Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Best Thing in the World

As a child I thought this was a simple poem about the joy of being alive.

It took adulthood to reveal to me the complication

What’s the best thing in the world?
June-rose, by May-dew impearled;
Sweet south-wind, that means no rain;
Truth, not cruel to a friend;
Pleasure, not in haste to end;
Beauty, not self-decked & curled
Till its pride is over plain;
Light, that never makes you wink;
Memory, that gives no pain;
Love, when, too, you’re loved again.
What’s the best thing in the world?
- Something out of it, I think.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pampered politicians?

On the other hand …

Read this about how some of our distinguished peers are provided with luxury offices

It also worth remembering what Cherie Blair has to say about the attitude towards helping the prime minister’s wife (& the prime minister himself, come to that) with the expenses of keeping up appearances – literally - at official engagements all over the world

Mind you, if parliamentary expenses were so generous & flexible, it is not perhaps surprising that officials took the view that it was up to the couple to find the money themselves

Examination standards

The Times published a truly extraordinary photograph from its archives on Friday

Dating back to the real old days – 1966

The final examinations for London candidates of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales

All 2,500 of them. All in one room – the Great Hall at Alexandra Palace (I wonder if they had other regional centres?)

There they sit, row after serried row, divided into roped off pens. Most of them have their jacket off, displaying crisp white shirt & dark tie. Was there central heating or were the bodies enough, even in December?

The picture must show at least one third of the candidates

I cannot spot a single woman among them

(There was one fellow undergraduate who was a girl who was doing an accountancy degree when I was at college)

Times really do change

Friday, May 29, 2009

Necessary costs

In 1985 Lord Gowrie famously resigned from his post as Minister for the Arts in Margaret Thatcher’s government, on the grounds that it was impossible to live in Central London on a mere £30,000 a year

This blog, Grandmother of World's 23rd Best Economist Posthumously Offended by Sonia Sotomayor's Spending Habits; Will Obama Withdraw Nomination? , explains why $179,000-per-year doesn't go that far in New York City these days

That explains why MPs these days find it hard to get by on a mere £66,000 a year

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Humanitarian aid

While the war in the former Yugoslavia was raging I often felt that we were being let down by the media, both broadcast & print. Especially at the beginning they just never seemed to give enough time or space to recap the story so far, to allow us to develop some kind of context to help us evaluate each new days events.

Obviously it is difficult, to say the least, to do this about events in a country which you do not know, a language (& therefore names) which sounds so unfamiliar, & in which you have no specifically personal or emotional interest – other than hoping & praying that peace may soon come

It was at a very late stage that there was a daily cliff-hanger about the fate of a town under siege. The constant repetition of its name made me think this was a town of some significant size – I had an idea of somewhere about the size of Stoke on Trent. There were reports of UN humanitarian convoys being attacked or turned back

So I was taken considerably aback one lunch time by a live report from inside the town. There are now about 25,000 people crammed in here, the reporter said, in a place which normally houses about 5,000

Roughly the same size as our village, and of the next one higher up in the hills

Then I also remembered my school geography which taught that the geology of parts of Yugoslavia was the same as that of the limestone parts of the Peak District

So they were talking about fighting in an area just like ours. It was not too hard to imagine – though heaven knows for what cause – that there might similarly be a civil war in which we were on the opposite side to our neighbouring village

And then I could imagine how we would feel if a large convoy of white lorries tried to pass along the main road with a cargo of aid

Whoever, in a military analysis, was the aggressor, whoever was deemed to be winning or losing, we would all be suffering, afraid for our future & our families

It wasn’t hard to imagine the gathering of furious crowds. It wasn’t even hard to imagine that I would be one of those women hurling abuse if nothing worse

And that is the problem we must face before we indulge our humanitarian instincts. Of course these are only what we should expect from good fellow humans. But we do need to be sure that we are not giving too much weight to making ourselves feel better & not enough to ensure that by blundering in we a re not making a bad situation even worse or helping it to endure for an even longer stretch of miserable time

When you're on your own

On Tuesday’s Woman’s Hour Lynn Faulds Wood – another consumer/health campaigner/journalist/tv presenter & would-be Independent MP – without, I think, quite realising it pointed to the problems she & we would face if we tried to rely on a Parliament of politicians without Party

Stung by a dismissive remark about the ability to do a good job in a 15 minute tv segment, she hit back by talking about the huge amount of research which underpinned each such piece

Research carried out by a team employed by the tv company, financed by advertising (a levy on our shopping) or the licence fee (a regressive tax on households)

Just who would carry out the research needed to underpin an Independent MP’s decisions on how to vote on questions such as the following picked from a random Hansard?

The future of Royal Mail
Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions)
Contracting Out (Highway Functions)
Use Of The Commons Chamber (United Kingdom Youth Parliament)
Immigration Rules (Small Businesses)

And how would we – the electors – pay for it?


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hedgehog's back

This cartoon was inspired by the report earlier this month of American research into the effectiveness of acupuncture for back pain

But lo & behold – NICE was already on the case & their new guidelines allow for acupuncture on the NHS

I might try it. But if placebo acupuncture works perhaps I should work even harder at imagining I am a hedgehog

NICE guidelines (Word document)

Related posts
Whats in a name

What is Ms short for?

Oh dear! I wish I had not asked

The Oxford English Dictionary says: An orthographic and phonetic blend of MRS and MISS

A title of courtesy prefixed to the surname of a woman, sometimes with her first name interposed. Ms has been adopted esp. in formal and business contexts as an alternative to Mrs and Miss principally as a means to avoid having to specify a woman's marital status (regarded as irrelevant, intrusive, or potentially discriminatory).

and finds the first recorded use in 1901 in the Humeston (Iowa) New Era:

“As a word to be used in place of ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’, when the addresser is ignorant of the state of the person addressed, the Springfield Republican suggests a word of which ‘Ms.’ is the abbreviation, with a pronunciation something like ‘Mizz’. But the Republican does not tell what the new word is or how it is to be spelled.”

I was one of those who tried to resist its widespread introduction in the 1970s. Not because I wanted to cling to the clear denomination of marital status, but because I hated how the word sounded. It was usually pronounced as a short, vicious Mz or an ugly buzz – Mzzz. Went with wimmin. I should have minded much less if it were given a nice Deep South or Caribbean lilt – Mis’ Julie - but that came with its own sensitivities

My first preference would have been to drop honorifics altogether – men had their problems too with Mr Smith, Smith, John Smith or John (I once had to calm down a very angry member of staff who was persistently addressed by a much older colleague by his surname alone. The fact that it was not personal, the older man did it to everyone, was not enough to make the insult go away)

Or, given that some degree of respect & polite distance needed to be maintained, I wanted to be a Mistress

A good old English word, still in use in the Caribbean.

One for which, according to the OED, the earliest meaning was A woman having control or authority (and at school we were taught that Mrs was just an abbreviation of Mistress.)

But by the 1970s 'mistress' meant only one thing – anathema to anything-but-feminist wives & militant lesbian separatists alike

How very odd then that the good old OED tells me that the first uses of the word miss were: A kept woman, a mistress; a concubine. Also (occasionally) a prostitute, a whore.

No wonder we just settled for Ms


Related post

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stranger danger

It was shortly after 6 on Saturday evening, coming out of Asda whence I had popped for the last item on the holiday weekend shopping list

Just ahead of me – as they had been in the check out queue – mum & a delightful, well behaved 3 year old

Mum got on to the escalator but the 3 year old’s nerve failed at the last moment

It was too soon for panic as both tried to assess the situation – child stranded, mum beginning her slow descent, just too far away to reach out a reassuring hand. But you could feel the wail beginning to rise


I can remember exactly the same thing happening to me at the same age

We were on an exciting shopping trip to the city – possibly my first ever. Escalators – especially down ones – were rare anyway: this one, in the city’s smartest department store, Affleck & Brown, was itself a thing of wonder & comment, & certainly the first I had ever encountered

Mummy, carrying my baby sister, stepped on. I did not know how to. I really did wail

It was a lady in a very 1940s hat who rescued me

It is absolutely true – these days one hesitates before interfering in any sort of way with someone else’s child

But I could not just brush past the little girl. So I said, quietly & conversationally so as not to alarm her further: Do you want to hold my hand?

A quick reaction of surprise & assessment as she looked round to see who I was. The she just put her hand in mine

My heart did a tiny flip – such trust. And I realised what a very long time it was since I had held the hand of a small child

The next moment my heart did a bigger thump. Now I, shopping bag in the other hand, was the one who had nothing to hold on to. A doddery old lady who cannot, on a bad day, step off a curb without support

There was a brief flash visualisation of a foot planted firmly & securely on a moving step &, with only a slight backward sway we were safe

The little girl seemed happy to hold my hand until we reached the bottom but I was feeling mortified by stupidity & let her go, saying Do you want to go down to Mummy now?

After a hesitant, testing first step she realised she could do it & walked carefully but confidently the half dozen steps to mum.

In retrospect a good idea, one that will build her confidence for next time

Mum said a nice but unfussy thank you to me & that basically was that

But now I have another reason to remember to think before I stop to help a child


These days it is the child who is the stranger

Monday, May 25, 2009

Deja vu

May 16th —The poor Westminster bank where all Meriel's kitchen money and other charities bank, has shut up like the others. . . .

June 22nd—rumours run wild: resignation, dissolution, and a vote of confidence being all on the cards.

June 26th—The [government] has resigned; and now we shall see what sort of hash the Tories will make of things. The war … is regularly afoot

History repeats itself

Crises are there to be survived – we are still here, despite the alarms of 1866, as reported in the above extracts from the Diaries of Lacy Lucy Cavendish

Dangerous animals

Monday 18 May, the august leader page of The Times of London, newspaper of record

1st words, 1st Leader (sub-heading): Swine flu

Last words, 3rd Leader (sub-heading): Cow dissent

What is cow dissent?

No! Cowing is what some politicians try to do to dissent!

I am reminded of the 1970s when the fashion for thrillers which used proper-noun-as-adjective in their title took off– The Matlock Papers was one best seller

(The tradition continues with the more recent & even more stellar The Da Vinci Code)

One wag announced he was writing his own best seller, to be called The Oliver Twist


Sunday, May 24, 2009

ASBOs revenge

A nice cartoon, but goes a bit far

Nadine Dorries asks "I wonder how many people are aware, that if you are an MP and divorce, the courts base your maintenance payments to your husband/wife/children on a combination of your ACA and your salary" - the system was so ingrained

But for more light relief, read Garrison Keillor's Stop the (Trouser) Presses!

And then try Lolfatcats

A poem about smoking

Poetry Please is back on the air on Radio 4 but I am still steeped in Scannell after the end of the last series

Although there are quite a few of his poems in my commonplace books, picked up from here & there over the years, I had not realised he was such a prolific poet until I managed to lay hands on his Collected Poems

Not poems ‘for all occasions’, but for all stages of life perhaps. Deceptively simple but, “This is the kind of writing that really stops one short … superbly integrated poems. It is surprising that Mr Scannell has not been made more of” to quote an anonymous TLS reviewer from 1961

Even doctors will tell you that depressives see the world clearly – that is why they cannot be perpetually sunny & optimistic; realism gets in the way. At least one of the poems from this collection made me weep as I copied it out

They are mostly poems of the quotidian, the language quiet but the words just right, even though individually they are not dense-packed waiting to explode into meaning as you read (I think here of Ruth Padell, as one I have been reading recently)

I like this one, about smoking. It was published in Epithets of War in 1965, the year I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on ‘The relationship between smoking & health’ & 3 years after the BBC, quoting the Royal College of Physicians, had told us in March 1962 that “There is now no doubt that smoking causes lung cancer

There are 13 introductory lines of history & Scannell’s first smoke, at the age of 9, behind the Sunday School, which I have omitted here

from Cigarette

I thought that I did wrong, & think so still.
They told us that tobacco-smoking would
Stunt our growth. They tell us now fags kill,
And I believe, though when I ruminate
I see that even smokeless inhalations
Are paces, if not quite so long & straight,
Towards the darkest of all destinations.

I take another, light it, noting how
The stained air holds no sweet reverberations
And that I have no sense of falling now

Vernon Scannell


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Being free (to bring a friend)

The Court Circular continues to catch my eye

On Wednesday the Queen gave a Luncheon for Members of the Order of Merit & the Circular includes the names of those who had “the honour of being invited”

I was delighted to see that Sir Tim Berners-Lee is now OM

I imagine that in the old days invitations would have been addressed simply to Mr & Mrs ---, or whatever the appropriate titles were

Not these days. Every ‘,’ & ‘and’ in the list of those attending really counts, means something to those who can read the code. Names linked by ‘and’ are together

I do not know whether members of the Order are simply invited to bring a guest or companion of their own, if they so wish, or if someone has the job of finding out who is the current ‘partner’ & addressing the invitation as appropriate.

Of the 19 current members of the Order who attended, 10 were clearly accompanied by their wife, 6 came alone (3 men, 3 women, as it happens), & the other 3 came with, respectively, a ‘Dr.’, a ‘Mr.’ and a ‘Ms.’ (the Palace still uses ‘.’ to indicate an abbreviation)

Not wishing to leap to any conclusions I checked the status of the 'Mr.'

Who’s Who duly confirms that Sir Michael Howard and Mr. Mark James became Civil Partners in 2006

All without any fuss or outrage whatsoever (as of course there should not be)

But to think that it is not all that long ago that anybody who had been divorced was not even allowed into the Royal Enclosure at the horse racing

If the OM can nominate their guest, are there any rules at all about whom they may choose?

This close interest in the details has suddenly become not just a way of passing idle moments; we are being noisily informed that the leader of the British National Party intends to go to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party as companion to a fellow party member who has an invitation by virtue of his membership of the elected London Authority

I fear that he is deluding himself if he believes that this will give him the opportunity to chat to the Queen about matters of immigration

Only a small number of guests are singled out to meet Her Majesty. The few hundred others there on the day may get to chat to another royal as they admire the flower beds, listen to the military band & nibble their cucumber sandwiches

Related posts

Friday, May 22, 2009

Liberal dads

Interesting research reported here, Daughters and Left-Wing Voting , commented on here Having Daughters Rather Than Sons Makes You More Liberal

I have had time only for a quick skim through, but cannot spot any comparison between men who have only daughters & those who have only sons, & those with a mixed family, which I think would be even more interesting. I am not very good at reading such complex documents on screen, but I will give it a go (I do not feel like paying for a print out of 45 pages at 15p a page – there is a credit crunch going on, you know)

Going, going

Something rather interesting seems to be going on in the Conservative Party as a result of Expensesgate

It was the statement that Sir Peter Viggars will retire “at the direct request of David Cameron” that alerted me

Sir Peter is always tagged as a Tory grandee - & not one of the type usually described as backwoodsman; the fact that I recognise the name means that his Parliamentary career must be rather distinguished (I have not tried to check the details). A Hampshire seat which must be rock solid safe (another fact I have not checked), a prize for a future Tory star, or an existing one in a more marginal seat

It shows Cameron is confident about his authority in the Party – whether Sir Peter fell on his sword from a blow from a clunking fist, or as a result of a silkily civilised agreement between toffs, is immaterial to this

As a responsible landowner, Douglas Hogg would have had his moat cleaned with or without an allowance for ‘necessary costs.’ He may or may not have found a receipt for something less unfortunately worded to claim for, if he had stopped to think about it. Who knows

But what is a duck island? Is it a praiseworthy Green contribution to conservation, a sort of mini-Slimbridge in something which I might call a lake, rather than a pond?

Or a hide from which to shoot the things?

Or – quelle horreur! – a water feature in a pond, as tasteful as a garden gnome?

It is so easy to mock. And unfair

But it all seems to point to the return of rather old-fashioned Tory values, the grandees back in charge after years of Thatcherite estate agents, garagistes & grocers


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Memory jottings

My earliest memories – perhaps later ones too – all have the quality of glimpses of scenes behind a curtain that has been drawn back. Except that I am not a spectator, my whole body remembers, re-experiences.

But not the body I have now?

Each cell has its own memory which is transmitted to its daughters?


Smells are known to be powerfully evocative. But even a fully sentient, articulate & literate adult cannot find words (in English) adequately to explain to another person how a smell smells

We know the ability to perceive smells is idiosyncratic & personal. If you cannot smell a particular honeysuckle in the first place you cannot remember it

How do we know that very small children subjected to the ‘unique experience’ memory test can even perceive that experimentally controlled ‘experience’

Related post

All can now be revealed

When I heard the recent ‘revelation’ about the second homes allowances of husband & wife MPs Julie Kirkbride & Andrew MacKay I thought ‘But we knew that’

I am wondering why I felt I knew – I only know what I read or hear in the public media

And I rarely imagine things completely – though there is always a first time

I think it must have been in Private Eye, which I no longer read, but Kirkbride has been an MP since 1997

Which just confirms my suspicion that lobby journalists knew much of what is now being revealed, they just did not think it worth telling us, or they put a higher value on keeping their sources sweet

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Losing the House

I actually felt human sympathy for Gordon Brown when I caught the beginning of Prime Minister’s Questions on the radio this lunchtime

The House was clearly very subdued. The Prime Minister dealt well with the conventional opening remarks, even though sounding tired & almost defeated

But then he began his first substantive answer with the news that "the Royal Mail is losing 5 million letters a year"

Suppressed gasps, a few nervous titters – the House clearly needed permission to laugh sympathetically: Treacherous things words, eh!

We all know that the previous PM could have done it with a boyish aw shucks & graceful self deprecation

Not he of the clunking fist, all he could do was stumble over an attempt to explain , sounding almost like a little boy who made a mistake in class: What I really meant is ...

We all knew that Gordon. We are clever enough for that, at least

Rules & rebellion

Yesterday I noticed that I have been deprived of 4 supermarket loyalty points

My offence?

Buying a packet of Cricket lighters for £1.16

The total bill came to £9.15; subtract £1.16 leaves £7.99. So only 14 points, (2 for each whole number of £), instead of 18

I knew that the government (for my own good. And yours too of course, when you are around me) had stopped the giving of rewards for buying cigarettes some years ago, I just had not realised that they had been so assiduous as to extend the ban to what they doubtless call smoking paraphernalia

I am assuming that that is the explanation; I cannot be bothered to check

I am not really complaining. Just pointing to another example of how politicians have spent their time devising ever tighter rules to bind the people, while ignoring the moat in their own eye

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Do I know that face?

Albert Einstein?

No, Mark Twain

And the winner is ...

It must have been round about 1981 that I received my first (unsolicited) offer of a job outside the civil service – well it was more a kind of casual might-you-be interested thing

It was around that time that computers were really taking off – screen-based, desk-top machines made them so much easier for anyone to use - & before long no news interview or tv drama in an office was complete without one of these sitting on the desk

Some, though not too many, could see the Big Bang coming in banking, along with the increase in privatizations of public services

Anyone who was numerate, especially if they had experience with computers,was presented with many new opportunities

If I am remembering the numbers correctly I was earning about £13k & the offer was £18k. It would be stupid not to at least think about it

Problem 1: part of the ‘salary’ was a free company car but no, I could not have the money (£2k) instead

Problem 2: pension contribution was 6% - civil service pension notionally ‘non-contributory’ except for Widows & Orphans if you were male. And anyway, no portable pensions then, so would just be locked in for some measly return

So the ‘extra’ £5k was really only £2k. Taking into account the job security, hardly anything at all, never mind more sophisticated actuarial calculations

Few jobs outside the civil service - & certainly not this one, which was just a kind of consultancy - then offered the same blend of intellectual challenge, practical & management roles, collegiate working & being able to see the results of your efforts in terms of effects on policy etc & it would take a much larger offer to make me give those up

I do not want to over egg the pudding – there were of course frustrations – but it would be wrong to characterise me as a timid tortoise

Nevertheless I was interested to see the reports at the weekend of a PwC study Public sector tortoises could beat private sector hares in the wealth race which says that “those who ran away from a career in the public sector in 1981 may now regret it” – to quote The Times headline (print version)

It was the helpful graphic provided which first alerted me: the (notional) male civil servant was currently earning barely £30,000 a year at 2009 prices, after 28 years service. That did not sound like an awful lot to me

It was much harder than I thought it would be to check whereabouts in today’s civil service a graduate entrant might be earning £30,000 – since the reforms of 1996 even Whittaker’s Almanac can publish pay rates only for the Senior Civil Service which now covers grades down to the old-fashioned Assistant Secretary level; below that pay is locally negotiated by departments

I eventually went to the on-line civil service jobs site and looked for one offering £30k in London

The results, including this one for the Cabinet Office, confirmed that this is at the old-fashioned HEO grade

In the old days this would have indicated that the PwC tortoise really was slow (for a graduate entrant) – just one promotion - in London! – in nearly 30 years of service. But with all the changes in structure & the introduction of performance related pay etc, this may not now mean what it used to mean (I remember pointing out, when performance pay was first introduced for some grades, that we already had a performance reward system called promotion)

The private sector guy is currently well ahead, despite some ups & downs; the public sector gains in the PwC comparison accrue between now & 2040, when both men expire. It is the loss of his job in the credit crunch & his struggle then to make only £20,000 a year as a self-employed consultant, until he retires on a measly pension of not much more than £10,000 which make the difference – the public servant has his gold plated pension awaiting. (Incidentally I was under the impression that the basic state pension was, effectively, regarded as included in the Civil Service pension, not added on top)

I am not qualified to judge what sort of job the private sector guy might have been doing, but it was clearly no where near the multi-million pound pension honey pots of which we have recently heard so much

So really this modern fable of the Tortoise & the Hare is really just another attack on public sector pensions

Monday, May 18, 2009

Playing our tune

It is not just the phone-in hosts & doorstep canvassers who cannot get away from MP’s expenses. No programme is safe – Maggie Gee got in a dig on Start The Week, even David Jacobs apologised that one of the records from his usually politics-free programme was “That’s the Way the Money Goes” from the 1970s musical The Card

Every so often a pop song comes along at just the right moment – destined to be played everywhere & used by broadcasters as a sound track even to news reports

And so today we have Dizzy Rascal with Bonkers. Even I noticed that one. I look forward to a Times leader on the subject

Sibling Rivalry

BBC Radios 4 & 5 will regularly inform us in their news bulletins that news was made by someone or the other speaking on “the Today programme” or even “talking to Victoria”

I first noticed another phenomenon when the Sony awards were announced last week

No programme on Radio 4 seemed to mention any of the awards won by Radio 5 – particularly not the Breakfast Show one, & not even the one for Simon Mayo & Mark Kermode

And vice versa

Then this morning the Victoria Derbyshire show replayed most of Jim Naughtie’s interview with Eric Cantona from the Cannes Film Festival

Well they replayed the answers, but voiced the questions themselves, called it merely a “BBC interview”

Not surprising that Radio 5 wanted it, since Cantona had “not ruled out”
the possibility that he might one day return to Manchester United – as manager

Children, children, please. Just play together nicely

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Household management

Anybody who cannot understand how a (male) politician might fail to realise that the mortgage had been paid off might care to read Cherie Blair’s book “Speaking For Myself” about the blessed Tony’s attitude to family finances

Right dress

The end of this poem comes, as intended, as a surprise, shock even

Then re-read it & feel tremendous tenderness for the poor old love. And, in the third verse, yourself

Right dress

Slither of silk like temperate water over
The humps of hips, delicious as a drink;
Lace froths on flesh as lightly as shadow
And nylon shines, a sly translucent pink.

Next the sheer stockings smoothing over knees,
Stretched taut at calves & plumping full of thighs.
The curtains at the bedroom windows press
Back, like constables, the straining eyes.

The sweet & private ritual of dressing,
This beautifying of the self, creates
A painless sense of being loved & loving,
A perfect equilibrium of states.

The frock floats like a fall of mist & roses
Over soft secrets, desiring & desired;
Before the wardrobe mirror gravely poses
Archibald Fullblood, Brigadier, retired

Vernon Scannell
in The Loving Game 1975

Why do we deny men these sensual pleasures in dress? Babies, boys & girls, react with pleasure to velvets, feathers & fur

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jobs for wife

It seems extraordinary now, but not that long ago there was no such personage as the GP’s receptionist

Indeed, apart from a junior partner, most GPs employed no staff at all

His wife would be expected to do the support job, such as it was, at least to the extent of keeping track of his movements & answering the phone

Clergy wives had duties too. A friend of mine recalls, with some bitterness, how the vicar’s wife (my friend’s husband was her husband’s curate) used to think it her duty to inspect & criticise the way my friend starched & ironed the surplices

At least you usually knew if you were marrying a doctor or a clergyman

I always felt sorry for Mary Wilson, who had thought that she was marrying an Oxford don rather than a future prime minister

I know of one politician’s wife who ran away the day before the Queen arrived on an official visit (not in this country) – she was taken aback & by surprise when she turned out to have married a politician & the strain of all those public duties just got too much. She never came back

I am not sure how much the vicar’s wife, or husband, is still considered, ipso facto, ex officio, part of the team (unpaid), but a GP’s wife these days is unlikely to have any such duties

One outcome of the present imbroglio is likely to be a revolt of the partners & spouses. In fact, as Alice Thomson has written, wives in particular are likely just to refuse to countenance it

And then there are the children: those of the vicarage & the police house used to come under a special kind of pressure. Now only the children of politicians face this

Is it possible to go back to the days when it was not a condition, an inflexible expectation, that an MP (plus family) actually live in the constituency? Even teachers these days tend to prefer mot to live in the same area as their school, to escape the curiosity of pupils (& their parents) about their private lives & spare time activities

Agents still have an important - & accepted – role in the constituency of at least the prime minister & Speaker

Perhaps it is time to bring them back in a modern role

Friday, May 15, 2009

Keeping up with the Jones's

Looked at in one way, the system of Additional Cost Allowances for MPs is demeaning – for us, as well as for them

Imagine that 25% of everybody’s salary were paid only for the ‘necessary’ costs of running a home – the necessity to be supported by receipts detailing all purchases or transactions, available for inspection by anyone

We would love finding out what our neighbours were doing, hate it for ourselves

But would we really like ourselves for our reactions, whether these were naked envy, sneering snobbery, or just a mean-minded they do not deserve this or that?

Slip fielding

One of my favourite natural broadcasters, Arlo White , on a lunchtime news bulletin from rainswept Durham told us that the skies are slay grate

Somehow that seems a much better way of putting it

Is it still a spoonerism if the final, rather than the beginning, sounds are transposeed?

Earlier in the week I heard a footballer commenting on a manager: He is always very meticulate

I had to check if that was the right word. The OED said no

But it has been noticed before

Perhaps the dictionary will catch up. It seems just right for a certain way of speaking (articulate) OR dressing (immaculate) - seems somehow to mitigate the over-niceness or pernickity obsession implied by those two words

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Deep history

Jeremy Black introduced the idea of Deep History to the discussion of the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683 which was the subject of In Our Time today

Deep history has profound effects on a country or society, somehow informs actions & reactions to events & policies over the centuries. Last week’s In Our Time topic- Magna Carta – works like that for this country. The medieval relationship between the Hapsburg & Ottoman Empires informs the way Austrians react to the proposed extension of EU membership to Turkey in a way that Brits just cannot fully understand

And the idea must surely be related to the idea of national Cultural stereotypes


Economists are taught that when it comes to failing investments, bygones MUST be bygones, there is no point throwing good money after bad just because you have already spent a fortune. Write off your losses. Put new money into something more productive

Once upon a time I was peripherally involved in a long ongoing negotiation between the Inland Revenue, Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise, a landlord & the executors of the estate of a bankrupt builder. I will not bore you with the details

But the legacy of that painful time made me to go OH NO! when Gordon Brown proposed some kind of independent investigation of all those receipts which have now come in to the public domain

Somebody mentioned the figure of a million, or millions, of bits of paper. How long would it take just to read them all, sort them into OK, doubtful, definitely dodgy. How many people would it take?

How many people would be being pursued, years from now, for extra evidence, never mind the repayment of sums large or small

How much would it cost?

Would it cost more than the amount recovered?

Would it be value for money?

What’s done is done. Some people will be lucky to get away with things, others will get their come-uppance in various ways. Everybody is embarrassed & hurt

One year away from a General Election, the emphasis should be on sorting out better systems for the future, & thinking hard about the real political malaise of our creaking democracy

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


When I was a child things were perfectly clear: you knew what everybody earned

Well you did if they were an employee

National rates for those in Trades Unions. Pay scales for teachers, civil servants, university lecturers. Job adverts always told you what to expect, none of these mysteriously competitive packages

I was quite used to my salary being known to anyone who consulted Whitaker’s Almanac

It all started to go wrong with the inflation of the Oil Price Shock of the 1970s. Inflation linked rises struggled to catch up & by the time official statistics of income & earnings were published (usually at least 2 years in arrears back then) it was too late to use them to find out where you stood in the league

And now we all just seem in a fog about it, even if we are clear about what we mean by ‘earn’, whether that includes overtime, allowances, expenses, performance bonuses, pension pots, whatever

But why are people so ashamed to let on?

Richard Bacon, on his own programme last night, was making much of Carrie Baker’s ‘mistake’. Seemed to think he was being clever not telling us what he gets

Why are we not allowed to know what the BBC pays people out of our licence fee? Just the salaries I mean, we’ll move on to demanding to know about their expenses some other day

Parliament then & now

I have taken the liberty of reproducing here in full yesterday’s post from the blog Lady Lucy Cavendish

LONDON, April 13th, 1866.—This is my never-to-be-forgotten day. Auntie P. and I did St. G. in the E., taking flowers there. I read to a roomful of oakum-picking women. We went to the House afterwards, quite on the chance ; and had the immense luck of hearing the famous Mr. J. S. Mill make a most perfect speech in favour of the Franchise Bill. In spite of the cry-down humour the Tories are in, it was striking to have this small-voiced philosopher listened to with the greatest possible attention and respect ; and indeed the speech was irresistibly fair, profound, and trenchant. Three or 4 times he made a dead pause of more than a minute, but only to produce some new, cogent argument armed at all points and perfectly expressed ; though he was keenly satirical once or twice, the whole tone of his speech was gentle and temperate to a degree. The Opposition held their tongues as if bewitched ! He followed Sir Bulwer Lytton, who made a slashing, clever speech. I found myself a good deal struck and moved, coming straight out of one of the depths of misery and pauperism, to hear the claims of the people so grandly brought forward : those "dumb" thousands, as Bright called them, among whom there must be so many feeling, as none of us can feel, for all this degradation ; and voiceless in the nation whom they might help to rouse to the most noble of battles

Just compare & contrast with Daniel Finkelstein’s If you thought this was bad, just wait in today’s Times

It is hard to imagine anyone of the stature of John Stuart Mill becoming a member of today’s House of Commons

The House may have listened respectfully to Mill on this occasion, but he was not an especially effective MP overall. He used to bore & offend members with his lofty lectures on land economics & the proper response to the Cattle Plague. And of course he lost his seat in the 1868 Election

Which came as something of a relief to Mill, who went on to spend much of his time in Avignon. As he later wrote:

“It is an infinitely pleasanter mode of spending May to read the Gorgias and Theatetus under the avenue of mulberries, surrounded by roses and nightingales, than it would be to listen to tiresome speaking for half the night in the House of Commons.”

Although MPs do not often these days have to sit through half the night there must be an awful lot of MPs today (not to mention their families) who are wishing devoutly that they had found more pleasant & restful occupations

Related posts
Lady Frederick Cavendish (1)
Lady Frederick Cavendish (2)
The N word then & now

Privy goings on

Quentin Letts took a witty but thought provoking look at one of Britain's oldest institutions, the Privy Council on Radio 4 on Tuesday morning. He even mentioned Pricking the List

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When books are not enough

I wonder where stands, in the present day Tory hierarchy, an MP who has to use his Additional Costs Allowance to furnish his home?

Would that be higher or lower than (now Lord) Michael Heseltine, who was dismissed by a truly toffee Tory as ‘a wideboy who has to buy his own furniture'

Parliamentary privilege

Speaker Lenthall asserting the privileges of the House of Commons against Charles I, who had entered the house to seize five Members

Mooching through the Parliament website I discover that there is a system for Appeals Over Members’ Allowances. And that anonymity in such matters has always been of concern: “any published material recording the outcome of the appeal will be anonymised.”

Funny that. But then in this country people have always been very shy about revealing details of their income & financial affairs

What it does show however is that it would have been possible, with tougher management of claims, to make perfectly clear to those too thick-skinned to understand, where lie the limits of propriety

Any child of my generation would have heard the story of Speaker Lenthall & his assertion of the privilege of Parliament

Speaker Martin may feel that his defence of the privilege of Parliament against the press falls into the same category - & indeed it is deeply alarming that someone can copy these ‘private’ documents & hawk them around

But I think now is definitely the time to stop digging, at least in public

Emily Thornberry, who has already demonstrated on Westminster Hour her disappointing ability to be a good little speak-your-weight member of her party (she is much better than that) gave a disastrous interview to Victoria Derbyshire yesterday, during which she launched into that tired old thing that people criticise Speaker Martin only on the snobbish grounds that he comes from a working class Glasgow background

This is a bit hard to square with the fact that the previous 3 Speakers were hardly born with silver spoons in their mouth

Although Bernard Weatherill went to Marlborough he was the son of a mere tailor (albeit a sporting one for the bespoke upper classes)

George Thomas was the son of a Welsh miner & had the Welsh accent to match

Betty Boothroyd was the daughter of Yorkshire textile workers, & started her working life as a dancer, & her vowels were hardly kit gless

We are in what may be a very dangerous situation. Unfortunately (for them as much as for us) neither the Prime Minister nor the Speaker has the qualitites needed to calm the public & put us back on the way to restoring confidence & reputation in a system which is supposed to be ‘the envy of the world’ (Sounds of hollow laughter)

Someone commenting on the very different Parliament entered by Ernest Millington, the last MP to sit in the House of Commons during WWII, said: “But we had been a democracy for less than 20 years then, so people were still idealistic about politics

Sixty years later, we still have a lot to learn

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rocka my soul

On the Radio 4 Daily Service one day last week presenter John Forrest referred to a children’s rhyme which went “Too high, you can’t get over it …”

I was flummoxed for a moment

Surely it was what we once used to call a Negro Spiritual, but would probably these days call Gospel?

There was quite a lot of communal singing in my childhood, often unaccompanied. We used to do a lot of it in the car, with my parents, who I think particularly learned the habit during wartime army service

And then there were Brownies & Guides. Singing round the campfire (literally) or at the close of every meeting. Spirituals were a particularly popular part of the repertoire


Designated housing

When I wrote about how the home ownership obsession had contributed to the mess over MPs expenses, I had no idea that MPs had been drawn so far into the game of playing the housing market as developer or speculator to boost their income. As somebody said on the radio this morning, if MPs want to improve their position in the public’s esteem they could start to call themselves estate agents

There is however nothing new in this business of allowing MPs favourable status in the decision as to which is their main residence & which their second home is not new. The legislation for the Poll Tax of 1988 stated (Section 2) that

A person is subject to a charging authority’s personal community charge on any day if … (b) he has his sole or main residence in the area of the authority at any time on the day

If it was not the main residence then the (usually much higher) standard community charge applied. (Section 3)

This was one of the attempts by government to deal with the hated second homes, which most people assume belong solely to rich townies buying holiday homes in rural areas & pricing the locals out of the market

In order to stop people from dodging the higher rate, the local authority could decide whether the dwelling was or was not your main residence, using criteria such as where you kept your books

This was particularly hard on those who worked in London during the week but had their main home elsewhere. They had to pay the high Standard Charge in London, even for a bedsit in a broom cupboard, on top of an amount on a modest provincial home which was (usually) much higher than that paid by Kensington millionaires

One of the principle aims of the poll tax was to reduce the (perceived) burden of rates on Londoners, which was achieved by reducing the subsidy paid to other areas. The result was that poll tax was very low in London but that the increases were swingeing in many areas, such as the North of England, thus mutliplying up the bill beyond the level that would have come from paying per caput rather than just per household

But guess what – MPs were given a special exemption from the payment of the standard charge

Related post
Loss of tenure

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Family photos

Another great set of Obama photos by Callie Shell has been released

At first I thought this one showed the same gentleman in the Inauguration Day picture of breakfast in Blair House which caught my eye, but not when I looked at them side by side. The hair is different, as is the nose (though it is difficult to be absolutely certain because of the light & angle of view). There is a similarity in the build & set of the torso & calmness of demeanour (something often commented on in the president himself)

The White House picture identifies this man as James Ramsey, White House usher

Each picture shows a man with a full heart


Related post
Inauguration day

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Looking away

This is not meant to be a trivial response to an awful story, one almost too awful to contemplate, but I have a small question about the mugshots shown in the paper of the 8 members of a Scottish paedophile ring who were found guilty on Thursday

Why are they, with one exception, shown looking to the left, no more than a quarter turn of the head?

These are not the police mugshots we are used to of a defiant or hangdog suspect taken full face or sometimes full profile. What is more, these all seem to be looking definitely at something or someone, not the photographer or the camera

Is it a Scottish thing?

Academic study of photographs can be very fruitful – as for example with numerous studies of the photos of the Raj

I can find only one similar title relating to mugshots – a fruitful area for both an art historical & social history approach, I would have thought


Seventy-three hundred and one

This week’s poem must be UA Fanthorpe

From A Watching Brief, this one seems apt

The collection was published in 1987 & was dedicated to her partner, Rosemarie Bailey, so I guess it is fair to say that it is deeply personal, & also that the wish for 7300 days more was granted

And how lovely to have an understated poem of private passion in these days of fame, celebrity & gossip


Learning to read you, twenty years ago,
Over the pub lunch cheese-and-onion rolls.

Learning you eat raw onions; learning your taste
For obscurity, how you encode teachers & classrooms

As the hands, the shop floor; learning to hide
The sudden shining naked looks of love. And thinking

The rest of our lives, the rest of our lives
Doing perfectly ordinary things together – riding

In buses, walking in Sainsbury’s, sitting
In pubs eating cheese & onion rolls,

All those tomorrows. Now twenty years after,
We’ve had seventy-three hundred of them, and

(If your arithmetic’s right, & our luck) we may
Fairly reckon on seventy-three hundred more.

I hold them crammed in my arms, colossal crops
Of shining tomorrows that may never happen,

But may they! Still learning to read you,
To hear what it is you’re saying, to master the code.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Cleaning the glass ceiling

Daniel Finkelstein warned Conservatives, in a Times article this week that “There is no such thing as a joke category of citizens, a whole occupation, an entire location, that can be pilloried without any single individual regarding the comment as being about them.

I really do not want to add anything at all to the already febrile debate about MPs expenses, but I was struck by something I heard Michael Portillo say (too early) this morning about the prime minister’s cleaning contract.

Accepting that there seemed to be nothing untoward in the arrangement, but trying to wring some sort of political advantage, he said that, since most Labour voters were not the sort to employ a cleaner, it just added to the impression that the government was out of touch with their real concerns

Portillo seems to have a thing about the place of the cleaner in politics:

Those are the voters who will be most put off by Cameron’s mentioning immigration. They think it grubby Tory politics. They may be middle class and other-worldly types who can afford to be liberal because they never encounter an immigrant other than their cleaner or plumber, but they have the votes that Cameron needs

I do not know how many Labour voters employ a cleaner for their own home – more, perhaps than you might think.

But I do know that, at least until the early 1990s (I have not checked more recent figures) cleaner was, by some margin, the largest single occupational grouping for women in this country. So they may find reassuring the fact that he employs one himself, evidence that he has some insight into their position.

Providing of course that he pays a decent wage

After all, someone has to keep the glass ceiling clean enough for others to see through

Keeping the flu at bay

Liam Donaldson cannot win on this one

If BRITONS DIE we will know he did not do enough to prevent it: It’s HIS JOB

If new flu produces only snuffles he will find himself in the position of the man who could be observed hopping on one leg all the way round the perimeter of his garden each evening as the sun went down

When a neighbour finally worked the conversation round to asking “Why?” he said

- Because it keeps the tigers away

- But …. There are no tigers round here

- You see! It works!

Related posts

Reign in Glossop

One of my earliest childhood memories is of grown ups looking out of the window & reporting: It’s raining in Glossop

Up there in the north, up there in the hills. Not here

The phrase seems remarkably common

This weekend though Glossop will be at Wembley

Through to a football final

I know about this only through listening to local radio, which I started to do relatively recently when I finally gave up on trying to get reliable local weather forecasts off the BBC

To my shame I had thought that local radio would not be worth my time – hospital radio (of which I have had dire experience)

Not this one though. It has lively coverage of local affairs – from school inspections to mountain rescue, festivals to where to eat out

And a very engaging young man, Ben Price, who does the football. Adrian Chiles, watch out

Oh – and hourly, reliable information about what I should wear today


Related post

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hole numbers

We know about numbers integral (positive or negative), rational, real, imaginary, complex, transcendental, decimal, binary, hexadecimal, odd, even, prime, perfect, Fibonacci, square, cube, logarithms, exponents, modulo, ….. , ∞

Since reading Paul Ormerod’s Why Things Fall Apart I have been thinking a bit more about this

Price points offer a good day to day example of how a number may take only one of an ill-defined set of values – ill-defined that is in the sense that one might list them, but not state any mathematical formula by which one could determine if a number is a member of the set. With the possible exception of all numbers whose last 2 digits are 99

In some areas the membership rule is not rigid, but there is a distinct bias towards some numbers. When the British population census used to ask merely for a respondent’s age numbers ending in 0 or, to a lesser extent, 5 were over-represented

Others that have been reported include a bias towards even numbers in estimates of gestational age, towards numbers ending in 5 for blood pressure, & I once read a passionate denunciation of the practice of choosing from only certain numbers of μg or mg for dosages of pharmaceutical drugs once they reach the market

Some of these do not matter at the level of the individual, but could potentially affect the calculations of statistical relationships, in a way that could mislead. Then changes in the technology of measurement - eg new electronic blood pressure monitors - could upset things all over again

Most of the time, especially in these days of computers, we proceed quite happily assuming that all numbers are real & continuous, all our equations & techniques valid. Even when we know they are not, or learn the hard way, mostly we just settle for a pragmatic solution to the practical problem which faces us: What is the log of zero?

Once upon a time, maybe still, statisticians were advised to keep a test data set which could be run through any new computer software to check for unforeseen problems – or at least to find out about its bad habits – a bit like testing a new calculator for how it handles 1÷3x3

But there are holes in our number lines, planes or n-dimensional spaces which we cheerfully jump or fly over, hoping for the best


Related posts

Waif words

The editor and/or one of the setters of The Times Crossword (#24,216) is under the impression that OFTEN rhymes with ORPHAN

Post script: So then Crossword #24,220 gives us the following clue:

The missus endlessly protecting a poor child (4)

Related posts

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Flamin' Margaret!

A great caricature of Maggie Thatcher in her pomp, by Noma Bar.

It was used to illustrate a Times essay "Did Maggie have to win?"

The red rose captures those pursed lips so perfectly. I have been racking my brains to remember: is that the Mandelson New Labour Red Rose, or did the Conservatives once use it as an emblem, before the blue flaming FORWARD torch so brilliantly used for the one-eyed look


Tuesday, May 05, 2009


There has been some (yawn) discussion recently, in the wake of the news that children are going to be taught to speak proper again in schools, about whether the thing you wash in – baaath or bAth – is an indicator of class or of region. A polymath wrote to The Times to say that he favoured the former

On Thursday there was a delightful programme on Radio 4 about Percy Smith, a pioneer of natural history films. We heard part of an original Edwardian sound track from one of them, about newts.

The female of the species works hard at getting ‘fetter’ in the spring, because the male of the species ‘has an eye for plumpness’

You can see his film The Balancing Bluebottle here

Related post

An apology for a constitution

Jonathan Richards & Julian Burgess produced an interesting graph for The Times magazine feature Crunch Time: A Story in Data: the number of stories containing 7 chosen keywords which have appeared in the paper, year by year, since 1985

Love must be in short supply these days, for “Sorry” is now the most-used word, appearing almost as often as did “Princess of Wales” in 1997, though not as frequently as did “terrorism” in 2001 or even in 1986

As the gentlemanly spirit of Westminster has been overtaken by aggression, so a culture has risen of holding MPs responsible for their actions” suggest Richards & Burgess

But of course it is not just politicians who are expected to grovel. John Humphrys was apoplectic on Today when no representative of an individual bank would agree to come & be grilled & roasted, chewed up & spat out by him (a man who cannot even pronounce heteroskedacity) on the Treasury Select Committee report as he appeared to believe they had a duty to do

But then not even seasoned political observer Matthew Parris had understood that, as he wrote about another BBC programme, the Jeremy Vine Show: “Radio 2 is a lofty institution, but I had not until this week understood their position in our unwritten constitution” (He thinks they were told about the Prime Minister’s planned appearance on You Tube before the Cabinet had heard, let alone agreed to, his proposals on how to solve the problem of MPs expenses)

You have the Queen at the top, beneath her the Prime Minister, then YouTube, then Radio 2, then the Cabinet & finally (lowest of the low) Parliament

Of course the Prime Minister’s attempt to reach out & touch, to push the buttons of the population has, as we now know, rather spectacularly misfired

He was only trying to take advantage of the new style, as described by Caitlin Moran in her review of Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe:

’The news’ used to be a factual programme, to which we would then have an emotional response. But, since the death of Diana, princess of Wales, this has become reversed; the news has taken to first asking us for our emotional opinion, then covering it as a ‘factual’ event

And so, in another twist, ‘news’ must now include reports on the emotional reactions of politicians. Thus Hazel Blears is ‘distraught’ by the media reaction to her “You Tube if you want to” piece, & Ed Balls is made “sick to his stomach” by the latest revelations in the Baby P saga

How do we get to a new style of discourse? It would help if a new Bagehot could emerge to explain to us the new nature of our unwritten constitution

Monday, May 04, 2009

Naming of Poets

I heard this poem on the last edition of the recent series of Poetry Please

It has taken me a while to track down a copy, which I wanted not only for itself but because it makes something of a pair with the Anne Ridler poem, Choosing A Name

Surprising once, splendid or absurd
The names with which their mums & dads baptised
Those baby boys. A name is more than word;
It is a kind of garment, loose, outsized,
One which the child will slowly grow to fit.
My God, it must have taken years for those
Poor nippers easily to move & sit
Relaxed in such odd vests their parents chose –
Siegfried, Rudyard, Humbert, Algernon, Bysshe.
Later kids ere luckier, I suppose,
Were labelled closer to the way they’d wish.

Yet even then got stuck with names in tales
From women’s magazines or nominal-rolls
Of public schools (unless they came from Wales),
Names like Stephen, Christopher, Paul & Charles.
But when the second war to end all wars
Had, figuratively, seen these down the drain
Those lucky fathers, safe on Blighty’s shores,
Would nomenclate their young with names as plain
As British Restaurant meals, decent, prosaic –
Brian, Alan, Donald – note again
How disyllabic names are all trochaic.

The next lot, though, chose amputated trochees,
Monikers of one blunt syllable –
More fitting for back-woodsmen from the Rockies
Or for the darts team chalked up in your local –
Pete & Ted, Ken & Fred – yet we
Became accustomed to them in the lists
Of new contributors, & now we see
Them in the Oxford Books of that & this
Without a flicker of surprise, although
I must confess I do, a little, miss
The way those aureate Julians used to glow.

Well, tough diminutives are out & we
Must now adjust to names which look & sound
Like former surnames – Blake & Craig & Lee –
These poets’ full names could be switched around
Like those reversible coats that could provide
A quick disguise for crook or private eye.
But in the end the name is no sure guide
To excellence. The stuff we save to buy
And treasure might not bear a famous name
And, if it does, it’s no more reason why
We choose it than a picture for its frame

Vernon Scannell

Related post

Not all BMIs is equal

Not all BMIs are the same

BMI, or the equivalent ‘acceptable’ weight, can vary quite a lot, depending on who, when, where & how it is calculated

In this country we tend to think of our height in feet & inches, our weight in stones. BMI needs meters & kilogrammes if it is to be checked against the familiar 20, 25, 30 yardstick

So conversion is required

In every day life we tend to think that 1 inch = 2½ centimetres, which is perfectly adequate for most purposes. But it makes you out shorter than you really are – the correct conversion factor should be 2.54

Then there is the question of rounding. Do we carry all the decimal points through at every stage of the calculation, or round, or truncate to meaningful ‘real’ numbers at certain points

Using my own height as an example (5ft 10in) I might be branded obese at 12 stone, or not until I get to nearer 12½

At the level of the individual it may not matter too much – whatever the detail, I am getting to be very heavy

Actually I would start to get a bit worried if I got near to 11 stone, more than I have ever been in my life before

But in any box ticking, performance monitoring or statistical exercise comparing populations or changes in a single population over time, or calibrating the relationship between BMI & health, these biases could matter

Related post
BMI confusion

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The old books

Not, perhaps, the kind of books you were expecting, in this poem by Vernon Scannell

They were beautiful, the old books. Beautiful I tell you.
You’ve no idea, you young ones with all these machines;
There’s no point in telling you; you wouldn’t understand.
You wouldn’t know what the word beautiful means.
I remember Mr Archibald – the old man, not his son –
He said to me right out: ‘You’ve got a beautiful hand
Your books are a pleasure to look at, real works of art.’
You youngsters with your ball-points wouldn’t understand.

You should have seen them, my day book, & sales ledger:
The unused lines were always cancelled in red ink.
You wouldn’t find better kept books in the City;
But it’s no good talking: I know what you all think:
‘He’s old. He’s had it. He’s living in the past,
‘The poor old sod.’ Well, I don’t want your pity.
My forty-seventh Christmas with the firm. Too much to drink.
You’re staring at me, pitying, I can tell by your looks.

You’ll never know what it was like, what you’ve missed.
You’ll never know. My God, they were beautiful, the old books

A book-keeper, book-maker, has as much right to pride in his work as any medieval monk had in his manuscripts. And we wouldn’t have had the credit crunch if it were not for those young ones with their machines, would we?

(What do you mean, remember the 1850s?)

In primary school we used old-fashioned wooden handled pens which you had to dip in the inkwell. Fountain pens were de rigueur for grammar school – these biros ruin your handwriting, you know, you cannot make your downstrokes thicker than your upstrokes with one of those

But I was astonished to see that Sir Alan Steer thinks they should still be compulsory for schoolchildren today

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