Saturday, 25 October 2008


October 25th is the feast of St Crispin and the anniversary of the great Battle of Agincourt at which Henry V's English longbowmen routed the French, against very unfavourable odds.

But the French didn't like it, and so today, on this anniversary, a number of (not very rigorous) French academics are holding a revisionist seminar somewhere across the Channel in an attempt to demonstrate that the English didn't win the battle fair and square but cheated somehow by having a larger army than was believed up till now and by resorting not just to dirty tricks but to actual war crimes - against the French losers. 

Bad losers, the French. I remember some debate several years ago when they objected to Waterloo Station as an insult to French people arriving off the boat train (no such trouble with the new Eurostar terminal at neutral St Pancras - so that one was sorted). And I remember my friend's French husband berating me at his home in the Marne (so much for Gallic hospitality) with a tale about Winston Churchill - in person, so it looked like from the rant,  scuttling the French fleet in World War II. The fact that this was to prevent the Nazis getting hold of extra warships after walking, virtually unresisted, into France in 1940, seems to have been the sort of minor 'detail' that French fascist of our times, Jean-Marie Le Pen  (another bad loser and revisionist) calls the Holocaust. I can't understand these hordes of (non French-speaking) English people moving to France,  as though to some Gallic Arcadia. The great de Gaulle, remember, didn't want the British in the Common Market, a particularly petulant gesture of ingratitude after we housed him in London throughout the war and gave credence to his empty title as leader of the 'Free French', though he was as happy to get into bed with the Germans in the 1960s as the Vichy collaborators were in the 1940s (just read Irene Nemirovsky's 'Suite Francaise' on the antics of the French during the war, and you'll get what I mean).  I've lived in France twice, one time in Brittany, which is a sort of French Cornwall, and once in Paris. There won't be a third time. As The Sun once put it, in the red-top's inimitable style: HOP OFF YOU FROGS!

I shared Laurence Olivier's (as Henry V) patriotic sentiments about England, driving up to Sussex and back last week in the autumn sunshine through villages that were probably around at the time of Agincourt and which may even have recruited archers for the battle. Ours is a lovely, gentle country and needs make no meek and mild apology to the French, much less kow-tow to them in the name of some fondly imagined 'superiority' of culture, lifestyle, language, and cuisine. The French only need to maintain this superior supposition because they are losers. And bad losers at that. Enough said. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


The local BBC news channel today reported a story (see link below) about Year 3 children in Cornwall being given a book of stories in the Cornish language, the idea being to keep the language alive in the minds of the young.

The problem is, the Cornish language died out nearly three hundred years ago. What's left of it today is a sort of resurrection - I say sort of because for a thing to be resurrected it has to be made to live again, in the same guise and in the same context as it lived before, which isn't the case with Cornish. It's become a linguistic experiment, like that other great white hope of internationalist linguistics, Esperanto; and Cornish too is embroiled in 'nationalist' politics. But what it isn't, and can't ever be again, is a living language, widely and fluently spoken in a natural and unaffected fashion down the generations, without a three hundred year 'break'; and it seems to me to be  a stupid and rather irresponsible waste of the local education and literature budgets (and a waste of trees) to publish and dole out storybooks in Cornish to children here, some of whom may have difficulty enough with reading and expressing themselves in English! English, on the other hand,  is very much a living language, and we should all celebrate it (including the Cornish, who are English really) for its marvellous richness and diversity. That said, I have nothing at all against storybooks in Welsh or Irish or Breton or Hungarian or any other living 'minority' language that has proved its credentials over the years and more than holds its own. Nor have I anything against long dead 'spoken' languages like Latin and Classical Greek, because they have an immensely rich literature which has been the bedrock of civilizing thought and soundly deserved their place in the school curriculum - although nobody, except scholars labelled 'elitist', complains about their being kicked off it. Not so, sadly, with Cornish, which is probably why it died out in the first place: because nobody wrote anything of note in it,  and the only people who spoke it quickly learned that it was more effective to use English for any kind of advancement in the world. This, rightly or wrongly, is still the case today. 

But somebody here is evidently making something out of the venture - even if it is only something close to the hearts of certain types of Cornishmen: a golden sop (or should that be a golden pasty) to nationalist (and dreadfully insular) pride, to be paraded about with the Cornish tartan at the annual Bard-fest known as the Gorseth, another falsely resurrected 'tradition' at which slightly crazed people in Druidic robes congratulate each other on their ability to make speeches in Kernewek for all of half an hour.  I think most Year 3 children here would easily dispense with them, and with their funny language.

It almost - almost - makes Gunter Von Hagens's dismal ventures look as though they have some point to them. (See previous post VON HAGENS AT THE 02 CENTRE)  And they're dead too! 


Gunter von Hagens is again exhibiting his grotesque 'plasticinations' of human body parts in time for Halloween.  The nerdy (his own description) son of an SS cook (that's Hitler's SS, not our dear Social Services), Von Hagens was deported from an East German political prison on the grounds that he was mad. Ever since, he's been making a slow killing from body parts, some sourced, it is said, from political prisons elsewhere (notoriously China and Russia).  His exhibitions are the human equivalent of Damien Hearst's pickled cow series which, as everyone knows, are now worth millions. Only a decadent (dying) culture obsessed with 'material' (the goods), in all its forms, could value a human skull encrusted with diamonds as a piece of high 'art'. Von Hagens's work is as soullness and dull as Hearst's, and as degrading to the human spirit as that other fast-growing mass-media genre, pornography, in which bodies are over exposed to the point of ---well, what is the point exactly? Saturation point was reached a long time ago. As The Telegraph writer puts it:

'While Von Hagens has democratised death, he's also done something rather more daunting to it. As you look at his exhibits, it's not only the soluble fats that have been removed. He's also sucked all the emotional resonance out of them. Far from seeming poignant, or even human, these people just look like animatronic models from a bad sci-fi movie, with wisps of flesh adhering to them like bits of old biltong.'


Apparently, there are people queuing up to have the soluble fat sucked out of them (dead or alive). Plasticination is just liposuction by another name that doesn't, presumably, smell  quite as sweet. I can see no earthly use in it - except perhaps one: could  plasticination be the right solution for Gary Glitter? 

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


Cobblers, it seems, are doing well out of the current credit crunch. This is no bad thing, I think, it being no bad thing generally to exercise a little thrift and learn to live with what you have, inspired by the grace and wisdom (as Aeschylus wrote) to live by what you need.

But it may be bad news, weather-wise, if you are thinking, as I am now, and with increasing urgency, of moving away from the Celtic fringe. I'm a city girl, really. Liverpool spawned me and London formed me. I saw my grandma die in Cornwall, and my good, if batty, neighbour, who was only 63 when she kissed off, to be found, a day later, by me and another neighbour. I don't want to die here, like Rosemary, or like my grandma (who would have been 103 on 5 October), old and alone, after  a lifetime's travelling. 'I don't regret a thing, dear,' grandma would say. 'I've been in every capital in Europe.' What a stoic she was. How I admired her. But she wasn't loved, I think. She was admired, yes, but not loved. Maybe she was too formidable a woman to be truly loved. She was what you'd call a doughty dame.

Anyway, this morning, as I set off for Truro, which is a lovely, lovely city, and I love it to bits,  I ran the gauntlet of that antithesis of doughty dames: those fishwife-Clampetts (Baby and Ma) on the other side of my Japanese cedar. Baby was standing by the open 'conservatory' doors, blowing fag smoke outside. She wore a shocking pink towelling bathrobe, Ma squatting inside in a complementary beige number. Both muttered something at me, possibly because I looked so shocked.  It is breast-cancer awareness month, I know, but I doubt that Baby Clampett's deshabille showed any awareness whatsoever. (Terminal slatternliess is what that showed - and they had the cheek to call me 'a dirty woman' (you!)).  That's one niggling-nagging problem with this place. It's not the place: it's never ever been the place (I love the place). It is a certain mentality, common, perhaps to many rural/insular communities. Insular. Inward-looking, mistrustful of outsiders. And mean-minded - so mean-minded -  to the core. When I lived in London, the only violence I ever saw, in many years, was a 'domestic' argument on a Tube platform one night (at Charing Cross, I think). No one intervened, of course, the convention in the Underground being strictly no eye contact, ever. But then, shortly after landing in St Ives (as many incomers to Cornwall do - even one like me with a grandma in Truro still living at the time), I witnessed horrific, visceral, mean-minded violence, the whole town turning on on one another as soon as the summer visitors ('emmets') went home and the autumn set in.  Why? Were they bored like the Clampetts, terminally dull and shifty? Those days, I was ashamed to be an 'emmet' and flourished my Cornish credentials (thin and only on my late father's side anyway) as often as I could.  But not any more. I'm an emmet and proud of it. I'd rather be a sodding emmet than a Cornish Clampett. I'd rather say I was quarter Welsh (which I am) and quarter Yorkshire. Anyday.