Thursday 28 November 2019

Reasons to Be Cheerful 23

It's not all doom and gloom.
We no longer believe that the fox enjoys being hunted or that women like being beaten. We've stopped telling pregnant teenage girls that there is no alternative to adoption. We don’t prevent children finding their birth parents “because it is better for them”, either. We no longer force left-handed children to use their right hand, sometimes with beatings or tying one hand behind their back, a practice that continued into the 1960s and 70s. And cranes, bustards, egrets, red kites and storks are back in the UK.

13th century: Pope Innocent IV (1195-1254) issued a litany of papal bulls dated May 28, 1247, July 5, 1247, August 18, 1247... and September 25, 1253, condemning the executions in Fulda and the harassment of Jews elsewhere. The Pope forbade "to accuse any Jew of using human blood in their rites, since it is clear in the Old Testament that it is forbidden to them to consume any blood, let alone the blood of humans"... Twelve years after the first executions, Rome declared the blood libel myth as illogical and false. (

1694 Smoking is banned in the House of Commons.

1736 The Gin Act 1736 imposed high taxes on retailers and led to riots in the streets. The prohibitive duty was gradually reduced and finally abolished in 1742. The Gin Act 1751 was more successful, however; it forced distillers to sell only to licensed retailers and brought gin shops under the jurisdiction of local magistrates. (Wikipedia)

1856 Prison hulks are removed from the Thames.
1893 Louisa Brandreth Aldrich-Blake graduates in medicine from the Royal Free Hospital.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1923, introduced as a Private Member’s Bill, enabled either partner to petition for divorce on the basis of their spouse’s adultery (previously, only the man had been able to do this). A further Act in 1937 offered additional grounds for divorce: cruelty, desertion and incurable insanity. (

1835 The UK Parliament outlaws bull-baiting.1840 Abney Park Cemetery opens as Europe’s first non-denominational burying ground.

1892 Plaster confetti is banned after the 1892 Mardi Gras.
1911 Bexhill introduces mixed bathing.

1919 The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act allowed women to join professions like the law, become jurors, magistrates and join higher ranks of civil service.

1920 Wales disestablishes the Welsh church.
1926 The UK legalises adoption.
1931 Lili de Alvarez is the first woman to wear shorts at Wimbledon.
1930 Mildred Bruce is the first person to fly from the UK to Japan.
1943 Florence du Vergier becomes the first woman mayor of Hackney.

Late 50s: Mary Fedden became the first woman teacher of painting at London's Royal College of Art.

Sixty-five years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated public schools are unconstitutional. (Hillary Clinton, May 2019)

1956 Ireland's first female Olympian, Maeve Kyle, competed. Previously female athletes were told they were unIrish and un Catholic.

1956 In the UK it becomes illegal to solicit on the streets.
1963 Women can join the Oxford University Dramatic Society.
1965 Australian women are allowed to drink in a bar without a male chaperone.

1965 The Second Vatican Council's declaration Nostra Aetate proclaims that the Jews, as a people, were not responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.

1966 The Marriage Bar is lifted, meaning that Australian women in the public sector could continue to work after marriage.

In the UK, Judicial Corporal Punishment was abolished in 1948; however, it persisted as a punishment for prisoners committing assaults on prison staff, until it was abolished by the Criminal Justice Act 1967 (the last prison flogging was in 1962)... It was abolished in the Isle of Man in 1978. Judicial birching was abolished in 2000.

1967 Australian aborigines gain the right to be counted in the census. (Voting rights came in gradually in the 20th century, state by state.)

1969 The Catholic Church abolishes the Feast of the Most Precious Blood.

1973 Homosexuality is removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses.

1987 Liechtenstein abolishes the death penalty. (The last execution in Liechtenstein took place in 1784.)

1988 Benazir Bhutto becomes the first woman to head a democratic government in a Muslim majority nation.
1992 The UK bans snuff.
1998 The UK repeals a law stating it is treasonous to eat a swan. (Allegedly.)
2009 "Nagging and Shagging" defence that reduces murder to manslaughter ends.
2016 Madame Tussaud’s London wax museum closes its infamous Chamber of Horrors.

2018 Women attend a football match in Tehran.
2018 Breastfeeding in public is legalised in all 50 states.

2018 The Caribbean Court of Justice strikes down a Guyana law banning cross-dressing, that had been used to oppress transgender people

2018 Bermuda legalises same-gender marriage (for the second time).
2018 France bans physical, verbal and psychological violence against children.
2018 Women are admitted to the Cresta Run. (They raced on equal terms with men until the 1920s when it was deemed medically dangerous.)

2018 The US Senate passes the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act. A bill that classifies lynching — defined in the bill as an act that “willfully causes bodily injury to any other person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person” — as a federal hate crime. (

2019 Ireland criminalises emotional abuse with a new domestic violence law. UK removes the right of abusers to cross-examine their partner in the family court.

2019 Saudi Arabia is bringing in a rule that stops women being divorced without their knowledge. They’ll now be notified by text.

2019 The Ukrainian Orthodox Church gains independence from Constantinople.

2019 Cyntoia Brown has been released from prison, where she was serving a sentence for shooting her abuser, aged 16.

2019 Saudi Arabia is reintroducing philosophy into schools – it was banned for decades. (UK schools please follow.)

2019 Angola decriminalises homosexuality.

2019 First UK conviction for Female Genital Mutilation – 30 years after the practice was criminalised.

2019 Instagram is removing all images of suicide and self-harm.
2019 The Formosan clouded leopard is seen for the first time since 1983.
2019 The Rockabilly scene bans the Confederate flag from venues.
2019 The State of California imposes a moratorium on carrying out death sentences.

2019 Danish billionaires the Povlsens are rewilding large parts of the Scottish Highlands – culling deer and removing sheep.

2019 Luxembourg makes all public transport free.
2019 London terminals make all toilets free.
2019 Maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals in the UK is reduced to £2.

2019 Routine vaccination of girls aged 12 or 13 years against human papillomavirus (HPV) in Scotland has led to a dramatic reduction in cervical disease in later life, finds a new study.

2019 The Mormon church is relaxing its attitude to LGBT people.
2019 Colorado becomes 16th US state to ban gay cure therapy.
2019 No-fault divorce is on its way in the UK.
2019 Arizona repeals a law banning “promotion of homosexual lifestyles”.

Mar 8 2019 A Bill to allow daughters the same succession rights as sons cleared a Commons hurdle this week.

Nov 4 2019 A draft law has been published in Germany aimed at banning "gay conversion therapy".

2019 Facebook bans far-right groups and leaders.
2019 Afghanistan has an all-female orchestra.2019 UK will provide all female prisoners with free sanitary products.

2019 Taiwan legalises same-sex marriage – the first Asian country to do so.

2019 The German High Court rules antisemitism unconstitutional, the rest of EU  is expected to follow. (Don’t worry, we’ll be out by the time it happens!)

2019 Architects set up Architects Declare to produce plans for eco-friendly buildings to halt global warming.

2019 Mexico City intends to decriminalise sex work.
2019 Transport for London plans a 20 mph speed limit in the congestion zone next year.
2019 Botswana decriminalises homosexuality.
2019 The London Metal Exchange bans drinking during work hours.
2019 France is ending healthcare refunds for homeopathic drugs.

2019 Saudi Arabia relaxes rules forbidding women to travel without the permission of a male relative.

2019 Prep schools have lost 3,000 pupils in one year... the number of children aged 5-10 enrolled at independent schools in England has fallen from 197,434 to 194,592, the lowest total for six years. (Times)

2019 Northern Ireland lifts the abortion ban and legalises equal marriage.
2019 The University of Technology Sydney intends to close its Chinese Medicine Department.
2019 Bulgaria recognises same-sex marriage.
2019 A teenage girl becomes the first jockey to race in a hijab – and wins her first race.
2019 Berlin makes public transport free for all schoolchildren.

2019 NZ is the first country to legalise paid domestic violence leave – 10 days to leave your partner, taking your children.

2019 Songs of Praise features a same-sex wedding, and Strictly Come Dancing showcases a same-sex dance.

2019 A US judge throws out Trump’s order and restores the Obama-era drilling ban in the Arctic.

2019 Scotland bans smacking.
2019 UK bans fracking. 2019 California is phasing out privately owned prisons and immigrant detention facilities.
2019 California becomes first state to ban fur products.
2019 Climbing on Uluru is banned.
2019 Luxembourg makes all public transport free
2019 MPs are considering a ban on fireworks sales.

2019 Australian women's football team the Matildas will earn the same as the Socceroos players, making them the first female team in world football to be guaranteed equal pay.

2019 Rose Hudson-Wilkin is first black woman to become a Church of England bishop.
2019 Victims of forced marriage will no longer be billed for their journey home to the UK.
2019 High Court Judge bans anti-LGBT protests outside school in Birmingham.
2019 Iceland makes it illegal to pay women less than men.

2019 A woman leads the Remembrance service at the Cenotaph for the first time. They had to let her do it – she’s the Bishop of London.

2019 STOP PRESS Extinction Rebellion prosecutions dropped en masse after High Court rules London protest ban unlawful (Independent headline)

From April 2020,  plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds will be banned in England.

From September 2020, LGBT-inclusive education will be required in all UK schools.
2021 EU will abandon Daylight Saving Time.

Ireland has no hate-crime laws, and the US has no hate-speech laws.

US laws forbidding or limiting Chinese immigration lasted from 1875 to 1965.

2014 The Government promises 200,000 starter homes. Number built by 2019: zero.

2019 Brunei brings in death by stoning as punishment for gay sex
New laws in Brunei include:
Death penalty for gay sex
Death penalty for adultery
Death penalty for rape
Death penalty for defamation of the prophet Muhammad
Death penalty for apostasy (converting from Islam)
Also... amputation for thieves
Fine or jail for those telling under 18s about other faiths/religious beliefs.

Later in 2019: Brunei abandons the death penalty by stoning for gay sex after an international outcry.

My mum was turned away from visiting the Country Club in Trinidad, was the first stewardess and bank worker of colour for Grenada in 1956. All those professions were reserved for white people until that point, as all Caribbean people know. And people still complained. (@edincarib)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 22 November 2019

Inspirational Quotes 95

Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.

You are not owed a read from a professional, even if you think you have an in, and even if you think it's not a huge imposition. It's not your choice to make.
(Josh Olson,, gives advice to aspiring writers.)

I knew I needed [antidepressants] again, if only to make life less painful for the people who love me. They do make life more bearable for everyone. (Disabled journalist Melanie Reid wants to take antidepressants so that she doesn’t cry in front of people. Times April 2016 Lynn Payer in Medicine and Culture says Brits take painkillers and antidepressants to avoid “making a fuss” and upsetting others. Melanie calls them a “chemical crutch”. )

Remember, the myth that everyone is a selfish bastard is spread by selfish bastards to stop them feeling guilty about being selfish bastards. (‏@SteveHall5582)

Off-line Criticism - propagating gossip or criticism to a third party in an attempt to negatively influence the third party’s opinion of a person. (

They’re so goddam different that they hold a stacked deck and they don’t know any other kind of deck. (Raymond Chandler on the rich)

Humiliation always happens in a tyranny, and that foments revolution. (Shirley MacLaine)

I always feel as if people looking for English Lit to "matter" may be the sort who are secretly rather irritated we’re not all out there curing cancer, landing on Mars, and other things that don’t involve noses in books and the Waste of the Taxpayers’ Money (TM). ("Jeanne de Montbaston")

It always astounds me that people have a comfort zone. (@jtlovell1979)

People who say "I'm just saying what everyone else is thinking" - You are never, ever saying what I'm thinking. (@Nick_Pettigrew)

Combien de soi-disant classiques ne survivent que sous respiration artificielle? (Xavier Lechard. How many so-called classics would disappear without artificial respiration?)

Trump rallies are the comments section come to awful life. (Diana Burbano)

Over the past eight years, hundreds, maybe even thousands of wits have both emailed me or left a comment below the line dismissing me as “the fashion girl” or telling me to “go back to shoe shopping”. I’ve had snarky comments about fashion from teenagers, academics, even other journalists... But one thing unites them: do you really need me to tell you they’re all men? (Former fashion writer and writer on many other subjects Hadley Freeman in the Guardian)

Side by side with organised religion there has always existed a folk religion, which is not organised, has no temples, no priests, no fixed precepts; it consists of old beliefs and customs, generally not in the spirit of the official religion. The folk belief is in the background, but it plays a great role in the lives of the masses, those who are little influenced by the new thoughts and trends of the times. (Hayim Schauss)

Frankly, there are things in Narnia which are nothing to do with religion. They are to do with being out of date. As with Tolkien, there are ideas there which haven't yet faded sufficiently into the past to become valuable antiques. (Guy Kewney)

Changing the behaviour of a population is likely to take time, perhaps a generation or more, and politicians usually look for quick win solutions. The government needs to be braver about mixing and matching policy measures, using both incentives and disincentives to bring about change. They must also get much better at evaluating the measures they put in place. In order to help people live healthier and happier lives, we need to understand much more about what sorts of policies will have an effect on how people behave, and the best way to do this is through research, proper evaluation of policies and the provision of well-informed and independent scientific advice. (Julia Neuberger, 2011)

Bias is also more deeply ingrained and harder to mitigate when people convince themselves that they are not biased in a certain aspect and so unconsciously create strategies to substantiate their convictions to that belief.  This is also known as ‘confirmation bias’... while there is much talk around mentoring programmes to help women ‘break through the glass ceiling’, my own perspective from both sides of the gender divide is that there is at least an equal need for men, standing on the ‘glass floor’, to receive mentoring and coaching in how to tackle gender bias. (Letitia Davis, 2015)

‏The Sunday Post... and its claustrophobic worldview formed 50 years before in Presbyterian Dundee. (London Review of Books, 2016)

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes. (via Wicca Teachings)

The leader of the mass is still the feared primal father, the mass still wishes to be dominated by absolute power, it is in the highest degree addicted to authority. (Sigmund Freud)

Dystopias will have cycle lanes and host World Cups. (Darran Anderson)

Caitlin Moran suggests that instead of holding state banquets, the Queen should “introduce a series of evenings where the guests knit, quilt, sort out jumble, prep a buffet... collect tinfoil... decorate someone’s front room”. As “the king of Tonga helps the US ambassador... a dazzlingly productive new epoch in international diplomacy will finally be forged, one based on genuine understanding and warmth”. (Times, 2016)

Its amazing how quickly we become conspiracy theorists when things don’t go our way... (@Furmadamadam)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Literary Clichés Part Six: Golden Age Mysteries

Two-dimensional, cardboard characters: that's the usual slur aimed at Golden Age mysteries. Try Margery Allingham's The Fashion in Shrouds – the whole plot depends on character.

The thatched cottage and village green stereotype associated with Golden Age novels by people who seldom read them... People who did not care to read them were nevertheless happy to make sweeping generalizations about them which contributed to the crude stereotyping of Golden Age fiction that persists to this day... The widespread consensus that Christie and company never questioned the status quo is wildly mistaken.
(Martin Edwards)

The main trial, office politics, and home life all have a linked theme. (Goodreads on Rumpole)

There are at least three distinct Campions who haven’t much to do with each other and two Wimseys it can be hard to reconcile. (

Tiger in the Smoke is Margery Allingham’s best novel. (It was made into a film in the 50s, and is the only one many people have heard of.)

An author wrote a novel that she never liked and everyone agrees is terrible “in order to break a contract with her publisher”. Wikipedia repeats this trope about Murder Must Advertise, one of Dorothy Sayers’ most brilliant books. (An Amazon commenter adds: "This book was written very quickly to meet a publisher's deadline as she was having trouble with The Nine Taylors.")

Certainly in their unquestioning and usually rural lives, characters do in fact seem to know their place and to be happy in it. (PD James on Golden Age mysteries. Surely there are not a few social climbers in the canon? She opines that in Murder Must Advertise “any sense of the world outside the comfortable confines of conventional English village life was absent... We feel no real pity for the victim, no empathy for the murderer...” (Murder Must Advertise is set entirely in London, and we – and Lord Peter – feel a lot of sympathy for the murderer.)

Have His Carcase is a 1932 locked-room mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers. (Wikipedia. The victim is found lying on a rock in the middle of a lonely beach. The odd title is a translation of the Latin "habeas corpus", the UK law that forbids imprisonment without trial.)

The bogus “intellectuality” of Dorothy L. Sayers, who, like many contemporary detective-story writers, is a novelist manquée who ruins her stuff with literary attitudinising. (Dwight McDonald, A Theory of Mass Culture, 50s)

And in the matter of ideas, subject, theme, problems raised, she [Sayers] similarly performs the best-seller’s function of giving the impression of intellectual activity to readers who would very much dislike that kind of exercise if it were actually presented to them; but of course it is all shadow-boxing. With what an air of unconventionality and play of analysis Miss Sayers handles her topics, but what relief her readers must feel — it is part no doubt of her success — that they are let off with a reassurance that everything is really all right and appearances are what really matter. (QD Leavis And who remembers her?)

One criticism levelled at writers of Golden Age fiction is that they did not illumine our understanding of the Second World War and sometimes wrote as if it was not happening. (Bodies from the Library. Their publishers may have instructed them not to refer to the conflict.)

Golden Age stories have often been criticized as implausible, involving as they usually do sophisticated and wealthy people, house parties on estates, and convoluted plots and counter-plots. (Father Brown and Company, James Hitchcock. Why should wealthy people be more or less implausible than the middle classes?)

Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Sayers and Allingham are sold as the “Queens of Crime” while male writers in the genre are out of print. Booksellers and publishers make money, while critics can denigrate the whole genre using gendered epithets: tame, dull, cosy, safe etc. One critic of the genre writes under a female pseudonym!

Over-simplification: interwar UK mysteries were all cosy, Conservative and written by women. Interwar US mysteries were all hard-boiled, left-wing and written by men.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Literary Clichés Part Five: Methods

Use a detective story to take readers into an underworld you happen to know about: burlesque, hobos, fairgrounds, circus, theatre...  (Cellini Smith by Robert Reeves)

Never believe what a writer tells you about their work.
(Xavier Lechard, paraphrase)

Somehow you can spot the "I want to put a different spin on this genre to make me stand out" author.
(Alan Cassady-Bishop)

Greer [challenges] the usual model of books of this kind, in which the author likes to set out in the foreground his or her journey to emotional redemption, with the landscape playing the role of butler and helpmeet.
(The Evening Standard on Germaine Greer)

I usually start with a corpse. I then ask myself how the corpse got to be that way and I try to find out — just as the cops would. I plot, loosely, usually a chapter or two ahead, going back to make sure that everything fits all the clues are in the right places, all the bodies are accounted for... (Police procedural writer Ed McBain)

I notice a couple of writers who have made so much money out of writing in one genre that they decide they're going to change direction and write a multi-volume historical saga, mostly but not always about the Roman empire. (Michael O’Brien)

Why are simply terrible new Poirot/Wimsey stories being published? “Some of the original Poirot books are coming out of copyright. For instance The Mysterious Affair at Styles. So it is to ensure that the Agatha Christie trustees retain some control over the stories. To do this new ones were written using Poirot as the central character. This ensures he can not be used in any other story, film, television without permission. It is the same reason that there are new Peter Wimsey books too. When the need arises I am sure Miss Marple will appear in new stories.” (Ann Williams on Facebook)

Somerset Maugham attributed [his critical non-success] to his lack of "lyrical quality", his small vocabulary, and failure to make expert use of metaphor... Maugham wrote at a time when experimental modernist literature... was gaining increasing popularity and winning critical acclaim. In this context, his plain prose style was criticized as "such a tissue of clichés that one's wonder is finally aroused at the writer's ability to assemble so many and at his unfailing inability to put anything in an individual way". (Wikipedia)

Here's a thing I really dislike: historical novels which exist purely for the author to show off his/her research. (Richard Ashcroft‏)

"He walked the heath reflecting that with only a 15% chance of contracting cholera in a rural area his children had been rather unlucky." (Simon Spanton‏)

"One sunny morning in Florence, Lorenzo woke up and decided to have a Renaissance. The Middle Ages were over, and it was time to paint." (Richard Ashcroft‏)

Per Robin Ince, who has read a lot of Mills and Boon romances so that you don’t have to, the stories are padded out with pasta recipes and details about kitchen decor. Writers for this publisher are given strict guidelines. Surroundings must not be too specific to a class, area or country, because the novels are going to be translated into languages from Finnish to Tagalog. Despite this the writers quietly add upmarket details, like walls painted in “earth colours” and instructions on how to make spaghetti Bolognese. Italian food and muted colours were aspirant in the early 70s when these books were written. The heroine is never going to look round with satisfaction at her walls papered with Chinese pagodas, or whip up an apricot gateau.

Heroines must not be a “cipher”, as in the olden days. Qualifications for non-ciphership are never stated. “Have some personality”, states a friend. Perhaps they mean “be a bit more masculine: stroppy, clever, aggressive, argumentative”. Something like Lucy Snowe or Elizabeth Bennett.

Here's a sample of romantic novelists' prose:
As she skittered past Marcus to the door, shock and awe still widened her eyes. With barely a few muttered words of farewell for them she was gone.
“I didn’t intend to frighten her off,” Marcus mildly joked to ease the tense silence that ensued after Maura’s departure.
An exceedingly quizzical look was slanted at him, and Marcus acknowledged it with a grunted laugh.
“Very well, I admit I’m glad your cousin has gone and we may speak in private.”
“So am I,” Jemma endorsed on a sigh. “Although her absence is less necessary than I deemed it to be at first.”
His thick black eyebrows were elevated in imperious enquiry.

It’s assumed that a writer who produces many books over a lifetime grows and matures. But often the early works based on their lives are the ones to read, not the later blockbuster well-researched historical sagas, or their series characters going through the motions one more time.

The “book-club classic” raises “issues” that the group can discuss. Clairvoyance, abuse, religion - this presses all the reading-group buttons, says Joanna Briscoe (The Guardian, 2009). "The classic reading-group novel is becoming eerily familiar. There's the emotion-laden yet strangely distanced tone, the damaged yet courageous protagonist, and the what-if dilemma that's supposed to set the ladies talking. A reader-flattering intellectual strand frequently features, as does a fantastical element involving historical flashbacks or spirits from the past, along with a multi-generational twist and a central emotional conundrum, preferably involving children. But rarely do the characterisation or writing stand up to the strong and often contrived premise, and an air of manipulation often prevails. Emotions run high, yet they read as though they could have been written on a computer programme…"

“Those words of Shelley’s came into her mind, ‘Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass etc’.” The author shows off her erudition, and the reader is flattered. This kind of book is full of: "'Large women shouldn't wear all-over patterns', she thought." It's possible to convey the character’s thoughts in the narration, conversation or a “gentle reader” aside. Or perhaps you never reveal them.

Nell Dunn's slice of life in Battersea in the early 60s (Up the Junction) is written entirely in the present tense. The author just looks and listens – there's no commentary, no inner voices. Mystery writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett used the same technique, though in the past tense.

Some authors write entire books in another's voice (ventriloquism). Raymond Chandler's books are narrated by detective Philip Marlowe. Perfect valet Jeeves's doings are related to us by his employer, Bertie Wooster (with the help of P.G. Wodehouse). Anita Loos wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in the persona of dim but canny showgirl Lorelei Lee. LL is a gold-digger, but thinks of herself as a refined lady, so there's a further layer of self-deception. (See also Agatha Christie's Absent in the Spring.)

There is a small genre of books in which women tell all about their working lives. Good examples are Betty Macdonald (Anybody Can Do Anything), Alida Baxter (Out On My Ear) and Sylvia Smith (Appleby House). Monica Dickens' stint as a cook in the 30s is well-known. But Joan Rivers on her early struggles (Enter Talking) deserves an honourable mention, and Jilly Cooper's The Common Years. Girls – get an interesting job, keep a diary and one day it will keep you.

My heart sinks when I read the words “comic set piece”.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Outrageous Excuses 9

...and silly reasons for leaving the European Union.
Police were called when Boris yelled at his girlfriend. But “Corbynista curtain-twitchers are not attractive”.

A second referendum "would break down trust in democracy", says Nigel Farage. (Nov 12 2019)

We can’t translate this Bible verse word for word because we don’t like repetition in English. We can’t translate any part of the Bible word for word because the English language has changed and interpretation and scholarship have moved on.

They do have a disproportionate amount of intelligence (=power) in many fields including banking though I don’t resent this. As a young man I think Farage was exploring how extreme opinions felt by having some. God forbid everyone gets politically correct. (Chris Millar @onlyredherrings They = the usual suspects.)

Distressed children in detention centres are all “child actors”, says Ann Coulter.

We won’t write down our plans for a deal in case they are leaked. (Dominic Raab added they might be “leaked and criticised”.)

"Documents warning of food, fuel and medicine shortages after no-deal Brexit should be kept secret because they will scare people," Andrea Leadsom has said.

Chancellor Sajid Javid says the Tories have a 'cunning plan' to deliver Brexit, but it would be "madness" to tell anyone.

Boris Johnson says he does have some ideas to solve the Northern Ireland backstop but he's not going to share them right now.

A white woman, Nancy Goodman, at a restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina, complained another customer was “too loud”. The woman replied that her money was just as good. So she called her a “stupid N-word”. "I used that word because they forced me into it," she said in a TV interview. "I would say it again to them." She added that she suffers from “tremendous anxiety”. “When asked whether or not she understood how using the N-word is incredibly offensive, Goodman replied: "Yes I do, that's why I said it." (Newsweek)

MP’s stalker said he was just trying to find a wife.

Faux apology: I’m sorry but it was everybody else’s fault.

Jim Davidson complained on Twitter that “Khan” had ruined his home town. Now he’s saying that it’s just the “congestion and traffic” that he “can’t bare”.
Lisa Forbes liked an anti-Semitic tweet without reading it. Fat fingers, half asleep, we’ve all done it.

Shakespeare is being dropped from the Israeli school curriculum as “too hard”.

Actually everything comes from China.

I want to leave the EU to honour those who gave their lives in two world wars.

We don’t want a second referendum because all the young people would vote Remain.

No-deal Brexit is a clean break. (It would be the start of negotiations that would continue for years.)

Yesterday on LBC James O'Brien had a caller who was adamant we had to get rid of all these rules that had been imposed on us. On being pressed for examples, he came up with having to control polluting emissions from cars, and regulations about the size of hand towels, though he couldn't actually name any. (HC)

I was bombed by Germans and I hate them so I voted leave because they control the EU.

We didn't fight two world wars to see Germany become rich.

Foreigners are telling us what to do.

We need to make Britain great again

British people should not be ordered about by foreign bureaucrats.

God said that Junker is the Antichrist and the EU is the nation described in Revelations.

Junker is bullying us.
Unelected officials making laws. (When asked how they were unelected when we regularly voted for MEPs, the response was that all the other MEPs were not elected by British people so were unelected and not democratic.)

We can keep out Muslims.

Too many immigrants doing our jobs.

Too many immigrants straining the NHS and claiming benefits.

We can keep out Syrians.

I don't want my son joining an EU army and being ordered to attack the US.

The Turks are coming here.

The yobs causing trouble are all the immigrants.

Brits deserve special treatment and if we don't get it, it's the fault of those in Brussels.
(All via PJ Lightning on FB.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Contradictions 7

To Abraham Maslow, “acceptance of paradoxes” is a “self-actualising value that will make you happier". (BPS Digest) Does he mean “telling yourself that you love Big Brother”?

We colonized other countries, and now we wonder where all these other people came from.

If you export armaments, don’t complain about importing refugees.

Brits have stiff upper lips, but we love the orgy of sentimentality that is "the" John Lewis ad.

It never ceases to amaze me that people who've been persuaded that our 'economic strength' will somehow solve Brexit problems also believe that we 'can't afford' policies designed to help everyone in the country. (@mrjamesob)

Clichés about it’s not the winning but the taking part, to succeed you must fail, coexist with cheering on England in the rugby final. If the platitudes are true, why do we watch Wimbledon? Why is there even a Wimbledon? (Oh I see, there has to be a contest to “take part” in, just as long as you don’t try to win. But somebody has to win a contest...)

If all I have to do is be myself, why does the term “impression management” exist?

Since I retired, people are worried that I’ll have nothing to do, so they give me tasks and make suggestions. But they don’t want to hear about the four novels I’ve written.

You can claim judges are out of touch with the real world or you can sneer that they used to be barmaids, but you really can’t do both. (@seanjonesqc)

a) Greta Thunberg is not a child.
b) Why should we listen to anything a child says?

If revenge only hurts the perpetrator, why is there a series called The Avengers? Why was “revenge tragedy” a genre in Jacobean England? The original tale of Hamlet was the saga of a long and elaborate revenge in which everybody gets a poetic comeuppance and Hamlet never stops to think about it once. Those who have done him wrong are picked off one by one. (And doesn’t a group of Marvel superheroes have the same name?)

"Social behaviour is too subtle and nuanced to be defined." So why have I got a book called /Japanese Business Etiquette/? And why are you teaching your children to say please and thankyou?

A Brexit crash out is both a vast threat against the EU, but simultaneously inconsequential to the British public. We have now hit Schrodinger’s Brexit. (S)

Don’t copy other people, but children need the right role models.

It's so weird to see, after 30 years of newspapers lamenting that kids aren't taught grammar any more, the flip to complaining about newfangled useless grammar lessons. (@ariehkovler They never meant grammar – they meant “correct English”, by which they meant “avoiding the five solecisms I was warned against at school”, such as split infinitives and sentences starting with “and”. And Michael Gove thought he was giving them what they wanted. Fronted adverbials to you too.)

Genre fiction is boring. “It’s like watching TV,” says Colm Toibin. He adds: “I don’t have a TV.”

Capitalism is so great that it:
1. Creates homelessness while there are more vacant homes than homeless people.

2. Creates hunger while 40% of the food produced in the U.S. and Canada is wasted.
3. Poisons the environment and then shames you into buying "green" products

Although Laura Thompson insists that “Only very rarely in her detective fiction did Christie write from life,” the biographer contradicts her own words on every page. (

We all agree that we should fly less to protect the environment, but we’re about to reroute motorways and rivers to build a new runway at Heathrow.

Burden young people with student debt and reduce their wages, and then complain that you can’t sell your “dream home”. (Actually you can sell your McMansion in Arizona – just for a lot less than you paid for it.)

"The only people in a position to make a living as poets were the ones being paid to tell a room full of poets who would never make a living from their work how they could make a living from their work." (@poetniall)

We all think we’re special and that conventions are for other people, while being utterly conformist.

We moan about immigrants from Bulgaria, Romania etc but employ them in care homes and manage not to see that someone else has paid for their upbringing and education.

Live the dream, you can do/have whatever you want as long as you want it enough, but the journey not the arrival matters.

a) Isn't it awful that language-teaching in UK schools is declining! No more French and German classes!
b) I'm not sending my children to that school – half of the children speak English as a second language!

Something I've never quite been able to make sense of: If, as a Christian, you believe Jesus's death was good and necessary for our salvation, then why would you become an anti-Semite who demonizes Jews for "killing Jesus"? (@5thCircAppeals)

Every time I say something bad about Corbyn, I'm an elitist snob. Ironically, when I say anything bad about the Tories, I'm a bleeding heart liberal. (@markoftheD)

My favourite is probably the one who spent twenty minutes telling me that he'd been blacklisted by the BBC because his views were so trenchant — in a BBC green room while we were both waiting to appear on the BBC. (@mrjamesob)

Immigrants ought to integrate; let’s save money by cutting English classes.

Brexiteers simultaneously see the EU as so weak that it's on the verge of collapse and something we have to escape from before it does, and so strong that it's been bullying us from day one and throughout the negotiations. (Edwin Hayward)

Parenting is tricky: on the one hand you want an obedient, well-behaved child you can bring out in public (and to restaurants); on the other, you want a daughter who isn’t afraid to push boundaries, ask questions and demand answers from authority. (

The young are obliged to rebel and conform at the same time. (Quentin Crisp)

I love it when religious people try to claim that atheism is a religion as an insult, because they unwittingly are insulting all religions, including their own. (Michael Paulkovich)

Society: The totality of social relationships among humans. The rich, privileged, and fashionable social class. (The Free Dictionary)

I used to get told off for being fervent, outraged, indignant, passionate, by people who complained I had no feelings.

Any autistic person who speaks up about autism is too high-functioning to speak about autism.

Society: "Autistic people are geniuses!" Also society: "Actually, let's hire the non-autistic person." (Chris Bonello)

Be yourself, but not if you’re autistic.
(Chris Bonello)

Society: be yourself.
Also society: why are you so odd?
(Nicholas Dunn)

Jews were mocked for being both too poor and too rich, caricatured as both beggars and bankers, pedlars and plutocrats – a premonition of their later fate, to be blamed for both communism and capitalism. (Jonathan Freedland)

Everybody says that gender is a social construct, but we also act like it's somehow an innate part of a person's identity. I started to think the whole concept of transitioning was regressive. (Person who detransitioned)

In the 80s, right-on people looked down on romance and romantic love as an invention of the medieval troubadours. On the other hand they approved of medieval courtly love, where the man yearned over the woman from afar and didn’t even have to meet her in real life. (Courtly love was made up by historians, say later authorities. "That's what we call withholding," say psychologists.)

The paradox of those Brexiters who can wilfully reminisce over their pre birth days of the British Empire and World War II, yet appear to have absolutely have no memory of Britain’s role in setting up the Common Market or the 70 years of a hard border Northern Ireland. (@JamesMelville)

How is no-platforming (boo) different from denying people the oxygen of publicity (hooray)? Or even “just ignoring” them? (hooray)

We want small, fragile young children to take risks, or "learn to manage risk" — when they didn't book the abseiling/canoeing trip and can't get out of the frightening activity. They have no control over the risks they are forced to take.
But we don't like teenagers to "indulge in risky behaviour" like sleeping around and taking drugs and drinking.
And then we want adults to “take risks” – which seems to mean “sleeping around”. And have you heard adults bragging about their drinking?

The Victorians had a much healthier attitude to death, holding elaborate funerals and dressing in black. The Victorians didn’t care when their children died because so many children didn’t live beyond five.

To deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies. (George Orwell on Doublethink)

Breast implants are popular, but clothes are designed for a slim, boyish figure. (Bum implants are also popular.)

The government is ignoring/pandering to the will of the people! (Dec 2018)

I loathe Christmas shopping and the crowds and the way Christmas has become a consumerist nightmare, but isn’t it awful that retail sales are down?

Don’t copy other people, be spontaneous, be yourself, be original and act naturally, but say "good morning" and "excuse me".

“Not only was there a media blackout, but the story was presented in a totally misleading way.”
"I am using this column in a widely circulated publication to complain that I'm being silenced."

The English deny the arguments Scotland uses to be free of the English while using the same arguments for their own ridiculous nationalism. (Andrew McLellan)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Literary Clichés Part Four: Stock Characters

Most, but not all, from Golden Age mysteries from the 20s and 30s.

The arty woman in the folkweave djibbah
and handcrafted silver jewellery – a stereotype from the early 20s that persisted even when women like this had moved on. She is related to the medium festooned with scarabs and clanking necklaces. (Did lazy writers borrow stereotypes from each other? Of course they did. And – warning – some of them are offensive.)

Young man adores the ballet. He goes on about psychology (it was a 20s and 30s fad) and is keen to tell you what “type” he is. Converse of the typical Brit who thinks introspection is “morbid”. A brisk tramp over the moors will soon sort that out! And look what happens if you ever think about yourself and your personality and your problems – you start liking ballet! (Mr Riggert in Margery Allingham's Flowers for the Judge.)

The theatre… always works well for murder stories: the disparate people, the varied backgrounds, the close working group, the possibilities for past histories. (Moira Redmond, Clothes in Books) Here between the wars you may find the prima donna, the ingenue, the slightly past-it romantic leading man, the character actor, the player who is "not 100% he-man" and may wear a hat of slightly too vivid a green. (Yes, thankfully attitudes have changed.)

Just postwar, the refugee who doesn’t realise when she’s well off and is a bit of a snob. (Mitzi in Christie's A Murder Is Announced)Lissa Evans’ majestic WW2 homefront book, Crooked Heart, where Hilde the Austrian refugee complains of her new life: "This is not what I am used to. At home we had a pastry cook. I studied the harp.” (Moira Redmond) As so often, Christie subverts the stereotype.

The half-witted servant girl. Actress Kathleen Harrison made a career out of playing working-class women who are amusingly dim. She did this by putting her head one side and simpering.

One of those washed-up and bitter ex-servicemen who feature in macho adventure stories. Something terrible will happen which will cause him to find the man he used to be and, somehow, at the end of it all he will be saved by the love of a good woman, one who can see through the unkemptness and the bitterness to the man beyond. (JP) You'll find them in the works of Desmond Bagley, Gavin Lyall and J.P. Marquand.

@Lord_Steerforth nails Anthony Trollope:
Each novel seems to feature the following stock characters:
A penniless young man on the make
A young woman who can't decide whether to marry for love or money
A rich widower who is exasperated by his children's behaviour
A virtuous girl
Someone called Frank
A feisty, outspoken elderly duchess (and her dissolute son)
A middle-aged bachelor who's a bit of a chump
A penniless spinster who exists as a 'companion' to an aristocrat
A man of doubtful social origins who believes that he is a gentleman
A wealthy widow who delights in toying with her suitors
Other ingredients: foxhunting and a will.

The fop.
Was Philo Vance one of a genre of monocled, upper-crust, foppish, dandified, classics-quoting detectives including Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion and, originally, Inspector Alleyn? How many more are there? Bertie Wooster? (Except that Jeeves has the learning.) Did Vance really have a “phony English accent”? Did people in the 20s really call each other “old dear/thing/bean”? Was he originally a stock character of the stage? Foppish heroes “continued with the pulp fiction and radio heroes of the 1920s and 1930s and expanded with the coming of comic books,” says Wikipedia. See also The Scarlet Pimpernel. (But Gabriel Syme in The Man Who Was Thursday may be the first and best.)

In women’s and girls’ fiction of the late 19th cent to the 20s, characters were “worldly”, which was something you had to avoid. The stereotype lived on in girls’ comics in the 50s and 60s: there was a Belinda Mason in one of the ballet-school stories who looked like Diana Dors and wore a white angora bolero. She wanted to be a star, but didn't know how to lace up her pointe shoes. She was a far more interesting role model than the rather prissy heroine, Belle.

Characters on the autistic spectrum: Prince Myshkin (Dostoievsky's The Idiot), Jeremy Boob (Yellow Submarine), Barnaby Rudge, Sherlock, Saga Noren of Scandi-noir series The Bridge. But Saga and Sherlock's deductive powers are a kind of mystical clairvoyance, and their autism is due to traumatic childhood experiences. So we don't need to worry about them being cleverer than us - they aren't really clever, they just have a "gift". It's not ratiocination, it's intuition. And they aren't really "different" – if they hadn't had psychopathic siblings/mothers they'd be just like us. And all stories need a “sympathetic character we can identify with”, so writers must turn these people, originally interestingly odd, into just plain folks. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The Bridge are careful not to mention the words “Aspergers” or “autism”, so that they can make it up. What they’re depicting is “folk autism”.

In Cicely Disappears by “A. Monmouth Platts” (Anthony Berkeley Cox), a house party contains: dowagers, bright young things, silly asses, a famous explorer, a bluff colonel, a shifty major-domo... (It’s a spoof of an early Christie which was probably a spoof in itself. What are the stereotypes of today?)

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 4 November 2019

Literary Clichés Part Three: More Tropes

Women in novels of the 30s-50s were praised for having “well-brushed hair”. Was it neat, flat and glossy, lacking “rats’ tails”, or “not set in a rigid perm”? Middle-class women under stress “drag a comb” through their hair.

When two people fancy each other but do not know it, their hands touch accidentally and "a tingle shoots up their arm". When two characters have a conversation, set it in a restaurant or, ideally, a tea shop, so that you can keep interrupting the narrative with references to their eating habits, e.g. "She took a bite of her scone and chewed thoughtfully." (JL)

Struck by how many novels echo the Brideshead theme - someone from humdrum family being entranced by more bohemian family.

A character finds him/herself back at a grand house, now decayed and shabby in the dystopian present. He remembers happy days in the gilded past. (Brideshead Revisited, Wind in the Willows).

The decaying grand house whose impoverished inhabitants are all variously eccentric, mad, living in the past or sliding down the class ladder.

The heroine is plain (sometimes she just doesn’t fit the tastes of the time, sometimes she really IS plain, and sometimes gets a bit of a makeover), but the hero (the right kind of man) can see her inner beauty. Because you’d want to appeal to someone who appreciates people for what’s on the inside, wouldn’t you? (PS: Anyone who tells you that life is really like this is a liar.)

Lucy Snowe, Jane Eyre and Lizzy Bennett: the plain or ordinary girl who gets the hero not by being “feminine”, as an older woman would no doubt advise her, but by being straight-talking, blunt, funny and feisty. (She is also “good”, and surrounded by some bad girls for contrast.) Sadly this approach doesn’t work in real life either.

A young, naive, plain, badly dressed girl gets a job with a suave, important middle-aged man. She frequently screws up and gets into embarrassing situations, thanks to her inexperience, honesty, naiveté, genuineness etc. Sometimes there is a corresponding older woman who is chic and sophisticated, and our heroine is always making a fool of herself in front of this female. Of course they get married.

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
The Sound of Music

Elizabeth Taylor's The Wedding Group imagines what their married life would be like – hell.

MI6 was based in Broadway Buildings, opposite St James's Park Tube station. Outside a plaque read 'Minimax Fire Extinguisher Company', inside was a warren of back staircases, dingy corridors and pokey rooms. A secret passage ran to the Passport Office in Queen Anne's Gate while a bridge led to the flat of the 'Chief', Sir Dick White, whose office was on the fourth floor at the end of a spidery corridor... The interview took place at the agency's HQ in a Mayfair office building, Leconfield House, which had a large basement and a windowless ground floor. The interior was shabby, the windows were grimy and internal partitioning had left many rooms an awkward shape and ludicrously overcrowded. (DM)

Tube Alloys was the code name of the research and development programme authorised by the United Kingdom, with participation from Canada, to develop nuclear weapons during the Second World War.
(Wikipedia) In Christie’s universe, the relevant offices are found behind a door marked MARINE BIOLOGY in what is obviously Foyle’s bookshop.

The boys and girls in their very ‘with-it’ clothes looked untidy and none too clean. The girls were pale and even sickly-looking. (Dodie Smith, It Ends with Revelations) Beatniks and hippies were always being accused of looking “dirty”. Agatha Christie denigrates fashionable young women circa 1960 – thick Sloppy Joe jerseys at dinner, and black stockings – so hot! Angela Carter wrote that Beatniks didn’t wear make-up, so their faces looked “dirty” to a society used to women in foundation and powder.

When asked how she could afford some luxury, a working-class character will say “Scrimped and syved, m’m, scrimped and syved.” (Paul Gallico’s Mrs 'Arris syved up for a Dior dress by cutting out tea and sugar. It would have taken her a couple of thousand years.)

The dreary society for international students aimed at encouraging brotherhood between nations and world peace which is a front for spies, anarchists or infiltrators. They meet in basements and there’s an enthusiastic grey-haired facilitator passing round the sherry. (Agatha Christie, They Came to Baghdad. A lot of them really were fronts.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 1 November 2019

Literary Clichés Part Two: Tropes

As a freelance editor can I just say that I have had enough of characters running their hands through their long dark hair on the first page of manuscripts. (@meandmybigmouth)

My pet peeve: The Woman Scorned Revenge Scene Trope – Please Don’t Write. (@jemartin)

Why does my dog look like she's explaining her master plan to the captured protagonist? (@SomeChrisTweets)

I see you, fiction-writers-who-signal-to-the-reader-that-a-character's-evil-via-their-immaculately-tidy-house. (@volewriter)

Another popular trope in Chinese literature of past two decades seems to be the accidental journalist who ends up fighting for the people. (@xuetingni)

Structuring trick that’s now de rigueur in modern crime fiction — Two Seemingly Independent Threads That Shockingly Turn Out to Be Linked. ( And not just modern crime fiction.)

Even Maugham, though, can't resist that favourite male author trope of the dress that looks simple but is not. Has anyone ever actually seen any such dress? (Clothes in Books)

Miss Durdon, nanny to generations of the family, is a wonderful creation – even though the figure of the devoted family retainer allowed her own licence is very much overdone in literature. (Moira Redmond)

The ancient doddery lawyer/factory owner is known as “Young Mr Smith”. (Are You Being Served)

Fainting ladies always land in a crumpled heap. (In the days of long skirts they probably did.)

Of an older woman “you could see she’d been pretty once”.

The pretentious shop (clothes, art, flowers) that has only one or two objects in the window.

The naughtiest girl in the school becomes a nun, and eventually Reverend Mother.

If anyone gets a telegram they “excitedly tear open the envelope”. Otherwise they “take in the situation at a glance”.

Common, vulgar characters wear too many rings (their hands are “beringed”).

Gay characters come singly.

Marvel comic-book heroes are all tragic, suffering, saviour figures.

In books by alcoholics characters drink all day but never get drunk. (See Kingsley Amis. And they never become unpleasant, abusive or incoherent, either.)

In Kingsley Amis novels, good women wear corduroy or denim suits.

Americans in 30s books by Brits are called Slingsbee.

If you are having an affair with a married man, and his wife is murdered, never say: “You killed her – for ME!"

An east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up. (Hosea 13:15  Quoted or referenced by Sherlock Holmes and John Jarndyce in Bleak House.)

The person who only thinks they are paralysed. Conversely, the wheelchair-bound character who walks about the house unobserved, or the “blind” person who can see.

Shadow takes on an independent existence and takes over its owner’s life. (Sometimes the shadow offers its original owner, now on his uppers, a job – as its shadow.)

The girl who is raised by her mother for a good marriage. The girl is beautiful – but in the style of the 1890s, and it’s now the 1920s. (Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate)

One of the members of an unlikely partnership explains “He/she is good for me.” (Helen Schlegel in Howard’s End talking about Monica, whom we never meet. And poor Monica gets left behind in Munich.)

Did we have to bring him? But Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, though cowardly and weak, turns out to have an ingenious mind and can usually think the gang out of their predicament. By the end of the story, they’re asking “What shall we do, Mr Baggins?”

A vulgar woman in E. Phillips Oppenheim’s Aaron Rodd, Diviner exposes “at least 12 inches of silk-clad limbs” and wears loudly squeaking patent shoes. Probably with too-high heels.

The spy or spies who are undetectable because they “live their part”. Also the spy who has such a nondescript face that he can play many roles. Plus “nobody looks at a postman/steward/maid/nurse”.

The stage lawyer “dresses in the costume of the last generation but seven”, says JK Jerome. “The youngest stage solicitor we ever remember to have seen looked about sixty—the oldest about a hundred and forty-five.” (See Ngaio Marsh’s elderly Mr Ratisbon, and Margery Allingham’s Mr Drudge who bucks the trend, being about 30.)

More here.