Saturday, 2 June 2018

Received Ideas in Quotes 10

In Ireland, it's said that you leave a bit of your soul trapped in everything you crochet. So to avoid this, you should always work in a hidden mistake so that your soul can escape.
(Liza Frank @lilithepunk)

The Earl of Morton was executed in 1581 on a guillotine he had himself imported from France. (Twitter)

NEWSPAPER is the abbreviation for *NORTH , EAST , WEST , SOUTH , PAST And PRESENT EVENTS  REPORT. (Twitter)

"Pinny" comes from pinafore, referring to the old method of pinning an apron into place on the chest. (Lucy Adlington, Stitches in Time)

By 1868 the design [of the Plimsoll shoe] included a horizontal line around the sole, reminiscent of the lines newly marked on British ships, thanks to the 1876 Merchant Shipping Act (these were to show the limit of displacement, following scandals of overloading)... The Act had been introduced by Samuel Plimsoll, who therefore indirectly gave his name to the shoes, now affectionately known as plimsolls or plimmies, regardless of whether or not they have the line. (Lucy Adlington, Stitches in Time)

There is a widespread belief that "daps" [for Plimsolls] is taken from a factory sign – "Dunlop Athletic Plimsoles" which was called "the DAP factory". (Wikipedia It also says that they’re called “sand shoes” because wearing them is like walking on sand. And they are really "plimsoles" because you wear them on your soles.)

The two-tone co-respondent shoes of the 1920s and 1930s were so named because they were associated with the sort of person who would be named as a co-respondent in a divorce petition. Divorcee Wallis Simpson, future bride of Edward VIII, wore them – and that was enough to give a taint of scandal to the style. (Lucy Adlington, Stitches in Time)

‘Reticule’ is supposedly a contraction of ridiculous, which was the alleged male response to this frivolous accessory. (Lucy Adlington, Stitches in Time It's from Latin rēticulum, diminutive of rēte, says the dictionary. Reticules were sometimes called “ridicules”, but that was a joke.)

Haversack, which was originally a soldier’s bag to carry haver-cakes – oat rations. (Lucy Adlington, Stitches in Time It does derive from "oat bag".)

The first cravats are widely supposed to have been introduced to France and England by dashing Croatian mercenaries in the early 17th century, but there are other less romantic etymologies that suggest mangled forms of Turkish and Hungarian words – kyrabacs and korbacs – both of which mean a long, slender object. The French cravache, or horsewhip, is another source given for the English term ‘cravat’. (Lucy Adlington, Stitches in Time Croatia is Hrvatska.)

She had read somewhere that if you ate pigeon every day for forty days you would die. (A Tale of Two Families, Dodie Smith)

Beau Brummell spent nine hours a day in the preparation of his toilet, sent his laundry to France, and wiped his razor on pages from first editions of the classics. (Cecil Beaton, Glass of Fashion)

Digestive biscuits are called “digestives” because it was believed that the large amount of baking soda they contained would act as an antacid. ( They contain bran and wheatgerm, and large amounts of baking soda would make them inedible.)

Barbers used to double as surgeons, “which is why surgeons today take the title Mr rather than Dr - being a doctor used to be a much more respectable profession than a surgeon.” (RM)

Aldi checkouts are the fastest, but “How does Aldi propose to hurry up those dozy shoppers who take an age to produce their wallet/purse/card at the end...? It’s almost as if having to pay shocks some people anew each time." (Carol Midgley in The Times lifts an old slur from Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island, 1995.)

The story is widely told that the borough council demanded that Wren should insert additional columns within the covered area [of the Windsor Guildhall], in order to support the weight of the heavy building above; Wren, however, was adamant that these were not necessary. Eventually the council insisted and, in due course, the extra supporting columns were built, but Wren made them slightly short, so that they do not quite touch the ceiling, hence proving his claim that they were not necessary. In fact, the gaps are filled with tiles smaller than the capitals. (Wikipedia)

That story is told of St Paul’s Cathedral too.

The London Underground was deliberately designed to bar the disabled. At the time of its Victorian design there were great numbers of disabled soldiers and there were concerns that their invalid carriages would clog the carriages and tunnels. (Via FB, source possibly Londonist)

The name HAND OF GLORY comes probably from French "main-de-gloire", a corruption of "mandragora" (ie. mandrake). (JN)

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Agatha Christie's Postern of Fate

Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie 1890-1976

Published 1973, written when she was 83

The title is taken from a poem by James Elroy Flecker, and also features in a Parker Pyne story (The Gate of Baghdad, 1934).

Even Christie’s fans agree that this book is a mess. It is possible that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s when she wrote it. Wikipedia says that she struggled, and the book was knocked into shape by her husband and secretary.

This is a book about clues found in books, and it’s a book full of clues. Tommy and Tuppence, the one-time Young Adventurers and wartime chasers of spies, are in their mid-70s and retired. They have bought a shabby old house in Hollowquay called The Laurels. It is transparently Christie’s beloved family home in Torquay, Ashfield, and her own toys and children’s books are still there in the attic and in a grimy conservatory that no-one has opened for years.

Tommy is permanently worried about Tuppence and doesn’t even like to let her go shopping on her own. Tuppence claims she can barely remember their old cases, let alone what she’s come into a room for. A lot of the story, such as it is, is conveyed by muddled conversations between the two of them. But Tuppence has a theory that it’s through such rambling talk that the past will be remembered and the truth become clear.

The “plot” starts off when Tuppence finds a message hidden in an old copy of The Black Arrow: “Mary Jordan did not die naturally.” The writer thinks “one of us” did it. T&T set off on the trail of Mary Jordan, but it quickly transpires that the villagers know all about her. She was an “au pair” in the house before World War One, who turned out to be a German spy. She died when the cook picked foxglove leaves instead of spinach. One of the children, Alexander Parkinson, suspected foul play, and then HE died. Foxglove leaves don’t look very like spinach, and would probably taste foul. But they formed part of the murder method in Mrs Bantry’s contribution to the Tuesday Night Club.

I suppose people might pass down a story like this, especially if it had “got into the papers” – later in the book it’s referred to as “the Cardington scandal”. But that wasn’t much of a mystery – what now?  There are a couple of slightly odd accidents – a pane of glass falls on Tuppence, and the wheels come off a child’s cart she has taken to joyriding in. But the telling is confused. The cart is one of Christie’s old toys, and she must have enjoyed revisiting it. But it’s not clear how many times Tuppence rolls down the hill and falls off into the monkey puzzle tree.

Tuppence continues picking up fragments of chat from people she meets, while Tommy visits London and visits old colleagues like Colonel Pikeaway who fill him in on the past and mention a charismatic fascist with a bunch of acolytes: “Really the fellow seemed such a noble man. Had some wonderful ideas. Was so terribly keen to abolish all poverty.” (Peace organisations were always suspect: see Foreign Correspondent and Ministry of Fear.)

However, we are not given many details. Tommy hires an elderly researcher (Miss Collodon), and mentions newspaper libraries, but he never looks up contemporary accounts. Prewar census entries are a possible lead, but this is never followed up.

The clues are all there, but they are deeply hidden in waffle. The secret service – represented by Colonel Pikeaway, Mr Robinson and Henry Horsham, who all appear in other books – is worried that the pre-WWI fascist cell never quite died, and has re-activated. Colonel Pikeaway rambles for pages about the way current crises have their roots in the past. In 1973 the resurgence of the far right must have seemed a distant threat.

Isaac, the ancient gardener, gets murdered on the Beresfords' doorstep. The younger generation, hearing through the grapevine that T and T are famous spy-catchers, are keen to help. The kids take Tuppence to meet some pensioners, who sing World War One songs, and throw out fantastic ideas about what went on at the Laurels, even mentioning gold from sunken Spanish galleons (which featured in Raymond West’s contribution to the Tuesday Night Club). Tuppence brushes this aside, also the idea of anything being hidden in a smuggler’s cave (from Evil Under the Sun).

One of the old folk mentions “Oxford and Cambridge”. This refers to two oriental china stools decorated with swans, one dark blue, one light blue, from Christie’s old home. Tuppence has also just happened across a message in another old book that reads “GRIN HEN LO”. Backwards it’s Lohengrin, a Wagner hero famously associated with a swan. It all clearly points to the stools. One of them is broken, but in the other they find a tarpaulin-wrapped package of “papers”. But they seem to have forgotten they earlier found some "papers" in the stomach of Mathilde, the old rocking horse.

The papers that might revive an old scandal are lifted from a short story that Christie wrote twice (The Incredible Theft), and based on a Conan Doyle tale – The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, which really does concern blueprints of a submarine. In Christie’s stories the “papers” are usually aeroplane designs, or letters that indicate a political rapprochement that the parties have since denied.

Christie’s brother Monty features in an old photograph, and his later career is touched on. Isaac reminisces about the strange things people hang on to, like a revolver brought home from East Africa by a son. In this version it’s the old lady who takes pot shots out of the window at visitors, but in real life it was Monty Miller. He had become addicted to morphine after an injury, and soon after this incident he was found a quiet cottage on the moors and a reliable “keeper”.

The old lady who hid valuables in her mittens and thought everybody was poisoning her was Christie’s grandmother. As well as "papers", there’s a rusted needle-book inside the stool “Cambridge”, and one of Tuppence's elderly informants talks about a forebear who used to buy needle-books in bulk to give to servants as presents, but hoarded them until rusty. Christie’s grandmother again, who also hid tins of sardines on the top of the wardrobe, and bought lengths of fabric at sales for maids’ dresses, but kept them until they rotted away. Christie found all these things as she cleared out her old home after her mother’s death, while her marriage fell apart.

Tuppence jokes that she’s jealous of Miss Collodon.

“You know, Tommy, now that you’re getting on in years you might – you might get some rather dangerous ideas about a beautiful helper.
“You don’t appreciate a faithful husband when you’ve got one,” said Tommy.
“All my friends tell me you never know with husbands,” said Tuppence.
“You have the wrong kind of friends,” said Tommy.

After Christie’s death, “Mallowan married Barbara Hastings Parker, an archaeologist, who had been his epigraphist at Nimrud and Secretary of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq” says Wikipedia.

There are moments of clunky exposition: “Betty, our adopted daughter, went to East Africa,” said Tommy. “Have you heard from her?”

Tommy suggests adding a veranda. Later, helpful young Clarence is found on the veranda. Tommy suggests that Tuppence might find something in a dull old book of sermons because nobody would ever read them. She says she hasn’t found any – but she has, in an early chapter. Is this where she finds the "Lohengrin" message, which she just produces? And why would anyone hide a crossword clue to hidden "treasure" in a book nobody was ever going to read? Who was the message intended for?

Tommy and Mr Robinson, the “man who knows all about money”, arrange a code word – “crab-apple jelly” – but never use it.

We hear no more about the papers found in Mathilde. One is a note about a meeting in a London park, but T and T don’t even read them all. Tommy tells Pikeaway: “Tuppence thinks something might be hidden in our house”, after they’ve made this discovery. The scene is repeated later with the blue stool “Cambridge”. This time the package is passed on to the authorities, but in the last scene Tuppence says:  “And it’s all thanks to what we found in Mathilde’s stomach!”

What do Pikeaway and Horsham gain from this farrago? They are on the trail of the revived fascist cell, now lurking in Bury St Edmunds, and presumably have more clues to their past history.

There are moments when Christie is back on form. Gwenda the post office girl recounts the irrelevant experiences of a friend of hers in wartime London. “She used to love the tube. She said it was ever so much fun. You know, you had your own particular stair... You slept there, and you took sandwiches in and things, and you had fun together and talked... She could hardly bear it when the war was over and she had to go home again, felt it was so dull, you know.”

And Tommy has a pointless, but funny, conversation with a young functionary:
“Cold afternoon,” said Johnson...
“Yes,” said Tommy, “It always seems to be cold in the afternoons.”
“Some say it’s pollution, some say it’s all the natural gas they’re taking out of the North Sea,” said Johnson.

The Beresfords are still assisted by Albert, once their office boy: “You wouldn’t believe it – eggs have gone up, again. Never vote for this Government again, I won’t. I’ll give the Liberals a go.”

More Christie here, and links to the rest.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Received Ideas in Quotes 9

The Queen wanted to be President of the George Formby Society but was told she was too important, despite pointing out she knew all the songs by heart.

Aboriginal people in Australia have never been covered by a flora and fauna act, under either federal or state law. But despite several attempts by various people to set the record straight, the myth continues to circulate, perhaps because, as one academic told Fact Check, it "embodies elements of a deeper truth about discrimination". (The act was allegedly repealed in 1967.)

Around 600 A.D., Pope Gregory the Great decreed that fetal rabbits... were not meat, and could be eaten during Lent, when meat was not allowed. Monks in France... quickly saw an opportunity and began to keep and breed rabbits. (New York Times, which goes on to debunk the story. Or was capybara redefined as a fish for the benefit of new converts in South America?)

Leonardo DaVinci painted another younger Mona Lisa which is said to have been kept in a secret vault in Switzerland. (@Museum_Facts)

A common (Glasgow?) tenement feature is a bookshelf that looks suspiciously like a door. During construction the entire street would be connected by interior doorways, saving builders going downstairs to move between blocks. They bricked them up on their way through and out. (Ryan Vance @rjjvance)

No, the surge in measles is not caused by trips to Europe. The surge in measles is caused by people not vaccinating their children. (@drphiliplee1)

Planning and determination characterise intimate partner homicide, not ‘just snapping’. (Dr Jane Monckton Smith @JMoncktonSmith)

Sailors used to catch turtles for food and store them upside down on deck, supposedly they could live for months like this without eating. (Via FB)

Journalist and former MI6 man Malcolm Muggeridge claimed that an Abwehr officer thought Wodehouse's novels were naturalistic and sent over spies in spats who were picked up in hours. ((((Edwin Moore))) @GlasgowAlbum)

The man who is believed responsible for introducing this early version of the guillotine, James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, was executed by the Maiden in 1581. (Atlas Obscura)

“Your family would either have fine china, which could withstand high temperatures” – in which case you would put the tea in first, then the milk – or you might be below stairs, drinking out of mugs, “and if they put the hot in first, the mugs would crack”. So if you live above stairs, you put your milk in last, to show that you are the kind of person who owns decent china. Below stairs, milk in first. (Times, 2018 Have you tried this with mugs? I’ve never known an earthenware mug to crack when you poured boiling water into it. And besides, the servants’ hall would have drunk tea out of cups.)

Apparently it wasn't until top-name chocolatiers got angry that they couldn't photograph their products that Kodak finally made an emulsion that should film black people adequately! (Via Twitter)

Were deleted 78s “used as ballast”, and this is how they ended up in the UK? (the central hole was used to string them together, or to delete the record.)

Why on earth would they use old soul records for ballast on ships - surely you would use something like SAND or something cheaper and more easily attainable and transportable. Seems rather unlikely that someone would say "Let's transport a load of old deleted 45 rpm records to the port so we can use them as ballast on our ships." 'Yeah, great idea, I'll send some vans to downtown Detroit...”

Old books are sold on “for ballast” in 2018. But all ballast these days is water in tanks (formerly sand and gravel). If you chucked old books into a hold they would get wet and turn to pulp. And would they be heavy enough?

On reflection, the teller says: “It was the story I was told by the shop owner who had connections with other second-hand shops around the country. She did say they were shipped in containers though maybe not as ballast.” (Via FB)

The Pith Helmet is a hard-shell, high-crowned hat with a wide, sloping brim made of the ‘pith’ (soft heartwood) of the Sola plant. It’s for this reason they’re also called Sola Topees or Sola hats. ( The plant is called “sola”, and Wikipedia suggests that they became “solar” topees through a process of folk etymology. There’s much discussion on the Web, but so far no reference to the helmets’ purpose in protecting white people from sunstroke.)

When I was in Burma I was assured that the Indian sun, even at its coolest, had a peculiar deadliness which could only be warded off by wearing a helmet of cork or pith. ‘Natives’, their skulls being thicker, had no need of these helmets... Some people, not content with cork and pith, believed in the mysterious virtues of red flannel and had little patches of it sewn into their shirts over the top vertebra. The Eurasian community, anxious to emphasize their white ancestry, used at that time to wear topis even larger and thicker than those of the British... But why should the British in India have built up this superstition about sunstroke? Because an endless emphasis on the differences between the ‘natives’ and yourself is one of the necessary props of imperialism. You can only rule over a subject race, especially when you are in a small minority, if you honestly believe yourself to be racially superior, and it helps towards this if you can believe that the subject race is biologically different. There were quite a number of ways in which Europeans in India used to believe, without any evidence, that Asiatic bodies differed from their own. Even quite considerable anatomical differences were supposed to exist. But this nonsense about Europeans being subject to sunstroke and Orientals not, was the most cherished superstition of all. The thin skull was the mark of racial superiority, and the pith topi was a sort of emblem of imperialism. 
(George Orwell, As I Please)

I regularly see kids who cannot even cross the road properly because they never walk anywhere!

I remember another mum describing how she proudly listened to her son read while she was cooking dinner only to discover when she came into the room that the book was shut and he was reciting from memory.

When I was young Easter eggs always had the word “Easter” on them.

More here, and links to the rest.

Inspirational Quotes 94

We make judgments in split seconds:
Is this person a threat?
Is this person attractive?
Is this person useful to my (social) survival?
( Pic from Whitehorn's Social Survival.)

Ethics are principles from which moral rules can be derived. (Although historically it worked the other way round - ethical principles were generalisations of moral rules.) (RK)

Defenders make their choice by group loyalty and buttress it with principle, not vice versa. (Andrew Brown, paraphrase)

You try to create a social world where you’re comfortable, where you succeed, where you have people you can trust and with whom you can co-operate to meet your goals. To create this, similarity is very useful. (Chris Crandall, Uni of Kansas)

The nature of the work - on a movie, a play, a series - it’s over and everyone goes their own way and you’re the best of friends during that moment. (William Shatner)

In a new group I have to ask myself/the host "where is the line, how bland do I need to be?(AS)

It's like moving to a new city: you have to give yourself time to find your way, get acclimatised and discover where you fit in. (Nick Vujicic)

We all have a need to think well of ourselves, and for others to think well of us... we expend huge amounts of time and effort maintaining and protecting our self-image. The flipside... is our dread of humiliation... One study showed that “social pain” activated the same circuits of the brain as physical pain. (Paul Randolph, Observer  2016)

Over the years many friendships have simply evolved into acquaintances. (FB cut and paste lore)

Bret Harte published his first work at age 11, a satirical poem titled "Autumn Musings," now lost. Rather than attracting praise, the poem resulted in his family's ridicule. As an adult, he recalled to a friend, "Such a shock was their ridicule to me that I wonder that I ever wrote another line of verse." (Amazon. His stories and verses became enormously popular.)

Whereas mental health professionals often think of it in terms of recovery from symptoms, patients more often emphasise the importance of self-esteem, hope for the future, and a valued role in society... Arguably the biggest cause of human misery is miserable relationships with other people, conducted in miserable circumstances. (Richard Bentall Guardian Feb 2016-02-27)

Pretending you don’t have feelings of anger, sadness or loneliness can literally destroy you mentally. (@madfactz)

It's amazing how many things "aren't difficult" when you have no idea what you're talking about.
(Julian Sanchez ‏@normative)

People will kill you over time, and how they’ll kill you is with tiny, harmless phrases, like “be realistic”. (Dylan Moran)

I definitely think about what I’m going to say before I say it, because I do feel that I’m more likely to offend just by being female and having a strong opinion on something. (Screewriter Katie Dippold)

Conservatives "traumatised" by people calling a bigot a bigot. (Sabine ‏@ThatSabineGirl)

Once stars and their people realise that you are professional and you aren't going to start asking for autographs or behaving as if the star is your new best friend ... then they're happy to keep using you... I've also trained as a make-up artist as a preparation for the future - showbusiness is precarious and it's sensible to have a plan B. (Model who works as body double)

I don’t want to become someone sanctimonious who tuts at teenagers drinking alcopops; neither do I want to talk in therapy platitudes nor acquire the evangelical tone of voice I know from church preachers. (Amy Liptrot)

Jack Warner built a house for his wife that resembled a white Southern mansion and left her there to shrivel and die. “She acted her life like a scene from Gone with the Wind.”... Jane, like many Hollywood girls, was plainer than her mother. [Someone was] hired to take her on outings... Stein says that she and her sister were treated “like props”. (Andrew O’Hagan on Jean Stein's Hollywood exposé West of Eden)

Nominally Isabelle’s an independent film producer, though in reality she’s an ex-cokehead on a trust fund. (I Love Dick, Chris Kraus)

Woman who posts endless 'Mums like wine/My kids drive me mad' on FB is resharing old ones as 'Memories'. (@redskyatnight)

Conciliation makes the conciliated more aware of the effectiveness of their bad behaviour so consequently they increase it. (Elizabeth Jane Howard)

When you criticise cultural trends people have a tendency to say 'who thinks like that?' (@KarlreMarks. Or “I don’t know anybody like that”. Or “I never heard that”. Or even "I just ignore people like that.")

Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation. Poverty is a shortage of money. (Barbara Ehrenreich)

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Ordeal by Innocence

I have just re-listened to Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence (read by Hugh Fraser). The premise is interesting, but she could have made it more dramatic. Some flashbacks, maybe?

According to Christie's autobiography it was one of her favourites, perhaps because it revisits themes that interested her: the rich woman who adopts a family of orphans, or non-orphans whose families are happy to hand them over. In this case, Rachel Argyle brings them up according to the most modern principles, and enjoys trying to run their lives even once they're teenagers or adults. Her husband, Leo, is also an idealist.

But one day Rachel is found with her head bashed in. The obvious suspect is one of her adopted sons, Jacko, a charmer who has always been crooked. He is found guilty, and dies in prison. But then someone turns up to prove that he couldn't have done it.

Unfortunately, all this action and back story happens in the past, off-stage. As in The Hollow, we see into the minds of the characters (unusual for Christie). The family gathers to discuss what to do next. We are party to their thoughts as they lie awake, but their ruminations are generalised, and their judgements of Rachel and each other are a string of clichés.

Christie’s usual “realism” – observation of clothes, décor, slang, current fads, current attitudes – is missing, along with her wit. The characters’ ponderous pondering could have been told in dialogue - her regular method.

The story comes fitfully to life as we spend time with the characters, and meet Jacko's wife, who works as a cinema usherette, and an older woman who had fallen for his charm and handed over wads of cash. But everyone talks endlessly about the past - telling and not showing!

There is no "detective", though two of the characters investigate: the crippled husband of one of the Argyle daughters, and the stranger who gave Jacko his alibi. Why had he not come forward at the time? He received a bang on the head and was concussed, leading to loss of memory. When he recovered, he immediately set off to the Antarctic, where he was incommunicado for several years. Is this a subtle hint by Christie that there is such a thing as amnesia, just in case anybody thought she was pretending all those years ago in Harrogate?

The drama picks up near the end, and the solution is satisfactory, but what was the second murder weapon?

I returned to the book because it was being “adapted” for TV. What did others think? And can they avoid the words “cosy”, “cipher” and "darker"? 

This book shines because it is actually rather realistic. It is full of human emotion and feeling. (An Amazon commenter reveals her criteria for “realism”.)

Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence Goes Darker for TV (Vanity Fair)

Christie perfected the art of the “soothing murder”: clean killings, characters cosily caricatured so we could enjoy the plot without too much emotional engagement. Sally Phelps injects more humanity, psychodrama and menace into proceedings. (The Times)

A fine and unexpectedly moving, in Agatha Christie’s customarily affectless world, performance... [The actors] flesh out and strengthen Christie’s characters, whom she was frequently happy to leave as ciphers in the puzzle she was laying out to solve. (Guardian)

These critics were enough to put me off, but Carol Midgley in the Times (April 16) liked it, apart from:

That last crazy scene that had Leo locked in a nuclear bunker by smirking Kirsten. Honestly? I thought it overboiled an otherwise outstanding episode... Could we assume the Argyll children were in on it, or did they think he’d drowned in the lake? ... Too many unknowns for an “Agatha” in which satisfaction comes from loose ends being neatly tied.
I relished every other dark, delicious thing that the writer Sarah Phelps did to the story — and I’m a lifelong Christie fan... It revitalised and thrilled-up a story I thought I knew and, let’s remember, had the Christie estate’s blessing.
If the idea was to lure younger viewers to Agatha, I can say, having watched it with a rapt teenager, it worked. The self-harming, the “rape” of Kirsten by Leo producing baby Jack — all showed that you can modernise, while staying true to spirit. It was a beautifully orchestrated finale as the ghastly sociopath Rachel (Anna Chancellor) saw a) how much her kids hated her and b) her husband being straddled by blowsy secretary Gwenda, producing the killer line: “You ordinary bitch. Put your cheap knickers on and get out of my house.” Ditto Jack warning his disgusting father from prison: “I will drink from your hollowed skull.” TV heaven. Still a shame about the baddie in the bunker.

This is stretching "staying true to the spirit" rather far.

They said much the same about And Then There Were None:

A frequent sin committed against Christie is the misguided cosification of her work, enveloping everything in a haze of soft-focus nostalgia. (Radio Times)

BBC’s And Then There Were None puts a darker spin on Agatha Christie (Guardian December 2015)

Blood on the chintz for a change! (paraphrase)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Art Shows in London, Oxford and Paris

Ashmolean Museum

23 March – 22 July 2018
America's Cool Modernism: O'Keeffe to Hopper
The show also features work by Arthur Dove, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth. (That's Hopper's Pennsylvania Dawn.)

Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre
Holborn Library
32-38 Theobalds Road
London WC1X 8PA
5 February – 27 April
Cook’s Camden 
An exhibition on the acclaimed housing built by Camden when Sydney Cook was Borough Architect 1965–73. Free, but ring and check – it's not open every day.

London Metropolitan Archives
40 Northampton Road
May 21-Oct 31
Picturing Forgotten London
Farms, old markets,  gin palaces, theatres, music halls and lost architectural follies like the Euston Arch and the Skylon, in paintings, engravings and photographs. There were fields around Archway and a cattle market in Caledonian Road.

National Gallery
9 April − 29 July 2018
Monet and Architecture 
Apparently Monet was not just a twee recorder of haystacks and waterlilies, he also painted - buildings! Including Venice, Rouen Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament, which he painted from a hotel room. He loved London, always blurred by smog. Visit the website for some kitsch animated Monets.

Victoria Miro Mayfair and Wharf Road
To 16 June/19 May
Surface Work
20th century abstract art by women. Not a lot of people know that abstraction was invented by a woman, Annie Besant, a political reformer, biologist and follower of Anna Blavatsky. She – and other abstract painters – wanted to depict the reality that lies behind appearances.

Maillol Museum
16 rue de Grenelle
75007 Paris
To 15 July
Foujita, Painting in the Roaring 20s
It sounds better in French: "Peindre dans les années folles". Tsuguharu Foujita came to Paris from Japan in 1913 and was quickly accepted by the Parisian artists, becoming a friend of Amedeo Modigliani and Nina Hamnett. He spent the war documenting the city's edgelands. After the war, his watercolours of dogs, cats, streets and elegant 20s women in angular poses became wildly popular. Fleeing the tax man, he ended up in South America, but eventually returned to Paris, converted to Catholicism and became "Léonard".

Coming up at the British Museum in Autumn: Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Monday, 9 April 2018

Malaprops and Portmanteaus 8

Portmanteaus pack two meanings into one word, malaprops improve on the original.

Phombies, meanderthals
(People who meander down the street looking at their phone.)
dismall (dreary shopping mall)
escortionists (gold-diggers)
coatigan (Lots at M&S Feb 2018.)
It’s absolutely adhorrible.
The bitchcraft community (in Glastonbury)

Nice ficture! (A ficture is a highly photoshopped and HD’d picture.)

I don't know nothing about it. This is all fabrighasted. (@richardosman)

The field of manthematics is expanding beyond that whole thing where 33% of a room being women makes it feel "woman-dominated". (@AmyDentata)

Had posh mushy peas served in a Kilmer jar. (Deborah Meaden)
Meshasmits (Messerschmidts)
pereguin falcon (peregrine)
in agreeance
Nan has moved into a bonglo.
voieyre (voyeur)
widow of opportunity
Corbyn is a terrorist synthesizer.
The scrum of the earth (It’s “scum”.)
Lovely product, very lugubrious! (Luxurious?)

This photo of bare trees "looks like a venal system. The only pretty part of humans for me." (FB) (Venal means devious, mercenary, dishonest. Every human has a “venous” system of branching veins.)

At this stage police have not located any causalities. (Nov 24 2017)

A small gun can be concealed up a sleeve or in a retinue. (reticule)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Outrageous Excuses 5

We can't possibly do that because...

Women can’t read the news because they don’t sound authoritative and no one would believe them. (50s)

Women can’t become priests because their voices are not commanding enough. (mid-90s)

We can't employ women in offices because they'll start growing beards, 1900s. (Or was that "women shouldn't cut their hair"? A generation of bearded ladies was not forthcoming.)

If wolf-whistling is made a crime, even fewer women will become mothers because it will “drive the sexes even further apart”. (Andrew Cadman on Conservative Woman)

We can’t have escalators in the New York subway because they might enable terrorism.

We can’t prosecute all these MPs and ministers for sexual harassment because it would undermine the government and destabilise the country.

Famous judge Lord Denning (1899-1999) said you can’t criticise the police even when they’re wrong because they'd lose the people's respect. He also said: “We must not allow this cult of homosexuality, making it equal with heterosexuality, to develop in our land. We must preserve our moral and spiritual values.”

And in 1990 Denning suggested homosexuals’ vulnerability to blackmail should stop them from being appointed as judges. Sir Terence Etherton, now Master of the Rolls as Denning once was, is openly gay.


We can’t protect minorities (or ourselves if we’re members of a minority) because we might attract the wrong kind of attention.

You can’t do as you would be done by because the other guy might not like what you like.

We can’t try to make the world a better place because first we’d have to convince everyone in the world that our version of “better” was the right one.

We can’t just sack this director of Oxfam who paid Haiti victims for sex because it would undermine the work of the organisation.

But the wise ones said: A woman shall not read from the Torah in order to respect the public. (Tractate Megillah, before 200CE. Presumably "because some people wouldn’t like it" is meant.)

We can’t send shy people to charm school! (Common in the 70s. I always wanted to know why we couldn’t, but at least it was a step forward from “shy people are just selfish”.)

You can’t be against abortion because you’d be standing with right-wing fundamentalists.

You can't be against pornography because you'd be standing with Mary Whitehouse. (The Clean Up TV campaigner died in 2001.)

If we no-platform the neo-Nazis, they will go underground and become more dangerous.

We can’t arrest/imprison/kill their leader, or he will become a martyr.

We can’t protect children because we’d be playing into the hands of the people who want to make society more authoritarian. (George Orwell nailed this argument here.)

We can't set up a national DNA database because you might be convicted of a crime when your fag end was found in the vicinity.

We can’t have the Tridentine Mass back because we’d be siding with the Lefebvrian schismatics. (Pope Benedict reintroduced it, 2012.)

Women don’t need the vote because they can ask nicely for what they want/tell their husband how to vote.

We can’t have equal pay or women’s rights because men would stop holding the door open for women, and women would lose their femininity. (Bizarrely revived in 2011 along with the word “chivalry” which I thought had died circa 1972.)

We can’t make divorce easier because the result would be anarchy. (Can we have no-fault divorce soon, please?)

You can’t stop animal experiments/the tobacco trade/pylons across national parks/motorways through tranquil villages because jobs would be lost.

There's no point having a law against it because you can’t change people’s minds by legislation.

We can't do that because Marketing wouldn't like it.
Legal wouldn't let us.
The CEO prefers to do these things his way.
It's too expensive.
We don't have the time.
We'd have to work with organization X. 
(Michael Schrage)

Will never fly.
Tried it before.
Not in our budget.
Too polarising.
No resources.
Feature creep.
Too risky.
Out of scope.
Yes, but…

(Idea Voodoo by Tom Fishburne)

It can’t be done.
It’s hopeless.
It’s impractical.
It’s idealistic.
It’s insane.
It’s just science fiction.
They tried it in [year] and it didn’t work.
They tried it in [place] and it didn’t work.
[Prominent individual] says it won’t work.
It’s just [failed ideology]ism.
It will never happen so why bother.
And, the most effective of all… It will never work because you can’t change human nature.

We will nevah, nevah do XYZ!

Yes, we’ve found the Titanic. It’s a grave site and will never be disturbed. (10 years later objects from the Titanic are being sold on eBay.)

We will never clone human beings.

My college, Magdalene, was all-male until the late 1980s. I was one of the first female postgrads and a lot of the boys wore black armbands in mourning. 30 years later and it's a very diverse college: its exam results have gone through the roof now that the rather dense rugger buggers are no longer such a feature. (LW)

Magna Carta: “Not only only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust,” said the Pope of the day, before annulling it. It became law in 1225.

More examples here.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Racism and Logic 2


It has been a busy week for racism apologists, who have come up with many reasons why anti-Semitism is a) OK and b) not anti-Semitism. I have read or heard all these. (Do I have to say that I disagree with them all?)

"Jews are vermin, and are also secretly in control." (David Baddiel, paraphrased. Baddiel made a film showing that the Y-word was as bad as the N-word. “A progressive friend of mine said: “It’s not.” I asked why. He said: “Because Jews are rich.” Someone tweeted him to say the disputed mural “isn’t anti-Semitic, it’s justifiably showing up “Zionist greed”. (Times)

It’s OK to be anti-Semitic because Jews are white.
Therefore they enjoy white privilege.
And privileged people can't be victims.

It’s OK to be anti-Semitic because of what’s happening in Israel.

It’s not anti-Semitism if you just hate the bad Jews.

I’m not anti-Semitic because the Jews really are a shadowy cabal running the world and responsible for all of its evil.

The Arabs are Semites too.

Anti-Semitism is sent by God to ensure the Jews remain separate as the Bible says they should.

Jews are making it up.

Jews aren’t an ethnic minority because there are lots of minorities in Britain.

Never mind the 20th century, this is the present.

Anti-Semitism is not racism because the Jews are the establishment.

It’s OK to be anti-Semitic because the Jews are all rich.

Only victims can be victims of prejudice. (Versus “We shouldn’t help anybody because that’s just turning them into a victim” – the usual libertarian version.)

The Holocaust was awful, but that doesn’t turn Jews into an ethnic minority – they are a religious minority.

“Some seem to believe that anti-Semitism is exclusive to Nazism, that it appeared in 1933 and vanished again in 1945.” (Owen Jones)

This is being used to smear Jeremy Corbyn therefore there is no anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Anybody who points out anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is attacking Jeremy Corbyn. How can you be so disloyal?

The Labour Party is determined to tackle anti-Semitism in its ranks, but that wasn’t anti-Semitism. (Ad infinitum ad nauseam.)

The Labour Party is on the right side, therefore Labour Party members can't be anti-Semitic.


No, you're racist because [reasons]. (And they always say it as if they were the first to have thought of it. Bit like “atheism is a religion”.)

"I'm not a racist, I just accept unpleasant truths others would prefer to suppress" is a thing racists say. It's a thing racists have been saying for centuries. (Angus Johnston @studentactivism)

Percentage of the population? That’s not what “minority” means. You can’t rewrite the dictionary!

Racism is OK because it has existed in every country throughout history.

The Dutch didn’t colonise South Africa, the Bantu colonised South Africa.

I’m just saying what everybody is thinking.

There were no black people in medieval Europe!
(Opponent produces evidence that there were.)
Medieval Europeans didn’t use our terminology – there were no black OR white people in Medieval Europe!

Racist cliché bingo:
White men built this country. Immigration is OK if the immigrants are white.
(If in doubt, accuse anything and anybody of being racist.)

Africans are inferior because they never built cities. 
Aksum, Great Zimbabwe, Timbuctoo?
Sub-Saharan Africans are inferior because they never built cities. All cities in Africa were built by Bedouin, Tuaregs, Arabs, Muslims, European settlers. (Oct 2017)

More here, unfortunately.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Grammar: Synecdoche, Ellipsis, Shorthand

Sometimes an adjective takes in the meaning of a noun it once qualified, but is now usually dropped. If you say “The atmosphere was fraught”, or “I’m feeling rather fraught”, listeners will understand that the atmosphere was strained, and that you feel tense. The entire phrase “fraught with tension” is taken as read. 

Synecdoche: “A figure of speech in which the name of a part is used to stand for the whole (as hand for sailor), the whole for a part (as the law for police officer)...” (American Heritage Dictionary)

But what do you call it when people use the same term for both the thing itself and our perception of it, or our possession of it?

I am right, you are wrong: It’s your statement that’s shown to be right or wrong, when compared with reality.

We must confront our fears: We must confront the things that make us frightened.

Early Man lived by a different kind of time: He lived by a different method of measuring or marking the passage of time.

The medieval mind was different from ours: Medieval ideas were different from ours.

There is no such thing as Truth because truths so often turn out to be false. This is switching from abstraction to specific examples, and pretending that “truth” (abstract noun meaning “trueness”) means the same as “statements put forward as truth”.

aesthetic: aesthetically pleasing
bitter: bitterly contested 
character building: building good character
citizen: good citizen

drug dealing
discrimination: discrimination against
diversity: ethnic diversity

ecstatic, delirious, drained:
ecstatically happy, delirious with joy, drained of all emotion
fashion scarves: high-fashion scarves

genetic food:
genetically modified food
grant writing: grant-application writing
greenhouse emissions: greenhouse-gas emissions

infectious personality:
personality whose gaiety is infectious
judge: judge unfavourably
livid: livid with rage

marital affairs:
extramarital affairs 
outpouring, public outpouring: public outpouring of grief 

of paramount importance
prejudice: adverse prejudice
privilege: white privilege
prohibitive: prohibitively expensive

rabidly enthusiastic, furious 
race relations: good race relations
relevant: relevant to life in the 21st century 

social mobility:
upward social mobility
value sweaters: good value

Even more rhetoric, equivocation and sophistry in my book Boo & Hooray: Dysphemisms and Euphemisms.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Outdated Stereotypes: Brits, Bankers and Bureaucrats

Brits and bureaucrats are depicted wearing bowlers, which faded out circa 1970. Bankers are shown wearing top hats - they ditched the headgear in the 30s. The English character Spalding in Hergé's Flight 714 is tall, thin, red-haired, tweed-suited and sports an RAF moustache of the kind not seen since the war.

An American cartoon shows a balding man in a tweed suit and a trilby hat, blowing bubbles from a Sherlock Holmes pipe, sporting a monocle and a handlebar moustache, riding a penny-farthing with a BREXIT pennant into the void.
A caricature Briton wears a bowler hat, a moustache, and combinations. (2017 Dec 31 And nobody knows how to draw a bowler hat.)

A French paper publishes a cartoon of post-Brexit Britain: A tall thin man with an RAF moustache in a tweed suit and bowler hat reads the Sun in an outside toilet.
There was a French “comedy” series about a humorous Englishman in a bowler hat (Major W. Marmaduke Thompson by Pierre Daninos).

Who wouldn't want to unite and fight in the face of a common top-hat bedecked, welfare-scything enemy? (Huffpost Dec 2012)

Dominic West is amused by the expectations Americans have of anyone with a British accent, eg “fairness, style”. He says that in Finding Dory he and Idris Elba play two British sea lions sitting on a rock “an island in the middle of nowhere, being fiercely aggressive towards any outsiders”. (Times July 26 2016)

Cartoon bureaucrats are shown as men in pinstripe suits and bowler hats, with briefcases, scurrying through an ornate doorway. Pinstripe suits were last seen in the mid-70s. And the bowler-wearing, pinstripe sporting, briefcase carrying bureaucrats of circa 1955 would have worn a raincoat or overcoat outside. (This led to a long argument on Twitter, with people saying “it’s useful shorthand”, and a similar one about bankers in top hats – “Aren’t we allowed to use metaphors?”)

South Americans think Englishwomen have huge feet (and they think it's hilarious). French 19th century cartoons of Englishwomen show them with flat chests, huge flat feet, long noses, horse faces, lank blonde hair and sticking out teeth, dressed top to toe in tweed and carrying umbrellas. The French think we eat animal food (broad beans) and jam with everything (red currant jelly, mint jelly). Anything cooked "à l'Anglaise" is boiled in plain water.

Americans laugh at us for eating fruit cake and having terrible teeth. They sneer at us for saying “an hospital” because they think we’re speaking Dickensian Cockney. (They also think Lord Peter Wimsey dropped his Gs out of solidarity with the workin’ classes, when it was an old-fashioned aristocratic habit.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Euphemisms in Quotes 10

Executive Homes are never in Vibrant Areas.
 (via FB)

How brands repurpose influencer content, Five unique ways brands can repurpose evergreen content, How to Repurpose Video Content Marketing Ideas for Brand Awareness… (“Influencer content” is pix and videos by people you pay to boost your products in an apparently neutral forum like Instagram, Youtube etc.)

Dementia can affect anyone, even those most special to us. (Alzheimer’s Research UK suggests that those reading the article will never suffer from dementia.)

Alex Salmond to Mhairi Black: I’m sure Taz will take you out to go shopping or something at some point and you’ll find your own style. (Translation: Wear a skirt.)

I was once at a fundraiser dinner with Max Clifford. Having asked me if I was gay, he spent a few minutes being slightly old fashioned (well, massively homophobic). So I asked him “And what do you do?” and he got really cross that he had to explain. (Adam Kay‏ @amateuradam)

So we are going to be in the Customs Union, but it won’t be called the Customs Union it’ll be called something else, like Gavin or Kylie. Is that right? (@Tony_Robinson)

Stephen Ward, the society osteopath, introduced lucky young women into polite society, or in harsher terms procured girls like Christine Keeler for his rich clients such as Lord Astor. (Jane Kelly on Conservative Woman)

Dastyari says the tape of the press conference “shocked me” because it didn’t match his recollection. (PatriciaKarvelas‏ @PatsKarvelas)
Code for: 'I was shocked that someone recorded what I actually said so it hasn't allowed me to deny it.' (@RodgerShanahan)

I covered the campaign last year. Over and over men insinuated that women's analysis of HRC's candidacy were "biased," or "subjective," or "opinion." When women wrote about Hillary, it was a "feminist take." When men wrote about Hillary, it was "the truth." (@CharlotteAlter)

Business analyst Emma Sheldrick offers some useful translations. "Manage our stakeholders," she explains, means "placate the people who are asking the intelligent questions about why something is being done"; while "Update our stakeholder matrix" really signifies "we need to take off the people who disagree with the task at hand and find some new ones who agree." (Guardian Nov 2017)

Miss Markle is a very interesting person. (Sky News Royal Correspondent, adding that she’s biracial and anti-Trump.)

Meghan grew up in the Valley, a leafy middle-class area. (Sky News)

And here are the Daily Mail's euphemisms for "black" today: “Gang-scarred home of Meghan’s mother revealed… gangs… bloods… territory… run-down area… social worker… gang-afflicted…” (Alex von Tunzelmann)

If you’ve already seen a significant sample of “borderline-racist” (which is usually just racist) posts from her public profile… (Mallory Ortberg)

The President is incorrect about how we choose Person of the Year. TIME does not comment on our choice until publication, which is December 6. (@TIME)

"The President is lying…" is what they're trying to say. (@soledadobrien)

You really have to laugh at the Tories as they say we can have better employment rights, higher environmental standards, improved citizens rights when we leave EU. These Tories have been attacking these rights and standards for years calling them red-tape and burdens on business. (@AngelaRayner)

Reminder: "no accent" just means "the character has the dominant accent for the culture" (everyone has an accent. Some of them just happen to be coded neutral) (Aliette de Bodard‏ @aliettedb)

I have been called ‘bubbly’, ‘peppy’, ‘cheery’, ‘excitable’ by male academics. I do not think I am actually especially any of these things. (Charlotte Lydia Riley‏ @lottelydia Women were also told they “came across as abrupt” and “masculine”.)

No-one says "Islam isn't a race" unless they're trying to negotiate some points-free racism. (Keir Hardie‏ @scatterkeir)

Layers of crude and distorting old overpaints were removed and losses were sensitively and minimally inpainted,” says Christie’s report on Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi. The restorer stabilised the picture, removed most of the later overpaint and fillings, and made cosmetic changes to bring it back closer to Leonardo’s original. (

Those who voted Leave largely didn’t do so for economic reasons. It was a question of values: a desire for steady work, family and community. The majority of people are quietly conservative. Labour won’t win until we understand that. @blue_labour)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Urban Legends

“I’m often run into by cyclists on pavements.” What motivates some people to make up stuff like that?
(Paul Thompson @raganello)

Trump has said: ‘I saw 1,000 muslims dancing in Jersey City on the night of 9/11. Many people saw it. I saw it.’ You would have thought some evidence would have emerged. Some shred of evidence. And he says, ‘Oh, no. I know it. It’s true. 100 people called me and said the same thing.’ (Deborah Lipstadt)

The first-person experience is an urban legend template, often found on Facebook. I have heard or read all these.

I look out of my window and see all these vastly obese people.

Look down any British street today ... and you’ll see fat people. (Carol Midgley in the Times)

Apparently Waitrose is preferable to Tescos because you are less likely to bump into “single mothers with large numbers of children with different fathers” and there are “fewer people on obviously bad diets”.

I was going to vote Remain, but I go into the supermarket and the banana is straight. I’m sick of all these silly rules they impose on us. (BBC Question Time)

My corner shop is so full of immigrants I can’t get to the till.

I go into my local Tescos and there are three aisles devoted to Polish food.

I go into Tescos and I see immigrants buying food with vouchers.

My mother goes to the doctor’s and she’s the only white person there.

My Polish grandmother recently told me how Polish immigrants integrated so much better than immigrants today (ie black and brown immigrants) even though every story of hers about growing up is about how they only did Polish things with other Polish people. (Jessica Stone @MediocreFred)

My friend’s granddaughter can’t take bacon-flavoured crisps to school because of all the Muslims.

I go purple faced with rage when people perpetrate one of these 10 grammar errors.

My toddlers are crying because Nickelodeon is off the air for 17 minutes in support of the students protesting about gun control and Paw Patrol is the one show I let them see and I can’t explain it to them. (Twitter, paraphrase)

I’ve been sitting here in the hospital sobbing my heart out for an hour because they said I ought to get my grandchild vaccinated, and it was just so insensitive. (There was a string of these on Facebook, with variations.)

The past is viewed through rose-coloured spectacles.
When I was a child, all schools and Government buildings had a union jack flying outside them, not now.

Schools never shut – I used to walk four miles to school through snowdrifts.

I travelled alone on long train journeys when I was six and I was fine because there weren’t all these paedophiles then.

We all left our doors unlocked and I remember when it was all fields round here. And they didn't have all this innovation when I was young.

More nonsense here.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Received Ideas (in Quotes) 8

The fact is that the vast majority of people are absolutely impervious to facts. Test the average man by asking him to listen to a simple sentence which contains one word with associations to excite his prejudices, fears or passions --- he will fail to understand what you have said and reply by expressing his emotional reaction to the critical word. It was long before I understood this fact of psychology.” (
Aleister Crowley)

Racist and classist grammar was predominantly invented in England in the 1920s for school textbooks.
(via Twitter Sexist perhaps, but racist and classist?)

Twitter: People are so easily offended these days! Atheism is a religion. Won't somebody think of the children? If we come from monkeys why are there still monkeys LOL! Why isn’t there a white history month? You should be worrying about (something completely different). Wake up, sheeple! Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. (Via Alex Andreou of the Guardian)

“This exhibition is about challenging people’s preconceptions” says curator of show about venomous insects at the Natural History Museum, as if he was the first person to think of it.

"Making ends meet" refers to accounting: balancing "end" gains & "end" losses at the end of the year (where "meet" means "equal," not "come together"). (Jason P. Steed ‏@5thCircAppeals Surely ends of a piece of string?)

In the midst of sorrow and loss the symbolism of the weeping willow offered solace and reassurance the dead would rise to heaven as quickly as a willow branch takes root. (Surely the weeping willow is a symbol of mourning because of its drooping branches?)

Hazel nuts were said to have contained so much bite-sized wisdom they became the source of the phrase “in a nutshell.” (via Twitter. It's a metaphor for packing a lot of information into a few words.)

Reading The Old Curiosity Shop last night and noticed Dickens used 'bran-new' which was endnoted with explanation that china used to be packed with unwanted bran, so a fresh bit of china was 'bran-new'. (Claire Cock-Starkey @NonFictioness)

The Hawaiian beachcombers talk about their marbles being from ballast on ships from back in the day. (via FB)

In the late 1700's Sydney's Aboriginal people made stone tools from Thames flint, bought to Australia as ballast on convict ships.

There’s a yarn whereby someone had a load of pyrites, perhaps used as ballast, and had to get rid of it, thus leading to “streets paved with gold” – it was used to make roads.
 (@guessworker It's metaphorical again – it's so easy to make money here it's as if the streets were paved with gold.)

There is plenty of evidence for Britain's colonial past on the foreshore, such as this huge lump of coral at Rotherhithe. Used as ballast on ships returning from the West Indies.
(@ThamesDiscovery Possibly, but I doubt ballast stories on principle.)

Here's my favourite thing in Palermo. The kamelaukion with which Honorius III crowned Constance of Aragon as Holy Roman Empress in 1220. Found in her tomb when her coffin was opened in the 18th century. (mym @LiberalDespot)

Edvard Grieg wrote In The Hall of the Mountain King as a satire of terrible music and said he could barely stand to hear it. It is now one of his most played and best remembered pieces. (Quite Interesting @qikipedia)

Peter Lorre liked to claim he hardly knew any English when Hitchcock hired him for The Man Who Knew Too Much, but the wonderfully nuanced line readings he delivers in this film prove he was fibbing. ( In Fritz Lang's M he plays a sinister character who compulsively whistles In the Hall of the Mountain King.)

My teenage son told me that our insatiable appetite for quinoa has transformed it from a daily staple to an unaffordable luxury in some communities & that I therefore must never buy it... is there any truth to this? (@SnowdenFlood)

Nope. The idea that quinoa is unethical stems from a baseless, scaremongering article from 2013. It ironically has lifted tens of thousands out of poverty. Shows how damaging irresponsible journalism really can be, even years later. Feel free to enjoy it!
(James Wong @Botanygeek)

Putting an onion in your sock will NOT:
1) clean your blood,
2) filter out bacteria,
3) draw chemicals and poisons out of your foot, or
4) make your foot smell better.

More here, and links to the rest.

And if you like this sort of thing, why not read my book, expanded and updated.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Outrageous Excuses 2018

It has been a good year for excuses – so far.

I’m not the same person
I was in a dark place
I’ve said I was sorry
I know I’ve done wrong
I’ve gone into rehab
I stayed a whole week
I’ve entered a program
I’ve wrestled my demons
My life’s back on track
I’ve hired a good lawyer
My industry needs me
Redemption is possible
Don’t you believe?

It wasn’t me, it was the drink
You know I’d never hurt you
I only want the best for you
All I’ve ever done is for you
I snapped
My boss had a go at me
If you didn’t keep winding me up, it wouldn’t happen.
I love you so much. I don’t need anyone else.
You don’t need someone else.
(Coercive Control @CCCBurySt Ed replies)

"I'm a different person now from when I sent that abusive Tweet". This defence won't stand up in a court of law, neither will "It's all the victim's fault." We punish perpetrators, not victims.

Sexist tweets “are not a true and genuine reflection of either my character or beliefs. I had to apologise because I looked at the words I used and I didn't like them myself. They are not a reflection of my true character and they do not reflect the way that I was brought up by my parents.” New manager of the women’s England football team.

Making excuses for someone else: I understand that his depression manifests as anger, he always had a temper, the devil made him do it.

Backtracking: I didn’t spike a vegan’s food, as I claimed in an earlier tweet, I just served her a pizza with mozzarella on it blah blah.

Monroe Bergdorf says her abusive comments were “taken out of context”. I wonder if people think "context" means "situation in which I said these things"? I mean, "I was just emailing a friend", "It was a private text", "It was only a tweet". Perhaps they think it means "taken out of the private realm into the public realm"? But "taken out of context" means textual context, in which the surrounding text will change the meaning of the offending words, as in "religion... is the opium of the people" (Karl Marx), or "the poor are always with you" (Jesus). 

The lastest Tube bomber is saying he came to the UK because he wanted to be a wildlife photographer, and he planted the bomb because he liked the idea of being a fugitive chased by Interpol. (March 13, 2018)

Huge mistake, moment of madness, stain on my character. Not something I’ve ever done before, or will ever do again. (Says the footballer who spat at a 14-year-old girl, and was caught on camera, March 2018.)

Florida Teacher claims racist podcast was “political satire”. (@JoeMyGod)

“I don't know how that got there,” teen tells cops as they find 8” knife down his trousers in Shoreditch search (Hackney Gazette)

Daniel Handler “just has a potty mouth”.
"But he didn't mean that!"
"But that didn't offend ME."

This morning I met two men cutting down trees "because druggies hide behind them and shoot up". (@GeorgeMonbiot)

Alex Jones of Infowars is just a “performance artist” playing “a character” says his divorce lawyer.

Oh dear Henry Bolton busily insisting his lady friend’s messages were doctored. Like those people who are always hacked when they tweet pictures of their pudenda. (Matt W @Clavdivs1)
When pressed ... he clarified SOME were doctored SOMEWHAT. (Jo Phillips @joglasg)

Paul Townsley, who hit a woman when protesters surrounded Jacob Rees-Mogg, was snapped dressed in Nazi uniform. He “dressed up for a family do. He is a good man and a lot of people would support that”, said Mrs Townsley, quoted in the Times.

Rob Porter’s explanation for how his first wife ended up with a black eye: “They were arguing over a vase, which struck her.”

Ian Duncan Smith on the leaked economic impact report: "It was deliberately leaked because it gives a bad view, therefore we should put it to one side and just forget about it." (Not so much an excuse, more “Everything is all right really because reasons, we may have hit an iceberg but we should look on the bright side.”)

It is acceptable for some people, possessed of certain kinds of exceptional character, to behave in certain ways that for most people would be unacceptable since regarded as rude, intrusive or even immoral. (@johnmilbank3)

GP who's retired to France voted leave for his grandchildren, knowing it would make us poorer but we're a great trading nation and have been for centuries. And we discovered "the Internet".

Oxfam chief says backlash against sex scandal is an “overreaction”. The charity allowed the worker to resign rather than sacking him "because a scandal would undermine our wonderful work". (Paraphrase.)

How A Public Role Controversy Unfolds, in Six Parts

1. "I have many inflammatory opinions."
2. "I am delighted to take up this new role which is in no way incompatible with my inflammatory opinions."
3. "I am sorry for the inflammatory opinions I held years ago. I was a different person then."
4. "Yes, I also expressed several inflammatory opinions last week, but these have been misrepresented. When I said everybody except people like me is evil and should be destroyed this is a complex and nuanced view that has been twisted by people who aren't like me to make me look bad."
5. "If you didn't keep telling people about all the inflammatory opinions I have expressed there wouldn't be a problem here."
6. "With great regret I am giving up this role, at which I would have been brilliant, because this controversy has become a distraction from the matter at hand - and it's everybody's fault but mine. I hope you're happy with depriving those who need them of my help and insight." (David Bennun)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Jobs You Never Knew Existed (in Quotes) 2

Modelling agencies told me they're increasingly staffing secret "atmosphere models" for parties in an industry dominated by men (the tech industry).

An entire industry of “reputation management” companies exists which businesses can hire to create highly believable fake reviews, “fix” their reputation if they’ve received bad reviews, or sabotage their competitors. (

Although she had no qualifications as a nutritionist, the food blogger had sold more than 40,000 copies of her own $25, five-day “cleanse” programme – a formula for an all-raw, plant-based diet majoring on green juice.

Harold Camping is notable for issuing multiple failed predictions of dates for the End Times, which temporarily gained him a global following and millions of dollars of donations. (Wikipedia)

These young bloggers, vloggers, Instagrammers, Snapchatters - one gathers that they make a fortune by linking up with fashion houses who pay them to push goods, or they are given their own line of clothes or accessories. (Moira Redmond)

"What did you do in the content wars, grandad?" 
"I was an 'influencer', my boy, I pretended to really love things so brands would pay me." (Mic Wright ‏@brokenbottleboy)

Horses can help people with physical issues, speech problems, behavioural issues, emotional problems, and other disabilities. (

Mario Taddei makes his living making the inventions designed by Leonardo da Vinci. (Discovery)

We found a growing industry of “funsultants” offering advice on how to make workforces more positive. (Guardian Dec 2016)

People can say, with a straight face, that they're a "preschool consultant," or that they do "nanny surveillance" or "closet organization". (

Nanoco is the world's leading manufacturer of cadmium-free quantum dots.

He was part of the East Sussex hiphop scene and also put in the hours as a blues singer: neither field is known for producing the stars of tomorrow. At some point he must have bitten the bullet and thought: I could spend the next decade singing for the same ten blokes in the back room of the Prince Albert or I could compromise a bit and see where a major label could take me. (Will Hodgkinson on Rag’n’Bone Man)

Found the website of a clothing co. that makes made-to-measure 10th Dr brown pinstripe suits. Damn. Something else to consider saving for... (‏@LindenG)

Human geographer, transport mathematician, shopping historian. (Nancy Banks Smith in The Guardian Aug 23 07)

Master dinosaur builder. (Aart Walen)

More here.

Epithets 3

Classical poets like Homer referred to cow-eyed Hera, faithful Achates, pious Aeneas, rosy-fingered dawn, swift-footed Achilles, the wine-dark sea, all-powerful Kronos (Time), wind-footed Iris (the rainbow). Apollo (the sun-god) was known as “destroyer of mice”. Do "Homeric epithets" still exist? Who are the Dynamic Duo, the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader? The Iron Lady, Il Duce, the Bard, the Fab Four, the Swan of Avon? (Wikipedia says this is antonomasia.)

If you're looking for a role in life, this list may give you some ideas.

[Mr Quayle was] train-bearer and organ-blower to a whole procession of people.” (Charles Dickens, Bleak House Mr Quayle’s friends are all do-gooders, and this is his role. (Heroine Esther realised that “it was Mr. Quayle's mission to be in ecstasies with everybody else's mission and that it was the most popular mission of all”.)

“Offcuts of the New Left who originally met up at the Partisan Coffee House, but were in reality, rather than political activists or academic theorists, more the hefty drinkers, convivialists, half-forgotten artists and writers, or never to be known thinkers, working their way looking forward but stepping backwards to oblivion... ageing into a repetitive narrative and early death... a merry-go-round of ageing drunks with and without a ruined talent.” (Novelist Jenny Diski on the 60s denizens of Fitzrovia)

Elizabeth Taylor’s husband Eddie Fisher "dwindled into being her factotum, flourishing the onyx cigarette lighter, whistling for the limo".

There were a fair number of failure models on view: the drunk, the incompetent, the placemen and the pompous. (Julian Barnes Guardian July 2013)

ageing enfant terrible

attack dog

back-seat driver (micro-manager)
bellowing know-nothings (Owen Hatherley on planners who raze all 60s buildings)

co-op types
 (The entire class was full of co-op types, vegetarians in overalls and tie-dyed T-shirts. Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot)

daft ha’porth
(Matthew Sweet on hobbits and dwarves)
drama llama
drugstore cowboy
empty suits in seats of power (@davidhuyssen)
fading matinee idol

fang bangers
(fans of Twilight, True Blood etc)
feinshmekers (connoisseurs)
femme fatale
foot soldier
fortune hunter

gurt jobbernowl
gym buddy


intellectual yet idiot (All the right/left’s intellectuals are IYIs, depending on which side you are on.)

keyboard warrior 
lame duck
man of mystery

Mansplainer, whitesplainer, pagansplainer, instant expert who has been to one workshop

Monday-morning quarterback
my pet failure
nicknacketerian (collector or trader of bric-a-brac)
office spy
partner in crime
reality nobodies (Richie Brown/@whiffytidings)

shabby genteel

shadow spokesthing (David Aaronovitch)
Sieg-heiling tossweebles (@Gaipajama on UKIP)
mall goth
social climber
sore loser
stragglers (from a previous decade or the one before that)
Sunday painter

taxi-to-table breed
(in New York) (Times Sept 2015 on women who ostentatiously don’t wear tights – with their high heels - in winter.)

tennis nut
the crunchy-granola set (

the poor-little-me type
(Agatha Christie. She points out that you can play this role even when medium-sized.)

useful idiot
What happened to “rock liggers”? They were people who turned up to press events for the free food and drink, or to mingle with people on the scene, without actually playing in a band or even being a driver or roadie or PR person or stylist or...

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Syndromes We Don't Have a Name For 5

Baby Duck Syndrome:
Users believing that the first software product they use is how all software should work from then on. Whatever's familiar, no matter how difficult, is going to be what that user wants to stay with forever. From baby ducks (and other fowl) imprinting on whatever they see first after hatching and considering that object to be their mother, even if it's a human or an inanimate object. (

Vision but no Strategy: This is very good news for all of us who want vision injected into the Brexit process. (Tim Montgomerie @montie)

This, in a nutshell, is the problem with Brexiteers. Every single one of them wants to talk about 'vision'. None wants to address detail. There is absolutely no shortage of vision. They're all ladling it out, because that's an awful lot easier than making sure planes can fly. All they've done is talk about what the glorious future will look like. None wants the boring hard work of actually making it happen. (@mrdavidwhitley)

Days of Future Past: Once upon a time teleworking was the future. (BBC Online)
I have serious rescuer tendencies. (
Becoming the Mask (TV Tropes Live your life as if you were undercover.)

Former top dogs were now second-class citizens. (Sudeten Germans post the Hapsburg empire, which they ran.)

Daily reminder that capitalism will co-opt counterculture and sell it to you... (Counterpunch, with a pic of an army surplus hoodie covered with “hand-drawn” slogans. Links to marketing hipness, in the process making it mainstream, so there’s nothing left to sell.)

The Poetry Society, which precisely because it was a backwater was a viper’s nest of invidiousness and intrigue. (NYT)
Family dynamics where one person dictates everyone else’s behavior because everyone else is terrified of setting them off on another one of their “adult temper tantrums”. ( Actor Charles Laughton used to throw a huge tantrum early on in a production and then was as nice as pie – but everybody treated him with terrified deference in case he did it again.)

Doubles down on her prejudice when called out. (

Old-timer tries to be a giddy girly girl – for 22 years. (Cruel 19th century joke)

There are two things about psychopaths like him which are worth knowing. One is that they don’t have any friends. The other thing is that they don’t seem to do anything. If you get these two things together, look out.
(Elizabeth Jane Howard)

Most cargo cults in the South Sea died out fairly quickly because no cargo arrived: it was really hard to continue fooling themselves. (David Didau)

The feud consumes their lives and irrevocably damages their careers. (Greatest Mysteries)

I just checked out a new coffee shop. At the register, there's a sign that says there's no wi-fi so that customers "make a friend." It worked! My new friend is a different coffee shop. (@legogradstudent)

Once folk believe one daft thing, they can be encouraged to swallow a different daft thing. (@EUtopean And vice versa. Get a cult member/conspiracy theorist to doubt one thing about their complicated worldview and the whole house of cards comes down.)

“Oh sorry, we wouldn't have tried to bully and intimidate you if we realised you were middle class and articulate." (via Twitter)

Get your foot in the door just as it’s closing. Take up new fad just as the cool people drop it.
Have long-term plans, then realise the moment has passed. 
Plan to jump on a bandwagon, and then realise it passed years ago.
Crazy Optimism:
Urging the restoration of  Brighton’s burned-out pier as the charred skeleton collapses into the stormy waves of the English Channel.

The End of the World Has Been Postponed: Instantly coming up with a reason why the world didn’t end when you said it would, and why it will end on the new date you now put forward. (Rinse, repeat.)

Time for Violin Practice: Tendency of adults to force children to do something difficult, unpleasant and probably pointless, like learning Chinese. Or practising the violin when they have no musical talent and will never even be able to give a decent rendition of Greensleeves. Continue this for about ten years. The child then gives up lessons, puts away the violin and never touches a musical instrument for the rest of its life. The only thing that has been achieved is suffering and time-wasting for the child, but maybe this was the object. It scrapes at the violin, under duress, but at least it isn’t playing computer games.

Jeremiads: “The English language will soon be extinct” etc etc blah blah. (Jeremiah was always prophesying doom.)

We're All Doomed:
Academic or novelist rants about how some technological innovation (biros, Twitter, word processors, semaphore) is going to destroy novel-writing, letter-writing, conversation, civilisation, life itself etc many years after everyone else has accepted Twitter and it is such a part of people’s lives that nobody notices it any more.

Recency Illusion: Thinking this Thing has never happened before, even if it has happened every year for the past 30.

Civilisation flourishes for 1,000 years in a remote location. Then abruptly the city is deserted and elaborate temples, palaces, sculptures are left to the desert sands/jungle.

In a word:Foot-dragging: What happened when computers were first introduced into offices.
Worthy: 80s political cabaret.

The British way: Don't ask for help, when none is offered say "Thank you very much!" sarcastically, then complain, while congratulating yourself on your directness.

The Grass Is Greener: They do these things so much better in…

Flat Earthery is the new Alien Abduction: Youtube videos, lectures, conventions, followers, buy my book/DVD. Same template as Puritanism, Mormonism, Christian Science, revivalism, New Thought, fundamentalism, the End of the World is Nigh.

Hunger Games: Inviting people to dinner, or to stay, and never giving them quite enough to eat, or making them wait until 10pm.

Complain Brits won't eat free fungi.
Tell them how to find it.
Ccomplain there's no free fungi left because the Brits have eaten it all.

Entire academic department studies the way people’s minds are warped by capitalism and “false consciousness” but no plans are made to do anything about it. The academics' minds are never so warped, of course.

Free Will: Explaining at length that Man has free will – and then letting determinism in again by the back door. Claiming that we don’t have free will and then living as if we did.

Public Sculpture: Amazing persistence of councils in commissioning and erecting ghastly humanoid sculptures that are immediately called “Slag Alice”, “The Tart with the Cart” etc.

Mole Man I: I Impulse to dig amateur tunnels, like the duke who built a ballroom under a lake. Links to the male impulse to do something dangerous, time-consuming and expensive, especially if it involves competitive equipment buying.

Mole Man II: Infiltrate a protest group and incite it to break the law so you can crush it.

Temporal parochialism: Ice Age people had “modern minds like our own”.

A fading beauty clinging to the remnants of a career.

Tendency of peasants to wear traditional costume with huge starched headdresses and a lot of labour-intensive lace and embroidery (adding value to cheap materials).

Mirror, Mirror: Inability to see that your vast wig makes you look like an alien.

Thinking your friends are more important than they are.

Writing poetry even though you haven’t read any since school, and don’t see what’s wrong with non-scanning doggerel full of “e’en” and “o’er the lea”. Or rhyming doggerel full of "to the seaside we did go".

Meek, mild-mannered man who never harms a fly tells you quite seriously that the only solution to the world’s problems is to wipe out 90% of the population, giving detailed plans for infectious plagues, nuking volcanoes etc.

Being mean-spirited about absolutely anything and everything – especially on social media. (Which has given these people a wider audience and don’t they just love it.)

Sending 100 abusive emails and FB posts to a total stranger.

Pointless Answer: Rearranging the top layer of the dishwasher several times just so that you can cram one more cup into it. Being convinced that your way of stacking the dishwasher is the only way.

Policing other people’s inner lives. Particularly large groups of people, like “the young”, or “the masses”.

You break up, but you make sure your ex doesn’t find anyone else by staying in contact, being kind and friendly, lending her books, fixing her washing-machine, feeding her crumbs of affection.

Interrupting and distracting someone who is concentrating, or working from home.

Telling atheists what atheism really is, while defining it out of existence.

More here, and the links to the rest.