the seam what done it.’

 That may require foot-notes for the younger fellows.

 

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Pot Snr and Kettle Jnr

David Cameron, in PMQs, avoiding the questions over the shoddy sale of the Post Office:

You are right, Mr Speaker, that there is a lot of history in this shouting, because of course in the past with all these privatisations we had the shouting of the Kinnocks, the shouting of the Prescotts and the shouting of the Straws. Over Easter, I was looking at Labour’s candidates and I saw that son of Kinnock is coming here, son of Straw wants to get here and son of Prescott wants to come here. It is the same families with the same message—it is literally the same old Labour. That is what is happening.

There is some small merit in Cameron’s quackings. It was also there in Neil Kinnock’s well-known (and ripped off) speech to the Welsh Labour Conference in May 1987:

Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick? Did they lack talent, those people who could sing and play and write and recite poetry? Those people who could make wonderful beautiful things with their hands? Those people who could dream dreams, see visions. Why didn’t they get it? Was it because they were weak? Those people who could wake work eight hours under ground and then come up and play football, weak those women who could survive eleven child-bearings? Were they weak? Does anybody really think that they didn’t get what we had because they didn’t have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment? Of course not. It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand.

Well, Stephen Kinnock, Will Straw, and David Prescott have inherited platforms upon which they could stand. As does Emily Benn. This being Labour Party politics, though, they still have to prove worth and merit (and hard work) to climb through the ranks.

A whiff of hypocrisy

Cameron’s canard [*] has a privileged quack.

He delivered that dynastic dig with the Cabinet Minister, Francis Maude, beside him. Francis Maude is MP for North Warwickshire 1983-1992 and retreaded MP for Horsham since 1997. Francis Maude is the son of Angus Maude, MP for Ealing South 1950-58, and retreaded MP for Stratford-on-Avon 1963-1983 (a seat he inherited from the disgraced John Profumo).

On the Tory benches we find a couple more surviving political dynasties:

  • Nicholas Soames is the son of Christopher Soames MP, grandson of Winston Churchill MP, and thereby a line all the way back to the 1st Duke of Marlborough. The marriage of Georgiana Cavendish (of the Devonshires) to Earl Spencer involves a whole mesh of entanglements, including Anthony Eden and sundry other worthies, and unworthies.
  • Nick Hurd, son of Douglas Hurd MP, grandson of Anthony Hurd MP, great-grandson of Sir Percy Hurd.

I have to admit defeat in unravelling the various marriages and connections of

  • the Pitts and Stanhopes,
  • the multitudinous Longs,
  • the intertwined Greys, Lamptons, Warings, not forgetting the Douglas-Homes.

And the man himself

Cameron’s great-grandfather was Sir William Mount, Tory MP for Newbury 1918-22, a post inherited from his father, MP for Newbury 1885-1918 and so Cameron’s great-great-grandfather. But there’s more:

On the day a young unknown called David Cameron was due to attend a job interview at Conservative Central Office, a curious phone call was received from Buckingham Palace.

‘I understand you are to see David Cameron,’ said a man with a grand voice. ‘I’ve tried everything I can to dissuade him from wasting his time on politics but I have failed.

‘I am ringing to tell you that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man.’ …

The mystery Palace caller who smoothed Cameron’s path to Conservative Central Office has, frustratingly, yet to be unmasked.

It might be fair to assume it was Captain Sir Alastair Aird, then Comptroller and later Equerry to the Queen Mother and husband of Fiona Aird, Cameron’s godmother. That was Cameron’s belief, but the Airds vigorously deny it.

Cameron’s office suggested the caller might have been Sir Brian McGrath, a family friend who was private secretary to Prince Philip. But he, too, though named as a referee for the job, denies it firmly.

Nonetheless, thanks to the phantom string-puller, when Cameron reported for duty at Conservative Central Office on September 26, 1988, he stepped on to a fast track to political office.

There’s a touch of the MRDAs in those denials.

Countess-of-Erroll-and-Lord-HayYet Cameron has a direct link to the greatest in the land. So I feel entitled to repeat myself, yet again:

  • Prime Minister David Cameron is the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of King William IV.
  • William IV was third son of George III.
  • William’s liaison with Dorothea Jordan produced eleven children, given the surname FitzClarence. Elizabeth FitzClarence (right, as Elizabeth Hay, Countess of Erroll — the son died at the Battle of Waterloo, aged 17) married the 18th Earl of Erroll, and the subsequent descent makes David Cameron a fifth cousin of Queen Elizabeth.

[*] Malcolmian aside

Yes, canard is directly borrowed from French.

Let’s hear it from the authoritative OED:

An extravagant or absurd story circulated to impose on people’s credulity; a hoax, a false report.

Littré says Canard for a silly story comes from the old expression ‘vendre un canard à moitié’ (to half-sell a duck), in which à moitié was subsequently suppressed. It is clear that to half-sell a duck is not to sell it at all; hence the sense ‘to take in, make a fool of’. In proof of this he cites bailleur de canards, deliverer of ducks, utterer of canards, of date 1612: Cotgrave, 1611, has the fuller vendeur de canards a moitié ‘a cousener, guller, cogger; foister, lyer’. Others have referred the word to an absurd fabricated story purporting to illustrate the voracity of ducks, said to have gone the round of the newspapers, and to have been credited by many. As this account has been widely circulated, it is possible that it has contributed to render the word more familiar, and thus more used, in English.

Littré was Émile Maximilien Paul Littré, the lexicographer who produced his Dictionnaire de la langue française, after 30 years of effort, in 1873. His entry for canard is here, and includes:

Populairement, conte absurde et par lequel on veut se moquer de la crédulité des auditeurs. Cette nouvelle n’était qu’un canard.

Je suis fâché de ne vous avoir pas traité comme mon enfant ; vous le méritiez mieux que ce donneur de canard à moitié qui nous promettait tant de châteaux en Espagnela Comédie des proverbes, III, 7

How to finish here?

In honour of the canard, let’s apply the duck test:

Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says ‘duck’. But the bird certainly looks like a duck. Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he’s wearing a label or not.

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Filed under Daily Mail, David Cameron, History, Labour Party, prejudice, Tories.

Jejune

I’m going to employ it in a post coming up.

Let’s get that word by its withers.

the-kings-englishKingsley Amis had a typically acerbic rant on this, imagining the transition of jej(e)une through three users:

Stage 1: A writes: “His arguments are unoriginal and jejune” (A knows that ‘jejune’ means ‘thin, unsatisfying’, a rare word, admittedly, but one with a nice ring to it).

Stage 2: B notices the nice ring. He doesn’t know what the word means and, of course, wouldn’t dream of consulting a dictionary even if he possessed one. There is something vaguely French as well as nice about the ring to ‘jejune’; in fact, now he comes to think of it, it reminds him of ‘jeune’, which he knows means ‘young’. Peering at the context, he sees that ‘jejune’ could mean, if not exactly ‘young’, then something like ‘un-grown-up, immature, callow’. Hooray! — he’s always needing words for that, and here’s a new one, one of superior quality, too.

Stage 3: B starts writing stuff like “much of the dialogue is jejune, in fact downright childish.” With the latest edition of OED giving ‘peurile’ as a sense of ‘jejune’, the story might be thought to be over, but there is one further stage.

Stage 4: Having ‘jeune’ in their heads, people who have never seen the word in print start pronouncing ‘jejune’ not as ‘djiJOON’ but ‘zherZHERN’, in the apparent belief that French people always give a tiny stutter when they say ‘jeune’. (I have heard ‘zherZHERN’ several times in the last few years). Finally C takes the inevitable step of writing ‘jejeune’ (I have seen several examples) or even, just that much better: “Although the actual arguments are a little jéjeune, the staging of the mass scenes are [sic] impressive.” Italics in original! – which, with the newly acquired acute accent in place set the seal on the deportation of an English word into French, surely a unique event.

That, pretty well, covers the waterfront.

Except …

Amis is self-evidently a boring old fart, protective of the language of , for and because of similar boring old farts.

For jejune is an early-seventeenth-century Anglicising of the Latin adjective, ieiunus [“having consumed no food or drink, fasting, hungry empty”].  No more, no less. Cicero, in his second letter to Atticus, is using it in a derived sense [“Deficient in goodness, meagre, starved”]. From there Cicero, elsewhere, makes simple metaphoric leaps and the term refers to unproductive land, and then to poor literary style.

In place of the Latinate term, we might supply, as the OED does:

dull, flat, insipid, bald, dry, uninteresting; meagre, scanty, thin, poor; wanting in substance or solidity.

De haut en bas

An objection might be those terms, as a catalogue, are hardly a shorthand. Nor, singly or collectively, do they convincingly express the note of superior snootiness implied when we deploy jejune. For that we need to go to Shaw’s stage-direction in Act II of Arms and the Man, telling us more than we need to know of the Byronic Major Sergius Saranoff:

By his brooding on the perpetual failure, not only of others, but of himself, to live up to his imaginative ideals, his consequent cynical scorn for humanity, the jejune credulity as to the absolute validity of his ideals and the unworthiness of the world in disregarding them, his wincings and mockeries under the sting of the petty disillusions which every hour spent among men brings to his infallibly quick observation, he has acquired the half tragic, half ironic air, the mysterious moodiness, the suggestion of a strange and terrible history that has left him nothing but undying remorse, by which Childe Harold fascinated the grandmothers of his English contemporaries.

Which is why, in this intended post, it will be applied to David Cameron.

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