15/11/2020

A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

 

All aboard the Crazy train!

 

It is often said that a prophet knows no honor in his own land, and at times Your Intrepid Reporter's efforts to bring his Gentle Readers only the best news (and only the best people, of course) from Crazy Town has been a lonely ordeal. So imagine, if you will, the tingling sense of relief that coursed through his weary veins with the news that Crazy has at last gone mainstream. Yes, his prophetic reporting on the trials and tribulations of our Dear Leader have finally been acknowledged by Lame Stream Media (word of a Pulitzer Prize is expected any moment). Here is but a small sample for delectation over your Elevenses.

 

From Yahoo! News: "[Dear Leader] and his followers are on the 'crazy train' with unhinged election conspiracies, Republican congressman says"

 

And our personal fave, this tidbit from The Daily Beast: "[Dear Leader's] National Security Adviser [sic] Tells Staff: Don't Even Mention [He Who Shall Not Be Named's] Name"

Yes, when 75 million of the Faithless have turned against you, and daily infections from COVID 19 are increasing exponentially (in a week climbing from a record 100,000 new cases a day to over 150,000), there's only one thing to do: call in the Crazy. Thus it is that Dear Leader has not been seen in public in a week (with the exception of a jaunt to His golf course - one must stay fit and healthy whilst leading a nation over the brink, after all). But His stern gaze, steady hand on the helm and steely resolve have nonetheless made themselves manifest in a thousand ways, both small and crazy. Fire your secretary of defence and replace him with a sampling of the Faithful. Unleash a blizzard of legal filings in courts throughout the land, earning more than one of Your barristers a rebuke from the bewigged Your Honors behind the big desk. Summon a small sampling of the Faithful to Crazy Town Itself for a "Million MAGA March," complete with an iconic poster sure to bring a tear to the eye of any Faithful longing for the good old days of authoritarian leadership. And, first, foremost and always, refuse to admit that He Who Shall Not Be Named might just have thwarted Your Ultimate Apotheosis. Up music, and as we fade to black pipe in the stirring words...
"We shall fight them on the beaches. We shall fight them...". 

But as you wipe the tear from the corner of your eye, Gentle Reader, behold! No record of The Crazy would be complete without an appearance by the ever reliable Rudy Giuliani. Who truly outdid himself this week with one of the most inexplicably bizarre performances ever recorded in the annals of Crazy. Last Saturday morning as Faithless throughout the land gathered [illegally] to celebrate the [alleged] victory of [He Who Shall Not Be Named], Rudy held a press conference. The scene: the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. The reason: to reveal evidence of The Massive Fraud which He Who Shall Not Be Named was using to deny Dear Leader His rightful Ultimate Apotheosis. OK, so there were a few minor glitches in Rudy's otherwise crushing condemnation of Massive Fraud. The Four Seasons in question was not the glossy, albeit over-priced, lobby of a luxury hotel, but the somewhat humbler parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, with a nearby crematorium as a backdrop. Undeterred, Rudy trotted out his star witness, who had personally - PERSONALLY, I tell you - witnessed Massive Fraud while doing his civic duty as a poll watcher. Unfortunately, said star witness proved to be a convicted sex offender (from New Jersey, it almost goes without saying). Concern that the bewigged Your Honors behind the big desk might unfairly cast a disparaging gaze toward said witness cast a pall over the event (or was that coming from the backdrop?). No one is more determined nor more committed to Crazy than Dear Rudy, however, and it is believed that he has subsequently held another press event at an even glossier hotel to set the record straight (see below). 

However, before we leave you to your tea and biscuits, Gentle Reader, a small note to assure you that life is not all work for Y.I.R.

Wednesday was, of course, Veterans' Day (Remembrance Day to you), and Y.I.R. and Mrs. Intrepid braved the teeming rain to walk to the nation's oldest military cemetery to pay respects to the boys from New Jersey (and others) who gave "the last full measure of devotion," as Lincoln put it, during the Civil War.

Some things even the current bout of Crazy cannot dishonor nor cheapen.

15/11/2020

Bookbinding

John Underwood, Norfolk

 

Pins and pricks

 

Our work with manuscript material is a constant delight with a surprise around every corner. The joy of uncovering something lost, or contextualising an unconsidered piece of handwriting is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It is what allows me to be a dealer rather than collector, because I know that there will be another discovery somewhere down the line. 

 

In amongst some topographical prints and what looks very like a print by William Blake (note to self, research this…) we recently discovered a manuscript, signed “Lady Morley” and with the title “Design for a Triumphal Arch to be erected by subscription of the Women of Great Britain and Ireland at the entrance of Threadneedle Street in honour of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington…” The design, which features sewing accoutrements, was created with pen and wash, and drawn on to two joined leaves, together about 35 cm x 22 cm. (see below) 

The drawing shows a design made up with needles, a pincushion, thimble etc and is dated 1814. The text describes the triumphal arch; “The Geniuses of Stitching and Spinning each employed in her vocation are seated on a Pincushion upon which is pricked with pins the immortal name of Wellington: this is surmounted by a thimble…The Pillars which support the Arch are composed of alternate lances and Corking Pins… The bases formed with small pincushions…” 

 

Ally and I often work together on new and interesting finds, scouring the internet, each on our own tablet. We quickly found letters from Lady Morley to Jane Austen, and from Austen to Morley and compared them to our manuscript. Our hearts stopped as we realised that we had discovered an unknown Austen letter, with an attached drawing. “The handwriting is identical! Look how she writes “the”! “And the little curl of the “d”! 

 

Followed of course by a rather embarrassing descent into the realisation that, whilst the handwriting was indeed identical, it was the letter by Lady Morley that we were comparing, not the letter by Jane Austen…There was a rather lovely finale, as we continued researching; Frances Talbot was an English author and illustrator, best known as a correspondent of Jane Austen. By her marriage to John Parker, 1st Earl of Morley, she became the Countess of Morley. She had been thought by some of her contemporaries to have been the author of Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”. But the best claim online was that Austen’s Mr Darcy was modelled on Frances Morley’s rather scandalous husband John Parker.

It has been an interesting distraction from watching world leaders throwing their toys out of the pram, culminating this week with a bit of gut barging in no.10 Downing Street, as the egos try to squeeze through the same doors simultaneously. Apparently the Prime minister has not been coming over too well with us plebs. Who knew? 

15/11/2020

From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

 

Early morning Friday and it’s time for me to respond to Margaret’s gentle reminder about the journal entry. Those weekly missives are now part of my life and I welcome the nudge that arrives in my inbox. Thank you Margaret - they add greatly to the feeling of family hanging around this work.

 

The world has changed in the past week and that seems to be a continuing process. Firstly was the USA with a new president elect. Now, in this land, something seems to be stirring within the seat of power. Processes of evolution (or revolution?) are operating, and as in a kind of mad roulette, perhaps we can say, “Where this will go nobody knows!”. Certainly this insignificant writer has no real idea, because there is such apparent chaos involved. I have hope though, and not only in one sphere of life, but for good government, the plague, personal life, and the essential goodness with which I believe humanity is imbued. Maybe even God gets a look-in sometimes. Thus speaks a tired priest!

 

As regards the lives of best beloved and myself, I think the past week has been very happy. Another virtual trip is coming together - details will be revealed when that happens - and we are planning some real journeys for the first time in a while. Something else, a recurring topic, has surfaced again, namely that of taking on a dog, maybe a rescue. I can’t help thinking the pandemic craze for dog ownership will sadly result in many looking for new homes when ‘normal’ resurfaces.

 

Best beloved and myself have been talking, as very often, about risk analysis in the plague world. I think in our lives risk management means dealing mostly with relatively low probability events that carry very high consequences. For many people it is different, those in other age groups and general health conditions than us perhaps, but for us, at least as long as we exercise strong social constraints, that is the picture we carry around. Of course we could be wrong! I wonder how other journalistas think about risk.

 

Walked to the beach hut yesterday for a welcome cup of tea with best beloved and the ever changing seascape. Speak again soon...

15/11/2020

Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex

 

Yesterday, 12 November, was my mother’s birthday, in 1916. What a world she entered, on the eve of the Russian Revolution and two world wars. I was reminded by the radio of the anniversary of Kristallnacht, 9-10 November 1938, a date which was unremarkable in the UK. We thought we were stroking Hitler’s ego to prevent war. But the waves caused by Kristallnacht quickly reached British shores in the form of kindertransports. These children were parted from their parents for the best of reasons; the outgoing US president, however, has seen fit to tear children from their migrant parents to Teach them a Lesson.

 

I am playing quite a large part in HN’s life, and sitting in the sun on the beach with him feeding and sleeping in my arms is unbeatable. I am moved to my innermost core by his innocence, helplessness and trust. This vulnerability is beautiful - but dangerous. For a while I fostered young children, all already irrevocably damaged by early experiences – even, at best, ‘just’ lack of close attachment. These children then grow up to become… what? Is there another tyrant amongst them?

 

It is not good to be weak, or in a minority, in this world. Even a woman, when such as a certain northern England mass murderer who has just died are around. I spent the years of his spree in Manchester, and shudder to think…

 

I am feeling morbid because the owners of a house across the street have spent all day (and probably pots of money) having a tall, beautiful, healthy, tree cut down. I would ask myself why, but they have already paved over that large front garden and installed electric gates, so I think I get the picture. The joke (I hope) is that the house backs onto the park and a particularly stately double row of trees which line a pleasant meandering path. I wonder how they will live with that tantalising view and susurration from their back windows. 

 

Still, the radio also provided me with a salutary lesson: Eddie Jaku, 100-year-old holocaust survivor, has written a book, ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’. Interviewed, he sounded like nobody’s fool, and it seemed like his clear-headed determination was what got him through unspeakable horror. Plus 50% luck, he said. He described how he had vowed that if he got out of it all he would strive to be happy and helpful. He writes: ‘Through all my years I have learnt this: life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful… Happiness is something we can choose. It is up to you… A field is empty, but if you put in the effort to grow something then you will have a garden. And that’s life. Give something, something will come back. Give nothing, nothing will come back. To grow a flower is a miracle: it means you can grow more. Remember that a flower is not just a flower, it is the start of a whole garden.’ Can we make Eddie and Jacinda joint World President, please? I think they would make a good team: perhaps it’s something in the Antipodean water.

 

My own dilemma remains, though: how much to give, and how much retain? I am still working on that, and still over-giving. It’s not so easy, and disappointment, and vows never to do it again, only to be tempted once more, lurk around the corner. The pleasure of giving can become self-flagellation, I think.

 

I was feeling (and continue to feel) so rotten, as did the rest of the family, that I decided in the end to try to book a Covid test. But unless I were prepared to mould the facts even a little to fit the Government’s unyielding criteria, even to claim an Aberdeen postcode, there was no chance, and I was declined. A test wouldn’t make me feel better, nor would it much change my modus vivendi, but I would have thought it important for the statistics. And J2 wouldn’t then be allowed to mingle with customers, who doubtless gave it to us in the first place. Meanwhile, our local council has circulated a contradictory message: if you feel unwell in a generally coldish sort of way you should seek a test. Fat chance. I suppose the tests are all needed for university students – but it’s optional for them! Which student is going to scupper their chances of a riotous Christmas by being slammed into quarantine? Come on BJ, or whoever your new right hand person is going to be, get a grip.

 

And the continuing flu jab ads: the last I heard, there was no vaccine left. Who is organising this show?

 

You can tell I’m not feeling well. Grumpy, despite Eddie’s example.

15/11/2020

Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

 

News this week of everything other than the US election result seems ill timed and erratic. Upholding this result is of greater significance to the long term stability of world health and democracy than even the discovery of a covid vaccine - something which was always going to happen anyway. Instead we are distracted by a sensationalised story at the same time as we should be learning from the election result and the shocking shenanigans of the present incumbent.  

 

But this week has set a new standard for muddlement of news.

 

Combine Remembrance Day and the Centenary of the Burial of the Unknown Warrior with a request for just two minutes silence and before the day is over dilute unclear thoughts of grief and loss, honour and gratitude with news that without today’s army there could be no mass testing, Nightingale hospitals or effective distribution of the vaccine. 

 

Likewise, publish unsettling photographs of Her Maj doing her duty but looking uncomfortably funereal in her black mask, and marry this to a bizarrely timed announcement about her Platinum Jubilee in 2022 with the promise of an extra Public Holiday and Big Pageantry. Something to cheer the weary millions who are losing their livelihoods and facing a future of staying at home every day for the foreseeable future?

 

The celebration will more likely become a vehicle for the increasingly irrelevant Charles and Camilla and no doubt an opportunity for the Archbishop of Canterbury to pray for our nation! This, of course, presupposes that Betty will still be with us, that Brexit negotiations will go swimmingly, the Good Friday Accord will be upheld, the Scots and the Welsh will not be on track to dissolve the Union and the Northern Powerhouse and Red Wall converts will at last be benefitting from economic investment and improved infrastructure. Thought will need to be given to balancing news of the cost of this pantomime with that of the expected radical long term tax burdens which will become a reality at about the same time.

 

No wonder Lee Wotsisname has resigned as Director of Communications. Well, Carrie whose green credentials are suddenly being lauded, didn’t much care for him. And now we have confirmation that Dom is to pack his bags by Christmas. The Emperor, stripped of his balding, slovenly dressed, not so secret weapons, will no doubt be feeling miffed that his two protégés may skip the country to make their fortunes in Silicon Valley where they will be in the company of other erstwhile loyal citizens like Duke Harry and Sir Cleggy!

 

Meanwhile, I have been grateful for quiet weather which has encouraged me to rake leaves for several hours each day and ruminate on the highlights of the week’s radio... David Mitchell on ‘Desert Island Discs’ spoke of the power of music to suggest memories he didn’t even know he had. ‘In Our Time’ discussed the genius and meticulous attention to detail of Durer. ‘Start the Week’ interviewed physicists Roger Penrose and Carlo Ravelli. These people all spoke of imagination, creativity, experimentation and kindness underpinned with perseverance and commitment. There was nothing muddled about their communication.

15/11/2020

Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

 

This Friday morning I have been on a conference call with the Chief Economist of one of the big accountancy firms – with discussions on Brexit, the economic fallout of the pandemic and the implications of Biden taking over from Trump in Washington. And though there was relief at the outcome of the US elections, there was not a great deal of optimism on display from either the presenter or the various attendees, representing a range of businesses across the East Midlands. Our biggest focus at work at the moment are the final elements of Brexit preparation, where there is still no certainty as to whether or not tariffs will be applied to goods moving between the UK and the EU, and the interaction (or not) between our respective VAT regimes. All very messy.

 

My second in command (and probable successor as Finance Director) was lamenting the cancellation of his family’s Diwali celebrations this weekend. He has apparently told his mother she should still prepare all the special food, even though there will be no big party. Instead she should leave the food on her doorstep, and then he and his sisters would call round and pick it up and take it back to their respective homes to enjoy with their children!

 

We won’t be celebrating Diwali tomorrow, but we will make another trip down to Hampshire so that Sarah can visit her ailing mother in her care home. After each visit Sarah wonders whether she has now said goodbye for the last time. Nora turns 93 next week, and given her condition we don’t imagine she will see 2021. 

 

And on Monday I have finally got a BT engineer booked in to come and sort out our broadband. In the last few weeks it has suddenly become very unreliable, dropping off the connection, often when I am in the middle of a business video meeting. Yesterday I resorted to using my mobile phone for several meetings – though it makes it rather difficult to see the spreadsheets that people are sharing with me. Fingers crossed they will get it sorted.

15/11/2020

Then and Now - Peter Scupham

Then and Now - Peter Scupham

 

S N A F U !

​The last year has been largely spent in considering, with varying degrees of exasperation, horror and contempt, the machinations, muddles and malfeasances of politicians. I first encountered these rigmaroles of chaos in 1956, when I was in my second year at University and Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal. This is no history lesson, so I will just say that collusion between Israel, France and Great Britain created a mad invasion, led by the handsome and sick Mr. Anthony Eden, who, under the influence of Churchill — “the voice that breathed o’er Eden” — as the good book has it, decided Nasser was Hitler and he must be consigned to the rubbish-bin of history.

 

​My part in this Glorious Fiasco, I shall always remember with pride. After two years’ National Service, everyone became a Reservist, which meant attending a three-week camp once a year for another three years.  I remember at some point in my first year at Cambridge being given an Army Medical. Ankylosing spondylitis had set in, so my inability to bend as bendable bendypersons should, was immediately diagnosed by a snotty little R.A.M.C. Captain as “malingering”. I told him politely I wasn’t, but realised that even if the Unknown Warrior rose from his tomb in the Abbey, he would only be prescribed ‘Medicine and Duties” by an Army Doctor. In the long vacation of my second year at Cambridge I was happily daubing a bad Christopher Wood with oil-paints when a buff envelope arrived. You will, it said, report to your unit by 4.30. Here is a rail-warrant for BROOKWOOD. So, I can still see my mother frantically ironing my battledress. I polished my beret-badge and my boots and off I set. No trace of my unit anywhere. I found a  Guard Room, was given blankets; a day later was told the warrant should have been made out for BASINGSTOKE. So off I set for a Base Ammunition Depot in Bramley, Basingstoke. Hilarious. The roads were full of armoured vehicles — we spent some time painting them yellow —  there were fleets of young officers in white macs with nothing to do but twirl their swagger sticks and look forward to a WAR. Jolly good show, and all that. I had, of course, been called up by mistake as I had not taken the extra dosh for being on a heightened reserve list. There were no private soldiers around. Everyone seemed to have stripes on their sleeves denoting corporals and sergeants, as they had been called up in a wild muddle. I and a Sergeant Cawley, a scientist with the Atomic Energy Commission, constituted ourselves Bramley’s High Culture: “Rumours, drill, weapon-training, vaccination, medicals – and gales of laughter....” We were all given tropical kit, mosquito-nets and all that jazz. But just when the Invading forces were about to capture the whole Canal, the Americans said ”No !”. I came back from making touching farewells on my last embarkation leave and was met at the Guard Room by the Guard Commander”

​​​​​​

​​​​​​‘You jammy fucker,

​​​The Duty Officer’s got a War House telex:

​​​If this reservist is still here in England

​​​Send him back immediately to Cambridge.”

 

​Sergeant Cawley was not quite so lucky. He wrote to tell me of a curious ceremony in Bramley held to say goodbye to a Major who was retiring. The ceremony was chaotic with drilled soldiers turning in all the wrong directions — and the photographer fell off a hut roof. Cawley was then flown out to the Canal Zone in an old wartime Shackleton, spent a couple of months guarding a dump of nothing much in the sand, and was back in time for Christmas on the Aircraft Carrier ‘Theseus’.

 

S N A F U  (Situation Normal All Fucked Up)

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