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March 2004

Friday, March 05, 2004

Lost Horizon 1 

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self. Thus said Cyril Connolly (1903-1974). He founded and edited the literary monthly Horizon, which was published from 1939 to 1950. Today I received a box containing around eighty copies of various dates. Why have I bought these at a cost of £230? I will tell you.

I was seventeen when Horizon began to come out. I was unaware of that fact at the time, being busy preparing to enlist in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, which I did later in that year. As an unheeding callow youth I would not in any case have been numbered among its readers, though I did have vague ambitions to become a writer after the war was over.

I later came to admire Connolly. There was something devil-may-care about him, as shown by the above quotation. It appealed to me, and still does. I liked his style, as revealed in his only novel The Rock Pool. I liked the way he listed his clubs in Who’s Who: White's, Pratt's, Beefsteak. It was a link that he went to my old Oxford college Balliol.

There is more to it than that. I have long felt that reading old copies of Horizon would recall to me my youth, and those war years I managed to live through. Though a literary magazine, Horizon was bound to bring back the times in which it was produced. I looked forward to reading my copies as though they had just come out; and enjoying Connolly’s editorial touch.

The earliest of my copies is dated January 1941. I started with that. In his editorial Connolly writes about war poets, who he says are only peace poets who have assimilated the material of war. Peter Cromwell writes on wartime propaganda, saying we need to adopt the methods of the advertisers against the Nazis. There are poems by Alun Lewis, Louis MacNeice and Dylan Thomas. Peter Quennell writes on Byron in Venice. Someone unknown to me reviews at length ‘Mr Auden’s new volume of poems’. Alun Lewis’s poem begins-

All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the moors
Have sprawled in our bell-tents, moody and dull as boors,
Groundsheets and blankets spread on muddy ground.
Think I’m going to enjoy this. Money well spent, I’d say. Tell you more later.


Thursday, March 04, 2004

Specious embellishments and fantastic novelties 

The judiciary, through the mouth of the Lord Chief Justice of England And Wales Lord Woolf, have hit out against Mr Blair’s dismantling of the constitution. In a speech yesterday which annoyed the Home Secretary Mr Blunkett, Lord Woolf levelled sweeping charges against the Labour Government.
Our ability to manage very well, thank you, without one of those written constitutions which we so generously drafted for our former colonies, was probably assisted by the fact that, as Dr Robert Stevens points out, with the exception of the 17th century, ‘traditionally the growth of the English Constitution has been organic, the rate of change glacial’. By contrast, during the lifetime of this Government, prior to 12 June 2003, there had been already a torrent of constitutional changes. Let me remind you: the removal of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords, devolution, the incorporation into domestic law of the European Convention on Human Rights and the creation of a unified courts administration.
On 12 June 2003 came the dramatic announcement (by press release) that the office of Lord Chancellor had been summarily abolished. This was followed next day by an equally summary announcement that it had not been abolished after all, because it had been discovered that abolition could not be achieved in that way. Lord Woolf sardonically commented on that travesty of sound government.

The trouble is, as Sir William Blackstone remarked 250 years ago, that our legislators are ill-educated in the law they busily rearrange with such enthusiasm. This is illustrated by a fatuous remark uttered in the House of Commons yesterday by Lady Harmon MP. When MPs protested about the proposed renaming of the Crown Prosecution Service as the Public Prosecution Service she remarked that the same change had been effected in Northern Ireland two years ago ‘and the sun, moon and stars didn’t fall out of the sky’. This amounts to saying that it simply does not matter what constitutional changes our legislators fancy making, which could not be more wrong. It matters very much to the wellbeing of our citizens.

I mentioned Sir William Blackstone. He was an Oxford professor who wrote a book, Commentaries on the Laws of England, which went through innumerable editions during the next 150 years not only in England but in the United States and elsewhere. The following words from that famous book could have been written today.
The mischiefs that have arisen to the public from inconsiderate alterations in our laws, are too obvious to be called in question . . . The common law of England has fared like other venerable edifices of antiquity, which rash and inexperienced workmen have ventured to new-dress and refine, with all the rage of modern improvement. Hence frequently its symmetry has been destroyed, its proportions distorted, and its majestic simplicity exchanged for specious embellishments and fantastic novelties.


Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Anal enlightenment 

It has always seemed to me that one of a person’s chief duties is to respect and take care of his or her body. It’s obvious really. That is the one true possession we have. We live in it and out of it every day of our lives. So we had better look after it.

That is why occasionally in these blogs I have criticized the practice of anal intercourse, whether engaged in by a heterosexual or homosexual couple. In two previous blogs (FBBB33 and 34) I was rude about Dr Thomas Stuttaford, the newspaper doctor. Now, in The Oldie for March 2004, he redeems himself with a useful article on the bowel. Here is an extract.
One of the most amazing human devices is the anal mechanism, but it never receives a mention in prayers, sermons or even conversation. The anal passage recognises the different sensations rectal distension produces depending on whether it has been caused by a collection of wind or faeces. If only by wind, the sphincter opens so that, unbeknown to the person, it is allowed to escape, while any fluids are retained. If the flatus [i.e. gas] collects too quickly, or is excessive, the conscious mind becomes aware of this, so that it is usually possible to release it in a socially acceptable way. At other times the anal pads, collections of vascular tissue guarding the sphincter, together with the normal tension of the anal sphincter muscles, keep the rectal contents from escaping.
I often talk about the wonderful human digestive system, and this is one aspect of it. Obvious harm can be done to the delicate anal mechanism by subjecting it to the insertion of an erect penis. Sometimes more substantial objects are thrust past the sphincter, for example the clenched fist (in so-called fist-fucking). The current Private Eye (Eye 1101) has a report from the University Medical Centre at Leiden in the Netherlands. People have resorted to this with such objects stuck in the rectum as fruit, vegetables, bottles, billiard balls, light bulbs, paperweights, Barbie dolls, church candles and screwdrivers. The report ends with the following-
Our most recent case involved a fourteen-year-old boy, who was reported to the casualty department with a full can of kumquat juice wedged right up his anus. The doctors in casualty could not remove it, so he had to be put under anaesthetic and taken to the operating theatre, where the can was drained of its contents, squashed with a clamp, then removed. When he regained consciousness, all the embarrassed boy would tell us was ‘I’m going through a difficult experimental phase’.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Media impudence defied 

Broadcasting, newspapers, journals – nowadays collectively known as the media - have a reputation for arrogance. This simply means that the journalists working in the media collectively have a reputation for arrogance, and it is well deserved. Nowhere has this unattractive trait been more conspicuously displayed than in the case of the Secretary of State for Defence Geoff Hoon. Since the days leading up to the Iraq war he has been mercilessly pilloried by those who fancy themselves our masters.

The avowed object of this treatment has been to remove Mr Hoon from office. I do not say to get him removed from office, which would be more realistic. These people think they have such power that they can in effect remove him all by themselves. They want to do this because most of them are opposed to the Iraq war, and Mr Hoon has been a key figure in fighting that war.

The Times has been a leading activist in this shoddy campaign. It has published a constant drip of anti-Hoon propaganda. Its clever cartoonist Peter Brookes has constantly smeared the Defence Secretary in his distinctively repulsive manner. Its parliamentary sketch writers have shown him no mercy. Here is a typical example from Ann Treneman in today’s Times.
Geoff Hoon came to the Commons yesterday to gloat at the fact that he still exists. Technically, of course, that was not his purpose. Technically, he came to answer Defence Questions. But the chances of this happening were remote. After all, Mr Hoon has never knowingly answered any question, and these days he likes to use public appearances to advertise the fact that he has not been fired. And really, why not? Mr Hoon’s survival is a noteworthy achievement and no one would deny that he fully deserves the accolades he is now receiving as the leader of the political branch of the Gloria Gaynor I will Survive club. (Can a medal be far behind?)
There is more of this childish rudeness to one of Her Majesty’s principal Secretaries of State, but I have quoted enough to expose this rubbish for what it is – a disgrace to the columns of what was once a great newspaper.

The statement that Mr Hoon’s survival is a noteworthy achievement refers to the fact that the media has been baulked of its prey. To his credit, Mr Blair has not yielded to its foolish baying. The impudent media decree that Mr Hoon must go has been icily ignored by the one man who truly has the power to implement it. And quite right too.

It is a small matter for rejoicing among those who still believe in parliamentary democracy rather than rule by the unelected media.

Monday, March 01, 2004

In Limerick's fair city 

Today’s Times is rather hard on my wife Mary’s home town Limerick, saying it has the reputation of being ‘a violent and impoverished city’. The item recalls the so-called Limerick pogrom of 1904, when a Limerick priest denounced the city’s small number of Jews from the pulpit as ‘rapacious usurers’ and they were driven out.

I have made many visits to Limerick since I met and married Mary in 1977. It is neither violent nor impoverished today, though it may have been both in the past – just like London or Birmingham. It seems that the Times is too much influenced by Frank McCourt’s vivid account of his poverty-stricken childhood in the best-selling memoir Angela’s Ashes. Things there are very different today.

During World War Two the director of Ireland’s National Museum was an Austrian named Adolf Mahr, who was also head of the Irish Nazi Party. A letter sent last month by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Paris to the Irish President alleged that Mahr was a friend of the German wife of John Hunt, who established the Hunt Museum in Limerick seven years ago. It said that the Hunts exploited this friendship to associate with ‘notorious dealers in art looted by the Nazis’ and through them obtained works which were later in the Hunt Museum. Some of these, it is alleged, were bought by, or are on loan to, the National Museum of Ireland and the National Gallery of Ireland.

The Wiesenthal Centre, which campaigns for the restoration of wealth stolen from Jews by the Nazis, said last night that ‘the case should be used as an opportunity for Ireland to examine its neutrality during the second World War and the murkier aspects of its relationship with Hitler’s Germany’.

A commission of inquiry headed by the retired judge Donal Barrington has been set up to investigate. His is a well-known name in Limerick. Many sick people have been treated in Barrington’s Hospital on George’s Quay in the city. You can buy a photograph of it on the Internet from McCourt’s Limerick Shop, who will also supply you with an Angela’s Ashes figurine.