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Friday, 5 February 2016

Mining for Gold

Unread newspapers are dust traps. They pile up and sometimes you think you will read them. You don’t but you hesitate over throwing them away. What might I be missing? Well yesterday I took the plunge. I picked a paper at random: The Times. It was pristine, untouched. December 27th 2015.
That’s the thing about old newspapers—they tell you what you know. Reassuring admittedly, that things haven't changed, but can be a bit boring.  I was about to give up, when I came across the blessed Caitlin Moran. Sometimes she’s tedious, other times blisteringly funny.

Talking about random discoveries she shared a glimpse into Gwyneth Paltrow’s life-style.

“In America, however, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop triumphed….offering the $244 Cedes Milano Toothpaste squeezer. . . (and) the portable vaginal steam-seat for a very reasonable $55. It seems like a good deal, tbh. You know what it’s like when you’ve been travelling, and you unpack your vagina and it’s all crumpled and creased. But a quick 20 minute steam knocks all the wrinkles out—and sees you descending to the bar looking crisp, businesslike and ready to take on the world with your crisp flaps.”

And what made my day—her quote of the year, this time from the timorous Heather Mills, talking about her prodigiously talented daughter:

“I think she got the best of both (Paul and me)—we’re both very musical,” Mills said of herself and the man who wrote Eleanor Rigsby. “I taught her saxophone, because her father can’t read music, so I do all the music teaching,” she added, explaining the embarrassing musical disparity between herself and the man who wrote Helter Skelter. Eager to throw the man who wrote Yesterday a bone, she said “Beatrice is a brilliant poet—so she obviously gets that from him.”

Had I not kept those papers I’d have never have appreciated the full extent of self-delusion, nor heard of the $244 toothpaste squeezer. I would never have heard of the portable Vagina steam-seat. It would be a joy to see that advertised on QVC shopping channel; I’d probably be tempted, although I have no idea of its effect on those without flaps.

Friday, 29 January 2016

I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts

In Prime Minister’s Questions this week, David Cameron said this:

"The idea that those two right honourable gentlemen would stand up to anyone in that regard is laughable. Look at their record over the last week. They met with the unions and they gave them flying pickets, they met with the Argentinians and they gave them the Falkland Islands, they met with a bunch of migrants in Calais and said they could all come to Britain - the only people they never stand up for are the British people and the hardworking taxpayer."

Prime Minister’s Questions is a piece of parliamentary flimflam, a Punch and Judy knockabout that many tune into, more for entertainment than anything more serious, though at the same time judgements are made on the calibre of leadership.
In this particular case four words were seized upon:
‘a bunch of migrants.’
For the easily offended it was pass the smelling salts time.
For the more politically astute the faux outrage that followed was essentially an attempt to score points—their constituency, those already opposed to the government’s policy on immigration.
For Cameron it was a piece of tough talking argot calculated to appeal those who thought he wasn’t hard enough. Politician and P.R. man, he knew the constituency he was after.

This post isn’t about politics. This post isn’t about the merits of immigration or otherwise. It is about our weird and wonderful language and one particular word.
One dictionary definition is:
 a group of things of the same kind that are held or tied together or that grow together. : a group of people or things that are together or are associated with each other in some way. : a large amount

Bunch is wonderfully versatile. You can use it in any context but one:
 A bunch of banana, a bunch of grapes, The Wild Bunch. Girls can wear their hair in bunches. You can have a bunch of mates around for a drink, especially if they’re a great bunch of mates. But conjoin bunch with migrants and all hell in a teacup breaks out.

You might ask which word is actually at fault here. It’s a linguistic question. I’m not saying migrants as migrants are at fault. They have every right to try and better themselves by moving to another country, just as an established community has every right to decide how many it wants. Sincere views will be held on both sides.  The question is how the conjoining of two words makes something toxic in one context and not in another. So why is ‘a bunch of mates’ acceptable and a ‘bunch of migrants’ not?  Answers on a post card please.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

He who gets the last word. . . sometimes loses out.

He who gets the last word sometimes loses out, as a tombstone in Monmouth illustrates.

Mrs Murr died in 1820 and paid the stonemason to put this on her tomb.

‘Ye, who possess the brightest charms of life,
A tender friend, a kind indulgent wife,
Oh, learn their worth!
In her beneath this stone,
These pleasant attributes shone,
Was not true happiness with them combined?
Ask the spoiled being she’s left behind.’
The ‘spoiled being,’ her husband, died a few years later but there was insufficient space on the headstone for anything but this: ‘He’s gone, too.’

 Almost as good as the comedian Spike Milligan's headstone: 'I told you I was sick.' Do you have any favourites or ideas for your own? :)

Friday, 15 January 2016

'Himmler's Rasputin'

The third book in my trilogy The Gift is based like the other two in the Interwar years. The research has been almost as much fun as the writing. Sometimes more fun when inspiration flags. But for anyone seeking material, search no further than the interwar years.

The period is weird for so many reasons. It makes Robert E Howard appear relatively mainstream.
 Where do you begin? Who or what do you select? An obvious contender is Karl Maria Wiligut, nicknamed ‘Himmler’s Rasputin.’ Born in Vienna in 1886 Wiligut began an orthodox military career with considerable success.

The weirdness set in whilst stationed at Znaim in Moravia. There he became fascinated by prehistoric menhir — to the layperson, a bunch of stones — and began delving into Ariosophy, a relatively new moment that dabbled in the occult and the potent myth of Aryan Supremacy. Sometime after 1908 he joined the Order of the New Templars where he told startled members that he had intimate knowledge of Rune and had been entrusted with family secrets by his grandfather. Now at last the secrets were to be divulged:

Karl Wiligut was the last descendant of a long line of German sages, the Uiligotis of the Asa-Uana-Sippe, dating back to prehistoric times. As a result he was able to recall the history of his tribe over thousands of years by virtue of his ancestral-clairvoyant memory.

According to Wiligut Germany was originally settled in 228,000 B.C by survivors of Atlantis, and that his family originated in the magical city of Arual-Joruvallas (present day Goslar). He insisted that the events of the New Testament had taken place in Germany not Palestine, and that Jesus Christ, far from being the son of God was an avatar called Krist, founder of the Irminist religion in 12,500 B.C. The Wiligut family were Irminist sages, driven into the wildnerness by rival sorcerers in 1,200 B.C.

World War I interrupted the dreaming and Wilgut resumed his military career. Defeat saw him lost in bitterness, the feeling that Germany and Austria had been betrayed and that salvation lay in a new and stronger German empire. In 1924 he was committed to the Salzburg mental asylum where he was certified insane. He remained there until his release in 1927.

Five years later, secret voices told him to leave Austria for Germany and he settled in Munich. A disciple introduced the elderly sorcerer to Heinrich Himmler who fell under his spell.

In 1933 the sixty-seven year old Karl Wiligut joined the S.S and became intimate friends with Heinrich Himmler, spellbound by Wiligut’s tales of old Atlantis. Wilgut did more than tell tales. He designed the sinister SS Totenkopf ring, the hat badge, and a whole host of runic symbols used on black SS  uniforms and flags. He was made an SS General and ordered to construct Wiligut’s tunnel. 

This tribute to madness was a tunnel in Hungary, ten miles deep and designed to carry an elevator car that would lower Himmler and Wiligut to the ‘Inner World of Agharti’ – something akin to Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar. Age and ill health saw him resign from active duty in the SS in August 1939 (remarkably good timing) but work on tunnel continued, nevertheless. Millions were poured into it — until November 1944 when lack of supplies, and perhaps the advance of the Red Army forced the SS project to close.

Wiligut inspired Himmler to send out teams of explorers in search of Atlantean secrets, but the old man himself spent his declining years lost in runes and spells and ancient artefacts. The British briefly interrogated him after the war but released him. The old magician died in 1946, taking his ancestral secrets with him. 

How to end this with a snap? Wiligut and Himmler, a relationship akin to Robert E Howard and Donald Trump. No, that is grossly unfair on both men and wreaks havoc with chronology. Aleister Crowley and Stanley Baldwin? No, that is even more unbelievable.