Sunday, October 7, 2007

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable

Malcolm apologises for that overworked Hamlet tag, but at least he knows it is from Act I, scene ii. And promises to try not to do it again.

LibDem linguistic lardiness

Redfellow Hovel, perched on the heights of Norf Lunnun, means Malcolm is in regular receipt of endless advertising material, including the Free Sheets which increasingly resemble LibDem propaganda.

What makes the LibDem weekly spoutings so depressing is their predictability.

Lynne Featherhead, sorry -- that should read "Featherstone", but same difference -- is never last in the queue to expend a stale metaphor. This week's gems are "Dickensian squalor" and "anyone using our commuter services at peak times will know what a sardine feels like".

Let's take those one at a time: after all, this lady is in a position to opine regularly on the state of education (84,400 googlings, and counting).

Dickensian squalor

Quite why Charles Dickens gets the credit for discovering the conditions in which too many Victorians lived is a mystery. Patrick Barkham was at it in The Guardian barely a month ago:
Beaten, bullied, shoeless and dirty, they toiled all day, and often night, in conditions of Dickensian squalor. But the popular image of working children in Victorian times ignores one key part of their experience: the young labourers were remarkably stoical about their suffering.
At least Barkham was talking of something past and gone, rather than housing conditions (three beds and a bath) now.

Not so Featherstone. And in case anyone thinks Malcolm is being picky, this is Dickens, describing his night patrol with Inspector Field and Constable Rogers in the year of the Great Exhibition, near the modern Charing Cross Road, and viewing the refugees from the Great Famine:
How many people may there be in London, who, if we had brought them deviously and blindfold, to this street, fifty paces from the Station House, and within call of Saint Giles's church, would know it for a not remote part of the city in which their lives are passed? How many, who amidst this compound of sickening smells, these heaps of filth, these tumbling houses, with all their vile contents, animate, and inanimate, slimily overflowing into the black road, would believe that they breathe THIS air? ...

Saint Giles's church clock, striking eleven, hums through our hand from the dilapidated door of a dark outhouse as we open it, and are stricken back by the pestilent breath that issues from within. Rogers to the front with the light, and let us look!

Ten, twenty, thirty - who can count them! Men, women, children, for the most part naked, heaped upon the floor like maggots in a cheese! Ho! In that dark corner yonder! Does anybody lie there? Me sir, Irish me, a widder, with six children. And yonder? Me sir, Irish me, with me wife and eight poor babes. And to the left there? Me sir, Irish me, along with two more Irish boys as is me friends. And to the right there? Me sir and the Murphy fam'ly, numbering five blessed souls. And what's this, coiling, now, about my foot? Another Irish me, pitifully in want of shaving, whom I have awakened from sleep - and across my other foot lies his wife and by the shoes of Inspector Field lie their three eldest - and their three youngest are at present squeezed between the open door and the wall.
Degrees of separation

After that, Malcolm feels the need for some fresh air, so reminds himself of the direct link from Charles Dickens to Sitting Bull.

Dickens's fifth child was Francis Jeffrey Dickens, who failed as a medical student, and as an employee in his father's magazine, was some time with the Bengal Lancers, and finally took a commission in the North West Mounted Police. That meant he spent much time patrolling what is now Manitoba, in the aftermath of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Sitting Bull and his people were in Canada for three years (1877-80), and so Sitting Bull was kept under close observation by Sub-Inspector Dickens while they were both
at Fort Walsh (now a Canadian National Historic Site).

Playing sardines

The point when Malcolm became seriously in need of sedatives was Featherstone's "sardines" remark.

For a start, he felt that "
commuter services at peak times" was a redundancy. Outside of "peak times" the trains are not largely used by "commuters": indeed, one of the needs of the train companies is to ensure the services are used at all. But, consider the "anyone ... will know what a sardine feels like".

Would that be a sardine in the wide wastes of the ocean? Or a dead, defunct, inanimate, past-caring and pickled sardine in a tin? A LibDem of a sardine?

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