Tag Archives: History

More bull



The wonderful WWW will provide several mangled summaries of this incident. Here seems to be the fullest, contemporary account:

It finally happened — a bull got into a china shop today.

The bull — Royalist Dandy Victor of Twin Oaks Farm, Morristown, N.J. — was led through the shop by Fred Waring, orchestra leader. Both nearly died of fright.

It was on a bet. Waring lost a football wager to Paul Douglas, newsreel sports commentator. The pay-off was disappointing. From now on, “like a bull in a china shop” no longer denotes clumsiness with overtones of wreckage and havoc. It means acute timidity, plus resignation.

What happened? Just $1.17 worth of china was destroyed — by Douglas, not the bull. Douglas broke a plate and a teacup in the hope of arousing “Dandy” to anger and action. Dandy just blinked and turned his head away.

Dandy is a two-year-old, 1000-pound, beaver-hued Jersey owned by Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, one of the country’s foremost cattle breeders.

The china shop was the ultra-exclusive one of William H. Plummer, Ltd., at 695 Fifth Avcenue. The owner Frederick J. Cuthbertson permitted the use of his place — not for the publicity, he said — but because “we’re making history”.

There were at least 100 witnesses, including Mrs. Waring, Mrs. Frelinghuysen, and former Gov. Harold H. Hoffman of New Jersey.

Waring wore a dinner jacket and opera hat. He chose conservative garb, he said, because he didn’t want to excite the bull. Douglas put on a red sash and a toreador’s jacket, red with gold braid. He wore a bull fighter’s hat.

“I got nothing to lose,” he said.

Dandy had on a fancy brown and orange blanket.

Dandy pushed his nose through the entrance of the shop at 10:05 a.m. Waring, shivering “from cold”, tugged at the leather strap attached to the halter. Dandy rolled his eyes and looked scared. So did Waring.

Dandy and Waring then manoeuvred up the aisle under a $3500 Pâte-sur-Pâte vase designed by Solon at the Minton factory in England. The photographers’ lights bothered Dandy and he tossed his massive head and horns. Waring said, “For Pete’s sake don’t switch your tail; I’m paying for this.”

Cuthbertson looked on pretty calmly for a man who had just estimated the value of the merchandise in Dandy’s path at “$50,000.”

Waring broke the plate, made faces and shouted insults but Dandy just edged away.

The three paused beside a $35 china bull. Dandy didn’t look at it. He gazed timorously at the photographers, wincing every time they shouted suggestions to Waring. The orchestra leader hung his hat on one of Dandy’s horns and the bull all but moaned.

Then the trio turned the corner and moved down the opposite aisle and out of the store, Dandy quickening his pace at the door as though glad it was all over.

Douglas said, “I’m satisfied.”

Waring, who had shouted “Goodby, dear” to his wife when the procession started, mopped his brow.

Outside an office girl on her way to work said to her companion: “Lookit the cop. Something must’ve happened.

Just history being made, that was all.

There’s just enough of the Runyon-esque there, for those fine citizens from Brooklyn — Harry the Horse, Spanish John and Little Isadore — to be lurking just out of focus.

An ox in a china shop?

Obviously no bull could be in a china shop before the eighteenth century gave us the full experience of retail therapy. So,  on Monday 4th September, 1769, we encounter Mr James Boswell in London’s Soho:

In one of the streets of Soho I met Mr. Sheridan, whom I had not seen for many years. I lie under many obligations to him, as he took a great concern about me when I was a very idle, impetuous young fellow, and had me often in his house in the kindest manner. So I was happy to meet with him, and promised to come and dine with him without ceremony, when I was not engaged. I then called on Mr. Thomas Davies, bookseller, whom I must always remember as the man who made me acquainted with Mr. Samuel Johnson. He is a very good kind of man himself, and has been long my acquaintance. He told me that Mr. Berenger, the Master of Horse, who it seems is mighty delicate and polite, said that Mr. Johnson was, in a genteel company, like an ox in a china-shop. He overturns everything.

The following morning, Boswell was up betimes, caught the “Oxford fly” at 7 a.m., breakfasted at Slough, dined at Henley, and got to Oxford about six. I put up at the Angel Inn. Which, it strikes me, is not bad for a horse-drawn trip along rough roads. Paddington (and Boswell would need to have crossed London to get even that far) to Oxford is today less than an hour by the best trains. But be warned:



Allow me to correct Mr Boswell. Richard Berenger was not the Master of Horse (i.e. Officer Commanding the Royal stables) in 1769: he was the “Gentleman of Horse”, the 2 i.c. — and, incidentally, the last before the post was abolished, on Berenger’s death, in 1782.

Walter Scott’s variation

The metaphor hadn’t stagnated when Walter Scott used a version in a footnote [Note V] to Chapter VII of The Fortunes of Nigel (published 1822):


It will perhaps be recognised by some of my countrymen, that the caustic Scottish knight, as described in the preceding chapter, borrowed some of his attributes from a most worthy and respectable baronet, who was to be met with in Edinburgh society about twenty-five or thirty years ago. It is not by any means to be inferred, that the living person resembled the imaginary one in the course of life ascribed to him, or in his personal attributes. But his fortune was little adequate to his rank and the antiquity of his family; and, to avenge himself of this disparity, the worthy baronet lost no opportunity of making the more avowed sons of fortune feel the edge of his satire. This he had the art of disguising under the personal infirmity of deafness, and usually introduced his most severe things by an affected mistake of what was said around him. For example, at a public meeting of a certain county, this worthy gentleman had chosen to display a laced coat, of such a pattern as had not been seen in society for the better part of a century. The young men who were present amused themselves with rallying him on his taste, when he suddenly singled out one of the party:—”Auld d’ye think my coat—auld-fashioned?—indeed it canna be new; but it was the wark of a braw tailor, and that was your grandfather, who was at the head of the trade in Edinburgh about the beginning of last century.” Upon another occasion, when this type of Sir Mungo Malagrowther happened to hear a nobleman, the high chief of one of those Border clans who were accused of paying very little attention in ancient times to the distinctions of Meum and Tuum, addressing a gentleman of the same name, as if conjecturing there should be some relationship between them, he volunteered to ascertain the nature of the connexion by saying, that the “chief’s ancestors had stolen the cows, and the other gentleman’s ancestors had killed them,”—fame ascribing the origin of the latter family to a butcher. It may be well imagined, that among a people that have been always punctilious about genealogy, such a person, who had a general acquaintance with all the flaws and specks in the shields of the proud, the pretending, and the nouveaux riches, must have had the same scope for amusement as a monkey in a china shop.

Which paragraph amply illustrates why the reading of Sir Walter Scott is less practised in modern times. It also shows he has a deft sharpness to his quill.

As Scott explains:

Sir Mungo Malagrowther, of Girnigo Castle, … claims a little more attention, as an original character of the time in which he flourished.

Having little or no property save his bare designation, Sir Mungo had been early attached to Court in the capacity of whipping-boy, as the office was then called, to King James the Sixth, and, with his Majesty, trained to all polite learning by his celebrated preceptor, George Buchanan. The office of whipping-boy doomed its unfortunate occupant to undergo all the corporeal punishment which the Lord’s Anointed, whose proper person was of course sacred, might chance to incur, in the course of travelling through his grammar and prosody. Under the stern rule, indeed, of George Buchanan, who did not approve of the vicarious mode of punishment, James bore the penance of his own faults, and Mungo Malagrowther enjoyed a sinecure.

112Ah! Such details are what make study rewarding.

I suspect that Sir Mungo Malagrowther, of Girnigo Castle, in borrowing some of his attributes from a most worthy and respectable baronet may have been borrowing from Sir William Stewart 11th Laird of Grandtully Castle (as left).

And a right devious … err … twister he seems to have been, at that:

Sir William is known in family tradition as ‘William the Ruthless’, and it is to his cupidity and lack of scruple that the Steuart-Fothringham family owed their prosperity. To his seat of Grandtully Castle – until recently in the ownership of Henry Steuart-Fothringham — he added the nearby Murthly Castle by devious means. It is said that he threatened to reveal – or, in family tradition, simply to pretend — that the owner Abercrombie of Murthly was sheltering Jesuits unless he agreed to sell Murthly Castle for an absurdly low price.

Perhaps a worthy ancestor for one of Runyon’s citizens.

Finally, the finished phrase

A few years after Scott’s monkey, we meet Captain Marryat’s simile towards the end of Chapter XV of Jacob Faithful [1834]. The Turnbull household (a significant name) anticipates social climbers of later novelists and generations:

As soon as Mr. Turnbull was dressed, we went down into the drawing-room, which was crowded with tables loaded with every variety of ornamental articles. “Now this is what my wife calls fashionable. One might as well be steering through an ice-floe as try to come to an anchor here without running foul of something. It’s hard-a-port or hard-a-starboard every minute ; and if your coat-tail gybes, away goes something, and whatever it is that smashes, Mrs. T. always swears it was the most valuable thing in the room. I’m like a bull in a china-shop. One comfort is, that I never come in here except when there’s company. Indeed, I’m not allowed, thank God. Sit on a chair, Jacob, one of those spider-like French things, for my wife won’t allow blacks, as she calls them, to come to an anchor upon her sky-blue silk sofas. How stupid to have furniture that one’s not to make use of! Give me comfort; but it appears that’s not to be bought for money.”

Or, just like Messers Waring and Douglas, we can put the presumption to the test:

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Filed under History, Literature, reading, Scotland, Walter Scott

Who owns Pythagoras?

Or photosynthesis? Or 9 x 7 = 63?

Daft, isn’t it?

Then we hit upon this, from Stephanie McCurry, in this week’s Times Literary Supplement:

It has become increasingly difficult to say anything new about the American Civil War or even just to tell a different tale … [with] … a marketplace with seemingly inexhaustible demand for another version of the familiar story and the understandable desire of experts to shape public history.

As a well-bred Belfast girl, Professor McCurry will know all about the problem of who owns history. And that ‘history’ is not just a recital of Great Dead White Men.

The lustre of lucre

Note, though, she also brings in the commercial aspect: the gurus who have cornered the media market in their particular expertise. Tudors without Starkey? Unthinkable! The last word on Hitler? Well, Kershaw must be into the quarter-finals!

A couple of weeks on from the Old Vic production, Malcolm’s mental sound-track goes on full volume:

From Ohio, Mister Thorn
Calls me up from night till morn:
Mister Thorn once cornered corn and that ain’t hay!
But I’m always true to you,
Darlin’, in my fashion —
Yes, I’m always true to you,
Darlin’, in my way!

Read between Cole Porter’s lines, and Lois would do anything for her Great White Men.

More hay

So, this afternoon, there was Malcolm at the old-reliable London Pride in the Famous Royal Oak (well, it’s famed within a quarter-mile of Muswell Hill’s St James’s Lane). He has Professor McCurry flitting about his consciousness when he reaches the Comment & Debate page of the Guardian, and another contender for Ms Lane’s transient affections:

Harvardian Ferguson
Says I’m really quite très bonne:
If that’s the Harvard ton, and he’s really on … Okay!

… well, mainly on his own status and importance. As here:

It’s the way history has been taught in British schools ever since the advent of the schools history project in the 1970s and the rejection of historical knowledge in favour of “source analysis” and “child-centered” learning (“Imagine you are a Roman centurion …”).

Only someone living in a dreaming Oxonian spire could be unaware of how badly this has turned out, despite the best efforts of thousands of hard-working teachers. I know because I have watched three of my children go through the English system, because I have regularly visited schools and talked to history teachers, and because (unlike Evans and Priestland, authors of rather dry works on, respectively, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia) I have written and presented popular history. 

The new national curriculum is not flawless, to be sure. It runs counter to the advice I gave Gove by being much too prescriptive. The 34 topics to be covered by pupils between the ages of seven and 14 already read a bit like chapter titles and, if there is one thing I hope we avoid, it is an official history textbook (even if it’s written by Simon Schama).

Nothing like putting the boot (alongside a personal puff) in, Niall!

The rest of the piece has at least three other conditional clauses (if … if … If), four rhetorical questions, and rather more subjective first person singulars than is truly tasteful.

Yet, Ferguson has a point

It isn’t that history doesn’t sell. As Prof Steph (see above) opened that TES review:

Last December, thousands of Americans filed into cinemas to watch Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. While Congress was stuck in its usual deadlock, a disgusted public was momentarily delivered by the large-screen image of a heroic figure and a heroic America. As the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed and slavery abolished, people cried. They applauded.

Meanwhile, as both main UK channels (and many others) exploit shamelessly, costume drama and a bit of pseudo-history writ small (Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife) put bums on family sofas. Rescuing ‘Richard III’ (perhaps) from under the Nissans and Fords of the Leicester car-park played a PR blinder.

So a kind of “history” excites, enthuses, entertains. What is ‘taught’ in school fails miserably by comparison.

But what should it be? Let’s try and decode Ferguson:

If you want to understand what’s really wrong with history in English schools, read schoolteacher Matthew Hunter’s excellent essay in the latest issue of Standpoint. As Hunter rightly says, it’s not just the defective content of the old national curriculum that is the problem. It’s the way history has been taught in British schools ever since the advent of the schools history project in the 1970s and the rejection of historical knowledge in favour of “source analysis” and “child-centered” learning (“Imagine you are a Roman centurion …”).

and (this is the on-line version, [not all of which made it into print]):

Among other things, the national curriculum explicitly aims to ensure that all pupils “know and understand the broad outlines of European and world history: the growth and decline of ancient civilisations; the expansion and dissolution of empires”; that they “understand historical concepts such as continuity and change, cause and consequence, similarity, difference and significance”; and that they “understand how evidence is used rigorously to make historical claims”.

[At key stage 1, children will be introduced to “basic concepts” such as nation, civilisation, monarchy, parliament, democracy, war and peace. At key stage 2, they will study the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome.] As for “the essential chronology of Britain’s history”, to which Evans and Priestland object so strongly, it is a model of political correctness: not only Mary Seacole makes the cut, but also Olaudah Equiano – hardly escapees from Our Island Story.

What is missing there is: who owns history?

For those “basic concepts” are intensely and inescapably partial and ideological. Try a couple of thought experiments:

  • Reconcile Cromwellian England into an approved primary-school perception of monarchy, parliament, democracy, war and peace.
  • And how does the average eight- or ten-year-old meaningfully study the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome? In the Goveian world-scheme, were Greece and Rome essentially slave-societies, or is the slavery thing a mere incidental to the cultural glories?

Docking churchWhat sticks in Malcolm’s craw is, about the only time Roman slavery cropped up at Wells County Primary School, it involved Pope Gregory I and his Non Angli, sed angeli. Which may feature as every-window-tells-a-story in St Mary, Docking, as elsewhere, but as far as a critical observer can determine is as verifiable as Star Trek.  And, no, it’s not in Bede.

Two remaining issues

They’re in Ferguson, and implicit in the more cerebral McCurry:

  • What is the authentic ‘scheme’ (which is what — in any sense of the word — a syllabus amounts to) for that overview of English and European history? Is it Anglocentric or Eurocentric? At the age of fifteen Malcolm switched from GCE “English and European history” to Irish Leaving Certificate “History”; and it was a painful re-appraisal, indeed.
  • What is Ferguson’s gold standard of ‘historical knowledge’? Can he kindly provide, as a solid example, one single, absolute, indisputable, uncoloured ‘fact’? For, were he to do so, a whole phalanx of equally-eminent ‘historians’ would happily exhibit how that ‘fact’ could be, and has been ‘spun’. As Malcolm’s pert Young Piece never fails to repeat, a historical ‘fact’ is one which has been cited by a quantum (say, four) of historians. And a ‘historian’ is … precisely how qualified?

End piece

Consider, then, how Stephanie McCurry, in her shrewd Ulster way, presents ‘values’  rather than certainties, a basis of ‘interpretation’ rather than Ferguson’s ‘facts’, humanely and self-effacingly, warning but with a populist touch, and so concludes her extended review:

Civil War history is a growth industry. For authors, the opportunities are great, but so are the temptations — to repetition, over-reaching and jockeying for market share. There are valuable new interpretations emerging from the field, including a focus on the Civil War as a humanitarian crisis, and there are important voices cautioning against an embrace of war stories as the romanticisation of war itself. But in the fever of sesquicentennial commemoration nothing sells quite like President Lincoln and the war for emancipation. It makes the fantasy of Django Unchained to make the public focus even for a minute on the other America, the one that for so long had no problem with holding people as slaves.

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Filed under Comment is Free, education, Guardian, History, Ian Kershaw, Michael Gove, Niall Ferguson, Norfolk, Times Literary Supplement

A bit of papal eschatology

The Catholic Encyclopedia is a bit sniffy about the whole thing:

The eschatological summary which speaks of the “four last things” (death, judgment, heaven, and hell) is popular rather than scientific.

Then proceeds to prove we can’t be so determinist or simplistic.

Just as Malcolm was seen visibly to blanch when the Head-teacher of a failing school informed him she ran “English A-level for fun”, the Economist feels no qualms about being populist, and gives us a daily chart:

A look at papal terms since 32AD

THE post of Bishop of Rome is considered to be a life-long commitment. And with only a handful of exceptions, it has been. Nearly all 266 popes have served until their death. But that does not mean that they were in the job for long. Rather, as our charts below show, popes tend to have a short shelf-life. Over half of all papal terms have lasted between two weeks and five years. Part of this is the result of age: the average age at time of election between 1500 and 2005 was 64. Pope Benedict XVI, who announced his resignation on February 11th, was, at 78, one of the oldest to be elected. His seven-and-a-half years put him in good company: 62 others served between six and ten years. The shortest-serving pope was Urban VII, who survived just 13 days in office in September 1590. Pius IX was the longest-serving elected pope, holding on for 32 years. Popes who left their stamp on the office include Innocent III, who served for 18 years from 1198, and launched Christianity’s fourth Crusade; and Leo XIII, who used his quarter of a century from 1878 to grapple with how the church should respond to industrialisation and trade unions.

Hmm … four named popes over two millennia. Hardly a great hit-rate.

Gives a good graphic, though:


UnknownFor all kinds of reasons, we shouldn’t take the earlier history as “gospel” — John Julius Norwich, setting out on his history of The Popes, does a fair deconstruction of St Peter, and then this:

Although St Irenaeus of Lyons gives us the list of the first thirteen ‘popes’, from St Peter down to his friend Eleutherius (c. 175-89), it is important to remember that until the ninth century the title of Pope (which derives from the Greek papas, ‘little father’) was applied generally to any senior member of the community — Rome was far from being a diocese as we understand the word today. Nor was the Roman Catholic church, such as it was, generally accepted, or even respected.

Even as late as the ninth century, the precise succession of the popes may be in doubt — consider, for example, (again Viscount Norwich) how:

… the legend of Pope Joan, who is said to have reigned from 855 to 857, between Leo IV and Benedict II (855-8), has become one of the hoariest canards in papal history.

As a faithful son of Mother Church, Norwich then dismantles—conclusively and effectively — this “canard” over the whole of his Chapter VI, but with a caveat:

During the middle of the ninth century, 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.

That leaves hanging the small matter: even if we discount Johannes VIII, Foemina de Anglia, how can we authenticate others of this period when records were few and untrustworthy?

As for all 266 popes, there are are a further 38 “anti-popes” — listed by Norwich — to be taken into consideration.

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Filed under Economist, History, reading, Religious division

Scrapbook (1) — file under politics

This, and the next, post is Malcolm in full-on Autolycus mode, snapping up whatever ill-considered trifles others discard or mislay.

First, then, John Harris in The Guardian, with the Tory Party Losing the plot. At least that was the newsprint title: on-line it’s:

Can David Cameron see off the Tory troublemakers?

The same-sex marriage bill has opened up deep rifts between the different factions within the Tory party. So how do insiders view the crisis that threatens to engulf David Cameron?

A bit Rentoul, Questions To Which The Answer Is No, there, Malcolm feels. Still, the essay included three of those political quotations that Malcolm cherishes:

“Pretty Fanny”

…  until the arrival of Thatcher, the Tories were a party of power: pragmatic, flexible, supremely confident – and rarely moved to the extent of passion by much more than vague patriotism and a sense of their own importance … The party-at-large was more of a giant social club than a political organisation, and the people at the top often cleaved to the mindset beautifully captured by Arthur Balfour, the Tory prime minister between 1902 and 1905: “Nothing matters very much, and most things don’t matter at all.”

UnknownAt a quick guess, Harris purloined that from Geoffrey Wheatcroft, whose The Strange Death of Tory England gets mentioned elsewhere in the article. Quite why that one, of so many Balfour gems, is the most cited may be explained in that it so perfectly matches the laid-back ennui that, unfairly, typifies Edwardian England between the Boer and the Great Wars.

Dirty Dick

Harris follows that, in the very next paragraph with:

For most of the past century, it was Labour that was most often distracted by internal strife, something that prompted the senior party figure and political diarist Richard Crossman to bemoan the different ways that each of the titans of British politics responded to political difficulties. “When the Tories are in trouble,” he wrote in 1956, “they bunch together and cogger up. When we get into trouble, we start blaming each other and rushing to the press to tell them all the terrible things that somebody else has done.”

Malcolm has the faintest suspicion that Harris is inverting Andrew Marr’s 1999 article for the New Statesman, Fear and Loathing on the Left, which is where one can also find that tit-bit from Crossman’s back-bench diaries.

That one catches Malcolm’s attention, not just because of the palpable truth and bitterness it contains, but specifically with the word “cogger”. One feels it implies all false mateyness and chaps-together, a variant of “codger” — as Dickens has it:

‘You have been drinking,’ said Ralph, ‘and have not yet slept yourself sober.’

‘I haven’t been drinking YOUR health, my codger,’ replied Mr Squeers; ‘so you have nothing to do with that.’

Ralph suppressed the indignation which the schoolmaster’s altered and insolent manner awakened, and asked again why he had not sent to him. [Nicholas Nickleby]

Or it’s a bit of that school slang (Crossman was Head Boy at Winchester, and didn’t it show)  that sticks to us through life. “Cogger” is a double-edged weapon, and typically so in Crossman’s fine Italian hand. In seventeenth-century cant, it was one who cheats at dice. Later, in Ainsworth’s Latin dictionary of 1783 it was the translation for:

Palpator, a flatterer, coger, cajoler, sycophant, glozer.

Hey! Hey! LBJ!

Harris inevitably reaches the thorny topic of ConHome:

… the website-cum-movement whose figurehead is Tim Montgomerie, the man who briefly served under Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership as his chief of staff, before going on to position himself as the voice of Tory activists. It may be some measure of the febrile state of Tory politics that Montgomerie is one of the most influential Conservative voices, who torments the leadership on a regular basis. Yesterday, he was orating from the pages of the Times, arguing that the Tories were in a “fundamentally unhealthy” state, that Cameron’s modernisation project “has been conducted casually”, and that the prime minister’s political machine “has the attention span of a goldfish”.

There are only three good reasons (and they are good) for reading ConHome: Montgomerie, Paul Goodman (the ex-MP for Wycombe) and the spectacle of Tories making fools of themselves.

Harris continues:

Montgomerie is also a high-profile supporter of Johnson, whose most notable contributions to last year’s Tory party conference were a frenzied “Boris rally”, and a new website that crystallised his view of the correct Tory path, with its url reminiscent of the political satire The Thick of It: strongandcompassionate.com. What Cameron thinks of Montgomerie is not a matter of record, though his constant manoeuvrings may bring to mind what Lyndon B Johnson famously said of advisers to President Kennedy: “They may be just as intelligent as you say. But I’d feel a helluva lot better if just one of them had ever run for sheriff.

Possible error there: that one is more usually accredited to Sam Rayburn, and said to LBJ (though, of course, Johnson was quite capable of recycling it). Rayburn was the Texan Democrat who was the longest-serving Speaker of the House of Representatives. His seventeen years, over three terms, in possession of the Speaker’s gavel (as well as an intimate knowledge of the dirt under the fingernails of Texan politics) gave ample chance for his earthy wisdom to be recorded.

And next, it is hoped, to booky things …

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Filed under David Cameron, Guardian, History, Quotations, Tim Montgomerie, Tories., US politics

Is the future really bright?

The memory is clear from the revival of Close the Coalhouse Door. Malcolm was a bit rusty on the exact Alex Glasgow lyrics, but help was at hand:

“— When its ours, Geordie lad, when its ours:
There’ll changes bonny lad, when its ours!”

“— Are you sure we’ll be all right? Is the future really bright?”

” — (Oh, for God’s sake, man) We’ve won this bloody fight!
An its ours, all ours!”

pic8So, on 1st January 1947, the miners of the North-East (and across Britain) sincerely believed nationalisation would change the nature of pit-work. For many it did: the very next year, Malcolm’s Uncle Ernest Copley was leading the stay-down strike to keep open the Waleswood Colliery. That campaign failed. Today the only mine in the South Yorkshire coalfield is Maltby.

The message, as always, remains: Be careful what you wish for, you may get it —

“— When its ours, Geordie lad, when its ours:
Man, the wife’ll be reet glad when its ours!”

“— Tell me Jackie, whats in store? What will she be grateful for?”

” — Why, I’ll stop in bed, wi’ her,
When its ours, all ours!”


You’d find a similar bubble cruelly popped by Malcolm d’Ancona in the Torygraph, as he suggests:

Westminster’s Tory tots must do some growing up

The mutineers are living in a Hogwarts fantasy world – where all it needs to achieve growth is a wave of the magic wand

“The Tory century”

He opens:

The Conservatives have a do-or-die decision to make before the next general election – and it is not about the identity of their leader. They must decide if, having dominated the 20th century, they are serious about being a party of government in the 21st. They must decide if they want to retain their reputation as the nation’s crisis managers. They must decide if they want to be seen as political grown-ups, or a bunch of overgrown kids using Westminster as a playground.

At this stage of the Parliament, Ed Miliband was expected to be the tribal chief facing a leadership crisis, and the Lib Dems the party answering hard questions about their commitment to office. Yet, in February 2013, it is David Cameron who is being undermined by talk of a leadership contest, and the Conservatives who – in some garrulous cases, anyway – are more deeply preoccupied by internal party intrigue than by the governance of the country.

Well, well: that must make Asquith, Lloyd George, Clem Attlee — not to mention Beveridge and Nye Bevan — all makers of 20th century Britain, equally all natural Tories.

As for being the nation’s crisis managers, there was that 1946 business when Hugh Dalton had to despatch J.M.Keynes to Washington.  Or the other one, 1974-9, when Denis Healey was coping with the economic ruins of the Heath administration. Odd how, in the parallel universe populated by the d’Anconas, “clearing up the mess left by the previous government” is persuasive only when it falls from Tory lips.

As for the c-word, we could have a good’un cooking right now, as even the Torygraph‘s James Quinn recognises:

Sterling caught in a quiet crisis

It’s only “quiet” until the screaming starts. That could come along very soon; and — as Quinn glosses George Soros (and even the IMF) — the fault is not longer “the previous government” but:

austerity was the “wrong policy at this time”

Have the Tories lost the plot?

Well, some most definitely have — which is d’Ancona’s beef,  following that excellent, if mischievous, Guardian editorial earlier this week

Meanwhile, Andrew Rawnsley takes the argument a step further into the shrubbery — and has something very nasty stirring in there. He emphasises the chasm between Tory myth and Tory reality:

There are few things so forlorn as a cliche that has turned into the opposite of the truth.

Ah, yes, Andrew: the miners of ’47 had just that experience. But, sorry to interrupt, pray continue:

One such is the aphorism of Lord Kilmuir, the Tory grandee, who declared that “loyalty is the secret weapon of the Conservative party”. If you were to tell this to David Cameron, he’d surely laugh. So would all his recent predecessors as Tory leader. It was not even true in Kilmuir’s day as he discovered when he was summarily sacked from the cabinet by Harold Macmillan in the 1962 “Night of the Long Knives”.

The trademark of much Tory history is that the party frequently kills its leaders and its leaders often betray their friends. Ted Heath was toppled by Margaret Thatcher. She was defenestrated and replaced by John Major. That saved the 1992 election for the Conservatives, but the Thatcher regicide injected a virus into the party’s bloodstream that has made life hell for every leader since. His party so tortured Mr Major that he felt compelled to reapply for his job in the “put up or shut up” contest of 1995. They re-elected him and then promptly went back to torturing him. After their 1997 defeat, the Tories went through three leaders in eight years before they arrived at David Cameron. Just half way into his first (and possibly only) term as prime minister, they are at it again. His party swirls with talk of knives being sharpened, signatures on no-confidence letters being collected and assassination plots being hatched.

 Much as Malcolm likes and admires Rawnsley, a piece by Peter Franklin for ConHome, over five years ago, ran on remarkably similar lines. Franklin concluded:

I’ll leave you with another cliché, but one that’s as true as it’s ever been:

There’s no ‘I’ in team.

There’s no ‘I’ in loyalty either. Disloyalty, however, is another matter.

For once, Rawnsley isn’t taking us anywhere, and his perceptions are as mundane as Malcolm’s too often are. We can forgive him, however, for fingering the guilty (as the dissident Tories would see it): Cameron himself —

… his unforgivable crime for many of them: not winning a proper Tory victory at the last election, which fuels the growing fear in Conservative ranks that the same will happen next time. Mr Cameron’s enemies within are absolutely correct that this was a big failure, but they are quite wrong when they go on to say it was because he did not offer enough right wing meat to the voters. The party tried that in 2001 and 2005. In 2001, after four years of Labour government, the Tories made a net gain of just one seat. In 2005, after eight years of Labour and the Iraq war, the Tories made a net gain of less than 1% in the share of vote. There has been some fascinating analysis of voters who thought about voting Conservative in 2010 but in the end didn’t. The conclusion from these studies is that swing voters were unpersuaded by the Tories not because they were insufficiently right wing, but because they were not detoxified enough. Mr Cameron is now paying the price for that.

The “detoxification” cliché

 Rawnsley doesn’t need to spell it in full. The poison in the Tory blood will be evident again next week.

We learn — depending on your source — that 130 or even 180 Tories will vote against the gay marriage bill. That’s more than half the non-payroll vote, even half the parliamentary party.

To what end?

The bill will pass. Nobody outside a small group of the politically-committed will notice the passing. Tim Montgomerie gets that one:

There’s lots of nonsense emanating from certain pollsters, notably ComRes, about gay marriage having a disastrous impact on Tory fortunes. YouGov’s Joe Twyman has Tweeted an important link which shows that the effect might well be negative in the short-term but that – AT WORST – it will reduce the Tory vote from about its current 34% to 33%…

Joe’s numbers don’t account for the generational issue. Younger voters really cannot understand the opposition to same-sex rights. The Conservative Party rebels on gay marriage are putting themselves on the wrong side of history.

As of now, the ConHome comments on that article run to some two gross: far too many are defiantly, aggressively the wrong side of the generational issue and the wrong side of history. Yes, many of those can be dismissed as the usual rants from UKIPpers and (by the sniff of it) escapees from the local tin tabernacle.

Then the mainstream Tory press is reporting a new grassroots campaign, and here things may be a bit more serious. Despite protestations:

… along with many faithful, local Conservatives, we have become increasingly concerned at the policy direction of the Party and the apparent rejection of cherished Conservative principles.

This appears, for now, to be a single-issue campaign:

We are particularly disappointed at the manner in which the leadership is seeking to push through the redefinition of marriage, squeezing out the debate, scrutiny and accountability that Conservatives so value. Yet we fear that this experience is symptomatic of a wider problem – of a leadership that is out of touch with its grassroots.

This campaign is mighty mysterious: no address, a mobile ‘phone number and contact only via an anonymous web-site. But that’s how guerrilla warriors work. A cynic might wonder if this is another front of that dubious Coalition for Marriage, or, if not, why a parallel fifth column was required.

No, Mr Cameron, your future is none too bright. Is it?

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Filed under Andrew Rawnsley, ConHome, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, folk music, Gender, Guardian, History, Homophobia, Observer, Theatre, Tories.

Marry and burn

A heart of stone is needed, not to mock the continuing havoc an eight-letter word is causing the Tory Party.

At a quick count, at toast-and-marmalade-time today, seven of the top eight (that number again!) items on ConHome Newslinks were about “marriage” — single-sex, the financial arrangements thereof, and other hokey-cokeys. There’s even one of those annoying rolling ads for the Coalition for Marriage.

From Institute to Coalition (across the hall-way)

This Coalition for Marriage deserves a moment’s attention. Its address is 5 Park Road, Gosforth. This takes us to a soul-less warehousing development on the outskirts of Newcastle — within whiffing distance of the big Greggs pasty plant across the hedge. Presumably no coincidence, it is bang next door to The Christian Institute of  Wilberforce House, 4 Park Road, Gosforth. For all the “Christian” ethos here, the “Christian Institute” seems to have a particular track record:

  • it sought to retain Thatcher’s vindictive Clause 28, discriminating against the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality;
  • it argued for an older age-of-consent in homosexual relationships;
  • it opposed Civil Partnerships;
  • it opposed single-sex adoption rights;
  • it meddled in Northern Ireland’s attempts to draw up rules on gender equality;
  • it funded a case in Islington, where a Council employee refused to work on the documentation of civil partnerships (and lost);
  • it funded the boarding-house owner who discriminated against gays(and lost).

Not surprisingly, then, the Institute has repeatedly been warned off crossing the line between “charity” and political activism.

Oh, and the Institute are New Earthers, theocrats, and bigots:

The Bible is without error not only when it speaks of salvation, its own origins, values, and religious matters, but it is also without error when it speaks of history and the cosmos. Christians must, therefore, submit to its supreme authority, both individually and corporately, in every matter of belief and conduct.

Anyone for an auto-da-fé?

The Christian Institute is strong on discipline:

The Church’s calling is to worship and serve God in the world, to proclaim and defend his truth, to exhibit his character and to demonstrate the reality of his new order.

New order … where did we come on that before? Then, in the original, was it not more correctly Neuordnung?

And also hot on punishment:

Evildoers will suffer eternal punishment. God will fully establish his kingdom when he creates a new heaven and a new earth from which evil, suffering and death will be excluded, and in which he will be glorified for ever.

Ah, yes: bring back the old ways of glorifying for ever:


A Malcolmian solution:

Ever one to be helpful, Malcolm reckons he has a way to satisfy all but the most extreme theocrat:

  • Allow whatever religious, denominational or whatever practices of human bonding to persist, but keep them at pitchfork’s length from the State;
  • Recognise only civil-marriage sand registrations of relationships to be recognised for official State needs.

In other words, do as they do in France — a civil and (should the couple wish) a religious ceremony. But only the one has the official imprimatur and it has to happen first. If the Château de Candé was good enough for an (ex-)King and Emperor, then the local Town Hall should suit anyone else.


Filed under bigotry, Britain, broken society, civil rights, ConHome, Conservative family values, Religious division, Tories.

A small puff

Ooops! here we go for a slight boost in Malcolm’s derisory stat-porn (© either Iain Dale or Guido Fawkes — who cares, anyway?).

For why?

There’s a BBC page on 20 of your songs that changed the world, of which perhaps half-a-dozen get the Malcolmian seal of approval.

Furthermore, Nena’s one-hit wonder, 99 Luftballons is in the list. Quite properly:

Europop doesn’t come much better. Not that there’s huge competition in that category.

Nearer home:

Malcolm worked that one into a rumination on a DARPA experiment and a trip to the Sloany Pony in Parsons Green. Quite which aspect there keeps pulling in the gongoozlers he doesn’t know: it remains, however, one of the 1678 (officially) posts on Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service that still drags ’em in.

Here’s another, older but perhaps better:

A week ago the Pert Young Piece dragged the Lady in Malcolm’s Life and the man himself to Berlin’s Warschauer Strasse S-Bahn station. From there down to Mühlenstrasse, to walk the mile long East End Gallery — the well-graffitied remaining stretch of the Wall. Damn cold; but not to be missed.

The Wall has been expunged for most of it length — though a keen eye tells the lingering architectural and other differences between the old East and West. On tatty, crappy Warschauer Strasse there can be no doubt.

Which brings us to another song that should have changed the world. Alas, back in 1962 (when Wayne Shaklin gave it to his wife Toni Fisher) we’d be waiting over half-a-century for the abomination to be ripped down:

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Filed under BBC, Europe, History, leisure travel, Music, Sounds of the Sixties