Category Archives: politics

Death Nell of Dickens

I well remember my introduction to the famous (or infamous) death-scene of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/429024.The_Old_Curiosity_Shop

which was also my first introduction to the idea that one could ridicule the work of a famous and respected author and get away with it.  Aside from one teacher who disliked Betjeman (and apologised for it) my schoolteachers had approached texts as holy writ.  They were the Given: it was our job to understand Them and to convey that understanding in such a way that it could be marked and graded.  Scepticism, let alone ridicule, played no part in that process.

Enter Geoff Syer.  Geoff was a lecturer at Isleworth College, an unashamed communist who wore a symbolic red tie: he was also a profound literary sceptic.  So when we were discussing pathos in literature it was inevitable that Little Nell should arise from her grave like a shadow-puppet to be killed yet again:

She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird — a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed — was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child-mistress was mute and motionless for ever. Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings, and fatigues? All gone. Sorrow was dead indeed in her, but peace and perfect happiness were born; imaged in her tranquil beauty and profound repose.1 (Chapter LXXI, p.524)

Victorians were as devastated by this scene as people more recently at the death of Princess Diana.  They wept openly in the streets.  But there were no Reichenbach Falls for Nell: Dickens was as implacable as death itself and refused to bring her back.

However, amongst the mourning there were even then dissenting voices.  Oscar Wilde remarked: “one must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without dissolving into tears . . . of laughter.”  And that, I would guess, sums up the reactions of most modern readers.  Though attempts have been made to explain Nell as symbolic of the victims of capitalism:

http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/boev1.html

I don’t think that’s the way Dickens worked.  His characters were visualised with an intensity rivalled only by Dostoevsky’s – and though he was deeply concerned with poverty and child mortality (the novel follows on from the death of his sister-in-law) such abstraction is not in his nature.  Dickens dealt with concrete realities.

I have to say the above article expresses everything I dislike about post-modernism; inventing complex terms for something already ‘out there’ which could be expressed much more simply.  That said, much has been written in the feminist era about Dickens’ women and how they tend to divide into the garrulous and the child-like; the figure of fun and the ‘angel in the house’.  Give me garrulous and comic any day: besides, I wouldn’t have been married to Dickens for any money.  Twelve children, a lifetime of unfaithfulness and ne’er a mention in any of his books.  No, ta…

I can’t remember why I started on this topic at all.  But there you go: I never could get the hang of Wednesdays…

Kirk out

 

 

 

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Are You Having a British Dream?

*Sigh*

For some inexplicable reason, my latest works of staggering genius didn’t make it onto Newsjack.  Well, I thought they’d be inundated with stuff about the Tory Party conference so here, as promised, I display them for your delectation:

Breaking news:

Last week Theresa May was standing in an empty hall trying to get over a bad cough when a rogue Tory Party conference broke in and handed her a list of Labour Party policies.  It is not known how the conference, played by a bunch of comedians, was allowed access to the PM.

The conference slogan was in trouble too, when a couple of words fell off, obscuring the message ‘building a country that works or everyone will die’.  Officials have denied that the message originally read ‘come back Dave all is forgiven’.

Afterwards there was an epidemic of tumbleweed as Party members were asked their opinions on Theresa May’s speech.  Many of them had gone to bed hoping it was all a British dream but woken up to find it was only too real.

I’m wasted here…

Kirk out

 

 

 

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Myanmar Girl – The Musical

In order to explain the current Burmese situation I propose a musical called ‘Myanmar Girl’ (see what I did there?)

Along the lines of ‘Springtime for  Hitler’  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springtime_for_Hitler  it would tell the story of the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aung_San_Suu_Kyi  from girlhood to the present day.

The musical would open on a gloomy house where Aung San Suu Kyi is being held under arrest; but after a sad beginning the young woman would rise and sing the song ‘Democracy’, outlining her hopes for Burma.  Behind her is a stone tablet engraved with the principle ‘freedom and democracy for all’.  The song would include some principles of Gandhi (cue Bollywood-style dancers in loin cloths) and the musical would continue with numbers such as ‘No, Mr Junta, I won’t Stand’ and ‘Let Me Out’.  The most affecting scene would be her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize and the high point is where she is made political leader of Burma.  But after that it all goes downhill and in the second half a chorus of Rohingya Muslims appear to sing the song ‘Let My People Stay’.  The Muslim leader even goes personally to ask ASSK to intervene but she has become selectively deaf: behind her he notices that the stone tablet has been altered and now reads ‘freedom and democracy for all (except the Rohingya Muslims)’.  Disgusted, he sings the song ‘1984’ and leaves.  The musical ends with ASSK alone, deserted by all her followers, sitting in the same house where she began.

A farce, you say?  Inappropriate, you say?

Hmm…

Kirk out

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The Tumbleweeds

I’ve been busy this morning putting together some jokes for Newsjack about the Tory Party Conference, and coming up against the ‘Trump Conundrum’ ie how can you make fun of something that is itself a joke?  Still by dint of Herculean efforts I’ve come up with a few one-liners: if they don’t get on – and let’s face it, they’ll be inundated by such contributions this week – then I’ll post them here.  Not to mention the possibility that she might resign or be pushed over the weekend.

What a fiasco though, eh?  Left to itself the speech would have been dull and unmemorable, the only good points stolen from Labour and the rest an embarrassment of poverty.  Who came up with the phrase ‘British dream’ and what were they on at the time?  Lots of cocoa, one can only assume…  We sat through the turgid flow for several sluggish minutes before OH had the brainwave of putting it on at double-speed; even then it was hardly entertaining.  I would imagine you have to watch a Theresa May speech at x 10 speed for it even to approach fun.

I can’t tell you much about what was in it, since there wasn’t much to tell.  As I say, she’d stolen a few initiatives from Labour, plus a lot of hollow rhetoric about equality and stuff, but the biggest cheers came from remarks about ‘wanting everyone to keep their money’ and ‘enjoying the rewards of all your hard work.’

Hmm.

The contrast with Corbyn could hardly be greater.  But the worst, as we already knew, was yet to come.  First a rogue ‘comedian’ broke in and handed her a P45 (even the Tory party disruptions are dull) and then she broke into a coughing fit* which lasted most of the rest of the speech.  Being Tories they manfully stood and clapped during the battle between voice and phlegm, but no amount of standing ovation could smooth over the car-crash of this speech.  If more evidence of God’s disapproval were needed, an ‘F’ fell off the sign behind her and, for all I know, down the back of her dress.  You’d have thought the Tories could afford decent signage at least.

Ah well – it’s all good fun, as was Amber Rudd’s excruciating interview on PM last night:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b096gjrb

William Hill are giving 9/4 odds on Theresa May resigning this year.  Mind you, I’m none the wiser as I don’t really know what 9/4 means…

http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/e/11251986/When+Will+Theresa+May+Leave+Office+as+PM%3f.html

Kirk out

*I almost wrote ‘coffin fit’ – Freudian slip

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Shorthand and (Stereo)typing

In the old days everything was simple.  Your social status was immediately obvious because your clothes, your accent, your demeanour, everything about you – all spoke of your position in society.  Though there was some level of social mobility, it would have been almost impossible to ‘pass’ as someone of a different social class, else there would have been no ‘Pygmalion’  – and even no ‘Educating Rita.’

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/pygmalion/summary.html

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085478/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl

The advantage of this (if you want to see it so) was that it operated as a kind of shorthand.  You could tell at a glance who someone was and how you should treat them.  They could tell at a glance how to behave towards you; whether with deference or brusqueness, whether to give an order or hail you as a fellow.  It made life easier and more straightforward.  It also made it terrible.  It put people in strait-jackets; it consigned individuals to oblivion or slavery before they were born.

Even when I was growing up in the ‘sixties, three distinct social classes were still in operation.  It would not have been remotely funny for two Ronnies Corbett and one John Cleese to do the famous ‘I look up to him/I look down on him’ sketch if it had not expressed a visible truth.  (Women didn’t even figure in this scenario because they derived their social status from the men in their lives; any unmarried working women were either definitely working-class or else practically classless.)

But now we have thrown all this out in the name of equality.  I’m more than thankful for that, don’t get me wrong: the class system perpetuates privilege and injustice and ought to be abolished (insofar as it actually has been.)  But there’s a problem.  Because now that we have no shorthand telling us how to treat people, some of us are resorting to typing.  Stereotyping, that is.*  If you rely on appearances to judge the person in front of you, that’s called prejudice.  We seem as a society to be particularly bad at taking people as we find them.  We seem to need a kind of shorthand to help us with short-term encounters or first meetings.

*see what I did there?

Nowadays men know that they shouldn’t patronise women; white people are better-informed about how to treat ethnic minorities and I hope we are all much better at talking to people with disabilities.  This is not to say that prejudice doesn’t exist; of course it does, but we’re more clued up about it.  We have strategies – and in some contexts, laws – to deal with it.

The problem is that the progress towards equality has taken place – in this country at least – within the context of individualistic captalism.  We may all be equal, but we are all in competition with each other.  We live in a ‘me too!’ society where everyone wants to be at the top; and we deal with this by means of competitions.  Everything’s a competition now – just look at the TV schedules.

There must be a better way to do this.  I just don’t know what it is yet.

Kirk out

PS  Oh, and while I’m mentioning ‘Educating Rita’ I must recall a brief sojourn into the limelight by a friend.  He phoned into Dermot o’Leary’s show on radio 2 to protest at the amount of rap music he played, and was invited to come on the programme and choose one word to describe a song they had just played.  Words such as ‘bilge’, ‘offal’ and ‘dross’ received an outing: the item was called ‘Educating Peter’.

 

 

 

 

 

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Intelligent Design? Think Again, Guys!

A few years back I was struggling to use a gadget that was too stiff for me when another woman stopped to help.  She struggled too; then she said, ‘men design things for their own strength, don’t they?’  It brought me up short, because I’d never thought of it that way before – but she’s right.  And it set me thinking.

It’s not only ‘manly’ gear such as drills and chainsaws that this applies to (though it is annoying to have to grip a ‘hand-held’ sander with both hands in order to stop it going off on its own) – I don’t have particularly small hands for a woman, and yet I have daily struggles with objects that have presumably been designed by men without any thought taken for the 51% of us who might want to use them.

Take my thermos.  It’s one of the elegant metal ones that don’t have a breakable interior; it has no handle and is therefore presumably designed to be held in one hand.  Yet were I to try this I would risk spattering myself and the library with scalding tea.  Oh, sure, I could’ve got one of those nice pink-patterned thermon (I think that’s the correct plural; if I say thermoses OH will have a seizure) but they don’t hold enough tea for any sentient human being to sustain life.  And there’s the rub: if you want any deviation from the supposed norm you have to pay extra and get it in pink.  So that living in this world as a woman you can come to feel a little bit like Gulliver in Brobdignag.

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Sort of Time Do You Call This?

The day begins at 5 am with sleeplessness and goes on until you give in and call it a – well, a day because now that it’s got to 6.15 there is Absolutely No Point in trying to doze off any more.  Fortunately I don’t have an arduous day – or at least, no more arduous than usual, just work and visiting relatives.  Relatively easy, ho ho.  But as anyone knows who has ever had a rough night, sleep or the lack of it can cast a pall over the most joyous of lives, and if you have problems which on a normal day can be kept under control, on a day like today they run riot.  It’s like a wet playtime in school.

So: I won’t burden you with all the problems I’m facing on a daily basis as I have blogged about these before; but it would have been nice if ‘Newsjack’ had appreciated my sketch enough to broadcast it.  It would have given me a little lift; instead of feeling that nothing ever goes right, I’d feel that one small thing had at least been achieved.

If any of you have ever suffered problems which just seem to go on and on; which get better one day only to get worse the next: which seem in fact to get better to give you false hopes only in order to dash them on the rocks, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

*Sigh*

Apologies for the downer today.  And now, to cheer you up, here’s the sketch I wrote – which I and OH both thought was funny:

Theresa May’s Leadership

 

‘GAME OF DRONES’

 

ATMOS:                             CAFÉ

F/X:                                      BACKGROUND CHATTER, CLINK OF CUPS, HISS OF COFFEE-MAKER ETC

 

JOURNALIST 1:       I give up.  My paper wants an editorial on the current political climate but I don’t understand politics any more.  Nothing makes any sense

 

JOURNALIST 2:       It’s easy.  You have to stop seeing it as politics

 

J1:                               You mean –

 

 

J2:                               Just think of it as popular culture.  Everything’s dumbed down these days, right?

 

J1:                               I guess…

 

J2:                               So take the Great Repeal Bill: it’s just like Game of Thrones.

 

J1:                               Taking us back to medieval times, you mean?

 

J2:                               Exactly.  Repealing every piece of legislation since Henry the Eighth

 

J1:                               Or Sixth

 

J2:                               Or Henry the Fourth part one

 

J1:                               OK – I get that.  But Theresa May is just inexplicable

 

J2:                               No, no – she’s just like that robot in Futurama

 

J1:                               Bender?  The one who bends girders?

 

J2:                               Exactly.  She’s bending the Tories up and down…

 

J1:                               Right and left…

 

J2:                               …over to Northern Ireland…

 

J1:                               …up the Magic Money Tree…

 

J2:                               You’re getting it

 

J1:                               But what about the leadership challengers?

 

J2:                               Well – you know the cat in Dilbert?

 

J1:                               Catbert?  The evil genius?  What about him?

 

J2:                               Isn’t it obvious?  That’s Jacob Rees-Moggy!  All he does is sleep in a corner of the House of Commons watching with one eye open and awaiting his chance.

 

J1:                               That’s brilliant.  I totally understand politics now.  There’s just one thing I don’t get

 

J2:                               What’s that?

 

J1:                               How do you explain Boris Johnson?

 

J2:                               There’s no explanation for Boris Johnson.

END

Kirk out

 

 

 

What sort of time do you call this?

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