Saturday 25 April 2020

What I Don't Miss about the Late 60s

In the late 60s we heard about a youth movement in the States – young people living together and having sex with each other and being part of a “family” and never being alone. Meanwhile in London "hippy beads" were sold from stalls in Oxford Street, and one cheap necklace didn’t conjure up the whole sunlit lifestyle. We knew it existed, we’d been to Hair. It was over by the end of the first summer and people repainted their slogan-covered vans – it's hard to imagine how rebellious they seemed at the time.

My train home stopped somewhere like Reading. A long-haired individual in beads and bell-bottomed trousers got out and trudged along the platform in the drizzle. A girl near me said: “Well, it’s all right in ’aigh’ Ashbury.” (Haight Ashbury, California, where the movement flourished and died.) Meaning that in Reading in the rain it just looks silly. She was right.

But we were promised such a lot. We were about to enter another world, or true reality, or bliss, or trance, or altered states of consciousness, or something. A paperback called Ecstasy was popular. We could live out a fantasy forever, camping out in an autumnal wood with other beautiful young people dressed in medieval clothes and subsisting on berries round a fire, playing the penny whistle. No need to worry about a job, a home, meals, washing your clothes. And then you have to go to secretarial school – which actually is much more fun. Psychedelia was just a music genre. It was just people cashing in on a mood. Just play-acting. But the hippies and musicians seemed for a couple of seconds to be living that life. They were such bad role models. And what if you attained “bliss” but were still a wallflower at parties?

People didn't have characteristics, they were interchangeable, as long as they were "chilled". Everyone was accepted. People "did their thing" – what it was didn't matter. If a girl fancied a man she "crashed" at his place (living rent-free and eating his food), hoping he’d make a move. It was not "right on" to ask "Exactly how long do you plan to stay?".

No wonder the book Alternative London was so appealing – it claimed you only needed the bare minimum. Live in a squat. Eat (cheap) dried beans. Sleep on the floor. Hippies never bought anything much because possessions just weigh you down. You never needed to do anything square like go and see a film or get a hamburger. Yes, that lasted.

“Bliss” was actually achieved through drugs, which meant that nobody wanted to go for a walk or have a conversation. You had to “be here now” and were not allowed to plan even the next few hours. A friend was jeered at for saying “And then we’ll play Scrabble”. You took care not to show surprise or enthusiasm, responding to everything with a murmured "Far out" or "You're beautiful". We suffered from hippy guilt – we were never quite cool enough.

And meanwhile those hippies drew the dole, worked the system, dealt in drugs and sold sandwiches at festivals. They hung out in “this old farmhouse”. It was probably full of people who turned up and stayed because everybody was too inert to throw them out. In other decades we'd have called them "spongers" or "freeloaders".

Pop singles by the Incredible String Band were just that – pop singles. They went up or down the charts, you could buy the record, the band made money. What did I think the songs were? Spiritual experiences? That was rather how they were sold.

A New Zealand flatmate lived on mounds of vegan mush and handfuls of “supplements”. She sang her own rather dull songs. She had a boyfriend with long dyed magenta hair who never spoke, and this was perfectly OK. (He was called Scorpio.) She wanted to live in the West Country because she’d fallen in love with England after reading Rupert the Bear annuals.

The mysticism was just late-flowering Madame Blavatsky. The hippies were Beatniks in different clothes. They even used the same slang. The hippy movement started in the early 60s. Beatniks were taking LSD in 1964. On the Greek island of Hydra everyone thought they were brilliant. It was an idyllic life – but everybody drank, took drugs and had affairs and the children were casualties. Plus you could only live like this if you had money.

Leonard Cohen lived off his girlfriend, Marianne, who received maintenance from her child's father.
She eventually went back to Sweden, got a job in the personnel department of a company that built offshore oil platforms, and married an engineer.

And suddenly it was over. That hippie code of manners where you could just "hang out" in someone else’s house changed sharply, and everybody was very territorial (which had been utterly “bourgeois”). Individuality came back – even privacy. People still lived on the dole in the 80s but they didn’t think there was anything spiritual about it.

Behold we make all things new – but not THAT new, and then they change back again.

More about the Good Old Days here, and links to the rest.

I wrote about hippies in my first novel, Witch Way To...?

What I don't miss about the late 60s

men with long hair and beards
being kissed by men with long hair and beards
smelly Afghan coats

The abandonment of any kind of formality so that nobody asked you out or had anything so uncool as a girlfriend.

The disappearance of dance steps so that you just had to jig about while wondering if you were doing it right.

The silly idea that you had to live in the moment and could only act on impulse.

People saying "You had to be stoned".

People at parties strumming guitars and singing endless self-penned folksongs.

An unspoken social code that meant you never learned "straight" social skills.

Parties where everybody was stoned and nobody said anything.

Half the time it was not cool to speak at all. (Rob Chapman, All I Want Is Out Of Here. He points out that the hippie dream was flawed. You can’t just “drop out” when there’s nothing to catch you. “You just keep on dropping.” You needed money. It only worked if you were rich. I think I worked that out in the end.)

Friday 24 April 2020

Whatever Happened to...?

I have updated and expanded the list of vanished things, Whatever Happened To...? Only 99p on Kindle! Invaluable if you're writing a novel set in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s...

They were here just a moment ago:

abandoned cars in woodland
candlewick bedspreads
daisy-wheel printers
fairy shops

gabardine raincoats
hair crimpers
individual fruit pies
jam roly poly
kazoo bands
macadamia nuts
New Age travellers
opera gloves
paper aeroplanes
salmon mousse
veal and ham pie
walkie-talkie dolls
Xmas cards of jolly coaching scenes

What happened to these exploded ideas:
Commemorative thimbles are a good investment.
Everything has a subtext.
In the future we will wear tabards.
Peacock’s feathers are unlucky.

And these never will be missed:kitten heels
lawyers' wigs
public schools
town criers

More here, and links to the rest.

Euphemisms, Dysphemisms and Rhetoric

I have updated, trimmed and expanded my book on euphemisms, rhetoric and political lies. This is one of the sections I've added – but what is it about?


What do you call it when people use the same term for both the thing itself and our perception of it, or our possession of it, or our ability to know it, or our reaction to it?
Confronted by this outrage, I respond with outrage.

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

Early Man lived by a different kind of time, cyclical not linear: He lived by a different method of measuring or marking the passage of time. (See also “Time is a social construct”.)

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

We create our own reality: We see reality through a filter of our own prejudices. (It’s loose use of “create”.)

We create our own reality II: By putting up a few posters and buying a hat. (I’m told. Well, if you meant “environment”, why didn’t you say so? I’ve been trying to create an entire universe through the power of my mind here.)

We have no choice. Confusingly, “choice” means both the act of choosing and the options you are choosing between. “We have no choice” often means “Of the two presented, we must choose this option”.

We must confront our fears: We must confront the things we fear. (Or does it mean “We must confront our fear of the fearful thing”?)

Children must learn to manage risk:
Children must be put at risk, so that they can learn to manage their fear of risk. (They’re not in charge of the activity holiday, they’re not the ones doing the risk assessment, but they are the ones forced to abseil down cliffs, climb mountains and descend caves.) Teenagers must then avoid risky behaviour (taking drugs and sleeping around). But adults must take risks (embark on relationships with people they hardly know).

It’s slightly inconvenient that in English (and other languages) the word “history” is ambiguous: it is used to describe both what happened in the past and the quite different study of what happened in the past." (Alex Rosenberg, How History Gets Things Wrong)

History will judge us. (Historians will judge us.)
All history is subjective. (All views of history are subjective.)

Biological sex is bigotry. (Believing in biological sex is bigotry, according to some.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Racist Euphemisms in Quotes

Man of the people

People like Boris because "he tells it like it is" and "says what we're thinking". And he’s a “man of the people”. “Transformation” is always good – hooray! Change can be good or bad, but “I wanted things to change” is code for “I voted for a very right-wing party because I thought they’d get rid of all the brown people”.

The words "migrant", "immigrant" and "expat" were not used interchangeably.  White British people, even if they permanently moved somewhere, were expats. Never migrants. Non-Anglo-Saxon folk were always migrants. Interestingly, the word immigrant applied in the office to non-white folk who were born in Britain and never immigrated. (@DanKaszeta)

A rancid thug was heard hurling racist abuse outside an Indian takeaway in Flintshire. (@marmitemarmz)

The "migrant crisis" is entirely because white people get mithered when they see too many brown people. (@Mc_Heckin_Duff)

"I just prefer small government and liberty" is a very roundabout way of saying you want to bring back slavery. Just say it plain. (@AmyDentata)

“Controversial academic” (read: unrepentant eugenicist) Charles Murray’s new book Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class dropped yesterday. (@ztsamudzi)

“Not very pretty” and “outspoken” – how Nigel Farage describes Boris writing about “bumboys” and “piccaninnies”. When asked about limiting such language, he says that if we went “down that road” we’d end up with nobody in power at all. (Dec 3 2019)

It is nothing less than a triumph of political correctness – and a damned fine thing that is, too. The freedom traditionalists often claim to speak of strikes me as more like claiming the freedom to be horrible about people who are in some way different from them. (Robert Crampton Times April 2016)

Journalists! Refugees are people. Not water. People DON’T “flow”, “flood” or “swamp”. People “move”, “walk”, “ride”, “run” and “flee”. (@SimonFRCox)

Patel going 'north London elite' which is code for something. I wonder what. (@WhenIsBirths)
Is this like the “New York sense of humour” from The West Wing? (@unamccormack)

(In her speech to the Tory conference last week the home secretary, Priti Patel, pledged to “end the free movement of people once and for all”. The applause was lacklustre but she could barely contain her glee as she added, as a daughter of immigrants, she would take no lectures from the “north London metropolitan liberal elite”. Guardian 2019)

Cool how being against “PC culture” (a zombie word from the 80s/90s) is now a euphemism for “is a white supremacist”. (@ryanaboyd)

More euphemisms here, and links to the rest.

And there's a whole book of them here.

Monday 20 April 2020

Fun Lockdown Game


You take the letters from your Scrabble set and spread them all out face down, and each player takes a roughly equal share. No one knows what their letters are.

Then, taking it in turn, the players turn their letters over, one by one, placing them in the playing area where everyone can see them. The sequence of letters is therefore random, eg x, q, m, w etc.

If a player overturns a new letter that could be added to any of the letters already displayed, they call out the word (for example, if Lucy turned over an i, James might call out "Mix", and move the completed word to his area.)

Completed words must have at least 3 letters. New words can be made from the letters displayed as well as from those that James has won. If a player seizes a word from an opponent, they must use all the letters in it in their new word.

Players continue to turn up letters, z, v, e, d... at which point Lucy cries out ,"Mixed", and makes the word for herself, capturing the letters m, i , x from James's store.

The game continues ... b, u, f, n ... at which point Anne-Marie calls out "Unmixed," and seizes the word from Lucy.

The game continues, with people making words from the tiles upturned on the playing area and from words seized from each other. At the end of the game, the number of completed words each player has is added up for their score, as follows: words of 3 letters count 1, 4 letters count 2, 5 letters 3 etc.

Unlike regular Scrabble, you pay no attention to the value of each letter as shown on the tile, eg q = 10 etc.

It is important to guard your completed words from being grabbed by others. Had James cried "Mixed! " before Lucy, he could have saved his original word, and increased its length and score.

Have fun!

Wednesday 15 April 2020

What I Don't Miss About the 50s 11

I certainly don't miss the rigidity and class-ridden aspects of society; just as I also don't miss the corruption and overt criminality of many who abused their public offices.
 (Robert Neuschul)

I don't miss saving shillings and pennies for the gas meter, the milk machine, the public loo, early ticket machines (no change given).

In 2019, dominance, arrogance, aggressiveness, and egocentricity are out. In are: integrity, honesty, and the ability to recognise stress in yourself and your effect on others. The modern NHS is a place where employment practices and bedside manners are much changed from the depictions in the Carry On films and the Doctor at Large films. But then society is unrecognisable. Some may say political correctness has gone mad. But one cannot respect women and have a degree of humanity in our health service without drawing a line. It was really bullying and harassment by any other name. (Helena Sage on

Abrasive” people were said to have “a good heart” or “be really nice deep down”. Somehow this excused their unpleasant, bullying behaviour. And it spread the idea that you could still be thought “nice” while being perfectly foul to everybody in your orbit.

There is a chemist’s shop at Marble Arch that is open [on Sundays], but only for prescribed medications. (David Plante, Becoming a Londoner. No other shops were open on a Sunday.)

Marianne Ihlen was a product of 1940s and 50s Norway, and this general culture of self-effacement: “Don’t stick out, don’t make yourself too different, be like everybody else, and just be nice.” (Daily Telegraph on Leonard Cohen and his girlfriend)

It was still assumed that women could have a husband and family OR a profession, but not both.

Animals didn’t have emotions or intelligence – they operated entirely on “instinct”. This meant we could do what we liked with them. Though oddly in the 70s and 80s I was told that humans operated almost entirely on “instinct”, and this was more important and interesting than boring old planning and decision-making, which nobody talked about much. But they must have DONE it. (This mindset is still with us.)

Human emotions, “being upset” – as we were too middle-class to say – were apologised for as “sentimental”.

Someone points out that nobody talked about death, so many didn’t make wills. Also, into the 60s, in some couples the man organised everything – but then he died, and his widow had never written a cheque or read a bank statement. (My mother never knew how much my father earned.)

People called each other “old dear”, affectionately or sarcastically.

You couldn’t use lip balm because “once you start you can’t stop”. Fear of self-medication extended to Bandaids. You weren't supposed to put them on blisters. Grazes didn’t “deserve” a plaster, and anyway fresh air was better for them. (Dressings keep out germs.) There was some reason why you didn’t put antiseptic on grazes, either. It was self-indulgent, or too expensive, or too modern, or vulgar, or something. Agatha Christie writes disparagingly of the "hygienic mother".

Dim, overhead 40-watt bulbs “saved money”.

You were supposed to have a bath in five inches of tepid water because that’s what George VI did during the war. This idea persisted into the 60s, and people still thought that hot baths were somehow “bad for you”. Deodorant was definitely bad for you in the 70s when the feminists thought all toiletries were a capitalist plot. It was obligatory in the 60s, but not talked about. Embarrassment about bodily functions extended to washing.

A doctor in the 50s separated orphaned twins and triplets “for their own good”, because they’d get their foster parents’ full attention. In the 70s, a set of triplets found each other, were overjoyed, moved in together, started a restaurant. Then one took his own life, and the others parted. The doctor still thinks he did the right thing. One of his colleagues studied the separated twins and triplets (nature or nurture?), and never told them they had siblings. The remaining triplets are incredulous over these doctors’ high-handedness.

Adopted children were told nothing about their biological parents, and had no way of contacting them. Again, because this would be “better for them”. Adults weren't quite sure if a child was a tabula rasa (blank slate) or might inherit "bad blood" from low-class or even criminal parents. (This is another idea discussed in the novels of Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham.)

Children were said to be “ex and shoff” – “excited and showing off”. Any exuberant behaviour in small children was “showing off”, or trying to attract attention. It was met with a slow headshake and “There’ll be tears before bedtime”. (It’s now labelled “hyperactivity”, blamed on sugar intake, and medicated. Is this an improvement?)

"If we pretend difference doesn't exist, it'll go away." Left-handers were made to write with their right hand, and forbidden to turn the book.

Parenting” was not a word.

At primary school we made plasticine maps of Australia (the Murray-Darling basin) and learned about the Great Lakes in Canada. We had colouring books with pictures of Drake, Raleigh and that bloke who gave Queen Elizabeth a narwhal’s tusk (Martin Frobisher). They were our heroes, but why? Empire Day had passed by my day, but only just. There were still maps round the walls showing the Empire in red. The school was co-ed up to the age of 7 or 8. Then the boys disappeared to single-sex boarding schools.

Laughing at disasters that happened to other people was routine. When I didn't laugh, I was accused of having no sense of humour. Perhaps they were trying to train me not to mind being laughed at, by forcing me to laugh at other unfortunates. But if the victims didn’t mind – and we were told not to – what was the point of laughing at them?

An older colleague agreed that in the 50s “introspection” was “self-indulgent” or “morbid”. You couldn’t organise your thoughts because you weren’t supposed to have any. You couldn’t talk about your feelings even to yourself. You were supposed to put on a bright smile and get on with it. You felt guilty about “inner speaking”. So you couldn’t take an audit, ask yourself “Am I happy? If not why not?” You weren’t supposed to research direct, practical solutions to problems. It was the “don’t think about it and it will go away” principle. (This attitude hung around.)

And if we don’t say the word, it doesn’t exist. We won’t say the word “shy”, because as long as children don't think they're shy, they won't be. (I worked this out aged 4. I'm still shy.)

Bullies’ victims “minded” because they were “hypersensitive”. Solution: “grow a thicker skin”. It was  never "stopping the bullies". The victim’s only ploy was to claim that being sensitive enabled them to appreciate art and sunsets, because they had “one skin too few”. This sickly pose impressed nobody.

What's really changed is that we don't tolerate unhappiness like we used to. In the good old days if children were unhappy that was just tough. They'd grow out of it. Or "we always lose a few". "Not everyone is meant to be happy." And there was always some reason why it was OK for you to be unhappy. And some reason why you shouldn’t try to be happy. (Depressingly, this one lingers on. But we have reclassified unhappiness in children as "mental illness". And if you "aren't meant" to be happy, who has decided this? Who doesn't mean you to be happy?)

50s FOOD
One should always be a little bit hungry and a little bit cold. (Margaret Thatcher)

Our parents restricted sweet food because they thought they could train us not to like it. Liking sweet things was called “having a sweet tooth”. We only allowed vanilla ice cream in a block, and when yoghourt came in we were only allowed the unflavoured variety – without sugar.

We never had snacks, only dreary mealtimes. We were amazed that our cousins drank lemonade or orangeade with every meal, instead of just at birthday parties. We just had tepid water that tasted of chlorine – and even that was begrudged, as adults thought it would stop us eating the vile food. Meals appeared at set times, and you had to finish everything on your plate. I wasn’t aware of feeling hungry. Eating was a chore. Food was almost a punishment, not a pleasure. Children weren’t supposed to like or dislike any food, and certainly weren't allowed to choose what they ate, while adults went on about delicious gourmet foreign dishes.

There were a few 50s treats that have vanished: lardy cake, Sally Lunn buns, cinnamon toast, dripping toast, cod’s roe on toast.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 13 April 2020

Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer

Not a bad yarn, but I found the snobbery and period attitudes far more interesting than the plot. The story takes place in an English village just after the war, and the victim is an unpopular social climber. The inhabitants are trying to continue prewar life by giving tennis parties and discussing whether certain people are “received”. Times have changed, and there’s a Pole in their midst.

“I believe he’s quite all right – I mean, his father is supposed to have had estates in Poland, and that sort of thing – one never knows with foreigners, does one? Actually, I met him at the Lindales’, but, of course, he isn’t generally received,” says Mrs Midgeholme, who dotes on her many Pekinese dogs.

Why do the Thornden residents give themselves such airs? The village “could boast of no green... but it contained, in addition to several houses built in more elegant ages, which any house-agent would have described as gentlemen’s residences, a good many half-timbered cottages of honest antiquity.” Besides the 16th century Old Place, there is a "rose-red gem in the High Street", a "solid Georgian mansion", the victim's "rather older but less important house", and an “old-world and extremely inconvenient cottage”. The village also has a “common” – waste ground with gravel pits, benches and gorse bushes.

The houses are detailed not just to indicate the cast’s place in the pecking-order, but to help the reader work out who could have done the murder. “Henry Haswell had bought The Cedars in a dilapidated condition from the last surviving member of a very old County family; and... it was ironic and faintly displeasing that he should have set it in order, and done away with all the hideous anachronisms (including a conservatory built to lead out of the drawing-room, and chocolate-painted lincrusta walton lining the hall and staircase.” Washable embossed Lincrusta wallpaper was some 50 years out of date, and out of place in a “lovely” house at least 150 years old. It is ironic that Mr Haswell has done the right thing with the interior because he is NOT a member of an old County family.

The victim is “not by any means a pukka sahib, as we used to say in the old days”, and he’s thought to be living in a house above his station. He has one servant, and an attendant niece, because he’s incapable of so much as making himself a cup of tea. He’s called “underbred” for trying to find out information indirectly: “He was the most inquisitive man – and quite unsnubbable!”

Other period features: one of the characters “lives off her nerves”, while a typist lays claims to being “high-strung”. The first is acceptable, the second an affectation. Another girl believes in “facing up to unpleasant things”, an attitude dismissed as “frightfully pi”. There’s a young couple who quote tags of poetry to each other. Sightseers announce their presence with “uncultured voices”.

A bath with a shower attachment is dismissed as “old-fashioned”, a housekeeper bangs a gong for dinner, the local inn has feather mattresses on the beds. The inn has not been updated since the 1910s. As well as horsehair chairs and a massive mahogany sideboard “supporting an aspidistra and a biscuit-tin commemorating the coronation of Edward VII”, there are “steel engravings” and “a tall vase full of pampas-grass”.

The two detectives, Hemingway and Harbottle, are not all that memorable, but they exchange some witty dialogue. This case has class, admits Hemingway. “It isn’t every day you get a murder amongst a lot of nice, respectable people living in a country village.” (I don't know where else you'd find a village.)

After the murder, the Peke-owning Mrs Midgeholme appears “resplendent in lilac foulard”, while the victim’s niece, not being one of those who believe that a wardrobe should contain at least one “Good Black Frock”, is in unbecoming slate grey.

“They didn’t feel it was their duty to be neighbourly to those ghastly people who evacuated themselves here from London during the blitz, and took Thornden House for the duration!”

“No, but that was different. They weren’t permanent residents, and they got things on the Black Market. You couldn’t expect the Ainstables to have anything to do with them!”

I’m afraid I skipped a lot of the working-out, and conversations with a tedious old rustic who haunts the common. But it's a good read, and funny for a lot of the wrong reasons.

More detection here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 12 April 2020

Grammar: Clichés 5

In the noughts and teens, the popular word "corrosive" was used to mean practically anything. It has rather gone out now.

We neutralize the corrosive bourgeois preoccupation with luxury that can so often threaten the creativity which drives real fashion. (Gloss, via Slate Sept 2013)

The European Central Bank’s decision to raise rates to 1.25% – to stop Germany’s economy overheating – could have “a deeply corrosive impact on the euro’s long-term future”, agreed Heather Stewart in The Observer. (April 2011)

Excessive remuneration packages for executives can be corrosive. Such schemes should be put to a vote. (Guardian headline 30 Aug 01. In the text, “Uncontrolled excessive pay can be socially corrosive and undermine morale”.

The hounding of politicians by a cynical and corrosive media is a disaster for democracy. (Guardian 10/28/2002)

A single item was on the agenda: how to deal with the corrosive allegations arising from the collapse of the Paul Burrell trial. (Independent Nov 16 02)

It is four years of corrosive Bush Middle East policies, coming on top of decades of US incompetence and missed opportunities. (Arab News May 6 2004)

The systematic spread of political correctness has a corrosive effect on our society. (Michael Howard Aug 2004)

Much of modern television is not only bad but socially corrosive, coarsening and brutalising viewers through its obsessions with sex, aggression and voyeurism, John Humphrys, the broadcaster, has declared. (Telegraph website August 28, 2004)

Isn’t it lazy or corrosive to slam a person or a thing just because they happen to have a public dimension? (Times June 4, 2005)

The importation of New World gold into Spain coincided with a corrosive inflation that has come to be known as the "price revolution". (

As yet there are no political parties, raising fears that voting blocs will form along corrosive tribal lines. (Guardian Dec 19 2005)

The fact that the sea is presided over by lunatics who believe there should be commercial fishing in 100% of the sea breeds a culture that is corrosive. (Charles Clover, 2006)

People thinking they have a right to drink on the tube "is corrosive to society ... Most corrosive of all is the welfare culture.” (Anthony Browne, head of Policy Exchange)

Caroline Spelman, shadow Communities & Local Government secretary, said: "This is a Whitehall farce at taxpayers' expense. Taxes have gone through the roof under Labour, and examples like these show how the public's money has been squandered on vanity ministerial projects and a corrosive culture of spin. (Public Servant Daily 2009)

Fake news is calculated and corrosive. (BBC Feb 2019. They may have a point.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 10 April 2020

Who Are the Metropolitan Elites?

Downing Street has questioned the future of the licence fee and complained about the BBC’s General Election coverage, saying it spoke ‘to a pro-Remain metropolitan bubble in Islington, not the real world represented by Wakefield and Workington’. (Daily Mail 2019. Surely the real world contains both Wakefield and Islington?)

Those who use the word “metropolitan” are oddly cagey about its meaning. If pushed, they complain you are being “over-literal”. In 2020 Allison Pearson, who writes for the Daily Telegraph, complains that the “metropolitan media class” will never understand the people’s genuine love for Boris Johnson, a Londoner and former journalist.

I suspect that “metropolitan”, which sounds a bit like “multicultural” and also “cosmopolitan”, means “too tolerant, not racist enough, left-wing”. Middle-class Londonistas either dwell among the city’s diverse occupants, or can afford to live in whites-only enclaves – because isn’t that what anybody would do if they had the money? There may even be some truth in that.

The word “metropolitan” is often coupled with “elite”. We borrowed the word from the Russians and now use “elites” to mean “rulers”. In the US, “Eastern elites, coastal elites” are bleeding-heart liberals. In the UK, the “metropolitan, liberal elite” are the Marxists who control everything, according to the rich conservatives who actually do run the country. They are the 48% who voted against Brexit.

Metropolitan elites have metropolitan values and live in bubbles: lefty areas like North London that are sealed off from the rest of the UK. In fact, these areas are not really part of the UK. If only those out-of-touch lefties would get in contact with ordinary right-wing racists they might learn some sense. But they live in an echo chamber where indoctrination can’t reach them. All this means that their views can be discounted – they are not the “people”.

Have I missed anything?

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Protest Never Changed Anything 2

Gibbs Green

1989 Poll Tax riots (The per-capita "Community Charge" was replaced by Council Tax.)

1932 The Kinder Scout mass trespass gained the right to roam, enshrined in UK law in 2000 in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

1963 Bristol Bus Boycott. Buses were boycotted for refusing to employ Indian and West Indian crews. The Bristol Omnibus company lost.

Nov 2019 After protests, private firms are selling West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates to the council, instead of demolishing them and building investment flats.

The wilder excesses of ‘traffic modernism’ (often with city hall approval) had insane plans to rip up historic city centres & replace them with ‘motorway boxes’ and the like. Fortunately popular revulsion at these dystopian visions normally stopped them in their tracks. (@createstreets)

They tried to make everyone hot desk in a previous job. It failed, because if the managers weren't doing it, us workers weren't either. (via Facebook)

Protesters in Russia have won a rare victory against the authorities by forcing them to back down over a plan to build a cathedral in a city park (in Yekaterinburg). (Times 2019)

I am unsure of the reasons given, but following complaints by female staff the system of unisex loos [in the office] was abandoned in favour of a more conventional arrangement. (JP. I hope the Home Office and the Times have seen the light.)

2019 Brunei abandons death penalty by stoning for gay sex after international outcry.

Oct 2018 Plans for Clifford’s Tower visitor centre scrapped after outcry.
Aug 2018 Former Sheffield Coroner’s Court saved after protests.

May 2018 Stoke Newington RAF cadets squadron saved from closure after protests. (Text mentions “huge backlash”.)

On this May Day, think of all that workers' organising has made possible across time and space! The eight hour day, an end to child labor, safety protections, and much more. Honour those in past and present fighting for full rights! (@Greeneland)

1956 Mass protest is how the SA Women's Federation tackled the pass laws under apartheid - thousands of women marched into police stations without their passes and demanded to be arrested.  It worked - govt backed down. (@radicalhag. They also held a mass march to government buildings and stood in silence for half an hour.)

The protests were specifically from the residents who lived in the houses facing the new motorway - the houses in Acklam Road were only a handful of feet away from the traffic. Eventually, the residents were rehoused and the houses demolished, but only after the protests. (NW. The houses had a banner stretched across them reading GET US OUT OF THIS HELL, clearly visible from the motorway.)

Jan 2018 Theresa May abandons vote on overturning fox hunting ban after opposition from the public.

In the mid 1980s, Thames Water planned to offload its 'redundant' reservoirs and filter beds in Stoke Newington and sell them for development. This sparked a local campaign that eventually helped to secure the preservation of the East and West Reservoirs. @HistoryOfStokey

Nov 2017 Another giant developer has thrown in the towel in the face of East London’s “people power” with the fourth big building scheme within just six months being withdrawn. (East London Advertiser)

To some extent it's a story we've seen repeated across almost every UK city at about the same time - over-reaching plans for absurd and unaffordable comprehensive redevelopment halted by a resistance which demonstrates an alternative is possible. That was common at the end of the 1960s/start of the 1970s, helped by a 60s wave of nostalgia for, e.g Victoriana by the likes of the Beatles and Kinks. Conservation became sexy, a youth thing. Also another familiar thing there - buildings were seen as worthless, even by their inhabitants, because they were so DIRTY. It's incredible how often buildings are demolished when all they need is cleaning and refurbishing and it still goes on today - you'll hear the same arguments advanced for the demolition of perfectly sound blocks of council homes, for instance. Of course the people with most to gain from demolish-and-rebuild are always developers and corrupt officials, seldom the residents. Politicians love demolition too because it looks like they are doing something, when often they are worsening a situation. But I hadn't known how significant the storm of '68 had been in Glasgow in providing a two-year pause for a rethink at the crucial moment. And the solution was so simple! Reorganise the tenements internally, insert bathrooms, job done. Not that cities such as Glasgow, Liverpool and many others aren't still needlessly demolishing perfectly good buildings... Remember New Labour's "Pathfinder" programme which was just comprehensive redevelopment under a new name? Indeed, we need a new Resistance now because the protections afforded by conservation legislation, green belts, national parks etc are all under direct threat, and frequently just ignored by local authorities desperate to meet nationally-imposed housebuilding targets. We have been this way before. (Hugh Pearman, editor of the RIBA Journal)

Since I've followed James Wong, I've had to rethink many of my beliefs/principles. That's what Twitter is great for. Educating. Challenging. (@ConsultantMicro. See also “Argument never changed anybody’s mind”.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Grammar: Howlers 19

One aurochs

Buttoned-down personality
 for buttoned-up. American? You button up your overcoat – only a collar is buttoned-down. A buttoned-up personality is clothed to the neck. Perhaps affected by “batten down the hatches”.

Under their watch (It’s a “watch” of several hours on a ship, where you are “on watch”. And you don’t want anything adverse to happen “on your watch”. It’s not like “under your eyes”.)

When you chose to glamourise and enthral when MEP candidates were attacked last year, in stead of condoning it, you laid the moral compass directly at your own feet. If you propergate violence, don't act shocked when you're on the end of exactly the same abuse. (Via Twitter. Not sure what is meant by “enthral”. Condemning, not condoning (means the opposite). A moral compass shows which direction you should travel in.)

This time of year is rife for sheep getting on their backs and not being able to get up again. (Confusing "ripe" meaning ready, and "rife" meaning abundant.)

cheaper running costs (lower running costs, cheaper running)
temperatures are warming (Temperatures are rising, the world is warming.)

Farage uses blatant sexism, homophobia and hate to insight the uneducated to violence. (incite, yougov commenter)

Therapy speak isn’t just dispelled by therapists... it comes from advice columnists, self-care advocates and celebrities, too. (, dispensed)

Meanwhile, historians, for their part, largely shrank back from the challenge of allowing so longue a durée to cast its dauntingly attenuated shadow over their discipline, “fashioning instead a view of history that begins with the rise of civilization,” and accepting “prehistory” as a kind of conceptual “buffer zone.” (Paris Review. Surely the writer means something like “extended” or “protracted” – the opposite of “attenuated”.)

Jo Swinson is a one-trip pony. (It’s “trick”, from the days when circus ponies did tricks.)

past-time for pastime (It’s something that passes the time.)
come to past for come to pass or happen (Probably from the Bible.)

Slavery was wildly condemned at the time. (widely)

The vast terra infirma of female desire. (The NYT means “terra incognita” – unknown region – not “terra firma”, or solid ground.)

Unfortunately, he was killed after a long and drawn out siege on the castle and the structure laid in ruin. ( Long-drawn-out, the structure lay in ruins.)

The rhino is an endangered specie in Africa.
A massive horned auroch in its death throes can cause fatal damage to a wolf. 
(Times 2018)
“Aurochs” is singular. (Ein Aurochs, zwei Aurochse.) So are "species", "Homo sapiens" and "kudos".

Wring the changes (It’s from change-ringing – the bizarre mathematical English method of bell-ringing.)

In a reprisal of some of the arguments of the past... ( A reprisal is a retaliatory attack. “Reprise” is meant.)

She would have the fashionable coiffeur of the day. (A coiffure is created by a coiffeur, or hairdresser.)

I dislike it when the victims are ignored and I have only read a couple of monograms about two of them. (Via Twitter, monograph)

...slips of yew, Silver'd in the moon's eclipse (From a site explicating the witch’s speech from Macbeth. That’s slivered, meaning cut or picked.)

The Mail on Sunday has a coruscating attack on Jeremy Corbyn. (Andrew Marr. He means “excoriating”. "Coruscating" means "sparkling".)

It is the genteel society magazine famed for its adverts for well-heeled nannies that has been at the centre of a bitter dynastic row for almost a decade. (Jonathan Prynn, Times Jan 2019, on The Lady. The employers are “well-heeled” (rich), not their nannies, who work for a salary.)

So begins an incantation that started life on the lips of a Sumerian sorcerer six or seven millennia ago, before being penned into a clay tablet in the seventh century BC. ( You use a pen to write in ink on parchment or paper. Cuneiform writing was impressed into a wet clay tablet by a stylus.)

People should dispense themselves of the notion that when they sit down to reason a problem through carefully, the act of doing so automatically shields them from the effects of political bias. (via Twitter, rid themselves)

“Bored of”... we have less shrift with “bored with/by,” we say, “not of”. (Rose Wild in the Times, talking about the Times style guide. When you confess your sins, you are “shriven” – given absolution. The priest has a choice between a long and a short formula, hence "given short shrift".)

The ever-constant ebb of tourists flocking the National Monument in Jakarta Pusat (When tides “ebb”, they go out. You mean “flow” of tourists flocking “to” the monument. You’ve mixed your metaphors (tides, sheep), but never mind that for the moment.)

Selena Gomez is actually glowing in this affordable slip. (Teen Vogue)

If you sold some of those pales's that we the people pay to up keep, and the riches that you haven't seen in years stored away in volts, also some of the 6.6 billion acres of land that you own. You could truly walk your talk. (A youtube commenter on the Queen’s Christmas message.)
The phrase was banded about. Bandied about – as in batted from hand to hand. (Do you dare to bandy words with me, sir?)

Fulsome, existential, enormity – as you were. They originally meant “lots, about existence, hugeness”, and we’re returning to the first meanings.

It’s NUL points, NUL points, not nil points, NUL points...

Grammar: Howlers 18

Please pay your parking fee before existing. All these howlers have been spotted in the wild.

proper gander
for propaganda (Daily Mail comments)
indigent for indigenous
iistening consul for console
It’s the end of an error! (Era.)
deem for deign
hypercourse for hypocaust

misnomer for anathema
(These things are a misnomer for the Amish.)
verse or verses for versus
dicky bag for ditty bag (Amazon)
remanence for remnants (like it)
castigated for categorized
right-off for write-off

illustrious colours for lustrous

on tenderhooks (It’s tenterhooks – something to do with stretching cloth to dry it.)
motherload (It’s “motherlode” – a lode is a mineral-bearing seam of rock.)
Fiancé for faïence (It's a kind of pottery.)
The left parotid Putin’s propaganda. (Predictive text – parroted.)
High Noon has been a stable of broadcast television for decades. (Staple, as in staple food.)

A small pitcher of au jus.
(“Au jus” means “with a sauce”.)
mandarines for bureaucrats (Mandarins)
Manganese modules litter the ocean floor.

hors devours for hors d’oeuvres
court gesture (jester)
flint nodual (nodule)
full-throated for whole-hearted

conscious for conscience
mental health illness
fait accomplice for fait accomplis
domentisied for demonetised

Low and behold!

banzai tree for bonsai
crouton for cretin (May be spellchecker error.)
devestating, devistating (devastating)
dementure for dementia

spatchcock for shoehorn in or patch together
dupe for ruse (Holmes uses a clever dupe...)
soya glassay ice cream (glacé)

pled allegiance for pledged allegiance
epsilon for ellipsis (Spellchecker?)
nasal gazing for navel gazing 
phenomena for pneumonia
fragrant for flagrant

bi election for bye election

signalling out for singling out
forget-me-knots (Forget me not!)
with all drew respect... (due)
the pity bourgeoisie (petty)
Oh well, fairly dos!

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 6 April 2020

Outdated and Mysterious Stereotypes 4

Some stereotypes just don't travel.
A place that makes your car stop working is the most Wisconsin urban legend I've ever heard in my life. (@BlueBear2487)

People in North Atlanta usually remain quiet when faced with social conflicts or are passive aggressive. It is an attempt to be a “Southern Lady”. In a light hearted stereotype, people on the south side will tell you how they feel. (MK)

Apparently TERFs wear chunky bangs. When a Pokemon character cut its hair into a fringe, someone commented that he now looked like someone who “shops at Whole Foods”. “Short bangs kind of come out of a reactionary or revolutionary standpoint, and if you look back in history, from Joan of Arc to Louise Brooks in the 1920s to Betty Page and the sexuality she represented to women with Chelsea cuts, bangs have always represented physical defiance,” says a hairdresser. (2019. A Chelsea cut is "a short haircut for women where the side burns and the fringes are long and the main portions features clippered hair", says the Web.)

French cartoon of Nicola Sturgeon: she’s wearing a kilt and Scotch bonnet, her arms crossed, a bagpipe on the ground, a Scottish flag, and a helpful road sign reading “L’Ecosse”.

I supposed I’d do what the heroines of novels did when they crossed the pond for a new life: go to the shore to take the healing air. Meet a man and move into his stunning manor, possibly watched over by a sinister housemaid. Scurry through cobblestoned streets and into dusty bookshops, furtively pulling up the hood of my cloak. Go to a banquet and dance to piano music in a great hall... shoot a bow and arrow. Develop a slight accent... (Lena Dunham goes to Wales for the summer)

For Halloween 2013, Rihanna dressed up in classic chola style — thin arched eyebrows, flannel shirt buttoned at the top, gold hoop earrings, baggy khakis — associated with a modern subculture of Mexican American women with roots in the denigrated working classes of the 1960s. (Good Housekeeping. A "chola" is "a young woman belonging to a Mexican-American urban subculture associated with street gangs".)

If all you know about a group of people is from a lame joke (like the one about the two Belgian guys in a truck at a bridge), what might be the consequence? A little (trivial) knowledge is a dangerous thing. (@koenfucius. He goes on to say that playground jokes painted the Dutch as stingy, the Belgians as dim. The two guys in a 5m truck go under the 4.5m bridge because “there are no police around”.)

There's a tendency for any caricature (of “entitled millennials”, “pretentious artists” or “champagne socialists”) to become a half-remembered parody of the aristocracy (“OK, yah?”). And you have to drag in a reference to food: avocado, latte-sipping, quinoa. Lefties are all hippies who eat quinoa and hug trees.

"Tallulah, Tamara and Samantha... glue themselves to trains... and then go home to their nice middle-class homes in Epsom and go on holiday to Barcelona." Said a man on Sunday Morning Live, stereotyping climate activists. (July 28 2019)

Sarah Shaw points out that every time a journalist writes “Here’s one librarian who’s breaking down the stereotype of the stern lady in a tweed skirt and flyaway glasses saying ‘Sh!’” they perpetuate the stereotype.

A journalist is surprised that a neo-Nazi is “dapper”.

“Were YOU born before 1960?” (Picture of white haired, wrinkly 90-year-old.))

In cartoons and ads, “Grannies” are shown with white perms, baggy cardies, calf-length tweed skirts, tan tights and flat shoes. Or else they're even more out of date in shapeless mid-calf black dresses, black stockings, frilly long-leg bloomers, glasses, no makeup, and grey hair in a knot.

My bugbear is that one of a grey-haired couple in perfectly ironed linen prancing around on an improbably perfect beach... I think the picture desk has finally taken on board the appeal of the reader who wrote “Could they consider NOT running a picture of wrinkled crossed hands peeping out from a raggedy unfashionable cardigan on a lap (probably resting on a patchwork square blanket) every time the story is about the over-sixties?” (Rose Wild Times April 2018)

Albert Finney in Murder on the Orient Express plays Poirot as a “hysterical Italian”, says a mystery fan on Facebook. He adds that contemporary mystery novels by non-Italian writers set in Italy make all Italians Sicilians: voluble, excitable, emotional, hand-waving. In his area, Piedmont, peasants are hard-working, thrifty and suspicious and not “Sicilian” at all. (But the people he describes are a stereotype of peasants everywhere! Keep themselves to themselves, suspicious of outsiders etc.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Grammar: Similes 7

In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell warned against using a metaphor or simile you'd heard before.

A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow... An accumulation of stale phrases choke him like tealeaves blocking a sink... Phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse. (George Orwell, Politics and the English Language)

Justin Bieber’s house looks like a New Labour-era college campus built on PFI money(@J_Bloodworth. “Suburban office park”, adds Adam Nathaniel Furman.)

The Brexit Party is starting to look like:
A bad pantomime
The Star Wars cantina
A Petri dish culture

With the arrival of Ann Widdecombe the Brexit Party candidates increasingly resemble the staff of a nightmarish Dickensian boarding school. (@thewritertype)

Negotiating Brexit has proven to be like trying to ride a bicycle up a sand dune. (@samsandercock)
The UK Brexit plan “could fall apart at first tap like a chocolate orange”. (Sir Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 2017)

[Of a musical saw] It’s like a ghost singing. (youtube)

Knuckles lifted a fistful of crisps to his mouth and a sound emerged like an army marching through a field of dead bracken. (John Mortimer)

Number 3, Lauriston Gardens... looked out with three tiers of vacant melancholy windows, which were blank and dreary, save that here and there a "To Let" card had developed like a cataract upon the bleared panes. (Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet)

Mah Jong – a cross between gin rummy and Lego. (JL)

Me, just now, to the cat: "Come out, I know you're under there. I can hear you snuffling and grunting like a werewolf in a cheap horror movie." (MO'B)

Wales: like driving across a jigsaw puzzle box cover. (TJ)

You look like you drove through a thrift shop in an open car. (Or “ran through Christina Aguillera’s wardrobe covered in glue”.)

Like being trapped in a "drizzly, dark-grey, lukewarm sandwich". (Andrew Marr on the weather)

Today in 1066 King Edward the Confessor died without an heir. What followed makes Game of Thrones look like a game of musical chairs. (Dan Snow)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 3 April 2020

Urban Legends about Shipwrecks

BLACK PEOPLE IN GEORGIA Descend from Africans who swam ashore when a slave ship foundered.

CHINESE VILLAGE IN MONTEREY The inhabitants descend from survivors of a shipwreck.

CROFT CASTLE The famous chestnut avenue was grown from nuts salvaged from the wrecked ships of the Spanish Armada.

DARK-SKINNED IRISH PEOPLE The inhabitants of Ireland and Cornwall are dark because they are the descendants of shipwrecked Spaniards from the Armada or Phoenician tin-traders. This explains the “Black Irish”.

ETON COLLEGE The school benches are made from wood salvaged from the wrecked ships of the Spanish Armada.

FAIRISLE JERSEYS The patterns were brought to the island by shipwrecked sailors from the Spanish Armada. (A Spanish ship was wrecked on the island, but the patterns are probably from Scandinavia. It is well-documented that the Spanish sailors were rescued by the islanders, looked after, and sent home.)

FAIR-SKINNED PAKISTANIS Descend from Alexander the Great’s army. (The DNA evidence does not bear this out.)

JEWS IN INDIA Descend from passengers who swam ashore after a shipwreck. (There is a well-trodden trade route from the Middle East to India.)

LEWIS CHESSMEN buried in a sand-dune by a shipwrecked merchant to avoid taxes.

MELUNGEONS These dark-skinned Appalachian Mountain inhabitants descend from shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. (Their origins are mysterious.)

POTATOES Washed ashore on the West Coast of Ireland from a Spanish Armada shipwreck.

WOLVES The wolf shot and stuffed in Scotland in 1848, long after the beasts became extinct in the UK, may have swum ashore from a shipwreck.

Survivors of the Armada were rounded up as prisoners of war and repatriated. In Ireland, there were few survivors, and many were executed, though some escaped to Scotland and eventually reached home. Irish and Scottish people are known for their red hair (they are closely related), but some Irish, Scottish and Welsh people have black hair – there’s no need to look for the “Spanish ancestor” from your family folklore.

Styles and Genres 6


We created our own micro-genre. (DJ on BBC Breakfast. They all sound like “hip-hop” to me.)

There’s a genre of whispering-lightly music that's prevalent in the UK and America. 

bubblegum pop (Songs with tunes.)
80s pseudo smooth jazz (Preferable to the real thing.)
haunted-house piano

verandah dentata (The sort of elaborate front porch structure that surrounds the Bates mansion and other American vernacular buildings with decoratively appealing but terrifying fretwork pointy bits. (Richard William Parker via FB)

contemporary custom Sonoran Desert curvature home (In the US, a “contemporary” is a futuristic house from the 70s or 80s.)

The bland faux industrial look is called "genericana". (EC)

That's what Lille basically is: "an especially ambitious railway hotel". (Martin Lampprecht)

lawyer foyers, garage mahals (found in McMansions)
20s and 30s stripped classicism
municipal council offices chic (commenter on The Bridge)

developer bricky (HP)
anywhere land development
prepostmodernist (RP)
Kentucky Fried Georgian

What to call the current fad for an ordinary 50s office block wrapped in a steel spider-web?

eyebrow acting
peanut gallery (the “gods” in a theatre, the very top tier up near the ceiling)
drawing-room comedy (popular between the wars)

I love whenever people post something out of a 1987 New York stock-trader apartment. That sleek black marble-walled grey countertop vibe. (via FB)

council-estate chic (Melamine tray printed with LIVE LAUGH LOVE and roses.)

French curves (Not a straight line anywhere, everything curved and moulded, even wash-stands.)

cruise-ship luxe 

etagère (wall unit)
white-napkin, white-linen restaurants
Chinese factory art (produced in the 60s and 70s)

tout les Louis
(Disparaging term of the late 19th century.)
big-eye art 
packing-case aesthetic (Karl Renner)
joke oak (Tudorbethan furniture)
hotel art (See decorator’s art and corporate foyer art.)

For beautifully created luxury homes in French, Italian/Mediterranean, Tudor, Tuscan and other traditional and Contemporary styles, you will be pleased by the villa, mansion, castle and even palace-style effects built in character and proportion. (Architect's website)

silkpunk (set in a Chinese/Japanese mythical past)
generic McMagic movie (Ursula K. LeGuin)
peplum movies (like sword-and-sandals)

facile witchy novel/memoir

urban wyrd
reading-group fiction 
hip comedy drama
nunsploitation (The Devils, Call the Midwife)

News-anchor style (US – jade jacket with black lapels, Mao blouse with a bar brooch)

Lord-on-the-board outfit (Firm probably staffed by guys in ties and girls with pearls.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Words of Arabic Origin in English

“Is it your fate to tie macrame while drinking coffee and eating sherbet in a minaret? That would be an unusual destiny, but if it turns out to be your kismet, you will owe much to Turkish and Arabic. We borrowed "kismet" from Turkish in the 1800s ... In the case of "macrame" and "minaret," there is a little French influence as well.” (Merriam-Webster)

alcohol, sugar, tobacco, damask, muslin, arsenal, admiral (via Karl Sharro)

artichoke, carob
magazine (from a word meaning “storehouse”)
ream (of paper)
sumac (spice)
tangerine (Tangier)

(Thank you Ha’aretz.)

The picture shows the minaret in Kingsland Road, which I can see from my window.