A farrago revisited

I think this is the third occasion I’ve had to point this out.

Today BBC2’s Daily Politics featured the unspeakable Nigel Farage. I was musing that Andrew “Brillo” Neil was giving the unspeakable an easy ride, when he concluded with that business between Ben Bradshaw and David Cameron over the unspeakable’s poncey pronunciation:

Neil then invoked the Oxford Dictionary’s expert, who got herself off the hook by saying the Dictionary didn’t include proper names per se. Since the unspeakable isn’t a vacuum cleaner or a move in ice-skating or an Irish land-agent involved in evictions he isn’t yet an eponym.

Yet far(r)age is in the OED. And here it comes:

Farrage

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Filed under Andrew Neil, BBC, David Cameron, Oxford English Dictionary, politics, reading, UKIP

Cui bono? (As if you couldn’t guess)

The New Yorker, of all places, has a piece on Hillsborough — The Legacy of a Soccer Tragedy, by Ruth Margalit:

Margalit-HillsboroughSoccerTragedy-690

  • it comes prefaced by one of the most poignant images (see above) and one I cannot recall seeing before;
  • and, as befits The New Yorker, comes quite sophisticated with it.

After a predictable human-interest opener, Margalit attempts a swift survey of how we arrived at caging people at Hillsborough —

  • the Heysel Stadium disaster, blamed here on:

rioting Liverpool supporters at a match in Brussels had triggered a stampede that caused the collapse of a stadium wall, leading to the death of thirty-nine people, most of them Italian fans of the soccer club Juventus.

Let us not bother to harp on whether a wall that collapsed was the fault of a “riot”, or whether a stadium should be organised to prevent such a “riot”, and not have walls that collapse.

  • the baleful influence of Margaret Thatcher, concerned not essentially with human suffering but with public image:

“We have to get the game cleaned up from this hooliganism at home and then perhaps we shall be able to go overseas again.”

Margalit then does a quick flit past Nick Hornby and Jason Cowley — both valid sources — before arriving at the key point:

Luckily for those of us who love the “beautiful game,” the culture did change. The most immediate and lasting changes were prompted by the publication, a few months after Hillsborough, of a damning report by Lord Taylor of Gosforth, later England’s Lord Chief Justice, criticizing the soccer industry’s poor treatment of supporters. The report led to a complete overhaul of stadium-safety regulations, and to the requirement that every spectator have an assigned seat.

And with that came something else:

the new seating requirement also contributed to a change in demographics. A mostly working-class fan base gave way to a middle-class and upper-middle-class clientele, the only people still able to afford tickets: adjusting for inflation, ticket prices now cost at least three times what they did in 1989, and, increasingly, clubs offer perks like champagne-on-tap V.I.P. boxes to their most deep-pocketed fans. Money coming in from TV rights has also skyrocketed, from a revenue stream of about twenty million dollars a year in 1988 to more than five billion dollars a year in 2014. Next year, the English Premier League is expected to overtake the N.F.L. as the highest-earning sports league in the world.

Time for a small declaration of interest. My Pert Young Piece, saving for her gap year, had a good thing going. Alternate Saturdays, she was on the catering/waiting detail for those V.I.P. boxes at White Hart Lane (and its American Express black cards) for the football and Harlequins for the Rugby.

So what has happened to the mostly working-class fan base?

Those who have been priced out of those “safer” stadia now frequent sports bars. [Don’t get me started on these soul-less and depressing joints, fuelled by fizzy imported beers.] The numerous screens will, inevitably, be tuned to the Sky Sports feeds. This from 2013:

Pub landlords say the cost of screening top level sport is becoming so expensive it is making them switch off from showing the likes of Premier League football and the Ashes.

One pub and restaurant owner in Tunbridge Wells said he had to call time on the satellite service after Sky wanted a staggering £2,400 a month for him to show Sky Sports in his pub.

The cost of showing Sky Sports channels in public venues varies, but the national average is said to be around £400 a month for pubs.

I can easily spot what Jerry Hall sees in her octogenarian squeeze.

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Filed under Britain, culture, Murdoch, New Yorker, pubs, sleaze., social class

A further truth to be told

David Conn’s extended piece for today’s Guardian, on the Hillsborough cover-up, is journalism at its best, and the exemplar why some of us will support, buy and read that great newspaper until the end. Even at £2 a throw.

The on-line presentation is less cogent than what is in the printed version. For example, in the paper we find this:

Later that day, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, visited Hillsborough. [Chief Constable Peter] Wright briefed them. Ingham has always since said of Hillsborough that he “learned on the day” it was caused by a “tanked-up mob”. Ingham, later given a knighthood, has confirmed to there Guardian this was what police told Thatcher.

Good enough? That lets Thatcher off the hook?

Well, not for this blogger.

The culture of South Yorkshire police was “institutionally” corrupt. As Conn, also in the print edition, describes:

The evidence built into a startling indictment of the South Yorkshire police, their chain of command and conduct — a relentlessly detailed evisceration of a British police force. Responsible for an English county at the jeans-and-trainers end of the1980s, the police had brutally policed the miners’ strike, and was described by some of its own former officers as “regimented”. with morning parade and saluting of officers, ruled by an “iron fist” institutionally unable to admit mistakes. The dominance of Wright, a decorated police officer who died in 2011, loomed over the catastrophe. He was depicted as a frightening, authoritarian figure who treated the force “like his own personal territory” and whose orders nobody dared debate.

Those of us who had to drive down the A1 during the grim days of the miners’ dispute remember Check Point Charlie at the A1/A57/A614 roundabout, south of Ranby, where the A1 veers south-east. The lay-by (now by-passed by recent road-works) was where — day and night — a detachment of the Finest were posted, lest South Yorkshire miners escaped south to wreak havoc and mayhem.

CoulterJim Coulter, Susan Miller and Martin Walker produced a damning report (November 1984): A State of Siege, Politics and Policing of the Coalfields:  Miners Strike 1984. It was, but of course, just another loony lefty whinge — but it still stands up to scrutiny. The facts therein speak for themselves. The opinions have been proven by dint of experience;

It is important to understand the politics behind the policing because through the politics we can see what the Conservative government are pursuing is not the ‘rule of law’ but the ‘law of rule’; brute force and violence.

Rather than policing being an incidental spin off from the dispute it is at the very heart of it. [page 5]

Don’t believe me. Try ex-Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, John Stalker:

Britain has never been closer to becoming a police state than when Margaret Thatcher was in charge.

As Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester I saw at first hand how her authoritarian policies could have permanently shattered the bond of trust between the police and the people.

She turned the police into a paramilitary force and put us on to a war footing.

I met her several times during my time as a senior police officer.

She took an uncommon interest in law and order, and always acted as if she was the Home Secretary as well as the PM.

That was never more clear than during the miner’s strike in 1984 when I believe Margaret Thatcher took Britain to the brink of becoming a police state.

She decided that “her” police force was going to keep the miners and pickets under control. It was all about showing who was boss…

We got streams of instructions from the Home Office on how the strike should be handled, cleverly covered with legal fig leaves saying things such as, “of course the Chief Constable has complete control over operational matters, but this is our advice”.

miners-strike-orgreaveThe “morgue” (the libraries of newspaper clippings, from before the days of the internet and electronic documentation) of any proper media operation will thrown up evidence that it was Thatcher’s wish and intention to create an “officer corps” to run “her” police service.

The ethos of the Thatcher era was an unremitting war against the “enemy within“.

At Hillsborough the enemy were the “animals” (yes: you will find that term used, and quoted in the subsequent Commons debate) who had to be caged. Five years earlier it had been the miners and their families whose liberties were revoked, whose homes invaded, who were strip-searched and violated.

When Thatcher and Ingham dropped in on the South Yorkshire Chief Constable, after Hillsborough, it wasn’t just a convivial visit. Whatever impression Wright foisted on Thatcher, she was more than a willing dupe.

The guilt doesn’t stop, conveniently, with Wright and his subordinates.

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Filed under Britain, civil rights, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., crime, culture, History, Law, leftist politics., policing, politics, reading, rightist politics, Tories., underclass

‘Tis mighty fine, But where d’you live? Where d’you dine?

This is getting more and more ridiculous:

Press

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A metropolitan mindset

Finally caught up with Matthew Parris in Saturday’s Times. No; not neglect. Simply because the Lady in my Life purloins Murdoch’s neoCon rag, and leaves me with my preferred Guardian.

Today, then, we browse on Parris’s New-look Ukip threatens Cameron’s legacy.

Before we proceed: muse on whatever “Cameron’s legacy” might be. Apart from the constant lay-offs of steel-workers, retail-workers, and the ever-constant national divisiveness (e.g.#IndyRef; #EURef), we might nod at the lousy productivity, a decade of “austerity” (which, like taxes, is only for the “little people”), and the constant war on public services.

Then to the conceit of the Kippers changing their wardrobes. Apart from their penchant for serial silly neckwear, this is another distraction. It gets even more lunatic when the proposal is:

Ukip’s blue-sky thinkers covet the huge penumbra of soft support that the Corbynite wing of the Labour party finds among its £3 non-member “supporters” club.

Ukip and “thinkers” in the same phrase! Now, that‘s original.

Paris properly coughs, ahems, but resists the opportunity to mock, merely continuing:

 My guess is that fishing in cyber waters, you net an (on average) younger, cooler and more generally switched-on crowd. Corbynite Labour has done so, but is there the same untapped support for the populist right out there on the internet, for @nukip to tap?

Where the whole thing, even the normally-sane Parris, completely leaves the tracks is here:

 The most vigorous and successful Britain-wide party today is the Conservative party, but it is haunted by a philosophical divide between progressives and reactionaries.

Note the quibble: “Britain-wide”. The notion that the Tory Party is vigorous and successful ignores the ever-decreasing geriatric membership, the hollowed-out non-functioning Associations. Any success, local or nationally, is based on statistical freaky. Consider:

Graph

That, folks, is “success”: a downward general decline, a lower hike than Labour in the annus mirabilis of 2015 — and even that achieved by two bits of nasty:

And

  • second, the tartan dead-cat on the table.

No: the most vigorous and successful party, even Britain-wide party, is the SNP.

After all, it was the SNP steam-roller that denied Labour dozens of seats in Scotland, and Lynton Crosby’s  Jockophobics that impacted on Labour in the rest of the UK. Remember this:

2e3f4b0f-f8db-4aae-8e61-42affc16f61a-bestSizeAvailable

Put together what little there is in all that, and I end up with Macbeth:

… in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips.

Act I, scene vii.

Chesterton, that old demi-semi-fascist (don’t the fascists love to claim him) and overt anti-semite, warned:

we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.

Well, he was wrong. The people of England speak at elections, and every few decades they turn vicious: then it’s heave-ho for the established order: 1906, 1945, 1964-66, 1979, 1997. We are coming due for another such upset.

We are about to witness the electors of London spitting on the mayoral grave of Boris Johnson. Already the wannabe Lynton Crosbys of Tory Central are briefing their clients in the national press that what matters — really, really matters — is how Labour does or doesn’t do in Eatanswill:

Eatanswill

[The extra irony being that Tories recruit their canvassers with promises of eating and swilling.]

In fact, by 6th May, Sadiq Khan will be the most significant person in Labour Party and local government politics.

Paris concluded his piece:

So I’ll end by repeating what Mr [Arron] Banks said: “I’ve got a weird feeling that British politics will be realigned after the referendum.” So have I.

Agreed. But, two things more:

  • the #Brexit thing has proved that UKIP existed more as a threat to Tory peace-of-mind than in any wider dimension;

and

  • we won’t need to wait till the end of June for a cloud no smaller than a bus-driver’s son’s hand.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Labour Party, London, Matthew Parris, SNP, Times, Tories., UKIP

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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Filed under Europe, History, Quotations, reading, Religious division, Shakespeare, travel

#Fail. Major #fail

Let’s recognise another hard truth: the once-mighty Daily Telegraph is now no more than a click-bait channel. Here we have 40 things that every man should know by the age of 40. Number 16:

There’s little room for reading fiction 

At some stage in your 30s, the disruptive voice in your head started clanging pans and yelling THEY’RE MAKING IT UP!

Which yell — D’oh! — is surely the whole point of “fiction”.

So here am I, just finished Philip Kerr, and well into Donna Leon. Bubbling on the back hob is Walter Scott (yes: I can double-task. And still drink wine at the same time). Looking forward to Alan Furst next month. And Ben Aaronovitch a month later. Any gaps will be glossed over by visits to Waterstone’s and similar joints. Failing that, there’s a dozen metres or so of shelving here to be revisited. And one day — I promise — I’ll live long enough to get through Moby Dick.

Obviously I never grew up. But that’s another story.

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Filed under Ben Aaronovitch, Daily Telegraph, Donna Leon, fiction, Literature, reading