Thursday, 31 January 2008

What makes us good?

Earlier this month the New York Sunday Times Magazine had a cool and cogent article by Steven Pinker called The Moral Instinct which attempts to analyse the influences which have created our moral codes, or at least our sense of morality. He mentions Kant, Russell, Chomsky, Spinoza, Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke and a host of lesser-known philosophers, anthropologists, neuroscientists and psychologists—and quotes Chekhov—but it is not until near the end of the piece that he mentions a possible source of our morality which until recently most of mankind believed was the only one, and which many still do.

Putting God in charge of morality is one way to solve the problem of how we know right from wrong, of course, but Plato made short work of it 2,400 years ago. Does God have a good reason for designating certain acts as moral and others as immoral? If not—if his dictates are divine whims—why should we take them seriously? Suppose that God commanded us to torture a child; would that make it all right, or would some other standard give us reasons to resist? And if, on the other hand, God was forced by moral reasons to issue some dictates and not others—if a command to torture a child was never an option—then, Pinker asks, why not appeal to those reasons directly?

The article poses many other questions in its nearly eight thousand words, and attempts to answer some of them. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug? And which do you think is the least admirable? For most people, it’s an easy question. Mother Teresa, famous for ministering to the poor in Calcutta, has been beatified by the Vatican, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and ranked in an American poll as the most admired person of the 20th century. Bill Gates, infamous for giving us the Microsoft dancing paper clip and the blue screen of death, has been decapitated in effigy in “I Hate Gates” Web sites and hit with a pie in the face. As for Norman Borlaug . . . who the heck is Norman Borlaug?

Yet a deeper look might lead you to rethink your answers. Borlaug, father of the “Green Revolution” that used agricultural science to reduce world hunger, has been credited with saving a billion lives, more than anyone else in history. Gates, in deciding what to do with his fortune, crunched the numbers and determined that he could alleviate the most misery by fighting everyday scourges in the developing world like malaria, diarrhea and parasites. Mother Teresa, for her part, extolled the virtue of suffering and ran her well-financed missions accordingly: their sick patrons were offered plenty of prayer but harsh conditions, few analgesics and dangerously primitive medical care.

It’s not hard to see why the moral reputations of this trio should be so out of line with the good they have done. Mother Teresa was the very embodiment of saintliness: white-clad, sad-eyed, ascetic and often photographed with the wretched of the earth. Gates is a nerd’s nerd and the world’s richest man, as likely to enter heaven as the proverbial camel squeezing through the needle’s eye. And Borlaug, now 93, is an agronomist who has spent his life in labs and nonprofits, seldom walking onto the media stage, and hence into our consciousness, at all.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Dirty rotten swine

With bitterness I noted a year ago that some vicious and small-minded creep, may his toes turn green and drop off, had cited "terms of use violation" and bludgeoned YouTube, probably by threat of legal action, into removing a clip to which I had given a link: Eartha Kitt singing See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have.

This was a sad loss, for it was one of the 0.0001% of the YouTube clips which are worth watching. It was in a show which was supposedly a tribute to Marlene Dietrich, but this number was actually a brilliant parody and a marvellous performance in its own right; I fear it is gone from the public domain for ever, unless some noble person can somehow make it available again.

But, though it is no substitute, I have been consoled to discover that a 45-year-old clip of An Englishman Needs Time has been available for some months. This appears to have been filmed in semi-darkness, but is a rare joy; Eartha plays up the wit of the lyrics as only she can.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Secret voices

In a more gracious age, for which I was sadly born too late, persons of distinction visiting a restaurant, hotel or place of entertainment would expect to be greeted and generally looked after by the proprietor or other big cheese in person. I realised how gratifying this must have been—though no doubt it was taken for granted by knights of the realm and above—when it happened to me at a cinema the other day.

I had never been to this one before; it had three screens and popcorn but was other ways a little different from the usual. The General Manager's name was up on a board by the ticket office but somehow the place gave the impression that it was privately owned. Anyway, my wife and grand-daughter had stopped off for some clothes-browsing while I went ahead, and after I had to bought the tickets I was accosted courteously by a man who asked me which film I was going to see and engaged me in conversation; I had the feeling that I was being officially welcomed by the owner, and when the others arrived I somehow felt the occasion called for formal introductions: "Anne, this is Mr Galloway...", I said, and we all shook hands and had an agreeable chat. All very civilised, not the sort of thing you expect at a multiplex.

One of the things we discussed was the way in which those who supply voices are no longer anonymous; who remembers who sang and spoke for Snow White, or the name of the elderly gent whose high tenor wished upon a star? But the poster for Bee Movie announced that Jerry Seinfeld and and Renée Zellweger were "starring" in it, and the Shrek movies promote the names of all the celebrities who provided the voices.

This doesn't extend to all the highly talented singers who warble on behalf of real actors, perhaps because the stars demand discretion about the the names of those who sang while the actors moved their lips. So let us raise a glass to a few of the invisible singers of the past, of whom I had never heard until I looked them up:

Marni Nixon sang for Deborah Kerr in The King and I
LaVerne Hutcherson sang for Harry Belafonte in Carmen Jones
Danielle Licari sang for Catherine Deneuve in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg
Musical Director Johnny Green's daughter Kathy sang for Mark Lester in Oliver! Twenty years later Green amusingly revealed the story of how this came about.

...but Laurence Olivier sang (rather nicely) as well as acted the part of Captain MacHeath in The Beggar's Opera.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Gallia est omnis divisa...

Bet you didn't know that of all the peoples of mainland Europe the Belgians are the bravest because they can't import feminine fripperies and because they are nearest the Germans, with whom they are constantly fighting, and that the Swiss are also pretty tough because of their battles with the Germans.

At least, that was how it was around two thousand years ago. Of course, modern Europe isn't Gaul, and its nations don't correspond to the tribes who were around at that time. But even after the unifying efforts of the Romans, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler and the EU, what was written then about the diversity of the squabbling ruffians over there on the mainland is still largely true today.

Here is a translation (via Project Gutenberg) of the opening words of what Gaius Julius Caesar actually wrote to introduce De Bello Gallico, his commentaries on the nine years of the war in Gaul:

All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws.

The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the Marne and the Seine separate them from the Belgae. Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are farthest from the civilisation and refinement of [our] province, and merchants least frequently resort to them and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valour, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily battles, when they either repel them from their own territories, or themselves wage war on their frontiers.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Poetic licence

I never expect anything in the way of thrills or titillation when I scan through my local newspaper, but this week there wasn't even much in the way of interest: a naughty vicar, "Gales damage a school roof", "Doris is 104" and "Builder head-butted off-duty policeman", and that was about it.

Until, with a shock, I encountered an item which left me open-mouthed and which, if TV news and the national papers are on their toes, must surely soon become a hot topic throughout the country. I leave out the names, but here is the piece (honest, no kidding):

Wordsmiths are being invited to compete in a prophylactic poetry competition to win £50 in vouchers. [Our local] Primary Care Trust's chlamydia screening programme and [-]'s Pharmacy have joined forces to run the contest which covers two age groups. Young people aged between 16 and 25 are being asked to pen a poem using the word chlamydia, while over 25s are called upon to write a piece containing the word contraception, or a form of contraception.

There are several things to be said about this. For one thing, the rules are somewhat vague: Do they really mean any sort of poem, or do they want some verses which rhyme and/or scan? Must chlamydia be used in its proper context and refer to the infection or can it be treated as just a word? It would make things much easier if could be used as a proper name, so that you could submit a sentimental ode titled To Chlamydia, with a line similar to the one Ernest Dowson very nearly wrote: I have been true to thee, Chlamydia, in my fashion.

If it must be used as a medical term, on the other hand, then the poems would have to outline the bacteriological background, symptoms and treatment (what else is there to write about on this subject?), and references to C. trachomatis, purulent exudate and Azithromycin would have to be featured; these are very tricky things to work into even the loosest rhyming scheme or metre.

For the older competitors, contraception as a subject offers lots of possibilities, since no particular approach is specified. The poem could be lyrical, romantic, theologically controversial or merely practical. In the latter case, the various methods alone provide plenty to say; references to them in popular song go back to 1930, with Ira Gershwin's lyrics to I Got Rhythm.

This competition seems to me to be much more difficult than one I set before Christmas, and that attracted only five entries. Somehow the sponsors will have to ensure that there are at least two entries in their Prophylactic Poetry Contest, even if they have to write them themselves, for the winning poems are to be displayed at the town's main shopping centre on February 9th to mark National Contraceptive Awareness Week. Anyway, I shall not fail to be there to see how the young poets of the town have risen to the challenge.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Bill Kenny

Apparently Ella Fitzgerald didn't like him, because he would fool about behind her when they appeared together on stage, and although his talent was much less than hers he and the group often got better billing because they were more popular.

Well, maybe*. It is said that together with the Mills Brothers his group helped define the musical genre that led to rhythm & blues and rock and roll, and the subgenre doo-wop. In 1934 they toured the UK with Jack Hylton's Orchestra, and were reviewed in the Melody Maker thus:

The sensation of the programme is the coloured quartette, the Four Ink Spots. They accompany themselves on three tenor guitars and a 'cello—which is not bowed, but picked and slapped like a double bass. Their natural instinct for hot rhythm is exemplified in their terrific single-string solo work and their beautifully balanced and exquisitely phrased vocalisms. They exploit all kinds of rhythmic vocalisms - straight solos, concerted, scat, and instrumental imitations. They even throw in a bit of dancing to conclude their act, and the leading guitarist simultaneously plays and juggles with his instrument.

Bill Kenny joined them in 1936, and by the early 40s their recordings with him as the lead singer mostly featured his high tenor, their close harmony and a trademark piano and guitar accompaniment which was virtually the same whatever the song. But one thing that makes them still a pleasure to listen to today is Bill Kenny's impeccable diction, with every vowel clear as a bell and every consonant clicking into place.

*Decca, recorded 11th June 1940. You can hear this and eleven others HERE.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Business worries

Before Michael Frayn became a novelist and playwright he had regular columns in the Guardian and the Observer. Many of these pieces were later published as collections, and those lucky enough to have copies can happily revisit them. Here he is, forty years ago, describing the agony of the actors—and the audience—when there is a mishap on stage:

...I have a haunting fear that one night when I'm present some piece of business is going to go so completely wrong that the play as written cannot proceed at all, and the actors will be reduced to improvising some new line of development entirely. Take the famous Locket scene at the end of Error for Error, when young Ferdinand shows Duke Oregano and the assembled court the locket which proves he is the Duke's son, carried off at birth by a waterspout. Suppose that after the lines -
A locket sav'd I from that spoutsome day,
Most curiously incrib'd. I have it here.
Ferdinand tosses the vital instrument to the Duke, and the Duke fumbles it and drops it out of sight. What can they do, except make the rest of the scene up as they go along?

DUKE: Alas! Methinks I have misfinger'd it!

FERDINAND: Sire, bend thou down thine aged frame
And do thou smartly pluck it up again.

DUKE: Bend as I might, I cannot see the thing.
My lords, do you explore your cloggy beards.
No sign? Ah me, I fear it must have roll'd
Amid this mazy grove of cardboard trees.

FERDINAND: Was not one glance as it came winging by
Enough to grasp the general sense of it?
- That here before thee stands thy long-lost son?

DUKE: A fig for your problems - what worrieth me
Is how I speak my major speech, which starts;
'Come, locket, let me kiss thee for thy pains,
And taste the savour of fidelity,'
Without the bloody locket. Come, let's shift
This forest. Take the yonder end and heave.

FERDINAND: Is this meet welcome for a long-lost son?

DUKE: Meet welcome for a long-lost son, forsooth!
What kind of long-lost son is this, that chucks
Essential props outside my senile reach,
And cuts his long-lost father's longest speech?
Lose thee again, son, till thou learnst at last
The art of throwing props and not the cast.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Shut yer gob!

...or, if you are French, ta gueule!

Urban Dictionary says this is:
a French slang/argot expression: to demand silence in a violent or immediate way: 1. shut up; shut your trap/gob/hole, etcetera. 2. While sufficient when used alone, is frequently combined with a descriptive noun that is usually insulting, vulgar or rude (often all three).

...and helpfully gives some examples of such nouns (and a coarse québécois phrase which was new to me).

Widely useful as the vulgar gueule can be—gueuleton, dégueulasse, amuse-gueule (better than the prissy amuse-bouche)—it crops up less often in French than gob does in English. The OED lists five distinct nouns , of which the oldest, meaning mass or lump, was first recorded in 1382, and three verbs. Also, of course, there are dozens of compounds (gob-stopper, gobshite, gobsmacked...).

The one we are most familiar with means mouth, and was first recorded in 1550: S.T, xxv: Quhair thair gobbis wer ungeird, Thay gat upon the gammis. I have no idea what that means, though it sounds like the first two lines of a rude poem.

I had not intended to get involved with gueules and gobs; I just got sidetracked, as one often does when treading the miry paths of the OED. Having recently posted pieces about some huge meals which might well be considered spew-making or pukogenic, I started idly looking at synonyms for vomit, and one thing led to another. Anyway, the really interesting thing I found—well, interesting to me at any rate—was that there is a French word dégobiller meaning to throw up.

As one of the meanings of gob is to spit then there must surely be a connection here. With the help of Céline, I established that etymologically the French word does not stem from the English. And gob meaning spit, according to the OED, is: Of obscure origin; possibly Gael. and Irish; nothing about a French connection..

But, if we look at gob meaning a mouthful, lump, we find the etymology is: OF. gobe, goube (mod.F. gobbe). In mod.F. only in the special senses of a food-ball for poisoning dogs, feeding poultry, etc., and a concretion found in the stomachs of sheep), related to the vb. gober to swallow.

Leaving aside the question of whether you can really poison dogs and feed poultry with the same gobbe, this shows clearly that the OED etymology for gob (=spit) is probably wrong: we got it from the French.

So there.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Praise Him All Ye Works of The Lord

...or The Lady, or The Thing. I always thought that praising a Supreme Omnipotent Omniscient Creator would be pointless; I mean, such a perfect being would surely number modesty among His/Her/Its ineffable virtues and find flattery unacceptable .

I didn't read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion when it was first published in 2006. There was no need to, I felt, because I had never come under any strong religious influences as a child; I was not taken to church except for social occasions—weddings and so on. At infant school we were instructed to pray and I did so, obediently but not very hopefully, giving it up when it turned out to be totally unproductive. The only clergyman I had ever encountered was a sanctimonious old fool at my secondary school who pathetically tried to teach us something called Divinity.

So when the time came for me to put away childish things I didn't need help in getting rid of them; there weren't many, only my collection of cigarette cards and some rather battered toys; certainly I had no cherished beliefs to be agonisingly re-assessed and perhaps abandoned. Also, I had read that the book was an intemperate rant and that Dawkins was an arrogant bully who gave atheism a bad name, and I feared that reading it might weaken my sincerely held lack of belief.

I should have realised, of course, that any book so vehemently condemned by the Vatican and by American evangelicals was not to be missed, and sure enough when I read The God Delusion the other day I found that Dawkins and his book had been grossly maligned. He writes calmly, lucidly and by and large modestly, sometimes with passion but always with reason, and not without wit.

The other day Dawkins said he was a "Cultural Christian", pointing out that just because he was an atheist he didn't propose abolishing Christmas or Easter or other elements of the Christian culture; he likes singing carols along with everybody else: "If there's any threat these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists." Certainly, religious festivals, even to those who don't care for the religion, do give life a certain rhythm, plus brandy butter and chocolate eggs.

All in all, The God Delusion is a thundering good read. But I'm not sure I would recommend it to those less fortunate than I, who have had to struggle to eradicate their inclination towards superstition and who may still be wondering whether their lives were not simpler when they had profound religious convictions. There are 463 pages in the paperback version, and however wise and salutary its message you might consider some parts of it to be overkill.

Better perhaps to leave it for later, and to look first on the RationalWiki website at Atheism FAQ for the Newly Deconverted, to which I contributed a brief tail-end note pointing out how you can have your residual or former beliefs analysed online by professional philosophers.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Coppered Parmesan and curled potatoes

...continued from here
After the sixteen-course lunch our intrepid gormandiser takes a few hours rest then sets off in search of fresh fumets and frozen flakes new. At 9.30 he sits down at the other 3-star restaurant, Akelarre on the slopes of Monte Igeldo. He is not hungry, but nevertheless "ready to finish the task I had started".

Having shovelled in "a box of eight little snacks (liquid almond, mussel with black bread, etc.)" he gets down to serious business with (again from a droll English menu):

Little pearls of foie gras and sour salad
Crab in sequences
Squid, onion, and curled Parmesan
Pickled red tuna à la minute with Piparras
Beef in coppered potato and juicy sponge
Milk and grape, cheese and wine in parallel evolution
Generous fruit ravioli and apple soupe

This lasts him until just before midnight, by which time he has cleared every plate set down before him and emptied eight glasses of wine, "so it was mission accomplished".

But it had not been a pleasant experience: "Left me disappointed ... culinary experimentalism run amok ... pellet-size bites of foie gras with tapioca are just not very satisfying ... you needed construction equipment to cut through the potato skin, and the meat was flavorless ... the meal took a needlessly provocative turn ... did not thrill me ... a Gorgonzola sorbet that elicited a one-word comment in my notebook: Blech*".

A disappointment for the poor fellow, indeed. However: "On the plus side, it was food that made people think and talk, as Subijana, a delightful man with a great handlebar mustache, made the rounds of the dining room", talking about the various dishes. This sounds an even more depressing experience than eating the meal, but the sad author of this drivel was probably grateful: he was writing in the first person singular, so one must assume that he was alone at the trough with only his notebook for company, and would have had to chomp his way in glum silence through all that 'needlessly provocative' grub had there not been a great handlebar mustache willing to chat to him.

*Clearly, this man has led a simple life: to him, blech is merely a variant of yuk; the cognoscenti know that blechs are devices to avoid cooking during Shabbos (and so, rather confusingly, are unblechs).

Friday, 11 January 2008

A ray of light amid the gloom

Usually, I resist the easy option of creating a post by simply quoting or linking to a news item. Since the beginning of 2008, however, the news has been so uniformly depressing that I am happy to give everyone a lift by reporting this incident. It is a heart-warming tale of a narrow escape from danger, serving to remind us of the resourcefulness and courage of the youth of today and perhaps to make us all feel optimistic about the prospects for the coming year and more than ever confident that our island race still has a great deal to offer the world.

The BBC made a 300-word story of it, with an illustration, but a précis will suffice:

Mrs Marsey of Hartlepool is out for the day ... son and nephew are at home frying some bread ... they go to answer the door ... they come back, the pan is blazing ... fire threatens to engulf the house ... the brave lads find a pair of Mrs Marsey's giant knickers (size 18-20, M&S, £4.99) ... they wet them and throw them over the flames ... inferno is extinguished ... danger over, general rejoicing ... Mrs. M. says, "I think if they had been my daughter Sarah's skimpy knickers they wouldn't have done any good, I'm taking it all in my stride" ... Fire Brigade man says, "They did the right thing in the end. We advise everyone to get fire safety advice."

And, presumably, to keep a huge pair of knickers handy at all times.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Mr Creosote in San Sebastián

If you thought that you had committed the sin of Gluttony over Christmas, you will realise that you were actually being quite frugal if you read in the online magazine Slate their wine columnist’s report on a day he spent in San Sebastián. Mike Steinberger resolved to visit one of the town’s Michelin three-starred restaurants for lunch and the other for dinner.

After preparing himself with a gourmand’s breakfast (some water and a couple of Immodium tablets), he went to Berasategui’s restaurant ‘in a drab suburb’ at 1.30 and began with ‘two perfectly fried, delicious potato croquettes’. This is what followed (exactly as described in the English menu):

Mille-feuille of smoked eel, foie gras, spring onions, and green apple
Consommé of almond with apple ice shavings
Squid soup, creamy squid ink ravioli with squid crouton
Oyster with watercress, rocket leaves, and apple chlorophyll; lemon grass cream with oxalis acetosella
Raw fennel with smoked cream, caviar, and curry and cucumber custard
Green tomato jelly with grey mullet roe, lemon and basil sherbet with olive juice, and ginger and citric air
Razor shell custard with soya sprouts, coffee cream, cinnamon, and curry
Farm's egg with beet root and liquid herb's salad, carpaccio of Basque stew and cheese
Onion and idiazabal cheese soup with zizahoris and seasoned pigeon cream
Warm vegetable hearts salad with seafood, cream of lettuce hearts, and idionized juice
Roast red mullet with crystals of soft scales, consommé of cucumber, tomato and vodka emulsion, and raw cauliflower
Roast Araiz's pigeon with cream of apple, lime, and basil and its toast
Strawberries and green apple with black olive sand and frozen flakes
Yogurt liquid bubble, mango and passion fruit sauce, mist of gentian and crunchy flowers
Creamy coffee ice cream on top of a soft hazelnut and chocolate cake with whisky ice shavings

He confesses that he was not able to finish all the nine glasses of wine which were served, but proudly notes that by 3.45 he had cleaned all sixteen plates, not because he liked everything but because he had decided that this was his mission.

One must remember that this kind of food comes in minute quantities—a smear of this, a teaspoonful of that, a dab of jelly, a mist of nothing much, some bubbles of something and a few frozen flakes of something else. I guess that if you put the whole meal in a bowl and gave it a good stir it would occupy much the same volume as three sausages and a dollop of mash. Nevertheless Steinberger considered it the most challenging meal he had ever had, ‘a full-palate workout’, though he was ‘not overwhelmingly’ full when he had finished it.

Back to his hotel for a few hours well-earned rest, then our hero sets off for dinner. I lack his stamina so I will take a longer break before describing it here.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Top sonnets for 2007

I did not expect that many of the bare-knuckle fighters, street traders and used car dealers among my readers would accept my sonnet-writing challenge. There are a few intellectuals and top professional men and women who occasionally leaven OMF's banalities with their wit and erudition, but I knew that these would be too busy chairing international conferences or coping with their ministerial responsibilities to spend time on such a frivolous project. And, of course, the prelates among them would be carrying a heavy burden of sacerdotal duties over the Christmas period; one can never expect to get much feedback from high-ranking men of the cloth at peak holy times.

However, I am happy to report that very creditable fourteen-liners were submitted by three of my friends and two unknowns:
Eric: a distinguished American law professor who mistakenly believes that all lawyers are poets manqué
Outeast: a person who supplies a nickname but no personal details or URL and who I therefore suspect may be wanted for questioning by the police in connection with a series of axe murders
Gervase: a Scottish lecturer
Anonymous: an elderly retired gentleman from Warwickshire
Grumio: This old reprobate is a resident of Soho but spends much time abroad.

The full texts of their sonnets (in the order in which they were received), and a comment on each by a noted critic are given HERE. The standard was very high; every one of these sonnets has some quality to be commended, so I am unable to pick a winner and I am sending the donation to the Save the Children Fund in my own name. Thank you all.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December…]

5th January
Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs us to inform you that with the arrival on her premises at half-past seven this morning of the entire percussion section of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and several of their friends she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent your importuning her further. I am making arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock.
I am, Sir, Your faithfully,

Friday, 4 January 2008

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December…]

4th January
This is the last straw. You know I detest bagpipes. The place has now become something between a menagerie and a madhouse and a man from the Council has just declared it unfit for habitation. At least Mummy has been spared this last outrage; they took her away yesterday afternoon in an ambulance. I hope you’re satisfied.

[…and ends on 5th January]

Thursday, 3 January 2008

On the Tenth Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December…]

3rd January
As I write this letter, ten disgusting old men are prancing about all over what used to be the garden—before the geese and the swans and the cows got at it; and several of them, I notice, are taking inexcusable liberties with the milkmaids. Meanwhile the neighbours are trying to have us evicted. I shall never speak to you again.

[...and continues on 4th January]

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

On the Ninth Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December…]

2nd January
Look here Edward, this has gone far enough. You say you’re sending me nine ladies dancing; all I can say is that judging from the way they dance, they’re certainly not ladies. The village just isn’t accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless hussies with nothing on but their lipstick cavorting round the green—and it’s Mummy and I who get blamed. If you value our friendship—which I do less and less—kindly stop this ridiculous behaviour at once.

[…and continues on 3rd January]

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

[This correspondence began on 25th December…]

1st January
Frankly I think I prefer the birds. What am I to do with eight milkmaids—and their cows? Is this some kind of a joke? If so, I’m afraid I don’t find it very amusing.

[…and continues on 2nd January]