Not Saussure

April 23, 2007

Wordsworth goes rap

Filed under: England — notsaussure @ 5:39 pm

Something else I missed a couple of weeks ago, but better late than never. Cumbria Tourism have had the bright idea of promoting the Lake District to a younger and more hip market by taking two of its best-known literary figures — William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter — and having New York rapper MC Nuts prance around Ullswater dressed as Squirrel Nutkin deliving a rap version of Wordsworth’s Daffodils. Further and better particulars in The Telegraph, who reproduce both the original poem and MC Nuts’ version — ‘The modern re-working manages to stay true to the original sentiment but with some slight variation of the lyrics,’ or so say Cumbria Tourism, though I wonder whether Wordsworth would have rhymed retina with et cetera.

I think it’s great fun, though I’m not sure how many people will actually be induced to visit The Lakes as a result of watching the video.

And aren’t people always complaining that rap music concentrates too much on themes to do with guns, violence and drugs? Well, surely this is a step in the right direction.

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January 28, 2007

History lessons?

Filed under: Education, England, history — notsaussure @ 5:09 pm

An interesting article (what else do we expect?) over at Westminster Wisdom, in which Gracchus considers concerns expressed by Matthew Sinclair over the government’s plans

to teach more British history to help pupils have a better understanding of their own identity and Britain’s religious, racial, social and political diversity.

Matthew Sinclair is concerned by the topics on which the proposed history syllabus is to concentrate; according to the Guardian,

Lessons on the Commonwealth and empire, the slave trade and conflicts such as those in Northern Ireland are to be made a keystone of revamped citizenship education. Other issues such as migration will be made central to the curriculum. Pupils will be expected to learn core “British” values such as tolerance, respect, freedom of speech and justice and learn of “the shared British heritage”. There will also be a drive to ensure that white working class pupils do not feel alienated by attention being paid to ethnic minority pupils.

Of this, he comments,

Combine a focus upon periods of ethnic strife with the perspective that these problems are caused by white, Anglo-Saxon, evil and you have a recipe for lessons about how we should accept immigrants because of how awfully we mistreated their ancestors. Instead of trying to teach British national identity they’re trying the old strategy of trying to guilt the white British population into playing nice; this is not a novel strategy and doesn’t have the most impressive record of success.

Gracchus disagrees; he argues that

one of the points about history is to understand that our society has been shaped by people who had very different attitudes to the world than we of the points about history is to understand that our society has been shaped by people who had very different attitudes to the world than we do

and, speaking particularly of one particularly important, complex, controversial and influential Englishman, Oliver Cromwell, (more…)

January 13, 2007

The Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Question

Filed under: England, local democracy, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 6:53 pm

As people doubtless know, the West Lothian Question is that posed by Tam Dalyell, then MP for West Lothian:

“For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate… at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on British politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”

It’s a question that’s never really received a satisfactory answer; it seems most odd that, for example, Gordon Brown, the Hon Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, can vote on matters like top-up tuition fees for students from England at English universities but not for students from his his own constituency who attend St Andrew’s University or on smoking in public places in England but not in Scotland.

Among the answers proposed, of course, include having only English MPs vote on matters that affect only England, either by changing the rules of the House of Commons so that only MPs for English constituencies may vote on matters that only affect England or by setting up a completely separate English Parliament, with similar powers to those of the Scottish Parliament, and leaving Westminster to get on with reserved matters such as defence, national security, foreign affairs and monetary and economic issues.

Such arrangements do not go down well with the Hon Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, who warns in today’s Telegraph against

“English votes for English laws” – a Trojan horse for separation.

As it happens, I agree with him. That’s precisely why I thought devolution for Scotland was a bad idea, since I thought it would inevitably lead to similar demands for England, to the detriment of the Union.

Since apparently Lord Irvine of Lairg thinks the best answer to the West Lothian question is to stop asking it, let’s have a new question, similarly named after the constituency of the MP who first raised it, the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Question:

Why, since “English votes for English laws” is a Trojan horse for separation, is not “Scottish votes for Scottish laws” not a similar Trojan horse? And why did the hon member not foresee this when he helped introduce this Trojan horse north of the border?

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October 26, 2006

Veils and vestments

Filed under: Catholicism, England, history, Islam — notsaussure @ 10:32 pm

A curious article on the Beeb website, purporting to draw parallels between current concern (at least in some quarters) about how Muslim women dress and religious controversy in the C17th:

These may seem like unfamiliar and uncharted waters that British society is moving into – controversy over religious clothing, and fearful tensions between a religious minority and the mainstream. In fact, we’ve been here before, 400 years ago – or somewhere uncannily like it.
In the days of Elizabeth I and James I/VI, the English church was riven by the Puritan controversy. The main issue – at least on the surface – was what ministers should wear: traditional robes or ordinary clothes. The difference is that then it was the establishment that demanded distinctive clothing and the radicals – the Puritans – who insisted on everyday wear.

and it goes on at some length to try to establish this.

I’d have thought there was an historically much more recent and far closer parallel, though; that between Catholics in Victorian England and Muslims today — recent immigrants, practicing a faith that had long been distrusted and seen as the enemy of Protestant England, and one with connections, at least in the English mind, both with hostile or potentially hostile foreign powers, with foreign religious leaders issuing fatwahs (or encyclicals, as we call them) that the faithful may be tempted to follow in preference to British law and custom.   You’ve certainly got the terrorist connections, and there was even controversy about religious dress; I’m not sure when the rule was revoked but certainly the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which is generally thought of as having removed most of the legal disabilities suffered by Catholics, provided

That if any Roman Catholic Ecclesiastic, or any member of any of the orders, communities or societies hereinafter mentioned, shall, after the commencement of this Act, exercise any of the rites or ceremonies of the Roman Catholic religion, or wear the habits of his order, save within the usual places of worship of the Roman Catholic religion, or in private houses; such ecclesiastic or other person shall, being thereof convicted by due course of law, forfeit for every such offence the sum of Fifty pounds.

Curiously, though, they left religious women alone;

Provided always, and be it Enacted, That nothing herein contained shall extend or be construed to extend in any manner to affect any religious order, community or establishment consisting of Females bound by religious or monastic vows.

On a slight sidetrack, I’m always a bit bemused by complaints about Muslim women who wear the veil visibly rejecting British norms and mainstream society; I mean, most of us would agree, I’d have thought,  that taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and living a communal life with other, like-minded, folk was rather out of the mainstream and something of a radical rejection of many aspects of contemporary life and culture, but we don’t seem too bothered when monks and nuns do it.   I suppose one difference is  we’re used to seeing them. 

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October 11, 2006

Vorsprung durch Technik

Filed under: England, Food — notsaussure @ 3:47 pm

Doesn’t this — quite seriously — make you proud to be British? Something to do with the practical and enterprising application of science to an apparently mundane problem that’ll doubtless, if it works as advertised, in its own quiet way make life that little bit easier and more enjoyable for millions of people every day.

A British student has invented a way of boiling an egg without water – with the help of high powered light bulbs.

The Bulbed Egg Maker (BEM) can even be programmed to chop the top of the egg off at precisely the right height for dipping toast soldiers in the yoke.

Simon Rhymes, 23, came up with the idea while studying project design at Bournemouth University, from which he graduated in July. He has now set up his own company to market the product.

And Prince Charles — certainly his catering staff, anyway — will doubtless be delighted.

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October 1, 2006

Shakespeare Day? Reid ‘just doesn’t get it’

Filed under: Community, England, Foreigners, UK — notsaussure @ 11:33 am

The Telegraph reports that

Senior Cabinet ministers are backing a campaign to create a National Shakespeare Day, to celebrate the life and work of the playwright.

William Shakespeare’s birthday could become an annual celebration

Under the plans, the commemoration of the Bard would be held on April 23, the commonly accepted day of Shakespeare’s birth in 1564 and the day he died in 1616, and the date on which St George, the patron saint of England, is celebrated.

John Reid, the Home Secretary, and Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, have both lent strong support to the idea and hope the celebrations would develop into an English version of Burns Night, when Scottish revellers mark the anniversary of their national poet.

Scots-born Mr Reid has told colleagues that while his fellow countrymen have Burns Night – normally held on or around the poet’s birthday on January 25 – he “cannot understand” why there is no English equivalent on April 23. He has indicated that he would strongly support a Shakespeare Day to celebrate “England’s greatest playwright”.

Last night, Miss Jowell told The Sunday Telegraph: “As a huge fan of Burns Night celebrations myself, I think this is a really interesting idea and certainly well worth exploring.

I fear no good will come of this.


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