Friday 26 February 2010

Crépuscule (Twilight, Dämmerung)

I found this poem when I Googled for "digue don don". What were Les Joyeux Turlurons singing? (See
Tintin and the Picaros.) A very loose translation follows, as a lot of it is nonsense. But quite a lot of it is sense.

Il est 8 h 02 à l'horloge du monde.
Un quadrumane brandit une carotte et allume la convoitise de ses congénères.
Il est 8 h 05 lorsque prend fin la guerre de la Carotte, dûment consignée par les scribes de cette heure-là, digue don da.

Il est 13 h 17 à l'horloge du monde.
Un bipède brandit un épieu et accapare le monopole du mammouth.
À 13 h 21, la guerre du Mammouth s'éteint, faute de mammouths.
Le souvenir en est consigné dans la laine gardienne d'ADN qui gît gelée dans les glaciers, digue don dé.

Il est 16 h 42 à l'horloge du monde.
Un grand empanaché brandit un sceptre à cornes de boeuf et devient ipso facto l'égal d'un dieu, déchaînant aussitôt la jalousie des moins égaux que lui.
La guerre des Égaux de dieux s'étire officiellement jusqu'à 16 h 48, mais ne prend pas réellement fin, foi de rabbin. Elle se tapit sous d'autres noms, brûle des Irlande et des collines de Sion, chante les louanges de la moisson et chaque année tue un dindon, digue don don.

Il est 19 h 23 à l'horloge du monde.
Une tête à lauriers se drape dans sa toge et lance des légions toutes directions, avec mission de veni, vidi, vici, et ramassons jusqu'à poches pleines tout ce que nous trouverons de bon.
À 19 h 25, la guerre des Veni, vidi, vici s=épuise dans l=écoeurement total alors que pourrissent dans la plaine des restants de civilisations, digue don daine digue don don.

Il est 22 h 42 à l'horloge du monde.
Un hurluberlu attrape la berlue et se fourre la main droite dans son plastron napoléon. En moins de temps qu'il n'en faut pour crier Armageddon, il ensanglante des Europe et se pète la face dans l'Oural comme tous les autres avant lui.

À 22 h 44 cesse la guerre du Dernier Pèté dans l'Oural qui aurait même pas existé si y avait lu son histoire à 13 h 19 ou à 16 h 48, digue don duite.

Il est 23 heures quelque chose lorsque l'horloge du monde refuse de donner l'heure juste.

Par delà les fuseaux horaires, les derniers pacifistes non internés ont donné un grand coup de collier.

La paix vient d'éclater, digue don dé yé!

Guy Perreault Mai 2002

It’s 8.02 on the world clock
A four-handed thing brandishes a carrot and incites his fellows.
It’s 8.05 when the War of the Carrot ends, according to the scribes, digue don da.

It’s 13.17 on the world clock.
A biped brandishes a rapier and challenges the monopoly of the mammoth.
At 13.21, the War of the Mammoth is over, for lack of mammoths.
Its memory is consigned to the guardian angel who throws jelly in the glaciers, digue don de.

It’s 16.42 on the world clock.
A great feathery thing brandishes a sceptre with the horns of a bull and becomes ipso facto the equal of a god, incurring in the process the jealousy of those less equal than him.
The War of the Equals to God is terminated officially at 16.48, but that’s not really the end, faith of a friend. She trades under other names, burns Ireland and the hills of Sion, and each year kills a turkey, digue dindon.

It’s 7.23 on the world clock.
A laurel-crowned head drapes itself in a toga and sends legions in all directions. Their mission: veni, vidi, vici and fill their pockets with whatever they find.
At 7.25 the War of Veni, Vidi, Vici ended on the plain of civilisation’s remains, digue don daine digue don don.

It’s 22.42 on the world clock.
A hullabaloo caught the toodledoo and thrust his right hand into his waistcoat a la Napoleon. And in less time than it takes to shout “Armageddon!” he soaked Europe in blood and farted in the general direction of the Ural Mountains like all the others before him.

At 22.44 the War of the Last Fart in the General Direction of the Urals ended, and it would never have happened if we’d all read the history of what happened at 13.19 and 16.48, digue don date.

It’s 23 o’clock or thereabouts – the world clock is refusing to give the right time.
Beyond the burning hours, the last pacifists not interned are beheaded.

Peace is declared, digue don de ye!

Deep Sorriness Atonement Song

(For missed appointment, BBC North, Manchester)

The man who sold Manhattan for a halfway decent bangle,
He had talks with Adolf Hitler and could see it from his angle,
And he could have signed the Quarrymen but didn't think they'd make it
So he bought a cake on Pudding Lane and thought "Oh well I'll bake it"
But his chances they were slim
And his brothers they were Grimm,
And he's sorry, very sorry,
But I'm sorrier than him.

And the drunken plastic surgeon who said "I know, let's enlarge 'em!"
And the bloke who told the Light Brigade "Oh what the hell, let's charge em",
The magician with an early evening gig on the Titanic
And the Mayor who told the people of Atlantis not to panic,
And the Dong about his nose
And the Pobble re his toes,
They're all sorry very sorry
But I'm sorrier than those.

 And don't forget the Bible, with the Sodomites and Judas,
And Onan who discovered something nothing was as rude as,
And anyone who reckoned it was City's year for Wembley.
And the kid who called Napoleon a shortarse in assembly,
And the man who always smiles
Cause he knows I have his files,
They're all sorry, really sorry,
But I'm sorrier by miles.

And Robert Falcon Scott who lost the race to the Norwegian,
And anyone who's ever split a pint with a Glaswegian,
Or told a Finn a joke or spent an hour with a Swiss-German,
Or got a mermaid in the sack and found it was a merman,
Or him who smelt a rat,
And got curious as a cat,
They're all sorry, deeply sorry,
But I'm sorrier than that.

All the people who were rubbish when we needed them to do it,
Whose wires crossed, whose spirit failed, who ballsed it up or blew it,
All notches of nul points and all who have a problem Houston,
At least they weren't in Kensington when they should have been at Euston.
For I didn't build the Wall
And I didn't cause the Fall
But I'm sorry, Lord, I'm sorry,
I'm the sorriest of all.

Glyn Maxwell

Thursday 18 February 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: 101 Ways to to a Better Life

a single class on trains
a streets tsar
aircon on the tube
ban car deodorizers, pointe shoes, smacking, Xmas CDs, underpasses
bare-headed judges and barristers
flats on the street with shops on the ground floor and a well-lighted entrance opening directly onto the pavement
bridges across roads
bridges between tall buildings
build ladies loos with enough room for a bin
build two ladies’ for every gents’
bus windows that open
chewing-gum disposal bags
copy good house designs
cordless business phone with headset
cordless hairdryer
digital radio stations to broadcast pictures
dynamite most tower blocks and don’t build any more
giant fans at tube stations (what took them so long?)
give a prize to the best front garden per street
grow food on odd bits of land
houses and blocks of flats in streets instead of higgledy piggledy
houses, flats and shops on odd bits of land in council estates, facing the street (being done, not fast enough)
houses around a courtyard
houses on stilts for flood plains (with a flat roof in case you have to be rescued by helicopter)
houses or flats on hidden spaces in estates (garages, laundry rooms, drying grounds, coal bins) happening in Wandsworth and elsewhere but not fast enough
individual duvets
individual remotes (one for each family member)
individual televisions
Italian-style houses with a fortified ground floor used for car, workshop, bikes, buggies. Dustbins go in a cupboard sunk into the façade, and the living room is on the first floor.
legalise polygamy and give all parties equal rights
light pipes and wind catchers (available from Monodraught)
obvious, well-lighted entrance for railway stations
pop socks that reach the knee (what took them so long?)
private gardens for people on the ground floor of flat blocks (being done, needs to be done more)
retirement campus
studio flats that are one big room with separate bath/loo (no space wasted on corridors)
teach all school children to touch type, all students and all first-jobbers (if they haven’t learned already)
teach shorthand and touch typing to trainee journalists
touch-typing tutors on all computers
train seats aligned with windows
turn airline seats round so everyone is facing backwards
use children as viral health educators

Thursday 11 February 2010

Was Ngaio Marsh a snob?


I ordered Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime by Joanne Drayton because I'm a fan of Golden Age crime writer Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982). One Amazon reviewer writes "it goes into the sociological and literary roots of Marsh's books and the whole country-house murder genre." "On her regular visits to England, always traveling by ocean liner, she would stay with her aristocratic English friends who lived in country houses in the Home Counties or in fashionable flats in London." says By ocean liner! How was she expected to get from New Zealand to England? On foot? She must have travelled by cargo ship at least once, to get the background for Singing in the Shrouds. "For a long time... she stayed in my mind as a goodish writer but an impossible snob" says Helen Szamuely on the Social Affairs Unit website. She goes on to say that she reread Marsh and was pleasantly surprised at how good the books were.

Of course it's flattering to us in 2010 to think that people in 1940 were all "raging snobs". We know better now! To repeat, a “country house” is not the same as a “house in the country”. Wikipedia says: "Country houses not only displayed the owners' fashionable and cultivated tastes, but were the centre of a vast landed estate, providing employment to hundreds."

“Country house murder” is shorthand for the kind of story where about eight people are staying in a big house and one of them is killed. It can’t have been done by the servants or an intruder — “but it can’t be one of us, inspector!” It is, but which? There may or may not be titled characters.

Actually the joy of detective stories (since the 30s) is that they let the novelist introduce a large cast of characters of all types, ages and backgrounds, and the reader is not stuck with a few boring gentlefolk. This gives the writer scope for a lot of keen observation of people, snobbery, fashions, fads, ideas and trends.

So, how many of Marsh's 32 books were set in country houses or involved titled characters? (Untitled people can be rich, but they aren't aristocrats.) I make it six.

Her output varied in quality. Some books are comedies of manners and novels in their own right, others are unreadable.

A Man Lay Dead
country house (Her first detective story and a pastiche of current trends)

Enter a Murderer – a theatre, homes in London, Scotland Yard (An excellent story set among some acutely affected actors)

The Nursing Home Murder – a nursing home, homes in London, Scotland Yard (A cabinet minister is operated on by his rival in love – fascinating on attitudes of the time, just pre-war.)

Death in Ecstasy – a cult-like “church”, homes in London, Scotland Yard (Gripping tale of a cult leader and his varied victims.)

Vintage Murder – train, theatre, New Zealand (A troupe of English actors visits New Zealand.)

Artists in Crime – a large house in the English countryside which is used to run art courses, London, Scotland Yard (Her series detective Roderick Alleyn meets the love of his life among some posturing artists. She was strangely fascinated by gruesome details, and this story contains some scenes that are not suitable for those of a nervous disposition.)

Death in a White Tie – the main characters are the country house type and include a Lord and some debutantes, but the action all takes place in large houses in London (and Scotland Yard). (The central character is appealing, but those surrounding him are not, and it's rather trying to be in their company. A jaundiced view of the English debutante "season".)

Overture to Death – an English West-country village, a village hall, a vicarage, various gentlemen’s residences. (Set in a remote village in winter and wartime, this book isn't really worth reading – it's full of venom directed at older women who are embarrassingly in love with the vicar, and the murder method is so complicated that the detectives spend pages and pages explaining it to each other.)

Surfeit of Lampreys – London, Scotland Yard. The main characters are rich eccentrics. (This is a book to avoid – again there is a lot of bile directed at unpleasant characters. And the characters we are supposed to like are quite unbearable.)

Death and the Dancing Footman – her 10th book and the 2nd set in a genuine country house where a house party is taking place. One of the characters is titled – and runs a beauty salon. (A return to form – the characters are interesting, varied and eccentric, and most are likeable in various ways. They all hate each other – and then they get snowed in.)

Colour Scheme – a run-down spa in New Zealand. (This is an excellent story with vivid scene-setting and a likeable cast. The heroine is forced to listen to a proposal of marriage while wearing an ill-fitting bathing suit and an old raincoat. Shame that the solution is somewhat forced.)

Died in the Wool – a farm in New Zealand (The war is still going on, and Alleyn is chasing spies in New Zealand. In the process he solves the murder of an unmourned woman MP. Watch out for the gruesome details, though.)

Final Curtain – her 13th book and the 3rd set in a country house. But it’s a Victorian pseudo-castle built by a dynasty of theatrical baronets. (Five stars: society painter Agatha Troy (Mrs Alleyn) is waiting for her husband to come home when she gets a commission to paint a theatrical knight. His family are preposterous but bursting with personality, especially the cat. Marsh pokes fun at fashionable theories of child care.)

Death at the Bar - a West Country village. (The characters are potentially interesting: there are some local communists, an ex-convict who's changed his name, a middle-aged Irish painter, a barrister and actor on holiday – but it doesn't really add up, many of the actors have West Country accents, and her love of the revolting is too prominent. Her editors should have told her to cut the vomiting scenes. You have been warned.)

Swing, Brother, Swing – a large house in London, a fashionable night club, the offices of a magazine, homes, Scotland Yard. One of the characters is titled and once had a country house but sold it. (The war has ended and London society is trying to pull itself back together with the help of a bandleader called Breezy Bellairs. Eccentric Lord Pastern decides he'd like a go on the drum kit. It's a shame that the nicest couple are somewhat sidelined.)

Opening Night – a theatre in London, homes. (Possibly her best. A destitute actress finds a job as a dresser in a theatre, then as an understudy, then the girl she's understudying has hysterics... but it's not as simple as that. Characters are both complex and loveable.)

Spinsters in Jeopardy – a castle in Italy (The Alleyns go to Italy for a holiday - and to look up some local drug dealers. And also to track down Troy's mysterious cousin who keeps sending her bus tickets. They fall in with some cultists who are drifting close to devil worship – but they're not all dislikeable. Only spoiled by the presence of the Alleyns' nauseating son, Ricky.)

Scales of Justice – a village in the West country, various gentlemen’s residences, a country house inhabited by a titled family. Her 17th book and the 4th to use a country house as one setting among many. (One of her very best. There's a soppy young couple, but real love sparks between two unlikely middle-aged people as the little community is disturbed by the death of a colonel.)

Off with his Head – a West country village (I find this one quite unreadable. It concerns some Morris dancers. Enough said.)

Singing in the Shrouds – a cargo ship sailing to South Africa with a a few passengers on board (Brilliant "life boat" plot with a group of travellers who are stuck with each other and a possible murderer. Freudian reasons for his actions are solemnly laid out.)

False Scent – an actress’s house in London (Mary Bellamy is a well-known actress and PITA. During the course of her 50th birthday party a lot of secrets are revealed and home truths yelled. Four stars.)

Hand in Glove – an English village. One of the characters is titled. The theme is snobbery and social climbing. (This one has grown on me. Maybe I got to like the people, who include a raffish much married lady who has clung to the title she acquired along the way, and a raging snob who somehow makes his idiocy seem forgiveable.)

Dead Water – a British island trying to attract tourists (I can't reread this one. A middle-aged woman turns a local spring into a pilgrimage destination for those in search of healing. But her egocentricity, and exploitation of a less than bright boy, are nauseating.)

Death at the Dolphin – a theatre, people’s homes in London. Characters include two millionaires, along with actors, backstage staff and playwrights (One of her very best, with likeable characters who spend much of their time in and around the theatre where they're putting on a play about Shakespeare's life. It's only marred by a cruel depiction of a character called "Mrs Guzman".)

Clutch of Constables – a river boat in England (One of her very, very best, with Troy at the centre cruising the waterways of England with some very dubious people who are not what they seem.)

When in Rome – Rome, hotels, an ancient church on many levels. One of the characters is titled, but he's a Dutch baron. (A lovely book, full of Roman atmosphere, Irish priests and a Baron Corvo-like character. The sixties were in full swing, and Marsh's attempt at the language and habits are somewhat random. But at this distance her misunderstandings can be forgiven.)

Tied up in Tinsel – a country house that’s being used as an institution for rehabilitating criminals. Her 26th book and the 5th to use a country house. (I can't reread this one - apparently she had trouble with it.)

Black as He’s Painted – a village-like area of London containing a mews and an embassy. One of the characters is the president of an African country. (Her last masterpiece, with an endearing central figure, a retired diplomat. The villains are particularly grotesque. As for the plot - I'm never quite sure if I really know whodunnit.)

Last Ditch – an English island (A late work and only worth reading for some perceptive glimpses of current fashions and mores.)

Grave Mistake – an English village. There are two large houses, one rather tasteless and belonging to a millionaire, and the other an architectural gem which the millionaire wants to get his hands on. Her 29th book and the 6th involving country houses in any way. (The central character, playwright Verity, is attractive, but the plot as a whole doesn't convince. And there's a very unpleasant scene in a pub as Alleyn tries to get at the truth – Marsh's taste for the gruesome arising again.)

Photo Finish – an island in New Zealand (Marsh clearly thinks opera is a big joke, which is OK if you agree with her. There's a fine jovial singing teacher but otherwise the cast is forgettable.)

Light Thickens – a theatre (We return to the characters of Death at the Dolphin and wish Marsh had left them in the early 60s where they belong.)

So, Was Ngaio Marsh a Snob?

Saturday 6 February 2010

101 Things We Ought to Reinvent

People are always inventing new things, like the iPad. But why not plunder the past for good ideas that worked - and could work again?

alms houses

arcades (build them all round squares and line them with shops)
blocks of flats containing restaurant, gym, pool, café, tennis court, supermarket (like in the 30s when they built them like the Queen Mary but without the sea)
bar/café reinvent the pub (sticky carpet, orange wood, unnecessary olde worlde feel) as the bar/café (tables and chairs outside on a clean pavement) selling food, coffee, ice cream – and alcohol as an afterthought. Staying open till midnight or two in the morning for young people who can keep awake that long.
cookery demos: send ladies around the country to give cookery demonstrations in community centres
council water cart: it went round early in the morning washing the streets. Necessary because of horse-drawn transport and unpaved streets.
Dig for Victory (coming back 2009)
Diggers They wanted to grow their own food, but the landowners didn’t like it back in 1650 any more than they do now.
draining boards that, um, drain (because they’re slanted, you see, so that the water runs into the sink)
external louvred wooden shutters (for heat conservation, heat exclusion and security)
fold-down ironing boards, tables and seats
French windows on upper floors with functional balconies (for light and air and sitting out)

grow food in "dead" spaces and parks

Hammersmith Palais
hats for men They keep your head warm and your hair dry (happening at last).
hospital matrons
lunatic asylums (places of refuge)
mistresses: as long as they get a nice flat and a decent wage
paper carrier bags (recyclable)
pavement washing They do it on the continent, why not here? All it takes is a bucket of soapy water and a broom.
penthouses (happening)
picture windows
prefabs Bring back the post-war prefab villages, instead of knocking them down.
public toilets
Roman villas
roof gardens (happening)
room dividers (and wall units)
screens You sit by the fire and surround yourself with a screen to conserve heat.
sheep to cut the grass
single-sex hospital wards
Sodastream machine for adding fizz to tap water (plus reusable thermos for carrying around) (still available)
British Summer Time in the winter, Double Summer Time in the Summer (with a separate time zone for Scotland)
Temperance Movement
tiny baths and bathrooms like they have in Italy so as not to waste space, ditto tiny kitchens/kitchenettes/dinettes
wall-beds and box beds with niches for lamp, books. How about a window bed like a window seat to go in a bed-shaped bay window?
wide, clean pavements for café tables and strolling
youth clubs Beverley Hughes promising to revive July 27, 2007

Reinventions 4

Reinventions 3

Reinventions 2
Reinventions 1