Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Such men are dangerous ...

Only on Sunday, posting to Slugger O'Toole (Jun 28, 2009 @ 06:13 PM), Malcolm drew attention to the neo-cons of the Henry Jackson Society. Then he was referring to:
that well-known lefty (no, strike that one: this is now) neo-con, Paul Bew.
Well, as several lyricists have noted, here it comes again.

This time in a very scary article by Neil Clarke, on The First Post.

Inevitably Clarke eventually probes the sleazy mire that has been the single focus of British politics these last weeks: one neo-con (the Hon. Ed Vaizey, Tory Shadow for "Culture") bought antique furniture from the mother-in-law, Lady Annabel Astor, of another (David Cameron), and charged it to parliamentary expenses.

Before that, Clarke clocks in with a remarkable interpretation: that Cameron's enstoolment as Tory leader was engineered to defeat the anti-war elements in the Tory Party:
... the neocon faction within the party started to champion the cause of a young, relatively little known MP for Witney, promoting him as the man who would 'modernise' the party and lead it back to power. The strategy worked a treat, and the little known MP - David Cameron - pulled off a surprise victory.

Cameron's campaign was masterminded by a triumvirate of MPs: Michael Gove, Ed Vaizey and George Osborne.

Gove, who believes the invasion of Iraq was a "proper British foreign policy success", is the author of the polemic Celsius 7/7, which has been described as a "neo-con rallying cry" for its attacks on Islamism, which he describes as a "totalitarian ideology" on a par with Nazism and Communism, and says must be fiercely opposed.

He, along with Vaizey, is a signatory to the principles of the ultra-hawkish Henry Jackson Society, an organisation founded at Peterhouse College Cambridge in 2005 and named after a warmongering US Senator who opposed détente with the Soviet Union.


Cameron has been closely protective of this leadership cadre:
Gove, the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, who was described by the Daily Mail's political commentator Peter Oborne as "one of the most notorious milkers of the expenses system", for spending thousands furnishing his London home before 'flipping' to a new property and claiming £13,000 in moving costs, came under no pressure from Cameron to stand down. He is likely to play a major role in the next Conservative government.

So too will fellow flipper George Osborne ...
Well, that states the case clearly enough.

There are two possible interpretations here.

One is that Clarke has a hopelessly bee-infested barnet. Malcolm instantly suspects anyone with a publicly-declared penchant for horse-racing may be a snaffle short in the tack-room.

Alternatively, even allowing for a distant rustle of men in white coats, Clarke is on to something.

Putting one's name on a list of sponsors, or signing up to a statement of principles, as these adherents of the Henry Jackson Society have done, invites guilt-by-association. Yet, the connection also merits due consideration.

The prime motive of the HJS is the spreading of a single political agenda world-wide (which, of itself, smacks of being repressive, colonialist, even one-size-fits-all imperialist):
…that liberal democracy should be spread across the world; that as the world's most powerful democracies, the United States and the European Union—under British leadership—must shape the world more actively by intervention and example; that such leadership requires political will. a commitment to universal human rights and the maintenance of a strong military with global expeditionary reach; and that too few of our leaders in Britain and the rest of Europe today are ready to play a role in the world that matches our strength.
Doncha just lurve that "under British leadership" bit? And the blatant Jingoism of "a strong military" with a "global expeditionary reach"?

The HJS, it has to be admitted, has several marks of the nut-house.

A recent posting on the HJS website saw Hillary Clinton in the context of A vast left-wing conspiracy. Another, Guns 'n' Ammo, lamented that:
a pastor in the state of Kentucky has asked his congregation to bring their handguns to the Sunday services in an effort to promote gun safety.
This was misguided simply because:
episodes like this will only serve to deepen suspicion of religious institutions and alienate the gun-bearing demographic from mainstream society.
Oh, and Israel was bang-on bombing the hell out of Gaza: a one-tonne bomb on an apartment building, slaughtering eleven children, is Israel's right, arguably a duty.

Somewhere in there, we are not surprised, was an article assuming that the "mission" in the Middle East would not be complete without Iran being:
compelled by an unrelenting international community to act in accordance with international law and diplomatic norms.
Those are Malcolm's emphases: the previous paragraph had demanded that
Europe and the U.S. need to make much clearer ... that Iran has a choice in this matter. It can continue on its path of self-isolation and belligerence ... or it can cooperate and engage to its benefit... Lax responses from the leaders of the free world only work to facilitate these pursuits; they leave the West with nothing with which to hold over Iran’s head to force compliance with international law and diplomatic norms.
In other words, send the gun-boats. Or the gun-ships. Or the B2 bombers (Jackson, the "whore for Boeing" would approve of that). Dammit: send the lot. It's all in the interests of "world peace"; and, in this misguided, introverted demi-monde, it's not a great distance from Tacitus' thing about desert/peace to Jackson's "The best politics is no politics".

Here's another gem from the HJS which Malcolm cannot resist:
Simply because DDT is a close cousin of Agent Orange does not make it dangerous any more than the air we breathe is harmful because it contains oxygen, which alone is lethal.
Which, of course, is just another fault to be laid at the door of those lefty wimps, who haven't sprayed DDT across the African continent:
... if healthcare is such a worldwide concern, shouldn’t that rising tide lift all boats? When will Barack Obama decide to become his half-brother’s keeper?
Let's bring in one more clown: any chance those "liberal democrats"of the HJS might ponder the origins of their Irish associate? Anthony Mcintyre was a Provo, eighteen years in the Kesh, and resigned only when Sinn Féin signed up to the Good Friday Agreement. With friends like that ...

Noble Romans and well-given?

Malcolm's header for this piece is from Julius Caesar's speech to Antony in Act I, scene ii. It concludes with:
Such men as he be never at heart's ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous...
Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf,
And tell me truly what thou think'st of him.
Notice: "on my right hand".

The HJS, too, is largely deaf on the other.

Moreover, Caesar is proven correct.
Antony. shrugging off the threat, gets it spectacularly wrong. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Compare and contrast ... (yet again)

As the BBC web page has it:
Michael Jackson tops album chart
Number Ones last topped the UK album chart in 2003
Michael Jackson has topped the UK album chart and made six new entries in the singles top 40, six years after his last number one.
Greatest hits album Number Ones rocketed from 121 to the top spot after a surge in sales since the superstar's death on Thursday.
The same album earned Jackson his last number one when first released in 2003.
Or, as Doonesbury sees it:

Sphere: Related Content
New New Jersey News

From the former colony comes news of two second-generation Redfellow-descendants there resident.

They had been dispatched to a week at Spanish-speaking summer camp (in either Maine or Minnesota, depending on whether you listen to Malcolm or the lady-in-his-life).

They arrived back at Newark Liberty (a hell-hole, but not dug qute as deep as JFK) having been doubly upgraded to First Class.

Malcolm will be taking instruction on just how that can be achieved. Sphere: Related Content
Marine archaeology (mainly)

"Popular Music" has been around since a barely-adolescent Flintstone beat a stretched goatskin with a spare femur. Or whittled that bone-flute in the Hohle Fels of the Swabian Jura.

Such stuff is, to the shuddering schlock-horror of the epicene, the origin of all music. And it isn't an unimaginable distance from neanderthaler rock to The Cavern.

Even in its more modern form, as recorded music, "pop" has been around long enough for us to start exploring its derivations and developments.

Pete Frame did a superb job with his Rock Family Trees, and that was a quarter of a century back. If there breathes a man with soul so dead he hasn't found and marvelled over Frame (for the beauty of the artwork as much as the researched detail), try the full version of this:

Doubtless, in time, Malcolm will ruminate further on that. However, today he has a ...

Less general point!

In Anglophone Pop, imports from other languages are the exception to the rule. Nowhere is that cultural divide so apparent as a few moments spent in the company of Johnny Hallyday. When a song does make the transition, though, it tends to become mega.

All this is itself preface to a ...

More specific point!

Around 1959 Malcolm's ears would have noted, even (in that less-discriminating period of his development) enjoyed Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea:

That's the original, and none too dusty. Here he is, years of pointless repetition later, bashing it about a bit:

A point of fact!

Any reader, used to Malcolm's circuitous routes, would already have guessed he is heading towards Charles
Trénet's original:

Just believe that hair! This clip (from an Olympia concert, late in T
rénet's life) distorts the 1946 original. Whether Trénet in fact composed the song in 1943, on the train home from Paris to Narbonne, is immaterial -- even if it does raise the old wrinkle over his "collaboration": it gave the Narbonnais the chance to name the D607, at the back of the SNCF, Avenue Charles Trénet. And, of course, he was prescient enough to be born at 13 rue Charles-Trénet.

Yet the route is not direct from
Trénet in 1946 to Darin in 1959:
  • Refer to Capitol catalog 15030 (a 78 rpm, released in 1948, but recorded a couple of days before New Year) and there's Benny Goodman doing Beyond the Sea, the vocal by Peggy Lee. (The over-lush, well-forgettable, pure instrumental version Malcolm is currently earing is from the Goodman Chronology, 1947-48).
Stellar stuff, indeed.
  • Then one finds that Harry James had beaten Goodman by a week or so, with a Columbia recording, catalog 38134. Lyrics by Marion Morgan.
Obviously herein lies a tale.

Trénet's French publisher was Raoul Breton. The Bretons went to New York in 1946, bringing with them Trénet's recording, which they presented to Jack Lawrence, with a request (apparently from Trénet himself) that Lawrence do an English adaptation. The whole of Lawrence's account is on line here, together with extensive appreciation from Will Friedwald's essay in Vanity Fair.

Anything Darin did was merely embossing Lawrence.
-- And for your next trick, Malcolm, what about those other song-imports?
-- If it's Birkin and Gainsbourg, definitely not! ...

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, June 26, 2009

At long last, a reader! (Part 3: Francis Stuart)

The not-so-good and not-so-great, number 15

This completes Malcolm's response to Anonymous. It also brings forward a name fit for flaying further down the alphabetic order.

Henry Francis Stuart’s death in February 2000, at the age of 98, was an awkward echo of much Irish unpleasantnesses.

He was born in Australia, to two recent emigrants from protestant Antrim. The father conveniently committed suicide (or died of alcoholic poisoning), in a lunatic asylum, so mother and child returned to Meath.

Many would suggest that the son inherited the father’s instability.

Stuart: disturbed youth

Exported to boarding schools in England, Henry Stuart academically under-performed; but acquired an interest in poetry; and, proclaiming himself a Bolshevist, began a political journey from one extreme to the other.

By the end of the War, aged 16, he was back in Dublin. His mother remarried, and the step-father was, to say the least, unsympathetic.

Any intention of entering Trinity College went by the board. He adopted his middle name, and fell in with Iseult Gonne, eight years his senior, with whom he eloped. Aged 18, Stuart converted to Catholicism; and regularised his relationship with Iseult.

Stuart: failed husband

It needs to be remembered that Iseult Gonne (right: a sketch by her mother), herself illegitimate, had been molested as an infant by her mother’s husband, John MacBride (Yeat’s drunken vainglorious lout, who had done most bitter wrong/ To some who are near my heart), was courted by WB Yeats (her mother’s occasional lover), and had a series of entanglements with her Bengali teacher, Ezra Pound, and her cousin, Toby Pilcher. Stable relationships were not the norm in this ménage. Stuart was accused by his mother-in-law (with Yeats invited in as “arbiter”) of brutality to Iseult: when the Stuart’s first child, Dolores, died of spinal meningitis, he refused to mourn.

The Gonne inheritance worked in other ways. In the Irish Civil War, Francis Stuart was interned as a republican (1922-24). His first book of poems was published on his release, and deemed good enough for a prize from the Royal Irish Academy. Stuart, now flitting between Dublin and London (where he roistered with Liam O'Flaherty), devoted much of his time and energy to drinking, horse-racing and a string of lady friends. Two further children came from the marriage to Iseult (a son, Ian, and a daughter, Katherine/Kay, whom Dublin rumoured to be fathered by Yeats).

Maud Gonne made the Stuarts a present of Laragh Castle, at Glendalough. There Stuart tried to run a chicken farm, and to write. There ensued a series of forgettable novels, with a common theme of strong, serene, spiritual women bringing comfort, consolation and redemption to troubled, guilty men.

The Gonne circle

The unanswered question concerns to what extent Maud Gonne, her daughter Iseult, and her son-in-law Stuart took their anti-British hostilities into active pro-Nazism.

In the '30s the Gonnes (the triple portrait, left, is by William Mulhall) became close acquaintances of Helmut and Elizabeth Clissmann. Clissmann worked for the Abwehr, and allegedly was sponsoring Irish-German academic exchanges: he engineered Yeats receiving the Goethe Plankette in 1934 (the more we learn of Yeats's "Do not make a politician out of me", the more peculiar it becomes). Clissmann ran the Ireland desk for the Nazi Party Auslandorganisation. Another intimate of the Gonnes was Eduard Hempel, head of the German Legation in Dublin between 1937 and 1945.

Clissmann, on the request of Iseult, was directly responsible for Stuart's German trip in 1939. Shortly before Stuart returned to Berlin in January 1940, to take up his post at the University, he had a meeting with the IRA high command (who had had their link to Germany disrupted by the confiscation of secret radio gear). Stuart was carrying dispatches from the IRA to the Abwehr.

Subsequently the Gonnes sheltered Nazi agents in Ireland.

Stuart in Nazi Berlin

At the outbreak of War, in 1940, Stuart deserted his family, to teach in Berlin. He was now an admirer of Hitler: as late as 1995 he said:
I did see Hitler, and in hindsight obviously I was wrong, as a kind of contemporary Samson, a superman who would tear down the whole political and social system in England and Ireland.
In Berlin Stuart set up with a student, Gertrude Meissner, and made over a hundred broadcasts for the Nazis.

At the end of the War, he was arrested by the French in Austria. The Irish authorities studiously ignored his requests for a passport (which was the point of Malcolm's earlier reference), so he lingered in incarceration at Freiburg until 1946. Still with Meissner, first in Freiburg and then removed to Paris (where he associated with Sam Beckett), he produced a couple of self-exculpatory, autobiographic novels derived from his wartime experiences. Days after the death of Iseult, Stuart married Meissner in London (1954): by now Gertrude had become “Madeleine”, the dutiful hand-maiden.

After a further series of repetitive, unsuccessful novels, in 1959 Stuart and “Madeleine” set up house in the County Meath. There he laboured on Black List Section H, finally published in 1971: this is (for a particular audience) as successful a piece as any of his writings.

With that small achievement, he moved to a Dublin suburban bungalow. Colm Tóibín indicates that Stuart was closely involved with Andy Tyrie and the Belfast para-miltary UDA at this period. Madeleine died in 1986, and soon after Stuart remarried, this time the artist Finola Graham, his junior by over forty years (and whose CV pointedly omits any reference to Stuart).

Thereafter Stuart troubled the obituarists only occasionally.

Stuart, anti-semite?

Aosdána, the Irish Arts Council, elected him one of their seven Saoithe (“wise men), the Irish literary pantheon. Stuart did a 1997 inverview for a Channel 4 programme, A Great Hatred, which was predicated to Irish anti-semitism. The interview produced a typical Stuart quotation:
The Jew was always the worm that got into the rose and sickened it. Yes, but of course I take that as praise. I mean all those so-called healthy roses, they need exposing – many of them are sick.
This renewed interest in Stuart's wartime activities. A delicious literary/political spat ensued. The poet Maire Mhac an tSaoi, herself daughter of Seán MacEntee, one of the founders of Fianna Fáil, and wife of Conor Cruise O'Brien, took exception to Stuart's election, and campaigned for his expulsion (when she lost, she honourably resigned her membership and her pension from the fund). Stuart was saved from expulsion from
Aosdána by Anthony Cronin doing a line-by-line exposition of his work. A Kevin Myers article in The Irish Times prompted Stuart to sue for libel and win damages (Brendan Barrington's book, noted above, suggests Myers had some strong grounds).

Stuart, nihilist

Perhaps the shrewdest judgement is that of Tóibín, originally for the Irish Independent:
Stuart (and indeed H) would become a Republican, even though the politics meant nothing to him; and later in the 1930s when liberal opinion (and indeed most other opinion) considered Hitler’s Germany to be a place of evil, he would go there, he would live there during the war, he would broadcast to Ireland, and he would know what the consequences were going to be. And all this, his novel Black List, Section H makes clear, had nothing to do with politics, with anti-semitism or fascism, or Nazism, but arose from something darkly and deeply rooted in his psyche – the need to betray and be seen to betray. It arose from something else too – a passionate belief that every organised structure, and that includes liberal democracy, is rotten.
The End?

He removed to the County Clare, where Finola Graham has a house, and died in an Ennis hospital. He was buried in the same coffin as his cat, which pegged out at the same time. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, June 25, 2009

At long last, a reader! (Part 2: "little Audrey")

After the previous culture-fest (as if), it's down to the nitty-gritty for this second part of Malcolm's response to the request from Anonymous:
Can you say more about "little Audrey"? That one sounds juicy.
It's worth looking back at what Bertie Smyllie wrote:
“Haw-Haw” always acted on me as a tonic. Either he made me violently angry, or else he made me, like little Audrey, just “laff and laff”.
It's music hall!

It's the kind of variety that kept "the end of the pier" shows and working-men's clubs going for year after year. The kind of thing that the BBC tried to censor out of radio comedy, and the likes of the Goon Show tried to smuggle back in.

"Little Audrey"

Eric Partridge reckoned
that the catchphrase
Little Audrey laughed and laughed and laughed has been current since the late 1920s, and is applied to a fit of laughter arising for a reason either inadequate or not immediately apparent to others... It enjoyed a very considerable popularity c.1933-39 and orig. formed the lead-in to a frightful (and often scabrous) pun ... perhaps in a Radio series by Leslie Sarony or some other such comedians.
Cue said Leslie Sarony (né Leslie Legge Frye of Surbiton, which is a laugh in itself):

The "little Audrey" example commonly cited would never have appeared at that time on any Radio programme, for the BBC eschewed anything that might conceivably be an advertisement. It helps here to know the names of obsolete radio manufacturers, and to note the pun on "for Aunty":
Little Audrey walked into the bathroom, where her uncle was bathing while listening to the radio.
"What's that there?" asked little Audrey.
"It's a Bush," said her uncle.
Little Audrey laughed and laughed and laughed, because she knew it was Ferranti.
That can be as (for want of a better word) "funny" when the two trade names are reversed.

At some stage little Audrey crossed the Atlantic, to become an anodyne and epicene cartoon character for Paramount:

Since all the "Little Audrey" 'toons date from after 1947, they are irrelevant to Bertie Smyllie's article. Sphere: Related Content
At long last, a reader! (Part 1: Villon)

Whoever you are, Anonymous, ave atque vale!

You gave Malcolm three tasks, derived from the previous posting about Bertie Smyllie's thing on Lord Haw-Haw:
  • Can you explain the "If Francois Villon were the king of France" quote?
  • Can you say more about "little Audrey"? That one sounds juicy.
  • Who is this Francis Stuart guy? Should he be in your list of the "not so great and the not so good"?

Well, here at Redfellow Hovel, we always try to oblige. Especially on put-out-the-trash day.

So here goes.

King for a Day

According to the modern legend (see below) Villon's boasts so annoyed Louis XI that he made the poet king for a day. And in that day Villon won the lady, saved the city, defeated the king's treachery ...

In truth, there is no evidence that Villon and Louis ever met: the rest is a wistful fiction.

Villon? Villain?

We are not even sure about the man's name. He appears in alternative versions of the same documents as "François de Montcorbier" and "François Des Loges", though he refers to himself and uses the acrostic "Villon" in his own verses.

He was born in the same year, 1431, that the English flambéed Jeanne d'Arc.

His father died when he was young, and he was raised by his mother in poverty. He studied at the University of Paris, and became a teacher. At the age of twenty-six he was involved in a street-fight, which caused the death of a priest: Villon was banished. He was reprieved after a petition to Charles VII, but was thereafter unable to keep a steady job. A further street-fight (again a woman seems to have been involved) and he had to flee Paris to the Loire. While he was there, he was indicted as the leader of a gang of burglars and church-robbers, and again banished. When Louis XI came to the throne, he was released from prison in an amnesty. Within a year, he was back in the prison of le Châtelet, under sentence of death (the previous church-robbings were the main charge). He was again reprieved, and disappears from recorded history.

All we have are his verse. And thereby hangs another tale.

Villon may not have been greatly served in that, of his poems, the best-known to the Anglophones is Dante Gabriel Rossetti's mid-Victorian rendering of Ballade des dames du temps jadis:
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere, --
She whose beauty was more than human? --
But where are the snows of yesteryear?
W.E.Henley had a go at Villon, notably the "looser" stuff, which was of the earth, earth, using thieves' cant and street slang. Here's his take on Villon's Tout aux tavernes et aux filles, a "crime does not pay" warning and a Straight Tip to All Cross Coves:
Fiddle, or fence, or mace, or mack;
Or moskeneer, or flash the drag;
Dead-lurk a crib, or do a crack;
Pad with a slang, or chuck a fag;
Bonnet, or tout, or mump and gag;
Rattle the tats, or mark the spot;
You can not bank a single stag;
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.
In passing, Malcolm notes that Henley is better remembered as the model for Long John Silver. In 1877, five years before The Sea Cook/Treasure Island RLS did a Villon short-story: A Lodging for a Night).

Which brings us neatly back on track. As this might show, later-nineteenth century Eng. Lit. had a significant cottage-industry in Villon...

The obligatory Irish connection

Justin Huntly McCarthy was Irish Nationalist MP for Newry between 1885 and 1892 (his Parliamentary career shuddered to a close when he eloped with a 17-year old actress). Among serious biographies and histories, McCarthy dashed off a fantasy, If I were King. It has a poetic dedication to "the loveliest lady this side of heaven", subscribed with the date of 21st December 1891 (so, go figure):
If I were king--ah love, if I were king!
What tributary nations would I bring
To stoop before your sceptre and to swear
Allegiance to your lips and eyes and hair.
Beneath your feet what treasures I would fling:--
The stars should be your pearls upon a string,
The world a ruby for your finger ring,
And you should have the sun and moon to wear
If I were king.
At the crucial moment of the rising action,
With a shout Villon sprang to his feet, draped his tattered cloak closely about him, struck a commanding attitude, and began to recite with great solemnity. Louis scooped his claw-like fingers behind his ear, that he might hear the better the words that fell from the wild poet's mouth:

All French folk, whereso'er ye be,
Who love your country, soil and sand.
From Paris to the Breton sea,
And back again to Norman strand,
Forsooth ye seem a silly band,
Sheep without shepherd, left to chance--
Far otherwise our Fatherland
If Villon were the King of France!
Hence Bertie Smyllie's reference.

[Many on-line sources are to be treated with suspicion. Some confuse our man (1859-1936) with his father, Justin McCarthy (1830-1912), also a nationalist MP, whom Parnell thought "a nice old gentleman for a quiet tea party". In at least one place, wikipedia has been ascribing authorship of If I were King to its American publisher, R.H.Russell.]
On stage

By 1901 McCarthy had adapted the novel (which is still in print) into a play, with the same title. It ran with considerable success on Broadway and, produced by George Alexander, at London's St James's Theatre.

The play was filmed in 1938, screenplay by Preston Sturges, as a Ronald Colman vehicle. Wikipedia (but not, surprisingly, IMDB) has a full synopsis of the (highly imaginative and grossly unhistorical) plot.

Music, Maestro, please!
In 1923, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were at the beginning of their careers. They created a musical version of the McCarthy play for a Manhattan girl's school and then looked for a more prestigious venue for their collaboration. Broadway backers turned down the young team, but "borrowed" their idea and commissioned the more established Rudolf Friml to compose the piece.
Thus came about the 1925 operetta, The Vagabond King. Even those who may be unfamiliar with the source will recognise the tunes, as here Friml bashes out the overture:

In 1930, the film of The Vagabond King (for poster, see top of post) became Jeanette MacDonald's second screen appearance. For years that version only surfaced in occasional black-and-white clips. The original, filmed in two-strip Techicolor, existed in only one rotting copy in the UCLA archive. In 1991 a frame-by-frame rephotograph was done; and the achievement of director Ludwig Berger and art director Hans Dreier became, quite literally, clearer:

Dennis King, reprising his stage part got the two seat-wetters and crowd-pleasers, as there. A remake in 1956, with Kathryn Grayson and the Maltese tenor, Oreste Kirkup, gives this:

Anyone not roused by that has no soul. And probably is not a socialist. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Revenge enjoyed cold

Joe Joyce, mining the archives of the Irish Times as part of that paper's 150th anniversary, today looks back to 23rd June 1945. He hits on the regular Irishman's Diary column, on that day
written by the paper's editor, Bertie Smyllie, under his pen name, Nichevo.
Expect sparks.

Smyllie was the Irish Times for the twenty years of his editorship (above left); and his paper was pro-Allies, and anti-Fascist.

This led to endless battles of wits with the wartime censorship, who saw Smyllie as a constant threat to Ireland's strict neutrality.

Forbidden to report war casualties, Irishmen serving in the Royal Navy would be reported having suffered a "boating accident". Even on VE-day, when censorship still prevented Smyllie celebrating, at the last moment he famously had the front page re-set so the portraits of the Allied war leaders formed a distinctive V-for-victory (image, right).

Here, at length, respectfully, is "Nichevo":
The British often have been accused of lack of imagination, and even their best friends must admit that sometimes this charge is based on fact.

Nobody can accuse me of lack of sympathy with Johnnie Bull; but when I read that William Joyce was being arraigned on a charge of High Treason, under some Act going back to the Flood, I must confess that I got a bit of a shock.

“If François Villon were the King of France” runs the old verse. I should like to write another, entitled “If Nichevo were the Prime Minister of England”.

What would I do? Quite a few things. But at the present moment probably the first thing I would do would be to drop the charge of treason against William Joyce, and include him in the next Honours List.

I would make Mr Joyce a Peer, conferring upon him the title of Lord Haw-Haw of Hamburg! And I mean that! It has been said that this and that individual “won the war” for the Allies; but in my humble opinion, no man did more to keep the morale of the British people up to the mark than this self-same William Joyce.

For the purposes of my argument, let me take myself as a typical adherent of the Allied cause, although technically, through no fault of my own, I was a neutral.

What happened? Simply this. Whenever I felt depressed at the bad news that from time to time – and how often? – came from the fighting fronts, all that I had to do to restore my equilibrium and to put me in good form again was to tune into Radio Bremen, Hamburg, and the rest, and listen for a few minutes to our old friend Liam of Galway. (By the way, was there not such a person among the crew of Christopher Columbus’s ship some years ago?)

“Haw-Haw” always acted on me as a tonic. Either he made me violently angry, or else he made me, like little Audrey, just “laff and laff”.
That is the true, the blushful hippocrene. It reminds us that the Irish soul of wit often requires a sole, a boot, a toe and an arse to kick. In passing, the "little Audrey" reference, which makes little sense nowadays, was a knowing reference to a variant on the "as the actress said to the bishop" double-entendre.

Between the motion And the act Falls the Shadow

Was there, behind Smyllie's little romance, an element of knowing truth?

By the end of the War, the Irish Department of External Affairs had a lot of fence-mending to do. The "Lord Haw-Haw" problem was one issue. There was also the nasty Charles Bewley (of the important Dublin Quaker family; but a convert to Catholicism and a Nazi sympathiser) and the thoroughly loathsome Francis Stuart (as culpable as "our old friend, Liam of Galway", but married to Iseult, daughter of Maud Gonne-MacBride).

Bewley had been Ireland's Minister in Berlin from 1932 until he was hastily recalled in 1939. Even then Bewley continued to supply dubious and subjective intelligence to the Germans, and apparently expected a high position when the Nazis occupied Ireland.

When the Götterdämmerung of April 1945 ensured that Bewley's hopes and his heroes were finally and felicitously expunged, he took refuge in the Vatican. He had no papers, no passport, and (since he lacked 15 years service) no pension. He petitioned Dublin for a diplomatic passport, which he felt was what his dignity required.

As the story goes, after long consideration, Dublin did indeed issue him with a document. The Bewley family name weighed heavily enough to ensure that the request could not be ignored. A subtle intellect in the Department concocted a solution. In "description" in the document was inserted "a person of no importance". Poor Bewley, whose overweening ego was crushed and humiliated by this, was subsequently unable to present himself at any frontier.

Francis Stuart was less well served. When, post-War, he fell foul of the French, he was simply refused a passport. Sphere: Related Content
Amos Kito

Somehow, somewhen Malcolm found he had signed up for Questia, and regular (and usually instantly deleted) newsletters drop into his in-box.

Today, though, rather than do an instant delete, his attention was caught by the Questia Quiz:
Sitting outdoors is a lovely way to spend a summer evening, until you hear the annoying whine of a mosquito buzzing in your ear. Mosquitoes beat their wings 300-600 times per second to generate that buzz. Which of the following statements about mosquitoes is also TRUE?

This is obviously one of those occasions when the question is far more intriguing than any solution: which is why Malcolm did not search for the answers (but guesses it is B, simply on the perverse grounds of appearing the least likely).

Anne Udder Moss Kito

Only a couple of days ago
, we were being regaled by the news that an aerial armada of mosquitos was being fought off, over the vasty fields of France:

French helicopters spray mosquitos threatening to swamp Britain

Helicopters are being deployed to spray poison in the skies above northern France to wipe out swarms of mosquitos that are threatening to cross the Channel into Britain.

French officials launched the commando operation after insect experts warned that as many as six billion mosquito larvae had started hatching in swampland near the France-Belgium border – less than 100 miles from the south coast of England.
There's a certain "Storms in the Channel: Continent cut off" xenophobia evident there. We will fight them on the beaches ... However, that apart, and having noted the awkward mixed metaphor involved in "swamp", this could be a moment of national crisis. Dammit! The little buggers could even reach Tonbridge Wells! So, cue William Walton's Spitfire Prelude and Fugue:

Stella Nudder Moss-Kito

Ah! Just like old times!

High culture apart (and that's the only bit of Walton that survived into the finished movie), for sheer emotive content, Guy Hamilton wisely turned to Ron Goodwin for the tub-thumper of an intro:

Watch those Moss Kitos fall ... err ... like flies.

Ken Nobuddy do somethin' 'bout these pesky Moss Kitos?

It was a sticky evening in Angoulême. To air the hotel room, Malcolm left the shutters and windows open while his Lady and he went to dine.

Then, replete, they retired for the night.

Within minutes, the real purpose of the shutters and closed windows was revealed. Neeeow! Psssitttt. Weeeee.

A copy of the Daily Telegraph in hand, Malcolm set to work. For Euro-swatting the Telegraph's broadsheet format is the only thing. Across the pond, use the Wall Street Journal.

Next morning, the full horror dawned.

The delicate decor was now disfigured by numerous bloody mosquito splats.

As swiftly as possible, the bill was paid, and the Redfellow entourage left the building. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sunset and Camden Town

When Dewi Harries reminds us of Ray Davies's magnificent song, Waterloo Sunset, it shouldn't be hidden in a footnoted comment. In another of those daft "polls", Q Magazine in 2005 rated this the second best British song of all time (behind A Day in the Life).

Malcolm notes that Dewi chose one of the later, mature, versions: Davies and unplugged 12-string at Glastonbury. None of the YouTube clips seem to have the full-on impact of the original 1967 release (see the Last fm link or look in the attic for your -- or your Dad's -- Something Else album). As the song (like all of us) mellows into the autumn of its years, it has become less driving, more reflective, more elegiac.

A view from the Bridge

Certainly it's one of the great London songs, though Time Out also gave it second billing, behind that Tube-busker standard, Ralph McTell's Streets of London (which definitely works better without the celestial choir):

Davies celebrates one of those sights that few Londoners, though most tourists who come fresh to the Smoke, see and treasure. There are nearly 2,000 piccies on Flickr which are tagged "Waterloo Sunset": many are actually relevant. "Waterloo Sunset" was the title for Eurostar's switch to St Pancras in November 2007 (Lily Allen got the song, and, reportedly and wisely, stuck tenaciously to the Davies delivery).

One of the early employments of Number One Daughter involved incarceration in the "Juke Box", that preposterous office-block erection atop Charing Cross Station. That lent enchantment to the the view.

Later, the leisures of retirement meant that Malcolm had the liberty (and the Freedom Pass) to go tripping. He has to admit it is only in recent months that he has discovered the Overground routes to and from Kentish Town, and so crossing Blackfriars Bridge. In the evening, with the sun setting behind the gothic spikiness of Westminster, it's quite a sight. Equally, twice in the last couple of years, he revisited the forgotten experience, last done on a paddle steamer around 1948: a river-boat down the Thames. Ray Davies's Terry and Julie wouldn't be seeing, nor smelling, the "Dirty Old River" so much these days, as they wisely return to the northern shore and civilisation:
Where they feel safe and sound.
Ah, Ray Davies knows which side of the River he belongs.

Nostalgia (they don't make songs the way they used to)

There is a huge emotional boost for Malcolm in these songs. They were current at a time when his life revolved around a wee Bannside babe who was then living in Hampstead, NW3.

To Malcolm's continuing bestaggerment, she stayed around to be the progenetrix, well-spring, guide, philosopher and friend of Daughter Number One, the Earth Mother and the Pert Young Piece. And to continue directing the affairs of Redfellow Hovel.

Which raises the Great Norf Lunnun Problem [GNLP].

This is best summed up by the Alan Klein/Geoff Stephens lyric for the New Vaudeville Band, back in 1966 (and, astoundingly not one of the Time Out Top Fifty London songs):
Finchley Central is two and sixpence
From Golders Green on the Northern Line.
Now, the Northern Line has improved, but that's a matter of degree. In those days the rolling stock was pre-war, signalling was Edwardian, and punctuality and reliability were ... not taken seriously. The lifts at Hampstead tube station were venerable antiques: since Hampstead is the deepest tube station on the network, that involved too-frequent resource to the 320+ stairs up to street level.

Even today getting anywhere on the two forks of the Northern Line involves the dubious joys of a change at Camden Town, where you are truly at one with your neighbour (who is invariably an odiferous alky nutter). And time. For example, Redfellow Hovel to the Flask (the remaining Young's pub in Hampstead, just behind the tube station, convenient for Waterstone's genteel book emporium) involves a 134 bus to Archway Tower, four stops to Camden Town, change platform, three stops back up the other fork to Hampstead. Not less than 45 minutes.

Yes, there is a direct bus route: the infamous 603, Twice in the morning, before 8 a.m.. Twice back in the afternoon. Weekdays only. Yeah: another of the loud-trumpeted achievements of Lynne Featherstone. It's the school run, for heaven's sake. Useless otherwise for man or beast.

Logically, the 102 to the rose red city half as Golders Green, double back on the tube might work. Except the 210 and Golders Green tube are variable feasts at weekends. Or the 134/43 to Archway, then the 210 to Jack Straw's Castle (another pub lost and gone) and a long hike down Heath Street. Or, and this seems to be the best, the 134 to Kentish Town and the 46 back up to the Village. As for all of that: sane it ain't.

The pity of it ...

... is the distance it puts between Malcolm and a decent pint.

Hampstead has lost many decent watering-holes. Jack Straw's (well, never a favourite, to be honest) is now over-priced yuppie apartments. The Nag's Head (once upon a time The Cruel Sea, the final evening resting place of many a resting thespian, then the first CAMRA-owned pub) declined into a curry house, and so goes lost and unlamented into memory. The Horse and Groom (a.k.a. the "Remorse and Gloom", where Malcolm was once sandwiched at the bar by Kingsley Amis and Victoria Wood, both silent, remorseful and begloomed) was once a good Young's house, now some species of ethnic diner.

That still leaves the Flask for Young's Special (and seasonal Winter Warmer), still Malcolm's resort of choice, though recently given an unnecessary (except for the jakes) make over. Then there's the Holly Bush (an Ind Coope house that still sports a Benskins sign) for a range of guest ales, well worth the Alpine climb, which hasn't been made-over for two centuries. Or the worthy Old White Bear in Well Road for a decent choice and a reasonably civilised environment, though not as "Old" as it affects. And, to be avoided unless desperate, the barn of the Freemasons, and the William IV (unless, dear boy, you're that way inclined). Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The joys of suburbhood

This one has been cooking for a few days.

Number One daughter (i.e. neither the Earth Mother nor the Pert Little Piece) communicates from self-imposed exile in the Tri-State Region.

She has noticed a piece by Amanda Kolson Hurley, and also on-line, in Architect Magazine:
Crit: The Bard of Muswell Hill
The Kinks' Ray Davies brought a love of traditional English places to '60s rock and roll.
The significance of this is that Number One Daughter and the Earth Mother are Muswell Hillbillies by early adoption, while the Pert Little Piece has known no other status. Which, perhaps, makes them at least equal claimants to Côtes de Muswell appellation d'origine contrôlée as Ray Davies (who arrived via the East End and -- heaven help him -- East Finchley; and never came closer than Fortis Green -- which is N2 and not the full-bore N10).

Redfellow Hovel sits immediately across the road from the heave of the terminal moraine of the last Great Ice Age. This is just as well, because the houses that side of the street have subsidence problems (the natural complication of shallow Edwardian footings, a desirable elevated position and London clay).

Which means the Hovel is just round the corner from the alleged residence of one of the original members of the Davies musical experience. The local secondary is Fortismere, direct successor to Davies's William Grimshaw School. Since Fortismere is about the only secondary in the Borough of Haringey to which the local bourgeouisie feel they can entrust their spawn, the fester of estate agencies regard this "catchment area" as a feature. Hence, the concluding sentences of Hurley's article are:
Muswell Hill is now one of the more desirable neighborhoods in London (it can hardly be considered a suburb, given London's outward growth over the past 40 years). Houses like the one Davies bought for a mere 9,000 pounds (about $14,000) can command more than a million today. Maybe one type of conformity—that of granite countertops and closets stuffed with designer suits, some in gray, no doubt—has simply replaced another.
Well, Ms Hurley (no relation, one hopes), Malcolm assures you:
  • Muswell Hill is most definitely a suburb, nay -- one of the prime urban villages that make up the interesting and habitable bits of London.
  • Most of the growth of "London" (depending on which definition one accepts) took place long before forty years ago. In fact the borders of "Greater London" and the Metropolitan area were firmly fixed in 1965.
  • House prices, once the staple of dinner-table conversation, are no longer a burning issue (unless one is trying to sell). Even so, the glossy advertising supplement, once a weekly occurrence, may be less frequent, but still continue.
  • Anyway, N10 is more "unstructured" or M&S than "designer suit" country.
Even in our urban paradise, however, one element remains missing. We have our M&S, our organic supermarket. We have a terrific bookshop, specialist foodstores including the unchanging W.Martyn (a national treasure). What we still want, what we really really want, is our own Waitrose. That, among the aspirant classes, is the ultimate symbol of arrival.

Ms Hurley may want further to muse on songs about strawberry jam and Tudor houses. Little of Muswell Hill fits the mock-Tudor image. It is rich red-brick, slate-roofed turn-of-the-Victorian era through to solid 1920s Arts & Crafts, with only occasional left-over in-fills (and the odd post-war, post Luftwaffe rebuild). Malcolm could suggest to Ms Hurley a better case in point. To be precise, a rather fine Arts and Crafts mansion, and music at least as quintessentially English as the People's Ray. Admittedly from nearer the other end of the N10/N2 social spectrum: Fairport Convention.

But, hey! In his trips across the great US of A, Malcolm repeatedly encounters souls who are intimately acquainted with Muswell Hill. The more bizarre of those encounters were:
  • Sheltering from a thunder storm in Estes Park, in a t-shirt shop, discussing the origins and influences of Davies and the Kinks;
  • Chatting with a commuter in New Jersey, who had spent the previous fortnight living about two hundred yards from Redfellow Hovel.
Sphere: Related Content
Sub-editing for beginners

Here's another one, from the front page of today's Daily Telegraph, and as laid out on the printed page:
Lightning hits man
with barbecue fork
And to think of all those years Malcolm wasted, pointing out the deficient expression in examples such as:
  • There's a man at the door with a wooden leg called Fred. [What's his other leg called? Oi!]
  • Woman with large chest needs man with van.
  • Please wait for the hostess to be seated.
  • Toilet out of order. Please use floor below.
  • etc.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Idol words

Nice piece by Simon Winchester in yesterday's Daily Telegraph News Review & Comment section (and on-line here). It is hung on the notion that the advent of the millionth word in the English language is about to be celebrated.

Hmm: there's a slight iffishness about that premise, somehow.

Eminently readable (naturally from the biographer of William Smith, the original geologist, and the historian of the 1906 San Franciso Earthquake), but particularly delightful for two word-based anecdotes. These will stay in the recesses of Malcolm's memory:

Fitte ye first:

Winchester had been researching for his book, The Surgeon of Crowthorne:
the strange and tortured Victorian life of an American doctor who had murdered a Londoner in a fit of schizophrenic fury.
Locked up in Broadmoor, Dr William Minor had contributed to the assembly-line of the Oxford English Dictionary. However,
his madness, which ebbed and flowed during his 40-year incarceration, became exceptionally florid one day in 1902, and in a sudden spasm of self-loathing he sliced off his penis with a knife, and flung it into the prison fire.
Having delightedly recounted this gem to the present OED staff, thus explaining why they had misplaced an earlier contributor, Winchester:
... walked over to Oxford station.

At the ticket window were two elderly women lexicographers, off to London for the theatre. As we boarded the train, I warned them: have I ever got a story to tell you.
And so, in every gruesome detail, and in an open-plan Thameslink carriage, I related the saga: the sharpening of the blade, the tying of the ligature, the gritted teeth, the fatal slice – and, as I said this, so every whey-faced businessman in the carriage crossed his legs reflexively. There was a sudden corporate gasp.

But not from the two old ladies. They remained quite impassive, thinking. I could see the lexicographical gears grinding in their minds. Then suddenly, and in unison I swear, they spoke: "Autopeotomy!" they cried. Then one to the other: "Yes, Mildred – peotomy is the amputation of the penis. But doing it yourself – that must be autopeotomy. A neologism, I am sure. And Mr Winchester, if you can include this new word in an illustrative sentence in the book you are writing, then we will include it in the next edition of the OED, and you'll be a small part of history."
Thus a new word entered the vocabulary. Except, despite the claim that the on-line OED adds "around 1800 new words" each quarter, autopeotomy has not yet been one of them. On the other hand, the three citations for peotomy conclude with:
1998 S. WINCHESTER Surgeon of Crowthorne x. 168 An attack by the renowned bloodsucking Brazilian fishlet known as candiru..is one of the very rare circumstances in which doctors will perform the operation, known as a peotomy.
Fitte ye seconde:
... there seems to be a word for every concept, imaginable and many unimaginable. My favourite for years was "mallemaroking", which an early edition defined as "the carousing of drunken seamen aboard ice-bound Greenland whaling ships", which struck me as a masterly example of hairline linguistic precision. But a later edition of the dictionary slightly amended the definition, dropping the location, trimming it to "the carousing of drunken seamen aboard icebound whaling ships".

This prompted a friend to write a tongue-in-cheek polemic: the foul practice of mallemaroking, he declared, appears to have become unleashed from its native Greenland, and now threatens to extend its tentacles across the entire world. Before it is too late, it must be stopped!
A useful word, indeed. Though its etymology in the OED seems to be from Dutch (and sexist) rather than Greenlander. It is sandwiched alphabetically between two other terms, of utility only to veterinaries:
mallein: Any of various preparations containing antigens of the glanders bacterium;
mallender: a sore located behind a horse's knee (obs.); a kind of chronic dermatitis of horses.
The OED has now provided Winchester with two books: the parallel stories of Minor and James Murray in The Surgeon of Crowthorne and The Meaning of Everything. As the bill-boards claimed for a far lesser publication,
All Human Life is Here.
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, June 6, 2009


The roman de nos jours is, most definitely, Giles Foden's Turbulence.

There were extended reviews last weekend in the Saturday Times (by Paul Watkins), the Sunday Times (by Phil Baker), the Telegraph (by Toby Clements), the Sunday Telegraph (by David Robson, and the nearest to Malcolm's taste -- so see also below) and, doubtless, elsewhere. This weekend, Mark Lawson piles in for the Guardian, following Foden's own piece last week on Anthony Beevor's D-Day (which was done over for last Sunday's Observer by Dominic Sandbrook).

All the usual suspects, one might feel.

In all of that, Malcolm was pleased to see Simon Long, a vox pop reviewer for Amazon, making this link:
I had hoped that Giles Foden's Turbulence would be a novel in the vein of Robert Harris' Enigma, describing a scientist's contribution to the Allied victory in World War II - the blurb suggested that it might be. Yes, this is a book about a scientist and the contribution he makes to the war effort, but I'm afraid that is where the similarities end.

Fundamentally, nothing very much happens in this book at all. There are hints at stilted relationships, none of which go anywhere; there is a large sprinkling of technical jargon which I struggled to understand (in spite of having a degree in engineering) and there are a couple of action sequences that don't really fit with the general inertia of the rest of the book. The characters are all largely uninteresting - I certainly felt no burning desire to find out what happened to any of them. The story, such as it is, is basically tedium interrupted by a couple of rather far-fetched incidents. The author's writing style is best described as cold and formal - he completely fails to produce much of a degree of interest in either the events or the characters of the novel.
The differences are that Harris is patently (and successfully) writing a thriller, in the all-knowing third-person; while Foden is aiming for something deeper, first-person revelatory, and more arty. Even when Harris goes deeper and psychological (as with Ghost), he seems more adept. Of course, the truly-sympathetic could suggest that such criticisms of Foden's book are merely reflections of the damaged personality that is the central character.

Robson's review addresses the same issue, from another, wider, perspective:
The facts about D-Day have been well documented, as have the contributions made by the meteorologists involved, including James Stagg of the RAF, who persuaded Eisenhower to change his plans, and the Norwegian Sverre Petterssen. So what is the point of inventing a fictional meteorologist called Henry Meadows, who works with Stagg and Petterssen, then becomes the star of the show, with a brilliant weather-forecasting coup? Foden is not enriching history, but impoverishing it. There is no real sense of the excitement of the build-up to D-Day because the novelist is too busy with his own jeu d’esprit.
That, in essence, is the crux: Foden has trapped himself in the device, somewhere between a metaphor, a motif and an allegory that provides the title for the novel. The "turbulence" has to be read as meteorological, military, internal and psychological, sexual and inter-personal, and -- gulp! -- haematological. Even the dust-cover, showing a weather map of what Malcolm believes is an "occluded front", seems suggestive of the line of a female breast, an implied fetish of the central character.

To pursue Robson a bit further, Malcolm would append two further considerations.

There is, indeed, "
a brilliant weather-forecasting coup" in the story of D-Day. The hero of the moment should be Ted Sweeney, the Assistant Keeper of the Blacksod Lighthouse. He made the observations of bad weather which led to the decision to defer the Normandy landings by a day. He, too, passed on the reading of a rising barometer and improving conditions that allowed the landings to go ahead.

Ted Sweeney, though, is only part of the story. Weather reporting only became possible with the arrival of the telegraph. It was 1860 that the Valencia station, that last outpost of the County Kerry, began reporting. Soon, a network of stations was established around the Irish coast. After 1921, the network was still reporting to London. With the arrival of the Boeing Clippers at Foynes, on the Shannon Estuary, and air travel to and from Ireland, something more local was needed. In 1936 Austin Nagle was appointed the first Director of the Irish Meteorological Service. The service, necessarily, continued to rely on the expertise of British scientists on secondment. And therein lies one of the breaches in Irish neutrality, about which neither side wished to speak too loudly.

Perhaps Foden had considered just that story: one of the details given about Meadows, that central character, is that he is displaced by the Irish "Troubles":
After some political difficulties at home -- his family were merchants in Tralee in Co. Kerry -- my father had emigrated to South Africa ... he eventually became manager of a tobacco farm in Nyasaland. My mother was the daughter of a British copper miner from Northern Rhodesia ... It was she that was the Catholic, not him, despite his being Irish. The Meadowses were Protestants. So right from the start I came out of a mixed marriage.
This detail seems to exist for little more than to enrich the "turbulence" theme.

The other complaint, the punchline, in Robson's review is more barbed, and addresses Foden essential technique of blending fiction with fact:
... it is time he stopped seeing fact and fiction as natural bedfellows and recognised that they are ingredients that need to be blended with the utmost care.
The critics concur in applauding Foden's research, though that reviewer for Amazon, Simon Long with his engineering degree, is less convinced. Perhaps with good reason. Foden kills off Meadows' parents in a mud-slide in Nyasaland in 1931. What irritates the pedant in Malcolm is that they travel around colonial Nyasaland in a Land Rover, a marque that didn't exist until 1948. Sphere: Related Content
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