Monday, November 30, 2009

A matter of etiquette

A question, of some urgency, has occurred to me here in the 'Humanities 2' reading room at the British Library.

Clearly, were one of my neighbours to begin a loud and lengthy conversation with someone sitting next to her, I would be well within my rights--being in a library--to ask her to be quiet.

I mean: that's obvious.

But what if she's merely bothering me, with increasing urgency, as a result of what we might call her...'excessively intense'... 'aggressive'--I would even go so far to say 'abusive'--style of typing?

There's no real way of addressing this situation without looking like a bit of an ass, is there?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A warm thought for wintry days

One of the charming things about advertisements from the 1920s was the prevalence of hand-drawn artwork. Not all of them, of course, were winners; but when it worked, it worked.

At least for me.

Like this one, for Bovril.

Daily Herald, 31 December 1926.

I don't know much about the graphic artists of the time. Anyone recognise this signature?

"You have to live in Manchester, if you want to speak proper English."

Being a bit of a mongrel myself when it comes to English pronunciation, the following Daily Herald essay from 1926 caught my eye.

English as She Is Not Spoke

By R. B. Suthers

What language I speak I do not know. My cousin Lucy is a Lancashire lass, and, when she was staying with us, I said in her hearing that the heat was like a Turkish bath.

Turning to my wife, Lucy observed scornfully, “Why don’t you teach your ‘oosband to speak English? B-a-t-h spells bath, not barth. Eh, I shall be glad to get home, and hear a bit of proper talk. It’s like being in a foreign country. ‘Benk, benk, benk,’ and ‘Parss along there,’ and these ‘Broadcarsters,’ they give me the ‘oomp with their ‘Weather fawcarsst’ and their ‘glarss is falling in the Azores.’ They want boomping, all of them. Why, one of them called Lytham Lie-tham, the other night. He’s a bright lad, I don’t think! How do they get their jobs? I expect it’s influence. If I couldn’t pronounce better than that, I’d eat my ‘at.”

Hat, my dear,” I said, gently.

“Well, I said ‘at, didn’t I?” Lucy asked serenely. “What do you call ‘ats?’ You can’t play about with ‘at like you do with book and cook anyhow. B-double-O is boo, isn’t it? And a booking office is a booking office, not a bucking office. It’s done you no good coming to London. You have to live in Manchester, if you want to speak proper English.”

“Correct” English

Knowing from bitter experience that if I pursued the subject I should only succeed in evoking still more outspoken truths about my degeneration in this and many other respects, I changed it. For cousin Lucy, like most Manchester people, believes in calling a spade a spade. Nay, they are so determined to let you have the naked truth that they insist on calling dirt muck....

It was news to me that I pronounced bath barth. I’m sure I don’t say “parth” or “broadcarst,” but I plead guilty to “bucking-office” and “cuk”. This is the result of transmigration, and it refutes the notion held by some people that the dialect and accent you acquire as a child will stick to you through life. Indeed, I have known children, transplanted from London to Yorkshire, entirely lose the Cockney accent and method of pronunciation and vice versa. I suppose I am a mongrel in language. But what is correct English?

I read recently that, in these days, our mother tongue is subject to shocking mutilations. It is. I was roused the other morning by a loud voice beneath my bedroom window. A man laying a cable was talking to his mate. I ought to have heard every word, but most of his remarks were an unintelligible noise. I listened to children the other day, and they were little clearer. They clipped and slurred and disembowelled words in a ghastly way. Couldn’t was pronounced “cou’n’,” butter was transformed into “bu’er,” and mother into “m’er.”These mutilations are not the monopoly of the less educated. I have listened to some pretty bad samples from 2LO, and I expect we are all, more or less, guilty of these cruelties. How many of us drop G’s and aitches, say “fr’m,” “how ‘r you?” and “what’s th’ time?” and commit a hundred similar atrocities.

A Drastic Rule

Whether there is more mutilation now than there was a generation ago is a moot point. Who is to judge? I think, myself, that pronunciation—correct pronunciation—is more widespread Perhaps we are more sensitive to errors. The advent of Broadcasting has certainly aroused interest in the question, and incidentally, added to people’s opportunities of ticking each other off. For what is correct pronunciation?

Well, we have now got a Committee of Experts to tell us—through the B.B.C. The members include the Poet Laureate, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, and George Bernard Shaw. The first work of this committee has been to lay down the pronunciation of idyll, gala, precedence, sonorous, Boulogne, Marseilles, Rheims, garage, Towcester, charabanc, and chauffeur.

I observe that gala is to be pronounced “gahla.” I have no objection, but I cannot imagine Cousin Lucy accepting this ruling. A gala for her is a “gayla,” and no poet or playwright, especially one who takes a “barth,” will ever persuade her to go to a “gahla.” I know a man, too, who was in France during the war, and insists that “chaffeer” is the correct pronunciation of chauffeur. There are other disputable rulings in these eleven words. Unless the committee obtain Parliamentary powers to imprison non-conformists, I fear their recommendations will receive scant attention in Lancashire and other places where they call a spade a blinkin’ shovel....

However, I salute them, and I will now go and practice pronouncing “sonorous.”

Daily Herald, 4 August 1926, p. 4.

By the same author: Free Trade Delusions and Common Objections to Socialism Answered.

(All items in this series.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Can't believe I got so far with a head so empty

Knee-deep in work today and tired of typing.

But there's always time for a musical break.

Art Brut, 'Summer Job'

The Thermals, 'Returning to the Fold'

The Carolina Chocolate Drops, 'Corn Bread and Butterbeans'
(via HNN)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It was 150 years ago today

..that Darwin taught the band to play.

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.


(Thanks for the reminder, Dale.)

Ian may

I've had a soft spot for Ian Hart ever since Backbeat - because without looking the least bit like John Lennon, he managed to pull off that role astoundingly well. Certainly better than the lad in the new Lennon biopic.

And, being an actress of sorts meself, I know the feeling of wanting to smack people in the auditorium who can't keep their bloody gobs shut.

Of course I don't. But Ian may.

Watching the watchmen

For various reasons, I ran across something I should have mentioned before.

My friend and colleague Chris Williams published a fascinating article on the early days of police surveillance in the journal Surveillance & Society earlier this year.

Not only is there good analysis to be had, but the primary source -- a surveillance film of street betters in Chesterfield in 1935 -- is remarkable.

There are times when I remember why I love my chosen profession.

Enjoy the rare glimpse into the past.

(And all praise to S&S for being freely available to the public.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Adventures in didactic cooking: Grimsby edition

Today, the historical bycatch series takes a more literal turn.

Recently, I finally ran across something I'd wanted to post for a while but had misplaced. (Three words to describe the interior of our house: Stacks. Of. Paper.)

While scanning through the 1929 Daily Herald earlier this year, I had happened upon an ad promoting the consumption of fish.

Maybe not the most immediately exciting of topics; still, it has its charms.

Daily Herald, 9 June 1929, p. 3. (Click for larger image)

The advert is interesting for all kinds of reasons.

First, I like the way it puts its audience decisively in its place: 'Can you fry fish? Most people can't. If you feel you've got anything to learn, read on.'

What follows is actually quite informative. It tells you something useful about how to fry fish. I mean, I'm guessing here, not being that accomplished with cooking fish myself; but it certainly sounds like practical, sound advice: 'If your fish is not properly dried it will be watery inside. If your fat is not properly hot instead of your fish frying to a golden crispness it will be soggy and greasy.'

And who, after all, wants their fish to be soggy and greasy, hm?

The ad was part of a promotional campaign, according to the small type, by the Grimsby-based British Trawlers' Federation.

And, as I searched further through that summer of 1929, I found that 'Can you fry fish?' was part of a series:

Daily Herald, 2 July 1929, p. 5.

Again, there's the rather hectoring tone, with all its 'musts', 'must nots' and 'oughts' to which the modern consumer is just not accustomed:

'You must drain your fish properly. Press every atom of water out.'

Somehow, I find myself afraid of disappointing the friendly-yet-somehow-intimidating woman in the white apron with her accusing stare and many handily available sharp implements.

In any case, the series reached a thrilling climax in its third and (as far as I could tell) final episode:

Daily Herald, 16 July 1929, p. 3

Maybe after all the challenges of frying and boiling, the Trawlers' Federation decided to take it easier on people: 'Steaming requires no attention and cannot fail to be successful.'

Certainly a relief.

And it seems they have expanded the availability of useful recipes, which can now be had for free from 'leading fishmongers.'

'Fishmonger' is an excellent word, one heard all too seldom these days.

I wonder how successful the ads were. I assume they appeared in other papers. The Herald at this time was owned by the TUC, and these ads seem tailored to appeal to working-class readers (more specifically working-class women).

Interestingly: not a word here about chips, the essential accompaniment to any fishy feast. Of course, from the trawlers' perspective, the potato farmers were on their own.

Happy cooking. I hope you've all learned something.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Standing on the shoulders of giants

It's wonderful, and humbling, to receive recommendations like this.

As it turns out, the other people on that list were crucial to my book being what it became.

This is as good a time as any to say thanks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Is it safe?*

Three things I have learned today:

1) I never ever want to live in a society without anesthetics or antibiotics. You can keep any romantic images you may have of pre-modern society if you like: just don't confuse them with reality. Or try to convince me otherwise.

2) The gap that the removal of a molar leaves feels at least two times as large when felt by a tongue than it looks when viewed in the mirror. This may be partly a result of said removal being a surprise, and not planned, when I entered the dentist's office. But proving this would require a far larger sample.

3) A glass of whiskey or two does in fact ease the pain. This, I can offer as definitively established.

As they say, live and learn.

*Reference. But you're showing your...youth...if you didn't recognise it immediately. (And believe me: If I had known, I would have told too.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Till another stream be forded and we reach the great beyond

Reports are coming in that British actor Edward Woodward has died at the age of 79.

I've liked various bits of Woodward's quite diverse career over the years. Certainly, his role as a police officer in The Wicker Man (opposite such luminaries as Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland) remains a classic.

And there were few actors who could pull off the suit-and-uzi combination as suavely as he during his stint as The Equalizer

But it was his starring role in Bruce Beresford's 1980 film Breaker Morant that made the most powerful impression on me. I believe I discovered it while working at a video store in about 1988. I didn't know much about the Boer War at the time, but the film stands out as a remarkably effective meditation not only on the hypocrises of war and empire but also on the friendships among men in wartime.

It's difficult to find a best-of online right now, but this scene (in which Morant and two fellow soldiers are on trial for shooting Boer prisoners although they had been ordered to do so by their superiors) should suffice.

'Rule .303' -- a reference to the calibre of their Lee-Enfield rifles -- is a phrase that has stuck in my head ever since.

And, this one too, but you want to not watch it if you haven't seen the film yet, as it shows the ending.

But it's powerful stuff.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On healthy habits and responsible role models

In this week's Die Zeit, Susanne "Jeremiah" Gaschke bemoans the loss of reading skills in Germany. Even in middle-class families, she complains, reading seems to be a dying art, as more and more time is spent in the Internet and in front of TVs and PlayStations.

This is an important observation, which pulls the rug out from under the mantra - currently en vogue amongst theoretical educators (Theoretical educator - me? I'm at the chalk face!) - of the "bildungsferne Gesellschaftsschichten" ("social strata at a distance from education"). Maybe the idea that a lack of education is solely caused by a lack of money needs to be rethought. Wealth does not protect from ignorance - I mean, look at the Royal Family or Apricot Boomtown.

The culprits, according to Gaschke, are middle-class parents who - although still passively upholding old educational ideals - fail to practice what they preach:

Ein geübter Leser wird man nur durch … Üben. Und die Übung beginnt durch das Vorbild der Eltern, durch Vorlesen, Erzählen und Über-Geschichten-Sprechen.

[You only become a accomplished reader by ... practising. And practice begins with the parental model, with being read to, with telling and talking about stories].

Quite right. However, it seems that Gaschke is losing the argument when she elevates the cultural practice of reading to a moral act:

Warum aber ist Lesekompetenz heute überhaupt noch wichtig? Weil sich dem geübten Leser Fragen stellen, die auch im Leben wichtig sind: Worum geht es? Ist das, was ich lese, glaubwürdig? Ist Ironie im Spiel? Was empfinden die Figuren in einer Geschichte?

[But why is reading still important today? Because the accomplished reader is confronted with questions that are also relevant in real life: What is this about? Is the story I'm reading credible? Is it ironic? What do the characters feel?]

Her mission statement: "Only those who read are able to empathise with others".

Well, here we are back to the Arnoldian fallacy that literature is a quasi-religion! This clearly is too simplistic.

If that were the case, then I should be surrounded, in my professional life, by supremely empathetic creatures. If reading made us all better people, then university literature departments would be free from violent strife, petty squabbles and parochial vanities - they would be sanctuaries of shared concern, intellectual openness and mutual respect.

Reader, let me tell you: They are not!

Also, if Gaschke were right, then most of human history (and pre-history) would have been empathy-free: an illiterate world of ruthless murder and rapine without remorse and regret until the Frankfurt Book Fair came along (but then again Zeit arts editors rarely think in an evolutionary time frame and are notorious for taking themselves too seriously).

Actually, it is not reading that leads us to ask the questions that Gaschke lists in the quote above: literature is only able to raise them because Homo sapiens can ask such questions and make such assessments. Our brain was there first! Reading merely trains cognitive skills that evolved for very different reasons - it is a further development of the human imagination, not that which shapes it.

Needless to say that the kind of responses that Gaschke hails as fundamentally literary are of course also triggered by other narrative artefacts, from soap operas to pop ballads (if the listener bothers to listen to the lyrics*). To be empathetic, we don't need books.

In other words, to defend the practice of reading, we have to come up with other, better explanations for the value of literature.**

Nevertheless, Gaschke and Michelle Obama would have a field day on Sesame Street:

Actually, this is kinda cute and doesn't deserve the kind of vicious commentary that raging loony libertarians have left at YouTube.

A final observation on role models: Why is it that in this day and age when universities across Europe have taken up the cause of internalisation with a vengeance - which is often seconded by the mysterious emergence of an administrative hydrocephalus and new central buildings to house it - administrative staff in international offices, who are prone to calling their students ignorant or parochial, often do not speak foreign languages or seem consummately reticent to travel. Talk about pots calling kettles black.

* Have you noticed, too, that only few people actually care about the words of songs?
** Lying in bed all day Saturday surrounded by a pile of books, with a pot of coffee in reach, being one of those explanations. Escapism. Not having to be in/with the world. Not wanting to get out of bed and still feeling that you are living.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

“The pleasure of the many cannot be made subservient to the prudery of the few”: or, “Wear as little as you can.”

Part of a series: a few things I ran across in Colindale yesterday.

Ban on Bare Legs?

Dancer Shocks Patrons of Royal Opera House


“Perfectly Proper,” Says Producer

The appearance of a bare-legged dancer in a song-scena at the Covent Garden Opera House, London, has so shocked the patrons of the Royal Opera House dances that the directors have decided that her costume must be “instantly modified,” or the production in which she appears will be banned.

In “While the Sahara Sleeps” there is a scene between the sheik and his Arabian dancing girl, who appears dressed in silver tinsel and with bare legs.

The protest against her dress was conveyed to the producers in a letter from Captain J. Russel Pickering, on behalf of the directors.

“We think the costume of the slave is distinctly indecorous,” says the letter, “and severe criticism has been levelled at us by our patrons. Bare legs on the ballroom floor do not, in our opinion, accord with the tradition of the Royal Opera House, and we must insist, unless the costume is instantly modified, on the banning of the scene altogether.”

“Frankly we are bewildered at the ultimatum,” said Mr. Lawrence Wright, the producer of the scena, to a Daily Herald representative yesterday. “The scena contains nothing that would not be considered perfectly proper at any vicarage tea party, and, besides, bare legs are the vogue at all the smartest fancy dress balls nowadays.”

Mr. Wright added that he was prepared to submit the matter to the theatre licensing authorities, and abide by their decision.

Daily Herald, 30 October 1926, p. 3

The story continued, and you'll be pleased to know it had a happy ending.


Objection that Came from Killjoys

The banning by the Covent Garden Opera House authorities of the bare leg slave girl costume in the song scena, “While the Sahara Sleeps,” has been lifted, and the scena will again be produced in the ballroom of the opera house this evening. It had been taken off in consequence of the ban.

Capt. J. Russell Pickering, general manager of the lessees of Covent Garden Opera House, confessed to the Daily Herald last night that he acted hastily in setting up the ban.

“The real objection to the costume,” he said, “I found came from killjoy sources with which it would not be desirable to be associated.”

“After all, in these days, the pleasure of the many cannot be made subservient to the prudery of the few, and the sheik scene in Mr. Laurence Wright’s scena is not obscene.”

It is understood that had the ban not been lifted, it was intended to produce the scena elsewhere.

Daily Herald, 5 November 1926, p. 9

And this, though not inspired directly by indecorous operatic dancing, seems not entirely unrelated. (There was something of a mania for swimming the Channel in that era, hence the reference in the first line.)


Short Skirts the Secret of Channel Swims


Discard Collars and Wear Knickerbockers

“That women have been so successful in swimming the Channel is partly due to the fact that they have trained themselves to stand the cold better than men.”

This was the dictum of Professor Leonard Hill in a lecture on dress to an audience of women at the Institute of Hygiene, London, yesterday. He said a useful little lot of advice was, “Wear as little as you can.”

“I have no objection,” he added “to the low necks and bare or silk stockinged legs which women have gone in for, so long as they are reasonable.”

“Pneumonia blouses are all nonsense. No girl has ever caught pneumonia through wearing a low blouse. It hardens her and helps her to resist such diseases.”

“Silk stockings and short skirts are good things, especially artificial silk stockings, which allow ultra-violet rays to penetrate to the skin. Artificial silk is better than natural silk, because you can get sunburnt through it.”


“Men were more coddled than women. It would be a great advantage if men got rid of their collars and took to open necks. Things were drifting that way. If men would go about in knickerbockers or running shorts it would be to their good.”

“With modern methods of education and constant exposure women seemed to be becoming the hardier sex. They were already coddling boys, and one day we might all be ruled by women.”

Daily Herald, 18 November 1926, p. 1.

Doctor Prof. Hill's call for men to adopt the collarless knickerbocker look fell, as far as I know, on deaf ears.

Which is, all in all, probably a good thing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brain garbage (nostalgia version reloaded)

I must share this here brief radio encounter from earlier today to relieve my poor brain of the unnecessary and overdone.

The original was by Hot Butter (1972) - not "like butter" - but here is the more choral Kraftwerk version:

Thought for the day

There’s such a lot of things. Such a lot of unusable things. Most things are unnecessary and overdone. Look around. We cannot send to the Third World all the garbage we don’t need any more. We have to go back to more simplicity, longevity.
Says German designer Dieter Rams - famous for simple and functional techno-commodities like the Braun SK 4 audio system (aka the "Schneewittchensarg) - in an interview with The Times.

The Braun SK 4

Too true, indeed - and not only as far as the world of things is concerned. There's so much garbage in my life, it makes me want to shout scream ....

Monday, November 09, 2009

The wall falls, live

For those who like their nostalgia with an extra portion of detail: Der Spiegel is presenting the news-wire reports from 9 November 1989 in, so to say, real time (German).

Here's the most recent, which reads like a message from another world:

+++ Krenz will kontrollierte Wahlen und marktorientierte Planwirtschaft +++

[10.15] Berlin (dpa) - Der DDR-Staats- und Parteichef Egon Krenz hat sich für eine demokratische Erneuerung des Sozialismus mit einer Entflechtung von Staat und Partei ausgesprochen und freie Wahlen angekündigt. In seiner mehrstündigen Rede am Mittwochabend vor dem Zentralkomitee der SED entwarf Krenz die Grundzüge eines Aktionsprogramms, das am Donnerstag vom ZK beraten wurde. Alle Reformen sollten der "revolutionären Erneuerung des Sozialismus" dienen. Zugleich wies Krenz alle Auffassungen zurück, die "auf eine Erosion oder gar den Umsturz der sozialistischen Staats- und Gesellschaftsordnung" hinausliefen.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Bravery, by any other name

I'm with Francis on this (and with Terry):

I’m glad that British military and civilian forces are in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban – a barbaric enemy of humankind – and helping the Afghan people build their country. I’m proud of our men and women, in uniform or otherwise, and trust their judgement on whether the struggle is worth it.

As for the fallen, we will remember them.

Exchange 'British' for 'German' and I would still agree, though the ISAF mission is even more unpopular here (i.e. Germany) than there.

I'm in London at the moment, and it's Remembrance Sunday, so maybe I'm being overly sentimental about this, but I think it's worth pointing out with reference to the above that the Federal Republic of Germany, until recently, did not even have a medal recognising bravery in combat. The first ones were awarded in July this year, to four soldiers in Afghanistan:

On 20th October, 2008 in the northern Afghan region of Kunduz a suicide bomber blew himself up near a vehicle carrying Henry Lukacz, Jan Berges, Alexander Dietzen and Markus Geist. The explosion killed two German paratroopers as well as five Afghan children. At the risk of their lives the four soldiers, between 28-33 years of age, rescued a seriously wounded soldier and stood by another one trapped inside the burning vehicle.

It was only recently, in fact, that the German defense minister was willing to use the word 'war' (Krieg) to describe the operation.

I happened to use the word 'tapfer' (brave) in a phone conversation with The Wife earlier tonight (in a very different context): she said the term comes across (linguistically) as a bit old-fashioned.

Which is unfortunate.

As there is no better word to describe the acts of staff-sergeant Geist and master-sergeants Lukacz, Berges and Dietzen.

Which should not be forgotten.

Problem solved

Perhaps this is too optimistic. And maybe it's a bit simplistic too.

But looking back at the fears that were expressed in 1989 and 1990 about German reunification (many of them expressed by Germans themselves), there is something to it as well:
“The fear was that this thing in the center of Europe, if it were allowed to become unified, was going to be a cancer once again and lead to Act III of the great European tragedy,” said Robert E. Hunter, a senior adviser at the RAND Corporation and an ambassador to NATO under President Bill Clinton.

Instead, Mr. Hunter said, “the German problem, which emerged with the unifying of Germany beginning in the 1860s, is one of the few problems in modern history that has been solved.”
'Solved' is a step too far.

But the article suggests that after its tumultuous, violent, and sometimes horrifying past, Germany might have become a bit, well, normal and boring.

Boring is good. Boring is just fine.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Tearing down the wall

The New York Times has a nifty set of images of before-and-after photographs along the Berlin Wall.

To get the full impact, you really do have to play with the little slidey back-and-forth effect they offer.

Very cool.

Somehow deeply moving.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday historical hyperbole

A quick dispatch from the British Library, from a book on the popular press in the mid 20th century:

Churchill's first election broadcast, on June 4, was the crucial episode in the early part of the [1945] campaign, and the Express's enthusiasm now found an issue instead of just a mood. The essence of his argument was bannered next day on the front page: Gestapo in Britain if Socialists win, and expanded in the leader:
Voters of Britain! Will you go down to history as the men and women who smashed the inhuman tyranny in Europe but were too tired or too bewildered or too dazzled by your own glory to save yourselves from tyranny at home?

After ripping the Gestapo out of the still beating heart of Germany, will you stand for a Gestapo under another name at home?...

Were you shocked to learn from Mr. Churchill that State control leads to Fascism?

Think hard about it, and see how true it is.
A.C.H. Smith, Paper Voices: The Popular Press and Social Change 1935-1965 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1975)

Heady stuff. (I mean...'ripping the Gestapo out of the still beating heart of Germany'...Strewth! What vivid prose.)

So this is what papers like the Express and Mail did before they had 'political correctness' to freak out about.

(And, of course, this was not all that long after at least one of them had expressed a certain fondness for the dreaded f-word.)

It is left only to admire the clear-eyed vision with which the Express editorial noted above accurately predicted the terrorised Gleichschaltung that followed Labour's victory in 1945.

Well done, chaps. Stay vigilant.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Thursday one-hit wonder

Does anyone out there remember this?

Thanks to Radio Rockland for bringing on the old prepubescent depression.

Actually, no: 1979 was my last good year before my long decline into teenage frustration - which only ended - oh, like - last autumn.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Serious business

One legacy of an earlier period of job seeking is a daily job-vacancies email I receive from I've never bothered to suspend it (partly out of laziness and partly out of the feeling that, who knows, maybe something worthwhile would come along), and I usually take a quick look through the offerings.

Today, among the usual openings for 'Lead Consultant SAP', 'Junior Berater für den Bereich Business Development' and 'Leiter, Abteilung IT-Entwicklung' was one that I've never seen before.


This is for German-speakers only it seems, (the full-time, permanent position is in Würzburg), judging by what is probably the most poetic job description I've ever seen.

But I note that along with a salary of €20-25k it offers not only a costume but also a tent ('Zelt').

What more could you want?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

'Spoken with the charm and purity of English vowel sounds.'

A few passages from one my current reads:

There is a continuing debate about how much blame the British motion picture industry must accept for the American domination of the inter-war market. At the peak of production British studios made only 30 per cent of what was on offer to British cinemas. But there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that the American invasion met with only token resistance -- even though, initially, the natives were far from friendly. 'The public at first found the American accent bewildering and missed much of the dialogue.' Instinctive resistance was, naturally enough, strongest outside London. 'The English working class and the northern working class in particular exercised a strong suspicion, not to say hatred, of the American idiom.'

Some British producers attempted to capitalise on what they hoped was anti-American sentiment. British International Films advertised its productions as 'Spoken with the charm and purity of English vowel sounds'. Gradually the cultural chauvinists were won over. By 1935, when Winifred Holtby wrote South Riding, the working class had actually absorbed the idioms they heard at the cinema. Elsie, the South Riding housemaid, was 'like most of her generation and locality...trilingual. She talked BBC English to her employer, Cinema American to her companions and Yorkshire dialect to old milkmen like Eli Dickson'. She, no doubt, subscribed to the ideas advanced by a working man in the Bolton survey.

British films are tame. The actors are self-conscious and wooden, the setting easily recognised as the work of novices. The man in the street likes pictures which advertise an American cast. One often hears the remark, 'It's a British picture, let's go somewhere else.'

From Roy Hattersley, Borrowed Time: The Story of Britain Between the Wars (London: Abacus, 2007), pp. 310-11.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A message from the past (or: Richard Dawkins slandered by German bishop)

There's so much wrong in the attack that Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Bishop of Cologne, launched against godless Dawkins in his All Saint's Day sermon that even the attempt to unravel this jumble of flawed, stupid prejudice seems futile:

"Ähnlich wie einst die Nationalsozialisten im einzelnen Menschen primär nur den Träger des Erbgutes seiner Rasse sahen, definiert auch der Vorreiter der neuen Gottlosen, der Engländer Richard Dawkins, den Menschen als 'Verpackung der allein wichtigen Gene', deren Erhaltung der vorrangige Zweck unseres Daseins sei ...."
("Like the Nazis, who saw the individual primarily as a carrier of his race's genes, the pioneer of the new atheists, the Briton Richard Dawkins defines human beings as 'containers for genes', whose preservation he considers to be the ultimate rationale for our existence.")
Sigh. Sometimes life is like hitting your head against a concrete wall, repeatedly. And I've been having a headbanging hell of a time lately, even without this benighted nonsense.