Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

A Brood of Brewed but not Stewed Studies
In recent months, as I've mentioned here a couple of times I think, I've taken to working at Coffee #1 on the Gloucester Rd. I like their green tea, and I've got to that stage now where they reach for it when they see me come through the door. That's good in a way, of course, but it occurred to me that I might be becoming predictable, and a while ago I said jokingly to the woman behind the counter, "I ought to have a catchphrase - like, 'Tea me up, Scotty!'"

To my surprise, she found this weak quip highly amusing, and in subsequent weeks I felt honour bound to quote it whenever she happened to be serving. After a while, though, for the sake of my sanity I thought I ought to vary it. "Greet me with green tea" worked for a short while; "The green, green tea of home" was even more ephemeral. I've been through quite a few phrases now, and it's getting desperate. I've got "A green thought in a green shade" saved up for next time, but I worry that eventually I'll run out of mildly amusing ways to order a pot of Jade Tips. Then I'll have no choice but to switch to Rooibos. The horror!

* * *

Obviously I can't help overhearing the people who sit next to me while I'm working at the cafe. It's not that I'm listening in, not at all.

So, today it was a man of about 35 and his 9- or 10-year-old daughter. I was drafting my Annual Performance Review document on a laptop a couple of feet away, but absorbing as that activity was I couldn't help but be struck by her loud claim to be able to "predict the past".

Dad, naturally, plodded out a few clichés about the unidirectionality of time, the meanings of Latin prefixes, and so on. (By this point I was trying to find a way to say how wonderful my teaching has been without sounding boastful - no easy task, as I've recently had occasion to observe.)

Finally, the father said in exasperation: "I refuse to believe that you have access to a non-linear, atemporal mode of being!" His daughter stared back mulishly across her babyccino. Relenting, he added: "Anyway, what do you want for supper? And don't say cheese and pasta!"

"Pasta and cheese," she replied.


Spelling out the Obvious
I don't believe in posting just because a) you haven't for a few days and/or b) something important has happened that you feel you "ought" to comment on. Nevertheless, that's what I'm doing - partly as a data point so that I can remind my future self what I was thinking now.

So, I think this is obvious and dull, but here goes. The most striking thing about Theresa May's announcement of the election the other day wasn't the fact that it was a U-turn on all her previous promises not to hold one; nor that she rather ridiculously talked about "strong, stable government", stealing a line from David Cameron, Britain's most chaotic Prime Minister ever; nor was it even... Oh, but I think this could turn into a very long list, so I'll refer you to point-by-point analysis and cut to the chase.

The most striking thing was the way in which May evidently regards any effective Parliamentary oversight of the Government's actions as an unjustified infringement on the prerogatives of the executive. Far from opposing her at every turn, Parliament has in fact been extraordinarily accommodating, letting her Brexit bill pass with a three-line Opposition whip in support, and no amendments from the Lords. How much easier could they have made it? For May, however, even having to go to Parliament was an indignity, and she wasted a lot of taxpayer's money trying to avoid it.

I can't help wondering whether Erdogan's victory in Turkey wasn't more of a spur than the invigorating air of Snowdonia in inspiring her to go to the polls, asking for a majority that would effectively free her from democratic scrutiny. Okay, it's not quite being made President-for-life (even Trump has fought shy of that so far), but like Erdogan and Trump, May has that dangerous combination of entitlement and paranoia that makes any criticism, or even any constitutional check or balance, appear illegitimate, whether that be a federal judge daring to do his job in Hawaii, or a Parliamentary opposition doing its job in Westminster.

She's a very stiff-necked person, I think, when what we need right now is an Olympic gymnast. (I'm not saying Corbyn's that, but he can at least manage a forward roll.)

Back in the bubble, why does the Guardian think "Brenda from Bristol" requires subtitles when none of the other people in this clip do?

Platform 9 and 3/4
It's odd, isn't it? Every time LJ does something stupid (and it does), people talk about how it's the end of the platform, and they're high-tailing it off to Dreamwidth, or wherever. Sometimes they go, sometimes they stay.

By contrast, since I've been on Facebook it's been clusterfuck after clusterfuck. The arrangement of newsfeeds, privacy settings, how adverts are placed, what names people are allowed to use, all these things are regularly interfered with without warning or apparent justification, other than the whim of Zuckerberg. Imagine if LJ decided that pictures of breastfeeding mothers weren't allowed! There'd be more flouncing than in a Victorian haberdasher's. Yet FB gets away with all this and more (as well as being a vastly inferior platform in terms of threading, linking, etc.), without - well, I wouldn't say without a grumble, but certainly without a mass exodus to MySpace. Strange, n'est-ce pas?

Briton First
I spent this weekend in the Gower peninsula, taking part in a magical weekend - my first in two years (last year having been taken up with other matters). Of course, it's in the nature of the beast that I shouldn't go into details about our Dreadful Rites, but I can at least share some photos (albeit taken with a very poor phone camera) from the archaeological part of the adventure.

Over Sea, Under StoneCollapse )

And so we see the blogger, sitting down to her journal - quite unaware of the hidden leopard
A recent radio programme suggested that most of us talk to ourselves (guilty as charged). Quite a few also commentate on their daily behaviour, and of those, a large majority do so in the voice of David Attenborough narrating a wildlife documentary.

I wonder if this is as common a thing in the UK as dreaming of the royal family?

Incidentally, I wonder about the history of this habit. People couldn't imitate commentaries before there were commentaries, after all. I remember in Ian McEwan's Atonement the little girl Briony swipes the heads of dandelions with a stick (or something similar) and imagines someone commentating on her as if she were at the Olympic Dandelion Beheading final. That would be in the late 1930s. By that time there was certainly radio commentary on football, and I daresay cricket and horseracing too. Live coverage of the Olympics, though? I'm not sure. And, before Marconi, were our imaginations mute?

Invoking Good Witches
When did good witches start to appear in British children's literature? I don't mean wise women, good fairies, or anything of that kind, but outright, named-as-such witches.

In America there are the Oz books, of course, though they in any case seem something of an outlier: did Oz spawn other good Stateside witches in the decades immediately following? In the UK, though, mid-twentieth-century witches (e.g. in John Masefield's The Midnight Folk [1927], T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone [1938], Ursula Moray Williams' Gobbolino the Witch's Cat [1942] and Barbara Sleigh's Carbonel, Prince of Cats [1955]) are generally malignant, as per tradition, and that tends to be the case into the 1970s, too: see for example the witches in Mary Stewart's The Little Broomstick (1971) (soon to be an anime feature, by the way, under the title, Mary and the Witch's Flower) or Diana Wynne Jones's Wilkins' Tooth/Witch's Business (1973). The first good British witch I can think of is in Nina Beachcroft's Well Met by Witchlight (1972), and even she is paired off against a bad one.

In a slightly different category are the good comedy witches. Oddly, there doesn't seem to have been much influence in Britain from the magic-in-a-modern-suburban-setting style of American sitcom, as in Bewitched, The Addams Family or The Munsters (all 1964), where the comedy comes from the incongruity of the modern - unless the boarding-school setting of Jill Murphy's Worst Witch series (from 1974) counts as such. In Britain, naturally, we're all about the comic incompetence, as with Murphy's Mildred Hubble and (though to a far lesser extent) Helen Nicoll and Jan Pieńkowski's Meg and Mog (from 1972). Both Mildred and Meg count as good, I suppose?

As for New Age/Wicca-inspired good witches, I'm not really aware of anything in Britain until 1990, when we get Monica Furlong's Wise Child (if indeed Juniper really is a witch - I'm not sure she identifies as such) - although in New Zealand Margaret Mahy had begun as early as 1984, with the Carlisle witches in The Changeover.

This is pretty much a top-of-the-head list. I don't want a baptismal curse, so tell me - whom have I neglected? Can you beat Nina Beachcroft in 1971? I'm sure you can.

A Crime I Didn't Commit
I went to Romsey this weekend so that I could visit my mother in hospital there (she was moved last week from the big hospital in Southampton to the local cottage hospital – where I was born, as a matter of fact). When I saw her on Friday afternoon she was in good spirits, and asked me to bring some clothes and smoked-salmon sandwiches the following morning, which I duly did. However, on turning into the ward I found my way blocked by a nurse, who said that there’d been a couple of cases of D&V among the ladies of the ward overnight.

I had to ask what D&V meant. The first words to pop into my head were “decay” and “vile with green and livid spot”, but apparently it’s diarrhoea and vomiting, and the standard practice is to close the ward to visitors for a day or two, for fear of spreading the infection. This was a shame, since it defeated the purpose of my driving from Bristol, but I thanked her for letting me know, handed over the care package, and went back to my mother’s house for the day.

This morning I rang to see if the ward was open for visitors yet. It wasn’t, so I asked to speak with my mother on the phone. A minute later I heard her asking why on earth I hadn’t visited yesterday? It turned out that she didn’t know about the ward being closed to visitors! The nurse who gave her my package the day before had simply told her that I couldn’t visit – which she understood to be a message from me, rather than about me. Consequently, she spent the next 24 hours wondering why I’d abandoned her.

Of course I cleared up the misunderstanding, but I was quite upset to think of her feeling bereft and abandoned like that. And I was just as upset on my own behalf to think of her believing I’d do such a thing.

“No one ever gets over the first unfairness,” wrote the sagacious Mr Barrie. I’d hazard that mine involved being unjustly accused of something, because that’s a scenario that has a peculiar power to cut to my quick – far more so than open cruelty. Stories in which it happens are upsetting to me, too, unless the misunderstanding is cleared up very quickly. If it doesn’t get cleared up at all, forget it! I can just about make it through The Winter’s Tale because of the final act, but Othello, where Desdemona dies before Othello becomes aware of her innocence, is simply upsetting, and not in a cathartic way.

Even when misunderstandings are cleared up, they leave an undeserved aftertaste – like the smell of cigarette smoke in a non-smoker’s hair (something I’m very familiar with from my Romsey visits). The scenario in which I abandoned my mother at the hospital and went off instead to – what? the races, perhaps? – is hard to dispel. It’s a bit like the episode of Friends in which Phoebe is angry with Ross because of something he did to her in a dream. I suppose that’s how it is for anyone who’s unjustly accused, even when they’re cleared of blame. In the court of the unconscious, the best verdict you can hope for is “Not Proven”.

Against Popery? Essays and their Prepositions
I've always thought that people who write essays should take the word "essay"'s etymology more seriously. These aren't finished pieces, not the last word on any subject, but rather (to use a phrase of Bacon's) "knowledge broken". Montaigne, when he coined the term, was surely advertising that these were merely "attempts", after all. I like that attitude.

Something happened in the centuries following, though. You can catch a glimpse of it in the changing livery of the essay's prepositional outriders. In English, the earliest essays (e.g. Bacon's own, and John Florio's translations of Montaigne), tended to have the word "Of" at the beginning: "Of Praise", "Of Followers and Friends", "Of the Education of Children", and so on. "Of" was a subject marker, but one that suggesting that the writer was partaking of the subject without entirely clearing the plate.

In philosophical and scientific circles, at some point in the seventeenth century, the word "towards" seems to have become popular. Hence John Wilkins' "An essay towards a real character and a philosophical language" (1668), Berkeley's "An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision" (1709), or Bayes' "An Essay towards Solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances" (1763). I approve this choice: it suggests that the essay isn't a finished form but a vector, a movement in the direction of knowledge, a baton passed to futurity. It sits well with the conception of knowledge as a collective enterprise in which no one person can hope to achieve all.

After a while, though, this was superseded in popularity by "on". I suppose Pope may have had something to do with popularising it; at any rate, we can cite "An Essay on Criticism" (1709) as an early locus classicus. There's something closed off and uninviting about this preposition, something that descends on its subject as if from a great height. It seems to fold its arms and say, "Beat that, if you can!" It's a preposition for a more individualistic age, perhaps, but I can't help thinking that it stimulates further argument, if at all, in an unhelpfully adversarial (or at least emulous) way.

So I say, let's bring back the tentative nature of the essay! Let's leave its loose threads hanging instead of tucking them into the hems! Let's detach, as far as possible, arguments from egos! And let's listen to Bacon's sage advice in The Advancement of Learning and apply it to the essay form:

Another error... is the over early and peremptory reduction of knowledge into arts and methods; from which time commonly sciences receive small or no augmentation. But as young men, when they knit and shape perfectly, do seldom grow to a further stature; so knowledge, while it is in aphorisms and observations, it is in growth: but when it once is comprehended in exact methods, it may perchance be further polished and illustrate and accommodated for use and practice; but it increaseth no more in bulk and substance.

I would write a polished conclusion at this point, but it seems against the spirit of the post.

Japanese diary 35: Keisatsu no seikatsu wa ureshikunai desu ne!
Or, to transliterate that: 警察の生活は嬉しくないですね! "A policeman's lot is not a happy one"

That popped into my head as I walked by Romsey's suitably Trumptonish police station this morning. I was interested to find how neatly Gilbert's pentameter converted into an iambic fourteener - although the translation isn't perfect, "生活" being closer to "way of life" than to "lot", which ought perhaps to have some overtone of being a hand dealt by fate. Oh well, shouganai...

Translating random sentences is fun, and probably also a useful exercise, but it's not the same as original composition. Today, I tried to put my ambivalence at being here in early spring (my favourite season) yet not being in Japan as I have been for the last two years into haiku form:


niwa wo mite
sakura to suisen
henna deai

Look in the garden
Cherry blossom and daffodils:
A strange encounter.

Torso Torques
I was kind of annoyed by a Film Programme discussion the other week with Stephen Woolley, the producer of The Crying Game. The thing that annoyed me was this discussion of the film's famous twist:

We started the campaign [not to reveal the ‘twist’] in the UK. I wrote a personal note to all the film critics when the film was released, and I think 99.9% of them kept it quiet. … That twist became part of the reason the Americans flocked to see the film. At the height of its popularity in New York I used to slip into the back of cinemas, just for the moment, just for the revealing moment, because the audience would go crazy. … Obviously, it did work as a sort of hook for the film.

Well, of course I've talked about that film here before, since (because I like it in other respects) it got me thinking a bit about twists in general, what they do and when and why they work, or not - and when they're plain objectifying. That discussion is here.

But Woolley said something else that was rather interesting, and tangential to the other discussion. They were talking about the positioning of the twist and its relation to genre. Many twists come at the end of the story - but in The Crying Game it comes somewhere round the halfway point. And the effect is to change the genre of the of film - in this case from a fairly hard-bitten thriller about the IRA into something quite different (what would you say the genre of The Crying Game is by the end?)

Woolley's comparison was with Pyscho - where the midway murder of the apparent main character signals the change from its being a crime thriller to a psycho-drama. Another example that springs to mind is, of course, Madoka Magica...

I feel there must be at least a few others - stories that that reveal that the audience (and possibly the characters) have been wrong-genre-savvy, and make them reevaluate everything that's happened through the prism of a different genre template, but that also give them the time to do so, rather than using the revelation as a final-scene pay-off. A twist in the tail is fine, but a twist in the torso is better. It's a model that appeals to me, anyway - but how common is it?

Examples, please!

Things I Learned in Antwerp and Luxembourg
#1: when you give blood at Antwerp University, you get free entertainment from a giant drop of blood, who dances around in front of your already-dazed eyes:


I can't decide whether or not this is a good thing.

#2: when the Belgians decide to erect a monument to the characters in a book hardly anyone there has heard of, they make a very good job of it:


#3: When this monument precipitates Korean and Japanese tourists, the Fish and Chip shop round the corner takes on a new dimension, offering panko and tenpura options, and a kimchi side.

#4: When they want to advertise the university, they dress the academics as superheroes (centre-stage is my friend Vanessa, who invited me to talk to her conference on Wednesday):


#5: In Luxembourg, if you're too tired to boil and decorate your own Easter eggs, you can buy them ready-boiled and painted. Probably someone will eat them for you too, for a price:


(Also, there is almost certainly a charming story behind this statue in Luxembourg City, but I've no idea what...)


#6: Finally, it turns out that my brain will only hold a maximum of two languages at a time. Since arriving in Abroad I've done my best at least to make an effort, language-wise, although Flanders and Luxembourg both being notorious nests of polyglotism it was never going to be more than a token one, and it's not as if I knew any Dutch to begin with. However, whenever I try to pull my school French out from the lumber room of my mind I find it's buried under a huge pile of conversational Japanese. I can get at it eventually, but it takes time - rather too much time in a country where everyone's already on a hair trigger to switch to English at the first sign of linguistic ineptitude. I've already thanked someone in a supermarket with 'Arigatou' and, truth be told, a few 'Hai's and 'Daijoubu's may also have escaped the fence of my teeth.

Still, the main business - being patron for a travail de candidature (don't ask) - went off smoothly, though in circumstances that were also rather tragic, for reasons I can't go into here, because it's not my story to tell.

Cats, Punks and Castles, Oh My!
Bristol now has a cat cafe. I helpd fundsurf it about a year ago, and today I cashed in with a cup of tea and a brownie, and 9 rather adorable cats:


Of course, when I got back, Jessie immediately told me that there was catnip on my collar - but nothing happened, I swear it!

This, along with the recent addition of the Bristol Steampunk Museum, has brightened up the Bristol winter - but if you still doubt the city's charms, why not look at it through the eyes of a visiting Japanese film crew?

1872: Greyfriars Bobby Dies, but Hoboken Patrasche is Born!
I'd never heard of the English novelist Ouida, let alone her 1872 children's book, A Dog of Flanders, until the other day, when I mentioned to one of my Japanese conversation partners that I was about to go to Antwerp for the first time, and she brought it up.

This ultra-depressing tale of a destitute boy and his faithful but doomed hound, dying of exposure in Antwerp Cathedral, has I believe has been largely forgotten in the UK, and was never well known in Belgium; but it turns out it's regarded as a classic in Japan and South Korea, and has been televised in numerous versions in both countries. I'm always interested in this kind of "prophet without honour in his own country" survival: When Marnie Was There/Memories of Marnie is another notable instance (although in that case I had at least read the original off my own bat).

Anyway, the burghers of Antwerp were apparently taken by surprise when Korean and Japanese tourists turned up asking to be shown to the sites of the book's various events. Nothing daunted, they arranged for statues and plaques to be erected, so that the tourists would have something to photograph. But in which district of Antwerp was the majority of the story set? The novel never names it, and Ouida herself had only ever spent four hours in Antwerp. But how could literary pilgrimages be made, documented and uploaded to the cloud, without more specific information? The exasperated officials decided more or less arbitrarily that the novel was set in Hoboken, and erected another statue there to prove it. So now, when far-eastern tourists ask where these entirely fictional events really happened, the authorities are able to point them to the exact spot.

I will try to take a photograph when I'm there on Wednesday and Thursday, so as to have ocular proof.

News Through a TV Showroom Window
I've been otherwise occupied over the last few days, but I couldn't help but notice, in the middle distance, quite a bit of fallout from the last Thursday's by-elections. In one, Labour conceded Copeland to the Tories - a poor result indeed, but, especially Corbyn's hostility to nuclear power, not particularly unexpected or out of line with historic trends: the Labour majority had been eroded steadily over the last 20 years, to the point where it was only some 2,000 in 2015. (The Tory vote was greatly boosted, too, by the collapse of UKIP.)

In the early stages of the campaign, far more attention was paid the other election, in Stoke. For here, it seemed, was the perfect storm which would set up UKIP to replace Labour in its heartlands. Here was a city that had voted strongly for Brexit, a left-behind old-industrial city that might reasonably resent the London-centric elite personified in its public-school-educated MP Tristram Hunt, a place where UKIP was moreover fielding its highest-profile parliamentary candidate, party leader Paul Nuttall. Early reports from the constituency were full of vox pops of people talking about switching from Labour to UKIP. You could hear the press licking its lips.

Then it all went a bit quiet. It became clear that UKIP weren't actually doing that well after all. In the event, Labour held the seat comfortably, and UKIP were humiliated - effectively destroyed, indeed, as a political force. If they couldn't win here, in these circumstances, then they can't win anywhere. Yet this story, of the destruction of a party on which the media have lavished so much attention and air time, was told in a strangely muted way, and in press reports was hugely overshadowed by the other election, where Labour lost.

Or so it seems to me, in the middle distance.

Legs Akimbo
"If you think we don’t care because I don’t tell you much about her you only show that you do not understand people at all."

It's been a rather chaotic few days. The other morning my mother dismounted her stair lift, somehow fell as she turned, and broke her femur. Luckily she didn't hit her head (or anything else) on the way down, so she was able to press the button round her neck that summons help, and a neighbour duly arrived to call the ambulance.

So, she's now in Southampton General. Apart from giving birth, it's the first time she's stayed in hospital in 92 years - and the first 24-hour period without a cigarette since I was born. Naturally, at her age they were nervous about operating, but it went fine, and she seems to be making a good recovery, now plus one steel rod in her leg. I'll be up and down to Southampton quite a bit this week.

Now we're beginning to think, if they can do that for her leg, perhaps they can give her a new hip after all? The only reason they haven't is because they were worried about the anaesthetic, but if it weren't for her hip she'd basically be physically fine, and good for another decade of independent living...

But let's not totter before we can hobble.

In other news, Bristol's first cat cafe is now officially open. I'd put off going because my daughter (who despises my weeaboo-ness) was going to be here, but then she got invited there by one of her friends, much to my chagrin. But, broken legs permitting, I should be there a week today.

How I'm Spending the Rainy Season
Did I mention that I'd be going back to Japan this summer? I don't think I did, but let me make that good now. Last month I won a Visiting Scholarship at Tokyo Woman's Christian University, and I'm going to be there at the end of June and beginning of July. (In Japanese, incidentally, the name translates as Tokyo Young Woman's University, which I think an interesting difference. It was actually founded by a Japanese Quaker - perhaps a unique combination? - a century or so ago.)

What this means is that as well as a research grant (which will mostly get eaten up by translation fees) I can live on their campus for a very small amount of money for three weeks, while researching an article. I will of course also be taking the opportunity to sample Tokyo life, at a slightly less breakneck pace than I was able in my previous visits. Lectures at the National Diet Library and the university's Institute for Comparative Culture have also been slated, and maybe at a couple of other colleges. By singing for my supper I'm hoping to keep costs down.

The campus looks very pretty, perhaps more like an American campus of the early twentieth century than anything very traditionally Japanese, but lush and leafy. I'll be staying at the foreign faculty residence, which I think is housed in this building. It's not clear whether I'll need to live in black and white, though.

I'll be there for the Tanabata festival, which I'm looking forward to - but where's the best place to experience it? I will need to look into that...

So, that's all rather exciting. When I've finished my stint, the plan is to stay on another week to do a bit of exploring outside Tokyo. Since Tokyo at that time of year is said to be more or less unbearably hot and humid, I'll probably head north in search of more clement climes, but I've not broken it down more than that at the moment. Any recommendations for Hokkaido or Touhoku?

What Did Horace Say?
Though justice against fate complain,
And plead the ancient rights in vain;
But those do hold or break
As men are strong or weak.

There was a catch in my voice as I read these lines to a hall of first-year students yesterday, in the course of a lecture comparing Marvell's "Horatian Ode" with Horace's Ode 1.2 (in translation, naturally). I'd been asked to give a couple of lectures on rewritings, and this was the first: next week, The Owl Service and "Math ap Mathonwy"!

If there's one thing you take away from this lecture, I said, or words to that effect, remember those words and take them to heart. Rights aren't out there sitting immutably in some Platonic realm: they're human creations, and have to be protected by humans. (Pace the Declaration of Independence, there's nothing self-evident or innate about them.)

A little off-topic, perhaps, but it was hard to avoid the contemporary resonances of both poems at a time when Europe and America appear to be in the process of being "cast... into another mould". Not that either Trump or Farage (or any of the various continental Faragistes) has a scintilla of the genius of Octavian or Cromwell, but I fear that in today's world they don't need it.

On a side note, though, I noticed for the first time that this poem does the same thing that Trump does in his speeches, shifting register and providing self-translation or additional comment as if for his deaf granny. The long couplets tend to use an elevated register, full of abstracts, personifications and Latinate words, which is supplemented by a demotic, everyday, occasionally cynical register in the short couplets. You can see it clearly in the lines quote above, but they're not unique. Take, for example:

’Tis madness to resist or blame
The force of angry Heaven’s flame;
And, if we would speak true,
Much to the man is due,

The first two lines are elevated, the second a kind of water-cooler village pump conversation, mulling over the recent news. Or, immediately following:

Who from his private gardens where
He liv’d reserved and austere,
As if his highest plot
To plant the bergamot,

The first two lines are serious, the second two parenthetical whimsy. In a more muted form we find the same contrast here:

He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe’s edge did try;

Nor call’d the gods with vulgar spite
To vindicate his helpless right,
But bowed his comely head
Down as upon a bed.

Elevated language in the long lines, with the short lines devoted to a) a piece of witty black humour, or b) a homely simile, in both cases free of non-English words. Well, that's by the by, but I record it here as an aide-memoire.

Corbyn Blimey
It's a common meme amongst people who hate Jeremy Corbyn that his supporters are all cult-like devotees who are obsessed with their hero; but in recent months the only people who seem obsessed with Corbyn are his critics, who can't seem to shut up about him. To judge by the Facebook pages of some of my friends (friends only in a Facebook sense, in some cases), all the woes of recent times have been Corbyn's doing. You'd think that he had called the referendum; you'd certainly think that he had campaigned for a Leave vote; you'd think that he had insisted on leaving the single market - and now, apparently, the real significance of the Government's curtailing of the Dubs amendment lies in Corbyn's failure to stop it (in some unspecified way). For a leader of the opposition whose MPs have been in open revolt from before the moment of his election, he apparently wields an amazing amount of power.

Of course, if push came to shove my friends would admit that all these acts were actually perpetrated by the Tories, but it seems that they couldn't have done it (despite having a parliamentary majority) had Jeremy Corbyn not allowed them. That enrages them far more than the acts themselves. At any rate, they never post against the government but only against the opposition.

It seems to me that this constant blaming of the opposition for the acts of the government is the very essence of letting said government off the hook - the very thing, in fact, that they blame Corbyn for. It's bizarre; but it's been the pattern at least since last June, when the Labour rebels chose the moment of greatest Tory disarray - the aftermath of the Brexit vote - in order the launch their bid to replace Corbyn as leader. What a friend the Tories have in the PLP - and in their cheerleaders on Facebook and elsewhere (The Guardian, I'm looking at you).

A curious coda: in the tradition of Schroedinger's Immigrant, who simultaneously steals your job and lazes on benefits, we have recently begun to witness attacks on Schroedinger's Opposition Leader - who is both the great betrayer of the Remain voters (for voting in line with the referendum result), and the darling of the liberal metropolitan elite, hopelessly out of touch with Labour's working-class heartlands. But clearly any stick will do, as long as it draws attention from the evisceration of the NHS, the betrayal of refugees, the uselessness of Trident, the shambles of the Brexit ministers, and such like minor matters.

Age CAN Wither Her

I encountered this person striking Anglo-Saxon attitudes in Romsey market place this morning. He cheerfully gave me permission to take his photograph, and seeing my quizzical look explained the reason for his get-up, namely the Anglo-Saxon Family Fun Day taking place at King John's house. We were getting on quite well, but then he had to spoil it by adding, "You might like to come along, if you've got children or, er, grandchildren."

Now, it's true that someone of 54 may very well have grandchildren, and in fact I know several people younger than me who actually do, but this is the first time someone's put it to me quite so bluntly. Even muffled against the cold, surely my youthful mien shines through? Apparently not.

When I told my mother about it a little later, she cackled gleefully - like the wizened old crone she is.

The Consequences of Feminism
The other day I listened to The Film Programme's discussion of Alice Guy's 1906 film, "Les Résultats du féminisme", in which we are shown a world where "feminism" has triumphed and men and women have effectively exchanged roles. You can see it here (it's only 7 minutes):

Apparently Guy (by then Alice Blaché) made another film with a similar theme but a future setting, In the Year 2000 (1912). Alas, that one is now lost.

The studio discussion assumed that Guy was making a feminist point herself, highlighting the treatment that women receive in the real world by showing it happening to men. That may well be right - but more than anything I was reminded of the anti-suffrage postcards produced around the same time, with very similar images of a world in which feminism has triumphed and men are reduced to domestic servitude while their wives carouse and put their feet up. Nothing very feminist about those - nor indeed about the Two Ronnies sketch series The Worm that Turned (1980), which is actually cited as a parallel by one of the studio guests. (This compilation I've linked here is 90 minutes long, but watch the first four minutes and you'll find you've had quite enough. I remember it all too well from 37 years ago.)

It's not that I don't believe Guy's film is feminist: without knowing something of her political opinions, I really couldn't say. But it's a striking instance of how the very same (or very similar) images can have opposite meanings, depending on the assumptions with which one approaches them.
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