Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Northumberland or bust

No, Malcolm has not given up.

He is, for the next week, in North Yorkshire and Northumbria.

He wishes you well. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, August 24, 2009


A piece in the current issue of The Economist
(which has just come up on-line in the e-mail reminder) is about London's Wallace Collection:
The generously proportioned rooms envelop one of the great surviving privately formed collections of 18th-century French art, furniture and gold boxes. This ensemble of opulent objects and lyrical pictures is displayed in rooms “papered” with intensely coloured silks. Crimson, emerald, coral and sapphire walls sing in harmony with the glazes of the Sèvres porcelain for which the collection is justly famous.
Only in passing does the piece remind us of one of the star attractions:
There are also gold boxes, elaborate gilded bronze mounted clocks, paintings by Boucher (including his portrait of Madame de Pompadour [see above] ... , Watteau and Fragonard. The latter’s famous “Swing” appears simultaneously light-hearted, lascivious and cruel.
The main cruelty there is denying us the main event, which we came for. So here she is:

And she is gorgeous.

On one level, it is the eternal triangle: the young miss between her sugar-daddy (who, for an additional frisson, is togged out sub-fusc, and possibly as a priest) and the young swain. Cupid looks on:
he is a statue well-known at the time, Falconet's Silencing Cupid, and pointedly owned by Madame de Pompadour, patron of artists and the King's official mistress.

At the height of her swing the girl loses, or kicks off her shoe --
which, apparently, implies the loss of virginity -- towards the Cupid, who is shushing her. The young man is, ambiguously, hiding in the undergrowth or caught in a thorn-bush, presumably to imply his torment. He is lying with a rake, which may imply his intentions are less than honourable. Then we notice his pose: it is that of Michelangelo's Adam from the Sistine Chapel:

Almost inevitably there has to be a story behind this picture.

Gabriel-François Doyen made a belated reputation for himself, bashing out religious themes (he had the good sense to relocate to Catherine II's St Petersburg in the French Revolution). On 2nd October 1767, when he was really making a name for himself, he fell in with the playwright and songsmith Charles Collé, who was keeping a diary (published in 1805, to the great surprise of all those who had confided in

Collé records that Doyen had been taken aback by a visit to a noble courtier (probably the Baron de Saint-Julien, who was Receiver-General of the Clergy)
who had been accompanied by his bit-on-the-side:
"He started by flattering me with compliments", began Doyen, "and ended by assuring me that he was anxious to have me create an image, the idea of which he was going to outline.

" 'I should like Madame (indicating his mistress) on a swing which a bishop is pushing. You will depict me in such a way that I would be able to see the legs of the lovely girl, and even better, if you want to spice up your painting a bit more ...'

"I confess, M. Doyen said to me, that this proposal, which I wouldn't have conceived possible, ... perplexed me and left me speechless for a moment. I pulled myself together and said to him almost straight off: 'Ah! Monsieur! One should improve on the basic notion of your image by making Madame's shoes fly off and having some cupids catch them.' "
It was not Doyen's line-of-work, so he passed the idea on to Fragonard, who himself was in transition from religious scenes to more spicy stuff.

The scene is sheer voyeurism, but, as with all rococo, we can look closely for hidden meanings.

The scene is a garden, which takes us all the way back to Genesis, via the implications of The Roman de la Rose and similar texts. We have lots of roses: not just a feminine symbol but a reminder of the transience of beauty, which is another reading of the gnarled oak tree from which the swing, and its split-second image here, depends. The sculpted putti are riding one of the dolphins which pulled Aphrodite's chariot, and thereby imply that the situation has an unchanging eternal nature. The pet dog, a symbol of animal passion, tries to climb the fence and yaps at the girl.

Fragonard knew he had a winner here, and did the subject three times. The version in the Wallace Collection was the original, first owned by the Baron Bollioud de Saint-Julien, then sold to the Duke of Morny, on whose death in 1788 it was acquired by Sir Richard Wallace. The girl in a blue dress is owned by Edmond James de Rothschild; and a smaller version by Duc Jules de Polignac. Nicholas De Launay did an engraving of the picture (and advertised it for nine livres in 1789), when it seems to have acquired its longer title: Les Hazards Heureux de L'escarpolette.

The Economist does us well with its "cultural" stuff.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A great day at the Oval ... but woo-hoo
Malcolm writes the following in recognition that a cousin was a "professional" on two MCC tours of Australia, and even has the odd street named there in his honour.
We've had several weeks of Sky TV and roadside posters telling us how significant the England-Australia cricket tournament was. Can' t think what the Murdoch interest amounted to here, beyond exclusive rights.

That said, and the inevitable Victory bus-top tour around London taken for granted, we have a classist problem.

Britain (i.e. the English authorities) populated Australia from prisons and felons. Most of the transportees (including, doubtfully, Malcolm's distant x-times uncle -- a second offender for poaching) got there on a one-way ticket.

On that basis it becomes something more than a national competition.

It becomes retribution, class-warfare, revenge.

Yet, this was a good game:
  • A moderate score on the first innings:
  • a curious collapse thereafter;
  • a decent performance in response for the third innings;
  • an honourable fourth innings against an impossible target.
Enough to fill seats for four days, though never likely to feature among the greatest games of all-time.

All that remains to be answered is whether a good leftie should be cheering for home or away. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hannan and Sorkin: arch-ideologues?

We have Dan Hannan, the Peruvian Irishman, claiming to be dictating Cameron's agenda:
What’s better than leading a political party? Getting to determine its manifesto without any of the hassle of actually, you know, leading it. I’ve observed before that, line by line, chapter by chapter, The Plan: Twelve months to renew Britain is becoming official Tory policy. My friend and co-author Douglas Carswell is miffed at the lack of acknowledgement, and you can see his point: David Cameron’s policy wallah, Steve Hilton, has cut and pasted bits of our text with neither alteration nor attribution.

Then, from way out in left field, the Pert Young Piece lobbed in a fast one.
What was George W. Bush's first substantive action as President?
Err ... The No Child Left Behind plan for wholesale education reform?
Where did the idea originate?
In the fertile mind of Aaron Sorkin, perhaps.
As is inevitable, she offered some evidence. Equally inevitably, it came from the script of The West Wing. Series One, episode Twelve, to be precise (and she always is):
TOBY: The era of big government is over.
BARTLET: You want to cut the line?
TOBY: I want to change the sentiment. We’re running away from ourselves, and I know we can scorepoints that way. I was the principle architect in that campaign strategy, right along with you, Josh. But we’re here now. Tomorrow night, we do an immense thing. We have to say what we feel. That government, no matter what its failures are in the past, and in times to come, for that matter, the government can be a place where people come together and where no one gets left behind. No one... gets left behind, an instrument of... good. [pause] I have no trouble understanding why the line tested well, Josh, but I don’t think that means we should say it. I think that means we should... change it.
No Child Left Behind was a mere squeak compared to Sorkin's notion of an all-embracing ... well, "socialism" if one must. After all, what else is a concept of egalitarian, all-embracing social involvement? In place of something that grand, Bush's proposal (which went to Congress on 23 January 2001) amounted to:
  • testing regimes in schools;
  • loosening the Federal restraints on the use of educational monies;
  • a few pilot schemes;
  • a worthwhile, if nugatory, $600 million for literacy schemes across the whole US (i.e. about $2 per capita);
  • the usual bleat on improving the quality of the teaching force.
What goes around, comes around

Neither Hannan nor Sorkin -- not Bush, nor Obama -- operate in a vacuum. They are acquiring and recycling received ideas from elsewhere. In the case of No Child Left Behind, there were obvious and acknowledged borrowings from Australia, via Britain. Equally so with the sound-bites.

Similarly, and ignobly, Hannan's Twelve months to renew Britain is a rag-bag of rightist rubbish. At one intent, it borrows from Ted Heath's Selsdon Conference of January 1970 (and look where that went). There also is infection from the ga-ga world of the UKIP Little Englanders. It lifts a catch-penny title from Tony Blair's 1997 pre-election Stockton speech. Even the cover (right) looks like something from the Ministry of Information, circa 1947.

Fortunately, Hannan's ends are impossible in any practical politics:
  • His recipe starts by the UK squelching the Human Rights Act, ditching the European Convention of Human Rights. Both achieved by diktat under the Royal Prerogative: no messy legislation or Parliamentary approval needed.
So there's a good democratic start.

Short of retrospective legislation (more good democracy!), that means, for a further decade, legal actions under the earlier dispension would have to grind their Jarndiced way through the courts of the land, on the way to the EC of HR. And, when their actions reach the EC of HR, British citizens would be seeking redress in a court where no British representation remains! Weird, that.
  • Then the UK pulls out of the European Union for all practical purposes, save as a detached trading partner and for occasional over-the-fence discussions with the lot next-door.
Of course, the others in the EU are going to accept that like true Mensches: we take what we can get; and render nothing except spittle in return.

After all, goes the Little Englander argument, Mexico has a trading arrangement with the EU, so why not a detached UK? Well, apart from the 10.9% of UK exports to Germany, the 10.4% to France, the 7.1% to Ireland , the 6.3% to the Netherlands, the 5.2% to Belgium, and the 4.5% to Spain 4.5% (2006 figures), not a lot! It might be worth recalling, though, that a substantial element there are those Japanese car-assemblies, which might be re-sited in Hungary or Poland, rather than compete across an unnecessary trade-barrier.

As a comparison, the EU imports from Mexico (beer and guano?) were worth €11.9 billion in 2007: exports were €20.9 billion. Compare that with the total value of UK Exports (2008): £234,178,000,000. Positive thinking, chaps!

Do we also close the Channel Tunnel or just have customs controls at Folkestone and Coquelles: "All out! Passports! Open your cases for inspection!" The Daily Mail and its ex-pat owner will love that. And we'd have to armour-plate 300+ miles of the land frontier with the EU, of course.

Thanks to the Pert Young Piece, Malcolm reckons he now values one aspect of Dubya way above anything yet to buzz out of the fevered bonnet of Hannan. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dr Titania and sizism

The news-day started badly, all doom and gloom, with that previous post. Can the American judicial Right be that stupid? Have these great jurists (as designated by Republican Presidents and their Congress) never heard of Frédéric Bastiat, whose maxim was that the law was not there to ordain justice, but to prevent injustice? --
Can the law -- which necessarily requires the use of force -- rationally be used for anything except protecting the rights of everyone?
Yet, in the legal murder machine of the Great State of Texas, the law goes home for R&R at 4.45 each night. Two years on, the [London] Times catches up with it.

To more cheering matters

Home again, after a day travelling out to one of the nicest country pubs he's seen in a while (of which more anon, perhaps on the other channel), and back to the New York Times for something different and uplifting. How can anyone with a soul not be grabbed by this as an opener? -- :

During my recent trip to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, I stopped for a while in front of a glass case of small mammals. I felt a pang as I looked at the “edible dormouse” — it’s got to be bad news to have “edible” as part of your name.

But the animal that really captivated me was the pygmy shrew. It was tiny! Smaller than my little finger. It weighs only a few grams (less than a quarter of an ounce), and is smaller than some insects.
Olivia Judson then proceeds to note that the tiny pygmy shrew and the blue whale (over 30m in length and well into three figures of tonnage) are both mammals. She then wonders:
While we know quite a bit about the forces that cause animals to change size, we know rather little about how an animal’s body “knows” what size it is supposed to be.
It is a nicely-written, intelligent piece. Even the subsequent 70-odd (and growing) list of comments are, on the whole, thoughtful and provocative. Sphere: Related Content
A dead cert and conservative "justice"
The Court's Duty
The Supreme Court should make clear that the Constitution prohibits the execution of death row inmates who can produce convincing evidence that they are innocent.
Addressing both sides of the argument, and using not more than one side of the page, discuss the statement above.

For more, see the source article at today's New York Times.

Ghouls, not wishing to undertake the main task, might consider, from the same source, the following:
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dismissed the idea that the courts have a duty to ensure that they are not putting an innocent man to death.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Up yours, Hannan!

Thank you, Jim Morin, of the Miami Herald, for that. Taut, pointed and excellent, as always.

There's one obvious reposte to the preposterous posturings of Daniel Hannan, MEP, now so loudly bewailing that his holiday in Dax has been interrupted, so he cannot enjoy the local feria. Of course, were one to harken to Hannan on matters europolitical, one might readily assume that the life of an MEP was one long holiday and feria.

For those denied a classical education, a feria was (and is):
A day on which the people, especially the slaves, were not obliged to work, and on which there were no court sessions.
Nice to know that, in some subconscious corner of a Hannan braincell, the world still embraces slaves and the free.

His maths aren't up to much either: he lauds the Singaporean health system (half-state, half-capitalist) because it comes in cheap. He quickly skips over one point: in Singapore only 8.3% of the population are 65+, whereas in the UK it's at the top end of the teens, and will be 20% by the end of the next decade. Ignorant comparisons are, as always, odious.

One further thought on the nauseating Hannan: does he carry a British passport? If so, why? For, it says here:
Hannan was born into an Irish family in Lima, Peru.
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Singing Dave

George Strait is not Malcolm's usual ear-fodder, but his new album, Twang, came up in passing. Steve Morse, reviewing for the Boston Globe, raspberried it. Randy Lewis for the LA Times nailed it as:
a pretty nifty summation of what commercial country is, circa 2009.
It includes a song, Arkansas Dave (a folksy old-fashioned C&W morality credited to Strait's son):
He rode up on a winter day,
Steam rising off the street, they say.
Said, "You probably know my name:
If you don't it's Arkansas Dave.

He talked of fifteen years ago,
And how he got to play hero.
Said he killed a man in Ohio:
First man he killed, first horse he stole.
Marty Robbins did this kind of thing with more style, a half century gone. Even so, when boastful Dave ends up miscalculating the odds, and dead in that same street, one suspects even more type-casting.

Totally forgettable stuff, but it provoked a thought, which threatens to venture into the territory usually occupied by one of Normblog's mini-enterprises. In honour of Diddy Dave Cameron, what other lyrics celebrate the forename of the moment?

His Name is Alive, on the King of Sweet album (if you have one, don't shout about it, but it's worth the odd bob) did two in a row: Ode on a Dave Asman and A Dave in the Life. Boomtown Rats achieved something eponymous and a bit better known (Pete Townsend rated it), as the opener for The Long Grass album
But please,
The view from on your knees
Keep going, Dave.
In the same mould we have Caffeine (UK punk-rockers, on the road less-taken -- unfairly so) doing Dave's Song (In Slow Motion):
I looked up to the sky, and I saw a figure
It was small with shiny lights;
And out of this, this little blue figure,
With the small shining lights

Stepped a little blue man,
With a little blue figure

And he said to me "Do you believe?"
Some kind of psychological profile is emerging here; and it's not flattering to Daves.

On the great Silver Screen (but more at home on off-off-peak sitting-room teevee), there was Kevin Kline's 1993 outing as Dave.

Now, in Malcolm's view, that was a more than decent movie: light, frothy, with a heart in the proper place. It included two characters with whom Malcolm could recognise:
  • the scheming, creepy, on-the-make Bob Alexander (played by Frank Langella), a model on which subsequent melodramatic villains Karl Rove and Veep Cheney were undoubtedly based,
  • the decent, honourable Vice-President Nance (a cameo for Ben Kingsley) which took a name from "Cactus Jack", FDR's first Vice-President, John Nance Garner, and an unacceptably-progressive ideology from his second, Henry Agard Wallace.
The slogan on which Dave was advertised went:
In a country where anybody can become President, anybody just did.
The US of A allows even a self-confessed "mutt, like me" to reach the highest office in the land. In the UK, of course, it helps to see a Dave through if he has royal cousinage, is descended from the mistress of a royal princeling, has a wife with connections to the Astors, and some £20 million of inheritance money.

Nor should we overlook Freeview channel 19, Dave, (a BBC/Virgin hybrid based on nth run repeats) never knowingly oversold as:
full of complete and utter wits
Read that very, very carefully. Any miscue is deliberate.
Peace! the charm's wound up.
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dancing at the crossroads

The recent post on the other channel reminds Malcolm, yet again, of Eamon de Valera and his comely maidens. Despite the protest that we've been this way before, Malcolm retreads his search for a truth.

Here's Helena Wulff giving a version in her Dancing at the crossroads: memory and mobility in Ireland:
In Jiving at the Crossroads journalist John Walters describes how Modern Ireland emerged as detached from the Past in the 1980s. Ardent advocates of Modern Ireland spoke disparagingly about de Valera's dancing-at-the-crossroads vision of a people content with hard work and simple pleasures. I was well into my research before I discovered that de Valera did not talk about "comely maidens dancing at the crossroads". The mistake has occurred partly because the version of the speech which was printed in the Irish Press diverges from what de Valera actually said. This I have been able to confirm by listening to a tape of the speech recorded at RTÉ. de Valera actuallv said "happy maidens" on air, but it as printed as "comely maidens". Nowhere does "dancing at the crossroads" appear.
Incidentally, the full title of Walter's polemic was Jiving at the Crossroads: Shock of the New in Haughey's Ireland. The second phrase, time-expired perhaps, seemed to go AWOL for subsequent editions.

Wulff's revisionism seems to let Dev off that particular hook: however fellow seekers after the unvarnished truth can find two minutes and forty-nine seconds of Dev addressing the nation on line, courtesy of RTÉ's archives. The meat of de Valera's St Patrick's Day, 1943, speech was correctly about:
The restoration of the unity of the national territory and the restoration of the national language [which] are the greatest of our uncompleted national tasks.
Much of this, including the peroration, in cúpla focail, also seems to have been lost in the translation.

Once one has turned from Dev's pulpit delivery (the echo on the recording seems quite appropriately jesuitical, too), there are one or two problems remaining.

The thunderer of Burgh Quay

When the Press Group expired in May 1995, £7 million up the Swanee, (the result of a botched trans-Atlantic stitch-up and merger deal, which went spectacularly sour), it was indeed the end of an era.

Newcomers would need reminding of how amazingly successful an operation the Press had been. The daily (200,000 copies a day) had siblings: with the Evening Press (Dubliners bought 175,000 copies) and the Sunday Press (450,000 copies a week: no trip from chapel to bar complete without it) it was a phenomenon.

The minor premiss here is that the Irish Press could conceivably, ever, have misquoted Dev. This paper was de Valera's exclusive property. It was his mouthpiece. Any Irish Press reporter covering an assignment in which Dev was involved (which means any of his public movements at all) would likely be summoned to the Great One's side. The text or statement would then be agreed before it was telegrammed to Dev's former comrade-in-arms, editor Frank Gallagher. Any amendment in what Dev should had said was no accident.

Bright with cosy homesteads
The Ireland that we dreamed of would be the home of a people who
valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people
who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the
things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with
cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the
sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest
of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides
would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short,
of a people living the life that God desires that men should
live. . . .
A utopian, even noble vision: the question must be asked -- whether Dev, or dystopian Standish O'Grady better prognosticated:
the shabby sordid republic ruled by knavish corrupt politicians and the ignorant rich.
The major premiss is that de Valera was some naïf in embracing a return to simpler, more "natural" values. Even when we discard the "dancing at the crossroads" phrase, we are left with a world-view (or rather a national view) which is so close to Daniel Corkery's sinister parochialism as to be indistinguishable.

Corkery (1878-1964) came late to academia. He published The Hidden Ireland in 1924. It was effectively his MA thesis, and spawned Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature (written 1929, but published 1931). Despite the lack of a first degree, Corkery became Professor of English at UCC: a professor of English who proved to himself that an "Anglo-Irish" writer (like, say, the vicar's son, Standish O'Grady) was an logical impossibility. And then passed that conviction on to others: thus Frank O'Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin suffered this ailment.

The good Professor, in 1931, reckoned three characteristics distinguished the Irish “national being” from those of England: nationalism, land and religion (notice that telling antithesis of "Ireland" and "England").

1916 and all that

Such religiosity, and chauvinist baggage were common currency among the macho, God-fearing post-1916 survivors, and de Valera loaded them into his 1937 Constitution. This deliberately overthrew the Free State Constitution, that derived its secular tone from the 1916 Declaration of Independence (see below).

More to the point, Article 40.1 of the 1937 Bunreacht na hÉireann was, and still remains explicitly, and double-negatively discriminatory:
All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.
This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function.
The “capacity, physical and moral, and of social function" of women was further defined (Article 41.2):
1. In particular the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives
to the State a support within the home without which the common good cannot be
2. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged
by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the
This was de Valera's future for the chapel-going, child-bearing, Irish woman in her kitchen, once she had put away her dancing-shoes.


1937 betrayed the whole tradition of equality in the Irish tradition. Without recapitulating millenia, it had been the women who carried so much of the 1916 burden: Con Markiewicz, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Maude Gonne-MacBride, Charlotte Despard, the largely-forgotten women of Cumann na mBan ...

Yet, the Declaration of Independence had been addressed to:
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
Before the ritualistic appeal to a Higher Power, it concluded:
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.

Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.
Note, if nothing else, one assertion: the univeral suffrage which would not be achieved in the UK for another decade-and-a-half. Here, though, Malcolm addresses the de Valera replacement for the vision of 1916.

In 1937 just four TDs denounced the proposed Constitution for its discrimination against women. The independent Frank MacDermott put up 42 amendments, including altering the irredentist claims to the North (which themselves greatly delighted Craigavon) and deleting the peculiar position accorded the Roman Catholic Church.

As recently as 1996 officialdom came up with reasoned recommendations to reform the chauvinism: they still lie in some dusty and neglected file.

Dance on

Dev's achievements in 1937 were:
  • keeping the Catholic hierarchy, who wanted a theocracy on the Salazar model, on side;
  • alienating women intellectuals, including his hagiographer Dorothy MacArdle;
  • ensuring that war-time Britain's factories and hospitals would be adequately staffed, and the Hammersmith Palais frequented by emigrant girls.
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Totally screwed!

In a moment of abject self-pity, reviewing the dismal "statporn" (© Iain Dale) of Malcolm Redfellow's World Service , Malcolm made an even more depressing discovery.

His top "hits" of all-time involved:and
A lexical malfunction

All those hundreds of thousands of well-honed words, dozens of thoughtful postings, the wry comments on the Not so Great and Not so Good: all wasted. The cyber-world wants only an easy laugh and a cheap thrill.

So Malcolm felt a frisson of recognition when he discovered that the iPhone dictionary is equally open to mockery:
The spirit of Thomas Bowdler lives on at Apple. The increasingly bizarre nature of the approval process for the iTunes App Store has reached new levels of eccentricity with the revelation that a dictionary app was blocked because it contained “objectionable content”.
The story is that a developer, Matchstick, submitted an application, Ninjawords, to the iTunes App Store. It was rejected because of "objectionable content".

Yeah, yeah. All the old favourites were there:
Consequently Ninjawords was forced to bowdlerise the dictionary in order to get it onto the Apple devices. The list of omitted words includes ass, snatch, pussy, cock and screw, but Apple still displays a 17+ age rating and the accompanying warning that the app may contain objectionable material.
Well, says Malcolm, I object!

It's all those niggling frustrations that the blue-noses build in.

He remembers first encountering it at Wells, from the Norfolk County Library Service. There comes a moment in a young man's life when he moves on from Biggles, crosses the aisle, and investigates the adult fiction shelves. There he found T.H.White's The Once and Future King. When Malcolm presented this to the issuing desk, he was quizzed as to its suitability, and whether his parents would approve.

The experience was, at the time, unpleasant. In retrospect, it's hard to see any objection to the book (except for White's politics). Yet it had a lasting product -- a continuing fascination for fiction in all forms. That is why, when he hears someone decrying the young modern male's distaste for reading, Malcolm suggests the quickest remedy is to ban the whole corpus of literature for a decade. Then they'll all want some.

Pursuit of the missing couplet

There was the moment, around the age of fifteen, Malcolm was preparing for GCE Eng Lit Those, of course, were the days when, as Michael Gove maintains, exams were truly testing. More to the point, the books studied were real literature: none of yer modern rubbish. From the General Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales this turned up:
For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;


Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep sholde lyve.
Today, of course, a quick flick to that hotlinked source will give the missing couplet. In those, pre-electronic days, it involved a hike to a main library or, as Malcolm did it, hoicking after school to Dawson Street, and Hodges Figgis (now a Waterstone's, by any other name, and opposite its original site), to check it out. Forbidden fruit!

And so it goes on.

Today, school networks have to be protected by all kinds of firewalls and safeguards. Since the kids are infinitely more cyber-savvy than the staff and technicians, this rarely works for long.

Such nannying has consequences. For example, it is virtually impossible, in most schools, to access Shakespeare texts. Early on in the download, the built-in Bowdler cuts in and the text cuts out. Did David Blukett know just how filthy and corrupting Romeo and Juliet is, when he approved it for Key Stage 3?

So, how can one teach technology if "screw" is verboten? Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Baaah! ... humbug!

The duties of parenthood

Malcolm evolved a number of diversions for long-distance driving with his (then, much younger) off-spring.
  • He played the famed legs game. Add up the number of legs on each pub sign to a total -- left-hand side of car versus right-hand side. So: the Bull and Butcher = 6 legs; the Carpenter's Arms = 2 legs (that's after a rules review: "It says 'arms' not legs!"). The cruncher was the Queen's Arms (see below):

So, count carefully. Eight lions and one unicorn. Nine fours are 36! Ah!, but it's the Queen's Arms, so it's necessary to add another two for 'Er Nibs! ... But you allowed the Carpenter's Arms for two! So, it's only fair ... Total score: 38! ... Game, set and match! Self-satisfied smugness on one side of the back seat; sulky silence on the other.
Don't knock it. As a piece of automotive child-care (which, after all, is the most extended father-child environment in the modern world) it worked a treat. Result: one accountant and two lawyers. However, the legs game doesn't work much south of Plymouth, or west of Anglesey.
  • Malcolm's "Mr Blob" game. Spot the most circumferentially-challenged individual, and mock him. Awards were made on a regional, national and all-time basis. This game has been subsequently ruled unacceptable under EU anti-sizist regulation.
  • The rat-wagon championship. Claim ("Bags I!") the most rusted, unroadworthy wreck observed on the journey. Points awarded for degree of oxidization, methods of disguising thereof, and -- of course -- corrosion and corrugation. Prime specimens were largely those magnificent well-rotted Citroen HY vans (see right). This activity was particularly useful while cruising along a Rue Nationale at a steady 28 mph behind such a beast. Again, points and prizes awarded on a sessional, daily and trip-wise basis. The all-time champion was recorded at the fish-market in Sète, though an even more worthy observation in Versailles had to be eliminated on the grounds of permanent immobility.
  • Despite that eight-fold discriminator put into Macbeth's mouth by Bill Shakespeare, it is a well-attested fact that all dogs, particularly those seen in France on the end of strings, can be defined (on criteria of size and hirsuteness) as one of just three types: rat, rug or demi-cheval. Precise allocation into each classification can be extended into a minor family disagreement to occupy several kilometres to the next stop.
  • Malcolm claims exclusive authorship of the food-chain invariable. This involves looking out for farm animals and, as the car sweeps passed at main-road speed, insulting them with a prognostication. So, any field of sheep must be greeted with pointed fingers and cries of "Mint sauce!" Unfortunate pigs should be saluted with "Apple sauce!" Anything resembling cattle needs "Yorkshire pud and two veg!" in a rising descant. Extra points and prizes are arbitrarily awarded as a bonus for originality and alternative thinking: hence the cry of "Bells of Saint Clement's!" in passing a flock of French ducks earned an ice-cream, or, soon after a glimpse of geese, the chant of:
Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat:
Please put a penny in the old man's hat!
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do;
If you haven't got a ha'penny, God bless you!
  • One whole journey, all six hundred miles, one thousand kilometers, from Calais to the camping grounds of Languedoc, had to be done "in character". The characters were evolved from a tape of Winnie-the-Pooh. So there was the-Lady-in-Malcolm's-Life as Kanga (straight type-casting, there), Malcolm as wise (but misguided) old Wol. One daughter pre-empted the lead-role as Winnie, and the solicitor-to-be saw herself as Eyeore. The future barrister-at-law was, of course, Baby Roo.
In the course of this trip, Malcolm (observing the slow passage of the French paysage) evolved a thesis that all human types could be defined in terms of A.A. Milne's anthropomorphism. As a notion it may not stand on a par with Freud or Jung, but at least it's as valid as those medieval "humours" which occupied elongated hours of study in Malcolm's student years.

Moreover, regarding the subsequent development of his three daughters, the self-chosen character identification was curiously psychologically-prescient.

Come to the point, Malcolm!

Well, this evening's meal involved lamb cutlets.

So, on Redfellow Hovel's dining table was a container of mint sauce. It's Tuesday, for heaven's sake!, so it's straight out of the fridge, still in the jar, onto the table. Yeah, yeah: alongside the brown sauce. So, what d'you wanna make of it? Huh?

Malcolm, reaching around the bottle of (rather nice) light ersatz-Burgundy for the jar, then noticed its USP, which his eye picked out, on a yellow roundel:
Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
The Pert Young Piece, now the Barrister-at-law (but still "Baby Roo" of two decades ago) observed this. She cast a jaundiced eye, and said:
"Why not? There's always a first time. You never would know."
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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Another way with words

Country Life, that noble glossy, is notable for its property ads.

Proof-read this one for them:
This handsome period property dates from the 18th century and has a lovely main façade. The property was formerly part of the Badminton Estate and is now situated within the village conservation area. The house has very well proportioned accommodation with three good sized reception rooms, two with terrific open fireplaces.

The kitchen/breakfast room has an AGA and a lovely Belfast stink while the ground floor also has a large reception hall, utility room, and the first floor has the master bedroom suite with bathroom and dressing room and two further double bedrooms and a family bathroom. The second floor has another bedroom suite as well as a further two bedrooms and a bathroom.
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