Category Archives: Quotations

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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Wall art bites

When we’re down in The Smoke, the Lady in my Life and I perch in “edgy” Crouch End.

“Edgy” in the sense it has evolved a Waitrose supermarket (wow!) and a new Waterstones book-shop. Not to forget The Queens (one of north London’s surviving gin-palaces) and The Maynard (more pub-bistro, but wider choice of beer and better bogs). Add in a whole selection of coffee shop/eateries — personal favourite is Monkeynuts (nearest thing to a good American diner — named, by the way, because it was once a tyre-fitters).  Everything any metropolitan yummy mummy with a seven-figure Victorian terrace could desire.

Eat yer heart out, ‘Ampstead.

As “senior citizens”, we old wrecks have free bus travel — thank you, Gordon Brown. So we waft down town on the 91 bus, which diesels its Metroline way to Trafalgar Square.

That established, this post can truly begin.

Along the Caledonian Road (“The Cally”, per-lezze), and two stops past “Her Majesty’s Prison Pentonville” (as the audio in-bus announcement has it) the bus pulls in beside Faith Inc studios, outlet of yet another anonymous North London street artist, “Pegasus”.

“Pegasus” left his mark there on the wall of Faith Inc. It is now, wisely, protected by a thick acetate sheet:

Nip across to Camden, where Hungerford Road and York Way intersect, and there’s another “Pegasus” work:

All around Amy Winehouse’s old stamping ground of Camden, you’ll get graffiti attempts — but Fallen Angel shows how it should be done.

Nearly as good is “Bambi’s” in Bayham Street, Kentish Town:

I have found it hard, without the signature, stylistically to separate “Pegasus” and “Bambi” — though she seems a smidgeon closer to “Banksy” (and borrows shamelessly from Warhol, of course).

Why am I bothering with this?

Because in a way it has a strange importance.

“Tagging” has been a phenomenon and an eye-sore these several decades. As that regency novelist didn’t generalise: it is a truth internationally acknowledged, that a streetwise youth in possession of a spray-can must be in want of a wall.

In recent years the quality of such “vandalism” had improved exponentially. Competition is good.

Back in the street-art stone age, once the tagger had evolved bubble-lettering and a moniker, what mattered was size and location.

Then it became multi-colours.

Then it became more pictorial.

Then it became “art”, and the artist had to have a personal tweak. Around Shoreditch, in particular, a Mexican arrival, Pablo Delgado made his mark with Lilliputian figures at the base of his walls, casting long shadows across the pavement:

Make of that what you will. Around the time of the London Olympics, Delgado was adding street-walkers (“because everyone is selling themselves”):

And the last stage of this progress is the art becomes — not just “saleable” and tee-shirt-able — but exploitable by third parties. In London (perhaps inspired by the Belfast “mural” tours) one can now sign up to guided walks of the best street art in a particular ‘hood.

The once-“edgy” is now mainstream.

 

 

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One last 1970/2016 thing … Lola!

Four New Years since I was in the Bald Faced Stag in East Finchley. The boozer was crowded: a ticket-only affair.

It wasn’t going too well. The DJ had tried several rabble-rousers; but the rabble remained unroused. So he went therm0-nuclear: played The Kinks’ Lola.

The joint was suddenly jumping. It helped that the Davies brothers sprang from half-a-mile back up Fortis Green.

The clip above is from the Jools Holland Hootenanny a couple of years back. It’s Ray Davies solo — but, if you’re so dumb not to have numerous versions already saved (and I’ve half-a-dozen at least on just one iPod), YouTube will oblige.

So: I’m back to Norf Bleeding’ Lunnun for this New Year (though not at the Stag); and confidently expect Lola to show up.

One last mystery: how the heck can a narrative of not the wold’s most physical guy being picked up in a clip-joint by a tranny sell so well, everywhere?

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Traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament

Recognise it? Its the indictment against Charles Stuart, 20th January 1648.

Where else to start? In a roundabout way, Paddy Kavanagh springs to mind:

Forget the worm’s opinion too
Of hooves and pointed harrow-pins,
For you are driving your horses through
The mist where Genesis begins. 

Those #Brexiteers assured us the UK would enjoy some regeneration, a second “genesis”, after 23rd June. They didn’t bother about the painful details. Now, the worm beneath the harrow is beginning to watch for where the tines will drive.

It also started here. Quite why the commenters on politics.ie should divide between ultra-Kippers and staunch defenders of the British Constitution escapes me. But for 1,700 exchanges (and continuing) they did, and do.

4256Personally, I was severely affronted by the vulgarity, the xenophobia, the sexism, the violent populism and anti-elitism fomented by the vulgar, xenophobic, sexist, arrogant,  elitist tabloid press barons in their spittle-speckled assaults on the High Court of Justice.

But back to first principles:

The whole non-event comes down to a binary simplicity:

  • Does the Prime Minister have the right to decide when and what #Brexit means, by exercise of “Royal Prerogative”?

or

  • Is Parliament the essential arbiter? 

Those three High Court judges, in their wisdom, endorsed a thousand years of English history, and declared for Parliament.

I doubt there will ever be plaques, with or without bird-turd, outside the Baby Shard (the London bunker from whence Murdoch’s The Sun rises daily), or Northcliffe House in Kensington (ditto the Daily Mail) as the one outside the Roundhouse pub, on Royal Standard Place, in Nottingham:

king-charles-placque

I laid out my understanding in that previous post.

That left me with the residual issue:

  • When might the “Royal Prerogative” ever be invoked?

As I see it, that Elephantine Object in the Newsroom, the “British Constitution”, constrains both:

  • Courts (who can only interpret the “Constitution” as a corpus of legislation going back to Norman times) and
  • Parliament (which can only act and enact within “constitutional” limits — for example, since the 1911 Parliament Act, the Lords have no powers over money bills, except a one-month delay).

Any amendment to an existing Westminster law would need an amending Act of the Westminster parliament.

We have a balanced — and ever-evolving — settlement between Parliament, devolved Assemblies, and Courts. Still,  I can just about conceive circumstances in which “Royal Prerogative” might need to be invoked — short of a declaration of War. Say the administration of a devolved Assembly became totally unmanageable …

Aha! You’re with me already!

Even then we’d need something like a Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, which imposed Direct Rule from 31st March 1972 to its repeal on 2nd December 1999.

I therefore found myself seeing this as an exercise in speedy parliamentary activity, without use of Royal Prerogative.

A bit of parliamentary history

On 20th March 1972, Harold Wilson, under an emergency notice of 16th March, led an Opposition adjournment motion.

This came after weeks of dithering by the Heath government, and procrastination by the Unionist at Stormont. It was now common ground (except among the extremes of opinion in Northern Ireland, who were up for a local Armageddon). The Dublin government was on the verge of doing something unmentionable.

Wilson, ever the opportunist, would have known that the Heath government was about to act; and wanted to get in on the act. The Opposition had another motive : the need for a distractor. The following week the Chancellor was going to offer a crowd-pleasing budget, as a softener for a General election (which would become the “Barber boom”, and stoke up the inflation that bedevilled British politics for the next decade — but that’s another matter).

After three hours of debate (with Prime Minister Heath responding) the government defeated the motion to adjourn by 257 to 294.

Had that vote been lost, the sitting would have ended abruptly, and Heath would, by convention (another bit of unwritten “Constitution”) have had to return the following session to propose a vote of confidence in his own adminstration. Had that vote of confidence been lost, it would immediately require Heath to go the Palace (another bit of “Constitutional” flim-flam) and resign.

At that moment the Queen would have two choices: to accept the now ex-Prime Minister’s request for a General Election, or to summon the Leader of the Opposition to form a new government (who would then promptly request a General Election, which would be granted).

There then intervened three days of Budget debate.

Perspective

At this distance in time, we’d need to remind ourselves just how febrile the atmosphere was at that moment. One name in particular should be in the frame: William Craig.

Craig had lost out to the more moderate Brian Faulkner for the leadership of the Unionist Party and the stool-of-office as Northern Irish Prime Minister. He had then built a party-within-the-Unionist-Party, his private Ulster Vanguard movement — which was closely associated with the loyalists and paramilitaries of such as the UDA. Craig held his “monster rallies”, involving motor-cycle outriders, and armed men drawn up in quasi-military ranks. Craig’s speeches at these rallies are quite outrageous:

We must build up dossiers on those men and women in this country who are a menace to this country because one of these days, if and when the politicians fail us, it may be our job to liquidate the enemy.

Note there “this country”: Craig was advocating a Rhodesian-style UDI.

Keeping it parliamentary

On 24th March, Heath was back to the Commons to make a holding statement in advance of the weekend, announcing the bringing back to Westminster of powers over Northern Ireland :

Parliament will, therefore, be invited to pass before Easter a Measure transferring all legislative and executive powers now vested in the Northern Ireland Parliament and Government to the United Kingdom Parliament and a United Kingdom Minister. This provision will expire after one year unless this Parliament resolves otherwise. The Parliament of Northern Ireland would stand prorogued but would not be dissolved.

The weekend out of the way, on  27th March, the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Bill was laid before the House, and given a nominal First Reading.

On 28th March there was a full debate, and division (483-18) on the Second Reading. Willie Whitelaw , as Leader of the Commons and as emollient a creature as the Tories could contain, introduced the Bill with a formula of words worth noting in this context:

I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her interests and prerogative, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Got that? The “Royal Prerogative” there being made — effectively — subject (if only for this purpose) to the will of parliament. Nearly half a century ago, that must strike as a significant statement. And we have since moved much, much further in claiming democratic accountability through parliament against arbitrary, post-feudal authority.

There was a brief debate on amendments on 29th March (in effect, the “Committee Stage”).

On 30th March all the remaining stages, including the Bill passing the House of Lords, were completed, and at 12.26 pm the Lord Chancellor announced the Royal Assent: it was now an Act of Parliament, subject (see above) to annual review.

After that, interpretation would fall to the Courts.

All done and dusted, with the barest of nods at “Royal Prerogative”.

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The gaps in heroes … and Europe

Yesterday I heroically strutted abroad with a badge on my jerkin:

Cry God for Harry, England and St George!

Red text on white. You can buy them for a few bob at the RSC.

After all, the coincidence of a quadricentenary and the annual non-saint’s day will come around just the once in my lifetime.

In my strutting I had (as one does) to visit the local Oxfam book-shop: an eclectic lot, these York literati, so a prime place for Autolycan snapping-up of others’ unconsidered trifles.

And, lo! it was so. Here’s Peter Stanford’s The Legend of Pope Joan. Only when home did I realise it was a duplicate, a re-title for the American market of The She-Pope, already on my shelf, a gap between the weightier Peter Heather and John Julius Norwich.

The co-incidence of these events prompted an extended (and inconsequential) musing. Hence this post.

Bill’s words:

Curiously, leave aside Much Ado About Nothing (where she is a character), the word “hero” is not much in evidence in Shakespeare. If challenged, about the only reference I could offer would be Hamlet:

Hamlet: A dream itself is but a shadow.
Rosencrantz: Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow’s shadow.
Hamlet: Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars’ shadows. Shall we to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.

[Act II, scene ii]

Hold about! On second thoughts there’s Parolles in All’s Well:

Noble heroes, my sword and yours are kin.

[Act II, scene i]

The nature of a “hero”:

Well, they come cheaper now than they used to.

The “epic hero” had to fulfil a set of criteria.  When I had to stand before a chalk-board and vamp them, it would go something like this (assuming one were still allowed to get away with such arrant sexism):

  • a noble birth;
  • overlooked in childhood, although even then he might be capable of a marvellous deed;
  • he has to go wandering, on a mission;
  • he is scorned by his lady-love, but eventually wins her over;
  • he becomes recognised as a great warrior, usually by an act of conspicuous individual opposition to overwhelming (but overwhelmed) odds;
  • he has a magical weapon, or a supernatural power;
  • he also has some congenital defect or weakness;
  • despite his achievements, he remains humble, “one of us”;
  • he saves his people;
  • he dies in the moment of his greatest triumph.

Not every tragic hero has to show every characteristic, but the template applies from Beowulf to Superman (and even to “real” people, such as Nelson or Churchill). Doubtless, as a homework, Year Ten would then be told to write a short homework essay explaining which of those (or other) points makes their chosen subject “heroic”.  Alternatively, try to construct a similar check-list for the ideal female hero (with optional reflections on what that says about in-built cultural prejudices).

Filling the gaps

The problem comes when we cannot be satisfied with our hero, when we feel the need to generate fillers for the gaps in the story. Back to Bill:

Enter Rumour, painted full of tongues

Rumour: Open your ears; for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth:
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.

Henry IV, Part 2Act I, scene i, Prologue

If you believe that process has gone away with the arrival of wholesale literacy and 24/7/365 rolling “news”, wake up and hear the gossip. So we have everything from “local tradition says” to the “infancy gospels” of Jesus’s childhood, which seem to have become current as early as the fifth century, and persisted well into early medieval times, and even to EU banana myths. Then, as now, when the “authorities” (i.e., the Church in the earlier case) control the information, Rumour, painted full of tongues, will fill the void. As John Julius (a good Roman Catholic lad, comprehensively dismissing the Pope Joan story — see pages 60-67) ambivalently observes:

Rome, sacked by the Saracens in 846, was still going through her Dark Ages. All was confusion, records were few and untrustworthy, and the notion of a woman Pope was, perhaps, just conceivable …

Nevertheless, that story had by then been firmly established in the popular mind; and there for centuries it remained.

Which brings me back to Stanford and Pope Joan. For Stanford makes play of an apparent gap in papal succession, mid-9th century, between Leo IV and Benedict III. And where there are gaps, Rumour, painted full of tongues, likes to insert some Polyfilla. Even if Joan didn’t exist, she might need to be invented on that ground alone.

Hapax legomenon

Huh? Well, if you’d done your Greek under Dr Reynolds at the High School, you’d know that means “a once-reading”, a word that crops up just the once, so therefore we have to reach for its precise interpretation. Such a word, in Shakespeare is Europe: which, to my momentary confusion appears … ahem! … twice. In Henry IV, Part 1, there is Falstaff’s laboured (running) joke about Bardolph’s nose:

Thou hast saved me a thousand marks in links and torches, walking with thee in the night betwixt tavern and tavern: but the sack that thou hast drunk me would have bought me lights as good cheap at the dearest chandler’s in Europe.

[Act III, scene iii]

Why a European chandler might be more costly then a local one, let’s leave to the Kippers.

The one I wanted to exploit there is Bedford making his promises at the start of Henry VI, Part 1:

Farewell, my masters; to my task will I;
Bonfires in France forthwith I am to make,
To keep our great Saint George’s feast withal:
Ten thousand soldiers with me I will take,
Whose bloody deeds shall make all Europe quake.

[Act I, scene i]

My question is: what was the Elizabethan concept of “Europe”? What did the term mean to Shakespeare, with his notorious geographical illiteracy?

Ours is the 28 states of the European Union — though a glance at the stylised map on €-note suggest even that is wider than we at first grasp — there’s that strange little hieroglyphic at the bottom, beside 𝜠𝜰𝜬𝜴, reminding us of the DOM-TOM. For most of my life, “Europe” was Western Europe. and ended violently at the Iron Curtain. Geographical Europe, in the Atlas, extends to the Urals — yet I struggle to find Russia “European”. I’ve taken the ferry across the Bosphorus from Istanbul, stood on two continents within an hour — and not appreciated any great difference.  If my — our — concept of “Europe” is so vague, what would it be 400 or 1200 years ago? What is it for those unfortunate refugees from Syria, and elsewhere, leaving all (including, for many, life itself) to find “Europe” — which is at best going to be a dingy suburb of Mannheim, Mons or Manchester.

So, for the last time, back to Pope Joan. She is, according to version, English or German, particularly from Mainz. Stanford goes to lengths to make a road for Joan from the convent at Wimborne in Dorset, via the shadowy St Lioba, to Fula, on to Athens, and back to Rome. Joan, then, ticks at least some of those boxes for the popular/epic hero.

She may be Hamlet’s dream… but a shadow, but we need her to fill in the gaps of our “knowledge”.

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Conundrum of the day.

This was all kicked off by Steve Baker accusing Europe Minister, David Lidlington (who always strikes me as a bit herbivorous):

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): This in-at-all-costs deal looks and smells funny. It might be superficially shiny on the outside, but poke it and it is soft in the middle. Will my right hon. Friend admit to the House that he has been reduced to polishing poo?

Mr Lidington: No, and I rather suspect that, whatever kind of statement or response to a question that I or any of my colleagues delivered from the Dispatch Box, my hon. Friend was polishing that particular question many days ago.

Baker must have refined his cloacal knowledge in the RAF training scheme, in Lehman Brothers, or in the St Cross College for unattached mature students. One suspects, though, the expression was sweated to fly as close to Erskine May as possible.

Yet, “poo” is just so naff.

So I approved Paul Waugh, this morning:

Steve Baker caught the headlines with his ‘poo’ jibe yesterday. I’m not sure why is ‘poo’ was deemed Parliamentary language but ‘turd’ — the original line is ‘you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter’ — isn’t. No matter, the leading backbench Euroscep summed up the main case of many of the PM’s critics: that this not the great deal Cameron claims.

Waugh managed to pack “manure to be lobbed” and “the poo won’t stick” into proximity.

Where I differ is I’m not convinced “you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter” is “the original line”. It certainly appears here:

I reckon the conceit goes far further back, in the Glaswegian expression “a polished jobbie”.

quite_ugly_UK_pb_200Look what just happened there!

This opinionated Mac predictive-spellcheck “corrected” to bobbie.

Which is instructive, in a way, because I was reckoning to find “polished jobbie” (did it again! and again!) in the works of Christopher Brookmyre. I thought I remembered it from the first chapter of his Quite Ugly One Morning, which I rate as one of the best, and funniest openers in any ‘teccie.

Wrong, Malcolm!

boiling_frog_UK_hb_200You’ll find it in Boiling a Frog (at least three times, including):

there was only so much that news management could achieve, and brainwashing wasn’t part of it. People had to be receptive to a certain point of view in the first place: otherwise you weren’t so much spinning as polishing a jobbie.

Your memory misled you from the back end of Chapter 1 of Quite Ugly One Morning.

Inspector McGregor has arrived at the puke-skating scene of the crime:

There was dried and drying sick all over the hot radiator and down the wall behind it, which went some way towards explaining the overpowering stench that filled the room. But as pyjama man was only a few hours cold, his decay couldn’t be responsible for the other eye-watering odour that permeated the atmosphere.
McGregor gripped the mantelpiece and was leaning over to offer Callaghan a hand up over the upturned chair when he saw it, just edging the outskirts of his peripheral vision. He turned his head very slowly until he found himself three inches away from it at eye level, and hoped his discovery was demonstrative enough to prevent anyone from remarking on it.
Too late.
‘Heh, there’s a big keech on the mantelpiece, sir,’ announced Skinner joyfully, having wandered up to the doorway.
For Gow it was just one human waste-product too many. As the chaotic room swam dizzily before him, he fleetingly considered that he wouldn’t complain about policing the Huns’ next visit if this particular chalice could be taken from his hands. McGregor caught his appealing and slightly scared look and glanced irritably at the door by way of excusing him, the Inspector reckoning that an alimentary contribution from the constabulary was pretty far down the list of things this situation needed right now.
They watched their white-faced colleague make an unsteady but fleet-footed exit and returned their gazes to the fireplace.
The turd was enormous. An unhealthy, evil black colour like a huge rum truffle with too much cocoa powder in the mixture. It sat proudly in the middle of the mantelpiece like a favourite ornament, an appropriate monarch of what it surveyed. Now that they had seen it, it seemed incredible that they could all have missed it at first, but in mitigation there were a few distractions about the place.
‘Jesus, it’s some size of loaf right enough,’ remarked Callaghan, in tones that Dalziel found just the wrong side of admiring.
‘Aye, it must have been a wrench for the proud father to leave it behind,’ she said acidly.
‘I suppose we’ll need a sample,’ Callaghan observed. ‘There’s a lab up at the RVI that can tell all sorts of stuff from just a wee lump of shite.’
‘Maybe we should send Skinner there then,’ muttered Dalziel. ‘See what they can tell from him.’
‘I heard that.’
‘Naw, seriously,’ Callaghan went on. ‘They could even tell you what he had to eat.’
‘We can tell what he had to eat from your sleeve,’ Skinner observed.
‘But we don’t know which one’s sick this is,’ Callaghan retorted.
‘We don’t know which one’s keech it is either.’
‘Well I’d hardly imagine the deid bloke was in the habit of shiting on his own mantelpiece.’
‘That’s enough,’ said McGregor, holding a hand up. ‘We will need to get it examined. And the sick.’
‘Bags not breaking this one to forensics,’ said Dalziel.
‘It’ll be my pleasure,’ said the Inspector, delighted at the thought of seeing someone else’s day ruined as well.
‘Forensics can lift the sample then,’ said Callaghan.
‘No, no,’ said McGregor, smiling grimly to himself. ‘I think a specimen as magnificent as this one should be preserved intact. Skinner,’ he barked, turning round. ‘This jobbie is state evidence and is officially under the jurisdiction of Lothian and Borders Police. Remove it, bag it and tag it.’

To conclude:

Frans Boas is the source for the (arguable) belief that the Inuit have fifty words for snow. From my (excessive?) study of modern Scottish fiction, I begin to feel Glaswegians can manage similar  for “taking a dump”.

Mr Steve Baker needs to up his game.

 

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Fundamentals

195I4361_-4430_30I like David Crystal’s The Story of English in 100 Words.

Chapter 15 discusses the use of Arse.

I’d suggest this is an essential shibboleth.

First, you don’t get very far in (British) English without appreciating its many applications. Crystal has that one:

Arse

Lard-arse, which has displaced heavy arse in British common usage, seems to have crept in from Australia (the OED has its first citation from the Sydney Morning Herald of 27 August 1988). Having noted that, there’s lard-arsed in Thomas Heggen’s 1946 novel, Mister Roberts. My recollection has it that, ten years on, filmed by John Ford, with Henry Fonda and James Cagney, Frank Nugent’s script bowdlerising it to “lazy”.

We might wonder how the word became Obs. in polite use (as the OED has it): Crystal suggests:

It was inevitable that, as the word began to be used for the human posterior, the association with animals and with excrement would turn it into a ‘dirty word’.

Second, it illustrates what Bertrand Russell argued for the Saturday Evening Post, back in 1944:

It is a misfortune for Anglo-American friendship that the two countries are supposed to have a common language.

In passing, that’s the most likely candidate for the truism often blamed on George Bernard Shaw:

The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.

However, as far as I know, nobody has located that expression in any of Shaw’s works.

Crystal considers how we have evolved two variants: the British arse, and the very-different American ass. Obviously another form of bowdlerising. That prompts two thoughts:content

  • There was the convincing US bumper sticker: Democrats are hot! Ever hear of a fine piece of elephant!
  • My American son-in-law was squeamish about his first-born being introduced to Walter the Farting Dog, until The New York Times had it on their best-seller list.

All that’s left for this post is:

  • Are you an ass-man, or an arse-man?
  • Right arse and righter arse: is Kelvin MacKenzie a bigger arse than Richard Littlejohn? Or are they just two cheeks of the same one?

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