29 December 2010

Geoffrey Grigson’s Definition of SW England

2011 will be the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. Although now thought of as an exhibition on London’s South Bank which left us the Royal Festival Hall, it sponsored various other good works, one being a series of regional guidebooks. The About Britain Guides were published by Collins for the Festival Office in 13 volumes under the general editorship of Geoffrey Grigson, who also wrote the Portrait sections of Volumes 1, West Country and 2, Wessex.

In the 1930s Grigson had become an established poet, well-known in intellectual circles. He is one of the many writers and artists who Alexandra Harris, in Romantic Moderns, sees as coming to terms with Modernist abstraction by using it to reinterpret traditional English themes such as landscape. Her book is remarkably wide-ranging and informative, essential reading for anyone interested in twentieth century British art. Britain’s pavilion for the 1937 Paris World’s Fair by Oliver Hill embodies her theme (page 47-9):
"... as one approached it, the epitome of elegant concrete constructivism ... Then there was the inside. The ‘idea of England’ promoted in a series of displays ... was one of fishing, tennis and weekend cottages. ... This was a pavilion with mixed messages, advertising internationalism on the outside and Englishness within. ... it was a high-profile barometer of the difficulties involved in the attempt to reconcile international modernism with the language of national tradition."
Fourteen years and a world war later, much of this would be true again of the Festival of Britain, with its “contemporary” pavilions and domes and the Skylon on the one hand, and an eccentric mock-Victorian railway in Battersea Park on the other. As a later critic put it, “The contemporary style removed the visionary heat of Modernism from the exhibition, and replaced it with a cajoling warmth” (Robert Gregory, Architectural Review, 2000).

The Skylon, said to be, like the British economy in 1951, "without visible means of support"

To a reader today, Grigson’s depiction of the West Country seems very much of its time, although he avoided retrospective sentimentality in bringing the region’s history and its 1951 present together. Much of the business and manufacturing of the 1950s now seem almost as remote as the mining and cloth trades of the 18th century. The cover and dust jacket of each volume of The About Britain Guides provided a map of its region. As can be seen below, Grigson, by comparison with the SW England region used currently by the government (see this blog’s Profile above), chose to define West Country as being without the counties of Dorset and SE Wiltshire, both of which he placed in Wessex along with the Isle of Wight.

More recently, a government-sponsored website, ICONS - A Portrait of England, came up with a set of 11 English regions (including London) for its purpose, not dissimilar to Grigson’s, of being “a rich resource of material about our lives and cultural heritage comprised of the top 100 icons that best represent England ...”. ICONS excluded all of Wiltshire from its definition of the West Country and also excluded Gloucestershire. The county of Avon had a brief life from 1974 to 1996 when it was returned to its neighbours and Bristol.

Personally, I’m not sure where the West Country ends as one travels east in England, which is a small place in which to draw boundaries. On the whole I agree with Grigson, but some of West Dorset should probably be inside. I share ICONS’ reservations about Gloucestershire which, to me, consists of three distinct parts: the Forest of Dean, which is like nowhere else; secondly, the Cotswolds, which continue seamlessly into Oxfordshire; finally, Gloucester and Cheltenham (cities of the Severn plain) and the upper Severn valley, all going better with landlocked Worcestershire and the West Midlands than with maritime Devon and Cornwall.  It seems odd of ICONS to include the whole of Wiltshire and none of Dorset.


The Festival of Britain was open from May to September 1951. Any lasting effect, apart from its concert hall, was rapidly dissipated after the return of a Conservative government in October 1951. David Kynaston, in Family Britain, 1951-57, makes no bones about it: “... the Tory restoration – a restoration whose most obviously symbolic early action was the systematic, undeniably vengeful demolition of the entire Festival of Britain infrastructure on the South Bank, with the unavoidable exception of the Royal Festival Hall.” Another British historian of the period, Peter Hennessy (now Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield - in the County of Gloucestershire) takes a drier view in Never Again: Britain 1945-51, pointing out that “It was Herbert Morrison’s show. He picked up the idea and ran with it, selling it to the [Labour] Cabinet on the grounds that we ought to do something jolly ...”. Morrison (Foreign Secretary) would have been well aware that with a majority of only five seats after the 1950 election, Labour would be unlikely to last a full term and needed to court popularity.

Grigson continued to write poetry and about travel and the countryside. He died in 1985 at the age of 80. His third wife, Jane, was a well-known cookery writer as is their daughter, Sophie. In 2009 she wrote a tribute to her father in The Times when his guide to the British countryside, The Shell Country Alphabet, was republished.

ICONS seems to have been subsumed by Culture24 which “exists to promote and support the cultural sector online and to serve the needs of online audiences. We are a not-for-profit online publisher, working across the arts, heritage, education, and tourism sectors.” Culture24 was funded by the Arts Council, Department for Education and MLA Renaissance. The last of these, more prosaically the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, was abolished by the Coalition government in July 2010, and Culture24’s future must be doubtful, given the severity of recent funding cuts for public bodies.

26 December 2010

Baldwin and the Harlot’s Prerogative

Parallels have been drawn between David Cameron and one of his Conservative predecessors, Stanley Baldwin. For example, in a guest post in July 2010, Laurence Taylor warned fellow Young Fabians:
As historical actors, Baldwin and Cameron strike a similar pose. Both modernisers, both easy media performers, both leaders of anti-Labour coalitions. It seems from his speeches that Cameron is taking Baldwin’s style of leadership seriously, and so should we.
However irritating the coalition’s problems this month with the Daily Telegraph must be, Cameron’s difficulties are nothing like those faced by Baldwin 80 years ago. In 1929 Baldwin had campaigned unsuccessfully for re-election under slogans of “Safety First” and “Trust Baldwin”. Out of 616 seats, Labour under Ramsay MacDonald won 287 seats, Baldwin’s Conservatives 260 and the Liberals, led by David Lloyd George, 59. Unlike 2010 (Con 306, Lab 258, LibDem 57), the majority party did not seek to form a coalition with the Liberals, but by relying on their erratic support Macdonald was able to form a Labour government which would continue until 1931. Baldwin soon came under attack from the two rival right-wing press barons of the day, Lords Rothermere (Daily Mail) and Beaverbrook (Daily and Sunday Express, Evening Standard (London)). The two rivals made a common cause over free trade in the British empire, running their own candidates against the Conservatives in a couple of by-elections, but with mixed success. Baldwin, seeing the press barons’ campaign was faltering and antagonising the Tory party’s rank-and-file, counter-attacked on 17 March 1931 in a famous speech incorporating words from his cousin, Rudyard Kipling:
The papers conducted by Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook are not newspapers in the ordinary acceptance of the term. They are engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal wishes, personal likes and dislikes of two men. What are their methods? Their methods are direct falsehood, misrepresentation, half-truths, the alteration of the speaker's meaning by putting sentences apart from the context, suppression and editorial criticism of speeches which are not reported in the paper. What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, but power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.
Immediately Baldwin was able to consolidate his leadership of the Conservatives for most of the 1930s, becoming PM in 1935. A remnant of Beaverbrook’s Empire Crusade lives on in Express newspapers' logo, parodied since the 1960s by Private Eye magazine.

Malcolm Muggeridge in his The Thirties noted that:
There are, indeed, few more tantalising situations in life than a Press Lord's. He has money, he has his circle of paid flatterers; he can have as much publicity as he likes since the headlines are his own to get into, and can make others famous or infamous as he pleases. Yet whenever he attempts to exercise his potential authority, he finds himself frustrated.
Rothermere and Beaverbrook had over six million readers to influence at a time when the total population was under 38 million, radio was still in its infancy and television unknown. Just under 14 million votes were cast in the 1931 general election.  Currently newspaper sales are much lower and declining (see chart below), although the population is over 61 million, and over 27 million voted in the 2010 election. Are the current owners of newspapers directing their editors to pursue political goals, or are they more interested in adopting whatever journalistic ruses might slow the decline in circulations? The Empire of interest to a Press Baron today is more likely to be his own multinational.

The loss of sales over the last decade must, in part, be due to the availability of news and comment for free over the web and is not unique to the UK. It is interesting to note that in the last year The Daily Telegraph, without a pay wall on its website so far, has lost over 12% of sales and The Times, with, has lost over 17%. The value of advertising on a website, be it free or pay, by comparison with print must be difficult to ascertain. But what is the future of print? Presumably some of the former hard copy readers of The Times are now downloading onto an iPad, but do they take in the ads in the same way?  Against this background it seems unlikely that all the current titles will be printing in five years time, let alone ten.

No doubt if, as has been rumoured, The Times and The Sunday Times are put up for sale, there will be eager buyers because of the prestige and access that still come with ownership. But the situation in the early 1990s - before Blair became Prime Minister, he and Alastair Campbell seem to have been in a perpetual state of high anxiety over the attitude of the press – is unlikely to recur. If an iPad-type device were made available at low cost, but locked mobile phone-style to a particular newspaper group, things might be different. As it is, control seems to be passing to the individual iPad user, who, even if he or she subscribes, is likely to want to download other news and views, readily available on the web. Newspapers, long accustomed to sharing the media space with television, are now being squeezed even further in terms of ability to influence individual voters. With such an uncertain future, could newspapers and their owners ever again going to be a serious threat to party leaders, as the “harlots” did to Baldwin, or have they been reduced to being at worst irritating bit-players in the saga of the 24-hour news cycle?

21 December 2010

Vince Cable and Chairman Mao

The Daily Telegraph’s developing scoop concerning Vincent Cable (UK Coalition Business Secretary) may yet lead to his resignation. The problem is the indiscreet nature of his comments to two undercover reporters, Holly Watt and Laura Roberts, at a surgery (MP’s consultation session) in his Twickenham, SW London, constituency.

One of his remarks reported on 21 December:
There are a lot of things happening. There is a kind of Maoist revolution happening in a lot of areas like the health service, local government, reform, all this kind of stuff, which is in danger of getting out of control.
intrigued me, because we don’t hear so much about Chairman Mao Tse-Tung these days, certainly by comparison with 40 years ago when the Cultural Revolution was at its height. Vince Cable and I are old enough to remember the Chairman’s Red Book on sale in translation - probably as incompletely read as Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, but much cheaper. So it’s a funny old thing when Mao appears prominently twice in three days in the UK press. Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer on 19 December had an articleChairman Cameron's regime is not a million miles from Mao”, subheaded “Anywhere you look in Whitehall, there's a secretary of state unleashing upheaval with reforming zeal”.

All we know so far from the Telegraph about the timing of the calamitous surgery is that it was “earlier this month”. Cable’s website says that his surgeries are on Fridays, so Mao was on his mind before the Rawnsley article was published.  Perhaps this young lady, Red Book in hand, had turned up at one of them, and Rawnsley is a clairvoyant.

Surely not a Twickenham constituent


19 December 2010

Andrew Marr – a Bloggetariat response

The South West of England probably has more than its fair share of annual literary/literature festivals, held, for example, at Bath, Dartington and even Budleigh Salterton. It also hosts one of the country’s major festivals at Cheltenham. This year (8 October 2010) Andrew Marr, a leading BBC political presenter, gave a talk at Cheltenham: “exploring the impact of technology on our consumption of journalism, he joins us to consider the impact of the Internet on the reporting of current affairs and asks what is the future of news?” His comments on blogging in particular were picked up by the media, for example The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, and were quoted thus:
"A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people. OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk. But the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night. It is fantastic at times but it is not going to replace journalism."
Responding to a question from the audience he added:
"Most of the blogging is too angry and too abusive. It is vituperative. Terrible things are said on line because they are anonymous. People say things on line that they wouldn't dream of saying in person."
I only learnt about Marr’s views recently, and I don’t think they would have put me off starting Western Independent at the end of October. But to reassure anyone passing through: this blogger is not single, is too old to be pimply - at the price of a receding hairline, and hopefully less than slightly seedy. And we all have to live with the noses (or ears) we are given, don’t we? I don’t blog late at night, or very drunk, or in my mother’s basement. Surely these posts aren’t angry or ranting, though possibly I seem irked at times?  As far as appearances go, not long since I almost bumped into Marr in a London street. He’s on the short side in comparison to, say, the current and last three Prime Ministers, delicate rather than wiry, and could be considered unwise to raise the subject of baldness. He was well-groomed, but not exceptionally so for a prosperous London media type.  To judge from suits he wears on the BBC1 Andrew Marr Show, he likes to shoot a lot of cuff.

More seriously, Marr, a very talented man, has climbed high up the ladder of journalism and television, and may well take a dim view of clever arrivistes who seem to have discovered a short cut from mere blogging to mainstream media success and its rewards. Examples are Will Straw, formerly in command of Left Foot Forward, and Ian Dale of the Diary, who both, substantially on the strength of their blog reputations, were taken up by Any Questions on the BBC and the like, and are now giving up blogging for greater things. There are other bloggers who post thoughtful pieces which are well worth reading (eg Hopi Sen). But their presence, and the consequent claims they make on the finite resource which is readers’ time, can be seen as posing a threat to the existence of traditional journalists. Journalism, like acting, is an occupation which many people fancy as an option, and, unlike say the law, has always had a low entry threshold. Take this passage from the  Decline and Fall volume of Chris Mullin’s (a journalist turned MP) diaries (10 August 2005):
Ngoc [Mrs Mullin] drew my attention to the following passage in Andrew Marr's introduction to his book My Trade: 'Despite having a first class degree and reading an unfeasibly large number of books, it began to dawn on me that I couldn't actually do anything. I can't sing, act, tell jokes, play any musical instrument, hit, kick or catch a ball, run for more than a few yards without panting, speak another language or assemble things without them falling apart immediately ... journalism seemed the only option.'
'That's you,' she said.
And so it is, minus the first class degree.
It isn't too fanciful to wonder whether blogging is making the entrance level to a pretty marginal profession still lower, with the inevitable consequence of some real (ie non-citizen) journalism being displaced, contrary to Marr’s view.

Returning to Marr at Cheltenham: “People say things on line that they wouldn't dream of saying in person." So, would I have gone up and said all this to him in person? Yes, but that’s an academic question because I am a very ordinary “citizen blogger” ( a member of the bloggetariat – a word surely already coined) whose posts go unnoticed anyway. But, given the chance, I would have taken the opportunity to challenge his pretty harsh generalisations. I would also have said that his criticisms might have been better directed at the sort of comments that the web pages of serious newspapers permit to appear in their hundreds, attached to well-written pieces by quality journalists. Far too many of these contributions seem to come from the mentally disturbed, or just plain vicious, who must think their ramblings are given substance because they appear in font in a public space. Why the various Lord Coppers’ servers are ready to accommodate such ravings is unfathomable. There are, of course, honourable exceptions like The Economist and Financial Times websites (both protected to some extent by pay walls and registration), where, by contrast, the knowledgeable comments often add to the original offerings.

17 December 2010

Oh, my! PAPA, are you so wonderful?

Mike Smithson’s PoliticalBetting.com describes itself as “Britain’s most-read political blog – and the best online resource for betting on politics.” Punters, as well trying to read the runes from opinion pieces, take as keen an interest in opinion polls of voting intentions as politicians claim not to. So, to assist its readers, PoliticalBetting has recently introduced PAPA - The Politicalbetting All Pollsters’ Average:
[PAPA is] calculated by taking the average shares for the three main parties from the latest poll of from each of the polling firms in the preceding month.
Unlike the UKPR average PAPA does not discriminate for or against any pollster and only includes the latest survey from each of the firms. The aim is to recalculate it as each new poll comes out or as old polls drop out after passing the month-old point.
I think it would be fair to describe PAPA as an unweighted (but see below) rolling average (a rolling polling average!) of the most recent (ie in the last four weeks, rather than “preceding month”) polls by the major pollsters.  “UKPR” refers to another popular political website, Anthony Wells’ UK Polling Report (no opinion pieces, just polling data), which advises:
The best way to judge the polls is to take the broad picture, not an average, look at the general trends and if they are showing a contrasting picture look at the possible reasons why. I hope that is something that UK Polling Report does for readers. If you don’t have time for that though, and just want a simple overall figure that tells you how the parties are doing, then here is the UKPollingReport Polling Average.
The UKPR Polling Average takes in polls from the last 20 days and gives them weightings based on various factors, including how recently they were conducted, the past record of the pollster producing the figures, the methodology used, the sample size and how many polls have been produced by a single pollster.
UKPR goes on to explain the weightings it uses. But how do UKPR and PB crunch their numbers? I took data from the two websites at 12:00 GMT on 16 December 2010 (UK notation so 16/12/10 etc). They draw on non-identical but overlapping sets of recent polling results, as shown in the table below. To bring them into alignment I’ve worked out what I think PAPA would have been on 10 December, but it doesn’t have much effect on what follows.

Certain points can be drawn from this table. Firstly, PAPA is not “unweighted”, rather it gives an equal weighting to those polls PB select and a zero weighting to all others. Secondly, the only reason for following polls is to observe changing public opinion, so, all other things being equal, the more recent a poll, the greater its significance. Because PAPA polls can span a month and are equally weighted, stale results are not given less emphasis. Therefore PAPA is inherently a lagging indicator by comparison with UKPR’s figures. Finally, there is the issue of accuracy, a big subject (see the answers to "FAQs By Members Of The Public” from the British Polling Council). While combining polls carried out at the same time should reduce random errors and give a more accurate result, I am doubtful as to whether PAPA should be presenting data to three significant figures (ie introducing a decimal).

Lord Parkinson (a Cabinet minister under Mrs Thatcher) was asked about political betting on BBC Radio4 PM on 15 December. He said that he never gambled, summarising bookmaking as: “You bet, we win”. I’m inclined to agree with him, but if I were a gambling man and wanted a summary figure for recent polling, I would take UKPR’s average more seriously than PAPA.

POST TITLE: Younger readers may be unaware of a 1954 number one hit recording by Eddie Fisher, “Oh! My Pa-Pa", translated from the song, “O mein Papa”, in a 1939 German musical:
Oh, my pa-pa, to me he was so wonderful
Oh, my pa-pa, to me he was so good
No one could be, so gentle and so lovable
Oh, my pa-pa, he always understood.
etc, etc

12 December 2010

SW England Redefined

MIT researchers have produced a novel means of assessing the UK's regional boundaries:

"Do regional boundaries defined by governments respect the more natural ways that people interact across space?  This paper proposes a novel, fine-grained approach to regional delineation, based on analyzing networks of billions of individual human transactions.  Given a geographical area and some measure of the strength of links between its inhabitants, we show how to partition the area into smaller, non-overlapping regions while minimizing the disruption to each person's links.  We tested our method on the largest non-Internet human network, inferred from a large telecommunications database in Great Britain.  Our partitioning algorithm yields geographically cohesive regions that correspond remarkably well with administrative regions, while unveiling unexpected spatial structures that had previously only been hypothesized in the literature.  We also quantify the effects of partitioning, showing for instance that the effects of a possible secession of Wales from Great Britain would be twice as disruptive for the human network than that of Scotland.
Carlo Ratti, Stanislav Sobolevsky, Francesco Calabrese, Clio Andris, Jonathan Reades, Mauro Martino, Rob Claxton, Steven H Strogatz - PLoS ONE, 2010"

Their method is explained on YouTube, and at this point, where the existing boundaries are superimposed, it indicates that the South West ought to lose East Dorset which, unsurprisingly, prefers to communicate eastwards: Bournemouth, Southampton etc.  Otherwise, quite a good fit, as would be expected for a peninsular region of an island.  It doesn't look as though the detail supports Cornish nationalism, given the would-be statelet's interaction with Plymouth on the other side of the border.

10 December 2010

PMQs and Parliamentary Sketchwriters

There is a long British tradition of Parliamentary sketchwriters providing much-needed light relief. For my money The Times’ Ann Treneman is the best at the moment. One of her gifts is being able to report mainly male antics with devastating female dryness. The aim of a sketchwriter is, of course, to amuse his or her audience, not to provide thoughtful analysis. From what I can see, most of the sketchwriters took a similar view of PMQs on 8 December, for example that of Simon Carr in The Independent:
... "Rank hypocrisy. Shameless opportunism," Cameron had said. "He's behaving like a student politician and that's all he ever will be."
"I was a student politician," EDM [Ed Miliband] said, "but I didn't spend my time hanging around with people who were wrecking restaurants and throwing bread rolls."
Whatever it looks like on the page it had a wonderful effect on his reputation. He can't be said to have won the questioning – he tripped up a couple of times, and two of his gags didn't really fire, but all that became irrelevant in an instant. He'd bopped the Prime Minister on the nose and his MPs were crazed with excitement and relief, jack-knifing with that laughter they do. ...
... Kerry McCarthy asked him a pert little question about The Smiths (who recently banned Cameron from liking them). The PM was able to come up immediately with a couple song titles. "I probably wouldn't get 'This Charming Man'," he said, in that charming way he has.
Then he dispatched Jack Dromey's much-interrupted question with the words, "He has the unique qualification of being selected on an all-woman shortlist – next time he comes in he should dress properly." ...

But nowadays we all know how much preparation goes into PMQs.  A wide range of questions likely to be forthcoming from those opposition members lucky enough to be chosen for PMQs are researched and assessed by very bright people who then carefully fireproof the answers. So:

1.  I think Cameron was giving Miliband an open goal and a boost - I wonder why?
2.  Given recent Twitterings like
@Johnny_Marr David Cameron, stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it.
McCarthy's question was predictable, it’s just that the No10 team wouldn't have known which opposition MP would ask it instead of, say, something to do with their constituency.  The Smith's song titles would probably be listed somewhere in the PMs brief.
3.  Similarly, given that they knew a question was coming from Dromey, that all-purpose put-down would have been on the stocks.

6 December 2010

“The Westminster village” – the peaking of a cliché?

“The Westminster village” (or occasionally "bubble”) has become a shorthand for the overlapping worlds of politics, government and media in London, all centred on the Houses of Parliament. If the village had a physical existence, its inhabitants would hang out in the locale which runs from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall and past Downing Street, through Parliament Square and College Green and on down Millbank, with excursions along Victoria Street and across Vauxhall Bridge. But the metaphor contains an element of criticism: that those who live and work in the Whitehall village are inward-looking careerists,  are preoccupied with the dynamics of the 24-hour news cycle and have only feign interest in the concerns of the rest of us.

A recent (3 December 2010) and random example comes from the Financial Times’ Westminster blog:
Vince blows the gaff and pledges to vote for the tuition fee rise
Vince Cable has consigned the idea to the dustbin, saying he’ll vote for a rise in fees. He broke the news to the Twickenham Times. ...
Why the sudden about turn? He may have seen Danny Alexander’s mauling on Question Time, which is certainly a wake-up call for all Lib Dems who thought the negative reaction to abstaining would only resonate in the Westminster village.
(Background: Cable's interview with the Richmond and Twickenham Times was given earlier on 3 December and reported by their website as Breaking News; Question Time was on BBC1 the previous evening.)

I thought it would be interesting to trace the increasing usage of “the Westminster village” (“TWV”) over the last few years by means of search results from NewsUK and Google. The former is confined to the main national and regional newspapers and weekly magazines, while the latter covers less of the conventional media but looks across many websites and blogs. The annual results are shown in the graph below:
There are some interesting features. Firstly, NewsUK sources show “TWV” use beginning in 1994 whereas the first Google result was in 1999. It then took a few more years for “TWV” to penetrate the wider Google-searched world sufficiently to overtake its use by the mainstream media. Growth as reported by Google has been strong since then and shows no sign of abating. Google also tends to underestimate by grouping like instances under, for example, “Show more results from bbc.co.uk”.

However, the NewsUK sources show a peak in 2009 at 236 occurrences and fall in 2010 to 188. The 2010 figure is for the 11 months to 30 November, but the full-year figure is most unlikely to jump by 48 at end-December as the monthly average this year has been only 17. Interestingly, this decline has occurred in a period of extensive political coverage with the general election and the novelty of a coalition. This suggests that the conventional media led the way, firstly in originating the expression, and now in tiring of it. If so, the newer media, for all their decrying of the “dead tree press”, is perhaps more derivative and less original than it would like to think.

So who invented “TWV”? Well, as far as I can tell from NewsUK, it was the journalist Linda McDougall in her review of Edwina Currie’s novel (conceivably roman à clef) A Parliamentary Affair, which appeared in The Guardian on 19 January 1994. Unsurprisingly given that Ms McDougall is the wife of Austen Mitchell, MP for Great Grimsby, she wasn’t much enthused by a tale of political adultery and  commented wryly:
... the parliamentary novels of the nineties have taken the lives of those of us who live in the Westminster village and invested them with amazing glamour. ...
“TWV” was used on two more occasions that year and three again in 1995. The NewsUK occurrences trickle on to double figures in 1998 and then take off to exceed 100 in 2002 - a cliché was born!  It now seems to be on the wane.

4 December 2010

Post: as in Post-Impressionism

In his the friday column in yesterday’s Times 2 (3 December 2010) Richard Morrison set about debunking Virginia Woolf’s idea that December 1910 marked a significant moment in the history of human nature. There is no point in giving a link to an article behind The (London) Times’ paywall, but this extract gives the gist of Morrison’s opening argument:

“On or about December 1910,” Woolf wrote, “human character changed.” Relations shifted, she went on, between “masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct politics and literature.”
It says something about Woolf’s intellectual confidence – or perhaps her ignorance of what had been going on in Europe for the previous 30 years – that she was blithely able to identify a single month as the moment when civilisation went crazy. As we now know the Impressionists – who so dazzled Woolf and her Bloomsbury circle when Roger Fry organised his London show of their work in 1910 – had been around since the 1880s in Paris.
It says something about Morrison’s blithe self-confidence, and The Times’ standard of fact-checking, that he can get this wrong. It is certainly true that French Impressionism was not much liked by the Edwardians. In 1905 the first major show in England of French Impressionist paintings (300 works by Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir etc) had been organised by the dealer Durand-Ruel. It had a poor press and few pictures were sold. Roger Fry (b1866), a leading British art critic, was known at the time for having little taste for Impressionism and to favour a return to the traditional techniques and structural design of the Renaissance. However, the show Fry organised in 1910, which was of course Manet and the Post-Impressionists, introduced London to Cezanne, van Gogh and Gauguin. Fry saw in their work a return to constructive design, but others were deeply shocked and even thought the show would destroy the fabric of European painting. The exhibition coincided with a Welsh miner’s strike, growing Suffragette violence and an accelerating naval arms race with Germany, all resonating with the public unease which it provoked.

Morrison goes on to suggest that Woolf's pinpointing one month is risible, but acknowledges that a lot changed between 1890 and 1920 (!).  He then asks whether digital technology and the internet are effecting a change in human affairs now “comparable to that seismic shift a century ago” – the one that he has just cast doubt on presumably. He doesn’t know at present, but we might do in 2024 – Woolf wrote her essay in 1924, you see.