On The Death Of Robin Williams

The world will miss you Robin Williams.
You brightened up the lives of millions.
And now that world must tweet its grief
It twitters on, thank God they’re brief.

The Final Curtain Call

In A Tribute in Words and Pictures (a collection of reviews by those closely associated with Margaret Thatcher) its editor, Iain Dale, has included an amusing anecdote by John Whittingdale about Margaret Thatcher and Monty Python. As Whittingdale recounts, in 1990, the Conservative Party Conference speech was particularly important and the hardest part of the speech to write were the jokes, especially for someone who was not a natural joke teller. The people brought in to write this part of Margaret Thatcher’s speech frequently needed to persuade her that what they had written was funny. Read more of this post

The Patriot

Samuel Johnson was not indicting patriotism when he said in 1775: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. As James Boswell wrote: ‘He (Johnson) was at all times indignant against that false patriotism, that pretended love of freedom, that unruly restlessness, which is inconsistent with the stable authority of any good government’ – Boswell’s Life Of Johnson. Neither was Stephen Decatur giving support to those patriots that Johnson railed against, when he said in 1820: “But right or wrong, our country!”. Decatur, often misquoted as saying my country right or wrong, actually said: “Our Country! in her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right, but right or wrong, our country!”.  By 1872 the misquotation of Decatur was clearly in the nation’s psyche when used to criticize the views of Carl Schurz, eliciting the response: My country, right or wrong, if right, to be kept right; and if wrong to be set right.”. However, what is needed to set right a country has always – and will always – create dissent, especially amongst those who would be a patriot. Read more of this post

Lessons in Mandarin

Very occasionally as a Civil Servant I was required to provide a technical contribution to Parliamentary Questions (PQs), at a time when PQs really did allow Members of Parliament to hold the Government to account. The only role my contribution had to a PQ was to complement the response being prepared by a Mandarin. Anything that I may have written would have been lost in the revisions they underwent before reaching the likes of a Bernard Woolley or a Sir Humphrey Appelby. I was reminded of this when I revisited an old paper on Civil Service Mandarin. Read more of this post

Context & Abstractions

Of all the ills that human hearts endure,
How small that part which laws may cause or cure.

The above introduces T.E. Utley’s 1968 essay ‘What laws may cure’, writing: ‘Those lines, widely and falsely attributed to Samuel Johnson and in fact written by Oliver Goldsmith‘, which I’m sure was an apodictic addition. In 1968 he would have relied on hard copy references to validate the source of his quote. Even so, both hard copy and the global resources of internet now available, can make any research a circuitous task. At best, the originator of a quote may be found but this does not necessarily validate its source, as may be the case with Johnson and Goldsmith. Read more of this post

A Private trip to a limerick

Very occasional I buy a copy of Private Eye, more often than not attracted by an amusing front cover, perhaps I should subscribe to it. Ahem; The Telegraph might force me to subscribe to it if it made membership of its Blog Site conditional on doing so. (PS: TT – don’t ask questions you won’t like the answer to). Read more of this post

What laws may cure


Of all the ills that human hearts endure,

How small that part which laws may cause or cure.

Those lines, widely and falsely attributed to Samuel Johnson and in fact written by Oliver Goldsmith, used to represent one of the most important ingredients in Tory thinking. Today, most Tories would feel inclined to qualify them. Laws may be capable of doing little good, but we have learnt that they are powerful engines of evil, of consequences which their authors never intended or foresaw but which press hardly and deeply into the lives of ordinary people. Read more of this post

A passport and a prerogative to boot.

There is no entitlement to a passport, they are issued by a Minister’s exercise of the Royal prerogative¹ and exercising this Royal prerogative also means that a passport can be withdrawn. There is no statute law governing the grant or refusal of British passports. A Government Minister exercising the Royal prerogative² may assume that Rex non potest peccare (the King can do no wrong), yet controversy surrounding the ministerial use of the Royal prerogative continues unabated. Read more of this post

Everything in moderation.

On a recent mytelegraph post I called Charles II “a nasty vindictive bastard”, adding “not literally of course but who knows”. Perhaps I should have said “a nasty vindictive bastard of a monarch’, without questioning (facetiously or not) his legitimacy. My remark was made as an allusion, by way of a reply. It would seem that the term ‘bastard’ is deemed to be offensive and subject to moderation by way of being deleted. I can see how this might be, although there are those in Australia who would disagree on this. Read more of this post

A Literary Trip

A recent post on the mytelegraph web site introduced me to the book Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. I had heard of the book but hadn’t read it or any other works by this authoress. Intrigued by ‘Aunt Ada Doom’s glimpse of “something nasty in the woodshed” that left her traumatized and confined to her room for decades, utterly dependent upon the Starkadders’, I went in search of the book and came across a review by ‘Anna’ on things mean a lot – a reading journal Read more of this post

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