Things that should not bother me but do.
It’s probably not bad grammar, especially from the Washington Post, and I hugely admire Americans for taking welcome shortcuts through language, but in my head this reads ‘lose even more badly’. Sorry. I’ve managed to adapt to ‘train station’ instead of ‘railway station’ and even ‘bored of’ instead of ‘bored with’, but this may be a step too far.
Arabella Plunkett, BA (Biscuits)
The year is 1960. George Cole is showing an Arab Sheik photographs of the sixth form of St Trinian’s with a view to him buying them. The sheik stops before a bikini girl in a pin-up pose. The sheik asks, ‘What is her background?’ ‘I think that’s Clacton Pier,’ Cole replies.
There are 33 universities in London. One of them, Regent’s University, is an unbelievably glamorous college in Regent’s Park, and has more sheiks and princesses being schooled there than you can sheik a stick at. It’s not alone; many others sound equally delightful. Doubtless their students are not being flogged off to a harem but taught how to do upper class English things along with their regular curriculum of ‘soft’ undergrad subjects in liberal arts and holistic wellness.
I think of such colleges as educational show trials, where merely to have been able to afford to attend is the end result, rather like Swiss finishing schools were in the sixties. We have a history of creating such places. Arabella Plunkett’s parents can say she went somewhere nice and English, and the fact that she only learned how to make art videos and do reiki need never be mentioned in Dubai Society. It’s another example of how class allies itself to money in the UK, in this case to sell that dubious quality, Englishness, about which I have a theory.
My theory, by Christopher Fowler, open brackets, Mister, close brackets*.
Where Americans are cocksure, the English are unsure. Why is this? America has confidence, we have doubts. In English democracy nobody leaves the conference table happy. The problem has a linguistic root. America has a positive collective noun for its residents and we don’t. We’re stuck with adjectives and modifiers. They’re always Americans. It’s a word that crops up hundreds of times in every speech, along with the name of the country, in every commercial and sales pitch.
We can’t do that. For a start, there’s no single name for our nation. Are we Great Britain, Britain or the UK? We’re English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish, collectively British. A thousand years ago we were Danish for a while, then French. We don’t have borders to defend and there are no reasons for constructing walls. It makes us embarrassed when we have to describe ourselves. We don’t stick flags on our lawns or recite oaths in classrooms, and the upheavals that followed the Reformation eventually made us agnostic. Lacking a traditional sense of patriotism is either liberating or for wimps, you takes your choice.
Ghastly Poor People
The BBC has explained their lousy coverage of the Grenfell disaster by blaming their middle class journalists, because none of them has ever been on a council estate. The little darlings are too preoccupied worrying about whether the BBC will devolve them to Manchester to live among ghastly poor people. Their attitude sits beside Matt Hancock’s after the Health Secretary stated that an hour out of the house during lockdown would ‘allow for a game of tennis’. I suppose we’re lucky Jacob ‘Marley’ Rees-Mogg didn’t suggest croquet.
I have visited a council estate or two, first to buy pot when I was 16, secondly to accompany my mother when she had a night job as a collector of bad debts on one of the roughest council estates in London. Oh, and I sometimes take a short cut through the nearest one and it’s eerily quiet. But it has one of the highest murder rates in the city, kids off-site engaged in tragic postcode knife standoffs. I’d like to get our Minister for the 19th Century up here to visit some council estates and see how hard people are trying, but as Rees-Mogg is still struggling with the concept of ‘jeans’, it might come as too great a shock.
No Longer Off-Key
Here’s the last word on a previously visited topic. Over the years I’ve introduced classical music lovers on this site to what was once Britain’s most beloved orchestra, without quite knowing what happened to them. Now the truth has been revealed.
In 1974 a music lecturer at Portsmouth College of Arts held auditions for members of a new orchestra to be composed of members who had no previous experience of their chosen instrument. After overwhelming response he added some further musicians with a little more experience, and let them play. The result, to everyone’s amazement, was…horrible. Their version of the Hallelujah Chorus was especially rough on the ears.
Four years later they were performing at the Albert Hall to sellout audiences. The founder, Gavin Bryers, became a famous musician, as did other members Brian Eno and Michael Nyman. The British have a long and complex relationship with failure. Where other countries like to pretend they’ve never lost wars (America, France etc) we openly embrace lost causes, doomed strategies and Boris Johnson. Hopeless Eddie the Eagle got a film made about him, which is more than most Olympic stars ever got.
But a poke abut YouTube uncovers the truth about why this superstar band eventually crashed and vanished. They got too good. Ten years of playing together honed their skills and turned them into real musicians. The moral is obvious. Music, like art and literature, requires creative skill – and a lot of practice.
*Yes, I still fall back on old Monty Python jokes occasionally, and anyone who doesn’t find Anne Elk funny is dead to me.