Friday 27 May 2016

Knocking Copy

Our English teacher at school hated adverse criticism, and usually called it “glib”. She’d be mortified to learn that I became a journalist. Most of the time, thanks to a Faustian pact between producers and press, hacks are supposed to praise – but “knocking copy” is much funnier. Can we really say that leftist critiques are "complacent" now?

Victorian inventions of mythology, which accounted for all gods as metaphors for natural events that had come to be taken literally, explained fairies as metaphors for the night sky and stars. This entire Victorian view has been debunked and refuted and is now considered by scholars an antiquated and incorrect view. (Wikipedia Sorry, Mr Casaubon.)

This is pants, I’m afraid. Very worthy, nodding wisely, gazing at the horizon in an exotic land pants but still pants. #labiennale #criticism (@timabrahams He says another exhibit has a bit of granite “to show we’re serious”.)

Undercover. Overwritten. Overplayed. Underwhelming. (Lee Jackson ‏@VictorianLondon)

I’ve read (and written) lots of rather awful books through the years, such as L. Anne Carrington’s wrestling romances that are plagiarized partly from others, to a book on King Henry the VIII written with Valley Girl dialogue, to a hideously misspelled book on our early astronauts. Vicky at No Longer Quivering

The Father Brown TV series is a disgrace: the estate of Chesterton and the Roman Catholic church should sue the overpromoted wenches who regard this as remotely related to the Father Brown stories, and deface his name with their own names. They should be forced to clean Westminster Cathedral with toothbrushes, three times a day. (Web commenter)

Self-empowering, self-actualising nonsense on stilts. Soul-bothering guff. A Ryvita has more depth and nourishment. (Robbie Millen on Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist)

Great archive footage in #BrontesAtTheBBC undermined by terrible cliche 'girl power' version of modern history and smirking production. (John Grindrod ‏@Grindrod)

How I felt about the Walliams version (of Partners in Crime): scoff and detestable. (FB)

Well, I'm still enjoying The Assault, but it's at its weakest during the "important political discussion" dialogue passages. (@Andr6wMale)

As you might imagine from a production team of 69 professors and two authors, the Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales is strongest on unreadable books... its real strengths lie in minor Victorian literature, obscure ethnic authors and complacent leftist critiques. (Fortean Times)

It's possible to love the music of Belle & Sebastian and LOATHE the film Amélie, which is so unbearably twee it makes me want to slap a cat. (@paulwhitelaw)

Everyone has LONG PROFOUND looks at each other. (Kenneth Williams on Dr Zhivago)

Mr Turner is so unbearable that you cheer when he dies. (PM)

The story is overloaded with plot devices pulled from the Victorian sensation novel trunk. (Pretty Sinister Books on Said with Flowers)

Fractured, rambling and featuring baffling contemporary inserts of New Age travellers, it lost me early on. More poetry, please. Less bongo-playing. (Kevin Maher on By Our Selves, a documentary about John Clare, Times Oct 2 2015)

Hopeless “quickfire” dialogue... (The Guardian on Morrissey’s novel, which it keeps urging you not to read.)

Lumpen, leaden and horribly inert, the film veers off in so many tedious directions you’ll need several espressos to keep you awake... ends with a gruesome burst of sentimentality. (The Spectator on Mr Holmes)

Defeated by the awfulness of another contemporary nature memoir: Wodehouse's Madeline Bassett writing William Styron's Darkness Visible. (Andrew Male ‏@Andr6wMale)

I wearied of “deeply invaginated shorelines” and “oak limbs which reach down as if possessed by a fatal passion for the water”... Too much of a young man being sensitive about the seaside. (Melanie Reid, Times April 2015, on Patrick Barkham’s Coastlines.)

Stereotypical characters, simplistic politics, nauseatingly sentimental, diluted magical realism... (The Guardian, July 25 2008, on Captain Corelli’s Mandolin)

The more recent books are much less distinctive and interesting... whereas his early books were distilled from a particular world that he knew intimately, from the Honourable Schoolboy onwards Le Carré has necessarily had to rely on heavy research. (Theo Tait in the London Review of Books. He adds that there were whole groups of people Le Carré couldn’t “do”, though he doesn’t include “journalists” – he's hopeless at them. And Smiley's People is an honourable exception.)

I turned on Inside Buckingham Palace with a shiver of dread and switched off shaking with laughter. The promise of the title was an empty one: this was very much a view from the exterior, lining up a rogue’s gallery of historians, journalists and former flunkies to spout scurrilous, treasonous and unapologetically entertaining tittle-tattle with barely a jot of actual evidence.

This brief history of royal scandal retrod old ground with almost pathological dedication: the to-do over the coronation broadcast; the Duke of Edinburgh’s supposed philanderings; Charles and Di; Michael Fagan. I was unfamiliar with the bungled kidnapping of Princess Anne, but even this came to resemble low farce thanks to one of several fist-bitingly awful reconstructions. The claim that Prince Philip turned off the central heating to force the recalcitrant Queen Mother out of Buckingham Palace, meanwhile, was so daft yet so revealing as to be utterly plausible.

When Tony Robinson weighed in with some cogent, genuinely insightful observations from outside this claustrophobic world, it was almost a disappointment — even Baldrick would have struggled to conceive a project this empty-headed. The mess of speculation, hearsay and codswallop may have been worthless as history (which, after all, relies on structured argument and, ideally, documented fact). But someone deserves a knighthood for bad telly this good. (Gabriel Tate Times Feb 25 2016)

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Howlers 14

A feather in her torque

Not everyone realises that vaingloriously, loving-kindness and long-drawn-out are single words. And do they people “play host to” because they can’t spell “accommodate”? When they talk about
obtuse knowledge”, are they trying to say “abstruse”?

de riguerre
(de rigueur – it's about rigour, not war)
exult for exhort
in sunnier climbs
(climes or climates)
astigmatism for stigma
(BBC Breakfast)
forced perspective (false perspective)
banjo wheel barometer (Matthew Parris) (just banjo)
quadrupets (quadrupeds)
It’s still in fairly good lick. (good nick)
useful as a pied d tier (pied à terre or foot on the ground)
peaked my interest (piqued)
mute point (moot)
fundamental tenants of international law (Teresa May) (tenets)

pairing down
my Twitter follows (paring, like cheese-paring or paring a pear)
toe-headed (Very fair hair is the colour of unbleached flax or tow – sounds like toe.)
unchartered waters (BBC News) (uncharted)

Through the centuries a number of ships have floundered there. (foundered)
It’s women who bare the brunt in war ( (bear or carry – but what is a brunt?)

It puts pains to the idea. (puts paid – you take pains to do something difficult)
Save the wildlife habit at Earlham Park from developers. ( (habitat)
Hannah Betts calls Stephen Fry “a solipsistic old hoofer”. (Hoofers are tap-dancers, not actors.)

A feather grows from her severe black torque. (Iain Sinclair quoted by Angela Carter in the London Review of Books) (One of them should have known that Alice – through the Looking Glass – was wearing a toque on her head, copied from a picture by Millais called My First Sermon.)

Most do not know what it is like to steel into the cold monastery church, night after night. ( (steal)

in its heydey (It’s "heyday" – but why? Nothing to do with hay, and the “day” bit may be folk etymology.)

I’m not going to have a discussion about personal people. (BBC Breakfast interviewee)

The new decorations, which include at least a dozen replicas of generic Soviet statues featuring young pioneers and athletes, harken back to a different Soviet legacy. (NYT) (It's hearken or hark, and hark is the one you want.)

amphitheatre for theatre, epicentre for centre (Per Mary Beard, an amphitheatre is the full circle. And the epicentre of an earthquake is the area around the centre.)

Railways forged Canada's lovely Othello tunnels, but now they are open to hikers. (Atlas Obscura)  (You might forge a railway, but you excavate a tunnel.)

Alexander forged new frontiers for the Greek empire. (David Adams) (Not sure what you do with frontiers – draw? delineate? establish? – but you don’t forge them.)

@jameswbraxton & @HansonsAuctions are pooling around #Scotland in a #DKW Auto-Union 1000 Coupe (@AntiquesRoadtrip) (That’s “tooling”.)

Carole Caplin asks “Am I an odd crystal-crunching bird who can hardly string a sentence together?” Is she confusing crystal gazer and carrot cruncher? (2005)
She is not a crunchy new-ager. (
Apparently "crunchy" is “used to describe persons who have adjusted or altered their lifestyle for environmental reasons. Crunchy persons tend to be politically strongly left-leaning and may be additionally but not exclusively categorized as vegetarians, vegans, eco-tarians, conservationists, environmentalists, neo-hippies, tree huggers, nature enthusiasts, etc.” (urban dictionary) Because they eat crunchy granola?

Lesser spotted hedgehog is a rarer sight than ever.  (For the last time – it won't be – a lesser spotted animal is small, and has spots. It may also be rare and fear humans.)

Does faith fall by the waist-side? (And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up. Matthew 13:4)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Syndromes We Don't Have a Name For 2

Macramé bridesmaid syndrome

Making your bridesmaids all wear the same hideous dress.

Progress goes into reverse
(For women in Saudi Arabia.)

An offer you must refuse (You must come to lunch sometime – drop in any time you’re passing...)

Changing your tune when your lies are exposed by incontrovertible evidence (A hospital that gave parents the wrong baby claimed that a swap couldn’t possibly have happened because it had rigorous procedures in place. After DNA tests, it changed its tune.)

But my point holds: Carrying on saying “Protest never changed anything” when there are multiple examples going back centuries of protest changing things.

Amazement at the existence of other points of view

Tiny separatist idealistic community (see the early feminists)
Tiny separatist idealistic community tears itself apart (see the early feminists)

Having an entire conversation in which you mishear a vital word.

pendulum of fashion: "First names for parents are in vogue from time to time." (Miss Manners)

Solving the Greek debt crisis from your armchair
Calling for the abolition of money

His great coup – never repeated – was to spot a Tintoretto in a local auction in 1964 and pick it up for £40.

"The less well-known the author, the more inflated their ego." (The Age of Uncertainty)

job theft: A filches the project B was going to do, takes over a task B has done for years etc., grabs the paperwork when B is off sick.

"A future that was subsequently cancelled." (Darran Anderson)

Galicia: unlucky recipient of Eisenman’s City of Culture, a massive and costly white elephant (@ArchReview)

pushing your luck
spoiled dauphin syndrome (the Observer on Clarkson)
He was never the same after that.
high-handed rule by an arrogant inner group (If Walls Could Talk, Lucy Worsley)

social suicide: You are a social butterfly, a member of the inner circle, but one day you do something disastrous and you lose your position for ever. (Truman Capote wrote a bitchy, thinly veiled novel about his grand friends, who never spoke to him again.)

Mysterious jobs where you have nothing to do, but they don’t sack you.

People beg you to join some organisation, holding up a fun, glamorous role. Soon you realise they just wanted someone to do the boring jobs.

joining a group and making it serve your own purposes

joining a group with the aim of taking it over and giving yourself an important role or even a paying job

A popular charmer is simply lovely to everybody, apart from the one person he keeps as a punch bag.

"Lose interest in a project as soon as it shows signs of success." (@steveparnell)

co-narcissism: personality created by narcissistic parents
parentification: turning your child into your parent

When a church becomes too liberal, a reactionary splinter group splits off. (Results: a) reactionary group dies off b) liberal church is now too small to survive. c) liberal church joins up with other tiny liberal churches which have gone through the same process.)

"Homo Heidelbergensis walked like us." (We walk like him.)

More here.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Ngaio Marsh - Was She a Snob After All?

Just add orange lipstick

Marsh's early 50s novel Death at the Bar certainly supports the case of those who dismiss all Golden Age mystery writers as snobs.

It's not one of her best. Three toffs, barrister Luke Watchman, actor Sebastian Paris and painter Norman Cubitt, are holidaying in an isolated Devon fishing village. Also present are an amateur watercolourist, the Hon. Violet Darragh, and Mr Legge, who works for a philatelic society. The staff of the pub, Abel and Will Pommeroy, play a part, as does local beauty Decima Moore, and there's an off-stage cook called Mrs Ives. It turns out that Legge is a darts wizard who boasts he can put a dart between the fingers of a hand spread out on the board. The boys can't resist the challenge.

The characters are mainly unappealing, apart from Norman and the Hon. Violet. There's a "Rashomon" structure - we are not present at the murder, and only see it being set up, witness the aftermath, and hear the various characters' retelling of events. Of course each one will reveal or omit a vital detail. This could have been an opportunity for revealing character, too, but the dramatis personae seem rather flat, and the girl in the case is a cipher apart from her orange lipstick. At one point Alleyn looks on them all as marionettes – naturally Alleyn and Fox are called in when the mystery baffles the local force. He'd never get away with his methods today - he does his own forensics, and seems to have everything necessary in a Tardis-like case.

There's an irritating Chief Constable who speaks entirely in literary quotations - is Marsh sending up other writers and her own earlier books? She pokes fun at left-wing politics as she did in The Nursing Home Murder, but this time the raillery is unconvincing (Communists in Devon? The "Combe Left Movement"?). She brings in a repellently pompous West Country character called Mr Nark to make communism and evolution sound absurd.

Meanwhile the middle classes make grating remarks, and dear Inspector Fox delivers a cringing speech about how Alleyn has never let him feel their vast separation in the class hierarchy. Too many of the characters speak in painful dialect (thiccy, howsomedever etc). We have to endure pages of this as publican Abel reconstructs the crime. The Hon Violet has a theatrical Irish brogue, but is more convincing. Everybody talks archly about the murderer “anointing” or “infecting” the dart with cyanide.

The love interest, Decima, went to a “good” school and then to university, but she has come home and got engaged to the younger Pommeroy. Luke and Sebastian are discussing her:

‘There’s an engagement in the offing.’ ‘What d’you mean?’ ‘Decima and Will Pomeroy.’ Watchman sat up. ‘I don’t believe you,’ he said sharply. ‘Well – why not?’ ‘Good Lord! A politically minded pot-boy.’ ‘Actually they’re the same class,’ Parish murmured. ‘Perhaps; but she’s not of it.’

There’s a tricky moment when the Chief Constable invites Alleyn and the doctor to dinner, in the presence of inspectors Harper and Fox. Will he condescend to invite them too? He does (though he forgets Fox’s name).

‘Lucky I brought my blue suit,’ said Fox, ‘and lucky you brought your dress clothes, Mr Alleyn.’ ‘Why didn’t you let me tell Colonel Brammington that we’d neither of us change, Foxkin?’ ‘No, no, sir. It’s the right thing for you to dress, just as much as it’d be silly for me to do so.'

As well as "Foxkin", Alleyn calls his sidekick Fox “Br’er Fox”, from the Br’er Rabbit stories (retellings of African folk tales). And why on earth did Alleyn pack his dinner jacket?

‘Br’er Fox,’ said Alleyn, ‘are we to have a row?’ ‘I hope not, sir, I’m sure,’ said Fox tranquilly. ‘Six years I think it is now, and never a moment’s unpleasantness, thanks to your tact and consideration.’

Fox’s attempts to learn French are intended as a joke. I remember too the way Alleyn teases and bullies Nigel Bathgate in the early books – though he does apologise when he realises he has hurt Nigel’s feelings. I also recall Alleyn’s early archness – talking to doctors about “pottles” and “pipkins” of drugs. And the way Marsh thinks opera is ridiculous and expects us to agree, and her guying of an elderly female art collector. And there are an awful lot of butlers in her books...

Trust me, she's not always like this. In Clutch of Constables she takes on race and class. "I could call myself a bloody earl!" says a Cockney character, doubting that a mixed-race character could really be a doctor. But he adds: "Not that anyone'd believe me."

More on Marsh here, and links to the rest.

Friday 6 May 2016

Haiku 15

Off-white states of mind

Dimity, Archive, Stony Ground
Farrow and Ball shades.

Blackened, Bone, Plummett,
Down Pipe, Black Blue, Pale Powder,
Dead Flat, Skylight, Clunch.

Friday Feeling
A sensation of falling towards,
like the cold is inside you,
like the certain knowledge
you will never be happy again.

The sad sounds
of a broken
cucaracha car horn.
Carolina A. Miranda ‏@cmonstah

Passing clouds are
somebody else's rain.
Karl Sharro ‏@KarlreMarks

Uncomfortable office environment.
Cold air in the sunny sky.
Wind-whipped waves briefly glimpsed.
Some Bloke in a Hat ‏@toolegs

A deserted 20-lane highway
runs through Myanmar's
empty capital city.
Atlas Obscura

Lady Blanche Arundell, aged 61,
defended Wardour castle
with a garrison of 25 men,

but it fell, ruined.
I take tea
looking at the fallen walls.

James Thompson ‏@JamesPsychol

A cool wind bringing
the smell of Spring wafts across
the work car park.
Some Bloke in a Hat ‏@toolegs

Lovely desiccation cracks

at end of A Corridor!
Will sand be blown in to preserve them
before it rains? Er, no...

I saw some while walking
on the fields yesterday!
Was going to take a photo but thought
who would be that sad?!

A herd of elephants
moved into the apartment upstairs
and they stomp like humans
living their lives, braving rare troubles,
clinging to hope.
Chris Worthington ‏@SomeChrisTweets

Entombed in this strange white stone hill
are the deadly remains
of radioactive weapons production.
Atlas Obscura

To @pavementgeologyYou have taught me to look down,
but mostly I see rubber bands
and lost, single mittens.
Richard Epstein ‏@rhepstein1

I no longer fear Death
but I do fear ending up
on an episode of Heir Hunters.

Above the roar of rush-hour traffic,
the most beautiful liquid song
of a blackbird perched on a TV aerial
high above Great Portland Street.
Hugh Pearman

Thousands of feet walk
over fossils of eons-dead creatures
at the airport in Stockholm every day.

We go home via the recycling centre,
and receive a short but earnest lecture on the Astral Plane
from the man who helps us unload our bags.
Kate Long ‏@volewriter

Driving home from the vets,
I'm forced to brake hard.
Suddenly there is a guinea pig
loose in the footwell.
Which of us is more panicked?
Kate Long ‏@volewriter

Roses are red,
Violets are purple, yellow or white,
And their seeds are dispersed by ants! So cool.
Wait, what were we talking about?
Bird and Moon ‏@RosemaryMosco Feb 12

Sunny, chilly Blackheath.
What's that smell?
Ah yes, money.
Don Constance ‏@snaprails

I wished to recall
my dreams. Now I spend each night
mapping their city.

Writer Ronald Duncan
wrote his epic 5 volume poem 'Man'
in this hut. I, on the other hand,
ate a cheese sandwich.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 2 May 2016

More Unserious Limericks

No rhyming allowed
Young writers, don’t sign on at Kent,
Its views are distorted and bent.
No rhyming, no scanning –
What else are they banning?
Litfic is their furthest extent.

(LF. The University of Kent issued proscriptive guidelines for its creative writing course, nixing poems that rhyme and scan.)

There is an old fellow named Farage
Whose anti-Romanian barrage
Reflects a deep fear
That foreigners here
Are all out to squat in his garage.

(Mick Twister ‏@twitmericks)

There once was a [person] from [place]
Whose [body part] was [special case].
When [event] would occur,
It would cause [him or her]
To violate [laws of time/space]!

This limerick goes in reverse
Unless I'm remiss
The neat thing is this:
If you start from the bottom-most verse
This limerick's not any worse.

There was a composer named Liszt,
Who from writing could never desiszt.
He made polonaises
Quite worthy of praises,
And now that he?s gone he is miszt.

There once was a choleric colonel
Whose oaths were obscene and infolonel,
And the chaplain, aghast,
Gave up protest at last,
But wrote them all down in his jolonel.

There was a young curate of Kew
Who kept a tom cat in a pew;
He taught it to speak
Alphabetical Greek
But it never got farther than µ.

The Marquis de Sade and Genet
Are most highly thought of today;
But torture and treachery
Are not my sort of lechery,
So I've given my copies away.
(WH Auden)

My name it is Aleister Crowley,
I'm a master of Magick unholy,
Of philtres and pentacles,
Covens, conventicles,
Of basil, nepenthe, and moly.

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

There was an old man of Peru
Who found a large rat in his stew
said the waiter, “Don’t shout,
or wave it about,
or the rest will be wanting one too!”
More here.