Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Longest Weekend

Dear Mr Cameron,

I trust that this letter finds you and Mr Clegg in good health.

Mr Brown, your predecessor and a fellow Scotchman, albeit of the more common truculent variety, used to collect suggestions for national celebrations on the Downing St website.

We now appreciate that he ought to have been scolding bankers and pretending to admire Mr Obama instead of reading block-capital demands that he should resign in favour of various motoring correspondents.

Especially as his staff of grammar-school bullies rejected one of the few ideas that might have given the public a hearty dose of British spunk and rebuffed the Muslim Menace, namely my proposal for Fenella Fielding Day.

This Great Coalition of Yours has so far chosen to disregard our various Cymru Rouge offers of political footsie, and has not even had the nous to steal our cruel but fair policies. So perhaps the time has come to appeal to your unthinking conservatism.

Evelyn Waugh, the off-the-peg Papist with bespoke reactionary views, lamented that Tory governments never turn the clock back. Your readiness to anger your own Highland clansmen by literally turning the winter clock back encourages me to think that you might accept my proposal to drag Britain, pimp-rolling and glottalising, into the 1940s.

"Why the 1940s?" you drawl. I have carried out audience research among the usurers, recovering lepers and mad-haired women who constitute my Facebook followers, and they all agree that the 1940s made the best war films.

You and I know that the 1940s made the best war, while the films belong to later decades. But my Morlocks have a point. Britain's current economic, social and political conditions are moving steadily towards the 1937 indicators, and your Coalition echoes the lion-eats-lamb Biblical balance of Mr Baldwin's National Government. So the 1940s are indeed something to aspire to.

These Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers are a shower, although that's an improvement on their voters - who simply need a shower. You laugh. See? That's traditional 1940s humour, usually delivered before some Limehouse stage props by a man in a five-piece suit to an audience of pickpockets and costermongers. I think the Nation is ready.

I propose that the government reorganise public life along the lines of our best war films. I don't mean pacifist nonsense like either Paths or Tunes of Glory, but rather those evergreen paeans to Britons' licking Hitler and other undesirables through impromptu ingenuity, feudal fealty, speaking very fast and putting the Poles to good use.

I have in mind "Sink the Bismarck!", "Went the Day Well", "Mrs Miniver", "Ill Met By Moonlight", "Brief Encounter", "The Goose Steps Out", "In Which We Serve" and all those Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone.

British life will be based on the Kitchener morality, breakneck diction, blithe prejudices, smoking endurance records, eerie cuisine and occasional personal hygiene of these films.

The most important lesson, as ever, concerns class. Britain is a scarecrow sown from many cloths - the Harris tweed of Scotland, Irish lace, English houndstooth and Welsh stonewashed denim - and its seams can only run true if everyone knows which side to dress to.

War films reinforce the wholesome order reflected in your own Government, Mr Cameron, with their officer corps of effete English aristos, dour but dependable Scotch NCOs, brave, bantering cockney corporals, incoherent, expendable Welsh sappers, Irish fifth-columnists and fesity terriers with vaguely racialist names.

"But how will our more recent Muslim, Hindu, Afro-Caribbean, Roma and Geordie citizens fit in this cosy communal hierarchy?" you may ask, glancing nervously over your shoulder.

The question is appropriate. In the 1940s Britain hosted only two significant immigrant communities - the anti-fascist Italian miners of Wales and Scotland, and the German Jewish refugees of most public libraries in North London.

It was in some ways unfortunate that our chief antagonists in the 1939-1945 War were precisely Italy and Germany, as this meant that these noble, sad-eyed people with their waistcoats and drooping moustaches spent the war locked up on the Isle of Man with dozens of Mosleyite pederasts and, for all I know, Rudolf Hess.

As such they feature little in our war film catalogue, and provide far from reassuring role models for our bearded, multi-armed and roofless minorities.

The answer is thick-ankled Thatcherite laisser choisir, which lets our newer compatriots decide for themselves which silver-screen nationality to emulate.

Your Liberal Democrat colleagues' historic pandering to communal interests in local government will ensure that this process is not carried out in a messy personal manner, but rather through the agency of religious and gang leaders, whose ethnic and faith groups will convert en masse to Celtdom, Cocknicity or what have you.

The social workers and librarians who once voted Liberal Democrat find themselves politically and soon literally homeless. They will be given a stake in the Big Society by retraining our minorities in their ethnos of choice.

For example, if Sikhs decide to become Scotchmen they will need to acquire the keys to the Treasury and a mystifying sense of grievance. The newly-English Hindus will have to channel their energy into random football commentary and freestyle drinking, while the Welsh Gypsies will need watching very, very carefully.

Anyone wanting to be German will be taken aside for a quiet word, and the whole world eagerly awaits the advent of the Muslim Ulstermen.

Other aspects of our war-film culture will help to make Britain a breezier place:

  • Speaking very fast without opening your mouth much will confound the lip-readers of foreign intelligence services and reduce the amount of time needed for TV and radio broadcasts.

  • Double-fisted smoking and abstinence from central heating will save on NHS bills, while most medical treatments will be replaced by alcoholic GPs' bellowing "stuff and nonsense!", cross-country running for the highly-strung, and the application of wire wool and Dettol to persistent wounds.

  • Foreign policy will change little, amounting as it already does to sponging off the Americans, eyeing "Ivan" warily, alternately ignoring and shooting at Continentals, and pointless badgering about in the Near East.

There are many other benefits to the 1940s, such as a deluded optimism on the Left about their ability to make the world, and indeed Britain itself, a better place.

You, Mr Cameron, will be able to exploit this by welcoming the bluff fellows of the Labour Party into government as less annoying coalition partners, just like Mr Churchill did.

Labour will be buoyed by the belief that an electoral landslide is just around the corner. And the whole nation will enjoy watching the Liberals retreat to the Marches and Rievers where they belong, there to judge sheepdog trials and give Celtic drunks a party to play with.

Here's how!

Yours etc,

Huw Samphan, chief adjudicator (external affairs and fighting)
The Cymru Rouge

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Salem's Knot

Fifty years ago the All-Union League of Mad Scientists stuffed a peasant inside a giant ball-bearing and fired it at the Moon.

The sphere, equipped with a camera, tape recorder and vodka chiller, fell to Earth in a Urals corn field, thereby halving the Soviet Union's grain harvest for 1961.

Hunger was a price worth paying, however, as it showed the Americans that it was possible to steal German rocket technology without giving war criminals citizenship and vast amounts of loot.

The Glorious Soviet Union considered self-deprecation, self-doubt, The Self and indeed self- anything to be bourgeois deformations of the well-engineered soul, so mocking official bombast became an underground phenomenon.

You'd marvel at a Moscow metro station, only for some hornrimmed drip in Estonian denim to remark that "of course it was built by German prisoners-of-war" - a good decade before Stalin had finally made up his mind on the correct use of Krauts.

Even Yuri Gagarin fell foul of this corrosive carping. The potato-headed human projectile may have had his faults, but on balance he seemed a decent fellow who died young in pursuit of Socialist science and national defence.

Or rather in pursuit of Socialist skirt and unintentional defenestration, if you believe the Soviet rumour-processing plant, which held that he had plunged to his death from the window of a nurses' dormitory in Minsk while attempting the ambitious triple-daisy entry manoeuvre.

Disgraceful, but not as bad as the hilarity occasioned in unpatriotic, colour-coordinating quarters by the inclusion of Gagarin's overcoat in the permanent display at Moscow's Krasnaya Presnya Museum.

Rumour had it that he was also a flasher, adding up to a remarkable tally of parallel peccadilloes for one so young and high-profile.

Other attempts at character assassination showed the survival of snobbery under Socialism, as rotten liberals with fancy clocks in their Peredelkino summer houses claimed that Cosmonaut German Titov was passed over for the orbital honour because he was too classy and refined.

A simpler explanation, surely, is that the Politburo vetoed the poor lad because his first name was "German" and his surname sounded too much like that of the despised Yugoslav president and notorious Titoist, Josip Tito.

It would have been like the Americans ditching Neil Armstrong in favour of someone called Fidel Tojo, or Ho Chi Trudeau, entertaining though that would have been for the rest of us.

The Gagarin-as-flasher story extended to the alleged nixing of one planned statue to the little fellow in Omsk, the base of which was deemed to look too much like a dirty mac.

Now, the otherwise welcome abolition of religion had some unfortunate side effects on Soviet society. One was the sublimination of the urge to see Blessed Virgins in copses, Names of Allah in aubergines and Golems in Aunty Roza's kippering cupboard.

This manifested itself in fevered visions of The Other in the artistic rendering of garments.

(NB: "Fevered Visions of The Other in the Artistic Rendering of Garments" is the working title of my PhD thesis. So no filching, please. Moreover, "Fevered Visions of The Other in the Artful Rending of Garments" is an erotic novel I'm working on in case the PhD doesn't win me the Chair in Semiotics at Uppsala University that I crave. So no felching, please.)

One such vision plagued Vera Mukhina's monumental dual statue of Worker and Collective Farm Dollybird, which represented for Russia at the 1937 Paris Expo and has since served as a windbreak for tramps near the mystifying Soviet Economic Achievements theme park in Moscow.

It can be seen in all its twirling glory in the opening credits of all MosFilm studio productions:

This Art Deco Stalinist mash-up was examined, section after section, by assorted Torquemadas from the People's Commissariat of Public Occlusion before being put on public display, and all because of the rumoured outline of Trotsky's features in the peasant girl's impenetrable skirts.

Stalin himself paid the statue a midnight visit to ensure that no pedantic pince-nez peered back at him.

Soviet Russia was not alone in entertaining such Salem-lite antics. We in Wales never got over the loss of Catholicism, which satisfied our desire for subsidies from a world empire while accommodating our fondness for setting fire to things we don't like.

The cattle-grid collision of Calvinism and Methodism that makes up our national religion is firmly against everything, even displays of piety, so our unquenchable Celtic exhibitionism and love of lying must out once in a while.

This makes Wales a favourite location for the haunted-toolshed reality TV programmes that fill non-BBC channels, on my television at least. It also accounts for sightings of Old Nick in the folds of the Welsh lady's shawl in Curnow Vosper's painting "Salem" at the top of this page.

All clerics are by definition deluded, but there's nothing like the temptation of turning some prodigals to drive them into the depths of Dunce. The dialogues between eager Catholic modernists and patient, predatory Marxists in the 1960s make diverting reading for the armchair sadist, especially as both have since shrivelled in the searing light of bigotry.

But what if the Soviet Union had taken the gaitered bait and raised the chalice of Orthodox Christianity to the parched lip-service it paid to social justice? The cult of the embalmed miracle-worker Lenin had already paved the Via Ponderosa to such a grisly Hegelian synthesis of unreason.

Osip Mandelstam, Soviet poet and imperial pain in the arse, once wrote that only in Russia is poetry respected, as only there does it get poets killed. Perhaps that is because Stalin, the ex-seminarian and ultimate autodidact, worshipped classical literature and deemed Modernist movements like Mandelstam's Acmeism to be little less than heresy.

We owe a greater debt than ever to the bucketheaded Nikita Khrushchev, who announced that there was no God because Gagarin had seen no trace of Him in the Heavens. St Yuri might otherwise have touched the Countenance Divine and returned to endow the Soviet cause with Holy Sanction.

The Politsynod, having later canonised Martyr Yuri Gagarin, would have given the imprimatur of both faith and science to reports of his beery features beaming out of beetroots from Bryansk to Borodino. Modernism, not liberalism, would have been anathema, and only the truly devoted would have risked an auto-da-fé for the sake of a few laughs.

There would be enough strips found of Gagarin's overcoat to rival the fragments of the Holy Cross and the wandering limbs of the Caliph Ali. Woven together in a mighty banner, perhaps by the Ust'-Kamenogorsk Experimental Textile Plant, they would have been borne by the conquering armies and fleet of the Third Rome across Europe and into the mouth of the Thames.

Perhaps interpretation of Lenin would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumscribed people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Marx.

As if.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Exile on Friar St.

As a feminist, I've no time for practical jokers. Messing with a chap's mind is what women are for.

I don't like to generalise, but pranksters are all social inadequates. When not humiliating pensioners or decent, upstanding purchasers of pornography, they "research" serial killers or nod slowly as they read UKIP election pamphlets. I've dismissed them in a previous post.

I enjoy spontaneous fun at other people's expense, but distrust these failed, bearded minor public school bullies. Humour, like sudden wealth, should be effortless and leave the innocent unharmed.

I once skewered that Golden Section while lunching down the Tethered Goat many years ago. The third pint of Champion's Speckled Johnson was in prospect as a work colleague stomped in and stumped up.

"Cheers," I greeted him.

"Bloody Keith!" he snapped through a head of hoppy spume.

He referred to another colleague and quintessential English type - the Gentleman of Science. I wrote recently against the English cult of DIY, and Keith represented the Fellowship of the Computer Tinkerer.

Our company was run by alumni of Leeds University English Dept thanks to the sort of conspiracy that would keep Independent letter writers busy for a summer. They had to put someone in charge of adapting software to our recondite needs. They could of course have hired an IT specialist.

On the other hand, there was a genial, muttering sort somewhere in the editorial team who could be seen playing steering-wheels with a copy of Home Computer down by the ornamental pond.

"Fetch Keith!" commanded The Director.

On the plus side, we saved money and didn't have to tolerate some t-shirted tubster droning on about rams and other such computer nonsense. On the down side we had to use Keith's macros.

Keith's oblique approach to streamlining the business involved the keyboard equivalent of the Monty Python title sequence, complete with brass band effects. I ought to mention that Keith, when not destroying our ability to type peace unto nation, played one of the ugly duckling instruments in a wind band.

Trumpets and cornets are noble instruments, and what lady can resist the virile lunge of the trombone? But Keith parped and trilled away on a piece of plumbing that looked as if it had been designed to gather rain water in an Edwardian garden.

Anyway, my lunchtime partner had just spent an hour with other monitor martyrs watching Keith chuckle at crabbed glyphs on a white board while their fingers fused over his suggested strokes.

"Useless, cardie-clad cockring!" grunted my neighbour, who went on to describe how Keith's preferred musical instrument could best be uncoiled and used on its owner, first as a marital aid and then as a stake.

Then I had an epiphany. "Hidden depths has old Keith, y'know," I drawled.


"Yup. He was in the Rolling Stones."


"Well, the band before they became the Stones. They were a skiffle outfit then, with the late, great Deryck Guyler on washboard. Keith played his euphoricum. Those were the glory days, when the skirl of skiffle stirred the air waves. Lonnie Donegan had made 'The Cumberland Gap' an anthem for groomed youth and not just an euphemism for Egyptian practices.

"There was nothing to hold Keith back. A US tour beckoned, with the promise of the Appalachian high life and all the snaggle-toothed groupies you could twang your banjo at.

"But it was not to be. The rest of the band had decided to rip off the blues, and besides there were more than creative tensions - Keith Richards didn't like the fact that our hero, being a Reading boy, was a little too close to Marianne Faithfull.

"''Ere, there's ownly room for one Keef in this band, ow right!' declared Jagger one turbid autumn day, and our lad packed his duffel bag and hitched back up the Thames.

"He doesn't talk about it, but that random-haired wreck has a nobility others can only dream of - for he stepped aside from the life and the woman he loved to make way for History."

"What about Deryck Guyler?" asked my chastened audience.

"The blues thing was his idea, I gather. The skiffle crowd never forgave him, like when Dylan went electric. Stones soon dropped him too, as he never managed the switch from washboard to drumkit. Ended up being a comedy turn on the telly. Cruel but fair, I'd say. Another?"

Shortly afterwards I fell out with elements of the Chechen separatist government and Armenian secret service, so chose to spend a few years sampling the assisted baths of Samarkand.

I found my eventual return to work a little trying, and wandered down The Goat again for a late-morning restorative. One bar prop was hissing abuse at his lager.

"Anything wrong?" I inquired.

"Bloody Keith and his Macro Magic Show! An hour watching him hitch up his Millets jeans and point at what looks like Japanese sewing-machine instructions while my monitor melts down! Monkey plunger!"

"Not changed then, has he?" I sighed.

"Too right. Mind you, I heard he was in the Rolling Stones once. What do you reckon?" asked the imbiber.

"Keith? Well, he's musical all right, and grew up in Reading the same time as Marianne Faithfull. Still waters, eh?" I returned to my pint.

Keith got the respect he was due, impatient youth learned wisdom, and I had the pleasure of seeing the seed I'd sown years ago sprout and soar into the skies above Serendip.

A legend was born.

As for the Skiffling Stones, there's a clip of Maestro Guyler with Eric & Ernie below, at 7'30". What might have been: