Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Reasons to Be Cheerful 19

Rose Heilbron

The Liberal Project continues, despite the efforts of the Far Right to unravel it. There are still some reasons to be cheerful. There’s a natural hair movement in Africa and beyond, only about 40 years after the last one. And we don’t lock up “mental defectives” for decades any more. (Some were released in the 70s after 30 years inside.) Tail docking and ear cropping in dogs are now banned in much of Europe and Australia. But not in North America, and many Americans think that’s what the dogs look like. Forty years ago women become pilots. (It had been suggested that periods would make them unreliable.)

And this doesn’t happen any more: When I started work in 70s, the old-timers still talked bitterly of 'gentleman's hours', when the toffs had swanned in & out as they pleased. (@PaulGibbens1)

In France, the 1920 Birth Law... criminalised dissemination of birth-control literature. That law, however, was annulled in 1967 by the Neuwirth Law, thus authorising contraception, which was followed in 1975 with the Veil Law. Women fought for reproductive rights and they helped end the nation's ban on birth control in 1965. In 1994, 5% of French women aged 20 to 49 who were at risk of unintended pregnancy did not use contraception... Contraception in the Republic of Ireland was illegal in the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland) from 1935 until 1980, when it was legalised with restrictions, later loosened. In Italy women gained the right to access birth control information in 1970. (Wikipedia)

Record numbers of young people now have the chance to attend university; rates of crime, teenage pregnancy, and divorce are at 40 year lows. Even inequality, while a legitimate concern, has not increased dramatically since the mid 1990s. (Spectator)

1215 Trial by jury supersedes trial by ordeal in England.

1803 Toilet rolls invented.

1962 Elizabeth Lane appointed first female judge in the County Court.
1965 Elizabeth Lane appointed first female judge in the High Court.
1972 Rose Heilbron appointed first female judge to sit at the Old Bailey.

1982 France decriminalises homosexuality.

1986 Public Order Act makes it an offence to publish or distribute written material which may stir up racial hatred.

2016 The Church of England Synod votes to allow clergy to ditch the robes.

2016 A Parliamentary report says that firms can not impose a dress code on employees (short skirts, high heels).

Mar 2017 Beauty and the Beast to be shown in full in Malaysia after censors back down (the live-action film features a gay character).

2017 First woman in 1,000 years becomes full member of St Pauls Cathedral choir.

Feb 2017 Gohil, prince of Rajpipla, Gujarat, calls for homosexuality to be decriminalised in India.

2017 UK deaths on the road have halved in the last 15 years.

2017 From April, large firms must publish pay gap figures.

2017 Jan UK government pardons thousands of gay men for decades-old “offences”.

2017 FGM banned in Nigeria.

2017 Feb 24 Same-sex marriage legalised in Slovenia

2017 Men in Sheds (run by the U3A) goes unisex (The carpentry co-ops were set up to combat male loneliness and depression.)

2017 Irish Sexual Offences Bill stops the accused from cross-examining victims of sexual offences.

2017 Botox accepted as a migraine treatment in Scotland.

2017 Lloyd’s of London bans 9-5 drinking for employees.

2017 March Muirfield Golf Club says it will admit women.

Less than cheerful

The gender pay gap in the UK is narrowing – but not in the Civil Service.

1919-1971 yearly renewal of 1919 Aliens Act. German & Jewish workers post-WW1 the ones to blame in parliament for any UK 'decline'. Lab&Tory. (Mister Neil Kulkarni ‏@KaptainKulk)

Germany doesn't have marriage equality, you can't get an abortion after three months or without mandatory counselling.

Dissolution of monasteries robbed the poor of social security and health service. Not addressed until the 1601 Poor Law.

1876 A woman blacksmith is taken to court for “wearing men’s apparel”.

1945-74 British children sent abroad to abusive “homes”.

1967 London Stock Exchange voted against women brokers.

2012 Squatting becomes illegal.

2017 At the behest of the Russian Orthodox Church, Russia has legalised domestic violence. (So that parents can “discipline” their children. And wives can be beaten once a year. In Russia, a woman dies of domestic abuse every 40 minutes.)

2017 The Republic of Ireland's Sexual Offences Bill criminalises the purchase of sex.

2017, 29 March EU President Donald Tusk receives the UK's letter triggering Article 50.

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Literary Clichés 3

Hard to read on the bus

Taking Detective Stories Seriously: The Collected Crime Reviews of Dorothy L. Sayers, introduction by Martin Edwards

If you are a Golden Age mystery fan, this is a lovely read. Sayers reviewed two to four books a week in the 30s – that’s how many of the genre were being churned out.

Thank heavens for recent reprints – but in many minds the greats and the Queens are the only Golden Age mystery writers. The accusations of snobbery, clichés, formula, anti-Semitism and cardboard characters that stick to Christie and others must have originally been aimed at a pantheon ranging from H.C. Bailey to E.R. Punshon.

It's also clear that the greats were deliberately writing in a genre that abounded in stock characters and stock situations. Someone should do a Golden Age TV Tropes, but meanwhile let Sayers be your guide.

It was “one of those embarrassing house parties” where a recent widow invites “all the mutually suspect and hostile persons” present at her husband’s death.

In another household “A nurse arrives... to look after a man who has been murderously assaulted. A grim-looking individual lurks in the drawing-room... An old mad-woman in antique costume calls the cook a creature of Satan... A face peers through the rain-streaked window.” It can only get better, with an armed butler, shots, a fainting woman, hypodermic-tampering, and then “two detectives burst in with a bedraggled prisoner”. And it’s only chapter three.

In Death Fugue, “We have the well-worn opening of the belated traveller and the lonely house with a corpse in it. An organ plays mysteriously...”

“The evil Egyptian with a formula for exterminating mankind, the idiotic female who lets herself be lured away by the bogus policeman, the languid villain who keeps tame cobras... and the final appearance (by aeroplane) of the whole cast on a lonely island.” All appear in F.A.M. Webster’s Gathering Storm.

“A mystical, Celtic-twilight sort of gang, with a pre-Druidical religion, blood-sacrifices, hypnotic powers... caves, secret passages, revolving bookcases, rats” populate Death by the Mistletoe by Angus MacVicar.

The Ince Murder Case is written entirely in clichés.... Vision of feminine loveliness – finely chiselled features – some subtle sixth sense – surging mass of humanity – workings of a malign fate”. And everybody has a “white, set face”.

“Anybody who talks sentimentally to dogs or was anybody’s batman in the war” can be trusted, but not “anybody who behaves haughtily to an attached old Scottish retainer.” (Murder on the Moors by Colin Campbell.)

More tropes: missing wills, lost heirs, a “seedy adventurer who masquerades as a parson”, murder victims who leave cryptic clues, actors who are shot on-stage mid-performance, the least likely person dunnit, the amateur detective who insults everybody, good and evil twins with substitution a la The Scapegoat, the body in the library, the shabby provincial waxworks. But we shouldn’t forget that the greats frequently sent up these conventions.

Too many authors fall back on “the stilted style of the 90s”, with sentences that start “Small wonder is it that...”. And it is hard to tell, at this distance, whether this is supposed to be parody. Sayers is hard on polysyllables and over-writing (“Horror and anxiety twisted like heraldic snakes round his heart.”), but her sense of humour is not always reliable. She loves Mr Rosenbaum, a character in Victor MacClure’s Death on the Set who talks like this: “Ere’s Mr Morden gone and bin moidid!”, also a nautical character who tells stories in a Dutch accent while passengers in John Dickson Carr’s The Blind Barber drink a lot and indulge in “hilarious horseplay”.

“To combine the novel of mystery with the novel of manners was the great achievement of English writers in the past...”, and we wish they’d take it up again. Sayers is perceptive guide to the fads of her times, taking in spiritualism, glands, and even 12-tone music. The catchily titled Obelists en Route by C. Daly King includes two rival psychologists, one of the “purposive” school and one a “gestaltist”. Another example features a fascist movement known as the Purple Shirts (They aim to “Make Britain Free”.)

This is a fascinating book on many counts, and if you’re stuck for plot, characters or incident, it might provide inspiration. Its only drawback is its size and weight: 16cm by 23cm; printed on thick, heavy paper; in large type with generous leading. And the paper cover is smooth and slippery, which doesn't make it easier to hold.

Dear publishers: if the Penguin paperback format was good enough for Sayers... For comparison, I’ve used William Donaldson’s Great Disasters of the Stage (Simon Brett must have a copy). It’s 18cm by 11cm, printed on poor-quality paper, in small type and close leading, but it’s readable and I can easily hold it in one hand. I can even slip it in my handbag. Dear, dear publishers, remember that some of your readers are little old ladies with arthritis, who like to read on the bus or train.

More here, and links to the rest.

Bring back proper paperbacks