Widmerpool and me: an appreciation

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If you combine Tolstoy with PG Wodehouse, Downton Abbey (though I never watch it), a book on London by HV Morton or Ian Nairn, the Sunday colour supplements from the 1980’s and Private Eye, you might end up with Anthony Powell’s 12 volume meisterwerk, A Dance to the Music of Time.

It’s traditionally compared to Proust, whom I have not read as yet, though I get the connection. That said, it’s irredeemably English all the way through, and without being a comedy as such, is suffused with humour of the most subtle kind. The link to an appreciation by Marxist Brexiteer Tariq Ali, of all people, is actually pretty good.

The ‘Sunday colour supplement’ link is a reflection on the fact that Powell was a regular feature in the arts pages in that period. The last volume, Hearing Secret Harmonies, was published in 1975, by which time his star had risen, and he died in 2000. Virtually every other week in the Sunday Times or Observer, there’d be a reference to Powell, his influence, one of his friends or a flattering profile, often pictured reclining on antique furniture in the company of his wife, the aristocratic Violet Pakenham. The papers were addicted to this sort of Bloomsbury snobbishness (see also Anita Brookner, or the dreadful Patrick Leigh Fermor correspondence with the Duchess of Devonshire), and I always found it vaguely interesting, without having read the books. I knew about the author long before I’d read anything by him.

by Derry Moore, 12th Earl of Drogheda, archival digital print, 1984
…. definitely not from IKEA

In any event, it was a much cited  appreciation from America, by the great Christopher Caldwell, that made me start the first book, A Question of Upbringing (1951), which surprised me by how readable it was, and by how gripping the story became, probably on the strength of its characterisation. The plot as such is thin, though you end up admiring Powell’s masterly interweaving over the 25 years it took him to complete it. That first step was about 6 months ago, I’ve now just finished the last volume.

Powell is like Dickens in many ways: characters have ridiculous names like Rowland Gwatkin and Erridge Warminster, the books are easily read in bite sized chunks, and it absolutely cries out to be filmed. The latter has happened, though I’ve not seen it. Powell is in all the books as the somewhat bland narrator, Nick Jenkins – probably the most normal male character in the series. All the characters have real life counterparts, acquaintances of Powell, such as the louche and doomed Julian MacLaren-Ross, who crops up as the magnetic if somewhat stupid novelist, X Trapnel,  or the destructive society man-eater Barbara Skelton, as Pamela Flitton. The Bohemian undercurrents are a key feature of the novels.

Just as Tolstoy was a profound psychologist, Powell gets deep into the minds and motives of his characters, but unlike Tolstoy, does it with the lightest and non-declamatory of touches. He really does write beautiful English. Also like Tolstoy, there is a case to be made that he’s just producing a very upmarket soap opera, though that’s not a negative criticism as such.

What it’s about is hard to pin down  – Nick’s traversal of much of the 20th century from the 1920’s at a thinly disguised Eton, up to the hippie era, with a merry-go-round of numerous characters who interact, drop out, reappear, marry, divorce, die and so on. It’s a novel of human behaviour and man as a social animal, good and bad. Not only does it bear Proust’s imprint (we are always told), it has itself been influential, most notably in my experience in William Boyd’s virtuoso  – and very entertaining – Any Human Heart.

The key character is Kenneth Widmerpool, who is the chief beneficiary of Powell’s habit of bringing threads together by having the same people pop up improbably in all sorts of scenarios, not unlike the inane Harry Potter’s use of the magic wand. The thing about this character, as many people have observed, is that everyone knows at least one Widmerpool. I can think of several from my own life. To quote Caldwell “a fishy grotesque of undissembled careerism, the living, (heavy-) breathing antithesis of sprezzatura. When nervous, which is usually, he sweats and pants and frantically cleans his glasses”. Yet Widmerpool ostensibly succeeds, rising above the throng. Only last month he popped up in this piece in the politics website Reaction, where the author makes a valiant – if failed – effort to cast Trump as Powell’s most unappealing character.

The real comparison – a point I’ve made often on Twitter – is Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party’s appropriately bullying, lardy and slimy leader in Westminster, a man in theory in a senior position, but uniting his opponents in their dislike of his shrilly pompous and horribly dull speeches (1, 2, 3). He is the Widmerpool de nos jours, but in due course others will arise. They always do.

There are many fine appreciations of ADTTMOT online, try here,  here, here and here, for example and it’s intriguing how much it works for Americans, though I suppose the Boston Brahmin crowd and the Democrat ‘intelligentsia’ have a lot in common with many of the cast.

So, if you’re considering embarking on the Powellian voyage, or if you’re just looking for something different to read, go for it. eBay is full of bargain copies (I got all the Mark Boxer covers). The story of Powell’s 20th century is, in its special way, always being repeated, ad infinitum.

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The Dance to the Music of Time, Poussin, 1640. The Wallace Collection, London

 

Writing as music: unexpected economist addition

In the previous post I gave a few examples of superior prose, to the point where it conjured up music, in my mind at least. Who would have thought that economics, a notably dry specialism, would be associated with a sparkling example of this (for which I am in debt to Paul Johnson):

How can I convey to the reader, who does not know him, any first impressions of this extraordinary figure of our time, this siren, this goat-footed bard, this half-human visitor to our age from the hag-ridden magic and enchanted woods of Celtic antiquity? Mr Lloyd George is rooted in nothing; he is void and without content; he lives and feeds on his immediate surroundings; he is an instrument and a player at the same time which plays on the company and plays on them too; he is a prism which collects light and distorts it and is most brilliant if the light comes from many quarters at once; a vampire and a medium in one*

Like much great poetry, I’m not entirely sure that can I decipher all the meanings and allusions in that short paragraph, but it is quite brilliant. The author? None other than John Maynard Keynes (in Essays in Biography), the King of Bretton Woods and undoubtedly the most abused economic theorist of the 20th century, in terms of his message being distorted – like Lloyd George’s light.

You may pick your own musical parallel, for me its crammed and elusive vituperation is definitely Berliozian, with a touch of Ravel’s glassy menace.

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Keynes, also known as an economist

 

* something of Tony Blair in this description, I would say

 

Writing as music

It takes more than the ordinary journalistic literary skills to come up with an opener like this:

Ithe geography of the arts, Canadian is to American as Irish is to English and Jewish is to everyone. Social imitators by proximity, but intellectual ironists by distance, Canadians are the same as Americans, but more so—more obviously stranded in the wilderness because there is so much of it and so few of them, and more similar in politics to the Old World than the New. Their Liberals are centrists, not leftists ashamed of their leftism, and their Conservatives are even Tories.

…a gem of taut prose, I’d say,  setting up a sharp critique of the (overpraised) Saul Bellow, by Dominic Green, whose taste also runs to some of the best jazz. The paragraph’s formal interlocking and anticipatory pulse has a little in common with the technical facility and improvisatory chops of a Dave Brubeck.

Or, in a complete change of mood,  the closing paragraph of the first chapter of Dombey and Son. In fact, the very last line in it:

..the little voice, familiar and dearly loved, awakened some show of consciousness, even at that ebb. For a moment, the closed eye lids trembled, and the nostril quivered, and the faintest shadow of a smile was seen.

‘Mama!’ cried the child sobbing aloud. ‘Oh dear Mama! oh dear Mama!’

The Doctor gently brushed the scattered ringlets of the child, aside from the face and mouth of the mother. Alas how calm they lay there; how little breath there was to stir them!

Thus, clinging fast to that slight spar within her arms, the mother drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the world.

To be repeated in a sad variation, at the end of chapter 16, when the Son, Paul, dies:

‘Now lay me down,’ he said, ‘and, Floy, come close to me, and let me see you!’Sister and brother wound their arms around each other, and the golden light came streaming in, and fell upon them, locked together.‘How fast the river runs, between its green banks and the rushes, Floy! But it’s very near the sea. I hear the waves! They always said so!’

Presently he told her the motion of the boat upon the stream was lulling him to rest. How green the banks were now, how bright the flowers growing on them, and how tall the rushes! Now the boat was out at sea, but gliding smoothly on. And now there was a shore before him. Who stood on the bank?—He put his hands together, as he had been used to do at his prayers. He did not remove his arms to do it; but they saw him fold them so, behind her neck.

‘Mama is like you, Floy. I know her by the face! But tell them that the print upon the stairs at school is not divine enough. The light about the head is shining on me as I go!’

The golden ripple on the wall came back again, and nothing else stirred in the room. The old, old fashion! The fashion that came in with our first garments, and will last unchanged until our race has run its course, and the wide firmament is rolled up like a scroll. The old, old fashion—Death!

Oh thank GOD, all who see it, for that older fashion yet, of Immortality! And look upon us, angels of young children, with regards not quite estranged, when the swift river bears us to the ocean!

You might find that mawkish, but to me it captures the ineffable strangeness of what is taking place in the mind of a dying person – we can only glimpse it, despite its inevitable role for each one of us. Dickens’ rare gift takes us to the bedside. As music, it’s a Beethoven late quartet, or one of Schubert’s extraordinarily powerful sad, slow, second movements in a piano sonata – D850 perhaps.

Completely different, but just as vivid, with a hard edged resonance identifiable with cool jazz, I’d suggest, is Raymond Chandler:

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

…taken from Red Wind, and I’m not the only one who finds it carries an almost impossible to define extra layer of meaning and precision. It is the West Coast of Shelly Manne and his era…

A lot of people think like this – certain forms bring to mind unbidden parallels in other fields, classically synesthesia, or a variation on it. Over to Wikipedia:

… a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

There’s no message here, just an observation on the extended gifts provided by reading and music.

 

How to write (an occasional series: 2)

A nice profile in the FT, of a writer that I’d never come across, Denis Johnson, who died last May. Sounds like his stuff is worth a try, but I’m quoting his description of a writer’s life here. A lyrical ode to his modus operandi. Sounds kind of fun, and blogging is, perhaps, its pale imitation:

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Denis Johnson

“Writing. It’s easy work . . . You make your own hours, mess around the house in your pajamas, listening to jazz recordings and sipping coffee while another day makes its escape . . . Bouts of poverty come along, anxiety, shocking debt, but nothing lasts forever. I’ve gone from rags to riches and back again, and more than once. Whatever happens to you, you put it on a page, work it into a shape, cast it in a light. It’s not much different, really, from filming a parade of clouds across the sky and calling it a movie — although it has to be admitted that the clouds can descend, take you up, carry you to all kinds of places, some of them terrible, and you don’t get back where you came from for years and years.”

It seems appropriate to add a little jazz.

Metaphor, Trump and the antlike Antifa

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…Antifa, sundry mad lefties etc…

One thing is true about contemporary politics in the UK, the EU and the USA – it’s not boring. Not only the facts, the events, the personalities, but also the conversations. The internet has liberated all of us, and for every crank theory there is an intelligent analysis that you won’t get in the mainstream media. It’s brilliant. A lot of it is also very funny/entertaining, though hardly ever emanating from the more left inclined end of the spectrum, where humour is suspect.

Whether or not we’re currently getting good government, we’re certainly benefiting from the theme of John von Kannon‘s wonderful quote “If you can’t have good government, at least have entertaining government.”

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….army ants

A rising star in 2017 is Thomas Wictor, whose biography is pretty extraordinary, and who has a dedicated bunch of followers on Twitter, waiting for the next in his series of long threads, centring around government, lefties, war, the military, pictorial analysis and flamethrowers. Yes, flamethrowers.  In fact, with respect to the latter, read the genius thread starting here.

He’s an erudite man, and a terrific writer. Here is his series of tweets creating the ‘Trump is Leiningen’ meme. A sheer delight. You don’t have to be a Trumpkin to enjoy the point.

A story.

Leiningen Versus the Ants,” by Carl Stephenson (1893-1954). A plantation owner versus army ants.

Leiningen is a middle-aged man who refuses to give up. He enemies are the ants–robotic, vicious, inhuman.

My father’s most inspired quote: “Can you reason with a wasp?”

Of course not. Leiningen tries everything to save his plantation.

The ants won’t be stopped. They want what they want, and they’ll get it by any means necessary.

When all seems lost, Leiningen realizes that there’s one last chance, but someone will have to run through two miles of ants.

So Leiningen tells his men what will happen:

“I’m not going to let you try it; if I did I’d be worse than one of those ants.”

“No, I called the tune, and now I’m going to pay the piper.” Middle-aged Leiningen will run through two miles of ants.

How many people know that those who call the tune must pay the piper?

President Trump knows. He pays the piper daily, without complaint. That’s why Trump is winning and will be completely successful.

Army ants–no matter how many there are–can’t think. Last night I was told by THIS person that leftism will win.

Delusional army ants. That’s what Trump and his supporters face.

“Leiningen Versus the Ants” has one of my favorite lines ever:

“They had been delivered into the annihilation that was their god.”

Watch it happen. And celebrate.

…and Tom goes on to provide a handy CNN video. Hilarious

How to write (an occasional series: 1)

I have in the past lauded Kevin D Williamson of National Review Online, for his remarkable ability to marshal facts, argue his corner and knock out umpteen witticisms in extraordinarily concise and punchy prose. Possibly his most famous knockdown was his commentary on the now annual State of the Union address, but it’s one of many. Here’s the opening:

The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.

It’s the most nauseating display in American public life — and I write that as someone who has just returned from a pornographers’ convention.

He had, too.

That was more than three years ago, and this week Brendan O’Neill (1, 2, 3 ), hero of free speech and independent thinking courtesy of Spiked Online, has his say in the Spectator, on Blair’s possible Brexit comeback. It has a similar ‘oomph’. Here’s the opening:

Here they come, Tony Blair and his tragic chattering-class army. The former PM, whose rictus grin and glottal stops still haunt the nation’s dreams (well, mine anyway), is on the march with his pleb-allergic mates in business and the media. Blair and the Twitterati, linking arms, united in their horror at the incalculable stupidity of northerners and Welsh people and Essex men and women and other Brexiteers, their aim as clear as it is foul. They’re here to save us from ourselves. ‘Tony Blair is trying to save Britain from itself’, as one report put it. Excuse me while I pop an anti-nausea pill.

Yes, Blair, the political version of Michael Myers, the nutter in the Halloween movies who just cannot be slain, is back. Again. Remember when PMs were dignified and would bow out into their cobwebbed corner of the Lords when it became clear the British public had had a gutful of them? Not Blair. He’s considering a return to the frontline of politics, according to reports, because he wants to halt Hard Brexit. He feels so ‘passionate’ about this, he says, that ‘I almost feel motivated to go right back into it’ — ‘it’ being politics, public life, our daily lives. Make it stop, please

I doubt that he’s the sort that would accept a knighthood, but if he maintains this standard (he will)……

BON_take_2
Snappy dresser O’Neill

Spain, cultura and me

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If you want to read wondrous, effortlessly descriptive prose, then try Laurie Lee. School children often get Cider With Rosie as a set text (and enjoy it). I’ve just read, for the first time, the magical As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, and in terms of evocative writing it is sensationally good. The subject is Spain, and if there is a country that lends itself to vivid writing, this is it. That in itself probably made Lee’s task a little easier. It’s entirely understandable that he wrote it more than 30 years after the events in the book – a walk through Spain from Vigo to Andalucia, in 1934. Spain stays locked in your head.

The Knife spent 4 weeks in Andalucia in the summer of 1982, teaching English in a school on a mountain top in the Sierra Blanca. The best World Cup of them all (1,2) had just finished, with tattered posters for the Mundial everywhere. The next year I spent another 4 weeks on the train around the Iberian peninsula. 3rd class carriages with no windows and wooden bench seats, remote spaghetti western towns, terrible sanitation if you could actually find los lavabos (I once had to go under a tree on a roundabout in Granada), but still wonderful. I’ve been back lots of times since then. If anyone’s interested, the best meal I’ve ever had was in the Asador Donostiarra in Madrid, and the best breakfast in the charming Venta el Buscon, also Madrid.

1983 was the year I was ‘rescued’ in Algeciras, a grubby town which judging by Laurie Lee’s affectionate description, had suffered a bit in the interim 50 years. In the early 80’s Franco (died in 1975) still cast a long shadow in Spain. Despite what you will be told these days, rightly or wrongly, plenty of people mourned his departure. That whole secular/Catholic, left/right wing, Spaniards/separatists  set of dichotomies is still a key part of understanding this country. Beevor’s book on the civil war is pretty balanced, in the way that many of them are not. If you want to really understand the unique nature of that conflict and its aftermath, Javier Cercas’ mesmerising novel  Soldiers of Salamis is a nuanced and compelling tale. The fact that the Valle de los Caidos is still there (12 a fascinating piece), still getting many, many visitors gives a  clue as to how schizophrenic Spain remains on this topic**.

virgenvalencia
…in Valencia

That said there are plenty of standard travelogues about, but quite a few tend to fall short in some way. The highly regarded Jan Morris’ Spain is chock full of adjectives but in the end, it’s a bit dull. Older writers like the admirable and prescient Halliday Sutherland (here) and the…er…controversial  HV Morton (here) do a better job in summoning up the uniqueness of the place. In the modern age Christopher Howse (1,2) with an enthusiasm for remote monasteries, back roads and railways does the best job. He completely gets the enduring religiosity which you can still see in places like Valencia’s cathedral, where pregnant women (who often seem to be with their mothers) do 9 circuits before praying at the statue of the Virgen del Buen Parto.

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Roy’s autograph from 1930

Which emphasises just how key the whole Spanish Catholic intensity is in understanding the place and the people. That holds today, where the counterpoint of this intensity is a suffocating and aggressive secularism. The civil war all over again.  So you need to experience Zurbaran, St John of the Cross, and St Teresa of Avila (a proto-feminist, believe it or not). If you sample the origins of the much maligned Opus Dei you’ll get an idea of the rooted nature of Spanish Catholicism. In fact, if you seek the best translation of the poems of St John of the Cross, by that remarkable man of action Roy Campbell, you will be back in Laurie Lee territory, as the young writer stayed with the older man in Toledo, as the civil war was beginning to rumble, in which Campbell played a valorous role.

There are lots more: Goya, Don Quixote of course (it’s not boring), George Orwell, even the tiresome Hemingway. The latter claimed that “For one person who likes Spain there are a dozen who prefer books on her”. If he’s right, then I hope this post gives some pointers. A better quote is from the tragic Lorca, which captures that uneasy feeling you get as you descend  the stairway  to the royal tombs  and el pudridero in the mighty Escorial:

In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world.

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**when I first wrote this, I neglected to mention the great  Stanley Payne, a true historian of Spain in every era, and an expert on the whole Franco/Civil War thing (1,2)

In praise of shorter novels**

Having just finished – and loved – War and Peace, and having also battled through/enjoyed Don Quixote, Bleak House and the like, I can state that I do like the long breathed mighty literary classic. “Battled through” can be the issue though. You have to pace yourself, something greatly aided by Tolstoy and Dickens pitching their chapter lengths perfectly.

However, I am grinding to a halt with Musil’s The Man Without Qualities (1152 pages), although I don’t think I’ve given up. Yet.

There is something to be said for the intrinsic advantages of the short novel. I don’t mean the short story. I’m not sure if I mean the novella either. Despite people bragging about knocking off Tolstoy in a long weekend, I mean the kind of book you can genuinely complete in a day or two, easy to carry if you’re travelling, and possibly just as satisfying as one of the behemoths.

As a comparison, here’s what I mean. I finished the ten on the right in less time than it took to do the bottom left. At my age (middlish) I’m not going to even get close to reading all the books I own (or listen to all the music I’ve bought).

I’ll keep at Musil, but Proust is in the bin.

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..all recommended, but how long have you got?

 

** a homage to a brilliant shortish book, Stephen Vicinczey’s near perfect In Praise of Older Women

Medicine – beauty amidst chaos

The work of medicine can be grim. Death, pain, madness, addiction, mutilation, indignity are all around you at times. How one copes with it as the objective medical practitioner is hard to define**. I personally feel that the ancient rite of passage of the dissection room in first year had considerable merit in this regard. Its abandonment in most UK medical schools means that current and future generations may be missing out on something other than knowing anatomy. Likewise, the cosseted world of the junior doctors’ contract and hours regulations means that the fruitful maxim, ‘they can always hit you harder’, becomes less true by the year.

Doctors, then, are changing. Their work by and large stays the same in its broad themes. You have to be able to cope with the dark side, which includes a significant attrition rate amongst our own – illness, fatigue, family crises, scandal etc.

Some of our coping mechanism comes from our personality and our background, some is learnt. Some relates to personal beliefs, often religious.  Either way, you have to acquire it in order to function. Here is a vignette from Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, a mini masterpiece of selfish young man nihilism, written long before trite pale imitations like American Psycho. The hero, Pechorin, is preparing for a duel in the Caucasus mountains, seconded by his worried doctor friend, Werner:

“Why so sad, doctor?” I said to him. “Haven’t you seen people off to the next world a hundred times with the greatest indifference? Imagine that I have a bilious fever, and that I have equal chances of recovering or succumbing. Both outcomes are in the order of things. Try to regard me as a patient stricken with a disease you have not yet diagnosed–that will stimulate your curiosity to the utmost. You may now make some important physiological observations on me . . . Isn’t expectation of death by violence a real illness in itself?”

This thought struck the doctor, and he cheered up.

A true and shrewd observation, which most medics will recognise: the awfulness of illness and death is mostly genuinely fascinating, and can be its own reward, in a strange way.

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Pechorin country – the Gergeti Trinity Church in the Caucasus mountains

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**As an afterword there is a good quote from Russian/Armenian/American author Vera Nazarian, the parentheses are my own contributions:

“If you are faced with a mountain, you have several options.
You can climb it and cross to the other side (doctors who can do the job, but who get out into management etc ASAP).
You can go around it.
You can dig under it.
You can fly over it.
You can blow it up.
You can ignore it and pretend it’s not there (usually become Public Health ‘experts’ in the UK).
You can turn around and go back the way you came (doctors who don’t cope and drop out of the tough specialties) .
Or you can stay on the mountain and make it your home (the frontline doctors of any challenging specialty who stick it out).”

[I’m still working on career analogies for the middle four *]

*see first comment below

 

 

 

Clarity of expression: left v right

It was an erstwhile leftie** – albeit a privileged and well educated one – George Orwell, who wrote the classic guide to good writing, Politics and the English Language. The whole thing is great, but here is the distillation:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

It is quoted continually, and I would say that it’s an excellent basis for anyone who enjoys writing – bloggers, for example. A more recent teacher, from the other end of the political spectrum, would be Simon Heffer, in his Style Notes.

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Sadly, lefties have fallen far from grace in this important area. Here is (non-leftie) Douglas Murray critiquing ‘Jack’ Monroe and ‘their’ employer, the Guardian:

Soon afterwards, even the award of “Woman of the Year” to someone with a penis seemed passé as a far-left blogger and “anti-austerity activist” called Jack Monroe came out as “nonbinary transgender”. A few days later she accepted a “Woman of the Future” award,  which was not merely undeserved but (if Monroe were to be taken at her word) singularly inaccurate.

Or not. For although Monroe has announced that she is “trans” she expressed herself unwilling to do anything about it. Indeed, she demonstrated even less skin in the game than Caitlyn Jenner. Personally, I slightly admire people so sure they are stuck in the wrong body that they go through the terrible operations necessary to change sex cosmetically. But I feel reluctant to go through the necessary language hurdles if they won’t do anything other than “declare” themselves something. And what hurdles! In reporting Monroe’s desire to “transition”, Pink News adopted the new house style which makes pronouns for trans people not only non-gender specific but also plural. So we read, “Writing on their blog, Jack said . . .” Also (lovers of our delicate and beautiful language look away now), “The Guardian columnist and poverty campaigner changed their name to Jack when they was younger.”  The new newspeak is the old illiteracy.

That ‘they was’ hits you hard at the end of the beautifully written paragraph.

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Which brings me to my main reason for writing this post, which is to find an excuse to quote Rod Liddle, who is a unique political mix of left and right, and extremely funny with it. Here he is in the latest Spectator, on two of his bêtes noires (permitted, as I  can’t think of an English equivalent):

Let me mention a couple of names to you: Alan Rusbridger and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. One is the former editor of the Guardian, the latter a columnist at the Independent until it went digital, and read by almost nobody, anywhere. Between them they are or have been honorary visiting professors at four universities — Nuffield Oxford, Queen Mary, Cardiff and Lincoln, and possess honorary doctorates from four more. I know this because I hate both of them and regularly check what they are up to.

Limpid, direct prose, perfectly expressing his point. Orwell would have been proud.

**should it be lefty, or leftie?