Thursday, July 29, 2010

The word in the street

Malcolm was scanning the Irish Times in its moment of self-congratulation: Dublin was to be the next UNESCO city of literature.

Fair enough, even if some of Eileen Battersby's claims on "literary Dubliners" pressed the limits of l'actualité:

Seamus Heaney Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. While Heaney is very much identified with his native Northern Ireland, since 1976 he has lived in Dublin ...

Her claim on Oliver Goldsmith is even more dubious, depending as it is on an undergraduate course in TCD and a statue.

Were her hand also in the accompanying editorial, it had there a surer touch:

The submission to Unesco goes straight to the point when it states that “Dublin’s chief credentials as a City of Literature lie in the historical body of work that has come from its writers over the centuries and from the equally acclaimed contemporary output of writers native to, or living within, the city’s confines”.

Sometimes out of rejection or disillusionment with the home place, but often for economic reasons, many of those same writers chose escape and exile: Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Bram Stoker, Wilde, Shaw, O’Casey, Beckett and most famously the author who declared that if the city were to vanish overnight it could be reconstructed from the pages of his quintessential Dublin novel Ulysses .

But there are others who stayed or finally settled in the city and that litany of names is equally illustrious: Mangan, Yeats, Behan, Flann O’Brien, Kinsella and Austin Clarke who, like Swift, returned after years spent in London.

As well as the writers native to the city, many others, by making it their home, have enriched its literary DNA: McGahern came from Leitrim, Kennelly from Kerry, Cronin from Wexford and Heaney from Derry.

When he once remarked that the city had its share of “assassins whose weapons are the tongue and the typewriter”, the poet Brendan Kennelly, no doubt, was in a playful mood. But the sense of Dublin as a writers’ city is all-pervading and the tradition lives on in the many contemporary novelists, poets and playwrights who today continue with the task of helping us in our self-understanding as a people. “Strumpet City” can indeed hold her head high as a city of literature.

What caught Malcolm's attention even more firmly was the list of previously-designated "cities of literature": Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Iowa City.

Edinburgh is too obvious: no explanation needed.

Melbourne? Well, UNESCO's own definition is:

... a city of extraordinary diversity in literary activity, Melbourne is a vibrant arena for the creation of literary works. The capital of the south-eastern state of Victoria and a major business centre within the Asia-Pacific region is widely acknowledged as Australia's cultural capital.

"Australia's cultural capital" My, my! Just think of the competition!

As for native Melbourne literary figures, there's obviously Germaine Greer, and Jim Morrison ... and the Dirty Digger ... and the astral Kylie ...

But Iowa City? Why?

Well, Malcolm, prepare to be amazed:

It has a strong literary history and is the home of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, whose graduates include John Irving, Flannery O'Connor, T.C. Boyle and many other prominent American authors ...

This literary heritage is also shown in the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk, a series of bronze relief panels that feature authors' words as well as attribution. The panels are visually connected by a series of general quotations about books and writing stamped into the concrete sidewalk. All 49 authors and playwrights featured in the Literary Walk have ties to Iowa.

But as the Vonnegut quotation on that Literary Walk pertinently says:

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The smallest public tart

Over on much-improved (with added oppositional zing!) Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service there is a note about the latest invention of Britain's new reforming government.

Quangos are out! They have to be trashed for Better Government!

Instead we have "Offices":
  • the Office for Budget responsibility (main function so far, covering up the gaffes in the "emergency budget");
and now the bright, shiny:
  • Office for Tax Simplification (staffed by Tory re-treads and their Big Accountancy and Tax Lawyer friends).
Those who question whether such innovations are quite so advanced, progressive and "modern" should remember that Charles Dickens, too, was disenchanted by them:
The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being
told) the most important Department under Government. No public
business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the
acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the
largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was
equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the
plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution
Office. If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered half an hour
before the lighting of the match, nobody would have been justified
in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of
boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official
memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence,
on the part of the Circumlocution Office.
That was back in 1855.

All we lack now is a public official caught with his finger in the smallest public tart.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Exit stage left, kicking himself

A Sunday exercise in Sherlockian investigation.

Suddenly Malcolm's aged and usually-reliable iBook began playing up.

For no accountable reason it was registering an endless random input, mainly commas interspersed with "r".

So, check out if the keyboard is jammed.

Since this is the original keyboard, now five years old, that would not surprise. Keyboard out, try an external keyboard. Actually, try two in succession. Same fault.

Oh dear, what used to an I/O problem.

So, let's rebuild the whole disk. Run a disk utility check; all well. Do a disk erase and reload from the Leopard master (G4s don't take MacOs 10.6 Snow Leopard). All well until the set-up screen. As soon as the first key was entered, same fault: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Umm. This looks critical.

Well, let's go through the process again, just in case.

Meanwhile, crank up the 15in G4 Powerbook (dodgy DVD and lousy battery charging: Apple say an excessively-expensive motherboard problem) inherited from the Pert Young Piece when she went MacBook.

Hell's teeth! What's this? Yes: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
Again, rip out the extended mouse and keyboard, which, self-evidently, must be the cause. Try again: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

No: this is impossible.

Ah! what's this?

The Lady in Malcolm's life had discarded her inoperative Bluetooth keyboard (an incident involving a coffee cup), and lodged it under Malcolm's desk. It must have taken a kick or whatever, and turned itself on.

Extract the batteries therefrom, kill the Bluetooth connection, ... and Robert is most definitely brother to one's parent.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rooting for answers

The rains came to London overnight, and it looks like a steamy day. Climatics didn't much concern that early-morning urban fox, sniffing the length and breadth of Malcolm's garden.

Then came a couple of questions.

One was a hang-over (nothing to do with last night's cheapo Cabernet) from yesterday's Evening Standard.

If there ever was a prime example of If it didn't exist, nobody would bother to invent it, the Standard qualifies. On the rare occasions it falls into Malcolm's lap, he can see why they give it away free. The best he can say is there's a small improvement over the days when the old comic was a lying, ranting, canting Evening Boris.

Leith it alone!

Anyway, here is Sam Leith's half-page of gossipy snippets. For no accountable reason, apart from the accompanying photograph (rather as below, left) of the fetching young lady, Malcolm's eye fell on this paragraph:
Sex, spies and red-top wars
Funny the way epithets attach themselves to characters in the news. All the stories about Cold War cutie Anna Chapman introduce her as “the redheaded spy”, as if that were the key fact about her. The New York Post quotes her hairdresser saying she's a natural brunette, anyway. And imagine how odd it would sound if we called Guy Burgess “the brown-haired spy”. But then again, I don't imagine this article will be illustrated by a photograph of Guy Burgess. Woof!
There's a "dog eat dog" element in that already (though the Standard has adopted a LibDem ochre as its masthead colour). But why whinge about the sexist description of the lady if that's precisely what Leith then sets about doing? And, quite frankly, what goes on between a woman and her hairdresser should remain in the confessional (except for a diplomatic male compliment — no matter what — when she arrives home).

The ethnic question

Then the morning news bulletin on the BBC rolling news marathon was emphatic we should know:
Ethnic minority numbers 'to rise'
Ethnic minorities are set to make up a fifth of the UK's population by 2051 - up from the current 8%, researchers predict.
That makes as much sense as declaring: 52% of the populace are female, the rest are human. Why should 92% of us, falling in the next forty years to just 80%, be denied ethnicity?

Is it coz Ah isn't black?

When Malcolm taught in tougher London schools there would be the inevitable confrontation, where a prime example of yoof would denounce Malcolm as "Whitey".

Malcolm's habitual and disarming response was to visibly shrug and say "Well, I'm more of a pale pink person, actually."

With no exception, the yoof's accompanying girl-friend, for whose benefit the confrontation had been engineered, would snigger. Result!

So, for the record, Malcolm proudly affirms his Anglo-Irish-Icenian-Parisian ethnicity! See helpful accompanying map.

As for Malcolm's grandchildren, with admixtures involving Huguenot, Brooklyn and (shudder!) Lancastrian origins, heaven help them.

Just don't deracinate us. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, July 11, 2010

William Butler Yeats: rugby fan!

That previous post, about the mysterious Mrs Lia Clarke, turned up a small gem.

Here is Georgie Yeats, wife of the Great Man, writing to the London critic Thomas MacGreevy, on 15 March 1926:
I'd been very cock-a-hoop on Saturday night that Ireland hadn't won the triple crown (football - in case you don't know the allusion - Ireland has won against England, Scotland, but they "couldn't beat little old Wales" - and W. was surprisingly annoyed about it... when I arrived on Saturday night from Gort he said.. before anything else "Well I suppose you know that Wales beat Ireland and so we haven't got the triple crown" ) Anyhow he was most abusive and as he was beeing really very cross and unpleasant coming home from the Abbey and going on like a thorough paced Irish-anti-Englishman and Mrs Lia (or is it Leah?) Clarke just in front, and she'll probably write and tell you all about it...
Ireland lost that game, at St Helens, by a goal and two tries to a goal and apenalty (8-11).

That was the first of the three horrors: Wales depriving Ireland of the Triple Crown. History would repeat itself: 1951 and 1969. However, in every cloud there is a silver lining: by the time of Georgie Yeats's letter there was a nine-week-old babe in Belfast who would, in 1948 and 1949, change the run of play: John Wilson Kyle.

Ah, cmon! Jackie Kyle! Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Notes towards ...

The not-so-good and the not-so-great, number 21: "Lia Clarke"
A long time, some eight months, since Malcolm had one of these. And this one is in need of considerable and continuing effort. This, then, is merely marking a bit of territory for further exploration.
It began with a post from Casualbets on
I'm trying to find out more about Lia Clarke, someone I hadn't heard about before today. She was born in 1889 in Drogheda - in 1901 She was in school in Waterford - I can't find her in the 1911 census. Apparently she was a playwright/author (possibly also suffragette) who married the poet Austin Clarke around 1920 - the marriage apparently lasted only ten days, but he spent a year in a mental hospital recovering from it. She later moved to Nassau Street in Dublin and wrote for the Irish Press. She may have been involved in a pro-nazi fringe group during World War 2. She died in 1943.
I'm very interested in finding out more about here, and in particular her early life and who her parents were.

Augustine Joseph Clarke

The obvious point of reference there is Austin Clarke (1896-1974), who was going to be Ireland's next great poet after Yeats. Indeed, for any Irish poet of that generation, the Yeatsian legacy was near-impossible to shrug off. One might wonder if Yeats did not inversely (ahem!) return the compliment by his selection for The Oxford Book of Modern Verse. Those 500 pages included swathes of Oliver St John Gogarty (a mate), and Lady Dorothy Wellesley (more than a lady-friend), but nary a sniff of Wilfred Owen, Hugh MacDiarmid ... or Austin Clarke.

However, back to the main event

Clarke was the archetypal admixture of brilliant student and fragile post-adolescent. This from Amy L. Friedman in The Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture (1999: the hot-link is a later updated edition), page 114:
As a middle-class Catholic the gifted Clarke studied Gaelic and English literature at University College, Dublin. His early adulthood was tumultuous; after rapidly earning his BA and MA, a year in a mental hospital after a nervous breakdown in 1919, a 10-day unconsummated marriage in 1920, and the loss of his University College lectureship in English (due to a registry office instead of church marriage), Clarke fled to England. His exile lasted 15 years while he worked as a journalist and book reviewer, with a second, contented marriage to Nora Walker. He returned to Dublin in 1937...
Therein lies much of the scandalous curiosity.

What that doesn't quite spell out amounts to:
  • the age difference between Clarke and his first wife, and what the attraction was;
  • his reluctance to consummate, which elsewhere is attributed to an ultra-Catholicism acquired from a domineering mother; and his subsequent loss of faith, which both inspired much of his later work and allowed his second marriage to work;
  • (lest Malcolm, a Trinity-man, allow us to forget) the rigid mind-set that made University College, Dublin, a far-from-free-thinking enclave of orthodoxy and reaction.
Moreover, we are still totally in the dark about Miss Comyn/Cummings, and for the rest of her life "Mrs Clarke".

What Malcolm didn't do next

He did not reach for the Dictionary of National Biography. This was because he assumed that Austin Clarke was so obviously Irish he would not qualify. He overlooked the generous, even imperialistic sweep of the DNB (and the barely-justified assertion of British nationality on those born in Ireland before 1921). This, as we shall see, was a mistake.

Instead, Malcolm pursued those clues given by, especially this cribbed from a catalogue of Whyte's the auctioneers, of Molesworth Street:
Novelist, playwright, art critic and psychic medium, Lia Clarke (1889-1943) was a woman of many parts. Born Cornelia Comyn (or Cummins) the daughter of Nicholas Comyn of Balinderry, Co. Galway, her mother’s family were Blakes from Co. Cork, from whom she inherited a private income derived from her grandfather’s business as a glass maker. She was raised in Waterford by an aunt’s family, the Jennings, but later moved to Dublin, where she became involved in literary and theosophical circles. Possibly it was her experiments in automatic writing that interested Æ, who has captured her here with an inspired yet far away expression. In 1920 she married Austin Clarke, but the marriage lasted barely a fortnight. She later settled in Nassau Street, where she wrote articles for the Irish Press. A later portrait of her, by Gaetano de Gennaro, sold through these rooms (27 May 2006, lot 135); a photograph of her appears opposite.
That "later portrait of her" (dated 1940) is shown at the head of this post. The artistic interest and merits of the pencil sketch, above, are slight: because it came from the hand of AE, George Russell, it sold for €4,800, twice the estimate.

More to the point, the provenance is The sitter's family by descent. Hmmm ...

The DNB authoritatively states ...

That DNB entry is by Mary Shine Thompson, her only contribution to the entire oeuvre. Here is the significant paragraph:
In autumn 1917 Clarke was appointed assistant lecturer in the department of English at University College, Dublin. As civil unrest intensified, his mental health deteriorated and in March 1919 his mother committed him to St Patrick's Hospital, where he was confined for over a year with severe depression and physical breakdown. Before his hospitalization he had met Cornelia Alice Mary Cummins (1889–1943), daughter of Edward Cummins, a bank manager from Drogheda, co. Louth, and his wife, formerly Winifred Blake. A well-educated older woman with a small private income who had lived abroad, Cummins established a career as a journalist who also published short stories and poor-quality verse under the pseudonym Margaret Lyster. She was considered eccentric, even mad; violently antisemitic, she harboured strong Nazi sympathies in later life. She and Clarke married secretly in a register office in Dublin on 31 December 1920, but the union was probably unconsummated and lasted less than a fortnight. About 1928 Clarke instigated unsuccessful divorce proceedings.
Hostile stuff, but then it is part of a profile of Austen Clarke.

... violently antisemitic, ... strong Nazi sympathies

Malcolm can guess where that's coming from, and leading to: that clique around Madame Maud Gonne.

Sure enough, that's where Malcolm located her in the late 1930s. On such occasions, Madame Gonne is always a good place to start: the Irish Army's highly-efficient G2 Intelligence Unit opened one of its earliest files on her.

One of Madame Gonne's Hun contacts was Oscar Pfaus, who was deputed to make contact with the IRA at the time of the 1939 "declaration of war". Pfaus was officially the Hamburg chief of the Fichte Bund (in English: "The Union for World Veracity"). In the Fichte Bund's interpretation, the world's evils, including Irish partition, were the consequence of the all-embracing Jewish conspiracy. Madame Gonne's world-view conveniently coincided.

Meanwhile Joe Fowler was operating a book-shop out of 34 Wellington Quay, from where, around August 1939, was published a small pamphlet by Lia Clarke. Gonne sent this to Pfaus, who had it translated into German and given wider distribution.

Clarke's pamphlet was nominally on behalf of "The Celtic Confederation of Occupational Guilds": this fictional "front" was presumably an attempt to be relevant to the still-fashionable vocationalism of Quadragesimo Anno of 1931. Clarke seems to gloze hard Nazism under the guise of Mussolini's corporatism and his improvisations upon Rerum Novarum. The particular contemporary relevance is the 1938 Manifesto della razza/"Charter of Race").

Clarke's argument is crude anti-semitism, deriving from a statement by a certain Mr Magee (who he?) that Irish culture, as popularly-conc
eived, was:
noting more than a pattern of Jewish and Freemason interest dressed up in green clothing.
She went on to urge support for Hitlerite Germany, not omitting the usual reference to and citation from Sir Roger Casement.

Cornelia Cummins/Lia Clarke/"Margaret Lyster" had links to the Maud Gonne set from, at least, 1917. There is, on line, The Book of Saint Ultan, produced
as charity & vanity for the new children's hospital (fewer than three dozen printed pages, and going on half the weekly wage for a working-class Dubliner). The contents page:

Which puts "Margaret Lyster" among some very distinguished company, indeed. The give-away is the name at the top of that list: Alice Stopford Green, later a pro-Treaty senator, who ran an artistic coterie out of her home, 90 St Stephen's Green (where she also sheltered the likes of Michael Collins). Another Trinity connection: R.B.McDowell, the Junior Dean, knocked off her brief biography in 1967.

Terminus ad quem?

And that, for the moment, is as far as Malcolm has gone.
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

In praise of ... Shane Ross

Double-jobbing is a hot topic both sides of the Irish border. Nobody does it as organically as Shane Ross.
He has three existences, as inextricably related as parallel lines:
  • He is a columnist for the [Irish] Independent;
  • He has twenty years experience in the Oireachtas, and continues to grace the Senate. He and David Norris are First Count shoo-ins for the Trinity College seats (and, in Malcolm's estimation, that's the most sophisticated electorate this side of Gallifrey).
  • He serves as a continuing channel between Trinity alumni, local and the vast diaspora, and the state of play in Irish politics, especially on educational topics.
The reason for Ross's elegant success is, first and foremost, an acute intellect. That is such a rare commodity among Irish politicos it deserves a statue in itself. In his case intelligence is also applied: here is a former stock-broker who has gone straight, who knows how to peel-and-chip a balance-sheet like a spud, and neatly flick out the dodgy bits.

Lining the cat-litter tray apart, Ross amounts to the near totality of reasons for buying the Indo.

What makes him indispensable reading is not merely the shrewd insights, but the verve. Put Ross on the rugby field (and Rugby School is one of his
almae matres), and he would be a cert for the Red Army at Thomond Park, not just winning handsomely, but taking apart; not playing dirty, just leaving a mark — if not flesh wounds — for future reference.

Example? Any week would suffice, but take last Sunday, putting the boot into the Dublin Airport Authority (trumpeting the third world airport's overdue, over-priced,unwanted second terminal), up before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport:
Chief executive Declan Collier strutted into the committee room with a couple of cohorts, ... [and] made a banal opening statement about the wonderful world of the DAA. Then he faced questions from Oireachtas members. Collier's replies were lifted straight out of the Alan Dukes school of arrogance. He must have been watching the chairman of Anglo's refusal to answer questions a week earlier. The two guys have plenty in common. Both are "public interest" directors of diseased banks. Declan is a state appointee to AIB. Alan is chairman of Anglo. Both are well connected and vastly overpaid. Declan nets just short of €600,000 from the two state gigs. Alan only pockets €250,000 (€100,000 as a ministerial pension and €150,000 from Anglo). Both "public interest" directors know how to brandish two fingers at the public.
A couple of years back, may thought Ross had his finest hour with FAS:
The national training and employment agency is the object of murky allegations. Inquiries are uncovering odd antics. People are asking: what does FAS do with its €20m a week? The answers are disturbing.
FAS tried to give Ross the brush-off, side-stepping his questioning. Bad mistake — Ross simply went out and got the dirt:
Luxury business-class flights for boss Rody Molloy and his wife, a €7,000 night out in a private dining room at the five-star Merrion Hotel, golfing at exclusive clubs, beauty salons and pay-per-view hotel movies are among the more extravagant costs incurred by top brass at beleaguered state job-creation outfit FAS.
Those "costs", Ross continued extended to:
a $410 bill at Solutions on West Cocoa Beach, Florida, also in August 2005. Solutions is a beauty and nail salon...

A Fas credit card was used to pay $942.53 for [DG of FAS] Rody Molloy to play a three-ball golf match at the Orlando Florida Grand Cypress Resort Golf club, described as “a golf resort more grand than you ever imagined”.
And so on, not forgetting the €6,962 dinner bill at Dublin’s five star Merrion Hotel, ... mostly featuring a cheeky little Cabernet Sauvignon at €48 a bottle.

In due course, it transpired the beauty treatment was a perk for Health Minister Mary Harney. And the good folk of the UK thought a duck-house was the nadir of sleaze.

The FAS exposé was merely the second-stage boost for hyperspatial Shane Ross.

Currently he is, in all senses, eating out on the phenomenon that is his book, The Bankers, How the Banks Brought Ireland to its Knees. They pile 'em high, and sell them as "three-for-two" in all good Irish bookshops. Ross doesn't complain: whatever he loses on the swings of discounting (and sales are going 40,000 or so), he more than gains in status as

the man who consistently gets it right.
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Friday, July 2, 2010

A sane, balanced voice

If there is, this week, one piece Malcolm wishes he had the intellect to have written, it is a piece in the Economist.

It is headed Austerity alarm, sub-titled
Both sides in the row over stimulus v austerity exaggerate, but the austerity lobby is the more dangerous.
Hunt it out.
It makes sense.
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Thursday, July 1, 2010

The vagueness of Hague

In which Malcolm considers the descent into irrelevance of a once-significant political figure.

As Malcolm considered this post, he had one ear on William Hague, doing a tour d'horizon from his new-found fief at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Malcolm's problems with Hague start and finish with two images: the toothy youthful Hague beside Thatcher (left, but only here) and any one of Steve Bell's later grotesques (right, and more accurate).

Trite tripe

The speech, it transpired, was not vintage Hague: too tightly-scripted and designed-by-committee. For, ultimately, Hague is circumscribed in three obvious ways:
  1. He has nothing new to say. UK foreign commitments have not changed significantly these last two months. The postures of the ConDems on matters transmarine differ little from their predecessors. Only yesterday, Liam Fox (the Mod getting its retaliation in first?) nailed the Union Jack firmly above the Kabul last-ditch.
  2. The autumn spending review is the trumpeting Jumbo, still constrained for the time being in the junk-cupboard.
  3. Don't mention the EU. It's all gone swimmingly for the Tories since they acquired the figleaf of coalition, as the continuing suppression of Daniel Hannan testifies. The fractious matter of Europe (the one topic guaranteed to stir trouble inside the party) demands the silence of the "p" in swimming-pool. Hague's single paragraph on the EU was sotto voce between nods to the left for Obama and to the right for Lord Salisbury.
That accepted, Hague was buffing up a decent gloss on the post-Iraqi and extended-Afghani turd.

One sure sign of a minister struggling is a heavy emphasis on the cyberspacial: sure enough, the FCO press-release is headlined: Britain's Foreign Policy in a Networked World.

Much is made about the hundred million young Pakistanis with access to mobile phones, from which they can derive opinions and views. This theme, decorated with a few gratuitous Twitter mentions (see below), suggests Hague needs to reconsider seriously any attempt to cut back on BBC overseas services and, especially, the potent BBC web-sites.

Two details from Hague went straight to the fillings in Malcolm's teeth.

Why decry the amount of trade the UK does with Ireland?

It is estimated that by 2050 emerging economies will be up to 50% larger than those of the current G7, including of course the United Kingdom. Yet the latest figures show we export more to Ireland than we do to India, China and Russia put together.

That is a totally fallacious factoid.

For a start the British and Irish markets are effectively integrated: look at the small print on your cornflakes package or toothpaste tube for evidence. When Malcolm's alter ego pays his annual MobileMe due to Apple, it is surcharged at Irish VAT rates. A large proportion of Irish imports are re-exports via Britain. The good folk of Buncrana are fated by geography to do some shopping in Derry. The Maheraveely motorist, in urgent need of a new tyre, may head for Clones.

What's this about Castlereagh?

For no obvious gain, except a rhetorical flourish, Hague trotted out this:
When Foreign Secretary Castlereagh went to the Congress of Vienna in 1814 it was the first time a British Foreign Secretary had even set foot overseas to meet any of his counterparts since 1782 when the position of Foreign Secretary was established. Today Foreign Ministers communicate through formal notes, highly frequent personal meetings, hours a day on the telephone to discuss and coordinate responses to crises, and quite a lot of us communicate by text message or in the case of the Foreign Minister of Bahrain and I, follow each other avidly on Twitter.
All that shows is an ignorance of the circumstances of the time of George III. It also ignores the scurry of delegates (foreign ministers of stature, if not in name) from London across Europe in those years. Leaving aside the facile notion that the involvement of a nominal Foreign Secretary comprehends the totality of a foreign policy, Hague might have reflected on (say) June, 1520, and The Field of Cloth of Gold. Was that not cutting-edge (if, ultimately ineffectual) foreign relations?

Anyway, consider what Oliver Cromwell's Secretary for Foreign Tongues (one John Milton, no less) might have been able to express, with or without the medium of Twitter. Hague (1 July 2010) will not endure as Long or as memorably as John Milton an Englishman His Defence of the People of England (24 February 1652). Milton's invective is more inventive, more vitriolic and more enjoyable, if nothing else.

Hmm: Milton's publsher there (see right) appreciated the organic link between Britain and its westward island: another lesson that Hague might note (though the Irish excoriators of all things Cromwellian might cavil).

A banal bottom line

After all his frotting and frothing, Hague concluding with a miserable punch-line. Pick the bones out of this, if you can find even one:
So we are now raising our sights for the longer term, looking at the promotion of British interests in the widest sense. In the coming months we will develop a national strategy for advancing our goals in the world that ties together the efforts of government, that is led by foreign policy thinking, that works through strengthened international institutions as well as reinvigorated bilateral relationships, that is consciously focused on securing our economic prosperity for the future, and that unashamedly pursues our enlightened national interest of seeking the best for our own citizens while living up to our responsibilities towards others. In short, it is a foreign policy that embraces the networked world. For seen in this light, although the next twenty years is likely to be a time of increased danger in foreign affairs, it is also a time of extraordinary opportunity for a country that sets out to make the most of the still great advantages the United Kingdom certainly possesses.
Hardly Miltonic. Where Milton present (a solecism which reminds Malcolm of a former Headteacher of Malcolm's acquaintance announcing to the full school assembly that "Beethoven is dead at the moment") he might find a Puritanical chortle as he struggled to decide which motto from Horace's Ars Poetica best summed Hague's spiel:
  • Difficile est proprie communia dicere. [It is hard to speak common truths in a way of one's own.]
  • Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio. [When I struggle to be brief, I make myself obscure]
  • Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. [The mountains labour, give birth to no more than a ludicrous mouse.]
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