Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (revisited)

I picked up Jennie Lee’s memoir.

That shows my age. Who now remembers her? Let us, for now, remember just one incident.

Aged just 24 (at an age when women were then not sufficiently mature to vote) , in February 1924, she — a young teacher — stood for the Independent Labour Party in the North Lanark by-election. She, and the local miners, overturned a Unionist majority (MP: Colonel Sir Alexander Sprotof 2,028 into a majority of 6,578.  Her opponent in the by-election was Lord Scone, Mungo David Malcolm Murray, later the 7th Earl of Mansfield and Mansfield.

Then I came to this:


Not much — apart from the obsession with male facial-ornaments — has changed.

I posted that on Twitter.

And nobody responded.

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Filed under culture, History, Labour Party, Scotland, socialism., Tories.

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred

Once-upon-a-time, back in the days when Ted Heath ruled the land, British Rail submitted (and was granted) a patent for a flying saucer:


Now the job of being Tottenham Court Road jester falls to Transport for London.

We should count TfL’s greatest hits, especially those under the present part-time Mayor of London:

  • 808 Boris Boggler buses, which parboil the occupants, are unreliable and — arguably — unsafe, don’t quite work on hybrid power train, and — but naturally — are “iconic”. Lest we forget, the cost was originally budgeted at a quarter of a million per bus, but has ballooned to over £350,000. As for the assured export and sell-on deals, say no more …
  • the Danglewire across the Thames, which goes from nowhere to nowhere, but has a scenic view of the scrapyards below: this is billed (with everything BoJo there has to be a bill) as an “airline”;
  • the Boris bike scheme, which costs Londoners a small fortune, and provides late-night thrills-and-spills for drunken stock-jobbers — this was going to be a “no-cost” operation, which now costs £1,400 per year, per bike;
  • the pretentious and pointless, but projected Garden Bridge;
  • Borisport-on-mudflat, the Grand Project for a mega-airport in the Thames, which cost £200 million;
  • a rack-rented fares policy;
  • the worst labour disputes on record (14 million Google “hits”), largely because the Mayor can’t be arsed to talk to his employees;
  • a shut-down of ticket booths, at a moment when buses went cash-free …

What’s to be done?

Nothing else for it! Send for the PR-team! And, lo!

We are searching for London’s most iconic transport designs and designers, and will be asking you to vote for your favourite from 3 August. 

These images are submissions from TfL staff, but if you think we have missed anything, please let us know your Design Icon by emailing

For more information on Transported by Design visit

Use the hashtags #DesignIcons and #TransportedbyDesign to participate on Facebook and Twitter.

With the history, pre-Boris, of London Transport there has to be a wealth of good stuff in such a list. It doesn’t take much presience to expect the “winner” would be one of:

  • Harry Beck’s map (which has gone round the world);

Harry Beck's

  • the Johnson type-face;



  • (just to annoy Boris) the original Routemaster.


Towards the end of that “suggested” list of LT “icons”, we find Wilfred the Bunny:

Wilfred the Bunny

Wilfred was, it seems, intended — or, at least, suggested for the bonnets of LT’s “Green Line” country buses. ‘Elf’n’Safety would today ban  such an ornament, but we speak of an age when form followed function, but also could be fun. Consider, in the same vein, the coins of the Irish Free State:


To think, Ireland gave up such elegant simplicity for the €.

I’m assuming that the bunny had to be “Wilfred” from  the Daily Mirror comic strip, of Pip (the dog and father figure), Squeak (a penguin and mother) and the child (Wilfred, the long-eared rabbit), who all lived at the home of “Uncle Dick”, waited on by Angeline, the house-maid, on — significantly for the Green Line — the London periphery.

“Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” had another significance for the men of that post-WW1 era: they were the nicknames of the campaign medals dished out with demobilisation:


So, I’m voting for Wilfred.

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Filed under advertising., Boris Johnson, Britain, History, Ireland, London, travel

Musings on Cecils (both deceased)

The lottery of life

The lion is lost and gone for ever.

RhodesUnprompted, I assume he was named in honour of the equally-late Cecil John Rhodes.

A long while ago I did prompt myself to hunt down the original of:

I think it was X who said that to be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life.

Inevitably, in different variants “X” is Winston Churchill (the usual mouth of last resort) or Rudyard Kipling. Go to a dictionary of quotations and the version that often appears names Cecil Rhodes, usually addressing “a young friend”.

Clearly, from the infrequency of early occurrences, the expression only became a clichéd commonplace quite recently, and — sure enough — the earliest version I could locate was  quite commonly aforesaid Cecil Rhodes. After poking around I became convinced the source for all this was page 64 of Peter Ustinov’s 1977 memoir, Dear Me. There Rhodes (indeed, it is he) is responding to a nervous young officer, about to go off and Assistant-Divisional-Superintend a benighted corner of the British Empire (also deceased).

There was old Dunne …

… young Dunne,
And young Dunne’s youngest son.
Young Dunne will be a Dunne
When old Dunne is done.

My mother could rattle that off on many a barely-reliant occasion. The only “explanation” I’ve found for that appears as always good for kids (or drunk college crowds) if you do the hand gestures to go with the chorusThe best I can do is to adapt John Donne to the sad death of Cecil-the-younger:

Every lion’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind

Before I move on, allow me to acknowledge the many truths that Simon Jenkins included in his essay, yesterday, for The Guardian, not least:

I am appalled at the idea of killing any animals for pleasure. But animals get killed. I eat meat sometimes, and my garden is afflicted with vermin I would readily slaughter. But in Botswana I was mostly left wondering what would Britain’s reaction be if hundreds of well-heeled Africans arrived to abuse us for not protecting “the world’s” red squirrels and songbirds. We would think it most rude.

That piece opens with a nice inversion:

A dentist from Wisconsin goes hunting in Zimbabwe and bags its most famous lion, Cecil. In response, Cecil’s friends have gone hunting in Minnesota in the hope of bagging its most infamous dentist, Walter Palmer. Welcome to the world of charismatic mega-species, their predators and protectors. One thing only is for sure, the predators are winning.

Jenkins’s “solution”, so called sustainable ranching, is a sensible approach — but I’m sure I came across that one years ago in The Economist. Just because it may not be an original concept, doesn’t render it less sensible, of course.

Selective breeding

Perhaps we should take Sir Simon’s prescription a stage further?

Evolving a big cat, whose skin came pre-fitted with Velcro or zippers — like a sofa, would make it possible for the creature to lend its outer cover yet allow more to engage in the earthly delights:

Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin?
Or would you prefer
To err
With her
On some other fur?

Odd that the “dig” at Elinor Glyn (née Sutherland) has prevailed longer than any of her original torrid-verging-on-the-tepid writings. Anyone with an idle few seconds can sample her wares, for free, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, and what prompted that little ditty. Try Chapter 11 of Three Weeks:

The next day was Sunday, and even through the silk blinds they could hear the rain drip in monotonous fashion. Of what use to wake? Sleep is blissful and calm when the loved one is near.

Thus it was late when Paul at last opened his eyes. He found himself alone, and heard his lady’s voice singing softly from the sitting-room beyond, and through the open door he could perceive her stretched on the tiger, already dressed, reclining among the silk pillows, her guitar held in her hands.

“Hasten, hasten, lazy one. Thy breakfast awaits thee,” she called, and Paul bounded up without further delay…

The light of all the love in the world seemed to flood the lady’s face. She bent over and kissed him, and smoothed his cheek with her velvet cheek, she moved so that his curly lashes might touch her bare neck, and at last she slipped from under him, and laid his head gently down upon the pillows.

Then a madness of tender caressing seized her. She purred as a tiger might have done, while she undulated like a snake. She touched him with her finger-tips, she kissed his throat, his wrists, the palms of his hands, his eyelids, his hair. Strange, subtle kisses, unlike the kisses of women. And often, between her purrings, she murmured love-words in some strange fierce language of her own, brushing his ears and his eyes with her lips the while.

Might Cecil have such an after-life? Anyway, sic transit Gloria Monday, Elinor Glyn and Glenda Slagg.

And, of course, a genetically-adapted sesquipedalian (“foot-and-a-half”) pachyderm would solve the problem of just the four umbrella-stands to the standard elephant.

Umbrella stand

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Filed under Comment is Free, Economist, Guardian, reading, Simon Jenkins

The Cockpit

Today’s small revelation comes courtesy of A.L.Rowse (pages 59-60). In the description of Whitehall, in the reign of Charles II, I find that:

… there were chapels and costs, the Queen’s apartments and the Duke of York’s and, no less important, Lady Castlemaine’s at the Cockpit — for that was her abode: on the site of the garden of 10 Downing Street.

For all sorts of innuendos and implications, that seems very appropriate.

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Filed under History, London, reading

Long-term economic … what?

Look, I don’t want to hammer at this. Too much.

What I’m getting at is a simple question: what is this magnificent Tory “Long-term economic plan”?

The Tory’s own attempt at a definition is on their own web-site:


That got them through the election campaign, and — as Larry Elliott succinctly derived it:

To amend Abraham Lincoln’s famous saying, in a UK general election you don’t need to fool all of the people all of the time, you just need to fool enough of the people for the duration of a six-week campaign.

Round about now the wheels start to fall off that abortion. Notice, for example, the conflation of “capping welfare” and “working to control immigration”. Not, note as well, the more pointed, direct and verbally-efficient “controlling immigration”  — this on the day we learn Margaret Thatcher’s government enters the surreal:

Britain’s National Archives on Friday released a 1983 government file called “Replantation of Northern Ireland from Hong Kong,” which showed British officials discussing a far-fetched proposal to settle 5.5 million Hong Kong people in a newly built “city state” between Coleraine and Londonderry in the uncertain years before Britain handed back the former British colony to Chinese rule.

This, we are assured was a Civil Service “joke”. That’s ignoring the parallel fact that the great Edward Pearce (who lives just down the road from Redfellow Cott), about the same time, was suggesting the solution for Hull was to hand it over to the Hong Kong Chinese.

So I, for one, am not convinced that this “Long-term economic plan” is worth the paper it hasn’t been printed on. Even Stalin and the East Germans put their Five Year Plans into written form.

Except …

… and I do so hope someone points this pout to Gids Osborne.

This “Long-term economic plan” had a prior existence, out of the same putative 18th-baronet’s mouth:

A generation ago, the very idea that a British politician would go to Ireland to see how to run an economy would have been laughable. The Irish Republic was seen as Britain’s poor and troubled country cousin, a rural backwater on the edge of Europe. Today things are different. Ireland stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking, and that is why I am in Dublin: to listen and to learn.

For good reasons Osborne’s speech of 23rd February 2006 has been purged from Tory records and Tory thinking.

Still, we know now what Osborne’s “Long-term economic plan”, Mark One, was about:

Some will quibble there: all capitalism involves cronies. Chomsky nailed that in one:

What’s capitalism supposed to be? Yeah, it’s crony capitalism. That’s capitalism, you do things for your friends, your associates, they do things for you, you try to influence the political system, obviously. You can read about this in Adam Smith. If people read Adam Smith instead of just worshipping him, they could learn a lot about how economies work. So, for example, he’s concerned mostly with England, and he pointed out that in England, and I’m virtually quoting, he said the merchants and manufacturers are the principal architects of government policy and they make sure their own interests are well cared for, however grievous the effects on others…

So, next week, when Osborne spouts his umpteenth “emergency budget’, there’s just one more question, at the heart of the “long-term economic plan”:

Cui bono?

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., George Osborne, Ireland, Tories.

Batting order

GregoryOne of the great miscues must be wikipedia’s entry (see right).

The whole entry is 275 words of text. More than an arithmetical half is about Gregory as a sportsman, and particularly as a cricketer.

2291Meanwhile, I picked up Colm Tóibín’s monograph,  Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush.

It’s not a treatise on dental care: the title is from a letter Lady Augusta Gregory wrote to W.B.Yeats, after the Abbey Theatre performed Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, which provoked riots:

“It is the old battle, between those who use a toothbrush and those who don’t.”

Being Tóibín, what we get is a beautifully-expressed and concise study of Lady Gregory and her background, of life at Coole Park, of the relationship with Yeats, and how the Robert Gregory poems were conceived.

Tóibín’s account of Robert Gregory differs considerably from the W.B.Yeats “authorised version”.

Yeats’s appreciation of Robert Gregory was not reciprocated (page 83):

Between her husband’s death in1892 and Robert’s coming of age ten years later, Lady Gregory worked to clear the debts on the estate. From 1902, Robert was the owner of the house and the estate, although she had a right, according to Sir William’s will, to live in the house for her lifetime. There was an intermittent conflict between Robert’s interest in being master in his own house, seated at the top of his own table, and his mother’s interest in having Yeats at the head of the table, offering him the master bedroom and devoting her household to the cause of the poet’s comfort.

Things got worse:

In her biography of Lady Gregory, Mary Lou Kohfeldt wrote that “Robert Gregory was startled one evening when he called for a bottle of an especially fine vintage Torquey laid down by his father to find it was all gone, served bottle by bottle by his mother to Willie over the years.” 

 Then there is the poem, Reprisals, written in November 1920, suppressed at Lady Gregory’s wish (if only on poetic merit, rightly so), and published only in 1994 — that itself a 1923 revision: read it here.

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Filed under Ireland, WB Yeats

“Of Alley”

Here’s an odd one.

The Villiers boys were great … err … mates of the Stuarts. Read into that as you will.

VilliersGeorge Villiers was such a handsome youth that James VI and I made him the royal cup-bearer. Gift followed gift. Honour followed honour:

  • 1615 Georgie was a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. Ahem! And knighted.
  • 1616 Sir George was Master of the King’s Horse. And Baron Whaddon. And, soon after, Viscount Villiers. And a Knight of the Garter.
  • 1617 Baron Villiers advanced to an Earldom, with the King’s personal accolade:

You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had John, and I have George.

  • 1619 He was George, Marquess of Buckingham.
  • The Marquess of Buckingham was made Admiral of the Fleet.
  • 1623 The Dukedom of Buckingham was revived, and conferred on our lad.

Pretty (a good word in this connection) well every subsequent revelation has suggested the relationship between James and Villiers was warm, juicy, even sticky.

In 1622 James presented Villiers with York House, the former palace of the Archbishops of York, in the Strand. Buckingham intended to rebuild in a grandiose manner, but only the Watergate (look for Watergate Walk on the map below) had been completed before John Felton knifed Buckingham in the Greyhound boozer (but generally called “the Spotted Dog”, and now deceased — but look for the plaque on Buckingham House) in High Street, Old Portsmouth. Felton, a former army officer, had been wounded in one of Buckingham’s foreign excursions. Briefly, before he was hanged, Felton became something of a minor celeb.

Come the Restoration

2ndDukeOfBuckinghamWe have Charles II, who also has a Villiers acolyte — George’s son, and another George (that’s him, above). Just as Dad had accumulated, so the son dissipated.

John Dryden nailed him as “Zimri“:

Some of their chiefs were princes of the land:
In the first rank of these did Zimri stand,
A man so various, that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind’s epitome:
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long,
But, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon,
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking…
In squandering wealth was his peculiar art;
Nothing went unrewarded but desert.
Beggared by fools, whom still he found too late,
He had his jest and …

You are awaiting the rhymed punch-line there … they had his estate. Dryden’s chuckle that George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, had to sell York House to pay his creditors.

In 1674 the site was laid out as streets. Some wiseacre had the new lay-out named after their former owner:

  • George Court;
  • Villiers Street;
  • Duke Street;
  • Of Alley;
  • Buckingham Street.


Sadly, a decent snurffle (and it has to be) has been spoiled by subsequent evolutions:

  • Duke Street is now part of John Adam Street; and
  • Of Alley is now renamed York Place.

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Filed under History, Literature, London