An intermittently Liberal anthology compiled by Jonathan Calder

Saturday, August 27, 2011  


posted by Jonathan Calder | 10:22 pm

Thursday, September 07, 2006  

Life at the Courtold Institute
I'd recently dropped out of the Courtold Institute. I was enjoying it too much; contemplating Cézanne slides, dozing through discriminations of Cubism, soothed by the weird precision of Anthony Blunt delivering, on gin and tranquillisers, his annual Poussin sermon. I was too dumb to realise that all I needed to form a picture of the city, its machinations, corrupt establishments, smoothly oiled liaisons between disparate social groups, was here, under the dome. From Blunt's eyrie to the marble hall with its checkerboard floor, grand staircase and fine art, this palazzo of privilege, training ground for Sotheby's shysters and culture brokers, had the lot.

Typical, I thought. I have the ant heap at my mercy, top to bottom (plenty of that), Queen Mum's transvestite routs, Blunt's rough-trade pick-ups (diversifying dockers), future ivory-finish novelists, the passport to the secrets of London - and I flounce out, nose in air. Graham Greene, Guy Burgess, Ronnie Kray, Lord Boothby, Anita Brookner, Brian Sewell: I missed them all. The men from MI5 and MI6, shuffling in through the tradesman's entrance, pipes and macs, for their free tutorials. The Saturday night parties when the students were safely removed to South Ken, Fulham and Battersea.

Iain Sinclair Dining on Stones (2004)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 8:50 pm

Tuesday, July 04, 2006  

The view from Brown Clee
Westward hills of all shapes and sizes: mighty piers jutting out into the sea; giant fists and breasts; mammoth heads, shoulders and buttocks; monstrous barrows, bivouacs and saddles; cones and pyramids, all in wild jostling profusion, with their crests of forest like the manes of flying steeds or elfin streamers in the wind, and in between the ranges elevated valleys like wave-troughs in the sea, waiting in everlasting suspense for the fall of the black sea-horses into their depths.

Magdalene M. Weale Through the Highlands of Shropshire on Horseback (1935)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 11:04 pm

Saturday, June 03, 2006  

Becoming a Conservative candidate
After four years of the Conservative Philosophy Group and by now a barrister, I applied to join the Conservative Party's list of candidates - the first step towards representing the Party in a General Election.

A veteran Member of Parliament, Dame Something Something, who conformed exactly to the image of the blue-rinse maiden aunt, and who looked me up and down with angry sniffs as I answered her questions, demanded what I had done for the Party. Had I joined the Young Conservatives, spoken in Union debates, attended Party Conferences? And if none of these things, what had I done for the cause and in what conceivable respect did I regard myself as qualified?

I mentioned that I had founded the Conservative Philosophy Group. She made it clear that the conjunction of the two words "conservative" and "philosophy" was so absurd that she could only doubt the existence of such an organization. Under her withering stare I began to feel that I was as much a fake as she believed me to be.

She asked me if I wrote in the press, since that at least was useful, and I replied that I had written book reviews for the Spectator, so confirming her suspicion that if my name ever did appear in newspapers it would be in the wrong parts of them. I added that I had also written a book.

"A book? On what subject?"

I hesitated.


Her stare became suddenly vacant. She closed the file containing my application and turned to her colleague, a young MP who had remained silent throughout, occasionally sending out a pitying glance in my direction.

"I suppose he could apply for this new European Parliament thing, could he?"

Roger Scruton Gentle Regrets (2005)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 10:15 pm

Friday, April 14, 2006  

My great great grandmother's brother
Sandy Campbell sported a magnificent beard. Queen Victoria didn't like it and asked him to remove it. She said she liked all her stalkers and ghillies to be clean-shaven. But Sandy refused to part with his beard, saying he had never shaved all his life and didn't intend to start now. He told the Queen that he would rather go back where he came from. The matter was quietly dropped and Sandy and his beard stayed at Balmoral. ...

Sandy Campbell was a favourite with Queen Victoria. In his years at Loch Muick he met many members of the Royal Family and their VIP guests, but he was probably known as much for his hobbies as he was for his skill as a stalker. He dabbled in taxidermy in an age when "stuffers" were much in demand. The animals and birds he stuffed were put on display, along with other curios, in the Glassallt Shiel's coach-house - "the Loch Muick Museum", Princess Alexandra called it.

Stones found in the hills, cairngorms, quartz, pieces of rock-crystal and rock-salt, deer antlers and the horns of sheep and goats, foxes' masks and brushes - they all found their way into the museum. I never discovered what happened to Sandy's collection in the Loch Muick Museum. If it had survived the years it might have found a place in the visitors' centre at the Spittal.

"He was a bit of an eccentric," said John Robertson. He planted honeysuckle away out towards the Dubh Loch, halfway between in and the Glass-alt, beside a cairn of stones. He also planted holly trees along the lochside. John thought that only two of them had survived. Today, the museum has gone and everything in it, but if things had been different Sandy might have been remembered by one of the cairns he would put up at the drop of a hat. "If he parted company with somebody," said John, with a grin, "he would build a cairn." He erected one at the lochside and called it Campbell's Cairn, but his self-made monument was demolished by an avalanche about 1957.

Robert Smith A Queen's Country (2000)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 12:43 pm

Thursday, April 13, 2006  

Living in London
It must be there, somewhere, we all thought: the forgotten island. An oasis in between the impossible places everyone on earth knows from postcards and the inconceivable places no one has ever heard of except the poor sods that live there.

It must be there, still, somewhere: nothing flash, not the kind of place where shops selling chromium taps punctuate boulevards of ridiculously-named cafes: just a neighbourhood where ordinary, hardworking, untrustfunded, child-having, educated-ish, interesting-ish people can afford normal, sociable little houses with modest gardens for the kids.

With the odd pub where you can take said kids and have a quiet pint and maybe the occasional friendly word with other late-thirties blokes who are trying to read large newspapers and enjoy their pints while likewise minding their kids.

With schools where said kids will not be attacked every day because they are not in the Young NF and/or don't know what Gangsta Rappers should wear when they are eight. And neighbours who don't play White Trash Thrash or Devastation Techno and don't kick in your car just for the fuck of it and axe-murder one another on Saturday nights when the gear runs short.

And only half a dozen stops from town.

And you can afford.

The kind of places that used to exist. That surely used to exist?

But since none of us is an oil analyst, corporate lawyer or suchlike, the result, circa the millennium was: Hahahahaha!

James Hawes Dead Long Enough (2000)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 8:36 pm

Saturday, April 01, 2006  

The draining of the Oderbruch
Today, we would treasure the lost Oderbruch as one of the marvels of Europe. On its way to the Baltic, the river frayed into countless shallow channels and lagoons, into swamps, shoals and muddy islands. Twice a year, it flooded up to ten or twelve feet deep, nourishing a dense cover of waterlogged bushes. Here lived ‘an almost unimaginable range of insect, fish, bird and animal life’, including wolves and lynxes.

Blackbourn has the sense to rely heavily on the travel writings of Theodor Fontane, the most lovable and observant of German writers, who explored the drained Oderbruch in the 1850s and collected memories of pre-reclamation times. Fontane was told of the enormous shoals of countless species of fish, of pike hordes so dense that they could be scooped up in buckets, of crayfish which escaped the hot summer shallows to swarm in trees from which they could be shaken down like plums. And he wrote also about the old inhabitants. They were not Germans but Wends, Slavs who had survived in the marshes since the Germans colonised the fertile land almost a thousand years before. The Wends lived on mounds hidden in the swamp, their huts encircled by ramparts of cow-dung which kept out the floods and served as pumpkin beds.

Frederick put an end to all that. The marshes were drained, a new straight bed was dug for the Oder, its labyrinth of side-channels was blocked off, and miles of dykes were reared to keep the river in its place and protect the farms now being laid out with geometric precision across the Oderbruch. Thousands of German farmer-colonists were brought in and planted in little red-roofed farmhouses. The shy Wends melted away as the waters dried up. Fontane thought he could recognise Slavic headscarves in a few villages on the fringes of the Bruch. But the old life had gone.

Neal Ascherson, London Review of Books, 6 April 2006

posted by Jonathan Calder | 10:41 am

Tuesday, March 21, 2006  

Two varieties of socialism
Harriet recalled when she'd been a child in the early 1970s in Southport that a park had been a very different thing. There were big wrought-iron gates guarding the entrance that were firmly locked at sunset every night, there were substantial black-painted spiked railings all round the perimeter, inside there was a bandstand and a boating lake, clipped grass as neat as a Guardsman's haircut, a crystal palm house, flowers and stout native trees and a head gardener who lived in a little house by the gates and kept an eye out.

Not in this part of north London where she lived now; those into whose charge fell the open spaces during the 1960s were having none of that old malarky - they couldn't quite explain to you how a bandstand could be oppressive of racial minorities while simultaneously putting down women, they just knew it somehow did.

Alexei Sayle The Weeping Woman Hotel (2006)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 10:59 pm

Saturday, January 21, 2006  

A boy and his dog
Finishing at last, I would slip from the table and saunter towards the gate, where Roger sat gazing at me with a questioning air. Together we would peer through the wrought-iron gates into the olive-groves beyond. I would suggest to Roger that perhaps it wasn't worth going out today. He would wag his stump in hasty denial, and his nose would butt at my hand.

No, I would say, I really didn't think we ought to go out. It looked as though it was going to rain, and I would peer up into the clear, burnished sky with a worried expression. Roger, ears cocked, would peer into the sky too, and then look at me imploringly. Anyway, I would go on, if it didn't look like rain now it was almost certain to rain later, and so it would be much safer just to sit in the garden with a book.

Roger, in desperation, would place a large black paw on the gate, and then look at me, lifting one side of his upper lip, displaying his white teeth in a lop-sided, ingratiating grin, his stump working itself into a blur of excitement. This was his trump card, for he knew I could never resist his ridiculous grin.

So I would stop teasing him, fetch my match-boxes and my butterfly net, the garden gate would creak open and clang shut, and Roger would be off through the olive-groves swiftly as a cloud-shadow, his deep bark welcoming the new day.

Gerald Durrell My Family and Other Animals (1956)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 10:34 pm

Monday, January 16, 2006  

Child abuse is not a new discovery
"Oh God, Charles, more trouble!" she said, beating her hands to and fro in her hair.


"That hostel warden."

"What, old Christmas?" I said. "What's the matter with him?"

"The usual," she said.

"Oh, no! Little boys or little girls?"

"Little boys. Well, big boys - boys in the hostel. It's been going on for months."

"Oh, hell!" I felt sickened, as I always did, though none of us was unused to this sort of revelation. You never saw it coming, and in someone you knew quite well it was always revolting.

John Stroud The Shorn Lamb (1960)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 10:03 pm

Thursday, December 29, 2005  

Michael, Tony, Enoch and Julian
It struck me that, seen together, Foot, Benn, Powell and Amery represented the worst of their generation, escapologists from reality who were unwilling to stare the truth of Britain's position in the face and who made a career by bamboozling the impressionable.

Around me on the Tory benches and in the faces opposite you could sense a palpable longing for great parliamentary men to fill the vacant stage, and this was all they had, Thatcher being a better leader than she was a parliamentarian.

It was sad to see how they sat transfixed by these musty puppets, mistaking their jerkings and posturings for great oratory. You could see people being transported in their imaginations back to the grand old days.

Never mind that Benn was talking sophomoric rubbish about robber barons, that Powell was indulging in incendiary simplicities on Northern Ireland, or that Michael Foot was getting away with yet another piece of intellectual fraudulence - think of the performance!

George Walden Lucky George (1999)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 10:35 pm

Thursday, September 08, 2005  

The birth of a Tory dynasty
Macmillan remembered calling on the duke during the course of the formation of Bonar Law's government.

"I found Lord Derby in conference with him. The Duke ... pointed out the extreme weakness of the front bench in the House of Commons ...

'Ah,' said Lord Derby, 'you are too pessimistic. They have found a wonderful little man. One of those attorney fellows, you know. He will do all the work.'

'What's his name?'" said the Duke.

'Pig,' said Lord Derby. Turning to me, the Duke replied, 'Do you know Pig?' ...

It turned out to be Sir Douglas Hogg!"

Simon Ball The Guardsmen: Harold Macmillan, Three Friends and the World They Made (2004)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 9:29 pm