Thursday, 14 February 2019

Where Are the Bolshies Now?

I was amused – well, appalled and aghast, but also amused (what can you do?) – to come across this story of ideologically inspired truancy in the Highlands. At least this girl is meeting with official disapproval for her actions, but elsewhere, I gather, some 'teachers' are actively encouraging their charges to walk out and protest against 'climate change' tomorrow.
  Clearly, now that 'the science is fixed', the CACC (catastrophic anthropogenic climate change) model is firmly entrenched as unquestionable dogma in our schools. Children are being taught this kind of thing as fact, rather than given the knowledge and intellectual tools to question it – or any other dogma. I'd like to think there are still bolshie little buggers in our schools who will miss no opportunity to question what the beaks are telling them (rather like Master Nige in his schooldays), but we hear and see nothing of them. Has the brainwashing really been that successful? I devoutly hope not.
 I'm always impressed by how little our children seem to be taught in school, compared to how it used to be, back in the day when an 11-year-old fresh from primary school knew about as much (in general terms) as today's average undergraduate – and compared to how it is in other countries. The worst effect of this is not so much the lack of knowledge as such, but the fact that this unconscious ignorance leaves children unequipped to argue, inquire and criticise – so they are, alas, wide open to whatever dogma happens to be fashionable.
 Never mind. We're enjoying a spell of wonderfully springlike weather just now (argh – global warming!) and yesterday I saw my first butterfly of the year. It was a Red Admiral, flying strongly southwards along a main road in Cheam. Last year, I didn't see a Red Admiral till mid-June. Every year is different – indeed, at this time last year, a bitter winter was still ahead of us...

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Noggings, Dwangs, Shims and Fake Spots

There was talk of noggings on Grand Designs last night. It was a repeat, of course, and I was rather more than half-watching it because it was a rare departure from the usual egotist-builds-big-glass-house formula (it was the one in which a group of likeminded and impoverished families self-build wooden houses and create a thriving little community). Anyway, the noggings came in when they were assembling the wooden frames. Kevin McCloud (looking very young) talked airily of putting in some noggings. Noggings – also known as dwangs – are small bits of wood used as bracing pieces between the studs or larger members, giving rigidity to the structure. This rang a faint bell – isn't there something similar in a Kay Ryan poem? Not a nogging, but another kind of small filling-in piece, a wedge or fillet, completing a structure... What was the word?
The word was shim, and the poem was this one, Fake Spots

Like air
in rock, fake 
spots got here
really far back.
Everything is
part caulk. 
Some apartments
in apartment blocks
are blanks;
some steeples
are shims. Also
in people: parts
are wedges: and, 
to the parts they keep
apart, precious.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Pictures from Mercia

Yes, I've been on my travels again. This is the 'Breedon Angel', an Anglo-Saxon carving – one of many – from the extraordinary church of Ss Mary and Hardulph, Breedon-on-the-Hill. This tall but oddly truncated building – the surviving chancel and crossing tower of something much bigger – stands high on a sudden, dramatic bluff, visible for miles around on the Leicestershire side of the Derby-Leicester border.
  As well as its rich array of Saxon carvings, the church has a grand collection of (mostly Elizabethan) monuments to members of the Shirley family. This is a view of part of a massive two-storey monument to various of them.
Beneath the kneeling figures, praying under decorative arches, lies something very different – a memento mori in the stark form of a skeleton. This one is clearly not based on close anatomical observation, but it is no less effective for that. 
A very much more naturalistic skeleton lies behind and slightly above a shrouded cadaver in the extraordinary monument – simultaneously grand and gruesome – in St Peter, Edensor (Derbyshire), to the brothers William and Henry Cavendish, who died in 1625 and 1616 respectively. The skeleton, dimly visible in the shadows here, represents Henry, the cadaver William.
These figures sit (or rather lie) very oddly in a vast monument that is otherwise all lofty Renaissance grandeur, a work at the cutting edge of monumental fashion. Here's a better view of Henry...
And here's a general view of the whole darned thing, which covers an entire wall and reaches up to the roof.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Liberals Old and New

'Liberal' is a term much bandied about in what passes for political discourse these days. Especially in America, it has become a term of abuse in conservative circles, its perceived meaning encompassing globalism, diversity, multiculturalism, enforced and selective toleration, enmity to free expression, devaluation of family and traditional ties, and an all-encompassing approach that can look worryingly close to an enforced elite monoculture (what's not to hate?). Oddly, this form of liberalism can be the very opposite of what is sometimes called 'classical' liberalism, the Enlightenment-based liberalism that emphasises freedom and equality under the law, and has little or no kinship with the more regrettable aspects of the new elite liberalism (aspects of which have been characterised by John Gray as 'ultra-liberalism', liberalism that has overshot its sensible objectives and become something else altogether).
  There was a time when 'liberal' carried a sweeter and more idealistic connotation, and could describe followers of William Morris, living simple, creative lives, surrounding themselves with beautiful, hand-made things, making music, and believing that a better world was possible if more people lived like them and turned their backs on the destructive mechanical age that was all around them. A few such people were hanging on, marooned in a changed world, in the early 1950s, when John Betjeman wrote his touching poem, The Old Liberals...

Pale green of the English Hymnal! Yattendon hymns
 Played on the hautbois by a lady dress’d in blue
 Her white-hair'd father accompanying her thereto
On tenor or bass-recorder. Daylight swims
 On sectional bookcase, delicate cup and plate
 And William de Morgan tiles around the grate
And many the silver birches the pearly light shines through.

I think such a running together of woodwind sound,
 Such painstaking piping high on a Berkshlre hill,
 Is sad as an English autumn heavy and still,
Sad as a country silence, tractor-drowned;
For deep in the hearts of the man and the woman playing
 The rose of a world that was not has withered away.
Where are the wains with garlanded swathes a-swaying ?
Where are the swains to wend through the lanes a-maying?
 Where are the blithe and jocund to ted the hay?
 Where are the free folk of England? Where are they?

Ask of the Abingdon bus with full load creeping
 Down into denser suburbs. The birch lets go
 But one brown leaf upon browner bracken below.
Ask of the cinema manager. Night airs die
To still, ripe scent of the fungus and wet woods weeping.
 Ask at the fish and chips in the Market Square.
 Here amid firs and a final sunset flare,
Recorder and hautbois only moan at a mouldering sky.

[The Yattendon Hymnal, compiled by Robert Bridges, was an important collection that had a big influence on making of the English Hymnal.
To 'ted the hay' is to spread it out for drying.]

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Hal Blaine – 90 Today!

Incredibly, the great drummer Hal Blaine turns 90 today. One of Phil Spector's legendary Wrecking Crew, he worked with an astonishing number of other musicians, playing on 40 number one singles, 150 top ten hits, and a total (by his calculation) of something like 35,000 recorded tracks. This surely makes him the most prolific drummer of the rock era, as well as one of the very best.
 Some of us remember him fondly for his great work on that strange masterpiece, John Phillips' Wolfking of LA ('Hit it, Hal!'). My old friend the Sage of Tiverton is one. Ten years ago he told me he was determined not to die before Hal Blaine had joined the great jam session in the sky. I hope he makes it...
  Here's Blaine at work on The Ronettes' Be My Baby. Enjoy!

Monday, 4 February 2019


talking of great double acts, when we were at Hampton Court last month, I bought a little volume (barely 80 pages) in the Penguin Monarchs series – William III and Mary II by Jonathan Keates. I chose it because I realised how little I knew about these joint monarchs or their reign, pivotal though it was in so many ways. I also suspected that my rudimentary ideas about William in particular might have been shaped by anti-Williamite prejudice and be rather less than fair. I already felt great warmth for Mary, purely on the strength of Purcell's birthday odes and that sublime funeral music. Suffice to say that Keates's concise and elegant double portrait opened my eyes, particularly to William's good qualities and skilful statesmanship, and to the well-earned affection Mary inspired in her people. It's a masterly little history and I warmly recommend it. In fact, if the others in the series are half as good, I might well be reading more of them...

Stan and Ollie: A Joy...

What a whirl – yesterday afternoon to the cinema to see Stan and Ollie, the eagerly awaited (round here, anyway) comedy-drama-biopic about Laurel and Hardy's last tour of the UK in 1953. I can report that it was a joy from beginning to end, with terrific, spot-on performances by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as the leads, and memorable turns by Rufus Jones as the oleaginous Bernard Delfont and Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda as the chalk-and-cheese wives. Some minor liberties have been taken with the facts (and the odd period detail) but all in the service of creating an involving and coherent story arc. The Laurel and Hardy comedy routines and song-and-dance turns are recreated beautifully by Coogan and Reilly, who are equally convincing as the off-stage Stan and Ollie. The script takes them through plenty of ups and downs, including a fierce row that almost leads to a break-up, but happily it all ends on a high note. Of course there'll never be another Stan and Ollie, but Coogan and Reilly are as close as we're ever likely to see, and this was a wonderful cinematic experience – funny, touching, cheering and heart-warming.
  Sadly the storyline didn't include Laurel and Hardy's stay at the Bull Inn, Bottesford, where Stan's sister Olga was the landlady – but here's a picture: