Of the many that were used in early history, some have fallen out of use, with clans often adopting single surnames—a process that took place over a long period, unlike the rapidly changing fashions in given names. Double surnames still quite common are Ouyang 歐陽, Shangguan 上官, Sima 司馬 and Situ 司徒; less so are Zhuge 諸葛, Xiahou 夏侯, Huangfu 皇甫, Huyan 呼延, and Zhongli 鍾離. Oh, and Chenggong 成公 and Geshu 哥舒.
The latter surname was Turkic in origin. Among ethnic minorities, longer compound surnames are still common, adapted to Chinese style, such as the Manchu Qing imperial clan Aisin Gioro. But with the Han chauvinism of the current CCP this is changing too—for Uyghur names under the current clampdown in Xinjiang, see e.g. this article.
Among the controversial, countercultural icons who drove themselves to an early grave was Lenny Bruce(1925–66), “America’s No.1 Vomic”.
With my penchant for jazz biographies, in a similar vein [sic] is the extraordinary book
Albert Goldman (from the journalism of Lawrence Schiller), Ladies and gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!! (1974). *
(Do read this most perceptive review by Wallace Markfield—interestingly garbled in the course of digitisation.)
The opening chapter, “A day in the life”, is a dazzling, graphic, blow-by-blow reconstruction of his arrival in New York in 1960 for a gig at the Blue Angel. Just a taster:
Around ten, a yellow cab, somewhat unsteadily driven, pulls up before a narrow gray dilapidated building on one of the crummiest sidestreets off the Square. Above the spattered pavement an extinguished neon sign flaps patches of cold hard shadow across the stone steps: HOTEL AMERICA, FREE PARKING. The cab opens with a jolt, back doors flying open so that two bare-headed men dressed in identical black raincoats can begin to crawl out from the debris within. […]
The night before, they wound up a very successful three-week run in Chicago at the Cloisters with a visit to the home of a certain hip show-biz druggist—a house so closely associated with drugs that show people call it the “shooting gallery”. Terry smoked a couple of joints, dropped two blue tabs of mescaline and skin-popped some Dilaudid; at the airport bar he also downed a couple of double Scotches. Lenny did his usual number: twelve 1/16th-grain Dilaudid pills counted out of a big brown bottle like saccharins, dissolved in a 1-cc. ampule of Methedrine, heated in a blackened old spoon over a shoe-struck lucifer and the resulting soup ingested from the leffel into a disposable needle and then whammed into the mainline until you feel like you’re living inside an igloo. […]
The America is one of the most bizarre hotels in the world: a combination whorehouse, opium den and lunatic asylum.
As Lenny honed his act at strip clubs, Goldman explores his background in
the fast-talking, pot-smoking, shtick-trading hipsters and hustlers who lent him his idiom, his rhythm, his taste in humor and his typically cynical and jaundiced view of society.
He describes Lenny’s connection with comics like Joe Ancis, Mort Sahl, and George Carlin. Joe
insisted on schlepping Kenny and Lenny to the Metropolitan and the Museum of Modern Art, taking them on whirlwind tours of both collections with his rapidly wagging tongue doing service as a catalog, guidebook and art-history course. “The fuckin’ Monet, schlepped out, half dead, in his last period, you dig? Painting water lilies—is that ridiculous! Water lilies, man, giant genius paintings, man, like the cat is ready to pack it in, but he has to blow one last out-chorus!
The book’s gory details of drug-taking and its paraphernalia, a staple of jazz biographies (Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker (here and here), John Coltrane, and so on), are unsurpassed, and as Markfield observes “could easily serve as basic text in a graduate seminar on mainlining”.
Much as I love Chet’s ballads, he seems to have traded on his early angelic, melancholy image merely as a means to the end of a constant supply of drugs; whereas for Lenny the drugs and the performance went hand in hand, evoking the explorations and discipline of Billie and Miles. Amidst all the squalor, the book evokes the technique of Lenny’s creativity, the way he played the room (cf. Stewart Lee’s labyrinthine footnotes):
Suddenly, he lowers his head and shoots a bold glance into the house—a real arched-brow zinger. “Looks like some faggot decorator went nuts here with a staple gun!” Bam! He’s in, they’re tittering. Then he goes for the extension: “Whoo-who!” (high fag scream) “It’s just got to flow like this!” (big wrist flap and faggy, camp gestures as he dances around triggering off staples with his thumb). They’re starting to laugh. Now for a quick change-up. Take them into his confidence. “You know, when I was a kid, I always dreamed about going to a nightclub.” Nice, easy mood, nostalgia. Then into the thirties movie bits with the George Raft takes and the Eugene Pallette club-owner pushing back the panel in the office to get a view of the stage and the little shaded lamps on the tables and the tuxes and the deep-cleft gowns and the hair on the guys bayed back at the temples and Lenny home from the movies standing in front of the bathroom mirror with a scissors cutting away the hair from his temples so he’d have a hairline like Brian Aherne or Robert Taylor and then his disillusionment years later when he went to the Copa for the first time and everything was so tacky and there wasn’t even a men’s room attendant and they had whisky bottles right on the table like a Bay Parkway Jewish wedding and … and … and … By the balls! They’re hanging on his words. Eating out of his hand! Kvelling because it’s their experience—but exactly!
Indeed, not just Lenny’s lifestyle but the techniques of his free-flowing stage routine have aptly been likened to bebop:
He fancied himself an oral jazzman. His ideal was to walk out there like Charlie Parker, take that mike in his hand like a horn and blow, blow, blow everything that came into his head just as it came into his head with nothing censored, nothing translated, nothing mediated, until he was pure mind, pure head sending out brainwaves like radio waves into the heads of every man and woman seated in that vast hall. Sending, sending, sending, he would finally reach a point of clairvoyance where he was no longer a performer but rather a medium transmitting messages that just came to him from out there—from recall, fantasy, prophecy.
A point at which, like the practitioners of automatic writing, his tongue would outrun his mind and he would be saying things he didn’t plan to say, things that surprised, delighted him, cracked him up—as if he were a spectator at his own performance!
In another passage, Goldman comments:
The ghetto idiom was far more than a badge of hipness to Lenny Bruce: it was a paradigm of his art. For what the language of the slums teaches a born talker is, first, the power of extreme linguistic compression, and, second, the knack of reducing things to their vital essences in thought and image.
Jazz slang is pure abstraction. It consists of tight, monosyllabic that suggest cons in the “big house” mumbling surreptitiously out of the corners of their mouths. Words like “dig”, “groove” and “hip” are atomic compactions of meaning. They’re as hard and tight and tamped down as any idiom this side of the Rosetta Stone. `if any new expression comes along that can’t be compressed into such a brief little bark, jazz slang starts digesting it, shearing off a word here, a syllable there, until the original phrase has been cut down to a ghetto short.
The same impatient process of short-circuiting the obvious and capping on the conventional was obvious in jazz itself. […] Listening to Be-Bop, you’d be hard put to say whether it was the most laconic or the most prolix of jazz styles. At the very same that it was brooming out of jazz all the old clichés, it was floridly embellishing the new language with breathtaking runs and ornaments and arabesques. Hipster language was equally florid at times, delighting in far-fetched conceits and taxing circumlocution. A man over forty, for example, was said to be “on the Jersey side of the snatch play”.
But whereas for jazzers music made a pure, abstract language transcending their mundane lifestyle, Lenny’s act was inevitably entangled with it. He was getting busted for his act as well as his medicinal habits, becoming ensnared in a series of obscenity trials. But he was at his very best for the midnight gig at Carnegie Hall on 3rd February 1961, again brilliantly evoked by Goldman—riffing on topics such as moral philosophy, patriotism, the flag, homosexuality, Jewishness, humour, Communism, Kennedy, Eisenhower, drugs, venereal disease, the Ku Klux Klan, the Internal Revenue Service, and Shelly Berman. Had he lived on, an invitation to today’s White House seems unlikely. Goldman reflects:
What else is this whole jazz trip? You take your seat inside the cat’s head, like you’re stepping into one of those little cars in a funhouse. Then, pulled by some dark chain that you can’t shut off, you plunge into the darkness, down the inclines, up the slopes, around the sharp bends and into the dead ends; past bizarre, grotesque window displays and gooney, lurid frights and spectacles and whistles and sirens and scares—and even a long dark moody tunnel of love. It’s all a trip—and the best of it is that you don’t have the faintest idea where you’re going!
Here’s one of several video clips of his live act (more here, as well as many audio recordings online):
London Chapter 10, “Persecution” describes Lenny’s 1962 sojourn at Peter Cook’s new London club The Establishment—designed to elude the censoring scissors of the Lord Chamberlain’s office, “maiming English stage plays since the 16th century”. Indeed, this was part of an exchange of hostages that led to the Beyond the Fringe team’s long run on Broadway—International Cultural Exchange, YAY!
Lenny in London! Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? Like James Brown at the Bolshoi. Or Little Richard at La Scala.
(Nice idea, but not so bizarre—neither London, Moscow, nor Milan are so culturally monochrome…)
The Establishment was preparing a skit that depicted Christ Jesus as an upper-class gent hung between two cockney-talking thieves, who complain in their petty, rancorous way: “ ’E’s getting all the vinegar sponges!”
Goldman goes on:
Lenny’s notions of England—compounded from old Hollywood flicks and Alec Guinness imports—were queer, to say the least. As Jonathan Miller summed them up, Lenny saw Great Britain as “a country set in the heart of India bossed by a Queen who wore a ball dress. The population had bad teeth, wore drab clothes and went in for furtive and bizarre murders”.
Not all of this was so wide of the mark.
As Lenny’s apostle Kenneth Tynan observed,
If Beyond the fringe was a pinprick, Mr Bruce was a bloodbath.
As ever, critical responses were polarized. Brian Glanville later wrote in TheSpectator:
Bruce has taken humour farther, and deeper, than any of the new wave of American comedians. […] Indeed, the very essence of the new wave is that one hears an individual voice talking, giving vent to its own perception and, in Bruce’s case, its own obsessions. An act such as this requires a good deal more than exhibitionism; it also need courage and passion. Essentially, it is not “sick” humour at all. The word is a tiresome irrelevance—but super-ego humour: a brave voice calling from the nursery.
He was denied entry the following year as an “undesirable alien”.
I’d be curious to learn what Alan Bennett thought of Lenny, but his influence on Dud ‘n’ Pete can be heard in their later foul-mouthed Derek and Clive recordings. Christopher Hitchens wrote a fine article on these transatlantic comedy genealogies.
Goldman devotes a perceptive chapter to “The greatest trial on earth”, a high-profile obcenity case over six months in Manhattan in 1964. Despite support from an array of prominent literati, Lenny was sentenced; freed on bail pending an appeal, as his mental and physical health went into a tailspin, exacerbated by paranoia over litigation, he died in squalor.
The only flaw I find with Goldman’s brilliant book is that it lacks an index. See also Doubletalk.
* * *
All this is a far cry from the bland hagiography of Chinese biographies. And the book reminds me again that the post-war era before the Swinging Sixties wasn’t entirely drab and conformist (see e.g. Paul Bowles, Gary Snyder). It also highlights issues of free speech, which are so urgent today. By comparison with Lenny, the challenging routines of Richard Pryor, or Stewart Lee, seem almost genteel. Still, the latter’s travails over Jerry Springer: the opera, detailed in How I escaped my certain fate, and his ripostes in “Stand-up comedian” (2005) and ” ’90s comedian” (2006), richly deserve attention; while Lee too highlights his debt to free jazz, his art is acutely disciplined (for his thoughts on Lenny, see here).
In Alan Bennett’s parody The pith and its pitfalls (Writing Home, pp.383–6—”taking the pith”, of course) on the writer and his [sic] roots, he writes thoughtfully of the perennial English fashion for the nostalgia of childhood deprivation—whose Chinese parallel reminded me of The four Yorkshiremen sketch.
Can there be a slag-heap north of the Trent up which ardent young directors from Omnibus, Aquarius, or 2nd house have not flogged their disgruntled camera-crews in pursuit of that forward-retreating figure, the artist?
What I do recall of my childhood was that it was boring. I have no nostalgia for it. I do not long for the world as it was when I was a child. I do not long for the person I was in that world. I do not want to be the person I am now in that world then. None of the forms nostalgia can take fits. I found childhood boring. I was glad it was over.
There are fashions in childhood as in anything else. A nice, middle-class background was no longer in vogue by the time I started to write. No longer in Vogue, either. Early in 1960, when my colleagues and I were writing the revue that was to end up as Beyond the fringe, we were photographed for that magazine. We sped in a large Daimler to North Acton, where the photographer spent some time finding a setting appropriately stark and gritty for the enterprise on which we were to embark. We ended up gloomy and purposeful against a background of cooling-towers and derelict factories.
I have never done any of those filmed portraits I started off by parodying, though the urge is strong. It is always gratifying to be asked to explain yourself, if only because it makes you feel there is, perhaps, something to explain. I admit, too, that from time to time I catch myself slightly overstating my working-class origins, taking my background down the social scale a peg or two. It is a mild form of inverted snobbery, which Richard Hoggart might dignify by calling it “groping for the remnants of a tradition”. As the man says in the sketch, it is a question of belonging. You would like to think you belong somewhere distinctive, whether it is a place or a class, but you know you are kidding yourself. However, I see that opens up another vast area of humbug and self-indulgence, namely, the writer as rootless man, so I think I had better stop and go home—wherever that is.
Anyway, from ridiculous to sublime—a flippant pretext to extol the glories of Bach:
Not a lot of people know that Bach had a dog called Potentia. Hence the movement in the Magnificat:
Fetch it, Potentiam!
And this is perhaps a suitable place for “most highly flavoured gravy”, a favourite remoulding of “most highly favoured lady” from The angel Gabriel by choristers Down the Ages—see here, with a link to Joseph Needham and Cambridge.
In one of few ways that peasants could ridicule the rigid political system, some satirised the deprivation of their conditions. A couplet commonly pasted up at the time ran succinctly:
Two three four five, six seven eight nine.
This may not seem like the most inspired piece of poetry, but Chinese is so ingenious—everyone knew that the lack of the numbers one and ten meant that people had no yi (“one,” also clothing) or shi (“ten,” also food)—queyi shaoshi缺衣少食, a proverb that goes back to the Ming dynasty.
One of the Daoists pasted the couplet up and was ticked off by the village cadres. Like naughty schoolboys, villagers joked that so-and-so may have written it but someone else had thought it up. But it was engraved in the sullen sardonic hearts of many peasants.
Still, their impotence reminds me of Peter Cook’s comment:
those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War.
She sends up much of the avant-garde—including (sic) Benjamin Britten, whose Peter Grimes had been premiered in 1945. Here she gives a resumé of Bob Flatte’s new opera The Flayed:
For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with the work of Flatte it may be remarked that The Flayed is typical of his latest and most powerful manner, and deals with the tragedy of two types named Stan Brusk and Em Wallow, living in a Bedfordshire village. Em is Stan’s girl, but he loses her to Bert Scarr when the latter comes to work in the local tanning factory. Stan Brusk is a sadist who derives pleasure from tanning hides and has twice been publicly reproved by the foreman for gloating while at work. In a powerful recitative and aria Stan defies the foreman, describes the pleasures of tanning, and at last falls down exhausted under a vat.
A series of sinuous themes follows, intended to represent the smells from the vat winding over his unconscious body. In the dinner-hour Em creeps in with a pie, which she does not know has been poisoned by the fumes from the vat. Bert Scarr then enters. He and Em sing a duet, in which Bert confesses that he has always had a secret craving to be flayed like one of the hides in the factory and Em expresses her horror and scorn of him. At last she falls under the vat on top of Stan, who recovers consciousness and misunderstands her action. Em, Stan, and Bert are then overcome by fumes from the vat, and dream they are in Hell.
The Weeping Skeleton’s song which follows has been said to refute, once and for all, the accusation that Flatte’s operas lack light relief. The song may not represent humour as it is generally understood, but to deny that the theme of four minor chords given out in glissando form by the first violin and repeated in fugue form by solo instruments one after the other until it ends abruptly on the drums is expressive of a rationalised and resigned humour (perhaps most akin to irony) is merely imperceptive.
Em recovers first and revives Bert with a piece of the pie. The foreman comes in accompanied by a chorus of Operatives and Tanners and accuses Bert of slacking. Bert, already poisoned, and driven by his neurosis, jumps into the vatful of skins and is suffocated. Em eats some pie and dies. Stan stabs the foreman with his penknife (a present from his mother on his seventh birthday, and symbolizing her neurotic hold over him) and the foreman dies. While Stan is singing the Flagellation Song and driving out the chorus of Operatives and Tanners with a whip, his mother, Widow Brusk, enters. After she has sung an aria in which she confesses that Stan is the illegitimate son of a taxidermist who seduced her in early youth, thus accounting for her son’s sadistic obsession, Stan symbolically attempts to skin her and they both become insane. The opera then ends. It was to represent English music at the International Music Festival the following year.
Which is as good an excuse as I need to play this:
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.
What’s all this fuss about Flann O’Brien, I hear you ask. (One perceptive tribute by Kevin McMahon is penned entirely in the form of a Mylesian pub conversation). Padraig Colman, in a fine series of detailed tributes, sums him up dispassionately as “a morose drunk who led an uneventful life as a senior civil servant in Dublin”. For anyone not O’Fay with O’Brien (as the Great Man must have said somewhere?), here’s a little resumé, before you plunge into sundry other posts under the Myles tag.
Well, for one thing, as fellow Flanneurs will know, he was an astute observer of “Poor suffering Hugh Manity”, that’s why. He was a dedicated chronicler of the Hugh Mann condition—a common and distressing affliction. He had a keen ear for the conversation of The Plain People of Ireland, The Brother, and insufferable bores of any Ilk, whether pretentious or just trite. He had the Cut of their Jib, whatever that is. His intolerance of cant (and doubtless Kant) has brought him a cult following [Autospell running amok?—Ed.].
Apart from The Man Who Has Read It In Manuscript, another snowclone that is constantly on the lips of the aficionado is
The Man Who Spoke Irish At A Time When It Was Neither Profitable Nor Popular.
This meretricious character inevitably takes a bow in the Myles na Gopaleen Catechism of Cliché,
a unique compendium of all that is nauseating in contemporary writing. Compiled without regard to expense or the feelings of the public.
Of what was any deceased citizen you like to mention typical? Of all that is best in Irish life.
Correct. With what qualities did he endear himself to all who knew him? His charm of manner and unfailing kindness.
Yes. But with what particularly did he impress all those he came in contact with? His sterling qualities of mind, loftiness of intellect and unswerving devotion to the national cause.
What article of his was always at the disposal of the national language? His purse.
And what more abstract assistance was readily offered to those who sought it? The fruit of his wide reading and profound erudition.
At what time did he speak Irish? At a time when it was neither profitable nor popular.
With what cause did he never disguise the fact that his sympathies lay? The cause of national independence.
And at what time? At a time when lesser men were content with the rôle of time-server and sycophant.
What was he in his declining years? Though frail of health, indefatigable in his exertions on behalf of his less fortunate fellow men.
Whom did he marry in 1879? A Leitrim Lady.
And at what literary work was he engaged at the time of his death? His monumental work on The Oghams of Tipperary.
And of what nature is his loss? Well-nigh irreparable.
OK, watch this, now I’m going to make a subtle transition (and Myles would have relished the voiceover to Away from it all):
Gondolas, gondolas, gondolas. Everywhere… gondolas. But there’s more to Venice than gondolas […] We pause to reflect that despite its cathedrals, its palaces, its bustling markets, and its priceless legacy of renaissance art, the one thing that Venice truly lacks—is leprechauns. [scene changes] But there’s no shortage of leprechauns here: Yes, Ireland, the emerald island…
Here we are again. Normal service resumed. A critic, and a critic of critics, Flann O’Brien discussed art, music, and theatre acutely—sometimes even more acutely than this:
Literary criticism My grasp of what he wrote and meant Was sometimes only five or six %. The rest was only words and sound— My reference is to Ezra £.
In 2016, writing in The Irish Times (since Myles’s day, allegedly an organ otherwise less hilarious than The China Daily), Frank McNally did a rather good sequel on the elections. Indeed, it’s a fun game to play. One day, if you don’t watch your step, I may regale you with my very own Catechism of orchestral cliché. You have been warned. [Oh all right then, if you insist—here you are. Now I’ve even penned a Catechism of Chinese cliché, and of Chinese music clichés. Is nothing sacred?]
On my visits to Germany I constantly giggle at Myles’s Buchhandlung service:
A visit that I paid to the house of a newly married friend the other day set me thinking. My friend is a man of great wealth and vulgarity. […] Whether he can read or not, I do not know, but some savage faculty of observation told him that most respectable and estimable people usually had a lot of books in their houses. So he bought several book-cases and paid some rascally middleman to stuff them with all manner of new books, some of them very costly volumes on the subject of French landscape painting. I noticed on my visit that not one of them had ever been opened or touched, and remarked the fact. “When I get settled down properly,” said the fool, “I’ll have to catch up on my reading.” This is what set me thinking. Why would a wealthy person like this be put to the trouble of pretending to read at all? Why not [pay] a professional book-handler to go in and suitably maul his library for so-much per shelf? Such a person, if properly qualified, could make a fortune.
And we haven’t even discussed At-swim-two-birds or The third policeman, Begob. Here one may even detect a certain affinity with Cold comfort farm. As Myles observed,
It goes without Synge that many of my writings are very fine indeed.
I can only deplore the paucity in his oeuvre of allusions to fieldwork reports on Daoist ritual. And vice versa. Still, it is pleasant to imagine the travails of the Chinese translator of Flann’s great works.
Flann O’Brien survived longer than Hašek, but drank himself to an early grave (“But it’s not even closing time yet!”, I hear him exclaim) in 1966—sadly not in time to reflect
At what time did he speak Irish? At a time when it was neither profitable nor popular. And of what nature is his loss? Well-nigh irreparable. So what capital adornment do I take off to him? (It’s your turn.)
À proposRavel’s Piano concerto for the left hand: two-handed pianists soon got in on the act, though how to occupy the spare hand must take some thought. In This Day and Age one imagines young pianists saying,
“You know what’s so great about the concerto? You can text your mates while you’re playing it!”
Alternatively one could wear a boxing glove on the right hand, or a glove puppet, making suitably cute gestures to reflect the changing moods.
In Certain Quarters such behaviour might go down like a one-legged man at an arse-kicking party.
Conversely, watching people texting with two thumbs, I think of the mbira.
While we’re on deficiencies in the limb department, apart from the one-legged men in The third policeman, this classic audition springs to mind (Tarzan, “A role that is traditionally associated with…”):
During the  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 a breathtakingly Neanderthal essay “Why We Call a Ship a She” from “Rear Admiral” Francis D. Foley—apparently the Benny Hill of the US Navy. This is just a sample:
There can be a great deal of bustle about her as well as a gang of men on deck, particularly if she is slim-waisted, well-stacked, and has an inviting superstructure.
And FFS, it dates from 1998! 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 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”…
The longer audio version (on Derek and Clive live, 1973) has some pleasing further vignettes, like:
And then we hear the words “Right on baby!”… Seems a little puzzling, “Write on baby”…
Well, let me explain: the father of the house has just walked into the wigwam, and he says “Write on baby” to the mother, meaning “write the shopping list on the baby for tomorrow morning”. […] Paper was scarce…
And then we have the line, “Get down baby!”—the baby realises that once again it’s going to be written on, and has climbed the wall. This is one of those distinctive, um, boogie, Harlem instincts…