Saturday 22 November 2014

What I Don't Miss About the 50s 2

Now UKIP are trying to drag us back to the 50s, let's remember the good old days. (Thanks to friends.)

There is an ancient attitude, too, that I saw in my mum and which seems to have disappeared along with the wireless and the mangle and the lardy cake: no fuss, no moaning. (Liz Jones meets the Pullein-Thompson sisters.)

We don't miss:
Outside toilets.
Tin bath in front of the fire.
Ice on the inside of the windows in the morning.
Coats on top of the quilt to keep you warm.
Burst hot water bottles.
Weekly wash day when the kitchen was full of steam from the gas clothes boiler.
Liberty bodices.
Short trousers till you were at secondary school.
School caps.
Sadistic teachers with leather tawses.
Sago puddings
Semolina puddings
The smell of my grandmother cooking tripe.


Even worse having to resort to violence to stop people bullying me.
No TV.
Very few sweets even the Sherbet was rationed.
Violence on the Streets.

Domestic Violence.
Water freezing solid in the glass in my bedroom.
Children being abused - and the cover-ups.
Being forced to go to church and Sunday School.

Being forced to be a Christian - which I am not.
Having to Read the Bible out in classes, didn't make sense then - even less now.
Seeing children in dire poverty, we appear to be moving back to that.
Having everyone in one room as that was the only one with heating.

The sheer pomposity that abounded the "class society" yes even as a little un I remember that.

Some more reasons to loathe the 50's: Being routinely beaten by teachers (from the age of six in my case) with implements including shoes, rulers, straps, canes and cricket bats. Brutal, brutalising and utterly ineffective.

Pollution: the London smogs were appalling and killed large numbers of people. Rivers and canals were bio-hazards and disgusting beyond belief.

Housing: I never met anyone with central heating. Houses were heated with coal fires (hence the smog), typically only in one or two rooms. Homes were freezing in winter. Many were draughty and cramped. Even in the early 70's I visited slum houses in East London with no inside toilet. In the 50's north these were commonplace as were back-to-backs* with a shared toilet block at the end of the street. Then imagine getting up in the night and trudging down the road in a northern winter to use a shared toilet.

Parenting: It seemed to be a grim business for most parents, with children being seen as creatures needing to be forever disciplined and constrained. The idea that spending time with children might actually be fun seemed not to have occurred to many people.

Safety: Many workplaces were positively lethal. As were the roads. As a seven year old child to get to school I had to cross a six lane road (with central reservation) having no speed limit.

Food (again): Many families in the north couldn't afford enough food. Despite full employment money was that short.

Even if your experience was different, surely you can see that for many people the 50's were grim?

* Before anyone comments, check that you know what a back-to-back actually is ;-)


More here.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Inspirational Quotes 66

You can't see me

Just be yourself, don't think about what others are thinking about you, people will take you at your own valuation, you'll be stronger on your own, pigs might fly... Has anyone blogged "how I lived on cliché'd advice for a year?

In my social life... I became more extrovert as a performer... Eventually... I couldn’t remember how to “do” my personality any more. (Girl who went deaf in her 20s.)

There is a certain advantage for a woman novelist in being middle-aged and overweight. You acquire a curious social invisibility: strangers sometimes carry on in front of you as if you weren't there; or if they chance to fall into conversation, they talk, on occasion, with a surprising lack of inhibition. (Jane Stevenson, Guardian 2006)

Considering his particular interest in how primates manipulate their own and others’ reputations to their own advantage... (Nicholas Humphrey on Robin Dunbar)

Approach an elk upwind and it will spook. Run your hand against the grain of the wood and you'll get a splinter. (John Eldredge Live the dream! As long as it doesn’t involve elks and planks.)

Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you're part of a team. (Mr The Boy ‏@knitboy)

Conferences can be challenging without a sidekick... (CP)

It was a constructivist approach that… “moved teaching away from the traditional/academic approaches of memorization, repetitions and activity books, to a much more comprehensive approach focused on learning in a contextual setting in which children are expected to find the answers for themselves.” And it didn’t work. (Re maths teaching in Canada. Web of Substance)

Parents on programme Child Genius “never seem to have asked themselves where it is all going to end". (Hugo Rifkind, Times July 2014)

For a lot of people, the 70s were a rebellion against authority. In my family’s case, authority figures were parents, too... We would hold ‘meetings’ if there were issues to be discussed. (Her stepfather suggested they all pooled their money and took out what they needed.) I was 9 and my brother was 7. It was completely insane. (Sophie Grabol)

Everyone deserves to have a nice job and have a nice family when they're older. (Boy interviewed on BBC News)

Everybody thinks they belong in the group ten years below them in age. (Katharine Whitehorn, paraphrase)

Can we not with this mindset that being accused of an -ism/oppressive behaviour is worse than actually (constantly) facing it? Can we NOT? (@FeministAspie)

Also, remember, folks, labelling offensive tweets "parody" makes them funny & acceptable. (Rose ‏@SwissMinx)

The world of dating has certainly changed since I was ‘out there’ over 14 years ago. Back then, you met people either through work, friends or going out to the pub. It was almost impossible to meet anyone any other way... (Says a dating service website. What about “take up an interest”? Does it really not work?)

As a brilliant student of Latin and Greek, the 18-year old Gissing seemed destined for an academic career until, in May 1876, his life changed dramatically and for ever. He was caught stealing money from the cloakroom of Owens College, Manchester, convicted and sentenced to a month in prison. The money (five shillings and twopence) was intended to help out an alcoholic prostitute, Nell Harrison, whom he later married in the hope of redeeming her. It proved a terrible miscalculation, and, after repeated salvage attempts on his part and much abusive behaviour on hers, he left her for good. The next time he saw Nell, in March 1888, she was lying dead from syphilis in a Lambeth boarding house.

10 Things True Friends Don’t DoGossip behind your back.
Make personal attacks.
Start pointless arguments.
Interrupt your every word.
Discourage you from pursuing your goals.
Look down on you for your past.
Abandon you in social situations. (“True friends are emotionally intelligent enough to know that bringing a friend to a party where they don’t know anyone, and then proceeding to throw them to the fishes, is a very inconsiderate thing to do.”)
Get jealous of your success.
Judge you or try to “fix” you.
Take your friendship for granted.
(, paraphrase)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Agatha Christie's The Hollow (1946)

A group of people collects at a house in the country for a family weekend. One of them never goes home again... The book is longer than usual, and the characters have more depth (at least, we find out more about them, and see things from their point of view). As someone else has pointed out, the book begins with a series of interior monologues – unusual for Christie, unless she was using one of the characters as a narrator, as in Murder in Mesopotamia.

The hosts are Lady Angkatell (Lucy) and her husband, ex-diplomat Sir Henry. (The Hollow is their house, a large country place with a staff and a swimming pool.) Lucy is a fragile, charming, beautiful woman with an endearing “scatty act”.

We see two of the guests preparing for the weekend, Dr John Christow and his wife Gerda. John is a successful “society” doctor who hates the hypochondriacal rich, and would rather be working on a cure for “Ridgeway’s Disease”. His wife Gerda is shy, inefficient and rather dim but adores John and thinks he is doing noble work. They have two children, a little girl and a boy who is more interested in chemical experiments and explosions than people. Gerda is dreading the weekend: the Angkatells are so clever and brittle, and insist on playing paper games that she never gets the hang of. John is irritated by her, and looks forward to meeting his mistress, sculptress Henrietta Savernake, who will also be at The Hollow. But he is haunted by memories of the South of France and an early girlfriend called Veronica who left him to star in Hollywood.

Henrietta is an Independent Young Woman Living Her Own Life, and creating what sound like rather sentimental sculptures in a pseudo-modernist style. She’s enabled to do this by family money.

Her cousin, Midge, lacks independent means and works in a dress shop. Another cousin, Edward, now lives in the family country house, Ainswick, which they all go on about. They spent holidays there as children, and Lucy grew up there – only to be ousted on her parents’ deaths, as a woman could not inherit. Edward is a scholarly fellow, madly in love with Henrietta, who is madly in love with John Christow. Meanwhile Midge is in love with Edward.

They all converge on the Hollow, where Henrietta cheers up Gerda by walking her round the kitchen garden and asking her about her knitting. Gerda has moved on to leathercraft and has made her own handbag, which Henrietta praises.

Also staying is another cousin called David, an awkward young man whom Lucy unnerves by asking him to tell her about all the fashionable ideas. Henrietta comes to the rescue again and gets him talking about the new socialist utopia that will be built on the ruins left by the war. If Edward doesn’t marry and have children, David will inherit Ainswick, and Lucy fears for its future as a people’s palace of culture.

At some point during the afternoon they all go target shooting for fun, like you do. Sir Henry has a collection of firearms, and it turns out that Lucy is a crack shot and Gerda can barely hit the target.

That night after dinner, Veronica makes an entrance through the French windows, pretending she has run out of matches. She manages to persuade John to walk her back to the cottage she has rented nearby (as part of a scheme to meet him again). Little does she know that her next-door neighbour is Hercule Poirot, who has been persuaded to try country living...

...and has been invited to lunch on Sunday. He takes a path that leads to the Hollow’s swimming pool, and then to the house. When he reaches the pool, the entire cast emerges from other paths to find a man lying dead beside the water, and a woman standing over him holding a gun. For a moment Poirot thinks they have set up a “murder hunt” as a joke, but no – John Christow is dying from a gunshot wound, and the woman standing over him is Gerda, his wife. But then it turns out that she couldn’t have shot him... so what did happen? As usual, almost anybody could have done it, and nearly everybody has a motive. Has Henrietta's love turned to hate? Has Lucy's complicated mind worked out that if John's out of the way, Henrietta can marry Edward and have children and save Ainswick from being turned into an "institute"? Has Edward shot his love rival? Did John and Veronica quarrel?

Apparently Christie thought she had spoilt the story by introducing Hercule Poirot, but I disagree. His cottage is not half-timbered but cuboid, and full of geometric ornaments for him to straighten. Various members of the cast drop in, ostensibly to ask his advice – or are they just putting up a smokescreen?

It’s a satisfying book, with some funny moments, as when Lucy tries to decide on an appropriate post-murder dinner menu. What makes it particularly 1946? Large houses with staff and a butler (called Gudgeon) had become rare, and the characters comment on this. They are all rather appalled that Midge insists on working instead of living off Lucy and Henry. Edward visits her in her shop, and is even more shocked to find that she is treated disrespectfully by the “Whitechapel” proprietress, and has to take the same treatment from the shop’s rather vulgar clientele.

Social reformers usually get rather brisk treatment in Christie’s books, and in 1946 they were seizing opportunities. Servants were a dying breed – Gudgeon is a survival. More middle-class women had jobs, and had spent the war driving trucks, making aeroplane parts, nursing and working on the land. (Christie herself went back to her old job as a pharmacist.) The characters don’t seem too much bothered by shortages (in an early scene the Christows are sitting down to roast mutton, unobtainable during the war – and surely just after it?). I wonder when Christie planned and wrote this story?

A Murder Is Announced, published in 1950, has a far more post-war feel, with posh characters clearing their own gutters, caring for their own hens and swapping home-made jam for eggs and vegetables. The only servant is an Austrian intellectual called Mitzi.

Readers and critics seem to agree that The Hollow is a better, and more “modern” book than Christie’s usual, because it has psychological depth – meaning that we inhabit the characters, and they go on about their feelings. Is this what readers want from a book these days? I like The Hollow, and I also like her more “superficial” books – which do not lack insights into character.

More on Christie here.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Neologisms 11

60s style
(Stuff people retweet as if it was their own.)

trinketisation (Agata Pyzik on the afterlives of soviet-era basic utility “milk bars”)
mussteunismus (Doing something rather than nothing, usually a disaster.)

sawtooth graph
Tat bazaar.
(@regvulture sums up ebay.)
nicknackerama (Eric Knowles)

(RI on the “community” initiatives of the 80s.)
net worthlessness (Andrew Male)
marching ants (seen in some selection tools)

whataboutery: When you complain about anything, someone says “But what about... [something completely different]?”
The Coultergeist (Teapublican Anne Coulter)
carbon hoofprint: effect of livestock on global warming

fly speck:
for Smallville, Kansas (imdb)
reached escape velocity (for “reached its peak”) @oniropolis
restrospectoscope (Maggie Aderin-Pocock)

normalised parental neglect (Nick Duffell on boarding schools)
utter stains (@shakingwaking on Twitter trolls, bullies, the far-right etc)
That woman on the stamps. (@HeardinLondon on the Queen)

New Spider-Man film to reboot itself halfway through, devour own husk, split into thousand smaller franchises, attack moon. (James Henry ‏@james_blue_cat)

These abject, toadying creeps haven’t enough talent to fill an eggcup. (SL on Putin’s icon painters.)
Away with such barmy strictures! (SL on the idea that you should never use the passive voice.)
Post-religious guilt is the Japanese knotweed of the soul. (SL)

Electricity looks like it's about to go. Lights flickering. Wind picking up. Dead beginning to rise from graves. Off to fortify the house. (Imaginary Cities @Oniropolis)

The dark quirkiness of BeingCyrus regurgitated in a kind of babyfood version. (Trisha Gupta)

A luxurious but airless crypt filled with fossilised dreams, live corpses, the chatter of ghosts. (Ian Penman, LRB Sept 2014 on Elvis’s desperate and drug-fuelled life off stage.))

Batman: he just fights for regular, store-brand justice. (‏@SolonCubed)
Not so much a gold rush, more of a gold amble. (BBC Breakfast)

Rubber baddies, wooden dialogue, too many injokes, not enough solid story. (F on first episode of the latest Dr Who)

Out come the Scots, resplendent in the tartan of the Clan MacMigraine... (Mitch Benn)

The former nurse could affect a saccharine persona. (Forensic Detectives)

I play Lucia, a terrible, dominating phoney. (Anna Chancellor on Mapp and Lucia. Yet she is presented in the books as the heroine – oh, I say, how clever.)

The pompous dirigible Jean-Luc Godard, like most French movie directors a man utterly in love with himself. (imdb)

It went from torrential to Biblical and back to horrendous. (BBC weather report)

Show me a boy who doesn’t like tractors and I’ll show you where you can get a bus – to the moon. (Paul Martin)

Reverse ferret is a phrase used predominantly within the British media to describe a sudden reversal in an organisation's editorial line on a certain issue. Generally, this will involve no acknowledgement of the previous position. (Wikipedia)

A champagne lifestyle with a lemonade income. (LC)

While I suppose it's possible to remove somebody's kidneys with a paper plate and an X-acto knife, as a practical matter it can't be done. ( on rumours of kidney theft)

MUSIC[Jazz] jettisons poetry to showcase virtuosity. (Washington Post Aug 2014)

The Ramones did not play their guitars “badly”. They cut out all the self-indulgent widdling and stripped everything down to glorious adrenalin-rush basics. (Graham Larkbey, letter to the Observer July 2014)

ART AND ARCHITECTUREThe scary thing isn't so much the idea of the city as liminal Cophenhagenised purgatory but that people are celebrated for advocating it. (Imaginary Cities ‏@Oniropolis He means limbo with coffee shops and cycle lanes.)

I found out I had a good eye for mass-produced junk! (American Antiques Roadshow)

Ah, co-working spaces. The student flats of offices. (Stephen Fulljames ‏@fulljames)
Startling calm of the bleached industrial acropolises. Unbeatably affecting. (@IntervalThinks
on Bernd and Hilla Becher)

There are two suggestions for where it’s come from: one is “beamed in from Saturn”, the other is “made in Bohemia”. (Antiques Roadshow glass expert on a pink melon lying on a pink vineleaf.)
Majestically bad library design in Nice, France. (@mrianleslie It’s in the shape of someone with a box on their head.)

A particularly egregious piece of public art: a shoal of iridescent lozenges on sticks. (The Guardian on Stratford)

The restaurant is situated in a part of Hastings so unlovely that it “might have slipped though a wormhole” from 1970s Bucharest. (Matthew Norman)

The dancing cosiness of Butterfield's All Saints on Margaret Street. (@Furmadamadam)

‏ Is "signature" the new term for "iconic" re tower blocks? (@NorthviewN7)
You’re thinking of ‘gateway’, ‘landmark’ or ’fraudulently naming it after the posher area it isn’t really in’. (‏@BorisWatch)

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Inspirational Quotes 65

May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings awaken to the light of their true nature.
May all beings be free.

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn . . .
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight . . .
If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive . . .
If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself . . .
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy . . .
If a child lives with jealousy, he learns to feel envy . . .
If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty ...


If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient . . .
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident . . .
If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative . . .
If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love . .
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves..
If a child lives with honesty, he learns what truth is . . .
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice . . .
If children live with recognition, they learn to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn to be generous.
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and those about him . . .
If a child lives with friendliness, he learns the world is a nice place in which to live . . .

(Dorothy Law Nolte, Children Learn What They Live Well, who'd have thought it.)

Spontaneity is a virtue that we wish to have ascribed to us but don’t actually want to act out. (Steven Poole, paraphrase)

An institutional population may be offered the anti-stress benefits of mindfulness rather than the removal of the stressors that have made it stressed in the first place. (Steven Poole)

You let down women everywhere by promoting the crass belief that if we say nothing, abuse will stop. (Laurie Penny)

Charlie Parker locked himself away to practise for years before he ventured on stage again. (Steven Poole)

I used to think of performance anxiety as something that appeared as you walked on stage. I’ve realised that it’s about how you approach life as a whole. (Andy Evans, performance psychologist)

I have no religious beliefs, but music is that glimpse of the infinite, that ineffable light. (Mark Brown)

If the internet has taught us anything, it is that the majority of self-help tutorials, comments, tweets and blogs are just NOISE. (Mat Ranson ‏@matr77)

Self-help books are cold comfort for life’s losers. (Zippy the Pinhead)

I feel most comfortable walking through a mini-mall in the San Fernando Valley. (singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis)

Boyfriend Ready To Take Relationship To Previous Level (Onion headline)

“You don’t know how to speak to someone your age – the slang is different, everything is different. You don’t have the tools to handle the world.” (Young man who has left the Orthdox Jewish world, July 2014 Just like leaving public school.)

"Get over it" is, of course, often the response but I wonder whether anybody truly gets over any crime or whether it always affects their future thoughts and actions in some way. (MB)

People will stare. Make it worth their while. (Harry Winston)

There is nothing in the world so curious and so interesting and so beautiful as truth. (Hercule Poirot)

More here, and links to the rest.