E.W. Swanton v Enoch Powell

As a footnote to the Grand Christmas Quiz, this is the full text of the letter that E.W. Swanton sent to the Spectator in response to Enoch Powell’s so-called “Rivers of Blood” speech at Birmingham in 1968. Pretty strong stuff, I think you’ll agree.  It’s really only notable because Swanton quite consciously aspired to be the voice of the English cricketing “Establishment” and so might be suspected, by some, of sympathising with Powell’s views.

“Sir: In a recent letter to the Daily Telegraph, Mr. Patrick Wall, MP, seemed to applaud Mr. Enoch Powell’s infamous speech as a clarion call to Britons who have pride in their country.

Within the last few days an Indian student at Highbury has been set upon, kicked and slashed, by four sixteen year olds chanting ‘blackman, blackman, Enoch, Enoch’.  A respectable West Indian citizen at Wolverhampton celebrating a family christening has been attacked without provocation and injured by people also invoking the name of Enoch, the prophet.  ‘Enoch dockers’ at Westminster have been putting their boots into students off the ground.

Are we to explain this sort of behaviour as some sort of twisted expression of national pride?

Many will echo Mr. Wall’s cry for leadership of a kind that will kindle ‘those principles that made us great’, but what has this aspiration to do with a bloodthirsty, hateful speech, lacking a single compassionate phrase towards fellow-members of our Commonwealth, which has so fanned the flames of ignorance and prejudice as to bring about such episodes as these?

If Enoch knew what passions he was about to unleash, he was guilty of an act that was the complete negation of patriotism.  It is possibly more charitable to suppose that his frothy speech was a bid for future political power which, pray God, he may never achieve.

If ‘Enochism’ were ever to win through, there would surely be a migration from this once great land of white as well as black.

E.W. Swanton

Delf House, Sandwich, Kent.

Un soixante-huitard

Un soixante-huitard

 

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Future England Captain In Assault On Man Of The Century

This week saw the 48th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill (the first public event I think I can remember).  One aspect of Sir Winston’s character that is seldom remarked upon is his love of cricket, mainly, I think, because he had none.

Stanley Baldwin was married to a useful cricketer, sometimes sported an I Zingari tie and liked to employ cricket as a metaphor for his own (in retrospect) benign brand of conservatism: ‘Lord’s changes but Lord’s remains the same’  he said poetically ‘how unchanging is each phase of the ever changing game.’  On the other side of the House, Clement Attlee (supposedly) kept a tickertape machine in his office so that he could keep up with the cricket scores and was complimented (well, I’d say it’s a compliment) by Aneurin Bevan on bringing to ‘the fierce struggle of politics the tepid enthusiasm of a lazy summer afternoon at a cricket match‘.

But (though I’m willing to be contradicted) I can find no evidence that Churchill ever expressed any enthusiasm for the game, ever employed it as a metaphor or even attended a game. Why was this?

Well, he clearly got off on the wrong foot in relation to the game. (Is that a cricketing metaphor, by the way? I’m not sure.)  As a schoolboy at Harrow he fagged for both F.S. Jackson and the (always ‘autocratic’) A.C. MacLaren who, when asked by an interviewer what Churchill had been like, replied “a snotty little bugger”.  There are also (unsourced) claims on the internet that one of his earliest memories was of hiding behind a tree while the other boys threw cricket balls at him.

But even after this prejudicial start I believe the Great Man might have come to appreciate the Great Game had it not been for a later incident involving a third Future England Captain, which may well have been enough to put him off for life, or even end it.  Step forward Lionel Tennyson, in another extract from ‘Sticky Wickets‘.

“One friend of mine at Eton was Duff Cooper, who later became Under Secretary for War and our Ambassador in Paris, and husband of the beautiful Lady Diana Manners.  They and I and other Eton friends and their sisters were more than once guests together at Taplow Court, the home on the bank of the Thames of the late Lord Desborough.  Those were happy days and they give me another link with then and now.

One lovely summer evening during the session of Parliament, Mr. Winston Churchill had come down from London still attired in what was then – as in contrast with now – the usual Parliamentary costume.  He wore a top hat, frock coat, stiff shirt and collar.  Standing on the bank of the Thames, which runs past the foot of the garden, before the dressing bell rang, Mr. Churchill was talking to Lady Desborough.  The sight of him orating and gesticulating in those clothes so near to the water was too great a temptation for us to resist.  Charging altogether from behind him, a few of us sent him flying with a mighty splash into the river.

He was very sporting about it.  When he came ashore, soaked and without his hat, he interceded for us with Lady Desborough in an address which I have never heard excelled for humour and the arts of advocacy.”

A good job Churchill could swim, of course, otherwise – thanks to Tennyson – we might all be speaking German now.

The British Character : Has It Changed? #4 Political Apathy

The burning issue in the world of politics this week seems to have been apathy.  The BBC is doing its bit to combat it – or possibly stir it up – with an advertising campaign.  The Independent, under the headline ‘Politics holds least interest for the public in a decade’ reported

“The research … shows that less than half the population is interested in politics at all and one in three is unlikely or certain not to vote at the next election. … The study found that dissatisfaction with politics is particularly evident among Liberal Democrat supporters.  A year ago 72 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters said that they were interested in politics but that has now fallen to just 50 per cent.  The number of Conservative supporters interested … has now fallen to 65 percent while Labour support has dropped to 48 per cent.”

Meanwhile, in The Guardian, under the headline “Apathy appears to be the burning issue in Newcastle“, Dutch journalist Joris Luyenduk reported

“Most people I have spoken to down the campaign trail south from John O’Groats don’t know there are local elections coming up, or don’t care … Half a dozen random strangers either won’t vote, or won’t tell me who they’ll vote for.  Perhaps the apathy itself is the burning – or simmering – issue.”   

I’m not sure that apathy – in the sense of an absence of feeling – is quite the right word here.  I suspect that most people find the aspects of party politics that fascinate those professionally involved with it – the personalities, the tactics – about as involving as minor sports such as basketball or ice hockey. 

In the good times, this translates into a benign indifference, but, when times are hard, it turns into a sort of exasperation that people in whom they have so little interest can exert such influence over their lives, and annoyance that it feels irresponsible and potentially self-harming not to care.  But perhaps this is mere autobiography.

But is this new?  Predictably – according to Pont – the answer is no. This is from 1937, when there really was quite a lot going on in the world of politics.   

Firstly …

Hell No, We Won’t Grow : On Strike In Leicestershire

I’m afraid to say that this month’s Stump Watch has had to be called off due to industrial action.

 

So here, instead, are a few snaps of the march and rally in Leicester.  I have to say that, as someone who’s never been on a demonstration in my life before, that I found it all rather bracing, and I’d quite like to do it again.  And no doubt I shall have to.

Here are some fat public sector cats “itching for a fight” –

 

And here is a young teacher (whose name I didn’t make a note of, unfortunately) addressing the rally in the Athena Theatre.  As you can probably see, the theatre was all done up for some kind of ice-themed Christmas event, which created the curious impression, as we were going in, that we were going in to meet Father Christmas (probably not G. Osborne in disguise).

And last on the bill  – by which time, I’m afraid to say, almost everyone had sloped off home or to the pub – the Red Leicester Choir, with their ever-popular rendition of “The Internationale“.  A bit cheesy, but rousing …

You That Love England, by C. Day Lewis

 

There seems to be so much to commemorate at the moment that I lose track of it all, but today is St George’s Day (I think, though everyone seems to have forgotten about it this year).  So here is a suitable poem (one I’ve always liked) from The Magnetic Mountain by C. Day Lewis.

You That Love England

You that love England, who have an ear for her music,
The slow movement of clouds in benediction,
Clear arias of light thrilling over her uplands,
Over the chords of summer sustained peacefully;
Ceaseless the leaves’ counterpoint in a west wind lively,
Blossom and river rippling loveliest allegro,
And the storms of wood strings brass at year’s finale:
Listen. Can you not hear the entrance of a new theme?

You who go out alone, on tandem or on pillion,
Down arterial roads riding in April,
Or sad besides lakes where hill-slopes are reflected
Making fires of leaves, your high hopes fallen:
Cyclists and hikers in company, day excursionists,
Refugees from cursed towns and devastated areas;
Know you seek a new world, a saviour to establish
Long-lost kinship and restore the blood’s fulfilment.

You who like peace, good sticks, happy in a small way
Watching birds or playing cricket with schoolboys,
Who pay for drinks all round, whom disaster chose not;
Yet passing derelict mills and barns roof-rent
Where despair has burnt itself out – hearts at a standstill,
Who suffer loss, aware of lowered vitality;
We can tell you a secret, offer a tonic; only
Submit to the visiting angel, the strange new healer.

You above all who have come to the far end, victims
Of a run-down machine, who can bear it no longer;
Whether in easy chairs chafing at impotence
Or against hunger, bullies and spies preserving
The nerve for action, the spark of indignation-
Need fight in the dark no more, you know your enemies.
You shall be leaders when zero hour is signalled,
Wielders of power and welders of a new world.

 

This was published  in 1933, two years after the election when, as Orwell put it – “we all did the wrong thing in perfect unison” by electing a National Government.

Lines such as “You who go out alone, on tandem or on pillion,
Down arterial roads riding in April” now evoke  the idyllic world of the London Transport poster, or the Shell Guide, but, at the time, were meant to be felt as jarringly modern. 

Removed from its context, and backed – perhaps – by some swelling Vaughan Williams, the first stanza, at least, could be used to advertise all manner of  things, all kinds of politics, any number of products, but the “new theme” Day Lewis intended was Communism, albeit of an idiosyncratic, Lawrentian variety.  Elsewhere in the world of poetry in 1933, Osip Mandlestam was writing his “16 line suicide note” Stalin Epigram

We are living, but can’t feel the land where we stay,
 More than ten steps away you can’t hear what we say.
 But if people would talk on occasion,
 They should mention the Kremlin Caucasian.
 His thick fingers are bulky and fat like live-baits,
 And his accurate words are as heavy as weights.
 Cucaracha’s moustaches are screaming,
 And his boot-tops are shining and gleaming.
 
 But around him a crowd of thin-necked henchmen,
 And he plays with the services of these half-men.
 Some are whistling, some meowing, some sniffing,
 He’s alone booming, poking and whiffing.
 He is forging his rules and decrees like horseshoes –
 Into groins, into foreheads, in eyes, and eyebrows.
 Every killing for him is delight,
 And Ossetian torso is wide.*

 

Suprisingly, this only resulted in a period in exile, but continued dissent  led to Mandelstam’s death in Siberia, in 1938.  Day Lewis had a long and worthwhile career, writing a form of agreeable and undervalued neo-Georgian verse.  In 1968 he succeeded John Masefield as Poet Laureate.      

*Translated by Dmitri Smirnov.

“The Library is a Quiet Place”

 

When I began writing this blog there were two subjects that I decided I would not write about – my immediate family (who don’t want to be written about, so I don’t) and my work (I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned this before, but I work as a librarian).

I thought, though, that I had better do something to acknowledge today’s national day of action in support of libraries.  Having spent most of the week (and, in a sense, most of the last quarter of a century) agonizing over the effects of reductions in spending on libraries, with more of that to come next week and, I imagine, for the forseeable future, the last thing I feel like doing is continuing the argument at the weekend. 

What I would say is that, if any of you have been involved in actions today, we librarians are very grateful for your support.  I also never cease to marvel at the self-confidence people have when commenting on matters of which – in detail – they have little knowledge  (as, indeed, why should they?), and that this sometimes applies as much to those who are supporting libraries as those who are more relaxed about seeing us run down.

So, I shall approach the subject in my customary crabwise manner.  This is one a series of photographs of abandoned buildings in downtown Detroit taken by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.  If you haven’t seen them already there is a gallery available to view on the Guardian’s website (Detroit in Ruins).  This used to be a public library called St Christopher House.

Coming soon to a town near you?  Well, perhaps …

St Christopher House

 

And here is a poem by the Serbian-American poet Charles Simic, that seems to go with the picture quite well.  Perhaps Miss Jones is the ghost of a librarian – or simply a redundant one – reluctant to leave her old haunts?

In the Library

There’s a book called
“A Dictionary of Angels.”
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

 

If you feel moved to hear more from Simic, you could start here – (Simic on Amazon) – or you could, of course, always order it from your local library … which also applies to Marchard and Meffre’s book – (Detroit in Ruins on Amazon). 

For more supportive writings about today’s events see the excellent poetry blog Baroque in Hackney, which I’d recommend anyway for anyone wishing to acquaint – or re-acquaint – themselves with the world of contemporary poetry.  

The Victory Ball, by F.W. Skerrett : a Poem of Remembrance

My latest find at the Harborough Antiques Market, which seems to have the wonderful knack of providing me with things I didn’t know I needed, is this volume of verse – Rhymes of the Rail by F.W. Skerrett “The Locomotive Poet“, published in 1920 by Goodall and Suddick of Leeds.

 

I thought, from the cover, that it might be some collection of whimsical verse recalling the great days of steam – right up my street, or siding –  but, in fact, it is something quite different.  Skerrett, it appears, was a driver who operated out of Manchester, and was a keen Socialist and Union activist (with ASLE&F, the train drivers’ Union).

The verses, which are Kiplingesque in style (his epigraph is from Kipling, and he includes a pastiche of If  in praise of ASLE&F) are propagandist in intent, and were written to be to be recited.  In his foreword the Secretary of ASLE&F J. Bromley writes

“Those who attended our 1918 and 1919 Conferences, and heard some of Mr. Skerrett’s poems rendered at the concerts, knowing the beauty of them, will welcome this little book.” 

I’m not sure about beauty, exactly, but the poems certainly provide some interesting insights into the working life of the train driver, and the bitterness of the sentiments expressed lend them a good deal of power.

This particular poem, which I thought might be appropriate for Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, is an example of that.  I think it must have been occasioned by the Peace Day celebrations of 1919.  Although the Armistice was announced on 11th November 1918 the negotiations at Versailles did not conclude until the following June, and it was decided to celebrate the formal declaration of peace with a Peace Day on 19 July.  Lord Curzon (who was in charge) originally proposed a four-day celebration, but this was felt to be a little extravagant, and it was scaled down to a single day.

Even so, there was considerable feeling against the event.  A letter to the Manchester Evening News put the case –

Sir,
I am sure the title Peace Day will send a cold shiver through the bodies of thousands of ‘demobbed’ men who are walking about the streets of Manchester looking for a job. Could a term be found that would be more ironical for such men. Perhaps, after the Manchester and Salford Corporations have celebrated this ‘Peace’ and incidentally will have wasted the thousands of pounds which it will cost, they will devote their spare time to alleviating the ‘bitterness’ and ‘misery’ which exist in the body and mind of the unemployed ex-soldier.
It is high time some very forcible and active measures were taken. Many Manchester businessmen refuse to employ the ex-soldier on the grounds that he has lost four years of experience in this line or that line of business through being in the army. What a splendid and patriotic retort to make to the men who were chiefly instrumental in saving their business from being in the possession of the Hun.Manchester Evening News July 10th 1919

Elsewhere, the Norfolk ex-Servicemen’s Association formally boycotted the event, and, most dramatically, in Luton, protests culminated in the burning down of the Town Hall (a story for another day).  

Skerrett puts the case against in verse (it might help to read it in the voice used by Stanley Holloway for Albert & the Lion).

   

The Victory Ball

The fighting was finished ,

And peace was declared;

The crowd idly gathered –

As crowds do – and stared

At a building illumined

With a great brilliant light

Whence the music proclaimed

Of a gay festive night.

By motor or carriage

The dancers arrive,

Their adornments denoting

E’en on war some will thrive.

The crowd stands amazed

At the sight of it all:

‘Midst their suffering and loss

‘Tis a Victory Ball.

 

A demobilised Tommy

Stood by in the crowd,

And when asked his opinion,

He spoke it out loud:

“Why, Guv’nor, this here’s

Just an insult and crime

‘Gainst the lads buried there

‘Midst the mud and the slime.

Work they refuse us,”

He bitterly said,

“Yet for them and their kind

We have fought, aye, and bled.

They may want us again –

Let them want, that is all –

To ‘ell with the lot

And their Victory Ball.”

 

To this sad-faced young widow,

With babe at her breast,

The scene must recall

Thoughts of him she loved best;

And his last parting words

Ring again in her ear:

“If I fall in the fray

They’ll be kind to you, dear.”

Thus their kindness is shewn

To that poor aching soul;

Their’s is riches to flaunt,

Her’s a pitiful dole;

They in jewels arrayed ,

She an old tattered shawl –

Christ have mercy on those

At that Victory Ball.  

 

(Thanks to this site for the letter to the M.E.N. – Aftermath).