04 August 2009

Daily Chat 04/08/09

The second temple at Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon supposedly discovered champagne in 1693. Germany invaded Belgium in 1914, causing the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany. The USA declared its neutrality. Sorry, Belgium. In 1987, the US Federal Communications Commission rescinded the Fairness Doctrine which had required broadcasters to try to present issues impartially. Cambridgeshire schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells went missing on this day in 2002. Celebrating birthdays today: Billy Bob Thornton, Ian Broudie, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Barack Obama, Frederik Reinfeldt and Luis Boa Morte. It is the feast day of St. Sithney, who not only has a wonderful name but is also the patron saint of mad dogs.


  1. This is a long poem by British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, which I think befits this discussion.

    Last Post

    In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
    that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud...
    but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
    run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
    see lines and lines of British boys rewind
    back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home-
    mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
    not entering the story now
    to die and die and die.
    Dulce- No- Decorum- No- Pro patria mori.
    You walk away.

    You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
    like all your mates do too-
    Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert-
    and light a cigarette.
    There's coffee in the square,
    warm French bread
    and all those thousands dead
    are shaking dried mud from their hair
    and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,
    a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
    from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.

    You lean against a wall,
    your several million lives still possible
    and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
    You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
    If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
    then it would.

    The poem, notably, makes a nod to Wilfred Owen, one of Britain's best known (and loved) war poets. Owen, who was killed just a week before World War One ended, broke from the literary tradition of glorifying battle. In a letter home to his mother, he wrote, "All a poet can do today is warn." Duffy quotes Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" (which I've included below) in her epigraph, and plays off of it again at the end of the first stanza." The Latin line, originally from Horace, was well known to Englanders at the time and was used as a sort of propaganda. It translates to "It is sweet and fitting, to die for your native land." The bitter irony with which Owen employs it is as clear as the horrors of war that he so expertly conjures up. Here's the poem in full:

    Dulce et Decorum Est

    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

    Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
    And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
    Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
    In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

    Carol Ann Duffy

  2. Inadvertently I included Owen's poem,too, but I am not sorry for the slip. It's also worthwhile being read.

  3. Toast and Marmite04 August, 2009 08:49

    Morning Montana, I haven't forgotten about the jaffa cakes! Will e-mail you later today!

  4. Jose,

    Thank you for including Owen's poem: it's one of my favourites, and never fails to send shivers down my spine (which is high praise indeed, from someone who normally doesn't "get" poetry)

  5. @Jose:

    Tricky one, WWI. As a corrective to the still-prevalent stuff about "lions led by donkeys", "rats as big as footballs", "mud up to me armpits", it's worth reading Richard Holmes' "Tommy".

    Offers a slightly more balanced view. Doesn't deny the enormous scale of the war, but does put it into historical context, and attempts to explain how the war was fought.

    Of course, for the first hand view, I always recommend Capt. James Dunn's "The War The Infantry Knew". Marvellous account of four years of war through the eyes of the MO of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers (Graves and Sassoon fought with 1st and 2nd RWF during the war, Sassoon helping Dunn compile the book in the post-war years).

    Just got back from West Wales, and every village/town we passed through had its own war memorial. Very likely some of the names on those memorials served and died "wearing the flash".

  6. Dulce et Decorum est - one of my favourite poems,hadn't read the Duffy one before - have saved it.

    Equally moving too and yes appropriate in all sorts of ways.

    Walk away - if only we could all do that more often !

  7. Swifty - here where you are coming from but I always read Owen's poem as not being anti war as such, just anti the glorification of it.

    War is not glorious its a tragedy sometimes its a necessary tragedy, often its an unnecessary one.

    I am not a pacifist I'd pick up a gun myself to defend what I value. (not that I'd be much fecking use! can't even throw a ball straight!).

  8. @anne:

    Much as I like and admire Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen's the better poet I think (despite the latter's adulation of the former).

    And you're right about some of the sentiment in Dulce et Decorum Est - it was aimed at Jessie Pope, among others, apparently.

    But fundamentally I believe Owen really had come to hate war. Shell shock and a spell at Craiglockhart had pretty much convinced him that the "noble cause" wasn't worth the sacrifice and suffering.

    Anyway, as I was trying to say, his was only one voice in the vast literary outpouring that followed WWI. There are many other contemporary views worth seeking out.

  9. How was your holiday Swifty?

  10. Damn straight we should hate and abhor war: I can think of only one other thing we should have a similar attitude to: locking people up.

    Both should be avoided wherever possible, and used only as a last resort.

  11. Montana

    No need to apologise. Belgium is used to being invaded. The Spanish occupation left the most bad-feeling.

    Thank you Dom Pérignon for your great contribution to civilisation. Along with Belgian monks' Trappist beer and Italian Monks' perfumes, you can see it wasn't all bells and smells in the monasteries.

  12. @Brussel sex pats:

    ...it wasn't all bells and smells in the monasteries

    Indeed not. Kloster Andechs in Bavaria makes ausgezeichnet beer. I got drunk on it a lot during various tours in lovely Deutschland (still one of my favourite countries on Earth).

    Monks do smell, though, as a rule.

  13. Swifty,

    My monk's got no nose...............

  14. Swifty Boy

    Ihave a great book on baths and loos down the ages and the chapter on medieval monasteries is hilarious.

  15. Joke about monks :-

    Picture 1.
    Bloke comes up to a monastery window with parchments he needs copying. Monk says 'you may have to wait awhile...'

    Picture 2.
    '...Our copier has broken down' picture of monk in scriptorium in floods of tears.

  16. Love the roasting that MacShane's getting on the Chávez thread.

  17. Moderately Dom Perignon contributed to civilisation, overmuch it is pure barbarism or dreamy, depending on who the beficiary.

  18. Dave Allan did monks best. My favourite sketch is when he's at dinner, on retreat and not allowed to talk, but he gets into a fight with a fellow monk and has to mime everything.

  19. @Vari:

    Sorry old stick, missed your earlier post re. hols, I'm having a weird day.

    Hols was great, thanks. Somewhat glad to be back at work though, it was a bit tiring (kids running around and excessive drinking don't make for a relaxing time).

  20. Sorry to hear it, hope all OK....

    Know what you mean about holidays, I actually look forward to returning to work and even to not having alcohol....

    Nice evening all, I've got a Night Garden themed party to go to, fortunately the parents are borderline alcoholics so it might not be too excruciating.

  21. Swifty

    Agree with you about Owen's poetry - but think Sassoons "Memoirs of an Infantry Officer" is a great book. My grandfather gave it me when I started asking about the great war as a kid, also Graves's 'Goodbye to all that".

    The monks of bloody buckfast have a lot to answer for - as anyone in Glasgow knows..

  22. Anne (in particular, but everyone else too):

    I just came across this on the BBC iPlayer and thought you might appreciate it

    Greg Dyke on Nye Bevan

    I haven’t watched it, so can’t make any comment on if it’s worth watching. And it’s only available until 2:49am Wednesday 5th August 2009, so you’d better get your skates on...

  23. Evening all. Just catching up on 5 days of CIF/Untrusted etc. Anything you recommend? I have already had a rant on the asylum thread, of course...

  24. Hi BB: Is it five days already? How time flies.

    Not too much to recommend, unfortunately.

    Asylum thread, you say? There’s an original idea. Next you’ll be telling us it’s attracted a bunch of right wing nutters. As if...

    According to the CiF thread of the day, women now become invisible when they reach 50 years old – crazy. That explains why I haven’t seen my mum in a while.

  25. SheffPixie

    The nuns did a nice little wine as well. There is a brand called Zuster Godelieve (Sister Godelieve) and I used to have a small glass each afternoon when I was about fifteen to counteract a touch of anaemia (medicinal you understand). A full-bodied red and packed with iron it was and quite addictive.

    Ah yes the holidays - I remember asking a family friend once how he'd enjoyed his holiday with wife and four young children and he replied in a strangled voice "I'm glad to get back to work."


    Did you not go to France or did I get the wrong end of the stick? It happens.

  26. Bru

    I was in Scotland for a long weekend at the "family seat"* :p

    There is a big festival/clan gathering in my Mum's home town on the last Friday of July, so a good chance to catch all the rellies in one place at the same time.

    I am off to France overnight on the 12th til the end of the month... thank god!!!

    *Actually, it is more like a stool in the corner of the saloon bar at the Eskdail Hotel, Langholm.

  27. Have just read the response column about the NHS IT project and posted this comment. I preserve it here for posterity in case the censors get it.


    I'm about to commit the cardinal sin of commenting on this article, which I have just read in the print edition, without reading the other comments.

    But as someone who has worked in a highly technical IT field for 20 years, I feel qualified.

    This project is too big for the NHS to do. Therefore it was outsourced to four world-class organisations; Accenture, BT, CSC and Fujitsu.

    That's a complete load of bollocks. The only successful projects I have been involved in have recruited in-house talent with expertise in the particular field. Expensive outsourcing to generic IT companies has always been late, never worked to satisfaction, and always failed. I have worked with two of the companies named, and their services are crap. Probably they were the lowest bidders. There's a good reason for that.

    Furthermore, when you outsource to multiple companies, they not only won't let the few technical people they employ talk to the people on the coalface (they stick in 'project managers' who don't have the faintest understanding of the issues) but they most certainly won't talk to each other for fear of giving away professional secrets.

    If the government really wanted this project to succeed, and to be within budget and on time, they would recruit their own IT expertise with experience in the healthcare field.

    Would it be worth investigating whether these companies might have made political donations?

  28. Nice one Thaum

    Accenture - hmmm... that was the new name for Arthur Andersen, which was swiftly changed once they realised that some of their top bods were going to be indicted for the Enron fraud. Don't trust the buggers...

  29. On the hols subject: am pleased to report that I had an absolutely superb weekend with the (favourite) rellies in Leeds this weekend, which completely made up for the disastrous mother-ridden one a couple of weeks ago.

    18 of them turned up and not an unpleasant word or thought - on the contrary.

  30. thauma

    Working as I do in one of the larger gov depts. - I know exactly what you mean.

  31. thauma

    The other thing i meant to say is these gov. contracts are absolute gravy trains and soak up dosh like nothing else, apart from banking bonuses

  32. thauma: you go, girl!

    It’s survived for 18 minutes now, and if there’s any justice, it’ll be in the “You Said It” bar by tomorrow morning.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed your hols too.

    By this time next week I’ll be on mine...

    I can now recommend that Bevin documentary I provided a link to above. Well worth a look.

    Exhausting day at work today, including a couple of hours spent rodding a drain – lovely. Time for bed...

  33. Thanks all - a subject close to my heart as we are currently undergoing a massive project with, er, one of the companies named. It has been paid HUGE amounts of dosh and so far has done nothing except fuck everything up and cost us loads of time (and consequently money) trying to explain things to them that they are apparently incapable of understanding.

  34. @sheffpixie (@ 17h00):

    Heh, like I say, Sassoon is a firm favourite (Fox-Hunting Man is my fave fave, followed by Infantry Officer). Unsurprisingly, I'm "Mr Military History" in my spare time, so if you or anyone else ever wants to know a good book to read about matters martial, give me a shout.

    @Vari (@16h46):

    If I had your email address, I'd tell you how weird my day has been. Seriously weird.

    Anyway, laters folks.

  35. Night night all - way past my bedtime. ZZZZzzzzz

  36. Thanks for the link Andy I missed it - its no longer available :-(