Saturday, 31 March 2007

Faithful to the last

Farewell then, Lieutenant General Baron Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven, who has died aged 93.

In April 1945, then a major and adjutant to the army chief of staff, he was one of the handful of Wehrmacht staff officers who stayed with Hitler in the bunker as the Nazi regime fell apart. One of the last to leave, he was entrusted with a signed copy of Hitler's political and personal testament for Dönitz.

After the war he worked in the publishing industry until West Germany joined Nato in 1955, and then went back into uniform, serving in various West German army posts and Nato staff appointments and reaching the rank of Lieutenant-General.

You see, he had been able to prove to the Americans that he had never been a Nazi, so that was all right.

Thursday, 29 March 2007


Here’s a preview of one of the items featured in the March edition of Large Hats Monthly. It was worn by the Queen at the Westminster Abbey service marking the 200th anniversary of the act to abolish the slave trade. Throughout this festival of pious contrition HM was looking relaxed yet sombre in that inimitably queenly way she has, but her husband, as he so often does nowadays, looked distinctly sour; the old charmer probably thinks that giving those fellows their freedom was a bad mistake.

Tony Blair wasn’t there but a Downing Street spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister has made a very strong statement emphasising the inhumanity of the slave trade....” A strong statement indeed, putting to shame all those who had always believed that slavery was a bit of a giggle. And the Archbishop of York has called on the UK “to formally apologise” for its role in the slave trade.

The constant references to “apology” in this context illustrate the confusion that arises because of the two meanings of “I’m sorry”. If you tell me that you have broken both your legs, then I might say, “I’m sorry”. This is a sincere expression of regret but obviously not an apology: how could it be? I was in no way responsible.

Abandoning for the moment the crude sarcasm and cheap irony which are among the main characteristics of the style in which much of Other Men's Flowers is written, we can say that most reasonable people regret, or are sorry—perhaps ashamed—that their forebears behaved abominably. But that is not an apology: apologising on behalf of people one has never met means nothing. As for making restitution after a couple of hundred years to those descended from the ill-treated ones, that is daft even by the standards of the pronouncements of the Church of England.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Last lines

Back in November 2004, under the title First Lines, I invited readers to identify twenty-five openings to books or short stories. Not surprisingly, for many of them were pretty obscure, the best score I heard about was only six, and that was achieved by a teacher of English.

Here, for the benefit of anyone who is housebound, whose TV is on the blink or who seeks an excuse for not starting some dreary chore which should have been done yesterday, are twenty-five last lines. They are from various kinds of books, stories, diaries, or essays. Before you look at the answers, have a go and give yourself one point for each source identified and one point for each author.

I have all these books, but five of them I have not read right through and never will. No less than seven of the authors were women, the saucy little minxes. Sixteen were written in this or the 20th century, and at least fifteen have been filmed (most of them more than once). Three of the authors and two of the books also featured in First Lines. There is one catch question.

People get very depressed when they score zero at this sort of thing, so this time some are very easy.

1: Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.

2: We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.

3: Reader, I married him.

4: They stood for a moment at the balustrade and looked at Trafalgar Square. Cabs and omnibuses hurried to and fro, and cabs passed, hastening in every direction, and the sun was shining.

5: Certain vegetables or substances which partake of the nature both of vegetable and animals.

6: Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.

7: He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage. It was not until they had examined the rings that they recognised who it was.

8: The tomb bore the names of Tom and Maggie Tulliver, and below the names it was written—“In their death they were not divided”.

9: The gun, Bill Roach had finally convinced himself, was after all a dream.

10: ‘Tootle-oo to you,’ she said. ‘But you’ll be seeing me again.’
And the curlew fluted once more.

11: Then the schoolmaster glanced instinctively at the red ribbon which adorned the Senator’s button-hole. The latter noticed his glance.
‘Well, who knows?’ Piéchut said. [translation]

12: And now I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers—shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle—to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.

13: …the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen—all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.

14: The papers report more falls of snow, out-lying farms and villages in Yorkshire, East Lothian, and in the Highlands are entirely isolated by the deep snow.

15: ‘Simmonds, Chiltern Street, London W1,’ she wrote, ‘Coming home’. But, after a moment, she thought that this was not entirely accurate and, crossing out the words ‘Coming home’, wrote simply ‘Returning’.

16: I went straight to Redriff, where I arrived the same day at two in the afternoon, and found my wife and family in good health.

17: The men began singing, a grave, slow song that drifted away into the night. Soon the road was empty. All that remained of the German regiment was a little cloud of dust. [translation]

18: At first, amid the applause of the gods, he betrayed a trifle of his old self-consciousness and awkwardness. This passed away as the puppies’ antics and mauling continued, and he lay with half-shut, patient eyes, drowsing in the sun.

19: whom alone the love, and the tenderness, and the purity, and the strength, and the courage, and the wisdom of all these dwell forever in perfect fulness.

20: Even the mature historian’s privilege of setting forth conversations of which he knows only the gist is one that I have availed myself of hardly at all.

21: I straightened the tie. I pulled down the waistcoat. I shot the cuffs. I felt absolutely all-righto.
‘Lead me to her,’ I said.

22: We stared at it for a long time, trying to work it out. Martin was right. It didn’t look as though it was moving, but it must have been, I suppose.

23: But it was so far away that the four peaks looked trifling, hardly distinguishable, and different from the way they looked from the farm. The outline of the mountain was slowly smoothed and levelled out by the hand of distance.

24: Though her hands were imprecise blurs, paint heaped on paint and rolled with the brush, the rest of her skin had been expertly rendered in all its variety—chalky whites and lively pinks, the underlying blue of her veins and the ever present human hint of yellow, intimation of what is to come.

25: Had meal with Lou at 5.30, saw the News, watched the dreary saga of murder and mayhem. By 6.30 pain in the back was pulsating as its never done before… so this, plus the stomach trouble combines to torture me – oh – what’s the bloody point?

A good note to end on, I thought.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Plutocrat’s paper

The Sunday Times has long since ceased to be a serious newspaper and has been fighting OK! and Hello! for the position of house journal to the rich and famous, but although it has its quota of stories about mere celebrities, its real concern is with the very, very rich. It has a large staff producing an annual Rich List, with spin-offs, and every issue of the paper has some lip-smacking revelations about the lives of those who, they say, “make your average multi-millionaire feel like a church mouse”.

This sort of thing may have begun to pall on the not-quite-so-rich, or even on the not-rich-at-all, and the paper’s circulation has dropped by 10% in the last twelve months; it could be a sign of desperation that today’s issue provides an additional colour supplement which is essentially a paean to serious affluence and those who have it. It is called Power Play.

There is a little bit of perfunctory tut-tutting (“High-maintenance high-rollers are leaving the rest of us paupered”) but mostly this is an approving—even awed—look at the unimaginably wealthy:
"Six millionaires head for the stars… the unstoppable urge to give it away… preview of a playboy’s floating mansion… a remarkable snapshot of Britain’s young rich… want to beat gridlock? A helipad is the latest answer… philanthropy is rife among the rich… symbols of the lux life… people who have money now get the respect normally reserved for the aristocracy…" And so drivelling on, and on.

The circulation of the Sunday Times in February was 1,245,483, so it must have at least a million readers who, though not actually on the breadline, are unlikely ever to collect the possessions and participate in the activities so breathlessly described. To avoid the risk of the envy of these unfortunates turning to rancour, there are a few suggestions in the supplement that life is not always peachy up there: “Living with unfeasible wealth requires sacrifice… we feel guilty about having too much… status anxiety at the top…

So that’s all right then: we can enjoy contemplating the dream while being thankful that our relative poverty protects us from at least some kinds of unhappiness.

Friday, 23 March 2007

N A Chess, not En Haitch Ess

For years I have assumed that those who pronounce "H" as if it began with that letter were merely uneducated, but it seems that they might be Irish instead (or possibly as well).

I learned this from a piece in the Guardian by David McKie called Why I ate the Haitch mob. This covers the matter in some detail and notes regretfully that Haitch seems to be gaining ground, though, oddly, those who use it make an exception when it is used as an initial—few, one may hope, would refer to Prince Philip as Haitch R Haitch.

McKie also comments on the way in which a word begins defines the image of what it portrays: B suits words of abuse, for example, spit sounds nasty, and Aitch suggests something amenable, affable and amicable, while Haitch is harder, harsher, more hostile.

It is a pity that the distinguished speech therapist Carol no longer updates her blog, as I am sure she would have something interesting to say on this subject.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Bula Matari

Meaning Breaker of Rocks. That was what they called Sir Henry Morton Stanley when he was in the Congo, and probably other things too, since he had a reputation for callous violence and brutality. An illegitimate child brought up in a workhouse in Wales, at the age of 18 he made his passage to the United States, and in New Orleans became friendly with a wealthy trader named Stanley, whose name he later assumed.

After fighting on both sides in the American Civil War (presumably not both at the same time), he became one of the New York Herald’s overseas correspondents and in 1869 was instructed to find the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who was known to be in Africa but had not been heard from for some time. He travelled to Zanzibar, set off with 200 porters and located Livingstone on November 10, 1871 at Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika, greeting him (so he later asserted) with: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

He made other expeditions in Africa and was indirectly responsible for helping establish the notorious rule of Léopold II of Belgium over the Congo Free State. On his return to Europe he married a Welsh artist, entered Parliament as Unionist member for Lambeth North, served from 1895 to 1900 and died in 1904.

You might call this a full life; in the graveyard of St. Michael's Church in Pirbright, Surrey, he is safely buried under a large piece of granite.

This picture of him comes from The Boy’s Own Book of Astounding Hats.

Monday, 19 March 2007

The rock icon and the B-movie star

As I have never felt the need—or the inclination—to follow closely the careers of 1960s record producers, it is not surprising that I had not heard of a man called Phil Spector until I saw a whole page devoted to him in the Guardian last Saturday. It was reported that he murdered a “blond, leggy Californian” called Lana Clarkson in 2003 by blowing off her jaw with a 36-calibre Colt, which he then put under her left leg. Or didn’t, as the case may be, or rather, as the jury will decide: next week he is to go on trial in Los Angeles for the alleged crime. He asserts that it was an “accidental suicide”.

We are told that for his court appearances he has prepared Cuban-heeled boots, a blond Afro hairstyle, tinted glasses, frock coats and jewel-encrusted brooches, and that he has a reputation as an “eccentric, unpredictable control freak, as likely to scream profanities at the person nearest to him as to pull a gun on them”, and to wear different guns to match his outfits.

Nothing surprising there then, just an everyday story of Hollywood folk. I would have turned the page without pausing had the article not featured a photo of Phil looking exactly like my great-aunt Emily (apart, of course, from the black shirt and chalk-striped suit; Phil’s, I mean). This caught my attention and I read the whole piece carefully to see if he was like her in other ways: I came to the conclusion that he was not; well, not really.

Then I saw that the unfortunate Lana was described as “a 40-year-old actor and waitress”. The actor/actress thing is all sorted out nowadays, but waiter/waitress? Why be inconsistent within a single sentence? I suppose if they had written “actor and waiter” the first reaction would have been to think that Lana is a funny name for a man, until you read on and found that she had been a sex-bomb wife in an 80s movie, which had confirmed her position as a Hollywood bimbo.

Before any of my feminist friends add reproachful comments to this post, I should say that none of these words are mine; I am merely quoting the Guardian, well known for its generally contemptuous attitude towards women and the rabid misogyny of its writers.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Conservapedia: A loss to the world of comedy

Feeling lazy this weekend, and looking for some easy laughs and a post that writes itself, I thought of doing as dozens of commentators have done since the right-wing reference source Conservapedia was launched on the internet last November: simply quoting, or providing links to, some of its dottier entries.

Sadly, however, for the moment it seems to be impossible to access the site*. This may be because its server (probably just one, bought on eBay) could not cope with a huge volume of hits. Many of these would have been from jokers trying to post parody entries, a pointless task when most of the genuine entries parody themselves so brilliantly.

So all I can do is to list a few examples of entries quoted by others which illustrate the site’s factual inaccuracy, extremism, unhelpfulness, hypocrisy, and bias, and its tendency to ignore the scientific consensus on subjects such as the Big Bang and evolution in favour of biblical exegesis. Some of these entries were hoaxes, some have now been amended and some deleted, but all of them did once appear in Conservapedia and they give you the flavour.

Like all modern animals, modern kangaroos originated in the Middle East and are the descendants of the two founding members of the modern kangaroo baramin that were taken aboard Noah's Ark prior to the Great Flood.

A Middle-Eastern country, currently occupied by U.S. Troops.

Fox News
Fox News was started in 1996 in response to the other cable news channels which all had obvious liberal biases. Because of this, Rupert Murdoch decided to start a real new channel which would tell the truth. The success of Fox news over every other news channel is because it is fair and balanced. It has many people on it who work to spread truth such as Sean Hannity who is a great American. Fox News is best because instead of just telling you what to think, they only report the news unbiased and then allow the viewer to decide.

Atheism is the disbelief in the existence of any supernatural deity. This disbelief can take a number of forms, such as the assertion that deities do not exist, or the absence of any belief in any deity. Since atheists have no God, as a philosophical framework atheism simply provides no logical basis for any moral standard. They live their lives according to the rule that “anything goes”. In recent years, this has led to a large rise in drug use, pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy, paedophilia and bestiality.

Josef Stalin was an atheist communist Russian dictator during World War II. He was defeated by Adolf Hitler, despite Hitler also being an atheist.

Anything Goes
Anything Goes is the title of a 1934 musical production written by Cole Porter. Popular songs from the musical include You’re the Top, I Get a Kick Out of You, and Anything Goes. Because Porter was a homosexual, we can conclude that ‘anything goes’ was also his philosophy of life. Many atheists have adopted the song as a description of their “moral” code.

1. The process by which offspring are conceived.
2. Another term for gender.

A liberal in the early 1800s in Europe was one who favored more powerful elected assemblies. The term was common in France shortly after the French Revolution. Modern liberals are treasonous and generally hate America

A falafel is a Mediterranean dish made with spiced Garbanzo Beans. It should not be confused with a loofah which is a bath sponge.

Some say the whole website was an amusing joke, but I fear not. Wikipedia states that the project was founded by Andrew Schlafly, son of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, in response to a claimed anti-Christian and anti-American bias in the articles of Wikipedia. According to a FAQ on Conservapedia, it originated from a project for homeschooled children, and its creator believes it could eventually evolve into a “reference for teachers”. It is obvious that some of the entries were written by children, and it is frightening to think that there are children in the United States being fed this sort of stuff.

* Later in March: Conservapedia is back again, and as perky as ever!
Its article on Sex, which I quoted in full above, has disappeared and now there is just a note : This page has been deleted, and protected to prevent re-creation. This was probably because the definitions given were considered too explicit, and might have evoked ungodly thoughts in the young. The deletion will be disappointing, however, to those who look up the word with prurient intent: they will never know how informative and titillating the original page was.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

King from the valleys

When I took an English Literature exam years ago, one of the set books was Pride and Prejudice, which I didn’t actually get around to reading, but I had seen the Olivier/Garson film. Many liberties had been taken with the plot (Lady Catherine de Bourgh turns out to be an absolute sweetie in the end), but it didn’t seem to matter: I managed to answer some questions on it and passed the exam.

Film-makers often twist plots, characterisations or historical facts away from universally acknowledged truths. Films as History notes the reasons why they have to do this, and quotes assessments by historians of the accuracy of some historical films.

The same applies to plays, and Shakespeare is particularly unreliable as a guide to, for example, fifteenth-century history. After watching the 1955 film of Richard III on DVD the other day, It struck me that the Tudor take-over from the last Plantagenet was unconvincing. I mean, the upstart won a battle*, but what made people fight for him? Richard may have been a scoundrel but why replace him with an unknown youngster?

So I thought I’d look up some of the facts, such as Henry Tudor’s justification for seizing the throne; I wish I hadn’t bothered, really. This is the explanation; you will have to pay careful attention:

His father, the Earl of Richmond, had been the offspring of Henry V’s French widow by a secret marriage with her Clerk of the Wardrobe—an obscure Welsh gentleman named Owen Tudor, later beheaded—while his mother, Margaret Beaufort, through whom he claimed the throne, was grand-daughter to one of John of Gaunt’s bastard Beaufort sons by his mistress and third wife, Catherine Swynford, Chaucer’s sister-in-law.

Quite clear now?

Anyway, the first Tudor king (and VIIth Henry) was a hard-nosed Welsh bruiser. So, in real life, was Stanley Baker who played him in Laurence Olivier’s film, though he looked a bit of a pantywaist when he was being pious in a silly auburn wig.

[*The film’s battle scenes were shot in a highly inappropriate Spanish location; visitors to Bosworth Field may be surprised to find that this part of Warwickshire is not in reality a parched plain with olive trees, surrounded by mountains.]

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Googie Withers

This British actress appeared on stage and TV, and made more than 60 films between 1934 and 1996. During the 30s she was much in demand for lead roles in minor films and supporting roles in bigger ones. In 1992 she appeared in a TV programme called, rather disparagingly, Britain's Missing Movie Heritage.

I think I saw a TV series in which she was the governor of a women’s prison, and a few of the films, but none were particularly memorable; I remembered her face, but I doubt if her name would have stuck in my mind had it not such an odd one. For many years I deliberately refrained from finding out what the first part was short for, preferring to wonder about it at idle moments. On the analogy of Connie, I would muse, it might have been Googstance, or, as with Winnie, Googifred. And then, with wilder fancy: Penny, Googelope? Sammy, Googantha? Jenny, Googifer? Lizzie, Egoogabeth?

But when I read in the paper that she was 90 years old yesterday I felt it was time to end the speculation, so I looked her up.

Many Happy Returns, Georgette!

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Off with his head!

I had always thought, vaguely (the way I usually think), that the Queen of Hearts was the first to utter this command, but I was reminded the other day that several of Shakespeare’s characters got there first, as they had a way of doing with dozens of the phrases that clog our minds to this day.

One such character was Richard Plantagenet who (according to Thomas More and WS) was a wicked old crookback. Laurence Olivier played him with gusto, a sinister wig, a false nose and an extraordinary range of inflections* in the Old Vic 1944-49 production of Richard III, and then in the 1955 film, with Gielgud, Richardson and other top Shakespeareans of the day.

(Olivier could of course have put on a convincing limp at any time, but apparently this was made particularly easy for him here because during the shooting of the battle scenes a careless archer had shot him in the foot.)

I watched the DVD of this classic again the other day and wondered why I had never noticed before the apostrophe in the title. Why on earth did no-one else ever notice it when the rushes were shown?

[*Brilliantly taken off by Peter Sellers, who at one time had wanted to play the role seriously, in a 1965 TV Special on the Beatle’s music: “It has BEEN a hard day’s NIGHT…”]

Friday, 9 March 2007

Money is tight, not trousers

The author Kathryn Hughes has a witty and perceptive piece in today’s Guardian, entitled Never mind the cleavage, making the point that Jane Austen’s books are really about money, not love*.

Admirers of Jane will have been pleased to learn that several more adaptations of her work are currently on the stocks, although, as Hughes points out, from the way in which these are being marketed you would think that all she ever wrote about was Love, and How to Find It.

With my unerring instinct for noting unimportant and uninteresting details, I have been struck by the fact that in no less than three reports in the media, including Hughes’, the forthcoming productions have been referred to as a slew of Jane Austen adaptations; it's not a common word, so this seemed odd.


To my ear this word, like plethora, suggests
an unhealthy or undesirable quantity; I mean, no-one would boast that he had a slew of beautiful girlfriends. But the dictionary, at least the OED, does not support this, merely saying that it means:
A very large number of, a great amount of, and is colloquial (orig. U.S.) and an adaptation of the Irish slua(gh): crowd, multitude.

That is not very exciting and, as so often happens when dipping a toe into the OED, I was then irresistibly drawn towards further uninteresting (in this case slew-related) information. The meaning above is only the third of four. There is also:
1 ME sloo: (U.S. and Canada). A marshy or reedy pool, pond, small lake, backwater, or inlet.
2 The position to which a thing has been turned (from the verb)
4 A filling made of two or more strands worked together (a term in basketry)

However, after ploughing through all this tedium I was rewarded when I followed a link in the sloo definition inviting me to look up slough. This has six meanings and the first is:
OE. Slóh, of doubtful origin; perhaps ultimately related to SLONK: A piece of soft, miry, or muddy ground; esp. a place or hole in a road or way filled with wet mud or mire and impassable by heavy vehicles, horses, etc.

These are deep [and muddy] waters, Watson. But never mind about John Bunyan….


At last something really useful! As a verb, it’s:
Of obscure origin: To swallow greedily
…and as a noun:
Of doubtful origin: LG. slunk, G. dial. schlunk, schlonk: gullet

Enough of all that. It is now nearly midday: time, I think, to slonk a slew of gin-and-tonic down my schlunk.

(*Except, of course, for her great treatise on the implements of naval warfare)

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Birthday honours

For my birthday last Saturday I was given a splendid dinner at a country restaurant, and then a night at a delightful farmhouse just below the ridge of the South Downs, in as remote a spot as it is possible to find in the densely populated south-east of England; this was the view from our bedroom window.

(The area is of intellectual as well as pastoral interest: Glyndebourne is nearby, and so is Charleston, the country home of a famous bunch of posturing ninnies called the Bloomsbury Group who stayed there doing their literary/artistic thing, and each other, during and after the First World War.)

It had also been arranged by a friend in Holy Orders that the day should be marked by a full eclipse of the moon in my honour. Sadly, the dinner and the Sancerre with the main course, followed by the Monbazillac with the torte, caused a great exposition of sleep to come upon us so that we saw only the earlier stages and not the orange bit.

And which birthday was it? Suffice it to say that one of my birthday cards featured photographs of an appropriate number of trombones.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Listening in

We have all been irritated by having to listen to people wittering away on their mobile phones or, in the case of Americans, cellphones; it is not really surprising that most of them are not aware, or do not care, that we can hear every word, for they invariably seem to be having conversations of quite staggering banality. I have never overheard any which someone other than the participants could conceivably find interesting.

Until yesterday. While browsing quietly among a supermarket's fruit & vegetables, I noticed a man with his phone to his ear. He was not speaking very loudly, but was clearly audible to anyone within a radius of ten feet or so. Clearly, he was upset, but was speaking quite calmly, more in sorrow than in anger. What he was saying was:
“You’ve been lying to me… you lied about your affair… you lied when you left me.. and now you’re still lying…”

I turned my back so as not to embarrass him, and began carefully selecting onions and putting them in my basket one by one. He went on: “..and now there’s all this business with the divorce. I’m trying to be fair but you’re making it impossible with your demands and your lies…

And so on in this vein for a several minutes. I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember it all and wanted to make clandestine notes on the back of my shopping list, but by the time I had found a pen the conversation was over. Anyway, I suppose I had got the gist; there weren’t any major developments in the closing stages, just more of the same.

I later wondered whether I should feel ashamed for having listened, but then told myself that the man obviously didn’t care who heard him, and of course if he had broken down into great racking sobs I would have been the first to hasten to his side and give the poor fellow what comfort I could, in return for the entertainment he had given me.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Would you like a nightcap?

No 275 in the series Sensational Headgear,

A recent survey has shown that 0.03 percent of Englishmen aged between 18 and 75 always wear a hat in bed.

This one comes free when you buy an “authentic Victorian nightshirt”, the brushed cotton fibres of which “…trap all the warm air”, a solemn thought.

Anyway, this happy fellow is clearly planning to share a bedtime laugh with his lover.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

It’s not the way that they say it

It’s a great mistake to assume that the kind of language in which an opinion is expressed is always some sort of guide to the value of that opinion. It is true that an urbane, well-thought-out, moderate piece of writing often indicates that the view being put forward is one which any reasonable man might be inclined to accept, but sometimes such a piece can be written by someone who has acquired a skill with words but who is actually a bigot of the vilest kind. Many a clever politician or preacher can speak with what sounds like a voice of sweet reason—unless you listen carefully to what he is actually saying; not all people who ought to be locked up give themselves away by foaming at the mouth.

Of course rabidly right-wing commentators do often express their views in illiterate, intemperate, abusive and obscene prose. This is not a political statement, for such prose is by no means confined to right-wing polemic, but most left-wing comment tends to be gentler in style: in America, right-wingers would say that this is because what they call “liberals” are mealy-mouthed wimps who have no real convictions to shout about.

The lie to this is given by a website called Annotated Rant. I cannot give extracts from it here because everything it contains is couched in language which would be utterly unacceptable to my readers, most of whom grew up in the days when swear-words were used sparingly. Also, I know that my posts are regarded fondly by many Catholic Mothers’ Reading Circles, and I would be sorry if Other Men's Flowers were to be blacklisted: I give top priority to decorum, propriety and simple decency in all my writing and try hard to use only words which will not offend even the most sissy-arsed of pisswits.

I will not observe my usual principle of making posts self-contained, and will give only the link above. But most people who follow it will see at once that in spite of the heavy sarcasm and foul language these are witty and salutary comments and that the general viewpoint of the writers can only be heartily endorsed by any sensible person.

Subjects covered to date are of interest mainly to Americans. They are: The South, Christmas, The New York Times, The State of the Union, South Dakota, Tax Day and President Bush.