Archive for the 'life in britain' Category

One Hundred Things Norman Geras and I Corresponded About Over the Last Decade

October 18th, 2013

Country music (including but not limited to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and its relationship to suicide) — Marxism — The war in Iraq — The case the British government made for the war in Iraq — Media coverage of the war in Iraq — Differences between British and American media coverage of the war in Iraq — Dead socialists (including the question of whether or not Paul Sweezy was in fact dead: he wasn’t when we began corresponding on the question, but later he was) — Favourite novels — University admissions — Boycotts of Israelis — Blog technology issues — The paradox of democracy — Paul “The Thinker” Richards — Defamation law — French headscarves laws — International rugby partisanship — New Zealand and whether it is a dull country — Amnesty International — Italian anti-war demonstrations — Christopher Hitchens — The precise distance from Boulder, CO to Birmingham, AL — My Normblog Profile — The number of Red Sox supporters who have Normblog profiles — Where the Wild Things Are — Bob Dylan — Favourite films – A Mighty Wind — Nashville — Joan Baez — George W. Bush — The Hutton Inquiry — Lucio Colletti — Why the film Life is Beautiful is so terrible — The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Mobile telephones — Cricket — The various ways in which my students used to pronounce the name “Geras” — Rock stars — Exam marking — Arnold Lobel and his Mouse Tales — The Butler report — The Campo de’ Fiori in Rome — Shakespeare plays — Obnoxious right-wing writers (including Mark Steyn and Andrew Bolt) — American airport security checks — Terrorist threats — Socialist Register — The 2004 US Presidential election — Baseball — Visiting Oxford — Thomas Hobbes — Roman libraries — Classical composers (especially Schubert) — Jokes about rational choice theorists — The Tour de France — Etienne Balibar — Favourite actors — The excellence of kittens (and, more generally, cats) — American street names — Wendy Cope — Footnotes in Capital — Umpiring — Passport applications — Margaret Thatcher’s resignation — Margaret Thatcher’s poetry –  Jews for Justice for Palestinians — Chavez and anti-Semitism — Academic plagiarism — David Aaronovitch as marathon runner — x-RCP front organisations — Robert Wokler — Academic jobs — Musicals — Australia — The rubbish-collection regime in Oxford — Tony Judt — Whether or not the Euston Manifesto was part of a “common, hysterical defense of the Anglo-Dutch financial system, and their permanent right to loot the economies of the world” — American practices of memorialization on campus — Flooding in Oxford — The Beatles — Jerry Cohen’s valedictory lecture — The New Left Review — Loyalty oaths — A Dance to the Music of Time — Merton College, Oxford — Visiting Manchester — Critical opinions about America — Puzzles involving marbles — Traffic robots — The Beach Boys — Tony Blair’s relationship with God — Bernard-Henri Levy looking funny in photographs — Authorisations to use military force — John Stuart Mill on international intervention — The Eurovision Song Contest  — Adam Smith — Nick Cohen’s views about torture — Alfred Hitchcock films — The thorny question of whether seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on drugs — The problems of travelling between Oxford and Cambridge.

Biggest regret? In July 2004, Norm wrote, “Might you have an interest in watching a Test or some part of one with me?”, and I never took him up on the suggestion.

His final words of the correspondence, from the start of this month: “My own care from the NHS has been exemplary.”

#chloesmithpoetry

October 4th, 2012

For National Poetry Day, I’ve dredged much of the #chloesmithpoetry out from the depths of my Twitter timeline to archive it here.

People may remember the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Chloe Smith MP, who appeared on Newsnight on 26 June 2012 to defend the Government’s recently-announced delay to the introduction of a planned increase in fuel duty. It is widely reckoned that she didn’t do especially well in the interview–the words “car crash” sprang to many minds, which judged her to be hopelessly out of her depth. Criticism was spread around, to be sure: some found Jeremy Paxman’s interviewing style objectionable; others–well, everyone, actually–thought it cowardly of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, to send the most junior minister he could find into the lion’s mouth, rather than defend the U-turn on television himself.

But in a small corner of Twitter the following day, some of us were more struck by the way in which English literature graduate Chloe Smith’s words lent themselves so easily to poetry, and we started experimenting with the literary form made possible by reflecting on the transcript of the interview in the context of a strict 140-character word limit.

So many thanks to Eleanor Crawford, whose marvellous idea it was, and to the others who joined in. It made me happy for days.

  1. el_crawford: They fall across and in different ways/ And that figure will progress, if you like…/that figure is evolving somewhat. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:34
  2. el_crawford: Two roads diverged in a wood and I-/I took the one less travelled by/And that has helped households and businesses. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:35
  3. el_crawford: For reasons which are interesting in themselves/the figures are interesting in themselves. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:36
  4. chrisbrooke: It’s valuable to help / Real people in this way / And I do think that is valued / By people who drive. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:06
  5. el_crawford: I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox/and which you were probably saving for households and businesses/Forgive me #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 13:11
  6. chrisbrooke: It’s an aggregate figure / If you look at the data / It’s an aggregate figure / And I think that’s what’s important here. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:47
  7. chrisbrooke: On Tuesday’s Newsnight / A slogan was unfurled: / Jeremy, I don’t think many things / Are certain in this world. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:49
  8. thhamilton: In front of Parliament we revealed to Parliament / As is right and proper, by the way, to Parliament / Help #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:07
  9. chrisbrooke: When I am not sure what to think / I find it helps to say / “The figure is evolving somewhat / As per the data today.” #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:16
  10. woodscolt79: We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Listening to families and businesses. Alas! #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:19
  11. chrisbrooke: They do relate / To rather one-off factors / Specifically in terms / Of when some payments were made. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:20
  12. chrisbrooke: I woke up in this morning / And know actually that some of my constituents will really value not having to pay… [etc] #chloesmithblues Wed Jun 27 14:23
  13. chrisbrooke: In a world that we’re facing / Where things are very hard / You have to do what you can / In these hard times. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:28
  14. chrisbrooke: Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold / They fall across / And in different ways. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:32
  15. chrisbrooke: We had a collective discussion / Of that in due course / Although I can’t tell you / The ins and the outs. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:47
  16. chrisbrooke: Households and businesses / Families and businesses / Households and businesses / And families. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 15:02
  17. ejhchess: It doesn’t matter if you’re shite / You’ll get support from Michael White #chloesmithpoetry #sortof Wed Jun 27 15:20
  18. chrisbrooke: As Chloe Smith was fumbling with fuel duty / Old Aaro, watching, thought, “You gorgeous beauty.” #chloesmithpoetry https://t.co/RYsfh1IK Wed Jun 27 15:24
  19. chrisbrooke: The question being asked in May / Was about full cancellation /But as you’ll be aware today / We’re talking about deferral #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 15:39
  20. chrisbrooke: That is of interest perhaps / In a different conversation / But the fact is here / We are sticking to the overall plan. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:05
  21. chrisbrooke: It’s not just a Westminster Village / Story, Jeremy / It’s real money / In real people’s pockets. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:12
  22. el_crawford: @chrisbrooke I find her turn of phrase Audenesque. Almost chillingly so. Wed Jun 27 16:15
  23. chrisbrooke: As a Minister / In the Treasury / I’ve been involved in the discussions for some time / As a Minister in the Treasury #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:15
  24. chrisbrooke @el_crawford Yes: some of the rhythms of her speech esp. at the end of sentences & the partial repetitions are very twentieth-century verse. Wed Jun 27 16:17
  25. chrisbrooke: It’s not that, I’m afraid, Jeremy. It’s not that I’m afraid, Jeremy. It’s not that. I’m afraid, Jeremy. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:22
  26. chrisbrooke: Mortal, guilty, but to me / Rightly what we seek to use for the credibility of our fiscal plan. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:34
  27. chrisbrooke: I think the point to be made out of that / And out of what’s been said today / Is that it’s important to do what you can #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:44
  28. microlambert: I love you Twitter, because you did this: #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 20:08

#whytheolympicsmeansweshouldsupportmypolitics

August 17th, 2012

Me, over at Comment is Free.

And was Jerusalem builded here?

July 14th, 2012

David Cameron recently said that his preferred English national anthem, for use at sporting occasions and the like, would be ‘Jerusalem’. (I agree: if you’re not going to have the theme tune of The Archers, then ‘Jerusalem’ is the best-available option.) And it turns out the history of the song is even stranger than I thought it was.

Let’s do this backwards.

In 1968 the song entered the public domain after the copyright on it expired, fifty years after the death of its composer, Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918). That copyright had been held by the Women’s Institute, and they held it because it was transferred to them by Parry’s executors in 1928, when the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was being wound up, thanks to the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act of the same year. And Parry had assigned the copyright to the NUWSS towards the end of his life because he was so pleased with Millicent Fawcett’s enthusiasm that his song should be, as she called it, ‘the Women Voters’ Hymn’.

Now we’re heading towards the bits of the story I didn’t know before today.

If you read the Wikipedia article, “And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time”, you learn that Blake’s text was rescued from comparative obscurity when it was re-published by the Poet Laureate, Sir Robert Bridges, in an anthology of poems, The Spirit of Man [pdf], in support of the war effort in 1916. And it was Bridges who suggested to Parry that it be put to music, specifically for a meeting of the Fight for Right campaign in March that year at the Queen’s Hall (which was later destroyed in the Blitz, which is why the Proms are now held at the Royal Albert Hall instead).

Now on the Fight for Right campaign, Wikipedia says this (in the article on ADTFIAT): ‘The aims of this organisation were “to brace the spirit of the nation, that the people of Great Britain, knowing that they are fighting for the best interests of humanity, may refuse any temptation, however insidious, to conclude a premature peace, and may accept with cheerfulness all the sacrifices necessary to bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion”’, which makes it sound like a crazy jingo campaign, and clearly on some level it was.

But it becomes more interesting when we add in this information, from tehgraun‘s Notes & Queries:

SIR Francis Younghusband was an imperialist (in India), a soldier and the conqueror of Tibet. Later, his views changed and he became a mystic, a friend of Gandhi and an idealist. On August 4, 1915, he published a letter in the Daily Telegraph, which ended: “We are engaged in a spiritual conflict – a holy war – the Fight for Right.” His words took off. By the end of August he had funds, helpers, an office and meetings up and down the country. He was supported by many well-known writers and public figures. Younghusband’s aim was to achieve something better and more lasting than a purely military victory…

And then there’s the stuff about Bridges and Parry and the composition of ‘Jerusalem’, and so on, adding the detail that Younghusband ‘hoped the sentiment would embrace all religions rather than just Christianity, but the movement fizzled out at the end of 1917, largely because of conflict between the jingoists and the idealists’. (It’s not hard to think of reasons why the Gandhians and the imperialists might have had a falling out, I suppose.)

Well, it was in 1917–after the slaughter of the Somme, before the final fizzling of Fight for Right–that Parry withdrew his song from this campaign and reassigned it to the suffragists. (Perhaps he wanted it to be attached to something?) And the rest, as they say, is (the at least slightly more familiar) history.

Patrick French’s Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (Flamingo, 1995) is apparently the place to go for more on this kind of thing. And “Jerusalem” is back in the news this month for happily non-David-Cameron-related reasons, because Prof. Jeremy Dibble at Durham has been reconstructing the original version of the song, whose first stanza was apparently scored for solo soprano.

27 May 1940: the RAF raids, um, RAF Bassingbourn (Cambridgeshire)

January 21st, 2012

From the current LRB letters page (the whole thing is fun, but this in particular caught my eye):

On 27 May 1940 an RAF bomber, aiming for a German airfield in Holland, flew into a magnetic storm which disabled the compass. Completely lost, the crew identified the Thames as the Rhine and bombed an airfield in Cambridgeshire.

I did not know this. Andrew Etherington’s website has more:

RAF Bomber Command: 4 Group (Whitley). Bombing – Dortmund, Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Cologne.

10 Sqn. Eleven aircraft. Ten bombed. One enemy aircraft claimed destroyed by tail gunner. One bombed Bassingbourn in error…

The 11th crew from 10 Sqn, failed to find their primary target and bombed what was thought to be an airfield in Holland. This was not the case. After carrying out their bomb-run they set course for home, but after flying for some time, and when the Dutch coast failed to show up, it was thought that something was amiss. This was confirmed when W/T bearings indicated that the aircraft was over England and flying on a westerly course. With the aid of further W/T assistance they were able to scramble back to base. A re-plot of the sortie was instigated and the unfortunate conclusion was reached that the airfield they had bombed must have been British! This was confirmed when communications with Air Ministry revealed that the RAF airfield at Bassingbourn, near Cambridge had been attacked at the same time the No. 10 Squadron crew presumed they were bombing an enemy airfield. Luckily there had been no casualties and only slight damage at Bassingbourn. Subsequently the story got around that one of the bombs had hit the W/T rest hut at the side of the airfield, passing through one wall, over the top of a sleeping airman and out the over side before exploding. The said airman then woke up!

Repercussions followed. The unfortunate skipper was demoted to second pilot and he and his crew subjected to much leg-pulling by the other crews. This included the dropping of a home-made ‘Iron Cross’ constructed from a tea-chest lid and some brown coloured cloth, by one of the other 4 Group squadrons. It was addressed to ‘Herr von (name withheld) from a grateful Führer.’

During subsequent investigation it was discovered that the magnetic compass had been rendered U/S when the aircraft had flown through an electrical storm after crossing the English Channel on its outbound flight.

It looks as if this would have been a bomber based at RAF Dishforth in Yorkshire.

Question about Cupcakes

May 23rd, 2010

Is it my imagination, or are there a lot more cupcakes around than there used to be?

Britishness Agenda: Special Beaver Edition

May 29th, 2009

This week has been a fantastic week for Gordon Brown’s “Britishness” agenda, as two events have united the people of Britain as almost never before.

First, the people of Britain came together to support Barcelona in the final of the Champions League (with the exception of a small handful in the Northwest of England). Second, we are (almost) all of us delighted to welcome a dozen Norwegian beavers into the wild (with the exception of a small handful within fifty miles or so of the beaver-reintroduction zone in Scotland).

I’m feeling fairly patriotic this week, at any rate, certainly much more than usual.

Swine Flu Reaches Oxfordshire!

May 3rd, 2009

Over here.

The Virtual Stoa Salutes The Bard Of Finisterre

May 1st, 2009

Actually, I think the position of Poet Laureate is a silly one, and I hope Carol Ann Duffy doesn’t start writing dreadful poems about the royal family. (She may not, in fact, given her opinion that “No self-respecting poet should have to” write poems about Edward and Sophie of Wessex.) But her appointment is a permanent rebuke to those who struck Finisterre out of the Shipping Forecast seven years ago, and that’s a very good thing.

New Year’s Resolution

January 2nd, 2009

Mine is to eat more butter. Happily, this is a resolution that won’t depend on will power alone, as we’ve just acquired one of those bread-making machines, which means there’ll be a lot more bread around the house than usual, which means more toast, which means more opportunities to  smother things in butter.

Winterval!

November 25th, 2008

It’s not often we have a genuine celebrity visiting the comments boxes at the Virtual Stoa, especially now it’s in it’s post-only-once-a-month-or-thereabouts mode (sorry about that, these things happen), but Mike Chubb — the man who invented the Winterval, no less — just dropped by to comment on the Winterval-themed thread below, and because his remarks address important Winterval-related issues, I’m rescuing them from the obscurity of the comments thread and posting them over the fold. Oxford’s WinterLight event is on Friday: they’re going to re-open Bonn Square and stick up a funny solar system in Broad Street, or something. (Details over here.) And continue on for Mike Chubb’s thoughts on his magnificent creation…

(more…)

More British Values Day

October 28th, 2008

As Simon points out in the comments to the post immediately below this one, there is confusion in ministerial ranks as to whether we are, in fact, going to be having a British Values Day after all. This page of the BBC is currently headlined “British Day idea ‘is still alive’”, but yesterday the same page was far gloomier about the future of British Values Day (more in line with this kind of report). Perhaps confusion about whether to have a Day on which to celebrate British Values is, in fact, a British Value? In other British-Values-Day-related news, I’m delighted to report that the Virtual Stoa is the top Google hit on the entire interweb for those searching for information about BVD, which is as it should be.

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