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Thursday, 25 February 2021

The Kindle Curse

Christmas is for serious books for the little bit of shelf space I have left. The rest of the year is ruled by Kindle.

Every so often, when I see a kindle book for 99p, I experience a warm glow of excitement, the kind that should translate into an immediate desire to read the damn thing. But no, like  the victim of a demented Victorian butterfly collector, it’s dried, flattened and saved for posterity behind glass

One of the reasons is just the desire to grasp a bargain book, one I have every intent of reading . . . one day . . . when every other book in my TBR pile has been read. I confess, sometimes with shame, I've become little more than one of those tamed ‘educated’ crows who have learnt to peck at meaningless symbols in exchange for the immediate gratification of a fat-ball. 

The result is as you see below, only a quarter of which I’ve read. And yet, every time I scroll down what I could read, I experience the same warm glow I had on first buying them.

I suspect Amazon’s algorithms are triangulating my reading taste or trying too. On several occasions they’ve recommended my own books, which is nice. I suppose there is a pattern of sorts but with enough off-the wall randoms to confuse or make their life difficult.

The selection below reflects the frailty of weak-minded poltroon, a happy/hapless victim of the Daily Kindle Deal. With over 700 books, I reckon that amounts to a return flight to New York or alternatively 250 Costa coffees. That's one way of looking at it, I suppose, but it still beggars belief.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Hate Week Pick&Mix

In our present time ‘Rage against the machine’ has been replaced by ‘Rage with the machine.’  Or, in other words, class politics have been replaced by identity politics—a lot of it organised by NGOs and financed by large corporations and billionaires. Excuse me, but I’ve never believed in turkeys voting for Christmas. Nor do I believe that vested interests are unaware of the old adage ‘Divide and Rule.’  Whether it’s Pro Woke or Anti Woke,  #MeToo, BLM, Antifa, LBQTQ,  Green, Hope not Hate, or Proud Boys and other right-wing equivalents, the end result is the same. Anger, rage, idealism is deflected and aimed at meaningless targets. Instead of a common enemy, rage is splintered and creates counter-rage in opposing groups. The devil feeds on both.

The exploiters, whether global or national include all of the above in their ranks and the hard truth remains that a black, hispanic, lesbian, or female captain of industry have little in common with their working class/unemployed counterparts.

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s grandfather was Sir Stafford Cripps, a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer in the post war Labour government. Cripps’ daughter had married Appiah’s father, an Asante tribal leader who joined Nkrumah’s independence movement in Ghana. Because of his background he was equally at home in Ghana and the English Home Counties, which many found confusing. This confusion was due to what he termed as ‘essentialism.’ He argued that there was no essential identity called black or white, just as there is no essential identity when it comes to gender. But ‘identity’ can be weaponised, imprison those who fall for it and deflect justifiable rage from those who really deserve it. Essentialism is an affordable luxury for Appiah because he is of the right class. For those less well placed identity can be self inflicted or forced upon you. 

 George Orwell recognised it in his 1984 , when the state-sponsored ‘Hate Week’ was used to cathartic effect. Rulers use similar deflection techniques focusing on an external enemy when faced with domestic turmoil. Now we have internal enemies that an increasingly fractured society are encouraged to hate.

There are many reasons why an educated globalist elite would have hated Trump even though he came from the same privileged background. One of those reasons was the possibility that Trump rode the wave of an increasingly unified working class, largely white but gaining traction amongst their black and Latino counterparts. That would never do. As Trotsky observed, to make a revolution happen you needed an exploited class at the end of its tether, a leader or organised movement to channel it, and a ruling class that had lost its nerve or was otherwise split. A catalyst like war or disease and a demoralised military were also key factors. 

I think it true to say that although charismatic, Trump lacked the ruthlessness, the intellectual rigour of a Lenin or Trotsky. He rode the wave but perhaps with no clear sense of direction. And unfortunately for those desperate for significant change, the media, global capitalism and the military/industrial complex were as one. It was those ranged against the powers that be—actually or potentially—that were split. Identity politics saw all manner of unpleasant things, but little of it ranged against the very rich. It was the poor, small entrepreneurs and a rapidly diminishing middleclass that suffered in protest and riot, the long term poor, black, white, or Hispanic, who continue to suffer from global capitalism and may yet suffer farther from military over-reach. 

 I don’t think the story is over. I do think that, if not on the road to hell, we’re heading for a suffocating ‘benevolent’ authoritarianism at best; independent thought manipulated or massaged out of existence by those who own the means of communication. 

Friday, 12 February 2021

Little Doward: The magic of light

I have no pictures to show of the walk up to the top of Little Doward. It’s a matter of a head-bowing trudge with the added burden of numerous false summits ie just when you think you’re approaching the top another summit emerges. The thought occurs that had I been part of a bronze age attack force I’d have given up before reaching the hill fort that crowns it. Another thought comes with it. If this is Little Doward you can forget its big brother. 

There was one useful and unexpected spin-off arising from the head-bowing trudge. Halfway up, we hit the ‘elephant’s graveyard’ of sweet chestnuts. There were hundreds and hundreds of them, shells opened just waiting to be picked. Two things stopped us. We’d stumbled upon them too late, most of them spoiled. The other thing was we had no bags to carry them, and would we want to carry them up the various hills. But next year. At the right time. We’ll be there, perhaps hiring some Sherpas. 

Sweet chestnuts nice. 

Horse chestnuts not so nice. Note the difference in casings. 


But at the top you step on to pure magic, an unspoilt terrain unchanged from the C18th and a sense of what that Bronze Age hill fort controlled. 

The viewing spot. 

Two to three thousand years ago this would have been surrounded by a stockade. The tree line indicates where.

The land that time forgot

Not lakes, but mist

Mist and silhouettes as we walk down hill

Trees in a fierce winter sun

Light on wood

Before entering the forest you pass through a gorge that resembles a gatehouse.

Mist and magic


Putting your best foot forward

Grasping on for dear life

And now we face another walk up a very steep hill. I feel like that beetle. 

Friday, 5 February 2021

Lord of the Lies

More Sketches of Evan

In the old Blake manor house on the west coast of Ireland, W B Yeats was reciting a poem to a small but rapt audience. The recital took place in the long library panelled from shipwrecks and pungent from peat smoke from a flickering fire.  Suddenly a door next to the fire unexpectedly opened to reveal an empty passage. Yeats waved an elegant hand, interrupting his poem with ‘Leave it alone. It will go away as it came’ continuing his recital without missing a beat. 

Evan Morgan was one of the guests and was thrilled to hear about a reputedly haunted room in the house, bare of furniture because of poltergeist activity and kept permanently locked. Having just been received into the Church of Rome and in possession of a relic, he told all there that deliverance was at hand. He would exorcise the room. Within moments the room filled with a thick mist and Evan was forced to the ground, writhing and rubbing his eyes. When he came to, Evan described the ghost of a pale faced boy with large luminous eyes, dressed in brown who was strangling himself. In Evan’s words, “I went down into the private hell of that poor boy! I have never known such mental agony! Hand me my Catullus, I won’t be coming down to dinner.” An anti-climactic closing sentence perhaps. 

Yeats and his mediumistic wife held a séance in the room and confirmed Evan’s vision when she ‘conjured’ up a pale red-haired boy of about fourteen and learnt that he was a past member of the Blake family. Records show that an Ethelred Henry Blake died aged fourteen 1824-1838.*

The story is recounted in William Cross’s latest book on Evan Morgan, and I’m grateful for that story alone. The book is alive with similar anecdotes, in fact it’s the purpose of the book, which is packed with stunningly evocative photos and accounts of Evan from those who fed on his profligacy. His house parties were legendary, and the estate was largely bankrupt when he died in 1949 aged fifty-five.

                                 Rafaelle, Duchess of Leinster. Brooklyn girl done good,

Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino 1881 - 1957 Italian heiress soul mate of Evan. She lived in a world of Belladonna and opium, wore leopard skin dresses, cradled exotic snakes and lead a live leopard on the leash: 'More a work of art than a human being.' 

A short life but packed with incident, and William Cross, the indefatigable truffle hound of aristocratic minutiae has a rich seam to mine from gossip, diaries and letters recording encounters with the flawed but deeply generous Evan Morgan:   

‘The most extraordinary house I have ever stayed at . . . belonged to Lord Tredegar, down in South Wales. He was a papal count of some sort and lived surrounded exclusively by Great Danes and handsome men-servants . . .He really was an extraordinary fellow with altars all over the house and somewhat terrifying interest in black magic’ John, Duke of Bedford

‘Evan was a showman, whether as a papal chamberlain wearing gorgeous robes in Westminster Cathedral or ordering drinks all round in an East End pub if he was in a good mood. His moods, however, swung dramatically, especially after he had enjoyed sex-and-whipping sessions (with soldiers and sailors he’d picked up) after which he had to have his period of sackcloth and ashes before a bloodied crucifix.’ Robyn Bryans ‘The Dust Has Never Settled’ Honeyford Press 1992

Charles Carnegie, Earl of Southesk with his only son, James, later Duke of Fife

‘Evan loved to tell a story about Julian Huxley falling in love and telling his wife that he was going away with the woman. He had arranged to meet her at the Café Royal – but had lain down for a nap in his study, removing his false teeth. His wife tiptoed in and took them and buried them in the garden. And that was the end, not of the marriage, but the romance.’

Julian Huxley as a houseguest of Evan was embroiled in conversation with his host when a footman rushed in to tell him that a pet baboon had escaped and gone wild. “Evan merely said to me: ‘You know about animals, come along,’ picked up a torch, and off we went. The baboon was certainly alarming, snarling and showing its teeth. But we coaxed it into a corner and Evan caressed it until it calmed down. And so, we returned, the baboon in excited nakedness, perching on Evan’s dinner-jacketed shoulder and contentedly munching a carnation it had snatched from his button-hole.”

Maybe, in a hundred years’ time, a similarly lavishly produced book will recount the activities of current half-dressed celebs, but none will possess the enigmatic quality of the black and white photographs that seem to capture the soul of those portrayed.


Sir John Phillips - eccentric Welsh family with two castles in Pembrokshire and a lot of land. And still he looks shifty.

Myrtle Farquharson of Invercauld 1897 - 1941 'Beautiful, clever, vivacious. Killed in the London Blitz.

The book is a must for the ‘completist’ and an excellent ‘dip into’ for those fascinated by the seedy glamour of a past world**


*The house was burned down by the IRA and rebuilt as a hotel. The haunted room is currently a bathroom. 

** Rich in sources and footnotes. Those addicted to google will be led down a rabbit hole leading to a maze you might never escape from. The book may be slim. The exploration is endless.