Sunday, 31 December 2006


I began blogging on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ site in the late summer. I’d had another long stay in hospital, and was feeling depressed about myself and the world. Everything seemed out of joint. The international scene was going from bad to worse. Apart from the impervious few who never glance outside their own cosy bunkers, people everywhere were getting more and more frightened, angry, and despondent. Surely, I thought, on a news discussion site hosted by the Guardian – of which I’ve been a lifelong reader – there will be, if anywhere, constructive individuals, groups, and some new thinking.

What I found was rather different. Yes, there were some highly intelligent posters keen to swap ideas calmly and to debate issues dispassionately. But they were outnumbered by the frightened, angry, and hostile, whose aim in posting seemed to be to beat others up from behind the safety of their computer screens – scarcely a heroic enterprise. There were also the personally abusive, who called some of the bloggers who provided the threads, and the posters who placed comments, nasty and sometimes scurrilous names, even using lavatory language. I hadn’t been prepared for this, especially as the site’s ‘talk policy’ said such personal abuse wouldn’t be allowed. This in turn raised the whole issue of censorship. Were posts removed, and some posters barred, only because of their loutish behaviour, or also because their opinions didn’t suit the site managers or some other posters – who had the right, apparently, to demand the removal of a post they disliked which some of them frequently did.

All this seemed a far cry from the site’s proud banner ‘Comment is Free’. Whether or not ‘Facts are Sacred’ [whatever ‘facts’ are], I felt pretty sure that the great Manchester Guardian editor C.P. Scott, who had coined the phrase, wouldn’t have approved the censorious way his successors were running the site. So after a few vain attempts to get matters improved, I ceased posting there.

Frank Fisher, who like myself is a strong anti-censorship campaigner, invited me to post on his site, ‘Give ‘em Hell, Pike’, and shortly afterwards to join the blogring he was setting up, ‘The Awkward Squad’. So I took the bull by the horns, set up and began furnishing ‘anticant’s burrow’, and started getting to know my new Awkward Squad colleagues. First and foremost, Frank himself: ’Give’ em hell, Pike’. This site is like a rambling old house, deep In the country. There are umpteen creaky stairways and mysterious passages, leading off to hidden rooms some of which have been locked up and dusty for ages while others do a thriving trade in visitors who turn the place into a veritable maze of re:re:re:re; comments and retorts. Now and then posters lose their way completely, and end up shouting crossly at one another about matters totally remote from the ostensible subject of the thread. Over all broods a disembodied cyberghost who operates on the dubious assumption that he, she or it is a Platonic template of impersonal abstract intellectual bloggery. This greatly agitates some other posters. Altogether, I find Pike’s place sometimes a bit spooky.

By contrast, Zola-Ink-Spots’ igloo-cum-sauna in remotest Lapland is an adventure playground “for those that find sympathy with a walk on the wild sides of life.” Zola is capable of being pretty wild himself at times; he is also gentle, whimsical, a poet, and a connoisseur of oddities as well as a mine of recondite information. At least one daily trip to Lapland is a must. On the Yellow Duck Pond, a small yellow duck, his mate and their duckling lead a seemingly idyllic life in the Low Countries and provide a wealth of amusement and links to other blogsites. The Pond is a mellow and welcoming place. Szwagier’s Pirate’s Lair is bathed in cool blue light, rather like an aquarium. It reports upon the contemporary Polish scene, and other matters of literary and cultural interest.

At the younger, more earnest, end we find Toby Lewis’s ‘Reason’s Sword’, where Toby applies his thoughtful and studious mind to various topics that interest him. He is a budding philosopher and always worth reading. Chris White’s ‘Blog about Blogging’ is a young journalist’s account if his training and progress, and is fascinatingly alien to journalists of an older generation, like myself, whose only training was that which they picked up on the job.

The other member of the Awkard Squad ring is Angela F, whose blog, ‘Surviving Huntingtons’, is devoted to her personal and family experiences of living with Huntington’s Disease. This sounds as if it might be a gloomy read, but the spirited way in which Angela tackles her life, and then writes articulately and movingly about it, is inspiring and even refreshing.

Each member of the Awkward Squad has their awkwardnesses. I’ll return soon to the ways blogging is evolving, and the purpose and potential of blogrings.


It's New Year's Eve
Just one more heave
Tomorrow's world waits, fresh and new.
Do I believe that? Or do you?

A warm welcome to all in the burrow today. Hot brandy mince pies will be served.

Saturday, 30 December 2006


As I’m older than most posters, my memory threads stretch back further. My earliest clear recollections are from being about 5 or 6, though I have been told a lot of anecdotes about my babyhood and have many photographs. It was the early 1930s, around the time that Hitler came to power in Germany – a seminal event that troubled people far less at the time than it should have done. For a few years family life mattered far more to us than the bigger world, as we had many troubles. All that changed with Munich, when I was 11. Even though the crowds cheered hysterically when Chamberlain returned from wooing Hitler waving his silly “Peace in Our Time” message, scarcely anyone else – and maybe not even the cheerers – believed any longer when the Beaverbrook Daily Express proclaimed every morning that there would be no war in Europe that year, or the next one either.

The 1940s – my teenage years – were wartime ones. Inevitable anxieties and shortages were sustained by a degree of social cohesion and national determination which had only been equalled during the Napoleonic Wars, 130 years earlier. Even after Dunkirk, with scarcely any viable defences and inadequate manpower, and the year-long Blitz, hardly anyone in Britain thought for a single moment that Hitler would defeat us. Looking back, it was amazing.

We emerged from the war exhausted and bankrupt, which did not deter the post-war Labour government from embarking on an ambitious programme of social reform. But Britain was overstretched, and dependent on American loans and subsidies which have only just been paid back. Regardless of the political arguments, that government – historic though its achievements were – made the psychological mistake of prolonging wartime austerity and food rationing too far into peacetime. When they were defeated, it was largely by the promises of Lord Woolton – a consummate salesman – that the Conservatives would give the people ‘good red meat’ - which he, as the new Minister of Food, proceeded to do.

The 1950s were a time of hope, and also some frustration. People felt they deserved a better deal after all their strenuous efforts and wartime sacrifices. There was also the growing shadow of the Bomb and the escalating Cold War of words between the USA and the Soviets. It was my first decade as an independent adult, earning my living on my own in London, where I have lived ever since. In 1956 the country was dramatically polarised by the Suez Crisis, which aroused even stronger emotions than the Iraq War. It is the only time I can recall when total strangers were arguing heatedly with one another on public transport [no blogsites for letting off steam in those days]. As with the rise of Hitler, Suez was a far more seminal event for Britain then we realised at the time. It marked the effective end of our Imperial pretensions, and the arrival of the USA as a major player in the Middle East.

The 1960s were a peak time of achievement for me. As I came up to 40, I succeeded in helping to pilot a minor, though highly important, social reform onto the Statute Book. It was an intensely busy time, and broadened my interests, contacts, and activities considerably. At the beginning of that decade, too, I formed my life-partnership which still endures steadfastly, though not as happily as of yore because of advancing age and failing health. Another aspect of the Sixties is that they were a time of gentleness, hope, and social experimentation for a new generation of young people. The era of Carnaby Street, Flower Power, and the Beatles. An innocent age, despite the freer use of [mostly soft] drugs. People were kinder, and one did not feel automatically suspicious of each new acquaintance. A whole barrel of twaddle has been dumped upon the ‘Sixties by old-fashioned jaundiced folk like Norman Tebbit and Mary Whitehouse, who blamed the ‘permissiveness’ of the decade for all the country’s subsequent ills. All I can say is that I was at the centre of the Soho club scene then, and friendly with most of the social workers concerned with young people in Central London, and I used to happily park my car in any Soho street several times a week until 2 or 3 in the morning – something I would never dream of doing nowadays.

The ‘Seventies became an uphill struggle, as demands for social and counselling help mushroomed and funding dwindled. The charity I ran kept going by the skin of its teeth, but for a number of reasons I retired in the late 1970s and concentrated more on freelance writing work and training as a counsellor. The decade ended with the triumphal advent of Margaret Thatcher, and support for “fringe” causes and caring for the marginalised members of society shrivelled. Some of the achievements of the Iron Lady may have been nationally beneficial, like a bracing cold bath, but she made kindness and concern for others unfashionable with her infamous pronouncement that there was “no such thing” as society – only individuals and families. This mechanistic outlook became increasingly stale, and poisoned the attitudes of the rising generations. The “New Labour” landslide of 1997 was greeted with near-universal euphoria – how mistakenly we are only now coming to realise.

The next great watershed in all our lives was, of course, what the Americans miscall ”9/11”. I can remember my next-door neighbour calling out over the fence “There’s something peculiar going on at the World Trade Centre”. We turned on the television and gaped. It was indeed peculiar, and the world has been getting more and more peculiar ever since. Much food for future blogs there!

Now it’s almost 2007. A century ago, in 1906, there was a national euphoric moment when the social-reforming Liberal government swept into power with Labour support. I wonder if there will be another such euphoric moment during my lifetime? One can only wait, and hope.


As another unlamented year of the 21st Century Blunderocracy draws to its close, the denizens of the burrow are taking stock. Their inventory and recommendations will be reported in due course. Maybe a Project for a New America, to replace the shattered Project for a New American Century? Well, we can dream, can't we?

Friday, 29 December 2006



"That's not really a number I'm terribly interested in.": General Colin Powell, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on being asked his assessment of Iraqi military and civilian casualties, April 1991

Lesley Stahl: "I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. & — and you know, is the price worth it?"

Madeline Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it."

Former U.N. Ambassador Madeline Albright, responding to reporter Lesley Stahl as to whether the over half a million Iraqi children killed by the UN sanctions against Iraq were "worth it." CBS May 11, 1996

In the eyes of empire builders men are not men but instruments : Napoleon Bonaparte : French Emperor (1769-1822)

No government which governs by the use of force can survive except by force. There is no going back because force begets force and the perpetrators of crimes live in fear that they might become victims in their turn." : Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo - Reconciliation Speech of 24/2/99 at St Mary's Cathedral Hall, Sydney, NSW


Read this newsletter online

Number Of Iraqi Civilians Slaughtered In America's War? More Than 655,000

Number of U.S. Military Personnel Sacrificed (Officially acknowledged) In Bush's War 2989

The War in Iraq Costs


Apologies for late opening of the gossip-shop this morning. anticant decided to get himself some breakfast, which he usually can't be bothered to do. ben and the Beadle overslept. Sorry, folks!

Thursday, 28 December 2006


Yawning anticant and bleary-eyed ben have only just awakened to find the burrow doing brisk business already. See you later, everyone.

Wednesday, 27 December 2006


Jose asks [over on Yellow Duck’s Pond] when Britain will enjoy the “reality” of new elections? My guess is not before 2009 at the earliest. The maximum length of parliaments is fixed by the 1911 Parliament Act as five years. This Government was elected in May 2005, so in theory could carry on until the Spring of 2010.

In practice – save in the highly unusual and unlikely event of a government defeat on a Commons vote – the choice of a date rests with the prime minister. He will obviously select a time when the governing party is most likely to reap an advantage by going to the polls. If Tony Blair retires, as he has promised, by May 2007 – and as we know only too well, Mr Blair’s promises are an uncertain quantity – his successor will have a maximum of two years to ‘play himself in’ and to prepare the ground for another victory. He will most likely aim for a date in the autumn of 2009, unless ‘prudence’ dictates a snap election when he takes over.

This flexibility of election dates, within a five-year span, raises the question of whether we – the electorate – would benefit if the choice was taken out of the hands of the ruling party, and placed on a fixed term basis. While there is something to be said for the latter option, the example of the USA is not encouraging. What occurs there is that the minute a presidential or mid-term election is over, the parties barricade themselves in their bunkers and start firing ranging shots for the next election in two years’ time. The republic is never free of a perpetual electioneering atmosphere.

What would be far preferable would be a state of affairs which restores greater control over the political process both to members of parliament and to the electorate. Decision-making needs to be wrested away from the sofa at no. 10, and from backroom deals in and out of cabinet, and brought back into the House of Commons. One way for this to happen would be the introduction of a genuine system of proportional representation which gives real choice to the voters, and not merely to the party machines through a ‘list’ system.

This outcome is of course what makes PR anathema to party hacks, however much they may flirt with the idea of watered-down PR when it suits them. Until there is genuine PR, the voters’ hands will always be tied behind their backs. They will remain unable to express realistic preferences for the candidates they prefer, because of the necessity to cast negative votes in order to keep out the candidates they like the least.

This is what passes for ‘democracy’. Not for much longer, let us hope.


anticant - being a Trollope fan - should have remembered. He has an illustrious literary predecessdor, thus described by his creator, Anthony Trollope, in chapter 15 of The Warden:

"Dr. Pessimist Anticant was a Scotchman, who had passed a great portion of his early days in Germany; he had studied there with much effect, and had learnt to look with German subtlety into the root of things, and to examine for himself their intrinsic worth and worthlessness. No man ever resolved more bravely than he to accept as good nothing that was evil; to banish from him as evil nothing that was good. 'Tis a pity that he should not have recognized the fact, that in this world no good is unalloyed, and that there is but little evil that has not in it some seed of what is goodly.

"Returning from Germany, he had astonished the reading public by the vigor of his thoughts, put forth in the quaintest language. He cannot write English, said the critics. No matter, said the public; we can read what he does write, and that without yawning. And so Dr. Pessimist Anticant became popular. Popularity spoilt him for all further real use, as it has done many another. While, with some diffidence, he confined his objurgations to the occasional follies or short-comings of mankind; while he ridiculed the energy of the squire devoted to the slaughter of partridges or the mistake of some noble patron who turned a poet into a gauger of beer barrels, it was all well; we were glad to be told our faults and to look forward to the coming millennium, when all men, having sufficiently studied the works of Dr. Anticant, would become truthful and energetic. But the doctor mistook the signs of the times and the minds of men, instituted himself censor of things in general, and began the great task of reprobating everything and everybody, without further promise of any millennium at all. This was not so well, and, to tell the truth, our author did not succeed in his undertaking. His theories were all beautiful, and the code of morals that he taught us certainly an improvement on the practices of the age. We all of us could, and many of us did, learn much from the doctor while he chose to remain vague, mysterious. and cloudy; but when he became practical, the charm was gone."

The above is a caricature of Thomas Carlyle, who in anticant's opinion was a Victorian cardboard Sage par excellence. What Trollope leniently calls "the quaintest language", anticant has always found virtually unreadable and sometimes verging on gibberish. While the famous story of John Stuart Mill's housemaid using the first manuscript of the Sage's French Revolution to light the fire with must have been distressing for all concerned, anticant wonders whether the maid was not, in fact, a sounder literary critic than her master. Carlyle tackled important themes in an idiosyncratic, convoluted manner which greatly diminished the value of his undoubted scholarship. Perhaps he was a precursor of the deconstructionist, postmodernist tribe.

anticant is not a pessimist, but neither is he much of an optimist these days. He will take heed of Trollope's warning that popularity spoilt the good doctor for all further real use. Not that anticant is in the least likely to scale such dizzy heights, despite the lavish help of Google which roams the burrow like a CCTV.


ben trovato writes:

According to the BBC, The Nenet reindeer herders of Western Siberia are the latest people to feel the impact of global warming. Sudden thaws followed by quick freezes are leaving their reindeer with nothing to graze on. James Harrod reports:


ben trovato says: "oh dear, what shall I do with all these leftover mince pies and the reindeer droppings in the hearth? and now Hogmanay looms. Ugh!"

Tuesday, 26 December 2006


Once more and once less. It’s over, folks. The day of the year most eagerly anticipated by the bucolic majority, deplored by the misanthropic minority, and ignored by the tiny but resolute band of antiChristmasians.

So what was it all in aid of for you, that laborious inscribing of cards, wrapping up of presents, hours spent in the kitchen slaving away over a hot bird – read that how you will - the last-minute dash to the thronged shops? The inordinate guzzling and boozing, the hollow-hearted backslapping and insincere joviality exchanged between family members and acquaintances you haven’t set eyes on since last Christmas, or maybe even longer, and have no intention of keeping in regular touch with? And now the hangover?

Here in the burrow we carried on as normal, with just a touch or two of festive fare. No-one ate or drank too much, but we all had plenty. We are not pissed off.

But almost everyone else seems to be:

Children – who of course rule this particular roost – are pissed off because they didn’t get all the prezzies they hankered after.

Parents are pissed off because, after all their frantic efforts and overheated spending “for the sake of the kids”, the kids are still pissed off.

Shopkeepers are pissed off because the punters didn’t spend “enough” this year [they never do, according to the trade associations].

The Queen is pissed off because not even Alf Garnett stands to attention for her Christmas broadcast any more.

Christians are pissed off because nonbelievers have once again “hijacked” Christmas, and some devilish Politically Correct trolls are even scheming to abolish it and hand it back to the Pagans, from whom the Christians originally stole it.

Non-Christians are pissed off because of all the moans and wails of the Christians, and the latters’ insistence that the “real” meaning of Christmas is all the Gospel mumbo-jumbo about virgin births, no room at the inn, three wise men, Herod’s paedophobic spree, etc. etc.

Santa is pissed off because there are scarcely any chimneys left that are wide enough for his Santamobile to descend, so he has to clamber down himself getting all sooty and dirty. Also, he has to stable and feed the reindeer for all the rest of the year with little productive result except mounds of reindeer shit.

The reindeer are pissed off because Rudolf made it big to stardom, and they are still just walk-on parts.


anticant is discombobulated to find large chunks of the burrow archives posted on Google. Big Gogglers are watching us. Look out!

The Queen's proposed 'social compact' between Age and Youth seems very one-sided to me. Apparently the young are to "respect" their elders, who will then be able to "guide" the youthful. Fat chance, your majesty!

And the dear old Archbish of Cant returns from the Middle East, "chilled" to find that no-one there is talking in terms of political solutions. What does he expect? They are all hell-bent on faith-based solutions: 'my faith trumps yours'. That's the nature of faith, and archbishops are the last people to be able to do anything about it.

Sunday, 24 December 2006


ben trovato writes: anticant has been moping on the sofa for most of the day, having been scolded by a presumptuous intruder for the allegedly too sombre tone of his morning post, and forbidden any more brandy mince pies - a command which he has needless to say ignored. So I have whiled away the time perusing the newspapers and offer the following which I trust will restore the burrow's reputation for seasonal gleanings:;jsessionid=R1MKMIOK0S0DTQFIQMGCFFOAVCBQUIV0?xml=/news/2006/12/24/npanto24.xml

The burrow will be closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day for hibernation, rumination, and ingestion of modest quantities of festive fare in contrast to orgiastic goings-on elsewhere. See you again on Wednesday, folks. Urgent messages can be appended here, but may be ignored. So there!


As one grows older, Christmas becomes more a time for past memories than for present celebration. Faces and voices of loved ones long gone crowd into consciousness, and those left behind reminisce over Christmases past.

The people are gone, but the places are still there. Revisiting old haunts is not, however, as rewarding as revisiting old memories. The places we lived in when young have all changed, and in some cases are scarcely recognisable. Recently I looked at the house where my parents and I lived during WW2 when I was a teenager. It was surprisingly familiar – and gratifyingly well cared for. At the end of the road the same open country view remained, and I reflected how lucky we were to be in such a pleasant spot during those anxious days. But the town we knew has been transformed from a sleepy old Somerset country market centre into a bustling industrial town with a busy bypass. I didn’t want to linger.

Even my grandmother’s former home, Harrogate, that sedate Yorkshire spa town with its unique piece of open parkland, the Stray, and its magnificent summer floral displays, is much busier than it used to be, hosting many conferences and other events. Sheffield, where my parents lived and worked for many years, is no longer the smoky industrial city I knew – called “a dirty picture in a golden frame” because of the glorious Peak District country nearby; it has been transformed, not always for the better. Manchester, my birthplace, has changed out of all recognition since the city centre was redeveloped after an IRA bombing episode. So I’ve no strong wish to revisit any of them. They are no longer the familiar places I remember.

The theme of changing landscape and its influence on our lives is beautifully developed by Simon Schama in his book Landscape and Memory. Setting out to retrieve memories of his past by revisiting seminal places, he works a rich vein of recollection and allusion. “To see the ghostly outline of an old landscape beneath the superficial covering of the contemporary is to be made vividly aware of the endurance of core myths”, he says.

One of the most poignant portraits of the vanished past is that painted by John McDermott in his poem “The Old House”. Set to a somewhat plaintive melody, it was a favourite of the great Irish tenor Count John McCormack, and when he sang it as the last item in his final farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1938, the lights dimming as he concluded and left the stage, there was scarcely a dry eye in the house. It evokes the deserted homes of Ireland in the wake of the great transatlantic diaspora which followed the famines and poverty of the mid-19th century, and in which some of my own ancestral family took part. Even if you aren’t familiar with the tune, the words are incredibly moving:

“Lonely I wander through scenes of my childhood
They bring back to memory those happy days of yore
Gone are the old folk, the house stands deserted
No light in the window, no welcome at the door

Here’s where the children played games in the heather
Here’s where they sailed their wee boats on the burn
Where are they now? some are dead, some have wandered
No more to their home will the children return

Lonely the house now, and lonely the moorland
The children have scattered, the old folk are gone
Why stand I here, like a ghost or a shadow?
’tis time I was movin’, ‘tis time I passed on.”

Saturday, 23 December 2006


As the High Season of Festivities draws nigh, anticant, his real-life Civil Partner Terry, and his cyber side-kicks ben trovato and antianticant, wish all friends old and new, inside and beyond the Awkward Squad, a joyous and truly relaxing break from everyday worries and troubles.

Good health, happiness and prosperity to you and yours
- even billstickers [as in "Mercy even for Pooh-Bah!"].

See you tomorrow........


The ‘elation’ expressed by an elderly Lancashire Christian couple at the out-of-court settlement which netted them £10,000 for a piece of local council and police ‘politically correct’ absurdity is understandable but unseemly. The couple had protested to the council that, as Christians, they considered homosexual practices to be morally wrong, and that they should be allowed to display Christian literature expressing this point of view alongside gay rights leaflets on council premises.

As a result of a telephone conversation on this subject the council informed the police, who sent two officers to interview the couple for more than an hour to ascertain whether they had infringed non-discrimination legislation.

The couple rightly described the settlement – which will unfortunately place a substantial slab of public money in the hands of an anti-gay Christian charity to which they are donating it – as a victory for civil liberties and common sense, which on this occasion at least was on the side of the Christians. I entirely agree with them. As someone with a track record of campaigning for gay rights, since the days before that term was invented, I abhor and deplore the excesses of the ‘Politically Correct’ brigade.

The notion that you can change peoples’ opinions for the better, and eradicate their prejudices, by making it illegal for them to express their honest views, however bigoted, strikes me as absurd. When campaigning in the 1960s for the enactment of the Wolfenden proposals to liberalise the homosexual laws, we were inundated with the grossest abuse, which in those days we took as being par for the course. Although the Honorary Committee of the Homosexual Law Reform Society was graced with the names of both Anglican Archbishops, many other senior clergy of other denominations, and about 100 other men and women distinguished in their various walks of life, this did not prevent the extreme homophobes from cascading not merely verbal abuse, but on occasions more unsavoury items, upon us. Lord Arran, who led the campaign in the House of Lords, was once told by his stalwart secretary that an anonymous package containing human excrement had arrived through the post. “What did you do with it?” he asked. “I threw it away”, she replied; “it wouldn’t keep.” At the HLRS offices green-pen type letters frequently arrived. I remember one which poured out pages and pages of the vilest hate-filled language and concluded, splendidly, “I would sign my name to this letter, but people like us have to be protected from people like you.” And there was the implacable elderly placard bearer who paraded Trafalgar Square proclaiming “Ban the Sodomy Bill Before God Destroys Britain”.

Although sad people such as this may be less numerous and less vocal nowadays, they still exist and are not going to go away because the mealy-mouthed niminy-piminy advocates of ‘political correctness’ make their utterances illegal. The same is true of religious or anti-religious bigots, and racists. Shutting them up concentrates the poison and causes it to fester. Censorship isn’t the answer. Evangelical Christians should have as much right to display their leaflets alongside gay rights ones on council premises as they should have to display them alongside Islamic literature in mosques, and vice-versa.

‘True Followers’ of Christ, Mohammed, and any other gods, sacred or secular, KNOW that they are right: it never occurs to them otherwise. Cromwell’s exhortation to the Scots Church – “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken” – invariably falls upon deaf ears.

On a lighter note, once during a North Sea crossing from Holland we got into conversation with a middle-aged gentleman and his younger companion. They were both ostentatiously wearing very large crosses. At one point, the middle-aged gentleman solemnly announced: “My young friend and I endeavour to observe Christ’s teachings IN EVERY RESPECT, and we flatter ourselves that we succeed.” Terry opened his eyes wide, gave a gasp of amazement, and replied: “Really? I’m MOST impressed! This is the first time I have ever met someone who has actually sold everything they have, and given the proceeds to the poor.” The Christian gentleman splutteringly conceded that well, perhaps they hadn’t gone quite that far…..

And a Merry Christmas to one and all.


A thoughtful cousin has sent me the following Christmas message:

Do take time to check it out!


anticant has just completed a regular Saturday task - cleaning out Tiger's ears, in addition to his daily teeth-brushing and grooming. Tiggy is ten now; sleek, beautiful, and not too fat. The gentlest cat we've ever known - except to baby birds and little field-mice, when he can be bothered to chase them. He sleeps all day on the Civil Partner's bed [we became CPs a year ago yesterday, after cohabiting since 1960]. What Tiggy does at night, though, is a mysterious other world to us. Judging from the grubby state of his ears, he visits some low dives now and then. Pics of him will be posted some day [promise].


Early morning in the burrow. Enter ben trovato, abstractedly flicking a feather duster around and muttering to himself: "This place is getting tatty. anticant hasn't done a serious blog for a couple of days now, and has pottered off along the river bank on a mince pie hunt. I suppose I shall just have to go on scouring the internet for weak jokes as stocking fillers. Oh dear....."

Enter anticant, waving a paper bag and chortling "Got 'em! And there's real brandy in 'em too." Slumps into chair and starts munching.

ben: "That does it. He's onto the hard stuff already. Merry Chrishmass everyone."

Friday, 22 December 2006


ben trovato retrieved the following missive from the burrow fireplace this morning. It had evidently been posted down the chimney:

Dear Friends

I have been watching you very closely to see if you have been good this year and since you have I will be telling my elves to make some goodies for me to leave under your tree at Christmas. I was going to bring you all gifts from the 12 days of Christmas, but we had a little problem.

The 12 fiddlers fiddling have all come down with VD from fiddling with the 10 ladies dancing, the 11 lords leaping have knocked up the 8 maids a-milking, and the 9 pipers piping have been arrested for doing weird things to the 7 swans a-swimming.

The 6 geese a-laying, 4 colly birds, 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves, and the partridge in a pear tree have me up to my sled runners in bird shit.

On top of all this! - Mrs. Claus is going through menopause, 8 of my reindeer are in heat, the elves have joined the gay liberation, and some people who can't read a calendar have scheduled Christmas for the 5th of January.

Maybe next year I will be able to get my act together and bring you the things you want. This year I suggest you get your asses down to Asda before everything is gone.




Just awoke [or awakened] to the glad tidings that all flights from Heathrow are cancelled today because of fog. Glad we're snuggling warmly in the burrow over Christmas.

Crazy Condi, the Rice Maiden
, has decreed that the war in Iraq is worth the cost in money and lives [presumably those of Iraqis].

So that's alright, then!

Off to the hospice this morning. Will post another instalment of traumatic reminiscence later.

Thursday, 21 December 2006


I rather doubt whether Tony’s Cronies know much history, or care about it, but a salutary piece of holiday reading for Blair’s ubiquitous bagman. Lord Levy, would be Maundy Gregory, Purveyor of Honours by Tom Cullen [1974]. This is the riveting story of a super-con man who for several years in the 1920s sat spider-like in a plush office in Whitehall dishing out honours on behalf of first, the Lloyd George coalition and later, both the Lloyd George Liberals and the Conservatives in return for copious cash to fill the party coffers and his own pockets.

Cullen’s description of Gregory bears a remarkable resemblance to our Dear Leader himself: “The thing about [him] was not so much that he lied but that he bent the truth. He regarded truth as something infrangible that could be twisted and contorted out of all recognition.” Like so many rogues, Gregory was the son of a solemn Victorian clergyman. Early fascination with the theatre led him to become in his twenties an impresario on a shoestring. Induction into the barefaced necessities of successful self-promotion came through an old school fellow – none other than that notorious Rector of Stiffkey whose chequered career ended by his being mauled by a lion in a circus cage. This personage calmly rang up a West End theatre asking for a box at that evening’s performance to be placed at the disposal of Mr. Maundy Gregory, “the well-known theatrical producer, who would be entertaining the Duchess of Somerset.” “But I don’t even know the Duchess of Somerset”, Gregory protested. “Why should I entertain a Duchess I don’t even know in a box I can’t pay for?” “You will, my boy, you will” assured the suave Rector. “If you want to attract investors it’s important to be seen in such company”.

And Maundy Gregory thereafter made it his business to be seen in such company. At the zenith of his shady career, his bosom pals included the ex-Lord Chancellor Lord Birkenhead [F. E. Smith] and the exiled King George II of the Hellenes, both of whom he entertained frequently at the Ambassador Club, which he owned. Such folk may or may not have believed he was entirely above board, but they enjoyed his lavish hospitality and showered him with gifts and decorations, including the Order of the White Rose of Finland because of his staunch support for Marshal Mannerheim’s Schutzkorps: he was extremely right-wing politically, fanatically anti-Bolshevist [believing the USSR was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy] and involved himself in various White Russian conspiracies – some funded by the Nazis [although Gregory always steered clear of home-grown ones like Mosley’s blackshirts]. He also became a Roman Catholic convert and did a brisk business in selling Papal honours.

Gregory claimed that during the 1914-18 war he was engaged in counter-espionage work ‘employing some 1,000 agents’. He certainly had quite a lot in common with the founder and head of MI5, Captain Vernon Kell, who was a fearful snob and staffed his unit largely with public school boys, sons of admirals, and ‘well-bred’ secretaries whose immaculately stockinged legs were a far stronger feature than their erratic typing. Under Kell’s auspices, Gregory assembled an unofficial detective agency which soon spread its tentacles far and wide, gathering some useful information but far more inconsequential tittle-tattle.

After the 1918 ‘coupon election’, which returned Lloyd George to office in the thrall of a large Tory majority, the Welsh Wizard realised that if he was to regain power he needed to create a substantial war chest for his wing of the Liberal party. His Chief Whip, Freddie Guest [a cousin of Winston Churchill], was assigned the task of raising £4 millions through the time-honoured method of selling honours. At that time there was no law against such goings-on. Guest settled on Maundy Gregory as the ideal instrument, and set him up as secret ‘honours czar’ to act as go-between for the party in approaching potential donors. He would, of course, be completely disowned if the set-up became public. For cover, he established an official-seeming monthly paper, The Whitehall Gazette, which was freely distributed around top London clubs, foreign embassies, and other influential gathering-places. It was – in tune with Gregory’s own predilections – an organ of extreme right-wing opinion, waging ‘a consistent and insidious campaign on behalf of monarchy and against the growth of Bolshevism and Communism and their ramifications’ [i.e. the Labour party and the trade unions].

The shadowy relationship between Guest and Gregory has been described as that of a gamekeeper with his beaters who flush the quarry out into the open. For a while all went well; then the inevitable storm broke. Having assisted Lloyd George to sell so many knighthoods to his Welsh compatriots that Cardiff came to be known as ‘the city of dreadful knights’, Gregory rashly obtained a peerage for one of the most unsavoury of the South African ‘Randlords’ – a hard-bitten multi-millionaire named Sir Joseph Robinson, who had been convicted of fraud and fined £500,000 by the South African Supreme Court. After Robinson had knocked Gregory’s price down from £50,000 to £30,000, his ennoblement was gazetted in the 1922 Birthday Honours List. King George V was so infuriated that he wrote personally to Lloyd George calling it “little less than an insult to the Crown”. When Robinson, now in his eighties and stone-deaf, was requested to write a letter to the Prime Minister declining the peerage, he at first thought he was being asked for more money, and pulled out his cheque book. It is said that when the furore had died down, the Chief Whip asked Gregory what had become of the £30,000 and received the jaunty reply ‘Oh, I’ve spent it’.

This scandal, and similar ones, played a significant part in Lloyd George’s fall from office. But Maundy Gregory’s activities did not cease, and he quite happily continued providing his services to the new Conservative government. They, however, having seen the writing on the wall, passed the 1925 Honours [Prevention of Abuses] Act making the sale or purchase of honours a criminal offence. In 1933 Stanley Baldwin decided that Gregory knew too much to be left at large unhampered, and he was prosecuted under the 1925 Act. After much behind-the-scenes pressure and changes of mind, he finally decided to plead guilty and accept summary jurisdiction. He was sentenced to two months in prison, a fine of £50, and 50 guineas costs.

After his release Gregory was quietly pensioned off on condition that he lived abroad. He died in France during the German occupation in the 1939-45 war. There is much more interesting material about this unsavoury man in Cullen’s book, but if I recount it all Lord Levy may not bother to read it, which would be rather a pity, don’t you think?


ben trovato writes:

Tony Blair called Prescott into his office one day and said, 'John, I have a great idea! We are going to go all out to win back Middle England'.

Great idea Tony how will we go about it?' said Prescott.

'Well' said Blair ' we'll get ourselves those long Barbour coats, some proper wellies, a stick, and a flat cap, oh, and a Labrador. Then we'll really look the part. We'll go to a nice old country pub, in "Much Something or other". We'll show we really enjoy the countryside.'

'Right Oh' said Prescott.

A few days later, all kitted out and with the requisite Labrador at heel, they set off from London in a westerly direction. Eventually they arrived at just such a place they were looking for (Much Piddling-in-the-Brook) with a lovely country pub (The Surly Yokel).

With the dog, they went in and leant on the bar.

"Good evening Landlord, may we have two pints of your best ale, from the wood" said Blair

"Good evening Prime Minister" said the landlord, "two pints of best is coming up"

Blair and Prescott stood leaning on the bar drinking their beer and chatting, nodding now and again to those who came to the bar for a drink.

The dog lay quietly at their feet. Suddenly the door from the adjacent bar opened, and in came a grizzled old shepherd, complete with crook. He walked up to the Labrador, lifted its tail, looked underneath it, shrugged his shoulders and walked back to the other bar. A few moments later, in came another old shepherd carrying a crook. He walked up to the dog, lifted its tail, looked underneath, scratched his head and he went back to the other bar. Over the course of the next hour or so several other locals came in, lifted the dog's tail and went away looking puzzled.

Eventually Blair and Prescott could stand it no longer and called the barman over.

"Tell me," said Blair, "why did all those old shepherds come in and look under the dog's tail like that? Is it an old custom?"

"Good Lord no," said the barman. "It's just that someone told them that there was a Labrador in this bar with two arseholes!"



Sherlock anticant, accompanied by the ever-faithful Civil Partner Watson [did Conan Doyle realise his immortal duo were an item, I wonder?] forayed further than usual from the burrow yesterday, in search of Christmas fayre. Venturing across fog-bound Hampstead Heath to visit a very special baker and pastrycook whose cakes and specialities are absolutely scrumptious, anticant turned his car headlights on and carelessly forgot to switch them off when parking. Result: a flat battery. It took nearly an hour for the AA to ride to the rescue, during which time Sherlock and Watson became distinctly chilly and grumpy. On return, unpacking the goodies, no sign of the mince pies, which Sherlock had – he thought - given to the assistant to add to the pile of mouth-watering loot. Consternation. Will have to make do with inferior supermarket mince pies this year. Oh dear!

After which disappointment, anticant developed a throbbing migraine which laid him low for the rest of the day and prevented him from crafting new delights with which to adorn the burrow. So you’ll just have to wait, folks……

Wednesday, 20 December 2006


ben trovato dreamed he was in one of the Wise Woman’s ‘mood chambers' and has rushed out to buy the Penguin Classics edition of George MacDonald’s Complete Fairy Tales – the perfect stocking-filler for literary children of all ages.

George MacDonald was a contemporary of Lewis Carroll – who was a family friend – and his fairy tales have a freshness, humour and profundity of insight untainted by pious moralising that is most unVictorian. His beautifully pointed symbolism and psychological depth outshine most of the too-earnest outpourings of 20th century ‘experts’ on child-rearing. The Penguin volume contains all his short stories in this genre, and also a complete longer novella – The Wise Woman, or The Lost Princess: a Double Story. There is nearly always a magical wise woman, or fairy great-great grandmother figure, in MacDonald’s tales, including his longer novels, The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie. In The Lost Princess the Wise Woman takes in hand the emotional education of a very naughty real-life princess, and also of a shepherd’s daughter. Having taken them both to her moorland cottage, she makes them experience, and deal with, the various moods they encounter in her ‘mood chambers’. The princess may be a princess because she has royal parents, but she is still a frog. As the Wise Woman tells her: “Nobody can be a real princess – do not imagine you have yet been anything more than a mock one – until she is a princess over herself, that is, until, when she finds herself unwilling to do the thing that is right, she makes herself do it. So long as any mood she is in makes her do the thing she will be sorry for when that mood is over, she is a slave, and no princess.”

In another longer novel, At the Back of the North Wind, one of MacDonald’s child-characters says this – which I relate strongly to, and maybe you will too:

“I never just quite liked that rhyme” [about Little Bo-Peep], “because it seems to say one’s as good as another, or two new ones are better than one that’s lost. I’ve been thinking about it a great deal, and it seems to me that although any one sixpence is as good as any other sixpence, not twenty lambs would do instead of one sheep whose face you knew. Somehow, when once you’ve looked into anybody’s eyes, right deep down into them I mean, nobody will do for that one any more. Nobody, ever so beautiful or so good, will make up for that one going out of sight.”

Off to the bookshop with you!


ben and antianti are busily sprucing up the burrow and making it spick and span in anticipation of an early morning visit from the Imp of Aweland.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006


ben trovato has been rummaging around the burrow bookshelves for some seasonal reading, and has come up with a gem of biography – The Empress of Ireland, by Christopher Robbins.

The personage of the title is a flamboyant gay film director in his 80s, Brian Hurst, who retorted magnificently to some uncouth labourers in his local Belgravia pub who had mockingly called him a f*****g old queen, “I am not an old queen. I AM THE EMPRESS OF IRELAND!”

The author, a struggling freelance journalist, is introduced to the Empress by a con-man whose stock-in-trade is ‘bringing people together’. Brian is looking for a scriptwriter for his projected mammoth epic blockbuster dealing with the events leading up to the birth of Christ. Christopher Robbins finds himself in a louche, unpredictable world with never a dull moment. His employer – who lives for a peppercorn rent in a house belonging to the Duke of Westminster – announces that he is trisexual – “the Army, the Navy and the Household Cavalry”. The latter are much in evidence amongst a strange assortment of visitors and hangers-on, Guards corporals mingling happily, and sometimes intimately, with belted earls. One young officer complained to Brian that he needed to be warned in advance if there were going to be any soldiers from his regiment at the house, because he had been embarrassed by the lance-corporal who brought him his horse saying “have a nice gallop, darling” as he handed up the reins.

Soon Brian, Christopher and Dave – an ex-Welsh Guardsman - take off for Tangiers, where Brian has a house, and later visit Malta. In Tangiers, Noël Coward is a frequent lunch companion. Other meals are hosted by the expatriate rich gay set, one of whom has a set of midgets as household servants [“all you get there is small talk”, Brian observes]. When one of the guests invites Dave to go sailing the next day, Dave, who doesn’t particularly fancy the prospect, says “sorry – we’re busy” and receives the incredulous reply: “Busy! In Tangier! Don’t be ridiculous! How can anybody be busy in Tangier?”

They move on to Malta, where the author is cross-examined at lunch by a Tory baroness about his antecedents. When he tells her that his parents had been expecting a girl who was to be called Amanda, and when he arrived they suddenly settled on Christopher [with A.A. Milne in mind, of course] the baroness sagely observes “Ah! so that is how you became muddled in the post?” When pressed to explain, she adds “put you on the road to being a woofter?” Christopher Robbins isn’t gay.

This deliciously written book also has its sombre side. Brian Hurst had served at Gallipoli in the First World War, and had been severely traumatised by his grim experiences there. Perhaps that is why he led such an insouciant life afterwards. And his life ended tragically: when he died at around 90, the harpies descended on his empty Belgravia house and everything of value was stolen. Maybe he would not have been surprised. Or have minded very much.


I [anticant] am getting pretty exasperated with this Blogger site. Every now and then - at least once a day - it demands my password and then rejects it as 'incorrect', when it isn't. It also asks me to go through a meaningless process of verifying some squiggly letters, and then still refuses the password. I have found that one way to get round this nonsense is to to create a new Blogger account and reset the [same] password - which it graciously pronounces to be 'strong': so strong, apparently, that it then again immediately refuses to recognise it.

I therefore cannot rely on being able to post comments on my site - or anyone else's. I had to go through this farcical procedure for the umpteenth time just now in order to post my last comment on "Ah Dunno". I have also re-typed and vainly - as yet - tried to post a comment FOUR TIMES on Zola's thread re Toby's holiday.

I am nearly crawling up the walls! Help, you lot - and Blogsite managers please note!


Whoops! ben trovato overslept today, and forgot to take down the burrow shutters. Sorry, folks. Zola will be admitted if he wears his Shocking Pink leather knickers, but doesn't brandish them around his head. This isn't Robert Mapplethorpe week. By Order.

Monday, 18 December 2006


ben trovato has been rummaging in the burrow cellar, and has unearthed the following chestnuts:


Taoism: Shit happens.
Confucianism: Confucius say "Shit happens."
Buddhism: Shit happening is an illusion.
Islam: Shit happening is the will of Allah.
Zen: What is the sound of shit happening?
Hinduism: This shit has happened before.
Catholicism: If shit happens, you deserve it.
Judaism: Why does shit always happen to us?
Calvinism: Shit happens because you don't work hard enough.
Christian Science: There is no shit to happen. It’s all in the mind.
Protestantism: Let shit happen to someone else.
Atheism: Shit happens for no reason.
Agnosticism: Maybe shit happens, maybe it doesn't.
Hare Krishna: Shit happens, shit happens, shit happens...
Stoicism: Shit happens. I can take it.
Jehovah's Witnesses: Let us in and we'll tell you why shit happens.
Rastafarianism: Let's smoke this shit and see what happens.
Scientology: You can stop shit happening by giving us lots of money.


How to start your day with a positive outlook:

1. Open a new file in your PC.
2. Name it "Tony Blair".
3. Send it to the Recycle Bin.
4. Empty the Recycle Bin.
5. Your PC will ask you: "Do you really want to delete Tony Blair?"
6. Answer calmly, "Yes," and press the mouse button firmly.

You will feel even better if you do this every hour or so........


A chance meeting at a Yorkshire bus stop on a clear, bright, sunny day shaped the course of my life for the next few years. I was soon to go to university to read history and politics, and I already knew that I had journalistic ambitions. The genial couple I chatted with as we waited for our up-country bus turned out to be Bill Oliver, deputy editor, chief leader writer, and art critic of The Yorkshire Post and his wife, Wynne. Our acquaintance ripened into friendship, and even before I started my degree course I formed the clear impression that Bill would welcome my eventual recruitment by the YP as his understudy.

In those days The Yorkshire Post was not just a widely read provincial daily paper. It had the ear of political circles ‘down south’. Owned by the Yorkshire Conservative Newspaper Company, its politics were liberal-tory of a Churchillian cast. These were the early days of the 1945 Labour government, whose election immediately after the end of WW2 sent shock-waves reeling through the propertied classes. Before the war the YP had been edited by Arthur Mann, a much respected figure in the C.P. Scott mould. His successor, W.L. Andrews, had been appointed from editing the more popular-style sister paper, the Leeds Mercury, and was suspected by some of wanting to take the YP down market. Bill Oliver had worked with WLA since starting as a cub reporter. I felt confident that, even in those days of paper rationing, when the YP published a four-page paper on three days a week and a bumper six-page issue on the other three days, Bill would secure me a place on the paper when I had finished my degree,

So I passed my three years at Cambridge without bothering too much about what I would do afterwards. Sure enough, when I had graduated Bill mentioned me to the Editor and I was invited for an interview. A business colleague of my father’s who knew Andrews also mentioned me to him. So I was more than a bit nonplussed that when I presented myself at the Victorian YP building in Albion Street, WLA seemed very vague as to who I was. After we had chatted generally for a while, he said “Oh, well, I’ll write to you”.

The letter duly came inviting me to join the YP in Leeds for a month’s trial as a junior sub-editor. The hours would be 6 pm until 1am, and the terms were £3 per week. I was living with my parents in Sheffield at the time, so had to hastily find digs for myself, which I succeeded in doing with a pleasant family whose house backed on to Headingley cricket ground. My hostess was musical, and had a nice piano which she kindly not only allowed me to practice on but encouraged me to have lessons with a friend of hers who was the head of the BBC music department in Leeds.

All seemed to go well for me in the YP subs’ room. The other subs were all older, experienced journalists who were happy to teach me the rudiments of the craft. Pieces of typed ‘copy’ were passed to each sub by the chief sub-editor, with a note indicating the length to which they had to be cut, and the size and nature of the headline required. My relatively humble items were a daily boiling down of the Radio Times list for the next day’s programmes, the weather forecast, and miscellaneous small stories about village fêtes, church bazaars and so forth which had been phoned in by local ‘stringers’ not all of whom were very literate. Sometimes it was necessary to get into a huddle with other subs to decipher what the sender meant. Other, more factual, conundrums had to be resolved by visits to the library, presided over by Bill North, a witty and congenial person who has remained a lifelong friend.

In those days, the mechanics of newspaper production were totally different from those of this internet age. The subbed stories were typecast in metal, and brought together in page frames before mould impressions were made and recast into semi-circular drums which were affixed to the rotary presses. Sometimes, a careless slip in the typecasting led to disaster. Not long after I joined the paper, the UN envoy to the Middle East, Count Bernadotte, was assassinated. Bill Oliver wrote a leading article about this. It was style practice to set the first word or two of a leading article in capitals. Bill’s piece began ‘COUNT BERNADOTTE, who was assassinated this morning, etc. etc.’ Alas, due to a compositor’s gremlin, the ‘O’ somehow slipped out of ‘COUNT’. When the editor received his pull of the first edition, he went bananas and the presses screeched to a halt.

At the end of the first month, I asked the chief sub whether I had passed my month’s trial. He said he would speak to the editor, and returned with the message: “carry on for another month”. So I did, only to get the same message at the end of the second month. At the end of the third month, I asked to see the editor. He was joviality itself. I told him that I was extremely grateful for the privilege of working on his distinguished paper, and very much wished to continue doing so. I would be glad if he would tell me whether he was going to put me on the permanent staff, and if so what my salary would be. He did not give me a direct reply. He said ‘You know, when I was on the Daily Mail, there was a chap there who was a temporary for thirty years, and when he asked to be put on the permanent staff they sacked him’. He laughed heartily at the recollection, and concluded the interview by saying ‘I’ll think it over and let you know’.

Christmas was approaching, and I had been doing this night work for nearly four months for a meagre £3 a week. My father, understandably, was getting restless. He had of course been subsidising me as the £3 didn’t cover my rent. So I sat down and wrote a very carefully composed letter to WLA, pointing this out and saying that I really would appreciate a clarification of my position. The day after I handed in the letter he sent for me. His urbanity had vanished. He said: ‘It’s obvious that we can’t come to terms. You’d better take a month’s notice’. The effrontery of this attempt to get another month’s cheap labour out of me was astonishing. I said ‘I’d rather leave at the end of this week’. ‘Oh do’, he said – and handed me a letter.

I didn’t open this until I was retreating along the oak-panelled red-carpeted corridor from his office, reeling with shock. I have always wished I had opened it in his room, because I would have thrown it at him. It was a short, brutal dismissal note, containing the immortal sentence ‘I do not believe in keeping on men who are dissatisfied’. I have it still among my grislier souvenirs.

When I went back to the subs’ room there was consternation. The chief sub said he didn’t want me to leave, and was very satisfied with my progress. Would I like him to have a word with the editor? I said not really – there didn’t seem to be any point. Some of the older subs informed me that if I had stuck it out until I had been there for six months, I could have joined the NUJ and the paper would have been obliged to pay me the minimum rate of six guineas weekly. Andrews obviously knew this, although I didn’t.

And the aftermath? I went home to Sheffield with my tail between my legs. It took me nine months before I obtained another job – in London, where I had decided to go to read for the Bar.

Bill Oliver retired to bed for a week with severe stomach ache.

WLA went on from strength to strength, becoming one of the first chairmen of the newly established Press Council, and receiving a knighthood for his services to journalism.

One of those, I suppose, was to ensure that I never coveted his, or any other, editorial chair.


As the lists have now closed without any formal entries except those of antianticant, which have been ruled out of order by Judge anticant on grounds of consanguinity, Judge anticant now pronounces his own verdict as to the identity of billstickers. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, billstickers is:

the inscrutable in pursuit of the ineffable.

If antianticant's entry had not been disqualified, the award would have gone to his surmise that billstickers is the Boojum, from Lewis Carroll's poem "The Hunting of the Snark". The Boojum is thus described by Martin Gardner, annotator of Lewis Carroll's works: "The Boojum is more than death. It is the end of all seaching. It is final, absolute extinction. In a literal sense, Carroll's Boojum means nothing at all. It is the void, the great blank emptiness out of which we miraculously emerged; by which we will ultimately be devoured; through which the absurd galaxies spiral and drift endlessly on their nonsense voyages from nowhere to nowhere."

Recognise yourself, billstickers?


I returned from my pilgrimage to the shrine of Josephine Butler just in time to prevent the feckless apprentice from chopping the two bucket-wielding halves of the broomstick into even smaller pieces and thus adding to the general sogginess of the burrow. The wretched trovato will spend today mopping up, cleaning and polishing, under strict orders to produce some better stories in future. Meanwhile, this anecdotal slot is open to you lot. Burrow rules: no smut, no knickers!

Sunday, 17 December 2006


The grisly events at Ipswich have inevitably revived calls for the reform of the law to provide greater protection for prostitutes. Demands for legalised brothels and licensed ‘red light’ areas are once again being heard. Apparently such a course was favoured by David Blunkett when he was Home secretary, but was squashed by a timid No. 10, fearful as ever of tabloid tantrums.

As so often, the present generation of politicians and reformers have little, if any, sense of history. There is nothing new about these discussions. The only constant is that laws relating to prostitution remain hypocritical, unjust and discriminatory. Despite recent legislation against kerb-crawling, there is still a widespread assumption that while it is abhorrent to be a prostitute, there is nothing much wrong with being a prostitute’s client.

This “double standard” goes back to Victorian times, and brings to mind one of my great historical heroines, Josephine Butler [1828-1906], who led an inspiring crusade against what she regarded as an iniquitous state of affairs for some 15 years in the mid-19th century. Mrs Butler was a remarkable woman. Her father was a cousin of the prime minister who put the 1832 Reform Act on to the Statute Book – Earl Grey. Her husband was an Anglican clergyman who was Principal of Liverpool College and later a Canon of Winchester.

In 1863 Josephine Butler’s youngest daughter was tragically killed at the age of six when she fell over the banisters onto a tiled hall floor and died at her parents' feet. This horrible loss motivated Mrs Butler to seek out and help others less fortunate then herself. She began visiting workhouses, where she first encountered prostitutes and learned from them at first hand some of the sordid details of their lives. She heard many ghastly stories. The age of consent was then 12. One girl of around that age had fled her home after her father raped her. She was taken from a shelter for destitutes by a woman who kept a brothel for soldiers. Mrs Butler asked the girl how much she earned thus. She replied “Sixpence; and out of that I had to pay fourpence to the woman of the house’. Josephine Butler commented scornfully to an all-male audience: ‘Twopence, gentlemen, is the price, in England, of a poor girl’s honour’.

Between 1864 and 1869 the government passed through parliament, with scarcely any opposition, a series of Contagious Diseases Acts purporting to be ‘sanitary measures’ for the better protection of servicemen. At first the Acts were confined to garrison towns, although some enthusiastic supporters wished to extend them to the whole country. The Acts provided that a policeman could, if he suspected a woman was a prostitute, name her as such and require her to sign a ‘voluntary submission’ declaring that she was a prostitute and therefore willing to undergo medical examinations at intervals for a year. If the woman refused, she was summonsed to appear before a magistrate who, on the sole word of the policeman and his own opinion, could commit her to prison if she refused to be examined. If she was found to be diseased, she was incarcerated in a ‘Lock Hospital’.

These Acts were wide open to monstrous abuse, mistakes, and blackmail. Josephine Butler and her allies – who included such famous women as Florence Nightingale and Harriet Martineau – campaigned tirelessly for fifteen years until they were finally repealed in 1886. She was totally opposed to the state regulation of prostitution, and advocated equal treatment of men and women in the laws against street soliciting. During the course of her campaign, which involved her in much writing and public speaking, Josephine was vilified and sometimes violently attacked. On one occasion the mob broke all the windows of the hotel she was staying at, and she had to flee for her life. Another time she was addressing a large meeting in the hayloft of a barn when her enemies set fire to it from the ground floor, and Mrs Butler had to leap to safety from an upper widow.

Josephine Butler was indeed a brave woman who should not be forgotten. She had a human and humane attitude towards a topic which most her ‘respectable’ contemporaries shrank from in horror. How far have we advanced from those humbugging attitudes? As John Addington Symonds, distinguished literary critic and bisexual parent of four daughters - although he preferred the company of handsome young Venetian gondoliers - said: ‘Good Lord! In what different orbits human souls can move. He talks of sex out of legal codes and blue books. I talk of it from human documents, myself, the people I have known, the adulterers and prostitutes of both sexes I have dealt with over bottles of wine and confidences.’

There are many well-written books about Josephine Butler’s life. I am indebted here to the excellent PORTRAIT OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER by one of her grandchildren, A.S.G. Butler.


ben trovato [warily watching the broomstick topping up the already overfull water butts] writes:

I was amused to read that in the late 1970s, when punk invaded the more genteel "family entertainment" scene, established chart-toppers such as the Carpenters and Captain and Tennille were miffed when their recording company signed up the Sex Pistols, whom they considered very down-market. But what finally tipped the balance and precipitated a walk-out was when the producers assigned a parking space at the studios to the Pistols while the established stars had to take pot luck.....


ben trovato says: "[puff] this apprentice is working overtime, filling the buckets of mirth to overflowing pending the sorcerer's return. Have just unearthed this one in the broom cupboard:

In 1878 Disraeli called his political arch-rival Gladstone "a sophistical rhetorician inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command in interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify himself ."

Remind you of anyone? No prizes for this.


ben trovato writes:

I've just remembered this one:-

A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realises he is lost. He reduces height and spots a woman down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts, "Excuse me. Can you help me? I promised my friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The woman below says, "Yes. You are in a hot air balloon, hovering approximately 30 feet above this field. You are between 40 and 42 degrees N. latitude, and between 58 and 60 degrees W. longitude."

"You must be an engineer," says the balloonist. "I am," replies the woman. "How did you know?"

"Well," says the balloonist, "everything you have told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost."

The woman below says, "You must be a manager." "I am," replies the balloonist, "but how did you know?" "Well," says the woman below, "you have risen to your present position with the help of a lot of hot air. You don't know where you are, or where you are going. You have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now it is somehow my fault."


ben trovato writes:

As anticant has immersed himself in prostitution until further notice, he has asked me to open up the burrow and tell you lot to keep it clean & tidy while he's ruminating. No rude words or knicker-waving!

Meanwhile I'll do my best to think up a good story or two, but just now my mind's a blank.

Saturday, 16 December 2006


Never having been a fan of “political correctness” – a euphemism for stifling free expression of honestly held, however misguided or obnoxious, opinions – I am becoming increasingly sceptical of the legitimacy of importing pseudo-medical terms into political and social debate.

It is becoming increasingly standard practice to accuse those whose views are considered abhorrent or prejudiced of being “phobic” – in other words, mentally ill. A phobia is defined [Oxford Concise Dictionary] as a morbid fear or aversion. In other words, a mental or psychological glitch requiring treatment. To assert that your critics are phobic is a power-play intended to rule their views out of order, and if possible to deny them a hearing.

Some uses of the term “phobic” are more plausible than others. The most successful “PC” campaign to date in this area has been the claim that those who dislike homosexuals, or consider their relationships and practices sinful, are “homophobic”. The term was invented, or reinvented, by American psychiatrist Dr. George Weinberg, in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual. In 2002 Dr Weinberg said: "Homophobia is just that: a phobia. A morbid and irrational dread which prompts irrational behaviour, flight, or the desire to destroy the stimulus for the phobia and anything reminiscent of it." Its distinguishing feature is distaste, disgust and aversion leading to the mistreatment of homosexuals.

Until I was aged 40, all homosexual behaviour between men, even when fully consenting and in private, was a serious criminal offence. Many lives were wrecked, and suicides were common. There was vehement opposition from many church people and politicians to relaxing this cruel law. But I would not regard all even of the most strident opponents of reform as being homophobic: some were, but others were simply sticking to their traditional principles over what they saw as a straightforward moral issue.

We have, thank goodness, moved a long way forward since then, and anti-gay prejudice, whether “homophobic” or not, is no longer regarded as respectable. A good deal of the credit is due to those campaigners who have espoused and applied the doctrine of homophobia. But sometimes I think they have carried it too far. Is it really reasonable to brand religious people, whether Christian or Muslim, who sincerely believe their faith tells them that homosexuality is “sinful”, as homophobes? I am not convinced.

And I am totally unconvinced by the case that is nowadays vociferously being made, that there is a parallel phenomenon called “Islamophobia” which leads to irrational dislike of Muslims, sometimes amounting to hatred and unfair discrimination against them.

There is really no plausible parallel between homosexuality, which is an innate psycho-emotional state of being, and adherence to religious beliefs which lay down certain tenets that the faithful are required to follow.

It may well be that, in the febrile atmosphere we have been living in since 9/11, there is mounting dislike and fear of Muslims, sometimes amounting to hatred. This should be of great concern to us all, and all possible steps should be taken to deal with it. But branding everyone who dislikes Islam and its doctrines as “Islamophobic” is totally misleading and muddies the waters. I believe there is only a tiny minority of people in the West who fear and dislike Muslims in a phobic way and would wish to mistreat them because they find them unbearable. But hearty dislike, even amounting to revulsion, against some the teachings of Islam and practices such as sharia law punishments, which strike many Europeans as barbaric, is not necessarily a “phobia”. It can pragmatically be based firmly on reasonable arguments, whether one agrees with them or not.

Seeking to evade criticism by branding all your critics as “phobic” may seem a tempting tactical ploy, but it is not candid and is likely to prove counterproductive in the end. Muslims – and gays – would be far better advised to show willingness to take on board the criticisms made of them, however wounding they feel these are, and to counter them on their lack of merit in reasoned debate instead of howling “phobia!”, “phobia!” at the moon.


Top of Form

Bottom of Form

From: W. H. HUDSON: "Far Away and Long Ago"

In those days, and indeed down to the seventies of last century, the south side of the capital was the site of the famous Saladero, or killing-grounds, where the fat cattle, horses and sheep brought in from all over the country were slaughtered every day, some to supply the town with beef and mutton and to make charque, or sun-dried beef, for exportation to Brazil, where it was used to feed the slaves, but the greater number of the animals, including all the horses, were killed solely for their hides and tallow. The grounds covered a space of three or four square miles, where there were cattle enclosures made of upright posts placed close together, and some low buildings scattered about To this spot were driven endless flocks of sheep, half or wholly wild horses and dangerous-looking, long-horned cattle in herds of a hundred or so to a thousand, each moving in its cloud of dust, with noise of bellowings and bleatings and furious shouting of the drovers as they galloped up and down, urging the doomed animals on. When the beasts arrived in too great numbers to be dealt with in the buildings, you could see hundreds of cattle being killed in the open all over the grounds in the old barbarous way the gauchos use, every animal being first lassoed, then hamstrung, then its throat cut - a hideous and horrible spectacle, with a suitable accompaniment of sounds in the wild shouts of the slaughterers and the awful bellowings of the tortured beasts. Just where the animal was knocked down and killed, it was stripped of its hide and the carcass cut up, a portion of the flesh and the fat being removed and all the rest left on the ground to be devoured by the pariah dogs, the carrion hawks, and a multitude of screaming black-headed gulls always in attendance. The blood so abundantly shed from day to day, mixing with the dust, had formed a crust half a foot thick all over the open space: let the reader try to imagine the smell of this crust and of tons of offal and flesh and bones lying everywhere in heaps. But no, it cannot be imagined. The most dreadful scenes, the worst in Dante's Inferno, for example, can be visualized by the inner eye; and sounds, too, are conveyed to us in a description so that they can be heard mentally; but it is not so with smells. The reader can only take my word for it that this smell was probably the worst ever known on the earth, unless he accepts as true the story of Tobit and the "fishy fumes" by means of which that ancient hero defended himself in his retreat from the pursuing devil.

It was the smell of carrion, of putrifying flesh, and of that old and ever-newly moistened crust of dust and coagulated blood. It was, or seemed, a curiously substantial and stationary smell; travellers approaching or leaving the capital by the great south road, which skirted the killing-grounds, would hold their noses and ride a mile or so at a furious gallop until they got out of the abominable stench.

One extraordinary feature of the private quintas or orchards and plantations in the vicinity of the Saladeros was the walls or hedges. These were built entirely of cows' skulls, seven, eight, or nine deep, placed evenly like stones, the horns projecting. Hundreds of thousands of skulls had been thus used, and some of the old, very long walls, crowned with green grass and with creepers and wild flowers growing from the cavities in the bones, had a strangely picturesque but somewhat uncanny appearance. As a rule there were rows of old Lombardy poplars behind these strange walls or fences.

In those days bones were not utilized: they were thrown away, and those who wanted walls in a stoneless land, where bricks and wood for palings were dear to buy, found in the skulls a useful substitute.

The abomination I have described was but one of many - the principal and sublime stench in a city of evil smells, a populous city built on a plain without drainage and without water-supply beyond that which was sold by watermen in buckets, each bucketful containing about half a pound of red clay in solution. It is true that the best houses had algibes, or cisterns, under the courtyard, where the rainwater from the flat roofs was deposited. I remember that water well: you always had one or two to half-a-dozen scarlet wrigglers, the larvae of mosquitoes, in a tumblerful, and you drank your water, quite calmly, wrigglers and all!

All this will serve to give an idea of the condition of the city of that time from the sanitary point of view, and this state of things lasted down to the 'seventies of the last [i.e. 19th] century, when Buenos Ayres came to be the chief pestilential city of the globe and was obliged to call in engineers from England to do something to save the inhabitants from extinction.