Contemplating the forthcoming Attlee/Cripps utopia Winston Churchill remarked: “Give me the 18th-century alley, where footpads lurked and the harlot plied her trade, and none of this new-fangled planning doctrine.” Churchill was of course a far from typical politician and whilst he may have stopped short of Rabelais’s “fais ce que voudras” he certainly lacked the gubernatorial instinct to ban, censor, proscribe, bowdlerise which afflicts life’s prefects. Among them Michael Gove, not the bossiest of men but a craven opportunist with the canny nous to identify a ruse which will appeal to the vulgo and may even cause him to be liked (briefly).
Counterpoints Foie Gove by Jonathan Meades
The Aberdonian statesman’s masterstroke has been to announce that post-Brexit—should that neverland ever come to be—he will introduce a ban on the import of foie gras. Indeed, he is so pleased with this stratagem that he has been repeating it regularly for the past year and enjoying the fulsome applause of, inter alia: the doltish Sussex MP Henry Smith (who released the names of the hapless couple wrongly accused of flying drones over Gatwick); the sometime “comedian” Bill Oddie, apparently “the nation’s top birder”; Peter Egan, Big Breadwinner Hog on TV 50 years ago; a woman with a placard; and the former starlet Pamela Anderson, “a turkey stuffed with silicon” who unsurprisingly empathises with “the misery suffered by these very sociable birds” and compares their lot to that of clubbed baby seals.
Gove is doubtless grateful for this galère of stellar supporters. But what distinguishes his proposal is its wide populist appeal to several different and not evidently compatible groupings which are at a stroke moulded into an ad hoc alliance: anti-speciesist agitators; animal rights operatives of varying degree of militancy, activism and self-righteousness; Stop-the-City hoodies whose animus is towards the monstrous crinkly-necked Georg Grosz plutocrats who turn the Square Mile into a charnel house of the poor’s dreams while daily consuming their body weight in foie gras; less regimented class warriors who enjoy a simplistic antipathy towards bloated toffs, “fine dining” and the privately educated.
These figures of obloquy are straw men and women. Some 200 tonnes of foie gras are annually imported by the UK. It is reasonable to suppose that only 5 per cent of the population, 3 million people, eat the stuff (they get a miserable annual ration of 66 grams each). They are the easiest of targets, even easier than the unspeakable harmlessly riding to hounds. Further, the economic consequences of this smugly puritanical self-righteousness will not be felt in Britain.
The losers are French farmers. Who of course just don’t count. Their reprehensible practices surely must justify the gauged and responsible xenophobia of the island race’s yeomen to whom gastronomy is essentially alien and effete. It is improbable that a British politician would have Jacques Chirac’s nuanced take on the culinary paradoxes of his country’s political persuasions: “Those of the Left are la gauche caviar . . . we of the Right are la droite tête de veau.” France takes food seriously.
Britain doesn’t—hence Gove’s freedom to come up with such an essentially frivolous self-advertisement. The man is meant to be a conservative. He ought not to forget that animal-loving Nazis banned forcefeeding.
Jam tomorrow by Daisy Dunn
We do so love a literary rejection, provided it isn’t our own, of course. A rejection letter received by George Orwell in 1946 even made the front pages last month. Unearthed in an archive, the missive and its accompanying notes criticised an essay the author had written for the British Council on the subject of national cuisine. Orwell’s controversial views on milk puddings (“unfortunately, characteristic of Britain”), English pastry (“not outstandingly good”), and fish (“seldom well-cooked”) had not gone down well. As for his recipe for marmalade? It was, ruled the Council, “bad”.
If that rejection was galling, it was far from the worst Orwell ever received. He famously submitted Animal Farm to Faber & Faber only to be told by T. S. Eliot, in his capacity as editor at the publishing house, that the book required “not more communism but more public-spirited pigs”. It was almost as grave as when a London publisher responded to Herman Melville’s manuscript with the words, “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?”
The first thing people tell you when you embark upon a career as an author today is that Harry Potter was turned down at least eight times before it was accepted. This is to give you hope before you get a deal and a boost of confidence once you have one. Discussions of how wrong publishers can be provide writers with an endless source of mirth and have led more than a few to the easy conclusion that their own genius has wrongly been overlooked. Rejection letters from publishers are said to be more generic these days. That is if they come at all. Silence is the modern mode of rejection.
One of the most brilliant book titles of the past few years belongs to Jay Parini’s biography of Gore Vidal: Every Time a Friend Succeeds Something Inside Me Dies. Vidal was notorious for his literary enmities. So intense was his feud with Truman Capote that he went as far as to brand his death “a wise career move”. There is no longer room for such schadenfreude. Getting published is so notoriously difficult that you can only rejoice with those who achieve it and sympathise with those who don’t. We think even better of Orwell for riding out the rejection of his essay on English food. There are rewards still sweeter than his marmalade for those who do the same today.
The new normal
BY cosmo Landesman
Ikeep seeing a T-shirt bearing the message “Normal People Scare Me”. I used to see it only on young people of a pierced persuasion: scruffy, indie music types with blue hair or purple lips. But lately I’ve noticed that even tidy teenagers and affluent tourists are wearing it.
I don’t think this is a reaction to the rise of populism or Brexit. It’s a cultural shift that’s been going on since at least the 1960s, when it became cool to be crazy and to be normal was to be a brainwashed suburban zombie.
Now nobody, it seems, wants to be seen as normal: not even normal people. But I do. All my life I’ve craved normality and never quite managed it. As a teenager in the early 1970s, I wanted a strong, silent dad with a shed and a sensible, biscuit-baking mum: instead I got two sex-mad druggies. I wanted a normal wife, but married the cokesnorting Stalinist Julie Burchill. I wanted to be normal, but turned out a “total lunatic”, according to my second ex-wife, a therapist. Clearly, I am conflicted. f