Category Archive 'Simon Raven'

21 Oct 2012

“Pofaced, Pedantic, Goody-Goody, Efficient, and Technologically-Minded”

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Simon Raven (1927-2001)

In The Old Gang, A Sporting and Military Memoir, Simon Raven describes meeting again in 1987, at the “Tweasledown Races (near Camberly)”, Major (Quartermaster) L. R. Plumb [name doubtless fictionalized], an old comrade-in-arms with whom he’d served in Germany and Kenya in the 1950s.

Later in the same decade, Raven had been allowed to resign quietly from the regiment to avoid scandal, after he had accrued debts to bookmakers he couldn’t pay. Plumb, on the other hand, remained in the service, advancing up the NCO ranks, and finally winding up a commissioned Quartermaster officer, and a Major no less.

When Raven inquires how things have been in the British Army over the last twenty years, Plumb complains that the Empire shrank away, and the old types of officers, gentlemen of the old school, had been replaced by a new class of humanity.

“All the time, Simon, everyone getting more and more pofaced and pedantic and goody-goody and “efficient”, more “technologically minded”, less and less capable of making or enjoying a joke, shit scared of doing anything that might affect their miserable dreary careers, forever passing the pisspot to somebody else and hoping he’d spill it, so that his enemies could kick him in the face while he was trying to mop up. And all so deadly serious, so earnest, so pi. Christ, how I longed for a breath of Darcy, or O., that lot, your lot, the old gang. …

But oh the boredom. And the nagging. After 1960 the whole thing changed completely. Don’t do this, you might kill someone; don’t do that, you might offend someone; don’t drink at lunchtime; get married, we don’t approve of bachelors; get children or the other NCOs will be jealous that you’re not buggered up with kids like they are; get a smaller car, that one will cause envy; wear a hat at the races, it’s the done thing; don’t wear a hat at the races, we don’t do the done thing anymore, it isn’t progressive and modern.”

I particularly liked the “pofaced and pedantic and goody-goody and ‘efficient’, [and] ‘technologically minded.'” The image came immediately to mind of Barack Hussein Obama promising “100,000 more teachers” and his brave new world of “green jobs.”

Raven has the contemporary incarnation of the Puritan pegged: self-important, pious, and constantly busybody-ishly improving and always in the name of Science and Progress. Look at Obama’s campaign motto: Forward. Forward like lemmings, right over the cliff of ideology.

30 Oct 2011

December 6, 1948 at King’s College, Cambridge

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George Humphrey Wolferstan Rylands CH CBE (23 October 1902–16 January 1999) was always known as “Dadie” Rylands

I’ve been reading a good deal of the wicked, reactionary (and bisexual) British writer Simon Raven recently.

Raven’s politics assure that author’s neglect by precisely the same intellectual establishment his louche aestheticism would normally attract.

In his memoir, Shadows On The Grass, described by one reviewer as “the filthiest cricket book ever written,” the Anglophile reader finds a very entertaining account of the founder’s day feast at King’s College, Cambridge on December 6, 1948.

Raven falls into conversation with George Humphrey “Wills” (sic) Rylands, “the poet, the beauty, the wit, the actor, and the sage (one of the most notable lecturers in English at either university), the toast of the twenties and the ornament of the forties.”

Rylands serves up, in Raven’s account, some extremely witty deprecatory comments on the personalities and accomplishments of several of the great men of the college, in the artful manner characteristic of people of his particular persuasion, then suddenly grows serious, and expresses both loyalty toward and apt concern for the future of the ancien regime.

‘It would appear,’ he said, ‘that I’ve been very much running the Provost down this evening. In some ways it serves him right: it is an essential part of your education that you be taught to recognise the techniques of faking, whether in life or art. But there is one thing I very much wish to impress upon you all. So long as we have this Provost or someone like him as Head of the College, then absurd as he may be in many respects, we are nevertheless safe. Our values will be preserved. Festivals like this one will be properly celebrated. Honourable connections will be respected and maintained. It will continue to be recognised that it is better to give a place to an amusing or beautiful boy who will only get a third class degree (or may perhaps even fail) than to give it to some boring swot who might manage a second with the wind behind him. There will be diversity, and a certain amount of wealth. Wide interests will be encouraged as much as specialised studies; there will be tolerance and civility; in a word, there will be civilisation. The present Provost stands for and guarantees all of this.

‘But there is a new kind of man who will surely come to us in time. I’m not sure how soon; I suspect in about twenty years; but sooner or later come he will. This new sort of man will be a scientist, or possibly a practitioner of what I believe are called “social studies”; he will be a philistine and a prig; he will be left wing; he will wish to repudiate the past and to disown its monuments; he will be determined, as he will put it, to “cauterise” or “disinfect” the present, that is to sever all the old and well loved links, with people, with families, with institutions, so that the spirit which now obtains, having had its lifelines blocked or wrenched away, will die for want of nourishment. He will destroy and expel and pervert. For all I know, he may even let in women.’

I was myself at Yale both before and after coeducation, and am well acquainted and appreciative of the advantages thereof. I acquired a wife from the post-revolutionary coeducated Yale. But it is easy to understand why Dadie Rylands made reference to coeducation, treating it as a metonymy for all the vandalism and deracination that the spirit of leftism was determined to unleash on Trans-Atlantic elite universities as soon as the likes of King’s College’s provost had been replaced by men whose personal faith was only invested in progress and reform.

18 Oct 2011

Fairness Versus Productivity

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Simon Raven, writing back in 1970 in Places Where They Sing, the sixth volume of his roman fleuve, depicts the Provost of Lancaster College repeating to himself the claims of the same philosophy of fairness which Barack Obama and other Americans on the left insist on preferring even to greater productivity and the benefit of all.

“‘In conclusion,’ wrote Robert Constable, ‘it is important to face up to Professor Parkinson’s charge that a high rate of tax on earned income draws off creative and inventive energy, too much of which, he claims, is now unproductively employed in devising new methods of tax avoidance. There is some evidence to support this assertion; but the assertion itself demonstrates and strengthens precisely those attitudes of mind which modern social philosophy is concerned to discredit and destroy. For personal ability or talent must no longer be regarded as a means to personal enrichment but as a commodity, held in trust by some fortunate individual, whereby he may serve and enrich mankind. Indifferent to monetary returns, such an individual should find his satisfaction in the exercise of his skill (grateful that it releases him from the drudgery by which most men must earn their livelihood) and in the knowledge that he is providing pleasure or amenity for his fellow human beings. Such grace, I fear, is still far to seek; and it will certainly not be found in any quantity as long as influential writers like Professor Parkinson continue to regard society, not as an area of tillage to be held and harvested in common, but as a barren and bloody arena in which men mangle one another in pursuit of acclaim and gold.’

That, thought Constable as he lifted his head, is putting it a bit strong. Although there are real gladiators, the iron men of industry and commerce, for the most part the circus is occupied by perfectly decent fellows who are hoping, in return for a conscientious display of talent, to achieve a quiet independence and retire to a Sabine farm. But then again, thought Con¬stable, if society is to be truly co-operative there is no place even for such temperate self-interest as this. It’s not the economics of the thing that matter so much as the moral attitude . . . the idea that one will make a part of human society for only so long as it takes to raise enough money to opt out of that society and buy a pretty house on the hill way up above the noise and the suffering and the stink. If society were justly ordered, thought Constable for the millionth time, if wealth were fairly spread, then no ability would win enough money to escape the suffering and the stink, and all ability would therefore be used to mitigate them. This, then, must be the argument for heavy taxes on earned money – that independence, even when earned, is a crime against humanity.”

25 Sep 2011

Short Quotations

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From Claire Berlinski:

[During the Korean War,] the North Koreans were shocked that Americans with our critical-thinking, multiple-perspective stuff were the easiest to brainwash? Pretty much 180 degrees from what they expected. The opposite end of the scale? The Turks. They were totally impossible to turn. Their perspective was: “I’m a Turk, you’re my enemy, if I had a pointy stick, I’d kill you right now.”

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“Socialists,” said the Senior Usher, “can never leave anything alone. That’s the trouble. They start with one or two things that badly need reforming, and jolly good luck to them. But then it gets to be a habit. They can’t stop. And that’s what’ll do them in. As Macauley has it, we can make shift to live under a debauchee or even a tyrant; but to to be ruled by a busybody is more than human nature can bear.”

— Simon Raven in Fielding Gray (1967).

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James Delingpole
: A Conservative friend of mine has a favorite exasperated phrase for our political class: “There just aren’t enough bullets.”

07 Apr 2010

Charlie Mortdecai Mysteries

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Cyril Emmanuel George Bonfiglioli, 1928-1985

Several books I was in the middle of, or planning to read next, temporarily vanished in the course of the great migration southward to our new home in Fauquier County, so I was obliged to forage.

I happened to pick up The Mortdecai Trilogy, which I purchased a couple of years ago, doubtless as the result of a recommendation from one of those “lists of mysteries you need to read” sort of articles.

The author, who write under the name Kyril Bonfiglioli, was one of those more-English-than-most-English semi-exotics (like Benjamin Disraeli or Louis Mazzini in Kind Hearts and Coronets). Just like the fictional tenth Duke of Chalfont, Bonfiglioli had an Italian-named father and an English mother. His father, however, was actually a Slovenian émigré antiquarian bookdealer.

Bonfiglioli served in the ranks of the British Army in West Africa in the 1950s before matriculating at Oxford (Balliol College). During his time at university, he was a widower with two young children. After graduating, he became an art dealer in London.

He had been a sabre champion in the Army, and once purchased a Tintoretto at a country auction for forty pounds. Bonfiglioli was evidently himself a marvellous example of the superbly-well-educated English roué and (inevitably) succumbed to cirrhosis at 59.

His detective hero, the Honorable Charlie Strafford Van Cleef Mortdecai obviously represents a more fortunate and affluent version of the author. Charlie Mortdecai is, more or less, what you might have gotten had Bertie Wooster been crossed with one of the more louche members of the Brideshead circle. I don’t suppose many of my readers know Simon Raven, but he and Bonfiglioli were indubitably kindred spirits, reactionary connoisseurs of the pleasures of art, snobbery, and the pleasures of the flesh (including those associated with the wrong element at British public schools). Not the sort of people you’d want to lend money to, or have marry your sister, but wonderfully amusing raconteurs over a drink at the club bar.

Charlie Mortdecai contrives, in Don’t Point That Thing at Me, to extort a Queen’s Messenger appointment conferring diplomatic immunity and allowing him to smuggle whatever he pleases into the United States in a classic Rolls Silver Ghost. Upon his arrival in Washington, he makes a courtesy call at the British Embassy:

Now, for practical purposes the ordinary consumer can divide Ambassadors into two classes: the thin ones who tend to be suave, well-bred, affable; and the fleshier chaps who are none of these things. His present Excellency definitely fell into the latter grade: his ample mush was pleated with fat, wormed with the great pox and so bresprent with whelks, bubukles and burst capillaries that it seemed like a contour map of the Trossachs. His great plum-coloured gobbler hung slack and he sprayed one when he spoke. I couldn’t find it in my heart to love him but, poor chap, he was probably a Labour appointment: his corridors of power led only to the Gents.

‘I won’t beat around the bush, Mortdecai,’ he honked, ‘you are clearly an awful man. Here we are, trying to establish an image of a white-hot technological Britain, ready to compete on modern terms with any jet-age country in the world and here you are, walking about Washington in a sort of Bertie Wooster outfit as though you were something the Tourist Board had dreamed up to advertise Ye Olde Brytysshe Raylewayes.’

‘I say,’ I said, ‘you pronounced that last bit marvellously.’

‘Moreover,’ he ground on ‘your ridiculous bowler is dented, your absurd umbrella bent, your shirt covered in blood and you have a black eye.’

‘You should see the other feller?’ I chirrupped brightly, but it did not go down a bit well. He was in his stride now.

‘The fact that you are quote evidently as drunk as a fiddler’s bitch in no way excuses a man your age’ — a nasty one, that — ‘looking and behaving like a fugitive from a home for alcoholic music-hall artistes. I know little of why you are here and I wish to know nothing. I have been asked to assist you if possible, but I have not been instructed to do so: you may assume that I shall not. The only advice I offer is that you do not apply to this Embassy for help when you outrage the laws of the United States, for I shall unhesitatingly disown you and recommend imprisonment and deportation. If you turn right when you leave this room you will see the Chancery, where you will be given a receipt for your Silver Greyhound [the insignia of a Queen’s Messenger – JDZ] and a temporary civil passport in exchange for your Diplomatic one, which should never have been issued. Good day, Mr. Mortdecai.’

With that, he started signing letters grimly or whatever it is that Ambassadors grimly sign when they want you to leave. I considered being horribly sick on his desk but feared he might declare me a Distressed British Subject there and then, so I simply left the room in a marked manner and stayed not on the order of my going. But I turned left as I went out of the room, which took me into a typists’ pool, through which I strolled debonairely, twirling my brolly and whistling a few staves of ‘Show Us Your Knickers, Elsie.’

Deathless prose.

New Yorker article on Bonfiglioli.


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