Sir Tony Blair

This – everything. One hundred percent. Blair’s knighthood is long overdue.

He saw in Kosovo a resurgence of ethnic conflict in Europe and outlined his Chicago Doctrine of liberal interventionism. He saw public services that had benefited from significant injections of resource without enough in the way of reform. There is courage with him, too. It would have been easy for him to do a Schröder or a Chirac in the aftermath of 9/11 and pander to domestic anti-Americanism. He would have won plaudits from his own party, the media and the liberal intelligentsia. Instead, he stood by the US, not least over Iraq, because he considered it a moral struggle and thought by America’s side was where Britain ought to be. Approve or revile his decision, he made it aware of the political costs at home… Does he deserve a knighthood? Of course he does: for service to our country, for service to his party, for the wise counsel he provides on everything from the Middle East to Covid-19. The only question is why it took so long for him to become Sir Tony.


Tutu and Didion

Too lazy to write two posts, so I will include both of these very different people here. Bishop Tutu died and the laudatory headlines were everywhere. Would anyone, I wondered, have the courage to write about his, er, uncomfortable relationship with Jews and the Jewish state? Melanie Phillips to the rescue with this must-read. (I had not been aware with just how vile some of Tutu’s views were. Now I – distressingly – am.) Apart from Phillips, though, there has been little criticism or challenging of Tutu – it reminds me of when Helen Thomas died and nobody would mention the antisemitic elephant in the room. It was all, what a feminist icon, blah blah blah zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

My internet friend Rick McGinnis (still have not met him, but hope that I will, one day, post-pandemic) wrote about Joan Didion three years ago. An original take – as he calls it, her “uncomfortable fit” in American (counter) culture.

Ring out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Boxing Day/Week

This is alternately a dreary/depressing post-Christmas letdown time of year, or a fun, lie-on-the-couch and eat too much week where one doesn’t even bother with the theatre of pretending to be productive. I am kind of in a combined state of the two – I know I will regret that I did not use this week effectively, though. This article outlines what’s fun about this time of year and it occurs to me I should not be so hard on myself. What’s wrong with a slovenly week? Probably not much, except that I have had many of those in the past year(s) and it needs to stop.

The British call this week “Boxing Week,” an extension of the more formal holiday Boxing Day, on December 26. Boxing Day is an older tradition that may stem from wealthy families giving presents to their household staff the day after Christmas; in its current form, it is a day to box up and get rid of extra stuff, or regift unwanted gifts. Boxing Week has become an excuse for Black Friday–type sales and the accumulation of more stuff. In Norwegian, Dead Week is known as romjul, a word that combines the Norse words for “room” or “space” and Jul, or “Yule”; it literally means “time and space for celebrating the yuletide.” But it also echoes the Old Norse word rúmheilagr, which means “not adhering to the rules of any particular holiday.” The week has neither the religious gravity of Christmas nor the flat-out party atmosphere of New Year’s Eve, but is stuck halfway between one and the other.

The Boxing Day references brings up a memory for me: I was living in Paris, studying and being an au pair and I had an American friend, Anne (not her real name – her real name was Mara). She was kind and fun but she had this pretentious boyfriend. One day they were asking about Boxing Day – what is it? Why is it called that? And so forth. I explained the origins and as I was from a country with Boxing Day, I assumed that was enough. Oh no, the arrogant boyfriend said, with a smirk. That can’t be it! He laughed and turned to Anne and – to my dismay – she joined in the general mockery of what I had said. Seriously? They then went on to offer other suggestions as to why it was called “Boxing Day” – it was a conversation between the two of them, as though I was not even in the room. Unkind and condescending. (One of their brilliant ideas? That it had to do with the Boxer Rebellion. Sheesh.) Which makes me ask – why do I even remember this unpleasant incident? It was hardly a huge event in my life and I know my friend’s kindnesses far outweighed it. This article attempts to explain why (some) bad memories stick in our craws and our memory banks.

I hope this Boxing Week finds you, my dear readers – and Anne, wherever she is – well.

Good 2021 News

Twenty-one scientific discoveries – in other words, the year has not been entirely about the plague, even if the headlines might indicate that it has been so. Obviously, vaccine news – both about COVID and malaria – is at the forefront, but there is more. What I find particularly fascinating (and not unrelated to Kennewick Man):

Between 23,000 and 21,000 years ago, a teen ambled across wet sand near the shores of an ancient lake in what is now New Mexico’s White Sands National Park. The fossilized prints from this slightly flat-footed youth are challenging theories of when humans first crossed into the Americas. The prints, described in September in the journal Science, date to a time when scientists think towering glaciers had walled off human passage to the continent from Asia.

Read about all twenty-one.

Beryl O’Links: Festive Edition

Some new; some old. Stories I’ve bookmarked and forgot about…until now, the bizarre lost week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Antarctic penguin shows up in New Zealand. They re-released him more or less where they found him, which struck me as ungenerous. Why not give him a little boat or plane trip back home?

The remains of a Catholic priest who died as a prisoner-of-war in Korea were identified earlier this year. Bless his memory. (Thousands turned out for his funeral in September.)

A man was reunited with his relatively unscathed kitty after the recent tornado in Kentucky.

The political origins of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” I have to admit, this is not one of my preferred carols, but its background is interesting, and the song itself is more recent than I had known.

A community in Northern Ontario steps up to save an injured fawn.

Why you should not learn history from TV or movies…though sadly, more and more do just that.

An Oklahoma sixth-grader saves two lives in one day.

Jurassic alert! Perfectly preserved baby dino found curled up inside egg.

The guy who inspired Joni Mitchell’s “Carey.” This profile confirms my contempt for Baby Boomers/hippies. Seriously, the worst group of people. That said, some of ’em (like Mitchell) were/are crazy-talented.

Finally, a joining together of two of my most beloved things: grammar and Christmas! Enjoy:

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

  • Thomas Hardy


I always look for different versions of this, a song that would suit Easter as much as (or maybe more than) Christmas. One I posted in 2015; one in 2018; and there was another version I had put up, with Kathleen Ferrier singing, that has been removed from YouTube, sadly. Below, a singer and musicians from Ghana. This young woman, Francisca Kusi-Ababio, is sublime. What is bittersweet here is that there are people who would see this clip and be bothered that African musicians are performing work by a dead white male who enjoyed the fruits of imperialism and blah blah blah zzzzzzzzzzzz. (That people can fail to see this as glorious – this sharing of cultures – is beyond me.)

Enjoy. Merry Christmas.

Sondheim: The Power of Music and Memory

My mother was a bolter, to use the UK term. Like Princess Diana’s and Sarah Ferguson’s mothers (and yes, many other kids’ mums), she flew the coop, leaving husband and children. I was 13 when it happened. She had not warned me. I came home from school one day and was informed that she had gone. She did not leave my life, I should add, but the whole thing was handled terribly. Years later, she and my father got back together, but it was not, I think, a romantic reunion. My mother carried enormous guilt and financial worries everywhere and I think returning to her marriage alleviated some of those. At any rate, she left me with my dad. He was, at the time, at the height of his (impressive) drinking and life with him was frightening, often violent, unpredictable and sad. One song he used to listen to during this period, over and over, was Send in the Clowns. Usually the Sinatra version but sometimes the Judy Collins version. It took me years to separate the song from the emotions of those years but it did happen and now I can appreciate both the song and the power music can have on memory. (As powerful as certain smells? More so?) I can also appreciate my parents’ struggles and what the lyrics must have meant to my father.

I give you the Sinatra version because it’s a million times better than any other.

Some people have the gifts of the gods – Sinatra, of course, and, among others, Stephen Sondheim. Another great one from him, now in the spotlight again due to the remake of West Side Story, is this gem. Imagine being able to write lyrics like this when you are only 27. (Or at any age.) I love the mockery of liberal/lefty pieties here. Such wit.

And so many more songs. So much more that he left us.

As Charles McNulty writes:
No one can feign shock when a nonagenarian shuffles off his mortal coil, but the magnitude of Sondheim’s death feels seismic. I’ve been called upon to write postmortem appreciations of Arthur Miller, August Wilson and Edward Albee — and only their legacies come close.

Another appreciation of his work here.