Tuesday, June 02, 2009

On 'tea and muffin dyspepsia' and 'heroic doses of being left alone'

Something from the research pile, this time, for a change, something actually related to a project I'm working on...

The following editorial (of which I re-print about the first half, after which it goes into some rather culturally-specific stuff about betting) gives voice to a common set of complaints about over-interference by the state and police in the late 1920s.

As an added bonus, it combines this with a swipe at the rich and at Parliament for sticking it to the common man while living it up themselves.

The more things change...

Violent Tugs at the Apron Strings

Public Calls for “Heroic Doses” of Being Left Alone

Because some people have apoplexy after recklessly stuffing themselves with hot buttered muffins swilled down with tea in toxic quantities, we do not, at present, legislate as to the quantities of those accessories to the really pious life that may be consumed at one sitting.

It is condoned by super-moral political people because tea and muffin dyspepsia and apoplexy are not connected with that perishing word ‘drink.’

Nor do we legislate—and jaw with shocky-shocky faces—after debates interspersed with murmured moans of approval, against the respectable habit of a flutter in Futures or speculating in margins on the Stock Exchange. Bishops and Baptists, Brewers and Milk and Soda Dealers, and even Parliamentary pietists have been known to practise that enticing game!


You have to have ‘a bit’ to enable you to do it. That makes it non-wicked. It is not ‘gaming’: it is not ‘betting’; it is not—oh, dear, No!—it is not participating in the Lottery!

Therefore, it is not to be condemned and must not be stopped by Act of Parliament drafted by deeply sly Puritans and ‘amended’ by them in Committee with the view afterwards of applying it to cases to which it was never intended to apply.

Almost at every turn to-day the people are met in their desire for fun and amusement with some Act, Order or Regulation of the Verboten or “Defense de...” kind, and just as their ‘faces want to smile’ they can’t let ‘em. Into the dock they must go. Soon, in Britain, Trappist monks will be the only people who have not been before the Bench, and they may have to go also if they don’t get certificates with their seed potatoes.

I suppose there always will have to be some laws that harrow our bodies, but it is time that Parliament and Parish Constables gave our souls a rest.

We need most sorely and most bitterly what the doctors call ‘heroic doses’ of being left alone.

(T.A. Hannam, World’s Pictorial News, 16 December 1928, p. 4.)

Quite apart from the subject matter, I am often struck by the style of writing that was common in newspapers from the 1920s. Often a bit over the top, there are times when it is remarkably euphonious, even poetic.

Keep in mind, this was the World's Pictorial News, which--as it described itself to potential advertisers--was aimed at 'artisans, skilled and agricultural labourers, and their respective families'. (It promoted itself in this context as 'the paper that’s published on pay-day'.)

So, we're firmly in working-class tabloid country here.

But its writing (if not always its opinions) compares very favourably with today's Sun or Mail.

Just re-read those first few paragraphs...

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