Category Archives: Quotations

What is cultural captivity?

Kinkering kongs their titles take
From the foes they hostage make …

Every choirboy’s semi-deliberate Spoonerism, for a not-particularly-illuminating hymn. Very much a product of the age of imperialism, late Victorian (but of course) from a time when (the lower end of) the Church of England was aspirant lower-middle-class Tories at prayer.

Since when the world, outside of Coca-colonisation and the machinations of the Kremlin, has become post-imperial and less loving of ‘conquests’.

Were any conquests ever successful in imposing and maintaining a total hegemony? More likely, there emerges a new shared culture. The Empire on which the Sun never Set has left a legacy of any numbers of English dialects and creoles. The Oxford English Dictionary — lest we forget essentially recording “British’ English —  identifies 1,665 words of African origin, 4,843 from Australasia, 1,123 from the former Raj, and — the real marker of how power has shifted — 37,026 from ‘North America’. To the great distress of our nativists, there are four figures worth of ‘Irish’ origin, though the OED distinguishes, somehow, ‘Northern Irish’ from the rest. I have to wonder how: Ulsterisms are not readily exclusive of Glasgow east of the Bann, or the common vernacular of the north-west across that vast crucial divide. Even so, to the great distress of nativists, of all persuasions, Anglo-Hibernicism rules, OK.

Anyway, back to the idea of borrowed culture. And there is a perfect example in — what I see as — a remarkable literary continuity, relevant to the notion of conquest and merged continuity.

A good pagan, from 12BC, Horace has:​
Graecia capta ferum uictorem cepit et artes
intulit agresti Latio
Or, if you prefer a crude translation, and every historiographer’s cliché:​
Captive Greece took captive her savage conquerer and brought the arts to rustic Latium
When we refer to the Latin Vulgate we find Ephesians 4.7-8 has, what must be, a conscious imitation of Horace:​
7. uncuique autem nostrum data est gratia secundum mensural dationionis Christi
8. propter quod dicit ascendens in altum captivam duxit captivitatem dedit dona hominibus
Don’t sweat it: the Wycliff Bible (say AD1382) does a straight version of that, in English:​
7 But to each of us grace is given by the measure of the giving of Christ [after the measure of the giving of Christ];
8 for which thing he saith, He ascending on high, led captivity captive, he gave gifts to men.
That persists, through Tyndale (AD1525) and Coverdale (AD1535)  into the Geneva Bible (1599) — which was the version available (and clearly used, though not as far as I see in this usage) by Shakespeare, and which the King James version pillages, intact:​
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
As a conclusion, the word-of the mouth, and the words-of-the-minds can never be made captive. When Douglas Adams had his sub-ether band newscaster give the advice:

We’ll be saying a big hello to all intelligent lifeforms everywhere and to everyone else out there, the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys.

It could as easily have referred to how we make words interact across nations, times and cultures.

Just don’t start me, again, on how the Welsh drover’s bwg became, thanks to Admiral Grace Hopper, the bane of every computer programmer.


Filed under History, Ireland, Literature, Quotations

Producing and consuming history

Had you asked me about the expression, I would instantly have assumed:

Ireland produces more history than it can consume locally.

I mean: that’s a known known, a ‘given’, a fact of life. We all accept that any website with Irish history as a thread will revert to MOPEry.

MOPEry? Aw, c’mon! Liam Kennedy blasted that one in Unhappy the Land: The Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish? — a collection of essays deriving from the Great National Myth:

Sighing harps, the riveting of chains, Erin betrayed and enslaved by the Saxon: here were soft-focused images that, with the superlatives of politicians, would help fashion a national rhetoric to thrill the generations of newly English-speaking Irish people.

Irish history as sold to susceptible young minds, to becomes a fixation. It is all about the Anglo-Norman invasion, Cromwell, the plantations, the Ascendancy versus the ‘people’, rebellions, suppressions, the Wild Geese, The Wearing of the Green, penal laws, An Gorta Mór, emigration, Fenians, the Rising, the Six Counties … And that’s the sum: Irish History for Dummies. Or as Kennedy puts it:

There is an almost palpable sense of victimhood and exceptionalism in the presentation of the Irish national past, particularly as reconstructed and displayed for political purpose. It is a syndrome of attitudes that might be summed up by the acronym MOPE, that is, the most oppressed people ever. Less extravagantly stated, the claim is to being one of the most oppressed people in the history of world civilisation. But the burden of the story so far is that there was a large gap between images of singular oppression and the material and cultural conditions which were the lot of people in Ireland.


Kennedy’s title borrows from Brecht:

Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.

In the drama, immediately after Galileo’s recantation:

ANDREA (loudly): Unhappy the land that has no heroes!

(Galileo has come in, completely, almost unrecognizably, changed by the trial. He has heard Andrea’s exclamation. For a few moments he hesitates at the door, expecting a greeting. As none is forthcoming and his pupils shrink back from him, he goes slowly and because of his bad eyesight uncertainly to the front where he finds a footstool and sits down)

ANDREA: I can’t look at him. I wish he’d go away.
SAGREDO: Calm  yourself.
ANDREA (screams at Galileo): Wine barrel! Snail eater! Have you saved your precious skin? (Sits down) I feel sick.

GALILEO (calmly): Get him a glass of water.

(The little monk goes out to get Andrea a glass of water. The others pay no attention to Galileo who sits on his footstool, listening. From far off the announcer’s voice is heard again)

ANDREA: I can walk now if you’ll help me.

(They lead him to the door. When they reach it, Galileo begins to speak)

GALILEO: No. Unhappy the land that needs a hero.

Nothing to see here!

None of this is ‘novel’.

Yeats played the same game with the ‘heroes’ of Easter, 1916.  The woman who spent her days in ignorant good-will, the man who had kept a school, the drunken, vainglorious lout are all Transformed utterly — because that is the requirement of the National Myth.

Here’s another example: borrowed shamelessly from Michael Dobson doing a review for the current issue of London Review of Books:

‘None could witness a play of Shakespeare or hear declaimed such lines as those which close King John, or those of John of Gaunt when dying,’ [Salmon and Longden] declare, ‘without a quickening of the pulse and a belief in the destiny of “this royal throne of Kings, this sceptered isle, the envy of less happier lands.”’ But Gaunt’s speech, as an airline advertising agency discovered in the 1990s, is very poorly suited to inspirational use, or indeed to quotation at all. It’s not just that those successive alternative phrases for ‘this England’ go on for so long (19 lines) before finally breaking down into repetitive near incoherence: ‘This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,/Dear for her reputation through the world ...’ The problem is that one finally arrives at the sentence’s main verb to be told that this land ‘Is now leased out – I die pronouncing it –/Like to a tenement or pelting farm.’ Inconveniently, the national poet’s most famous invocation of the glories of England doesn’t depict the spacious days of Queen Elizabeth, but a constitutional upheaval two centuries earlier, during which a dying medieval aristocrat invokes an even earlier heroic past only in order to point out that it is emphatically over. It has been supplanted, he tells us, by a mortgaged time of ‘inky blots and rotten parchment bonds’.

Grammar school boys (and girls — though to us, at that age, they were a remote sub-species) rote-learned those lines as inspirational adulation of post-War England (note the specific nationalism). At least we recited down to this dear, dear land (with or without the antisemitic stubborn Jewry).

A commodius vicus of recirculation

Now reprise to top of this post. My original miscue.

For, as Fintan O’Toole says, an excess of history over local consumption wasn’t Ireland:

In The Jesting of Arlington Stringham, a story by Saki (H.H. Munro), the eponymous politician in a debate on the Foreign Office in the House of Commons remarks that “the people of Crete unfortunately make more history than they can consume locally.”

Rather a nice little story, it is too. ‘Nice’ in the sense of preciseness, not of pleasantry. Dry to the point of bitterness. It can be read here.


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Filed under History, Ireland, Irish politics, Literature, Quotations

To the Elephant

I once reckoned Shakespeare named several inns.

The Boar’s Head

This is the best recognised, the usual resort for Falstaff and his cronies.

Hold it right there: the two references in II Henry IV are only in stage-directions (II.iv and III.iii) and similarly a stage direction in II Henry IV (II.iv). A bit earlier (II.ii) in II Henry IV, there’s a cryptic reference:

PRINCE HENRY: Where sups he? doth the old boar feed in the old frank?
BARDOLPH: At the old place, my lord, in Eastcheap.

This allusion, says A.R.Humphreys, editing the now-discontinued Arden text:

is the nearest Shakespeare comes to naming the Boar’s Head Tavern — ‘the olde Taverne in Eastcheap’ of F[amous] V[ictories of Henry V — i.e. the ur-text ].

Humphreys then quotes from Shakespeare’s England; an Account of the Life and Manners of his Age, a source-book from 1916-1917 which has been ruthlessly pillaged, often without attribution, ever since:

This famous hostel … was on the N. side of Gt. Eastcheap.  … The tavern abutted at the back on St Michael’s in Crooked Lane, and was just where the statue of William IV now stands.

However, says Humphreys, further pillaging that source:

There is no evidence that it existed in Henry IV’s time; the first reference to it as a tavern dates from a lease of 1537.

Malcolmian aside

Oh, and by the way, don’t go looking for the statue in that location. When the King William Street traffic was sorted (You think? Never travelled on the Route 43?) in 1936, the sailor king was shifted to Greenwich Park. Worth a visit, because, if approached from the left side, William’s telescope could be misinterpreted.

The miscue might be suggested by William’s curious sex-life. He shacked up with Dorothea Bland, a.k.a. Mrs Jordan, an actress from Waterford. Together they had a brood of at least ten children, all illegitimate, and collectively (from the father’s title) the Fitzclarences.

To alleviate his debts with a parliamentary subscription, William was induced into a legitimate marriage to Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, from whom the Australian city takes its name.

Other named Shakespearean resorts

One play that didn’t, just didn’t appear on school syllabuses was Measure for Measure. It was treated as a ‘problem play’,  not just because of the sexual theme, but because its structure is dodgy, and no-one is wholly convinced it’s a ‘comedy’.

In Act II, scene i Pompey, servant to Mistress Overdone, is interrogating Froth, a foolish gentleman, before Duke Angelo:

He, sir, sitting, as I say, in a lower chair, sir; ’twas in the Bunch of Grapes, where indeed you have a delight to sit, have you not?

The Bunch of Grapes is a generic name for boozers — and this one is implied to be a low dive:

this house, if it be not a bawd’s house, it is pity of her life, for it is a naughty house.

In The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, scene iv, Tramio encounters ‘the Pedant’, outside the house of Baptista. ‘The Pedant’ claims a previous association:

… but I be deceived Signior Baptista may remember me,
Near twenty years ago, in Genoa,
Where we were lodgers at the Pegasus.

The Comedy of Errors has Antipholus of Ephesus telling Angelo to rush home and collect a chain that will be a way of seducing mine hostess there:

Get you home
And fetch the chain; by this I know ’tis made:
Bring it, I pray you, to the Porpentine;
For there’s the house: that chain will I bestow —
Be it for nothing but to spite my wife —
Upon mine hostess there: good sir, make haste.

Finally, in Twelfth Night, Act III, scene iii, we arrive at one that we ought to be able to locate. Antonio is none too keen to be seen in the streets because of ‘previous’ with Duke Orsino. He passes his wallet/purse to Sebastian and tells him:

Hold, sir, here’s my purse.
In the south suburbs, at the Elephant,
Is best to lodge. I will bespeak our diet
Whiles you beguile the time and feed your knowledge
With viewing of the town. There shall you have me.

Which, too often, the schoolmen try to associate with the Elephant and Castle, in Southwark. Just down the road from the South Bank and Shakespeare’s Globe. After all, The Globe was put up around 1599, and Twelfth Night dates from a couple of years later.

That Bill Shagsper would have needed a hostelry in the neighbourhood.

Too convenient, I fear.

The Elephant and Castle would, indeed, have been a coaching inn, serving routes to Kent and the south coast: it sits conveniently at the junction of the modern A2 (the Dover Road) and the A3 (the Portsmouth Road). Unfortunately there is no record of a pub of that name, at this site, before the reign of George III.

Those medieval misericords and choir-stall ‘poppyheads’ include several elephants. The earliest seems to be at Exeter, from around AD1240. There’s another at Manchester, and one at Chester. The latest, early sixteenth century, is down the road here at Beverley Minister — but better is the elephant in Beverley’s St Mary’s Church. All derive from medieval bestiaries.

That takes us to the liveried companies, each of which would have a strong church connection. In the late sixteenth century the Worshipful Company of Cutlers was granted a crest: an elephant bearing a castle.

There was, it seems, a cutler’s shop nearby — and that’s a better origin than various perversions of La Infanta de Castilla, for one or other royal bride.

But here’s an off-the-wall thought

Georg Ludwig became George I, King of Great Britain and Ireland, by default:

  • his nominal religion fitted the job description;
  • cousin Anne spawned regularly, but none of her brats made it to adulthood. Even William, Annes’ son and the Great Protestant Hope, fell foul of meddling medics, shuffled off his mortal coil, aged eleven, and so provoked the Act of Settlement, 1701;
  • the Scots were suborned by English threats of trade embargoes to go along with a continued joint monarchy (the Act of Security, 1704);
  • a whole catalogue of uncles, who would nominally have preceded him, disqualified themselves by premature deaths, failures to produce male heirs (that dratted Salic Law, which prevented Little Vicky getting Hanover) and penchants for boyfriends;
  • mother Sophia (by most accounts, quite a bright lady) pegged it a few weeks too soon;
  • nobody came up with the idea of a potion to squelch Georg and the Hanoverian males, and so improve the royal gene pool, and tgive his sister, Sophia Charlotte (another bright lady, who had to settle for being Queen of Prussia) a clear run.

So Georg got his regal crown by Anne’s death (1 August 1714). It took him until 18 September to show up in England, with a company of eighteen cooks and — note this — two mistresses. He never learned to speak English, which suited his Whig ministers very nicely, thank you. To show their gratitude the Whigs amended the Act of Settlement to allow Georg leave to make repeated trips back to Hanover.

The Elephant and the Maypole

Georg had particular tastes in his female company, all on the ‘substantial’ side. Arlene Foster would have been in with a chance.

The very-political marriage to his cousin Sophia Dorothea, then aged just sixteen (another bright lady) was — shall we say — ‘open’. She was short of avoirdupois, and a bit of a looker, which is more than any image of Georg ever managed to convey. She resisted the marriage as much as she could, and fainted when she was introduced to her prospective groom. Sophia Dorothea, scorned and neglected, formed an over-close attachment to dashing Swede Philip Christoph von Königsmarck (and his saucy and revealing letters to her became public knowledge). Sophia Charlotte and Philip Christoph were on the point of flitting off, when he was cruelly done down by the court guards, and she was whisked off to spend the rest of her life in captivity. On her death-bed she cursed Georg, and predicted he would die within a month: he obliged.

Georg’s tupping-list included Sophia Charlotte von Kielmannsegg (as right: and that would be a posted up image), the married daughter of his father’s mistress — and, to common gossip, thereby his own half-sister. The sexual relations between Georg and Sophia Charlotte were always formally and firmly denied: but the courtiers knew and chattered about the bedroom goings and (err) comings.

Sophia Charlotte came wholesale, a large lady: hence, when the English were able to snigger, ‘The Elephant’.

The ‘official’ mistress was Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, by whom he had three illegitimate daughters, all to be awarded titles. Melusine acted the part of Georg’s spouse, but — to those sniggering English detractors — was ‘The Maypole’ (by the look of her portraits, only because she was a whit less gross than ‘The Elephant’).

There was, it seems, a risqué line about Georg and Sophia Charlotte: ‘the king in his castle’.

 Sarf Lunnen humour could easily twist that.


Filed under History, pubs, Quotations, Shakespeare

Good golly, Miss Molly!

Little Richard, and this must be when music videos went OTT:

This short (I hope) post is about recognition. And, I’d guess, while three generations would instantly recognise “Little Richard”, the recognition factor for Richard Wayne Penniman would be closer to zilch.

The mouth of first resort

On a number of occasions over the years I’ve wondered how “famous” sayings are invariably — and erroneously — attached to a very small number of individuals. WS Churchill being too often a prime suspect.

Sure enough, post #167 of a thread, we were given:

A famous man once said that wogs begin at Calais.

The “famous man” would be — but, of course — Churchill. I keep coming across assertions that Churchill made the remark, or — more credibly

The phrase originated when a Member of Parliament in 1945 stood up and accused Winston Churchill of believing that “Wogs start in Calais” i.e. of being europhobic and isolationist.

So far, the nearest precise citation I can find is George Wigg (later Harold Wilson’s wingman, and one of the prime movers in getting the Profumo scandal on the record) in a Commons Debate, 29th July 1949.

Here he is putting the unreconstructed David Gammans, the unreconstructed Tory MP for Hornsey, back into his box:

I recently had the opportunity of talking to some Burmese gentlemen, and one of the things they said was that they never realised until they came here and met ordinary people, what the British people were like. They thought they were all haughty and arrogant. The hon. Gentleman and his Friends think they are all “wogs.” Indeed, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) thinks that the “wogs” start at Calais. If one views people like the hon. Gentleman from the angle of a private soldier, one realises that to them there are black “wogs” and white “wogs.” The attitude of hon. Members opposite to the black chap is not much different from the attitude of some of them towards the private soldier, and that is why the Forces have a great sympathy with the native peoples.

Further proof, should one need it, never to take a book by its cover.

Now to decode:

Tutti frutti, aw rutti
Awop bop a loo mop atop bom bom.

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Filed under Harold Wilson, History, London, Music, Muswell Hill, nationalism,, Quotations

A story for our (Sunday) Times

There used to be an anthology we used in lower-school English classes.

It included this, by Jules Thurber:

The Little Girl and the Wolf

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

(Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.)

Problem: one would have to explain “Calvin Coolidge” — arguably, the most buttoned-up American President of all time:

Of whom there were more anecdotes than he deserved. But, I’m sure, if the class was dragging, I’d have woven in a few.


Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.

On which note, there’s this advice to all sweet young things venturing on a  career in politics:



Filed under New Yorker, Quotations, Sunday Times, US politics

Friday, 8th September, 2017

Business of the day:

From Crouch End to Greenwich.

Stage 1: to Muswell Hill on W7, to find the Muswell Hill roundabout is now a major excavation.

Stage 2: from Muswell Hill to Bank on a 43 bus, to discover that whole stretch through Islington is now re-routed via Caledonian Road. Even more major excavations. Retreat into the Phoenix, Throgmorton Street, where I was joined first by Pert Young Piece, then by the Lady in my Life.

Stage 3: DLR from Bank to Greenwich, Cutty Sark. I used to be supercilious about the DLR, but it is truly a marvellous piece of kit, somewhere between a toy train and a proper grown-up railway — yet something more substantial than a tram. The weave through the towers of Canary Wharf is an experience worth the journey in itself.

At Greenwich, the task is to inspect the ceiling on a Painted Hall Ceiling Tour:

Up close, and personal, this is astonishing. I hope to live long enough to see the finished result.

And so, back the way we came,

Stage 4: DLR back to Bank. This time in the front seat, to play train-driver — and London has no greater thrill-ride for this Bill Hoole manqué.

Stage 5: from Bank, the 43 to Muswell Hill.

Stage 6, post-prandially, the W7 back down to the Maynard.

Carte du jour:

Something of an experiment: the “Miller and Carter” steakhouse, housed in what was once the cavernous “The Church” (a.k.a. O’Neill’s) in Muswell Hill Broadway.

For all of the pretensions, this is yet another branch of yet another tentacle of the Mitchell and Butlers octopus. Which makes it also a subsidiary in the Molson Coors megalo-brewing brand.

I felt obliged to see the place, having known it through various incarnations. For many years the former non-conformist tabernacle (all florid red brick and flint work) was being left-to-decay. It had been leased for a while as local council offices, but was then in a state of limbo and pigeon-crap. It was on the point of being demolished for a supermarket (the supermarket chains have eyed various properties — notably the Odeon cinema — but in each case have met the rising tide of middle-class N10MBYism). Eventually the teetotalist covenant was broken, and for a brief but happy moment it was “The Church” with a brew-house. That didn’t last long, and it went to being O’Neill’s, a barn of a sportsbar — a good place to watch the Rugby only available to Sky subscribers, but not a place to linger for the non-fizzy beer crowd. The arrival of Wetherspoons, taking over what was originally the old Express dairy on Muswell Hill roundabout (then, unhappily, as the teenies’ drink-and-drugs mart of choice), at what is now the Mossy Well changed the whole boozing culture of N10 — and for the better. Even if it also meant the loss of the Wetherspoons houses in Crouch End and at Highgate’s Gatehouse.

I’d have to presume that the Mossy Well, along with wider availability of international Rugby, drained the life out of what had been O’Neill’s — and so M&B are having another go.

I’ve now tried it once. It’s OK-ish; but I doubt we shall return.

Beers of the day:

A pint of Camden Pale Ale at the Phoenix. Err, well … if one must.

A pint of London Pride at the Gypsy Moth in Greenwich: definitely a step up in the world. If I can’t get ESB “lunatic broth” or — yet better — HSB (originally Gale’s Horndean Special Bitter from Hampshire) then London Pride is as good as Fuller’s gets. I’d have preferred a Young’s Special, when it was a London brew, but … horses-for-courses.

Finishing the evening: a taste more of that rather-toothsome East London Brewery’s Jamboree, on draught, at the Maynard.

Quote of the day:

Banner on Pentonville goal: “Serving the community for 175 years”. The “service” of 120 prisoners was abbreviated by the hangman,

Readings of the day:

The New Statesman and the New European.

Then A Great and Noble Design, the catalogue of Sir James Thornhill’s sketches for the Painted Hall at Greenwich. This really needs a complementary volume for the finished work: that will presumably follow from the conservation work. Oh, and a little pamphlet — just a dozen printed pages (English and French on opposites) of Thornhill’s own Explanation of the Painting. The bit of that which caught the Pert Young Piece’s eye went:

In the Middle of the Gallery next the upper Hall, is the Stern of a Britiſh Man of War, with a Figure of VICTORY filling her with Spoils and Trophies taken from the Enemy.

Under the Man of War is a Figure that represents the CITY of LONDON fitting on THAME, and ISIS, with the ſmaller Rivers bringing Treaſures unto her. The River TINE is there pouring forth his Plenty of Coals.

Her attention was that of an avid student of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, and re-reading (and audio-booking) the lot before we get volume seven.

My interest there was as much in the typography of 1726. What exactly were the rules of initial capitalisation (presumably for all nouns — easy), of ENTIRE CAPITALS (was this for Proper Nouns?) and for italicising (which seems just weird)?


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Filed under Beer, London, Muswell Hill, pubs, Quotations, railways

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:

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!

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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Another place with “too much history”

Yesterday to Durham and The Big Meeting (133rd iteration).

The Lady in my Life and myself are there, dead in front of the microphones, and about four rows back. The last time I went was mid-1960s, and the main speaker was Harold Wilson. There were still coal-mines working then. Durham’s very last was Monkwearmouth, where the last shift was worked on 10th December 1993. The site, today, is the Stadium of Light, Sunderland’s home ground.

In 1937 George Orwell was factually stating the importance of coal:

Practically everything we do, from eating an ice to crossing the Atlantic, and from baking a loaf to writing a novel, involves the use of coal, directly or indirectly. For all the arts of peace coal is needed; if war breaks out it is needed all the more. In time of revolution the miner must go on working or the revolution must stop, for revolution as much as reaction needs coal. Whatever may be happening on the surface, the hacking and shovelling have got to continue without a pause, or at any rate without pausing for more than a few weeks at the most. In order that Hitler may march the goose-step, that the Pope may denounce Bolshevism, that the cricket crowds may assemble at Lords, that the poets may scratch one another’s backs, coal has got to be forthcoming. But on the whole we are not aware of it; we all know that we ‘must have coal’, but we seldom or never remember what coal-getting involves. Here am I sitting writing in front of my comfortable coal fire. It is April but I still need a fire. Once a fortnight the coal cart drives up to the door and men in leather jerkins carry the coal indoors in stout sacks smelling of tar and shoot it clanking into the coal-hole under the stairs. It is only very rarely, when I make a definite mental-effort, that I connect this coal with that far-off labour in the mines. It is just ‘coal’ — something that I have got to have; black stuff that arrives mysteriously from nowhere in particular, like manna except that you have to pay for it. You could quite easily drive a car right across the north of England and never once remember that hundreds of feet below the road you are on the miners are hacking at the coal. Yet in a sense it is the miners who are driving your car forward. Their lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower.

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And even now, if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging it to and fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive ourselves of coal.

Eighty years on, 21st April 2017, Britain went a day without coal, while the lights stayed on.

There have been no active coal-mines, and no coal-miners in the County Palatine this quarter-century. But the Durham Miners’ Gala, the Big Meetin’, goes on, and this year was bigger and brassier than ever.

Durham has too much history for its own good. That’s an expression I have seen applied to Ireland, to the island of Cyprus and to Naples in recent times. It has degrees of truth in every case. In Durham, though, the history is close enough to touch:

… the miners who died in the many pit disasters of the Durham coalfields.

They number thousands, including 164 at Seaham in 1880 and 168 at Stanley in 1909, and are commemorated by a memorial in Durham Cathedral, a spectacular Romanesque landmark that this autumn celebrates the 25th anniversary of its designation as a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the historic city. Next to the memorial to the victims of pit disasters is a book of remembrance that the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, was at pains to point out to me. “Here’s one 15 years of age,” he said. “J E Scott. Died at Shotton [in 1953]. This is a really poignant place.”

The Dean talked of “the big meeting”, the annual miners’ gala in July when the former mining communities pour through the city behind their colliery banners and wind their way up to the cathedral for the miners’ service. “It’s a kind of echo of the Middle Ages when people would flock into this place and believe they were part of something bigger than they were,” said the Dean.

Any rail journey takes one past acres of rough scrub that not too long ago were coal-tips. Railway yards and sidings stretch far, far further than any conceivable modern need. Few villages lack what once was (and may still be marked as) the Miners’ Welfare hall. In the streets and pubs one brushes past ageing faces and limbs, marked with the blue of coal-dust tattooed under the skin.

Scott and Scot

Yesterday, then, to Durham’s Racecourse. The site stretches past the Wear river-bank, and to its other side the massive ridge (as above):

Well yet I love thy mix’d and massive piles,
Half church of God, half castle ’gainst the Scot …

For sixty-odd years that tag has come to my mind, and mouth, every time I have seen an image or the reality of Durham’s great, looming cathedral. I somehow knew it was Walter Scott. That may be because anything so romantic had to derive from the same source that gave us swash-and-buckle, the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood and even Tony Curtis’s fictional “Yonda lies the castle of my fodder“. Precisely locating the reference isn’t quite that easy. To save others the sweat, it is found in Canto Third of Harold the Dauntless of 1817.

For contemporary tastes, Scott’s romantic world contains too much “hied me home” or

Wrinkled his brows grew, and hoary his hair

That’s unfair in this case, because the 1817 poem is prefaced by a more-cynical Scott. He deplores O tempora! O mores, as Cicero did Against Catiline: —

Ennui! — or, as our mothers call’d thee, Spleen!
To thee we owe full many a rare device;
Thine is the sheaf of painted cards, I ween,
The rolling billiard-ball, the rattling dice,
The turning-lathe for framing gimcrack nice;
The amateur’s blotch’d pallet thou mayst claim,
Retort, and air-pump, threatening frogs and mice,
(Murders disguised by philosophic name,)
And much of trifling grave, and much of buxom game.

At the moment, the imposing central tower of the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham has scaffolding all round, and wears a square white cook’s bonnet.

The proceedings

When we finally came to the speechifying, even that have to be after a brass-band rendering of “The Miner’s Hymn”, Gresford:

The story behind that is told here:

Written by a former miner, Robert Saint, to commemorate the Gresford pit disaster in 1934 it has been played at mining events ever since; most notably at the famous Durham Miners’ Gala.

What is too easily forgotten is that, in the days of working pits, the attendees at the Gala would have held silence to that every year and recalled the death-toll.

My first teaching job was in a boys’ grammar school in the County Durham. Male teachers in an all-male (with one brave exception) staff-room constitute a cynical lot. So, morning break, 21st October 1966, was eerily quiet. The news was coming through of the Aberfan disaster and the immolation of Pantglas Primary school. By no coincidence, Alan Plater’s Close the Coalhouse Door (originally intended as a BBC radio play) went on stage in April 1968:

A few years back I was at the packed Richmond Theatre for Sam West’s revival (lightly trimmed by Lee Hall). The same evocative, eye-pricking power was there. All the way from Thomas Hepburn and Peter Lee.

It’s the same tradition as Abide With Me before the Cup Final. It’s very much the mood of “those no longer with us”. But for industrial workers, especially in the heaviest industries, it’s also “those taken from us because of managerial mistakes and incompetence”.

This year the Miner’s Hymn had added plangency:

Not just an Elf

There is a message here; and it’s the box that most of the speakers at the Big Meeting ticked.

Disasters like Gresford in 1934, Aberfan in 1966 and the Grenfell Tower this year are “accidents-waiting-to-happen”. They derive from decisions taken, or studiously ignored, by bureaucratic processes beyond the control of us ordinary folk. What we have to protect us, to some extent, are Health and Safety Regulations. That is, of course, if they are policed and enforced.

Even then there are arrogant twazzles who mock them:

“We could, if we wanted, accept emissions standards from India, America, and Europe. There’d be no contradiction with that,” Mr Rees-Mogg said.

“We could say, if it’s good enough in India, it’s good enough for here. There’s nothing to stop that.

“We could take it a very long way. American emission standards are fine – probably in some cases higher. 

“I accept that we’re not going to allow dangerous toys to come in from China, we don’t want to see those kind of risks. But there’s a very long way you can go.”

The MP’s comments came in the context of a discussion about trade deals with other countries following Brexit.

Said twazzle now fancies himself to chair the highly-important Treasury select committee, and stamp Asian labour practices, and US water standards on post-Brexit Britain.

Too much history? Or not enough yet?

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B(r)ought to book

There is a special joy in discovering a new (at least, new to me) novel sequence.

I will have fingered the piles in the local Waterstone’s serially, before taking the plunge. Sometimes it works (those “get second book half-price” offers help). Too often it doesn’t; and a couple of years later I might be, plucking at the shelf, having a second bite.

Then the bitterest gall of all is to find the paperback the tables, while at home lurks the tasted-but-unfinished hardback.

It was inevitable that, sooner or later, I would go for James Runcie’s Grantchester teccies. I’d caught a couple in their TV adaptations.

Finally I took the plunge, making sure I had the sequence in proper order.

So here I am, setting out with Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death. The next month, with luck, is going to be booked.

Stout, but not Cortez, here I am willing and wishing to be dazzled by this new planet swimming into my ken.

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Lightening a grim day

I dozed off early (Neil Gaiman can be as soporific as Mr. MacGregor’s lettuce). Only in the early hours did I hear of the Manchester horror.

So, come this morning, it was good to have some light relief:

Catty uncornered

Years ago, we were doing the chateaux of the Loire, and stopped off at La Flèche.

Just as we were moving on, a dispute broke out between two authentic French ladies of certain years. Madame A’s lap-dog had taken offence at Madame B’s cat. The cat had taken refuge in the nearby tree, and was spitting down at the dog.

The cat was not coming down. Words were being exchanged.

The aid of les pompiers was called for.

The first stalwart arrived on a bicycle, with what looked like a window-cleaner’s ladder. Too short. An appreciative audience was growing.

The next reinforcement was a small van, with a longer ladder. The boy apprentice was sent up the ladder. The cat headed higher. The quite considerable circle of on-lookers were warmed by such an act of resistance,

Finally, the full panoply of les sapeurs-pompiers de La Flèche showed up with a resplendent red carriage and extendable ladder. Cheers all round.

As the ladder was being raised, the cat came scampering down the tree, and was quickly purring in Madame B’s bosom.

Excitement over, we headed on our way.

Doggy doo-dah

Perhaps it was on that summer trip we composed the game to entertain young daughters along the kilometres of routes nationales.

The dog on a string is a frequent feature, wherever one goes.

We established that every French dog had to come in one of three types: rat, rug or demi-cheval. Because the daughters, even at that early age, were perceptive creatures, very quickly those simple definitions were not enough. Depending on size and hairiness, long disputations ensued to determine a ratty-rug from a ruggy-rat.

No: I do not claim ownership of this entertainment. We simplified it from Macbeth:

Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;
As hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves, are ‘clept
All by the name of dogs: the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The housekeeper, the hunter, every one
According to the gift which bounteous nature
Hath in him closed.

Sheer Rattiness

When canine distinctions palled, we reverted to the on-going rat-wagon competition.

Those were the days when progress along any route nationale could regularly be impeded by being stuck for long periods behind a trundling and corrugated Citroën van. There were after all the better part of half-a-million of these.

Doubtless those which are not serving moules avec frites along the Belgian coast, or gussied up as crêperies on London’s South Bank, now serve duty as chicken hutches.

Not only were such automotive slugs obstinately slow, they had an even greater propensity to rust than any Lada or Kawasaki.

A true rat-wagon had to be not just rust-streaked (they all came that way) but pitted and — preferably — see-through.

So we designated local champions, provincial champions, and — at the end of the trip — a national champion.

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