Thursday, September 27, 2007

I am currently writing a daily column in similar vein to this at:


And a new blog Plattitude: personal, political

Come and take a look!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

7 November 2004

It's Hug a Bear Day and I'm not sure what to make of it. Like most of the other oddball days and anniversaries promoted on the internet, it's mainly a marketing tool to sell tacky toys, cards and gifts. Why can't you just hug the bear of your dreams and leave it at that? Bears are for life, not just a day . . . .


Saturday, November 06, 2004

6 November 2004

Ekaterina II, aka Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, died on this day in 1796. Stories about her death form an essential part of the unofficial history curriculum in schools throughout the world. The best known of these involves her being crushed to death when courtiers lost control of a horse that was being lowered onto her for sexual purposes.

Although it's true that Catherine had a prodigious sexual appetite and kept a secret room filled with erotic carvings and paintings of all manner of sexual acts, including bestiality, no horse actually played a part in her death. Instead, she suffered a stroke while straining on her commode in St Petersburg and died a day later.

Catherine's husband, Peter III, would not have been among the mourners, even if he hadn't been overthrown and murdered in 1762 in a palace coup led by his wife. As Catherine described their relationship: 'In short, never did two minds resemble each other less than ours; we had nothing in common in our tastes, nor in our ways of thinking. Our opinions were so different that we would never have agreed on anything, had I not often given in to him so as not to affront him too noticeably.'


Friday, November 05, 2004

5 November 2004

I don't suppose there are many people (in the UK, at any rate) who are unaware that 5 November is Guy Fawkes Day, or Bonfire Night, commemorating the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament. (And if you think the bonfires and fireworks are getting bigger and noisier every year, just wait for the 400th anniversary next year.)

What's probably less well known is that the day was an official holiday until comparatively recently – and even had a special church service and ritual detailed in the English Book of Common Prayer. The ceremonies on the streets, by all accounts, were conducted on a colossal scale. According to the mid-19th-century Chambers' Book of Days, for example:

'In former times, in London, the burning of the effigy of Guy Fawkes on the 5th of November was a most important and portentous ceremony. The bonfire in Lincoln's Inn Fields was conducted on an especially magnificent scale. Two hundred cart-loads of fuel would sometimes be consumed in feeding this single fire, while upwards of thirty "Guys" would be suspended on gibbets and committed to the flames. Another tremendous pile was heaped up by the butchers in Clare Market [the present-day site of the London School of Economics], who on the same evening paraded through the streets in great force, serenading the citizens with the famed "marrow-bone-and-cleaver" music. The uproar throughout the town from the shouts of the mob, the ringing of the bells in the churches, and the general confusion which prevailed, can but faintly be imagined by an individual of the present day.'

They don't ring the church bells on Guy Fawkes Day any more, which is a shame because we'll be putting a few George Bushes on the flames tonight and I'm sure the born-again president would have appreciated the gesture.


Thursday, November 04, 2004

4 November 2004

It's 25 years today since Islamic militant students stormed the US embassy in Tehran, seized more than 90 hostages and plunged the final year of Jimmy Carter's presidency into turmoil. Despite an abortive rescue mission, during which eight US soldiers were killed, most of the hostages remained in the hands of their captors for a further 444 days. They were released on 21 January 1981, the day of the inauguration of Ronald Reagan as US president. The relationship of the US with the Islamic world – and with the Democrat party, for that matter – has never been the same since.


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

3 November 2004

Be afraid, America, be very afraid! Forty years after the event, the election of Lyndon B Johnson seems to belong on an entirely different planet. But look at what Vietnam did to him and his 'Great Society', and consider what Iraq may yet do to Bush and the whole modern world . . . .


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

2 November 2004

Lay the tables tonight for the Faithful Departed, for this is All Souls' Day, when the souls of the dead return home to check up on what's going on. Actually, it's not everyone's soul, according to the Catholic church – only those that have not fully atoned for past transgressions or are not fully cleansed of their venial sins. These are the ones who spend the rest of the year floating around in purgatory, and who need their relatives and loved ones to help them out by saying prayers, offering alms and performing the Sacrifice of the Mass on their behalf.

In other words, this is a great time to get your own back on the dead. 'Still here, grandad? Told you that you shouldn't have left that Welsh dresser to Auntie Christine, didn't I? Sorry, can't pray for you tonight – too busy. Try next year. Give my love to Purgatory, won't you?'


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