My father was a fairly prolific writer of letters to the 'local rag' as he called it. I have been looking through his papers and one of the letters just made me hoot; I cannot resist reproducing it here:
To the Editor, Middlesex County Times, 5 March 1971.
Two items in your correspondence page of February 19 are emotive. A proposed monthly striptease show for Ealing is put up for disapproval, but we are also advised of an Ealing fox that went to church.
This evidently repentant beast could perhaps be trained to go to the strip-tease show and bite the performer. That would provide as good an advertisement for the show as banning it.
If citizens are not equipped to take their own moral decisions freely, whose fault is it?
Norman Maggs, Ealing
I have spent the last four years researching the life of Edward Duke, an antiquarian, magistrate and guardian of the Amesbury Union Workhouse in the 1840s. He was remarkable mainly for two things: a bizarre theory to explain Stonehenge and other ancient monuments in Wiltshire, and a very serious charge which he brought against the master of the workhouse.
The primary source of information on Duke’s activities as a workhouse guardian consists of hundreds of documents – mostly written in almost indecipherable handwriting – contained in files stored at the National archives at Kew. This material, together with contemporary newspapers and his own publications has been used to produce an account of Mr Duke’s literary efforts and his work as a magistrate and guardian of the poor law.
This link will take you to the introduction to the work.
Hemlock then ... It is not what I wanted, but with my grown-up hat on, it is probably the best outcome for the country – in the short term… The uncertainty was damaging the economy and everyone was fed up to the back teeth with hearing about what will now be, regrettably, a certainty. And taking that hat off for a moment, it was a clear victory for cynical deviousness, opportunism, sharp practice and downright lying over honest and decent liberal values. Enough; history will judge.
One thing is very clear: the Conservatives have been in power for nine years, and look like extending that to 14. Whatever happens now to the economy, the NHS, education, those using food banks, the homeless and care for the elderly, will be four-square their responsibility.
There are some oddities in the figures though. The government have an overall majority of 80 seats – up from a hung parliament – with an increase in the number of votes of just 1.2%. And they have achieved this with less than 30% of the electoral vote. Odd that. On the other hand, the Lib Dems had an increase of 4.2% of their votes – more than any other party – but lost one seat, and on a percentage of votes cast – 11.5% – ought to have 75 seats; in fact, they have 11. So much for the oft-vaunted democracy.
The Observer, Sunday 8 December: “On Thursday voters have the chance to strip power from a dangerous charlatan – Boris Johnson. We abhor Corbyn’s failures on antisemitism; we recall Lib Dem complicity in the dreadful policies of the coalition; and we are no allies of the cause of Scottish and Welsh independence …” The newspaper goes on to encourage readers to vote with their conscience for the “pro-referendum candidate most likely to deny Johnson the opportunity to wreak existential damage on our country.”
Matthew Parris in The Times, Saturday 7 December: “Untruth comes as effortlessly to Boris Johnson as breathing …” But voters “know he’s a scoundrel, know he’s a cheat, know he’s a selfish careerist … but something about his rascality appeals; and when the alternative is the ghastly Jeremy Corbyn … the wonderful lightness of being Boris Johnson just tips the balance.”
So that’s the choice: a mendacious cynical opportunist, or a throwback to the discredited and tedious revolutionary socialism of bygone years. The tragedy is that the much-heralded third way with the Lib Dems, seems to have withered on the vine. It has left many voters feeling, as I feel myself, out in the cold and completely disenfranchised. Hemlock or cyanide.
Patrick West in The Spectator tells us not to mourn the demise of the Apostrophe Protection Society. The caption: ‘Has anyone really been confused by a wrongly placed apostrophe?’ is placed below a picture of a road sign: “Unsuitable for H.G.V.’s”. But then with perfect irony West declares: The “‘Kray’s guilt’ is different to ‘the Krays’ guilt’”. Quite so Mr West, but if we’re talking solecisms, one of the first rules I was taught at school was: ‘similar to … different from.’
He is, of course, right though. No-one has died from an incorrectly used apostrophe, unless it be a member of the old school expiring from apoplexy at the sight of “Tomato’s” or “Potato’s” in the greengrocer’s window – not that we have too many greengrocers any more.
And regardless of the presence or absence of the apostrophe in the above example of the Krays, the expression when read out loud, has no clue as to whether it is one brother or several that is being referred to.
Commas are different. Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves humorously examines the pitfalls of misplaced commas etc., where the meaning of a sentence really can be changed entirely depending on the position or absence of a comma or other punctuation. I was once reading her book on the Underground and laughing out loud; the man opposite demanded to know what the book was that was so funny. He was quite nonplussed when I told him it was all about punctuation.
It is also a fact, perhaps only known to genealogists and historians, that wills from the 18th and 19th centuries were always written without punctuation, in order that no alteration in meaning could be effected by introducing a comma or full stop.
No-one may have died from an incorrectly used apostrophe, but can anyone with a love of written English honestly say that they do not shudder when receiving a text message: “sorry cant come to the pub tonight its too cold”? (Apart, of course, from the obvious disappointment …)
The founder of the APS, John Richards, who is 96 declares: ‘Ignorance and laziness have won.’ Well at that age he has fought the good fight and deserves to retire in peace. I just hope someone else picks up the banner and runs with it.
Amended 5 December: no-one spotted the deliberate error! After ranting about correct usage I spelled 'tomato's' and 'potato's' incorrectly!
I was so excited when the Beeb decided to film H G Wells’ War of the Worlds, set as he wrote it in late nineteenth century England with the Martians landing on Horsell Common. But the ‘improvers’ got hold of it, and in my view squandered some excellent sets and CGI effects (and precious BBC budget) by vandalizing the plot.
There were some brilliant sequences of the Martian fighting machines on their great articulated tripods, but they were supposed to have been manufactured and the producers gave them hairy legs … Admittedly it made them look far more sinister, but they were mechanisms not insects. The Martians themselves were shown as great three-legged spider-like creatures, but no-one seems to have told the BBC writers that such an organism would have found it impossible to use tools without hands, claws or tentacles to manipulate them …
And then there were the longueurs – seeming to occupy most of the final episode – set in a scarlet and misty post-apocalyptic landscape, the legacy of the Martians. They had died out by this time of disease for which they had no defence (the original plot), but their ‘Red Weed’ had poisoned the earth preventing crops from growing. This was, I suppose, an allegory of climate change. There was even a nod to colonial guilt: “The Martians are just doing to us (The British Empire) what we have done to so many countries – invading and killing people!”
This cannot have been a cheap production, but having gone to all the trouble of simulating the fighting machines rather well – with the exception of the legs – why were there so few scenes in which they figured?
I read the original book quite recently and it illustrates HG’s enormously fertile imagination. Quite enough material there for a very good ‘creature-feature’ with all the charm of the period and even the opportunity for some fin de siècle decadence. And, by the way, the substitution of a woman as the heroine worked really well; such a pity that much of the rest of it was, frankly, boring. A real missed opportunity.
Listen to Clive James on A Point of View – you can find it on BBC Sounds, broadcast on Radio 4 at 8:48 this morning. If you can hear the points he is making between laughter at his method of making them, you will realize what a gem of real insight he had. How should we live life? It’s there. Listen and wonder, but also laugh ...
I have been to a few fancy-dress parties, and was recently reminded of one that nearly ended in disaster – or at the very least, extreme embarrassment.
It was to be held not far from my home in Ealing – and casting around for ideas, I decided to go dressed as Jesus. A couple of sheets and a false beard were all that were needed, and though I say so myself, the simple costume was surprisingly effective.
I met a girl at the party, and at the end of the evening I offered her a lift home in my ‘new’ car. The car was an old Ford Popular, colloquially known as a ‘sit-up-and-beg’; three gears, side-valve engine and rod-and-cable brakes. Basic, but generally reliable. Later in the year I was to drive it to Scotland and back.
I drove her to her home in Putney, eight or ten miles distant. I was invited in for (just) a cup of coffee, and stayed for an hour or so before leaving. As I drove down the road, I glanced at the fuel gauge – it indicated empty. It was around 2 AM on a Sunday morning, and in 1968 there were very few if any petrol stations open so late. How to find one, and then have to pay in my fancy-dress garb? But that was not the main problem. I was wearing a false beard, sandals, underpants, two sheets and … nothing else. I had not thought to bring any money to what was a local party, and in any case, where would I put it? What on earth would I do if I ran out of petrol? Sleep in the car until the next day, and then what?
The Ford Popular was not noted for its fuel economy. I drove back to Ealing as carefully as I have ever driven before, a minimum of acceleration, as high gears as possible and plenty of coasting. And I made it home with what must have been just a smell of petrol in the tank.
I never saw the girl again. The next such party I went to, I dressed up as a mummy and won a prize. I made sure though that beneath the bandages I wore normal clothes with pockets and some money …
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs