Tuesday, January 13, 2015

'Tout est pardonné'?

It seems to me that there is something deeply flawed in the decision to send of the bodies of the murdered French national Jewish people to Israel for burial. Surely this corroborates the misconception in the twisted minds of the murderers, that all Jews worldwide are to be held responsible for the actions of Israel in the oppression Palestinians? French Jews, or British Jews for that matter, are no more responsible for Israeli policy, than ordinary French or British Muslims are responsible for the Charlie Hebdo murders, or than Christians are for the actions of Anders Breivik.

So, why oh why, have the families of the innocent people tragically killed in the Kosher supermarket sent this message to jehadists everywhere? They're saying loud and clear, "you were right, we are Jews and as such we are all ersatz Israelis, and therefore we are all culpable". Then they compound it by releasing the most chilling of statements, "Time for a response will come". Let's pray they don't come over all Old Testament about it.
Today's Charlie Hebdo cartoon caption comes with an apology implied and absolution built in. The caption 'Tout est pardonné' literally covers a multitude of sins (and not just the murders). ALL is forgiven, including any offence caused. It is a self-aware, gracious and courageous response. Let's hope the Jewish families can put aside their reported fury and rise to something similar. Or God help us all.



Saturday, August 02, 2014

Review: The Tin Snail by Cameron McAllister

'The Tin Snail' by Cameron McAllister is a charming, somewhat old-fashioned read that delights with its humour, adventure, patriotism and love. Invoking the spirit of war-time France, it tells the tale of the development of the French version of the ‘people’s car’, the Citroën 2CV. We have baddies ranging from Nazis, including the villainous Ferdinand Porche, designer of the VW Beetle and the Panzer tank, who is trying to steal the plucky French design for Germany, to young Philippe, the jealous love rival, and his father, Victor, the pompous and obstructive mayor, who are ultimately redeemed by their courage and patriotism.

'The Tin Snail' is well plotted and the story unfolds like a script for a rattling good family film. However, although the book is illustrated, it is never completely clear from pictures or text what the revolutionary designs look like, unless one is already familiar with the 2CV (which my daughter was not). I wonder whether as a screenwriter, the author was imagining that all would become apparent on screen?
It appears to be creative non-fiction, telling the true story of the development of the car, so I felt a little cheated that that having invested in Angelo, his father Luca Fabrizzi, Christian Silvestre and Bertrand Hipaux, I discovered that their names were really Flaminio Bertoni, André Lefèbvre and Pierre Jules Boulanger. I don’t even know whether Fabrizzi’s son Leonardo had anything at all to do with the design. The other niggle is the sub-title: The little car that won a war – it didn’t. What actually happened was that the prototypes were deliberately hidden from the Germans and the car only went into production in 1948.
That said, this is a delightful book for anyone over the age of eight, and it would make a tremendous film.

This review first appeared in Historical Novels Review Issue 69 (August 2014). Book supplied by publisher.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Medieval graffiti in England's churches

The 'straw king', a medieval graffiti drawing that could be a pagan fertility symbol. Photo: Lincolnshire Medieval Graffiti Project.

The BBC reports a four-year-oldLincolnshire medieval graffiti project which has uncovered more than 28,000 examples of centuries-old carvings etched by bored medieval church-goers, some of which appear to depict pagan symbols and imagery. But do these graffiti drawings really reveal a lingering devotion to paganism?

On the walls near the entrance to Cranwell Parish Church, in Lincolnshire,  is a figure identified as "the straw man". Brian Porter, Lincolnshire's medieval graffiti project co-ordinator, believes the figure to be a pagan fertility symbol, possibly etched before a May Day celebration.

The BBC goes on to state that 'in pre-Christian tradition the "straw man" was made out of the previous year's crop and then eventually burned, with the ashes scattered across the fields. Mr Porter said he believed the church "couldn't stamp out" the Pagan traditions of parishioners and probably grew tired of rubbing the graffiti away. It raises a tantalising prospect. Could it be that beneath the Christian veneer, an older tradition was still being actively pursued, perhaps in a deliberately subversive way?'

Professor Ronald Hutton confirms in his book Stations of the Sun that the making of corn symbols from straw was done as part of a harvest ritual.  The last sheaf in the field to be harvested was often given a name, such as the maiden, the old woman, the mare or the neck.  Hutton specifically mentions a figure from 1598 at Windsor that is woven from straw and dressed as a woman.  There are accounts through to the 1800’s (Hutton 2001:332-347). All such folk customs are indeed fascinating and may plausibly be considered as remnants of pre-Christian practice and belief.

But why does Mr Porter conclude that this church graffiti figure is a representation of a corn dolly? Surely it is clearly identifiable as a man in rich Tudor dress? Oh I do wish Mr Porter were correct, but to my eyes there is nothing to suggest anything of the corn or harvest in the image. I suspect this is wishful thinking on Mr Porter's part, a suspicion perhaps shared by Matt Champion, the medieval archaeologist who began the project in Norfolk in 2010, who says there are a variety of different theories and care is needed when interpreting the drawings.

"Brian could be right," he says. "But we have different perspectives. To be honest, I've yet to come across a genuine pagan symbol. Not all [Christians at the time] were closet pagans."

Yeah. Dream on Brian!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman

Buffalo Soldier explores of the nature of freedom, in a searingly poignant story told from the perspective of Charlotte, a young African-American slave from the deep south of America at the end of the Civil War. After witnessing the rape and lynching of her adoptive mother, Charlotte is pitched all alone into a world of war and terror. Officially emancipated from slavery, she is still trapped by the colour of her skin but also by her gender. Now that even her value as a slave has been stripped from her, in desperation she dons a dead man’s clothes and joins the US Army, becoming ‘Charley’, a ‘buffalo soldier’. Her journey takes her from coast to coast cutting a swathe through a unpleasant period of US history, during which we see Buffalo Bill initiating the sanitisation of the record.

This is an extraordinarily powerful book, immaculately written in a sustained voice that never misses a beat. The analogies and observations that flesh out the narrative are superbly observed and always completely in character and period. We are literally observing the world according to Charley, and her take on it is skilfully developed throughout her journey. Landman doesn’t shy away from the sights, sounds and language that characterized slavery and its aftermath, but the further that Charley moves away from the former Confederate slave states, the more she adopts the different spoken styles indicating the prejudices of the soldiers around her, in a changed world order in which the Native Americans are at the bottom of the heap. Yet she is finally shown the meaning of true freedom by an Apache with whom she is able to discover a viable identity for herself as a woman.

Important material is sensitively addressed, making this a must-read book for all over-twelves.

Review first appeared in Historical Novels Review Issue 68 (May 2014)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Reverse Ferret

Reverse Ferret

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage got a right savaging for 20 minutes by James O'Brien on LBC yesterday, until his spin doctor intervened to get him off air. I wouldn't normally have heard this clip, (as I don't enjoy O'Brien's interview technique - I find him hectoring and too fond of his own voice and I don't care much for Farage's opinions on anything), but for the fact that O'Brien accuses Farage of "reverse feretting" over a promise to have his expenses independently audited – an offer Ukip made but Farage withdrew saying he would not be subject to a stricter audit than other MEPs. The phrase appeared in headlines on social media. It's at 18 min 30 sec in this video.

Hello! I thought, what on earth is "reverse feretting" when it's at home? I had to Google it!

It turns out to be media luvvy-speak for a volte-face on the editorial line on a certain issue. It's sufficiently specialised for the Guardian to feel the need to define it in this article from 2011:
"Reverse ferret" is, technically speaking, a term used in Fleet Street, just down the road, to describe the moment when an editor executes a startling editorial U-turn.
It even has its own Wikipedia entry:
Reverse ferret is a phrase used predominantly within the British media to describe a sudden reversal in an organisation's editorial line on a certain issue. Generally, this will involve no acknowledgement of the previous position.
The term originates from Kelvin MacKenzie's time at The Sun. His preferred description of the role of journalists when it came to public figures was to "stick a ferret up their trousers". This meant making their lives uncomfortable, and was based on the supposed northern stunt of ferret legging (where contestants compete to show who can endure a live ferret within their sealed trousers the longest). However, when it became clear that the tide of public opinion had turned against the paper's line, MacKenzie would burst from his office shouting "Reverse Ferret!" 
Now I know that background, I find it really rather colourful and I quite like it. Oddly though, Farage appeared to be quite familiar with the term which was somewhat surprising given his words at the start of the interview,
"This is the political class clubbing together using their mates in the media and doing anything they can to stop the UKIP charge." 
This is an irony that seems to have completely bypassed the testy Mr O'Brien in his nasty little media-luvvy bubble. How ironic!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

UKIP v. the Establishment

As someone who believes that the current tripartite party system is incestuous, corrosive and corrupt, I find it very interesting in the run up to the 2014 European elections, that UKIP (whose xenophobic position is not mine, by the way) appears to be getting under the skin of the powers that be. Instead of being treated as genial buffoons on the fringes of politics, the mainstream media (in all its forms) is having a right ad hominem go at UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

A recent social media manifestation rather tickles me though. This image is being gleefully shared on Facebook:

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP circa 1983... UKIP wanted it banned, so here it is!

I have pointed out to those of my friends who shared it that it is in fact nicely done Photoshop work  - Farage's face has been applied to this image:

(However, if Farage had actually ever been a punk, I doubt that he'd have had a 50 year old face at the time...)

Anyway, I'm quite intrigued about who did the tidy Photoshop job and why. Given that punk was a uniquely British phenomenon characterised by a two-fingers-protest against the existing regime, wrapped in tartan and the Union Jack, what could this "fake" rebel image do for Farage? Certainly no harm at all!

So is it a clever viral campaign by UKIP or a memorable own goal by Conservative Central Office? Or just a random person messing about.

Answers on a ballot card!

Even Johnny Rotten is a mainstream Brit icon now: