This time of year when we think of time passing.
Enter CHRONOS, with a scythe in his hand, and a great globe on his back, which he sets down at his entrance
Weary, weary of my weight,
Let me, let me drop my freight,
And leave the world behind.
I could not bear
The load of human-kind.
From Dryden’s The Secular Masque
Written for the seventeenth century rolling over to the eighteenth. It has the New Year resolution flavour about it at the end:-
All, all of a piece throughout;
Thy chase had a beast in view;
Thy wars brought nothing about;
Thy lovers were all untrue.
‘Tis well an old age is out,
And time to begin a new.
The Three Ages of Man by Titian in the National Gallery of Scotland
A poem which fits the weather as well as the time of year and one of my favourites by Thomas Hardy, who wrote beautifully about time passing and opportunities missed:-
They sing their dearest songs—
He, she, all of them—yea,
Treble and tenor and bass,
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face. . . .
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!
And brightest things that are theirs. . . .
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.
Time, time, time
See what’s become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
I was so hard to please
But look around Leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter..
Look around, leaves are brown,
There’s a patch of snow on the ground
(Simon & Garfunkel – they were young things when that came out)
Who knows where the time goes? Sandy Denny, who died far too young.
And from he who was born middle-aged:-
Chard Whitlow by ”T S Eliot”
As we get older we do not get any younger.
Seasons return, and today I am fifty-five,
And this time last year I was fifty-four,
And this time next year I shall be sixty-two.
And I cannot say I should like (to speak for myself)
To see my time over again— if you can call it time:
Fidgeting uneasily under a draughty stair,
Or counting sleepless nights in the crowded Tube.
From The Hobbit – one of the riddles
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
And a picture from the 1976 Soviet edition of The Hobbit.
Have a good time while we mark time passing.
Christmas is the season for potted histories of the festival. Bolted on to the pagan solistice, celebrated for twelve feasting days in the middle ages, half stamped out by the Puritans under Cromwell, which caused pro Christmas riots. Christmas was fading from the scene under the Georges and then revived by the Victorians. Prince Albert brought the Germanic Christmas with him, the emphasis being on a family celebration. Charles Dickens turned it into the season of “hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness” via A Christmas Carol and the country Christmas among snow in The Pickwick Papers. The commercialising civilisation of the Victorians invented crackers and Christmas cards and left us with the mish-mash of goodwill and purchasing, feasting and family we enjoy today.
The 12 days of Christmas have been extended to 30 or so of less concentrated celebrations with pantomimes, Nativity plays, concerts, work dos and Christmas jerseys. I took part in all of these this December and thoroughly enjoyed them.
The awful family Christmas, bleakly comical or merely bleak – the antithesis of Slade’s cheeriness in Merry Christmas Everybody – has become a tradition in its own right (a very recent example of the genre is Tom Wrigglesworth’s A Christmas Not Special).
It turns up in literature a good deal, Christmas being a time when characters get together and do their worst.
As well as exalting the ideal Christmas, Dickens could show an unhappy one at the Gargeries with the bully Mrs Gargery, and her victims, her husband Joe and her orphaned brother Pip.
We were to have a superb dinner, consisting of a leg of pickled pork and greens, and a pair of roast stuffed fowls. A handsome mince-pie had been made yesterday morning … and the pudding was already on the boil.
It is a ceremonious occasion. Guests come through the front door – locked for the rest of the year– and sit in the parlour – in wraps for the rest of the year.
Pip is kept very much in his place as an orphaned dependent, nagged and lectured by the rest. He is also sick with anxiety because he has stolen food for Magwitch the convict:-
Among this good company I should have felt myself, even if I hadn’t robbed the pantry, in a false position. Not because I was squeezed in at an acute angle of the tablecloth, with the table in my chest, and the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye, nor because I was not allowed to speak (I didn’t want to speak), nor because I was regaled with the scaly tips of the drumsticks of the fowls, and with those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living, had had the least reason to be vain…..
Joe, his ally, does his best:-
he always aided and comforted me when he could, in some way of his own, and he always did so at dinner-time by giving me gravy, if there were any. There being plenty of gravy to-day, Joe spooned into my plate, at this point, about half a pint.
Pip’s misery is interrupted by soldiers who visit the house when searching for Magwitch, and this chance of a hunt enlivens the company:-
As I watched them while they all stood clustering about the forge, enjoying themselves so much, I thought what terrible good sauce for a dinner my fugitive friend on the marshes was. They had not enjoyed themselves a quarter so much, before the entertainment was brightened with the excitement he furnished.
It is one of the most powerful scenes in the English novel, that Christmas dinner at the Dedaluses. Present:- Mr and Mrs Dedalus, Dante the aunt, young Stephen Dedalus, Uncle Charles and Mr Casey. Mr Dedalus carves, of course (always the man’s job).
the warm heavy smell of turkey and ham and celery rose from the plates and dishes and the great fire was banked high and red in the grate and the green ivy and red holly made you feel so happy and when dinner was ended the big plum pudding would be carried in, studded with peeled almonds and sprigs of holly, with bluish fire running around it and a little green flag flying from the top.
The green flag is for Irish nationalism. Tension starts rising between the devoted followers of Parnell and the devout Catholic Dante:-
Mrs Dedalus laid down her knife and fork, saying:
—For pity sake and for pity sake let us have no political discussion on this day of all days in the year.
(As the host carves, the hostess tries to keep the peace).
He heaped up the food on Stephen’s plate and served uncle Charles and Mr Casey to large pieces of turkey and splashes of sauce. Mrs Dedalus was eating little and Dante sat with her hands in her lap. She was red in the face. Mr Dedalus rooted with the carvers at the end of the dish and said:
—There’s a tasty bit here we call the pope’s nose. If any lady or gentleman…
He held a piece of fowl up on the prong of the carving fork. Nobody spoke.
It ends with Dante angrily leaving the table and the two Parnellites, Mr Casey and Mr Dedalus, weeping over the disgraced Parnell.
An atheist, Elizabeth Taylor had no time for Christmas at all, regarding it as something Christianity forced on the rest of society.
Richard, the young businessman, trapped with his wife and mother-in-law wishes despondently Christmas might be over. On Christmas Day he walks through the dull village “Lighted trees in the little houses, holly wreaths on front doors already looked old stuff. Christmas was petering out.”
He has a glum time while his wife has a childish enjoyment for Christmas including a stocking by her bed. Meanwhile their friends are depressed in London. Patrick waits in for his capricious boyfriend, “it should be possible.. to ignore the dismal Christmas scene outside, groups of people homing fast, back to Mother and Father, until they were all cooped up in their families, leaving the streets deserted. . . the deadly silence of the day.”
The boyfriend turns up, with a present of a tie that his uncle had given him, and he has his own memory of deadly family Christmases .. “It was a true sacrifice to this spirit his mother tried to foster when he, year after year, offered his cracker to his cousin. Taking one end, she would turn her head away and screw up her eyes, ready to give a little cry of alarm at the bang. Playing her part too he guessed. Wearily, but wearing his fixed, Christmas grin, he would read out the motto, put the paper hat on his head.”
1976 Ending Up by Kingsley Amis
It was adapted for television in 1989 and the Christmas scene starts at 31:00. (H/t JD)
The five main characters would in an allegory be called Malevolent; Boring; Affected; Put-upon; and Drunk. They live together in a cold cottage. Their accumulated years are strangling their bowels and hearts and brains. The grand-children and great-grand-children of Affected have turned up for a much begrudged duty visit. They sing carols and then:-
.. they had the presents. Those from the guests to the hosts were chiefly a disguised dole: tins or pots of more or less luxurious food, bottles of hard liquor, wide-spectrum gift tokens. Hosts showered guests with diversely unwearable articles of clothing: to Keith from Adela, a striped necktie useful for garrotting underbred rivals in his trade; to Tracey from George, a liberation-front lesbian’s plastic apron…
Christmas dinner was something of a success; it passed off, at any rate, without bloodshed.
Then there are parlour games which bring out the vicious hostility or bewildered stupidity of Malevolent and the rest. This grinding celebration is seen mostly from the point of view of the young relations who experience it as “boredom – a poor word, for the consuming, majestic sensation that engulfed him, comparable in intensity to a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience”. The young are full of repulsion and fear of the sight of “age, and then the only end of age.”
2001 Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections is structured around whether the mother Enid will manage to gather her grown up children to enact the rituals of Christmas. I haven’t got the book to hand, but here’s a summing up:-
The fetish she makes of Christmas has uncomfortably recognisable comedy and pathos. (Her seasonal round-robins – laboriously written out on hundreds of cards, doing their best to spin the family’s numerous disasters into sunny good news and looking forward to a “heavenly” family celebration – are a classic example of the transparent denial so common in these missives.) When she finally wheedles her reluctant brood into attending, the event is hobbled by the accelerating decline of her husband and the cross-currents of resentment and misunderstanding between the family members. Mistletoe and wine this is not.
Any other examples of the bleak Christmas in literature?
Is that you all organised then? Have a nice Christmas!
Orwell originally wanted to be a poet and did keep writing verse.
A Dressed Man is a neat, sharp piece.
His Memories of the Blitz is new to me. As the editor of his poems, Dione Venables says of his poetry in general, “It has its moments.” The Blitz has not figured much in poetry though it is prevalent in films and novels. I can recall some lines of Louis MacNeice’s:-
As sometimes in the blackout and the raids
One joke composed an island in the night.
World War I, a war fought by most able-bodied men, not just professional soldiers, produced many poets. But as for the civilian experience of the World War II, many writers – like C S Lewis (Home Guard) and T S Eliot (fire watcher) took part without turning their experience into verse.
Memories of the Blitz
Not for pursuit of knowledge
Only the chances of war,
Led me to study the music,
Of the male and female snore
That night in the public shelter
With seats no pillow could soften,
Where I fled, driven out of my bed,
By bombs too near and too often.
And oh, the drone of the planes,
And the answering boom of the gun,
And the cups of tea in the dawn,
When the flames out-did the sun.
That was a long time ago,
Three years ago, or nearly,
And more has perished than gas-masks,
I could not tell you clearly,
What there can be to regret,
In a time of casual slaughter,
When the windows were empty of glass,
And pavements running with water.
But the guns have changed their tune,
And the sandbags are three years older,
Snow has kissed the flesh,
From the bones of the German soldier.
The blimp has a patch on its nose,
The railings have gone to the smelter,
Only the ghost and the cat,
Sleep in the Anderson shelter.
For the song that the sirens sang,
Is sunk to a twice-told story,
And the house where the chartered accountant,
Perished in headland glory,
Is only a clump of willow-herb,
Where I share my sorrow
With the deserted bath-tub
And the bigamous sparrow.
That has some very good lines, especially:-
In a time of casual slaughter,
When the windows were empty of glass,
And pavements running with water.
With the abstract “casual slaughter” against the particularities of the blown out windows and the broken water mains.
Also these relics of an urban war with a high civilian death count:-
The blimp has a patch on its nose,
The railings have gone to the smelter,
Only the ghost and the cat,
Sleep in the Anderson shelter.
Which is evocative, like those grey concrete pillboxes you still find on the coast, sunk into sand. Three years ago “a long time ago” for Orwell who of course did not have much time left himself.
The other day a boy of eleven told me the that his class had been to see an Anderson shelter in someone’s garden. It was very damp and mossy, he said.
George Orwell in the Home Guard
I have a few conspiracy theorists on my timeline. Scottish nationalists are prone to this and I’ve picked up a few flakes. I don’t bother clicking their links about “ISIS has not attacked Israel yet. GOTCHA!!” as I know they won’t clarify the complexities of the Middle East. However next time I see something like that I’ll post this video.
Following the post below on Maryam Namazie’s encounter with the cry-bullies at Goldsmith.
It’s not hard to guess whose side the Goldsmith Feminist Society was on.
On one side, a solitary female, feminist, Iranian, fighter for human rights, atheist.
On the other side, a bunch of aggressive males from a patriarchal religion who did their best to intimidate the solitary female.
No need to ask. Of course the Goldsmith Feminist Society took the side of the males.
Y’know, women have an instinctive protectiveness towards other women menaced by men – women who may not even have heard of the concept of feminism (as illustrated in this story A Jury of her Peers). There is such a thing as natural female solidarity which finds comfort in a hospital ward together and which will shelter an abused woman.
What the hell has happened that a body that calls itself the Feminist Society leaps to the defence of the misogynists? .
For a little of what is deemed to be acceptable discourse in ISOC’s own safe space have a look at what stirs Muhammed Patel’s juices. (He’s the President of Goldsmiths Islamic society (ISOC)). He describes an event as “amazing” where the speakers “have made statements advocating the execution of ex-Muslims and blasphemers, advised Muslims to boycott women who marry outside of Islam, said that non-Muslim women will be taken as slaves in the future (of course it is permissible to have sex with these women), creepily remarked that six and seven year old girls are ‘pretty’ and ‘desired’, warned of the dangers when leaving Muslim children with non-Muslims, insisted that women should remain in the house and not venture outside unless it’s a necessity, advocated punishments for Muslims who do not pray, and said that homosexuals are worse than animals. “ (From a post by Harry Matz).
Under the linked post you can find a stream of foully abusive comments, of a gross sexual nature, which is typical of Islamists who love filthy invective.
So mad has feminism become even if the thugs had sexually assaulted Namazie they no doubt would have found excuses for them.
Following recent events on- and offline, we would like to state and show our solidarity with the sisters and brothers of our Goldsmiths ISOC
We condemn AHS and online supporters for their islamophobic remarks and attitudes. If they feel intimidated, we urge them to look at the underpinnings of their ideology. We find that personal and social harm enacted in the name of ‘free speech’ is foul, and detrimental to the wellbeing of students and staff on campus.
In our experiences, members of ISOC have been nothing but charming, patient, kind, and peaceful as individuals and as an organization.
We hope this series of events prompts reflection in all parties involved, but also onlookers. Allyship consists of apologies, bearing with and deconstructing discomfort, respecting the necessary privacy of safer spaces, and opening our hearts to humans unlike ourselves.
We can all stand to improve in this area- which ideally is a daily, humbling practice and not a label.
For all I know Goldsmith Feminist Society and LBGT Society contain about 8 members a piece. But Jeez, their support for an ideology which in its ideal society would keep the women segregated and second-class and execute the gays is absolutely barmy, even for student activists.
There appears, nevertheless, to be something especially potent about Islam in fomenting terror and persecution. Contemporary radical Islam is the religious form through which a particular kind of barbarous rage expresses itself.
So, to understand why jihadis have been drawn into a moral universe that allows them to celebrate inhuman acts, we have to understand why political rage against the West takes such nihilistic, barbaric forms, and why radical Islam has become the primary vehicle for such rage.
Jihadis view themselves as warriors against western imperialism. Yet few anti-imperialists of previous generations would recognise jihadis as ideological kin.
There is a long history of popular struggles against colonialism and empire. While such movements often used violent means to pursue their ends, they were rarely “anti-western” in any existential sense. Rather they worked within a universalist moral framework that stressed freedom and emancipation for all humanity.
Over the past few decades these anti-imperialist traditions have unravelled. The new movements that have emerged in their place are often rooted in religious or ethnic identity, and are sectarian or separatist in form. This shift is linked to the wider decline of progressive social movements, the loss of faith in universalist values, and the replacement of ideological politics with the politics of identity. Moral norms have increasingly become tribal rather than universal. Political struggle for a better world has given way to inchoate identity-driven rage.
I wasn’t going to bother with The Last Kingdom. Saxons vs Danes isn’t a period of history I’m much interested in. However Tom Holland, who is researching the Heptarchy was on Twitter saying that the portrait of Alfred was very good, so I scrolled through Episode 2 till he turned up, and he is good (played by David Dawson). A melancholy intellectual, visionary yet shrewd. Fragile, delicate and only an adequate warrior whereas the Danes thoroughly enjoy the whole business of close combat sword and shield play. His intellectualism takes the form as it would in his time, of theological debate, his politics are cool and ruthless.
“Most prudent, far-seeing in wisdom, and hard to overcome in any crisis’ – Æthelwold on King Alfred & his heirs. “ (stolen from Tom Holland).
So I went back to episode 1 and followed the fortunes of Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon) a handsome young man who was born a Saxon and brought up a Dane. We get shots of him bathing – not just for a sight of his nice body but to reassure the audience that our ancestors weren’t the epitome of stench that so repels us now. (They did the same thing for Liam Neeson’s Rob Roy).
Uhtred – quite clean you know
He does choose odd times of the year to bathe though. It has been winter for 5 episodes. Once there was a clump of daffodils suggesting it might be at least be late March then it got back to winter. I was hopeful that we would have changed seasons in episode 5 when Uhtred’s missus was bathing with a pregnant belly, showing time would have passed since their arranged marriage but evidently she conceived in about May, since it was winter again. This is Wessex, the West Country (though it it was shot in Hungary and Wales) and that part of England has early springs and hot summers. This series won’t have done the tourist trade any good.
Uhtred is supposed to be avenging the death of his adoptive father, a Dane, and is also trying to get back the kingdom of Northumbria, to which he is the rightful heir. He has plenty of adventures but he is a dull character not a patch on Alfred. His girlfriend, Brida (Emily Cox), is an early version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, foul mouthed and playfully cruel which couldn’t be allowed to Uhtred, supposed to be the hero after all. His other companion is Leofric (Adrian Bower) the classic sergeant major rough diamond, obscene-speaking and straight-talking, the kind of part that would normally be played by Sean Bean.
The series is propaganda for paganism. The Danes are buoyant and colourful. They wear wonderful animal skins (though no-one ever scratches for fleas), are finely tattooed, have wild hair, and love a fight, followed by massacre, torture and rape. The biggest, and baddest of them, Ubba (Rene Tempe), has finally been laid low and he really did have the presence of a manic head of a motorcycle gang – The Marauding Mob or the Plundering Pack. Meanwhile the poor Saxons frump about in long drab gowns, go to Church and eat gruel and apples because it is always Lent. And on that kind of diet they have to fight these evil brutes with their ultra cool ships.
The manic Ubba
Some genuine suspense has built up. Uhtred, tired of being pissed over by Alfred, is going rogue and is setting to do a little plundering of his own. With 3 more episodes to go I’m fairly sure Uhtred will be reconciled with Alfred and get Northumbria back. The Danes will be expelled and converted to Christianity. So far when they come up against a priest or devout king they have Richard Dawkins style objections to the faith. The nature of conversion is something that the script-writers in our agnostic age can’t handle.
This is supposed to be the British Game of Thrones which I don’t watch as it has too much explicit torture for me to stomach. Here the violence is knockabout and doesn’t make me wince. It looks good, it’s lively and there’s always the chance of seeing Alfred dragged away from discussing scripture for yet another wretched battle, glumly putting on the chain mail helmet while the Danish roaring boys, in the ninth century equivalent of revving their Harley Davidsons, knock up yet another painted shield wall.
Alfred at yet another sodding battle
Someone on twitter pointed to this, and though I’ve read it scores of times, it still gives the authentic shiver:-
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;
And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
Talking of heavy-handed anti-free speech moves by the authorities that bampot James Scott, leader of the Scottish Resistance, was lifted by the police under the handy “breach of the peace” charge.
The offence corncerned a video called “Glasgow Yes City You Nawbags”
Video ends BRIT SCUM OUT OF SCOTLAND and includes a slogan urging “Scottish People” to “remove the Brit Scum Thugs from this Land”.
Last night Mr Scott, 60, from Glasgow, said: “There is no freedom of speech in this country.
“I’ve never been in trouble in my life. We are a peaceful group.
“The video was in response to some nasty, vile unionists who had threatened my life so they were called Nawbags and Brit Scum and it was put online.”
It is thought a complaint was made after the clip was re-posted on Twitter in June. Cops lifted Mr Scott at 9am on Monday and held him at the city’s London Road nick until 3pm. He added: “They said there had been no complaints until relatively recently.”
Dunno how peaceful the Scottish Resistance are. Weren’t they among the gang egging Jim Murphy when he travelled about campaigning for No? Also, it’s a bit feeble calling yourself the Resistance and then being peaceful. What would we think of the French Resistance if they hadn’t gone about blowing things up? “Listen. I shall only say this once. Don’t do anything.”
Still, as a Brit (non scum – though the term is often extended from those who threaten violence to those who voted No) myself I can’t say I feel menaced by his barmy video and am more pissed off by the usual misuse of police powers than Yes ravings. And in the usual Streisand effect I’ve now watched the video. It only lasts a minute. Trigger warning for those with tender feelings towards union flags.
Glad (not really – he’s a balloon) to see that Scott is free to address the masses at Largs:-
Germaine Greer has said some unforgivable things in the past eg about FGM. But she is a great woman, a splendid writer, a courageous human being and in her time was an inspiring feminist. Trans activists’ attacks on her are gross.
Here’s an excellent piece on the issue.
Pop feminism has willfully abandoned political analysis for the feel-good factor of disposable aphorisms. See for example Laurie Penny (@pennyred) who recently performed the ultimate no risk “coming-out” of announcing she’s a femme-presenting, female-assigned at birth, no-transition “genderqueer” . . . which is the LGBT equivalent of claiming one retroactively looooved punk rock before it was mainstream.
And to prove her gendercred to her fans, she’s been eager to defend Caitlyn Jenner’s perpetual womanhood — that Bruce was female when winning the decathlon. Egregiously, Penny backs this up with the usual cut-and-paste misinterpretation of Simone de Beauvoir.
I’ll say it again: Beauvoir is spinning in her tomb over the intellectually dishonest, quote-mined appropriation of her life’s work. It is simply wrong that Beauvoir means “one … becomes a woman” as an endorsement of gender/femininity as empowering to female persons. It is embarrassingly clear that Penny, and her cadre of retweeters, hasn’t actually bothered to give Beauvoir the decency of a good read.
Laurie Penny, always modish, always wrong. It’s startling to be told you are “a femme-presenting, female-assigned at birth, no-transition” creature when you’d always described yourself as a “girl” or “woman”.