To go: a parallel text

Further to Signoffs and other cross-pond drôlerie (NB n.3 there) and indeed my helpful exegeses of the alarming Teach yourself Japanese, here’s a parallel text, hopefully of use to travellers in either direction:

US: Hey man—can I get a Diavola to go?

British: A very good day to you, my dear chap. Now would you be so obliging as to provide me with with one of your fine pizzas, engagingly (and with a certain mischief, perhaps?) known as Diavola—enclosed, moreover, in some kind of disposable container, if you would be so kind; for such are the exigencies of modern life that I regrettably find myself unable to relish said comestible at your own fine place of purveyance, but, rather, will be reluctantly compelled to consume it in less salubrious and elegant surroundings while otherwise occupied.

I acknowledge my debt to the cheeseshop sketch. And, come to think of it, to the great Gerard Hoffnung’s 1958 Advice for tourists, still irresistible after all these years:

As with the Alan Bennett Sermon (and indeed as with live performance generally), the pleasure is augmented by the audience response, and the vignette it now affords us into that particular milieu of late-1950s’ English society.

In Hoffnung’s wiki entry I like the succinct description of his brief sojourn at the Hornsey College of Art:

He was expelled for his lack of gravity in the life class.

Art criticism


Alan Bennett’s art criticism is refreshingly down-to-earth (e.g. Untold stories, pp.453–514), but less blunt than this story.

A northern friend of mine took his dad to see Monet’s Rouen cathedral in the morning fog. He took one look at it and sniffed,

“If he’d have waited a bit longer he wouldn’t have to paint t’ bloody thing at all!”

Temperament and savoir-faire

Whenever I surprise myself by somehow getting my head around some arcane (to me) computer technique—like a screenshot, or a widget (What kind of language do you call that, ask the Plain People of Ireland), I recall Alan Bennett’s 1984 diary entry:

1 October, London. I mend a puncture on my bike. I get pleasure out of being able to do simple, practical jobs—mending a fuse, changing a wheel, jump-starting the car—because these are not accomplishments generally associated with a temperament like mine. I tend to put sexual intercourse in this category too.


This 1983 diary entry by Alan Bennett (Writing home, p.127) bears both on professional tact and the insecurity of the freelance artist:

3 March, Yorkshire. I take a version of a script down to Settle to be photocopied. The man in charge of the machine watches the sheets come through. “Glancing at this,” he says, “I see you dabble in playwriting.” While this about sums it up, I find myself resenting him for noticing what goes through his machine at all. Photocopying is a job in which one is required to see and not see, the delicacy demanded not different from that in medicine. It’s as if a nurse were to say: “I see, watching you undress, that your legs are nothing to write home about.”

And did those feet in ancient time?

Still thinking about Alan Bennett’s feet and early religious culture:

In the wonderful song Jerusalem, rather like those questions they ask you at the airport check-in desk, you think all the answers are going to be “No”, but you have to keep on your toes (sic, see below) just in case.

Great that it’s tipped for our new national anthem, to replace the meretricious God save the Queen (although the version here is fine)—but we have to take care not to “leave it unattended at any time” in case it gets hijacked by “Paul Nuttall and the UKIPs”.

Mind you (and talking of keeping on your toes), if I had an anthem like this (Wow! Italian opera at its most intoxicating! 1831-ish, see here)

even I would score a goal like this:

(1970—“ancient time”?] That’s right up there with Ronnie’s 147.

I was in Washington DC with the amazing Hua family shawm band in 2002 [more on that story later] when Brazil won the World Cup. We all crowded into the hotel bar early in the morning to cheer them on, suitably lubricated with A Pint of Plain—It’s Your Only Man.

And then there’s our fantasy football team/Daoist ritual band

“which will bring us back to”

Li Manshan!

[Been at the Bombay Sapphire again, Dr Jones?—Ed.]

History, or not

Alan Bennett (for it is he) reflects on his transition from earnest young Oxford historian to star of Beyond the fringe:

I wasn’t getting any better at [teaching], though the celebrity of the revue to some degree compensated my pupils for the shortcomings of the tuition. This period came to an end in 1962, when the show went to Broadway, thus putting an end to my dwindling hopes of being a historian. The rest, one might say, pompously, is history. Except that in my case the opposite was true. What it had been was history. What it was to be was not history at all.

Vera and Doris

Further to Igor Stravinsky (“Gran visits York”), here’s Alan Bennett again (Writing home, p.30):

During the [1963] run of Beyond the fringe in New York, Dudley Moore and I took refuge from a storm in the Hotel Pierre, where we were spotted by an assistant manager. Saying that there had been a spate of thefts from rooms recently, he asked us to leave. A small argument ensued, in the course of which an old man and his wife stumped past, whereupon the assistant manager left off abusing us in order to bow. It was Stravinsky. We were then thrown out. I have never set foot in the Pierre since, fearing I might still be taken for a petty thief. Dudley Moore, I imagine, goes in there with impunity; the assistant manager may even bow to him now while throwing someone else out. Me still, possibly.

And then (2010):

I tell John Bird the story of Dudley Moore and me seeing Stravinsky and his wife Vera in the Hotel Pierre in New York in 1963, saying how the name Vera has always seemed to me to humanise Stravinsky. “Not so much as Stockhausen,” says John. “His wife’s name was Doris.”

Now, I’m not so humourless that I can’t see how Vera and Doris (“wives”) are funnier than Igor and Karlheinz (“Great Composers”). Noting that the English have been making light of Storm Doris this week, this brings me to hurricanes.

In the USA, for many years hurricanes bore only female names. The male meteorological community found female names

appropriate for such unpredictable and dangerous phenomena.

Pah! In the 1970s the growing numbers of female meteorologists began to object, and since 1978 onwards male and female names have alternated (Yay!). Nor are they expected to suggest menace, like characters in a horror movie. Fleur or Katrina might be femme fatales, but Tammy and Bob are homely, and Nigel nerdy.

However, in the US people may prepare differently for storms depending whether they bear a male or female name. Hurricanes with female names cause significantly more deaths—apparently (by contrast with that idea of “female menace”) because people perceive them as less threatening, leading to less preparedness and thus causing more damage. You can’t win…

BTW, please can we stop making out that countries and ships are feminine?! Otherwise we’re lucky in English not to have to worry our pretty little heads about gendering nouns

The “case for the defence” shoots itself in the foot most messily in this breathtakingly Neanderthal quote from “Rear Admiral” Francis D. Foley—from 1998, FFS! This is known in Chinese Partyspeak as “negative teaching material” (fanmian jiaocai). If it came from 1698 I might reluctantly, um, consider it within the cultural context of the day; but this is indeed the cultural context that afflicts the USA at the moment. Too bad Foley (apparently the Benny Hill of the US Navy) is no longer with us—he would be a shoo-in for the post of Gender Equality Adviser in the new US administration. But amazingly there are plenty more where he came from, eager to fall on their flaccid pork swords before the Amazon hordes of the “liberal media”…

“No sensa humor, these wimmin…” Never mind Bridget Christie—even Foley’s junior contemporary Stella Gibbons would have given him a piece of her dainty mind.

This is a battle that is important to pursue, like “actress”, “chairman”, and “ballerina”—however the “PC gone mad” cabal may splutter.

Doh a deer, a female deer—but that’s not important right now”, indeed.

I rest my case.