In the current issue of Amcon there is an excellent review of Christopher Buckley’s memoir,Losing Mum and Pup, written by Alexander Waugh. To view it you will need to subscribe. Since writing Fathers and Sons, a perspicacious history of two centuries of father son relationships in the Waugh family, and the House of Wittgenstein, a family at War, Alexander has become an expert at divining family dynamics. His description of the relationship between Evelyn and Arthur Waugh, Evelyn’s father, avoids the clichéed partisanship of previous biographers and manages to provide a moving and sympathetic portrait of both warring parties. Alexander had also written two books previously in a more intellectual vein: Time and God. The first is an highly educational and entertaining history of time and the human perception of it from the Mesopotamians to Einstein, and the second is a biography of God, drawn from biblical and post biblical sources designed to prove á la Hawkins that he was too paradoxical ever to have existed. But Alexander has recanted his intellectualism as his comment on Buckley`s book illustrates
If Buckley had been known in England, he would not have been revered as an intellectual, but that is because the English do not go in for revering intellectuals .In fact we do our best not to be considered intellectual. In Britain, we think it odd that the Americans are prepared to devote acres of print to a seemingly trivial question like whether Christopher Hitchens has shifted an inch to the Right or the Left in his most recent statement on Iraq.
In fact, his dedicatory quote at the front of The House Of Wittgenstein is a most damning indictment of intellectualism. In Ludwig Wittgenstein’s own words (translated):
” There are an an enormous amount of general empirical propositions that count as certain for us. One such is that if someone’s arm is cut off it will not grow again.”
He was observing his brother’s partially armed state and deriving a general proposition from it. In the light of modern science how wrong he was.
At the end of Alexander’s review he warns Buckley Junior
Christopher Buckley will discover in the years to come that his relationship with his deceased parents has changed, to consider, quite seriously, writing another memoir of his parents in about 12 years time
Here Alexander is remembering his own memoir of his father in Fathers and Sons. If I have one criticism of that excellent book it is that, written soon after his father’s death, it does not deal with the relationship between his father and his grandfather with the same discernment that he deals with the relationships between his grandfather, and great grandfather, and the other greats back through time. He was feeling the death of his own father too keenly and desiring too intensely to memorialise him fondly and lovingly to be able to write dispassionately. Indeed he even accepted uncritically stories propagated by my dear brother partly in jest. One such is the story of the Bananas that appears in my brother Bron’s memoir, “Will This Do?” regurgitated in Fs and Ss, and again in Alexander’s review of Pups and Mums. The story goes that Evelyn, in monster mode, on his return from War ate the whole family’s ration of Bananas while his children and wife looked hungrily on. The true story is more complex more mundane and less damning. It is a conflation of several stories. The first, for which I was not bornbut which was told me on solemn oath by my nanny in the nursery, was that it was not Evelyn who was the pig but Auberon, and it was not Bananas that were devoured but scones with clotted cream and Jam. Evelyn the conquering hero was returning home from soldiering . The family had collected their cream and jam rations to celebrate his triumphant return, and had gathered under the Welcome Home banner at the front door to greet him when it was noticed that the six year old Bron was missing. The lure of the cream and Jam had been too great for his wartime tummy to resist. Filial duty had been abandoned in favour of scone scoffing.
In more prosperous times Evelyn did indeed once see off a small jar of Caviar under the hungry eyes of his children. A very kind American millionairess called Mrs. Cutting had adopted the Waugh family as a family-in-need and had taken to sending us Christmas hampers to lighten our hearts in the festive season. I am sure that at the time there were hundreds of thousands of families who received similar munificence from other soft hearted Americans. But Mrs. Cutting excelled. The Christmas hampers kept coming till I was eleven years old: a full 17 years after the war had ended . In one , maybe the last one, among the fruit and nuts and pecan pies, there was a small pot of caviar, and I think, in retrospect, that my father took the wise decision to save us from the pain of an acrimonious partition by devouring the whole pot himself.
The third story does involve fruit and does my father less credit. There were two actors: my father and my mother, and two witnesses: myself and my sister Hatty. The two witnesses argue to this day about whether it was Bananas or Apples that were thrown. I favour apples. Three Coxes Orange Pippins had been gathering wrinkles in a bowl on our dining room table. Nobody would eat them and my father had been demanding, in the way that men did in those days, that my mother should remove them. But the apples stubbornly remained in place. Finally he swore that if they were not removed by the next day he would throw them at my mother. The apples stayed and the next night he kept his word, and my mother stood scornfully and wordlessly as the apples landed quite gently bonk bonk bonk on her forehead.Hatty and I were appalled. It was Love three: Laura three; Evelyn nil. I became a feminist overnight. But it was not a reflection of their relationship. It was a strange event. They had a companionable and loving marriage. Maybe my father’s classical imagination was fired up by the three apples and he saw them as golden apples, and my mother as Atalanta, and himself: Hercules. He did at that time have a thing about keeping his word.
Despite this one failing that I have elaborated on at great length, I do recomend Alexander’s book Fathers and Sons. It casts strong and universal light on the nature of Father Son relationships, and further I commend Alexander himself who is a polymath. Not only does he write books, but he composes music beautifully. He has co-written with his brother Nathaniel a wonderful Gothick comic musical, called Bon Voyage, with Baroque and Romantic scores which won the top musical award in Britain, but has not yet been put on commercially. There are plans to take New York by storm with it once the backers have been found.
Today I received a round robin in my inbox. It seems to sum up the atmosphere in U.K. at the moment
This is unbelievable, but true! Can you imagine working for a company that has a little more than 600 employees and has the following employee statistics.
29 have been accused of spouse abuse
7 have been arrested for fraud
9 have been accused of writing bad cheque’s
17 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses
3 have done time for assault
71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
8 have been arrested for shoplifting
21 are currently defendants in lawsuits
84 have been arrested for drink driving in the last year
Which organisation is this ?
It’s the 635 members of the House of Commons, the same group that cranks out hundreds of new laws each year designed to keep the rest of us inline.
What a bunch of bastards we have running our country – it says it all. And just to top all that they probably have the best ‘corporate’ pension scheme in the country!!
If you agree that this is an appalling state of affairs, please pass it on to everyone you know.
It’s time to stand up to this lot !
It is business as usual in the U.K. The catch phrase at city drinks parties is “Bonuses are Back”: Bab for short. After much breast beating and a great song and dance over the appointment of a new speaker ,who was supposed to sort out the fecklessness of our parliamentarians, the labour party used their majority to vote in Mr Feckless himself, John Bercow . It was a silly partisan victory. The Tories were left gnashing their teeth because Bercow is a turncoat tory having drifted from the far right to being proto-labour after marrying Sally Illman a labour sympathiser. In all this Majaderia the true potential saviour of the British parliamentary soul was left languishing on the back benches with a mere 40 votes. That person was Anne Widdicombe: a Roman Catholic, self proclaimed virgin with a shrill voice and an incorrigibly honest and persistent nature. She would have harried and berated those greedy parliamentarians until they acquired some moral sense. It would have been great fun to watch, but alas it was not to be. One postscript: the speaker will get an enormous pension when he retires. Anne Widdecombe would have only been speaker for one year as she has already announced that she wishes to retire, but an enormous pension in her hands would have been well spent on good causes. I doubt that the same will apply when Mr Bercow retires
Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, the red conservative rag, has a story which may be of interest to Amcon readers. The Prince of Wales, Charles U.K, has just got himself into another spat with Lord Rogers and the architecture community. This time their rage may be justifiable.
Lord Rogers had just designed a one billion pound plan for the redevelopment of the old Chelsea Barracks. The Emir of Quatar ,who owns the plot, was going to pick up the tab for the most expensive building project ever in the UK which would have provided much needed jobs for our beleaguered building industry: in the last year, architects claiming unemployment benefit have risen from 150 to 1290 persons. In the current climate it would have certainly been passed by the planning authorities, however hideous it may be.
Prince Charles, realising that the case of the action group against the project would not be won by open debate in the UK, has written to the prime minister of Quatar, a cousin of the Emir, to complain, and hit the jackpot. The Emir has agreed to withdraw the plan, and to include the Prince’s Foundation for the Built environment in plans for a future design. Thus, for another year, the traffic of central London will not be blocked up with happy builder’s vans trundling back and forth, and 1290 architects will have to remain on the dole. I am interested in what American Conservatives may make of this story. (a) are such parochial uk matters of no interest (b) does it offend the American Republican spirit to have two princes arranging matters of public interest through private letters or (c) does the Thoreauan principle of “one man more right than his neighbours constitutes a majority of one” apply?
There is at the moment an attempt being made by responsible sages of British media and our politicians to move the debate from M.P.s expenses to the subject of our economy and which part of it is going to be saved from the swingeing cuts that will have to happen to avoid meltdown as the our national debt and the interest on it rise stupendously. El CamCam and the red Tories favour saving The national health service, while the betented Labour party are refusing to commit themselves.
But I suspect that the expenses issue will run through to the next election with the British electorate. The economy seems hopeless -its a done deal- and we cant understand it anyway. The issue of wanton use of public funds by our m.ps, and whether they can reform themselves and aquire transparency is much more fun, and maybe in a way more important. Honesty in our politicians is surely a prerequisite for dealing with the momentous problems that are accruing. My local M.P. Angela Browning has set off on the narrow uphill path having been exposed for minor venalities in the Telegraph. She writes a very boring column in the local rag The Tiverton Gazette- proud winner of the award for best Journalism in the South West of England- but that has not stopped her from being exposed by her paymaster. She appears contrite even if her excuses ring slightly hollow:
“All items on my ACA (Additional Costs Allowance) were in accordance with the rules in the Green Book,” she said. “I have been careful to repair whenever possible and have made good dilapidations in a responsible way
If only Gordon Brown could boast that he has made good dilapidations to the British economy. I must sign off now I have a wall to dilapidate responsibly.
I recommend Lagaan. It is a Bollywood movie with a difference. I sat down to watch it after the trauma of voting in the European elections. At the start I did not know whether I would last the course as it is a rather wordy, archaic film, but its charm grew and by the end Significant and I were entranced . It tells the story of a cricket match between an Indian village team and their local British overlords. There is a stake on the game: the tax, Lagaan. If they lose they have to pay double tax, and if they win they do not have to pay any tax for three years. The village of course wins, but in order to do so they have to put together a team which includes a Sikh, a Saddhu, a Moslem, a disabled Untouchable and bunch of woodcutters and farmers. The film makers managed to find eleven of the most unprepossessing English actors to act the Villainous English team which they did with gusto. The acting was uniformly bold and bad and delightful, like two hours of top class charade. But it was a moving moral tale. The villagers had to overcome their differences and their caste prejudices in order to fight for their very survival. As with all Bollywood films song and dance acts were interspersed with the action, but the songs were beautiful devotional hymns to Lord Krishna, sung in that extraordinary high pitched treble that only Indian film stars seem to be able to achieve. The cricket match itself formed a large part of the film and was bliss. At the end of it Significant declared that she had finally understood what cricket was all about. High praise.
It really does feel quite depressing to be British at this moment. I spent the whole of last Thursday torpidly debating whether I should vote in the European elections or not. In principle I loathe nationalism, and think that it is a good thing to be part of the post babel multilingual world that Europe offers. But that is as far as it goes. I have absolutely zero interest in anything that is said or done in the European parliament. A lot of people get on their high horse about Health and Safety legislation and the like and blame Johnny Foreigner for it, but, as I see it, we have enough underemployed prigs working for the government here to ensure that we have a thriving health and safety industry without any aid from european legislation.
My torpid debate was as to whether it was frivolous to vote when I did not know who any of the candidates were, or whether I should vote merely because of the principle that I liked the post babel world of Europe. Of course at the moment our post-babel Eden is threatened from within by the growth of nationalist Xenophobic movements throughout Europe. Some of them, notably in Hungary, have even started dressing up in Uniform. But our own homegrown be-suited variety is obnoxious enough. So in the end I slunk off just before closing time to the voting booth, and voted Green. There were four anti Europe parties competing for votes, one pro Cornwall party, and numerous parties which had incomprehensible initials, besides the three main parties. My vote was, of course, ineffectual, and the British National Party now have two members in the European parliament: one of them named Andrew Brons looks like a kindly old gentleman, but in an article in the Guardian Duncan Campbell says of him in his youth:
The group he first joined included among its members people responsible for arson attacks on Jewish property and synagogues. According to the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, which has been tracking his career for decades, Brons appears to have approved. In a letter to Jordan’s wife, Brons reported meeting an NSM member who “mentioned such activities as bombing synagogues”, to which Brons responded that “on this subject I have a dual view, in that I realise that he is well intentioned, I feel that our public image may suffer considerable damage as a result of these activities. I am however open to correction on this point.”
These two oulandish M.E.Ps are having a whale of a time being hounded by anti fascist demonstators at any news conference that they turn up to. I have never seen people so delighted at having eggs thrown at them. They are victims in victory, and soon no doubt they will be appearing with armies of minders to protect them from the multiethnic rabble. It is all very depressing.
Many Labour MPs blame Gordon Brown for the success of the far right in Labour’s heartland. El Camarada Cameroon has been running round the country promising all the volutions- rev, dev and ev- and what has El Gordo, Señor Castaño, been up to. Well he’s been sitting in his tent! Was he sulking like Achilles? Was he dreaming like Constantine before the battle of the Milvian Bridge? Or was he just sitting in his tent? Most probably none of those three. Hes been scheming. El Gordo Castaño works slowly. He has let labour savour defeat, allowed rebellion to blossom, and and has quelled it and now he knows his enemies within his party, but can he take the fight to the electorate? The only party that the electorate will vote for whole heartedly will be one that offers meaningful constitutional reform that will make the executive answerable to parliament and parliament answerable to the people. People are universally fed up with parliamentarians for being otiose, dishonest and halfwittedly arrogant. People are astounded that they thought that they could hide their abuse of the expenses system while trumpeting their adherence to freedom of information and transparency. Already William Haig, the deputy to El Camarada Cameroon, has been denying in interviews that El Cam has promised rev dev and ev. Apparently he has only promised to discuss it when he gets elected. That will not wash when it comes to the parliamentary elections, and I don’t expect that el Gordo will do any better. We are too addicted to secrecy in England. alas!
Inspired by R.J. Stove’s article on Evelyn Waugh, I have been looking through Robbery Under the Law again, and have come across, in the introduction, a very comprehensive credo that defined his conservatism:
“I believe that man is by nature, an exile and will never be self-sufficient or complete on this earth; that his chances of happiness and virtue, here,remain more or less constant through the centuries and, generally speaking, are not much affected by the political and economic conditions in which he lives; that the balance of good and ill tends to revert to a norm; that sudden changes of physical condition are usually ill and are advocated by the wrong people for the wrong reasons…”
And so it continues for a page. I found myself signing up to the majority of its pledges . I throw it into the pot for two reasons: firstly it seems to be a preoccupation of Amcon bloggers to define their conservatism, and it might be helpful; secondly because I do not recognise this type of conservatism in the leader of the current Conservative Party of Britain, David Cameron. His response to popular rage at the irresponsible spending spree of our policians has been to offer radical change and power to the people. We will be consulted over the internet, a fatal idea; we will be able to deselect sitting mps if they behave badly, a good idea in theory; the whipping system that is used in the U.K parliament to ensure that party members vote in a block with their party will be dismantled so that genuine debates on laws can be held in parliament. In this way laws can be scrutinized and emended before being effected. This sounds fine but it would soon be subverted in practice. His worst and most dangerous idea is that we should be able to run local government by local referendum via the internet. If 5% of any given local population wants a referendum on some issue such as policing they can call a referendum, and we are all going to have to start pressing the buttons on our computers. As if it is not bad enough being tyrannised over by a priggish and hypocritical parliament, a second layer of bossiness is going to be added to the burden that we carry, that of the interfering power crazed neighbour. This profusion of ideas which , if implemented, would overturn our existing constitution, would throw us Brits into a state of terrible confusion. These ideas are a smokescreen thrown up in a panic to give the impression that el Camarada Cameron is the man who can create institutions that will force our politicians to be more honest. The real truth is that our whole society needs to become more honest.
David Marquand in an excellent article in the Guardian links the petty venality of the british politicians to the economic crisis and blames the two things on a moral turpitude in western civilization shared by all of us, rich and poor alike. This has been engendered by a neo-liberal vision that “the unhindered rationally calculated pursuit of individual self interest in free competitive markets (is) not just economically efficient but also morally right.” this he says “bathed the flagrant disparities of reward that marked the neo liberal era in the odour of sanctity” and led directly to the greed of the householders, borrowing more than they could repay, of the bankers and their bonuses, and the politicians and their seedy house deals.
On Friday May 22 in his diary column in the Guardian Hugh Muir wrote.
• The world stands transfixed as the trouser-gate virus continues to afflict the mother of parliaments. Expense abuse scandal hurts UK parties, says Germany’s Die Welt publication. Gravy train crashes for UK lawmakers, reports the Associated Press. But there’s less interest in Croatia, understandable given the recent election there of Josko Risa, the mayor of Prolozac, whose slogan “All for Me – Nothing for You” struck such a chord with the voters. “I just told them the truth. This town will be like my family business. If I get a little something, so do they,” was his rationale. Local resident Ivan Vjisnic appears sanguine: “We’re going to get ripped off no matter who takes over. At least he is being honest and up front about it.” Sometimes it pays to have this international perspective.”
Is this the way forward for our politicians? I should hope not. But ripples of fear are beginning to shake the Great and the Good outside parliament. Our Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, not to be confused with St.Thomas Becket, has said about our political Pinocchios.
“Many will now be wondering whether the point has not been adequately made: the continuing systematic humiliation of politicians itself threatens to carry a heavy price in terms of our ability to salvage some confidence in our democracy.”
The point will not have been adequately made until Parliament reforms itself. The danger is that we let up too soon for fear of something worse. Geoffrey Wheatcroft in an excellent article in the Guardian explains how Parliament had already lost its mojo before the lamentable expenses fiasco. It had been systematically ignored by Blair. Policy was no longer being debated in the chamber, and fine tuned there, but made on the hoof and in front of the camera. No wonder m.ps lost their hearts and started treating the weighty moral task of guiding our country’s fortunes as a workaday job from which they might hope to extract as much money as possible. But now their poor little corazones de madera ( spanish for wooden hearts) need to be thoroughly shaken up, swallowed into the belly of the whale and regurgitated at the very least, for them to rediscover their humanity.