Friday, November 24, 2006

Men ( and women ) of straw

What is it about the National Union of Students that it turns out such awful presidents ? Consider: Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, David Aaronavich, Sue Slipman, Lorna Fitzgibbons (spellings are all provisional) or perhaps you'd rather not.

We all have our cross to bear, or even bare

As a lifelong convinced and devout atheist, I will defend to the death the right of people whom Richard Dawkins calls deluded, i.e. believers, to wear what they like in private and at work, if it doesn't stop them from doing their jobs. I imagine, for example, that a Sikh's headgear makes it difficult to head a ball in football or to model new hairstyles or to wear a fighter-pilot's helmet, but otherwise I can see no problem. Certainly British Airways are making utter fools of themselves by demanding that a stewardess does not wear a cross or at least bare a cross (they say it's all right if you can't see it !)

Liberalism has its roots in freedom of religious belief and worship. Like many Liberals I would prefer a separation of church and state, but the French who don't understand liberalism, have taken separation to mean that children cannot wear religious symbols at school. This idea has surprisingly only occurred to them since large numbers of Muslim children started attending French state schools. Before that, the Ministere de l'Education hadn't notice dthat crosses were religious symbols.

Jack Straw's offence is worse, far worse. He objects to Muslim women wearing the Hijab when they come to his surgery. He said it made him uncomfortable. Liberal MP Jo Swinson's response was spot on. She said it was her job to make her constituents comfortable when they bring their problems to her.

Meanwhile I defy any dirigist, Blairite or Gaullist, attempt to prevent me wearing my holey dressing-gown during my devotions between 10.00 and 11.15 am on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I'm glad you asked me that question

I have just heard Labour MP Derek Wyatt on Radio 4's PM. Asked if politicians should be concerned that one man (Rupert Murdoch or anyone) could control Sky, ITV and ITN as well as several British newspapers, Wyatt replied, "That's a hard question". Well here's a harder one. Why has that species of invertebrates known as the Parliamentary Labour Party supported a government so totally in thrall to Murdoch and failed to legislate to prevent concentration of media ownership ? Wyatt also argued that it was perfectly reasonable for Blair and Brown to see Murdoch whenever he granted them an audience. He defended the Murdoch press, saying that it was neutral. His definition of neutrality was that the Murdoch press did not criticise Brown or Blair. This is some new meaning of the word neutral I had not come across before.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What, no gruntles ?

I had always imagined that gruntles were something that no gentleman should be without, possibly an obscure component of mediaeval armour like the bit covering the elbows or perhaps something to put on your escutcheon.

Imagine then my disappointment on looking up disgruntled in my Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (The photographically reduced one which needs a magnifying glass).

v trans To put into sulky dissatisfaction or ill-humour: to chagrin, disgust. (from DIS + GRUNTLE)
sb 1. The snout of a pig, or other animal 2. A little grunt
v 1. To utter a little or a low grunt 2. To grumble, murmur, complain

Of course disgruntled may mean having had your snout or your little grunt removed, but I suspect it's a false negative meaning induced to grunt, grumble, murmur or complain.

All in all, I prefer my imagined derivation.

A little learning

If you haven't already, go out now and buy Conn and Hal Iggulden's "The Dangerous Book for Boys". It's like a selection of the best articles from all the Eagle Annuals, with the occasional contemporary comment. It contains all the information that the national curriculum denies to our children: The Laws of Cricket, Grammar, Knots, how to build a treehouse or make a bow and arrow or hunt and cook a rabbit, Morse Code, other codes and ciphers, secret ink, history including Thermopylae, Hastings,Waterloo, Balaclava, Nelson, Scott, coin tricks, dog tricks, astronomy, marbles, common British trees, to name but a few. Eat your heart out Margaret Hodge and the rest of Blairite blather, bullshit, balderdash and bollocks !

Two quotations from the book:

You may already have noticed that girls are quite different from you... as a general rule, girls do not get quite as excited by the use of urine as a secret ink as boys do.

The British Empire:
[The idea of liberty] ... remains the most distinctive feature of the Empire... I do not mean to claim that all British Imperialists were liberals: some were very far from it. But what is striking about the history of the Empire is that whenever the British were behaving despotically , there was almost always a liberal critique of that behaviour from within British society". Macaulay and Mill, you are not forgotten.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

You can keep a good fascist down

As I watched a DVD of Goodnight Sweetheart, in which Gary Sparrow time-travels between the 1980s and the Second World War, the credits rolled passed and the name of the costume-designer caught my eye - Diana Moseley ! Surely, they hadn't asked Oswald Mosley's widow and Mitford sister Diana to design the costumes. Looking back on the series, I could recall no-one dressed in a black shirt. In any case she spent most of the war interned, so her knowledge of current fashions would have been limited. Nevertheless, I looked forward to posting "You can't keep a good fascist down" until I checked. If unlike me and Dr.Watson who merely see, you have followed Sherlock Holmes' practice and observed, you will already have spotted that the British fascist couple had no "e" in the middle unlike costume designer Moseley, who as far as I know has no fascist tendencies.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Snuggery 1: Huggery

I owe the term snuggery to my old friend Jonathan Calder. Some time ago he drew attention to the activities and excuses of the Rev Snuggs who cut down a tree in the churchyard because (a) elderly parishioners might trip over the roots, (b) children might climb and fall out of it and (c) paedophiles might hide in it. This post is snuggery 1 because I fear there will be more.

The latest candidate for a snuggery award is headmaster John Saunders of Warneford School, Highworth, Wiltshire who told his pupils they were not allowed to kiss, hold hands or hug. Does this come under health and safety or moral education ? Does it cover purely sexual behaviour or does it include comfort and compassion, congratulation and condolence ? At my son's college there are rules for pupils up to 18 and others for 18 plus. My son is 17 and was annoyed (but not at all inhibited) by the rule that no sexual activity is permitted anywhere on the premises for under-18s. We checked the rules for 18 plus and found no such restriction.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ancient Greek lavatories

Oh dear ! The psychologists flushed with enthusiasm have , at their convenience, added to the immense chain of modern phobias. They have invented a new one, a fear of entering public toilets and of course it needs a new word. With devastating originality they have coined (for not spending a penny) the name toiletophobia. Clearly they have taken the advice I once saw in the lavatory at Brussels airport to "eschew obfuscation". It's also the wrong term since the poor cross-legged toiletophobes do not fear lavatories in general but only public ones. Perhaps cottage-o-phobia would answer.

It occurred to me that there should be an appropriate ancient Greek stem to attach to phobia. Modern Greeks, not having the benefit of the advice of Nancy Mitford, use a form of the French toilette. Online ancient Greek dictionaries are no help, usually being based on the New Testament. Neither there nor in Homer is there mention of anything which translates as toilet or lavatory. If there is, the lexicographers are shy and do not mention it. I would be grateful if any chance blog reader can supply the ancient Greek for lavatory or better still public lavatory if the Attic world ever saw such a thing.