Aemstelredamme revisited, and a personal trauma

This weekend involves a quick flight from Leeds-Bradford “International” (yeah: better believe it) Airport to Amsterdam. Since the other end is Luchthaven Schiphol, that’s a trip from the pretentious to the ginormous.

amsterdam“Aemstelredamme” came about when the river Amstel was … err … dammed, and a passage created over it. Makes sense, huh? Once you have a bridge, some bright spark will start charging to cross over. Whereupon the Count of Holland, Flores V (whose name alone would seem more redolent for an air-freshener) issued a decree that the local bods were exempt from such an impost. This document, dated 1275, proves the existence of a settlement at that time.

By the way, the last time the Lady-in-my-Life and I dropped in, Amsterdam was hosting some mega-LGBT freak-out. There wasn’t a room to be had, this side of Nebraska (another bitter, cryptic, personal joke, as in looking for a bed in the neighbourhood of Sturgis at the wrong moment). We ended up in a palatial, marble-bathroomed, penthouse suite: doubly-nice, since we beat them down to “superior” costings.

Broads, in any definition

When I was a bright young thing at Fakenham Grammar, I was not taught the Norfolk Broads were artificial. Only later did the business of peat-extraction get raised (or excavated). I see a similar suggestion being floated how Amsterdam got those concentric canals.

In all truth, I like Amsterdam — though I seem to get to the “Low Countries” only in winter. Now — and, I beg you, don’t take this amiss — in my recollection that means the visit can have its whiffy moments. Deploy the Flores V.

Born on the North Sea littoral, and not-quite-flooded in January 1953,  I have this fellow-feeling that drains across vaguely-sea-level zones always have problems of not-quite-managing. And so can be a trifle aromatic. The same problem occurs in Venice, of course — but there nasal and optical experiences are hardly improved by characters who never feature in the tourist guides, but who can emerge, at random, blackened, in full diving kit, from the city’s necessary cess-pits. At least the Venetians are explicit (and it must be a select but secure choice of career) about it. Perhaps, as well, it is to make sure the affronted tourist doesn’t return too soon. I’m sure the excellent Donna Leon must incorporate this in one of her Commissario Brunetti teccies.

The Belgians and the Dutch, though — as in other matters  — let it all hang out, and seem to let the miasma creep up on one. Memo to self: avoid De Walletjes, though I know for certain my outspoken daughter (who arrives two hours previous to her aged parents) will make a point of inspecting, and commenting. Myself: I just don’t wanna know.

Reading
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OK: I finished Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle (for the second time): it took over a full month, and two continents. Then, in a day (actually, an extended evening), the latest Rankin. That required an hour reorganising three shelves to get this new arrival to fit. As a result, I found Fleshmarket Close has gone missing from the assembled oeuvre.

Which brings me to the crunch here.

What’s for the weekend reading?

The Economist, in the post-Trump moment, has to be a must. I feel I ought to pick up the London Review of Books if only for the Neal Ascherson essay: though the problem is an early flight, and a very limited news-outlet at LBA.

I’m suddenly very aggrieved about the missing Fleshmarket Close.

So: what next? What next? Problems! Problems!

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Filed under air travel., Economist, History, leisure travel, Norfolk, travel, Yorkshire

Meanwhile, a bit of American decency and good news

dfe98e-20161108-omar11Ilhan Omar is now a member of the Minnesota House of representatives, representing House District 60B.

None too many days ago, Donald Trump was telling the world how Somali immigration represented a threat to the State of Minnesota, and — by extension— to the entire United States.

The lasting success of the United States is the ability to nurture and integrate talent from around the world. Why, even the grandson of a Kallstadt draft-evader and  barber’s apprentice can make it to the White House. We’ve just got to become used to it.

Cue the coda of  The West Wing: Episode 4.01 — “20 Hours in America part 1″. Peter Lien, son of a Vietnamese refugee, has been elected to Congress.

BARTLET: Leo, meet Congressman Peter Lien, Texas 22nd. Peter, this is Leo McGarry, U.S. Air Force, 144th Fighter Wing.

LEO: Pleased to meet you, Congressman.

BARTLET: Peter’s family fishes in Galveston Bay, but they don’t catch marlin. It’s a sore spot, and he doesn’t like to talk about it. Peter’s 34 years old.

LEO: I’m sorry it’s been two months and we haven’t been able to get you up here until now.

LIEN: No, please. It’s a bust time. If there’s any help I can give you in Texas…

BARTLET: Ordinarily I would tell you that Jim Coor was a good public servant, and you’ve got big shoes to fill, and he was and you do, but obviously you have a bigger symbolic responsibilty then that.

LIEN: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: But you biggest responsibiltity isn’t symbolic, right?

LIEN: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: What is it?

LIEN: It’s my district, my country, and the Congress of the United States.

BARTLET: Welcome, my friend, to the show that never ends.

LIEN: Thank you, Mr. President.

Or, in real life, the real President lists the contributions made by Asian-Americans.

To cheer us up, there’s imminent mid-Terms on Tuesday, 6th November, 2018.

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Filed under The West Wing, United States, US Elections, US politics

Hillary and Trump beneath the Upas tree

The prolificly-mischievous George Steevens perpetrated one of his literary hoaxes, allegedly translated from the diary of a Dr Foersch, a (fictitious) Dutch surgeon, in Java. He invented  the upas-tree:

Erasmus Darwin, physician and scholar, a figure of some standing in botanical science and the author of several botanical works including The Loves of the Plants (1789), was another of Steevens’s victims. The London Magazine for December 1783 (pp. 511–17) carried Steevens’s description of the upas tree of Java which could kill all life within a distance of 15 to 18 miles, his source being an entirely fictitious Dutch traveller. Darwin was taken in and admitted the upas tree into his Loves of the Plants, from which Coleridge derived information…

That from the Dictionary of National Biography.

Once invented, the upas-tree had a life of its own, and became a metaphor for deadly power and influence. Southey had it, perhaps as the first, as the punch-line of Thalaba the Destroyer:

Enough the Island crimes had cried to Heaven,
The measure of their guilt was full,
The hour of wrath was come.
The poison burst the bowl,
It fell upon the earth.
The Sorceress shrieked and caught Mohareb’s robe
And called the whirlwind and away!
For lo! from that accursed venom springs,
The Upas Tree of Death.

Byron reckoned that Thalaba the Destroyer was one of Southey’sunsaleables, but that didn’t get in the way of borrowing the Southey reference in Childe Harold, Canto the Fourth (verse CXXVI):

Our life is a false nature — ’tis not in
The harmony of things, — this hard decree,
This uneradicable taint of sin,
This boundless upas, this all-blasting tree,
Whose root is earth, whose leaves and branches be
The skies which rain their plagues on men like dew —
Disease, death, bondage, all the woes we see —
And worse, the woes we see not — which throb through
The immedicable soul, with heart-aches ever new.

Our modern Upas

… is the toxic media.

  • We have it in the tabloid press (the British version might seem uniquely venomous, but — sadly — not).
  • We have in the shrill populist excess that is Fox News.
  • We have it, in excelsis, in the vowel evacuations of the shock-jocks.
  • Above all, it is the proliferation of web-sites and social media even further beyond the pale than Breitbart.

In this dispensation, anything short of vitriol is soft-soap.

How many times in recent weeks have we encountered hand-wringing despair such as this from Paul Waugh:

No one is pretending that either Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are perfect or all-wise, far from it. As the two candidates with the most negative poll ratings in history, the voters seem to be choosing which is their least worst option, via the least worst form of government. Here’s just one example: Trump’s repeated lies are well documented (a Newsweek reporter last night tweeted 100 of his worst ones, from business to politics to even fibbing about his golf score). And yet he polls ahead of Clinton for honesty. For many voters, their loathing of Hillary outweighs their distaste for Trump.

Today’s edition of The Guardian was a fine effort, with several articles of enduring worth. For now, I’ll stick with the First Leader:

… the only alternative to Mrs Clinton is Donald Trump. It needs to be said again, at this fateful moment, that Mr Trump is not a fit and proper person for the presidency. He is an irascible egomaniac. He is uninterested in the world. He has fought a campaign of abuse and nastiness, riddled with racism and misogyny. He offers slogans, not a programme. He propagates lies, ignorance and prejudice. He brings no sensibility to the contest except boundless self-admiration. He panders to everything that is worst in human nature and spurns all that is best.

Fear and Loathing revisited

Beyond the valid charges made by The Guardian, Trump is a prime example of a media creation, a thing spawned by his own monomania. Hillary Clinton is a lawyer and a politician.

And therein lies the difference.

Clinton still works within accepted patterns, professional disciplines, of behaviour. When use of a private email is a crime, we are all guilty. Every one — especially a successful, practising political operator — has their “private channels”.

Trump, though, is a fraud, a bully, a liar.

He is poison.

But he survives this far by anti-toxin imbibed from long sojourn under the Breitbart/Fox upas tree.

So I am reminded of the fable Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin generated from the upas tree:

Deep in the desert’s misery,
far in the fury of the sand,
there stands the awesome Upas Tree
lone watchman of a lifeless land.

The wilderness, a world of thirst,
in wrath engendered it and filled
its every root, every accursed
grey leafstalk with a sap that killed.

The king sends a slave to collect the poison:

He brought the deadly gum; with it
he brought some leaves, a withered bough,
while rivulets of icy sweat
ran slowly down his livid brow.

And, mission accomplished, the slave expires.

The king now uses the poison:

The king, he soaked his arrows true
in poison, and beyond the plains
dispatched those messengers and slew
his neighbors in their own domains.

If Trump beats the odds, he too is capable of such savagery.

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Filed under Byron, Comment is Free, Guardian, Literature, Oxford English Dictionary, United States, US Elections, US politics

Ooh, You Are Awful … But I Like You!

I’ll defend the Oxford English Dictionary to my last breath as one the highest achievements of British learning and literature.

It would be my Desert Island Discs book. (If that was forbidden, it’d have to be Howard Spring’s Fame Is The Spur.)

Even so, the OED has its irritations. Here’s what I found when I looked up tenterhooks:

the hooks or bent nails set in a close row along the upper and lower bar of a tenter, by which the edges of the cloth are firmly held

Wasn’t that helpful?

As for the rest:

tenter, noun:

A wooden framework on which cloth is stretched after being milled, so that it may set or dry evenly and without shrinking. Also †a pair of tenters (Obs. rare) and in pl. form tentersFormerly tenters of the length of a web of cloth stood in rows in the open air in  tenter-fields or grounds, and were a prominent feature in cloth-manufacturing districts; but the process of drying and stretching is now generally done much more rapidly in  tenter-houses by tenter- or tentering-machines.

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Filed under Oxford English Dictionary, reading

Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig

Sounds a good definition of what I expect in a decent beer.

It’s the motto of Amsterdam, by the way.

Which is where my diary says I’m spending the next weekend, doubtless with Jacques Brel as ear-worm:

After that, up yours, David Bowie (I award a beat-plus), John Denver (a good gamma for sheer effort, but far too sweet), and lesser lights.

My other problem is the eternal Interbrew/InBev crisis.

orval-mugOne of my Red Lines is to avoid anything from that Leuven monster. So no Stella (as if …), Bud (snarf, snarf!), Boddingtons (the froth of “Manchester” — now fizzed somewhere out in Lancashire) or Bass. Only the last of those four is any great loss. Leffe: hmmm … but I’d prefer any genuine Trappist, especially Orval (I’ve still got the pot mug, bought 1967, and awarded originally to Dear Old Dad).

What’s going to make Amsterdam easier is I’m hearing good things about some new boys:

  • the Amsterdamsche Stoombierbrouwerij (an in-house brewery in De Bekeerde Suster, Kloveniersburgwal 6-8, Amsterdam);
  • Butcher’s tear, who allegedly do a sequence of seasonal beers, with the winter Ex Voto coming particularly recommended;
  • Brouwerij ‘t IJ, down by the docks, again with seasonals and a formidable triple Zatte.

There ought to be a PhD thesis in here somewhere, how the emergence of monopolies leads inexorably to a re-emergence of better, smaller rivals. Despite the heavy hand of InBev, the Low Countries have a flourishing small brewing industry. It happened, too,  in East Anglia, when Watneys took over both the remaining Norwich breweries (Bullards and Stewart & Patteson — the latter’s winter Old K-ale being another lost national treasure). As sure as night follows day, lesser lights eventually shone through the gloom — Woodforde’s of Woodbastwick do a more-than-decent winter ale, the Norfolk Nog.

And after Amsterdam, in almost weekly slices, the Black North of Ulster (highlight: back to Bushmills) and Prague (conveniently, but not accidentally, close to Novoměstský pivovar — The New Town Brewery).

Gezondheid! Guid forder! Na Zdravi!

It’s a hard life, this retirement business.

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Filed under Beer, Belgium, Europe, Northern Ireland, travel

Easy on the madeleines

We each have triggers for involuntary memory.

I’ve just recovered some lost time.

It was a prompt from a prompt about Tesco and the Great #Brexit Threat of a Marmite Famine.

iu

So I had to rush out and buy a pot.

Ah, but it brought back the Old Times.

For, you see, there was a time in my chequered career when “lunch” was a couple of Ryvita, with a smear of Marmite, washed down with two mugs of tea-bag tea (as likely as not, both made from the same tea-bag) — milk optional. Then back to the chalk-face.

When retirement intervened, I lost the taste, in large part because the Lady-in-my-Life remains sternly anti-Marmite.

Now the pot is almost empty, and I may be suffering withdrawal symptoms.

Stratford and Hook Norton

9781472577542Recently I was down to Stratford-upon-Avon for a double header: Aphra Benn’s The Rover for the p.m. matinee (which I would gladly see again), and back for the evening session for Two Noble Kinsmen from Bill Shagsper and John Fletcher (though the new Arden edition puts those two names in alphabetic order).

I have to say, it came close to reversing the old Himalaya pun: “Loved her; none too keen on them”.

Which isn’t the point; because the pub on the corner of Bridge Street (where Lady-in-my-Life and daughter expect to find me when I go AWOL) is The Encore. And the beer on the bar was Old Hooky. At 4.6%, the odd decimal point or two above a sessional quaffing beer; but just what a drouthy man needs during and after a culture-fest.

Also, another memory trigger, rewinding the counter many years to a well-spent day being driven around the Cotswolds with a long, leisurely, late and liquid lunch at the Pear Tree, within sniffing range of that excellent brewery itself.

Pear Tree.jpg

 

 

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Filed under Literature, pubs, Shakespeare, travel

Prerogatives derogated

In that previous post I found myself saying:

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 …

That post was already over-long, so I omitted the small matter of:

prerog

This is an interesting document, because (at the end of the last Labour government) it attempted to identify where the Royal prerogative persisted; and even where it should be going.

Not entirely surprisingly, once Tories are running the show, that script-line gets lost. We haven’t entirely overcome the ancient Royalist and Roundhead cleavage.

One surprise, though, was just how restricted the Prerogative had become:

para12

All of a sudden, it looks “containable”, though there’s an obvious (and very relevant in the context here) quibble in the final sentence there.

When we arrive at the “summary” of the document’s purpose:

to provide an overview of areas where ministerial prerogative powers are exercised, or have been exercised recently

Here again we encounter an account of Prerogative with a particular significance in the #Brexit context:

foreign

Happily, on that basis, Messers Boris Johnson, Neil Fox and David Davis (messers all), with Madame May “directing”, can carry on diplomatically. Not that diplomacy seems to have been the name of their recent games.

May be I’m being picky (what’s new?) but then I have to see something awry:

The “Power to make and ratify treaties” doesn’t logically extend  to abrogating them.

And that’s what Article 50 does.

 

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., EU referendum, Europe, History, Law, politics, Tories.