It’s just occurred to me that had I taken my holiday a couple of weeks later than I did, I could have returned to the country without any awareness that the Tory leadership had changed, and that Michael Howard was now offering the electorate an opposition with something of the right about it.
There’s a spooky Halloween thought.
I’ll be almost sorry* to see the exit of Ian Duncan Smith as Tory leader.
The man may have done nothing for his political party, and less for the political scene in Britain, but, paradoxically, he’ll be remembered for being a non-entity. Hence the curious fact that he is publicly known as “the quiet man”.
For me, his best moment is the one that is also likely to be seen as his political nadir; that awful speech at the recent Tory party annual conference. There he managed to utter a very rare example of a anti-mimetic political statement.
Mimetic political statements are a stock-in-trade. When a politician says anything starting “I am fully confident that…” they make damn sure they sound confident. Similarly “I am not worried about…”, “I care passionately about…” and all the rest get delivered with their relevant emotions overacted for the benefit of the audience.
IDS, the dear, managed the complete opposite. He completely fluffed his headline-grabbing soundbite from the conference speech, grinding out the desperate line “The quiet man is getting louder!” without any discernable increase in volume. He tried, oh he tried, but there was just nothing there. He just sounded more strained, like someone engaged in an increasingly forlorn stage whisper, increasingly furious, but unwilling to risk waking up the kids.
We might accept such incompetent performance from our friends and associates; it might even appear charming from the leader of a minor party or pressure group, but the Tories are traditionally stocked with barristers; professional speakers who could deliver a stinging rebuke with a raised eyebrow and an undertone of moral outrage as soon as they could sneeze (or, perhaps, cough). Every time he stumbled out his put-downs or snarls in parliament, IDS’s backbenchers must have groaned inwardly, for any one of them could have done better in terms of delivery.
I suspect that, in the end, they decided that a man who can’t control his own voice had no chance of controlling the snake pit that is the modern Tory party.
* Rhetorical ploy. Obviously not true. I’m deliberately not discussing policies or ideology.
“The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, with its unpronounceable title, indecipherable text, and unidentifiable author, is one of the most puzzling, enigmatic and fascinating books ever conceived. Since its publication (1499), it has surprised its readers with its vast knowledge of architecture and landscape and garden design, but also engineering, painting and sculpture. Part fictional narrative, and part scholarly treatise, the book is, in addition, an extreme expression of erotic furore, aimed at everything, especially architecture, that the protagonist Poliphilo encounters in his quest for his beloved Polia, whose name translated from the Greek as meaning “many things.” The book is also a political manifesto defending the right of women to express their own sexuality and the superiority of Eros, beauty and knowledge over aggression and war. Liane Lefaivre, in her Leon Battista Alberti’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, is the first to attribute this strange, dreamlike manifesto in defense of humanism to Leon Battista Alberti.”
The MIT Press holds an electronic facsimile of this curiosity, and the 172 woodcuts of the original version printed by Aldus Manutius are viewable online courtesy of Thames and Hudson. (Via socialfiction.org.)
I’m welcomed back to this green unpleasant land by someone trying to shove a packet of something into my hand at the train station.
I often wonder at the way the long and complex internal history of these isles is reduced to a simple procession of monarchs in our national stories, so I was surprised that this new product had been named to reflect one of the longest, bloodiest and still most emotive struggles for power in British history.
Jacob’s biscuits have sensitively decided to name their new snack biscuits Jacobites. If ever there was, this must be one of those instances where a name was suggested as an internal joke, the MD loved it, and nobody had the guts to explain to them exactly why it would make the company look like fools.
Remember the ‘45, eh?
Back in a couple of weeks.
While I’m away, please continue with the reading you were set earlier. There may be a test when I get back.
I don’t think that qwertyuiop has made it into the dictionary yet, as it’s one of those very few recognisable strings of characters that has no semantic meaning.
Or does it?
Leaving aside the fact that the string has appeared in at least one book title (Homage to Qwert Yuiop and Other Writings by Anthony Burgess), surely there’s a case to be made that ‘qwertyuiop’ is a form of performative expression; that by writing it, you indicate that you are typing. Thus, ‘qwertyuiop’ means ‘I am now typing’.
I’ve been spotting more and more frequently another of these rare birds I’d also like to add to the dictionary.
‘sdfsdf ‘means, I would argue, ‘I am testing’, or even more specifically, ‘I am now testing what can be seen’. It’s another performative expression because there is no semantic distance between typing this string and doing what it says, in the same way that there is no semantic distance between saying ‘I do’ in your marriage vows and actually performing your marriage vows. Saying is doing.
In a time when saying seems very much unrelated to doing (and, I fear, vice versa) it’s encouraging to feel that there are a few more of these performatives around.
Unconscious street theatre, excerpt No. 1
Barrel-chested lad on Finchley Road, calling to an upstairs window:
“Stella! Hey, Stellaaaa!”
Marvellous, but I’m not holding my breath for excerpt No. 2.
Existing at the hitherto unsuspected nexus of Situationism and the Semantic Web, the proposed Psychogeographical Markup Language seems oddly, cruelly, workable, seen alongside some of the woolier things already proposed for semantic web protocols.
Distinct (is a place distinctive, or has it distinct features)
Border (is this street a definite break with the previous in a psychogeographical sense)
Open (the node present itself as welcoming)
Close (the node present itself as not welcome to visitors)
Lively (a place seems evolving, a centre for social interaction)
Gloom (a place nobody cares for)
Crowds (there are more people than a space can handle)
Desolate (the space is designed for more people than there are present)
Hectic (a space is filled up with objects)
Empty (a space is devoid of objects)
Planned Behaviour (the node implies certain behaviour/way to cross it)
Ronnie O’Sullivan is quite a lad. Sometime snooker world champion, perpetually in the tabloids for his substance-assisted hijinks, he’s the quintessence of Essex wide-boy. Just don’t ask what his dad did; or indeed how long he got inside for doing it.
Suffice to say that the body was found.
Given the lad’s reputation, this week’s bemused stories of O’Sullivan fils converting to Islam in a burger bar seemed to fit into the double-decker-found-on-the-moon category of tabloid fantasy.
Encouragingly, though, it seems that the stories were based on fact and fully lived up to Fleet Street’s exacting standards of half-truth. Ronnie did go to a mosque, and was converted, but, with insouciant style befitting one of snooker’s greats, he didn’t realise what was going on.
“Actually, even when they called me to the front of the mosque I didn’t know what was happening. They were very friendly, and in my ignorance I thought it was just a social thing - their way of welcoming a stranger. I felt a bit overawed by all the people around me, especially because they were talking all the time.”
Further evidence, if it were needed, that when the tabloids proclaim “you couldn’t make it up!”, they’re really whooping “we don’t need to make it up!”
This week’s other “you couldn’t make it up!” moment, was of course, Tony Blair speaking yesterday morning:
“This is an interim report and the issue that people should focus on is this: will they disclose evidence that this a breach of the United Nations resolutions that would have triggered a war with UN support if that information had been before the UN?”
As most people will be answering that with a resounding “No”, perhaps Tony can make use of Ronnie’s bemused conclusion:
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want to offend, and I just thought I’d keep everyone happy then politely leave. But now I know differently.”
The licensed music spots on the London Underground seem to have precipitated a bit of a busking arms race. Gone are the guitars strumming pre-electric Dylan or mournful Travis numbers. Now the tunnels and caverns echo with interminable Hendrix-style electric guitar solos, intricate amplified mandolin riffs, miked up excerpts of violin concertos. The Tube’s gone electric.
Also new-ish on the Tube is the spread of whiteboards telling punters in the station about the current service level on the various lines. At London Bridge this morning the staff had eschewed the colourless “Normal service” or “Regular service” or even the cautious “No reported problems”. Instead we had a full rack of cheery “Good service today” messages against all the lines. It was a damned lie, of course (I eventually squeezed on to the third train through), but a sweet thought nevertheless.
Finally, not detritus, but certainly worth noting, Diamond Geezer’s textmap of London, is both an aide memoire and an oblique tribute to Harry Beck.