Friday, December 18, 2009

Reminder ...

For any immediate future, after 717 posts over more than three years here, Malcolm Redfellow has taken his trade to Wordpress.

So redirect to:

His latest over there include:
  • a piece on a 16th-century ancestor, Sir Jacques Granado;
  • a mediatation on Tory tide timetables; and
coming up
  • thoughts on Belgian beers to die for.

Meanwhile, a thought for the coming holiday season:

Bah! Humbug!
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, December 11, 2009

Losing the wheels ... and the will

Yesterday's Guardian Technology supplement did a timely review of the 100 essential websites. Yeah, yeah: the old stand-by when copy is short. But still ...

There was this:
Blogger Fast way to start blogging; training wheels for Wordpress.
Which, in a way, struck a chord with Malcolm (left).

He has become increasingly frustrated by running two parallel blogs: here on Blogger with Malcolm Redfellow's World Service and there on Wordpress with Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service. Increasingly it has come to be an itch analogous to the chicken-pox in Sheldon Harnick's acerbic The Ballad of the Shape of Things:
They say he died from the chicken pox,
In part I must agree: one chick too many had he!
Malcolm prefers the archly-innocent version Blossom Dearie did at Ronnie Scott's club. She also did it for her 1979 Needlepoint Magic album (and if you can find one of those, bank it).

Whitney Lyon Balliett, who had tenure as jazz critic at the New Yorker for some forty years, wrote of Blossom's voice:
without a microphone it would not reach the second floor of a doll's house
The better-known rendering by the Kingston Trio, more burlesque travesty than Blossom's cabaret chanson, is on a YouTube clip:

Onward, Malcolm! To the point!

So perhaps the time has come to switch off the lights, let it all rest, and go away.

Let's admit that Malcolm Redfellow's World Service has served its purpose. It kept the oul' fella out of mischief, and the Alzheimer's at bay for the last three years. It started as a political/historical stream of consciousness, and lapsed into unconscious tics of incidental semi-thoughts.

So, until some future time,
  • when he has something to say,
  • when he re-fits the wheels,
  • and his voice reaches the second floor of the long-term Lady in his Life's doll's-house,
And finally ...

Thank you for that rendition, Ms von Kappelhoff.

Thank you, the handful who occasionally visit here, for your time and trouble.

Good bye. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Can one have too much of a good thing?

Why ask that of someone, as Malcolm was, born in the War years? Who remembers raiding his moneybox that day in February 1953 when sweets came off-the-rations?

In its own small way, the younger generation experience the rationing problem with their iPods.

No matter which model one has, all the way up the the 160GB Classic, there is a finite limit to storage. Which means making choices. The problem achieves cataclysmic crisis time with the Lady in Malcolm's life and her natty, minuscule Shuffle.

So, of Malcolm's several iPods (Weeuw ... there's posh!), the 32GB iPod touch, though not the biggest capacity, is the current favourite, not because of size, but simply through its general utility.

Currently it is carrying just over 5000 tracks and about 500 photographs. Since it, and the 80GB Classic are the back-ups for iPhoto when the Lady in his Life and Malcolm are on the move, that means it's pruning time. Another prompt comes when he found that, somehow when he uploaded 765MB and nine hours of Miles Davis's Complete Prestige Recordings, ripped @ 192 kbps, he must have over-written Sketches of Spain. That is, of course, unacceptable; and must be remedied instantly. There's only about 4GB spare, but Malcolm has this thing about excess: it's Brazilian time, ladies!

At first it's easy; how many variants of those Willie Nelson standards does a man need? Did Malcolm really upload all that ABBA pap? And that's not the worst (about which, least said the better).

Around this point the process of elimination slows down. Hey! here's Jackie Brenston and Rocket 88! We haven't cranked that one for a while ... and then we pause to stack it up against, say, Bernard Allison's and Nappy Brown's or the Alexis Korner versions.

YouTube offer a version, which (despite the "original" claim) seems later than, and different from the 1951 original:

The Bettie Page clips are a gratuitous addition. Moreover, to claim that this is "the first rock'n'roll song" invites a deluge of disagreement. A "fuzzy" tenor-sax does not a genre make.

At this point Malcolm realises he has a whole playlist of road-songs and car-songs. Malcolm scanned a score or more Cadillac titles, not including the Austin Lounge Lizards' The Car Hank Died In:

Poor sound quality: find the album, Creatures From The Black Saloon.
That would count as the nadir of bad taste — nothing wrong with that, says Malcolm — had Dave Allan Coe, complete with girlie chorus, not also been represented (a recommendation from our American Cousin, Colorado Zach):
Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got outta prison.
And I went to pick her up in the rain.
But, before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
She got runned over by a damned old train.
But to stick with the Caddy motif:

Then there are nearly as many GTOs and Chevys as there were Caddy songs: they include one worthwhile gem — Junior Brown putting a little overdue life into the Beach Boys' 409 (the B-side of the dismal Surfin' Safari of 1962):

That's before he hit on another favourite: Kathy Mattea's striding attack on Gillian Welch's 455 Rocket, "biggest block alive", which in a way brings him full circle:

Malcolm apologises for that version; the original is blocked in his region.
It goes without saying that anything by or from Gillian Welch is sacrosanct, and not for removing.

However, a stack of '70s and '80s stuff goes straight to the bin, no problem: Phil Collins, large swathes of other pretentious stuff.

With Sketches of Spain (is it jazz? who cares?) and a few other goodies onto the iPod Touch, and so to bed ...

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, December 4, 2009

Being put in your place

No: Malcolm has not been idle these last few days.
All in all, it had been a good week ...
... until the New York Times published its list of 100 Notable Books of 2009.

And Malcolm had to recognise he had hit a new, all-time low ...

Just one fiftieth of the list.

For the record they are:
  • Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (O.K., O.K. — it's still the Lady's side of the bed. But the spirit is willing, y'know);
  • Richard J. Evans's The Third Reich at War, which was not to be hurried, and has been a constant companion and friend for at least the last ten days.
As for the rest ...


However, Malcolm has to hand a small pile of the following:
  • To finish the floor;
  • Three weeks to go before daughters and their spawn decide what Dad/Grandad would really like for Christmas,
  • including an extended Eurostar weekend among the Belgians.
No rest for the wicked. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, November 27, 2009

An ineffable judgement ...
... which is effing incredible.

The Irish Times, in September 2006, had a story by its Public Affairs Correspondent, Colm Keena. The story disclosed that the Mahon tribunal were investigating payments made to Bertie Ahern. Ahern, it was alleged, as Minister for Finance in 1993 had received considerable sums: these are now listed in various articles, including a consolidating one from the tribunal website itself.

The Irish Times identified David McKenna, chief executive of Marlborough International, as one of the contributors.

The tribunal went ape, believing that the article stemmed from a leak of a confidential letter it had sent to McKenna. The tribunal went to the High Court, to force the Irish Times and Keena to reveal the source of the leak. The paper refused, on the grounds of good journalistic practice. To further protect its sources, the Editor ordered all the documentation to be destoyed.

The Supreme Court endorsed the appeal by the Editor and Keena, saying that any restriction on freedom of expression had to be justified by an "over-riding requirement in the public interest". Game set and match to the Irish Times?
Alas, no!

The Supreme Court has now ruled ruled that the Irish Times, despite winning the case, must bear the expenses incurred by the tribunal in bringing the action.

That's over €600,000.

The full story is here.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

If you really must have one ...

There are folk out there with portraits of Margaret Thatcher on their walls. Iain Dale tellingly admits to being one such.

Malcolm feels a projectile vomit coming on at just the notion. Though, attached to a dartboard, it might serve ...

That said (and it would be better if Malcolm hadn't) yesterday's do at Number Ten produced something better than the usual.

For once, here is a portrait that has some artistic merit. Richard Stone has given the old bat some dignity, uncharacteristic but better than the artificial grandeur she assumed in real life. You call it steeliness if you want to, but Malcolm finds chilling contempt and a hint of the vulpine in those arrogant hooded eyes.

If one was expecting an image of the millionaire's trophy wife, augustly coiffed, jewels agleam, this is it indeed.

Nineteen years (and a day) since that joyous moment -- joyous until we appreciated what had been installed as her pale substitute -- when her own Party defenestrated her from Downing Street, she's back. Apparently, hers is unique there, in being a portrait of a living ex-PM; and only one of three portraits of Twentieth Century premiers (the other two, inevitably, being David Lloyd-George and Churchill. What is it about the Anglo-Saxons that they just lurve conflict and bloodshed?

Stone gives us an anodyne Thatcher, all glammed up, all passion spent. It may look good on a wall; but it denies the essential energy, complexity and wrongheadedness of the woman.

For something more acerbic, there is the Jonathan Yeo portrait of Blair (above left), complete with symbolic (and pointed) poppy against an indeterminate grey-blue background. Where Stone's Thatcher celebrates, Yeo's Blair challenges and forces the viewer's deliberation.

It presently hangs at the top of the stairs into the Great Hall of Lincoln's Inn. Within the Hall, Thatcher is there too: one of the sixteen Members of the Inn who rose to PM.

Which left Malcolm futilely trying to recall a decent painting of Clem Attlee. Several excellent photographs, yes. A full-length statue at Limehouse Library. But not a portait came to mind. It took a bit of a search, until one (by James Gunn, right) showed up to accompany Clem's piece in the Dictionary of National Biography. Hmm ... Sphere: Related Content

Friday, November 20, 2009

The excellence of Richard J. Evans

There's a small pile of unread fiction beside Malcolm's desk. Another on his bedside table.

In the usual run of things, Nine Dragons, the 14th Harry Bosch, would be a day's non-work. Robert Harris's Lustrum, Cicero 2, would be not much longer. James Ellroy's Blood's a Rover, completing the Underworld USA trilogy, might demand a bit longer. All of those have been on Malcolm's to-do list for the last week or more. Along with others, they remain neglected.

For why?

The simple reason is Richard J. Evans's The Third Reich at War, which has rarely been far from Malcolm's hands this recent while.

Two things stand out here:
  • The Second World War and the Götterdämmerung achieved by Hitler for himself and his people must be the most studied topic in modern historiography. Yet Evans makes his account fresh and revealing.
  • Evans is a remarkably economical writer. He takes 764 pages to cover from the assault on Poland to the aftermath of 1945; yet in there is no padding, no rhetorical excursions, no waffle.
A remarkable display of Evans's masterly talent is his explanation of how the Holocaust became known to the wider world. Others have expanded this into full book-length expositions, which leave the reader little the wiser. Evans addresses the topic from the top of page 558, and, by the bottom of page 561, has moved on to the people of Cologne regarding the bombing of their Dom as retribution for the burning of the synagogues in 1938.

So, in a few moments of study, the reader has a fair grasp:
  • how, in July 1942, Eduard Schulte told a Jewish business friend in Zurich of the intention to annihilate European Jewry, transporting the victims to the East and killing them, "possibly by sulphuric acid";
  • how that information came to Gerhart Riegner, who transmitted it to the Jewish World Congress in New York via the US and UK embassies;
  • how Kurt Gerstein, of the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS, delivered 100 kg of the pesticide Zyklon-B to Lublin "for an undisclosed purpose. He came to witness a trainload from Lvov received, undressed, herded into the death chambers, and how it took "thirty-two minutes to kill the people inside the chamber". Gerstein was also a "devout protestant" who retailed his experience to Göran van Otter, a Swedish diplomat, who passed it on to his Foreign Office (who sat on the story until the end of the war). Then Gerstein "pestered the Papal Nuncio, the leaders of the Confessing Church and the Swiss Embassy ... all to no effect.
  • how the Polish resistance were sending accounts of Treblinka to the government-in-exile. The London Poles vacillated until Jan Karski eventually reached London with accounts of the Warsaw ghetto and Belzec camp.
  • how Archbishop William Temple chaired a protest meeting (29 October 1942) at the Albert Hall, attended by Jewish and Polish communities, so that the London Poles (27 November 1942) finally went public on what was happening to jews in Poland.
  • how (14 December 1942) "Foreign Secretary Eden delivered an official report on the genocide to the British Cabinet" with the result that "Three days later, the Allied governments issued a joint declaration promising retribution".
  • how "Beginning in December 1942, British and other allied propaganda media bombarded German citizens with broadcast and written information about the genocide."
What Malcolm celebrates there is how little compression a bulleted précis achieves compared with Evans's succinct and highly-literate version. And that is one single example of the success of this whole text. Few works stand out as an instant classic: this is one.

With luck, Malcolm will be out from Unter den Linden by the weekend, and able to ramble at ease though the quieter meadows of some of the awaiting fiction. He knows, though, which book of recent months will stay longest in his memory. And be revisited. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, November 12, 2009

There's only one rule: expediency. It's better than flea-ridden beds:

But first:
Two mentions in a few days: is Malcolm becoming a cyber-stalker?

Anne Marie Hourihane in the Irish Times on Monday was recounting her:
main memory of our 24-hour stay in the Berlin of November 1989 is of looking for people to interview, then interviewing them until their ears bled...

East Berlin itself looked very much as large tracts of Dublin had looked in the 1970s, and in some cases still did. There was nothing in East Berlin more shabby and derelict than, for example, Clanbrassil Street. And nowhere in East Berlin, bombed, bullet-ridden and crushed as it was, looked any worse than Lower Mount Street or Gardiner Street or Mountjoy Square or indeed O’Connell Street.
Yes, indeed.

Had fragrant Anne Marie dug a little further, or been a bit older, she would have appreciated her unconscious irony.

Back in 1964-5, Martin Ritt was making John Le Carré's great novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, into an exceptional movie (clip above) In the circumstances, permission to film in East Berlin was not possible. Where else to find grey, grim slums to match such the squalor? Answer: Dublin and the Smithfield area.

Soon after, down these mean streets Malcolm must go, who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The canvasser for the Irish Labour Party must be a complete man and a common man (cf: Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep).

And his trudgings (and the ward-heeling by Bob Mitchell) were rewarded. As he recalls the Corkonian (later turn-coat) Michael O'Leary was elected on the eleventh recount. It all seemed worth the effort at the time.

That said, it was a dispiriting moment. The deprivation of the wrong end of Dublin at that time amply testified to the dreary, dismal world de Valera had perpetuated over a quarter of a century. If it needed a shyster like Lemass to change things, hopefully for the better, so be it. The mess that is modern Dublin suburbia offends effete and delicate stomachs, such as Malcolm's. Yet what we have got is so much better than what we had.

"A rising tide lifts all boats" was an axiom Lemass borrowed from the Kennedys.

Even if not at the same rate.
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The not-so-good and the not-so-great, number 20: Dorothy Phillips

Let Malcolm sidle up on this one.

The Irish Times has a tradition of fine and ironic writing. So Anne Marie Hourihane is under pressure to meet the norm in her TV review column for the Weekend Review. Beside a picture of Brendan Gleeson depicting Winston Churchill in Into the Storm, we get a paragraph:
He was his country's saviour -- although his country was far too reticent to say so. His predictions of disaster went unheard. In the end, of course, he was vindicated. Indeed, as the international landscape darkened, he became a beacon both of hope and of certainty. During the early days of the conflict, a bewildered population gathered each evening to hear his famous broadcasts to the nation. And then he went and joined Fine Gael.
The reference there, of course, is George Lee, recently RTÉ's Economic Editor, who suddenly transmogrified into the FG candidate for the Dublin South-East by-election. It had been a Fianna Fáil seat: the top two places on the first ballot were both Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael were a poor third and fifth. In the by-election FF staggered in third, with less than 18% of the vote. The people's heart-throb was George, swept home on the first count with 53.4% of the vote. Lee is currently the face fronting a three-parter about the fall of the Wall.

But that's not the point: merely an explanation for the diaspora who might not be fully up-to-date.

What piqued Malcolm was the delectable Anne Marie's wind-up (ambiguously so) on the Churchill bio-pic:
Churchill was a man who created himself and wrote his own scripts. the makers of Into the Storm were wise enough to draw heavily on his speeches, and to show how much trouble he took in constructing them. It was Churchill, for example, who first came up with the term "Iron Curtain" to describe the division between the West and the Soviet Union.
Well, no, actually. It was Joseph Goebbels, on 25th January, 1945, in Das Reich.
Iron curtain

The Oxford English Dictionary has the term back to 1794, referring to the theatre's safety curtain. There's a frolic on wikipedia taking it back to the Babylonian captivity. When the OED considers the metaphorical usage, to imply an "impenetrable barrier" (the Churchillian implication), that's when it gets interesting, and finally brings us to Dorothy Phillips:
1819 EARL OF MUNSTER Jrnl. Route across India 1817-18 iv. 58 On the 19th November we crossed the river Betwah, and as if an iron curtain had dropt between us and the avenging angel, the deaths diminished.
The Earl of Munster? Who he?

He was George Augustus Frederick FitzClarence, who would have been in his early 20s when he wrote that Journal cited by the OED, the eldest "natural" (as they say) son of Prince William, third son of George III, and his long-term live-in lady friend (ta-rah! at last!), Dorothy Jordan. We'll come to him in the next "episode". For now, let's focus on her, at the top of this post: quite a looker. Several distinguished bods can claim descent from that unsanctified relationship: they include Adam Hart-Davis (the TV presenter), Oliver Reed (the actor) and David Cameron (the would-be Prime Minister).

Dorothy Jordan

She was born close by Covent Garden in 1761. Her parents were Captain Francis Bland (who, as we shall see, is the Irish connection) and an actress, Grace Phillips, herself a parson's daughter from West Wales (who may well be a TCD-man, Scudamore Phillips). Captain Bland subsequently married another lady, Catharine Mahoney of Killarney, which was held to be legal: it is asserted by Burke's Irish Records there was a previous Catholic marriage between Bland and Grace, before either was of legal age.

Francis Bland -- let's stick with him for a trice -- was the son (by a second marriage) of the Rev. Nathaniel Bland of Derriquin Castle in the County Kerry, another TCD man who held a series of appointments as an Irish Church lawyer. Francis Bland's relationship with Grace lasted from 1760 to 1774, and produced perhaps nine children. It appears that the Blands paid off Grace, on the basis that she didn't use the Bland surname for her children.

So Dorothy Phillips (as she began) had to make her own way in the world, and her only obvious profession was ... well, on the stage. It seems that the casting couch is not an invention of Hollywood. She was soon involved with Richard Daly, yet another TCD-man, who briefly built himself a monopoly of the Irish theatre (including the Smock Alley Theatre, from which the Macready dynasty would spring). The Phillips-Daly liaison produced one child, but, since pregnant women had to have courtesy titles as "Mrs", she became Mrs Dorothy Jordan.

Discarded by Daly, Dorothy Jordan moved sharply on to Sir Richard Ford, a magistrate no less, whose father was a shareholder with Sheridan (a Dubliner, of course) in the Drury Lane Theatre. Ford and Dorothy Jordan produced three children, before Ford ran into financial problems with Sheridan. Our Dorothy moved swiftly onward and upward.

The Duke of Clarence, Prince William Henry, had been taking an interest in Mrs Jordan for some time. In 1790 she became his live-in "companion" at Clarence Lodge, Roehampton, (later at Bushy House) with a salary of £1200 p.a. Cartoons of the time show the Prince sitting on a chamber-pot, crudely known as a "Jordan". Even so, Mrs Jordan seems to have been held in good public (ahem!) odour: when, in due course, Clarence dumped her in the hope of improving his bank-balaence with a wealthy heiress, the balladeers sided with her.

When Doorothy Jordan was discarded she received an allowance 0f £4,400 a year. She continued to appear on stage until 1815, when she retired to France, was swindled by her son-in-law, and within the year died near Paris.

Now for her son, the "Earl of Munster" Sphere: Related Content

Friday, November 6, 2009

Oh ... bog off!

Last week it was farting cows. Now it's bogs. Well, at least it is in the Economist:
PEATY wetlands emit about 1.3 billion tonnes of CO2 a year as a result of human activity that drains them and thus exposes them to the oxidative effect of the atmosphere. This figure does not include the effect of fire on dried-up bogs, which can double the amount.
So Bord na Móna not only scents the Irish air, keeps B&Q in gardening perquisites, runs the biggest railway system in the island of Ireland -- it also drowns Pacific micro-nations!

There comes a moment in the week when there has been simply too much information. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Just because they're paranoid ...

... doesn't mean they're entirely wrong

Malcolm followed the frothings and maunderings on the Tory web-sites, defending or bemoaning Cameron's U-turn over the Lisbon Treaty. It became v-e-r-y repetitive and v-e-r-y boring. Even so, it had its moments of provocation.

It obliged him to re-appraise his own assumptions.

The level of mindless abuse

First and foremost, the sound and fury was proof positive that there are many angry people out there. Most of them are window-lickers (© Paul Staines). They see the EU as the natural successor to the Whore of Babylon, and all her sisters in terror.

Malcolm may think they're sadly misguided. Even so, he concedes that he himself is a reformed anti: he came round to being, at best, ambivalent over Europe after full embroilment in the early '60s in Dublin, and campigning in the 1975 British Referendum. There are those who suggest all that was a long while ago: poor old Malcolm's eyesight, hearing and hair all testify to that. Yet Malcolm recognises similarities between 1975 and now: the antis of 1975 were acutely aware and warned then, as Brutus does in Julius Caesar:
Fashion it thus; that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities:
And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which, hatch'd, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.
That's a specious argument, and Shakespeare intended it to be heard as such; but it has its superficial merits.

The great British public saw through such claims; and voted two-to-one against the antis' warnings.

Nuff said.

Malcolm, though, had the wit to recognise that the argument against the EEC had been well-and-truly trounced. Since when, while never being a whole-hearted Euro-fanatic, he has warmed to the notion.

Were one to believe the vitriol of Tory loyalists on the Tory websites (such as Iain Dale's), those who argue still from a hard-line anti- perspective are "trolls" or "NuLiebor stooges". Abuse, and hackneyed and concocted insults are the norm in such dark corners. It's pot-and-kettle stuff, with very little light. Clearly, those using such terms do not comprehend what "trolling" involves (and, ahem! Malcolm in his cups will quietly admit to have done his bit under at least three pseudonyms.) Nor are they exclusively UKIPpers.

Something has gone sadly, badly, madly wrong in the relationship between the great British public and the EU when so many misrepresentations and misconceptions are prevalent. The EU has a vast budget to expend on its own image: but the message does not get through. Instead we have the bar-room fantasies of straight cucumbers, unbent bananas and EU-standard condoms. That is largely because the Murdoch machine and its fellow travellers have been so successful in distorting and disseminating their black propaganda.

Anti-Labour hysteria

One does not have to venture too far into the undergrowth of Europhobic monomania to be told it's all a plot: Gordon (inevitably "Gorgon") Brown is a paid-up member of the Illuminati, who fixes the ballot boxes while decent folk are a-bed. Or some such.

The present Government, for all its faults, is no where near being a guilty party. Everything that has occurred in the long and involved (and occasionally honourable) relationship of Britain and the EU is a natural consequence of such developments as:
  • What we knowingly endorsed in 1975. By that time, it should be remembered, the ERM, proposed in 1970, created in 1972, was already in place.
  • The recognition that we couldn't continue to pump out mega-tonnes of acid rain to poison Scandinavian forests, nor hoover the seas of all marine life. The "Green Agenda' took time to evolve; but the basic concepts have been there a while.
  • The establishment of democratic regimes, first in Iberia and Greece, and then in Eastern Europe needed to be supported, sustained -- and kept democratic and honest. This implied implied European-wide "rights" and obligations. Similarly, Article 9 of that German Basic Law, which Cameron and Hague now hail as a model, derives from the benefits that British TUC-men, such as George Woodcock and Vic Feather, despatched by Walter Cirine and Ernie Bevin, invented for the de-nazified West German trades unions. Such rights became demanded -- quite properly -- by the workers of other nations. There is some irony that only the British Tories wish to cop out of the deal.
  • The Single European Act of 1986 was one of the achievements for which Margaret Thatcher, despite having to be dragged, kicking and screaming, deserves credit. What the British Tories wanted was full and free access to the wider European marketplace. What they didn't fully appreciate is that our EC fellow-members expected a level-playing field, which meant full harmonisation of all operating practices.
  • This led on to Maastricht in 1992, creating the EU, with the UK giving assurances on currency, foreign and security policy, justice and internal affairs. Again, the hang-up for the Tories was not just over "sensitive" matters of defence and foreign policy, but that the "social chapter" (another part of that harmonisation) granted rights to British employees. That was the issue on which Labour and Liberal MPs (with the held of anti-EEC Tories) broke the Major government.
So, by the time of the present Labour Government, with the EU at 25 (and then at 27) members, consolidation was overdue: which is where Lisbon comes in.

In the immediate future the entry of Croatia and FYR Macedonia will need to be settled. An educated guess is that will happen in the life-time of the next Parliament; but not involve a Referendum, come what may. One might equally assume, too, that any UK Government will make cooing noises about Turkish entry; but be none too energetic in pressing it.

Any sane person, with any breadth of vision, should feel that what we've got here, now, is, on balance, better than the alternatives. Those who sweat buckets over "ever-closer union" might care to look back beyond the last couple of decades or so, when "ever-wider disunion" was the only game in town.

"A cast-iron promise"

When Cameron gave his "cast-iron" promise, he was in a corner. His polling figures put him not far off the electoral ropes. He and his Svengali, Andy Coulson, were set on wooing Murdoch. That meant paying Danegeld and surrendering a large degree of control over European policy to Wapping. Hence Cameron's "cast-iron promise" and the recent negotiations to wriggle out from under it. The full story of that will, doubtless, provide a chapter in somebody's memoirs at a later date.

Probably Cameron (or was it Coulson, holding his writing hand?) went a bit further than second-thoughts might have suggested. If so, Cameron was either:
  • presuming he would not have to deliver. In which case he was being casuistical and equivocating: not an unusual characteristic (or even a cardinal sin) in a politician;
  • assuming that the Irish, the Poles, the Czechs or A.N.Other would already have rubbished Lisbon before he had to honour the "cast-iron promise". In which case he was being calculating: again, not necessarily unknown among political minds.
Neither implies a cuddly, endearing personality: both are the norms in the trade, however.

It transcends human understanding that Cameron would have wanted to be in the position of leading a newly-elected UK Government into the rôle of wrecker of the present European settlement. Or that he genuinely wanted a full-blown referendum on EU membership (which, undoubtedly, is what he would have been expected to offer). The natural support of the Tory Party, in the City and business, could not countenance the UK leaving the EU -- especially when "Exit" is clearly, even invitingly, sign-posted for the first time in the Lisbon Treaty.

These, then, are the measures of Cameron's weaknesses:
  • At the time the "cast-iron" promise was put together, he prostrated himself before the Great God Rupert.
  • He then had to seek a pontifical pardon and absolution from the Great God Rupert (as The Sun tacitly and smugly recognised) before he could withdraw the promise, address his Parliamentary Party (where the Whips and loyalists were dragooned into orchestrating the applause), and then go before the cynical Press. That is a most peculiar order of business for a "leader".
  • His reconstructed assurances to the Tory Party have to promise more than he has just withdrawn, to attempt to gloss over his present moment of apparent self-contradiction. At the key moment of that Press conference Malcolm heard in Cameron the impotent Lear:
I will do such things,--
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth.
All in all: A Mad World, My Masters.

Sphere: Related Content
Class and race in NYC

The graphics in the New York Times are, in a favoured word of Malcolm's Brooklyn-born son-in-law, "awesome".

So, today's effort, showing the distribution of votes in the City's Mayoral election, continues the standard of excellence. The legend to the piece reads:
The Vote for Mayor, Block by Block
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg won re-election Tuesday, but voters were less enthusiastic about him than the last time he ran in 2005. The mayor did well in high-income white areas of Manhattan and Queens, and also in election districts dominated by immigrants, like Flushing and Brighton Beach. But his vote fell sharply in black neighborhoods, especially southeast Queens, where the black middle class has been hard-hit by foreclosure.
The related article, by David Chen and Michael Barbaro, ain't too dusty either.

Respec' !

Now, if only the UK media could match that, for depth and decency. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Malcolm loves railways

He has reflected this previously, noting his trips in Britain, Spain, Italy and the USA. Doubtless we soon may be regaled with Eurostar and Belgian Railways.

So, he was cheered that Warren Buffett, the Sage of Omaha, was inducing his investment vehicle, Berkshire Hathaway, to put up $34 billion to take control of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation. Now, if we'd known that was on the cards, and we'd divied up the odd grand yesterday to buy shares, we'd have made twenty-odd cents in the dollar on the deal. Heck: that's business, my friend.

A hard head ...

The calculation is in the strategic importance of the BNSF. It is the second-largest rail conglomerate in the US. More to the point, it hauls all those lovely consumer goods from the West Coast ports (LA, Long Beach and Seattle) to the mid-west hubs (Chicago, St Louis and Kansas City). Heading back west, the trains are lugging grain and soya for the Chinese market. In that respect, Buffett is on a one-way bet that the US economy is on the up, and that China will continue to demand food imports..

A more intriguing thought is that Berkshire Hathaway has significant holdings in other rail operations: some ten million shares in Union Pacific and two million in Norfolk Southern. The one owns 27,000 miles and operates a further 6,000 miles, of track across 23 States; the other 21,000 miles across 22 states. Now, if only some bright spark would suggest that they combine operations to offer a decent passenger experience ...

... and a romantic heart?

Malcolm now recalls a night spent in Needles, on the Colorado River, where California is about to trip over into Arizona (and, not far out of your way, into Nevada). He was there because that was where Route 66 ran, and Malcolm (as has repeatedly been evidenced here) has read and re-read his Steinbeck, in this case chapter 12 of The Grapes of Wrath:
... out of the broken sun-rotted mountains of Arizona to the Colorado, with green reeds on its banks and that's the end of Arizona. There's California just over the river, and a pretty town to start it, Needles on the river.

Well, as Malcolm recalls it: the "pretty town" now exists as a staging post on the Interstate.

It has a choice of a handful of chain motels. So Malcolm was bedded in the Best Western Colorado River Inn.

For the purposes of this piece, its significance was the
"back-side" of the joint faced south, and the BNSF track. So the night was punctuated by the iconic moaning of freights heading east and west. Just one train would have been the Amtrak Southwest Chief, out of LA at 6:45 PM and through Needles (the station is a single unattended platform in a freight yard) in the early hours.

For the heart-throbbing romantic in Malcolm it was all rather disappointing, except for the ten miles or so of Route 66 between two ramps on and off Interstate 40.

So, in the hope of something better: here's a small cheer for Mr Warren Buffett and his investment.

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Botching one's words

Today the Guardian's Sam Wollaston does his regular review of Last night's TV. Predictably he hits on the BBC/HBO co-production of the Churchill biopic:
Were you watching, Gordon? Into the Storm, on BBC2? That's how to do it. So there aren't enough helicopters to fight the Taliban? Did a lack of boats prevent the evacuation of Dunkirk? Of course it didn't. Even members of the war cabinet took a couple of days off work, headed down to the Isle of Wight where their yachts were moored, and got over there. Someone has to have a spare chopper, don't they? What about Lord Sugar?
Nice start, but then this:
We won the war because Churchill wrote, and gave, good speech. He'd come up with a fine line: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few", perhaps, and note it down. Later, he would flesh it out, dictate it to someone. He'd pace up and down, practising his speech to himself or maybe to Clemmie (dear Clemmie), perfecting rhythm and intonation so that he sounded like Laurence Olivier (dear Larry) playing Nelson in That Hamilton Woman, Churchill's favourite film. Then he'd head down to Broadcasting House and deliver it to the nation, who, huddled around their wireless sets, were so moved and inspired they summoned up the collective pluck required to bash the Boche.
That's the on-line version, avoiding a problem in the print version:
... required to bash the Bosch.
It's a local tradition, kick-started by that irreproachable gold-standard of accuracy, Private Eye, to mock the Grauniad's typos. In practice, of course, the Guardian is exemplary (as here) in its fact-checking and (when necessary) correction. Perhaps, Wollaston's Freudian slip reveals a fan of Hieronymous Bosch, either the Dutch painter or the Michael Connelly creation.

However, it was enough to set Malcolm's mind a-buzzing. The last week at Redfellow Hovel has been hell, ever since the gardener used a spade to bisect the main cable feed. Equally, as Malcolm's postings here go into the eighth hundred, it does no harm for the poor old soul to maunder on about usage.

So let him Bash the Boche/Bosch

The term came out of French slang. In 1887 Albert Marie Victor Barrère published Argot and Slang: a New French and English Dictionary of the Cant Words, Quaint Expressions, Slang Terms and Flash Phrases used in the High and Low Life of Old and the New Paris. Phew!

The author was a French teacher, living in London and sharing a house with Hector France. Ten years on Barrère and Charles Leland expanded the earlier work into A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant.

Now we need to consider the state of French literature at that time. In particular we need to refer to the work of Émile Zola. Zola was in turn influenced by the work of American writers, especially Henry James, in forsaking the romanticism of mid-century writers for "naturalism". What that implied was the exploitation of more realistic subject-material, observing the life of "ordinary" folk, and using their speech patterns.

Hence the need for Barrère's work. He explained himself by noting that French writers who depicted the "vices of society" were utilising terms beyond the experience of English readers, however good their academic French. Thus with the word Boche, which Barrère rendered as a "rake" (in the moral sense). The OED now offers the synonym rascal, and suggests it derives from a conflation of caboche ("head", which is cognate with "cabbage"), and Alboche (corrupted from allemand).

So Barrère had made the term accessible for English students of French literature. It took the popular press of the First World War to make it current in English. As early as September 1914, the Daily Express was relating how:
Monsieur had better come under cover. The ‘Bosches’ are still firing this way.
Notice theuse of an alternate spelling, as copied by Wollaston in print, and the quotation marks to reinforce the unfamiliarity of the term.

Very quickly, though, the spelling settled down as Boche. Ernest Andrew Ewart (who wrote dispatches for the Westminster Gazette under the pen-name "Boyd Cable") describes a moment in the trenches of 1916:
Courtenay stopped near a group of men, and telling the sergeant to wait there a moment, moved on and left him. A puff of cold wet wind blew over the parapet, and the sergeant wrinkled his nose disgustedly. "Some odorous," he commented to a mud-caked private hunkered down on his heels on the fire-step with his back against the trench wall. "Does, the Boche run a glue factory or a fertilizer works around here?"

"The last about fits it," said the private grimly. "They made an attack here about a week back, and there's a tidy few fertilizin' out there now -- to say nothin' of some of ours we can't get in."
Later in the War, it came to refer more to German aircraft: and again we find this from "Boyd Cable":
A Boche ... proceeded to drop bombs all over the place.
Churchill himself seems invariably to use use the spelling of Boche:
All Europe, if [Hitler] has his way, will be reduced to one uniform Boche-land.
That's from 1940, and , perhaps significantly from a speech aimed at "the French people". By which time, for most Britons, the term was already dated. "Hun" (Rudyard Kipling's insult-term of choice) had become preferred.

Virgin birth?

Not entirely relevant here, perhaps (but fun all the same) is to wonder if Kipling had less to do with the change in usage than Christabel Russell.

This starts with the marriage of John Hugo Russell (known as "Stilts" -- because of his height) and Christabel (née Hart) in 1918. In April 1922 "Stilts" sued for divorce, on the grounds of his wife's adultery. Since the doings (and undoings) of the British aristos are mainly for entertainment purposes, here is Time magazine summarising the action:
... baby Geoffrey ... was born in October 1921. Soon after Geoffrey's birth, John Russell filed for divorce charging that the baby could not possibly be his. He claimed that he and his wife had agreed before the wedding to lead separate lives and leave the marriage unconsummated.

Christabel Russell admitted that she had never had full intercourse with her husband. But she insisted that she had not had sex with any other man either. Her proof: after learning that she was pregnant, she had undergone a medical examination. Doctors testified that she was still technically a virgin; her hymen had been only partly perforated. How then had the baby been conceived? During a night of "Hunnish" behavior ten months before Geoffrey's birth, she testified, when her husband tried to force her to have intercourse, but succeeded only in an incomplete act. He flatly denied any such behavior occurred.

One divorce trial ended without a decision, but a second in 1923 explored the details again. Christabel, her husband charged, had cavorted across the Continent, writing home about "slim, silky Argentines" and "marcel-waved" Italians who courted, wined and dined her. She still insisted that they had not slept with her; medical experts conceded that her story of Geoffrey's conception might be true. A ten-month gestation was not unknown, they said. Impregnation without penetration, though rare, was possible. Still, the jury in the second divorce trial found her guilty of adultery with an unnamed man.
Christabel appealed. It went to the House of Lords. She won. The child was legitimate. John did not get his divorce until 1935, when he succeeded to the title of Baron Ampthill.

The various court proceedings created considerable sensation, not least over precisely what Christabel described as her husband's "Hunnish practices".

The rest of the Ampthill story had to wait until after John's death in 1973. The House of Lords then had to decide between two claimants for the title.


Woolaston's review of the HBO/BBC programme was valid. Even better on this occasion, to Malcolm's taste, was that by Andrew Billen in The Times:
This critique would, however, have been more effective if Into the Storm had been less in love with Churchill’s rhetoric itself. But its telling of 1939-45 was a K-Tel best-of anthology of his famous speeches, many of which we saw him compose out loud, working on the rhythm and syntax more than the meaning. The possibility that Churchill might have been a great commander and diplomat receded behind Churchill the orator. Appropriately, after he has lost the election, he is shown moved by a play by Noel Coward, another performer who thought in aphorisms. At the end, the house stands to a man to applaud the “saviour of our nation”. By now his appeal, this final episode unwittingly suggests, was to middle-class theatre lovers.

Brendan Gleeson, his face alternately ancient and babylike, was a worthy, perhaps superior, successor to Albert Finney who played Churchill in The Gathering Storm seven years ago, and Janet McTeer was a superb, unamused Clemmie. But this glossy, jokey 90-minute romp though our finest hour could not be taken seriously either as history or biography. Churchill might have liked it but that is because the director Thaddeus O’Sullivan had turned his life into an Alexander Korda biopic.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The sale of Gatwick: not quite what it seems?

Malcolm will be reading with interest the accounts of the sale of Gatwick Airport to the owners of London City.

Not just because it appears as if the monopoly of London's airports has become (Hooray!) a duopoly.

As far as Malcolm understands it, the story goes like this:

In June 2006, BAA, the owners of
Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, yesterday succumbed to a £10.3bn takeover bid from Spanish construction firm Ferrovial, after months of fending off its unwanted attentions.
Yet another privatised industry fell into foreign hands.

From the start, there were doubts that Ferrovial could support the debt-level.

By January 2009, those doubts were being loudly bruited:

The Sunday Telegraph reported that a note issued by Credit Suisse analyst Robert Crimes raised the prospect that the Spanish infrastructure giant could default on repayments of part of the £2.25 billion loan that funds its stake in BAA. The full debt is due to be paid by 2014.

Ferrovial owns 56% of BAA and last year it completed a £13.4 billion refinancing when its stake was cut from 61%. The Credit Suisse note stated that funds from the proposed sale of Gatwick and Stansted cannot be used to repay this loan until after a further banking facility is reduced from £4.4 billion to £1.3 billion.

Well, in the meanwhile the Competition Commission has been musing that BAA owning seven airports, including the three main London ones, and both the main Scottish ones, might, just might be a teeny monopolistic. Eventually, the edict came down: Gatwick, Stansted and one of the Scottish airports had to be rendered up.

So the news today is hardly earth-shaking.

Yet that Credit Suisse note suggests Ferovial is still a way from plugging the gap. The note suggests that Ferrovial has got to reduce their borrowing by well over £3 billion by 2014. Meanwhile, the Times continues to report that Ferrovial's total borrowings are "huge":
Ferrovial acquired BAA in 2006 for £10.2 billion. The group borrowed nearly the full amount and had difficultly refinancing the debt when the credit crunch hit.
For reasons that are not immediately clear, Credit Suisse (who, unsurprisingly, appear among the lenders allowing the finance for the present deal) say the "take" from selling Gatwick cannot be set against the debt. Even if it could, there's still a way to go. Even more so, since Ferrovial is a Spanish company -- and sterling has devalued substantially against the Euro in the interim.

The Times report today is a long way from enthusiastic:
The £1.51 billion sale price fell short of BAA's expectations. The group had hoped to fetch up to £1.8 billion for the airport and was reluctant to go below £1.6 billion.
Of that, £55 million is "conditional".

If Gatwick (32.2 million passengers a year) is only worth £1.5 billion (only!), then Stansted (22.2 million) must be worth a lot less. Moreover, all passenger numbers and freight tonnages are down, though it seems that Gatwick is better off than elsewhere.

Malcolm senses this story still has legs
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The not-so-good and the not-so-great, number 19: Kate Meyrick

Sometimes things creep up on one.
This one did; but, in a way, it follows from the piece about Eliza Gilbert, a.k.a Lola Montez. Of course, the sneerers and nay-sayers would suggest it's here because Malcolm cannot get on with the job over the Cromwellian settlement and its consequences. And ... sigh ... they
would be right.

Mrs Meyrick rose to the surface because of doings on Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service. Iain Dale had featured a 1929 Tory election poster. The poster was a mild fore-runner for Churchill's despicable "Gestapo" attack. As Malcolm suggests in his posting on the other channel, the irony is that the real repression in 1929 came from the reactionary Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks.

A naice Dublin protestant gel

Kate Evelyn Nason was born in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in 1875. Within a year, her father (a doctor) was dead. Her mother re-married a Lancastrian cleric. At the age of seven, Kate was an orphan, living with her grand-mother. She briefly attended Alaexandra College, that academy for the best of protestant Dublin's rising misses. In the true Alex tradition, she found herself a respectable professional, another medic, to wed. The surname (Merrick) became gentrified to Meyrick, and he set up practice, first in Southsea, then in Basingstoke.

By 1909 Mrs Meyrick was ten years married, the mother of six (three of each) and bored, bored, bored. Briefly, she upped with the kids and left. Reconciled to the good nerve-doctor, she took lessons in hypno-therapy and (thanks to trench warfare) soon had plenty of neurasthenic subjects on which to practise. At the end of the War, the marriage had finally collapsed (Dr Meyrick was a spend-thrift).

The Clubland entrepreneur

The Mrs Meyrick, though, was enterprising. She promptly moved to London, took a share in and managed Dalton's Club in Leicester Square. The law said closing time was ten o'clock: Mrs Meyrick took no heed of such niceties. The club was raided and shut down, Mrs Meyrick was guilty of running "disorderly premises" and fined £25. Two premises later, Ma Meyrick (as London society knew her) had her own club at 43 Gerrard Street in Soho. There then began a repetitive cycle of police raids, in which the newly-appointed Tory Home Secretary, Joynson-Hicks, generally known as "Jix", took a personal interest, as part of his self-ordainedl morality campaign.

It was now clear that it was Ma Meyrick versus the blue-noses. In November 1924 she came up before the Bow Street magistrate, Sir Chartres Biron, who sent her down for six months. There is at least a hint of regret in his comment:
She was a lady, of good appearance and charming manners, and conducted her various clubs with more decorum than many, but with also a fine contempt for the law.
Note that "her various clubs", for Ma Meyrick now had the Manhattan in Denman Street, the Silver Slipper in Regent Street, and a substantial slice of the action at the Folies Bergères in Newman Street.

Into the peerage

Ma Meyrick came out of Holloway to general public acclaim. She was soon back in the celebrity gossip columns when her daughter, Dorothy Evelyn, married the nineteen-year-old Edward Southwell Russell (he falsified his age), 26th Baron de Clifford. As an aside, de Clifford (who frequently spoke in the Lords, urging that driving laws be tightened) was the last peer to be tried in the Lords -- for manslaughter caused by his driving on the wrong side of the road. He was also a Mosleyite. Two years later, another Meyrick daughter, Mary Ethel Isobel, was hitched to George Harley Hay-Drummond, 14th Earl of Kinnoull in the Scottish peerage.

Crime does not pay?

The police raids continued, and in 1928 Ma Meyrick did another six months in Holloway. Her compensation was to build herself a substantial fortune: the clubs were each making up to £1,000 a week (of which perhaps half was profit). Her investments were guided by Alfred Loewenstein -- who provides yet another story (to be dealt with as an annex) -- until Ma Meyrick was worth something in the region of half-a-million. In 1928 money.

Ma Meyrick's nemesis was Sergeant George Goddard of the Metropolitan Police. He had led the first raid on the 43 in February 1922. In November 1928 Goddard was found to have accrued over £12,000: an impossible sum on an honest copper's wage. Goddard had been taking £100 a week from Ma Meyrick in protection money, with other nice little earners on the side. This time Ma Meyrick was hit with fifteen months, with hard labour, for bribery and corruption. She was back inside for six months in late 1930 and again in mid-1931. By then her health was destroyed: she died of pneumonia at her Regent's Park home, aged 57.

Her funeral was at fashionable St Martins-in-the-Fields.

Ma Meyrick had an after-life

Evelyn Waugh recreated her in Brideshead Revisited, and the "43" became the "Old Hundredth". Try Chapter five:
Mulcaster said, "I say, let's slip away from this ghastly dance and go to Ma Mayfield's."
"Who is Ma Mayfield?"
"You know Ma Mayfield. Everyone knows Ma Mayfield of the Old Hundredth. I've got a regular there - a sweet little thing called Effie. There'd be the devil to pay if Effie heard I'd been to London and hadn't been in to see her. Come and meet Effie at Ma Mayfield's."
"All right," said Sebastian, "let's meet Effie at Ma Mayfield's" ...
"D'you know where this place is??
"Of course I do. A hundred Sink Street."

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