Well, the book’s first draft is done and sent off – the initial editors’ comments are awaited with trepidation. But the good news (I hear you ALL cry) is that I can get back to some serious blogging. And what better way to mark this momentous event than by offering some Friday Fun.
One of my recent excitements is the quirky Cox’s Fragmenta. This is edited by Simon Murphy from a really bizarre tome in the British Library – essentially a scrap-book of news clippings kept by one Francis Cox (1752-1834) on every subject under the sun. In fact, it takes up 20 feet of shelving. So I thought it might be fun to pick out a few choice morsels.
Hate is a strong word. In fact, one of my favourite aphorisms of Graham Greene (taken from his astonishing The Power and the Glory) is that “Hate was just a failure of the imagination.” It is precisely because we are all such conflicted and complex people that the hatred of individuals is such a blight – there are always extenuating circumstances (even if they are not sufficient to justify actions). Read more
Iain Banks (known as Iain M Banks when he’s writing science fiction) had the most extraordinarily fertile imagination. It was one of the reasons his books have been so loved and respected. His last SF book before he died of cancer in June at only 59 was The Hydrogen Sonata, in his Culture series. I’d not read any of his books before but was very struck by the way people talked about him over the summer, and so decided to make amends. Well, I certainly dived into the deep end.
This is not a particularly profound post (which, incidentally, is not to claim that regular posts on Q are either), but having just finished Sarah Lyall’s rather delightful (if affectionately acerbic) The Anglo-Files: A Field Guide to the British, I came across this amusing story from the Blair landslide of 1997 at which a record number of women (very patronisingly described at the time as Blair’s babes) were elected to Parliament. Read more
It’s Friday, and so that would normally call for some Friday fun. Well, this post more or less qualifies as a bit of fun, but it’s also a bit of seriousness too. So I’ll let it stand on its own merits. Here is a very helpful and salutary public health warning from the great nineteenth century social reformer and polemicist William Cobbett. It has much to teach us. As I’m sure you’ll agree… Read more
This is one of my favourite short, and true, stories. It comes from the pen of the wondrous Douglas Adams, he of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame. It needs little explanation or introduction. But it is the perfect illustration of all kinds of self-delusions and self-righteousness. Read more
Trying to write in the wonderfully balmy sun of Pembrokeshire this week has been a struggle! But I’m not complaining. it’s been a joy to be down here, heatwave and all. But I’m particularly thankful to have got out for half a day yesterday to visit Skomer Island at last (been coming to Dale for years, but this was a first). So here is some jollity from the delightful puffins of Skomer. What fun they are… Read more
It seems that my prep school, where I boarded from aged 8-13 (yes I know, I’m still trying to catalogue the subsequent privileged hangups), is 150 years old next year. They appealed for memories from old boys to be included in the anniversary book. So feeling in a slightly frivolous and provocative mood that day, I wrote this. Thought some at least might enjoy it. Read more
Operation Fortitude was a crucial, bold, almost insane, factor in the success of D-Day in 1944. It was a hugely elaborate hoax, to make the enemy believe that the Allies’ continental invasion would happen across the straits of Calais (Fortitude South) and from Scotland into Norway (Fortitude North). Read more
A man has been seeing a psychiatrist for many years. It has been a lifeline for him.
But friends were shaken to see him emerge from a consultation in floods of tears, strange because this was the first time it had happened in 12 years.
When he calmed down, he was asked what had happened suddenly to bring this on.
“After 12 years, my shrink spoke for the very first time. His words were:
‘No hablo ingles.’“
I’m trying to understand power – what it means, how it’s wielded, how it affects us. Big topic. But I’m increasingly convinced that we can’t understand the culture of suspicion without grasping the power of power (and its abuses).
This has drawn me to someone who has been a bit of a hero, but whose writings I’d only dipped into. Reading Václav Havel‘s masterly and vital 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless has blown me away. Written in the dark days of Czechoslovak communism (only 10 years after the false dawn of the Prague Spring), it is a profound analysis of what it was like to live under a regime built entirely on lies. The only response, the only subversion of the regime, therefore, is to live in truth. Read more
My mind is steeped in the mad and self-referential world of conspiracy theories at the moment, as I try to make a way through to something coherent. So this great cartoon from last week’s New Yorker nailed it for me.
It has its gainsayers (eg Steven Poole is pretty disparaging, though unfairly in my view) but George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (the whole essay is online), is prophetic. Of course some of his linguistic concerns are matters of taste and fashion (as Steven Poole rightly notes). But written at the close of the Second World War, this article exposes the sham sincerity and dissembling motivation behind so much political speech and writing. That is the essay’s great virtue. And it has not gone out of date at all. Read more