Bear Hunting

Three tweets, seen over the last two days that seem to me to demonstrate our (and the EU’s) predicament over Brexit.

fig.1

eu states

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Trading needs rules. Trust is regulated not a given. New agreements should not disrupt existing agreements to the detriment of the majority of participants.

fig. 2

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Based on existing EU rules the UK’s ‘red lines’ determine the nature of the agreement. What we describe is Korea or Canada. What we ask for is to be friends with benefits beyond what is normally permissible.

If you were the EU would you trust us?

But the UK is important to the EU and the failure to find some accommodation with us will have an impact beyond trade. Hence:

fig. 3

het

There are real risks on both sides and a real question about the capacity of either to deal effectively with the issue of Brexit. The EU cannot step outside of its rules even to become a more effective actor on the world stage.

My own view – for what it’s worth – is that from the UK’s perspective there is no way back from the referendum. I don’t believe a second would achieve anything other that confirm the deep divisions in our society . We have to go through with this – which is why it’s a bear hunt – because as we all know that, when you are hunting bears, whatever obstacle you face:

‘You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it.’

 

Bear Hunting

Mad dogs or Englishmen

One thing leads to another and this morning I found myself listening to one of the 1955 Reith Lectures from the BBC. They were given by Sir (then Doctor) Nicolas Pevsner on the subject of Englishness in Art. It’s not nearly as jingoistic as it sounds. Pevsner tells a nuanced tale but, early in the first lecture, he lists what might at that time have been a list of ‘English’ characteristics. Englishness, in the popular mind is about:

“Personal liberty, freedom of expression, and wisdom in compromise, the two-party system not shaken by communism or fascism, the democratic system of negotiating in parliament as well as on boards and committees, the distrust of the sweeping statement (such as mine are) and of the demagogue.”

I paused and thought about the state of political debate in the country at the moment . I thought of Twitter (for goodness sake) and wondered about where that pragmatic and generous spirit of compromise had gone to. No matter, Pevsner goes on:

“Then the eminently civilised faith in honesty and fair play, the patient queuing, the wisdom in letting go in Ireland, in India, in Burma, a strictly upheld inefficiency in the little business-things of every day, such as the workman’s job in the house, windows that will never close, and heating that will never heat, a certain comfortable wastefulness and sense of a good life, and the demonstrative conservatism of the wig in court, the gown in school and university, the obsolete looking shop-window in St. James’s Street, the Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, the Keeper of the Queens Swans, the Portcullis Poursuivant, the City Companies, and £-s.-d., and yards and acres, and Fahrenheit. All those things seem as eternal as the rock of Gibraltar.”

I recognised it at once as the picture of England and Englishness that my father believed in and loved. Pevsner, in the lecture, does offer different, historical, perspectives but concludes:

Now that I have said so much to show what is not permanent in the national characteristics of England, may I indulge in a few examples of how surprisingly much after all does appear to be permanent. Paul Hentzner, the German tourist who came to England in 1598, already says the English are ‘impatient of anything like slavery’. Misson in about 1690 says they ‘eat a huge piece of roast beef on Sunday…and the rest cold the other days of the week’.
Their idea of vegetables, says Karl Philipp Moritz in 1782, is ‘a few cabbage leaves boiled in plain water’. The English do not work too much, says Sorbière in 1653, they believe that ‘true living consists in knowing how to live at ease’. And one more example, Antonio Trevisan, Venetian Ambassador to Henry VII in 1497, remarks that the English say, ‘whenever they see a handsome foreigner: he looks like an Englishman’. Saussure, who was a very shrewd observer, says the same: ‘I don’t think there is a people more prejudiced in its own favour than the British’.

And go to Ogden Nash, and you will find this:

Let us pause to consider the English
Who when they pause to consider themselves they get all reticently thrilled and tinglish,
Because every Englishman is convinced of one thing, viz:
That to be an Englishman is to belong to the most exclusive club there is.

My father to a T.

It helped me realise that, child of the sixties that I was, when I came home from grammar school head filled with notions of English bad behaviour abroad and fallibility at home – all narratives that challenged this charming, white, middle class view of the people we were, I wasn’t just debating a point, I was challenging a faith.

I also wonder now, 63 years later, what has stood the test of time and what Englishness means now.

 

Mad dogs or Englishmen

Coincidence?

Browsing in the best bookshop in Britain* (IMHO) on Thursday, I was nosing around Geoff Dyer’s book, The Ongoing Moment – a Book About Photography and found, in its opening paragraph, this quotation:

A few minutes later C came over to show me a book of poetry she was thinking about buying, called Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe. It’s epigraph was this:

Small coincidences are surprisingly satisfying aren’t they? I’d never seen the quote before, or been charmed by the idea of a Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge (surely something sorely needed in a world full of ill intentioned information), but I felt at once as though I was in tune with the universe.

Reader I bought the Geoff Dyer.

It’s only when I set the two quotations down in this post, that I realised the they are not identical.

*Topping and Company in Ely.

Coincidence?

The devil’s nutting bag

One of my favourite bloggers A Clerk of Oxford tweeted that today – September 14 – was once called ‘Devil’s Nutting Day’.

The Devil has an affinity with nutting apparently.

Nutting on any Sunday was risky – you might meet Old Nick as a tall, gentlemanly figure kind enough to offer to pull down high branches for you. Otherwise it was today –  Holy Rood day – that was especially favoured. This, from a  letter John Clare sent to his friend William Hone:

Nutting

(quoted in The English Year by Steve Roud)

Once you start looking, there’s a lot of information about. Renne Reynolds on her blog (Obstinate Headstrong Girl) writes that:

The tradition of a Nutting Day dates back to 1560 Eton, when boys were given a half-holiday to gather nuts, creating the phrase “gone a-nutting.” Consequently, as one might suspect from a tradition associated with young boys, going “a-nutting” soon became a euphemism for sex and seduction, giving rise to its own saying, “a good year for nuts, a good year for babies.”

She quotes:

Grim

I suspect the link between nutting, bad behaviour and old Nick stretches much further back myself.

On another site (German this time, intended for people learning English, although an earnest student would be certainly be met with  incomprehension if he used the reference with the average Englisher) the story begins with :

The Devil’s Nightcap (there are several hills with this name) near Alcester, in Warwickshire…formed when the devil was out nutting on September 21st (known as the Devil’s Nutting Day) and met the Virgin Mary. He was so surprised and shocked that he dropped his bag of nuts, which became the hill.

There is an old Sussex saying ‘as black as the Devil’s nutting bag’, which is associated with the superstition that it is extremely unwise to gather nuts in autumn on a Sunday because that is when Old Nick is himself out nutting. Generally people do not go nutting on any Sunday in autumn because you might meet the devil gathering nuts.

It is mentioned in the play, John Endicott, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow –

ACT I: SCENE II –

“Nice angels!
Angels in broad-brimmed hats and russet cloaks,
The colour of the Devil’s nutting-bag. They came
Into the Meeting-house this afternoon
More in the shape of devils than of angels.
The women screamed and fainted; and the boys
Made such an uproar in the gallery
I could not keep them quiet.”

The devil’s nutting bag

Things you learn on Twitter #2 – that winds have names and colours…

I came across this lovely thread a while ago. It began with Robert Macfarlane again, choosing as his word of the day, ‘Helm Wind’ – the UKs only named wind that blows from the North East and pours down off Cross Fell in Cumbria.

@AnneLouiseAvery responded:

In medieval Ireland, the winds were each said to have a particular colour (see Saltair na Rann, a collection of 162 Early Middle Irish poems)

So the north wind is black and the south, white, while a wind from the SSE is greyish-green. IMG_0300

Fascinating enough – then @iandhig adds this from Flann O’Brien – scholar and poet that he was:

‘People in the old days had the power of perceiving these colours…a better occupation than gazing at newspapers’ (From the Third Policeman)

I feel guilty about passing on these conversations – albeit they are public ones but, as John Aubrey says:

How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellowes as I put them down.

Things you learn on Twitter #2 – that winds have names and colours…