Monday, May 31, 2010

Street-fighting men

Here's something I just ran across: a photograph of an apparent battle between police and demonstrators against the introduction of the means test in Bristol in 1932.

Click for a larger version, where all kinds of interesting details become apparent.

This, and a number of other interesting photos, available at the Mirrorpix blog, which sadly seems to have gone a bit quiet.

(This reminds me of a rather different--though equally interesting--street scene that I referred to last year: a police film of street betters in Chesterfield in 1935. See a fascinating episode from the birth of the surveillance state!)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Vox populi

I'd sort of lost touch with the Orwell diaries blog (which tracks George Orwell's diary from seventy years ago, day by day), since, well, the guy did have a thing for the minutiae of his garden.

Exhibit A, the last entry before the most recent one:

I think a little rain in the night. All day overcast, with sometimes fine mist almost amounting to rain, but not exactly cold. Mended the fence, which cannot be done completely as there are not enough stakes. Planted out 1 doz. largish lettuces got from T. (2d dozen). Uncovered the little ones. Let the tadpoles go, as not certain how many days I shall be away. Gave the grass a quick cut. Leeks are just showing. Some apple blossom showing in some gardens. Find it is held locally that there is always a frost at the full moon (ie. in May) & people sow their runners with reference to this.

15 eggs.

Don't get me wrong: this is all interesting in many ways, and I can see why one might want to keep such information for posterity. And, indeed, it provides a fascinating insight into the more everyday interests of someone we tend to associate with mere Big Ideas.

And I feel a special sympathy for this kind of thing at a time when the world outside the pages of the diary in question are falling apart.

I have a very fond memory (and a video somewhere) of my mother reading through her own wartime diary for 6 June 1944 (at which time she was 17 years old and living in Newton Abbot, near Britain's south coast, an area that had until that day been swarming with American soldiers--among them the man who would later become her husband).

Her entry for that fateful day went, as I recall, something like this:

Washed hair. Bought a new dress. The invasion has begun.

In that order. I mean: priorities are, I suppose, priorities.

So I can see where Orwell was coming from with his tadpole, lettuce, leek and bean fixation.

But, you know, day after day, it becomes a bit...wearing.

So, it was a pleasure to find the most recent entry beginning to have a bit of action and an insight into history in the wider sense as it was lived (the spring of 1940 being one with, you know, rather a lot going on beyond the garden wall).

Such as:

This is the first day on which newspaper posters are definitely discontinued… Half of the front page of the early Star[1] devoted to news of the Belgian surrender, the other half to news to the effect that the Belgians are holding out and the King is with them. This is presumably due to paper shortage. Nevertheless of the early Star’s eight pages, six are devoted to racing.


People talk a little more of the war, but very little. As always hitherto, it is impossible to overhear any comments on it in the pubs, etc. Last night, E.[3] and I went to the pub to hear the 9 o’c news. The barmaid was not going to have it on if we had not asked her, and to all appearances nobody listened.

Indeed. I tend to think that if D-Day happened tomorrow, the following day's edition of the Sun would still feature a topless page 3 girl being quoted as saying how exciting she finds a day at the beaches.

It's that kind of country world.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Only connect

No, I really don't want Lena "perfectly capable of producing at least seventeen disturbing pseudo-English accents" Meyer-Landrut to win in Oslo. But her irritating (but, alas, ubiquitous) little tune contains the vaguely unidiomatic line "I'm in an orbit all the way around you."

This provides a nice little segue into a far better piece of music:

Josh Ritter, "Orbital"

Apologies for the erratic sound quality.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Random cinematic associations

Compare this:

Richard Attenborough, Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)

with this:

Kenneth Branagh, Henry V (1989)

It's Attenborough 1 - Branagh 0, if you ask me. Every time. Hands down.

UPDATE: Oh, I forgot to add the eternal chine-spiller. Spine-chiller, that is.

A 'sporting parson' on good clean swearing and believing absolutely in the modern girl

Something found recently:




‘“Damn” and when to use it’ was discussed last night by Canon Ellis N. Gowing, the sporting parson of Southend, with an interviewer.

The Canon, who was dressed in flannels and blue and gold blazer, after a strenuous game of tennis, is an athletic, dark-haired, sunburnt man with a merry smile.

At a meeting of the Southend and District Referees’ Association he was reported to have said that ‘a good healthy “damn” is much better than a continuing grumble.’

Here are his views on swearing:--

  • All filthy language is to be deplored. ‘Damn’ is a clean word and a great relief.
  • Our language to-day is remarkably good.
  • The modern girl seldom swears.
  • Bad language is the result of a limited vocabulary.


‘If there is a healthy swear word it is certainly “damn,”’ said the Canon. ‘There is nothing unclean about it, and it is a favourite English word.

‘I think the language of England, as a whole, is remarkably good. On my holidays I always travel in mufti, and no one knows I am a parson.

‘I mix with people in various walks life, and it is very seldom that I hear anything to which exception can be taken.

‘At the present time our language is particularly clean. I do not think women swear more than they used to, now that they got to business and have greater freedom.

‘Perhaps some will say “damn” whereas before the war they would not have done so, I but I have never come across girls using bad language, and I have refereed at hockey matches for them and seen them get very hard knocks.

‘I believe absolutely in the modern girl, and I do not think her freedom has had a bad effect. There are, of course, extremists, but they are few and far between. Her enthusiasm is one of the finest things that could happen to her,’ said the Canon.


‘I always deprecate filthy language in any shape or form, and if a man wants to express himself forcibly it is far better to use a clean word than an unclean one.

‘Largely the reason why men swear is because of their limited vocabulary. Instead of saying a thing is a tremendously big job, they say it is a “damn big job.” There is no sense in educated people swearing.

‘I want football to be a game which women can watch. Football has reached a high standard, and we want to maintain that standard.

‘Every year at my church we have special football services, and the Southend United always attend.’

Canon Gowing is an old Rugby and Association player.

Reynolds's Illustrated News, 16 Sept 1928, p. 13.

Canon Gowing was also the author of The Story of Prittlewell Church and John Edwin Watts-Ditchfield First Bishop Of Chelmsford, but, not having a copy to hand, I can't say how often the word 'damn' appears in either of them.

In any case, wishing you all (and perhaps especially any modern girls in the audience) a damn fine day.

Monday, May 17, 2010

If you listen to fools, the mob rules

I'm sitting in a living room in north London watching telly, and Sky News tells me that Ronnie James Dio is no more.

That's saddening.

Even as a (relatively) old man, he rocked more than most:

And he had a refreshing sense of humour about it all.


(Also: Long Live Rock and Roll, Heaven and Hell, Neon Knights, Holy Diver and Caught in the Middle.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When chancellors and fishmongers collide

Something encountered whilst looking for something else:

Mr. Churchill Sued

Reading Official Papers When Car Collided.

Having given evidence in the King’s Bench Division in defence of an action arising out of a motor-car accident, Mr. Winston Churchill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had the satisfaction of hearing the jury return a verdict in his favour. The case, it transpired, was defended by an insurance company, and later in the day Mr. Churchill intimated to their solicitor that he was unwilling that plaintiff should suffer out-of-pocket loss for an accident in which he was concerned, and he was ready to make an ex-gratia payment to him of £25, provided it could be arranged that he received the money himself.

The action was brought by Mr. Arthur B. Crew, fishmonger, of Biggin Hill, who alleged that there was negligence on the part of Mr. Churchill’s chauffeur, which resulted in a collision between his car and plaintiff’s van. The accident occurred on the Chancellor’s journey to London from his house near Westerham, and it was contended on behalf of Mr. Crew that Mr. Churchill’s car was travelling at a great speed. Mr. Crew had two ribs broken, an ear split, and an arm badly bruised.

Mr. Churchill, in the witness-box, observed that just before the accident he was reading official papers from his document box, which was open beside him. Two maidservants sat in the front by the side of the chauffeur, and a plainclothes officer was in the closed part with him. He noticed nothing unusual about the pace of the car, and certainly would have noticed if the car was going at a tremendous speed, as suggested. He did notice that the brakes were violently applied, but when the cars collided there was no violent impact. He was not thrown out of his seat or propelled forward in any way.

Mr. Roland Oliver, K.C., cross-examining:

Do you make a habit of allowing yourself a certain time to get from your home to Downing-street?— Yes.

How much do you allow?—About one hour and 10 minutes.

Do you sometimes do it in less?—Yes. It depends on the state of the traffic.

Sir Patrick Hastings, K.C., the defence, pointed out that the distance of the run was 23 miles. The jury returned a verdict for Mr. Churchill, and Mr. Justice Horridge directed that a sum of money paid into court should be handed Mr. Crew.

News of the World, 27 March 1927, p. 5

One wonders whether more attention should perhaps have been given to any possible role in the accident played by the 'two maidservants' sitting next to the chauffeur.

But if nothing else, I've been pleased to have another opportunity to use the word 'fishmonger'.

(The historical bycatch series.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

'Ee's fantastick

I only realised just now that the actor Robin Davies has died, apparently already in February. He played "Carrot" in Catweazle, which I loved as a child. Unfortunately no videos on Youtube, so you have to rely on your memories.

Instead, I give you Beverly. This association was triggered by a Demis Roussos CD that I saw in the supermarket today. Apparently he is still around.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ersatz post

I had intended to post some videos, but the internet didn't yield any satisfactory results. Of "I take to you" by the Noble Sissle Society Orchestra feat. Lena Horne (R.I.P) there appears to exist no footage (which is a pity, because it is one of the most exhilarating songs I know). "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd can only be found in live gerontoversions.

Instead, I post some intellectual fodder by W. J. T. Mitchell, which is balm to my currently hypersensitive nerves:

The pluralist is quite happy to have his convictions exposed as dogmas so long as those dogmas are regarded as axioms of ethical and political idealism, so long as they are keept at a discreet distance from questions of power and real social relations, The moment it is suggested, however, that the pluralists' de jure tolerance for multiple truths is actually a way of rationalizing de facto domination and intolerance, the moment pluralism is exposed, as Herbert Marcuse put it, as a strategy of "repressive toleratoin," then the pluralists' happiness vanishes. The very idea that the dogmas of liberal toleration could ever be a cover for tyranny seems to great a paradox to contemplate; it could only be the strategy of a Machiavellian hypocrite, concealing his greed for power behind a mask of benevolence.
"Pluralism as Dogmatism", Critical Inquiry 12.3 (1986), 499

And Mitchell concludes: "What we need to show are the strategies by which the pluralist fools himself into thinking that his heart is pure, his principles uncorrupted by power relations" (499).

Which all reminds me a bit of Tony Judt's spot-on disassembly of the myth of Louis Althusser in an essay from which I can't quote right now cause John has taken the book to Albion.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

I assassin down the avenue

To be honest, I've been more into heavy metal than anything else recently.

However, the mass of Chicago-ness in the following (a cover of Wilco's 'I Am Trying to Break Your Heart') is somehow irresistible.

J.C. Brooks & the Uptown Sound, 'I Am Trying to Break Your Heart'.

The more subdued, and very lovely, original, filmed on streets I know very well.

Two sides of a city that is, somehow, part of me.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

British election results

'The eyes of Caligula...'

History might not repeat itself, but it might rhyme:
While I'm appalled at the idea suggested by the Sun that electing a posh white boy to the PMship is somehow equivalent to electing a black man to the presidency of the US, I do find the parallels in these images somehow more important.

Do all key Conservatives have such droopy eyes?

Well, with the return of Conservative dominance and judging by the 1980s, the 2011s should be a great era for British music...


(Source; Title reference)

Notes from the Westminster village fair

Count on the wandering Dutchman to bring some joy into these dour proceedings:

Watching the debates in the UK they had the feel of a village fair with commoners asking direct questions of villages grandees uhming and ahming while showing understanding why Mr Porter’s apple tree should be chopped because Mrs Stewart’s vegetable garden next door was not getting enough sunshine.

[...] Needless to say, none of them [i.e., Gordon, Nick or Dave] would stand a chance of becoming chancellor of Germany. In fact, none of them would even be allowed to rent a flat in Germany: separating garbage into black, green and blue wheelie-bins is a criterion for entering Germany. Why else do you think eastern Europeans steal jobs in the UK and not Germany? There is a reason why shops are closed on Sundays here and you’re not allowed to dispense your bottles at the bottle bank at noon. Annoying little rules are far more effective than the most gruelling citizenship exams (which is why the German one is a joke, if you’re that desperate, they will have you).

On that last point, reader, I can only concur.

A bit black over Bill's mother's

I am, I freely admit, perhaps the last person whose political instincts you should trust.

When I became a German citizen last year, it was just in time to vote in the September federal elections. Given my political leanings, I had two options: the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens.

(I must say in passing that I feel fortunate, as there are two mainstream parties in this country that -- despite various frustrations and discontents with each of them -- I can vote for, with at least some degree of conviction and enthusiasm.)

Anyway, I was, in the end, convinced to give both my votes to the SPD because: 1) I thought they hadn't done nearly as bad a job of governing as the general opinion held (so, they had my sympathies) 2) I wanted to ensure that the Liberals (FDP) didn't make into government 3) I sought to strengthen the SPD against the competition they were facing from further left (Die Linke) and 4) I felt satisfaction in voting -- for the first time in my life -- for a genuinely social democratic party with a tradition reaching back into the nineteenth century whose history, all-in-all, I think holds up quite well.

The result of that election: the SPD had its lowest vote ever in a federal election and the FDP and Die Linke had their highest.

I am truly someone with his finger on the pulse of German political opinion.

Still, in retrospect I feel a certain sense of vindication, partly since the government that did come into power has, largely because of the FDP, become a bit of a (bad) joke. But it is also partly down to the (perhaps sentimental) feeling of having 'voted my conscience', since, to be honest, I hadn't really studied the pros and cons of any major party's policies on pensions or health insurance reform.

These somewhat random thoughts are inspired by another election, one taking place today across the sleeve.

My connection to the British political world is, in one sense, rather abstract, since I don't live there but merely work there. (And, as things are looking, this connection may soon become more abstract still.)

Nonetheless, I've been paying attention to this short but intense campaign (the one main virtue of British elections is that they are mercifully brief): this has partly been because of getting swept up in the issue 'on location' from my various regular haunts in London and partly out of the usual mixture of personal and professional motivations that keep my attention glued to that oddly compelling little North Sea archipelago.

(Moreover as someone who -- in a former job -- sought vainly to explain to German law students the intricacies of the 'unwritten' (or, more precisely, partly-written) British constitution, I'm as fascinated as anyone to see how it holds up if it should come to that situation described by the wonderful phrase 'a hung parliament'.)

And I've also been paying attention to the opinions of friends and of the fellow bloggers I regularly read on the election.

It's a bit of a mixed bag.

I've found that one (somewhat older) friend in London will be voting Tory for the first time in his life as a result of a fairly unhinged rage at New Labour that, to be honest, I find a bit hard to comprehend (not the anger, but rather the intensity and consequences). I've heard a couple of others say that they're leaning toward the Liberals now that it looks like that vote won't be a complete waste. Norm is supporting Labour, on the basis of social justice. Ken McLeod sides with Labour as 'Labour is still the only party that the British working class has come up with.' Geoff thinks the Liberal Democrats deserve a chance. Francis offers some thoughtful and personal perspective the issue and urges, with the aim of electoral reform, a strong vote for the Lib Dems.

It is that issue (along with their, by British standards, remarkably unconstipated view of 'Europe') that, in my view, makes the Lib Dems certainly appealing.


At a conference in Belgium recently, a conversation with a dear friend and colleague turned to politics. Somewhat wearily, he admitted that his political commitments had cooled somewhat over the years. If I recall correctly, he said he had essentially boiled them down to the relatively straightforward principle that he will vote for that party which will likely, however slightly, move Britain's level of inequality closer to that of Sweden and further away from that of Brazil.

I've been thinking about this ever since, in the context of considering my own declining political expectations, and I find this a perfectly sensible position. It (along with my irrational and sentimental attachment to family history) tends to move my support, however virtual, slightly toward Labour.

But I think that Francis may have it right when he concludes:

I have every confidence that the people of Britain will following this general election get the government they deserve. And it will at best be mediocre.

It's a very gloomy day here on our bit of the Rhine. I hope it's a bit more cheerful on the Thames, Mersey, Humber and Tyne (and wherever else) for those of you off to the polling stations.

Given the problems we (as in we Europeans and human beings) face, I think we're going to need all the cheering up we can find.

(Title reference)

[UPDATE] It seems I may have somewhat misrepresented Francis's argument. Which he explains clearly here.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Swingometre Stops Here

I do love that headline - it's so 1951:

It was probably concocted by Cameron's spindoctor creative advisor Philip Blond, who also came up with the following lines:

Cameron is crafting a politics of meaning that speaks to something more wanted and more needed than welfarism or speculative enrichment: it is the common project that the state has destroyed - nothing less than the recovery of the society we have lost and the creation of the society that we want.

Poetry, pure poetry. And heroic, too. Not since The Fairie Queene has there been such stirring eulogising. The Goliath of the nanny state vs heroic S. David à Cameron: The Redcrosse Friend of the daffodil, the robin and the motorist.

Or is it more: "I am David, Friend of the Motorist!" along the lines of the following: