Monday, 31 December 2007

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December…]

31st December
I thought I said no more birds, but this morning I woke up to find no less than seven swans all trying to get into our tiny goldfish pond. I’d rather not think what happened to the goldfish. The whole house seems to be full of birds—to say nothing of what they leave behind them. Please, please stop.
Your Emily

[…and continues on 1st January]

Sunday, 30 December 2007

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December…]

30th December
Dear Edward,
Whatever I expected to find when I opening the front door this morning, it certainly wasn’t six socking great geese laying eggs all over the doorstep. Frankly, I rather hoped you had stopped sending me birds—we have no room for them and they have already ruined the croquet lawn. I know you meant well, but—let’s call a halt, shall we?
Love, Emily

[…and continues on 31st December]

Saturday, 29 December 2007

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December...]

29th December
Dearest Edward
The postman has just delivered five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly. A really lovely present—lovelier in a way than birds, which do take rather a lot of looking after. The four that arrived yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I’m afraid none of us got much sleep last night. Mummy says she wants to use the rings to ‘wring’ their necks—she’s only joking, I think, though I know what she means. But I love the rings. Bless you.
Love, Emily

[...and continues on 30th December]

Friday, 28 December 2007

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December...]

28th December
Dearest Edward
What a surprise—four calling birds arrived this morning. They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly—they make telephoning impossible. But I expect they’ll calm down when they get used to their new home. Anyway, I’m very grateful—of course I am.
Love from Emily

[...and continues on 29th December]

Thursday, 27 December 2007

On the Third Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December...]

27th December
My darling Edward,
You do think of the most original presents; whoever thought of sending anybody three French hens? Do they really come all the way from France? It’s pity that we have no chicken coops, but I expect we’ll find some. Thank you, anyway, they’re lovely.
Your loving Emily

[...and continues on 28th December]

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

On the Second Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December...]

26th December
My dearest darling Edward,
The two turtle doves arrived this morning and are cooing away in the pear tree as I write. I’m so touched and grateful.
With undying love, as always, Emily

[...and continues on 27th December]

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas

[On the First Day of Christmas...]
25th December
My dearest darling,
That partridge, in a lovely little pear tree! What an enchanting, romantic, poetic present! Bless you and thank you.
Your deeply loving Emily

[This correspondence continues on 26th December...]

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Two days to go

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Tralalalala la la la la
Let us all be frightfully jolly
Tralalalala la la la la

Or not, if you’d rather not. As Eeyore said in a different context: Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.

In eight days time Other Men's Flowers (the blog, not Wavell's anthology) will be four years old, and now contains more than one third as many words as War and Peace. There has been much controversy over the relative merits of the two works, but actually they have very little in common: there is practically no reference to the retreat from Moscow in OMF (though there are two fascinating notes on Napoleon’s hat), and no-one is going to film it with either Henry Fonda or Anthony Hopkins, because Pierre Bezukhov hardly figures in it at all. On the other hand, W&P is not made up of over 700 posts and does not contain 1100 comments, 360 pictures and 670 hyperlinks. Above all, Other Men's Flowers reproduces no less than SEVEN cartoons by James Thurber and THERE ARE NONE in Tolstoy’s great novel. I think the conclusion is obvious.

The day after tomorrow is the First Day of Christmas. For that day and every day until Epiphany I have sought the help of John Julius Cooper, 2nd Viscount Norwich CVO, an English historian, travel writer and television personality known as John Julius Norwich: posts on those days will be entirely his work.

So until 7th January 2008, toodle-pip and A Happy New Year to everyone .

Friday, 21 December 2007

I said just a chickpea salad, didn’t I?

This is the time of year when many of us are planning to prepare and then consume one or more gargantuan meals. Thurber notes that not everyone will enjoy them. “I don’t want any part of it!”

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Poetry competition

Fond of doing jigsaws? Try this for a change. It is a similar mindless waste of time, requiring little skill but a great deal of patience and much trial-and-error, and producing, after a great deal of time and effort, something of no value whatsoever....

Shakespearean sonnets, as we all know, usually have the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Writing a pastiche is an absolute doddle, provided that you don’t worry about its meaning. Here’s one I made earlier:

Of that which, dying, consummates its choice
The greater part is taken in extremes.
The single passion and the silent voice
Have need of darkness to escape those dreams
Which turn them, quickening, to such distaste
That by their very virtues are they lost;
A changing nature, summon'd thus in haste
In all humility to bear the cost
Doth swiftly and most eagerly o'ersway
Those forces which of magnitude are free
No less from birth and greater in decay
Old when 'tis born and older still to be;
And neither shall that power be denied
Which is, by human reason, yet untried.

Good, isn’t it? One might almost say it had a dying fall, coming o'er my ear like the sweet sound that breathes upon a bank of violets.

I offer a challenge to anyone who fancies him/herself as a versifier: Write a fourteen-line sonnet using these words for line endings:

mind about blind out
heart latch part catch
sight creature
night feature

you untrue

...then send it to me as a comment to this post before the end of the year. I won’t publish any as comments, but I will post a report on 7th January, with a link to all the entries, and send a cheque for £20 in the name of the writer to the Save the Children Fund.

(As I said, your sonnet doesn’t have to mean anything, but it must sound as if it might; it must not be gibberish.)

Monday, 17 December 2007

Don’t try to be funny

A year ago I suggested that the ePetition scheme (petitions online to the Prime Minister) was a fairly pointless exercise, though amusing in a quiet way. Although 10 Downing Street does not actually say so, the new Prime Minister probably agrees. A recent progress report strikes a ho-hum note, suggesting that those responsible for running it are rather bored with the whole thing, though some members of the public continue to support it.

Over 29,000 petitions have been submitted, of which over 8,500 are currently live and available for signing, over 6,000 have finished and 14,601 [more than half!] have been rejected outright. Reasons for rejection are:

[We] reject petitions that appear to be duplicates.
There have been a number of petitions that are based on premises that are simply not true. There are a good number purely based on newspaper stories or web rumours that have no truth behind them.
We had no option but to refuse all URL addresses and links in future petitions.
Initially, we decided it would be wrong to accept petitions proposing people for honours this, since there is an existing procedure for honours nominations from members of the public. However, after discussion with the Cabinet Office Ceremonial Secretariat, we agreed that we could accept these petitions, provided that we make clear to petitioners that the e-petitions service will not replace the existing system. Anybody wishing to nominate somebody for an honour should still complete the online form.
We have reluctantly decided that we cannot respond to petitions of less than 200 people, unless they relate specifically to small groups (for example, people from a small community). Similarly, if a petition cannot really be expected to gain a ministerial response and therefore its purpose is only its existence rather than the response from government then we will reserve the right to simply not respond.
We have to avoid libel, incitement or any other legal issues and we do not have the resources to systematically check the details of individual cases, or to seek legal advice on every contentious petition. So we have erred on the side of caution, asking people to re-phrase petitions if we believe there is any likelihood of legal risk, or of causing offence.
There have been cases where we have decided to remove previously accepted petitions. Mostly, this has been due to human error and we have sought to correct those errors.
On a couple of occasions, we have rejected petitions because of the way those petitions were being promoted. Petitions were being 'hijacked' by extremists and were promoted in the most offensive terms imaginable. While the petitions themselves weren't provocative, the actions of those supporting them most certainly were. We deemed this to be contrary to the spirit of the petitions site and removed them. This is an action we are prepared to take again if necessary.
These reasons for rejection are obviously quite sensible but taken together suggest a certain lack of enthusiasm for the project among those who have to read all the submissions, who do not, of course, include Mr Brown. But perhaps he in involved to some extent, for he could well have inspired this po-faced comment:

Initially we accepted humorous petitions, on the grounds that they did no harm and were often funny. However, as the site grew in popularity, we found that more and more time was being taken up considering borderline cases where supposedly humorous petitions risked being seen as offensive or in bad taste.
Some users also contacted us to complain about silly petitions undermining the serious purpose of the site. We decided it was impossible to justify this use of Civil Service time, or to come up with clear guidelines as to what amounts to good or bad taste. We have decided no longer to accept petitions that are obviously intended as jokes.

Our mandarins tackle many difficult tasks brilliantly, but “to come up with clear guidelines as to what amounts to good or bad taste” is certainly one which would tax the mightiest intellects.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Euphemism in the drugs trade

...or, if you prefer it, the pharmaceutical industry.

My first job after leaving the army was with an American firm which had been started early in the twentieth century in the United States by a man pushing a medicine cart round the mid-West, giving away samples of his One-minute Cough Cure and similar wonders. By the time I joined it, it was a small but successful company exporting world-wide from a factory in South London.

They sold a range of proprietary pharmaceuticals (which used to be called patent medicines)—pills, powders and ointments, all useful remedies for minor ailments. Their really big seller was Pills for the Kidneys and Bladder, which contained a variety of herbal compounds of proven efficacy such as Pichi and Buchu. It was recommended for, among other things, the relief of a certain geriatric problem which we described coyly as “Getting Up Nights”. (I was young then: my problem in those days was Getting Up Mornings.)

These pills contained, among their perfectly respectable ingredients, methylene blue. This is a urinary antiseptic of genuine therapeutic value, but it also made a major contribution towards the pills’ popularity in six continents because it turned your pee bright blue. In most markets we made the point discreetly in our advertising: “...within a few hours of taking the pills you will see the good they are doing you”, but in the Far East and Africa we were more blunt: “The Blue Comes Through”.

The company still exists with the same name (which was the surname of the character played by George Sanders in All about Eve*) but is now part of a group whose skincare, feminine hygiene and oral care brands are marketed from Sweden. The group claims the usual sort of thing: “commitment to innovation, brand development and quality”, but these banalities are feeble successors to the (literally) colourful boasts of earlier days.

There are further revelations  HERE about my work for this company.

[*But the line about a bumpy night was not a reference to the nocturnal geriatric problem.]

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Reading the riot act

We now use this casually to mean uttering a warning to desist or face unpleasant consequences but it had a very precise legal significance until it came off the UK statute books in 1973.

The act created a mechanism for certain local officials to make a proclamation ordering the dispersal of any group of more than twelve people who were "unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together". If the group failed to disperse within twenty minutes, then anyone remaining gathered was guilty of a felony without benefit of clergy, punishable by death.

The proclamation could be made in an incorporated town or city by the Mayor, Bailiffs or "other head officer", or a Justice of the Peace. Elsewhere it could be made by a Justice of the Peace or the Sheriff or Under-Sheriff. It had to be read out to the gathering concerned, and had to follow precise wording:

Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King.

has all this information and much more but, oddly, the link it gives to the full Act takes you to it via a website created by a bunch of fundamentalist nuts; if you want to study the Act’s 2,400 words it is better to get it from Project Gutenberg EBook. Its preamble is:
WHEREAS of late many rebellious riots and tumults have been in divers parts of this kingdom, to the disturbance of the publick peace, and the endangering of his Majesty's person and government, and the same are yet continued and fomented by persons disaffected to his Majesty, presuming so to do, for that the punishments provided by the laws now in being are not adequate to such heinous offences; and by such rioters his Majesty and his administration have been most maliciously and falsely traduced, with an intent to raise divisions, and to alienate the affections of the people from his Majesty therefore for the preventing and suppressing of such riots and tumults, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the offenders therein; BE IT ENACTED…
and so on, and on.

[In the United States the principle was incorporated into the first Militia Act of 1792. The act's title was "An act to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions"; Section 3 gave power to the President to issue a proclamation to "command the insurgents to disperse, and retire peaceably to their respective abodes, within a limited time", and authorized him to use the militia if they failed to do so. Something similar is presently codified in Chapter 15 of title 10, United States Code.]

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Doing it twice in a day

Last Thursday was the first time I’d attempted this for many years. I hardly ever did it even in my twenties, though three times a week was nothing out of the ordinary for me. In those days twice in a day was actually less demanding than it is now because it all took rather less time, while nowadays just doing it once can take two and a half hours or more.

However, back then there was a risk of getting backache if you did it too often. One day last week we were encouraged to try it twice because of our recent discovery of a really comfortable place to do it. I mean, of course, watching a film.

And both the films we wanted to see were showing there on the same day, so we caught Brick Lane at 12.30, nipped out for a snack and a glass of wine and went back in at 2.30 for Earth, which moved for us.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Gendarmes: Two, Deux, Beaux, or Bold

About once a month, according to my tracker, some confused elderly person will put one of these alternatives into Google, hoping to get the words of a song by Gilbert and Sullivan. The seeker ends up here and finds both the words and a link to a duo singing the first verse, as well as the information that it is not by G&S at all, but by Offenbach. In this song, the public guardians are a pair of corrupt cowards.

Obviously the poor old dears (most of them, oddly, are Australian) who think it's by G&S are getting it mixed up with When a Felon’s Not Engaged in his Employment, from The Pirates of Penzance. which is sung by a whole squad of honest and caring coppers. They can hear the first verse of this by clicking with their palsied fingers on this link and going down to Sample No 16.

Friday, 7 December 2007

One more royal titfer

I am not obsessed with Her Majesty the Queen, nor do I have a hat fixation. I am posting yet one more picture of a spectacular hat (also worn in Kampala) because this one confirms that I was absolutely right when I suggested in a post a couple of weeks ago that many of the Queen’s hats are inspired by the esculent architectural fantasies created by a great chef at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It looks so much more like a patissier’s creation than a milliner’s that perhaps it really is made of spun sugar, though it is unlikely that jesters at the Court of St James (Gyles Brandreth, say) would be allowed to dance on it in the way that was permitted, so we are told, to those entertaining the royalty of CarĂªme’s day.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Another Thurber

"Have you no code, man?"

Monday, 3 December 2007

One for the diary

Really Magazine reports that The University of British Columbia, the main centre for A/r/tographic Research, is running a course from January to April 2008 which will examine :

... the relational ways of knowing inherent in the renderings and reflections found in a/r/tography as an approach to research that is attentive to the sensual, tactile, auditory, performative and unsaid aspects of artist-teacher lives.

As any fule no, a/r/tography “develops the relationship between embodiment and ethics as a being-with”. I am not too proud to admit that I find this a fairly difficult concept to grasp, though Really Magazine kindly supplies a link HERE to some further explanatory notes (called, of course, renderings) with some rather pretty backgrounds (you have to run your mouse over the numbers to reveal them).

Unfortunately, I have several major commitments in January, and anyway the course is probably already over-subscribed.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

The Use Of the Five Fingers

Writing about my itchy ear the other day reminded me of a very old Jewish joke. It is not easy to write down because it calls for actions, but I will try.

“Moshe, soon you will have your bar mitzvah and you will become a man. Before then I must teach you all the things that a Jewish man needs to know, and I will start today by telling you the use of the five fingers.”

“Yes, Papa”.

“Now, the first finger is the thumb, which is called the Introduction Finger”...[Extends a thumb and twists his wrist from left to right and back again.] “...Mr Cohen, Mr Levy. Mr Levy, Mr Cohen.”

"Then, the second finger is the Warning Finger...” [Extends a forefinger and wags it up and down.] “...Don’t you try to cheat me!”.

"The third finger is the Reassurance Finger...” [Taps his chest with his middle finger.] “...You think that I would try to cheat you?”

“And lastly, there is the Admiration Finger...” [Slips his fourth finger under an imaginary lapel and slides it up and down.] “...That’s a nice bit of cloth you’ve got there!”

“…And that, my son, is what you need to know about the use of the five fingers.”

“But Papa, that is only four fingers. What about the other one?”

“Oh well, Moshe… I don't know... I don’t think that’s got any special use….” [Looks thoughtful while poking his little finger in his ear and wiggling it about].