Every fool in Bakewell: Ruskin’s rant refuted

Ruskin (and food critic Matthew Fort) on the beauties of Derbyshire

John Ruskin - a self-portraitJohn’s Ruskin’s complaint at the desecration of the Derbyshire Dales featured in The Guardian on Saturday. ‘Every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton,’ Ruskin thundered. ‘Call me a fool,’ Matthew Fort wrote, ‘but I can see any number of good reasons to be in Bakewell…. How many towns the size of Bakewell, I wondered, could boast a Tiroler Stüberl, Austrian Coffee Shop & Sausage Importer?’ The answer, I suspect, lies in the large number of tourists who flock there – those same ‘Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain’ whom Ruskin addressed, perhaps, and their womenfolk? Continue reading “Every fool in Bakewell: Ruskin’s rant refuted”

Happy Birthday, Bill!

Shakespeare’s birthday boat on the Thames

Shakespeare's birthday bargeLiterary Connections made the pilgrimage to Bankside on Shakespeare’s birthday on Wednesday and was rewarded by the sight of a miniature (and appropriately stagy) Elizabethan theatre sailing up the Thames in the evening sunlight, announced by the sound of trumpets (or were they sackbuts?) and drums. You can, I hope, see something of this in the photograph. It was hardly Cleopatra’s ‘burnish’d throne’ but impressive enough to entertain the crowd on the riverbank and sufficient to make us feel touched by a little of the Bard’s magic for the evening.

Synthetic St George: is this the end of chivalry?

St George stalks the streets – with artificial roses

St George's Day roseIt is not only phonics that are synthetic these days – even the English rose is artificial. The one you can see here is an example. The English rose is not a reference to the daughter who is wearing it (delightful though she is, of course) but to the flower. Driving through Mottram in Longdendale on Saturday (19 April, so it was not even St George’s Day), we were greeting with the surreal sight of a man dressed as St George (that is, the St George of Daily Express mastheads and comic books) handing out red roses to drivers waiting at the traffic lights. Continue reading “Synthetic St George: is this the end of chivalry?”

Taking it too literally?

Use and abuse of the word ‘literally’

BBC correspondent David Willey reported on the Today programme this morning that the Pope had met a group of men and women ‘whose lives have literally been destroyed’ by abuse in the Catholic Church. This took place in ‘the residence of the Papal Nuncio in Washington’ which is not, I understand, in the afterlife (‘that undiscovered country’, etc). David Willey was therefore stretching the definition of ‘destroyed’, surely, to add ‘literally’ as an intensifier? (If you’re quick, you can hear him for yourself here.) Continue reading “Taking it too literally?”

The orthographic conscience has been awakened – and it’s on a mission

Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) is on a mission across the United States: could it happen here?

Alerted by Andrew Mueller’s own blog in The Guardian today, I’ve been delighted to discover that there’s a Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) in the United States. Furthermore, they are not content to sigh over greengrocers’ apostrophes or groan over bad grammar – they are crossing America from West to East, equipped with marker pens, stickers, white-out and a zeal to remove every aberrant apostrophe and correct every misspelling. They seemed to be having some success: on 11 April, for example, they report on their Typo Hunt Across America blog: ‘Typos Found: 170; Typos Corrected: 100’. Continue reading “The orthographic conscience has been awakened – and it’s on a mission”

Flying a kite for philosophy

Flying a kite in memory of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s local connections

Wittgenstein flying a kite on Chunal; the Grouse Inn probably in the background
‘Students pay tribute to kite philosopher’ said the headline in the Glossop Advertiser on 20 March. It describes a celebration by ‘fine arts and interactive arts students’ at Chunal, the hill outside Glossop, flying kites to mark the centenary of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s aerodynamics experiments at Manchester University’s Kite Flying Upper Atmosphere Station. Wittgenstein would stay at the Grouse Inn near the top of the hill – and just over another hill from Literary Connection’s own home. He boarded upstairs in a room that looked out on the moors where he often walked alone. The picture shows Wittgenstein and by William Eccles with a kite in the summer of 1908. Whilst at Manchester University, Wittgenstein developed and patented a design for a rotary blade of the kind now used in helicopters – before abandoning engineering for mathematics and then philosophy. On the way he found time to fight in the Austrian army in the First World War and become a school teacher. He hated teaching but wrote a spelling manual, commenting of his students’ reactions to his classroom guide: ‘The orthographic conscience had been awakened.’ Continue reading “Flying a kite for philosophy”

Byron urges safety code: can this be true?

Byron urges social networking safety code: but is it the poet’s own work?

Has the enfant terrible turned into a Daily Mail reading Conservative? Byron, who wrote so contemptuously of the Poet Laureate in Don Juan?

Although ‘t is true that you turn’d out a Tory at
Last, – yours has lately been a common case.

It turns out that the headline in today’s Guardian: ‘Byron urges social networking safety code’, is all about teaching children to use the Internet safely. It’s a report by Dr Tanya Byron and is full of sensible advice, though regular reference to what ‘Byron says’ are a little disconcerting to those of us more familiar with the poet. Can you image George Gordon Noel, Sixth Baron Byron, that scourge of conformity and convention, writing: ‘Byron has also recommended a code of practice to cover the moderation of user-generated content’? No, I thought not.

‘Celebrity scandal seems much more his line, whether creating it himself or writing about it at the expense of his enemies. It turns out that, according to another article on the Guardian website today, this is just what today’s teenagers enjoy reading. The list of their best and least loved reading matter makes fascinating reading itself. Number 4 on the ‘Most loathed reads’ list is ‘Magazine articles about skinny celebrities’; top of the ‘Most loved reads’ list is: ‘Heat magazine’. Strangely, as the journalist cannot resist pointing out, ‘the cover and pages six to 12 of this week’s favourite read Heat are devoted to the subject’ of skinny celebrities. But whoever expected teenagers to be consistent?

More on Byron – the poet – here.

2,000 Philip Larkin letters uncovered

Larkin the letter writer and book stealer

Hull academics are eagerly examining letters written by Philip Larkin, once the university’s librarian, Chris Arnot reports in The Guardian. Already reeling from the discovery that the ’eminent librarian had stolen one book from a library in Coventry and another from Blackwells in Oxford,’ I wonder what else they will reveal. ‘Well,’ as he says in ‘The Old Fools’ in High Windows, ‘We shall find out.’ More about Philip Larkin on this page.

Not talking about ‘The Book to Talk About’

‘Boy A’ wins talking point award for ‘The Book to Talk About 2008’

Boy AJonathan Trigell’s controversial novel Boy A has been named as the first winner of the Book to Talk About award, announced to coincide with World Book Day, the Guardian reports. Learn about all the books on the shortlist on the Books to Talk About section of the World Book Day website.

Since the point is to provoke discussion, the book seems well-chosen – ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, on World Book Day the Forum page said: ‘The discussion part of the Spread the Word site has been suspended due to the large amount of unacceptable and undesirable postings/Spam.’

Bribes ain’t what they used to be

150 years of Cambridge examinations: no improvement in examiner remuneration

Cambridge Assessment has garnered useful publicity for its 150th anniversary by putting together an exhibition of quaint gems from the archives. This featured on Radio 4’s Learning Curve, including a letter from a Mr A Kershaw of Morecambe who, in 1910, offered the Secretary of the Syndicate, John Neville Keynes, (father of the economist) and his wife ‘a holiday in Paris’ if his daughter’s fail grade could be found to have been ‘a mistake’ (see page 24 of the online materials for the original). No such largesse in these mean-spirited times; the best I’ve had recently is the odd chuckle over ‘youthamisms’ in Shakespeare, where Claudius, in an act of ‘fartricide’, seized the ‘thrown’ from Old Hamlet.