Don’t like a meme you’ve been handed? Then substitute another! Pass it on, boys, pass it on…

Millennium Elephant tagged us with this song meme during our relocation interregnum, and while we do, in general, listen to songs, we haven’t actually bought or listened to anything new for some time. This is partly on account of my having come to cling to Classic FM for sanity during my house move, and partly because I am, to be honest, rapidly turning into an old fart who thinks music stopped with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the Arcade Fire. I won’t even be retro for another twenty years.

So instead, I’ve decided to adopt this meme, which I came across on One Hour Ahead while building my gargantuan and soon-to-be-unveiled blogroll. It’s a Livejournal meme but I’m sure they won’t mind if I nick it, so long as I say publicly how utterly wonderful I consider Livejournal to be. Going through it made me realise what a girlie I actually am. Three quarters of my favourite books from this list are about bittersweet nearly-missed-it love in one form or another. Dear, dear. And quite possibly, crumbs. Can anyone save me by pointing me towards the six books I haven’t read on here which might also stand a chance of becoming favourites?

In a further departure from meme normality, I haven’t tagged anybody. This is the ultimate liberal meme. Pick it up only if you want to, and if it doesn’t infringe your personal freedoms.

“The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you love.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or were forced to read at school and hated.
5) Reprint this list in your own blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve only read 6 and force books upon them

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 The Harry Potter Series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

And so there you have it. Slushy and badly read.

No, not another David Davis post.

Coldplay are in trouble - the far better-named Creaky Boards reckon they’ve stolen one of the songs on their new album after Chris Martin attended a Creaky Boards gig.

We in the People’s Republic are harbouring related suspicions.

Recently, I started a video collection. Owing to my current drive to Buy Lots of Self-indulgent Crap, I frequent the charity shops of Haringey quite a lot, and on my first video purchase venture I secured Fight Club, Abigail’s Party, Midnight Cowboy and Alfie, three of which I had never seen, for the princely sum of £4.

I happen, you see, to have a newish and little-used TV with a built-in video player. This is just one of the hand-me-downs I recently inherited via a family bereavement thanks to my mother’s house-clearing efforts (there is something in our DNA which prevents either of us throwing anything away if there is any possibility that we, or other people, or a charity, or possibly just a dog really down on its luck, could make use of it). So I thought, maybe I’ll pick up a few videos, since they’re cheap…

And videos are brilliant! Really – they’re available in shoals in every secondhand outlet in the country for a pittance (it actually costs more to have a video tape rendered into DVD format than it does to buy a videotape), they’re pretty much indestructible so long as you don’t actually suspend them over a flame and attack them with a pair of garden shears, and – this is really great – if, if, if like you miss a bit, you can wind it back to the exact moment and watch it again! No more impenetrable chapter headings, or trying to detect from a flickering sequence of jerky stills where you want to pick up the story! No more rubbing them on your jeans to make them work! No more sudden square green bogies on the screen! Ok so videos do wear out after about ten years, but hey, how many of those films are you still going to be regularly rewatching after ten years – and for those you do, at these prices you can replace the lot with your lunch money.

Best of all, you get the fun of not knowing what you’re going to watch that evening. Just walk into a charity shop or log onto ebay and ask yourself, do I feel lucky? Going to Blockbuster is rarely as exciting – they never have the older or obscurer stuff for a start, and going to an online rental store just blows all the fuses in my brain. Who on earth originated this nuts idea that being able to watch whatever you want whenever you want was a good thing? Whatever happened to delayed gratification? Seriously, videos are the future.

This has been on my mind today because of this CiF article by the lovely Jeremy Seabrooke:

Just as the age of heroic labour – the Stakhanovite idea of selfless dedication to the building of Communism – perished, so heroic consumption – that equally selfless dedication to sustaining capitalism – has also had its day. Stakhanovites were so called after a coalminer in the Soviet Union in 1935 who exceeded his work quota by 14 times the fixed level, producing 102 tons of coal in six hours. This became a kind of “spontaneous” official policy in the construction of socialism.

How laughably old-fashioned this now sounds. And how swiftly things that appear immutable can change. It should be our ambition to ensure that the work of predatory individuals upon the fruits of the earth comes to appear as archaic and futile as the sacrifice of human energies in the Soviet Union to release the resources which, according to Marx, “slumbered in the lap of social labour”.

Yes, some of his rich-bashing rhetoric elsewhere in the article is as old-fashioned as the soviet Marxism he scorns. And no, a girl who has just spent £200 on ebay (hey, thirty items of clothing, though! A whole summer wardrobe! Last year’s, alas, no longer fits…) can hardly claim to be wholly anti-consumerist.

But he is playing with an interesting idea in this piece – that consumerism in the sense of shiny newness and having the socially acceptable “best” of everything is not fixed for all time as a cultural trend. To replace all your perfectly good videos with DVDs may, in a couple of hundred years, look like the height of self-indulgent folly – probably, in that particular case, because data of all kinds will be as freely available and co-operative as open source software by that stage.

Even allowing for the idiosyncrasies of fashion in media, the model holds good for all areas of consumerism. People will look back and wonder why the hell we bought so much new Stuff – furniture, clothes, kitchen equipment, DVDs whatever – when it was not only using up the oil supply but also much cheaper secondhand.

Was it not, after all, William Morris himself who said:

Have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be from an e-bay seller with a 100% positive feedback score.

Wiche hande dostow employe? Sinistre or dextre?

Spurred by this post from Pink Dog and the subsequent comment about the proportion of left-handed people in the population at large (11%), and the possible over-representation of left-handers in the Lib Dem support base, I decided to run a poll. Unfortunately, WordPress blogs, or the idiot-proof ready-hosted ones I use, do not allow polls without lots of tedious Mucking About.

But, I sez to meself, Mortimer, I sez, stating whether you’re right- or left-handed is hardly sensitive information is it? Why not have a deeply literal Olde Worlde Polle whereby people – novel idea coming up – just write down their choice and at the end a little man in a toga comes and empties the amphora and counts them all up?

So I invite you, if you are or think you might be a Lib Dem voter/supporter/member, to state your paw of preference in the comments (yes, that includes you, Pink Dog), and we’ll see how it pans out. Of course, if you are worried by the distinct possibility that Jacqui Smith might be scanning my blog for information on cack-handed miscreants so that she can better enact policies against them, you can always anonymise and I won’t breathe a word.

Following the whole Fairytales of New York malarkey, I had noticed Alex Wilcock’s unlikely-sounding account of the derivation of the word “faggot”, and was forced to weigh my deep-seated concern for sound etymology against the fact that I weally, weally wuv him, especially when he is having righteous anger. Love won (doesn’t it always) but then Jonathan Calder dismantled Alex’s flight of fancy anyway, so I am free to follow up.

Merriam-Webster offers this:

Main Entry:
earlier and dialect, contemptuous word for a woman or child, probably from 1fagot
usually disparaging : a male homosexual 

And the “1fagot ” definition referred to in there is as follows:

Main Entry:
or fag·got \ˈfa-gət\
Middle English fagot, from Anglo-French
14th century
bundle : as a: a bundle of sticks b: a bundle of pieces of wrought iron to be shaped by rolling or hammering at high temperature

The date of the word’s modern usage is given here as 1914, which fits with the account given in the passage Jonathan quotes, but the meaning shows that it was a much older dialect word. Originally, it was a perjorative for women and children, presumably later extended to men considered effeminate. It is said to be ultimately derived from the Middle English term for a bundle of something, usually firewood.

That clarified things somewhat, as Jonathan’s quote seemed to suggest that the word sprang into existence in the early twentieth century which is almost never the case. That last step about the firewood seemed a little odd to me though, and I started working on an alternative derivation (one of the most fun things I have ever learnt is that dictionary etymologies are often guesswork and sometimes just wrong) based on the stem of “faggot” being the same as that in “fey”, “fairy” etc, and the “-et” sounding suffix just being the usual diminutive you get in lots of Middle English words (piglet, cygnet etc). Then it occurred to me that there are two related casual insults for old women: “baggage” and “bundle”. Are these milder disparagements the surviving siblings of the word “faggot” perhaps, both applied to older women while “faggot” was applied to younger ones and children, before it was translated across to gay men where it acquired properly nasty overtones?

There is probably much more I could extrapolate, but I see that you have to go and wash your hair.

I learn from my epolitix bulletin that:

Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps, industry expert Owen Inskip and TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp launch a Conservative Party review of home-buying. The aim is to investigate whether there is “a better, faster and less stressful way to buy and sell homes in England and Wales”.

Kirsty has been for several years one of my minor-league heroines. She sends out all manner of comforting role-model type messages – it’s okay to be bleatingly posh and have a strange sense of humour, and sometimes eat too many pies, and be really good at your job, and still wear great shoes. She wore great shoes even when picking her way down muddy farm tracks in Wales.

I don’t really know why I am surprised – that’s practically an identikit Tory girl I’ve just described. For all her quirks, it’s part of Kirsty’s calling to be unforgivingly upper-mainstream in her economic outlook. When you’re surrounded by the affluent minority, of course they look normal. The only first time buyers she ever meets have their deposit provided and a quarter of their mortgage guaranteed by mummy and daddy.

No, maybe she is not much of a loss to my liberal heart. I will sometimes develop these trashy tastes, in spite of my best efforts. Like my Nigella phase – what was I thinking? Let this be a lesson to me; I need to attach my affections to a new property programme guru, someone more eco-friendly, conceptual, aesthetic, less of a generalist, more of a specialist, someone more inclined to wear black and like European cinema…

We need to get Kevin McCloud onto a working group right away.

This is a rough sketch of how I think Defoe might have written it:

John Darwin, in case you spent the weekend inside a soundproof bag, is the man who walked into West End Central Police Station in Piccadilly late on Saturday afternoon, five and a half years after he went missing at sea. He has been presumed dead since his canoe was discovered in pieces near Hartlepool in March 2002. He has no memory of anything that happened after June 2000.

Imagine the possibilities. This man was a relic of the millenarian age of innocence. Is it possible that terrorists will ever make a major strike against a US or British city resulting in mass loss of life? we would ask him, What kind of group might perpetrate such a strike? If they do, and assuming they have no direct links to any particular nation state, what would be the appropriate response?

When you walked into the police station and saw that the policemen carried guns, were you surprised?

He might have been set to become a liberal’s totem, the man who sees it like it really is. Newspapers would have clamoured for his opinion. He would have spoken, a little glassily, at dinners, on the violently clashing reality around him, as compared to the world he had left. He would have addressed meetings. By and by, he might have addressed rallies. He would have been mentioned in the House.

He would hide any signs that his memory was coming back as this would mean abandoning the role of seer. If he knows he is doing and saying the right thing, where’s the harm in allowing people to believe that his words have a cache denied to those not suffering from amnesia? His pronouncements would result in good and in evil, to his own awe and horror. And a number of personal and private reversals later, he would have withdrawn from the public eye and relearned the art of living quietly.

And then, one day, a knock on the door, and this. The whole thing perhaps nothing more than a badly-executed insurance scam. There are no magic answers to the human condition after all.

Maybe it’s a little more Swift than Defoe, actually.

This time my new word is in English, not French. It comes courtesy of David Miliband, who has said that Gordon Brown would also have invaded Iraq had he been Prime Minister at the time. Well, thank arse that’s cleared up. Diplomats of the world, stand down.

Miliband’s words were as follows:

[David Miliband] conceded that decisions taken since the war “could have been done better” but insisted: “No one is resiling from the original decision.”

Resiling? I thought. Isn’t it funny when you hear a word you have literally never heard before. I mean, not just heard before and not understood, or heard before, adopted as your own and casually used in circumstances where the fact that you don’t really know what it means doesn’t matter. Just never heard before at all. I’d heard Gadarene, but not resiling.

From Merriam-Webster:

intransitive verb
Inflected Form(s):
re·siled; re·sil·ing
Late Latin & Latin; Late Latin resilire to withdraw, from Latin, to recoil

Is the Foreign Secretary playing “Use this word in a sentence in a policy announcement this week” with himself?


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