In Competition No. 2402 you were invited to supply an imaginary example of the traditionally facetious, learned and topical last editorial article in a quality newspaper.
‘Aesop could have written this morality fable. And the millionaires who are not going to win the lottery tonight can comfort themselves with Schadenfreude, and the parable that life itself is a lottery.’ Last Saturday’s Times ‘fourth leader’ showed the genre still going strong. Why is it that I associate the style with a male — a retired teacher or an unfrocked clergyman, say? My mind’s eye cannot see an elderly schoolmistress or a disgraced nun penning this sort of stuff. Perhaps that’s why this week presents the rare case of no woman among the winners. Printed below, they get £25 each, Noel Petty netting the bonus fiver.
The BBC in its passion for audience participation (and licence retention) has been bothering us again. This time we were to anoint the Nation’s Favourite Philosopher. The word favourite has a particular piquancy here, conjuring up carpet slippers, a fireside chair and a well-thumbed copy of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. But the winner is revealed to be that sedentary sage of the British Museum, Karl Marx. A number of theories are at large to account for this improbable result. Was this a last-ditch act of defiance by the Fourth International? Or perhaps an understandable confusion with his namesake, he of the burnt-cork moustache and long cigar? Or was it engineered by a secret cabal within Broadcasting House, long known as a nest of subversives? Our own theory is that the British public, confused by the Olympic award and the possibility of a winning cricket team, was simply lacking a lost cause.
Drink to Me Only with Thine Iambics
It was La Rochefoucauld who said, anticipating Nietzsche, ‘Man is but a vile thing if he defer to the elements.’ Were the good Duke alive to observe British seaside holidaymakers he would surely be heartened by the hardy defiance of his fellow creatures. Here is dauntlessness incarnate. Flesh that is goose-pimpled on Monday may be peeling by Wednesday but it will still be exposed until Saturday. Nothing is yielded to the roulette foue of an English summer. Here, too, the spirit of Homo habilis visibly moves. A simple deckchair, for instance, earns its stripes, now as a kind of recumbent roasting tray, now as a windshield, now as part of a Shackletonian bivouac. One sees displayed those qualities of stoicism and enterprise, of ingenuity and endurance that marked the lives of Scott and Raleigh, Dampier and Livingstone. Here the sands of time see their heirs at play.
Sparrows are not the only residents which appear to have deserted the English garden; can we not also discern a decrease in that once familiar object, the garden shed? Once upon a time — and how long ago that time seems! — this unpretentious edifice was an essential appendage to the traditional British home, serving, in its unassuming way, so many ostensibly modest but, in truth, indispensable functions. Somewhere for the garden tools, certainly; but so much more. A haven for Father, temporarily bowed beneath the cares of the paterfamilias, to sit and think his own quiet thoughts (and enjoy that smelly pipe, banished from the house). Somewhere for young Jimmy to be that intrepid fighter pilot high above the green fields of England; for young Jennifer to practise her nursing skills on ever-patient Dolly. Surely, like the sparrow, a family friend, and one whose passing should be mourned.
This summer’s reported sightings of cats going around (as one eye-witness put it) ‘mob-handed’ bring to mind the kind of signs and portents dwelt on in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Though the dead are not so far squeaking and gibbering in the streets, the spectre of feline solidarity is an ominous one. Colloquially, ‘herding cats’ signifies an impossible task; but what if the cats are organising themselves? In the fantasy film The Jacket a madman’s condition is symptomatised by his demand for ‘an organisation for the organised’, a joke which his flaky quack therapist does not share, feeling it a threat. Are cats now declining en masse to walk by themselves, finding safety (or aggressive potential) in numbers? Jim Morrison’s vision of insane children was frightening enough; if our cats have lost their minds, we may expect, in the words the Bard gives to Cicero, ‘a strange-disposed time’.
No. 2405: Inst.