Thursday, July 30, 2009

A way with words

Is it something in the (potable if rather unpleasant) water? Or does it come with the donning of a gaudy Hawaiian beach shirt?


The conscience of the sunshine State, the magnificent and, doubtless, mean and moody, but unfailingly marvellously-readable Carl Hiaasen starts his latest column thus:

Unlike Sarah Palin, Charlie Crist has chosen not to quit his governorship early. Florida's own one-term wonder is using his remaining time to ingratiate himself with as many deep-pocket interest groups as possible.

The governor's unseemly burst of groveling is directly connected to his upcoming run for the U.S. Senate. Sucking up to the National Rifle Association and the Christian right, Crist last week declared his opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, whose confirmation is already a done deal.

Many of Crist's longtime supporters were surprised, but they shouldn't have been. Charlie has no problem with timely pandering.

That is the prelude to a characteristic toccata and full-blown fugue on Hiaasen's favourite topic, the on-going rape of southern Florida by property interests.


Here's Fred Grimm warming up, on line today, for the Miami Herald:

I noticed an inert bio-mass, approximately 13 years old, parked on the couch, working the remote control like a virtuoso.

"When I was your age,'' I told her, embarking on a Dostoyevskian tragedy from the Eisenhower era, "I had to stand up and walk across the room to change the channel.''

My daughter and her contemporaries can text like Olympic athletes -- their thumbs moving with dazzling speed and incredible endurance, far into the night. The other digits? Not so athletic.

That, believe it or not, is the intro to a piece on child obesity and exercise regimes.

  • Whatever potation provides it (please let it be something with an alcohol content),
  • whatever ridiculous costume one has to wear to get it,
  • Malcolm wants some.
Sphere: Related Content
A twattish twit or a twittish twat?

Concerning a great poet, two politicians -- one noble, progressive and thoughtful, the other low, devious and conniving -- and a worthy local benefactor.

Famously, Robert Browning is alleged to have got it wrong, too:
But at night, brother Howlet, far over the woods,
Toll the world to thy chantry;
Sing to the bats’ sleek sisterhoods
Full complines with gallantry:
Then, owls and bats, cowls and twats,
Monks and nuns, in a cloister’s moods,
Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry!
Malcolm has never been fully convinced that wasn't a disingenuous double-bluff by Browning. There always seemed to Malcolm to be a bit too much of the ambiguous Freudian sub-conscious in that bit (night, sisterhoods, gallantry, monks and nuns ... ) to be wholly straight-forward.

Added to which, the entire "plot" of Pippa Passes (which dates from 1841) involves the maidenly young miss skipping unharmed and unmolested through some steamy, seamy bits of the Veneto. Browning may have lived through most of the Victorian period, and thereby forever designated a "Victorian", his mother may have been devout and evangelical, but his father had a large and polyglot library. Large chunks of Pippa Passes are a long way from the innocent, as with ‘Zanze from the Brenta:
I have made her gorge polenta
Till both cheeks are near as bouncing
As her . . . name there’s no pronouncing!
See this heightened colour too—
For she swilled Breganze wine
Till her nose turned deep carmine—
’Twas but white when wild she grew
And only by this Zanze’s eyes
Of which we could not change the size,
The magnitude of what’s achieved
Otherwise, may be perceived!’
Think about that. And it immediately precedes the more-frequently visited quotation above. Very suspicious!

Even so, the Oxford English Dictionary has no qualms in defining Cameron's usage as:
low slang ... A term of vulgar abuse. Cf. TWIT and CUNT.
So, that let's the People's Dave off the hook, does it?

Well, not if we go with the first citation in the OED, from Eric Linklater's Magnus Merriman, which seems to have the boy bang to rights:
He was ... a false hero who flaunted himself in fine colours when he was drunk and dwindled to a shabby twit when sober.
Ah yes, the true, the blushful Bullingdonian.

The other aspect of the OED entry deserves a bit of thought. Elsewhere, the OED has no scruples about defining terms for "the female external genital organs" (which, typically, is a male-chauvinist construct: it may be visually, but hardly gynaecologically correct ). In this entry, there's not even so much help: was the word just too racy for Doctor James Murray?

Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.
Alice will be gracing us with a personal appearance a bit later on in this posting.
The usual explanation of Browning's usage is that, in the final decade of his life (we are now into the High Victorian age), the Great Man received a letter from the newly-conceived Oxford English Dictionary, and was politely challenged to explain himself.

Doubtless harrumphing a little to be required to think back four decades, Browning came up with a fine excuse -- one that has misled many over the intervening years, and which Malcolm will now correct.

Browning had, he replied, in his youth read seventeenth-century verse in his father's library. A piece from 1659 (Vanity of Vanities or Sir Harry Vanes Picture: To the tune of the Jews Corant) was his particular source. Happily we cyber-searchers can see a copy of this is on-line at U. Penn: indeed, it includes the key couplet:
They talk’t of his having a Cardinall’s Hat;
They’d send him as soon an Old Nun’s Twat.
This, averred Browning, was what had misled him.

A Vane aside

That scurrilous broadside is worth further consideration.

Vane had followed John Pym as leader of the Parliamentarians. He consistently tried to reach accommodations with Charles I. Vane drifted to the radical "Independents", taking positions against the "Presbyterians", mainly in defence of freedom of conscience. He wished to retain a monarchy, and would not vote for the King's execution. He broke with Cromwell over a reform of voting rights and Parliamentary control of the army.

He was, in effect, sent into internal exile at Raby Castle. His further writings (which recapitulated his proposals for electoral reform, including the creation of a Senate) caused him to be identified with the extremist Anabaptists. He was summoned to appear before the Council, refused, was ordered to put up the then-outrageous £5,000 in sureties for his future behaviour, refused again (and was probably incapable of finding such a sum), and was imprisoned at Carisbrooke.

Under Richard Cromwell, "Tumbledown Dick", Vane (right) was back at the centre of politics. By May 1659 (the time of this broadside) he was effectively running the armed services and the treasury.

At first excluded from the Restoration "hit list", the Cavalier Parliament then demanded Vane be tried for High Treason. There was a show trial; and Vane was condemned. Pepys recorded witnessing his speech from the scaffold and his beheading (14 June 1662).

Vane was briefly governor (1636-7) of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was responsible for the purchase of Rhode Island, and is thereby the begetter of Harvard. His statue stands on the left as one enters the Boston Public Library.

They'd ςend him as ςoon an Old Nun's Twat

Malcolm find the font cannot do the the original long "s" there. More to the point, he doubts that Browning can have been ignorant of the tone of the broadside. The conceit is that Vane was "holier-than-thou":
The Annointed King of Saints,
fell in a T[urd] when aςide he ςtept.
We also hear the target of this crude lampoon:
He durςt not speak of a Concubine
and (work out the implication, here, yourselves -- please!):
He ςhall undergo a notable Swindging, There is no more need of his Engine.
The whole tone is so extreme, so crude, so of the earth, earthy, that a sensitive exponent of language (as Browning most assuredly was) cannot easily have assumed the simplistic here.

Neither was Diddy Dave Cameron quite the innocent in his radio interview. This is a man with considerable PR and media experience. Add to that an Oxford degree of some distinction. Therefore, his assertions of moon-faced ignorance do not wash. It was a cheap shot for a tissue of publicity.

A sweet little Alice bluestocking

We are not in Wonderland, nor yet in Kansas anymore, but in Knott County, Kentucky.

There we find the small town of Pippa Passes:
Population in July 2007: 291.
Males: 56 (19.5%)
Females: 235 (80.5%)

Median resident age: 20.8 years
Kentucky median age: 35.9 years
[Editor: Shurely shome mistake? ... ]

It has this quite astounding demography because it is the seat of Alice Lloyd College, where presumably the male of the species is dormitoried out-of-town, well away from the young ladies.

Malcolm promised the return of Alice. Alice Spencer Geddes Lloyd, a Bostonian --
publisher and editor of The Cambridge Press, the first publication in America with an all-female staff
-- survived until 1962, when she was 100 years old, still at the head of the school she had established on land gifted her by Abisha Johnson.

The community was named
from Browning's poem, because Pippa:
is a little girl who works in the sweat shops of Italy in the mid-19th Century. On her only holiday of the year, she "passes" through the villages of her countryside, singing the now popular refrain:
The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in his heaven--
All's right with the world!
Through her song, Pippa inspires troubled lives toward good purposes. The poem reflects "the influence of unconscious good on the world." Service to the community follows this philosophy as it seeks to expand the scope of the total learning experience.
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Day in the Life

Wake up
(did we have to open that second bottle
last night?).
Look out (another grey day).
First mug of coffee.
Ah! Nice.

Door bell rings: builders have arrived.

Second mug.
Check email.
Dewi Harries comments on the previous post.
It's a link to a good little YouTube of the Beatles.
A Day in the Life.
Always better with visuals.
RS reckons number 26 of all time,

The margarine between
God Only Knows
(Andy Lippincott gone before)

Reckon they had those three

Making judgements all ready.
Coffee taking effect.
Things looking up.

I'm alive.
Electric nailer slamming away.
Life goes on.

As Clapton always says:
Thank you!

Fog, Tog, Slog, Blog, God!

[The painting at the top of this post is Blue grey day, Wells, 2007, by Peg Morris. It rings Malcolm's bell. And that of anyone else who has looked north from Wells Harbour, towards East Hills, across that haze of morning mist and sea-lavender.]
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 27, 2009

Spot the difference

Malcolm occupies Redfellow Hovel in the company of two females with strong aversions. Spiders and pigeons have featured into recent weeks.

So, why will the Lady in his Life scream at a spider, but allow a ladybird to crawl all over her? Why persecute the moth but marvel at a butterfly? Malcolm keeps very quiet about the friendly mouse under his patio, knowing the repercussions likely to ensue. Meanwhile the thieving, ungrateful robin is fed on nuts and titbits all winter long. The squirrels are only tree rats with a good PR agent. And those urban foxes make a heck of a mess and are noisy at it.

For some reason, all the whitefly, greenfly and blackfly that have been the bane of Malcolm's life these many years have gone AWOL this year: as, of course, have the ladybirds.

Now he knows where they have all gone: to Somerset --

And for the next mystery, why did John Lennon reckon there were 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire? Any way, how many holes can fit in a hole, even one as big as Blackburn?

At which the voice of Malcolm's Dear Old Dad resonates spookily from another dimension:
If a man and a half can dig a hole and a half in a day and a half ...
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Measures of time and distance 2: Peace in our time?

A recollection:

Years gone by, as darkness set in, Malcolm and His Lady pulled into a motel, north of the 101 Ventura Freeway in north Los Angeles. Showered and pizza-ed, with a thirst, they ventured into a local bar in Van Nuys. The ambiance, by a long way, was not the most pleasant: needs must when the demon drink drives.

Once inside, Malcolm and His Lady recognised they were in a Vets' bar: the walls were covered with memorabilia. Not just any Vets: Vietnam Vets.

The tight group around the bar itself included a wheelchair. This was just before Gary Sinise made the point in Forrest Gump.

At that time, these were, very much, the forgotten men. The alienation, the hostility and the distrust were palpable. It was not a happy place into which to venture. It was not the most enjoyable drink of Malcolm's life.

Out of that, Malcolm made a re-appraisal and discovered a new sympathy.

A thought:

Malcolm has just heard his daughter, the Pert Young Piece, remark on the death of Harry Patch, the last survivor of Passchendaele. May she comment to her children and grandchildren on the passage of time, and remind them that her great-grandfather is in Doullens Cemetery.

From the mud of Flanders to those new poppy fields in Helmand, the Poor Bloody Infantry did not decide the cause or determine the events.

Along with the families of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, whatever our preconceptions and prejudices, we should remember -- and honour -- them. Sphere: Related Content
Measures of time and distance 1

Today celebrated the centenary of Louis Blériot flying across the English Channel. 22 miles in 37 minutes (about the same time as the EuroTunnel rail service takes from Folkestone to Sangatte):

Last month, on the 14th-15th June, it was the 90th anniversary of Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown, in a modified Vickers Vimy IV, making it from St John's, Newfoundland, to Clifton, Galway. 1,890 miles in 16 hours 27 minutes: when Steve Fossett and Mark Rebholz re-created it, in July 2005, it took three-quarters of an hour longer. Alcock put down in a bog, however: Fossett chose the 8th at the Ballyconneelly Golf course.

A few days ago, it was forty years on from the climactic moment of the Apollo XI mission. Landing and returning from the surface of the Moon was a round trip of 953,700 statue miles in 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds.

All within sixty years. All within a lifetime.

Somehow that chimes with Malcolm's shock at reading the obituary of the last American to be born a slave. Yes, there is argument; but the name that Malcolm remembers is Charlie Smith (right), imported from West Africa around 1842, sold at New Orleans to a Texan rancher, lived to witness Apollo XVII, died and obituarised in 1979.

And more to come (see next posting). Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 24, 2009

The take on Hudson County

It's just like old times.

44 arrests have been made across northern New Jersey, for public corruption and money laundering:
Hudson County was particularly hard hit as two mayors, a state assemblyman, a former state assemblyman, a city council president, a deputy mayor and many other public figures were charged in criminal complaints with using their offices to get cash bribes.

The former mayor of Bayonne, although not charged, was forced to resign his state post after FBI investigators raided his home and office.
That news has two obvious implications:
  • it re-assures us in at least one of our basic geographical prejudices;
  • it reminds us of that golden oldie: the true mark of a recession is when the Mafia have to lay-off New Jersey judges from the pay-roll.
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Whore's soapera

Rousting out junk cupboards, the most peculiar things (and memories) emerge. Malcolm's brain seems to work on a similar arrangement.

Wakened, no doubt, by the 4.30 a.m. flight from Hong Kong arriving into Heathrow, the synapses began to snap into contact. Out of nowhere, Malcolm found himself recalling a film from 1979.

One stimulus might be those misplaced Willie Nelson mp3s he located the previous evening, when fossicking around his back-up hard drive. The film he recalled was Nelson's first outing as a credited film actor: The Electric Horseman, from thirty years ago. It is an essentially ideological movie.

Malcolm attempts a film-synopsis

The story-line is simple: Robert Redford is the lead, Norman "Sonny" Steele, a champion rodeo rider now on the skids. There is nothing complex about these rôle-namings. Steele is converting his Ampco Corp brekkie-cereal sponsorship into a hard liquor habit. Another on the Ampco hay-roll is champion horse, Rising Star. Falling Steele and Rising Star are brought together in Las Vegas. Steele realises the horse is being bulked with steroids while being tranquillised to disguise a tendon injury. He liberates himself and the horse by riding out of the Las Vegas show, through the casino, along the neon-lit-Strip, wearing his eponymous illuminated suit, and then -- lights out -- into the wild:

Ampco have a public relations disaster on their hands. Revelations about their treatment of the horse endanger a take-over bid. Steele and Rising Star must be found; and any hostile publicity suppressed (the Ampco baddy is named, pointedly, as "Hunt Sears"). Cue the statutory Hollywood chase:

The romantic interest is played by Jane Fonda, as a celebrity television reporter, Hallie Martin (is that an echo of the naïf "Holly Martin" of The Third Man?). She has made her name, and her fortune, by exposing media manipulation and hype. She uses her wiles to locate Steele: having escaped one form of media exploitation, he doesn't want another.

Big Biz has other ideas: to denigrate Steele, on the grounds of his alcoholism, thus neutralising his threat to the Ampco's reputation. So Martin, the Fonda character, gets her story, representing Steele as an archetypal Western hero.

The reporter needs the icing on the cake: Steele filmed in the moment of releasing Rising Star into the wild. In the process of Martin's and Steele's journey into
Land, lots of land, and the starry skies above
Steele takes her video-camera (this is late '70s technology, so it's a hefty avoirdupois, besides having symbolic weight) and throws it away.

Deprived of her lens, Martin starts to see him as a person, not another story; and emotional bonds develop. She agrees to keep secret where Rising Star is released. Back in the wider world, her earlier efforts have won Steele public support, and Ampco are obliged to fall into line, with a face-saving approval of Steele's horse-napping. Hence the opening credits (see below) and the emotive moment when Rising Star is shown racing across the grasslands to join wild horses.

"Old West" versus new Glitz

What the director, Sidney Pollack, establishes is a parable of media manipulation. The motif is itself an artifact, the core of the whole Western myth: the cowboy. The story invites us, the manipulated audience, to share Steele's journey from image to nature, out of illusion into some sort of "reality", out of falsehood and manipulation into simplicity and honesty.

Beyond that, the corruption of the media is being depicted -- not argued -- by the medium which most corrupts. The message is being promoted at an emotional, not an intellectual level. Specifically, the news media are depicted as distorter (but, at heart, well-intentioned), while the dream-merchants (who invented the "Wild West" in the first place) are ambiguously corrupt (Ampco) or upright (Fonda's Martin).

So we have squared the ideological circle. The media can manufacture a false image (Ampco exploiting Steele and Rising Star) or it can expose the reality behind the false image (Martin), while the film about this (directed by Sidney Pollack) is both revelator and manipulator. And the fourth participant is the public, who are manipulated alike by Ampco, by Martin, and by Pollack's movie.

And then there is Malcolm's take, here, on the whole thing. Another level of manipulation.

Still, Nelson is something different:

Oh, and Malcolm did find a video of The Electric Horseman, at the bottom of a pile, in the attic. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Great Macready
(The not-so-good and not-so-great, number 16, addendum)

Malcolm, never one to waste good useless knowledge, couldn't get his teeth out of Macready without a further nibble.

So, a bit more gratuitous detail.

Macready was meant not to go on the stage: he was sent to Rugby School as the first step towards a "respectable" profession. When the father's business turned sour, he was out of school, and trying to rescue the theatrical empire.

As the previous post noticed, in 1810, aged 17, he was playing Romeo in Birmingham. The following year it was Hamlet in Newcastle, opposite the great, if aging, Sarah Siddons. By 1815 he could command a stellar salary of £50 a week; and was being courted by London managements.

In September 1816 he accepted a five-year engagement at Covent Garden, where the male principal was Junius Brutus Booth (yes: father of Abraham Lincoln's killer. Small world). Macready's first great success was as Richard III (1819), then, in the following season, as Edmund to Booth's Lear. Lear had been out of the repertoire for years, for reasons of unfortunate comparison, and was restored only after the death of George III.

Along with other Covent Garden stalwarts, Macready fell out with Charles Kemble as the new manager of Covent Garden: he transferred to Drury Lane, where he appeared for the next 13 years. In 1826-7 he toured the United States. Then back to London, leading up to a spectacular off-stage assault on the manager of Drury Lane, Alfred Bunn (a court case and a fine of £150 ensued). After the deaths of other main players, now the doyen of his profession, he was back at Covent Garden, and celebrating his successes by supping with Wordsworth, Browning, and Walter Savage Landor.

In 1837 he became manager of Covent Garden, reviving Lear and other tragedies. This was Macready's best contribution to his contemporary stage. Shakespearean productions had been brutalised by the likes of Nahum Tate (sadly a Dubliner and TCD man), who "improved" Lear with a happy ending. Macready restored their original form. He staged dramas by new writers, notably Edward Bulwer(-Lytton). After a couple of seasons, his enthusiasm for management faded (perhaps aided by salacious gossip about his relationship with his leading lady); and so he moved on, to the Haymarket. Then, encouraged by Dickens, he ran two seasons (1841-2) at Drury Lane, before a second American tour (which enriched him to the sum of £5,500, though it also laid seeds of a ruction with Edwin Forrest -- see below). After which came success in Paris, before a series of short engagement in London, culminating in a royal gala night at Drury Lane, which raised £1,100, and ended in a minor riot.

This was as nothing to the disaster of his final American tour in 1848-9. The festering row with Forrest broke out into public acrimony. Both sides had claques (who may, or may not, have been orchestrated). It worked up to the audience breaking up the Astor Place Theatre in New York. For Macready's next performance, three days later, the Forrest supporters came, literally, mob-handed. There ensued a full-blown riot, which resulted in a score of deaths. That was the effective end of Macready's final American tour.

Back in England, Macready undertook a series of farewell performances (1849-51), ending in a spectacular Macbeth at Drury Lane.

Macready retired to Dorset. His wife died suddenly (many of their children also died prematurely) and Macready dedicated himself to good works, as a church-warden and patron of night-schools. Macready remarried: he was 67, she was 33. They had one son (see the previous post).

Sphere: Related Content
Frank McCourt (1930-2009)

Others, more learned and competent, will do the full obits. Today's Irish Times would be a good place to start reading.

All Malcolm can add is that McCourt gave a lot of people, in Ireland and around the world, a lot of plain delight. That, and a decent income from the royalties, is the best any writer can wish. On the other hand, he also suffered that bane of writers, from Horace, Cicero and Livy to the present day: becoming a school text in his own lifetime.

McCourt impacted on Malcolm in four ways:
  • He reinforced Malcolm's belief that Limerick is a place to be avoided.
  • He is in a portrait photograph in one of McCourt's (and Malcolm's) favoured Manhattan watering-holes, the Old Town Bar, 45 E 18th.
  • Malcolm's son-in-law went through "Stuy", where McCourt was his English Literature teacher. It seems not to have been an experience that benefited either party.
  • McCourt contributed one of the stock phrases and insults in use at Redfellow Hovel: "sticky-up Protestant hair".
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 20, 2009

The not-so-good and not-so-great, number 16

The family Macready

It's been a while since Malcolm added to his portrait gallery of grotesques. Here comes another.

As will become evident, it's often not what one does, but what one neglects to do that marks out a moment of greatness.

First, though, a moment of genealogical reflection. How about this:
  • Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, born 7 May 1862, died 9 June 1946; son of --
  • William Charles Macready, born 3 March 1793, died 27 April 1873; son of --
  • William Macready, born 1755, died 11 April 1829.
Just three generations take us from George II to George VI, from the publication of Johnson's Dictionary to Animal Farm, from the Seven Years War to the Cold War, from Major George Washington of His Majesty's loyal Virginia militia to the 33rd President Harry S Truman, from gunpowder to the atom bomb and ballistic missiles.
[In the fourth generation, Sir Gordon Macready, son of Nevil Macready, 1891-1956, was also a soldier, reprising his father's career in Egypt and in the War Office, ending up as Head of the British Army Mission in Washington, 1942-46. He was part of the British delegation at Potsdam in 1945.]
The first of those Macreadys was a Dubliner, who served his apprenticeship as an upholsterer in his father's firm, then became an actor, first in Ireland, then at Covent Garden, and finally owning theatres across provincial towns and cities. When he died, as a respected member of the freemasons, he was buried with some honour in Bristol Cathedral.

The Great Macready

In 1810, aged 17, he was playing Romeo in Birmingham. The following year it was Hamlet in Newcastle, where he also played opposite Sarah Siddons. By 1815 he could command a stellar salary of £50 a week; and was being courted by London managements.

For nearly half-a-century, William Charles Macready trod the boards, in all the great London theatres, around the provincial circuit, on three American tours, and on the Continent.

His achievements were to restore authenticity to Shakespearean performances, introduce texts to the repertoire, and to encourage ensemble playing with a new rigour of extended rehearsals.

For our purposes here, it is significant that in his retirement he remarried: he was 67, she was 33. They had one son, who was:

(Cecil Frederick) Nevil Macready

His father was opposed to a career in the theatre. Macready grew up surrounded by creative types, but claimed he was "far too lazy" to develop an artistic talent. So, he went to Sandhurst and a commission in the Gordon Highlanders.

Aged 19, he was involved in the Egyptian Campaign, and at the battle of Tell al-Kabir. That led to being staff lieutenant and garrison adjutant at Alexandria, responsible for military policing. After five years (and marriage to a County Cork girl) he was back with his regiment in the Indian Empire. Promoted to Captain, he was posted to Dublin. Then back to India with the 2nd Battalion, which was about to be transferred to South Africa.

That put (now Major) Macready inside the siege of Ladysmith (1899-1900). Another promotion, to Lt-Colonel, and he was tasked to control cattle-rustlers in Zululand. Staff jobs in the Cape Colony meant mentions in dispatches and a full colonelship in 1903.

In 1907 he was assistant adjutant-general in the War Office, responsible for military discipline and liaising over the use of troops to support the civil power. For a year he was officer in command of the 2nd infantry brigade at Aldershot; promoted major-general, and back at the War Office in time for miners' strikes in South Wales and anticipated trouble over Irish Home Rule.

Two things were working in his favour: he was known to be a "safe pair of hands" and to have liberal and democratic sympathies. These characteristics were about to be tested.

The coal disputes of 1910-12

In November 1910 Macready was sent to command the troops supporting the police in South Wales, where the miners had gone on strike against the coal combine. Macready insisted that his soldiers served under the direct authority of the Home Office, thus ensuring local magistrates could not use them in any possible re-run of the Peterloo massacre.

Macready was also creatively dilatory in responding to Churchill, the Home Secretary, issuing instructions for military involvement. Haldane was Minister of War and held the troops up at Swindon, only to be over-ruled by Churchill, who telegrammed Macready, now the Southern Commander, to send cavalry into "the disturbed district ... without delay". Macready discreetly negotiated this down to a detachment of cavalry at Pontypridd (where they took little part in the strike) and the Lancashires, the Munsters and the Yorkshire infantry supporting the police. Only one serious situation developed: the police were stoned at Penygraig, and soldiers with fixed bayonets were paraded as a deterrent.

Both in South Wales, and in the 1912 national coal strike, Macready avoided the worst effect of military intervention, so not further inflaming a charged situation. A knighthood followed.

Ireland and Home Rule

In the last two years of "peace", Ireland boiled over. First the Unionists, then the Nationalists armed themselves as "Volunteers". In March 1914 came the trauma of the Curragh Mutiny. Macready was nominated as the potential "military governor" in Belfast in the event of a full-blown civil war.


By the summer of 1914 Ireland's troubles were eclipsed by the outbreak of war with Germany. Macready was off on another mission, as adjutant-general of the British Expeditionary Force. This was the dirty end of the stick: one of his main tasks was burial of the dead, which in the early months was a disgrace. His achievement was identifying Fabian Ware (already co-ordinating Red Cross operation) as the key man to run the business of recording graves (out of which came the Imperial War Graves Commission).

In February 1916, Macready was recalled to London as adjutant-general to the forces, which made him responsible for maintaining the strength of the army in the field. He addressed this by job-substitution, particularly in the use of women to replace male workers where possible.

Another crisis, another rôle:in 1918 the Metropolitan Police went on strike over pay and union recognition. Macready, now a full General, and against his best judgement, was appointed Commissioner. He promptly bought off the pay demand, and arranged a form of collective representation: when there was a further strike (in August 1919) Macready sacked the strikers and discipline was restored.

Ireland, again

In the spring of 1920 Macready was induced ( a £5,000 "disturbance allowance" was involved) to accept command of the army in Ireland. Another motive was loyalty to Lord French, now the Lord Lieutenant. Equally, sending an administrator and policeman (rather than an exponent of the mailed fist) to run the army in Ireland, suggests that Britain was already seeking an accommodation rather than a "solution".

Macready was in an impossible position. His intelligence systems were hopelessly compromised. The First Dáil was setting up a parallel administration: as the Daily Herald (quoted by Diarmaid Ferriter) put it, in November 1919:
This invisible republic with its hidden courts and its prohibited volunteer troops exists in the hearts of the men and women of Ireland and wields a moral authority which all the tanks and machine guns of King George cannot command.
Ex-servicemen returning to Ireland found themselves treated as traitors: 46% of them remained unemployed (in Britain it was about 10%). In effect, Macready arrived and was confronted by a simple fact:
the virtual collapse of British government in Ireland by 1920.
What Macready could achieve was a sense of purpose, and a saner approach to security policy, as the countryside declined further into a state of insurrection. New troops and equipment, motor transport and armoured cars, were brought in. In one important matter, Macready blinked: he refused to take responsibility for the RIC, although he concurred with the deployment of the RIC auxiliaries (the Black and Tans). So, by ignorance or wilful neglect, Macready ensured that there was no unity of command, the police were not militarised (there is evidence that regular RIC men were totally disaffected with the Auxiliaries), and that reprisals continued. In a negative way, that was Macready first (of three) contributions.

In any case, the War of Independence was effectively lost and won on the eve of Easter Day, 192o. That was when the IRA took out all the tax-record offices, and burned 315 abandoned RIC barracks (thus preventing reoccupation).

By the early summer of 1921 Macready was advising London that there was no scope for a concerted drive against the IRA:
There are, of course, one or two wild people about who still hold the absurd idea that if you go on killing long enough peace will ensue. I do not believe it for one moment, but I do believe that the more people are killed, the more difficult will be the final solution.
That was the second important contribution, and a very positive one, Macready made to the future of Anglo-Irish relations. And thereby hung Lloyd George's attempts to find a treaty formula.

The Four Courts

The third of those contributions occurred in June 1922. A Treaty had been signed, and some sort of settlement had been cobbled together. The only group wholly satisfied with the outcome was the Ulstermen with their own toy parliament in Belfast, while Macready was over-ruled when he resisted the creation of the B Specials.

Meanwhile, the Republicans had been in occupation at Dublin's Four Courts since 14th April. The Free "Partition" State Election took place on 16th June.

Then, Sir Henry Wilson, the machinator of the Orange cabal, "the greatest intriguer who ever wore the King’s uniform", and now a Unionist MP, was assassinated (22nd June). This placed enormous strains on the Lloyd George coalition (it was a main factor in the Tory backbench revolt which prompted the collapse of the coalition). Churchill, Secretary of State for the Colonies and a signatory of the Treaty, went ape. In a spectacular miscall, he ordered Macready to send the British forces still in the Dublin garrison to reduce the Four Courts. Macready wisely procrastinated, while Michael Collins sent the Free State forces in to do the job. Thus a further, and unnecessary Anglo-Irish crisis was avoided.

Macready retired from his lifetime of Imperial service in 1923, and received a baronetcy for his troubles. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Seasonal Performance

A trip to the theatre, slumming. Just a damn good emotional, generational wallow. Nothing intellectual (that's Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, on the list, still to come. With the delicious Samantha Bond).

Yes, you've got it in one: Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward Theatre.

Now Malcolm should have knocked this one off on one of his trips to the former colonies. It somehow didn't happen. He puts that down to local prejudice from his New Yorker son-in-law.

So, to the London production.

Magnificent ironwork set. Lots of dropping and sliding panels. Electronics galore. Very tasty; very, very tasty. The back-projected sky-line, featuring the iconic Pulaski Skyway, twitches Malcolm's clothing to remind it of its down-market source in the Jersey Gardens Mall, Elizabeth, NJ. That's another way of saying that Jersey has problems:
Some people are not thrilled to live in a place where you gotta drive over a turnpike, past a landfill, through a dump, just to root for a team that's from New York anyway.
Jersey boys have a problem, the guy from Hoboken:
"I'm gonna be bigger than Sinatra."
"Only if you're standing on a chair."
Simple storyline (though with a lot to be read into it -- see below): guys meet up , work their way through the lowest tiers of show-biz, and finally find their "sound" and make it big. Yeah: that sounds just like, inter alia, the Glenn Miller Story. This one, though, is louder. Wait for the end of either act: much louder. And, at the end of act one, they shine lights at you. In the process they become the Four Seasons:
"So, you like our new name?"
"Oh, I love it. So did Vivaldi."
"Some guy stole our name? I'll go talk to him."
"That's okay, ... he's already dead."
Of course, since it's a musical, all the hits are there. They come so fast that, at the end of act one, Malcolm was trying to recall what was left. Answer: a lot.

Beyond that it's:
  • boy already has girl, boy meets another girl, she leaves him;
  • boy has gambling problems, his mates give him a dig-out;
  • boy and boy discover they really don't like the touring life, and drop out;
  • producers don't understand how talented our boys are, but give way in the end;
  • the moment of total pathos (Valli's grown-up daughter is a heroin death):
You pay your taxes. You put your trust in the system, you think your kids are safe. What're you supposed to do, put 'em on a leash? Chain 'em to the bed? They grow up, they grow out, and then some motherfucker with a needle is waiting and it's over.
  • rapid synopsis to satisfactory end.
But you knew all that.

And the songs are still great.

On the way, there's even a bit of real wit:
"So who's the girl in the song? Your girlfriend?""
"No, it's any girl - every girl. It's what T.S. Eliot calls the 'objective correlative'."
"You're not from around here, are you?"
So, no catharsis: the nearest it gets is:
They ask you - what was the high point? The hall of fame, selling all those records, pulling Sherry out of a hat - it was all great. But four guys under a streetlamp, when it was all still ahead of us ... the first time we made that sound, our sound ... when everything dropped away, and all there was was the music ... that was the best. That's why I'm still out there singing. Like that bunny on TV with the battery , I just keep going and going and going. Chasing the music, trying to get home.
Yeah, just a gentle, nostalgic burn, all the way back to Kennedy's Presidency.

But it still had the audience (grey and even arthritic) standing and wanting more.

Strongly recommended.

The punchline:

There is the occasional philosophising.

What caught Malcolm's attention was a speech given to "Frankie Valli", as a reaction to the British invasion (the Beatles, the Stones) in the early 1960s. This made a distinction between "their" audience and "ours", "the guys out in Nam", the girl with aching feet behind the shop counter, the lad at the petrol station.

The "Boss", another Jersey Boy, continues to speak to that other audience. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Gray Lady goes on a pub crawl

Phone call from Number One daughter in the former Colony: had Malcolm seen today's New York Times? Yes, he had (on line, anyway), and he knew what had caught her attention.

A was a piece by Henry Shukman on the pubs of:
a corner of the northeast Cotswolds where I misspent my youth, an area littered with picturesque towns and villages, and studded — as I remembered it — with lovely pubs.
He then rattles off a sequence of pubs, mainly tied houses of the Hook Norton Brewery. They are (with Malcolm's passing thoughts):
  • the Chequers in Chipping Norton (that's a Fuller's house, so expect London Pride and ESB);
  • the Red Lion, also in Chipping Norton (it's in Albion Street, and a decent local);
  • the Sun (about which there are, ahem, mixed reports) and the Pear Tree (effectively, the brewery tap: good beer, good place) in Hook Norton itself;
  • the Plough in Kingham (a pretentious gastro-pub, boasting its Michelin star)
  • the Falkland Arms in Great Tew (thatched and be-creepered exterior; oak beams, flagstones and inglenook fireplace within -- a place that makes the effort, and is worth finding); and
  • the King's Head in Bledington (set back from the village green, another of those picture-postcard pubs).
Malcolm defers to nobody in his liking for Old Hooky (4.6% ABV), but he finds that choice of hostelries partly perverse. His would add alternatives:
  • in Chipping Norton, the Bell in West Street, and Stones in the Market Place;
  • the Masons Arms in Swerford (between Chipping Norton and Great Tew), a gastro-pub of distinction, and in glorious countryside;
  • the Red Lion in Bloxham, on the road to Banbury; another Fuller's house: in good weather, watch the stream run through the garden, else a two-bar interior;
  • the Tite Inn at Chadlington, another one with superb views and a decent restaurant, just a couple of miles out of Chipping Norton;
  • and so on.
Fortunately, in the Cotswolds there's enough back-roads, villages and pubs to allow one to avoid the sweltering hordes.

There is more than a grain of truth in Shukman's gloom:
Closing at something like a rate of more than three a day, pubs have become scarce enough that for the first time since the Domesday Book, more than half the villages in England no longer have one. It’s a rare pub that still thrives, or even limps on, by being what it was meant to be: a drinking establishment.
Well, we cannot be sure about the pub-density in 1086, but change is happening. We can blame that on cheap alcohol at the supermarket, on the changing social habits, or whatever we like. Many pubs are adapting (they always have): either by becoming "sports bars" (Murdoch's monopoly of big sporting events, especially football, being the main accelerator there) or by becoming much more family-friendly and food-orientated. The developments, then, may not be entirely negative.

One can still locate what is purely "a drinking establishment", if one must. That's one of those grim establishments where a handful of old sods, dog at feet, each sat in his own corner, chewing a pipe, silent and morose: only the death-watch beetle broke the silence. Malcolm's experience is that such places always were the exception rather than the rule. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 17, 2009

There is a case for Europe

First things first: confession time.

Malcolm freely admits that, in the 1975 referendum campaign, his alter-ego took the Eurosceptic line, spoke on platforms to urge rejection, and was quoted on the topic. During that campaign, he reconsidered and re-appraised the arguments, and found his own (and the others of the antis) wanting.

Come the day, he did not even vote: the only time in his franchised life he failed to do so.

Since then, he has reversed his position, and now believes in a full and sincere commitment to the EU.

The problems

Of course there are serious issues to be resolved: notably, the "democratic deficit" which renders the image of a faceless, manipulative bureaucracy more apparent.

What is not a solution is repatriating powers to national parliaments. All that achieves is transferring responsibilities from one bureaucracy to another. It does not give the citizen any greater involvement or responsibility. The citizen is only "empowered" if and when decisions are delegated to the lowest level possible, to local options, and financed fairly. Alternatively, e-voting and referenda need to be deployed to involve more voters on a regular basis. Underlying all that should be the recognition that no political party, anywhere in the UK, engaged even 10% of the electorate at the recent MEP elections:
  • the Tories took 36.2% of the seats
  • on 27% of the vote,
  • or nearly 9¼% of the electorate.
This was hailed, not least by the Tories and their media claque, as a great success. In passing, it took 167,935 votes to elect each Tory MEP, 183,212 for each Labour one, 189,146 for each LibDem, 472,799 for the two neo-fascists toe-rags, and a staggering 611,651 for each Green MEP. That will not, of course, stop the Tories whining about the "unfair" electoral system.

The UK "nation-state"

In the UK the "nation-state" issue is clouded by our inability to clarify what is the "nation-state".

The three "home" countries, plus the six counties, are no longer a settled entity. At some stage in the not-too-distant future, the status of Scotland as something more than a northern appendage needs to be properly recognised. "Northern Ireland" has persisted as a uniquely "conditional" part of the union ever since 1920 (or even since 1912). There seems to be little logic in the differential settlements for Scotland and Wales. Beyond that, the fissures in the Saxon empire deserve consideration: those regional assemblies, granted enhanced powers, might regain traction.

At the moment we have a total lack of consistency. Voting arrangements, financial settlements, even the naming of places on road signs, varies according to the different parts of the union: why does the M4 suddenly lose "Llundain" as a direction at a vague moment east of Cardiff/Caerdydd? Does the Welsh language never venture beyond Junction 23?

Beyond that, we have all the hysteria about the EU transmogrifying into a "superstate". In this weird mind-set, anything and everything can become a spine-chilling, salutary warning. Typical of this is the letter in today's Irish Times, obviously taking dictation from Daniel Hannan, and bewailing that:
when the new European Parliament session opened in Strasbourg recently a detachment of combat troops, from various EU member-states led the ceremony and raised an EU flag -- twice the size of the national flags around it -- to the accompaniment of a military bugle call.
We really need to watch the heel-clicking, imperialist tendency in the Luxembourgois army, don't we?

A positive European

To think European is to reject this narrowness. It's worth listing the "gains" that the Lisbon Treaty represents:
  • the Charter of Fundamental Rights is given its due place in the Treaty
  • so, too, the powers of the EU, and the limitations thereon are clearly drawn
  • while greater powers accrue to the European Parliament, national assemblies have greater powers of scrutiny and to block EU legislation
  • for the first time, the route to the exit is clearly indicated
  • dealing with the threat of climate-change, and therefore energy policies are declared a prime objective
  • the European Parliament gains a say in trade agreements ...
A new place in the world

Dean Acheson, as far back as 5 December 1962, famously opined that:
Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.
The furore this provoked was entirely limited to the London chattering classes and the Tory press, and all the greater because its basis was patently true.

Similarly, if the last year or so should have taught us something, it is that the EU, too, faces eclipse. Power in the world is now economic: we are rapidly moving into a new dispensation which is dominated by two economic colossi: the United States and China. The nation-states of Europe have little clout in that league (as Iceland, Ireland, Spain and the new East European democracies have discovered, the hard way). Only as Europe, a fully-functioning integrated European economy, is there hope of standing our ground:

David Miliband today described China as the 21st century's "indispensable power" with a decisive say on the future of the global economy, climate change and world trade.

The foreign secretary predicted that over the next few decades China would become one of the two "powers that count", along with the US, and Europe could emerge as a third only if it learned to speak with one voice.
Malcolm wishes he had the felicity of Timothy Garton Ash saying something very similar, and urging us to see:
the wider context: an increasingly non-European world, shaped by rising powers like China and global threats like climate change, where even the largest European states can only hope to make a difference if we all combine forces and work together.
Even Garton Ash borrowed from that supreme exponent of language, Famous Seamus himself:
Recalling a memorable evening five years ago in Dublin's Phoenix Park when Ireland's EU presidency welcomed 10 new nations into the union, Heaney observes: "Phoenix renewed itself, just as the Union was renewing itself and continues to need to renew itself." Before reading aloud the poem (Beacons at Bealtaine) he wrote on that occasion, Heaney says, in a video clip recorded for last weekend's launch of the new Ireland for Europe campaign: "There are many reasons for ratifying the Lisbon treaty, reasons to do with our political and economic wellbeing, but the poem speaks mainly for our honour and identity as Europeans." And then he reads his verse, which includes this great line: "Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare."

The mealy-mouthed legions of the lost, the "better off outers", the UKIPpers, the Broken Men who still require confirmation:
How stands the old Lord Warden?
Are Dover's cliffs still white?
have no vision to match that. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Democracy should not be de-mocked

Just when Malcolm was about to concede and give up this blogging lark for a better offer, along comes a heart-warming story, courtesy of the Washington Post:

A last-minute write-in campaign to prevent a self-described Holocaust revisionist from serving on a civic body in Reston has succeeded with a landside, the organization's former president said today.

Ken Meyercord, who had been running unopposed for an at-large seat on the Reston Citizens Association's 13-member volunteer board, received only 23 votes after his provocative views on Jews created a backlash.

Colin Mills, the write-in candidate for the at-large position on the board, received 1,157 votes, according to Mike Corrigan, the civic association's former president and a member of the election committee.

The action was so hectic:

The turnout for the election, which was held Saturday and Sunday during the Reston Festival at Reston Town Center, was so heavy that elections committee members photocopied additional ballots.

Debra Steppel, who had been a member of the civic association committee, had picked up Meyercord's name from a church circular, and recognised it again from the list of candidates. Within a week she had mobilised the vote.

Meyercord sold himself with a subtle bit of ethnical, sorry about that-- ethical snobbery:

The title of a booklet I wrote in 2001, The Ethic of Zero Growth, pretty much says it all. I would welcome the opportunity to find ways to implement the philosophy expounded in my book. My wife and I have every intention to live out our golden years here in Reston. We like Reston the way it is and would hate to see it turned into the Queens.

As Dewey Finn, Jack Black's character in The School of Rock has it: "Read between the lines."

Perhaps her task was made easier by Reston being Virginia's "best-educated community": two-thirds of the adult population have a degree-level qualification.

Reston (named for R E Simon, who begat the place in the 1960s by buying a tract of land with monies from the sale of Carnegie Hall) is also a "planned community".

Congratulations all round.

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Problems of identity
Why has no one yet managed to draw a decent caricature of the president? Cartoonists are struggling to sketch anything that is even recognisable as Obama, let alone funny.
Compare this failure to their cousins across the pond, who have represented Gordon Brown as a walking corpse and his chief rival David Cameron as Little Lord Fauntleroy.
That's a posting on Slate, last May.

Well, the "Little Lord Fauntleroy" is originally © Dennis Skinner, from way back; but it has been deliciously refined by Martin Rowson for his Guardian cartoons (above).

Meanwhile, the world has been waiting for the sunrise of Steve Bell's definitive nailing. His latest version is quite promising:
It looks as if this one has legs.

The cartoonist's dilemma

The essential problem is that Cameron has been assiduous in being all-things-to-all-men, masking any convincing identity, which is why Steve Bell may have the clincher.

Two hard-right commentators today are posing the consequences and questions implicit in that. First we have the Torygraph's Simon Heffer on disillusion among Tory MPs over Cameron's "cronyism":
It is now widely felt that mates of Dave had preferential treatment, not just from the party committee that investigated them, but from the party machine itself. Spin doctors and parliamentary colleagues were sent out to prop up certain key mates who had done unethical things with the public's money. People who were not key mates were hung out to dry. In an atmosphere already fraught with self-pity, over-emotionalism and blame-shifting, the perception of Dave as having been partisan in the recent conduct of the affairs of his party is now festering nicely.
Heffer has never bought the full Cameroonie, so this is no hot friend cooling.

Then there is Peter Oborne up front with the crux of the matter:
Amoral spiv or true traditional Tory? Will the REAL Cameron please stand up
Since this is the Daily Wail, there has to be a conventional gesture to Cameroon groupies and gropies:
the traditional, God-fearing Tory with a social conscience ... a brave and patriotic individual who is driven by a sense of public duty and responsible social obligation ... a strong sense of history and high integrity.
Yawn, well ... sort of. Then the knife goes in, quite deliciously:
there is also the other David Cameron who - and I'm afraid there's no way of putting it politely - is a bit of a spiv.

This is someone who is at ease with the more louche elements of London's media world and who, before entering Parliament, worked in corporate affairs for the controversial media mogul Michael Green.
Green, it should be recalled, rose through some curious dealings (and a back-stairs operation to Thatcher's Cabinet) to build a TV empire, which then crashed disastrously. The analogy with Cameron is unmissable: up like the rocket, and down like the stick.

The dichotomy between Hefferlump and Oborne is that man-of-the-hour, Andy Coulson. Heffer thinks he will survive, another beneficiary of Cameron's patronage (and thereby fuelling further mutterings): Oborne reckons he should and will be defenestrated.

The end-game cometh

There is a tectonic shift happening. The last few days are revealing that all is not well in the House of Dave. Coulson has become the story (and it is a cliché widely-employed among the chattering classes that this is the end of a media-manipulator's usefulness); but it is a symptom, not a cause of the general malaise.

The Tories will hang together, until the election. Osborne will impose that discipline (and earn himself no boy scout badges therein). There will be many aggrieved back-benchers whose loyalty will have to be bought by future employment or cheap, shoddy titles. There will be Constituency Association officials who will resent dictation from above. As we move deeper and deeper into election year, the wagons will pull into a tighter, more defensive circle: that will cause distress among the journos who are convinced they have a right to be inside the laager.

One can read all that, and more, into William Hague's plea for party discipline this last week. He was addressing the Westminster and City of London Tories:
Part of his challenge was to convince the audience that the next General Election was not in the bag. That is a problem he would have been pleased to have to cope with when he was leader.
"We need to gain 116 constituencies in one go in order to win," he said. "That will be a Herculean effort. It is not something we take for granted."
Almost poetically, changing only the boilerplate metaphor, that repeats what Hague said in 1997, on winning the leadership potty:
We have a mountain to climb, a hard battle to win. But together, united and reformed, we can and we will prevail.
The subtext here is almost one of pathos. In the hands of a tragedian, we would sense impending nemesis.

For, the central problem remains. Above all, as long as the flashy, trashy wishful-thinkings and rivial, cliché-ridden spoutings persist, at the expense of any credible, cohesive policy, the images of the velveteen dude and the jellyfish will grow in relevance. As with every fallen, former media darling:
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A favourite has no friend!
Sphere: Related Content
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