Wednesday, 31 January 2007


Anticant has decided to stop blogging.

Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.

Suffice it to say that what is embarked upon as a prospective pleasure should not be persisted in if it becomes a chore.

When I opened the burrow I quoted Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Prayer, and I conclude with it:

“I do my thing, and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
And if by chance, we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.”

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - Tuesday 30th

The burrow has only been open a couple of months, and anticant and ben have written well over 100 posts. It's difficult to keep that pace up, even without our health and other daily problems. We will continue to add nuggets to the burrow collection as and when we can. Meanwhile, why don't those Olivers who are constantly asking for more take a stroll through some of the earlier posts, some of which are still worth reading and even adding comments to?

Sorry, Zola, but the brandy mince pies are finished for this year. ben wouldn't mind a gallon of Finnish vodka for the Snug bar, though.

Sunday, 28 January 2007


As several people are either unwilling or unable to post comments in anticant's arena because of the moderating function, this has been switched off. Comments can now be posted on anticant's arena on the same basis as they are here in the burrow. When I decided to use this function in the arena I was not aware that it made any difference to the situation of the would-be commentator, and thought that the posting procedure for them was identical either way. However, I now realise that was a mistake. As I have set out my reasons for moderating on several earlier threads here and in the arena, I won't repeat them. I shall appreciate it if commentators in the arena - and the burrow, too - keep in mind what's already been said, and help to keep discussions on topic.

Friday, 26 January 2007


There are two very interesting threads on The Guardian's CiF site today - A.C. Grayling on anonymity in blogging, and Alan Rusbridger on privacy and the Internet. A lot of food for thought in the comments.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - Thursday 25th

Dunno about daily "Ah Dunno" threads. Maybe weekly. As there have been fewer visitors to the burrow this week, anticant has sent ben trovato off for a winter holiday. The Beadle is busy repainting outside, and getting the grounds into shape for spring planting. anticant will pop over from the arena every now and then to see if there are any new comments on this or any other burrow threads. Meanwhile, he is mulling over the travails of playing mine host, and empathising with John Fothergill, the author of An Innkeeper's Diary.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - Wednesday 24th

anticant is occupied elsewhere for much of today, so won't be around here very much.

Enjoy your day, everyone.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - Tuesday 23rd

anticant has to go for more hospital tests today, so won't be much on-line until later.

Monday, 22 January 2007


ben trovato writes:

One of anticant's cousins has sent me the following:

That well known saying, that the only topics worth discussing are politics, religion and sex, reminds me of a joke:

A teacher told her class that bestseller books were usually about religion, royalty and nobility, sex, and detective mystery.

A boy proudly presented her with his effort, which was

"My God", said the Duchess, "I'm pregnant. Who done it ?"

"AH DUNNO!" - Monday 22nd

Hope you all had a nice weekend, wherever you were.

Sunday, 21 January 2007


Yet another memorable woman friend was Zelda, whom I met in New York when she was working for a charitable foundation which had invited me to the United States on a lecture tour in the late 1960s. It was my first – and, as it proved, my only - visit there, and I did not know what to expect. On the morning after my arrival I was to speak at a press conference and went to the venue knowing no-one present. My attention was immediately caught by an animated dumpy middle-aged woman with short-cut grey hair and ornamental spectacles. She was wearing a vivid green dress, with a large badge on her bosom announcing [or inviting] “PRESS”. Though I didn’t immediately take up the invitation, we soon became firm and enduring friends. Zelda was to mastermind my publicity and engagements throughout my tour of the States. Though she didn’t travel around with me, she was an arch-fixer at the end of a telephone.

My four days in New York were a hectic round of interviews and radio chat-shows – a formula then becoming increasingly popular in the States, but not yet familiar back home. I had an unnerving introduction to these unscripted events on the first day, when Zelda and I went to a studio anticipating a ten-minute slot. Just before the red light went on, I asked the presenter how long the broadcast would last. “Three hours!” he said – and it did. Zelda and I had to ad lib wildly to fill up the time. Fortunately, Zelda had quite a fund of racy anecdotes about her time as manager of a nudist camp.

One, I remember, was of her sitting at the reception desk interviewing a nervous new entrant who responded “Yes, Sir” to one of her questions. “I drew myself up to my full four foot five inches”, recounted Zelda, and said: “I’m a woman. I enjoy being a woman. Nobody is going to call me ‘sir’ while I’m sitting here stark naked! So ever after, I wore a rope of pearls as identification.” Once, when she went into the sea to bathe, she took the pearls off and when she emerged from the water some shocked nudists said “good heavens, Zelda, you’re naked!”

Another member of the panel was a lugubriously solemn anti-pornography campaigner from some religious outfit campaigning for ‘decency’. He made unintentionally hilarious remarks such as “some pornography is highly dangerous – it even excites ME!” and when he wailed that his children were poised on the brink of a river of filth, and he didn’t want them to fall in, I attempted to comfort him by pointing out that as I was sure he had given his kids a highly moral education, I thought it very unlikely that they would succumb. What the long-distance truck drivers pounding through the transcontinental night made of all this stuff, I can’t imagine.

Another memorable meeting which Zelda and I shared was a visit to a highly distinguished lawyer, then in his eighties, who had a national reputation for his successful defence in some celebrated obscenity cases, including Ulysses. When I asked Zelda to arrange the meeting, she was thrilled. “Oh my”, she said, “he was one of my Father’s heroes”. So on a rainy afternoon we went to his Fifth Avenue apartment, to be greeted by a wizened, sleepy little old man wearing nothing but a blue bathrobe who protested that he hadn’t been expecting us until the next day. However, he ushered us in and he and I settled down opposite each other while Zelda curled up on a sofa at the back of the room. I looked forward to a memorable meeting, and indeed it was – but not in the fashion I had anticipated. After quarter of an hour’s uninterrupted monologue from our host, I ventured to say something. He glared crossly at me and announced: “I’m not interested in what you’ve gotta say. ARE you going to listen to me, or AREN’T you?” “Oh yes, please do go on”, I stuttered, and fell bemusedly silent for the rest of our visit. I was so traumatised that I do not now recollect anything else he said to me, though I would like to.

When we emerged, still gasping, Zelda said she had almost fallen off the sofa. “If you write a book about us, I bet you’ll call it ‘I’m Glad They Had a Revolution’”, she said. That Christmas she sent me a book by the old gentleman inscribed “A souvenir of New York and that unforgettable rainy afternoon in the Village.” I still have it.

Zelda and I kept in touch, and she visited England a couple of times and enjoyed meeting some of my friends. When she retired, she went to live in Hollywood where she amused herself [and presumably supplemented her pension] by obligingly administering ‘regression therapy’ to starlets who wished to be transported back to their previous lives and hoped to discover whether they had been Cleopatra [but preferably not Hitler’s housemaid]. On her 80th birthday, Zelda’s family instructed her to wrap up warmly as they were taking her out for a surprise treat. It proved to be a balloon trip, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

She was a life-enhancing character. As I once told her, to her amusement, “You only savour the flavour of Zelda when you’ve smelled’er. “

"AH DUNNO!" - Sunday 21st

"The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong."

Saturday, 20 January 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - Saturday 20th

Sceptic anticant's thought for today:

"I am amazed at the coils of falsehood in which devout persons take delight

Friday, 19 January 2007


ben trovato writes: anticant has been chivvying me to liven you all up with some funnies, so I've been scouring the Internet and have dredged these from the bottom of the barrel:

Three quickies

1. Invisible

The invisible man married the invisible woman.
Their kids were nothing to look at either.

2. Police Dogs

If you're being chased by a police dog, try not to go through a tunnel, then on to a little seesaw, then jump through a hoop of fire. They're trained for that.

3. Fatherly Advice

George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush were having a little father-son chat the other day.
George H.W. Bush said to George W. Bush: "Son, you're making the same mistake in Iraq that I made with your mother."
"What was that, dad?" asked George W. Bush.
To which George H.W. Bush replied: "I didn't pull out in time."

"AH DUNNO!" - Friday19th

Philosopher anticant's thought for the day:

"Inside every pragmatist there is a romantic trying to get out."

Thursday, 18 January 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - Thursday 18th

Landlord anticant's thought for the day:

There are no "rules" in the burrow Snug, but considerate guests respect their host's preferences.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007


My friend Dr Rachel Pinney, whom I mentioned in a blog over in the arena, was another of the remarkable women I have known. [I have known some remarkable men, too, and may get around to blogging about them sometime.] She invented the technique of “Creative Listening”, which was a method intended to circumvent the usual shallow inattentiveness of so many conversations, and to prompt the participants to start really hearing each other.

The unique feature of Creative Listening is that you practise it with someone who has a point of view opposed to yours and who agrees that while one of you explains their position as fully and clearly as possible, the other undertakes not to argue or to answer back, and only to interrupt if there is something they don’t understand which needs clarifying.

Dr Pinney was a Quaker and an ardent anti-nuclear weapons campaigner. She accordingly used her method primarily to engage with supporters of nuclear weapons. However, she also realised that it could be applied to many other topics, and one day she suggested to me that we should apply it to homosexual law reform. This was in the 1960s, when the Wolfenden Report’s proposals that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should be decriminalised were being widely debated in parliament and the press, and so the subject was more in the public’s awareness than it had previously been.

So on a warm summer’s evening Dr Pinney and I set out from Earls Court Station to hear what we could get passers-by to say about homosexuality. It was, in fact, Dr Pinney’s first ‘Listen’ in London; she had previously been Listening only in the provinces. Usually, she told me, people never refused to talk; and I would not have thought that homosexuality was an especially closed subject in Earls Court, even for those who disapproved of it.

But hostile talkers proved difficult to find, despite Dr Pinney’s winningly persuasive sales pitch. Marching up to front door bells or accosting ladies tending their front gardens, she would explain that she had been touring Britain Listening for Peace, but ‘tonight’ [emphasised in a delightfully ‘you are especially privileged’ tone of voice] – “tonight I am Listening on homosexual law reform!” A few of those thus addressed hastily bade us good evening, looking as if they consigned us to the depths of depravity. But most of them never batted a eyelid at the dread word, smiling as unconcernedly as if we had been selling washing powder or canvassing for local council elections.

As most were on our side, Dr Pinney varied her routine with Listening on the Bomb, which gave her all her longest Listens that evening. We encountered only one forthright opponent, and he predictably said he was not prepared to discuss homosexuality in the street [or, I suspected, anywhere else]. When pressed by Dr Pinney to give a reason, he replied: “I was forty years in the Navy, madam, and that’s quite good enough reason. Good day to you!”

Our most informative Listen was with a taxi driver at West London Airport Terminal. As soon as Dr Pinney announced her topic, he waxed voluble. “Yes”, he said, “me and my mates know all about these homosexuals. Some of them are alright, perhaps. I know some quite well-known people who are that way – and a few may be born like it. But for most of them, it’s just something they do for an extra sensation. There’s none in the working classes, of course.” [The working classes, presumably, not providing many late night taxi fares.] His main grudge appeared to be that ‘these homosexuals’ had led to the closing down of nearly all the overnight public conveniences which he and his mates used for more orthodox purposes.

It was an instructive and entertaining evening, but one I didn’t repeat. Dr Pinney carried on Listening for Peace, which eventually took her to Red Square in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War. She was even braver than she was eccentric, and I admired her.

"AH DUNNO!" - Wednesday 17th

anticant has to go to hospital today for scans.

ben will open the Snug.

The Beadle will keep an eye on the spoons.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - Tuesday 16th

Well, I do now.

anticant can do no right.

Too bad!

Monday, 15 January 2007


I have felt for a while that the burrow needs refurbishing [as pompous American ambassadors would say] - 'tarting up' to you lot. It's become a bit of a rag-bag, and some the writing on the wall is rather tatty now and then. By all means let's have a bit of fun and frolic; I enjoy it as much as anyone sometimes. But not always. Discussion on more serious threads frequently gets hijacked into banter and ribaldry which - whatever the reason [and I have my own theories] - deflects sustained consideration of what Tony Benn calls "the ishoos".

So I've decided to move the more serious stuff over to my new site - anticant's arena - which is now open [link on left-hand of title page]. I am moderating this to keep things on-track. Sorry if some of you think that is censorship - it isn't; no relevant opinions will be removed.

As for the burrow, for which I have a strong affection - like Mole in The Wind in the Willows I feel it's dulce domum - I've asked ben trovato and the Beadle to freshen up the furnishings, replenish the Snug bar, and keep up the open-door tradition of hospitality for anyone who cares to drop by for reminsicence, anecdote, nostalgia, or just plain [but not dirty] fun.

If you tell me I'm schizophrenic, it can't be helped.


A few days ago, in a comment on his own site, 'Reason's Sword', Toby Lewis said:"I think it is very easy to live without someone to hate/fear/etc. Do any of us live in the shadow of these non-existent others?.....How many people would admit to hating/fearing others? Clearly there are those who do that and others who won't admit to it [perhaps myself] but how do you characterise their hate? It seems to me quite a thorny issue but I think it can safely be said that our hatred and fear can in general be overcome."

I have been pondering over Toby's words ever since, as my own take on the world we live in is that almost everybody all over the globe is consumed by hatred and fear of 'the other' - what Jung called the Dark Shadow' - and that it is these deep fears that are driving forward all the horrendous events we are witnessing and dread becoming victims of.

Maybe I am wrong, and there are many more people like Toby - even a majority - who simply don't hate and fear others, at least consciously. It is, as he says, a thorny issue; and I am still thinking through what I want to say about it in a longer blog.

Meanwhile, what do others think? Is Toby a rare bird, a fleeting gleam of sanity in an increasingly mad world, or does he represent a too-silent swathe of humanity who refuse to be bitten by the superbug of fear and hatred?

"AH DUNNO!" - Monday 15th

anticant writes:

Achtung! Important changes are pending in the burrow. WATCH THIS SPACE!

the burrow beadle writes:

anticant is unable to take a Sunday afternoon snooze without you lot running amok - let alone the reported orgy of banana unzipping at Big Pike's. Wiping off the graffiti in the Snug is driving the Beadle round the bend. A return to decorum is overdue.

By Order

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Saturday, 13 January 2007


I’ve known some remarkable women. I wrote about one of them – Freda Levson – in an early blog. Another was Charlotte Wolff [1897-1986]. Charlotte was born in East Germany in 1897, the child of a prosperous Jewish merchant, and spent much of her childhood in Danzig, an ancient and picturesque city which she vividly recreates in her autobiographical books On the Way to Myself [1969] and Hindsight [1980]. Studying philosophy [under Husserl and Heidegger] and medicine at several German universities, she qualified as a doctor in Berlin in 1925 and worked in a pioneering family planning clinic in a poorer part of the city. She had a wide circle of literary and artistic friends, including Walter Benjamin and his wife Dora. She was also an upfront lesbian, often dressing in mens’ attire and frequenting the homosexual clubs which were a feature of the city’s vibrant nightlife in the Weimar era.

Always a Romantic who gave primacy to her emotions, Charlotte, while still a schoolgirl, had fallen deeply in love with a Russian girl living in Berlin, Lisa, who was taken back to Russia by her mother in 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik revolution. She married there and had a daughter, but Charlotte never forgot her, and when Lisa revisited Berlin in 1923 they revived their passionate affair. After her departure Charlotte was desolate. One day she said to a friend: “Unless I see her again, I shall jump into the Spree”. Another friend, who became Charlotte’s inseparable companion for the next nine years, vowed to make it possible, and in 1924 they set off together into the unknown, Charlotte having obtained a visa so that she could lecture in Russia on the Bauhaus and abstract art.

Lisa was in a sanatorium in the Crimea, having contracted tuberculosis. After a long and eventful journey they reached her, and idyllic weeks followed until Lisa’s husband suddenly arrived. Outwardly charming, but implacably hostile, he was the perfect host for a few days until Lisa informed Charlotte that she must leave immediately and never contact her again. Devastated, Charlotte left the Crimea sickening for a severe bout of malaria, and was ill in bed for several weeks before she could leave Russia. She never heard from Lisa again.

Charlotte recounts that she was unaware of anti-Semitism in German society before the 1930s. But the advent of Hitler changed the climate with alarming rapidity, and after a threatened arrest for cross-dressing and ‘espionage’, Charlotte decided to leave Germany. After an anxious journey she reached Paris safely. Once there, she was faced with the problem of earning a living. While still in Germany she had become interested in the human hand and the psychological insights to be gleaned from its contours and gesture. She soon made influential literary friends, including Thomas Mann and Aldous Huxley and his wife Maria, through whom she became acquainted with the Surrealists, and began taking hand readings of many well-known people, including Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Ravel, TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, and Aldous Huxley, whose prints are reproduced in her book Studies in Handreading [1936].

Later she moved to London, where she continued to earn her living through hand-reading, her subjects ranging from the Duchess of Windsor to the monkeys at the zoo. Eventually she was allowed to resume her profession as a doctor and psychotherapist.

When I met Charlotte she was already in her seventies and keen to embark upon some ambitious research into sexuality. The result was her books on Love Between Women [1971] and Bisexuality. A Study [1979]. She was a dedicated worker, and when she was engaged on a book one scarcely saw her for months on end. Our occasional meetings, however, compensated for the long intervals by the fascination of her conversation and her inexhaustible store of anecdotes.

In her eighties, Charlotte embarked on her last and most ambitious project – a Life of Magnus Hirschfeld [1868-1935], the homosexual Jewish sexologist who founded the first research institute for the study of sexual minorities in Berlin in 1897, and whose irreplaceable library was barbarously burned in public by the Nazis. Her researches, and the book’s publication in 1987, led to Charlotte’s return to Berlin for the first time in half a century, and to her apotheosis by German lesbians as “an ancient radical in woollen stockings”.


A serious topic for today:

"AH DUNNO!" - Saturday 13th

ben trovato says

lavenderblue is unwell. All is forgiven.

the burrow beadle says

But definitely no red flannel knickers.

By Order

Friday, 12 January 2007


View the latest Army recruiting posters:

"AH DUNNO!" - Friday 12th

anticant is away until this afternoon. He may know more then.

Thursday, 11 January 2007


ben trovato offers the following refreshment:

There was once an idealistic male who swore that he would only marry the perfect woman.

Over many years and in many lands, he searched in vain. He met hundreds of charming, attractive, even seductive, women but none of them met his basic requirement.

This was that the perfect woman would serve his tea exactly as he liked it. When he was offered this homely beverage, he always said: “Just half a cup, please.” But the ladies always handed him a full cup regardless.

At long last, and in mellow middle age, he encountered a truly delightful matronly personage who possessed all the attributes for the ideal spouse. She shared his tastes in almost everything, and was a wonderful cook. Scarcely daring to hope that his long-cherished dream was about to come true, the Idealist asked for a cup of tea.

“How do you like it?” the lady asked. “Milk? Sugar? Lemon?”

“Just half a cup, please” he replied.

Almost trembling, he watched her pour out exactly half a cup. He reached his hand out to take it.

“Oh bother”, the Perfect Wife-to-Be exclaimed. “The pot’s run dry!”


A daily open thread for gossip, jokes, and personal notes.

Anticant's thought for today:

"Destiny is in ourselves, but we have to go out into the world to meet it."

Wednesday, 10 January 2007


In my experience the Labour party has always been the Bermuda Triangle of progressive politics in Britain – the casualty area where good libertarian and social reforming intentions in opposition transmute into U-turns, bossiness and Nannyish heavy-handedness in government.

In the 1930s the party was in the doldrums after two short, unsatisfactory spells in office in the 1920s and the shattering experience of the 1931 general election when its former leader, Ramsay MacDonald, reneged to become the figurehead prime minister of a ‘national’ [in effect, Conservative] government with an overwhelming majority. The rump of the parliamentary Labour party under the leadership of first George Lansbury, an idealistic ineffective pacifist, and then the dour, colourless Major Attlee, was ineffective and irrelevant, especially as it continued to oppose rearmament until after Munich, while simultaneously and inconsistently calling for greater resistance to Hitler.

Attlee became deputy prime minister in Churchill’s wartime coalition, and prime minister when Labour swept into office in the 1945 general election. Deceptively self-effacing, he was in fact far and away the best leader Labour ever had in my lifetime. The cruel jokes – about him alighting from an empty taxi, and “being so flat that he was almost concave” – belied a firm hand on the tiller in a cabinet composed of much bigger fish than any of Tony Blair’s cabinet colleagues. His rebuke to an over-noisy party chairman – “a period of silence from you would be welcome” – was a classic. But he passed his prime, the initial driving energy behind his government waned, as it always does, and in 1950/51 Labour paid the price for mismanaging the economy – especially by the psychological mistake of prolonging rationing and ‘austerity’ too far into the post-war years.

Labour’s next great missed opportunity came with the Suez crisis of 1956. The country was split down the middle over the morality and usefulness of the Anglo-Israeli invasion of Egypt, and Hugh Gaitskell, the then Labour leader, argued articulately and passionately against it. But the party was – as all parties are – a coalition with some strong personal antipathies, riven by feuds between Gaitskell’s supporters and those of Aneurin Bevan, and it failed to topple Eden’s government. The party did not regain office until 1964, when Harold Wilson became prime minister after a narrowly won election.

Wilson is still a controversial figure, admired by many and loathed by others who saw him as betraying the party’s traditional values and chasing opportunism. As his Guardian obituarist, Geoffrey Goodman, put it “he lacked the deep conviction of Thatcher or De Gaulle and never possessed the philosophical and inspirational qualities of Aneurin Bevan” [Labour’s Hamlet]. His lengthy premierships saw a generational and social transformation in Britain with much of which Wilson himself was not in personal sympathy – it was his liberal-minded Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, who masterminded much of the modernizing legal reform that reached the Statute Book, most of it ostensibly as private members’ measures. Jenkins merits the chief blame – or praise, according to how you look at it – for the mis-named ‘permissive society’.

James Callaghan, Wilson’s successor, presided for a few more years over what came to be felt as the ‘stagnant society’. An old-fashioned trades union man to the core, Callaghan failed to recognise the damage done by increasingly unpopular and outmoded industrial restrictive practices, and his return from a winter Caribbean holiday to a damp and gloomy Britain whose streets were strewn with uncollected garbage because of union strikes only elicited from him – according to the Tory tabloids - the query “Crisis? What crisis?” If he did actually say it, it was an egregious blunder. The outcome was a lost vote of confidence, a lost general election, and another 18 years of Tory government under a prime minister – Margaret Thatcher – who was much more of a radical in her own way than Callaghan or Wilson had ever been.

All governments, whether long-lasting or not, go through a life-cycle from vigorous youth, through experienced maturity, and ultimately lose their slipping, increasingly senile, grasp. A decade is a long time in the life of an individual, let alone a government. Material for personal comparisons and evaluations dwindles when, as is the case with younger voters, one has known nothing else than the current regime. For a while, Harold Macmillan’s administration which took over from the enfeebled Eden appeared to be self-confidently in command of the national agenda. But appearances can be deceptive, and when the slide comes it can be rapid. In a few hectic weeks of ministerial scandals and adverse media publicity, ‘Supermac’ was swept away muttering “Events, dear boy. Events.” Harold Wilson famously said that a week is a long time in politics.

The puzzle about the Blair government, which catapulted into power amidst such national euphoria at the demise of the unloved Tories, is why it has sustained its grip on power for so long after implementing a string of policies which have alienated its traditional bedrock supporters. This self-professed “New” Labour government is – if we are to believe the media Whitehall corridor prowlers – as racked by internal feuds as any of its predecessors, the only difference being the lengths to which all concerned go to conceal and deny this. The real difference is that the Blairite parliamentary Labour party is much more subservient to the Whips than was the case under Wilson, or even Attlee. The few threats of major ‘rebellions’ during the government’s almost ten years’ tenure have mostly been ‘fixed’ behind the scenes without any dramas on the floor of the House, and this makes day-to-day politics boring, even for the politically curious [which most people aren’t]. Blair’s ‘New Labour’ project resembles a giant pumpkin from which the all the flesh has been scooped out, leaving only an empty hallowe’en mask.

Not only party politics, but populist politics, have failed to dent this prime minister’s unshakeable belief in his own rectitude. His airy dismissal of two million protesters marching against the Iraq war speaks volumes for the decay of our representative system. Under any other administration I can think of, such a mass demonstration of public disapproval would have led to a vote of confidence in the Commons. But no-one, even in the Opposition parties, has seen fit to mount such a challenge during the past decade of Labour rule. The inner decay of political parties of all stripes, and their lessening appeal to the public, is a wider theme I cannot pursue here.

Down the years I have had excellent personal relations, and some close friendships, with many members of the Labour party in both Houses. But I have never felt in the least inclined, or been asked, to consider joining the party. Probably because they knew I was not a tribalist, as they were. The distinguishing feature of the Labour party throughout its existence has been its fervent tribalism and inward-looking loyalty, which explains the intensity of its internal feuds. Labour people are bound together by a sense of virtuous superiority to those who have the short-sightedness, or the bad taste, to remain outside “this great party of ours”. Nye Bevan’s infamous and ill-judged jibe that Tories were “lower than vermin” spoke volumes about the Labour cast of mind. As is now only too apparent, the Labour front bench are, in their own estimation, the know-all Nannies of the Nation, and I for one wish them off my back.

One of the myths of British history is that there is a deep and vibrant seam of popular devotion to free speech and civil liberties ingrained in the population at large. Despite the 19th century advances gained by some strenuous campaigning over these issues, they have always been the concern of only a minority, as is evident from the widespread indifference to the current Blairite assault on some of our traditional freedoms in the name of ‘anti-terrorism’. Wherever a resurgence of national concern about freedom is to come from, it is unlikely to be the ranks of ‘New Labour’.

My take on the Labour Party is that, without overlooking the 17th century Cavaliers and the 18th century Jacobites, it is the cause in British politics which has attracted more misguided devotion, and betrayed more fond hopes, than any other.


Frank Fisher and I seem to have an irreconcilable disagreement. Frank takes a solipsistic view of the internet - he believes, he tells me, that "online everyone plays their own game, their own rules. Six billion rules, six billion refs."

So the Internet is nothing more or less than whatever each of its billions of individual users conceptualise it as being? This strikes me as the mindlessly vapid version of relativity so beloved by the postmodernists who maintain that nothing is 'better' or 'worse' than anything else, and so qualitative judgements are not just meaningless, but impossible. If that is the case, we may as well just give up any hope of rational cyber-discourse, and recognise that the Net is merely a huge global junk mail box stuffed with gibberish and an utter waste of time.

What do others think?


ben trovato says:

"Ah Dunno!" is a daily open thread for gossip, jokes, and personal notes. If you want to comment on or debate issues raised in topic threads, please do so on the appropriate thread. That will make my housekeeping life much easier!

Tuesday, 9 January 2007


ben trovato offers the following hot posset for cold callers:


Today is TALKING EGG DAY in the burrow.

This way for cyberbabble!

Monday, 8 January 2007


Well, maybe I do now.

Good morning, everyone.

Sunday, 7 January 2007


anticant took some thinking time off to ponder his views about the Internet. He is far from reaching any clear conclusions yet, but offers a few initial reflections.

The Internet is the earliest wonder of the 21st century. For the first time in human history, it is possible to communicate instantaneously with people all over the world, which now indeed has the potential to become a Global Village. Since I started to blog, about five months ago, I have had discussions and conversations – mostly friendly - with people in several European countries, the USA, Asia, and Africa.

Two hundred years ago, people were still travelling by horseback and stage coach. Transatlantic crossings by sailing ships, and voyages round the Cape of Good Hope to India, took several weeks, and mail often arrived months after it was written. By the mid-19th century railways, steamships, and the telegraph and transatlantic cable [the Victorian Internet] had transformed the speed of communications, but they were still at a snail’s pace compared to those of today. My grandfather, born in 1867, thought that the catswhisker radio of his old age was a technical marvel. Even in my lifetime, long-distance broadcasts from America and other far distant places were faint and crackly.

Now, we switch on our televisions and see live reports and newsreels of events that happened the other side of the world an hour or two ago. We open our computers and in less than a second send messages to our dearest who no longer need to be our nearest to keep in touch with us. Surely the potential for greater global understanding and togetherness is enormous.

But there are also downsides. Unasked for messages cascade in from total strangers. Many of these are scams, inviting you to lower your computer’s defences so that the senders can glean personal information, or even gain access to your bank accounts. A few are downright unpleasant, and even threatening. People with vicious motives seek to worm their way into the confidence of the young, na├»ve and vulnerable.

As always, many blame the messenger instead of the message. The Internet is held to be responsible for a host of wickednesses. How much better if it had never been invented! say its critics – most of whom have never used it and do not understand its potential for good. Exactly the same thing was said about the wheel – it makes it so much easier for villains to get from one place to another – about printing – how much better if the ignorant and gullible masses weren’t taught to read – and probably about fire. It has certainly been said, often, about explosives and nuclear energy. Yet there is nothing in any of these devices which is inherently evil. It is their misuse by the ‘crooked timber of humanity’ that is at fault.

Another school of thought treats the Internet as if it were a sort of phantom cyberworld, less ‘real’ in some significant way than other social realities. This strikes me as a profoundly mistaken, and indeed mischievous, view. It permits its proponents to feel entitled to behave on the Internet in ways that they would not do in other social relationships, on the spurious pretext that what they say through a computer is somehow more detached from real life than other forms of communication. This pretence would be all very well if entered into with mutual agreement by people who want to amuse themselves by playing cybergames. But it does not otherwise hold water as a genuine modus operandi , and snarls up fruitful exchanges rather than promoting them.

Because in all our dealings with others – whether face-to-face, by letter, telephone, e-mail or blogging, there needs to be mutual trust in the other’s authenticity and honesty if the transactions are to be worthwhile. Trust is of course one of the most difficult issues in life. If you espouse the principle of never trusting anyone else until you are certain you can do so, your social relations will be impoverished and fraught with anxiety. If, on the other hand, you decide to trust everyone until you find them to be untrustworthy, you will be taken for many a ride. Where the balance must lie is, in each case, a matter for sensitive intuition rather than for blind faith.

The integrity of the Internet depends upon the integrity of those using it. We who see it as a shining hope for a friendlier, more peaceable, and ultimately more united, world must strive to preserve our own integrity and to demand integrity from those with whom we deal on-line. Used in this way, with all the opportunities for networking in concert with like-minded people, the Internet can become a powerful – indeed, an unstoppable – force for remedying the democratic deficit currently bedevilling political life. But if this is to happen, the Internet must be preserved from the clutches of would-be governmental and other censors. There is an interesting US site concerned with this at

Friday, 5 January 2007


anticant is taking a long weekend off from blogging to recharge his batteries. There are other things in life besides cybertalk calling for his attention, and he needs space to consider whether he wishes to continue devoting as much of his time and limited energy to the internet as he has been doing lately.

While he is away the burrow snug, or taproom, will remain an open thread for visitors, comments, and chat. There is a welcoming fireside, ben trovato will be behind the bar, and the Beadle has strict orders to permit no knicker-waving.

Thursday, 4 January 2007


I really don't. But I'm thinking hard.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007


anticant says: What a start to a new day! Dreaming I'm Wittgenstein's rhinoceros over on Toby's site. Hunting for canoodling mermaids on the sea shore. Being matey with billstickers. The variety of fare provided by the Awkward Squad never ceases....

Tuesday, 2 January 2007


For those intrepid souls inclined to brave the New Year weather and scour the seashore for marine specimens, the following advice may be useful.

Mrs Margaret Gatty [1809-73] was a pioneering collector and classifier of seaweed. On many seaside holidays she would collect specimens and bring home seaweed samples, bottles of seawater, baskets of shells, and pieces of rock.

In the introduction to her History of British Seaweeds [1863], Mrs Gatty advised her aspiring female followers to

“lay aside, for a time, all thought of conventional appearances and be content to support the weight of a pair of boy’s shooting boots, which furthermore, should be rendered as waterproof as possible by receiving a thin coat of Neat’s-foot oil, such as is used by fishermen – a process well understood in most lodging houses...Next to boots comes the question of petticoats; and if anything could excuse a woman from imitating the costume of a man, it would be what she suffers as a seaweed collector from these necessary draperies! But to make the best of a bad matter, let woollen be in the ascendant as much as possible; and let the petticoats never come below the ankle. A ladies’ yachting costume has come into fashion of late, which is perhaps as near perfection for shore-work as anything that could be devised. It is a suit consisting of a full short skirt of blue flannel or serge (like very fine bathing gown material), with waistcoat and jacket to match. Cloaks and shawls which necessarily hamper the arms, besides having long ends and corners, which cannot fail to get soaked, are, of course, very inconvenient, and should be as much avoided as possible; but where this cannot be, a good deal may be done towards tucking them neatly up out of the way. In conclusion, a hat is preferable to bonnet, merino stockings to cotton ones, and a strong pair of gloves is indispensable. All millinery work, silks, satins, lace, bracelets and other jewellery etc. must, and will be, laid aside by every rational being who attempts to shore-hunt…But even in reflecting on the best and easiest shore…it must be owned that a low-water-mark expedition, is more comfortably undertaken under the protection of a gentleman. He may fossilise, or sketch, or even (if he will be savage and barbaric) shoot gulls; but no need anyhow to involve him in the messing after what he may consider “rubbish”, unless happily, he be inclined to assist. Only let there be sea and plenty of low, dark rock……”


As we lurch into 2007, conspiracy theories abound - not least in the burrow. As Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller is heading for pastures new, anticant has invited her to come over with her team of lookalike bloodhounds, and have a good sniff around the premises. Her retaining fee will be a dozen brandy mince pies.

Monday, 1 January 2007


Of all the increasingly bizarre discussions on CiF, the comments on Conor Foley’s attack on torture – ‘A Dangerous Equivocation’, 29th December – take the biscuit. An endless stream of self-professing ‘democrats’ and ‘defenders of Western values’ queue up to justify torture as an acceptable tool for the defence of ‘our way of life’. The few who demur are derided as woolly minded pacifists and [needless to say] ‘effeminate’.

The feeble excuses offered by these ‘realists’ for their ‘tough minded’ stance include the priceless one that all us European wimps don’t comprehend the fearful trauma Americans suffered through the 9/11 atrocity – which, apparently, gives them and their hangers-on such as poodle Blair carte-blanche to emulate Hitler’s and Stalin’s torturers and concentration camp guards to save freedom. The immediate response to this which springs to mind is “Diddums”.

There is, as several comments point out, a racist dimension to torture as now being practised. It is black and brown ‘others’ who are being subjected to it – not white Caucasians like ‘us’. As one comment recalls, Graham Greene made this pretty obvious point in Our Man in Havana :

"The poor in my own country, in any Latin American country. The poor of Central Europe and the Orient. Of course in your welfare states you have no poor, so you are untorturable. In Cuba the police can deal as harshly as they like with emigres from Latin America and the Baltic States, but not with visitors from your country or Scandinavia. It is an instinctive matter on both sides. Catholics are more torturable than Protestants, just as they are more criminal.”

The whole thread is worth reading, if you are in the mood for apoplexy. Yet again, this generation of so-called ‘liberals’ seem to have shot their moral compass. The issue is pithily summed up in a quotation from Winston Churchill:

“In opposing evil, our greatest peril lies not in defeat, but in becoming that which we would oppose.”


Like Zola, I have been cogitating [reflectively agitating myself] about the vast blogosphere and the tiny corner of it occupied by the Awkward Squad. In what way is our little ring ‘awkward’? Are we merely awkward individualists, or is there scope and ambition for concerted awkwardness?

In a memorable phrase, A.L. Rowse once said [in a letter to The Times] that “those who believe nonsense must expect awkward consequences”. I forget the context, and to my mind he hadn’t really thought it through – because the really significant and lasting ‘awkward consequences’ are usually those inflicted by the nonsense-believers upon those unfortunates who don’t share their beliefs, as we are now seeing all too clearly in the weird world that is 2007.

The Awkward Squad itself is a consequence of growing dissatisfaction with the way the Guardian’s CiF site operates. Some of us were more and more disillusioned with it as a useful and honest discussion forum [because of the hypocritical censorship] and regrouped around Big Pike when he suggested a blogring. I for one was far from clear as to what a blogring is, and how it differs from a loose federation of friendly blogs. I wonder what others of the ‘Famous Eight’ had in mind when they signed up? I suppose I envisaged us as a flotilla of little boats clustering around Commodore Frank’s racing yacht, about to set sail under his skull and crossbones upon a joint expedition of discovery, foray and pillage.

So far, this hasn’t happened. We have happily developed our individual styles, and enjoyed a warm glow of camaraderie, but so far no cruising orders have emanated from the Commodore. Such specifically Awkward Squad activity as there has been has mostly occurred on his site, taking some unexpected directions. The criteria for admitting new squad members was debated, and an unsuspecting applicant was pounced upon and mauled with such fury that he must have ended up feeling more like a wounded Tigger than a prowling Tyger. An – I should have thought – relatively uncontroversial request for squad support for a charitable effort for one member’s pet charity turned into a ferocious brawl about the nature, motivation, and desirability of charitable giving which must have left the applicant feeling pretty bruised.

These two incidents struck me as bloody-minded rather than just Awkward and – although they were not sparked off by an Awkward Squad blogger - left me increasingly confused as to what the Ring is for, and where it intends to go. I would be most interested to hear what other Awkward Squadders, and commentators on AS blogs, think. What is it that makes the Awkward Squad more than just a group of friendly people who enjoy chit-chatting with one another? What do we exist for? Are we seriously Awkward, or merely Cussed?


Who would have thought that Zola's first action of 2007 would have been to haul anticant before the beak? A pretty harbinger of things to come!

Judge anticant has stepped down from the bench because of conflict of interest, he having consumed several of the said mince pies. The case will be heard by His Honour Yellow Duck.

anticant has appointed Suzon to be his leading defence counsel, and lavenderblue to be prisoner's friend. As the remaining mince pies will have to be produced in evidence, maybe she can shove a few buns through the bars of the parish lockup pending the trial?

ITS 2007 - AH DUNNO!

Bliar says he's going to retire.
Now let's give Bush the push.
C'mon folks - brace yourselves!


To all friends of and visitors to the burrow:

May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back,

The sun shine warm upon your face,

The rain fall soft upon your fields.

Celtic Blessing of the Nine Elements:

May you go forth under the strength of heaven, under the light of sun, under the radiance of moon:

May you go forth with the splendor of fire, with the speed of lightning, with the swiftness of wind;

May you go forth supported by the depth of sea, by the stability of earth, by the firmness of rock;

May you be surrounded and encircled, with the protection of the nine elements.

Anticant enters 2007 in the hope, if not the expectation, that he will still be here in twelve months’ time to see another New Year in. His current mood is articulated far more eloquently than he could hope to do by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.