DAY 80 Where have all the flowers gone?

January 29th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

So Pete Seeger has gone – if you’d asked me, I wouldn’t have been sure he was still around.seeger Here he is, in his prime, Talking Union. We still need people who can do that.

Every now and then as I see the scenes of Syria on the television, the bloodshed, the refugees, the stuttering diplomacy, I recall of one of those memories which I’d better write down because soon there won’t be anyone left to recall it. (Am I getting repetitive?) It concerns Lakhdar Brahimi _72609137_brahimi_afpwho, in the seventies, was Algerian ambassador in London. (Now you see the connection.) In this capacity, he gave a small dinner one evening; as far as I can remember those present were: Lakhdar and his wife Melitsa; my father and mother; myself and Jean; Louis and Hélène Althusser (yes, now you’re getting interested); and, to add to the diversity, Ernest Gellner. I can’t remember if there was anyone else, and I remember none of the conversation. Some years later, Gellner wrote a virulent attack on Said’s Culture and Imperialism, with a sideswipe at my father. Both are now dead, as are both Althussers (stop harping on that).

I wonder if Brahimi, whose mind is more occupied with the problem of forcing people to sit at the same table – or even in the same room – when they would rather be shooting each other, ever recalls that occasion – perhaps I should send him an email? It might be a distraction. At 80, four years older than me (birthday 1st January if you want to know), he may have even more memories than me – certainly more interesting ones. (Less than Pete Seeger, who is/was 94 at his death.) How would you rather spend your life – as a folksinger, or a mediator in intractable disputes? I have to warn you that the chances of getting to the top in either capacity – let alone in both, like Joan Baez or Bob Geldof – are slim.

Come to think of it, it might be worth writing to Brahimi, or better to the Algerian Embassy in London, for the date of the dinner, the guest list, and the menu. As for the conversation, I imagine MI5 have complete tapes, never mind GCHQ. How can they keep records of all these trivial conversations – I assume they do – while the BBC routinely destroys whole episodes of Doctor Who?8198mP4mwKL._SL1500_ Anyone got a copy of the Tenth Planet series episode 4? When did this society’s priorities go astray? Where, to repeat my original question, have all the flowers gone?

In a related development (you always say that), Scarlett Johansson and Oxfam have parted company – a misunderstanding over the star’s promotion of Sodastream, scarlettwhose products are manufactured in the settlement Maale Adumim (little boxes on the hillside), and therefore violate most of Oxfam’s principles. A point which, you might say, was lost in translation. But which allows us to segue into a relevant poem – on the daily routine of travel through the checkpoint to work in the settlement:

Wala

by Susan Abulhawa

It’s 3 am
In the cattle cage

The line is long
And thick
With bodies

You wait

jibneh sandwich
With cucumber
In a plastic bag
Clutched in your callused laborer’s hand

Your wife prepared your breakfast and lunch
She was up before you
And together you prayed a predawn salat

She kissed your face and said
Allah ma’ak ya habibi 
Allah be with you, my love

You kiss the faces of your sleeping babies
You haven’t seen them awake in months
And you wonder
Has Walid’s voice begun to crack yet?
Have Wijdad’s hips begun to flare?
How big was Suraya’s smile when she came home
with her report card?

It’s 4 am
In the cattle cage

Still, you wait
The line before you is so long
And behind you now, it is longer

Few speak
You’re packed so damn tight
That you hold one another upright

You see your own fatigue
Reflected in the weariness etched on
The faces all around you

You look away
Pine for a smoke
But who the hell can afford that?

You stare at the graffiti beyond the
Iron bars holding you in
Written just for you
Written
By zionist settlers sucking the breath from your lungs

You understand the meaning
Of their English words
“Die Sand Niggers”

Sometimes
You pine for that, too.

It’s 5 am
In the cattle cage

The soldiers arrive
The line loosens
You take one step forward
Propelled by the weight of bodies
Behind you

Your jibneh sandwich
With cucumber
In a plastic bag
Is crushed.
It never survives

It’s 7 am
In the cattle cage

Now is your turn
You produce your papers
Unfold and refold
Eyes down
Heart down
Your shoes are down on their luck

But
You’re out of the line
Fifteen men before you were pulled aside
And you tried not to look
Not to hear the one begging
Don’t hit me

It’s 7:30 am
On the cattle bus

You ride
The country they stole from you
Seeds outside your window
And you imagine
The man you would have been
The man you should have been
Out there
Riding the family steed
The thoroughbred mares your grandfather
Raised and nurtured and loved
In a Palestine
Un-raped
Un-stolen

It’s 8 am
You get off the cattle bus
Your crushed jibneh sandwich
With cucumber
In a plastic bag
In one hand

Your eyes down
Heart down
You put your toolbox down to knock
On the zionist settler’s back door
Where the help goes

But

The zionist settler boss-man yells
Wala
Mish hon el yom! 

Not there today
Boy!

And all you can do is thank Allah that your
Wife and your babies are not
There to hear them call you
Wala

Sport: (to change the subject completely)

Immediately after I’d promoted the English women’s cricket team for an Ashes wipeout, they went and, in true English fashion, lost two games in a row, However, they romped home today in Hobart by nine wickets – Edwards 92, Charlotte EdwardsTaylor 50 to be accurate (I hope this is right I just write it down); and so clinched the series. So my reputation as a sports guru isn’t totally ruined. You may want to hang on for my tip for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, or an assessment of the Jamaican women’s football team..

Anyway, for those of us like Seeger, Brahimi, and indeed me, who feel their get-up and go has got up and went, here is Pete singing about it (looking anything but old)…

 

DAY 79 The Frozen Fiddle

January 24th, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

I’m naturally concerned, as are all lovers of classical music and winter sports, at the news that Vanessa-Mae is to compete (for Thailand) at the Sochi Olympics, under the name Vanessa Vanakorn. (She was disqualified at Salt Lake City, where they demanded she give up her British citizenship; but the Russians aren’t so choosy.) Ms Vanakorn is an accomplished skier as well as a world-class violinist, which recalls the phrase violon d’Ingres, only the other way round._72385363_maeNot because she’d be targeted as gay by the Russians – although according to the gay-o-meter at gay-or-straight.com she is ’69% gay%’, which means she has been voted by the site’s visitors as ‘highly gay’. Rather, one fears that Islamic ‘Black Widow’ suicide bombers will pursue her down the giant slalom, since the idea of unveiled 69% gay women playing the violin and skiing runs contrary to a certain misguided interpretation of Islam which the Saudis and others have been fostering. Her role at the Chechen president’s 2011 birthday celebrations - condemned by Human Rights Watch – won’t help.

Could Nigel Kennedy, with his understanding of the Islamic world, most recently displayed in the ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’ concert (there’s another chance to mention that) mediate? At the advanced age of 57, it’s too much to expect him to don his skis and fiddle and attempt a Bond-style rescue in the snow;

130215154932-bond-ski-15-02-story-toprather, perhaps, the virtuoso duo could charm the would-be attackers with music, in the style of Tamino. ‘Winter’, from ‘The Four Seasons’, seems an obvious choice, if a bit hackneyed.

This is already shaping up into a promising film scenario with the gay musicians, the terrorists, and the snow; I’d better get a treatment out quickly in case the many rivals who have constantly prevented me from winning international fame steal the idea. ‘Cool Runnings’ is an obvious model – Thailand being no more advanced than Jamaica in the winter sports line. The versatile violinist could surely perform an obbligato with a reggae soundtrack. I can see clearly now.

At which point (what were you waiting for?) I can’t resist interposing the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM (Da Arab Mc’s) and their dynamic track ‘Born Here‘ featuring a confrontation with the Lod police, which has gone about as viral as is possible in the world of Palestinian hip-hop. They deserve inclusion, though I can’t see how.

The Economy

The news here seems to be good; contrary to the moaning minnies from the Labour Party and UKIP, the latest figures have seen a) a dramatic fall in unemployment (167,000), and b) the arrival of a flood of 30 Romanian immigrants. Our economic historian, though, who is obsessed with la longue durée, notes that there were already 141,000 Romano-Bulgarians (we call them A2) working in the UK last year – the closeness of the two figures suggests a connection. (But how, at the rate of thirty a month, can we have arrived at 141,000? They must have been flooding in for 400 years. La longue durée isn’t in it.)  Conjectures:

1. Like previous waves of dodgy immigrants, the A2′s create jobs (start small businesses and employ British layabouts).

2. British unemployed graduates in nuclear physics and media studies are leaving en masse to find better food, climate, etc. in Eastern Europe, while banks, city colleges and call centres are taking on masses of Romanian-speaking staff.

3. Chaos theory, or the butterfly effect, i.e. a small fluctuation in unemployment (2 people, say) in West Didsbury causes a spike of 167,000 nationally.

ButterflyEffect-CreativeCommons-HellispThe butterfly effect

Poetry
It seems too obvious to go for the usual snow bards (Robert Frost, for example); today’s theme calls for a Russian, so here is a bit of Pasternak – can’t find the original.

Winter Sky

 

Ice-chips plucked whole from the smoke,

the past week’s stars all frozen in flight,

Head over heels the skater’s club goes,

clinking its rink with the peal of night.

 

Step slow, slower, slow-er, skater,

pride carving its trace as you race by.

each turn’s a constellation cut there,

scratched by a skate in Norway’s sky.

 

The air is fettered in frozen iron.

Oh, skaters! There – it’s all the same,

that, like snake’s eyes set in ivory,

night’s on earth, a domino game:

 

that moon, a numb hound’s tongue

is there, frozen tight: that mouths like

the forgers of coins’ – are stung,

filled with lava of breathtaking ice.

 

Music; well, there are already two nuggets in this posting. You want more?

DAY 78

January 21st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I expect that you were as shocked as I was to see that the tired strategists of old/new Labour are planning to court popularity – with whom? – by forcing benefit claimants to sit a ‘basic skills test’ in English, maths and IT. Why not Latin, you may well ask. Under the superannuated slogan of ‘tough love’, would you believe it? I think the term ‘oxymoron’ is hanging about in the wings waiting to be applied. When are we going to apply some tough love to the bankers? (And was it tough love of which St Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians? I think it was a softer kind.)paul

Paul (El Greco)

No, the group really battening on us taxpayers, refusing to raise their skills, and in desperate need of re-education, are of course the pensioners. These pathetic relics, many of them unable or unwilling to learn to text or even to use a TV remote, let alone download and install Windows Vista, absorb huge sums in pensions and other handouts while not offering any skills in exchange. Worse, they drain the NHS of funds by continually falling over in the streets or requiring hip replacements and triple bypasses.And to cap it all, they have managed by a gigantic con to reclassify their incompetence and shiftlessness as ‘Alzheimer’s Disease’, and raise billions in a fruitless search for a cure.

cezanneIncompetent old lady (Cézanne)

Surely it would be a popular move to reeducate these parasites in the skills which every benefit claimant has – almost instinctively. (Regardless of paper qualifications like GCSE’s, which frankly don’t get you a job anyway.) For example, they could learn to spend a night clubbing under the arches at London Bridge, while texting six random friends to arrange meetings. Or they could follow a course in scoring on Friday night in Camden Town. And finally, like all other recipients of benefits, they could be asked to fill in a 16-page form listing all their previous employments with dates, addresses, postcodes, reasons for leaving etc. (On an Excel spreadsheet.)

If that doesn’t cure the so-called Alzheimers, it should stop them from drawing attention to it. Tough Love indeed. I offer this programme to Mr Miliband and his minions as a means of both courting cheap popularity and saving the nation untold millions.

I realize that in my little ‘Nobels’ squib on the previous posting (does stabbing your wife disqualify you from a prize?) I completely forgot the so-called ‘Peace’ prize, which has been awarded to the following massive-scale criminals: Henry Kissinger – notoriously, Le Duc Tho refused to share it with him; Menachem Begin; Yitzhak Rabin; Barack Obama (for what? he was carrying out drone strikes at the time of the award). And others, who don’t come to mind right now. I can’t think why Norman Mailer failed to qualify, unless it was that a) he didn’t actually kill anyone or b) his writing wasn’t up to scratch. Read ‘An American Dream’ and judge for yourself.

Sport (From a correspondent)

It looks as though England are poised to retain the Ashes. If you aren’t fixated on the male game, that is (in which the Australians wiped the floor with us). The women’s team are well ahead, with victories in Perth and Melbourne; and the trophy will be ours if Charlotte Edwards’ lasses can carry the day at Melbourne tomorrow. I’m slightly confused about what ashes are contained in the trophy, but that’s what you get from doing internet research late at night._72230019_edwards_fields_getty

Poetry Corner

Away with Leavis and fashionable  - well, it used to be fashionable – modernism! If the Tate and the V & A can wallow in 19th century decadence, so can I. Here’s Swinburne’s ‘The Garden of Proserpine.’

Here, where the world is quiet;
         Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
         In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
         A sleepy world of streams.
I am tired of tears and laughter,
         And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
         For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
         And everything but sleep.
Here life has death for neighbour,
         And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
         Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
         And no such things grow here.
No growth of moor or coppice,
         No heather-flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
         Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
         For dead men deadly wine.
Pale, without name or number,
         In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
         All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
         Comes out of darkness morn.
Though one were strong as seven,
         He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
         Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
         In the end it is not well.
Pale, beyond porch and portal,
         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
         With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love’s who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
         From many times and lands.
She waits for each and other,
         She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
            The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
         And flowers are put to scorn.
There go the loves that wither,
         The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
         And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
         Red strays of ruined springs.
We are not sure of sorrow,
         And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
         Time stoops to no man’s lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
         Weeps that no loves endure.
From too much love of living,
         From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
         Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
         Winds somewhere safe to sea.
Then star nor sun shall waken,
         Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
         Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
         In an eternal night.
 and, under music; another timeless classic – the 17-year-old Joan Baez singing ‘Oh, Freedom’ in 1958. (If the link works.)

 

DAY 70 Hey, you!

January 15th, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

I’m disturbed by the fact a) that the term ‘Day’ in the headings has shifted from caps to lower case. When did this happen? b) that due to all the messing around with decimals, day 70 got missed. This is an attempt to make up, although as usual with such attempts, it will probably leave things in a worse mess than they were before.

News

The ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’ celebration at St James Piccadilly (see post 73) came to a rousing conclusion with music by, among others, Tallis, Bach and Nigel Kennedykennedy

Afterwards, there was dancing, and the temporary replica of the separation wall which had been quickly erected in front of the church was as quickly pulled down. If only.While elsewhere, at Nabi Saleh, where there are constant demonstrations against the occupation, things took a seasonal turn (see video).

A few days later, feeling that I’d spent too long around the posher areas of London I dropped in on the impressive vigil for Mark Duggan

_72221918_72221917Doves released at the vigil

outside Tottenham police station; I hadn’t realized how many black people have died at the hands of the police over the last twenty seanrigg

Sean Rigg, died under police restraint at the entrance of Brixton police station, August 2008

years – (Roger Sylvester 1999, Sean Rigg 2008, and so on) or how often the IPCC, or the courts, have been shown to have arrived at perverse conclusions based on falsified evidence.

I was discussing some of these questions in the pub later, and naturally conversation shifted to the classic passage in Althusser’s ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ which brings in the police, ideology, the state, and much else. I’ll reproduce it:

“I shall then suggest that ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there!’

Assuming that the theoretical scene I have imagined takes place in the street, the hailed individual will turn round. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject. Why? Because he has recognized that the hail was ‘really’ addressed to him, and that ‘it was really him who was hailed’ (and not someone else).”dreyfus

Interpellation by Inspector Clouseau

What a genius that man (I mean Althusser, not the subject) was! Apart from the number of uses of scare quotes, in which he must have been something of a pioneer. (Although ‘Hey, you there!’ doesn’t count.) I was arguing with my friends about this text, it was about forty years since we’d read it and I lost a bet by claiming that it wasn’t about the police – which it clearly was. At which point the police turned up, as if to prove the point; interpellated us all as subjects,  turned us through one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, and accused us of various felonies and misdemeanours. We tried to point out that no one believes a word the police says any more, but the commander (a man called D.C.Pilate) simply replied ‘What is truth?’

Which makes you think. In the sleepless hours of the night, having given up on Althusser (too exciting). I started worrying about Popper and falsification, having seen in the LRB (did you?) that the late Norman Mailer mailerABclaimed he would never get a Nobel Prize because he’d stabbed his wife. How would you go about falsifying that? He didn’t get it, but post hoc ain’t necessarily propter hoc, Norman. It’s too late for the Swedes to do a one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn (another) and give him a prize,but they can still pick some genius – of either sex, or gender – who has stabbed his/her partner, and award them the appropriate one. Too late for Althusser, and there’s no Nobel Prize for philosophy anyway; while most winners of the economics prize are criminals on a far grander scale than mere murder. I’m thinking of scientists, since if a scientist has done something really cool, surely they should get the prize whatever they’ve done. (Gesualdo, ‘composer and murderer’, comes to mind, and indeed Caravaggio – see previous posts.) Let’s suppose, then, that Stephen Hawking -

Don’t go there.

Poetry Corner

I can’t think how I came to leave out the Rumanian poet Ovid, who spent his last four years in exile in exile in Constanța. There’s a statue to him there, but he would hardly have appreciated it, having spent much of his time in Rumania (exiled for writing rude books) complaining about everything – the weather, the people, the food. But poets are born whingers.

Hunc quoque de Getico, nostri studiose, libellum 
litore praemissis quattuor adde meis. 
hie quoque tails erit, qualis fortuna poetae : 
invenies toto carmine dulce nihil. 
flebilis ut noster status est, ita flebile carmen, 
materiae scripto conveniente suae. 
integer et laetus laeta et iuvenalia lusi : 
illa tamen nunc me composuisse piget. 
ut cecidi, subiti perago praeconia casus, 
sumque argumenti conditor ipse mei. 
utque iacens ripa deflere Caystrius ales 
dicitur ore suam deficiente necem, 
sic ego, Sarmaticas longe proiectus in oras, 
efficio tacitum ne mihi funus eat. 
delicias siquis lascivaque carmina quaerit, 
praemoneo, non est scripta quod ista legat. 
aptior huic Callus blandique Propertius oris, 
aptior, ingenium come, Tibullus erit. 
atque utinam numero non nos essemus in isto ! 
ei mihi, cur umquam Musa iocata mea est ?

 

Add this book also to the four I have already sent, 
my devoted friend, from the Getic shore. This too 
will be like the poet's fortunes : in the whole course 
of the song you will find no gladness. Mournful 
is my state, mournful therefore is my song, for the 
work is suited to its theme. Unhurt and happy 
with themes of happiness and youth I played (yet 
now I regret that I composed that verse) ; since I 
have fallen I act as herald of my sudden fall, and I 
myself provide the theme of which I write. As the 
bird of Cayster is said to lie upon the bank and 
bemoan its own death with weakening note, so I, 
cast far away upon the Sarmatian shores, take heed 
that my funeral rites pass not off in silence.
If any seeks the amusement of wanton verse, I 
forewarn him, there is no warrant for reading such 
verse as this. Gallus will be better suited for such 
a one, or Propertius of the alluring lips, better that 
winning genius Tibullus. And would I were not 
counted among them ! Alas ! why did my Muse
ever jest ?

Why indeed… And, if Ovid had escaped from Rumania and asked for
asylum in Britain, which was not yet part of the Roman Empire,
what would the Home Secretary’s response have been?

Music fragment
The St James’ concert I mentioned at the beginning was opened by the Tallis Scholars performing Tallis’ Lamentations, which I can’t find. So here they are singing Palestrina’s Nunc Dimittis. I expect to be inundated by complaints
about the substitution, but it’s better than Rumanian accordion music,
which is currently inundating my neighbourhood.

Day 74 Pardon?

January 3rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink


I expect you’re waiting to be wished a happy new year. Well, a) I have my work cut out looking out for the Chinese, Kurdish, Iranian etc. new years (see last posting); and b) many years ago Ogden Nash made an observation on the dishonesty of the new year racket, which I reproduce (part of) here:

Put back those whiskers, I know you

Well, I know what the matter is, it stands out as clear as a

chord in a symphony of Sibelius’s,

The matter is that our recent New Years haven’t been New Years

at all, they have just been the same Old Year, probably

1914 or something, under a lot of different aliases.

In my eagerness to encounter a New Year I stand ahead of most,

But only if it’s a true New Year, not if it’s merely the same Old Year

with its beard shaved off and wearing a diaper labeled New Year

just to get on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post,

Because there are few spectacles less convincing or more untidy

Than 1914 or something in a didy.

 

To continue with the last posting – which left the central legal issues about pardons in suspense, as many of you will realize. What is your position if you have been ‘pardoned’ but don’t accept – as many gay men might not- that you’ve done wrong?

Indeed. Fortunately, this question has been well covered, and by now most of you will be recalling Burdick v. United States, 236 U.S. 79 (1915); where Burdick refused a pardon because it ‘implied an admission of guilt’, and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. There seems to be no similar British case law (see comments on the relevant webpage two years ago).

[Here, before proceeding further, I should wander off to record that while in the library at Senate House - I knew it must be some use - I discovered a book with the title: 'Texting in early fifteenth-century sacred polyphony'.

josquinEarly text from Josquin

This takes the history of texting a whole lot further back than any of us had thought, indeed we can hope for the discovery of texts from Josquin Desprez to Dufay to the effect that 'Omg my motet huge smash at notre dam tops xmas list goin 2 get smashed with Villon in quartier latin lol']

In Burdick, of course, (to return to that) the Supreme Court decided that the acceptance of a pardon implied an admission of guilt – this is why Burdick didn’t accept it, as you remember. It’s a constant point in U.S. law; as Otto Kerner (convicted of bribery) told William Rentschler in 1975, “I would neither seek nor accept a Presidential pardon, which requires an admission of guilt. I would not perjure myself to obtain a pardon. I am innocent.” Mr. Kerner died some months later proclaiming his innocence.

The Turing issue is a completely different one (perhaps related to the current one of making amends). What do we (who’s ‘we’ here?) do about those who have been – rightly, if that’s the word – convicted under laws which are subsequently determined to be unjust? If your ancestor was hanged for sheep-stealing, or burned as a witch, you don’t want a pardon; and you probably can hardly expect a financial settlement. What one would hope for is a grovelling apology from the Government for the misdeeds of its predecessors. A particularly flagrant example is the Queen’s ancestor Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed

37maryexecutedMary executed, in a wig

under a stitch-up by her cousin Elizabeth. Can’t the Queen pardon her? I’m glad to say that I’ve found exactly the answer, since Frank J Dougan raised the question in 2010 and got, as you might expect, the brush-off in a mealy-mouthed and patronising letter from the Ministry of Justice (not from the Queen), which concludes: ‘I have to say that, bearing all these factors in mind, the conclusion has been reached that it would not be appropriate for the Justice Secretary to consider a posthumous Free Pardon in this particular case.I am sorry to have to send what I know will be a disappointing reply.’ So there you are.

Which, naturally, brings us back to Agamben (what were you waiting for?) Whose jaundiced view of the law leaves pardon for the ‘Sovereign’ – back to the Queen, bless her  - and no one else:

‘If the essence of law – of every law – is the trial, if the whole juridical order (and the moral contaminated by it) is only prosecutive law (and prosecutive moral), then execution and transgression, innocence and guilt, obedience and disobedience blur, become indistinct and lose all importance’. (The Remains of Auschwitz)

There’s a lot in that ‘if’, since Agamben seems not to have noticed the existence of (e.g.) copyright law, divorce and conveyancing. The law contains nothing but the trial, and we’re left with the bleak world of the Sovereign, homo sacer, and the Exception. One day I’ll post a 10,000 word riposte to this view, but no hurry. Perhaps – I suggest with all due hesitation – only revolutionary justice can overturn a contaminated order, and justly render null and void all previous condemnations; including those of my Quaker ancestors, so often jailed or exiled to the colonies for pacifism or keeping their hats on in church.

You write:

C.H. I’m a merchant banker lately fallen on hard times. My wife has run off with the au pair, taking my collection of Giacomettis but leaving me with the children, I’d rather it was the other way round. Please advise.

Wendy Brown writes: It’s about time you neoliberals got your comeuppance. Send the kids to boarding school, sell all you have, and give to the poor.

vittiM.V. My best friend disappeared on holiday on an island a couple of months ago. Now her boyfriend has started making advances, and I keep hearing strange suggestive music.

Slavoj Zizek writes: Stop watching old sixties films, they’ll rot your brain. Try Cronenberg; you’ll most likely be dead by the end.

O.ibn L. How do I stop semolina pudding from burning?

Yotam Ottolenghi writes: Don’t read your emails while it’s cooking.

Poets’ Corner

I’ve been put off from posting John Davidson’s ‘Thirty Bob a Week’ by its extreme length. This is of course nonsense in the context of the internet, you’ll read what you want and skip the rest, and it won’t take up any space. I’ve already posted a canto of the Divine Comedy, and I could probably post the whole thing without bothering the hard disk. (I don’t know how the copyright laws would take it, though.) Anyway, here it is, and well worth it.

I couldn’t touch a stop and turn a screw,
And set the blooming world a-work for me,
Like such as cut their teeth — I hope, like you –
On the handle of a skeleton gold key;
I cut mine on a leek, which I eat it every week:
I’m a clerk at thirty bob as you can see.

But I don’t allow it’s luck and all a toss;
There’s no such thing as being starred and crossed;
It’s just the power of some to be a boss,
And the bally power of others to be bossed:
I face the music, sir; you bet I ain’t a cur;
Strike me lucky if I don’t believe I’m lost!

For like a mole I journey in the dark,
A-travelling along the underground
From my Pillar’d Halls and broad Suburbean Park,
To come the daily dull official round;
And home again at night with my pipe all alight,
A-scheming how to count ten bob a pound.

And it’s often very cold and very wet,
And my missus stitches towels for a hunks;
And the Pillar’d Halls is half of it to let–
Three rooms about the size of travelling trunks.
And we cough, my wife and I, to dislocate a sigh,
When the noisy little kids are in their bunks.

But you never hear her do a growl or whine,
For she’s made of flint and roses, very odd;
And I’ve got to cut my meaning rather fine,
Or I’d blubber, for I’m made of greens and sod:
So p’r'haps we are in Hell for all that I can tell,
And lost and damn’d and served up hot to God.

I ain’t blaspheming, Mr. Silver-tongue;
I’m saying things a bit beyond your art:
Of all the rummy starts you ever sprung,
Thirty bob a week’s the rummiest start!
With your science and your books and your the’ries about spooks,
Did you ever hear of looking in your heart?

I didn’t mean your pocket, Mr., no:
I mean that having children and a wife,
With thirty bob on which to come and go,
Isn’t dancing to the tabor and the fife:
When it doesn’t make you drink, by Heaven! it makes you think,
And notice curious items about life.

I step into my heart and there I meet
A god-almighty devil singing small,
Who would like to shout and whistle in the street,
And squelch the passers flat against the wall;
If the whole world was a cake he had the power to take,
He would take it, ask for more, and eat them all.

And I meet a sort of simpleton beside,
The kind that life is always giving beans;
With thirty bob a week to keep a bride
He fell in love and married in his teens:
At thirty bob he stuck; but he knows it isn’t luck:
He knows the seas are deeper than tureens.

And the god-almighty devil and the fool
That meet me in the High Street on the strike,
When I walk about my heart a-gathering wool,
Are my good and evil angels if you like.
And both of them together in every kind of weather
Ride me like a double-seated bike.

That’s rough a bit and needs its meaning curled.
But I have a high old hot un in my mind –
A most engrugious notion of the world,
That leaves your lightning ‘rithmetic behind:
I give it at a glance when I say ‘There ain’t no chance,
Nor nothing of the lucky-lottery kind.’

And it’s this way that I make it out to be:
No fathers, mothers, countres, climates — none;
Not Adam was responsible for me,
Nor society, nor systems, nary one:
A little sleeping seed, I woke — I did, indeed –
A million years before the blooming sun.

I woke because I thought the time had come;
Beyond my will there was no other cause;
And everywhere I found myself at home,
Because I chose to be the thing I was;
And in whatever shape of mollusc or of ape
I always went according to the laws.

I was the love that chose my mother out;
I joined two lives and from the union burst;
My weakness and my strength without a doubt
Are mine alone for ever from the first:
It’s just the very same with a difference in the name
As ‘Thy will be done.’ You say it if you durst!

They say it daily up and down the land
As easy as you take a drink, it’s true;
But the difficultest go to understand,
And the difficultest job a man can do,
Is to come it brave and meek with thirty bob a week,
And feel that that’s the proper thing for you.

It’s a naked child against a hungry wolf;
It’s playing bowls upon a splitting wreck;
It’s walking on a string across a gulf
With millstones fore-and-aft about your neck;
But the thing is daily done by many and many a one;
And we fall, face forward, fighting, on the deck.

In any case, thinking of the new year as the other side of the old year (so to speak), here are Jim Morrison’s reflections: