Miss World

The number-one rated British television program of 1970 was the Miss World Contest and 24 Million plus viewers were certainly entertained that night as they witnessed a bombing, a protest that included missiles hurled at an internationally famous performer, and a scandalous judging result, but those are only parts of the most infamous beauty pageant ever held.

Most infamous, that is, if we except the ancient contests described by the mystic Nicholas Roerich, whose ideas form the basis for Stravinsky’s Les Sacres de Printemps. That ballet depicts the selection of a young maiden by a prehistoric tribe who then sacrifice her to the Earth. Something like this is preserved in fairy tales where the chosen princess is staked out for the dragon as an offering so that the monster doesn’t eat everyone else.  Other fairy tales tell of a gathering of young women so that the handsome, wealthy Prince can select a bride. These being fiction, he always chooses the Goose-Girl or Cinderella, but the historical reality, in early medieval Byzantium for instance, was that “bride-shows” of eligible young women only included members of the aristocracy — can’t have the Emperor marrying trash, you know.

The modern beauty contest had its beginnings at the beach where young women were allowed to wear somewhat more revealing clothing than other places. Someone got the idea of putting all these “bathing beauties” on display. The ancestral Miss America pageant consisted of young women in bathing attire being wheeled in wicker beach chairs along Atlantic City’s Boardwalk in 1920. “Beach revues” were popular in America until the end of the 1920s when they were banned as immoral — for a while.

In England, beach resorts in the summertime, places like Blackpool, Brighton, and Bournemouth, had a reputation for sexual license — young working men and women would take their holidays there and, so we are told, did what young men and women do. (See Steve Humphries’ A Secret World of Sex for more.) Various kinds of shows and contests were held that involved women in bathing suits, which were the most revealing outfits they could wear in public without being arrested.

So, in 1951, when promoter Eric Morley was asked to come up with something special for the Festival of Britain, he immediately thought of a contest featuring young women in swim suits. But — and this is crucial — rather than a mundane local contest, Morley decided to have the women represent different nations. Also, he had them wear the brand new bikini style suit. That first contest was won by Miss Sweden. When Morley heard that another promoter was putting together a Miss Universe contest, he named his own show Miss World and began staging it as an annual event. After the pope condemned the show, Morley banned bikinis from contests for a long while. He was already skating close to the edge of propriety and he knew it. The concept of ogling women’s bodies belonged to burlesque and other low entertainment, these pageants were all about beauty, the beauty of chaste young women who represented ideal femininity. They were Art! Sort of.

The first Miss World winners and the last to pose in bikinis, 1951.

The first Miss World winners and the last to pose in bikinis, 1951. [pageantasia via vestarz.com]

Miss World grew along with its television audience and, by 1970, was a huge affair. But feminism (then called “women’s lib”) had also come on the scene. In 1968, feminist protestors had disrupted the Miss America contest at Atlantic City — there was talk of bra-burning and so on but this seems to have been a media myth. Still, the American feminists had set a precedent: beauty pageants were degrading spectacles where women were seen as so much meat and they were proper targets for protest. In England, two separate groups decided to have a go at the 1970 Miss World pageant, each unaware of the other.

One group had not yet decided on a name for itself though sometimes it signed manifestoes as “Butch Cassidy” — Butch Cassidy and the Sundsance Kid was released in 1969 and many young men liked to see themselves as Robert Redford or Paul Newman, and, no doubt, there were young women who wanted to be Katharine Ross, helpmate to a romantic young outlaw. Later, the group would call itself the Angry Brigade, a name that they might have picked up from the feminist protestors who used the word “angry” a lot. Or they may have derived it from French student protestors — les enragés, as they called themselves. This group had determined to use violence and, from late 1968 until they were busted in 1972, the Angry Brigade planted more than twenty-five bombs. Some exploded, some didn’t. Somehow they managed not to kill anyone.

The second group was composed of feminists and the youth wing of the Liberal Party. They picketed and demonstrated. They also got tickets to the show and members carried in small sacks of flour and stink bombs which they meant to hurl at suitable targets.

Meanwhile, the Miss World organization had other problems. Anti-apartheid groups were upset that South Africa was competing. The contest organizers then decided to have two contestants from that country: Miss South Africa, who was white, and Miss Africa South, who was black. This, of course, was not enough and there were still people upset that Miss World was violating the South Africa boycott.

A little after 2:30 AM, November 20, the day of the Miss World pageant, a bomb blew a hole in the floor boards of a BBC Outside Broadcast van parked near the Albert Hall, where the evening’s festivities were to take place. Little attention was paid to the bomb blast because the police had decided not to publicize this sort of event. Throughout its short life, the Angry Brigade was plagued by a lack of press until ten people were arrested, charged, and tried in 1972 for twenty-five bombings.

Peter Dimmock, a Miss World judge and General Manager of BBC Outside Broadcast, seemed unperturbed by the bombing as he and the rest of the judging panel were introduced that night. It is easy to understand the selection of entertainment industry representatives, including Glen Campbell, Nina van Pallandt, and Joan Collins, the unabashed Queen of Trash. It is a little more difficult to see why the High Commissioner of Malawi (who was not named), the also-unnamed ambassador to Indonesia, and the Maharajah of Baroda (which was eliminated by the Indian government shortly after the contest), were judges, but judge Eric Gairy, the Premier of Grenada, certainly had an interest in the pageant, as we shall see. [introduction of the judges on YouTube]

Protestors outside the Albert Hall.

Protestors outside the Albert Hall. [via flashbak.com]

Protestors had assembled outside Albert Hall before ticket-holders arrived. They did little to disrupt the proceedings, just demonstrated, carrying signs saying that they were angry and calling the pageant a cattle market.

This notion was picked up by Master of Ceremonies, Bob Hope, who came out to do a bit while the contestants changed into evening gowns. Hope said that he had gone to the meat market in back to check out the calves. Ha. Ha. There was more in this vein, since Hope’s basic stand-up routine consisted of double-entendres combined with leers at the audience. Hope was a veteran of old-fashioned burlesque where baggy-pants comedians would trade lines with strippers in between the acts. Burlesque, in that form, disappeared by the 1940s, but Hope was still performing from that frame of reference. The protestors inside Albert Hall were supposed to wait until all the contestants were on stage before launching their missiles but Hope’s jokes so enraged the protest co-ordinator that she gave the go-ahead signal to her group.

Bob Hope is flustered as flour bombs hit the stage. [YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reCX3_OAkv8]

Bob Hope is flustered as flour bombs hit the stage. [YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reCX3_OAkv8%5D

Suddenly, a projectile landed on the stage, followed by many more. These were flour bombs only, I think; I cannot find a reliable account of stinkbombs bursting on stage. Hope backed off. Some accounts have Julia Morley, pageant organizer and wife to founder Eric, grabbing his ankle to keep him from exiting the stage. Security guards quickly rousted the trouble-makers and Hope continued, saying that there was going to be payback for this outrage and that anyone interfering with something so wonderful as Miss World must be on “some kind of dope”. Yes! He did. Check out the video.

Now, bombings and booings being contained, the beautiful pageant continued. The winner was announced: Miss Grenada! What? Right away, Miss World fans complained that Miss Sweden should have been the winner. In fact, four of the judges revealed that they had voted Miss Sweden into top spot, only two opting for Miss Grenada. So the contest was fixed! A huge scandal erupted, larger than the protest and much, much larger than the bombing. Julia Morley was forced to resign as organizer (though she was reinstated a week or so later). Miss Sweden wrote a memoir saying “I was robbed!”, even though she had dissed the contest before the competition, saying:

she felt “just like a puppet. I don’t even want to win,” and she sympathized with women’s liberation supporters who denounced the contest as “a cattle market that degrades women.” Miss Sweden would have walked out on the contest if it were not for the fact she was under contract to the organizers. 

She retracted those statements the day after making them.

A special team of journalists was dispatched to Grenada where they discovered that the elevation of Miss Grenada had nothing to do with the fact that Eric Morley wanted a license to open a casino in Grenada. No. Nothing to do with that since everyone denied it, some of them even before they were asked. Ballots from the contest were displayed and the voting process — something like Preferential Voting – was explained. Some were convinced that the contest had been on the up and up.

Miss Grenada did make history in another way: she was the first black Miss World. Here it should be mentioned that Miss Africa South was runner-up. Just to put this in some kind of context, 1971 was the first year that a black woman was even allowed to compete in the Miss America contest.

Miss Grenada crowned as Miss World. Runner-up Miss Africa South to her left and fourth-place Miss Sweden at far right.

Miss Grenada crowned as Miss World. Runner-up Miss Africa South to her left and fourth-place Miss Sweden at far right. [missosology.info]

This was far from the last Miss World scandal, but first let’s look at the Angry Brigade who were upstaged twice at the event. No one now is really certain who was part of the group. There were a lot of dissident folks in those days and they all had their reasons and their theories which did not necessarilly match anyone else’s. Some of these folks got together to create an identity and, perhaps, an organization. They discussed what they should call themselves. One possibility was The Red Rankers. See, Labour Minister Roy Jenkins, who had reformed the police, had a pwoblem pwonouncing his Rs, so… Perhaps in the end they decided that “Angry Brigade” had enough Rs to make Jenkins sound like Elmer Fudd, so anything else was just overkill. Anyway, the Tories came into power and that government determined to destroy these bomber type groups by whatever means necessary.

In late 1971, Stuart Christie, a man who was exercised about the Spanish Civil War and who had served several years in a Spanish prison for trying to assassinate Franco, drove up to a certain house in Stoke Newington, only to be met by police and arrested on the basis of two detonators found in his car. Christie says that these were planted by the cops and police behavior during this episode does little to shake that assertion. Other people living at that address had just been arrested. Altogether, ten people were charged with Angry Brigade crimes. Several of them have since stated that innocents were arrested and guilty parties ignored, but they have all decided not to name any names.

The first two people to face trial included Jake Prescott, who later said:

As the only working-class member, I was not surprised to be the first in and last out of prison. When I look back on it, I was the one who was angry and the people I met were more like the Slightly Cross Brigade.

Prescott was convicted on the basis of testimony from a jailhouse informer and because he had actually addressed envelopes on three of the missives sent out by the Angry Brigade, claiming to have done this and that. Prescott thinks that he was fitted up and is pretty dismissive of the other Angry Brigadiers. The other person charged at this time was not found guilty. Prescott got fifteen years.

Hilary Creek and Anna Mendelson from a BBC interview filmed while they  were out on bail during the trial.

Hilary Creek and Anna Mendelson from a BBC interview filmed while they were out on bail during the trial.

The big trial was of the eight others connected to the Brigade. Four seemed to be major players, four others, not so much. The major players included two young women, Hilary Creek and Anna Mendelson. Someone got the bright idea of taking photos of the women and giving over the rights to friends who then collected a fee every time some British tab used the pictures. Everyone understood that the press would seize on sexual aspects of the case and photos of the women would be far more valuable than those of the male defendants. The license fees went directly into the defense fund of the Stoke Newington Eight. You can work out for yourself the interesting sexual politics of funding the defense of militant feminists by supplying their photos to an exploitative press.

And the press was incredibly exploitative, even for Britain, which has some really scummy newspapers. “Sex Orgies in the House of Blood” was a Sun headline. Because, you see, if this is a mixed event, with both men and women, then there had to be orgies. Right? The blood, incidentally, was supposedly from a turkey. Having for decades presided over turkey corpses twice a year at celebrations, I am inclined to let the Angry Brigade off on this charge. Even if they did kill a turkey, well, that’s what turkeys are for.

The judge instructed the jury that any nod or the slightest wink to actual bombers was enough to convict someone of conspiracy. In the end, the jury did not convict anyone of actually planting a bomb, but they did convict four of the eight with conspiracy to blow things up. Both women were convicted but the jury accepted that Christie was not guilty. The jury also asked the judge to show mercy and the judge responded with ten-year sentences for the four convicted criminals. He did, however, lower previously-convicted Prescott’s sentence to ten years from fifteen. Noblesse oblige, Jake.

Poster from 1971 during the trials. [hackneyhistory.wordpress.com]

Poster from 1971 during the trials. [hackneyhistory.wordpress.com]

The trial was the longest in British history up to that time (and maybe now, I don’t know), so the Angry Brigade got a lot of press and public reaction was mainly supportive. “We’re All Angry Now” was one response to the sentencing. Those convicted served seven years or so in prison, though the women were let off earlier for medical reasons like anorexia. Chivalry is the hand maiden of sexism, so to speak. Today, none of those convicted seem apologetic, in fact, they seem more angry than ever.

Miss World kept going. Next major scandal was in 1973. Contestants had to speak and show stage presence as part of their performance. The voting system was shifted to a majority rule. The winner was the first American Miss World, Marjorie Wallace. Within a short time, she became featured on tabloid front pages as she worked through various relationships with sports and entertainment figures. Probably the photographs of her deep-kissing Tom Jones were the final straw that caused her crown to be removed as unfit to represent Miss World.

The next year, Miss Wales was made Miss World, which lasted a little while until it was revealed that she had an eighteen-month-old child. She had never been married so was legal under the stated rules but…(see above Re: virgins, dragons, and all). She resigned.

Meanwhile, the South Africa/Africa South business really irritated a lot of folks and they kept complaining. Iceland, for example, quit having run-up pageants, though some beautiful people kept naming contestants from that country for Miss World. In 1976, though, a number of countries boycotted the contest and South Africa was kicked out until 1991, when apartheid ended.

In 1980, Miss Germany resigned after one day as Miss World, when it was revealed that she had posed for nude photos. (see above Re: virgins, dragons, et al).

In 1996, the pageant was held in Bangalore where there were massive protests about the swim suit part of the contest and threats to burn down the stage. The contestants were removed to the Seychelles, photographed in their bathing suits, and then returned to India for the remainder of the competition. This year may have marked the largest television audience ever for Miss World, many many millions, though who can trust Miss World stats?

Miss Israel for 1998, Linor Abargil, was raped at knifepoint by a travel agent before winning that year’s Miss World title. She now acts as a spokesperson for rape victims. Her story is told in the documentary Brave Miss World.

In 2001, Miss Nigeria became the first black African to win the title. The following year, serendipitously, the contest was held in Nigeria where Amina Lawal had been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery and being pregnant out of wedlock (you can reconcile those two charges as you wish). Many people protested the upcoming pageant and urged that it be cancelled. Amina Lawal herself begged to differ. She understood that the sentence by a local court was unlikely to stand on review and was reluctant to be a cause of national disgrace. Even so, many nations decided to boycott the contest. A Nigerian newspaper said that Mohammed (PBUH) might have selected a wife from the contestants. This upset enough people locally so that there were riots and over 200 people were killed in Kaduna. The pageant went ahead, in England, and many boycotting nations allowed their young women to participate in the new venue. Amina had her sentence overturned. By all accounts, she went on to an ordinary life.

This last scandal underlines a difficult aspect of Miss World. Many nations still regard beauty contests as worthy of regard. Venezuela, for instance, has been very active in supporting would-be beauty queens. And most Miss World winners have gone on to careers that were, at a minimum, fulfilling. Most, of course, have advanced in the entertainment industry though there are former Miss Worlds in management (yes) and other trades. Miss Grenada (1970), who became Grenada’s High Commissioner to Canada, said that this was an opportunity and she knew to grab it. Even runners-up, like Halle Berry, have made something of their appearance. So, how congruent are feminist meat market criticisms with the argument that women’s sexuality should always be veiled? Which side are you on?

That question was raised when the 2013 pageant, held in Indonesia, was condemned by Moslem clerics. In order to placate them, Miss World switched from a swimsuit competition to a “beach attire” show featuring sarongs.

Miss World has fallen on hard times, shuttling from one second-rate cable channel to another. British viewers of the most recent pageant were numbered in the thousands, rather than millions. Julia Morley, who runs the show single-handedly since the death of her husband in 2000, claims more than 2 Billion viewers watch Miss World, more than the World Cup, she says. She has inaugurated a new concept: Beauty With A Purpose and Miss World now has to serve as global ambassador for Good Causes. Can worldwide audiences keep the contest going when even hardline feminists regard beauty pageants as beneath their notice? World venues pay $5 Million or so just to host the contest. Miss World 2014 will return to its roots and be held in London.

Oh, and the Angry Brigade? It’s back.

Notes:

“The Judges of Miss World, 1970″ gives bios and where-are-they-now info about the judges. If you don’t know who Nina van Pallandt is, or want to know more about Eric Gairy, you can look them up here.

Another Nickel in the Machine has a fine account of the 1970 protest with lots of video.

Missosology has everything you ever wanted to know about beauty pageants. Pageantopolis.com has many photos.

A protestor discusses her actions at Miss World for the BBC.

The Angry Brigade has lots written about it, there is a television documentary , which Stuart Christie calls the most comprehensive look at the group, and even a play. Stuart Christie has an autobiography, Granny Made Me An Anarchist: General Franco, The Angry Brigade and Me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s Taste Sensation: Haggis Crisps

Yes, haggis-flavored potato chips. I came across these in my local organic food co-op, so they are, of course, made from organic, non-GMO potatoes. I would guess that they are vegetarian, too, from the ingredients list, although Mackie’s has mentioned something about pork products (?) in news stories. So, non-GMO and non-kosher/halal. Also, not gluten-free! Contains wheat!

haggis_chips

Mackie’s is a major crisps manufacturer and is trying to break into the US market. Three years ago, Mackie’s was unable to export their Flame-grilled Aberdeen Angus crisps to America, because of fears of Mad Cow disease. So their Flame-grilled Aberdeen Angus chips-for-export are now made with a vegetarian recipe. Where would the world be without America keeping us healthy?

Okay, the taste test:

Appearance: Okay. Nothing bad to report. Although the chips are heavilly-flavored, there is no evidence of powder, just black pepper, which is Good.

haggis_chips2
Aroma: Don’t ask. Fetid, nasty — like the Mummy’s athletic socks. But, like a ripe cheese, you don’t smell it, you eat it.
Texture: Although Mackie’s claims to make thick crisps, these chips were very thin, about half the thickness of Miss Vickie’s thick-cut chips, and very crunchy. Good.
Mouth Feel: These are remarkably non-oily chips (perhaps because they are cut so thin) and the salt, though evident, is not nasty granules. Fine.
Taste: Salt, spice, potatoes — where’s the mutton? Meh.
After-Effects: None so far, but this report may be amended for late medical bulletins and addenda regarding looseness of stools and other such possible counter-indications for the sensitive diner. But no immediate haggis-hurling.
Summary: Nope. But, overall this is a well-executed chip: nicely cut, crisply fried, non-greasy, not over-seasoned.  I bet other Mackie’s flavors would be quite good.

A true haggis, turning its back on vegetables. A sheep's stomach stuffed with liver, lights, heart, and whatever else might be inside a sheep. Serve with whisky. And a deep-fried Mars bar.

A true haggis, turning its back on vegetables. A sheep’s stomach stuffed with liver, lights, heart, and whatever else might be inside a sheep, combined with oats. Lots of oats. Serve with whisky. And a deep-fried Mars bar. [celtnet.org.uk]

Alton Brown says, “Serve with mashed potatoes, if you serve it at all.” Which is not really encouraging. So I asked a Scot: “On Bobby Burns Day, when you have that haggis and all, what do you have with it?”

“Whisky.”

“No, I mean other vegetables.”

“Man, I said whisky didn’t I?’

“Okay, but potatoes, rice…”

“Whisky!” He glowered at me as only a Scot can glower.

“What about neeps and tatties?”

“Lowland, are you?” He shrugged, “Turnips, maybe. Some put it in the haggis.” He shook his head. “But that’s wrong! A filthy Saxon trick to lengthen the pluck.”

I didn’t ask any more.

So, haggis chips with turnip and whisky dip? Or, maybe, just whisky. Lots of it.

A Guide To Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford

Some Do Not…
No More Parades
A Man Could Stand Up–
Last Post

Ford’s tetralogy of novels, Parade’s End, is on most lists of great books about World War I and is the basis for a series now showing on the BBC to great critical acclaim. Benedict Cumberpatch plays the main character, Christopher Tietjens, and that immediately raises warning flags about the TV series. But that isn’t a reason not to watch. Look, I’m going to tell you what happens in the books, then you can pretend to have read it when the show hits NetFlix or PBS or wherever you can view it. Or, if so moved, you can read Parade’s End for yourself and tell me that I am full of it when I slag Ford’s characters.

Christopher Tietjens (pronounced TEE-jens) is the youngest son of English gentry. An ancestor came over with William of Orange and founded the family estate, Groby, in Yorkshire where the Tietjens family own a town — or so it is said in the first novel of the series, Some Do Not…, there is no further mention, later in the book, of the town, only of the great hall at Groby and Groby Great Tree that shades it. Now a Yorkshireman is supposed to be stubborn and so is a Dutchman, so we might well expect Christopher to be “obstinate as a hog” as his equally stubborn brother puts it — both of them are incredibly pig-headed to the point of self-destructive behavior. In appearance, Christopher is a large man, often described as looking like a meal-sack. Sometimes this is modified a bit: a “fat meal-sack”, for instance, or affectionately as a “dear, meal-sack elephant”, or even “as courteous as a well-trained meal-sack of the dix-huitieme” by Christopher’s French Sister-in-Law. Christopher is described as a meal-sack at least twenty times over the course of the four books. Now, I have seen meal-sacks and I have seen Sherlock and, hear me People! Benedict Cumberpatch is no meal-sack! He is a swell actor and all and photos from the BBC production indicate that he may have put on a few pounds, but I doubt that he is going to do a DeNiro and fatten up to meal-sack proportions. The fat, stubborn Yorkshireman is played by a slender southerner. Well, I haven’t seen it yet, maybe it works somehow.

Cumberpatch as Sherlock; French meal sack; Cumberpatch as Tietjens. Compare and contrast. (BTW, meal sacks are collectible. This one was on etsy.com.

Cumberpatch as Sherlock; French meal sack; Cumberpatch as Tietjens. Compare and contrast. (BTW, meal sacks are collectible. This one was on etsy.com.)

Some Do Not… begins with two young men “of the public official class” in a railway coach in the summer of 1912. One of these two is Christopher Tietjens who discusses his wife’s infidelity with the other young man, MacMaster.  Christopher tells MacMaster that he has had a message from Sylvia, Christopher’s wife. Sylvia has been in Europe having an affair, something she does fairly often, it seems. Will Christopher divorce her? No, he is too much a gentleman to ever divorce a woman, she must divorce him. Sylvia is a Catholic and unwilling to do that. So the couple is locked together. Sylvia is devious and nasty, dedicated to causing her husband pain — she can’t stand the stoic front that he presents (and, for that matter, I grew a little tired of it myself). Christopher doesn’t really believe in the value of the society whose standards he upholds, but he must, in his hard-headed stubborn way of thinking, uphold those standards because they are standards, his standards. Sylvia says that he lacks the guts to live by his own beliefs and that struck a chord with me, too, but the essence of the book is Tietjens finally coming around to living a life with meaning, rather than the sham existence — meaningless job, loveless marriage, irrelevant belief system, socializing with fools — at the novel’s beginning. Or at least that’s the best construction I can put on the narrative but actually, Christopher seems pretty lost at the end.

Tietjens, 26 years old, is “entitled to the best” but his friend MacMaster has Scots shopkeepers for parents and depends on Tietjens for cash and social entry. Tietjens can afford to neglect his own career as well as his appearance, MacMaster cannot. MacMaster is arty and latches onto the remnants of a pre-Raphaelite group (see Pre-Raphaelites) headed by Rev. Duchemin, one-time intimate of Ruskin, and Mrs. Duchemin, who lives in fear of her husband, who is completely nuts and may turn violent at any moment. MacMaster sizes up the scene and makes his move on Mrs. Duchemin, who succumbs to his charm. Also in this group is Mrs. Wannop, close friend of Christopher’s father, daughter of a famous critic and herself the author of a novel that Christopher thinks is pretty good. Mrs. Wannop’s daughter, Valentine, acts as a sometime housemaid for her mother and assists Mrs. Duchemin. She is twenty-two and a suffragette.

These characters, and some others, including General Campion, a family friend and Christopher’s godfather, entertain Christopher and MacMaster. This entire section is a venomous take on Edwardian society. The men play a round of golf first, some of them seeing if they can hit the party ahead of them with a drive, which is interrupted by suffragettes charging across the course. Some of the golfers chase after them shouting, “Strip the bitch naked!” One of the young women falls and sprains an ankle. Tietjens helps her and Valentine Wallop to evade the police and the girls get away.

Meanwhile, Christopher has refused to fake some figures for the Department of Statistics and has written a possibly insulting letter to his superior, something that upsets those around him a great deal. But Christopher wants to chuck the whole job. He winds up being lectured by his elders, frightening his good friend, irritating his co-workers, and, by the end of the golf match, is no longer on speaking terms with his golfing partner. Christopher meets each of these situations with the stolid, stoic visage of a gentleman.

Christopher and MacMaster have breakfast at the Duchemin house. Duchemin breakfasts are famous, once a main locus for artistic chat featuring Ruskin, Rossetti, and so on. The others are already at the table when Duchemin comes in, escorted by a muscular type that Tietjens recognizes as a champion prizefighter. And Christopher and the others understand that the boxer is there to restrain Duchemin if he becomes violent. A couple of times he seems building up to an explosion but MacMaster talks him down.

Anyway, by the time the golf/Duchemin visit is done, Christopher discovers an attraction to Valentine Wannop and is seen with her under circumstances that compromise the public perception of her virtue, which is a big deal here, partly because it has class implications. There is a fair amount of discussion among the male characters about when and where it is proper for a man’s mistress to make an appearance and how to deal with her financially — basically assigning her to a specfic class. A mistress is much higher in the social hierarchy than a servant but can never equal the status of a wife. This takes a fair bit of calculation and gentlemen consult one another in these matters.

Christopher and Valentine are in a horse-drawn cart during the early hours of the morning, having delivered the injured suffragette to safety. They discuss Latin, which Valentine knows very well, thank you. And they both yearn physically for one another but some do not embrace. Even so, when General Campion runs into them with his car — like a tea-tray coming out of the fog — it is assumed that they are having an affair. Christopher is also linked to Mrs. Duchemin. Sylvia piles on her own lies and Christopher is seen as a libertine and Sylvia, a wronged wife. Meantime, Christopher wonders if their son is really his child or not. Throughout, Christopher remains stoic and stolid and silent, though some detect a hint of suffering in his visage and seriously ask, “Is he trying to be Christlike?”

Cumberpatch and Rebecca Hall as Christopher and Sylvia.

Cumberpatch and Rebecca Hall as Christopher and Sylvia.

That is more or less the core story, the rest of the novel(s) will play out the ramifications of this first sequence over the next six or seven years. The War comes, Christopher finds himself facing “…death, love, and public dishonour…” — rare occurrences in the life of any man, we are told, but Christopher faces them all at once. Through it all, Christopher does not abandon his principles or his standards until toward the end of the War, by which time both he and Valentine have failed to embrace on several occasions, though each is dying to do just that. Sylvia continues on her nasty path of destruction, determined to make Christopher as unhappy as possible, possibly by warping their son, if she can find no other way.

All of this is worked out over the course of four novels that feature stream-of-consciousness, unreliable narration, and manipulated time lines. It is evident that the work is very structured but the nature of that structure is not immediately obvious.

Ford’s plan for Parade’s End seems to me like a musical composition. Once he has given us the opening story, the characters become themes, marked by recurrent words or images — meal-sacks, for instance. Sylvia is said to enjoy pulling the shower-bath strings — I think the meaning has to do with hot and cold water, but the string-pulling part of the image is evocative — she likes making trouble and she manipulates people like puppets. So “shower-bath strings” is the theme whenever she is mentioned and she is also shown pulling on actual strings, curtain cords, for example. In the musical piece, these themes would belong to specific instruments — a cello for Christopher going “I won’t. Won’t. Won’t.” and screechy violins for Sylvia with perhaps the addition of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho bird calls, but maybe I am thinking too much about showers.

The titles of the individual novels are repeated throughout as well. “Some do not…” is given a number of different readings in the first book, just as A Man Could Stand Up and No More Parades are repeated over and over in those novels. In Last Post, the bugle call itself is played in the background from time to time. The repetitions — of titles, of character themes, of the same action performed by different people under different circumstances, of specfic words, (for example, “tea-tray” usually means violence, a crash or explosion, when you read it here — it may be instructive that someone remembers the name Tietjens sounding something like “tea-trays”) — all this repetition is intended, I think, as a sort of music meant to involve the reader. By the end of the work, just about every sentence is full of these repetitions so that words ring with the accumulated music. Or, I think, that is the way it is supposed to work.

Now one thing about turning these characters into musical themes is that it gives a certain license to ignore them as people, or rather, to ignore any aspect of their lives that is not part of the theme. Let’s check out these characters:

Christopher Tietjens: Our star meal-sack is stoic, stolid, and an asshole (see Scot-Jew). Benedict Cumberpatch says that he wishes he were as principled as Christopher. Oh no, Ben! These aren’t really principles being expressed by Christopher, they are positions taken by him and from which he will not be moved. “No one but a blackguard would ever submit a woman to the ordeal of divorce.” What principle is Christopher defending when he refuses to divorce Sylvia? The sanctity of marriage? Refusal to shame a woman who is shameless? Or is he just grabbing the moral high ground so that he can maintain an air of superiority to the entire situation? Certainly there is no Responsibility in Christopher’s position — neither toward his son nor his wannabe lover. Passive-aggressive Christopher is self-absorbed to the point of narcissism.

Sylvia Tietjens: Speaking of narcissism, let’s check out Sylvia. Sylvia screws around not because she enjoys sex, but because she enjoys being the star in her own little drama. She has allies in the form of besotted men and stupid cat’s-paw women. Her game is to disturb Christopher from his superior attitude:

Every speech he utters about everything… makes me want to stick a knife in him. …I can’t prove he’s wrong, not ever, about the simplest thing. But I can pain him!

She doesn’t mind being the villain, if she gets some choice lines, and boy, does she work for them!

Sylvia’s Scandals: The important thing is that the scandals are aimed at hurting Christopher, so any other result is just gravy. Christopher has been in England, recuperating (see Shell Shock) when he is about to be returned to the Front, His godfather General Campion has arranged for him to be as far behind the lines as he can manage, as a resupply officer. But Christopher has problems, too. Sylvia and her evil allies have created a situation where Christopher bounces a cheque or two, is crapped on by his bank, and booted out of his club. Christopher bounces back, demonstrating to bank and club that he was purposely put in the red by those aforesaid evil ones.

“Good God, Man! Your club membership is hereby reinstated!”
“In that case, I resign.” Never a crack in that stolid visage.

So Christopher is back in France having a not particularly good time though he does his job and does it well. But there are disturbing messages from the outside world. General Campion wants Christopher to make Sylvia leave him alone. It takes Christopher a while to realize that Sylvia is actually in France, at a nearby hotel, where he goes to meet her.

Now we learn, in fits and starts, that on the night that Christopher did not embrace Valentine and make her his mistress (see Non-Embraces), he went back to his London apartment and sat staring out a window into the darkness. Sylvia knows he is there and divines that he has not bonked Valentine (an event Sylvia tried to facilitate for evilness reasons of her own). She calls for a cab early in the morning to take her away; she is entering a convent retreat. Christopher, hearing her go, believes that their marriage is finally over.

Ha, ha. Silly boy! Sylvia spends three months in a nun’s cell before she becomes bored and decides to go back to torturing her husband. So, in France, at the hotel where she awaits Christopher, she flirts with a Major Perowne, who believes that he has the go-ahead to visit her room later that night. Now Perowne just happens to be the same guy that Sylvia shacked up with in Europe back in 1912 when Christopher came over to help her cover up any scandal. Sylvia sits, bored by Perowne’s chatter and contemplates hurting Christopher: “By the immortal saints,” she exclaims in an aside, “I swear I’ll make his wooden face wince yet.” Sylvia has more Asides to the Audience than Richard III; she turns into the camera and intones lines about the winter of her discontent and all, but let’s face it, she’s not a spectacular royal villain, she’s only Psycho-Bitch and a mature, adult male ought to be able to get shut of their relationship, not descend into the dysfunctional battle of “You hurt me, now I will stagger about and pretend I am not wounded. Then you can hurt me again!” Rebecca Hall ( Vicky Christina Barcelona) plays Sylvia in the BBC series, and it will be very difficult for her to avoid taking the role completely over the top.

This time Sylvia decides to seduce Christopher. So she dons a sexy negligee and sits at her dressing table looking alluring. Christopher comes to her room and is just about to be seduced — well, possibly, we hope, since after all these non-embraces the reader wants the boy to get his ashes hauled, every few years or so, anyway — when Perowne barges in. There is an altercation, attracting the attention of an officer that Christopher has antagonized and the whole evening becomes a shambles and a scandal. General Campion comes to see Christopher. The ramifications are that Christopher has to be transferred and, because Sylvia has cut off a number of possible posts and Christopher has antagonized himself out of others, he is to be sent to the Front. Christopher hears all this in a daze; he knows it is a death sentence. This was not what Sylvia intended, she just pulled one shower-string too many. Not that Sylvia is really sorry. She is never sorry.

This entire dysfunctional relationship bothers me. It’s as possible as anything else involving human beings, I suppose, but generally in these situations either the couple break up pretty quick or they are together forever, like George and Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for instance. Now there’s a couple that can out-dysfunction any other relationship ever recorded or invented! They are far more interesting, in their hideous way, than Christopher and Sylvia.

Adelaide Clemens as Valentine. "What a jolly mistress she'd make," says Christopher. Sure, Chrissie, but first you have to embrace her.

Adelaide Clemens as Valentine. “What a jolly mistress she’d make,” says Christopher. Sure, Chrissie, but first you have to embrace her.

Valentine Wannop: The third side of this triangle is young suffragette Valentine. She is far more likable than the Tietjens couple mainly because she is healthy. Her father had her educated in ladies’ gym rather than academics because reasons of some kind or other. So Valentine is a vigourous type, sound in mind and body. Valentine is played by Adelaide Clemens, who is Australian and thus probably very healthy. Adelaide Clemens is a pretty blonde who can play Valentine very well, no doubt, but there is a slight glint in her eye that Valentine lacks. I cannot imagine Adelaide Clemens non-embracing all the time, there’s a girl with some life to her!

Christopher’s brother, Mark, thinks Valentine “has her head screwed on right”. Well, maybe. Here she is mooning after a married man for more than six years with nary an embrace. Something a bit off there, perhaps, but compared to Sylvia, a paragon of mental health. Let’s look at the thwarted romance of Valentine and Christopher:

Non-Embraces: The first non-embrace is during the long cart ride that results in scandal because it is thought that Christopher and Valentine actually did embrace. For five years afterward the two fantasize about one another, then Christopher decides it’s time to lighten up on this moral stance he’s taken.  It’s his last night in England before he heads back to the War. “Will you be my mistress tonight?”

Will she! Valentine has already made the bed! “Yes!” Here’s instructions on when and where to meet me.

Well, finally! But things happen. Christopher and Valentine fail to embrace again. They part, Christopher headed back to France, stoic as can be.

Christopher and Valentine meet again on Armistice Day. Christopher has actually been in London a for a while but hasn’t looked up Valentine, who he has sworn will be his mistress, because some reason or other. Anyway, she goes to see him and it looks good for an upcoming embrace. But Armistice Day is a raucous event. Valentine and Christopher are interrupted by a bunch of his old trenchmates who want to celebrate, which they do, and A Man Could Stand Up ends with Valentine and Chris dancing together. Soon, the reader anticipates, they will embrace.

It is a little while into Last Post before we discover that, no, things did not go well on Armistice Day. (By this point, the reader should not be surprised.) The evening of jollity that ended with dancing at the close of A Man Could Stand Up continues into a difficult, raucous night — one of Christopher’s war buddies dies in a cab — and when Christopher tries to take Valentine back to his place so they can, you know, embrace, who is there but evil Sylvia who tells Christopher that she has cancer and then throws herself down a flight of stairs. She picks up a few bruises and muses later that she is losing her touch, why a few years back, she could take such a fall and never suffer a blemish. Valentine is not taken in by this “good theater fall” and the couple leave Sylvia on the floor. (Hooray!) So, Christopher wants some cash so he can locate an embracing spot (I don’t know if he ever found one that night) and poor Valentine winds up discussing war policy with Mark at 3:30 in the morning and occasionally dashing into the next room to weep all over Marie Léonie’s shoulder. It’s about this time you want to say, Girl, get out of this mess!

Mark Tietjens: Christopher’s eldest brother, Mark, works in Ministry of Transport where he is very high up indeed. He and Christopher meet in 1917 to discuss the deaths of their other two brothers, their sister, their mother, and their father. Yes, five family members dead. The two brothers were killed at Gallipoli, the sister was a nurse who drowned, their mother died of grief, their father… Ah! The father died of a gunshot to his head suffered while he dragged his loaded, cocked weapon through a hedge. Both the surviving brothers think it was suicide. Perhaps it was suicide caused by his disgraceful son, Christopher, who is rumored to have a child out of wedlock by a mistress he set up with a tobacco shop, and who was reputed to have an affair with Mrs. Duchemin — Mrs. MacMaster now, able to re-marry since the death of her husband — and who was a wastrel who had gone through thousands of pounds somehow, possibly on pay-offs to loose women, and military reports say he is a communist, or maybe a Francophile, and not to be trusted, and so on. Old Tietjens did not leave Christopher any money directly but instructed Mark to dole out whatever cash he requires. Christopher finds that insulting and says, all right! Then I won’t take any of that money from Mark! Yes! That’s the way to get back at the old dead guy, I’ll embarass him! By not taking any money and exhibiting an expressionless face, I will demonstrate moral superiority! And by God, Mark admires his younger brother for taking this firm stance — actually he admires any unrelenting position on anything, he believes this a proper Yorkshire attitude.

Rupert Everett as Mark. No. Forty pounds heavier and much grayer, I might believe, but this is just... no. I am not putting up any pictures of Renee As Marie Léonie because she is not even this close to looking like her character. I blame the director for this: he could have made the actors less pretty and slim.

Rupert Everett as Mark. No. Forty pounds heavier and much grayer, I might believe, but this is just… no. I am not putting up any pictures of Lyne Renee As Marie Léonie because she is not even this close to looking like her character. I blame the director for this: he could have made the actors less pretty and slim.

Mark doesn’t like Sylvia, who he thinks is a bitch. And one wonders why more people haven’t come to that conclusion, for crying out loud! She does everything except bare blood-stained fangs at the reader. But, No! Here she is persuading people to screw up Christopher’s pay and his bank account and everybody is saying, “Poor Sylvia, married to that dissolute brute!” when they must know she’s shagged half of Britain’s male citizenry by this time not to mention a few foreigners who helped wreck her husband’s reputation. I mean, at this juncture, if only the men who have boffed Sylvia know how not-nice she is, that is still a significant portion of the population. So, it is difficult to see how she can flourish except that Christopher is always rubbing people the wrong way and making enemies — perhaps, like Sylvia, Christopher’s enemies just want to wipe that smug look off his stolid face. By the end of the tetralogy people believe that Christopher is turning out his wife to get money or favors from the many many men who have bonked her. In other words, every time Sylvia screws a new guy, Christopher gets blamed. AND he wins the contempt of his fellows for not getting enough money or favors for peddling his wife’s ass. Not only is he a pimp, he’s a poor businessman!

Mark becomes upset that the Allies will not advance into Germany at the end of the War. The English failure to occupy Germany means that the years of war have been for nought. And there is an argument you could frame that way, and that argument was a serious consideration for the Allies of WWII who determined not to fail to occupy Germany again — they wanted the German populace to understand that they had lost and not, as in 1918, conclude that their victorious armies had suffered a stab in the back. Perhaps Ford, too, thought this in 1925, but here it is just one more fringe concept, just one of many thoughts and interpretations of events floating through the present that may or may not be of value in the future. Anyway, Mark is upset and determines never to speak again. Yes! That’ll show ‘em! Hold your breath, too, why don’t you?

Marie Léonie: Mark has never married, but he does have a mistress. He spotted Marie Léonie in the second line of dancers at a show and was taken with her so much that he immediately looked her up and made a straight-forward proposition to set her up as his kept woman. Marie Léonie is from Normandy, which is France’s answer to Yorkshire, and was not offended by Mark’s blunt offer but accepted it. So, for twenty years, every Thursday and every Tuesday, except for a month during the summer racing season, Mark goes to the house that he rents for Marie Léonie. Marie Léonie prepares for Mark the same meal every time (see Meals), except during shooting season when pheasant are worked into the rotation, and the two have, so far as Parade’s End goes, a model relationship.

In October of 1918 (or thereabouts, Ford is purposely muzzy about the date), Mark has suffered a stroke and is mostly bed-ridden, Marie Léonie taking care of him. Christopher persuades Mark to marry Marie Léonie. No one asks her if she wants to be married; it is assumed that a woman of her class could want nothing more. Marie Léonie allows herself to be married. She is devoted to Mark, anyway, although she has looked ahead to her future and given some thought to going back to Normandy if Mark should die. Now, though, she is mistress of Groby, a member of the gentry. It doesn’t change her. She sees the possibility of a clash with Sylvia, who is living at Groby, and thinks, “Bring it on! I can handle her.” And, how exciting that would have been to read about! The clash between the stolid, firm Norman and the flaky English emotional cesspit! I’d buy tickets!

In the final novel, Last Post, Christopher has rented a Sussex farm where he lives with Valentine. Mark, completely silent and immobile, lies in a cot in a bower constructed for him. It is on this farm that we see Marie Léonie in her element. She runs that farm very well. Even though there is friction between herself and the local peasantry over Norman vs. English ways of doing things, it is not really an important issue: Marie Léonie and the local farmworkers understand each other very well. The best word for Marie Léonie is “grounded”; she grasps the fundamentals of life far better than any of the non-peasant characters in the book.

Meals: Every Thursday, every Tuesday, Marie Léonie cooks the same meal for Mark: two mutton chops, all but 1/8 inch of the fat removed, prepared without condiments, two floury potatoes, an apple tart with stilton cheese, and claret. Each book has a meal or food topic: there is the Duchemin breakfast where guests mumble iced caviar, peaches, and kidneys while wondering if a raving lunatic will swarm over the tablecloth at them; there is Christopher’s resupply officers’ lunch in France, with 1905 brut champagne that they buy themselves; there is Christopher’s luncheon at the front where the unit cook turns bully beef and other substances into mock pate — these menus underline the absurdity of Edwardian manners in a non-genteel reality. Mark’s chops are an attempt to preserve at least some order in the world. In the final volume, Marie Léonie makes cider, upsetting the locals by using a siphon (“a chube!”) while she bemoans the lack of decent, proper turnips in England. But these folks will get along and adjust to the new reality, the local peasants and honest, solid Marie Léonie are the foundation for a new order, unless they are meant as the backbone of the old; possibly they are both.

War: No More Parades is set in the trenches in France. Christopher works at putting together units and shuffling them back to the front. There are a number of Canadian Railway Service workers, for example, who present an amusing spectacle in their furry hats. And there are Welsh soldiers — the Welsh are always good for a chuckle — some with names like 09 Morgan. See, there are so few family names in Wales that groups of men with same last name are often found in military units and numbered somehow to tell them apart. But Ford undercuts all the humorous set-ups that he creates. The general mood in Christopher’s dugout is not laughter but lunacy. Take, for instance, Christopher’s fellow officer, Mackenzie, or maybe his name is McKechnie, who is muttering to himself and seems on the verge of suddenly shooting his mates. Then 09 Morgan is killed by a bomb and dies in Christopher’s arms, his blood spreading across the floor. The men have to be got ready to move out and Christopher oversees their writing of their wills. One fellow has a girl in each of three different countries and wants to leave each of them a bit of dosh, and we have another almost comic turn. Almost.

Ford was proud of writing about the Great War and hoped that his work would aid the cause of peace, or so he said. I think that what he was really proud of was giving an honest account of modern war — it is not so much the skill or valor of the individual warrior that counts any more; it is where he is standing when the stray shell drops.

In A Man Could Stand Up… Christopher is back at the Front. A great German offensive is expected at any time. Senior officers have been killed and Christopher is in command of his unit. He bustles about, preparing for the assault on his position due to start any minute. He is not completely mad, though a little strange — he obsesses about the angles of trench lines and toys with the idea of sticking his head up above the trench. Then there are these drainage pipes that he had run horizontally instead of vertically because that would better drain the trench, he thought, except that there are vast muddy areas in the trench. A German shell explodes and half-buries Christopher. He digs himself out. He tries to help one man, who may drown in a trench mud puddle, and pulls the man up, thus exposing a part of the man’s face to a sniper who takes out his eye. This mirrors a situation in No More Parades, where Christopher does not give the Welsh soldier, 09 Morgan, leave to straighten out his marital problems at home — the local police tell him that if the man returns, he will be murdered — so Christopher has him stay in France where 09 Morgan is killed. Christopher cannot even trust his own instincts, his best intentions may make things worse. Anyway, General Campion shows up and relieves Christopher of his duties because, oh, Sylvia and this and that. Campion has been living at Groby (in the house meant for Marie Léonie) while he considers a political career and Christopher discerns that he is shagging Sylvia. By the way, Campion is looking much younger than he did in the first book — I don’t know how that was managed — but he must be approaching sixty if not already far past it. Christopher is re-assigned to looking after prisoners-of-war, thus losing command pay. Later, someone does Christopher a favor and de-mobilizes him a little early, thus costing him army pay. Christopher is broke on Armistice Day when he and Valentine meet in his rooms.

Shell Shock: After the fateful evening in 1912 when Valentine’s honor is compromised, the next part of Some Do Not takes place five years later while Christopher, who has been shell-shocked, recuperates in London. When Ford says “shell-shocked” he means exactly that: this is a man concussed by a nearby explosion. In 1917 Ford himself was sent back to England after three years in the army, diagnosed with “shell-shock”. That term’s relation to what we now call PTSD is hinted at in the novel but not spelled out. There is a mention that there are sanitoriums for veterans like that — a concept that fills me with dread since I expect they are actually prisons meant to keep these men from embarrassing anyone.

Christopher’s concussion has cost him some of his memory. He is reading the encyclopedia to regain facts that have been lost to him. Before the War, Christopher sneered at people who use encyclopedias. I think Ford wants us to know that our boy has picked up a little humility — though it is hard to tell, what with that stoic, stolid visage of his.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, photograph by Lewis Carroll [ via lewis carroll.org ]

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, photograph by Lewis Carroll [ via lewiscarroll.org ]

Pre-Raphaelites: Ford’s hatred for the pre-Raphaelites is interesting because Ford Madox Brown, a leading painter connnected with the group, was his grandfather and Ford would have met the kind of people that enlivened the Duchemin breakfasts of the past. Christopher Tietjens says of Rossetti:

…it revolts me to think of that obese, oily man who never took a bath, in a grease-spotted dressing-gown and the underclothes he’s slept in, standing beside a five-shilling model with crimped hair or some Mrs. W. Three Stars, gazing into a mirror that reflects their fetid selves and gilt sunfish and drop chandeliers and plates sickening with cold bacon fat and gurgling about passion.

Don’t hold back, Christopher! Let it all out, let that bacon fat sicken, I can smell it from here reflected in your words. Mrs. Duchemin recalls Ruskin:

Fragments of all the worst stories that in his worst moods her husband had told her of [Ruskin] went through her mind. She imagined that the shameful parts of her intimate life would be known to [MacMaster].

The mad Rev. Duchemin talks about Ruskin’s marriage:

“When he drove away in the carriage on his wedding-day, he said to his bride: ‘We will live like the blessed angels!’ How sublime! I, too, after my nuptials…”

Mrs. Duchemin suddenly screamed: “Oh…no!

Now  Ford is perfectly aware that there are various stories of Ruskin’s wedding night — you prurient types can google — so the implication here is that Mrs. Duchemin’s  honeymoon was also some kind of horror. So much for sublime angel connubial bliss! Later, when Mrs. Duchemin thinks MacMaster has knocked her up, she curses him in such a way as to indicate she knows her way around the block. Apparently, she has an abortion. So much for all that angelic innocence and ethereal feminine sensibility!

And then there is the mad Rev. Duchemin himself, one of Ruskin’s road-builders. I think we are supposed to believe that Duchemin’s mental problems stem from venereal disease or alcoholism or both.

Rossetti courting Elizabeth Siddal from Rossetti and His Circle by Max Beerbohm [ Wikipedia ]

Rossetti courting Elizabeth Siddal from Rossetti and His Circle by Max Beerbohm [ Wikipedia ]

Christopher’s Intelligence:  Directly after the evening when Valentine and Christopher first fail to embrace, Christopher heads out to Europe creating a cover story that will allow for Sylvia to avoid scandal. Then (we discover later — Ford is always tucking little bits of information here and there in the narrative) …Then, they go on to East Europe for a little while where Christopher invests heavilly in Ukrainian bonds…

Now let me pause right there: Christopher is thought by everyone to be incredibly smart. He has a calculator brain that breaks things down to numbers. Watching ships he calculates the cost/value of building a certain vessel against that of building a log raft in Russia, because that’s how he rolls. Christopher also favors himself as a bit of a classicist and has an argument with Valentine, who knows a bit of Latin herself, over a quote from Ovid. And he writes critical essays for Mrs. Wannop that make her reputation as well as reports for the Department of Statistics (including one that MacMaster takes credit for which earns him a knighthood) which are always truth because a gentleman does not tell lies. Okay, but this Smart Guy also does some dumb things, like buy Ukrainian bonds in 1913. When he knows a War is coming. And he is supposed to be an expert on East European matters, too! Christopher’s superior remarks drilly: “You’re a perfect encyclopaedia of exact material knowledge, Tietjens.” And Christopher accepts this as tribute, though he does not acknowledge it because taciturnity is one of his principles.

Rumors of War: There are various odd notions aired throughout the four novels as characters try to make sense of world events. For instance, there is the notion, held by General Campion, that England is withdrawing supplies and troops from France and sending them to Turkey to fight for the Middle East and Empire. In fact, the exact opposite is happening: in 1917 England begins shipping resources from the Turkish front to France, leaving T.E.Lawrence to battle for the Middle East all by himself. But this is a wonderful example of the kind of rumor that troops turn into grand conspiracy theories: “Why don’t we have more Mills bombs?” ” They’re being shipped to Iraq along with reinforcement troops. It’s part of a plan to pressure the French.” Sure. I have heard World War II vets who, years later, would repeat similar theories about their war. This rumor is a bit of genius by Ford, and, however I feel about his character delineation, I have to concede the man’s insight into human affairs.

In book three we have the notion of the “Single Command”, a panacea for the lack of Allied movement: it’s all because of a lack of coordination between the Allies. Put everyone under the same leader and watch what happens! Of course, the English are concerned that it will be a Frenchman in charge and so that’s why we don’t have that and everyone is getting killed. That was the theory. In 1918, the French, in the form of General Joffre, took over the single command and the German Spring offensive failed, but what probably made more of a difference than the single command was throwing 300,000 American troops into the lines, with many thousands more to follow. These theories are Ford’s attempt at showing how we try to interpret events in a meaningful way, even in a state of chaos.

Furniture Business: Christopher has a rare talent: he can look at a piece of furniture and know if it is a fine antique or junk. This is one of two talents that Christopher possesses — the other one is a remarkable facility with horses — but horses are going out and motorcars are coming in, so Christopher sells furniture to Americans. His is not an Antiques Road Show skill, Christopher never looks on the bottom or pulls out the drawers, he just looks and knows, right away, this cabinet is a fine antique but this other piece is crap. I think this may be Ford’s way of saying that Christopher has exquisite taste honed by centuries of privilege or something like that. Anyway, Christopher is an idiot-savant of furniture, and is flogging every piece that he can locate. But he is not making much money. He has a partner in the United States who, everyone says, is ripping him off. But I can’t tell if Christopher is just a rotten businessman or what. The partner is a guy Christopher met when he was sorting German prisoners and he is a Jew (which deserves some more attention, see Scot-Jew).

Birds and Plants: Birds and local plants are repeated themes throughout the four novels, pretty much one major episode per book. Christopher recites English plant names as a mantra, he and the soldiers chat about the larks at the front, and so forth. Ford is pulling out an old trope here: the English countryside with all its humble lifeforms is a renewing, wonderful source of Englishness, and even as the country falls apart, well, nature is renewing, so England is renewing. Or something like that.

Christopher is particularly given to let his consciousness stream to Shakespeare and the list of flowers that float around drowned Ophelia, particularly the long purple flower which liberal shepherds have given a grosser name. It’s a little worrisome that Christopher tends to think of Ophelia when Valentine is on his mind.

"Ophelia" by Millais. [ via tate.org.uk ] There with fantastic garlands did she come Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them" Hamlet Act 4. The model was Elizabeth Siddal who later married Rossetti. After she died of a laudanum overdose, Rossetti buried his unpublished poems with. Later, he dug her up and retrieved the poems

“Ophelia” by Millais. [ via tate.org.uk ] “There with fantastic garlands did she come/Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples/That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,/But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them” Hamlet Act 4. The model was Elizabeth Siddal who later married Rossetti. After she died of a laudanum overdose, Rossetti buried his unpublished poems with her body. Later, he dug her up and retrieved the poems.

Marie Léonie  doesn’t understand this English thing about giving every weed a name and, to her, all these sparrows are the same bird, but she is wonderfully appreciative of her chickens — there is a nice passage where she compares a rooster to Rodin, who she saw once in his studio, scratching about some young female visitors. If I was noting Good Parts of this work, that would be one for the list. Sylvia has her bird bit, too, she sees an eagle frightening seagulls and she immediately identifies with the eagle, not the screaming gulls, though I picture her as more screechy than soaring, myself.

Mental Health: I don’t think it possible to do psychoanalysis of a person if a) you have no psychiatric expertise or b) if that person is a literary invention. So, guilty on both counts, I will stand clear. I will hazard a guess that, if the BBC production has any traction, we will soon have a personality disorder named after Sylvia. And maybe one for Christopher. The person that is worrisome is Valentine — in Last Post she seems depressed and distraught and it looks like her pregnancy may not end happily, either miscarriage or post-partum troubles. She is already practically drooling over the thought of a bromide that the doctor may give her. Wait until she discovers the other drugs that were over-prescribed back in the day! And she was so healthy, too!

Scot-Jew: In the railway carriage scene that opens the first novel, MacMaster mentions that Christopher should be careful about how others in his civil service office see him.Tietjens agrees:

…a first-class public office is very like a public school. It might very well object to having a man whose wife has bolted amongst its members. I remember Clifton hated it when the governors decided to admit the first Jew and the first nigger.

What? Are you free-associating here, Christopher, or do you really think that a cuckold will be treated as a Jew? Or is this just an excuse to call people names? “Nigger” is used only once more and at a distance — blacks are hypothetical in Tietjens’ world — but Christopher really lays it on the Jews. Sometimes he remarks on the way they sneak into English life, but they can’t fool him — Christopher can spot the Oriental, or the Levantine, features that indicate someone is a Jew. Curiously, at one point in Parade’s End, Christopher is seen hanging about with a young woman who is Jewish — is he getting it on with her? Maybe he sets her up in a tobacco shop, which brings us back to just how much of what the characters say can be believed. Anyhow, the anti-Semitism is unrelenting. Mark, for instance, says that the only good thing about Sylvia is that she’s never had sex with a Jew — and he gives her credit for that.

Even so, Christopher has a number of relationships with Jews (not counting the young possible-tobacco-shop woman), officers, bureaucrats; he works with both and has a German-American Jew as a business partner:

That he was a Jew and an American did not worry Christopher; he had not objected to the fact that Macmaster had been the son of a Scotch grocer. …for a little shivering, artistic Jew, as of old for Macmaster, he was quite capable of feeling a real fondness — as you might for an animal.

Now if you thought I was a bit harsh when I called Christopher an asshole way back when, I ask you to consider the words from the novel quoted above: Christopher regards Jews and his friend MacMaster as pets, panting about his feet, waiting for their ears to be scratched.

MacMaster and Mrs. Duchemin are both Scots and each of them is very ambitious. Their union is a matter of using one another to climb the ladder of success and — mirabile dictu! — this works for them. MacMaster gets knighted, Mrs. Duchemin/MacMaster is a leading social light. These two grasping people are presented as Semitic, if you accept that Jews are constantly manuvering to enter English society and are grasping, greedy, etc. Scots are Jews-lite. You can indulge Scots and allow them into society (though they will always be on a lower rung than you) and perhaps, in a century or two, they will be as much English as Tietjens, who is three centuries past his own ancestors arriving in this green and pleasant land. Jews… Well, ask after a millenium has passed.

Last Post: Mark is lying in his bower which has been set up so that he will be entertained by the songbirds all around. He lies there and never says a word because he has made up his mind not to speak. That doesn’t mean that Mark is silent to the reader, no, we are treated to lengthy streams of conciousness. And, even though Mark pretends not be interested in small things, he does watch the birds. (Slow percussion for Mark, perhaps in cardiac time, with a snap on the snare for “No” when Mark blinks once, two snaps when he blinks twice for yes — that’s right, it takes less effort for Mark to say No than to say Yes which, I think, is a nice touch. So, some percussion with the flutings of birds all about.)

Besides Mark, who narrates most of the last book, Marie Léonie has a turn: stolid and Norman, France’s version of a Yorkshireman, she will bottle cider her own way, thus upsetting the Sussex locals, who also have a small section to narrate. This back-and-forth is amusing (woodwinds, mostly oboes, I think) and it happens at about the place where a symphony might also have a bit of lightness. Now the peasants scatter… Wait! I see. This should be opera!

Now the peasants scatter as a group of riders appear on the road overlooking the farm Tietjens is renting, one of them is the person Sylvia rented Groby Great Hall to, Mrs. de Bray Pape, an unsuitable American. This woman is here to talk about Groby Great Tree, that she has had taken down. Taking out the Groby Great Stump (with explosives) caused a Groby Great Hall wall to cave in, and there is now a Great Hole in Groby Great Hall wall, so this lady has quite a bit of explaining to do. Sylvia takes credit for getting Mrs. de Bray Pape to wreck Groby Great Hall, now she is using the woman to torment Christopher and Valentine. Mrs. de Bray Pape plunges into things in a heedless, reckless manner. She plows straight through the hay field, rather than go around. She is wearing an old-fashioned women’s riding get-up for side-saddle, with huge, sweeping skirts that devastate the hay. See, she pretends to be an English Lady, but she doesn’t know better than to trample the hay.

Also in this group are young Mark Tietjens and Sylvia. Sylvia has begun divorce proceedings, sort of, but she has yet to turn in the key papers and has still not decided if she will do so. The thing is, if Sylvia divorces Christopher, then she can marry General Campion who she believes will get a major posting to India as head of the Raj or whatever the deal is in 1919. Campion has already refused this proposal but Sylvia has reminded him of her own wealth and how rich Campion could be if he married it. We don’t know if that has changed General Campion’s mind but Sylvia is confident that she will have her own way whenever she decides what that is. Meantime, she enjoys fantasizing about the affairs she will have after marrying Campion. She pictures herself in stunning Orientalish costume while some young subaltern or other crawls at her feet begging for her precious love. Really!

Sylvia and General Campion played by Roger Allam. Now he looks right, but he is the guy that should have played Mark. Allam, if you don't recognize him, plays Morse's boss in Endeavour.

Sylvia and General Campion played by Roger Allam. Now he looks right, but he is the guy that should have played Mark. Allam, if you don’t recognize him, plays Morse’s boss in Endeavour.

Sylvia and young Mark come across old Mark’s bower. He reflects that this boy is definitely his brother’s son, no matter what the gossipers say. (In an earlier volume, Christopher told Sylvia that he spent a great deal of money on private detectives to ascertain that very fact. Sylvia may have been surprised. Anyway…) Mark does not speak and an awkward time is had by all.

(BTW, Ford’s disregard for young Mark begins in the first volume where Christopher’s son is named “Tommy”. When we finally meet the young fellow, he is called either Mark or Michael. Ford’s explanation for that? Sylvia. I think this is totally unfair — Sylvia is evil, sure, but it wasn’t her who forgot her son’s name, it was the author, and he has a lot of nerve, laying the blame on one of his characters like that!)

Mrs. de Bray Pape charges into Christopher’s house, confronting Valentine. Valentine is pregnant and not doing very well. Apparently she fears a miscarriage. “Too much horseback riding,” people mutter. The doctor is coming.  Valentine has always been proud of her strong, healthy body, but now finds childbirth may be too much for it.

Sylvia advances into the scene. She kicks out Mrs. de Bray Pape and confronts Valentine face-to-face. Young Mark comes in as well continually asking his mother if what she is doing is “sporting”. But what’s this? Sylvia’s eyes mist over, she almost apologizes to Valentine for screwing up her life, she says that she will give Christopher that divorce, she has already begun the process… She is crying and… No! No! NO! You’re telling me that this wicked person who combines the worst traits of Lucrezia Borigia with those of Cruella deVille, that this paragon of evilness is so moved by the sight of her husband’s pregnant mistress, that she weeps and gives up her terrible ways? I don’t believe it, not for a minute. Your fault, Ford, if you want me to believe that Sylvia has a soft center, then show her practicing a little humanity in the previous 800 or so pages. The only way to take this is that Sylvia has had a brain fart and may do something out-of-character for a day or two, but she has not reformed. No.

Mark Dies: Mark has thought of a day when he went hunting with his father and bagged four birds with one shot, It was all luck, but Mark’s father has the birds stuffed and mounted. “Mark’s Bag” stood in the nursery for the younger siblings to wonder over. It occurs to old Mark that the group of stuffed birds is the closest thing to a monument he will ever have. He naps a bit and when he opens his eyes, Christopher is standing there. He has been to Groby and flown back, then bicycled from the airfield to his brother’s side (which may be contrasted with Sylvia’s horseback riders who have invaded the place, 19th vs. 20th Century, etc.). Christopher tells his brother that Groby Great Tree is down, that a chunk of wall has gone, too, taking out the nursery, but that he has rescued Mark’s Bag from the rubbish heap. Meantime, Valentine has recalled a bit of poor business that Christopher concluded and rails at him because he has chosen to be poor and they have a child on the way and so on. Mark utters his first words in months, “Now, I must speak.” He recites a bit of a poem:

“”Twas the mid o’ the night and the barnies grat
And the mither beneath the mauld heard that…’

“An old song. My nurse sang it….Never thou let thy child weep for thy sharp tongue to thy good man.”

Mark takes Valentine’s hand and dies and Valentine mellows out and the book ends.

What! What is that last bit about? Mark recites a few lines about a dead mother — is this a foreshadowing of Valentine’s death in childbirth? Is this prophecy? Christopher thinks of Ophelia and Mark thinks of dead mothers when they consider Valentine. Ford, unconsciously perhaps, is letting us know that Valentine is doomed. Perhaps she’ll OD on laudanum like Elizabeth Siddal or chloral hydrate like Rossetti!

Anyway Mark chides (?) Valentine for attacking her husband because it will upset the children. And Valentine feels so good for having heard this! I have been over this ending quite a bit and still cannot make sense of it though some — many, in fact — claim they are moved to tears. I am completely befuddled here.

Happily Ever After: Now I have read that some folks, including scholars, believe Sylvia when she says she will get a divorce. This is part of her scheme to marry General Campion, who may just get a posting in India, where Edwardian manners still hold sway. But General Campion has already said No and anyway I trust Sylvia about as far as I can pitch a post-hole. Even if she does do the divorce and go off to India, she’ll be back. She still has a son she can use to torment Christopher and, what exactly is her position concerning Groby? Again, blithe souls claim that young Mark (the communist) will give up his claim on Groby, but I don’t see that necessarilly taking place. Perhaps Christopher will decide to move back to Groby and run the place and be rich. (I believe that Ford has hinted at this from the first novel.) That will give young Mark more time to give up his claim and become just another Cambridge Red waiting to be recruited by Soviet agents. Marie Léonie has a place on the Groby estate which old Mark figured she might move into, but if Christopher continues to rent this farm in the south, she may stay on there. Or she might decide to go back to Normandy. In other words, I don’t think that Ford means us to see any character as settled. There are lots of changes being made and all these characters will have to adapt.

Graham Greene said that Last Post doesn’t belong, that Parade’s End should be a trilogy ending with Christopher and Valentine dancing at the close of A Man Could Stand Up. Perhaps the fact is that Ford contracted for three books, squeezed out a fourth, but couldn’t get an advance to keep the series going. Maybe he wanted to do a Galsworthy/Forsyte Saga thing and pump out novel after novel for years and years. There are unfinished plot lines dangling like shower-bath strings all across the ending of Last Post. But that is sheer speculation.

Summary: Ford has created a very structured work, whether or not you accept my notion of music. There is some good stuff here, and I mean that. This post, long as it is, has been cut to half its original length and there is no way I could say so much unless there was something to talk about. But the characters! Ford and Joseph Conrad had discussed the idea of a novel taking place in a time of historic change which we see through the characters’ eyes. Fine. Good plan. But Christopher is such an unyielding asshole and Sylvia is such a rotten bitch, it’s a little hard to take them seriously. A writer who did accomplish the kind of historic novel that Ford and Conrad discussed was Joyce Cary. Cary’s characters embrace. All the time. But since, for me, the problem with Parade’s End is the characters, perhaps the TV version will be good — after all, there are some good actors playing these roles and Tom Stoppard writing their lines. So, we’ll see.

Notes:

I used a Signet paperback edition of Parade’s End published in the 1960s. I notice that there are certain differences between that edition and others cited on-line. In his last words, Mark says “child” in my book, “bairn” in others, for instance.

I know very well that King Edward VII ruled only from 1901, when Victoria died, to 1910, so that it may be an error to call any of this period “Edwardian”. Here I follow critics who are trying to champion Ford as the chronicler of a vanished era. Perhaps it would have been better to describe this era as Victorianism gone bad, but that opens a different can of worms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Clontarf

On Good Friday in the year 1014, A man travelling in Caithness saw a group of twelve women ride to a women’s shelter and go inside. He peeked through a window and saw the women with a great loom set up before them. Men’s guts were strung on the loom as warp and weft and men’s skulls weighted the threads. The women used a sword to beat the woven fabric and sang:

Blood rains
From the cloudy web
On the broad loom of slaughter.
The web of man,
Grey as armour,
Is now being woven…

The tweve women wove their bloody cloth, each keeping a piece, and rode off. The man later discovered that he had witnessed the fateful weaving of the Battle of Clontarf that, at the cost of perhaps 10,000 dead, saw the defeat of the last Viking power in Ireland at the hands of its great king, Brian Boru.

One of twelve murals done by James Ward for Dublin City Hall depicting Brian Bru and his triumphs. Here Brian readies for the battle of Clontarf.[http://www.brianborumillennium.ie/brian-boru/]

One of twelve murals done by James Ward for Dublin City Hall depicting Brian Boru and his triumphs. Here Brian readies for the battle of Clontarf.[http://www.brianborumillennium.ie/brian-boru/]

Brian  had been the most powerful king in Ireland since the 980s but was now more than eighty years old. He no longer fought with his troops but directed them from behind the lines, from behind a wall of shields, says Njal’s Saga, lying on his cot in a tent, say his detractors.

Brian’s foe was Sigtrygg SilkenBeard, king of Dublin and son of Brian’s ex-wife, called Kormlod by the Norse and Gormflaith by the Irish. Daughter of the king of Leinster, she had married Brian after the defeat of her husband Olaf Slipper, or Amblaith Cuaran to the Irish. He was a descendant of Ivar, a Norse ruler of Ireland in the 9th Century. After Ivar and his brother Olaf died in the 870s, Ireland was free from the Norse for a time, but the Sons of Ivar began raiding the island again in the early 10th Century. Olaf Slipper managed to gain control of Dublin, but the Irish under northern king Máel Sechnaill, who was Olaf’s stepson, defeated his forces around 980 and the aged man retired to a monastery. Gormflaith married Brian perhaps around 990 but he divorced her sometime after 1000 and she retired to Dublin, ruled by her son Sigtrygg.

Coin issued by Sigtrygg during his Dublin rule. [British Nation Museum via Wikipedia]

Coin issued by Sigtrygg during his Dublin rule. [British National Museum via Wikipedia]

Sigtrygg Silkenbeard became king of Dublin after the death of his half-brother(s) and began fighting the Irish around 995. Máel Sechnaill battled him a few times and, in 999, joined with Brian Boru to defeat Sigtrygg decisively. Sigtrygg was allowed to stay on as Dublin’s king so long as he pledged loyalty and paid tribute to Máel and Brian. A few years later, though, Brian re-opened hostilities against Sigtrygg. All these people were related in various degrees.

Máel was heir to the claims of the Ui Nialls for the high kingship of Ireland. But Brian Boru’s strength in the south caused the two to make a pact to share rule over the country. Still, there was unfulfilled ambition on Máel’s part and suspicion of him in Brian’s camp. The war for the high kingship, which was more a national myth than a political reality, caused various Irish factions to ally with Norse raiders over the two centuries of Viking interference in Ireland.

In 1014 the Norse were at their high water mark. The Danes had conquered England, the Swedes held Russia, there were Normans in France, and the Norse had settled Iceland, the Hebrides, and the Orkneys.  Now, it is said, Gormflaith got her son Sigtrygg to ask Earl Sigurd of Orkney to aid him in defeating her ex-husband, Brian Boru. Sigurd agreed, on condition that Gormflaith marry him afterward. Sigtrygg accepted this, then he went to Brodir on the Isle of Man and asked him to join the alliance. Brodir agreed, on condition that Gormflaith marry him. Sigtrygg accepted this, too. To aid in the coming struggle, Sigtrygg made a secret pact with Máel: the Norse would not attack him if he stayed out of the battle. Máel saw the possibility of becoming the lone king, the high king of Ireland, and agreed. Of course, Sigtrygg had ambitions greater than Dublin, too. And the King of Leinster, kinsman of Gormflaith, also agreed to join the Anti-Brian force.

So, on Good Friday, 1014 the two armies faced each other at a site north of present-day Dublin called Clontarf. The Cogadh, the history of The War of the Irish with the Foreigners, says that Sigtrygg’s force was

…violent, furious, unscrupulous, untamable, inexorable, unsteady, cruel, barbarous, frightful, sharp, ready, huge, prepared, cunning, warlike, poisonous, hostile, murderous, Danars; bold hardhearted Danmarkians, surly, piratical foreigners, blue-green, pagan; without reverence, without honour, without mercy, for God or for man.

And that is only a part of the adjectives hurled at the Norse. Vikings usually had better armor and weapons than the Irish during their struggles and the Cogadh says that their body armor at Clontarf was heavy triple-plated double-refined iron. Further they had

barbed, keen, bitter, wounding, terrible, piercing, fatal, murderous, posoned arrows which had been anointed and browned in the blood of dragons and toads, and water-snakes of hell

and of other venomous critters besides, which were meant to be shot at the brave and valiant chieftains. So things might look black for the Irish except that they were

brave, valiant champions; soldierly, active, nimble, bold, full of courage, quick, doing great deeds

and so on. Further, they had glittering, well-riveted spears which were poisoned and “terrible sharp darts”, as well as beautiful shields and crested helmets. More important, perhaps, they had axes of Lochlann — Lochlann (or Lothlann) being either the Hebrides or Norway, in other words Viking axes in the hands of “heroes and brave knights, for cutting and maiming the close well-fastened coats of mail”. And they had keen swords “for hewing and for hacking, for maiming and mutilating skins, and bodies, and skulls.” The descriptions may be excessive but the nature of the coming conflict is clear: this was hard, nasty, brutal close combat.

Re-enactment of the battle of Clontarf durinf the millenial celebration, April 2014. [Irish Independent]

Re-enactment of the battle of Clontarf durinf the millenial celebration, April 2014. [Irish Independent]

So the two sides closed in combat. Máel kept his forces apart but the battle raged on without him. Sigtrygg watched from the walls of Dublin, Brian knelt in prayer in his tent, or lay on a sickbed, or watched from behind a shield wall. There are many tales of heroic deeds, especially of Brian’s son Murchadh, who killed fifty men with the sword in his right hand and fifty men with the sword in his left. But Murchadh himself was killed that day, as was his son, who drowned while pursuing the enemy into the rising tide. Sigurd, Earl of Orkney, was killed. Many great warriors of north Europe — Irish, Norse, Saxon, Scot — were amongst the thousands of corpses that fed the ravens at Clontarf.

The battle raged from dawn until after six in the evening, when Sigtrygg’s forces broke and ran for the forest or their ships, but now the tide was in and they could not reach either one and were slaughtered in the water. Brodir of Man saw the battle was lost but charged at Brian’s retinue and killed the old king there. Brian Boru was eighty-eight when he died. Brodir was seized by Ulf Hreda, Brian’s step-son. Ulf slit open Brodir’s belly and nailed his gut to a tree and forced Brodir to walk round it until he disembowelled himself.

Sigtrygg remained as king of Dublin. Máel remained as king of Ireland. Both these rascals survived for years but the Norse power in Ireland was broken forever. The death of Brian’s sons and grandson meant a leadership vacuum that was difficult to fill. So the dream of an Irish high king also disappeared. Still, the Irish were left alone for a century and a half until the Anglo-Norman incursions of the 12th Century. It was around that time that the Cogadh, written for an early 12th Century Irish prince, was circulated as a patriotic rallying text. The lessons were plain: unite and hate the foreigner, the Gaill. The Norman lords were more or less assimilated as England dealt with other problems, such as civil war, for the next few centuries. But when Henry VIII decided not to be a Catholic, Ireland suddenly took on importance as a serious strategic threat. For if a Catholic nation, Spain for instance, should gain a foothold there, England would be troubled indeed. The Cogadh gained a new importance as Elizabeth oversaw various adventures in Ireland and the Irish people revolted against their overlords until the English replaced the Norse as the Gaill, the heathen foe, the terrible foreign enemy. And so it has gone over the last thousand years.

Notes:

Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh: The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill: Or, The Invasions of Ireland by the Danes and Other Norsemen is long out of print since James Todd translated it in 1867. However, various places come up with reprintings from time to time (mine was done in Germany in 1965) usually for about $50. This is a prime candidate for gutenberg.org or archive.org or some other Net book place.

Njals Saga is available in numerous editions. Quotes above are from the Magnusson/Pallson translation of 1960.

Donnchadh Ó Corráin is the current authority on the Norse in Ireland and has bits about Clontarf here and there on the Net and in The Vikings in Ireland, a collection of articles published by the Viking Ship Museium in Roskilde.

Wikipedia is your friend and also:

“The Battle of Clontarf in Irish History and Legend” from History Ireland
and the official millennium website for all things Brian Boru

 

 

Criminal Hockey Owners

Sports franchise owners are often scumbags (for instance and for instance) so no one should be surprised to find that many are criminals, but the National Hockey League stands out for the sheer number of criminals that have owned teams. Toronto, Nashville, Los Angeles, Buffalo, Vancouver, and the New York Islanders have all had owners sent to jail while they still owned the teams. Edmonton’s Peter Pocklington was no longer involved with the Oilers when he went to jail but he makes the cut for the NHL All-Star Team. Player rep Alan Eagleson who robbed his clients’ pensions is honorary coach. Ladies and Gentleman, I present Great Crime Bosses of the NHL:

William "Boots" Del Biaggio [photo: Silicon Valley Business Insider]

William “Boots” Del Biaggio [photo: Silicon Valley Business Insider]

First up: William “Boots” Del Biaggio III, one-time San Jose Sharks part-owner, who conned at least $67.5 Million out of numerous people and used $25 Million of that to buy a 27% share of the Nashville Predators in 2007. After ten disappointing years, owner Craig Leipold had decided to sell the Nashville  franchise. Jim Balsillie of Research In Motion fame tried to buy the team so he could move it to Hamilton but managed to alienate everyone in sight and was shut out of further dealings. Enter Boots Del Biaggio at the head of a group who wanted to buy the Preds and move them to Kansas City where he controlled a sports arena. Del Biaggio had previously tried to move the Pittsburgh Penguins to KC. He was co-owner with Mario Lemieux of a minor league team and Lemieux was miffed at Pennsylvania’s thwarting of an attempt by a gambling combine/casino to build a new arena for the Penguins. Anyway, Nashville rallied to hang on to hockey and a local group arranged to buy the team from Leipold, who then moved on to ownership of the Minnesota Wild. Del Biaggio joined this new group and contributed his share to a rumored $193 Million purchase price. A year later, Del Biaggio was suing for bankruptcy and holding secret meetings with Balsillie to buy out his share of the Predators. The League refused to allow Balsillie to buy in and Del Biaggio’s share went to a bankruptcy trustee who may still be looking for a buyer. Del Biaggio used faked documents and personal charm to scam millions which he then gambled away, both in Las Vegas and on Wall Street where he favored high-risk offerings that usually declined in value. In 2009, Boots Del Biaggio was sentenced to eight years and ordered to repay some $67.5 Million, which may happen the same day Hell freezes over. BTW, I don’t know how $25 M gets you 27% of $193 M but that is probably one reason why I am not spectacularly wealthy.

Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang [NY Times}

Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang [NY Times}

Rookie forward on this team — and they are all forwards — is Sanjay Kumar, most recent of a long list of owners who have abused the NY Islanders. Kumar was the protege of Charles Wang, founder, with Russell Artzt, of Computer Associates, a multi-billion dollar firm that is currently invested in the Cloud. Kumar joined Computer Associates in 1987 and replaced Wang as CEO in 2000. Under Kumar’s guidance CA used a “long month” bookkeeping practice to delay accounts in a way that would make them appear more desirable to investors. See, if an end-of-quarter month is 35 days long, you can show extra revenue and maybe pretend to pay off debts a bit earlier, thus enabling your outfit to reach its projections. There was other stuff, too, all designed to make Computer Associates look a lot better investment than it was. Mind you, it was a good place to work — Wang took the largest corporate bonus in history (up to that time) in 1999 when he accepted a $675 Million stock grant. Over a billion dollars was paid out in bonuses that year, even though CA was slipping in sales and profits. None of this escaped the notice of stockholders, who took a class-action lawsuit against CA claiming that, in 1996 and ’97, the company had inflated revenues by $500 Million on paper to boost stock prices. And there was a proxy fight over management practices which probably led to Kumar replacing Wang as CEO. And there were bribery charges brought against Wang. And Federal authorities were interested in the company, too. The SEC finally clamped down on CA in 2004. in 2006 Kumar was sentenced to twelve years in prison and a staggering $796 Million in restitution. Meanwhile CA agreed to repay more than $225 Million to stockholders and also clean up its accounting practices. Shortly before going to prison, Kumar sold his share in the Isles to Wang. And that means that the story is not yet over because many folks think Kumar took the fall for Wang. Certainly, that’s Kumar’s story. He says that Wang regretted leaving the CEO post and wanted back in so he stuck Kumar with the fraud that he had perpetrated. Wang is still waiting on the report of a Special Litigation Committee that has already said: “…fraud pervaded the entire CA organization at every level …and was embedded in CA’s culture, as installed by Mr. Wang, almost from the company’s inception.” Probably Wang will only be dinged in a civil court for cash, but, if there are future indictments, Kumar may have a new linemate on the Criminal Owners All-Star team.

When Wang and Kumar bought the Islanders they were seen as saviors because the franchise was in deep trouble. The team was brought into the NHL in order to stave off a Long Island franchise attempt by the World Hockey Association, catalyst for so much that is interesting in the NHL today. But the new team had to pay off more than $40 Million to the Rangers for infringing on their territory so it started out in a financial hole. The team was still in debt to the Rangers and to the League when the original owner, Roy Boe, sold to John Pickett in 1978. Pickett almost got the Islanders back in the black by concluding a cable TV contract worth a great deal in annual revenue but he signed a horrible lease on the stadium and the team tuned into a drain attached to his wallet. Four Stanley Cups (resulting from a smart management decision not to trade draft picks) were not enough to keep the team afloat at the end of the ’80s. Pickett brought in a group of investors called the Gang of Four (more on them later) who picked up a 10% share of the team and handled day-to-day management, but he was just treading water. Then, out of the blue, a buyer emerged. Our next team member, John Spano.

John Spano  [AP]

John Spano [AP]

John Spano had been a serious prospect to buy the Dallas Stars in 1995 but was somehow unable to close the deal. He also made a stab at buying the Florida Panthers that went nowhere. Then, in 1996, Spano offered John Pickett $80 Million for the Islanders and $85 Million for its exclusive cable contract which earned $13 Million a year for the team. A bit later, Spano also agreed to buy out the Gang of Four. Gary Bettman was overjoyed to have a guy with money taking over the Islanders and the NHL quickly gave its okay. Spano made a bit of a downpayment to Pickett and began acting like an owner, throwing a few bucks into players’ accounts and forcing Mike Milbury to give up his coaching job to Rick Bowness. But, in 1997, it was John Pickett who showed up at the NHL owners’ meeting. It seems Spano didn’t have any money other than the $2.5 Million he’d splashed around the Islander dressing room and he’d borrowed that. The cheque he’d given Pickett for $17.5 Million, bounced. In fact, Spano owed back taxes on his house of $85,000 and was being sued by a couple of companies he had done business with for various frauds. Awaiting prosecution on multiple charges, Spano fled to the Cayman Islands, but returned to the US after striking a deal with prosecutors. Spano delayed his court appearance for a long while but, after trying to pay rent with an expired credit card and bad cheques, he lost his bail, his lawyers quit for fear they wouldn’t get paid, he finally pled guilty to fraud charges and, in January of 2000, was sentenced to six years plus $11 Million in restitution, including $1.25 Mil to Mario Lemieux, who seems an easy mark. Let out of jail on supervised release in 2004, Spano immediately returned to fraud, was charged, convicted, and served four more years in jail before being released in 2009. He’s still out there, folks, be careful! Oh, and the Gang of Four? Two of their members were Stephen Walsh and Paul Greenwood who were indicted for fraud in 2009. They had bilked investors out of more than half a billion dollars over the years. Since they weren’t owners at the time, they don’t make the All-Star Criminal Team. Sorry, lads, I’m sure it would have been a comfort to you over the years you may have to serve in prison (sentencing perhaps next month).

The Spano affair was quite upsetting to the NHL and they vowed afterwards to use real due diligence in checking out prospective team owners — less than a thousand dollars was spent investigating Spano. Kevin Connolly has made a movie about John Spano titled Big Shot, that is on TV from time to time. Most of the material about the Islanders above comes from a great seven-part series by Dan Saraceni for Lighthouse Hockey that I highly recommend.

John Rigas [Bloomberg Businessweek]

John Rigas [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Still from the great state of New York, let’s go upstate to Buffalo for next team pick, John Rigas. Rigas earned his millions from a family cable television operation, Adelphia, based in Pennsylvania. In 1997 the team had been losing money for years and was in deep financial trouble. It was rumored that it would be unable to meet its payroll in December. John Rigas bought the team, then fired team president Larry Quinn, replacing him with his son, Timothy Rigas. A good season followed, then a disappointing one, and the following season the team was steamrollered in the playoffs by Mario Lemieux and the Penguins. In 2002, charges were laid against John Rigas and his sons for fraud. Among other things they were accused of using company funds as their own – Timothy buying a hundred pairs of bedroom slippers out of stockholder cash – and hiding $2.3 Billion from shareholders. John still denies he has ever done anything wrong. After lengthy delays, John got fifteen years in prison and Timothy got twenty. In 2002, when Rigas was indicted, the NHL took away his ownership and ran the Sabres from Gary Bettman’s desk. In 2003, a new ownership group led by Tom Golisano and including Larry Quinn, bought the franchise.

Timothy Rigas [AP]

Timothy Rigas [AP]

Bruce McNall made his fortune smuggling stolen antiquities into the US. Later, he produced a couple of movies including Weekend At Bernie’s which made him a few dollars, too. In 1986 McNall decided to get into hockey and purchased, over two years, the LA Kings. Shortly after assuming complete control of the franchise, in the summer of 1988, McNall closed a deal with uber-scumbag Peter Pocklington to buy Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest player in the history of the game. McNall also managed to pick up Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey at Gretzky’s urging. He tried to get Messier, too, but refused to trade Luc Robitaille and so wound up without a complete set of Edmonton Oiler stars. “Pocklington basically wanted the money but Glen Sather wanted the best players he could. Robitaille was number 1 on his list and it took forever to get him to realize I wasn’t giving up Luc,” said McNall in an Ask-Me-Anything session on Reddit last year. ( Highlights. Full AMA.) In 1991 McNall and John Candy purchased the Toronto Argonauts football team and hired US superstar Rocket Ismail away from the NFL. The Argos won a Grey Cup before Ismail went back south. McNall was named chairman of the NHL Board of Governors and supervised the hiring, in 1992, of Gary Bettman, which may cause you to despise the guy right away. Both the Gretzky and Ismail deals were instrumental in raising player salaries. The Kings never won the Stanley Cup in those years, but they came close in 1993. That was pretty much McNall’s high point, too. In 1994, the authorities closed in with questions about various irregularities including bribing a bank president to give him loans. McNall defaulted on a large loan at the end of 1993 and was forced to sell the Kings. It turned out that his wheeling and dealing had gutted the team financially and, in 1995, the LA Kings went into bankruptcy. Luc Robitaille was finally traded and Grant Fuhr briefly joined the Kings (McNall’s memory is that he obtained Fuhr from Pocklington at the same time as Gretzky, Kurri, et al.) Needing some cash during this period, McNall persuaded Michael Eisner to set up a franchise in Anaheim for the Disney Corporation. That deal netted him about $25 Million as Eisner had to pay to set up in Kings’ territory. But soon enough McNall was serving a six year sentence for the usual fraud charges that convict so many of these All-Star Criminal Owners. Still, he seemed not to draw the kind of disgusted sneer that the others merit. Gretzky visited McNall in prison and refused to allow his 99 jersey to be retired until McNall could attend the ceremony. Also unlike the others, McNall cheerfully admits most, or at least many, of his misdeeds. His autobiography, Fun While It Lasted: My Rise and Fall in the Land of Fame and Fortune, gives many details. When I first started looking at criminal hockey owners, I thought that no team had been successful after having suffered through a crime boss, but two Stanley Cups for LA disprove that thesis. McNall is first-line center on the Criminal Owner All-Stars.

Bruce McNall and wife at a dinner given by Luc Robitaille in 2007 [content ©2014 W.E.N.N]

Bruce McNall and wife at a dinner given by Luc Robitaille in 2007 [content ©2014 W.E.N.N]

One of the people that bought the Kings from McNall, Jeffrey Sudikoff, sold out his share during the 1995 bankruptcy. Sudikoff was later convicted of insider trading and other fraudulent activities but was sentenced to less than a year in prison, plus the usual restitution, of course, which, usually no one seems to expect to get back. Sudikoff does not make the cut for this All-Star team.

Pocklington and Gretzky. Does Wayne look happy? [Ray Giguere/Canadian Press]

Pocklington and Gretzky. Does Wayne look happy? [Ray Giguere/Canadian Press]

Is there anything else that needs be said about Peter Pocklington except that he sold Gretzky like a slab of meat processed in one of the plants where he tried to break unions? Gretzky wept but allowed Pocklington to say that he, Gretzky, had initiated the trade. Everyone else is clear that Pocklington said that he needed fifteen million dollars and would flog his greatest asset (and Edmonton’s hope for a Cup dynasty) to get it.

When Gretzky went to L.A.
my whole nation trembled
like hot water in a tea cup when a train goes by.

“The Trade That Shook the Hockey World”, John B. Lee

Pocklington wrote a book about this: I’d Trade Him Again: On Gretzky, Politics and the Pursuit of the Perfect Deal after he realized that he couldn’t stay in Canada any longer and moved to the US. So it is some satisfaction to all Canadians that Peter Pocklington was finally found guilty of something (there are so many possibilities, but fraud and perjury finally won out) and sentenced to prison. It is less satisfying when you know that the sentence was only six months plus six months house arrest, and even less satisfying than that to learn that he has yet to serve a single day. You can fantasize about Pocklington meeting his cellmate, a 250 lb. emigre Canadian hockey fan named Cookie who is serving a life term for murder, aggravated assault, and similar misdeeds, but that’s all it is — a fantasy. Pocklington is the despised member of the Corporate All-Star Criminals, sort of their Brad Marchand.

Tom Scallen post-prison. [Globe and Mail]

Tom Scallen post-prison. [Globe and Mail]

By the end of the 1960s, with the NHL expanding to more cities, there was a concerted drive to finally get a franchise for Vancouver. A local group, based around the WHL/PCHL minor league franchise Canucks was in the running but, rumor has it, Stafford Smythe blocked it for some reason or other, but maybe this is just western prejudice against godawful Toronto. Anyway, Vancouver did get a team but the new owner was an American named Tom Scallen. Scallen had gotten rich with Medicor, a Minnesota company that had something to do with the incomprehensible American medical system. That was 1969. By 1972 Scallen was facing various charges resulting from his manipulation of Canucks funds, essentially using hockey proceeds to pay Medicor debts. He spent the next two years in jail and was deported on his release. The Griffiths family bought the Canucks from Medicor and since then things have improved except no Stanley Cup. Scallen insists he did nothing wrong. He was pardoned in 1982 during Trudeau’s decline. A journeyman winger, Scallen will skate on a line with Kumar and Del Biaggio, unless the All-Stars acquire Wang, in which case he may join the father/son Rigas duo.

Wendel Clarke and Harold Ballard [Doug Griffin / Toronto Star ]

Wendel Clarke and Harold Ballard [Doug Griffin / Toronto Star ]

Captain of the All-Star Criminal Owners team is Harold Ballard, the man who destroyed the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ballard was buddies with Stafford Smythe (see Canucks section above), son of Conn Smythe who owned the Leafs. Stafford bought the franchise from his father in 1961 but it was Ballard who gave him the money and Ballard became part of the Leafs organization. These were good years for Toronto who won four Stanley Cups 1962-67, but at the same time Harold Ballard was showing his dark side. At one point he threatened to cut a video line with a fire axe unless the CBC agreed to his demands; he took down a portrait of the Queen in order to stick more seats up in the rafters — “What position can a queen play?” he said; when the Beatles played at Maple Leaf Gardens, he cut off the water fountains, turned off the air conditioning, and charged triple prices for soft drinks. Increasing profits was Ballard’s entire purpose in life. Meanwhile, players had begun to chafe under the serfdom imposed on them by the NHL and the World Hockey Association and the Players’ Union revealed new horizons. Ballard despised unions and he hated the WHA, refusing to ever deal with it. By the end of the 60s, Ballard had alienated several Toronto stars, especially Dave Keon. In 1969 charges were brought against Ballard and Stafford Smythe for using company — that is, stockholder — funds as their own. John Bassett, the third major owner of the Leafs, persuaded the Board of Governors of Maple Leaf Gardens to fire Ballard and Smythe, but the Board and Bassett lacked the followthrough to carry this out. Smythe and Ballard returned, got rid of Bassett, Smythe died, and Harold Ballard wound up owning the entire franchise right before going to prison in 1971 after being convicted on forty-eight out of fifty counts of fraud, tax evasion, and theft. Among other items he had bought motorcycles for his sons and charged them as expenses to the Toronto Marlboros, another of his properties. At this time the negotiations for the Canada/USSR Summit Series was going on and Ballard offered Maple Leaf Gardens as a training venue and did other diplomatic things to win a little favorable PR. Later, he billed Team Canada for every nickel he could squeeze out of them. Ballard later described his prison years as living in a motel with steaks for dinner and color TV in his bedroom. While he was incarcerated, Leafs management hired a European — something Ballard opposed — Borje Salming and made other moves that kept the Leafs a potentially good team. On his release in 1973, Ballard did all he could to destroy this work. Dave Keon’s contract expired in 1975 but the NHL Players Association was not yet able to stop an owner from controlling a player’s leaving his team. Ballard named a huge price for any team trying to recruit Keon, who jumped to the WHA. Keon, who had been a key member of the Stanley Cup winning Leafs, refused to have anything more to do with the Toronto organization for twenty years, after Ballard was dead. Meanwhile, a new young player with signs of greatness named Daryl Sittler had been acquired by the Leafs. Ballard at first lauded Sittler, then — after Sittler became active in the Players Association — tried to destroy him. He traded away Lanny MacDonald who was Sittler’s good friend and denounced Sittler to the hockey press, an action which resulted in Leafs players trashing their dressing room in protest. Sittler ripped the C from his jersey and Ballard said that was equivalent to burning the Canadian flag. Meanwhile Ballard, though micromanaging the team, hired his buddy Punch Imlach as coach. Imlach operated as a Yes man for a while but suffered several heart attacks that effectively removed him from the fracas. In 1981, Sittler finally found another team willing to pay Ballard’s price and he was traded. During all this period the Leafs’ revenues went up. Ballard tripled the franchise income in the early 60s and kept it rising thereafter. At the same time he engaged in petty nastiness that no one can quite explain, like destroying all the Stanley Cup and other championship banners that at one time hung from the Garden rafters. Why on earth? But the fact is, the man was a convicted criminal, possibly sociopathic; Harold Ballard needed no reason except his immediate desires. There are so many other stories about Ballard — his trashing of Foster Hewitt’s pressbox when the Hockey Hall of Fame wanted it as an exhibit, for instance– and the opportunities he wasted — Frank Mahovlich and Bernie Parent were two other potentially great players lost to the Leafs–but whatever the stories, the consensus is that Ballard was the worst hockey owner of all time. Which is why he is captain of this All-Star group of criminals. Can’t you see them skating on the ice in their black-and-white striped jerseys, their names just over their numbers on the back, sort of like Beagle Boys? (Ballard once refused to put players’ names on their jerseys. He was disciplined by the NHL so had names added, white letters on white jerseys, blue letters on blue ones, so that they could not be seen.) They skate out onto the ice, looking for a way to screw over their team mates, seeking a profit that can be made somehow, perhaps by throwing a game. Oh, don’t you just love the criminals that bring you hockey!

 

 

 

 

 

The Saga of Colm the Slave

colm_cover2This is my new book. Colm is an Irish slave in 10th Century Iceland. He struggles to win freedom, the Welsh slave Gwyneth, and a place in society. This is a land where slaves might be sacrificed to the gods or killed on a whim. Violence is the foundation of social order and justice belongs to the strong. Some of this book first appeared as stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Available now for Kindle. Tablet users will have to download a free app from Amazon.

Ukraine On The Brink

About an hour ago, news sources began to report that people had been killed in the protests in Kiev. This follows the Ukraine government passing legislation that would ban all protests. Clearly, if people continue coming out into the streets, there will be more violence. A turning point has been reached in the Ukraine.

ukr_molo

A molotov cocktail hurled by a protestor going up in flames. Ukraine, January 23. [dailymail.co.uk]


Just to back up a bit, Ukraine’s was an “Orange Revolution” in 2004, when people took to the streets to protest an election rigged by Viktor Yanukovych. His main opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, was allegedly poisoned with dioxin but continued the electoral battle and ultimately triumphed. Yushchenko proved unable to deliver on the promises of democratic freedom that he had made — indeed, he was accused of graft and corruption — and was unable to repeat his success, his party falling to less than 6% in subsequent elections. So Yanukovych returned to power.
The other popular opponent to Yanukovych has been Yulia Tymoshenko, who is photogenic and attracted a great deal of support from non-Ukraine journalists who never bothered to examine her platform. Tymoshenko is an ultra-nationalist linked to xenophobic and anti-semitic groups. But, nationalist though she claims to be, her strength lies in Ukraine’s east which is pro-Russian in its stance. So, when Tymoshenko allowed a huge energy contract to Russia at a price much higher than Russia was charging other nations, she was charged and imprisoned. Her treatment in prison has raised questions about Yanukovych and she remains a thorn in his side.

That brings us to the critical issue of Russia, who supplies Ukraine with gas and petroleum, and the stated Ukraine desire to join the European Union. Russia wants Ukraine to join its own eastern customs union which should start up next year. Russia is not hesitant to use Ukraine’s energy dependence as a stick to beat it into line.

November, 2013. Riot police and protestors in Kiev after the announcement that Yuchenko's government would not sign the EU agreement. [Guardian]

November, 2013. Riot police and protestors in Kiev after the announcement that Yanukovych’s government would not sign the EU agreement. [Guardian]

So, last November, Yanukovych’s government announced that it would not sign an agreement with the EU to be receptive to advances from that organization. Immediately protests broke out in the western part of the nation. Russia has, several times, pressured Ukraine to steer clear of the EU by raising prices on gas and petroleum and by cutting off various aid incentives. This occurs quite quickly, since Putin gets what he wants without much need for debate or agreement of other government agencies. Last August, before the Ukraine/EU talks, Russia (according to Tim Judah):

…began withdrawing licenses for certain companies—especially those connected to oligarchs in Yanukovych’s eastern heartlands—to export to Russia; and Russian importers began to break contracts already signed for metal products, steel, and cars. In only a few months the level of trade between Ukraine and Russia dropped 25 percent; in eastern Ukraine, one source who asked to remain anonymous told me, production dropped between 30 and 40 percent between May and November.

This was brutal for a country undergoing the kind of economic stress Ukraine was already feeling. Meanwhile, the EU was only offering an ageement to agree on further agreements — nothing definitive that Yanukovych could take to the bank. So, he buckled and didn’t sign. Russia has repaired some of the broken contracts — Putin’s idea of a carrot is to restore part of the rewards beaten away by the stick — and has recently announced its intent to forgive some or all of Ukraine’s debt as well as reducing prices paid by Ukraine for petro-imports. Of course, these pronouncements can be reversed at any time.

Yanukovych at a meeting with Putin. Putin has kept Yanukovych waiting for hours at scheduled meetings and has generally treated him with contempt. [nybooks.org]

Yanukovych at a meeting with Putin. Putin has kept Yanukovych waiting for hours at scheduled meetings and has generally treated him with contempt. [nybooks.org]

Putin has made his personal contempt for Yanukovych very clear and western Ukraine has gotten the message: it is a subject nation meant to serve a Russian master. Eastern Ukraine shrugs and says, “So? What’s new?”
Spare a moment of empathy for Yanukovych, the corrupt politico who tried to poison one rival and has imprisoned another. He is caught in a terrible dilemma. He does not want to be subject to Russia any more than other Ukrainians but he has nowhere else to go. The EU showed very little political sense in dealing with Ukraine as it tried to play one power against the other. There is no middle path, no up the middle for Ukraine. Russia will win — though Putin may have the sense to play his victory down (Ha! Not likely.) Yanukovych, for all his faults, is the guy that Ukrainian democracy, for all its shortcomings, has chosen. He will go to his grave wondering if, after all, he should have signed those silly EU papers. Meanwhile, those using cell phones at a protest in Kiev received a government message : “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” In other words, “We’re watching you. Back off or suffer the consequences.” Yanukovych is signalling that he will use whatever force is necessary to end the protests.
Mind you, all this depends on no out-of-the-blue happenings in Ukraine, such as Yanukovych telling Putin to take a flying jump into the lake, but that eventuality has such dire consequences for Ukraine that it is highly unlikely.

William Price Fox, Jack Davis, Southern Fried

William Price Fox grew up in South Carolina. In 1943, at the age of seventeen, he joined the army. “Horrible mistake”, he says in a later story. But he got through that, went on to New York, where he worked as a salesman and hung out with writers. One day, the story goes, a writer for the Village Voice was unable to fill his daily quota of words and got Fox to step in and write his column for him. Fox says that he never knew it was so easy and began writing full time. He was published in Saturday Evening Post, Sports Illustrated (writing about golf), and other slick magazines of the 1950s and 60s.
I recall once hearing Fox interviewed on the radio. He talked about growing up in the South and quitting high school and the interviewer, some young woman who had recently graduated with a degree in Journalism or Media or something, said that it was amazing that he could go on to be a writer. “Well,” said Fox, “I always was good with my hands.”
In 1962, a number of Fox’s short pieces were collected and published as an original paperback in Fawcett’s Gold Medal line. These paperbacks were usually priced at 35¢ but Southern Fried fetched 40¢ a copy. Maybe the extra nickel was to pay Jack Davis to illustrate the book.
Georgia-born Jack Davis drew comics for EC and Mad and later did movie posters, book covers, and all kinds of other illustration work. Davis is Fox’s contemporary and the perfect choice to illustrate his work.
This post is about Southern Fried but mostly to show all of Davis’ work for this book, which is otherwise (I think) unavailable.

fox_cover
In 1974, some stories were added to the book which was re-issued as Southern Fried Plus Six. Some of the original stories were edited for re-publication including the first one, “Lower Elmwood”, which was re-titled “Lower Mulberry”. The paragraphs that this drawing illustrated were cut for reasons that escape me:

…before the cars there were bikes. There were handlebars to be asjusted and seats that needed saddle-soaping. And they’d take the brakes apart and drop the hundred wafer parts into a shallow pan of gasoline. They’d clean the parts and check for nicks and sand. And then they’d pack the brake sleeve with thick dope applied with a flat popsicle stick and slowly fit the metal wafers into place…
And then the spoke wrench…that tiny little white steel butterfly that looked like a jew’s-harp. And it would be quiet and they’d squat or sit on Coca-Cola crates around the wheel and watch and listen for the warps…

fox_elmwood

The tone here is nostalgic and, in the stories where the main character is a young boy, the time is the early 1940s. Sometimes, to bring the action closer to the present day, Fox hedges events into the 1950s. But, with a few exceptions, think of the time as 1940.

“Wilma” is about a sweet good-time girl who introduces our adolescent protagonists to sex:

fox_wilma

There was a question and answer period and Esco and I really asked them. About Orientals, about fat people, thin people, old people. About dogs and animals, about dogs and people, about goats and sheep. And more, and worse than that and better than that. Nothing fazed her and the few answers she didn’t know, she said she would check.

fox_pitfight

In “Pit Fight” a nasty guy brings in a wildcat to fight dogs in the pits. It is a slaughter. Right here, I should say that Fox may write some funny stuff but he doesn’t blink at the bad parts of the South, either. It is what it is. Anyway, a smart hound is trained to go after the cat and the story is mainly about the boy narrating and his feelings about the whole thing.

fox_easyboy

“Eugene Talmadge and Sears Roebuck Co.” may be about another bad part of the South, at least if you recall that Talmadge was an arch-racist who thought the occasional lynching necessary to keep blacks in line. But Fox’s study is of the man speechifying on the campaign stump, something Talmadge loved to do. Talmadge was governor of Georgia twice in the 1930s, served again 1941-43, was elected a fourth time in 1946, the year he died. His tag-line ending to a speech:

“You got three friends in this here world and I want you to know it.”
“Tell us, Gene.”
He raised one finger, pointed it at the sun, and addressed the back row and the two men leaning on the buckboard.
“You got Sears Roebuck Company — and I want you to know it.”
“That’s right, Gene.”
A second finger…a louder voice to the back row…the two leaning on the buckboard and the two seated in the Ford by the drain ditch drinking corn whiskey out of a mayonnaise jar.
“You got God Almighty — and I want you to know it.”
“That’s right, Gene.”
And then he crashed his steel heels into the gallery boards, snapping his suspenders, rared back like he was going to lift a whole bale of cotton single-handed and roared to the men by the buckboard, the men in the Ford, to the sky, the swamp, and down the drain ditch the length of Calhoun County…
“And you got Eugene Herman Talmadge of Sugar Hill, Georgia, and I want you to know it.”

fox_talmadge

“The Ordeal of Lonnie Register” is a key story in this collection because it’s about story-telling. Lonnie is a door-to-door salesman. He sells “kerosene lamps, chenille bed spreads, hairbrush and mirror sets, and religious statues and plaques that glowed in the dark.” His rival, Frog Jones, is also a door-to-door salesman. No matter how hard Lonnie works he finds it hard to make a sale. Frog, on the other hand, would make two calls and wind up with two sales. They work at night, so that the glow-in-the-dark items can be demonstrated, and during the day hang out at Doc Baker’s drugstore, telling stories. But no matter how good Lonnie Register’s stories are, Frog’s are better.
The frustration of working so hard and showing so poorly against Frog gets to Lonnie and every couple of months he goes on a wild binge that winds up with him under arrest and having to do roadwork on the chain gang. Well, he didn’t wear a chain “but there would be a man in a black hat on shotgun” watching him. Lonnie is on the road gang when it is assigned work in town, right outside Lonnie’s house in fact. His wife has the blinds drawn and has shut the children up in the back so they won’t witness their father’s humiliation. Folks in the drugstore are busy not staring and trying not to make Lonnie feel bad. Frog, who has poor eyesight, doesn’t notice him until Lonnie’s airedale runs up to his master and jumps all over him. “Lonnie tried to shoo the dog away but you know how airedales are.” Frog sees the dog and:

fox_lonnie

Following this humiliation there is an epic story-telling battle between Frog and Lonnie and… But you already know, Lonnie just isn’t going to win.

fox_fastnerves

“Fast Nerves” is about a gambler named Greenwood Knox who succumbs to nervous exhaustion after long episodes of card-playing. For instance, after seeing Joseph Cotten demonstrate Power X in From the Earth to the Moon he leaps up in the movie theater and climbs over the seats, yelling “With that power I could rule the world!” Next thing, he believes that he is Oral Roberts, only better:

…he was grander, wiser, more benevolent than Roberts. He could raise the dead, fertilize the land, cause fish to bite, and most of all he could give away money.

Greenwood gives away all his cash, spreads general mayhem, and is committed to a mental institution. Eventually he is released and goes back to gambling, but his hands start to shake and he knows it’s only a matter of time before he breaks down again. Electroshock therapy steadies him for a while but the treatments take all Greenwood’s money. Then his buddy, mechanic Chauncey Jones, comes up with an idea:

[Chauncey] led him out to the Buick and patted the winged figure on the radiator.
“This old horse will kick up a thousand volts if I put her on the floor.”
“Whoa, now, Chauncey…”
“Greenwood, it ain’t any more than like tipping your tongue to a flashlight battery.”

fox_youallright

Oh, yeah! But it works and Greenwood gets back to his work with hands “steady as ping pong paddles”.

“Razor Fight At The St. Louis Cafe”: Round House Brown doesn’t say much, but when Bad Dave Hill taunts him into a razor fight, Round House communicates in very immediate fashion. This is one of the stories that was edited and a chunk removed for the reprint version. I don’t know why. If the story is racist, then the section that’s removed doesn’t make it less so.

fox_razor

“The Buzzard’s Lope”:  Slim Elmo Brown is from the backwoods — Shell Bluff, Georgia along the Horse Creek Valley — and is pretty shy at the weekly square dance, but he comes out of his shell and shows people how to dance. Or, at least he shows them one version of dancing:

Slim Elmo spins the girl out and jumps up in the air. He comes down hard on one knee with his head back.
“You reckon he’s been taken hold of?”

fox_buzzard

He squats and dances in the squat. He rushes forward in a high head-back screaming leap. The floor boards make a crashing noise and the audience goes wild. Black rubber heel marks are all over…
“…it’s Horse Creek Valley all right. Claims they call it the Buzzard’s Lope down there…”
“You shore he ain’t been taken hold of? Keep an eye on his tongue when he comes by.”

fox_leroyjeffcoat

Leroy Jeffcoat plays for the Columbia Green Wave, an amateur baseball team. “The name must have come from the fact that most of us got drunk on Friday nights and the games were all played on Saturday.” Leroy isn’t much of a ball player, but he owns a snazzy uniform. In fact, he owns two of them, while one is at the cleaners, Leroy is wearing the other. This is his permanent outfit. “His was the long season.”

Fox_leroyuniform
There’s always somebody too hungover to play, so Leroy gets into most of the games. He reads everything he can find about baseball and he can imitate any ball player ever; he can hit like Ted Williams or Stan Musial or Joe DiMaggio except when he’s actually in a game, then he tries to hit like all three of them at once, gets confused, and strikes out. Most of this story is about the time that the Green Wave goes to play the State Penitentiary team, a game that they dread because the convicts play to Win:

We came to bat and Franklin Folk, our catcher, led off. Their pitcher’s name was Strunk and he was in jail for murder. The first pitch was right at Franklin’s head. He hit the dirt. The crowd cheered. The next pitch the same thing. Franklin Folk was white as a sheet.

Franklin becomes too scared to swing and strikes out. The game continues that way:

At the end of five innings we didn’t have a scratch hit. The Pen had fourteen runs and the pitcher Strunk had three doubles and a home run.
We didn’t care what the score was. All we wanted to do was get the game over and get out of that prison yard.

That’s when Leroy Jeffcoat demands to be put in the game. “I can hit that son of a bitch.” So Leroy gets in the game, playing first base. Strunk comes up to bat.

“Let him hit! Let him hit, Ed! I want to see that son of a bitch over here…Send that bastard down here. I want him. I’ll fix his ass.”
The crowd cheered Leroy and he tipped his hat like Stan Musial.
The crowd cheered again.
Strunk bellowed, “Shut that nut up, ump.”
The umpire raised his hands. “All right, over there, simmer down or I’ll throw you out.”
The crowd booed the umpire.
Leroy wouldn’t stop. “Don’t let him hit, Ed. Walk him. Walk that beanball bastard. He might get a double. I want him over here.” Ed looked at Franklin Folk. Folk gave him the walk sign.
Two balls…three balls…
“You getting scared, you bastard? Won’t be long now.”
The crowd laughed and cheered.
Again the Musial touch with the cap.
Four balls…
Strunk laid the bat down carefully and slowly walked toward first. Strunk got close. The crowd was silent. Leroy stepped off the bag and Strunk stepped on. Leroy backed up. Strunk followed. Everybody watched. No noise. Leroy stopped and took his glove off. He handed it to Strunk. Strunk took the glove in both hands.
Leroy hit him with fastest right I’ve ever seen.
…Leroy got him off balance and kept him that way while he pumped in four lefts and six rights.
They led Strunk back to the dugout bleeding.
The crowd went wild.
Leroy tipped his hat Musial-style…

fox_leroyfight

The Green Wave comes up to bat in the ninth with the score 21 to 0 against them. Strunk is pitching. He hits one man with a pitch and walks two more, loading the bases, so he can pitch to Leroy Jeffcoat.

So Leroy came up with the bases loaded and the prison crowd shouting “Leroy Jeffcoat is our boy.”
He pulled his cap down like Musial and dug into the box like DiMaggio. The crowd cheered and he got out of the box and tipped his hat.

fox_leroybasesloaded

All this time, Strunk is getting angrier and angrier. His first pitch is right at Leroy’s head. “Leroy flicked his head back like a snake but didn’t move his feet.” The crowd boos Strunk and the umpire goes to the mound to talk to him. Strunk tells the umpire to go to hell. The next pitch hits the bill of Leroy’s cap and the umpire wants to put him on base.

Leroy shouted. “No. He didn’t hit me. He’s yellow. Let him pitch.”
The crowd cheered Leroy again.
Two convicts dropped out of the stands and trotted across the infield to the mound. They meant business. When they talked Strunk listened and nodded his head. A signal passed around the infield.

The next pitch is perfect and Leroy connects with it for an honest single, but the fielders keep bobbling the ball and Leroy keeps running:

He ran in spurts, each spurt faster than the last. The throw to third got past the baseman and Leroy streaked for home, shouting.
He began sliding from twenty feet out. He slid so long he stopped short. He had to get up and lunge for home plate with his hand. He made it as the ball whacked into the catcher’s mitt and the crowd started coming out of the stands.
The guards tried to hold the crowd back and a warning siren sounded. But the convicts got to him and paraded around the field with Leroy on their backs. The game was called at this point and the reserve guards and trustees came out with billy clubs.

I’ve maybe quoted too much from this story but the writing is just about perfect and so funny. Jack Davis may have thought so, too, because he did more illustrations for it than any other in the book. Anyway, there’s lots more to the story that I didn’t quote and somewhere in there Fox mentions that there is a tale about Leroy Jeffcoat and the Green Wave playing the State Mental Institution but he doesn’t say anything more about it. I’m glad because it’s probably more fun to just imagine what might have happened.

“Dear Diary” and “Dear Diary: Wanda” are two pieces narrated by a young man just in the Army as Fox was in 1943. Our hero is seventeen but: “Air Corps think I’m eighteen. Also think I finished one year of college. If they discover I finished one year of high school, will be washed out, sent home. Maybe should tell them now.”
Our hero trains, gets homesick, gets promoted, goes back home on leave, meets proud parents, and struts into high school. And so on. He has adventures — drinking, fights — and continues growing up. No Davis illustration for the first “Diary” story.
Wanda lives in Odessa, Texas, where the young man is training. He falls in love with her, or else he wants to get into her pants and can’t tell the difference. He pictures her as wife and mother:

fox_diary

Wanda’s dad tells him that she is a slut. Our hero is offended. He sleeps beside her one night but is determined to keep everything chaste. Next day she is in bed with an officer. Our hero’s heart is broken but he is full of forgiveness. Doesn’t matter; Wanda doesn’t want to see him any more:

And to think of that divine creature lying there before me in the moonlight with a slip barely on, squirming and asking for it. That’s right, squirming and asking and begging for it, and me so goddam full of love and horse shit, I didn’t know what to do.
Live and learn…

Yes. And that’s what the “Dear Diary” stories are about: living and learning.

“The B-Flat Cornet” is a sentimental reminiscence by an elderly ex-jazz player. As a memorial to a certain era of music, it works, but it’s far from the best story in the collection.

fox_cornet

Fox says his father was in a band of that era: “My dad played the trumpet, the guitar, and the piano. He sang. He was a member of a half-white, half-black band. They called themselves “The Hawaiians” and sang in Spanish.” He also says his father was in jail, made whisky, and was in the Navy like the father of the “Dear Diary” narrator.

fox_fried

The title story is narrated by a young man working at Doug Broome’s in the Five Points area of Columbia, South Carolina. There’s a soda fountain at one end and the kitchen at the other. This kind of place was all over the South before McDonald’s and Hardee’s came along, but the soda fountain suggests a pre-WWII place rather than one from the 50s.
The narrator works in the kitchen with a black man called “Preacher” because he’s in his last year at Bible College. The soda fountain is run by a white asshole named Fleetwood Driggers. Fleetwood dislikes Preacher and there is racial antagonism there. This boils up into a huge contest between Fleetwood and Preacher over who can work the soda fountain the best. I’m not going to get into the details; it’s a good story and you can read it for yourself.
One thing, of all the editing and re-writing done to stories before bringing out the re-issue, this story (in my opinion) suffers the most. First off, here (and in other stories like “Fast Nerves) Fox uses Oral Roberts as an example of revival preacher, possibly because Roberts was more likely to be familiar to Yankee audiences. Roberts went on great Crusades across the US in the late 1940s and afterwards, sometimes claiming to be able to raise the dead. So a big part of this story is when a Roberts revival lets out and 8000 people suddenly descend on Doug’s Bar-Be-Cue. In the re-issue, all mention of Oral Roberts is removed from every story and his name is replaced by that of a fictitious Sonny Love or even Billy Sunday, who died in 1935. I don’t know, maybe lawyers had something to do with it. Maybe that’s why Doug’s in Columbia was changed to Holly Yates’ place in Moss Hill and all his competitors renamed as well. Here’s a bit cut out of the story, just the last sentence here:

…the heat around the grill and the frypots had risen and nothing would put it down. Sweat was running down Preach’s nose and ears into the barbecue and lettuce and he couldn’t stop it. He grinned at me and said, “Native juice.”

Now why cut that out? The part where Fleetwood calls Preacher a nigger is kept in, so if it’s fear of racism, that fear is misplaced. But maybe this is just an historical artifact, an example of white editors in the 1970s trying to catch up with times that were a-changin’.
In case I haven’t made this crystal clear: it was a mistake to edit these stories at all. Well, there’s two places where it’s not so bad. Changing Lonnie Register’s dog from an airedale to a labrador is all right, and I understand changing Marilyn Monroe to a different sex goddess since she was dead (but Sophia Loren?)

fox_coleymoke

Coley Moke lives back in the swamp and makes whisky. Teen-aged boys come around and give Moke comics books in exchange for being allowed to drink and pass out in his shack. And Coley Moke tells them stories, mostly about his dogs. He claims that, if a “federal man” came around, one of his hounds would grab the bucket of hooch and run off with it into the swamp. Davis illustrated this in the title cut. Coley was married once:

“Yeah, I suspect I miss that old gal. Wonder what she looks like now. She was something all right. Up at dawn, cook a first class meal and then go out and outplow any man or mule in the county and every Sunday, rain or shine, we had white linen on the table and apple pie. …ain’t nothing I like better than apple pie.
“Sometimes we didn’t speak for a week. It was nice then, real nice. As long as I kept quiet and minded the still and my dogs everything was fine. But we started talking and then the first thing you know we were arguing and then she began throwing the dogs up in my face.

fox_nicethen

“Yeah, I was lying here with old Sport. He was Brownie here’s father. He was young then and high spirited and, you know, sensitive. When Emma Louise got up from her chair and come over he must have seen it in her face. They never had gotten along. He crawled off the bed and went outside. If I live to be two hundred, I’ll never forget those words…
“She said, ‘Coley Moke, you are the sorriest man on God’s green earth. Here it is almost winter, we got no money, we got no food, and you just lay there and stare up at that leaky roof. And what’s more, you’ve gone out and taken our last hog and traded it for another dog.'”
Coley smiled and leaned forward. Then his face set mean and hard. “Emma, Emma Louise,’ I said, ‘if I told you once I told you a hundred times. …But since you seem to not hear I’m going to tell you one more time. I traded that hog and I got me a dog for the plain and simple reason that I can’t go running no fox with no hog.”

fox_drinkit

There’s been a lot about making whisky in these stories, but this tale, along with the fine illustration by Jack Davis, is pretty much a primer on the subject. Lamarr Peevy narrates the story of how he drove to New York City to straighten things out with a bar-owner who has been buying his product. It’s a really funny story and I recommend it even if you don’t want to make whisky.

“Monck’s Corner” is a short piece about a drinking adventure — or maybe, an adventure in getting drunk. No illustration.

The last piece in the original collection is called “Tourist” and this is (possibly) the Village Voice story that started off Fox’s career. The narrator is visited by a friend from the South. They do the town, or at least a piece of it:

We hadn’t been south of Thirty-fourth Street, east of Sixth Avenue, or north of Fifty-fourth Street. But we’d been thorough. We’d had pizza, coconut juice, knishes, pig’s feet, paella, and Him Soon York, and Jack had been sick on Broadway and Forty-second Street.

This piece is just about perfect but, like the rest of this book, better in the original than the edited re-issue. Either way, though, reprint or original, you owe it to yourself to run down a copy of Southern Fried. It’s just a whole lot of fun.

Hobbity Houses

After filming all those Tolkien movies, there were a bunch of sets left standing in New Zealand. These have been turned into tourist attractions. A lot of people will pay to tour a hobbit house.

Peter Jackson outside a NZ hobbit house. [ABC]

Peter Jackson outside a NZ hobbit house. [ABC]


Of course, most are now homes for sheep.
hobbit_sheep
The charm of hobbit houses has drawn many people around the world to build and live in them. This one is from Wales:

hobbit_wales
This one may be closed down by neighbors because the builders did not get permits and ignored local building codes. (Article and film here.):

hobbit_nopermit_snow
This one from Montana which has a hobbit village all its own):

hobbit_montana
This structure by artist Zube at Whistler, B.C. pre-dates the Jackson films and was called “The Mushroom House”. It sold for $3.5 Million:

hobbit_mushroom-house
So, of course, there are more Mushroom Houses. You can tour this one (if you’re willing to put up with awful commentary by the realtors trying to sell the place), it is billed as an “Art Icon House”:

hobbit_mushroomnew
Now there is something to be said for living in an objet d’art and a whole lot to be said against it — does the roof leak? what kind of plumbing does it have? and, most important, how do I clean this sucker? It’s one thing to spill something awful on your living-room floor, it’s something else to consider that you have just ruined a masterpiece. But, hey! Isn’t this a swell looking place:

House built by Pennsylvania architects to house Tolkien memorabilia of a collector. That's right, no one lives there! See above link for interior shots -- they are cool!

House built by Pennsylvania architects to house Tolkien memorabilia of a collector. That’s right, no one lives there! See above link for interior shots — they are cool!

But why do these dwellings have such appeal? Perhaps it’s all about curved lines, which are generally more interesting to look at than blocky forms. We live our lives, away from home, in cubicles, so why not rest our psyches, along with our bodies at home? Well, there are reasons — the shapes of furniture and objects that need to be stored and… But say, look at this:

 

Staircase at Gaudi's Casa Battlo.

Staircase at Gaudi’s Casa Battlo.

 

The curviest of architects was Antonio Gaudi who based his lines on natural forms. They are compelling:

Fireplace at Casa Battlo by Gaudi.[©Ignasi de Solá-Morales]

Fireplace at Casa Battlo by Gaudi.[©Ignasi de Solá-Morales]


But there are two differences between Gaudi’s work and hobbit houses: first, Gaudi worked on a larger scale. His buildings are usually large spaces meant for many people to use. Single-family dwellings are exceptions:

One of the two houses completed at Park Guell, originally meant to be a housing development in Barcelona. [via kkmusic]

One of the two houses completed at Park Guell, originally meant to be a housing development in Barcelona. [via kkmusic]


The second big difference between Gaudi and hobbitry is that his work reaches up while hobbit houses lie low. That’s the difference between designing for the open Catalan plains and the thick forests of Europe. Hobbit houses without trees or sticking up above the earth just look wrong:

Hobbiton in Montana. Possibly a hobbit motel. A little more grass and less gravel, a few more trees, closeup, and less of the wretched murals and tschotkes -- you might have something.

Hobbiton in Montana. Possibly a hobbit motel. A little more grass and less gravel, a few more closeup trees,  and less of the wretched murals and tschotkes — you might have something.

But I don’t want to speak against other people’s feelings about these structures, especially when I find some of the New Zealand hobbit houses so inviting:

hobbit_invitingnz

Year End Retrospective

Here’s a lookback at some of this year’s posts which seemed to deserve postscripts.

Is North Korea Weird or Is It Us?

That was the question I posed on September 5. There were reports that Kim Jong-un had executed former girlfriend Hyon Song-wol and a number of other musicians for pornography and bible-reading. I questioned whether the reports were true or if North Korea had become just another heading in the News of the Weird section, usually given over to Urban Legends. Well, Hyon Song-wol has not been heard from since last summer. Meanwhile, Kim has released videotapes of the trial of his uncle which resulted in a death sentence. In fact, Kim seems to have executed a number of people recently. So, I have to conclude, it is North Korea and not us. Kim seems to be ruling in the Stalinist mode: be totally paranoid and nurture absolute fear among your courtiers. Rest In Peace Hyon Song-wol.

Upcoming Episodes of Law and Order

This February post talked about three recent crime cases that I thought would make for good episodes of Law and Order — the fact that the show was cancelled three years ago notwithstanding. There were three cases mentioned: first, the murder of self-professed “gun nut” Keith Ratliff; second, the case of cannibal cop, Gilberto Valle, which was then being tried; third, the case of ex-cop Christopher Dorner who had gone on a mad killing spree in California– he was being hunted when the post was written.

The murder of Keith Ratliff has not been solved. Police executed a search warrant on associate Kyle Myer for illegal explosives but found nothing illegal. It is speculated that Myer is a suspect in the murder, although no evidence of official suspicion of the man has been produced.

Gilberto Valle was found guilty of kidnapping conspiracy, which carries a possible life sentence, and a less-serious charge of misusing a government computer. He was due to be sentenced in June but sentencing has been postponed while his lawyers try to get him a new trial.

Christopher Dorner was found dead of gunshot wounds after his cabin was besieged by police, who deny setting it on fire. The fatal gunshot may have been self-inflicted. During the manhunt, the police shot up several vehicles belonging to innocent people. The State of California paid out several million dollars in damages to a 71-year-old woman and her daughter who were both wounded.

Left to right: Myer, possible suspect; Valle,guilty but hoping for new trial; Dorner, shot to death in burning cabin; Bergwall, still institutionalized

Left to right: Myer, possible suspect; Valle,guilty but hoping for new trial; Dorner, shot to death in burning cabin; Bergwall, still institutionalized

Thomas Quick and Sture Bergwall: What Next?

Although Bergwall was cleared of his final murder charge months ago, he is still being held in a psychiatric facility. His blog complains about the food there and promises to give lyrical descriptions of freedom when he is released, although Swedish authorities would clearly rather not do that. Bergwall remains in limbo.

“The Kreutzer Sonata” and The Moonlight, part 1

Eventually I’ll get around to part 2. I came across a pile of writings about Cary’s work that I want to digest first.