Tuesday 31 January 2012

Samuel Palmer's Father in Law

I was up at Tate Britain yesterday, mooching among the rehung Romantics, when this very accomplished oil painting caught my eye. Its subject is Kensington Gravel Pits, and it was painted in 1811/12 - when Kensington was still a village surrounded by market gardens - by John Linnell, who would become the father in law of Samuel Palmer (represented in Romantics only by one very lovely mezzotint, Evening, engraved by one of the Ancients, Welby Sherman).
The most remarkable thing about Kensington Gravel Pits is that Linnell was only 19 or 20 when he painted it. It's an extraordinarily assured piece of work for such a young artist, everything about it executed with absolute confidence. In particular, he is already displaying the masterly rendering of cloud and sky and bold effects of sunlight and shade (you have to see the original to get the richness of colour) that were to be his trademark for the rest of his long life, in the course of which he developed landscape painting into a hugely productive and profitable family business. All his numerous brood were in various ways involved in the business, turning out landscape after landscape, typically with toiling figures, rolling (Surrey) hills and big skies. He ran this patriarchal, quasi-industrial enterprise from a hilltop mansion in Redhill, Surrey, close to the ugly Gothic villa he had bought for his daughter and that husband of hers who seemed incapable of making money from his talents - Samuel Palmer.
This Linnell is the same John Linnell who was the friend and patron of William Blake, and of Palmer and the Ancients, whom he introduced to Blake, thereby inspiring one of the great flowerings of English romantic art. But Linnell became the artistic equivalent of a Victorian industrial baron, while poor Palmer, a fish out water in his Reigate villa, looked down upon in every sense by his father in law, remained an Ancient all his life.

Sunday 29 January 2012

An Unfortunate Misunderstanding

I pass on this affecting tale from my local paper, simply because it made me laugh rather a lot.
It's the story of an unfortunate misunderstanding in a local park that resulted in charges of attempted dog theft and being drunk in charge of a vehicle - charges of which The Defendant has, happily, now been acquitted. From his photograph, The Defendant does not look to be the sharpest knife in the box, but he has a nice turn of phrase. Here's his account of what happened.
One day, The Defendant was walking his dog, a Staffordshire bull terrier called Ebony, in a local park that, according to the newspaper, is 'a dognapping hot spot'. (I've walked there many times and never seen a dog being napped.) At some point, The Defendant received a call on his mobile from a friend who lived nearby, inviting him to drop in for a drink. He obliged, joining his friend for 'six or eight cans' of Fosters lager, characterised by The Defendant as 'glorified lemonade'.
On emerging from his friend's house, The Defendant decided that he was rather too full of 'glorified lemonade' to drive, so he returned to his car to pick up his mobile and walk home. Unfortunately, while he was making his way to the car, Ebony ran off. Arriving at his car, The Defendant spotted a bull terrier he thought was Ebony and beckoned it towards him. The dog bounded up to the car and leapt over The Defendant into the passenger seat, followed immediately by a Shih Tzu. The Defendant told the court: 'I'd seen two women with those two fluffy things, and the Staffy looked like Ebony. When it sat next to me in the car I realised it wasn't Ebony. Before I knew it, I had two women hammering on my window and screaming at me. I was trying to tell her that I had got the wrong dog, but she hit me with the chain end of the leash. Why and how a Shi Tzu ended up in my car, I have no idea.' This mystery had in fact been cleared up at an earlier hearing, when the Shi Tzu owner explained that her dog 'followed her Staffordshire bull terrier everywhere it went at all times'.
'On the face of it, this could seem quite funny,' said the defence lawyer, summing up. 'If dogs could talk, we could have saved a lot of time.' Indeed.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Rip's Walt

I've long had a soft spot for the American actor Rip Torn - crazy name, crazy guy - not least for his brilliant performance as the ineffable Artie on The Larry Sanders Show, one of the all-time great TV comedies. His off-screen antics are good stuff too - like the time he whacked Normal Mailer with a hammer (who wouldn't? The ensuing brawl actually ended up on-screen, in the film Maidstone, with Mailer chewing off some of Torn's ear). And the time he broke into his local bank under the impression it was his house (we've all been there...). But what I didn't know, until I came across a passing reference in a Guy Davenport essay, is that Rip Torn played Walt Whitman in a 1990 movie called Beautiful Dreamers. This recounts Whitman's reforming work at a Canadian insane asylum with Dr Maurice Bucke, who became a close friend and one of Walt's biographers. There's a review and a clip here. It doesn't look like a great movie, but Torn's Whitman comes across pretty convincingly. And it's good to see that cricket plays a key part in Whitman and Bucke's reforms. Very sound. Has anyone out there seen this film?

Dabbler Ladder

There's something of mine up on the Dabbler, about a Kay Ryan poem. Read on for Worm's inspired comment...

Wednesday 25 January 2012


On this day in 1908, the novelist known as Ouida died, in poverty, at Viareggio. That's her surprisingly restrained tomb, in the English cemetery at Bagni di Lucca, above.
In her day, Ouida was a fabulous figure and a hugely successful writer. She shot to fame as the author of sensational racy novels set in high society ('For the comparatively small sum of £1, 11s, 6d one is introduced to the best society,' wrote Oscar Wilde of one of her three-deckers) - and of the much-filmed Under Two Flags, a military adventure set in Algeria. Revelling in her well merited (as she saw it) success, Ouida set herself up in the Langham Hotel in London, where she wrote by candlelight (a la Byron), surrounded by mountains of flowers. In the evenings she held court at soirees to which eminent men - artists, writers (including Wilde, Swinburne and Browning), politicians and soldiers - flocked. Their attentions flattered her sense that she was controlling the nation's - nay, the world's - destiny.
Eventually she moved to Italy, taking up residence in the Villa Farinola in Florence, where she continued to live in high style, extending her lavish hospitality to the local dogs, whom she regarded as innately superior to humans (the hero of one of her novels is a Maltese Terrier called Puck). This attitude to the canine population - combined with her native hauteur - did not endear the novelist to her Italian neighbours.
At some point, her banker made off with most of her money (and a ballet dancer), leaving her obliged to keep turning out big sellers simply to stay afloat. Her life was further complicated by an unfortunate habit of falling in unreciprocated love with married men, but her unshakable self-belief kept her bouncing back from every reversal - at least until increasing blindness and deafness and other health problems made her life all but unlivable. Ouida still had her admirers, who tried to help her with gifts of money, but she turned them down on the grounds that such help was only suitable for lower-class persons. In the end, pneumonia took her.
They don't make lady novelists like that any more - though there was perhaps a dash of Ouida about Barbara Cartland. But, even if her books are forgotten, she lives on in Elizabeth Taylor's wonderful novel Angel. Taylor's monstrous tragicomic creation is surely, to a large extent, a version of the fabulous Ouida.
'Though she is rarely true, she is never dull' - Oscar Wilde.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Crise? Quel Crise?

With its credit rating downgraded, its economy faltering and the Eurozone in meltdown, it's good to see that France has its mind, as ever, on higher things. Top priority, clearly, is to deal with the ever present menace of Armenian genocide deniers. You know what it's like - you're at a party and someone sidles up to you and starts: 'That Armenian genocide - I tell you straight, squire, that never happened...'
So, having acted decisively to blow diplomatic relations with Turkey out of the water, the French move on, with typical Gallic shrewdness, to cultivate relations with that fast-rising global superpower, the Australasian Tiger, New Zealand - by returning some Maori heads. Good thinking.
Back in Blighty, I've been monitoring the progress of the great cravat revival, so confidently predicted here - oh, years ago... There have been promising signs - for example, I recently spotted a young fellow sporting a well-tied cravat on BBC1's The Magicians - but I think the campaign needs a fiscal boost. So, let's make the cravat tax-exempt, thereby giving it a competitive edge over the tie. There's a cause the French could embrace.
'Qu-est-ce que nous voulons?'
'Nous voulons une exemption de taxe pour les cravates!'
'A quelle heure nous le voulons?'
'Mais nous le voulons maintenant, bien sur!'

Sunday 22 January 2012

The Sound of England

What is the sound of England? Increasingly, down my way, it's the ear-splitting screech of overflying Ring-Necked Parakeets - but that is a most unEnglish sound and, happily, confined to southern parts (for now). If there is one sound that truly defines the English soundscape, it is surely that of change ringing - bells ringing out from a church belfry, rung to patterns of 'changes', rather than for melody. This kind of ringing is popular elsewhere, but generally among hand ringers; even in the lands of the former Empire, church towers hung with bells are few and far between. Only in England is the clangorous music of change ringing from church towers an everyday sound. Mix in the convivial cawing of a rookery and the gentle sound of willow on leather (neither of them unique to England), and there you have just about the most evocatively English soundscape imaginable.
As it happens, over on The Dabbler, Mahlerman has posted a typically luminous piece on the use of bells and bell sounds in music (that Khachaturian!). The continentals, of course, use bells in a different way from us - tolling single notes or playing melodies with the aid of a carillon (a kind of giant keyboard hung with bells). Does the sound of English bell ringing make its way into English music? It certainly does in this glorious anthem by Purcell.
Rejoice indeed!
There must be other examples - perhaps Mahlerman could devote a future Dabbler piece to them...

Saturday 21 January 2012

And Then...

Today comes news that Etta James has died. Johnny Otis launched her with this - not a great song perhaps, but what a voice!

Friday 20 January 2012

From Otis to Glass: A Short Musical Journey

Johnny Otis, the Greek-American 'godfather of rhythm and blues', has died at the age of 90. After beginning as a drummer in swing orchestras, he effectively adopted a black musical identity and went on to have a remarkable career as musician, singer, talent scout and songwriter (with the odd lapse, e.g. Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me, a UK number 2 in 1957). Otis played the drums - just listen to him - on Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog. He also wrote the lovely Every Beat of My Heart for Gladys Knight, her breakthrough single in 1961 (here she is reprising it a decade later). As a producer, he was responsible for all the R&B hits of Johnny Ace, until the singer accidentally shot himself in 1954, the year Otis launched Etta James - he sure could spot talent...
Johnny Ace lives on in the song The Late Great Johnny Ace on Paul Simon's best album, Hearts and Bones. The beautiful one-minute coda is by Philip Glass. Enjoy.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Rose Among the Ruins

Does anyone read Rose Macaulay these days? She seems to be one of those writers who figure large in their own time - their books sell well, they know everybody, are in everybody's memoirs and letters - and then, after death, fade out of view. Of her novels, The Towers of Trebizond seems the only one that's still remembered, if only for its famous first sentence:
'"Take my camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.'
Rose Macaulay pops up in Richard Mabey's Weeds (which I'm still reading, with great pleasure), in the company of Penelope Fitzgerald, two decades her junior and then in her late 20s. The two of them are exploring the bombsites of postwar London, partly to catalogue (unsystematically) their remarkable flora, and partly to indulge Macaulay's obsessive fascination with the ruins of London. This obsession was partly the result of having been herself bombed out - her flat, with all her books, papers and letters, was completely destroyed. Fitzgerald recalls 'alarming experiences of scrambling after her... and keeping her spare form just in view as she shinned down a crater, or leaned, waving, through the smashed glass of some perilous window'. Macaulay's explorations of London bomb sites fed into what sounds a fascinating novel, The World My Wilderness, in which two teenage half-siblings who have run wild with the Resistance in southern France are sent to be 'civilised' in London. However, once there, they revert, finding in the bomb sites, their ruined landscapes and raggle-taggle population, a new and congenial maquis in which to run wild again.
Well, I have bought The Towers of Trebizond and am going to give it a try.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Missing It Already?

So, how are you coping? Without the benefit of Wikipedia, I mean. As all the world surely knows (from Wikipedia), the go-to site for just about everything you need to find out about is blacked out for the day, in protest against a couple of acts that Obama wants passed and Wikipedia doesn't. Of course, with Wikipedia down, I can't find out anything about these acts. I tried going into the French site and getting the information back-translated, which might have been fun, but in the event didn't work. It's like being back in the Nineties, some are saying - we might have to rely on old-style books and phone calls and memory. Memory! Mine is but a distant... er, memory - at least the instant-fact-recall part of it. Wikipedia aided Google in making it largely obsolete, while the advancing years took care of the rest. Actually it's not at all like being back in the Nineties, as there are plenty of other ways of getting information - they might not be as quick, neat and encyclopaedic, but they work. And we still have everything else - it's not like Google going down for a day; that really would be tough. Meanwhile, there's an easy way round the Wikipedia blackout: before it disappears, each page is on screen just long enough for a quick Cmd A, Cmd C. Sorted.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Sniff Continuo

I'm not one to complain about commuting. Most of the time I positively enjoy my train journeys to and from work, which I spend reading, listening to music and looking out of the window at the passing scene - surprisingly 'wild', as my route passes through a string of commons and well-colonised edgelands. But on the way in this morning, I was sitting quietly reading when a young man of more-or-less respectable appearance took over the seat opposite me, connected himself to his iPod - and commenced sniffing. Sniffing loudly and lingeringly every ten seconds or so. I gave him one of my withering looks, but of course he was intent on his little screen and quite unaware of anything or anyone around him. Taking out my DiscMan (note for younger readers: This is a near-obsolete portable device for listening to old-style 'CDs'), I thought I would drown out this unwelcome sound by playing music. But it's astonishing how penetrating the sound of sniffing can be. Every few seconds it would come - sniff... sniff... And believe me, Poulenc's choral music is not improved by a sniff continuo. Yes I know - I should have done the smart thing and handed him a tissue. I didn't - but another passenger, getting off at Clapham Junction, did. The young man thanked him in a devil-may-care manner, made perfunctory use of the tissue - and continued to sniff determinedly all the way to Victoria. Just another example of how 'personal' technology allows us each to live in his/her own little bubble, as if the world around us didn't exist. But then I can't be censorious, as that's precisely what I too was trying to achieve with my music, if only in self defence.

Monday 16 January 2012

There Is Always More

Now that we're finally getting some proper winter weather - glorious clear crisp frosty days - the urge to walk is strong in me, and, happily, in my number one son (actually the only son, but still number one). Accordingly we set off yesterday morning for the Surrey hills - where we discovered that, for once, the whole world was out and about too. Walking, running, cycling, singly, in groups, in big organised walks and runs - I have never seen so many people at large in those parts. They were, of course, all devotees of the kit-and-day-glo school of outdoor leisure, whereas the son and I sported, respectively, a well-cut black woolen overcoat and an ancient Donegal tweed (the lining is in flitters, I must get it replaced) - no kit in sight, apart from boots. We strode along merrily, a little stiff climbing getting the blood flowing and warming us to a contented glow - and, for a wonder, we didn't get lost. We therefore made a timely arrival at our destination lunch pub - only to find it packed fuller than a Soho hotspot on a Friday night. It was barely possible even to get in, and sitting down was out of the question. What to do? I had heard tell of another pub in this particular village, but had never come across it and had no high hopes of it being any good. We inquired of a couple of locals who were sitting outside and were told, after much mutual consultation, map-poring and conflicting directions, that it was a good mile away, and the simplest way to find it would be to go back to the main road and take it from there. This we duly did, and within a couple of hundred yards had come across a signpost to said pub, which was another 50 yards or so up a steep track (clearly these locals were not walkers). And it was pretty nearly perfect, with a snug interior complete with coal fire, friendly and efficient service, good food and beer - and a terraced garden commanding glorious views over the Surrey hills. How was it that, in all my decades of walking in those parts, I had never come across this gem? I have no idea, but I think it goes to show that, however well we think we know the world - or any tiny corner of it - there is always more. And it may be something wonderful.

Friday 13 January 2012

Headache Tree

In the beautiful Kyoto Garden - a Japanese garden in Holland Park - stands a tall evergreen tree labelled 'Headache Tree'. I noticed it today because it's just coming into flower and looking rather lovely. Why the Headache Tree? Apparently because getting too close to it can trigger a splitting headache in susceptible people (let's hope Health and Safety don't get wind of that). It has many English names, but is most commonly known as the Bay Laurel, and is a native of California and Oregon (not Japan). The leaves are like a spicier version of Mediterranean bay leaves, and its fruits can be roasted and eaten, but its most surprising use is as legal tender. In the depths of the Great Depression, the town of North Bend, Oregon, having run out of cash after its only bank closed, minted 'myrtlewood money' (the Bay Laurel is known there as Oregon Myrtle) to pay its workers. The 'coins' - myrtlewood discs printed on a newspaper press - could be redeemed for cents and dollars as soon as the town's cash-flow crisis was over. Except that most people chose to hang on to the their wooden money, despite repeated pleas to turn it in and convert it. As a result, myrtlewood money was declared legal tender in North Bend in perpetuity, and can theoretically still be used as payment. Now, however, the 'coins' are so scarce that their worth far exceeds their face value. I'm sure there's a lesson in this, but I can't quite see what it is. Apart from keeping at a respectful distance from the Headache Tree.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Marathon Man

I can't let the day pass without commemorating the chap in the skirt, who is Spiridon Louis, born on this day in 1873. In the 1896 Athens Olympics, he became a Greek national hero when he ran to victory in the first-ever modern marathon, fuelled along the way by wine, milk, beer and perhaps cognac, an Easter egg, and half an orange. When he arrived in the stadium, the crowd went wild, and two Greek princes leapt from their seats to greet him and accompany him on his final lap. Amid wild celebrations, Louis was kissed and embraced and carried in triumph to the retiring room to recover from his exertions. When the King offered to give him anything he wanted, he requested a donkey cart to help him in his water-carrying business. He retired to his home town, where he reportedly enjoyed free shaves all his life, and he never ran competitively again. What fun the Olympics used to be - where did it all go wrong?

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Dream Burnet

A friend of mine was lucky enough to have a Red Admiral - roused from its winter sleep by unseasonal warmth - flying around in his house on New Year's Day. No such luck for me: I haven't seen a butterfly since my last Brimstone two months ago, and am probably at least two months from seeing my first of 2013. This then is the depth of the butterflyless winter. Last night I resolved that, if I couldn't see one in the waking world, I'd see if I could dream a butterfly or two. Surprisingly it worked, though the result was far from being an ideal butterfly dream. The butterflies seemed to be incidental to some kind of immensely convoluted story involving underworld types operating in the Kentish countryside - perhaps illicitly breeding butterflies?! I was walking along trying to work out what the heck was going on and just how much of a mess I'd got myself into (most of my dreams involve that) when I noticed in a scrubby field what were undoubtedly Common Blues flying busily about. As I continued along the fieldside path, there were half a dozen more, at intervals, basking. By then I had been joined by a member of my dream repertory company - a random assembly of people I've often only known slightly and not seen for years, who yet insist on popping up in my dreams. As I was trying to explain what was going on to this dream extra, we both spotted a flash of red and black whizzing past - Red Admiral? No, far too small. We gave chase and, when it settled, I was able to identify it as a Six-Spot Burnet, a conspicuous day-flying moth. At this point, the dream petered out...
When I was a boy, Guildford Cathedral was still being built, and I remember visiting the site (on Stag Hill) one warm summer afternoon. On the slope below the unfinished building, Six-Spot Burnets were flying in such numbers as I never saw before or since.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Mister Ed

That Man of Destiny Ed Milliband, leader of HM's Loyal Opposition, was interviewed on the radio this morning, offering us a sneak preview of his eagerly awaited New Big Idea for Labour. It's 'fairness'! Sheesh - where does he get them from? Talk about thinking outside the box... Ah, but it's fairness that doesn't cost anything, 'cos there's no money, on account of that nice Gordon Brown having spent it all. Excuse my lapse into the demotic there - it's infectious. Milliband never misses an opportunity for showing off his immaculately honed, down-with-the-kids glottal stop - sorry, glo'al stop - or his man-of-the-people 'gonna', as in 'It's gonna be to'ally fair.' Actually Ed, it's gonna be a to'al disaster, as long as you're in charge. David Cameron must be pinching himself, unable to believe his luck.

Monday 9 January 2012


'Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust...'

So begins the beautiful funeral song from Cymbeline. What I didn't know, until I came across it in Richard Mabey's book Weeds (which I'm reading now, with great enjoyment), is that 'chimney-sweepers' was, in Shakespeare's time, 'Warwickshire patois for the wind-scattered, time-telling "clocks" that follow dandelions' golden flowers'. Suddenly, with this knowledge, Shakespeare's image gains new depths of meaning, and new immediacy.

Ecdysiast Extraordinaire

Today - though she is, alas, no longer with us - is the 101st birthday of Gypsy Rose Lee, actress, entertainer, authoress, playwright, extremely popular lady, and ecdysiast extraordinaire. 'Ecdysiast', I should explain, is a fancy word coined by H.L. Mencken for a striptease artist with class. Gypsy's routines were famous for their relaxed, casual style and wit, both visual and verbal. She slowed down the pace (concentrating on the 'tease' rather than the 'strip'), performed with real artistry, and enjoyed a cheerful, joshing rapport with her audience. Or so I have read - and so I can infer from this footage of Gypsy in action. It's an abbreviated routine, and drastically cleaned up - don't get too excited, gentlemen - but her quality as an entertainer shines through. What charm, what finesse, what espieglerie - what a dame!

Over there...

I see I'm musing on feats of pedestrianism over on the super soaraway Dabbler.

Friday 6 January 2012

Odd Winter, Forward Spring

The cheeringly sunny Winter Aconites are coming into flower already in Kensington Gardens, with the odd dwarf iris about to do the same, and masses of Chionodoxa (Glory in the Snow) already in full bloom. I saw my first crocuses of the year on new Year's Day, which is ridiculous - and yet I haven't seen a snowdrop in flower yet. I suspect this is because snowdrops are not so sensitive to weather conditions, but obey a more rigorous programme that keeps them coming through and flowering at much the same time every year. If the Odd Winter carries on like this, it will feel as though we've segued straight from autumn into spring with nothing in between. But I suspect a cold snap might be on the way - I spotted the first Redwings I've seen 'in town' this morning. They'll be coming in to feed up on berries if the weather's on the turn.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Busy Skies

Fans of Jon Shuttleworth (Yamaha-playing singer-songwriter, alter ego of comedian Graham Fellows) will be familiar with his Eurovision-inspired song Pigeons In Flight. A rather sweet, lyrical piece of work, it is second only, among doomed Eurovision entries, to the sublime My Lovely Horse. Shuttleworth's song inevitably sprang into my head this blowy morning as, on my way to the station, I looked up to watch the pigeons tumbling in the wind. Like crows and starlings, London pigeons seem to take a real delight in flying, especially in a strong wind. Squadrons of pigeons were hurling themselves around in it this morning, along with the odd band of starlings and a few passing crows. Busy skies.
Pigeons have more elegant aerial moves too - like the courtship display in which the male claps his wings together over his back and glides downward in a long graceful curve. Wallace Stevens noted the beauty of pigeons' flight in the great closing lines of Sunday Morning - after which there is really nothing to say:
'We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.'

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Running Out of Road

I wasn't really listening, but over the New Year period, I couldn't help catching rather a lot of those lookaheads and looks back that pop up on the radio at the turn of every year. All were agreed that it had been a newsy year, one in which a heck of a lot happened - no arguing with that - though some thought 2012 could be the one in which things really kick off. There was much talk of a 'crisis of capitalism', of the 'failure of capitalism', even 'the death of capitalism'. Hang on a moment, I thought - couldn't recent events be equally plausibly interpreted as a crisis of socialism, even its death throes? 'Hard' socialism, on Soviet lines, died with exemplary dispatch 20-plus years ago, but 'soft' socialism survived and no one - until now? - doubted that it would go on and on. By soft socialism I mean the kind that takes money from taxpayers and spends it in a well-intentioned (and at times quite successful) attempt to make the world a better place. Then - because there's no natural end to this project - it runs out of money, so it starts borrowing, then borrowing more, until it's borrowing simply to service its ever-increasing debts, and eventually it runs out of road. That's probably happening now. Europe - at least the Eurozone - is broke, we're broke, America's broke. America owes more than any entity has ever owed in the history of the world. There is no prospect of any of us ever paying off these debts, even if the various attempts at 'austerity' actually rein in spending. What is to be done, beyond whistling Dixie and hoping for the best? I have no idea. The obvious solution - the traditional one - is to let rip with inflation, reducing the worth of those trillions of debt to billions, and the billions to millions, until - hey presto - you owe chickenfeed. However, it may be that human ingenuity will find a less damaging way of wiping out the debts this time, or at least reducing them to a manageable scale. Let's hope so - and meanwhile, buy silver bullion! That's what I'd be doing if I had any sense. But alas I haven't.

Ronald Searle

This blog cannot let the passing of Ronald Searle, who died yesterday at 91, go unmarked. Inevitably, all the obits identified him as 'the creator of St Trinian's' (you could almost hear the Searle sighs from beyond the grave), before going on to acknowledge that it was the creation he least wished to be remembered for, and that he was heartily sick of the St T's phenomenon. He was, as many of the obituaries also acknowledged, one of the finest graphic artists of the past century. His drawings are instantly recognisable, and every mark of his pen is imbued with life, wit and humour. Though hugely prolific, Searle was incapable of producing a lifeless work. And, as any fule kno, he should be remembered not as the creator of St Trinian's but of the glorious pictorial world of St Custards.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

There'll Never Be Another

The other day I was seeking out some information about the splendidly named actor A. Bromley Davenport (as one does), when I came across this fine fellow, his brother William Bromley-Davenport (A. dropped the hyphen). As well as that impressive list of initials after his name, William boasts what might well be a unique career description - distinguished soldier, England footballer and prominent Tory politician. If not unique, it's certainly one that will never come around again, not with the 'beautiful game' being what it is these days. It's hard to reconcile that drooping, monocled figure with the centre forward who kicked two past the Welsh keeper...

Sunday 1 January 2012

The New Year

As the new year begins, all seem to be agreed that, peering into the future, they see hard times coming. Well, they may be right, but we should always remember that hard times come but they also go. Happy New Year!