This Is What A Feminist Looks Like


David Steele (Staffordshire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire and England)


Concluding her article in today’s Guardian – What\’s the nicest thing a man can do for a woman? – Suzanne Moore writes –

Anyway, what does a feminist man look like?  How about Kurt Cobain, Peter Tatchell, Baaba Maal, Antony Hegarty, Bill Bailey, David Steele and Barak Obama as my team’s starter for 10 … over to you guys.”

It is good to see the Man from the Potteries, for so long a stalwart for Northants C.C.C. and – in the twilight of his career – called up for England to defy the fearful battery of Lillee and Thomson in full cry – being given some belated recognition for his contribution to the field of sexual politics.  

But what about the challenge of  “over to you guys”?  Well, her team selection is certainly an imaginative one – worthy of Ted Dexter in his prime as a selector – but, I feel, might be a little lacking in steel when confronted with – say – Michael Holding in his first fiery flush of youth.  The obvious answer would be to recall Brian Close.

Brian Close (Yorkshire, Somerset and England)

But perhaps I’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

A Bus Queue in Northampton

From Decca Aitkenhead in today’s Drainaug –

“If all the Lib Dem banners in Liverpool this week had been stripped away, I wonder how long it would have taken a visitor to work out why so many people were there, or who they might be. A very long time, would be my guess. I kept studying the crowds in the conference centre, searching for distinguishing characteristics, or clues to a unifying theme – but you would probably have about as much luck trying to read a bus queue in Northampton, so utterly ordinary did these Lib Dems look.”

This suggests to me either that Decca Aitkenhead has spent a lot less time in Northampton bus station than I have or that the Liberal Democrats are a much odder lot than I’d imagined.

But Decca, though – Decca?  An intriguing name.  The prosaic explanation would be that it’s a diminutive of Jessica (a la Mitford), but I prefer to think that she comes from a family of Wombles who had their burrow in a second-hand record shop and took their names from old record labels rather than an atlas.  I like to picture the whiskery patriarch H.M.V. Aitkenhead, the eccentric Uncle Regal Zonophone, houseproud  Aunt Parlophone, greedy younger brother Pye, zany cousin Charisma –  not to mention unruly nephews  Stiff,  Rough Trade and Small Wonder

Perhaps I should write in and ask for confirmation.

(“What’s a record shop, Grandad?  What’s a record label?” – the Voice of Youth).

Amused by its presumption 2

Some more highlights from this week’s column from the Guardian’s wine correspondent, Victoria Moore, who, I feel,  is shaping up to become one of our leading humourists.

This summer, my freezer has never been without a good stock of ice cubes filled with leftover Moka espresso” – (well, whose has?).  The Blind River Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (£12.99) is “a white that grabs you by the eyeballs”  (ouch!).  The Chilean Casa Silva Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (£12.99) is “a liitle too nettley and almost painfully linear” (ouch! again – those linear wines can really give you a headache).  Thomas Mitchell Marsanne 2008 (£6.99) is “a good, cheap, Australian house wine … try it with oily fish, say swordfish barbecued with a squeeze of citrus” (a good way to use up any leftover swordfish you happen to have left lying about).

I do like the sound of Yalumba Y-series Pinot Grigio 2009 (£7.49 at the Co-op), though – “very gently spicy, with the slightest waft of an almost musky perfume, as if you’ve caught a familiar perfume on a warm breeze and then lost it again.”

Well that does sound good, and well worth £7.49.  I shall be down to the Co-Op first thing.

Born Yesterday, forgotten today : Judy Holliday

Due to a slight hiccup in East Midlands Trains’ normally reliable services today (and yesterday, and the day before and the day before that) * I’ve had even more time than usual to spend studying my MG, and I have to report that there was an article in it today that frankly got my goat.

It was a column by Tanya Gold.  She had two themes, viz –

  1. “Sport is moronic” – on this one, I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
  2. “I have been dead to film awards ceremonies since 1950, when Bette Davis (All About Eve) and Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard) lost out to Judy Holliday (who?) in Born Yesterday (what?) at the Oscars.”

On this point I can provide illumination.  Judy Holliday was a truly wonderful comic actress and, with all due respect to Davis and Swanson, her Oscar was well deserved.  Born Yesterday  was a romantic comedy directed by George Cukor in which a shady tycoon hires a journalist to coach his chorus girl moll in etiquette – with hilarious results!!!  In it we see someone unusually intelligent (Holliday) pretending to be someone intelligent pretending to be stupid, as opposed to … well, some more commonly observed combinations of those qualities.  Particularly in newspapers.

Judy Holliday was also plagued by the House Unamerican Activities Committee for her radical views.  The – Transcript of the hearing suggests that she decided to play it in character.  She seems to me to have run rings around her interrogators and – unusually -escaped without either being blacklisted herself or implicating any of her associates.  Her career did suffer, though, which is perhaps why she is not as well known today as she should be (even to Guardian journalists).  She died in 1965, aged 43.

Here are two clips, the first the set up, as it were, and the second the most famous scene.  Note the Oscar worthy use of a cigarette holder and how – as one commenter points out – the first two minutes of the second clip tell us all we need to know about the relationship between the two without a word being spoken.

(* Liberal England was first on the scene.)

Nancy Banks-Smith

A brief – and belated – doff of the hat to the woman I’d say has consistently been the best writer for the national press for more years than I care to remember* : a happy 80th birthday to Nancy Banks-Smith, TV and sometimes Radio critic for the Guardian.  I was pleased to see that the dear old MG itself paid her an appropriate tribute, which is here –

She is, I think, proof that it’s possible to write in a light (and, in her case, heavily Wodehousian) style about apparently trivial subjects and still go deeper than some of the windbags heavyweight commentators on the centre pages.  I have no idea how she does it, and I’m in awe. 

Nancy Banks-Smith

*Reading this back the next day, there is an element of post-alehouse hyperbole here.  Perhaps “Most underrated prose stylist” would be nearer the mark.  She is very good though.

Yours truly, Angry Mob – or Mr. Pooter joins the commentariat (reprinted)

This week’s hot topic in the quality prints and elsewhere seems to have been mobs – hashmobs, flashmobs, hatemobs, lynch mobs.  You can take your pick of the articles, though Dominic Sandbrook, writing in the New Statesman, offered a historical perspective –  Mob rule.

I threw in my two pennorth last week – Gately, Moir & Fry. (I see this morning that Mr. Fry is at least considering cutting down on the Twittering, by the way – Fry to nix Twitter? – because of all the “unkindness and aggression”. Wouldn’t  blame him one bit).

I thought it might be worth reprinting my own first hand account of how one innocent citizen found himself caught up in a virtual lynch mob.  This was one of the first things I wrote on this blog (back in mid-May) and I doubt whether anyone read it at all, so I trust I’m not boring my loyal readership, if any.

I learnt my lesson, incidentally, and have never been near Comment is Free again.



In which I make some amusing remarks and find myself caught up in a lynch mob

Curious experience a couple of nights ago.  Tiring slightly of my  backwater I decide to venture out into the mainstream (or trickle or torrent, whatever the technical term is) of the blogosphere.  I decide to give the world the benefit of my views on a couple of subjects via the medium of one of the better known blogs.

Put soberly and rationally (and I wasn’t perhaps entirely the first of those, at any rate) the point I was intending to make was that I was surpised that the revelations concerning MPs’ expenses had caused quite the furore they have as compared to all the other things that they have done collectively over the last thirty years or so, and how very likely it would always have seemed to me that they would get up to those kinds of tricks.

I first of all try the BBC news website where, as you might imagine, there was already a considerable body of comment on this subject.  I make my point (aware as I am doing so that I am wildly exaggerating my strength of feeling on this question) and post it.  I then realise that the post won’t be published for several hours, if at all, so decide to head off in the direction of the Guardian’s Comment is Free to try my luck there.       

There I see Alexander Chancellor’s article about Stephen Fry’s alleged comments on the matter on Newsnight (which I managed to miss, but it’s fair to say aren’t going down particularly well) so I decide to throw in my two penn’orth there.  Having got a taste for it now I look around for another blog to comment on and my eye falls on an article by Polly Toynbee “Brown must go now”, or something along those lines.  I find that this has attracted so much comment that it has been closed: I then spot another, newer comment by Toynbee saying that once Brown has gone, in line with her instructions, Alan Johnson must be appointed forthwith.  For some reason I find this quite enraging and post a derisive message, in which I say that in 35 years of reading the Guardian I have never managed to finish one of her articles.  This cannot possibly be true, although it is true I rarely even begin to read the ones she writes currently (the ones under the cartoon).  I then return to my comments re. Chancellor, Fry and the expenses and add an even more provocative comment saying that I think MPs should actually have their expenses increased.

I then go back and read the other comments on Toynbee’s article.  These make my jeering sound like a model of sweet reason.  She is getting the bird in no uncertain terms.  Collectively we make up a virtual lynch mob.  I then realise that this article is one that is due to be published in the next day’s paper, and that it has already managed to attract over a hundred hostile comments. 

Why is it, precisely, that we are all so angry?

  • Some are genuinely angry about the expenses scandal.
  • Some are genuinely angry about the way that Nu-Labour has traduced the better traditions of the Labour Party.
  • We are mostly frustrated that our various points of view have no effective representation in the mainstream of political life.
  • But also, I would guess, we are angry (if only subconsciously) that the much-vaunted democracy of the blogosphere does not mean that our views are given the same prominence as P. Toynbee.  If she says that Brown must go, or Johnson must come in then she expects to be taken notice of.  If we want to be taken notice of then it is a question of strength in numbers, swarming like angry bees.

Still, feel slightly (very slightly) regretful and atone by leaving a message of thanks to Frank Keating for a nice mini-memoir of Colin Milburn. 

Perhaps I’m better off in my backwater after all.

The Uses of Literacy-ah

A rewarding piece, I thought, in today’s Guardian, by Lynsey Hanley, about the decline of Working Mens’ Clubs, and the style of amateur singer to whom they used to provide a home (it’s here – Tonight\’s special turn ).

In it, she quotes from Richard Hoggart’s  The Uses of Literacy :

“Hoggart termed it the ‘big dipper’ style of singing, or ‘the verbal equivalent of rock-making, where the sweet and sticky mass is pulled to surprising lengths and pounded; there is a pause in which each emotional phrase is completed, before the great rise to the next and over the top.

The result is something like this: You are-er the only one-er for me-er/ No one else-er can share a dream-er with me-er/ Some folks-er may say-er …'”

I have often wondered what it was that prompted  Mark E. Smith of the Fall to develop his distinctive style of vocal delivery, which involved appending an -er, or possibly an -ah to the end of every other word, but I think this suggests one explanation.  Whether he was inspired directly by Hoggart’s book, or had just spent a great deal of time in Working Mens’ Clubs as  a child, I cannot say.  Both are equally possible.

An illustration of the Mark E. Smith club style here – Totally Wired – for those who might not have previously been aware of it.

Stornoway : Zorbing

As part of my new-found determination to try to Keep Up with Modern Life, I thought I’d follow up a recommendation from Laura Barton of The Guardian, who’s usually a reliable tipster in these matters, and have a look at Stornoway.

According to Ms. Barton “My autumn mornings are soundtracked by Stornoway, whose music strikes the same note of sharp sunlight and a faint chill underfoot … they play double bass and trumpet and cello and violin and banjo, and succeed in knitting Irish inflection to bluegrass intonation to create a sound that is richly, greenly, surprisingly British”.  Sounds good, though I’m less pleased to hear that “they once bought all the crockery in a branch of Age Concern so that they could could record its destruction”.

This urge towards mindless destruction in the younger generation (c.f. also the Smoke Fairies and the robot) does really need to be discouraged, I feel – particularly in relation to a charity shop.  Anyway, here they are, with their first single, Zorbing –Stornoway.  Warning – contains scenes on a roundabout which may induce feelings of dizziness.  Do not watch while driving or operating heavy machinery.

What’s odd here for me is watching people who are young enough to be my children looking uncannily like the way I used to look at the same age.  So it goes, I suppose.

These foolish things remind me of … the Gestapo

From today’s obituary in The Guardian of Tory historian and Peel* biographer Norman Gash – Norman Gash –

“He must have been one of the last British people to have attended a Hitler rally. When the second world war came, he was working in University College London under Sir John Neale. Gash joined the army and rose to major in the field of intelligence. He specialised in debriefing SS officers, and could be nostalgic when a room lined with steel filing cabinets reminded him of a Gestapo headquarters.”

*Robert, not John.

England’s new football kit – featuring Kim Cattrall, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Marina Hyde and – most importantly – Alf Common

While I’m on a sartorial tip, have been watching England v the Netherlands at association football on the television this evening (I’m not really in the mood for an outbreak of weeping, so can’t quite face Kim Cattrall on Who Do You think You Are?).

Pleased to see that young Rooney has resorted to the use of Brylcreem, and that Beckham (not before time)has had a short back and sides.

Though Marina Hyde was a bit sniffy about it in the Guardian when it was launched – Marina Hyde on new England kit, I rather approve of the way they were dressed – slightly reminiscent of – say – Alf Common in his prime – (see below, compare and contrast) –               

Alf Common in cap

Alf Common in cap

Wayne Rooney without cap, but accompanied by two lions

Wayne Rooney without cap, but accompanied by two lions