Fear’s Fear

Saudi News Management

  1. Dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi lured into Saudi trap in Istanbul, tortured, butchered, dismembered and disposed f in several suitcases.
  2. British PhD researcher Matthew Hedges arrested in UEA charged with spying for MI6, convicted, sentenced to life imprisonment.
  3. After Jeremy Hunt hoo-haa, Hedges granted Presidential Pardon.
  4. Jamal Khashoggi who?
  5. British arms deals with UAE unaffected.

Chronicles of Wasted Time

The outcome of the EU referendum, less than thirty months ago, has discredited two Prime Ministers, two Chancellors, one Governor of the Bank of England and the entire Treasury, not to mention triggering the resignations of umpteen Cabinet ministers. Is this a record? Is the Establishment trying to tell us something?

And now a phalanx of 100 Tory MPs are poised to vote down her poisoned Chequers chalice. And still she goes on and on, clearly believing in political Kevlar, magic money trees, tooth fairies and Santa Claus. She may think she’s modelling herself on Margaret Thatcher. Alas, her true mentor is Jimmy Cagney.

 Allison Pearson:   It’s beginning to feel a lot like a Conspiracy against Brexit

The Only Thing We Have To Fear . .

The Great British EU Referendum Project began in fear and is ending in fear. The craven David Cameron offered a referendum on the EU in his 2015 manifesto purely to defang UKIP, to ensure marginal seats remained in Tory hands. He had no intention of holding such a referendum, relying on another Clegg-Coalition to scupper the manifesto commitment. To his shock and dismay, the Lib-Dems were routed. Now he had to make good on his promise.

In the tawdry trail of treachery, equivocation and plain lying that followed, he and Osborne sought to frighten the British people into compliance, bringing on the ‘great and the good’ (Obama) and all the forces of conservatism (the CBI) to bludgeon voters into doing as they were told.

The scoundrel Cameron got his just deserts for his lazy, complacent arrogance. With typical ‘spoilt brat’ insouciance he flounced out of Downing Street and then Parliament leaving someone else to put the toys back in the pram.

Tragically that proved to be Mrs May, perhaps the only Conservative MP to match him for hollow insincerity, equivocation, duplicity and outright treason, selling our country to the burgeoning EU Empire and paying through the nose for it too.

The last three years have proved a waste land, a bonfire of all the vanities of democratic choice, leadership with courage and integrity, independence, sovereignty and national pride. I am ashamed of my country. We truly have become the hollow men.


The Monday Club

Dramatis Personae:

Pat Thoma

Marie Thomas

Rachel Thomas







Betty1 (One-Eye)




Betty 2





Week 1: Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

 Pat and Marie are sisters, they run the show under the supervision of Hazel.

Hazel is a big cheese on the committee, indeed a Bridgnorth big cheese since time immemorial. David remembered her as the wife of Chair of Governors Michael Ridley at Bridgnorth Endowed School. David had been Deputy Head there from 1990 – 97.

Michael had been the Ridley of Ridley’s Seeds, a long-standing supplier to farms around and a Bridgnorth institution. Even its premises perched on the bridge and overlooking the river had historical significance. Michael Ridley had been mayor of the town. Michael Ridley had been struck down with Motor Neurone Disease, about as ghastly a fate as David could imagine. Hazel had been a loyal and devoted spouse, caring for Michael, taking great pains to ease his way through what remained of his life, both in quantity and quality, both diminished brutally.

The last time David had seen his Chair of Governors he was an inanimate object strapped into a mighty wheelchair, every limb propped up in some fashion. From the neck up he was sentient. He was, essentially, a man trapped in what his body had become: a coffin.

David had severed links with the school in 1997, having secured a headship at Evesham High School in Worcestershire. He assumed Michael had died soon after that. He learned that day that Hazel had re-married and was still buzzing round Bridgnorth like a gleaming green bluebottle. She did the ladies nails, manicure, undercoat, topcoat of lacquer and all. In her eighties she still fought valiantly against ageing, pluckily but not wholly successfully. But she was skinny and her hair, make-up, nails, outfits and accoutrements were all up to the minute. But it was clear Hazel was dying, too.

Rachel, Pat’s daughter, had just taken A-levels in Social Psychology, Health and Care-ology and some other ology which had no relationship to the stern study of Science. She was a plain, dumpy girl, lacking in personality and confidence. Her muttered replies led David to infer that she had no plans to go to university but was taking up an apprenticeship in something that could not be heard through her low-key, muffled murmuring.

Emma was slightly older, again dark-haired and plain but far from forthcoming about herself. David let well alone.

David was who he was.

The beneficiaries of this care began with Clive who had been there seventeen years, David thought. At least that’s what Clive appeared to be saying but 90% of what Clive said was incomprehensible. He was a rotund, stout man in his seventies, David guessed, with an odd Humpty-Dumpty head. Bald and domed with a ski-slope nose and a strange tucked under chin, like a boiled egg on which a child had glued stubble and wormy lips and broken teeth. At first encounter David had thought he was staff but a little later would have sworn he was a day-care visitor only to be convinced once more that he was a carer. When Clive took his leave just after one o’clock David was none the wiser.

Alan was the slumped and silent type, monosyllabic in small talk and clearly cut off as a life-style choice. He popped up when someone mentioned that he had been a former Wolves player. He even stood to acknowledge the crowd. That, however, was the sum total of the knowledge the group possessed of Wolves Football Club and its illustrious former player.

Bill was a different kettle of fish entirely. Clear-eyed and clearly in command of himself and touching his toes at the ripe old age of 91 (on 1 April next), Bill was the uber-mensch, the human Triumph of the Will with a remarkable tale to tell. Continuously. On a loop. Every word repeated exactly, in the same cadence and with the same emphasis endlessly, every ten minutes. He was the speaking clock of the group, infallible, reliable and eminently repeatable.

Bill required neither stick nor zimmer frame. Wheelchair sought he none. He wasted no time in fixing David with an unwavering gaze, his grey-green eyes clear and unclouded, no glaucoma, no red rims, no weeping.

“I was in the army, you know.”

“Oh yes? Very Good. My dad was in the RAF.”

“And after I left the army I started a judo club. It went very well. Soon I was starting them all over the place. I had one here, behind cricket club. We used to have to put out the mats for every session and then roll them up after.”

“Oh, I know that can be a real pain. I was in the Bridgnorth Players for a while and we had to –“

But then the chap in charge said we could have sole use of the hut because there were so many judo clubs so we didn’t have to keep rolling up the mats every time.”

“That must have been a big improvement, a lot better –“

“My father was in the army as well, you know.”

“Right, yes, mine was in the RAF, he –“

“My father was in the army. He had to be evacuated from Dunkirk.”

David chose not to mention the recent epic film on the subject which he had walked out of after five minutes because the opening storm of machine-gun fire, richocheting bullets and the ear-splitting boom of grenades had been so loud he left before his ears started bleeding. The noise had even drowned out the people munching pop-corn around him.

“Wow! What an incredible experience! Did he –“

“And then they sent him out to Singapore but he was taken by the Japanese and was stuck in a P.O.W. camp.”

“Blimey! From the frying pan into the fire! Was he tortur – “

All the Jap guards spoke really good English, he told me, so you couldn’t whisper anything to your mates, the Japs could hear everything.”

“So was your father imprisoned till the end – “

“Him and three mates were walking by the beach one day and they saw the wreck of a tramp steamer in the bay. The guards weren’t looking so they swam out to the wreck. When they got there and climbed aboard the guards started shooting at them so they had to take cover but they found the life-boat and managed to release it and climb on board. They had four oars so they started rowing out to sea with the Japs still firing at them.”

“Gosh, that must have been really – “

“Eight days and nights they were rowing. All around Sumatra and the cape of India.”

“Astonishing! Eight days and nights at sea. What did they live on?”

“Coconuts. They drank the coconut milk and ate the coconut flesh. They made it all the way to Bombay where they found British forces and they were taken back home.”

“What an incredible life your father had! Escaping Dunkirk in a hail of bullets and then escaping Japanese gun-fire in Singapore, escaping as a POW and rowing a tiny life-boat all the way to Bombay. Did the four of them stay friends, did they get to- “

“My father was a boxer before the war. He went round all the open air boxing matches and boxed for a bet. It was the only way he could make money, you see, for my mother and me.”

“Was it bare-knuckle fighting?” David asked warily. He didn’t know what he was getting into here.

“No, boxing gloves. You see my mother had me very young. So when my father was in the P.O.W. camp we had no idea. We had a telegram saying he was Missing in Action, Presumed Dead. We had no idea. We were like brother and sister my mum and me, her being so young when she had me.”

David was deep in thought. He hoped Bill appreciated him reflecting on the story he’d heard. He also did not want to delve one millimetre further into Bill’s family history. Bill broke the silence.

“I was in the army, you know. So was my father, in the war. He was at Dunkirk you know . . . “

At that moment divine intervention saved David. Pat strode into the day-room brandishing a glass of scotch and one of Baileys. Bill took his scotch with alacrity, David made a hasty retreat and Marion started guzzling her Baileys.

When it was safe to go back, David slipped discreetly into the room while Bill was preoccupied with his whisky.

The ladies who lunched were a motley crew but not wholly disagreeable. He liked Jean the most. She was a bird-like creature in her eighties and in a wheelchair, terribly wasted, he thought. But she was a game old bird, stick-thin and wearing silver denim leggings and sprightly shoes (although she couldn’t walk an inch) and a green sweater enlivened by a colourful scarf and waistcoat. She had competently dyed brown hair in an easy bob and bright green eyes, the only living things in her withered face.

Chatting with her he discovered she had no oesophagus.

“And I’ve another lump coming here,” she stroked her neck. She was matter of fact about it. Her fatalism was faint but unmistakeable. He did not pursue what range of ailments had devastated her body so.

“You seem to talk very well without an oesophagus.” (Always look on the bright side.)

“Oh, you don’t need an oesophagus to talk. But I can’t swallow anything solid. I wretch and am sick. It’s awful.”

And so it was. At lunch-time when the rest tucked into a perfectly acceptable cottage pie with mash, peas, broccoli and gravy, she made do with a silver platter with three recesses in which pureed vegetables puddled with a slug of some brown goo added. The meat in the two veg, he presumed.

Jean merely toyed with her food. She had two spoons, used only one and barely made a dent in the muddy brown and green goo. He didn’t blame her. The others went on to an enticing coconut sponge with raspberry topping and custard but nothing for Jean. She lingered over her cup of tea and then signalled she was finished. Clive wheeled her back to the day-room.

When he’d finished serving and clearing up David joined her. In their conversation a deux he learned:

  1. She and her husband had owned Walton Farm, just outside Much Wenlock.
  2. They had had one child, Stephen, who had ‘learning needs’ as they say nowadays. He had to go to ‘special schools’ and blessed he was to have that opportunity, David thought. Inclusion policies had condemned untold thousands of kids to the maelstrom of a comprehensive school, wholly unsuited to their circumstances and needs.
  3. Stephen had brought his mother there and chatted brightly with David. He knew David had taught at the school in Much Wenlock. He knew David had been in the Wenlock Players. He knew a lot about David without ever having met him or been taught by him.
  4. After Stephen, Jean found that she could not bear another child. So be it.
  5. She and her husband fostered a number of unwanted children, neglected by mother and family and left to make do on the streets of Wolverhampton or Birmingham or Coventry.
  6. None of these children, Jean said, had ever seen a blade of grass or a field or a farm. They had never seen cows or sheep or goats, never seen milk drawn from a beast’s udders.
  7. And Jean and her husband cared for them, nourished and nurtured them, taught them and disciplined them, gave them self-respect and dignity and a love of Nature.

“But then my husband died and there was no-one to run the farm so we had to sell it and move here. But Stephen’s a good boy, he takes care of me.” She was dry-eyed throughout. David blinked back a brimming tear.

He really liked her. What had begun as an act of conscience, of duty, of cold charity had become much more human: affinity, sympathy, appreciation. He made her laugh and the sly smile on her face gave him pleasure too.

The other ladies were a duty of care, a different thing entirely.

Betty1 (One-Eye): pretty self-evident. A tiny sparrow of a thing, timid, tremulous, a cap of fine white hair over a wizened skull. One side of her face was a little collapsed and the left eye was a lost cause, milky grey, slack, unseeing.

Joan: Seemingly normal, no outward signs of dementia or any other alarming condition. She tried to be the ‘glam’ one with a vaguely modern hair-do, make-up old fashioned eye-shadow. She reminded him of Fanny Cradock but he didn’t mention it. She did join in one conversation to declare that her grandson was a PhD and some other kin had some impressive talent but David couldn’t recall what it was.

Annette: The most plausible of them all. Well turned-out, erect of posture, sitting gracefully, moving to the dining room when summoned, commendably wordless. Only at the end of the day did Pat alert him that under no circumstances should Annette be allowed to troop behind the others and get back on the mini-bus. She was not brought in the bus. A relative deposited her and collected her. But Annette had no idea where she lived, all gone, every day a puzzle.

Marion: The stout party, a trencher-woman with a taste for Baileys. She was a large lady, billowing out of her elasticated black trews and capacious blouse. She had a stick and a souped-up zimmer frame to get around – with help. That was Clive’s job, wheeling her in and out of the rooms, trying not to run anyone down.

Betty 2: Not a bit like Betty 1. Well-preserved, well-turned out, smart hair, matching blue twin set and not a word to say about anything. She would have made a good ‘Granny Robot’

At the end an early finish: 13-35. David was able to bid his adieus, declare how much he’d enjoyed it and was keenly looking forward to next Monday and ‘The Owls’. Yes, live owls in the day room! What fun!

To his surprise Pam and Marie and Joan and Jean seemed sorry to see him go, thanked him and wished him well. Pam even insisted that he bring his guitar and mandolin every time, in case an impromptu singalong was required.

He left with a spring in his step and the air of Val Doonican.


Soubry Que?

Soubry Que?

Watching the hysterical ravings of Anna Soubry MP yesterday in front of the national press and in the full glare of the media, I was forcibly reminded yet again what pathological liars politicians are. Not to mention egotistical narcissists, monstrous hypocrites, puffed-up vain popinjays who now don’t bother to disguise their contempt for the electorate and democratic decision-making.

Nor, to complete the charge sheet, their delusional conviction that they occupy the ‘centre ground’ and only they speak for ‘the people’ because they say they do, regardless of facts, recent history and their own record in Parliament. To describe the mild-mannered ERG of sixty MPs as ‘hard-line Brexiteers’ determined to hijack the government and democracy and bring this country to economic ruin on a par with Derek Hatton and Militant Tendency beggars belief.

And let us not forget her remark on a television programme around the time of the referendum that she thought Nigel Farage looked like “he had a finger up his anus and was enjoying it.” Sordid vulgarity is her stock in trade, betrayal of the people who voted for her and her ilk is her vocation. Is there no limit to the shame our MPs are willing to bring down on Parliament and this country?

A Woman’s Word Is Never Done

A Woman’s Word Is Never Done

Life has taught me that women think emotionally and feel rationally. Men, on the other hand, feel romantically, emotionally, hopelessly in thrall to inchoate feelings, for sons, daughters and, unfortunately, the glance of a passing woman who immediately plunges them into forlorn and useless rapture.

Women, contrary to received wisdom, are far from romantic. They are hard-wired from the Stone Age to secure a mate who will impregnate them with healthy offspring, house them, feed them and protect them from mammoths to sabre-toothed tigers to the caveman next door who has too much time on his hands.

The expenditure of so much rationality on fundamental biological survival needs over time depletes their capacity for rational analysis and argument. Men, on the other hand, find the expenditure of emotional energy so pointless and unrewarding that they soon surrender to the pull of reason, the relentless, inflexible imperatives of logic, argument, evidence and accountability.

As Jack Nicholson playing Howard Udall in ‘As Good As It Gets’ replied when his publishers gushing young female intern asked him how he could create such convincing female characters in his novels:

“I think of a man and take away logic and accountability.”

Ruddy Amber

Ruddy Amber

Amber Rudd, Work and Pensions Secretary (at time of writing), today announced a crack-down on the leaders of organisations which make a complete hash of rolling out Universal Credits. Describing the plight of millions of people left in poverty because of the unscrupulous actions and incompetence of these leaders, Miss Rudd warned: “we’re coming to get you.” She promised firm action and sentences of up to seven years in prison for those found guilty of such abject profligacy and betrayal of their workers.

In an earlier statement Miss Rudd castigated the wholly unwarranted, unjust and illegal persecution of immigrants from the Caribbean who came here in the 1950s to find work and proved to be the mainstay of the NHS and public transport, eventually acquiring richly deserved British citizenship. Describing the attempted forcible repatriation of this ‘Windrush’ generation as utterly crass, racist, insensitive and wicked, Miss Rudd called on those responsible to make redress or face criminal conviction and custodial sentences.

“We’re coming for you,” she said.

Miss Rudd is only the latest in a series of senior politicians to make an utter dog’s breakfast of manifesto pledges and then hare off after some suitable distraction filling the pages of the press and the media, viz Sir Philip Green. (Has he still got his knighthood? – Ed.)

Who can forget Theresa May’s remarkable public commitment on the steps of 10 Downing Street to dedicate her government to the trans-gender cause after doing all she could to sabotage the Brexit negotiations with which she was entrusted by the nation?

Meanwhile Home Secretary Sajid Javid is cracking down on knife crime by enabling the police to stop and search 12 year olds. Those found in possession of even a pen-knife will be immediately arrested and taken to court.

In a statement a short while later it was announced at their HQ that the Boy Scout and Cub movements were to be disbanded.

In a further statement the Home Office released figures showing that of those last year convicted of a knife crime involving stabbing or attempt to kill only 1 in 3 received a custodial sentence. As the Home Office were about to abolish prison sentences of less than six months this now meant that no-one convicted of serious knife crime would face a custodial sentence.

The statement also announced that deaths and injuries from knife crimes had reached a record high, a 50% increase on the previous year. The Home Secretary was not available for comment. He had resumed his family luxury safari holiday interrupted earlier this year by being recalled to Parliament to deal with illegal immigrants in numbers crossing the Channel with impunity.

The New Alchemy

The New Alchemy

‘Beware of enterprises which require a new set of codes,’ Henry David Thoreau wrote in ‘On Walden Pond’ in 1854. He actually wrote ‘a new set of clothes’ but were he writing today it would be ‘codes’.

By ‘codes’ he would have meant a new and esoteric language, arcane, mysterious, shared only by the cognoscenti and designed solely to lure gullible dupes, gulls, into their snares and fleece them remorselessly, brazenly, cheerfully.

This was the case in Ben Jonson’s ‘The Alchemist’ of 1610, the first majestic satire on the English stage of the folly of folk with more money than sense swallowing a mountebank’s gobbledegook and parting with all their money in the hope that by bizarre incantations and rigmarole, base metals can be turned to gold.

Much the same sort of thing will have happened in London in 1720, in the financial madness known as the South Sea Bubble, the first recorded evidence of what we now call insider trading.

A little closer to home, we have the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme of 1950:

The Tanganyika groundnut scheme, or East Africa groundnut scheme, was a failed attempt by the British government to cultivate tracts of Tanganyika (modern-day Tanzania) with peanuts. Launched in the aftermath of World War II by the administration of prime minister Clement Attlee, the project was finally abandoned as unworkable in 1951 at considerable cost.

The fact that the region’s terrain and rainfall were totally inappropriate for growing groundnuts, as well as the project’s ultimate cost and failure, led to the scheme being popularly seen as a symbol of government failure in late colonial Africa. (Wikipedia)

Peanuts proved to be peanuts, not an improbable guarantee of unearned prosperity.

And again, across the world this time, in 2008 with the notorious collapse of the sub-prime market and the collapse of leading banks whose acumen and insight proved to be as thin as air, through which it all came tumbling down. We have learnt that these cleverest of people, the great gods of capitalism in their soaring skyscrapers in New York, London, Paris, you name it, had not the slightest understanding of the damaged goods they were buying from each other wrapped up in financial gobbledegook. The Emperor had no clothes, of course, and his adoring acolytes had no sense.

And now here we are, ten years on, and still the gibberish of the alchemists holds us in thrall. Bit-coins. Platforms. Without jargon Silicon Valley and the whole soaring Tower of IT Babel would come tumbling down. A cursory reading of the most fashionable periodicals found on the coffee tables of Silicon Valley or Manhattan or San Francisco or Mayfair will induce a feeling of abject illiteracy in the normal, educated reader who has to stop to look up every third word in a dictionary which has yet to list them.

The same goes for the American Business/Technology programmes on television, invariably hosted by some braggart expert on the ‘markets’. Interviews with up-and-coming tech-entrepreneurs regularly feature. All seem to be tall, hunky, bearded men with lustrous black hair and cute Latino features, not a shirt or tie in sight, just the regulation tartan shirt, jeans and loafers. No jewellery, no tattoos, nothing to distinguish them from all the other new tech-heroes who have kept the seat warm for him.

But television adds something to the routine gobbledegook of the printed word: smugness. All these young Turks seem to exude self-congratulation, an ill-disguised pleasure at the fawning adulation of the host and finally, one senses, and extraordinary sense of their own worth, an impregnable moral vanity, a conceit unrivalled since the court of Versailles.

They are the new Sun Kings. Any suggestion that their motives might be mercenary and the consequences of their trade harmful are brushed off with a big laugh, a grin of ridicule and the suggestion that the Sun Kings are beyond reproach. They own the moral high ground.

And we accept it. We take it. And as we live our lives more and more on-line at the mercy of Facebook and Instagram and the next market-place for exhibitionists, suicide-makers, self-harm suggestions, paedophiles, bad drugs and worse weapons, data selling and voter manipulation, we never pause to ask ourselves a simple question:

Who held more unaccountable power? Louis XIV in all his pomp at Versailles or Mark Zuckerburg in his cool, architect-designed, oh-so-modern zeitgeist hideaway in the Palo Alto?

Answers on an algorithm, please.

Rule, Hysteria!

Rule, Hysteria!

Rule, Hysteria! Hysteria far and wide!,
Britons ever, ever, ever terrified.

When Brexit first, the people’s command,
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
But all the Powers that be sang this strain:


Project Fear threatened certain doom,
George Osborne warned of plagues ne’er ere seen
The CBI, Jean-Claude Juncker cloaked in gloom;
Barack Obama sang the self-same tune.


David Cameron, hoist on his own petard,
Pledged a referendum to shoot UKIP’s fox,
Alas he won outright, Nick Clegg took it hard,
And Cameron was nailed to his own ballot box.


He bounced and bent, he came and went;
‘Stuff this for a game of soldiers!’
He slammed the door and what’s more
Quit his Witney seat with a shrug of his shoulders.


No more Chipping Norton set, Clarkson or Rebekah Brook;
He retired to his twenty grand garden shed
To write his big blue book;
Alas writer’s block left it unwritten and unread.


It all began with Project Fear and that’s just where it ended,
No food on shelves, fend for yourselves, and no blood in the bank;
The traffic jams in Kent have meant blood donors have surrendered.                           But for a manic panic worth its salt, drive out and fill your tank!



Flyte from Reality: Evelyn Waugh

Flyte from Reality:                                   Evelyn Waugh

To someone whose first encounter with the works of Evelyn Waugh was ‘Brideshead Revisited’, the memory of that notoriously sumptuous banquet never fades. One completed the novel at a gallop, glutton and gourmand, surfeited, repu, and yet still hungry. So it was, after teaching the novel to a brightish group of Sixth Formers in 1977, a year which had its own riotous excesses after the bleak Heath years, the power cuts, the three day week, all the odd austerities of being squeezed between trades union power and the might of OPEC, I was left hungry for more. So I began at the beginning, with ‘Decline and Fall’.

Through the intervening years of ‘Vile Bodies’, ‘Black Mischief’, ‘Scoop’ and the flensing ‘A Handful of Dust’, through ‘Men at Arms’, ‘The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold’, ‘The Loved One’ and the miscellany of travel writing and caustic commentary, the conversion to ‘The One True Church’ and the misanthropic interviews with the BBC, wreathed in cigar smoke and a cherubic smile, exhaling  sulphurous contempt for the modern world he resolutely eschewed (apart from excursions to the cinema when the tedium of the life of a country gentleman at Combe Florey proved insufferable), Waugh’s ‘sensibility’, for want of a better word (though ‘personality’ would do) was for this reader a permanent permeance.

I inhaled ‘Waughness’ with the greed and satisfaction that he evidently found in his Havana cigars and exquisite brandy (pale, ghostly, a barely golden nectar, as Rex Mottram found in his crass connoisseur contest with Charles Ryder in the master’s triumph, ‘Brideshead Revisited’).

And yet, after the fantastic japes, the games he played with his archaic ear-horn, placing it firmly on the table to indicate utter boredom with his interlocutor at table, the withering witticisms and unapologetic snobbery, his death was ludicrous, bathetic, the cruellest of jokes played on the prince of scorn.

On Easter Sunday, 1966, returning from church to Combe Florey for Sunday lunch, he retired to the toilet just before dinner was served and expired in his own lavatory, trousers and under-linen at his feet, the bloated, ruddy, fastidious master, cigar smouldering still in the folds of his shirt, lolling in death, inter urinam et faeces. Too cruel for anyone. At least he died unaware that Elvis Presley would replicate his demeaning demise just fourteen years later in Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee. Graceland. What a cold and careless God Waugh had come to worship.

Born in 1903 he would become someone who found the entire twentieth century, or at least that part of it he had to endure, despicable, barbaric, savage, an unedifying spectacle of vile bodies bumping along, hideous creatures ruled by appetites and capable of careless but monstrous cruelty. So many of his characters came to seem wholly without grace and entirely beyond redemption.       ‘A Handful of Dust’ is a case in point.

By 1929 it is clear that he loathed Modernism, the Jazz Age, Picasso, almost every facet of the new century seemed to disgust and repel him. His writing and his life were one in a steadfast retreat from the depredations of the new century. In interviews he spoke of surveying the world ‘sub specie aeternitatis’. In his epigraph to ‘Brideshead’ he declared his one true faith: Et in Arcadia, Ego’.

Freud in the Cave, Oedipus on the Couch

Freud in the Cave, Oedipus on the Couch

To brood is to breed

That is woman’s creed

And then to bleed

And when the brooding comes to hatch

The sire has to catch his blinding rage:

Kill it

Before it comes of age, and kills you first

Thus was Mankind cursed:

Kill the father

Take the mother

Make the circle ever worse

All of history baulked at this truth

We choose extinction or we choose ruth

Our shuddering loins

Spill our future

And we become our past




Watching the Detectives 1

Watching the Detectives

There have been only six fictional detectives in the whole course of the mystery genre who stand out from the crowd, who form the Pantheon, the Mount Rushmore of the shamus, the P.I., the private dick, the consulting detective, what you will. The genius of their creation should be honoured.

In chronological order they are:

  1. Sherlock Holmes
  2. Hercule Poirot
  3. Philip Marlowe
  4. Columbo
  5. Edward Fitzgerald aka Cracker
  6. Saga Noren, Malmo CID

All have appeared on the screen, large and small, two of them solely through that medium. Nonetheless, Saga Noren and Cracker are worthy rivals to the heavy-weights of the literary crime novel.

There has only ever been one great villain of note, a supreme embodiment of evil: Dr Hannibal Lecter. Thomas Harris’s creation trumps and trounces rival monsters. Professor Moriarty fades like a phantom after the Reichenbach Falls. Notwithstanding Andrew Scott‘s supple and seductive performance on TV, Moriarty remains a grotesque Victorian caricature, the spider at the web of crime, a mere mathematician with a goatee and nothing to say for himself. He most closely resembles the Wizard of Oz, the apogee of disappointment.

Dr Lecter, on the other hand, infallibly demands our interest and attention. He is the epitome of cultured refinement in the frame of a callous cruelty that hardly seems human. An appetite for destruction, if you like, in the guise of a healer, a ferocious predator with the face of a caring counsellor. A psychotic with a degree in psycho-therapy.

And yet how seductive he is, how infinitely tender and wise when he chooses, when he chooses Clarice Starling. The film ‘Hannibal’ betrays the novel. In Thomas Harris’s work Lecter and Starling slip away, two fugitives whose mutual acquaintance has bred a sinister familiarity, a desperate love, a marriage of true minds consecrated in Buenos Aires, along the spacious boulevards, the fine restaurants, the opera house and the symphony hall. They share a veil of secrecy in exile which will never be lifted. It is the only one of Harris’s novels to have a happy ending.

He originally intended to call it ‘The Morbidity of the Soul’ but publishers and film producers demurred: don’t disguise the brand. So ‘Hannibal’ it was and Thomas Harris abandoned his writing not long after.

There is, to this reader, one remarkable passage in the novel, beginning in Chapter 20:

‘Now that ceaseless exposure has calloused us to the lewd and vulgar, it is instructive to see what still seems wicked to us. What still slaps the clammy flab of our submissive consciousness hard enough to get our attention.

In Florence it was the exposition called Atrocious Torture Instruments and it was here that Rinaldo Pazzi next encountered Dr Fell. . . . . . . . .

. . . . . The exposition of Atrocious Torture Instruments could not fail to appeal to a connoisseur of the worst in mankind. But the essence of the worst, the true asafoetida of the human spirit, is not found in the Iron Maiden or the whetted edge; Elemental Ugliness is found in the faces of the crowd.’

Who is speaking? Thomas Harris or Hannibal Lecter? The eloquence of the language, the grace of the cadence, the fastidious and preening use of the obscure ‘asafoetida’ and finally the utter contempt for humankind in ‘the clammy flab’ and the ‘Elemental Ugliness’ are wholly consonant with Dr Lecter’s vision and style. Why not slaughter and eat these blubbering creatures? And yet, who gave Lecter this voice? The one who saw through his eyes.                                                                                                                          (Note: asafoetida – a plant whose etymology refers to pungent, foul and fetid odours.)   TBC