Tuesday 2 September 2014
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Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

Peter Simple

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A writer, blogger, and historian, born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, now based in London. read more
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Nature Diary

by ‘REDSHANK’

With the prolonged fine weather, all kinds of exotic creatures have appeared in our part of the countryside for the first time in living memory. Hummingbird hawkmoths are plentiful. I have seen not one but a dozen at a time hovering over the snapdragons in our flower garden.

Not only hummingbird moths but hummingbirds have appeared. Calling at the Three Tuns, I found the regulars in an uproar as a whole bevy of these beautiful little creatures hovered over their pint pots, causing the less wide-awake to drop them on the floor.

At last Old Ted, the landlord, fairly lost his temper. “Get away, you pesky little varmints!” he shouted, lunging at the glittering little beauties, then chasing them across the room until he tripped over an antique horsecollar he keeps for grinning through and fell heavily to the ground, cursing all tropical interlopers.

There was a big laugh at this, and Old Jim, who always keeps a stuffed magpie on his person to avoid bad luck if he should meet a single magpie, annoyed the landlord even more by producing it and waving it in his face.

Meanwhile, the hummingbirds were hovering over the shove-halfpenny board, putting Old Frank and Old Amos off their game. Rustic oaths bombinated about the smoky room, growing ever more archaic and outlandish as I tried to make hurried notes in phonetic script.

First published 19 September 2003, The Daily Telegraph

Nature Diary

by ‘REDSHANK’

Once again, Spindlemass is with us, when the country folk compete in collecting the largest possible quantity of pretty pink spindleberries and displaying them in traditional patterns in their cottage windows. The origin of the Spindleberry festival, or Spindlemass, is like most things in our part of the countryside, lost in the mists of antiquity.

Some old herbal books recommend spindleberries for their purgative qualities and others for their binding effect and some for both at the same time. Many country folk are addicted to them. But old Dr Higgs, who retired from practice in Bournemouth and previously in west Africa, to live at “the Hollies”, an ivy-grown villa subject to subsidence at the outskirts of our village, maintains that this is contrary to reason, and that he could think of many other substances which are equally without any effect on the digestive system.

This is regarded with scorn and derision yet I often think that the traditional beliefs of the country folk, illogical as they may seem, are worth more than any rational argument.

First published 7 October 2005, The Daily Telegraph
October 18, 2011 9:33 pm | Link | No Comments »

Fated

Given the announcement that the Nobel prize for medicine is to be awarded to a researcher who helped develop the immoral process of in vitro fertilisation (during which the lives of several human embryos are usually taken), it seemed appropriate to reprint this Peter Simple column of ten years ago.

WHETHER Parliament approves “therapeutic cloning” or not, will it make any difference in the long run? Whatever scientists can do, that will be done. Public opinion, at first aghast at artificial insemination and other landmarks on this infernal road, has largely come to accept them. So it is likely to be with this latest triumph.

“Science has put into our hands innumerable gifts that we can use either for good or ill.” This mantra, once regularly intoned, has become less popular now that many of these gifts are plainly seen to be used for ill.

A new palliative has appeared instead: it says that we must be kept well informed about the latest scientific developments, as well as learning more about science and scientific methods, so that we can decide for ourselves whether we want these gifts or not.

But who are “we”? Would it make any difference if we said we did not want them? Would it make any difference if some scientists themselves decided they were too dangerous to proceed with? Others would somehow, somewhere, carry on the work. The progress of science and technology which has seized upon our world seems irreversible, even fated.

Will it, as in some environmentalist fantasy, gradually diminish in strength and become humanly manageable in a new, green and “sustainable” world? Or will it, as seems more likely, proceed to a catastrophic end?

First published 18 August 2000, The Daily Telegraph
October 5, 2010 5:07 pm | Link | No Comments »

Don Carlos and the Holy Alliance III

Among the many charms of the Peter Simple column which was written for so long by the late Michael Wharton were the numerous entities and institutions which existed by columnar fiat. Despite its luddism, the column had a space program, of which the columnar space vehicle, Don Carlos and the Holy Alliance III, was the pride and joy. Here are but two instances in which the operations of the vehicle were revealed.

A Celestial Snub

The British space probe, Beagle 2, now insolently speeding towards Mars, carries a fragment of a pop song and some fatuous art work by Damien Hirst, equally vile symbols of degenerate popular culture. Is there a chance that it will encounter our own columnar space vehicle, Don Carlos and the Holy Alliance III, now motoring on a tour of the solar system?

If it does, our august machine, programmed to avoid the swarm of vulgar objects now buzzing tastelessly about the heavens, will give no sign of recognition other than a slight increase of freezing hauteur. It will leave Beagle 2 to its banausic task of probing and burrowing into the surface of the Red Planet in its futile search for microbes and soda water.

Then away to the remote depths of space, for a weekend in the realm of the satellites of Pluto, discovered by our space vehicle on a previous expedition. There, on those delightful little worlds, a hereditary caste of noblemen spend their leisure hunting, fishing and, in the evenings, in their commodious hunting lodges, discuss such questions as the possibility of life, improbably near the sun, on our own unimaginably distant earth.

6 June 2003

Keep off!

Not content with scattering malodorous rubbish all over the solar system (our solar system, incidentally), American scientists have fired a missile at a defenceless comet just to see what it is made of.

Is there to be no end to this senseless rage of curiosity? If our columnar space vehicle, Don Carlos and the Holy Alliance III, should ever find itself motoring in the neighbourhood of one of these senseless acts of aggression, it has orders to take appropriate action, the exact nature of which will be quite a surprise.

12 August 2005
July 18, 2010 7:40 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Nature diary

by ‘REDSHANK’

ST JOHN’S DAY, Midsummer Day, has come and gone, bringing to the nature diarists’ community, as the country folk call us, melancholy thoughts of the inexpugnable passage of time and of the already declining year. In our neighbourhood, St John’s Eve is a time when age-old customs, elsewhere, alas, confined to the mists of antiquity, still flourish even in these prosaic days.

Young men and maidens, not to speak of some in neither category, forsake their clubbing to dance in the woodland glades, undeterred by ghostly commercial travellers, doomed to play solo whist among the trees for all eternity, who scarcely interrupt their play to hurl traditional insults from another world.

It is different with the watercolourists who, following another ancient custom, come trooping out from the neighbouring town to set up their easels in the woods, industriously sketching everything they see, including the indignant dancers. Many of them are retired schoolteachers recommended “remedial art therapy” by their psychiatrists, distressed gentlefolk and ordinary people lately released into the community.

All take their orders from the big, ginger-haired old fellow who seems to be their leader. From my library window I watched through powerful field glasses as he rallied them amidst the dancers, lashing out with outsize paintbrush or sharp-edged paintbox and generally giving as good as they got.

He encouraged them, too, with anecdotes of eminent painters he seems to have known well: how he and Turner saw off a gang of criminal art dealers in Petworth Park; how he and Edward Lear, attacked by bandits while painting in Albania, put them to flight by endlessly repeating Lear’s limericks.

The village folk regard him with superstitious awe. He lives, so the talk goes in the Blacksmith’s Arms, in a rambling old mansion “way out t’ other side o’ Simpleham Great Park”. He is said to be a “gurt old ‘un for t’ book learnin’.” Some say he is writing a “Book of All Known Knowledge”. Some say he is the king of all nature diarists. All believe he is a powerful enchanter.

When I called at the inn the other day, there was an animated discussion about him, carried on, of course, in the genuine old British Composite Pandialect. Jack, the retired poacher told how, when laying a trail of sultanas to trap pheasants, he had seen the big man sitting in his enchanted garden, where creatures of the wild, deemed to be extinct in other parts of England, came to his call: the speckled linnet, the ringed dotterel, the corncrake and the wolf. Jack swore he had once seen an Andean condor perching on the enchanter’s shoulder and whispering secrets in his ear.

Old Seth the waspkeeper, who has a tendency to live in the past, and contributes a “Wasp at War” feature to the local newspaper, thinks the master watercolourist is a German or even Japanese spy, using watercolours to signal to enemy airmen. All believe he and his watercolourists are creatures of ill omen, and that to speak to them brings misfortune.

Though I am inclined to smile, I am sure there is a profound rural wisdom here, far beyond the grasp of your average know-all urban intellectual.

First published 28 June 2002, The Daily Telegraph

Nature diary

by ‘REDSHANK’

“SNOW in July, we’ll have sunshine forbye,” is an old adage still heard in the gunroom and four ale bar in our part of the country. Another old saying, “relevant”, as the country folk say, to the present unusual summer, is, “Nature diarists make their own weather”, already proved true a hundred times over.

As well as snow, we have had a freak sandstorm which deposited outsize date stones from North Africa on my croquet lawn; earth tremors which brought down a grandfather clock in the Chequers Inn on top of Old Frank, the landlord, causing much hilarity; and, to crown all, barn owls roosting together with a whole flock of magpies in Paxman’s Oak.

And – another sign of an unusual summer – when Old Seth the Waspkeeper, last of a dying breed, began his yearly “telling the wasps” according to immemorial custom, covering all the latest divorces, seductions, rapes, muggings and drug-peddling cases in the village, the cantankerous creatures would not listen, buzzing round in circles with a monotonous droning sound and giving every sign of cynical boredom.

First published 14 July 2000, The Daily Telegraph
July 8, 2010 7:52 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Nature diary

by ‘REDSHANK’


With the prolonged fine weather, all kinds of exotic creatures have appeared in our part of the countryside for the first time in living memory. Hummingbird hawkmoths are plentiful. I have seen not one but a dozen at a time hovering over the snapdragons in our flower garden.

Not only hummingbird moths but hummingbirds have appeared. Calling at the Three Tuns, I found the regulars in an uproar as a whole bevy of these beautiful little creatures hovered over their pint pots, causing the less wide-awake to drop them on the floor.

At last Old Ted, the landlord, fairly lost his temper. “Get away, you pesky little varmints!” he shouted, lunging at the glittering little beauties, then chasing them across the room until he tripped over an antique horsecollar he keeps for grinning through and fell heavily to the ground, cursing all tropical interlopers.

There was a big laugh at this, and Old Jim, who always keeps a stuffed magpie on his person to avoid bad luck if he should meet a single magpie, annoyed the landlord even more by producing it and waving it in his face.

Meanwhile, the hummingbirds were hovering over the shove-halfpenny board, putting Old Frank and Old Amos off their game. Rustic oaths bombinated about the smoky room, growing ever more archaic and outlandish as I tried to make hurried notes in phonetic script.

First published 19 September 2003, The Daily Telegraph
October 27, 2009 8:50 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Nature diary

by ‘REDSHANK’

THE badgers were out again last night. Not content with taking three pockets from the billiard table. Old Brock had made off with all the billiard balls as well, as I discovered when proposing a game with a fellow nature diarist this morning. What can your average badger want with billiard balls? Will this sagacious beast barter them for more useful objects with owl or weasel?

Musing on this, we wandered out across the garden in the golden September sunshine, and into the village giving a “good morning” now to Old Jim the Poacher, sweating in his heavy multi-pocketed poacher’s greatcoat, now to Old Miss Briggs, the former dame school economics teacher, now to a foursome of commercial travellers setting off for a solo whist session in Bragg’s Wood.

Passing the lopsided thatched cottage of Old Seth Gummer the Waspkeeper, last of his kind, we knew by the unusually loud buzzing from his garden croft that he was busy with the ancient custom of “telling the wasps”, so different from that equally ancient custom “telling the bees”. A grizzled figure dressed in waspkeeper’s sacking, with a perforated tin pail over his head, he was telling his vespine charges about all the happenings in the neighbourhood this summer that he thought would interest them.

Sure enough, their eager buzzing grew frenzied as he described, in lurid detail, adulterous affairs, divorces, rapes, lesbian elopements, cases of drug addiction, paedophilia, muggings and other assaults, and, most exciting of all, the formation of a retro-techno-sado-rap group in the village.

Pausing only to say a hurried “good morning” to Old Seth, who was fumbling vaguely with his antique Edison Bell recording apparatus, we walked on, accompanied by a few enterprising wasps, pondering on the strange mixture of old and new, of immemorial tradition and brash modernity in our part of the countryside.

First published 15 September 2000, The Daily Telegraph
October 27, 2009 8:40 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Nature diary

by ‘REDSHANK’

To many, the end of summer and onset of autumn brings melancholy thoughts but for us in the nature diarist community it has many consolations as the season unfolds, bringing all the traditional customs still observed in our part of the countryside.

Old Seth the wasp-keeper, last of a dying breed, has now celebrated the age-old custom of “telling the wasps”, when he gathers his vespine charges about him and confides, with their buzzing approval, all the notable events that are taking place in our neighbourhood: actual and grievous bodily harm, rape, fraud and the formation of new gangs of hooligans of ever-increasing ferocity.

This is the season when late groups of water colourists invade our neighbourhood with their easels and brushes, under the aegis of the big ginger-haired old fellow who seems to hold them in a state of awe and even terror, making no secret of his utter contempt for their efforts.

“Now pay attention!” he can be heard roaring miles away. “First get control of your picture space. I well remember my old friend Jack Constable telling me that command of your picture space was half the battle, and you could forget all about composition, structure, tonal harmony, conceptual values and all the rest of the stuff you learnt at art school.”

His group of amateur artists, mostly pensioners and elderly people who have been advised by their psychiatrists to get something to do, and old ladies who seem unable to distinguish between paintbrushes and knitting needles, received his advice with reverence, positively elated that he should speak to them at all.

I felt rather sorry for them, but mindful of the belief, common among the village people, that any contact with these strange folk can bring misfortune, I did not intervene, even when a pathetic old pensioner with several hearing aids grasped my arm and begged me wordlessly for help.

The whole group disappeared over the brow of Mandelson’s Hill preceded by the ginger-haired leader, who is still shouting about “Bill” Monet and other eminent painters he had known, waving an outsized paintbrush, and I saw them no more.

Oddly enough, the country folk have great respect for him and seem to regard him as some kind of enchanter. Certainly they believe that all the creatures of the wild, from magpies to badgers, will come to his call. He lives in a big rambling old house with a large overgrown garden where he can be seen sitting and meditating on the secrets of nature. Old Frank the gamekeeper swears that once, peering through a gap in the garden wall, he saw him sitting amid the brambles and deadly nightshade with a huge Andean condor perched on his shoulder as he whispered his secrets to it.

The country folk call this enchanted garden “an European eco-habitat” and are agitating for an official warden with a degree in environmental studies.

First published 2 September 2005, The Daily Telegraph
August 30, 2009 6:20 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Nature diary

by ‘REDSHANK’

St John’s Day, Midsummer Day, has come and gone, bringing to the nature diarists’ community, as the country folk call us, melancholy thoughts of the inexpugnable passage of time and of the already declining year. In our neighbourhood, St John’s Eve is a time when age-old customs, elsewhere, alas, confined to the mists of antiquity, still flourish even in these prosaic days.

Young men and maidens, not to speak of some in neither category, forsake their clubbing to dance in the woodland glades, undeterred by ghostly commercial travellers, doomed to play solo whist among the trees for all eternity, who scarcely interrupt their play to hurl traditional insults from another world.

It is different with the watercolourists who, following another ancient custom, come trooping out from the neighbouring town to set up their easels in the woods, industriously sketching everything they see, including the indignant dancers. Many of them are retired schoolteachers recommended “remedial art therapy” by their psychiatrists, distressed gentlefolk and ordinary people lately released into the community.

All take their orders from the big, ginger-haired old fellow who seems to be their leader. From my library window I watched through powerful field glasses as he rallied them amidst the dancers, lashing out with outsize paintbrush or sharp-edged paintbox and generally giving as good as they got.

He encouraged them, too, with anecdotes of eminent painters he seems to have known well: how he and Turner saw off a gang of criminal art dealers in Petworth Park; how he and Edward Lear, attacked by bandits while painting in Albania, put them to flight by endlessly repeating Lear’s limericks.

The village folk regard him with superstitious awe. He lives, so the talk goes in the Blacksmith’s Arms, in a rambling old mansion “way out t’ other side o’ Simpleham Great Park”. He is said to be a “gurt old ‘un for t’ book learnin’.” Some say he is writing a “Book of All Known Knowledge”. Some say he is the king of all nature diarists. All believe he is a powerful enchanter.

When I called at the inn the other day, there was an animated discussion about him, carried on, of course, in the genuine old British Composite Pandialect. Jack, the retired poacher told how, when laying a trail of sultanas to trap pheasants, he had seen the big man sitting in his enchanted garden, where creatures of the wild, deemed to be extinct in other parts of England, came to his call: the speckled linnet, the ringed dotterel, the corncrake and the wolf. Jack swore he had once seen an Andean condor perching on the enchanter’s shoulder and whispering secrets in his ear.

Old Frank the waspkeeper, who has a tendency to live in the past, and contributes a “Wasp at War” feature to the local newspaper, thinks the master watercolourist is a German or even Japanese spy, using watercolours to signal to enemy airmen. All believe he and his watercolourists are creatures of ill omen, and that to speak to them brings misfortune.

Though I am inclined to smile, I am sure there is a profound rural wisdom here, far beyond the grasp of your average know-all urban intellectual.

First published 28 June 2002, The Daily Telegraph
June 30, 2009 3:27 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Boers, Peter Simple, and Pith Helmets

Sometimes something rather interesting is right under your nose and you never even notice it. I read the Catholic Herald — the premier Catholic newspaper in the English-speaking world — every week and have been reading it since university days, but I have rarely read Stuart Reid’s “Charterhouse” column on the back page. A few recent perusals have exposed my foolishness for neglecting it. They are presented for your reading here.

(Of course, there has never been a columnist as brilliant as Peter Simple, whose works we have shown you in a series of installments.)

Charterhouse
by STUART REID

Everyone needs a secular hero or two, and one of mine is Rian Malan. In the Sunday Times at the weekend he had a very nice diary, in which he said that he liked Jacob Zuma, because the president-elect of South Africa had “old-fashioned views on stuff like law and order”.

Malan also said that it was a good time to be a Boer: “…as South Africa staggers towards its destiny, it’s white Left-liberals who are wailing about our government’s shortcomings. The Boers never expected any better, so we are generally immune to the gloom.”

The diary made my heart go out, once again, to the Boers. They are brave, honest, hard-working, courteous, old-fashioned and often God-fearing, with a weakness for the bottle. Plus they were on the right side in the Boer War and their women – sometimes their men too – are beautiful.

(more…)

May 4, 2009 7:49 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Peter Simple V

A wise old man once said ‘good fences make good neighbours’ but history is chock full of territorial disputes nonetheless. Woefully, ancient land claims and cross-border irridentism reared their ugly head on the pages of the Daily Telegraph as well. These two columns, the fifth installment in our series introducing you to the greatest newspaper columnist who ever lived and breathed, retells just such a territorial dispute which erupted over changes in the layout and denomination of the newspaper page on which the Peter Simple column perenially (since the dawn of time, beyond the age of our forefathers) appeared.

A Small Crisis

For some time now, the eastern part of the region in which my column occasionally appears has been headed “End Column” no matter what appears on it, whether literary criticism, humour or chess (which has taken permanent occupation of the southern part of the territory). Then one morning the world woke to a startling innovation: the territory was simply headed “Chess”. What had happened? Had an extremist group of chess writers suddenly claimed sovereignty over the whole region? It was the more surprising in that of all the paginal powers, Chess, devoted as it is to pure intellect, has historically always been the least aggressive, well satisfied with the ample territory it occupies and threatening no other power.

A serious diplomatic incident followed. Our own columnar government was not slow in sending a strong protest to the chess authorities. Partial mobilisation was ordered. A squadron of Blériot Mark II reconnaissance aircraft was sent to patrol the whole area. A gunboat of the Don Carlos class was despatched to the Interpaginal Sea.

Fortunately, the traditional panic and flight of the peasantry was quelled in time. Soon, wiser counsels prevailed and the crisis evaporated as rapidly as it had arisen. But it cannot be too strongly emphasised that in the event of a serious threat to the paginal balance of power, the column could not and would not stand idly by. For although this column is not always corporeally present in the eastern territory it is always present in a metaphorical and mystical sense, in all the territories where it has ever been.

November 26, 2004

Signs and Wonders

AS veteran readers of this column will recall (“Are there any others?” our boring expert “Narcolept” never fails to ask), a diplomatic impasse was caused last month when the chess flag was raised over the territory formerly known as “End Column”, implying an exclusive claim to suzerainty over a territory shared by other powers including ourselves.

The situation was supposed to have been normalised when, as is so often the case, wiser counsels prevailed. Sadly, this is not so. Extremist elements in the column, who have long been impatient with its conciliatory policy, are thought to be planning direct action by launching a surprise attack on the heartland of chess itself, the southern region in which its authority has never been disputed, and setting up a puppet state with only nominal allegiance, perhaps, to the parent column.

Are these hotheads and firebrands harking back to the so-called “time of troubles” in the 1970s, the time of “Peter Simple II” and the labyrinthine intrigues that led to a coup by General Waugh and the present “binary” dispensation? As a timely pronunciamiento from the Ministry of Columnar Guidance warns, “Such irresponsible day-dreaming could have the gravest possible consequences,” even leading to the onset of the long dreaded Fimbul Winter and the end of the column itself.

To make matters worse, certain elements seem bent on defying the basic columnar Law of Non-Interaction, which prevents different aspects of the column from interfering with each other. For example, it is rumoured that certain senior officers of that normally inactive regiment, the Stretchfordshire Yeomanry, are sympathetic to the extremists and, in the event of an attack on the chess territory, might join an expeditionary force (which would be styled a “liberation army”). As the pronunciamiento insists, this would be “playing with fire”.

Nor is this all. General Sir Frederick (“Tiger”) Nidgett, veteran war hero, founder of the Royal Army Tailoring Corps and Saviour of Port Said in the “dark days of 1942 when the Nazi hordes were bawling tastelessly at the gates of Egypt” – see Nidgett’s autobiography Up Sticks and Away (Viper and Bugloss, £25; paperback, £15; bulk orders welcomed) – is reported to have offered his services to the insurgents as military adviser and expert on combined operations. In a startling development, sources in the Columnar Foreign Office have dismissed Nidgett as “a buffoon and play actor whose boasted wartime service was in fact confined to looting bales of cloth and blackmailing shopkeepers in the bazaars of Cairo”. But a statement issued “from the desk of Gen Sir Frederick Nidgett” countered these criticisms with a firm “no comment”. Members of the Tailoring Corps Veterans Association have already hit back in defence of their founder, threatening reprisals with their traditional weapons, the dreaded armoured trouserpresses, failing an immediate withdrawal and apology.

To add to the confusion and breakdown of basic columnar principles, Sir Alywin Goth-Jones, the unpopular chief constable of Stretchford, has offered to place a squadron of his controversial police submarine force (currently patrolling the lake in sex-maniac-haunted Sadcake Park in pursuit of drink-drivers) at the disposal of the proposed expedition for a landing on the supposedly undefended shores of chess’s southern territories.

The pronunciamiento goes on to say that the extremists have “stirred up a veritable hornets’ nest and it is high time wiser counsels prevailed”. But will this deter irresponsible hotheads encouraged by intelligence reports, almost entirely fallacious, of growing dissent within chess itself, and signs of a modernising tendency which would put this noble and august game under the control of that most un-English authority, the Ministry of Sport?

This would lead to assimilation in the West Midland Chess League, responsible for the up-to-the-minute vandalism and hooliganism which mark the disgustingly popular annual matches between Stretchford Chess Circle and Nerdley Boardsmen, when drunken fans invade and overturn the board, and even assault the pieces without distinction between queen and pawn.

As the pronunciamiento inevitably states, it is time to draw back from the precipice. Equally, it cannot be too strongly (or too often) emphasised that, in the event of a serious threat to the paginal balance of power, this column could not and would not stand idly by.

January 7, 2005
June 13, 2007 9:13 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

‘To a Fishfinger’

As part of our series introducing you to Peter Simple, the greatest columnist who ever was, we bring you this taste of the poetry of Julian Birdbath. Birdbath is a character in the world of Peter Simple who lives at the bottom of a disused mine, alone but for his pet toad Amiel, writing poetry.

‘To a Fishfinger’

Thou shape impacted of Old Ocean’s heart,
With frost imbu’d and golden crumbs bedight,
Casual thy vending and thy worth too light:
How soon thy form symmetric must depart!
In rangéd boxes at the supermart
Thou bidest with thy fellows day and night,
Nor dream’st thou’ll’t scale some culinary height–
Who fries and serve thee needs no subtile art!
And yet for thee the stalwart seaman rov’d
‘Mid tempests’ rage; and Iceland’s anger keen
Endur’d; nor glimpsed ‘mid perils dire the end
Sublime: that thou, scorned digit, should’st be so lov’d
Dearer than pizza or th’ entinnéd bean,
For soliary men both food and friend!

From The Oxford Book of Esperanto Verse,
edited and translated by Julian Birdbath
March 1, 2007 7:56 pm | Link | No Comments »

Peter Simple IV

Affairs of state bother us often, and they even intrude into the mind of such worthies as that grand old man, Peter Simple. These two columns, the fourth in our series attempting to introduce you to the most brilliant columnist who ever was, deal with precisely such subjects: one foreign, and one domestic. The first was written in 2002, as Paddy Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats (ennobled as Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon) was appointed to the post of ‘High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina’, a sort-of viceroyship created by the United Nations to keep an eye on wayward Balkan peoples. In ‘Glory’, Mr. Simple reflects upon the prospect. Reprinted below that is another example of ‘What the Papers Say’, in which, speaking through the editorial pages of the Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald, Peter Simple implores us to take a serious look at House of Lords reform. As per usual, his proposals are right on target.

Glory

THEY say that Paddy Ashdown, the great Liberal leader, is to be given high office in Bosnia, as governor, no less. It will not be long, we monarchists all hope, before he is offered the crown and ascends the throne of Bosnia as King Paddy the First. The last king of Bosnia, Steven VII Tomasevic, surrendered to the Turks and was beheaded in 1463. But times have changed, and this should not necessarily be a precedent.

Approached by a joint delegation of the Serb, Croat and Muslim communities, he will at first pretend to put the crown aside, then yield to their urgent pleas. How glorious, when in Sarajevo, at a ceremony with specially devised ecumenical rites (Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Methodist, agnostic, humanist, Salvation Army), the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan himself, places the crown on his head.

Loud the people’s acclamations, loud the pealing organs and massed choirs with all the bells of Sarajevo ringing out as leaders of the three communities swear allegiance! Later, he inspects a guard of honour of the happily named Nato Dissuasion Force, then tours the city.

His piercing blue eyes, screwed up with almost intolerable sincerity, scan the remotest forests and reactionary mountains for signs of emerging liberalism. Peasants in their picturesque costumes have trooped in from the countryside, bearing traditional gifts: ornamental daggers, pots of honey, embroidered shawls, clotted cream and new-laid eggs.

Folk songs mingle with the strains of “He’s A Jolly Good Fellow”, “Follow The Van” and (an allusion to the new monarch’s Irish ancestry) “If You’re Irish, Come Into The Parlour”. Helicopter gunships and squadrons of fighter aircraft fly past as the King chats easily to his people. They laugh heartily at well-chosen anecdotes of his time as Liberal leader. Distant explosions mark pockets of resistance, to be mopped up by the Bosnian army. He orders the search for “war criminals” – slab-faced Mladic and tousle-headed Karadzic – to be intensified.

As night falls, dense fumes of slivovitz hang over the sleeping city. A sound of massed snoring comes from the Royal Palace, where King Paddy sits at ease, regaling his courtiers with extracts from his Liberal party conference speeches and statements of liberal ideals: the need for dialogue and for a determined but carefully considered step forward into the future.

April 5, 2002

What the Papers Say

In a thoughtful leader, the Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald discusses reform of the House of Lords: “Since the arbitrary and unlawful expulsion of most hereditary peers from the Lords, those of our readers who lost their seats, as well as those few who retain them, may be inclined to regard any further suggestions for ‘reform’ with indifference and contempt.

“Debates on this subject both in the Lords itself and in the Commons may indeed have exhibited a level of inanity unusual even for those sadly degenerate bodies. Yet their very persistence in ignoring the real issues should only strengthen our own determination to confront them.

“In a recent debate, some speakers favoured an Upper House entirely elected; some an Upper House entirely appointed; some a mixture of elected and appointed members. Others, typical adherents of the foaming radical and contumelious schoolteacher tendency, wanted to abolish the Upper House altogether.

“Not one single speaker in either house suggested that the best measure of ‘reform’ would be to scrap the present hybrid assembly, including those chimerical figures, the so-called ‘life peers’, and, by retaining the remaining 92 peers and bringing back the 600 so outrageously expelled, restore the House of Lords which existed so satisfactorily for hundreds of years.

“We believe that a firm, uncompromising assertion of the hereditary principle would not only dispose of further futile argument but would be greeted with relief and enthusiasm by the still sound majority of English people, who, we dare aver, remain true in their hearts to the old beliefs which made our country great, and our Parliament the wonder and envy of the world.”

January 24, 2003
December 16, 2006 6:17 pm | Link | No Comments »

Peter Simple III

As the Anglo-American intervention in Mesopotamia took place, Peter Simple found he could not avoid the subject. In the first column we present to you today, Peter Simple tells us of another, more dangerous invasion. The second column was written after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld brushed aside the Franco-German opposition to the Second Iraq War, chiding Paris and Berlin as ‘Old Europe’. Of course, the secularist modern republican governments which today rule from Paris and Berlin are about as far from Old Europe as possible, but read on. Peter Simple says it all.

Signs and Portents

January 17, 2003

We are sometimes asked about our columnar policy in the matter of the proposed American war on Iraq. There is an ongoing discussion about this in the Supreme Columnar Council where the great abbots and nobles meet. They ask: what likely outcome could benefit or damage our columnar interests? Some say one thing, some another; there are as many opinions as men.

Of more immediate concern are rumours of incursions by agents of the American mass-culture, as it is called, into columnar territory. Last week there were reports that infiltrators, most likely seaborne invaders from the vast wastelands of television across the Interpaginal Channel, had appeared in a remote mountain region.

They had installed illegal electro-galvanic machines, distributed cheap “television sets” to a few gullible peasants and begun “broadcasting” seditious and obscene material.

This attempt to defy the fundamental columnar laws against technology did not last long. Sturdy, loyal peasants, wielding the infrangible iron bar of Luddite-Sibthorpian theory, soon smashed the evil machines and chased the interlopers over the border, chanting the old song: “Lift up the stones and expose the technological bandits to the eye of Heaven.”

In another attempt, infiltrators carrying large sums in columnar currency and Maria Theresa dollars, erected an infernal eating house and tried to sell their disgusting fare to the peasants. They even displayed an illicit electro-galvanic sign, “Simpleburgers”, to seduce the peasants from the homely, healthy fare they produce from their own immemorial labours in the fields.

When the victims fell ill from eating this unaccustomed rubbish, a traditional panic set in. Soon the more ignorant took to the roads, wheeling handcarts crammed with pathetic household goods: pots and pans, rocking chairs, bedsteads and icons, with here and there an ancestral grandfather clock, barometer or stringless harp handed down from forgotten bards of old.

A headlong rush towards the Dreaded Eastern Void was averted just in time by greybeard village elders and a few militiamen on leave who knew how to reinforce advice with rougher methods of persuasion. But now worrying supernatural phenomena were seen. A moderate-sized green dragon reading a newspaper was stretched out lazily by the roadside. A plague of frogs invaded a wayside shrine. From abandoned wells voices gave warning in unknown languages, immediately identified by village schoolmasters as “Hittite” or “Old Sorb” – there were few to argue.

Only by continual vigilance can we prevent such incursions, which, as the outer world grows ever more demented and corrupt, can only grow more frequent. What, it may be asked, are the implications for world and other world affairs? Our primary concern, as always, is to defend our borders and uphold our columnar interests. We cannot point out too often that in the event of a serious threat to the paginal balance of power, this column could not and would not stand idly by.

January 17, 2003

Gone for Ever

“Old Europe”: with this contemptuous phrase, Rumsfeld and his fellow eminences at the White House dismissed French and German opposition to military action against Iraq. Supremely arrogant, confident of a future world order even more repellent than the present, how should they know or care that for some of us Old Europeans the phrase can induce a mood of hopeless longing?

A hundred years ago, Old Europe ruled the world. From its colonies in every continent came tribute which daily enhanced its wealth, convenience and comfort. The old kingdoms and empires were still intact. The Kaiser ruled in Berlin, the Tsar in St Petersburg, the Emperor Franz-Joseph in Vienna, each with his splendid court whose customs and ceremonies seemed made to last for ever.

The civilisation of Europe – the greatest civilisation the world has known – still seemed secure. Its ancient cities, so varied in their beauty and splendour, still held glorious treasuries of art. Its noble landscapes were still unsullied. Its various peoples kept their own historical traditions.

But the death wish fell on Old Europe, and it collapsed in fratricidal war. The Americans arrived to hasten its ruin with their pernicious doctrines of self-determination, equality and perfectability. Mortally wounded, Old Europe staggered on, but could not recover.

Now there is talk of a New Europe. It is a matter not of emperors and kings but of technicians, accountants and businessmen. It may or may not prosper. What do we care, when Old Europe has gone for ever?

January 31, 2003
August 15, 2006 12:14 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

Peter Simple II

Traditionalists are very wary of claims that ‘the world has changed’, for we have long memories. We know that the world has only ever truly changed twice: when man first rebelled in the Garden of Eden, and when Christ defeated that rebellion on the Cross of Calvary. Nonetheless, men are fickle and can easily be overwhelmed by events, be they calamitous or felicitous. In his first column after the tragedy of September 11th, Peter Simple mourns the loss while sagaciously pointing out the utter futility of the ‘war on terror’ which had been proclaimed. What took a few years for we foolish knaves to discover, the Grand Old Man was already reminded us merely a week after the terrible attack.

No Change

21 SEPTEMBER 2001

ONLY a stony-hearted fanatic could have been unmoved by the massacre in America. Yet for us feudal landlords and clerical reactionaries, cranks, conspiracy theorists and luddite peasants, the downfall of the twin towers that symbolised the worldwide empire of imaginary money is not in itself a cause of grief.

Ever since the atrocity, dense clouds of hysterical rhetoric have been drifting about the world. America is at war, says President Bush. Britain is at war, says Tony Blair, dutifully echoing his master. The whole world is at war, say the “media”. But what enemy is the world at war against? Terrorism!

A war against terrorism is as futile and fatuous as those other fashionable wars, “the war against drugs” and “the war against racism”. You might as well declare war against old age or death.

September 11, the “media” say, was the day that changed the world for ever. But the world has not changed. It is still the same old world, good and bad, that it has always been. As for terrorism and terror, only one thing is certain: we have seen nothing yet.

• • •

A month later, a lighter heart returned. Using one of his favourite fictional devices, the Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald, Simple reminds us of the familial bonds which bind Britain and America, and suggests a novel demand to be laid on the Americans’ for support in their time of need.

What the Papers Say

5 OCTOBER 2001

IN A thoughtful leader, The Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald offers an alternative prospect for the world to that of Tony Blair: “Now that our rebellious North American colonists, justifiably enraged by the late atrocities in their country, have put themselves on a war footing, few will doubt that we have a certain family duty to help these wayward but redoubtable people in their time of trouble.

“Few will doubt, however, that the price of our support must be their concurrence with a general settlement in the world: a return to the principles of sanity that were so disastrously overturned by their own revolt and by the even more lamentable events that followed it in France.

“First and foremost, we must assert the superiority of our own European civilisation – a principle left to an Italian politician (whose name escapes us) to enunciate some time ago, to the scorn and derision, needless to say, of the enemies of our civilisation in our own country and abroad.

“We must restore the stability and good government formerly assured by colonial rule in Africa, Asia and South America. A reunited India must again accept the benevolent authority of the Raj. The Chinese Empire, too, must be restored together with its admirable mandarinate.

“In Europe itself, the empires and monarchies which were so lamentably swept away after the First World War, must rise again, ensuring those civilities of diplomacy temporarily replaced by a graceless rabble of ignorant upstarts, low-bred bagmen and radical students. But the price of our support for our rebel colonists in their present trouble must be an end to their present anomalous position which, thanks in part to our own supine policies, has now lasted for more than 200 years.

“We are convinced that the better sort among our rebel colonists would welcome a new declaration of allegiance to Crown and Empire. Sentiment apart, who can doubt that the Empire, newly invigorated by the return of these impetuous but energetic people, would be the dominant power in the world for the foreseeable future, unchallenged by any power or combination of powers that could be brought against it?”

Previously: I: ‘Quiz’ and ‘A Model Planet’

July 31, 2006 8:01 am | Link | No Comments »

Peter Simple I

The death not all too long ago of Mr. Michael Wharton of the Daily Telegraph‘s Peter Simple column was a great loss to skeptics of modernity in the English-speaking world. We have decided, in little helpings, to bring you a bit of the greatness of Peter Simple on this website so that you may at least have a small taste of what we have lost. Though the column ran for over half a century, we begin with two excerpts from 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Quiz

22 DECEMBER 2000

HERE are the answers to the annual columnar quiz: (1) the boiling point of Zirconium; (2) the Papal Bull Neo Igitir Sufflaminanda, issued by Pope Innocent the Terrible in 1264; (3) In the slow movement of Mahler’s Symphony No 43 (“the Inexhaustible”), passages for tubular bells are marked con sarcasmo; (4) Douglas Sartre’s Through a Chiltern Window (1906).

(5) We know that Col Palamountain, Dr Znacz, the Rev Ian Yeast and Mrs Library-Smith were playing bridge in the residents’ lounge of the Seaview Hotel at Norquey at 4.25pm, the precise moment when Lord Haversnake’s body was found in the shrubbery by Bates, the head porter.

According to Wendy Kakopoulidis, a temporary Greek waitress, Adam Strongitharm, self-styled ex-commando, para-pharmacist and philanderer, was seen at 4.35 abseiling from the roof of the conservatory after trying unsuccessfully to set it on fire. Therefore the murderer can only have been Miss Bagster.

The questions will appear in the New Year.

A Model Planet

9 FEBRUARY 2001

THE status of Pluto, recognised since its discovery in 1930 as the outermost planet of the solar system, is threatened by American astronomers who maintain that it is not a planet at all but merely the largest of the icy bodies, called the Kuiper Belt, that orbit Neptune.

The American Dr Neil Tyson, whose astronomer’s heart seems to be as warm as Pluto is reputed to be cold, explains how Pluto has changed “from the most puny planet to the King of the Kuiper Belt. I think it is happier that way,” he says consolingly. But an English astronomer, Jacqueline Mitton, says “we have come to know Pluto as a planet and there is no need to downgrade it now”.

The latest probe by the columnar space vehicle “Don Carlos and the Holy Alliance III” sheds a new, balmy light on this quarrel. Daguerreotypes just received from space suggest that Pluto, far from being a miserable ball of ice and rock, is a pleasant little world with many lessons to offer our own.

For such a small planet, it seems to have a remarkable variety of landscape. There are fertile valleys, mountains neither too big nor too small for symmetry, trout streams and salmon rivers, forests plentifully supplied with deer and other game, as well as wolves and bears. Towards the poles there are wild regions to attract adventurous explorers.

A hereditary class of great landowners presides over a russet-cheeked, contented peasantry toiling dutifully in the fields as their forebears have done from time immemorial, remarkable for their godly and healthy lives. Machines other than ploughshares and, interestingly, a few bicycles are nowhere to be seen. Some of the daguerreotypes, taken by electro-galvanic telescopic camera obscura, show everyday scenes that cannot fail to move anyone who fears for the future of our own human race.

Here an aged peasant, snowy haired but still straight-backed and vigorous, sits at his cottage door in the Plutonian evening, carving wooden toys for the grandchildren clustering eagerly about his knees. Indoors, a young peasant woman, perhaps their mother, decked with quiet graces, sits by candlelight, bending her modest head over her needlework – surely a scene as beautiful and edifying as any planet can offer.

Is astronomy, like all science, subjective? In the light of our discoveries, it does not seem to matter much whether Pluto is a proper planet or King of the Kuiper Belt.

July 17, 2006 10:35 am | Link | No Comments »

Peter Simple is Dead

Michael Wharton, the genius behind the Peter Simple column in the Daily Telegraph, died on Sunday at 92 years of age. Wharton was “a quietly spoken, cherubic-featured man who ate corned beef sandwiches and drank brandy and ginger ale in a Fleet Street pub every lunchtime” according to his obituary in the Telegraph which provides some background to the man who invented an imaginary realm with which to point out the faults and foibles of the real one. Here we provide some excerpts which we found particularly interesting, amusing, or explanatory.

Wharton’s first volume of autobiography, The Missing Will (1984), opened with an evocation of childhood memories: the great house, with its Long Gallery and the smooth green lawns, on the day news arrived from the Western Front that his elder brother, the Viscount, was dead. It went on to recount, however, that he was really born Michael Bernard Nathan, the son of an unsuccessful businessman of German-Jewish origins, on April 19 1913 at Shipley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Young Michael was educated at Bradford Grammar School and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he learned to drink and to be idle. He took on the persona of a Tory anarchist who supported Franco and was determined to be of the Right, even if not a paid-up member. Eventually he was rusticated for throwing an egg at High Table and dismantling a sofa which was then pushed out of a window.

On the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Royal Artillery, under his mother’s maiden name of Wharton. After obtaining a commission, he was sent to India, where he became an intelligence officer, eventually being attached to the General Staff and rising to the rank of acting lieutenant-colonel. Since the threat to India from both Germany and Japan was largely theoretical towards the end of the war, Wharton’s restless imagination came into play. He invented the Thargs, a sect of redheaded tribesmen in the Sind Desert, descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiery who were in wireless contact with Hitler’s High Command. While studying the few facts available on some dull Japanese generals, he conjured up a one-eyed officer of the Imperial high command who had developed a fierce hatred of England after living in Harrogate where he had learnt the secret of toffee-making.

An advertisement “Learn Etruscan the Way They Did” produced a host of orders which eventually led to an announcement that the Etruscan records were sold out but that there were still stocks of Old Prussian, Aztec and Pictish; several requests inevitably followed.

The Daily Telegraph even devoted a lead editorial to Wharton’s passing, entitled ‘Death of a Genius’. God rest the soul of this brilliant and hilarious man, who provided thought and amusement for so many throughout his years.

January 24, 2006 12:06 pm | Link | No Comments »
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