Red Flag over St Pancras
I was very pleased to pick up this wonderful pamphlet for the princely sum of £1 over the weekend. It dates from 1958 and records a particularly unpleasant spat within the Labour party in St Pancras . There was a strong left-wing, some would say quasi-communist, group among the local party leadership - and St Pancras was at one stage a byword for municipal radicalism, with stunts such - as you can see - flying the red flag on May Day from the local town hall.
In part because of this row, and the discredit it brought on the local Labour party, the Conservatives took control of the borough in the 1959 elections - triggering a particularly bitter and contested rent strike (the story is told in Curious Kentish Town)..
The Metropolitan Borough of St Pancras was in existence from 1900 to 1965, when - along with the boroughs of Holborn and Hampstead - it became part of the new London Borough of Camden. In political terms, the name is still extant - the constituency of Holborn and St Pancras, which stretches all the way north to Kentish Town, is a safe Labour seat and currently represented by Sir Keir Starmer.
The town hall where the red flag flew is on Euston Road, opposite St Pancras station. It was purpose-built in the 1930s as St Pancras's town hall, and then became Camden town hall. Camden is, I believe, moving its municipal headquarters into the newly developed King's Cross goods yards site in coming years.
Members of St Pancras borough council down the years included Barbara Castle, George Bernard Shaw and V.K. Krishna Menon.
"two shakes of a dead lamb's tail"
A piece I heard on the radio the other day about phrases meaning in next to no time, 'at the drop of a hat', that sort of thing, brought to mind a saying they didn't mention and which I haven't heard in decades.
"Two shakes of a dead lamb's tail" - ring any bells? I mentioned the term to my 91 year-old father. Yes, it was once widely used; and yes, it meant in no time at all. I have vague memories as a very young kind of waving around a wilted flower stem, or perhaps a stick of rhubarb, and pretending I was doing a couple of shakes of a dead lamb's dangly bit. Though I recall finding the phrase distinctly macabre
Looking at the web, it seems there are all sorts of variations, two or three shakes, and with the lamb not necessarily deceased. And from this comes the much more widely used 'two shakes' - as in "I'll be with you in two shakes".
Where did it come from? Well, the online dictionaries variously suggest an American or Antipodean origin - though one points to an earlier Yorkshire (that's where I grew up) or Welsh origin.
It seems to have regained currency through Uma Thurman's character in the movie 'Pulp Fiction' who apparently declares: "Just make yourself a drink Vincent and I'll be down in two shakes of a lamb's tail."
But there must be more to be said about its provenance? Anyone?!!
'Young Oxford at War'
This is the really stirringly designed title page to a book I've just bought - Young Oxford at War, published in 1934 in the wake of the famous Oxford Union motion passed by a clear majority the previous year: That this House will under no circumstances fight for its King and country.
The four student contributors were from different political traditions: Michael Foot then a Liberal, and later of course the leader of the Labour party and the only one of the four to get to Parliament; Frank Hardie from the Labour party; Dick Freeman, a communist and founder of Oxford's October Club; and a Conservative, Keith Steel-Maitland.
No women contributors - not least because at this date they weren't eligible for membership of the Oxford Union.
The illustration above - and I would imagine the jacket as well - was designed by Arthur Wragg, a socialist and pacifist. Remarkably, V.K. Krishna Menon - at this time a CP fellow traveller and later India's high commissioner in London and defence minister - was the editor of the volume. Harold Laski provided a very brief preface.
It's a testament to that decade when student politics mattered, and to the strong political emotions aroused by the slow slide towards war.
Modi plays Wembley
Wembley stadium was freezing on Friday. I speak with authority. I was there in the press seats for five hours - at the 'UK Welcomes Modi' rally, along with 50,000 or more exuberant, impatient UK-based supporters of India's prime minister. It really had the air of a festival. Lots of Indian flags on display ... traders who usually sell to football supporters we're doing well with 'We Love Modi' scarves in India's colours at £10 a time ... and the 'mass' demos outside ended up as just 300 or so aggrieved Sikhs and Kashmiris.
David Cameron introduced Modi - a clever move. The tens of thousands in attendance vote in the UK not India - and most are natural Conservative supporters. Cameron began his brief speech with palms folded, saying: 'Namaste Wembley' - and he ended with a clever adaptation of the BJP's 2014 election slogan, 'Acchhe din zaroor aayega' (good days will certainly come). He stayed to listen to Modi's speech - sitting alongside his wife Samantha, wearing a red sari and looking comfortable in it.
And Narendra Modi's address to the rally? A master class in playing to the Wembley crowd: confident, witty, accomplished. There wasn't a huge amount of substance in it - beyond his key message: 'We don't want the charity of others - what we want is equality. India stands firmly on the same footing as everyone else.'
He spoke mostly in Hindi, but played up the Gujarati angle - announcing the start of direct flights between Delhi and the main city in Gujarat, Ahmedabad. As you might imagine, that went down well with a crowd which was probably preponderantly Gujurati.
At times, the Indian PM paused in his speech - chants of 'Modi. Modi' filled the silence. He clearly relished the adulation - after the election setback in Bihar, and with all the (well merited) concern about majoritaranism, basking in the warmth of the Wembley crowd must have been quite a tonic.
After the hour-long speech, Modi did a cup winners' style lap of the Wembley pitch, acknowledging the crowd and lapping up their love.
Wembley was clearly the highlight of Modi's three days in London - though the British government provided much more pomp (lunch with the Queen ... Red Arrows flypast ... Scots Guards guard of honour ... a night at Chequers) than is customary for a mere head of government.
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