Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Commonplace Book

O MEMORY! that which I gave thee
To guard in thy garner yestreen –
Little deeming thou e’er could’st behave thee
Thus basely – hath gone from thee clean!
Gone, fled, as ere autumn is ended
The yellow leaves flee from the oak –
I have lost it for ever, my splendid
Original joke.

What was it? I know I was brushing
My hair when the notion occurred:
I know that I felt myself blushing
As I thought, “How supremely absurd!
How they’ll hammer on floor and on table
As its drollery dawns on them – how
They will quote it ”– I wish I were able
To quote it just now.

I had thought to lead up conversation
To the subject – it ’s easily done –
Then let off, as an airy creation
Of the moment, that masterly pun.
Let it off, with a flash like a rocket’s;
In the midst of a dazzled conclave,
Where I sat, with my hands in my pockets,
The only one grave.

I had fancied young Titterton’s chuckles,
And old Bottleby’s hearty guffaws
As he drove at my ribs with his knuckles,
His mode of expressing applause;
While Jean Bottleby – queenly Miss Janet –
Drew her handkerchief hastily out,
In fits at my slyness – what can it
Have all been about?

I know ’twas the happiest, quaintest
Combination of pathos and fun:
But I’ve got no idea – not the faintest –
Of what was the actual pun.
I think it was somehow connected
With something I’d recently read –
Or heard – or perhaps recollected
On going to bed.

What had I been reading? The Standard:
“Double Bigamy;” “Speech of the Mayor.”
And later – eh? yes! I meandered
Through some chapters of Vanity Fair.
How it fuses the grave with the festive!
Yet e’en there, there is nothing so fine –
So playfully, subtly suggestive –
As that joke of mine.

Did it hinge upon “parting asunder?”
No, I don’t part my hair with my brush.
Was the point of it “hair ”? Now I wonder!
Stop a bit – I shall think of it – hush!
There 's hare, a wild animal – Stuff!
It was something a deal more recondite:
Of that I am certain enough;
And of nothing beyond it.

Hair – locks! There are probably many
Good things to be said about those.
Give me time – that’s the best guess of any –
“Lock” has several meanings, one knows.
Iron locks – iron-gray locks – a “ deadlock ”–
That would set up an everyday wit:
Then of course there’s the obvious “wedlock;”
But that wasn’t it.

No! mine was a joke for the ages;
Full of intricate meaning and pith;
A feast for your scholars and sages –
How it would have rejoiced Sidney Smith!
‘Tis such thoughts that ennoble a mortal;
And, singling him out from the herd,
Fling wide immortality’s portal –
But what was the word?

Ah me! ’tis a bootless endeavour.
As the flight of a bird of the air
Is the flight of a joke – you will never
Find the same one again, you may swear.
‘Twas my firstborn, and O how I prized it!
My darling, my treasure, my own!
My brain and none other devised it –
And now it has flown.
C.S. Calverley


Friday, September 24, 2004

Laughter; the best medicine

My grandfather had lost an arm in the war, and later ran for state parliament for the Country party.

During the campaign he was taking a train trip with my uncle Bill, who was then about fifteen. Settled in their carrage for the journey, grandfather got his pipe out of his pocket, then the plug of tobacco, than the knife to shave tobacco off the plug, and then the matches, and put them on the seat next to him.

He picked up the tobacco, and then put it down and picked up the knife, and then put down the knife helplessly and picked up the pipe, at which point a man sitting opposite leapt up and said "Here, let me help you." and quickly cut off a few strands, packed the pipe, passed it back to my grandfather, and lit it for him.

"Why, thank you," said grandfather gratefully, and the conversation moved off on to the state of the crops.

As soon as they got off the train Uncle Bill asked"What was all that about, Dad? You don't need help with your pipe. I've seen you do all that one-handed on horseback in a thunderstorm."

"My boy," grandfather said, tucking his pipe back into his pocket, "Once let a man do you a favour, and he is yours for life."

He won the election.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Mind you, there are some things to be said in favour of George Bush. Given that he's an imperialist religious maniac, just think of the state the world would be in if he was all that and efficient with it. It's not inconceivable that a slightly smarter president might have succeeded in the Iraq adventure and given America confidence that it could do whatever the hell it wanted to, which would really have been cause for general panic. If you're in a small pub with a mean drunk, you want it to be someone who falls over a lot.

And on the Statute of Limitations thing, I was in Ireland a couple of years ago for a conference and we were given a reception just out of Dublin at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, a marvellous seventeenth-century pile. Taking a flute of champagne from the waiter, I remarked to him "Nice place you've got here."

He replied "It's not ours. They built it."

He could, I suppose, have meant it the way Lenin did in London when he was pointing out to a friend "This is their British Museum" and "This is their houses of parliament," meaning by 'them' not the English but the capitalists, but I tend to doubt it.



A piece from the American Air Force Times comes up in my google alerts;

"Charity: Consider a good cause
By Regina GalvinSpecial to the Times
If your idea of charity starting at home means diverting all your contributions to the “Me, Myself and I” fund, you might want to skip ahead to the next entry. If you are a bit more charitable than that, read on.....
Last but far from least, consider creating a charitable fund. Was a member of your unit permanently disabled or killed in action? Imagine if 100 members of your unit gave 1 percent of the $25,000 toward a fund established to help a fallen or disabled buddy. Your $250 could go toward a scholarship for his children, financial assistance for the surviving spouse or a wheelchair-accessible renovation for the home.
The military has always been known for taking care of its own; when you give from the heart, you will be richer for it. "

Alternatively, you might consider moving to a country like Australia where everything on that list is provided by the government without question as of right for all who need it.

*Though I don't remember any member of the air force getting killed in Iraq anyway.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

English names

Yes, there it is again, that absolute tin ear Americans have for English names. In a crap Christian thriller called "A man called blessed" about a search for the Ark of the Covenant (I say crap - it's better written than the Da Vinci Code, but then so is the label on my Thai packet of Peculiar Flavour Broad Beans) and one of the McGuffins is a letter from a crusading templar who found the ark had moved to Ethiopia at some vaguely given date approximately 800 years ago. It begins "I, Sir Wallace Thronburge III...."

'Sir' goes only with a given name.

'Wallace' is a surname, and people then didn't use surnames as first names.

'Thronburge' is one of the very few collections of letters that doesn't appear on Google and has never been used as a name by anybody (actually, that could be unfair; it's probably a misreading of misprint for Thornburge, which does exist).

And that 'III'... Mencken notes: "The use of 2nd, 3rd, etc., is marked as an Americanism by the DAE and traced to 1804. At the start 2nd seemed to have been only a substitute for Jr., but now it often indicates, not the son, but the grandson or nephew of the first bearer of the name. The use of the Roman numerals II, III, etc., came much later. It is frowned upon in England as an invasion of Royal prerogative..." Not that the royals numbered themselves till a good deal later than 800 years ago.

Even some good writers, though, have the same tin ear; "Lord John Marbury" in West Wing still rankles. CJ says he's the 'hereditary Earl Of Shelbourne' , making him Lord Shelbourne and not Lord Marbury.

What is it about Americans and English names?


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Silent treatment

You have to admire the delicate wit whereby US News and World Report has accompanied its story on Bush evading his National Guard obligations with a picture of a girl captioned
Silent treatment, n. (1) adolescent act of defiance. (2) denial of drug and alcohol problems.

And, flipping back to the page, I see it's been replaced by another anti-drug ad -
What if I can't handle the truth?
What if it's worse than I thought?

Pure gold.


Monday, September 13, 2004

Not angry, just very, very sad

Disillusionment! For just about the first time Google has let me down. Watching a program last night dramatising Stephen Hawking's early life, I was of course shouting "Nonsense!" and "Horsefeathers!" whenever Penzias and Wilson came on to say that they'd discovered the background microwave radiation proving the Big Bang, knowing, as do all we skeptics, that it was discovered by their research assistant. I called up Google to verify the fact to a sceptical Rose, and it didn't say anything about it! I'm truly shocked.

Oh well, let's look in the book at Amazon.


Friday, September 03, 2004


Apparently gave a good speech at the RNC on how America is the land of opportunity where anyone can rise to the heights as he did.

Mind you, one of my favourite quotes has always been that one from pumping iron where Arn is reflecting on tactics; (from memory) "The great thing about being champion is that the up-and-coming triers look up to me, and they come to me for advice about how to compete. And I give them bad advices...."

He's rich, he's powerful, and he doesn't want company.


Lincoln, not even

Bugger, I was misled by William Saletan. Steele mentioned Lincoln, and quoted from the fake text, but didn't actually attribute the one to the other. Steele didn't actually cite the Rev. William J. H. Boetcker, but that's a pecadillo.


Lincoln, not.

Americans are tone deaf. At the Republican National Congress the (black) lt-governor of Maryland gave a speech in which he quoted Lincoln -
"You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift," Steele said, quoting Abraham Lincoln. "You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. ... You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and incentive. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they should do for themselves." The delegates responded with a furious ovation.

I haven't seen any of the blogs, let alone the press, mention that this isn't Lincoln at all, and I can't see why anyone would have thought it was. Lincoln was one of the finest prose stylists in the history of America. This sounds like Calvin Coolidge.


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