Fowler’s Miscellany II

Observatory

But First, A Bulletin From Members Of The Maniac Community

Give the people a referendum and you will soon cease to believe in democracy, Churchill pointed out. This week there were mass protests outside our station and through our surrounding streets as Anti-Maskers teamed up with every other dissident group to crowd through the tube shouting about their loss of freedom while potentially infecting others.

Perhaps the staggering self-entitlement of their actions passed them by. For the tiny inconvenience of donning a mask in enclosed spaces as SE Asians have been doing for years,  they can stop the pandemic in its tracks. London has the 4th lowest COVID rate in the country. Why? Because we got the R-Point down by wearing masks and social distancing. That will probably now change thanks to the actions of a few coachloads from Essex and Kent.

The protest signs were generic, like ‘We Want Freedom’ and the one above saying they’re 99% of…what exactly? I suppose it will look cool on the Billy Eilish wannabe’s CV to say she got arrested. The London police have an extraordinary history of actually facilitating protest – God knows I’ve been on enough marches in my life to see how generous they can be – and were extremely patient with this lot, who were mostly occupied with filming nothing much happening on their iPhones.

But what do the protesters actually want? It seems that, like the anti-capitalist riots of a few years ago, their needs are a ragbag of vague grievances. Anti-MMR jab, anti-lockdown, anti-masking, Trump-inspired complaints about free enterprise. It might have been better to concentrate on specific demands, especially for the North East, which has been hit hardest, where impoverishment, under-funding and a lack of education has led to overwhelmed services and soaring infection rates.

Inside London most people are conforming and the rate has fallen. Where my brother lives in Kent the residents are simply not bothering to protect themselves or each other, and will now be more harshly restricted. When people are intent on deliberately causing harm the government must act democratically but firmly. I’m sure Jan Morris would agree…

The Greatest Journey For Jan

Last week we lost the Welsh journalist, writer, broadcaster Jan Morris, 94, and it’s a sign of how she was loved that every newspaper of quality carried a lengthy obituary of her. Any story mentioning her achievements must necessarily begin with the fact that James Morris transitioned to Jan, if only to sort out pronouns. James was married to Elizabeth Tuckniss, daughter of a tea planter, and had five children. His wife stayed beside him through this extraordinary journey. James changed gender after an operation in Casablanca in 1972.

At 26, Morris was the only journalist to accompany Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their 1953 ascent of Everest. She subsequently wrote about living on Field Marshal Montgomery’s family houseboat on the Nile and in a palazzo on the Grand Canal. She met Che Guevara in Cuba, visited Hiroshima after the bomb and reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. But it’s said that the greatest distance she travelled was between two identities.

I was introduced to Morris’s lavish, impressionistic writing through her masterwork by my American academic friend Jennifer, when we stumbled across the set at a church sale. The trilogy is a social history of the British empire, Pax Britannica (1968), Heaven’s Command (1973) and Farewell the Trumpets (1978).

The books cover the rise and fall of the British Empire, from the earliest days of the East India Company to the troubled years of independence and nineteen-sixties post-colonialism. There was a brief fear that this expansive epic would fall foul of cancel culture, but mercifully it seems to have been recognised as an even-handed overview and a useful corrective.

For which, a quote from Jan Morris’s ‘Trieste, The Capital of Nowhere’.

There are people everywhere who form a Fourth World, or a diaspora of their own. They are the lordly ones. They come in all colours. They can be Christians or Hindus or Muslims or Jews or pagans or atheists. They can be young or old, men or women, soldiers or pacifists, rich or poor. They may be patriots, but they are never chauvinists. They share with each other, across all the nations, common values of humour and understanding. When you are among them you know you will not be mocked or resented, because they will not care about your race, your faith, your sex or your nationality, and they suffer fools if not gladly, at least sympathetically. They laugh easily. They are easily grateful. They are never mean. They are not inhibited by fashion, public opinion or political correctness. They are exiles in their own communities, because they are always in a minority, but they form a mighty nation, if only they knew it. 

Three Knights, Two Dames, One Show.

Sir Ian McKellan, Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Kenneth Branagh ran their Zoom live event without any tantrums in the Green Room, sadly.

The show lasted for 90 minutes and was billed as ‘A knight of banter outrageous and laughter contagious, with live Q&A throughout’ all proceeds going to Acting for Others.

Mr Branagh has worked very hard to be in that pantheon, and though I hated his ‘Henry V’ I do recall noticing him at the very beginning of his film career in ‘A Month in the Country’ and ‘High Season’, where he acted everyone else off the screen, particularly with the dialogue line ‘I’m not here for Piers’s bones’, which he really did pick the bones out of. Similarly in ‘Tenet’ he managed to turn the most clichéd dialogue line in the world, to whit; ‘If I can’t have you no-one else can’ into something amazingly menacing.

But thinking about the starts of all their careers makes us realise how little younger audiences know of them. Maggie Smith in ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, Judi Dench as the best-ever Sally Bowles in ‘Cabaret’, Derek Jacobi in ‘Armchair Theatre’ and ‘The Day of the Jackal’ were all fully formed at hitting their marks beautifully. It’s always fun to spot early talent in old films and plays.

Our perceptions of older people and the way we overlook them is the subject of the 20th Bryant & May book next year. I imagine it will prove an unfashionable subject but I don’t care. If it turns out to be the final volume in the series, I’ll have ended it as I meant it to end.

23 comments on “Fowler’s Miscellany II”

  1. Roger says:

    The protestors seem to be inspired by Sir Henry Rawlinson: “We don’t know what we want, but we want it now!” or “We don’t know what we don’t want, but we don’t want it now!”, but they aren’t sure which applies.

    Sir Ian McKellen, not Sir Ian McKelland – spell-check, predictive spelling or transliteration of spoken comments?

  2. Peter Dixon says:

    Always liked the Father Ted protest banner ‘I’m against this sort of thing’.

  3. Wild Edric says:

    Peter, it was “Down with this sort of thing”, Father Dougal had one with “Careful now” but any hand-written sign has me thinking the same!

  4. Paul C says:

    Another Rawlinson line : If I had all the money I’ve spent on drink I would spend it all on drink

    At a local library a few years ago Derek Jacobi gave a v lengthy interview and – despite his age – insisted on standing the whole time so everyone in the audience (on a flat floor) could see him clearly. Could we have him knighted again ?

  5. Brooke says:

    Time, tourism and migration have cancelled James Morris. Poor and untraveled in 1950s through 1970s, I looked forward to his travel writing. Now, with more experience on my side, it feels flat, little depth. E.g. compare his account of Eichmann trial with Arendt’s. The quote above hints at his sense of priviledge–he seems insensible to the “Fourth World” members’ sacrifices and hardships.

    Installing a USA model of healthcare would stop Anti-Masker protests. Nothing gets your attention like having to pay a bill for (at minimum) a week in hospital on ventilator and subsequent recovery care costs. With a little imagination, one can stop these silly protests.

    We’re having much fun this side of Pond. E.g. the Trump campaign spent $3M insisting on recertifying PA votes in the presidential election. As result ~130 more PA votes for Biden were certified–or $23K per vote. And then came Guiliani’s high level press conference at the Four Seasons. No wonder extraterrestials don’t want to visit anymore.

  6. Martin Tolley says:

    Ah. “This sort of thing.” I recall a review of a book (maybe) by Anthony Burgess – who often reviewed his own books -“People who like this sort of thing will find this is just the sort of thing that they like.”

  7. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    ‘especially for the North East, which has been hit hardest, where impoverishment, under-funding and a lack of education has led to overwhelmed services and soaring infection rates.’

    Another contributing factor is the number of critical care beds per capita – significantly higher in London.
    Germany has approximately 5 times as many.

  8. Ian Luck says:

    Another Rawlinson line, to be used after every meal:
    “That was inedible muck – and there wasn’t enough of it.”

  9. Ian Luck says:

    Another:
    “If I require an evacuant, I swallow thirty feet of towelling. And wait.”

  10. Ian Luck says:

    A festive one from Father Ted:
    “Father Jack, what do you want to be behind the door on the Advent calendar?”
    Jack’s reply:
    “A PAIR OF FECKIN’ WOMEN’S KNICKERS!”
    Dougal, of course, thought it would be Ruud Gullit sitting on a shed.

  11. Jan says:

    I never read any of the early Jan Morris travel writing. Didn’t know that about the Everest expedition. I only read bits of the stuff she wrote later on. She always struck me as being a kind person decent and understanding. People are of their time and almost inevitably have the attitudes of their day.

    Brooke the US system of healthcare would seem (From what little I have read being honest) to have done little to dissuade the US anti vaxxers, or anti much else tbh.

    As to your thoughts about the Kings X protests and protesters back in the day we used to have a term for these persons of constant protest. Rentamob. (Sorry Chris) it didn’t really matter much which horse they were backing Right wing or left wing some folk just like to get involved with politics and stuff. Best just accept your day off would be kept keeping them company.

  12. Peter Dixon says:

    I’ve got my own banner that says: I WHOLEHEARTEDLY CONCUR

    I remember an Alex Glasgow song from the 70s called ‘As Soon as this Pub Closes’ where a bunch of left wingers sing verses about how the country will be better because ‘As Soon as this Pub Closes, The Revolution Starts!’ Of course, by the 8th verse they’re all too pissed to find their way home.

  13. Liz Thompson says:

    Ah well, I remember As soon as this pub closes too. A sterling song, and alas, only too accurate. As a seasoned marcher/demonstrator I concur with Jan on ‘rentacrowd’ or ‘rentamob’. They were there for the fight, and wanted it to happen right now. Oddly enough, it was often hard to distinguish any specific political stance, resulting in a certain tendency for more earnest types to keep well away from them (they were easy to identify, stout boots and they came in a cluster). I usually looked for the Quaker contingent, always a safe bet for no violence!

  14. Brooke says:

    Jan…re US healthcare. You’re right. Citizens of the USA have a remarkable ability to ignore reality and to be surprised and offended when asked to pay the bill.

  15. Frances says:

    I have read all of Jan Morris’ books. The Pax Britannica set were my introduction. Her footnotes were as much worth reading as the text. There was a collection of travel stories about trips which went wrong called Bad Trips (different title in the US!) and hers was the best of the lot, possibly because she had travelled more than anyone else.

  16. Helen Martin says:

    Derek Jacobi. I was enthralled by his I, Claudius and the recent series Last Waltz in Halifax was extremely well done (on his part) although our Halifax is quite different. (Yet again, why couldn’t we ave had more imagination in naming our towns – or asked the local First Nation what it should be called.) As for Branagh, I loved his Much Ado (especially the opening) and are you really saying that the ending of Henry V didn’t move you? And The Prime of Miss Jean Brody was and is a superb piece of acting.
    Anti maskers. Our Dr. Henry said with a sigh the other day, “If you really are opposed to wearing a mask indoors then please order on line, wait for delivery at the curb, or just don’t go.” She never really shut us down completely, reminded us that there actually are people who cannot physically manage a mask, and suggested that doing what we were supposed to and being kind to others would take us far. We had 46 people die in B.C. last weekend and we really have to do what is necessary. All this focus on the medical system has brought inherent racism into focus so now we have to go through the hospitals with fire and sword to ensure that First Nations patients are treated as well as everyone else.
    It is discouraging to see what people will do with a certain sort of encouragement. I wonder if we would have had the store clerk spat on if Mr. Trump had been a little more sensible. The clerk had a heart attack as a result of the spitter’s actions & I’m not sure if she survived.
    On the other hand, there is a stag on Bowen Island that has a string of (unlit) Christmas lights in his antlers. They are keeping an eye on him but won’t interfere unless the lights give him problems. Just imagining that animal parading through the evergreen forest. (Plug the string into a battery pack for a few days and you’d have a real Disney moment.)

  17. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – ‘Rent-a-mob’: it’s the perfect title for these annoying clumps of utter stupidity. There are two connected phrases I often use when talking about this sort of thing (down with it!), which are: ‘Uninformed Outrage’, which inevitably leads to a ‘Trendy Protest’. In the past, I have spoken to people at these gatherings, and a good number couldn’t tell me what the protest was about, but they were there because their friends were.

  18. Wayne Mook says:

    With the above protests we had one in Manchester, people from Cheshire, Chorley and other towns to the north and even people from Leeds, thanks for putting us in more danger.

    I can understand why they are protesting, they don’t trust the press or read The Daily Mail (listen to some of the Tory MPs about lock down – money is more important then life) and the government message is poor (cheers Dom seen any good castles lately.) and badly mixed, and then of course the government will use this to stifle any protest and keep it in place as a totalitarian state. I think they are wrong and Covid is a clear danger but with the past (Germany) and the huge lack of trust (Trump and Brexit. Russian plots and the Chinese virus as Trump trumped, etc.) it’s not hard to see the lack of trust and fear.

    Plus how do they pick the tier level, does anyone think party politics plays a part?

    At least if they wear a mask they are harder to spot, come on think.

    And the nurse, now ex, who decried Covid has new evidence. it’s just Flu, yes like Spanish Flu the one it is usually compared with (50 million killed it believed by that one, normal flu 11 thousand a year in the UK and nearly causing the collapse of the NHS for several years.) and A&E is empty. Well it would be as less people travel so fewer accidents on road, rail, foot. No sports accidents. No drunkenness – no drugs or a lot less, no mass brawls on a weekend, and the list goes on to why A&E is less busy but she never mentioned the acute wards etc. Still it’s evidence from a medical professional, sigh.

    Wayne.

  19. John Griffin says:

    Wayne, had the same argument with a conspiracy theorist about why A& E had less demand! I didn’t punch him when he suggested my senior nurse daughter hadn’t nursed people dying of COVID (her fave consultant died too).
    I’ve had the dread virus, and still have residual symptoms (attacks of breathlessness, tinnitus, headaches) but wear a mask to reassure others, even though my chances of reinfection are mind-bogglingly small.
    A lot of the anti-vaxxer/covid hoax types are New Age types whose low ‘woo’ threshold makes them ideal for infection by US conspiracy memes, coupled with the ‘anything that suggests empathy or prosocial behaviour is PC gone mad’ brigade, makes for a heady brew of irrationality.
    I think the imposition of Tiers is redolent of the shabby way the whole business has been managed – ‘can’t be arsed to delegate locally till now, got to make sure big profits are available, let the uppity Mankies take one, oooh look a vaccine don’t look where the money’s going’. Where vaguely focused, largely malign.

  20. Jan says:

    Don’t get me wrong there are folk who genuinely, honestly have big opinions about stacks of political stuff. Add this to enjoying a good walk and there’s your avid demonstrator. Others (and trust me you recognise the faces in the end) just enjoy turning up for the craic. If on any given day at most demonstrations you asked half the bobbies and about half of the constant protestors they wouldn’t really have had a clue about what the aim of the day was!

    Sometimes even the placards left you guessing.

    Can clearly remember one weekend in the early ’80s stood somewhere in the centre of the capital l when my partner said “We’ve been here for ages can you see the end of this bloody lot?” Standing on a slightly raised traffic island I confidently said “Aye yes about 20mins more I reckon” Well I must just have spotted a gap in proceedings because almost 3 hours later we were still there. Was the massive C.N.D. Anti Nuclear demo at the time of Greenham Common. He never trusted me to spot anything ever again.

  21. Helen Martin says:

    I have a number of strong opinions but I rarely take part in marches because unless they become regular large events they don’t do much other than provide a vent for people who feel better after a good long shout. What always bugs me is the fact that no one listens. There is no “other side” to Peace, but most issues do have an other side. The Black Lives Matter is like Peace, there isn’t an other side, but “You can’t make me mask up!” “You can’t stick poison in my arm” where do you take that? In the end those people, if they’re lucky, will survive because the people around them follow all the rules.
    Have they said anything about the possibility of people who’ve had the disease being able to act as carriers even though they don’t catch it again? I don’t suppose they even know the answer to that. I just don’t go out and wear a mask if I have an errand.
    The statue of a tired horse outside our Credit Union has been decorated with a green garland. Very cheery.

  22. Paul C says:

    I remember an anti-racism march with a banner reading ‘ Disembowel Enoch Powell ! ‘

    Any other funny banners ?

  23. Helen Martin says:

    I wish I did have a “funny” banner to add to that lovely Enoch Powell one but our marches all seem deadly serious and on point.

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