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March 26th

On this day in 1804 the president of those United States of America, Thomas Jefferson was presented with a mammoth loaf of bread. And lo, he and a whole bunch of others did eat it. You’re probably wondering why he was presented with a mammoth loaf of bread, well wonder (loaf) no longer, I shall tell you the story of the bread, some cheese and a bunch of fossils. Sit back and at least try to enjoy.

 

As they finish the last mammoth punch bowl, they dread the mammoth hangovers to come

A few years previously, in 1801 to be precise, the skellington of a woolly mammoth had been found in New York.  Mr Jefferson was well into a bit of the old science and – as a member of the American Philosophical Society – happily helped them raise funds to complete the archaeological project started when they found the furry elephant. All well and good you might think, but the president’s opponents, the Federalists, thought he was a daft old bugger and the money being spent on the project was a frivolous waste. Why it was any of their business – it wasn’t public money – is anyone’s guess, but they wanted to ridicule their president and soon had their chance. In 1802, a group of Baptist women from Massachusetts sent Jefferson a 1,200lb lump of cheese to thank him for his  support of religious tolerance. The cheese, they said, represented the reality of his claim that one day the US would outstrip all of Europe when it came to agricultural production.

 

How did the Federalists use this to mock their president? They christened the cheese, “The Mammoth Cheese”. Oh my sides, what wit, what eloquence, what a silly bunch of fuckers. Even better, the Federalists were aghast to find that instead of making the American public laugh at the president they all loved this use of “mammoth” and took to it like a baby to the teat. Butchers started labelling their bigger joints “mammoth” and grocers sold mammoth pumpkins and loaves of bread. Suck on that you unimaginative phalange of fuckers!

The cheese was lasting and lasting and lasting and so it was that on March 26th 1804 there was a mammoth luncheon party, sponsored by the Senate to raise funds for a naval war in the Barbary states. A navy baker wheeled in the mammoth loaf, with the remainder of the mammoth cheese, along with a mammoth side of beef and lashings of mammoth bottles of wine and champagne. Jefferson approached the loaf, took out his own pocketknife, cut the first slice of bread and the party began. It started out as quite a sedate affair as befitted a public fund-raising party, but the lashings of alcohol soon took their toll and according to some who attended it rapidly descended into a drunken, ribald affair, which makes a huge (or should that be mammoth) change from today’s state affairs.

And so, dear readers, that is the tail in all its mammothry. A little dull, to be perfectly honest, but a nice piece of trivia to drop into the next dinner party you attend. Especially if you wish to send your fellow diners into a post-prandial coma.

Today was the birthday of a man born 100 years ago in 1911. He went on to be America’s finest playwright and was known as Tennessee Williams.

Williams was born in Columbus, Missouri and when he was eight the family moved to St Louis. He had an older sister, Rose and a younger brother. His mother was a total southern belle type and his father was pretty much an alcoholic travelling shoe salesman

Nudie Tennessee

(Ted Bundy!). Williams was close to his sister and their maid Ozzie, he feared his father and found his mother’s hysteria and neuroticism difficult to deal with. In later years, Rose was institutionalised because she had schizophrenia, but still remained an important part of Tennessee’s life. In fact his whole dysfunctional family turn up in his plays, along with him, time and time again. Rose is the disabled sister in The Glass Menagerie, his mother is almost certainly Blanche DuBois, he is Brick and his father is Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Elia Kazan said of Williams that “Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life.”

 

This was unfortunate for him. He was beset by depression throughout his life and a dependence on alcohol, barbiturates and amphetamines. The more successful he became, the more he doubted his ability to produce work worth reading or performing. His doubts became a self-fulfilling prophecy and after the sixties he never produced anything close to the brilliance of his previous output. But the genius he gave us before that was so rich, so varied, so lush and wondrous that the only tragedy is his own doubt, not the falling off of new and beautiful gems to set before us.

Tennessee (born Tom, he took Tennessee – the home state of his grandfather – as his professional name) was rarely a happy man, but he was a man full of talent and warmth. He loved and cared for those he was close to, he gave of himself and he gave a lot; plays, screenplays, novels and short stories are there for all of us to enjoy. If you’ve never seen any of his work, you’re missing out and must make amends immediately! Happy birthday Tennessee Williams. I discovered you in my teens and have adored you ever since. You were way better than that Arthur Miller and that is a stone cold fact!

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March 15th

On this day in 44BC something happened that I really had no intention whatsoever of talking about, but after perusing the ledgers of history, I realised it was that or some event so boring that all our eyes would bleed in reading about it, so here we are. What was this event? Well, it’s the fifteenth of March or, as it was known in the days of Rome, the Ides of March which should be more than clue enough. That’s right. Today’s the day that Julius Caesar was done in by a bunch of senators.

Gerroff me you fuckers!

Far be it from me to turn this into a tragedy or a farce, that’s already been done by some bloke called Shakespeare and those risible wags who made the Carry On films, but there is a problem with talking about an event that’s been represented so iconically in fiction. How on earth does one bring it to life without referring back to those previous representations? The answer is one doesn’t, one looks them straight in the face and deals with them and that’s just what we shall do.

We tend to get the notion that Caesar was a dreadful dictator and that’s why his young mate Brutus and a group of senators wanted to do him in, but the truth isn’t quite as simple as that. It is true that they were worried he’d become king, the senate would lose its power and Rome would stop being a republic, but it’s far from clear that old JC was keen to become king and do away with the republic. At the time of his death he held the title dictator perpetuo, which meant much what it looks like, dictator in perpetuity, but it was the senate itself that had bestowed this title on him. He accepted because he sort of had to. He’d been offered a crown more than once and each time he had refused it. There was also a story spread by the conspirators who called themselves liberatores (liberators), that he had dismissed two tribunes because they had taken laurels off a statue of him – we know laurels now as something given to victors or in fact worn by emperors, but at this time they were seen as the preserve of Jupiter who was the king of the gods – but the story was a little different to that. The laurels had been placed on the statue by some plebeians who the tribunes arrested. Later some more plebeians chanted “Rex!” (king) at Caesar and they too were arrested by the same tribunes. They all complained that they weren’t allowed to speak their minds, so Caesar put the matter to a vote before the senate, the senate and he decided that the tribunes had been a bit previous and they were then dismissed.

Basically, what you’re really seeing is a group of blokes who almost certainly did want to preserve the republic, but who were also well jealous of Caesar and so could see no good in him for seeing bad. They killed him when they did because he was about to go on a campaign in Parthia where he would almost certainly have won and become more powerful and popular. The popularity thing is important. The people of Rome who didn’t give a flying fiddle about the senate loved JC.  The night before they were going to lure him to his death at the Theatre of Pompey (nb, not the senate, so ya boo sucks to Shakespeare and Sid James and that lot), Mark Antony found out about the conspiracy and the next morning he tried to get to Caesar to warn him. He was too late. The conspirators had got to Caesar, surrounded him and stabbed him 23 times. It might be a little subjective of me to say they acted like frenzied maniacs, but fuck it, you know what? They did.

Caesar was reported by some to have said “You too, child?” to Brutus, who was very close to Caesar and therefore a treacherous little bastard, but Plutarch, who was quite the reporter, said that Caesar said nothing at all. Given that he was being stabbed to death by a bunch of mentalists, I’d go with Plutarch. After they’d murdered him the senators ran through the city shouting out to all and sundry that they were free and the republic had been saved. Well, they would have been shouting to all and sundry if everyone hadn’t shat it on hearing that Caesar had been murdered and locked themselves up in their houses. The people of Rome weren’t much impressed by Brutus, Cassius and their merry band of murderers.

In the immediate aftermath, Caesar was left dead for three hours before anyone went to pick him up and do the decent thing. After that things got very hairy for the conspirators. The plebeian class was frankly furious that a bunch of la-di-da snobs had murdered a man they admired and Mark Antony used them for all they were worth to scare the bejesus out of the conspirators. Caesar left everything to his grandnephew Octavian, including his name which pretty much pissed Mark Antony off. There followed five civil wars, armies, jealousy, death, fighting, suicide and eventually the loss of the very thing the conspirators claimed they’d gone and got a bit killy to preserve: the Roman Republic. Octavian became Augustus and it was he, not Julius who became the first emperor of Rome.

And that’s how it happened. There were no presages à la Shakespeare, no “Et tu, Brute?”, no Brutus being all torn apart by the position he found himself in. Neither did Caesar say “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it infamy?” although it would have been great if he had, Julius was not a camp man with bottom ailments and Mark Antony did not look a Sharpei’s scrotum, that is, he was not Sid James.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you will go around killing leaders who get on your tits, you’ll probably end up with someone far worse than the person you killed. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were a lot easier to get along with than Robespierre and his lust for the guillotine,  Tsar Nicholas II (who abdicated today in 1917, btw) was less of a paranoiac killer than Stalin, er JFK was better looking that LBJ … Anyway, assassination is a bad idea, so just don’t do it, okay!

 

Today is the birthday of Fabio Lanzoni, or just plain old Fabio. For those of you who have no idea who he is, I envy you, but I’m about to invite you into our misery. Fabio is a model and allegedly also an actor. His fame arises from having been the cover model for a shitload of romance novels in the 80s and 90s with his long blonde hair, vapidly handsome face and ridiculous man-tits.

Not content with showing off his man-tits and swinging his hair about while bare-chested he’s also appeared in soap operas and had cameos in a few films. But even that wasn’t enough. He released an album called  After Dark or Fabio talks utter shite as I like to think of it.(please click the link if you want to laugh and spontaneously vomit at the same time) On the album he mixes his choice of music

Fabio straining to do a blow off

(mostly hideously shit) with his thoughts on romance, films, surprises and slow-dancing among other things. Needless to say he has nothing interesting to say and only reinforces the idea that the lesser of two evils is merely looking at the stupid lunk.

Fabio has also killed a goose with his nose. It happened when he was on a roller coaster and the goose flew into his face and died. So, not only is Fabio a waste of space, he uses the space he wastes to murder poor dumb animals.

Anyway, he’s 53 today, so it’s likely that his man-boobs are starting to sag and he’s probably starting to look like a decaying wildebeest. Such is life. Happy birthday, then, you great lolloping lump of sculpted lard and tendons, I never did buy a book with you on the cover because I HAVE TASTE!

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February 9th

On this day in 1950 Senator Joseph McCarthy gave a speech to the Women’s Republican Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, in which he played the big old braggart and claimed that he had a list of 205 members of the State Department who were in fact dirty Communist spies. He was a bit backward about coming forward with actual names, mostly because he was making it all up. That said, he was taken aback by how much publicity his speech got and in later speeches and meetings he kept changing the number of real honest to badness communists. It was 205, then it was 57, then it was 81 and then … etc. Poor old Joe forgot that the first rule of telling a good lie is to keep it simple and not to change the story when you think you might be found out, no matter how outrageous the lie.

Joseph McCarthy's idea of what a communist looked like

However, brazen, silly and easily pulled to pieces as the lie was, it created what became known as “the Second Red Scare”, because people were looking for something to be scared of. The first “Red Scare” was particularly nasty and involved people getting executed for being a bit too bright and a bit too far to the left of centre. That didn’t happen this time around, but it did get a bit bloody silly, given that it was all based on the rantings of an alcoholic who had a bit of a stick up his arse about communism and wasn’t afraid to go on for hours about how he knew that X person was in fact a top communist spy. There was a big hearing which was set up by Democrats to discredit McCarthy, but it backfired, despite the fact that McCarthy talked pure shite the whole time. This just made McCarthy worse. He had begun naming names in the committee hearing and when it was over he named more and more ridiculous names including, the lone Ranger and Tonto, Speedy Gonzalez and Harry Truman’s dog Feller. Despite this he got re-elected to the Senate in 1952 and continued to malign anyone he felt like having a pop at. By now Truman was out of office and Feller was left alone a little, although for the rest of his life, he was known to get a bit bitey if  he encountered a man who looked anything like Joseph McCarthy.

Thankfully, he went too far with Dwight D. Eisenhower when he started in on the army. Eisenhower was already a bit pissed off with McCarthy, but this made him go ballistic. While he remained a calm demeanour in public, in private he was saying to his closest aides, “It was bad enough when he went after that poor dog, but now he’s messing with the army, I’m going to kick that sonofabitch up the ass!” And he did. In a secret event that has never before been publicised, Eisenhower invited McCarthy for drinks and pretended that he had dropped his pen on the carpet. When McCarthy bent down to pick it up for him, Dwight took a run at his target and kicked him right up the arse. It was the beginning of the end for the old soak. Everyone started turning against him. Ed Murrow did a spot on his TV show wherein he stated that “McCarthy is an old drunk and a bastard liar.” and everyone who had been going “Yeah! That dog is a communist. Kill it!” was now all “Aw, the poor doggie. Shut the old drunk up!”

He continued to get all red in the face about communism (this was quite painful for him, as he’d see his face and hallucinate that it was turning into the Soviet flag) for another couple of years, but no one paid him any attention and so one of the bigger liars of history, met his end in obscurity in 1957. He was survived by Feller, who may or may not have peed on his grave.

Today would be the birthday of Brendan Behan, who met a premature death in 1964. Jaysus he was a grand aul soak! (that is Irish for “good golly, he liked a drink!”) and a fine writer. The drinking started early. Biographer Ulrick O’ Connor, tells the story of an 8-year-old Behan out with his grandmother. A passer-by was alarmed by the look of the lad and declared, “Oh my! Isn’t it terrible,

Brendan was a bugger for the bottle

Ma’am, to see such a beautiful child deformed?” Granny replied, “How dare you! He’s not deformed, he’s just drunk!” Brendan described himself as a drinker with a small writing problem. Unfortunately, the writing problem became smaller as the drinking became bigger. He left behind some great work, including The Quare Fellow and Borstal Boy, but he knew that his public reveled in his drinking and despite his diabetes and other health problems, the grand aul soak, drank himself to death. ‘Tis a coincidence and an irony that both of today’s entries involve men who were far too fond of the sauce. In the case of our first drunk, ’tis a grand aul shame that he didn’t drink himself to death earlier and in the case of the very wonderful and much missed, Brendan, ’tis an awful shame that he didn’t wean himself off the demon teat and live to write us a million more stories.

Happy birthday, you silly old fool, you may have been deformed by the drink, but you left a fine legacy behind you!

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