Dread words from the advertising lexicon

spa-pampering
Someone being pampered. It could only be worse if it were by candlelight in an indoor spa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

My dislike of the word ‘pamper’ suddenly caught fire recently. Walking through an English seaside town, I saw sign after sign advertising ‘pamper packages’ of some sort. There was competition to see who could offer the most ludicrously overblown one; fourteen hours of pampering and spa treatments by candlelight as you’re fed Turkish Delight by captive apes wearing golden chains, each trained to whisper because you’re worth it and smile sympathetically, their grave simian eyes showing that they understand and value you—they don’t judge. Continue reading

There’s nowt so hard as fops

spectators-print-shop
© Trustees of the British Museum. (This version cropped.)

We tend to think of fops as weak, coddled, over-groomed, and lacking in mettle. A man wearing make-up, a powdered wig and silks, speaking with an affected drawl and striking artful poses; a woman with towering hair and a lapdog, fanning herself with infinite boredom and leisure. The 18th-century gentry must have been be soft, lacking in grit, surely? Continue reading

Cold, snow, winter and the remote north

Iceland sunrise
Þingvellir National Park at sunrise (southern Iceland). Credit: Meredith Katzman.

We had a few cold days, but for the most part December was horribly mild. It felt like a reverse Narnia; ‘always Christmas but never winter’. That’s not to sneer at Christmas, there’s much to be said for eating, drinking, and irrational, even stupid cheerfulness. But without winter it all seemed a bit thinner, more watery, less convincing. It was more about the trappings and less about the feel of the thing. Continue reading

Return to yesterday: an historical perspective on terrorism

In the late 19th century terrorism and unrest were commonplace in parts of Europe and the United States. Anarchists were the main bogeymen, though there were numerous violently progressive movements, each hating the others. Anarchists were a mysterious and little understood underground, haunting the popular imagination, much written about in the newspapers and in novels and stories, both feared and fascinating. There was a certain dark glamour and they terrified beyond any rational danger. There were many, many more likely causes of death, but there is something intimidating about someone desiring your death impersonally, and apparently not fearing their own. We feel this now as much as then, and it’s as well to get some perspective. Continue reading

A strange Hitlerian interlude

young hitler
He’s in the middle. No one at his school liked him. He met his first and only friend at the opera in his late teens.

Hitler once had a friend, of sorts: August ‘Gustl’ Kubizek. In the 1950s Kubizek wrote a memoir of young Adolf, a careful but somewhat sentimental and admiring one.

For a vital phase during the early years of his life, his late teenage years in Linz and Vienna, when we otherwise have tantalisingly little to go on, Hitler had a personal—and exclusive —friend, who later composed a striking account of the four years of their close companionship. This friend was August Kubizek. His account is unique in that it stands alone in offering insights into Hitler’s character and mentality for the four years between 1904 and 1908. It is unique, too, in that it is the only description from any period of Hitler’s life provided by an undoubted personal friend—even if that friendship was both relatively brief and almost certainly one-sided. For, like everyone else who came into contact with Hitler, Kubizek would soon learn that friends, like others, would be dropped as soon as they had served their purpose.

Ian Kershaw, Preface, The Young Hitler I Knew

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School, war, and disaffection

CSLewis
C S Lewis, scholar and author of the Narnian children’s stories, served in the Royal Artillery 1917–18, and was seriously wounded. He joined the Home Guard in 1940 as a middle-aged man.

It’s natural for us to assume that the Great War was not just a formative experience, but the formative experience for anyone who fought in it. We also tend to assume that the experience was disillusioning at best, and psychologically ruinous at worst. The truth is, unsurprisingly, more subtle and varied. Continue reading

Fury, angst, cock-eyed history, Dame Janet Suzman and ancient Greek theatre

Sophocles
Bust of Sophocles, Athenian playwright and author of the Oedipus Rex (Oedipus Tyrannos).

Dame Janet Suzman recently made some cock-eyed remarks about theatre being a ‘white invention’, it coming from the (ancient) Greeks via Shakespeare, provoking a lot of fury, angst and uncertain history. I’m not going to add to the rage, but I will say something about the Greek side of the question. Continue reading