Friday, 22 July 2011


Rupert the Red Faced Magnate doesn't know the half of it. Most humble day of his life? What about me, matey?
Was it something I said ? Perhaps it was their Prime Minister I offended when I suggested that after buying America he came to this country looking for a bargain. But I must say I thought China was over-reacting when I opened the emails this morning and read this:
“I was just wondering whether you knew your blog page is blocked in China? I always have to wait before I'm somewhere such as Hongkong, where they're quite indiscriminate, before I can have look. Have you any idea why this might be (you being blocked in China, not Hongkong being indiscriminate)?

This to a man who celebrates the Chinese New Year with double portions of Chop Suey.......
Cutting me off from my millions of eager readers in the Middle Kingdom! I who have just paid a mandarin's ransom creating an Oriental Garden at the back of the house. Be fair. I didn't know what a Chinese Garden looks like and I do have three Buddhas, including one that lights up at night. If that doesn't give a chap fair entry into the Kingdom of Ch'in, I don't know what would.
As it happens, it's not the first run in I have had with the Red Perilous. I was underbidder on Ebay for an embalmed penis that was on offer last year. Not that I would have had much use for one but I just wanted to be ableto mention it as a conversation opener. I understand they are considered in China to be very lucky, though not, I imagine, for the original owner.
Or maybe he is upset by the fiver a month I bung to this lady in Devon, vicar's wife, who runs a charity saving moon bears from the Chinese farmers who breed them in circumstances of great cruelty.
Goodness knows who is going to bar me after this week's rant which is about those sub-eitors who coin cliches for a living. You know the sort of thing: “Arab Spring”, “At this moment in time“, “At the end of the day”.
Or the one that really gets up my nose: “Underclass”.
Nothing new about the underclass of course. In the 15th century it even had a name. It was the Society of the Coquillard, and the Parisian poet Francois Villon wrote about it. There was a similar society in England in Elizabethan times with its own king and language. In the 18th century the novelist and magistrate Henry Fielding wrote both amusingly about them in Tom Jones and passionately on the same subject in numerous essays and pamphlets. Daniel Defoe turned them into soft porn in Moll Flanders. Henry Mayhew’s mid-19th century tract “London Labour and the London Poor” is one of the ultimate horror stories. The underclass was the stuff of Dickens and the endless concern of William Cobbett.
Disraeli coined the phrase 'two nations', formed by a different breeding, the rich and the poor. In the forties and fifties I was one of dozens of reporters forever doing investigations for papers like the Mirror and the Sunday People into prostitution and the lot of the underprivileged, as we then more politely knew them.
I am not suggesting that poverty isn't demeaning. But it's not the poor who are causing the trouble. Any troublemaker I have met has got more spare cash than I have.
The structure and the disciplines of society have broken down. Reporters today are writing about the grandchildren of the lawless underclass I wrote about. Three generations of anything goes. What else do you expect?
I once interviewed a street girl who was then earning four times my salary, having previously worked in a cake shop for three pounds a week. I asked what had brought about her downfall.
“Common sense,” she said. “Would you spend eight hours a day, six days a week, on your feet for three quid when you can pick up a hundred quid on your back?”
Cobbett said his greatest wish was to see England’s industrious, laborious, kind and virtuous people as happy as they were when he was a child. In fact they weren't happy. Perhaps they never will be. Economists tell us full employment would be disastrous. We will always have an underclass and it has only grown because the population is bigger. I am not saying relative poverty isn't dreadful. But it's not as bad as it was in the thirties and the forties. Surely the truth is that people don't cope as well.
Many people get by. They don't have any extra money.They have to budget. My parents lived like that for most of their lives. Even in the fifties every penny of my salary was spoken for and put in a series of envelopes.
Churchill with his Family Allowances Bill, Lloyd George with his dole and pensions, Aneurin Bevan with his health service and Lord Beveridge’s report on social security should surely between them have eliminated both poverty and the underclass if it were just a matter of economics.
Isn't the real reason that the discipline society exerted on itself started to crumble in the fifites and vanished altogether in the sixties? And the sort of respectable tradesman, who, when I was a kid, set the tone of our council estate, has left to live in a house he has bought?
Isn't it another fault that expectations have risen at a time when there is no economic reason they should?
I remember an ITV programme “The Big Story”. It featured a Scottish single parent whose children were running wild. In a home much smarter than mine, made up and smartly dressed and suffering from a hangover, she sat in an armchair while the kids went out for breakfast - four packets of crisps. Any wonder they were disfunctional?
The assumption of the plain English Society is that people wish to be free of jargon.
It ain’t necessarily so. Hammrersmith and Fulham’s planning department once sent out an amendment to their district plan. It read:
“Line 5. Delete bottle neck. Insert localised Capacity Deficiencies.”
They also wrote a letter which contained this little pearl:
“It is considered that further investigations should be carried out into this property before a recommendation could be made concerning the possibility of undertaking a feasability study.”
And what about this British Telecom signal? “ would be useful if regions could maintain a temporising stance with minimal extension” - which, I take it, means “lean on your shovels till you hear different”.
South Cambridge Council once dropped its jargon and hurriedly picked it up again after a tenant in rent arrears received this from them: “Let me make one thing clear; if for any reason we don’t get your money you will be out of that house so fast, it’ll make your head spin.”
To revert into jargon, when that letter arrived the body waste came into accelerated conjunction with the air distribution and ventilation mode.
But jargon covers a multitude of virtues. Nicknames are the jargon equivalent of pebbles on the beach of conversation. Teenagers use jargon to share secrets. And racing would be no fun without their argot which is a mixture of Romany, Yiddish and Back Slang. “Abakia. Glimp the corrie on your tuckers“ means ”Quick, come here. Look at that girl behind you.”
We need our jargon, don’t we? It means our words are understood by a select few, rather in the way that royal courts spoke in French. We attack establishment jargon; but journalists too have their own language.
On the Mirror we once concocted the perfect tabloid intro. It was: “Glamorous grannie Ethel Bloggs (38. 26. 37) wept last night when she learned her vicar had eloped with her budgie. Tracker dogs have been called in.“
I swear I once received a letter from the old GPO which read: “If you do not receive this letter you should immediately contact the GPO.” And there was a famous nuclear shelter for councillors at Yeoville. It had an outside loo.
I treasure a book which invented new jargon for teenagers. Burgacide was when your hamburger slid between the bars of the barbecue onto the hot coals. Choctasy describes the joy of discovering a second layer of chocolates when you have eaten the first. Academe is practically 100 per cent jargon and aren’t the bureaucrats playing a game to see who can out-jargon the other?
Army jargon is like a geography and history lesson combined. 'Backshesh' came from the desert campaigns of General Gordon’s day; service on the China Station brought 'char' - Chinese for tea. And some jargon has history. Did you know that in restoration England 'Tory' was the nickname of Irish outlaws?

FOOTNOTE: A word of thanks to my old broadcasting chum Phil Rickman who broke the deafening silence about my latest book, The Man Who Painted In Welsh, the biography of Sir Kyffin Williams, RA. He has invited me to talk about it on his books programme on Radio Wales at 5.30pm this Sunday. My old foe the Welsh Arts Council will hate that.

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