Tuesday, August 30, 2005
I also recommend the lost town of Dunwich and Snape Maltings. Aldeburgh itself grew on me, but is probably not at its best over a bank holiday weekend. Let's hear it for Benjamin Britten anyway.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
It so happens that I have just read a novel which deals with this very subject: Speak for England by James Hawes. There was a good review of it in the Guardian by Alfred Hickling.
Now for the second half of my holiday...
- It is pronounced Stewkey.
- Despite the 20mph speed limit, you take your life in your hands when you walk through the village as it is on a narrow main road between high flint walls with no pavements.
- It has a fine pub - one of the few on the North Norfolk coast that has not been renamed, gutted, panelled with stripped wood and turned into a glorified restaurant to please the owners of weekend cottages.
- Above all, there is the sad story of the Rector of Stiffkey. Like Mr Gladstone he did all he could to catch fallen women, but his motives were misunderstood and he was unfrocked. He became a showman and died after being savaged in Skegness by a lion called Freddie.
Monday, August 22, 2005
That was my feeling too, but it all looks a bit tame when you read Polly Toynbee's column from last Monday. Discussing the annual debate over whether A level students can really be getting brighter year after year, she wrote:
I have to say, I was rather disappointed with some of the comments that I saw to Jonathan's post. Valiant attempts by 'Bishop Hill' to channel debate in such a way that it bore some relevance to the issues actually raised in the post were, sadly, not always successful.
The most dispiriting thing for me was that despite explicitly stating that going back 50 years to the grammar/secondary modern dichotomy was neither possible nor desirable, those who opposed the principles that Jonathan was advocating chose to attack that straw man.
I was able to do O level Latin at my comprehensive. I do not see the fact that this is now next to impossible as any sort of progress.
But loudest of all will be the gnashing of teeth from the miserable right, berating the dumbing down of standards (oh for the grand old days of Latin, Greek, beating, fagging, rugger and buggery).
This confrontation runs deep into the heart of the divide between progressive and conservative views of the world.
But more, er, fundamental here is the clear implication that if you are not in favour of the "progressive" views that Toynbee favours then you must support the buggery of small boys.
This is utterly bizarre, and makes you wonder if the Guardian reads what their star columnists write before it is published.
"What are you saying this week, Polly?"Except that this is a very common form of political journalism. You divide the world into two groups: there are sensible people like you and your readers, and there are people who hold ludicrous views. There can be no middle position.
"Well, Alan, I am saying that anyone who has doubts over whether A level candidates really get better every year must be in favour of the buggering of small boys."
Mark Steel has based a whole stand up and journalistic career on this trick. His every column or routine runs in essence: "So the Tories say X do they? I expect they say Y and Z too!" And everyone laughs.
They laugh because this technique is a form of political group grooming. It reminds you how generous and sensible you and your allies are, and how cruel and stupid your opponents are.
We need a name for it. I propose "Pollytoynbeeism" or, because it looks better, "Polytoynbeeism".
Written during a brief break in my holiday - Norfolk to Suffolk via Market Harborough.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
One lesson I have learned is that it is not a bright idea to go walking in a prime tourist area (North Norfolk) in high season without booking accommodation in advance. I like to be a free spirit when I am walkng, but you end up staying in either backpacker hostels or luxury hotels.
Still, the cost averages out over the week, so it is not a bad way of carrying on.
Profound thoughts to follow.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Saturday, August 13, 2005
A couple of years later I was more worldly, but still shocked when Donald Campbell's death was shown on the news. I can remember the jerky black and white footage of his speedboat Bluebird somersaulting and then breaking up on Consiton Water as he tried to surpass his own water speed record.
And there she lay until March 2001 when divers raised the wreck of the Bluebird from the bed of the lake. A few days later Campbell's body was also recovered, and he was eventually buried at St Andrew's, Consiton.
Bluebird is in the news again because the Heritage Lottery Fund has declined to pay out the £600,000 needed to restore her. I am not sorry. Raising the boat and Campbell's body seemed to me an extraordinary lapse of taste. It would have been far more dignified to have allowed them both to rest beneath Consiton Water.
Interestingly, the BBC suggested at the time the wreck was located that there were disagreements within the Campbell family:
The tensions within the Campbell family have long been the subject of public interest. Some people saw Donald as trying, and forever failing, to emerge from the shadow of his father Sir Malcolm Campbell. Sir Malcolm was a British hero of the 1920s and 30s, and the first man to drive a car at over 300mph.
Mr Campbell's widow Tonia Bern-Campbell is adamant that it should never be raised. She wants it left as a memorial to him.
She added: "Donald always said: 'The craft stays with the skipper'. Therefore, as we never found him and he's somewhere in that lake. I don't want it up." ...
But his daughter Gina Campbell told the BBC: "I'm glad they found it. I never, ever really believed it until now. You see the film, the photographs and you think it has happened to somebody else, but it hasn't happened to somebody else."
The tensions between them are explored in this article by David Tremayne, and were also the subject of a television play (Speed King) in 1979, with Robert Hardy playing Sir Malcolm Campbell.
Friday, August 12, 2005
In the 2000 London Mayoral candidate I contributed a diary on behalf of her cat Whittington to the website of the Liberal Democrat candidate Susan Kramer. That website is long gone, but thanks to the wonders of the Wayback Machine you can still read Whittington's Diary.
Reading it today I suspect that one of us had been at the catnip. Certainly, when it became clear that Ken Livingstone was going to walk the contest I gave my fantasy free rein.
Whittington also wrote a less successful blog during the last general election, when Susan held Richmond Park for the Liberal Democrats.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
In particular, the use of the label "middle class" to put down opposing arguments, and the bizarre construction "Islamofascism", deployed increasingly by the pro-war left in debates on Iraq.
You can read the Wikipedia article about Herbert, and there is a fuller portrait of him in Desmond MacCarthy's introduction to Herbert's Mons, ANZAC and Kut:
No one understood better the internal and external problems of the Albanians. And if it is asked what Aubrey Herbert most notably achieved during his public career, the first answer is that he contributed more than anyone to bringing into existence the modern independent state of Albania.Then, if you are really keen, you can read the whole book.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Read the full column in last Saturday's Guardian.
You may have heard about "Merlin", the specially developed bowling machine that's been sending down Warney-style leggies to the lads in their pre-match nets.
Well, it's no longer a secret that Dave Podmore is the man responsible for fine-tuning the settings, feeding the balls in, lighting its fags etc, and the results were there for all to see by five o'clock on day one.
Merlin is probably the most realistic bowling machine I've ever come across. After tinkering with it for just a few days I got it to master the zooter, the slider and the googly - it also started sending filthy texts and tried to get off with a photocopier in the office.
Monbiot sets out to prove that a liberal patriotism is unsustainable, yet he wastes a large part of the article repeating some nonsense that from the Daily Telegraph that no liberal would entertain for a moment.
He argues that:
When confronted with a conflict between the interests of your country and those of another, patriotism, by definition, demands that you choose those of your own.I am not convinced that your country's interests lie at the heart of patriotism. And even if they do, liberals and conservatives take divergent views of where those interests lie often enough for a liberal and a conservative patriotism to be very different animals.
So, though Monbiot writes:
To the extent that the invasion of Iraq motivated the terrorists, and patriotism made Britain's participation in the invasion possible, it was patriotism that got us into this mess.it is equally true to say that it was patriotism that took many people on to the streets of London to protest against the war.
As George Orwell knew, patriotism is too important to be surrendered to the Tories. Monbiot acknowledges his view, but then argues that because Orwell said this during the Second World War it applied only in wartime conditions and we can ignore it now. I find this argument very unconvincing.
He does penetrate to the heart of the subject when he writes:
I don't hate Britain, and I am not ashamed of my nationality, but I have no idea why I should love this country more than any other. There are some things I like about it and some things I don't, and the same goes for everywhere else I've visited.Patriotism is about love, and love is irrational. You do not love your partner or your children because you have been shown logically compelling reasons for doing so. You either feel that love or you do not.
He is right that love for one's country can be a destructive force and lead one to do wrong. But then so can any form of love. It is hard to see why patriotism should be seen as illegitimate purely on these grounds.
What interests me more, however, is the psychological cost of a position like Monbiot's. He writes:
To become a patriot is to lie to yourself, to tell yourself that whatever good you might perceive abroad, your own country is, on balance, better than the others. It is impossible to reconcile this with either the evidence of your own eyes or a belief in the equality of humankind.
Again this seems wrong to me: it is possible to love your country while seeing much wrong with it and accepting that they order these things better abroad.
More importantly, I suspect that there is a lot of lying to oneself amongst those who have schooled themselves not to be patriotic. They feel the stirrings of illicit love but deny that love because it makes them feel ashamed.
I am reminded of a passage by Christopher Lasch which I quoted on my anthology blog Serendib. It runs in part:
Rootless men and women take no more interest in the future than they take in the past; but instead of reminding us of the need for roots, many advocates of disarmament and environmental conservation, understandably eager to associate their cause with the survival of the planet as a whole, deplore the local associations and attachments that impede the development of a "planetary consciousness" but also make it possible for people to think constructively about the future instead of lapsing into cosmic panic and futuristic desperation.
This seems to me exactly right and neatly ties together Monbiot's dismissal of patriotism with the apocalyptic strain that has come to dominate green politics.
Just as it hard to believe someone who professes to love mankind when he shows no sign of loving any individual person, so it is hard to believe someone who says he loves the world when he shows no affection for any individual part of it.
Monday, August 08, 2005
The BBC has kindly added my posting about the 1894 London suicide bomber to its weekly review of blogs. It quotes from the posting extensively and links to it.
That's what I call value for the licence fee.
The terms "left" and "right" pervade all our discussions of politics. But do they mean anything any more? And is it really satisfactory to reduce all our political debate to these two terms?After reading Saturday's Guardian I think I see what he is getting at. A number of people were asked their views on the government's latest batch of proposed anti-terror legislation. One of them wrote as follows:
It seems to me to be dangerous because I don't know how you can draft these proposals so they don't become a threat to freedom of speech.I imagine that most people who regard themselves as left wing will agree with this analysis.
There are already perfectly acceptable laws against incitement to violence and conspiracy laws against incitement to terrorism. It is not an absence of laws that have made these things happen.
Banning political parties and classifying parties as extreme is dangerous because it must not become a weapon that a government, yet unknown, can use against people who disagree with it.
Another aspect of this is that disgusting opinions, if spoken openly, can be challenged, argued and defeated. Suppressing them by law doesn't prevent them being thought. If you are interested in tracking extremists then it would be useful to know where they are gathered.
Who does it come from? Scroll down towards the bottom of this page and you will find that it is Peter Hitchens, the Mail on Sunday columnist.
Sunday, August 07, 2005
This means that, on the definition of terrorism that the Government would like us to accept, if some public-spirited benefactor of mankind were to give Mugabe the lamppost treatment, it would be classified as an act of terrorism, just as the fall of Ceausescu would have been. And under the Tyrant Blair's new anti-terrorism measures ... it will be classed as a terrorist offence to encourage an act of terrorism. Therefore, my saying that Mugabe deserves to come to the same end as Mussolini makes me a terrorist.Reading this, I was reminded of a Commons debate in the last days of John Major's government. On 14 February 1997 the House debated a Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill. Nominally it was a private member's bill from Nigel Waterson, the Tory MP for Eastbourne, but in reality it was drafted and promoted by the home office. For that reason the home office minister Timothy Kirkhope played a prominent part in proceedings.
The point of the measure was to make it an offence in British law to conspire to break the law in another country or to incite someone else to break that law. Not surprisingly, Kirkhope was challenged over the point that once might have very good reason for conspiring in Britain against a tyrannical overseas government.
One Labour backbencher put it rather well. He challenged Kirkhope:
I am willing to accept that he did not support the African National Congress's freedom struggle - I am fairly certain that he did not - and I am even willing to accept that he did not support the Contra revolutionaries in Nicaragua, but it is stretching things a little to believe that he would not support violent criminal action to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Looking back into history, does he feel that he would have had to offer support to the French resistance, whose members were committing acts of sabotage and cutting the throats of the Nazi occupiers of France? Under the Bill, they and their supporters here in Britain would have been guilty of an offence.Kirkhope's reply was extraordinary. He did not point out that we were at war with Hitler when he was occupying France. Instead he said:
I do not support the idea of anyone using our country to incite others to commit crimes elsewhere, any more than I support the actions of Members of Parliament who suggest that others should fail to pay their poll tax or disobey the law in this country in any other way.As I said, writing about this exchange in Liberal Democrat News the following year:
The written record cannot do justice to the sheer awfulness of Kirkhope's performance. He sounded like a member of a losing school debating team whose collar had suddenly become two sizes too small for him.Kirkhope has the mind of a duck, I will grant you, but this exchange was not just about scoring debating points. It raises questions that are even more important to us today than they were when that Labour backbencher asked them.
Take Chechnya. The Russian government presents its actions there as a straightforward anti-terrorist operation, but it is by no means clear that we should see it that way. In essence it is a colonial struggle, with the Russian state trying to hang on to imperial conquests in made in the nineteenth century - the Chechens did not surrender to the Tsar until 1864.
Britain (with the odd arguable exception) gave up fighting such wars decades ago. And it is not at all clear that we should be supporting the Russians today. Is it ethical to do so, when the Russians have displayed such brutality in their actions? And is it wise, when it serves to antagonise Islam to no good end?
How did things turn out?
Waterson's bill fell despite having the support of both front benches, thanks to some procedural manoeuvering by some of the old lags on the Labour backbenches. But something very like it became law as the 1998 Terrorism and Conspiracy Act after Labour took power. That Act is the reason I was writing about this debate a year after the event, and I suspect Village Hampden will find he is already committing an offence under it.
Timothy "Mind of a Duck" Kirkhope is now is now the leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament. I hope his French colleagues appreciate his views on how we should all have responded to the German occupation of their country.
And that Labour backbencher? His name was George Galloway. You may have heard of him lately.
Liberal England lays out what’s wrong with the education system. He doesn’t quite say it but "Whadda we want? Vouchers! When do we want ’em? Now!" so I assume that by the time of the next election he’ll have changed his site name to Tory England.As I reply in the comments on his blog:
Whig England maybe, but Tory England my arse.
Friday, August 05, 2005
There was another reason for reading Greenmantle. The BBC Radio 4 was dramatising it in two parts and had aired the first when the bombs exploded on 7 July. The second part was pulled from the schedules. It was not just pulled without explanation: as far as I could tell, you would never have known from listening to the radio that the second part had been due to be broadcast at all.
Perhaps there was an announcement of some sort, because Charles Moore wrote in the Daily Telegraph (another version here if you need it) that:
A small news item this week announced that BBC Radio 4 had dropped its dramatisation of John Buchan's Greenmantle from the schedule. It contained "unsuitable and insensitive material" at this difficult time. A different reaction, you may remember, from the one the BBC displayed to another of its programmes: Jerry Springer - the Opera.Having praised the BBC for holding firm over Jerry Springer, I have to say that Moore is right to draw this parallel and that its conduct over Greenmantle was weak, wet and rather sinister.
Enlightened readers are supposed to find Buchan either funny or fascist - there is a wonderful parody of him in Alan Bennett's Forty Years On. Yet he is quite capable of surprising you with how fair and liberal his views are. You come to scoff and leave impressed.
Take this conversation between the hero Richard Hannay (you may know him from The Thirty-Nine Steps) and Sandy, a figure who owes something to T. E. Lawrence - but see here. (Bennett suggests he was known at school as "Tee Hee Lawrence" because of his high-pitched, girlish giggle.)
Sandy Arbuthnot asks:
"Dick, did you ever hear of a thing called a superman?"And just when you are ready to laugh comes:
"There was a time when the papers were full of nothing else," I answered. "I gathered it was invented by a sportsman called Nietzsche."
"Maybe," said Sandy. "Old Nietzsche has been blamed for a great deal of rubbish he would have died rather than acknowledge."For one of the remarkable things about Greenmantle is its fairness to the Germans. Early in the book Hannay is being hunted in Germany and takes refuge in the cottage in the forest. The occupants are a mother and three children: the man of the house is away fighting the Russians.
Narrating this almost idyllic episode, Hannay says:
That night I realised the crazy folly of war. When I saw the splintered shell of Ypres and heard the hideous tales of German doings, I used to want to see the whole land of the Boche given up to fire and sword I thought we could never end the war properly without giving the huns some of their own medicine. But that woodcutter's cottage cured me of such nightmares. I was for punishing the guilty but letting the innocent go free. It was our business to thank God and keep our hands clean from the ugly blunders to which Germany's madness had driven her. What good would it do Christian folk to burn poor little huts like this and leave children's bodies by the wayside? To be able to laugh and to be merciful are the only things that make man better than the beasts.It happens that the mirror image of this incident can be found in the children's adventure story Not Scarlet But Gold by Malcolm Saville. A Shropshire woman recalls giving a German spy shelter in her cottage during the Second World War. A reminder of how strongly Buchan influenced this school of writing.
If Buchan is fairer to Germans (and German philosophers) than one would expect, what of his attitude to Islam?
I cannot find the passage I want, but Charles Moore quotes it for me:
One message of the book is the importance of understanding cultures different from our own. This produces a sympathy with Islam. Sandy, who knows "something of the soul of the East", explains that: "The Turk and the Arab came out of big spaces, and they have the desire of them in their bones. They settle down and stagnate, and by and by they degenerate into that appalling subtlety which is their ruling passion gone crooked. "
And then comes a new revelation and a great simplifying. They want to live face to face with God without a screen of ritual and images and priestcraft ... It isn't inhuman. It's the humanity of one part of the human race.
"The problem comes, Buchan/Arbuthnot says, when this longing for purity is perverted. The "simplicity of the ascetic" is usurped by "the simplicity of the madman that grinds down all the contrivances of civilisation". The danger comes when "you can get the same language to cover both". Isn't that quite a good way of encapsulating our problem today?
Thursday, August 04, 2005
The Politics of Fear
(Continuum Press: September 15 2005)
The terms "left" and "right" pervade all our discussions of politics. But do they mean anything any more? And is it really satisfactory to reduce all our political debate to these two terms? This book shows how contemporary and recent developments, including the Cold War, the Culture Wars and Third Way-type managerialism, have created the need for a new conception of politics with an adequate conception of humanity - one that "remoralises" politics by taking humans seriously, recognises the centrality of morality and discussions of right and wrong, and utilises our imaginations. The book proposes a new, and inevitably controversial, humanist politics to escape the trap of 20th century political ideology.
dip into England and begin to uncover some of its natural and cultural richness ... You will find people, customs, landscapes, buildings, foods and festivals, some of which are unique, some shared, many with universal resonances, celebrating the seasons and the cycle of life and work.It is compiled by the charity Common Ground, which exists to encourage local distinctiveness. The concept is explained in this article on its website.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
For my 25p I got a leading article on the front page (which seemed terribly grown up), James Fenton's witty political commentary on page 2 and a Garland cartoon on page 3. Though I was pretty sure by then that I was a liberal and not a socialist, there was an awful lot to enjoy in the Statesman.
On of the more recherché pleasures, to be found near the back of the magazine, was Arthur Marshall's column "Musings from Myrtlebank". That its gentle outlook on life and tortured syntax could flourish in a left-wing political magazine was a tribute to the liberal editorship of Anthony Howard. I presume Marshall was shot by militant lesbians shortly after Bruce Page took over and ruined everything.
Earlier this year I bought a second-hand copy of the Penguin Book of Columnists in a bookshop in Ballater. I was pleased to see that Marshall was represented by two of his Myrtlebank columns.
In one of them (attributed to a collection of his writing from 1981, though it must have run in the Statesman a few years earlier) he recalls his days at public school. He writes that his housemaster would treat his charges "at pleasantly recurring intervals to sensational moral lectures of a prolonged and fascinating lectures".
Marshall goes on:
We found them totally electrifying for he was a brilliant speaker, had obviously conscientiously prepared his material, and was quite unaware, that to young people, he was a hilarious figure. Every so often after evening prayers he would stand up and speaking without notes, let fly.I was particularly pleased to find this column because I recalled that when the column originally appeared what was printed was not "cackled ourselves into the Land of Nod" but "tackled ourselves into the Land of Nod". I also recalled Marshall rather pained correction the following week.
As a new boy, I couldn't always understand why he was so concerned and what had gone wrong. Had somebody, perhaps, said "Drat" or been rude to Matron or left some gristle or smiled at a boy older or younger (you couldn't smile at a boy in another house at all, and, as I was by nature an inane smiler, I was at constant risk)?
But at time went on I began to get the hang of the affair and the gist of the matter and hung upon the housemaster's words, later in the day to be so splendidly mimicked by wags as we disrobed, shrieking, for bed, and cackled ourselves into the Land of Nod.
All this seems to good to be true, but a few years ago I was in Leicester University Library having a nostalgic flick through some bound volumes of the New Statesman from the period. While I was absent-mindedly copying some of James Fenton's best lines into my notebook, I came across this very Arthur Marshall column.
And my memory was right. It really did happen.
Monday, August 01, 2005
On Thursday week (11 August) BBC4 is showing a documentary based on the book. How can you resist this billing?
The film studios of London are awash with cocaine-fuelled sex, extortion, suicides, and bizarre accidental deaths - not to mention the behind-the-scenes dramas that don't make it into the Sunday papers. It's the 1930s; the British talkie has just been born.The BBC website also carries an interview with Matthew Sweet.