Monday, June 12, 2006

How to pass a UK citizenship test

If you can't remember Britain's second emergency number, or the details of employment law w/r/t trade-union membership, you might write this in any space provided for additional information:

I don't give a hang for all the sound intellectual reasons for devotion to a country -- pride in its greatness or its blasted 'rough island story', or the pedigree of its kings. I would as soon love it for its imports of jute. As far as I can tell, my own regard for England is almost wholly sensuous, or at any rate broad-based on something sensuous. My England is the Strand and Waterloo Bridge and all the Thames and the Pennine Hills here, and the crowd at a League football match, and Midland farmers talking like Shallow and Silence about the price of beasts, and the look of the common soldier in France at anything new, and the special kind of good-temper and humour and relenting decency that the man of the working classes has here. It's always something visible or audible or tactible, and there's not a scrap of a sound intellectual reason why I should feel any affection for it, any more than there is why most of us should be loved by our wives. In fact it is love and not judgment or wise criticism, which are much inferior affairs.

That's C.E. Montague again, inevitably, in a letter reproduced in the only full-length biography of him. It's here because I declaimed it aloud to a very knowing American of my acquaintance and he seemed to like it.

[C.E Montague: A Memoir, Oliver Elton, London, 1929. An old-fashioned praise-filled life and letters, always looking for an appropriate place to insert another of the subject's unpublished poems. Impressively thorough, though.]

Service note: Many apologies, dear reader, if you were on while something was triple-posted a few minutes ago. Wireless connection on blink + my stupidity = result you saw. And this blog will get back to quoting something other than journalism and books by old journalists soon, I promise.

Beams, motes

Perfection is for no one, least of all me, but I couldn't help being pleased at this coincidence. Here's the introduction to the sixth edition of the Guardian stylebook on the problems of the fifth edition:

The confusion was typified by the rather wonderful "amok, rather than amuck"; followed, two entries later, by: "amuck, not amok".

And here's two entries, separated only by "homeopathy", in the sixth and the current online version:

but home town

homepage, hometown
one word

My italics, obviously.

[The Guardian stylebook, David Marsh and Nikki Marshall, London, 2004. Ranks among the newspaper style guides amusing enough to be read for themselves. Not as essayistic or pungent as Waterhouse on Newspaper Style (nee Daily Mirror Style), but more comprehensive, and impressively short on false conventional wisdom.]

Lord Russell, tear down that wall

Simon Jenkins, in Landlords to London (1974), on Bedford Square in Bloomsbury:

The Estate's officers, with the experience of the haphazard development of south Bloomsbury behind them, went to inordinate lengths to ensure that nothing would mar the quality of their new neighbourhood. The conditions imposed by [the Bedford estate's agent Robert] Palmer on the builders went into mind-boggling detail. The proportions were all laid down, as were the quality of materials to be used -- 'best Memel or Riga timber' with floors of 'good yellow seasoned deals free from sap'. No trades were permitted nor was any change of use from residential allowed. Even the lesser streets which were built north of the Square -- Chenies Street and Store Street -- were banned to traders. Servants were expected to patronise the shops south of Great Russell Street, and strict limits were placed on through traffic. Gates guarded the entrances to Bedford Square from the south and Gower Street from the north and a shopkeeper was not even allowed to send his boy to make a delivery. He would only be admitted if he came himself, lest the tone of the neighbourhood should in any way be lowered.

He appends a remark about "the fortified suburbs of Los Angeles", but things have moved on. We have our own super-rich to mock these days.

And a bonus liberal London snobbery quote, did you know the cachet of your postcode depends on the price of a ticket there in 1870?

For the most part South London failed to develop the social prestige attached to the new northern suburbs. Certainly, especially on higher ground, pockets of eminent respectability survived into the twentieth century, for instance in Wimbledon, Dulwich and Blackheath. But none of them exerted on their surrounding estates the economic attaction of a Highgate, a Hornsey, a Hampstead or later of a Harrow or a Wembley Park. One thesis is that the railway companies were stronger to the north and had less need to court suburban traffic with cheap tickets, which in turn tended to drag down the economic tone of a neighbourhood. The LNWR, the Midland and the Great Western absolutely refused to introduce any workmen's fares throughout the nineteenth centur, thus neatly preserving a ninety-degree arc of north-west London from working-class colonisation.

He later uses the inverse -- financial troubles at Liverpool Street, and a resulting rush of cheap tickets -- to explain the "tone" of the Essex suburbs.

[Landlords to London, Simon Jenkins, Constable, 1975. The history of a metropolis considered as one long frenzy of property speculation -- an approach that fits London very well. Some repetition and loose editing, but if it was a 'quickie' book (preface says much of it comes from research for the Evening Standard, which he was about to edit) then it's a remarkably coherent one. His declared purpose -- a memorial to private land speculation, now that London is under the total grip of municipal development power -- is another for the hindsight file.]