Thursday, 15 March 2012

Literary Encounters: David Meets Goliath

Blog 30
March 2012

James Watson: A Writer’s Notebook

Literary encounters (10) David meets Goliath
Notes in passing: Smothering heights?
Poems of place (7) Guernica
Correspondence Ned Baslow takes John Milton to task

Now available on Amazon Kindle (£1.63)

David meets Goliath

A selection from Pigs Might Fly a story set in the 1950s.

16-year old Clark Gable Stevens (nicknamed Curlew because one of his few talents is being able to imitate that wild bird of the moors) is suddenly faced with a crisis – having to give up his layabout existence and ‘grow up’. His father, proprietor of Fetterton’s Ritz Cinema, already in grave peril as the developers wish to flatten it in the name of commercial progress, has taken a fall. With a number of significant bones broken, he will be holed up in a hospital bed for days, weeks or even for ever. Who but his son Curlew can rescue the Ritz?

With his stalwart friends Curlew goes in to the window-cleaning business only to discover that Nigel Morgan, his rival in love for the fair Susan, has already set up his own window cleaning company. His assistants are the toughest muscle-men in the district.

Efficient as well oiled robots, the Amalgamated Federation of Underage Window Cleaners marches through the back doors of Edward Street, duck the washing lines and rap, at the exact same instant, on the council-house green doors.
And as if one voice serves for all of them, the good ladies of Edward Street give answer: 'Eeh, no luv, sorry...We've already called the window cleaners.'
Curlew is, as they say in books, 'taken aback'; or to be more exact, gobsmacked. To Mrs. Bolton at the end house, he protests, 'But there aren't any window cleaners in Fetterton, Mrs. Bolton. You were complaining about it in the chippy only the other day.'

Before Mrs. Bolton can explain, a voice from behind Curlew starts to make all things clear. 'Then you'd better do your 'omework proper, 'adn't you, Stevens?'
Curlew turns, feels a stab of terror – much as David must have felt faced by Goliath – at the sight and shadow of Frank 'Dumb-bell' Mason, the biggest, solidest muscle-man in town, known for his capacity to head bricks and not feel a thing. Two teachers are still off school for having warned Frank about ogling girls in the gym; and that was eighteen months ago…

Curlew's brain is struggling to work out just what is happening; or rather why, because what is happening is that he is being lifted off his feet by Dumb-bell Mason and carried out of Mrs. Bolton's backyard.
The why is soon evident. 'Feast yer eyes on that, Tadpole.' Dumb-bell points to a smart van drawn up at the street corner. In big letters are the words: MORGAN ENTERPRISES LIMITED: ALL THINGS OUR SPECIALITY. 'Geddit, Microbe? Us was first.'
Curlew does not need to guess that Dumb-bell has his assistants close by; but he asks anyway, 'I guess the Terrible Twins are also working this pitch, Frank.' He is referring to Kev the Crunch and Herb the Hangman. Together they comprise what Curlew calls them the Three Stodges.
'You guessed right.'

Dumb-bell Mason recites to Mrs. Bolton the window-cleaning charges as set by Morgan Enterprises. ''Front and back, will it be, Madam? That'll be three pound.'
'Three pounds?' Curlew hears himself exclaim. 'That's outrageous.'
'It does seem a bit steep,' says Mrs. Bolton.
Curlew forgets his personal safety: economics are now on his mind: 'We can do better than that, Mrs. Bolton,' he announces. Curlew is aware that his comrades, each at the same position in the backyard next door and next door but one two three four and five, are waiting for a sign.
He raises his voice to a shout. 'Three quid a house? That's a rip-off. It ought to be reported to the United Nations. We, in aid of the Save the Ritz Campaign, are offering a quid a house – ONE POUND A HOUSE, front and back. No quibbles, no hidden extras.'
Dumb-bell appeals, in an almost gentle, persuasive voice, to Mrs. Bolton:
'These are snotty-nosed kids, Mrs. They'll make a complete mess of the job.'
'Okay, Mrs. Bolton,' parleys Curlew, 'if we don't do the job to your satisfaction, we won't charge you a penny.'
'Two quid a house,' comes back Dumb-bell, looking black, and promising with a swift sideward glance at Curlew that his window-cleaning days are numbered.

But Curlew's character has always favoured words to personal safety. And the words are coming now. 'Don't you listen to that sort of business tactic, Mrs. Bolton. If he's having to cut his price, he's sure to skimp the job.'
…Mrs. Bolton makes her decision in favour of windows cleaned at a quid a house and all the other housewives in Edward Street opt for the same.
'Okay,' concedes Dumb-bell Mason, pride very damaged, 'once you're outside this backyard, Stevens, you'd better start prayin’.'
'Tell you what, Frank,' calls Curlew from the top of his ladder. Somehow he has to make an escape route for himself and his comrades. 'We can do a deal. After all, we businessmen must watch out for each other – right?'
Dumb-bell knows Curlew of old. He suspects him, and his sort: talkers. He despises his physical puniness, but fears his brains. 'Oh yeah?'
'Yeah. This street is long enough for both of us. There're fourteen houses, so we could finish our wack, that's seven –’
'I can count, block'ead!'
'Leaving seven for you to mop up the rest of Edward Street.'
'Bugger that,' calls Herb, 'not at a measly quid a shot.'
'Suit yourselves. But you could put your prices back up for George Street and Victoria Road.'

It is quite possible that, if an unexpected disaster had not struck, some sort of deal between the warring parties might have been arranged; and the physical survival of the Ritz Campaign Committee guaranteed.
Fate decided otherwise.
The first batch of windows has been duly cleaned, the jobs duly paid for. Curlew pockets Mrs. Bolton's pound but politely declines a glass of Vimto. It reminds him too much of blood.
Deep in gossip over her backyard wall with a neighbour, Mrs. Toliver at Number 11 has forgotten her husband's breakfast fry-up, which is about to become a fire-up.
Ronnie Whinnet is first to spot the smoke. 'Fire! Fire! – pan's on fire.'
Chippy Bulmer knows about frying-pan fires. His Dad's place once burned down completely, so his voice is the loudest, the most screeching:
'Fire! Fire! Call the Fire Brigade! The ambulance! The police!'
The good ladies of Edward Street go straight into a free-fall panic. 'My kitchen!' screams Mrs. Toliver. 'My new kitchen!'
Everybody rushes to her aid.
'Water – water!' yells Mrs. Toliver.
What a godsend, then, for the women of Edward Street to see salvation stacked beside the van of Morgan Enterprises: a row of full water buckets waiting as if already expecting this emergency.
One or two ladies get so enthusiastic about throwing the water through Mrs. Toliver's kitchen window that they let go the buckets as well. This brings out Mr. Toliver who's been reading the morning paper, unaware of what has been going on. Luckily he only gets a face full of the contents of a bucket rather than the bucket itself.

A 999 call brings out the Fetterton Fire Brigade. It arrives quicker than you could recite the Lord's Prayer. They must have smelt the smoke. The fire truck swings immediately into reverse; indeed so quickly that the driver misses seeing the Morgan Enterprises van parked in Edward Street back.
The crunch of metal can be heard three streets away, but not it seems by the driver of the fire truck. He continues to reverse, with Morgan Enterprises clanging on his tail, right up to Mr and Mrs Toliver's back door.
'It's okay, Officer,' says Mr. Toliver. 'Job's done.' He smiles as if disaster has been averted rather than multiplied. 'It'll have to be cornflakes for me this morning.'

Now could all this possibly be Curlew Stevens’ fault? Not the fire, not the Fire Brigade, not the damage to Morgan's wonderful new van – but the whole situation? His fault or not, he knows who is going to be blamed… He bellows, 'Comrades, this is a Red Alert. Repeat, Red Alert. To all points of the compass – run! Scarper! Get fled!'
It's as simple as that: surrender or scarper.
All but Chippy, Clem and the mastermind of the Save Ritz Campaign manage to duck the outstretched talons of the Three Stodges. Dumb-bell Mason has Curlew by the neck.
'YOU are goin' to pay dear for this little fiasco, 'orsefly. When I done wi'you, they'll not recognise you. Not even your mad Aunt. You'll be needin' more than plastic surgery – you'll be needin' a brush an’ shovel.'
Curlew is lifted off his feet and pinned over the bonnet of the damaged van. He reckons that unless he does some quick thinking, he'll be doing plenty of bleeding. He protests: 'You disappoint me, Frank.'
The comment, being unexpected, checks Dumb-bell's massive fist. 'You used to protect little-uns, underdogs.'
Now this is not strictly true. Dumb-bell did once warn off a big guy picking on a little guy, but it was for money. Still, he has his pride, and a principle or two. Curlew goes on talking. 'If you want to fight fair and square, Frank – okay, I'm up for it!'
Curlew does not believe that he has said this, but he understands why. He is playing for time And Dumb-bell knows it...

The condemned are marched to Market Square. On the way they pass St. Stephen's Church. The sight of its comforting stone portals gives Curlew the idea of making a sudden wrench and dart for it, and claiming … now what did they call it in the old days?
Ecclesiastical sanctuary.

'Right, Skunk!' The market place is deserted except for a few pigeons pecking among wood-framed stalls and windpools of litter. Truly, an ideal place for an execution.
'One last request, Gentlemen.'
Herb the Hangman grins through broken teeth. 'E wants a Christian burial, Frank.'
Kev the Crunch almost falls over laughing.
Dumb-bell Mason has stripped off his leather rallying jacket. 'You wanna make yer last will an' testerment, d' you, Lumpashit?'
Curlew is shaking. These guys really mean it. 'Er, if you don't mind, I'd like to…to request an adjournment pro tem.' He has not the slightest idea what an adjournment pro tem is, but then nor does any of the Three Stodges.
It sounds legal.
'Stuff yer big words, y'frozen funk. There won't be no jourment totem.’
‘What I mean, Frank, is – a delay.’
Now they all fall over laughing: 'A delay? 'E wants a delay!'
'Yes, just till I get my distance glasses back from the optician's.'
Dumb-bell never tires of showing his cannonball fist. 'You think y'll need specs to see this 'eadin' in yer direction, Foureyes?'
'You'd not fight a blind man, would you?'
'Blind? I serpose y' cleaned them winders usin' radar?'
Curlew pleads for life and liberty: 'A truce, that's all I'm asking for.' He is talking fast. 'What if I got our Campaign treasurer to hand over the money we made?' And faster: 'It'll take only seconds to get to his place and back.'
As if to prove this, Curlew tries a move in the right direction (for him, that is) only for his foot to encounter Kev the Crunch's ankle bone. As receipt, he is awarded an early birthday present in the form of Kev's unwrapped fist and a Christmas gift in the shape of brother Herb's kneecap.
The agony of it is one thing, but the worst of it is being shot up in the air as if he had no more substance than a bag of fleas. Curlew lands back on the market place cobbles and staggers straight into Dumb-bell who at this very same instant is pulling a huge pea-green sweater over his head.
'Oh no!' Curlew hears Clem and Chippy groan in unison.
Dumb-bell, head trapped in the sweater, loses balance. He emits a roar loud enough to awake the Ninth Legion from their slumbers in Our Annie's archeological trench; and in trying to respond to the blow, he tangles himself further, until the Growling Goliath is fighting himself.
To the casual observer, the shameful tumble of Fetterton's own Mister Invincible has been caused by none other than the Mighty Midget, Clark Gable Stevens, Pacifist Extraordinary.

On even ground, Dumb-bell would recover his balance in a second and end Curlew's triumph as instantly as it began. But even ground is not what Dumb-bell has fallen on: at this point, Market Square drops at a steep angle. With his arms still trapped in the pea-green sweater, Dumb-bell begins to roll in the direction of the Cenotaph.
There has been time during these events for a fair sized crowd of spectators to grow. It has witnessed, from afar, a youth incapable of knocking a hole through a pie-crust despatch Fetterton's answer to Rocky Marciano from here almost to eternity.
Could this be the beginning of a legend as long-lasting as Robin Hood and his Merry Men?
Probably not for, needless to say, raging bulls of Frank Mason's size, weight and muscle, are not to be obstructed long by lambswool, terylene, nylon or even polyester. Launched back on to his feet by Kev and Herb, Dumb-bell returns to the fray with the speed of a Blue Streak missile.
He is spitting flames.
Clem is calling: 'Curlew, the others are coming. Stand your ground!'
Despite Curlew's orders to his comrades to hasten home and barricade their front doors, they have turned downhill racers on his behalf.
This combat-to-the-death promises to improve on the battle scene in Henry V; it may even dim the glory of The Sands of Iwa Jima.
It is touching. Curlew promises himself never to forget the desire of his comrades – his commandos! – to sacrifice their all on his behalf. The first skirmish proves the right of might. Herb takes out Seth by shoving a flattened palm in his face. 'An' you can piss off back to Barbados, sniveller!'
He grabs him, flings him like a dead cat into Phil the Ghoul.
Curlew shouts, 'Orderly retreat!' But Dumb-bell is all over him, going for his best feature, his nose, and punching him in the stomach; which reminds him he's hardly eaten any breakfast.
Suddenly, into this mêlée, hotchpotch or hotpot of puffing, grunting strife, there sails a whistling handbag and the voice of Curlew’s Aunt Annie shrieking like a South American football commentator.
'Stand back! Stand back, you pig-livered villains! Leave that defenceless child alone or I'll call in the military!'

Our Annie stands tall as a house front in her drainpipe raincoat and hiking boots. Her handbag isn't one of those that petty thieves snatch in Woolworth's. No, it is a canvas sack containing lumps of limestone from Fossil Bank.
In her other hand, so far poised but not in action, is her geologist's hammer, specially forged to shatter the hardest rock.
She is, in short, an awesome sight: Thor, God of Destruction (or at least his sister) appearing twixt two claps of thunder.
'Release him at once, you lice-infested rabble, or I'll boil your scalps in dripping.' A speechless paralysis stills the warriors on both sides. She has stepped between Curlew and Dumb-bell. Her geologist's hammer hovers an inch beneath Frank's chin. 'And you, well, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Nigel Morgan, a young man with your antecedents.'

Among her other shortcomings, Our Annie is shortsighted. Sometimes she does not even recognise Curlew, her own nephew. Dumb-bell Mason, confused at being mistaken for his Boss, only gets out the words, 'I'm not –’ before he has to suffer more abuse poured on the head of Nice Nigel:
'All your puny, conspiring, slippery, slimy life you've been a mean son-of-a-gun.'
'Miss, I'm Frank!’
'Yes, and I'm going to be frank with you, you mangy chip off the old block. When you weren't running a protection racket with kids with more pocket money than courage, you chased harmless foxes over the countryside in your silly red jacket, with your mad dogs foaming at the mouth – disgusting! Huh, so I'm amazed you're actually doing your own fighting for once, Nigel Morgan.'
'Not me, Miss,' Dumb-bell almost whimpers.
'Like your boneheaded Dad, making people's lives a misery. And what do you get up to when my back is turned?'
'Not me, Miss,' Dumb-bell actually whimpers.
'When I should be doing something important like digging up Pictish bones –’
'Sorry, Miss!’
'You pick on a poor, motherless waif like our Clark, whose only muscles are what he eats off Sawyer's Fish Stall once a fortnight.'
Herb the Hangman gets in a word edgeways. 'It were ’im as started it, Miss.'
'Rubbish! If you gave this nephew of mine a boxing glove he'd not have the slightest idea what to do with it, cage it or eat it with tomato ketchup.'
'That's true, Our Annie,' agrees Curlew.
'And you can shut up too. I'm ashamed of you, brawling in front of the Cenotaph. My Donald didn't lay down his life so you could go on repeating the mistakes of mankind.'
'Sorry, Our Annie. It was all a big misunderstanding.'
Clem offers support. 'Things kind of got out of hand.'
The Three Stodges retreat, eyes still warily fixed on Thor's hammer. Dumb-bell's courage is returning in small sips: 'There'll be another time, Madam.' He glares at Curlew.

There is to be no truce. Curlew knows that this fight to the death has only been postponed. He tries words of peace if not friendship: 'No hard feelings, Frank.' He's not sure whether he is asking a question or making a statement; but having said it, Curlew realises it is the understatement of the century.
No words can describe Frank Dumb-bell Mason's hard feelings. He picks up his peagreen sweater, grabs his rallying jacket. The answer he gives sends freezing shivers down the spines of Curlew and his team. He is brief. He is to the point; and he means every word:
'The Ritz is dead!'

This is the last in the current series of Literary Encounters which began in March 2011 (Blog 21). The 10 extracts will be posted as an entity on shortly. This blog is also published on

NOTES IN PASSING: Smothering Heights?
The question is, which have you to be most faithful to, the novel or the film, because it’s nigh on impossible to be both. Do you take a novel like Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, treat it is a script to be knocked about a bit for it to emerge commendable in its own right but a substantial alteration of the original for filmic purposes?

Which suggests a supplementary question, would someone unfamiliar with the novel consider Andrea Arnold’s version as a good film; and talking of supplementaries, would Arnold’s film lead the viewer back to the book?

The answer to the last question has to be Yes, at least in order to find out what all the fuss has been about down the decades since Emily penned what has generally been regarded as a masterpiece, rough-hewn and bursting with passion.

The temptation is to offer rationalities (some might call them excuses) for Arnold’s film version. First, the novel is long and involves three generations, covering in the words of Philip French ’30-odd years of pain, mystery and ecstasy’. It includes two Catherines, mother and daughter, Catherine 2 taking up a goodly portion of the novel. However, in Arnold’s film version Catherine 2 does not exist and except for a close-up of Catherine 1’s touching a modestly dilated stomach is not referred to.

Even so, Arnold takes 2.25 hours to tell her truncated story. The case of the two Catherines presents a genuine problem for the film maker, and Arnold makes a justifiable narrative choice: she focuses from the start on Heathcliff. We see the world of Wuthering Heights through his eyes and through his experience. As a youth he is cruelly treated, dismissively regarded, except by Catherine who comes swiftly to love him and be his stalwart friend.

This eyeline is a major departure from the narrative structure of the novel where there are two highly articulate narrators, Mr. Lockwood (deleted) and the housekeeper, Nelly Dean, who in the film is reduced to a shadowy existence; just another character of limited appearance and few words.

The film gains focus by this narrative choice, but it loses the richness of language so notable in the novel. In the film version Heathcliff is laconic (fair enough for the genre). What we see is what counts, but this is limiting in that Brontë provides so much more.

We begin to see things as more clear-cut than was Brontë’s intention: Heathcliff is a victim of bullying. Revenge is his motivation as he returns to Wuthering Heights a rich man. As French puts it in his review of the film for The Observer, Heathcliff is ‘no longer an enigma, merely a puzzle, a tornado of resentment’.

The novel keeps a tantalising distance between the reader and Heathcliff. He is a figure of mystery and complex behaviour that goes far beyond what the treatment of him by others would warrant. He possesses passion for his lost Cathy but throughout shows not an ounce of charity or compassion. We are left wondering – as we are not in the film – just how inhuman, and indeed evil, he can be.

Over the top
In the novel, Heathcliff ends a tragic figure, in the film, portrayed by James Howson, a hysteric. This is in part due to one of the hazards of a film that needs older actresses and actors to continue the parts played by characters in their childhood.

Arnold’s characterisation is best when Cathy and Heathcliff are seen for the first time, children becoming teenagers, sharing a friendship and together relishing the adventure and the solitude offered by the Yorkshire hills. Unfortunately, as successfully as Solomon Glave underplays the young Heathcliff, Howson hams it. Apparently Howson had his voice dubbed: he was ill-served, but the greater problem is that he fails to ‘feel’ the nature of Heathcliff: had he actually read the novel? (Indeed, had Andrea Arnold more than cursorily?).

An absence
The director must have sensed that by ridding her narrative of the interpretative detail – the articulacy – offered by the novel’s narrators, and excising the second Cathy, something serious had gone missing, an absence requiring compensation.

Some critics have felt that the chief protagonist of Wuthering Heights the film is the weather and nature unrelentingly raw in tooth and claw. It could fairly be said that Arnold pays a shade more attention to the details of nature than the complexities of her characters and their situation.

She overdoes ‘look at nature, see how symbolic it can be’ to the point when the audience might be wondering how much worse the weather can get or just how often the camera is going to dwell on other manifestations of rotting and decay, or how many more shots they can tolerate of Cathy’s favourite bird, the lapwing.

Still film
In an online review for Motion [Captured] Drew McWeeny considers the film ‘more of a photo exhibition than a film’. He calls it a ‘still-life’: ‘As gorgeous as the film is frame by frame, it never comes to life and the result is a museum piece at best’.

Philip French remarks on ‘an uneasy turn when Cathy is absorbed into the civilising world of Thrushcross Grange’, though he has a few words of praise for the Kaya Scodelario as the married Cathy, but ‘the movie never recovers its early power and at times becomes confused, ponderous and risible’. True: and no moment is more risible than Heathcliff’s grand finale of screaming passion.

Arnold’s movie is a game of two halves, the first an interesting approximation to the original story (though the Wuthering Heights farmhouse is portrayed in the film as more squalid than it really ought to be, otherwise why would the Lintons be so accepting of Cathy as a bride-to-be?

Also, bearing in mind that Mr. Earnshaw is such a devout Christian it’s hardly likely he would have the young Cathy and Heathcliff bunk down together in the same room).

Perhaps whatever filmic approach you take, capturing the essence of the novel will always prove elusive. In which case credit should be given to a director of talent whose reach exceeded her grasp on this occasion. On the other hand, I’d need a great deal of cajoling to watch the film again. It stays with you, but largely for the wrong reasons.



In the ashes of spent fires
On that bitter April night
They found embossed on incendiaries
Dropped by Heinkels, the Imperial Eagle.
Yet with instinctive villainy
The oppressors declared self-evident
That Guernica was destroyed by Reds.

Later, when the town’s orphans
Were evacuated under bombs
From the battered wharves of Bilbao
Each clutched a new-baked tart
And twelve cream caramels.

Then safe at Stoneham camp
Where the old air buses roared
They cast themselves down
Crying ‘Bombas! Bombas!’
Among Dorset’s peaceful hills.
Children of war learn fast or die.

Meanwhile Radio Salamanca
Reported that truth was shot
While escaping; and in Guernica
Market day would be held as usual.

Such has been the response to Ned Baslow’s letters to celebrities that his home in Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven has attracted so many curious visitors that he is becoming something of a celebrity in his own right.

There have even been a couple of stops at his front door by coaches on their way to Buxton, Ned’s wife Betty taking time out from her Open University studies to provide tea and homemade scones. Ned is taking this new-found fame in his stride.

The publicity is good news, he tells us, useful for highlighting the Grand Autumn Arts Festival, postponed from last year. This was as a result of the Festival Committee’s chairman, Councillor Gilbert Stokoe MBE (Lord Gilbert) having to have a hip operation following a tumble during rehearsals for The Spectacular Don Quixote light opera in which he was due to play the name part, Ned in the supporting role of Sancho Panza.

We are delighted and honoured to continue Ned’s correspondence with an address to one of the nation’s top poets.

Dear Mr. John Milton,
Joe, the captain of the quiz team at our local hostelry – named after one of your contemporaries, Lord Protector Cromwell – missed out on a £15 prize and free pints till the end of the month, on account of his failing to identify your very commendable contribution to the cause of Free Speech.
The fact that the rest of us knew about your Areopagitica (my wife Betty jokingly calls it Harry Opper Jessica after her aunt on her Dad’s side) was no help because this was a captains-only question. Joe was livid, not so much with us, or even the quizmaster who seems to have an uncanny sense of what questions will stump Joe, but with your good self; and on the grounds, he said, that if you’d at least made an effort to render Harry O.J. the least bit readable he’d have remembered the title of your treatise with no bother.

This set off a furious argument between Joe and my Betty who keeps a portrait of you hanging in our upstairs loo. She has written under the picture, THE FATHER OF BRITISH LIBERTY. In Joe’s opinion, after reading Harry O.J. in the dentist’s, it’s as painful to read as his root canal treatment. In fact he’s convinced it was written by a foreigner pretending to be you.

Joe plans to appeal to the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven with Hippenstall Pub Quiz League on the grounds that the poet who penned such masterpieces as Comus, Lycidas and the Sonnet to the Religious Memory of Mrs. Catherine Thomson could not have been guilty of such garbled English as he encountered in Harry O.J.

Now your tract has this to say on the subject of free speech: books ‘do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them…as good kill a man as kill a good book’. Which is coming on pretty strong in my opinion.

So if I chuck a book, burn it or shred it, I deserve a bullet through the head; is that what you’re getting at? Course, Betty interjects by saying, ‘Milton is talking metaphorically’. Ever since she started her Open University course what passes between us on the few occasions she’s at liberty for a bit of the physical, exists entirely on the plane of metaphor; in short, everything that ought to be standing for itself is actually standing for something else. And it’s not satisfaction, Mr. Milton, I can tell you that.

But to return to your text: I’ve no argument with your opinion that ‘who kills a man, kills a reasonable creature’, and I’ll go part-way in agreeing that ‘he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself’. Yet what am I to think when Joe hands me this print-out from the Internet concerning you as one of Protector Cromwell’s top-notch censors, Mister Bluepencil himself, relishing your role as executioner, metaphorical or otherwise?

In rushing to your defence, Betty informs me that according to her tutor free speech didn’t mean the same in your day as it does in ours. He reckons you’d have been shocked out of your pants if you thought ‘free speech’ extended to Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Atheists, Mormons, Communists, Socialists, Feminists, Soroptimists or Liberal Democrats not to mention the likes of me, Joe and the rest of the quiz team. In short, is Harry O.J. just another example of British hypocrisy as exemplified by our present Coalition government – say one thing, do another?

Before I sign off, a word from our vice-captain, Len, who swears he read for a half-crown bet both Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes between dawn and dusk on his 15th birthday: how did it go, he asks, with your head-to-head with old Galileo?


Ned Baslow
‘Yer Tis’,
Old Roman Road

Ned welcomes comments from Milton scholars on the points raised in his letter. Other correspondence has been held over till the next issue.

Watsonworks now available on Amazon Kindle:
Talking in Whispers £2.01
The Freedom Tree £1.03
Fair Game: The Steps of Odessa £5.15
Ticket to Prague £1.63