Thursday 26 September 2013

In The Money

'He then spent two years as a banker at Robert Fleming before following the family tradition by entering Panmure Gordon; he became a partner before the age of 30. Moving into a flat in Basil Street, Knightsbridge, he threw what a friend described as “endless parties with the most beautiful girls”.'


'Nigel Paul Farage was born in Kent in 1964, one of two sons of a colourful and hard-drinking City stockbroker. Guy Justus Oscar Farage’s propensity to mix work with pleasure was clearly influential on the young Nigel, who followed his father into the City as a highly remunerated commodities trader. (Andrew, Farage’s younger brother, also headed to the City, where he still works as a broker on the London Metal Exchange.)
Guy, who became an alcoholic, divorced his wife Barbara when Nigel was five. But Farage acknowledges his father’s influence: like Guy – “the best-dressed man in the stock exchange at the time” – Nigel bears the demeanour and attire of a City gent before the barbarians were allowed in after the 1986 “Big Bang” reforms.'

Saturday 14 September 2013

Desires and Memories

"Thou art nothing. And all thy desires and memories and loves and dreams, nothing. The little dead earth-louse were of greater avail than thou, were it not nothing as thou art nothing. For all is nothing: earth and sky and sea and they that dwell therein. Nor shall this illusion comfort thee, if it might, that when thou art abolished these things shall endure for a season, stars and months return, and men grow old and die, and new men and women live and love and die and be forgotten. For what is it to thee, that shalt be as a blown-out flame? and all things in earth and heaven, and things past and things for to come, and life and death, and the mere elements of space and time, of being and not being, all shall be nothing unto thee; because thou shalt be nothing, for ever." 

E.R. Eddison - The Worm Ouroboros


“All Englishmen who were in their twenties in 1905 had at least one thing in common: They’d watched the world of their childhoods die. Just as they were coming of age,electricity replaced gaslight. Cars and buses replaced horses and bicycles. Urban populations were exploding, mass media and advertising were yammering, and mechanized warfare crouched in the wings, ready and waiting. The early twentieth century looked and sounded and smelled nothing like the late nineteenth. “In those days of the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century the rhythm of London traffic which one listened to as one fell asleep in one’s nursery was the rhythm of horses’ hooves clopclopping down London streets in broughams, hansom cabs, and four-wheelers,” Woolf would write, toward the end of his life, in the unimaginable year of1960. “And the rhythm, the tempo got into one’s blood and one’s brain, so that in a sense I have never become entirely reconciled in London to the rhythm and tempo of the whizzing and rushing cars.” Woolf felt displaced, like the hero of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, exiled in the future. So did everybody else—Evelyn Waugh once remarked that if he ever got a hold of a time machine, he’d put it in reverse and go backward, into the past. “

“But by the time we reach them, those green fields are always in decline. The spell never lasts. King Arthur is always dying, and theElves are always shuffling off toward Valinor, where mortals cannot follow. Narnia falls into chaos, then drowns and freezes, and the survivors retreat into Aslan’s Land. We think of fantasy and modernism as worlds apart, but somehow they always end up in the same place. They are perfectly symmetrical. Fantasy is a prelude to the apocalypse. Modernism is the epilogue.”


Central Office Calling

 Quite a good Radio 4 program about British conservatism here. Even Dominic Sandbrook is ok.

Monday 2 September 2013

Tories at play: further notes from the field

Part II: Individual sports

Lawn Tennis

If rugby is war, and cricket is social life, then tennis is reproduction. As John Betjemen saw in 'A Subaltern’s Love Song' the main function of tennis was as a dating agency for middle England. The tennis club, or the tennis party, was a way of letting young men and women meet each other in a respectable environment. Having a large, well mown lawn suitable for a tennis party was an excellent display of social status. Plus. English people are naturally slightly shy, and have always needed a helping hand in this area. In tennis two (or four in doubles) people play against each other. This allows them to display athleticism (i.e good bone structure and the like) to one another, and the competitive element adds frisson. A perfect game for Surrey smoothies. Tennis has always appeared more progressive in gender terms, due to the relatively high status of the women's game. However, this merely confirms the sexual dynamics of tennis, and reveals mixed doubles to be its real heart.

All this explains why the English have been so bad at professional tennis: to do really well at it would be To Miss The Point. The only great English tennis player was Fred Perry, who came from a very different background to most members of the All England Club (his father was a former cotton spinner and national secretary of the Co-Operative Party). Shunned by those who ran the game, he left for Hollywood in the late '30s where he had an affair with Marlene Dietritch. 

Field Sports [hunting, shooting, fishing]

The main point of field sports to demonstrate what a huge amount of land you own, as all field sports need large 'special areas' in the countryside. Or in the case of hunting, your social influence that allows you to charge through other peoples land with impunity. Even if you aren't a land owner, being good at these activities allows you to flatter yourself that you are at least a hanger-on. Participants are usually invited down [or up] for the weekend, you can't just turn up and play. It is, as Withnail said, "Free for those can afford it". The right kit is essential too: hunting pinks, horses, gun dogs, rods, plus fours etc. Its also very expensive. Purdey won't even tell you how much a bespoke 12 bore would set you back. And, of course, this sets up a demand for budget alternatives that reinforce social distinction: pitch-and-put, .22 shooting etc.


Johnathan Meades has already done golf for us, so I'll leave it there.

Saturday 17 August 2013

Tories at play: a field guide

Part I: team sports

Sport was a key part of the invention of public school education in the 19th century. It served to teach the life skills needed for any potential officer and gentlemen. Therefore, it is essential for understanding the Tory Imagination. The two main team games are rugby and cricket. Both are imperial sports, as seen in the countries that participate in them. Each sport teaches a set of values, and must be understood in turn.

Rugby Union
Rugby Union is designed as preparation for military service. Unlike football which is fairly obvious to pick up, rugby is highly didactic. The rules are complicated, giving referees a great deal of control. Education is chosen over pleasure. The chaos and physicality that puts off outsiders is, of course, the point. Rugby teaches its players to suck up punishment, take control, and hit back. Like an infantry platoon it requires small groups to specialize in particular tasks, and to produce their own leaders. The unpopularity of rugby with most of the British public is again part of the point. Just as the British Army has always been small with a regimental system that encourages elitism, so rugby union installs a feeling among its players that they are a caste a part.

This is why rugby hung on to its amateur status for so long. It allowed its elite players to retain a foothold in key sections of Tory society, so they could assume leadership positions in everyday life. So JPR Williams was a doctor at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, the Underwoods flew Tornadoes for the RAF.


Cricket is for peacetime. Unlike rugby, pleasure is allowed here (hence the importance of meal breaks). Crickets teaches its players that hierarchy is the natural order of society, and that We Are All In This Together. The MCC is the centre of the cricketing world. Below them are the counties each with their own headquarters (The Oval, Trent Bridge, Headingley etc). This structure clearly parallels the Anglican Church, with its diocese and cathedrals. Each county ground also installs hierarchy. As cricket grounds are circular, the pavilion can be seen from all the stands. It is clearly bigger and taller, and the only building of architectural merit. The members of the county (distinguished by their jackets and ties) sit in special sections of the pavilion, allowing normal punters to see them. 

However, a common contemporary misunderstanding is that cricket is a 'Posh' game (although this does reflect the sad decline of local clubs in many areas.) If football is working class, and rugby is middle class, then English cricket is cross-class, a legacy of its rural origins. Traditionally, batsmen were middle and upper class, as this was the elegant part of the game, but one which required less physical movement. Working class players were bowlers, the more aggressive and exhausting side of the game. This became the notorious 'gentlemen vs players' divide: middle class amateurs vs working class professionals. Many of the great England players - Harold Larwood, Fred Trueman, Geoffrey Boycott - have far more impressive proletarian credentials than most suburban Aston Villa fans. However, cricket works hard to create working class Tories, of whom Ian Botham is the outstanding archetype. Fred Trueman and Darren Gough were also both Tories. 

The Left could learn something here, but they refuse to take working class Toryism seriously, seeing it either as a form de-politicization or proto-fascism. Cricket is the real microcosm of class relations in England. Trueman, Boycott and Botham all fell out with cricket's establishment, but never found a way to defeat the blazers. They were left to seethe with resentment for years to come, or ended up fighting among themselves. Finally, they were rehabilitated as colorful characters in the commentary box, acting as foils for the whimsy of the professional cricket journos.

Boycott recalls the injustice of Harold Larwood's career:

Friday 16 August 2013

We'll Muddle Through

If the civil religion of Britishness has its pantheon of saints, then surely Sir Ranulph Fiennes is a candidate for canonisation. This British Stakhanov embodies three of the most sacred values of Britishness - hierarchy, endurance, and projection. Hierarchy is what helps to give Britain its sense of stability and continuity, and though it is very visible in British public life, it is not entirely inflexible - a blinkered devotion to pointless acts of endurance can often help one raise one's social status. Sir Ranulph's high position within the hierarchy is denoted by both his knighthood and his rare and effete surname, whose tonguey, airey quality denotes he is not from common Saxon stock.

Sir Ranulph is an endurance specialist, and it is in this vocation that he is a paragon of British civil virtue. Being British is, fundamentally, about enduring - about keeping calm and carrying on, keeping your pecker or your chin up, not letting the bastards grind you down, and maintaining a stiff upper lip. We are where we are. Gibraltar. The Falklands. Anniversaries. Austerity. Coronation Street. Dr. Who. James Bond. All going on and on and on just like Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Or Bear Grylls. Or Ray Mears.

Perhaps one day Dr. Who will jog backwards to the North Pole with a cannonball chained to his penis just like Sir Ranulph. He'll muddle through. And being at the North Pole, he will be embracing that third British value - projection - which is the idea that British people belong absolutely everywhere in the world, especially those places that are most remote and inhospitable. There is simply no environment in the world, no matter how parched, windswept, frozen or dangerous, that is not augmented by the presence of a lycra-clad Briton wiping his or her forehead with a water bottle in a status-raising act of pointless endurance. And it goes without saying that any nation that gets a bit testy about Brits running hither and thither across its blasted landscape, such as, say, Russia or Iran, must be both inscrutable and perverse.

Can they not understand what we are trying to do?

Monday 5 August 2013

Last of the British Battleships

"The car was announced in July 1947. It was completely new with no resemblance to the previous models, and was Standard's first post-Second World War car. It was also the first model to carry the new Standard badge, which was a heavily-stylised representation of the wings of a Griffin.
In the wake of the Second World War many potential customers in the UK and in English-speaking export markets had recently experienced several years of military or naval service, therefore a car name related to the British Navy carried a greater resonance than it would for later generations. The name of the Standard Vanguard recalled HMS Vanguard, the last of the British Navy's battleships, launched in 1944 amid much media attention: permission to use the name involved Standard in extensive negotiations with senior Royal Navy personnel."

- A British-made car in its natural habitat, out to pasture -

Das Auto: The Germans, Their Cars, and Us: Dominic Sandbrook is probably one of the most popular British historians writing at the moment, with his weighty books about the history of post-war decades in Britain (a common interest at the moment, David Kynaston, Jennifer Worth, etc). As became apparent in the documentary about  The 70s Sandbrook presented last year, he has his own particular corner to argue, all apparent on last night's doc about the German and British car industry ('Autobahn' was obligingly played, though strangely none of the small canon of British car songs, 'Brand New Cadillac' '2-4-6-8 Motorway' 'Wheels of Steel' or, uh, 'Car Song' - very possibly Britain doesn't lend itself to that sort of thing).

Sandbrook's recurrent argument is that Britain has a destiny as a Great Nation, but is continually thwarted by the likes of crusty imperialists naming cars after battleships, management confused at the change of pace in the postwar decades, and unruly militant unions. Sandbrook looks nostalgically to the immediate postwar period when production at Volkswagen was handed over to the British, who made most of their initial earnings supplying vehicles to the occupying forces (the VW is an unusually fated car - Adolf Hitler took a personal hand in developing it, but it is doubtful if any at all would have been affordable during wartime; VWs later became pivotal in the early 60s revolution in advertising as documented by Thomas Frank in The Conquest of Cool). 
It is hard to pin down exactly what Sandbrook's about (despite obvious sympathies for eviscerating the unions, he seems to regard Thatcherism as a step to far and an injury too deep), until nearer the end of the car documentary when things become more clearer and more optimistic. Sandbrook heaps acclaim on the few remaining British factories (avoiding the fact most are owned by foreign companies), and seems to be hinting that British car manufacturing is on the rise. Sandbrook is clearly drinking out the same cup as the Free Enterprise Group of Tories, who suggest that it is necessary for Britain to relearn its work ethic, to toughen up and get smarter for the trying economic times ahead. Sandbrook looks nostalgically to Germany with their friendly relations between management and union; in reality the new generation of Tories look eagerly to the working conditions of the country's the West currently exploits, more Foxconn than BMW.

This optimism is punctured somewhat by a seemingly unnoticed slip in production. Sandbrook draws on the nation-spirit of James Bond to illustrate his points about Britannia Unchained. During the 1990s Britain seemed a more power on the slide; Bond in GoldenEye (1995) drives a BMW, consciously choosing a 'superior' piece of engineering. Presently in SkyFall (2013) the Bond franchise partakes to some classy autoretromania by placing Daniel Craig behind the wheel of an Austin Martin. We are once again a Great Nation. Except, much earlier in the programme, Sandbrook makes an admission: none of the Great British car companies are owned by Britain at all. The car Bond demonstrates is brand patriotism with (his patriotic brandism?), is collectively owned by a consortium of Americans, Italians, and Kuwaitis.

Cars have always been a barometer of the levels of belief in a country's nation-spirit. Battleships to rusting death-traps to city trader BMWs. A forgotten story now about the American automobile industry is that around the early 1960s it was believed to have more or less crashed out when: a) production costs became too large; and b) there was a wave of skepticism about the car industry captured by books such as Ralph Nader's or John Keats'. 

The American auto industry was saved (in Thomas Frank's telling) by the innovations of advertisers who married the image of the small unassuming VW with a new sense of cool, hip, earnestness that would later become "the 60s". If the efforts of Sandbrook, the Free Enterprise Group, and others are to be observed, Britain's future is about to be tied to a self-image that the original innovators of the VW would have found not very unusual at all.