The Queen Mother has died

Score one for all my friends playing in this year’s round of Deadpool.
Today’s press says she used to have her first gin at 11.45am. That’s very fine.
OK — That’s enough appreciative comments about royalty.

Tom writes [6.4.2002]: Another Queen Mum thing for you: this page has a large number of not-quite Burroughsian cut-ups of Blair’s eulogy. All small, and mostly including the word “tits”. Ho hum.


Recent material at the Voice of the Turtle includes two essays by E. Lovemore Moyo on Zimbabwe, one on the trade unions and another on the election fix itself; another piece on the elections by Raj Patel and Patrick Bond; an article by Sean Jacobs on the apathy of young people in South Africa; some comments from Aziz Choudry on the Australian government’s hypocrisy about children; J. Carter Wood’s German perspective on the War on Terror; the ruminations of Ted Vallance on regicide; the poetry of Trevor Landers; and the Situationists’ meditative Theses on the Paris Commune.

New Books!

As I observed last year: what’s the point in having a weblog if you don’t plug new books by friends and comrades? Three to recommend:

Leo Zeilig, ed., Marxism in Africa: Class Struggle across the Continent, New Clarion Press, 2002. Leo Zeilig’s new book of essays on politics in contemporary Africa contains valuable essays by — among others — Dave Renton and Anne Alexander on class struggle in Egypt, by Peter Dwyer on the crisis in South Africa and by Leo Zeilig on the Marxism and Eurocentrism in Africa. It should be a very good read, and I’m looking forward to getting a copy.

E. H. H. Green, Ideologies of Conservatism, Oxford University Press, 2002. The first chapter of E. H. H. Green’s second book revisits the terrain of his excellent The Crisis of Conservatism with a re-evaluation of the political career of Arthur Balfour, before heading off through the twentieth century to examine the twists and turns of Conservative political thought — with Arthur Steel-Maitland playing a surprisingly prominent role. Green’s assault on the notion of the “postwar consensus” continues, and he approaches dangerously close to the present for an historian with his penultimate chapter on the origins of Thatcherism. Excellent, exeedingly well-researched stuff.

Patrick Bond and Masimba Manyanya, Zimbabwe’s Plunge: Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice, Natal University Press, 2002. From running an exemplary social policy in the post-independence 1980s through the years of IMF-induced Structural Adjustment to the disasters of the recent past, Bond and Manyana are excellent guides to the political economy of present-day Zimbabwe as the Mugabe regime lurches towards something not entirely dissimilar from fascism.


Three lovely pieces of silliness, only two of them concerning the Catholic Church. The SatireWire has Knives, Tanks, Whales – Airport Screeners Now Failing To Catch Anything and Police Must Notify Residents When Catholic Church Moves Into Neighborhood. Meanwhile the Onion has an article on Excited Catholics Already Lining Up For Pope’s Funeral.

Nick writes [2.4.2002]: Crikey, you’re recommending the same things I do (though my recommendations come out on a less industrial scale than your mighty blog). So you might like this, too: Government Proposes “Hunting With Cats”.

Nick writes again [3.4.2002] to recommend Is your Catholic Priest putting something other than a Communion wafer into your mouth?.

High Windows

My interest in people falling out of windows goes back a few years. Here’s a bit I inserted into the 1998 edition of the Let’s Go Eastern Europe guidebook, which I had the pleasure of helping to put together over seven weeks in the Summer of 1997:

High Windows

At decisive moments in European history, unlucky men fall from Prague’s window ledges. The Hussite wars began after Catholic councillors were thrown to the mob from the New Town Hall on Karlovo n�m., July 30, 1419. The Thirty Years’ War devastated Europe, starting when Habsburg officials were tossed from the windows of Prague Castle’s Bohemian Chancellery into a heap of steaming manure, May 23, 1618. These first and second defenestrations echo down the ages, but two more falls this century continue this somewhat macabre tradition. Fifty years ago, March 10, 1948, liberal foreign minister Jan Masaryk fell to his death from the top floor of his ministry just two weeks after the Communist takeover, and murder was always suspected but never proved. And then on February 3, 1997, Bohumil Hrabal, popular author of I Served the King of England and Closely-Observed Trains, fell from the fifth floor of his hospital window and died in his pajamas aged 82. Nothing unusual here – except that two of his books describe people choosing to fall – out of fifth-floor windows.

(Seeing the word “pajamas” in its American spelling irresistibly calls to mind Groucho Marx’s remark from Animal Crackers: “Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas and how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.)

Life Imitates Art, Again

A couple of days ago I went to see The Battle of Algiers at a local cinema, and posted a snippet from the script in the paragraphs below, from the press conference where Colonel Mathieu discusses the death in captivity of Lardi Ben M’Hidi, one of the leaders of the Algerian resistance to the French occupation. And now the news from Paris (reported, for example, in the Independent) reminds us that, as ever, life imitates art, not only Battle of Algiers but also Dario Fo’s wonderful play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist:

SUSPECT: And why do they always demonstrate here at police headquarters? Right here, under the main window

SERGEANT: It’s always the same story. We’re always caught in-between. It’s only one week since that anarchist we were interrogating jumped out the window.

SUSPECT: That window? But it’s only two stories up.

SERGEANT: Another window – upstairs. On the fourth floor. (He walks away from the window.)


Needless to say, poor Richard Durn fell to his death from the fourth floor, too.

The Bank of England has lost the Pound…

I was listening to some episodes of the old Chris Morris radio show On The Hour yesterday and today — the tapes were a very welcome present once upon a time from comrade and weblog reader Richard — and I’m delighted to report they remain extremely funny indeed. One might have thought that this kind of satire would become very stale very fast, since the programme is a parody of BBC news radio shows, with many of the jokes driven by references to contemporary politics. But ten years later On The Hour is extraordinarily fresh, and has borne the test of time far better than – for example – the near-contemporary political monologues of Ben Elton or the jokes of Spitting Image.

On The Hour also was very much a document of the Major years in British politics, and as Tony Blair tries to continue to push the Major agenda that little bit further with every passing year, the political arguments and attitudes which the show relentlessly mocks are still very much those of our ruling elite. But there is also an element of exceedingly good fortune: history has this well-documented tendency to repeat itself, of course, and America has, now as then, a President Bush with a whiney voice and a tendency to say silly things. In addition, several of the segments seem curiously prescient: one report concerns the British tourist who finds himself briefly in charge of the Argentinian government after its sudden collapse, and who has to be guided over the phone through some tricky negotiations with international financial agencies.

But what is most remarkable of all, I think, is the fact that ten years later, the BBC radio shows which On The Hour parodies still sound exactly the same as they did back then. Chris Morris and his fellow presenters caught the mannerisms, the emphases, the little abuses of the language which BBC presenters tended to perpetrate back then absolutely perfectly, and they still do. On the Today programme in its current incarnation, to take a trivial example, it’s impossible to listen to the regular business correspondent or any of the sports reporters without Alan Partridge coming to mind — especially when they conduct their own mini cross-examinations of people in the news.

And the immediacy with which the jokes in On The Hour hit home suggests that — all the widespread guff about the internet, Cool Britannia, etc., notwithstanding — there was actually very little or no fundamental cultural change in the decade since those shows were recorded, which is a very interesting thought.

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I haven’t seen the film, and I doubt I’m going to see it, but I rather liked this comment from the Independent:

It’s a shame. Ali G is essentially a Great British fabulist, like Just William or Billy Liar; but those characters work because you believe in the domestic clutter – the too-solid reality – they’re trying to escape. A feature film was the perfect place to pin Ali down; instead, it becomes a showcase for his delusions…

Thinking of films, I saw The Battle of Algiers again last night: the Phoenix here in Oxford only managed to get hold of a DVD (they let the audience in free by way of compensation), and they played the soundtrack far too quietly: even so, it is still a smashing piece of cinema.

Journalist: Colonel Mathieu … the spokesman for the residing minister, Mr. Gorlin, has stated that “Larbi Ben M’Hidi committed suicide in his own cell, hanging himself with pieces of his shirt, that he had used to make a rope, and then attached to the bars of his cell window.” In a preceding statement, the same spokesman had specified that: “… due to the intention already expressed by the prisoner Ben M’Hidi to escape at the first opportunity, it has been necessary to keep his hands and feet bound continually.” In your opinion, colonel, in such conditions, is a man capable of tearing his shirt, making a rope from it, and attaching it to a bar of the window to hang himself?

Mathieu: You should address that question to the minister’s spokesman. I’m not the one who made those statements … On my part, I will say that I had the opportunity to admire the moral strength, intelligence, and unwavering idealism demonstrated by Ben M’Hidi. For these reasons, although remembering the danger he represented, I do not hesitate to pay homage to his memory.

The rest of the script is here.

Situationists and Dead People

Not that I’m going through a Situationist phase or anything, but here are a couple of links to recent obituaries of Ralph Rumney, one of the founders of the Situationist International (and expelled shortly thereafter) in the Guardian and the Independent.

Thinking of dead people, it has been a bad year for philosophers: Nozick and Bourdieu a few weeks ago; more recently Hans-Georg Gadamer. Still, he at least was very old.

Chris adds [28.3.2002]: The deaths of the philosophers are even more widespread than I realised: I missed the death last month of R. M. Hare.