Gasping for it

On our walk. As we approach the cashpoint outside the supermarket, one of the regular checkout ladies strides purposefully towards the rear of the building. Surprisingly tall, when not sitting at her till. Coming away with my ten pounds weekly pocket money, we cross the car park and rejoin the footpath along the river. Glancing across the grass, through the bushes, I notice the woman again, a lone figure hunched against the cold under a shallow glass canopy thoughtfully provided by the management on the back wall of the building, far from the bustle and glare of vulnerable shoppers. The staff smoking area. Why?

An ancient, black-and-white TV commercial swims into focus. Night. A lone figure in a white gabardine trenchcoat crosses a deserted city street. It’s been raining and the streetlights reflect starkly off the wet tarmac. A wailing harmonica states the theme in a minor key. Cut to the flare of a match, illuminating a strong, male face. A cigarette is lit, an exhalation of smoke, and the ‘thousand-yard stare’ of the eyes turns to something like satisfaction. The theme brightens, other instruments join in. The voiceover intones: ‘You’re never alone with a Strand’.

The ad is a classic, for all the wrong reasons. It is taught in colleges as the best-known example in advertising of a campaign that killed the brand stone-dead. Instead of identifying with the tough-guy, private detective, Phillip Marlow image, viewers simply thought ‘If I smoke those, I’ll be Billy no-mates too’ and deserted the brand in droves. It disappeared soon afterwards. The agency had failed to realise that smoking is basically a tribal rite.

I piece together the entire commercial, the look and sound of it, in a couple of minutes, reassembling the fine cut from memory. I can clearly hear the jingle. It shows how old I must be, cigarette advertising has been banned on TV for thirty years. Smokers are nowadays social pariahs, condemned to huddle in windy pram shelters and outside pubs, furtively buying their gaspers under the counter in drab, unbranded khaki packs costing £6.50 for 30p-worth of dried leaves, labelled ‘Smoke me and kill a child’. Pity my poor mum, only 88 and still on twenty a day.

After three decades, it’s enough to make me want to start again, to be honest.

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Soggy sweater day

Walking my dog this morning on one of our five-mile routes around the town and its exurban spaces. This one’s the walk we know as ‘Round the sewage farm’. As it is brilliant sunshine and cloudless, even in late November, I wear no coat, just a sweater. By the time we reach the supermarket there is an ominous dark shape piling up over the sea. Fifteen minutes later rain is pelting down. I drag the dog hastily to the garage and the safety of its dry canopy, to buy milk and compensatory chocolate bars. Now back at the keyboard, the sun is spilling through the vertical blinds once more, prettily backlighting the little avocado tree on the windowsill.

John Ruskin coined the phrase ‘pathetic fallacy’ to dismiss the merely human notion that there is a relationship between events in the natural world and the affairs of men. We nowadays use pathetic to mean tragic, feeble or inconsiderable. In the original Greek, however, ‘pathos’ meant feeling. Hence empathy, sympathy, antipathy. And there is a sense of connectedness about pathos: that a feeling about something implies a spiritual connection with it. What am I to draw from the morning, that it sometimes rains unexpectedly in Wales? That the interplay of sun and rain is a metaphor for life?

I am more struck by the thought that, whatever I wear to go out, it always seems to be the wrong thing.

A Revenger’s tragedy

The other day on the radio I heard a journalist state that Oscar Wilde, the C19th celebrity author and society wit, the Stephen Fry of his day, died ‘in prison in Paris’. Nobody on the programme contradicted him.

Where he got this muddled idea from is anybody’s guess. Wilde died a lonely death as a free man in a hotel room in Boulogne. Broken in health, shunned by the beau monde that had once lionised him, he had fled into voluntary exile three years after being released from Reading gaol, where he had served two years’ brutal hard labour for the crime of sodomy.

There seem to be two popular versions of Wilde’s life, the simple one: that he was gaoled for a homosexual affair with ‘Bosie’, Lord Alfred Douglas, making him a poster boy for the gay community, and wrote a famous poem about it; and the more complicated one, which happens inconveniently to be truer  (probably, neither is totally true), that he was a happily married man with two children, who liked to walk, forgive the pun, occasionally on the wild side as part of the public image he had constructed of himself as a modern ‘aesthete’.

Wilde was in fact involved in two trials: the first being the civil suit he brought against the deeply unpleasant Marquess of Queensberry, Douglas’ bullying father, for slander. Queensberry had embarked on a desperate campaign of public vilification against Wilde, designed to separate him from Alfred. But he had misjudged the situation: they were not in a homosexual relationship. Wilde won his case but was awarded only derisory damages. During the trial, however, evidence – probably tainted – emerged from his own witnesses of the pair’s illicit activities with rent boys, and it was this testimony that led to the criminal prosecution that followed.

Wilde’s notorious affair with the beautiful young Douglas had lasted only a few months, and subsequently they became merely partners in crime. In common with many otherwise heterosexual men of their time, they enjoyed cruising the streets of London’s West End and, when that became dangerous, the boulevardes of Paris and Tangiers, picking up rough trade: young male prostitutes. Their predilection was for pretty boys of 14 or 15, after the Greek fashion.

Although his father had been knighted for services to the Queen (he was her personal physician), Wilde was a commoner, and an Irishman to boot. Douglas was also implicated, but his superior social position meant that he was protected. Wilde took the rap alone, and his celebrity meant that the fall when it came was all the harder. He had been foolish to take on the powerful and well-connected Queensberry: despite the justice of his case, he was skating on thin ice.

Pride, as old Ecclesiastes knew, goeth indeed before a fall; the ‘Revenger’s tragedy’ of Oscar Wilde still resonates with contemporary relevance.

Spelling b…..

I am not exactly sure how things work. I have received a message from someone whose name I cannot decipher, from a lengthy email address that is partly in Russian but which has a dot.uae – what do you call it, area code? No, something. Where it’s from. My guess is that it is not really that flyblown desert dump from which, miraculously, shining new air-conditioned towers made from oil and gold teeth extracted from the corpses of indentured Pakistani slaves are rising daily. But I will also guess that it is not your own address. You have borrowed a poxy server, haven’t you, naughty boy?

The sender is most admiring of my Posts, naturally, but is concerned for the great number of spelling mistakes they contain. Please understand, Ivan, you have formed that erroneous impression only because you patently don’t know how to write English yourself. I don’t make spelling mistakes. When not fomenting this garbage, I am a professional editor. Have been for over forty years. And a qualified teacher of English to puzzled, shaggy-headed forest-dwellers like you, who have found yourselves abandoned in the midst of civilization.

Now get off my bogl, or I will send my drones to collateralise you.

Excuse me, I’m feeling Uncle Dick…

I’m a great believer in string theory.

Take this morning. There’s been a lot of comment on the subject of Lord M. and the unfounded rumours of child abuse that circulated in the wake of a N. programme recently, over which lawyers have become almost comically litigious in attempting to personally sue everyone using a certain social network – mercifully, I am not one of those who T.s – thus ensuring that the name of M. continues to be associated, now entirely legally, with the story for months and years to come.

I recalled that my mother had once mentioned that my deeply unpleasant znd volatile but extremely wealthy step-grandfather, Neville Stewart Bengough, MC, known to all (but never sundry) as ‘Ben’, had a connection with the M. family, and decided to try to find out what.

Despite his prominence as a City financier in the 1950s, I found only one minor reference on a Canadian genealogical website. There is a town in Saskatchewan called Bengough, and lots of Bengoughs live in Canada; also, I later found, in Merthyr Tydfil, a Thatchered former mining community in South Wales.

Ben however appears to have been rather posher, the son of General Sir Harcourt Bengough, of Boer War fame. I recalled that he may also have been the brother or sometime husband or lover of one Gladys M., so I looked her up, and was mystically guided by the usual timewasting association in a G. search of the disjointed names Gladys, Bengough and M., to a certain web site blogging conspiratorially on the subject of child abuse and the case of J.S. and the BBC.

Here the waters start to get extremely murky.

‘Uncle Dick’ was apparently the stage name of the presenter of a popular children’s radio programme in the 1950s,although I remembet it somewhat diferently.

A Daily Mail report (see link, below) claims that the BBC’s now-senior foreign correspondent, John Simpson, outed this ‘Uncle Dick’ ten years ago in his autobiography as a man who, it was said, had regularly abused children invited onto his show.

Simpson had been given this information as a junior reporter while researching ‘Uncle Dick’s obituary, way back in 1967, after what seems to have been a deeply embittered tirade by an elderly contact known only as ‘Auntie Gladys’; the problem being that nobody seems to know who she was, or what her precise relationship was with ‘Uncle Dick’ (which is, as you may know, Cockney rhyming slang for ‘sick’…). But his editor warned him to keep quiet, or else.

I cannot connect ‘Auntie Gladys’ with the Bengough family, or with the Ms. I am not daring to name ‘Uncle Dick’ either, although everyone knows who he was. His family, too, are threatening to sue anyone who breathes – although you cannot legally libel the dead, and the name is all over the T-sphere already – presumably on the grounds that his behaviour, knowledge of which they absolutely deny, might reflect badly on them.

Also, Simpson claimed, Dick’s little secret was culpably hushed-up by BBC management, as he was a ‘national figure’, and some of those people might just about be alive to sue today. It is all a veritable can of worms.

In a totally unrelated coincidence, the drama group of which I am a member is currently in production of the musical play, A Child’s Christmas in Wales. The script was developed from a memoir of the poet, Dylan Thomas, which in turn was based on a short play Thomas wrote for BBC children’s radio in 1955, commissioned by… you know Uncle-who.

At one point in the play there is a reference to Thomas’s great uncle, also a poet, Gwylim Thomas. The text hints strongly that he may have abused Thomas’s aunt Hannah when she was a child; and, less strongly, that Thomas’ father, a school headmaster, might also have had certain proclivities.

And meanwhile another story is breaking today, of alleged organised abuse at yet another children’s home. Methinks the isle is full of noises… mainly, the sound of cats furiously resisting being stuffed back into bags.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2218932/BBC-covered-second-national-treasure-child-abuser-known-Uncle-Dick-claims-John-Simpson.html

PS A conversation about this with my mother clears up one missing fact: Gladys McAlpine was my step-grandfather ‘Ben’ Bengough’s first wife, and bankrolled his investments, that turned him into a multi-millionaire during the Great Depression. We both agree, there was never an ‘Uncle Dick’ on the radio, the children’s show host was called ‘Uncle Mac’. A strange mistake for several journalists to make.

 

Many years; BBC, sex, postscriptum

With apologies to those who don’t follow coincidences, and to BBC Radio 2 fans, elderly DJ Tony Blackburn has just been summarily fired (February 2016), in my view with admirably pathetic panic, by another biddable Director General, Tony Hall.

Blackburn’s crime was, we are told, to have given less-than satisfactory evidence to the haughty Dame Janet Smith, a judge empowered to examine in a thousand pages or less, why it was that BBC Radio One DJs in the 1970s enjoyed trying to have it off with 15-year-old girls.

It’s incomprehensible, to be honest. But I’m not sure Dame Janet would  understand. She seems to be arguingthat sex for a woman is a terrible ordeal to have to endure without the blessing of the Anglican church.

One of those so alleged to have shagged sub-legally was the now 900-year-old Tony Blackburn. The case against the  inveterate DJ is that a memo has surfaced, bearing the sainted name of Bill Cotton, stating that he was interviewed internally in 1971 about a complaint of enhanced fumbling by a 15-year-old fan. Blackburn says he wasn’t, he never saw the memo and the incident never happened.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Tony Blackburn at the BBC, but everything I have ever heard about him suggests that the accusation was complete bollocks. He is so honest, it’s painful. The ‘fan’ also complained about having been forced to have sex with Frank Sinatra. Weirdly, Blackburn claims that his UK agent at the the same time also represented… Frank Sinatra.

Then, tragically, she killedherself.

So, no evidence.

But… Her name was Claire McAlpine.

Her adopted mother was Vera McAlpine.

Is there some BBC curse attached to theMcAlpine name? We may never know.

 

 

The person from Porlock

Attractive part of content. I simply stumbled upon your web site and in accession capital to say that I get in fact enjoyed account your weblog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing in your feeds or even I achievement you access constantly quickly.

This wonderful new example of the sort of communication I am now receiving on a more-or-less daily basis comes from what purports in its reply address to be an Australian double-glazing company.

Now, I feel sure that even Australian double-glazing companies must employ people who could, in a pinch (say, for instance, they had actually sold someone a new window), be relied on to write out their invoice in English, possibly Greek, even Vietnamese, even in one of many aboriginal dialects. But in some ultimately decipherable language.

Spammish, however, appears to be a new language altogether. I am beginning to envisage a Land of Spam (not a million miles from Speenhamland?), where verbal logic is inverted, where a system of ‘free grammar’ and a pick ‘n’ mix approach to word selection creates infinite possibilities for hilarious non-communication.

The

Then, just at the moment when I set down these words, the text vanished and, bit by bit, my screen disappeared, to be replaced by the dread words ‘Preparing to configure Windows updates Do not switch off your computer’, and I have now completely lost the thread of my Post. I know how the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge must have felt, when the ‘person from Porlock’ inadvertently ended his pipe-dream of Xanadu.

Posts: an apology

My Fellow Boglers

On behalf of the Board of Oversight I should like to offer my most fulsome, heartsome, noisome apology for what appears to have been a serious breakdown in editorial intelligence during the production of recent issues of Themindbogls.com.

That this bogl is intended to be listed under H for Humour is of course a de minimis requirement of our public remit. The Board of Oversight most humbly, grumbly regrets therefore that there appears to have been no actual humorous content filed since August. This wholly unacceptable gravamen of Posts to Themindbogls.com has only just been brought to my attention, as I was out of the office at the time. The Chairman of such a large and diverse organisation cannot be responsible for everything, everywhere, ever.

Clearly, we have to get a grip. The Editor in question, Uncle Bogler has honourably agreed to accept just such a grip, filled to the zipper with fifty quid notes, pending publication of the fullest possible reports of the several, impressively expensive boards of inquiry I have instigated to peer deeply and with stunning clarity into a number of editorial slippages recently, that have rightly attracted the opprobrium of the entire boglosphere.

In his absence on standaside, I shall be taking personal charge of Content Management. Woe betide any bogler who submits any effort in future, that fails to measure up to the topmost bechmarks of the time-honoured Mindbogls ‘Satisfied Chuckle Index’ for wry observation of the world and its failings.

May I also remind staff that interference with the clothing of minors is a sacking offence.

Signed

Thanatossios P. Boglopoulos

Editor and Humourist-in-Chief

(Sir Thanatossios is 90 today. Let us join hands around the world in singing Hip Hooray for Sir T, the very latest musical outpouring from ‘Mr Blur’, Herr Albarn himself)