Fowler’s Miscellany II
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.