Friday, March 30, 2007
Good people have become a defeated class in Blair's Britain
"...Such a development could not have taken place overnight. My wife, who is French, was attracted to the culture of this country because, as late as 1979 or 1980, the people, including administrators in hospitals, were obviously upright, whatever else their failings might have been. A quarter of a century later, all that has changed; deviousness, ruthlessness, an eye fixed on the main chance, sanctimony in the midst of obvious wrongdoing, toadying and bullying have become the ruling characteristics of the British people, or at least those of them who are in charge of something. The old virtues - stoicism, honesty, fortitude, irony, good humour and so forth - can still be found, but only in people who are of no importance, at least in the public administration. If I may put it very strongly, good people are like a defeated class in this country.
How has this all happened? I think that the spread of tertiary education has had quite a lot to do with it. First, it created a very large class of people who had to be found white collar jobs, since there is nothing more dangerous for a society's stability than a large number of unemployed people who consider themselves to be intellectuals. The obvious way to absorb such people was the expansion of the public service.
Second, the expansion of tertiary education resulted in the over-intellectualisation of society. Unfortunately, the average or median level of intellectual activity was very poor, but it meant that the concept of virtue in society changed. Henceforth, virtue was not the exercise of discipline, self-control or benevolence for the sake of others, but the expression of the right opinions of the moment. This could not have been better illustrated than in the case of the Conservative front-bencher, a former colonel who was very much liked and respected by his black soldiers, several of whom he promoted, and who defended him vigorously, who said something marginally unacceptable (its truth or untruth was not important), and had to be sacked as a consequence. Sticks and stones may not break my bones, but words will always hurt me.
When words become the test of virtue, they also become the masks of vice. That is why sanctimony and ruthless self-interest are such powerful allies."
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Mr. P talks to Sir Basil Seal...And proves he is the chap...
"Once again it takes an Englishman to say the things publicly that I have said privately for years--and never out loud for fear of being dragged into a hollow square of middle-aged men dressed in black t-shirts and jeans with shaved heads and wire-rimmed granny glasses who proceed to deprive me of my button-down shirt.
"Be an individual; join our group" is a slogan that covers more than just clothing in this country. It sums up the whole range of life, from the politics we follow to the books we read (or buy and keep on the coffee table to give the impression that we have read them). It is a land where anything formal and beautiful is immediately smeared with the label "conservative", where "creativity" in art is a code word for a kind of free-form chaos that mirrors and ratifies the moral abyss in the lives of those who create the it as well as those who patronize it.
You have merely scratched the surface, my dear Basil...but what a surface to scratch. You had better make sure all your shots are up to date."
Britain in the Ashtray
"...Let it simply be said that Notes on a Scandal shows a kind of genius. That genius lies in the completeness with which it reveals a society as free from all ethical moorings - as free even from the vaguest recollection of ethical moorings - as Weimar Republican Berlin. Apart from two minor characters (Stephen’s bewildered father, and a briefly glimpsed veterinary surgeon who attends to Barbara’s cat), the only figure capable of behaving like an adult is Barbara. And she herself soon comes to take an unhealthy interest, possibly erotic, in Sheba. The difference is that she realizes the interest’s unhealthiness, and labors to abide by a moral code that she did not simply filch from last month’s number of Marie-Claire. Such labors make her as undesirable a freak, to her colleagues, as if she were Jane Austen. Therefore she must be punished with the full rigor of BoBo justice, where the Nanny State’s law counts for everything and the wider natural law counts for nothing; where friendships are ended not by grown-up discussion, but by the issuance of restraining orders; where being a narcissistic little girl trapped in a fortyish art teacher’s body is considered, not a disgrace to adulthood, but a valid lifestyle choice.
There is no reason to suppose that this near-perfect depiction of nihilism exaggerates, in any way, the quotidian horror of Britain under Blair. There is every reason to suppose that, if anything, it understates such horror. The British dispatches from Theodore Dalrymple, Peter Hitchens, and Geoffrey Wheatcroft regularly convey to us a land as unrecognizable from its 1970s self (some of us remember that self from our youth) as today’s Spain is from Franco’s. Note that to perceive Britain’s current thoroughgoing civilizational corruption, we need not even behold Blairism’s most specific miseries: the exorbitant crime rates that have ineluctably resulted from gun control; the inundation of every British metropolis under Islam’s tide; the home-grown terrorists; or the same-sex “civil union” bill that a putatively Christian Queen Elizabeth II signed into law. Notes on a Scandal leaves these unmentioned. They would be irrelevant. Sheba Hart’s environment is, heaven help us, the comparatively amiable face of modern Britain. Orwell’s words remain apposite:
“Emancipation is complete. Freud and Machiavelli have reached the outer suburbs ... one is driven to feel that snobbishness, like hypocrisy, is a check upon behavior whose value from a social point of view has been underrated.”..."
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
See this film...
I accidentally saw this film and found it to be a delightfully biting satire. It is a film by Mike Judge (Office Space) and he skewers the entire breakfast buffet from the land of the vulgarians in a pleasantly savage manner. Be careful not to mistake this film for what it is satirizing...This would be easy to do and some of the material is extremely vulgar and painful to watch. But it has to be done this way in order to be effective, so bear with it, and you will be rewarded. There are some very funny and hilariously satirical bits in this film...I have been ranting against pop culture for years, and Mr. Judge has come along and skewered it on film for me. Thank you, sir...
"...A perfectly cast Luke Wilson stars as a quintessential everyman who hibernates for centuries and wakes up in a society so degraded by insipid popular culture, crass consumerism, and rampant anti-intellectualism that he qualifies as the smartest man in the world. Corporations cater even more unashamedly to the primal needs of the lowest common denominator—Starbucks now traffics in handjobs as well as lattes—and the English language has devolved into a hilarious patois of hillbilly, Ebonics, and slang.
Idiocracy's dumb-ass dystopia suggests a world designed by Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, a world where the entire populace skirts the fine line separating mildly retarded from really fucking stupid, and where anyone displaying any sign of intelligence is derided as a fag. Working on a sprawling canvas, Judge fills the screen with visual jokes, throwaway gags, and incisive commentary on the ubiquity of advertising—for instance, with the presidential-cabinet member who works paid plugs for Carl's Jr. into everyday conversations. Like so much superior science fiction, Idiocracy uses a fantastical future to comment on a present in which Paris Hilton is infinitely more famous than Nobel laureates. There's a good chance that Judge's smartly lowbrow Idiocracy will be mistaken for what it's satirizing, but good satire always runs the risk—to borrow a phrase from a poster-boy for the reverse meritocracy—of being misunderestimated..."
Monday, March 26, 2007
Interview with Sir Basil Seal
The Belleview Tattle
Monday, March 26, 2007
by Brian Howard
BT: Well, Mr. Seal, I'm...
BS: I'm going to smoke.
BT: Er, yes...What?
BS: I have a cigarette, I have lighted it, I am smoking.
BT: Well, yes, Okay...Well, I'm...
BS: Would you like a cigarette?
BT: What? Smoke? Oh, no, no don't smoke...Uh, but go ahead...
BS: Thank you.
BT: This is quite a room...Kind of almost like a Barnes and Noble...
BS: Yes, except mine actually has books in it...
BT: Well, yes, yes it does...
BS: Are you the young man who rang up to talk about how to dress? I take from your appearance and the absence of a proper crease on any article of your clothing that you are seeking some personal guidance?
BT: Well no, I mean yes, I'm here from the Tattler to interview you about fashion advice...
BS: Did you say fashion?
BT: Uh, yes...
BS: You obviously have me confused with someone else. I know nothing about fashion.
BT: Er, yes, but...I mean, I wanted to talk about what to wear, and that sort of thing, you know...
BS: That sort of thing? You mean you want me to dispense some sage advice on how the American male should dress this season? Something along the lines of fabric choices, cut, drape, shoes, hose...That sort of thing?
BT: Yes, yes, that's it exactly...I'd like to ask...
BT: Ask you...What?...Why?...I don't...
BS: Why would you want me to dispense such advice to your readers when only four of them will understand the half of it and two of those will ignore it anyway.
BT: Well, Mr. Seal, I'm sure there are many men interested in what you...
BS: Will you take tea?
BT: What? Tea? Iced tea, now? I...
BS: My dear boy, I am having tea, you notice the tray here between us? It, of course is not iced by any means...I will pour you a cup, you look as if you could use it...A little demerara, a little cream...There you go, relax, take your time...Better? You were saying?
BS: I beg your pardon?
BT: I mean dang, sorry, it's hot...
BS: You amaze me...
BT: Well, dang...I was saying, that I'm sure our readers would love to hear what you have to say...I mean some men are still interested in how to dress in the proper way...
BS: Yes, yes, I'm sure that's why the nearest tailor is in London...
BS: Never mind...Let me give you the best possible advice for a gentleman who is serious about dressing properly and well in America...And to then be appreciated as a well dressed gentleman...
BT: Okay...What is it?
BT: Move? You mean move your body? Shake a leg? Move?
BS: Move. Away.
BT: Meaning what exactly? Leave and move?
BS: Both. To a land without baseball caps, t-shirts or trousers worn about the knees. Move to a land without fashion designers or logos or gym shoes as the primary mode of footwear. Move to a land where young men are not given "Mr. T Starter Kits" on their birthday. Move to a land where "comfort" is not used as an excuse to be lazy and slovenly, where "to express oneself" is not used as an excuse to abandon self respect and respect for others. Move from a land where people tout "individualism" but are the biggest sheep on the planet, following every fad or whim that someone else tells them is "the thing". Where proper modes of male dress are not dictated by illiterate half-wits working for women's magazines. The rot is too deep my friend...The only thing left for it, is to move. Find a good tailor, it won't be in this country, outside of New York City anyway, and move close by.
BS: More tea?
BT: No, no thanks, I think I've got it now, I'll be running along...
BS: You're not staying to dinner? You are quite welcome...
BT: No, no thanks, gotta go...Thanks for your time Mr. Seal...Very interesting...
BS: I am always happy to help out in any way I can...Let me show you out...
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Read and learn with Sir Basil...
Of course, we would be better of today, had we listened to Saki yesterday...
HERMANN THE IRASCIBLE - A STORY OF THE GREAT WEEP
It was in the second decade of the twentieth century, after the Great Plague had devastated England, that Hermann the Irascible, nicknamed also the Wise, sat on the British throne. The Mortal Sickness had swept away the entire Royal Family, unto the third and fourth generations, and thus it came to pass that Hermann the Fourteenth of Saxe-Drachsen-Wachtelstein, who had stood thirtieth in the order of succession, found himself one day ruler of the British dominions within and beyond the seas. He was one of the unexpected things that happen in politics, and he happened with great thoroughness. In many ways he was the most progressive monarch who had sat on an important throne; before people knew where they were, they were somewhere else. Even his Ministers, progressive though they were by tradition, found it difficult to keep pace with his legislative suggestions.
"As a matter of fact," admitted the Prime Minister, "we are hampered by these votes-for-women creatures; they disturb our meetings throughout the country, and they try to turn Downing Street into a sort of political picnic-ground."
"They must be dealt with," said Hermann.
"Dealt with," said the Prime Minister; "exactly, just so; but how?"
"I will draft you a Bill," said the King, sitting down at his typewriting machine, "enacting that women shall vote at all future elections. Shall vote, you observe; or, to put it plainer, must. Voting will remain optional, as before, for male electors; but every woman between the ages of twenty-one and seventy will be obliged to vote, not only at elections for Parliament, county councils, district boards, parish councils, and municipalities, but for coroners, school inspectors, churchwardens, curators of museums, sanitary authorities, police-court interpreters, swimming-bath instructors, contractors, choir-masters, market superintendents, art-school teachers, cathedral vergers, and other local functionaries whose names I will add as they occur to me. All these offices will become elective, and failure to vote at any election falling within her area of residence will involve the female elector in a penalty of £10. Absence, unsupported by an adequate medical certificate, will not be accepted as an excuse. Pass this Bill through the two Houses of Parliament and bring it to me for signature the day after to-morrow."
From the very outset the Compulsory Female Franchise produced little or no elation even in circles which had been loudest in demanding the vote. The bulk of the women of the country had been indifferent or hostile to the franchise agitation, and the most fanatical Suffragettes began to wonder what they had found so attractive in the prospect of putting ballot-papers into a box. In the country districts the task of carrying out the provisions of the new Act was irksome enough; in the towns and cities it became an incubus. There seemed no end to the elections. Laundresses and seamstresses had to hurry away from their work to vote, often for a candidate whose name they hadn't heard before, and whom they selected at haphazard; female clerks and waitresses got up extra early to get their voting done before starting off to their places of business. Society women found their arrangements impeded and upset by the continual necessity for attending the polling stations, and week-end parties and summer holidays became gradually a masculine luxury. As for Cairo and the Riviera, they were possible only for genuine invalids or people of enormous wealth, for the accumulation of o10 fines during a prolonged absence was a contingency that even ordinarily wealthy folk could hardly afford to risk.
It was not wonderful that the female disfranchisement agitation became a formidable movement. The No-Votes-for-Women League numbered its feminine adherents by the million; its colours, citron and old Dutch-madder, were flaunted everywhere, and its battle hymn, "We don't want to Vote," became a popular refrain. As the Government showed no signs of being impressed by peaceful persuasion, more violent methods came into vogue. Meetings were disturbed, Ministers were mobbed, policemen were bitten, and ordinary prison fare rejected, and on the eve of the anniversary of Trafalgar women bound themselves in tiers up the entire length of the Nelson column so that its customary floral decoration had to be abandoned. Still the Government obstinately adhered to its conviction that women ought to have the vote.
Then, as a last resort, some woman wit hit upon an expedient which it was strange that no one had thought of before. The Great Weep was organized. Relays of women, ten thousand at a time, wept continuously in the public places of the Metropolis. They wept in railway stations, in tubes and omnibuses, in the National Gallery, at the Army and Navy Stores, in St. James's Park, at ballad concerts, at Prince's and in the Burlington Arcade. The hitherto unbroken success of the brilliant farcical comedy "Henry's Rabbit" was imperilled by the presence of drearily weeping women in stalls and circle and gallery, and one of the brightest divorce cases that had been tried for many years was robbed of much of its sparkle by the lachrymose behaviour of a section of the audience.
"What are we to do?" asked the Prime Minister, whose cook had wept into all the breakfast dishes and whose nursemaid had gone out, crying quietly and miserably, to take the children for a walk in the Park.
"There is a time for everything," said the King; "there is a time to yield. Pass a measure through the two Houses depriving women of the right to vote, and bring it to me for the Royal assent the day after to-morrow."
As the Minister withdrew, Hermann the Irascible, who was also nicknamed the Wise, gave a profound chuckle.
"There are more ways of killing a cat than by choking it with cream," he quoted, "but I'm not sure," he added, "that it's not the best way."
Friday, March 23, 2007
Meet Sir Basil Seal
Now people, be honest, do you really think I look like a snob in my portrait?
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Sir Basil Seal salutes: Padre M....
As many of you know, the good Padre M. is the official Padre of Man About Mayfair as well as the Chaplain of the RCBfA. He was kind enough to share this photograph of himself and Fr. Tucker of Dappled Things, strolling in their soutanes, (the good Padre is on the left) after we had been discussing the state of priestly dress in my diocese. What I like about these young men of God, is that they look like young men of God. Now, I am a Latin Masser, so the soutane is the only garb you will see in my little world, but I must say that in the wider church, it has all but disappeared, although the good news is that according to Padre M it is still widely worn in his diocese of Arlington.
Now the good Padre has informed me that he serves as my official Padre because he believes that I am a test sent to him by Satan, and he is not the sort to back down from a dust-up with the Evil One. I told him, that by happy coincidence, that is exactly the same thing that my parents always told me while I was growing up and trying to locate where they had moved to while I was away at school...So the Padre probably has something there...Anyway, he is a fine young man, and a dedicated servant of God, and I'm thankful to have him in my life. He also has a very keen sense of humor, which makes his association with me much easier on him.
As Padre M's fame grows (he is described as the next Fulton Sheen and will no doubt one day put on the red hat) there have been a few, less than reverent, shall we say, young ladies who have noticed that the Padre has been blessed with strikingly good looks. Some have even gone so far as to dub him the nations number one "Father What-a-Waste"! Now ladies, please...It is true that the good Padre is a very handsome young man, but his call to the ministry is by no means a waste. As the Lord has blessed him with physical beauty (a small portion of which Sir Basil would have been thankful a few years back) we have been blessed by the Padre's dedication to God and the Church and his ministry to us all. Not a "waste" by any means...
So here's to you Padre! We need more like you. Keep up the good work and may God bless you and your Bishop and may the Lord keep you safe and well. I promise to try not to test you...(much)...
Sir Basil Seal
Sir Basil Seal asks: Whose your Llama?
Back in the day, Sir Basil Seal would take it strong to the hole...
But he preferred to lurk on the outside and spot up for the easy jumpah and play little or no defense while passing only under duress. Since March Madness has rolled around in the States, many of my readers write to me and say: "Sir Basil, if I remember correctly, back in the day, were you not somewhat the basketball god"...Well, in all modesty, I must confess that I was. You see, a small portion of my school days were spent in the States, against my wishes of course, but there you are...When I arrived on campus, it was common knowledge that I was a lawn tennis phenom in the Mother Country and of course played Cricket and was somewhat a hand with a foil, so the coaching staff immediately signed me up for basketball. Of course they recognized my superior English athletic ability, my fleet feet and my Adonis like physique...I also happened to be the only person available at that time to make up a side, but I'm not sure that factored into it...But as you can see, canvas shoes (Chuck Taylors by Converse, even today my only sneaker is the Jack Purcell by, of course, Converse. How they have survived Nike I have no idea) were good enough for us, we actually wore socks and pulled them up to our thighs proudly, we bravely donned our "Daisy Duke shorts" (you know the one's, with the little belt on the front) and played ball. We did not dunk, which was illegal, not that any of us could reach the rim anyway, and we, especially me, stood way outside and drained the jumpah, for which we were awarded two points, not three. And most importantly we were smart enough not to try and compete with the brothers...I rarely watch the game today, the players are just so good, that it is kind of embarrassing to remember how terrible most of us were. Although I will add that the uniforms worn by todays players are just absolutely ridiculous. Choose pants or shorts, one or the other please. Plus being able to turn-the-ball-over while dribbling and getting those nebulous 6 or 7 steps to the basket doesn't hurt performance either...Well anyway, it's not Cricket, but when in Rome...Although short, white and slow with no ability to break free of gravity, we had fun and of course loads of style...
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Cathy Seipp, RIP
Monarchy in the age of New Labour
"...Anyone who tries to discuss the political role of the monarchy is immediately banged over the head by tedious quotations from Walter Bagehot (it helps a lot if you know this is pronounced Badjot), who for some reason is believed to be the last word on the subject, thanks to some 19th-century scribblings that have become famous. He limited the functions of the monarch to muttering hesitant advice, and perhaps warnings, into the ears of ministers. This is taken as a sort of gospel on the subject.
And this might have worked in the dead era when the British establishment was run by gentlemen. Though don't be so sure. George V exerted all his influence to obtain a peaceful settlement in Ireland in 1921, which few can object to, but was he entitled to do so? He may well have gone beyond his powers in helping set up the National Government of 1931. Edward VIII came close to causing complete constitutional catastrophe. George VI utterly disgraced himself when he publicly lauded Neville Chamberlain's catastrophic surrender at Munich in 1938, an error he atoned for later but which oughtn't to be overlooked, ever. It is not often enough remembered that George VI and his Queen (the future Queen Mother) invited Chamberlain on to the balcony of Buckingham Palace to bathe in the cheers and admiration of a gigantic, deluded crowd, the whole embarrassing scene illuminated by the only anti-aircraft searchlights then available in London.
There are a couple of interesting fictional reflections on this that are worth looking at. George Macdonald Fraser's 'Mr American', one of his few non-Flashman books, contains an well-observed and historically well-informed depiction of Edward VII and examines the cunning and shrewdness that monarch used to keep pre-1914 Britain from flying apart. Constantine Fitz Gibbon's enjoyable and bitter Cold War thriller 'When the Kissing Had to Stop’ has some cunningly-described scenes as various highly responsible and senior persons try to use the traditional safeguards of the British constitution to prevent a pretty obvious coup d'etat. In an entirely believable way, they all persuade themselves that they are powerless to act until it is too late, and the putsch, with all its terrible consequences, succeeds.
Why does this matter? I think our obsession with 'democracy' as the only thing that makes government legitimate tends to blind us to the importance of other things. Why do we make such a fetish out of universal suffrage? If you had a choice between liberty and democracy - which are by no means the same thing, which would you pick? If you had a choice between the rule of public opinion and the rule of law, which would you pick? Are we safer with both Houses of Parliament 'elected' by party machines, or with at least one House whose members are immune from 'democratic' party pressure?
Actually, pure democracy would be unbearable, since every politician, to survive or prosper, would have to be a crowd-pleasing Blair type (actually, this now seems to be more and more what we have got).
Even assuming that we could reconstruct something like a decent education system, it is hard to see how a state governed purely by the popular will could be anything other than a corrupt anarchy, or a demagogic dictatorship. The purest product of mass democracy since it came into being was Adolf Hitler - whose National Socialists would have won an absolute majority in the Reichstag under our first-past-the post system, by the way. This isn't an argument against that system( which I favour) just a warning against being complacent.
Mass opinion can prevent good actions, as well as stimulating bad ones. It was American democracy, and the fervent campaigns of the America Firsters, that prevented Franklin Roosevelt from aiding Britain against Hitler. US public opinion was dead against involvement in a European war, and it's still not clear what would have happened if Hitler hadn't declared war on the USA after Pearl Harbor.
So most serious wielders of power in democratic states devise ways of frustrating, or getting round the 'people's will' which they praise in public. Mostly, these days, these anti-democrats are of the left. In the US, a largely liberal elite has for decades been using the unelected third chamber of Congress - the Supreme Court - to pass radical social legislation. In Canada, left-wingers who could never get anywhere in parliamentary politics have exploited the 'Charter of Rights and Freedoms' to do the same sort of thing.
And the European Convention on Human Rights gives liberal judges and the lawyers the same power to intervene here. The balance of our mixed constitution, partly as a result of this, has tipped heavily towards the Left. Parliament, especially the House of Commons, is now the servant of a left-wing governing party, not at all its master. So who or what can speak for tradition, for conservative opinions, for private life and family, for inheritance and continuity? Certainly not the Tory Party, which flatly refused to defend the hereditary principle against the attacks of Baroness Jay (who just happened to be the daughter of Jim Callaghan, and had no other visible qualification for her grand post as Leader of the Lords, in one of the best jokes of the 1990s).
That Tory failure to defend heredity was a warning to the British people and the monarchy that worse was to come. We all actually value inheritance - we expect to leave, or be left our goods and wealth in legally enforceable wills. We all know that we inherit important characteristics and gifts from our parents, and hope to pass such things on. Our state, with its memory and experience stretching back a thousand years, inherits each generation the principles of law and justice and liberty wrought by centuries of experience and combat. So what is wrong with a Head of State who embodies this idea?
Nothing, except that he or she gets in the way of the Left's desire for total control over the state, especially over the things previously regarded as politically neutral and so loyal to the crown - the civil service, the armed forces and the police. All these bodies are now increasingly politicised. I think that the moment is approaching when the monarchy has either to assert itself or be abolished. The danger is that, in asserting itself, it may get abolished as a punishment, while being slandered as unrepresentative, elitist etc. It will be a very difficult and risky moment..."
Monday, March 19, 2007
"It was February 24, 1949. A bitter winter rain battered the Notre Dame campus. Unconcernedly striding through it, despite water streaming over the brim of his bowler hat and saturating his serviceable tweed coat, was Evelyn Waugh (pronounced EVE-lin war).
Writer of the U.S. best sellers Brideshead Revisited (1945) and The Loved One (1948), Waugh had arrived first-class to examine the church of immigrant Catholic Americans who had made the same trip from Europe traveling steerage. During his two-part winter of 1948-49 reporting trip for Life magazine, it is unlikely Waugh actually met an immigrant, unless one happened to wait on him in a restaurant or on a train.
Half-a-pace behind, and equally wet, was Ken Thoren, intrepid reporter for Notre Dame's weekly, The Scholastic. This was Thoren's sole opportunity to buttonhole Waugh, who had addressed the crowded Navy Drill Hall on campus the previous evening on his eminently repeatable topic, "Three Convert Writers" -- referring to his fellow Englishmen G.K. Chesterton, Father Ronald Knox and Graham Greene.
Waugh's choice of topic was deceptively easy -- Knox and Greene were personal friends, and he knew Chesterton fairly well. He spoke entertainingly, with wit and without notes, according to one young priest present that evening, Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC. However, his visit to Notre Dame and other U.S. Catholic colleges was something of a charade. He was not in America to sell himself but to indulge himself. He'd been in the United States the year before with his wife, Laura, on a luxurious trip to Hollywood underwritten by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which wanted to make Brideshead Revisited into a movie.
What he sought in 1948 was another excuse to escape from a war-torn England and his five children, all younger than 11. He didn't like the company of children. Nor did he like England's socialist government and its policies, which he referred to as "Welfaria."
In Britain, everything that was essential was rationed: food, fuel, clothing, even travel money. The British were limited to a mere 20 pounds ($100) British currency foreign travel allowance. Waugh, therefore, laid his America plans carefully..."
"...At Notre Dame, on the dismal February morning following his talk, Waugh sat back in a leather chair in the students' dining hall, puffed on a cigar and talked informally with 15 or so students. (In Life magazine he referred to America's young Catholics as a "Catholic proletariat.") Father Leo L. Ward, CSC, moderated the discussion. The dining room conversation was ended by a telephone call that advised Waugh he must leave for the train station. As the English writer departed, he let hang the answer to the students' final question, "What do you think of America?"
The Waugh who addressed the Navy Drill Hall audience was unabashedly anti-American. Much of it, but not all, was a pose. Unlike his deliberate rudeness to people he did not know, Waugh's anti-Americanism waned with the years.
Now, striding through the rain, Waugh tackled the "America" topic by addressing the unavailability of alcohol in the university cafeteria, "I should think," he told Scholastic reporter Thoren, "you would have great tankards of wine or liquor at the end of your [cafeteria] lines instead of those teetotaling liquids. One should consume great quantities of wine while eating."
At which point Father Ward caught up with the wet duo and began to explain University regulations regarding alcoholic consumption. Waugh would have none of it. "I still maintain," he said, "that [wine and beer in the cafeteria] is better than having them take swigs of gin in their lodgings. Which they probably do, don't they?" Waugh's question provoked no response from Father Ward. Meantime another man arrived with a black umbrella.
Waugh wouldn't let the topic go. He turned to the trio and asked if they knew what Chesterton had to say about drinking. They admitted they did not. So the three stood in the rain as Waugh, under the umbrella and showing off, faced them and recited:
Feast on wine or fast on water
And your honor shall stand sure,
God Almighty's son and daughter
He the valiant, she the pure;
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind attention,
Go and pour them down the sink.
And with that he disappeared into the infirmary to await the University chauffeur..."
"...in 1928, he was the toast of London for his book Decline and Fall. Two years after that he was receiving plaudits in New York as the daring, entertaining, witty, delightfully ironic chronicler of the era's Bright Young People.
On a far deeper level, Notre Dame's Catholic students would have admired -- or been mystified by -- what Waugh was currently up to as a Catholic: deliberately sacrificing his career and glowing future.
For the laudatory reviewers had recoiled when Waugh became a "Catholic" writer. Waugh fully understood. He wrote that his Catholic novel Brideshead Revisited had cost him "the loss of such esteem as I once enjoyed among my contemporaries."
The esteem had been real enough. The pre-eminent American critic Edmund Wilson, in the 1930s had described Waugh as "the only first-rate comic genius that has appeared in English since Bernard Shaw." In 1945, however, when Brideshead Revisited appeared, with its unhappy family of committed, fallen away or newly attracted Roman Catholics, Wilson scoffed, "It is a Catholic tract," and "as the author's taste fails him, the excellent writing goes to seed."
In 1947, Waugh turned down the most money he'd ever see in his life, roughly $1 million (in today's dollars), by refusing to let MGM film Brideshead Revisited -- because he wanted to retain control of its Catholic message, its "theology."
After 1948's The Loved One he would place his pen at the service of the church -- though on his own terms -- and get along as best he could. He would return to the path he'd set himself on with Brideshead Revisited; he would write books about Catholic Christianity not aimed at Catholics.
The parallel lines and crossovers between Waugh the Catholic man and Waugh the Catholic writer are worth a brief explanation..."
The Way of the WASP
"...The matter of social class in the United States is intriguing, because as a democratic republic we ostensibly did away with all aristocracy. While this affords a measure of fluidity to the various strata of society similar to the fluidity available in the economic strata (albeit with something of a lag), it also means the notions of class are a difficult target to keep in one’s sights. In places such as the United Kingdom, the matter is far more rigid. There is a monarch as well as dukes, earls, barons and viscounts, plus tomes such as “Debrett’s Peerage” to help everyone keep all these details straight. Fortunately, here in the United States we have something similar; the aforesaid “Social Register.”
While the whole getting-in process is gilded with a glittering lack of specifics, it is a very safe wager this is one of those invitation-only affairs. As near as I can tell, it seems anyone eager to get listed therein must be sponsored and seconded by a number of people already listed. If time is of the essence one may, of course, marry a listee, which seems to work well for women marrying a listee. Men who marry a listee usually see their listee metamorphose into a former listee. Why the Y chromosome should prove a more reliable indicator of NOKDness is something yet to be clarified, but we must accept it as fact. Regardless of your marriage(s), you are not guaranteed Thing One, listing-wise. Pretty much the only guarantee is winning a presidential election. It once was the case Presidents used to be among the listed even before getting so much as elected dogcatcher. This all changed with Harry Truman, who was not 1945’s idea of a Society man.
Afterwards, all Presidents get themselves listed.
When you’re as impertinent as I am, you notice there are aspects of the “Social Register” which seem suffused with special sort of irony. Twist your synapses around this little factoid: There are about 25,000 families in the Republic who presumably delight themselves on “The Social Register’s” exclusivity, yet somehow freely consent to have their addresses and phone numbers in a book available in every public library.
Still, as always, we live in a time of poseurs and arrivistes, and the “Social Register” method, while flawed, provides an acid-test for separating lottery-winnin’ yokels from people of breeding. The doubtlessly stringent and almost certainly Byzantine screening process leaves the reader confident those allowed to grace the “Social Register” pages aren’t merely wealthy, they’re OKd. There isn’t much carved in marble about these people except they are ostensibly tasteful, affluent and discreet, and likely descended from same. Any other desirable and/or deplorable attribute beyond these may readily find refuge among the listees, seemingly at random..."
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Saki: What might have been...
H. H. Munro "Saki" (1870-1916)
Speculation on what might have been...
by Tim Connell
What might have been
It is perhaps fruitless to speculate on what might have happened had Munro survived - or not even joined up in the first place. So many good men were killed that every walk of life lost its best talent. No fewer than 64 published poets died on the Western Front, and who knows how many budding ones who never had a chance to be known.
What would Munro have come back to do? He would have been 50 in 1920, so it seems unlikely that he would have continued writing about spritely young men of the sort he had seen slaughtered in their thousands. He would happily have passed that mantle on to the much softer stories of P G Wodehouse, and may well have gently encouraged his nephew Dornford Yates in his writing career. He would undoubtedly have enjoyed the more acid style of Evelyn Waugh and perhaps sharpened up his own wit with satirical comment on the country's rulers by returning to his pre-War job as a parliamentary reporter.
He may not have been embittered by his war experiences, but he would have been relentlessly critical of the generals and war leaders whose errors of judgement had led to the deaths of so many good men. He might even have become a Member of Parliament himself in the Conservative persuasion, and joined in the hounding out of Lloyd George from public life. As a popular figure and as one who had served in the ranks he would have attracted a wide ranging vote. With his writing talent and fine voice he could have gone far as an orator. His old CO in the Fusiliers might even have got him a job with the BBC, where he was the gramophone correspondent and founding editor (with Compton Mackenzie) of The Gramophone (which oddly enough, my grandfather wrote reviews for in the 20's and 30's.) Munro might even have aligned himself with Winston Churchill as a critic of appeasement. Whatever the circumstances, I doubt whether he would have faded into obscurity.
Hector Munro was remembered with affection and respect by his peers. Punch said in 1920, "When the literary Roll of Honour of all the belligerents comes to be considered quietly, in the steady light of Peace, not many names will stand higher in any country than that of our English writer HECTOR MUNRO," and it goes on to refer to his "subtle and witty satires, stories and fantasies”. It adds, "There is in every story a phrase or fancy marked by his own inimitable felicity, audacity or humour." His works were re-issued at regular intervals through the 1920s and who wrote the introductory notes is significant: writers like G K Chesterton, A A Milne and Hugh Walpole; old Russia hands like Maurice Baring, H W Nevinson and Rothay Reynolds; Sir John Squire, a key poet in the Georgian movement, and the Liberal Peer Lord Charnwood. Evelyn Waugh did a retrospective on Saki in 1947 and as late as 1963, so did Noel Coward, for the Penguin Complete Saki (which is actually far from being complete). Saki has never been out of print in 100 years. He still appears in anthologies and collected editions. Oddly enough, he has only been serialised once on TV. Emlyn Williams did some sound recordings in 1978 and even produced a one-man show. There is currently an audiobook out on CD containing some of the stories.
As the war generations pass on, and that long Indian Summer of Edward's reign fades into folklore and myth, so the record of a society on the verge of the modern world becomes somehow more attractive, and the piercing observations of human frailty and the acerbic wit add an extra touch to hold the reader's attention. I believe that he was in fact a far more significant contributor to English Literature than we realise, more than a newspaperman, though not quite a man of letters. But he has stood the test of time better than Maurice Baring, who wrote novels and published collections of poetry or Hugh Walpole who was knighted for his services to Literature, let alone GA Henty, who wrote 122 books between 1868 and 1902. Hector Munro was writing a novel a year by the start of World War One. There are technical shortcomings but he may well have matured and written something more heavyweight than his novels and perhaps something deeper than his short stories. He was collaborating on plays; again there seems to be evidence that he was having some trouble with technique, but his quick-witted one-liners and polished style may have allowed him to develop as a playwright, someone perhaps like Ben Travers who had known him at Bodley Head.
So there it is. A man of many parts, who may have been less mysterious had more of his papers survived, and had he even survived himself, but then he was a prime example of the Edwardian age, with a strong sense of Victorian duty. A versatile writer, a sociable man, whose death was much regretted. But he lives on in his work, which has now acquired additional value because of the insights into the world that he inhabited. But the rebellious young men, the overbearing aunts, the absurdity of the humour, the sharpness of the wit, all seem to survive in the modern age. I think there is something there for everyone even today. The fact that so many people have turned out tonight on the anniversary of his death is proof of that.
Basil Seal Takes Manhattan, but gives it back...
Now where was I...? Oh yes...
Now as you are all aware, I am a very peaceful and mellow chap, never seeking out conflict or confrontation. Oh no, I always avoid these things at all times. You know that I never say anything that might wound or hurt someones feelings. Well, we were making our way leisurely through our dinner, chatting about this and that and of course doing my best to ignore the colonial harridan sitting next to me. She seemed to be interested in my red coat and I wasn't getting a sense of a lot of brotherly love from her direction. Finally over coffee, her better angels seemed to give up and she began to make comments about the uniform and the British in general to someone on her other side, just loud enough to ensure that I would hear. Mr. P slumped in his chair at this point, knowing that the die was now cast. I gave him a wink, and ordered two Black Velvets for him and turned to my neighbor...
I smiled and introduced myself to her as Sir Banastre Tarleton VI...And went on to regale her with my most illustrious ancestors exploits in the war...His bravery, his courage his ingenious ways of dealing with rebels. I mean, the church burning thing really didn't happen, but since Americans learn their history from movies instead of books, they don't know that, but anyway, it was a splendid idea wasn't it. And of course you know that this liberty and freedom from tyranny was just a bunch of eye wash...I mean the war was really about a few rich colonists wanting to keep as much money as possible for themselves. I mean, sure they found it convenient to use those thugs The Sons of Liberty as their hired muscle, but really, copying out a few ideas from texts on the Greeks and the Frog philosophers doesn't a government make now does it? And I'm sure all the slaves liked that bit about all men being created equal, that was of course, all men are created equal except those that are not...Hey, didn't Orwell say something about that once, he was English you know...Anyway, we got bored with the whole thing in the end and decided if you wanted to be friends with the Frogs, well good luck to you...I mean we owned the rest of the world anyway, so what do we need with beaver pelts and coon skin caps...I think it was in 1812 or thereabouts that we did stop back by and burn your capitol down, and generally make your lives more miserable than they already were. I think we broke all your dishes too...A very good evening to you madam...
I headed back to the bar at that, having noticed that Mr. P had slipped away sometime during my friendly chat with Dolly Madison. Things progressed on schedule and ran smoothly, well, except the part where I proposed a toast to the Queen, but anyway things were winding down when I noticed that Dolly was eying me from across the room. And she wasn't alone, there seemed to be a rather large group of Revolutionary War Widows present at the evening's festivities and it looked like they had a Tea Party on their minds...I wasn't worried at this point, I could see that there were probably only two good legs available in the whole group, and what with my superior ankle work, to evade, would with me, be the work of a moment. Mr. P had still not surfaced, I assumed the strain of being here with me had sent him to see a man about a dog...I stood enjoying my Black Velvet, when I noticed that Dolly and the Blue Hair Brigade had spent the last hour preforming a double pincer in my general direction. Well, at this point I had blue hair to left of me, and blue hair to the right, so it seemed like up the middle was the way out for yours truly. I finished my Black Velvet, of course, did a quick scout for Mr. P, and began my dash for freedom. They were still sharp as tacks and they divined my tactics in an instant. Those on my flanks, the ones with walkers anyway, were in no position to stop me, but they sent a flying column of farm wives (I am assuming farm wives, from their average size it might have been livestock, but I am not sure on this point) to head me off. Now the only thing I had to do was reach the large table running across the end of the room, use it as interference and I was down the back stairs in a flash. I could see that it was going to be touch and go...I mean, it isn't easy to run with dignity and bearing from a horde of Revolutionary War Widows, try it sometime. I headed left at the table, reversed in the face of several tons of colonial farm wife and noticed that the canes and walkers moved a lot faster than I thought. Nothing for it now, it was up and over the table or nothing. At this point Mr. P appears again...Where he came from I have no idea, but as I performed a peerless Astaire over the table, Mr. P stands up and tips the huge punch bowl over into the path, well onto the women in the path, and throws me a wink to boot. I hit the ground running and was sure Mr. P would be torn limb form limb in a moment. I mean he probably just ruined around 50 old prom dresses with one bowl...But as I glanced back from the back stairs door, he was no where to be seen...Good man yourself, Mr. P. I flicked a piece of lint from my red sleeve, shot my cuffs and headed down in a very dignified manner.
Well, I had a very good time with Mr. P, The Fiendish One, KCC, Mr. Cusack and all the RCBfA. Although I didn't get to meet Dawn Eden, the trip was a success anyway. But I think I'll give NYC a rest for awhile. Thanks to Mrs. P for being such a good sport about the whole thing. I owe you one. Thanks to The Fiendish One for the use of his club and car and influence with the NYPD, and to KCC for his hospitality and kindness. Hat tip to Mr. Cusack for his hospitality and service as a tour guide. Let's do it again sometime...
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Do nothing till you hear from me...
Thursday, March 1, 2007
Basil Seal Takes Manhattan, but gives it back...
Thursday evening, Friday morning, NYAC, The Players, Chumleys, Fraunces, face down on boot of police car (somewhere in NYC): "Hail fellow, well met" was the greeting we received from TFO upon our arrival in the Cocktail Lounge at the NYAC. We called the second meeting of the RCBfA to order over and raised our Black Velvets in salute. TFO was fresh from balancing the scales of Justice (in our favour, I hoped) and we spent some time at this beautiful club planning our assault upon the metropolis. I must say that I had hoped to blend inconspicuously into the many-headed, but our small band of brothers seemed to stick out in the crowd, as it were. I really don't know why, I mean, a prominent NY attorney in a 3 piece navy pin stripe, a Mid-Western man in navy blazer and British khaki trousers, a young publishing magnate in training in Harris tweeds, and an English gentleman in Savile Row navy worsted with white waistcoat, Charvet tie, navy Chesterfield, Derby, fawn gloves and stick...This seems all rather ordinary to me, but some of the looks of, should I say interest?, that our table were getting, I just don't know. We decided on a Black Velvet night, come what may, and out of courtesy to our host, we decided to move on before we were moved out and TFO (whose middle name is caution) would have to own up to us publicly...We headed outside and piled into the car...
Thursday evening, The Grill, The Players (somewhere in NYC): We repaired to the Grill at The Players, a well known club whose membership, as the name suggests, is drawn from the world of the theater and motion pictures, writers, artists, etc. We were met there, and were actually allowed in, by a friend of TFO and Mr. Cusack, Knight Commander C. The Knight Commander is a very learned gentleman with loads of charm and wit and was a splendid host. As fellow Knights, he and I shared the secret handshake, in a way that the others could not see...They really hate that. The club rules were explained, which forbids that one notice anyone famous and really forbids the asking for autographs, pictures or any other such nonsense. Which was a relief to me, since I had feared being hounded in NYC by my public. Black Velvets, of course, and we spent most of the time just gazing around at this most remarkable room. The in-house memorabilia which covers just about all the available wall space, makes for very interesting reading. Black Velvet, don't mind if I do...By this time, Mr. P had won several hundred dollars at the billiards table and was fast becoming unpopular. Andrew was searching the walls for maps and I feared that TFO and KCC were going to break out in song at any minute...So, in order to protect our host, I thought it best to move onward and downward into less august company...Right, one last round...Make mine a Black Velvet...
Thursday evening, Chumleys (somewhere in NYC): Now this place is about 130 years old and was hopping during prohibition...There is no sign outside and you still pass through a curtain before you enter the bar. It is laid out in four levels, with booths everywhere and plenty of places to hide, perfect for us. We were well oiled by now of course, and TFO and KCC immediately began to sing "I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night" in, what I must say, were very nice tenors. I contributed my rendition of "Drink, Puppy, Drink" and we were, in a word, swinging...I was badgering Andrew to call Dawn Eden and ask her to come down so we could meet her, but he didn't seem to eager for this to become a reality...I had lost track of Mr. P amidst all the song and dance, but I then heard, drifting over the cacophony of drink, someone in a very loud voice reciting what sounded like The Faerie Queene and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, mixed together, and doing quite a nice job of it too...I finally spied him standing on a chair near a table full of what looked like longshoreman, or some other group of meaty individuals...They were bearing it pretty well, but pointing at me, shouting "Hey Wooster" and making rather emphatic "come the hell over here" gestures...Well in these circs I did the manly thing and pretended I didn't know Mr. P from Adam. Besides, my name is not Wooster, as Mr. P was kindly trying to explain to them between stanzas...It might have gotten ugly but TFO was able to coax him back to the table by waving a pint of Black Velvet in the air and smacking his lips...Luckily for us, Mr. P's thirst got the better of him just before the longshoreman grew tired of his performance...Dawn Eden had still not shown, and while I was waiting I had gathered quite a nice collection of some of NYCs finest specimens of the female species to our table...It is amazing what a Ben Franklin will do to adjust a young womens attitude toward one...I was busy introducing everyone to Andrew, ordering rounds, joining the chorus when required, wondering why the young women next to me was wearing her ear rings through her nostrils and waiting for Dawn Eden to show up. I spent the next few hours trying to explain that it is not "Bay-sil" but "Bah-sil" but I didn't seem to be getting through...I think the drinking games started shortly after this and somewhere in the mix TFO and KCC headed home. But those of us left standing, had one more stop to make...You know, I don't think I ever did get to meet Dawn Eden...Pity, that...
Friday, early morning, Fraunces Tavern (somewhere in NYC): Now I had to check out this place...I think this was the real hot bed of treason back in the day. I think one of those Sons of the treasonous something groups actually own the place now. So we headed that way in order to try and once again give them a little taste of Empire (well, at least I did, Mr. P was lending moral support, God Bless Him)...This is the reason that a few hours later I was dodging between tables headed for the back entrance, fending off a dozen colonial brutes with my stick, who had no musical taste, disdaining my rendition of "God Save the Queen" (Mr. P's Kipling impersonation didn't fair any better) and who took umbrage at my few remarks about the parentage of George Washington...Mr. P was attempting a daring flanking maneuver under the tables to reach my side, and I think, at this point, Andrew was asleep in the back of the car...It looked like we had met our Gandamak when we were able to squeeze past the press and into the loo and directly out a window, into the arms of New York's finest constabulary. This was the point where we were lying face down on the boot of a police car and suddenly heard TFO's voice somewhere behind us. Glancing round, I saw him in low conversation with one of the men in blue, and a few minutes later we were free to go...Of course, we were thankful to TFO who had thought he had covered the bases earlier concerning our visit and public safety, but I suppose someone didn't get the memo. I'll have to ask him what he said to get us out of the soup, one day...Well, we were able to grab breakfast back at the club and drop Andrew outside his office building (well, it was some office building anyway) in time for work. I am sure he'll do fine, he's young, single and not yet bright enough to steer clear of bad influences like me (I still can't understand why he wouldn't call Dawn Eden)...Mr. P and I are not so young, so we shot straight back to the club for a bit of the dreamless...
Friday, Friday evening, The Ball, The St. Regis, Mr. P comes to the rescue (somewhere in NYC): to be continued...