'Peeli Wali' revisited
I've blogged before about the Hindi-derived Scottish term 'peeli wali' meaning weak, washed out, off colour. Here's a slightly different nuance from A.A. Gill in today's 'Sunday Times':
'Apparently some Fifa honchos are terrified of the British press digging up scandals and skeletons;' he writes, 'makes them come over all peely-wally.'
This suggests losing colour, or going yellow, because they are fearful or weak-kneed rather than unwell (to recap, peela or peeli is yellow in Hindi). But it feels an entirely appopriate usage. Over to you!
LATER: And another reference - in the Guardian's g2, 4th October 2010, as an example of Dundee dialect. '"Yer lookin' affy peely-wally th' day" (translation: "You're looking terribly pale today.")'
Bengal in the Borders
The Brighton Pavilion is perhaps the landmark British building showing Indian architectural influence. There are plenty of others - I once spotted a perfect Indian-style cupola peeping over a cemetery wall in Arundel. But you don't expect to see something quite so India-tinged as the building above popping up on top of a hill in the Scottish Borders.
I went to poke around what is marked on the map as a 'Mausoleum' visible from the main Jedburgh to Edinburgh road a few miles south of St Boswells, wading thrugh rose bay willow herb almost my height. I discovered that it's the grave of General Sir Thomas Monteath Douglas. Built in 1864, though he died four years later - in other words, he commissioned his own mausoleum. And with 360 degrees views around the enticing Borders landscape.
You can't quite make out from this photo, but the small windows in the roof are star shaped. And the entrance to the mausoleum is guarded by two huge sleeping lions. There are quite a few web entries about the building - and some great photos, including from inside the mausoleum - yet none mention the Indian architectural antecedents.
But the General spent most of his life fighting in and commanding the Bengal Infantry. He was an old India hand returned to Scotland, and as he built his burial place, he brought back a touch of Bengal to the Borders.
A stormy kestrel of Afghanistan
Another war novel - and a very accomplished one. A debut book by a friend and colleague, Jill McGivering. It's set in Helmand and the principal character is a woman journalist who - in common with her creator - has spent time embedded with British troops in Afghanistan.
The narrative thread is very strong, so too is the sense of place (and an acute sense of smell). Jill performs the considerable feat of devising Afghan civilian characters who are perhaps the most convincing of her cast. There is a lot of empathy here. And as a fictional account of a journalistic embed, it has real authority.
I am not quite so taken by the denouement of the plot. Could this happen? Well, make up your own mind.
Andy Roth, the Parliamentary profiler, columnist and obituarist, died yesterday - and there's a fitting obituary in today's Guardian by Ian Aitken, the paper's former political editor. Even more fitting, on the page opposite there's an obituary by Andy of a one-time Tory MP. My guess is there's a few more to come posthumously under his byline.
Todays Guardian obit - the one of Andy Roth, not the one by him - has a charming photo of its subject, Fedora-clad and mischievously good humoured. I remember Andy from my time in the Lobby 20 years and more ago, a generous and convivial colleague, happy to gossip and enlighten the much more junior specimens of Lobby life.
Ian Aitken's obituary fills in Andy Roth's back story - his flirtation with the hard left, period as a foreign correspondent and adventurer, and then the wounding clash with McCarthyism that sent him into exile in Britian. There's more in the wiki article and its links.
A decade or more after I moved on from Westminster, I got in touch with Andy Roth again. Reading the memoirs of one of the American correspondents in at the beginning of the Kashmir dispute in 1947, she mentioned going trekking at that time with one Andy Roth. Was it him?
'I certainly was Margaret Parton's companion'. he replied by e-mail, 'and was in at the start of the Kashmir war, which was started by a Pakistani Army friend who took French leave with a dozen troops and four machine guns.'
I enquired further - his friend was Akbar Khan, later imprisoned in Pakistan's first treason trial.
'Major Akhbar Khan was a confident veteran of the Indian Army', he reminisced - I have his e-mail in front of me, 'who had fought his way up the Italian peninsula during World War II. I met him through his wife's family, the Shah Nawazes. A son of the family ... was with me at Columbia University when I was a graduate student there, 1939-40. His sister, Taazi Shah Nawaz, a novelist, was formerly a Communist, but by the time I reached the subcontinent, a fervent supporter of an independent Pakistan. Her sister was married to Akhbar Khan.'
'Akhbar Khan detested the "brown Englishman" who was Pakistan's first PM and tamely accepted the terms of partition and took matters into his own hands.'
A glimpse on a hidden and contested moment in South Asia's history, and an indication of why Andy's sketches and profiles were such a commanding success.
There's not much of my youth, in the way of activities at least, that I can share with my kids as they are growing up. I can hardly expect them to share a passion for Huddersfield Town, especially since mine is long spent. The era of patchouli and Afghans is long over. But berrying has provided a bond between my chidlhood and theirs.
I was brought up on the edge of a mill village outside Leeds. Fields surrounded our house on three sides. Radishes were the main crop, I seem to remember. There were clumps of rhubarb. It was marginal land, and on the uncultivated stretches were a couple of sprawling blackberry bushes that hardly anyone else knew about.
Every summer, usually in the last week of the school holidays, I would pick blackberries. I can't remember what we did with them. Blackberry and apple pies, I suppose, some crumbles, and occasionally - and not always successfully - jam and jellies.
That was four decades ago. But one custom I have revived of late, aided by the proximity of Hampstead Heath, is going blackberrying. And my kids, tho' not keen on the thorns and nettles, urge me on summer weekends to take them on a berry picking expedition. No London summer would be complete without one.
We were berrying this afternoon, the first such outing of the year. And even though it's not even mid-August, there were plenty of ripe, juicy berries. Blackberrying, to borrow a Radio 4 phrase, is one of my 'inheritance tracks' to my children. I love it all the more for that.
And tonight, we'll all share a lovely, steaming hot, blackberry and apple crumble - the crumble prepared by my culinary minded son - and I'll quietly commune with my younger self.
Quiz No. 3
A final foray, I promise. Who is this guy?
Many knew him as 'Sir Roger'. He was one of the most renowned, and controverserial, celebrities of the Victorian era.
His lawyer was elected to Parliament on the back of his client's popularity. His supporters set up a nationwide network and invoked Magna Carta, and much else, in their hero's defence.
'Sir Roger' was not in the least political - but the movement that was established to fight his corner was.
Several pioneering radicals and socialists cut their teeth campaigning for 'Sir Roger'.
Tell me more - by hitting the comment button at the top.
LATER: Well, Sally-Anne is just TOO smart. This is indeed the Tichborne claimant, Arthur Orton to his detractors - a butcher who settled in Wagga Wagga and claimed he was the missing Sir Roger Tichborne. The case galvanised the country. Many rallied to the claimant's standard because they believed the establishment was doing down an ordinary working man and depriving him of his inheritance. The claimant was eventually jailed for perjury and on his release took to music hall to make a little money from what remained of his fame.
Quiz No. 2
OK, another quiz. A bit easier this time, since the last one attracted just a single entry.
This election pamphlet was issued by a serving MP who, twenty years or so later, became Prime Minister.
'Our policy is to make war on poverty', he declared. He advocated 'healthy pressure upon employers to pay the highest wages industry can afford'.
'The age of compulsory education should be raised', he stated in block capitals. And with a constituency in the industrial north-east, he argued that 'the burden of depression must not be allowed to continue to rest upon those areas that are no longer able to bear it.'
And he was a Tory. Who was he? Hit the 'comment' button above to enter.
AND THE ANSWER: Congratulations to Ruth and to Sally-Anne. Yes, it was Harold Macmillan - his election address when seeking re-elction for the constituency of Stockton and Thornaby in the 1935 general election.
Macmillan held the seat in 1945 when he switched, no doubt wisely, to Bromley.
"Even I got that. Harder next time please" - says Bernard. So a third, final and fiendish quiz question to come!
Quiz No. 1
OK, so who is he?
A friend, knowing my love of political ephemera, brought this choice campaign scarf back from a recent election?
The first correct answer wins - and the prize, well, isn't the recognition enough?
The donor is ineligible to enter.
And if there's a flood, even a trickle, of interest, there will be another quiz to follow.
AND THE ANSWER: Sudan's President Bashir with that tell-tale moustache. Congratulations to the quickest on the draw, 'Sam'.
My Back Pages
It's slightly spooky. As you can see from other pages on this site, I'm a manic collector - political pamphlets, ephemera, lapel buttons. I love the stuff and the vicarious sense of association it allows, the material link to a moment and place and cause.
I've often wondered what happened to all the political detritus I assembled while a hugely ineffective student political semi-activist more than three decades ago. Thanks to a chance web search, I now know.
At some stage over the decades, I have given all this stuff - I guess a cardboard box or two - to an academic archive. (I'd entirely forgotten this act of hubris or generosity.) And there the archivists have, with loving care - or gritted teeth, who can tell - listed every single item. Every handbill, stray magazine purchase, dog-eared poster ... there's even a 45rpm propaganda disc. The list runs to a full fifty pages.
So such ephemeral political publications and causes as 'Strumpet', 'Red Herring', 'Z-revue', 'Fresh Garbage' and Fred Bakunin - which may well have faced the contempt as well as the condecension of posterity - have a toehold in to a new era. And given the amount of time I have spent over the years trawling in archives through political shavings assembled by activist onlookers from an earlier era, I'm glad all this "stuff" has an enduring home.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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