Tag Archives: poetry

February 27th

On this day in 1812 Lord Byron made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, on the subject of Luddite attacks on industrialism in Nottinghamshire. He defended the Luddites and asked that there be more understanding of their plight and less condemnation.

We’re all used to the mad, bad and dangerous to know Byron, although to be fair that was a description bestowed upon him by a

I totally would

woman (Lady Caroline Lamb) who most people saw as totally batshit mental, so only so much credence should be given to it. We definitely know him as a poet, an adventurer and a man who put it about quite a bit. But there was more still to Byron.

He could hardly be called a devoted member of the Lords, but from taking his place there in 1809, until he finally left England for good in 1816, he did sit there occasionally and his views were far more liberal than the majority of his peers. His speech in 1812 was in opposition to the Frame-Breaking  Bill, which sought the death penalty for those involved in Luddite activities.  Byron thought this was a little bit previous and explained that he had seen what had been going on in Nottinghamshire, that the men involved were distressed and in great want. In short, Byron, this man who we tend to imagine as a billowy romantic, giving no thought to anything but muff, cock and poetry, understood the plight of the working man, better than most political philosophers or economists were able to either at the time or for decades afterwards.

And what was their plight? Well, by and large we see Luddites as men who were opposed to change and smashed machinery (broke frames) in order to hold back industrialisation and prevent innovation. This isn’t quite what was going on. As the simply wonderful E. P. Thompson explained in his The Making of the British Working Class, it wasn’t change per se, it was real and justifiable worry about their future wages. Most factories were paying far less as the weaving economy became a free market. Those factories or workshops that were maintaining a living wage and set prices remained free from attack. History would prove their fears right; as industrialisation and the mechanisation of the manufacturing industry spread, skills disappeared and it was necessary to work longer hours in often dangerous conditions in order to maintain pre-industrial levels of income.

And speaking up for the workers, one of the few with influence to do so, was the tall, dark, and really rather handsome, Lord Byron. One should never forget his poetry, because some of it was stonkingly good, but beyond that, beyond the debt and the scandal, there was a man whose first speech, after three years in the House of Lords, was on a subject that was of no personal benefit to him, but was instead a plea for the common man. Unfortunately his opposition did not prevent the Bill from being enacted. There were executions and transportations and ultimately the organised resistance was broken. But for one brief moment, the most famous man in Britain tried to make his fame mean something. It is no wonder that when he left the country four years later he felt no need to return. Byron might well have had his end away with your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife while your back was turned, but he had a morality that rose above mere lower-storey shenanigans.

Today is the birthday of violet-eyed lovely and oft married actress, Elizabeth Taylor. To be strictly accurate, she’s not such a beauty these days, but as she is a year off being 80 and pretty seriously under the weather, that’s hardly surprising.

Liz, as she is often known, first found fame as a child and adolescent, especially in the Lassie films, in which she often co-starred with Roddy McDowell, who later found fame as an ape.  Unlike many a child star before her and since, she made the difficult transition to adult roles with relative ease. She also got into the marrying habit pretty young, first walking up the aisle with Conrad Hilton Jr when she was just 18. The marriage only lasted a year, mostly because he was an abusive drunk. If she had stayed married to him, she would today be the great-aunt of Paris Hilton, so all thing’s considered it’s a good job she binned Conrad Jr early on. She married seven more times, although two of those marriages were to the same man, Richard Burton. He was the great love of her life, but she was also deeply in love with her third husband, Mike Todd, but he was tragically killed in a plane crash just over a year into their married life. All her other marriages have ended in divorce and she has been single since 1996.

It’s easy to get caught up in Taylor’s predilection for marriage, her love of  well flashy bling and her later battles with weight and to

Liz in her heyday

forget all about her acting career, but she proved her acting chops in quite a few films throughout her career, not least when she was paired with Burton who seemed to bring out the best of her ability. She is most assuredly a diva, probably a bit of a nightmare to live with and could probably have drunk the whole of the British army under the table in her heyday, but she did an enormous amount of good in the fight against AIDS, setting up her own foundation and campaigning for the recognition and acceptance of the disease and the rights of sufferers. So, while it’s easy to see her as a caricature of Hollywood excess, she’s used her fame to do some pretty good stuff in this world. That said, she does believe in all that Kabbalah bullshit and she hung around with Michael Jackson more than was entirely necessary, but what can one say? Nobody’s perfect.

Liz is currently in hospital, suffering from congestive heart failure. We can but hope that the tough old Dame (hey, she’s a DBE, I’m giving her nuff respec’) is able to entertain guests, drink a glass or two of  bubbly goodness and enjoy celebrating her 79th birthday. Happy birthday, Ms Taylor, they really do not make them like you any more!


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February 15th

On this day in 1980 Lillian Hellman, in high dudgeon over some remarks made about her by Mary McCarthy, threw her toys out of the pram and got her lawyer to phone Ms McCarthy with the message “You’re sued, bitch!”

Their lack of amity stretched back over about thirty years. They’d met at a poetry reading and things had cut up a little rough – verbally at least – over the rhyming structure and origins of There was a Young Girl From Nantucket. Hellman challenged McCarthy to a poetry-off and onlookers gasped in amazement as the two women pit their wits against each other for over three hours. Eventually a sweat-sodden Hellman admitted defeat when she was up against If William of Orange had been a Banana. The fact that McCarthy had very nearly faltered on If Pigs Could Fly and Lambs wore Roller-Skates was no consolation to her and from that day forward the two eminent ladies of letters had a mutual antipathy for each other.

Fast-forward thirty years, when McCarthy was being interviewed on television and was asked about Lillian. Mary was not kind. She


Norman Mailer's favourite fantasy

stated that Ms Hellman was not capable of writing the truth, called her a liar and laughed when she recounted the tale of the day Lillian had told everyone at a lunch table that she had invented mayonnaise. “We all would have believed her.” said Mary, “But she then went on to tell us it was made of Heinz salad cream with some cream and a couple of egg yolks added.” Lillian was absolutely furious and so she issued a lawsuit claiming $2.2 million in damages for libel.

It really was a frightful mess and while everyone agreed that Mary should have kept her mouth shut about the mayonnaise gaffe, they also thought that Lillian was being a bit of a bitch. The fact is Hellman was a bit of a fantasist and made up stories about herself all the time. It got that even she wasn’t sure when she was lying and when she was telling the truth, so suing someone for being a bit sarcastic about her predilection for telling porkies was a little rich.

Lots of people rushed to Mary’s defence, which just made Lillian crosser and then Norman Mailer suggested that they slug it out in a boxing ring, but everyone told him he was a bloody idiot and when he remembered that both women were rather elderly and therefore it wouldn’t be that good an image for his wank bank, he agreed that shutting up might be the best thing in the circumstances. The lawsuit dragged on for four years and then, luckily for everyone involved, except Lillian, Lillian shuffled off this mortal coil. Mary was able to get her life back, Mailer tried to get Cindy Crawford to argue with Princess Diana so that he could suggest his boxing ring idea again, and the literary types of New York went back to gossiping about Truman Capote. It is rumoured, though it  has never been confirmed, that Lillian’s last word was: “Mayonnaise”.


Today is the birthday of the singer in one of the worst bands in the world ever. The band is UB40 and the singer who screeched and barely formed the words of the poor excuses for songs that they performed, is Ali Campbell. As well as being a shit singer, Ali has been blessed with the sort of face that even a mother can’t, in all conscience, love.

UB40 have been called the most successful reggae band in the world, but critics who are not  hampered with cloth ears have said that

Campbell often did a poo in his pants while singing

UB40 are to reggae what poo is to diamonds. There most successful hit was Red, Red Wine in which Ali Campbell went for method singing, added an “h” to wine and caused many household pets to develop lemming-like tendencies whenever it was played on the radio.


Campbell has since left UB40 and has managed to have solo success in the face of remarkable obstacles: his voice, his face, and everything about him. Today, he celebrates his 52nd birthday, probably wearing a comedy dreadlock wig and wishing he was more like that nice Bob Marley. Happy birthday, Ali Campbell. You utter knobend.


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