Thursday, June 23, 2011

Save me from committee men, those who live by the rules, Roundheads and anti-semites. And a cheery hello to all my readers

You don’t have to be into the Universal Brotherhood of Man to believe that at heart, we’re all pretty much the same. OK, cultures vary widely, and I don’t mean that we Brits think it’s quite bloody that those nasty French butcher their horses for a good steak. There are far wider differences than that, and if only the French wouldn’t insist on ruining perfectly good food by indulging in all kinds of unnecessary flimm-flammery in the kitchen, I do believe that we could get on rather well with our gallant Gallic cousins. But given those cultural differences, there are universal types you'll find in every corner of the world: the cheapskate will be recognised in any culture, as will the kind man, the frivolous woman, the dull bachelor, the long-suffering wife, the spoilt child, the overly sharp businessman, the foolish virgin, the humourless autodidact and any number of other ‘types’.
So, I am absolutely certain, everyone reading this blog will, at some time or another, have come across the man — and it is invariably a man — who knows the rules, plays by the rules, insists that the rules must never be broken, can bore all and sundry for several hours explaining the rules, will outline at length the antecedents of the rules and, when in his cups and thus a little more relaxed, might be persuaded to hint at how this or that rule might — just might — be improved. Such a man  — and it is invariably a man — can be found on any committee anywhere in the world. Such a man  — and it is invariably a man — is almost always found to have as much imagination as a beach pebble and as much charm as a wet Wednesday afternoon when the heating has packed in.
I have come across two such men recently when I visited the Wikipedia site of my old school, The Oratory School, and noticed that one of the more interesting sections, in which school terminology and slang were detailed, had been deleted. I wondered why and asked the first why he had done so. Ah, he told me, that section did not meet Wikipedia’s requirements for ‘sourcing’ and ‘verifiablity’. Well, that dear reader, is strictly true: the section consisted of explaining former and current school practice and several bits of slang which, as far as I know, are unique to the Oratory. And being strictly true, I am well and truly snookered from the off. I vainly protested that including such a section added an extra dimension to the Wiki entry in that it, perhaps, helped readers gain a better understanding of the character and ethos of the school, but they were having none of it. Here is a piece of Wiki officialese which might give you a flavour of the kind of thing I’m up against:
Please do not add or change content without verifying it by citing reliable sources, as you did to The Oratory School. Before making any potentially controversial edits, it is recommended that you discuss them first on the article's talk page. Please review the guidelines at Wikipedia:Citing sources and take this opportunity to add references to the article. Thank you. - SudoGhost™ 17:50, 20 June 2011 (UTC)
Then two other committee men waded in, with one telling me that ‘personal recollection’ was no justification for including the section. The other took me to task for commenting on the contributor rather than the contribution. (Did I call him a boring, unimaginative wanker? No, I didn’t, but I should have done, although it would have got me ‘banned’ from editing Wikipedia far sooner than is now likely.)
The really sad thing is, my dear, dear reader, that I have already thrown in the towel. My younger self would have battled on, re-instating the deleted section by the hour to prove a point, firing of sarcastic invective to those three idiots in the hope that they might be shamed into seeing the light and abandoning their dull, dull, dull insistence on ‘the rules, dear boy, the rules’. But I have learnt that the only consequence of banging your head against a brick wall is an increasingly bloody forehead and a thoroughly bad headache. And those I can do without. The sad fact is that a good — or even a mediocre — committee man can run rings around almost everyone else.

. . .

The above has reminded me of another distinction which might well be purely British but which, I suspect, is also quite universal. In our own Civil War here in Britain, the opposing sides were divided into Cavaliers and Roundheads. The cavaliers were, in the subsequent popular imagination, the supporters of King Charles I and were taking a last stand against the final abolition of ‘Merrie Olde England’. They drank to much, lived life with gusto, had women falling at their feet, were invariably
good looking and rode fine horses. The Roundheads, on the other hand, were dour, intense, officious, pug ugly (Oliver Cromwell had a particularly fine wart on his nose and how can you trust a man with a wart on his nose?), banned Christmas and dancing and were generally bad eggs. Well, like all such popular distinctions, it is largely so much cobblers. The Civil War was between two sides of the property-owning establishment, each wanting the upper hand. I suspect that neither side was too fussed on retaining a system of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings, and which side you chose to support depended largely on where you thought ultimately your best interests lay. You can see from my two illustrations that the Cavaliers (above) were fun-living, gallant, charming and witty swordsmen, where as the Roundheads (below) were dour, dull, cheapskate, sincere idiots. Surely no contest. There were more than enough of the ‘upper class’ on the
Parliamentary side, and King Charles camp had a great many supporters from the ‘lower classes’. But the distinction between cavaliers and roundheads is nevertheless useful. I think my friends and colleagues would universally agree that I am a ‘cavalier’ in outlook and action. The three wankers I describe above who have made my latest Wikipedia esperience a misery are most certainly from the roundhead side. I realise that what I have just written sounds horribly self-regarding, but  — well, fuck it. Do I care? The distinction has, furthermore, perpetuated itself to this day. Britain is, unfortunately, riven. There are cheerful souls about how claim in all seriousness that Britian is now becoming ‘more classless’. Don’t believe a word of it. We might no longer divide the nation into Cavaliers and Roundheads and talk, as there once was, of ‘them and us’ also sounds a tad archaic these days. But however you want to describe it, the distinction still exists.
I know very little about history, but I am convinced the distinction was created when William of Normandy invaded Britain and defeated the Saxons. But not only did he defeat them, he treated them as Untermenschen, at one point several years after his invasion, utterly devastating the North of England when they rose up against him. The old Saxon nobles were destroyed. The language of the court was Norman and remained Norman for almost three centuries and although there was, as there always is, a gradually intermingling of the two cultures, that happened because those who wanted to get on wisely realised that to do so, they had to kowtow (lovely word, that) and do quite a bit of judicious arse-licking. But what remained, and what, I suggest, remains to this day, is a hidden but definite hatred of ‘the other side’. There had and has always been a fair bit of social mobility — in both directions, however, one thing which, oddly, no one cares to acknowledge —  but the sides themselves quite often hate each other. It is very, very odd, but as I am a guy who, quite apart from not being anti-semitic but rather likes Jews, I am, perhaps, not particularly qualified to explain what is going on. All I can say is: whatever it is, it’s bollocks.

. . .

Incidentally, this is the kind of thing we cavaliers are up against. It’s from a Google newsgroup for Mac news (which, admittedly, I consult myself when I need advice):

Just a thank you to Tim and Jim for getting me on the right lines.
I have now written a small app which can take information from Text Boxes, 
consolidate them into a JAddressData instance, write records to a SQLite 
database (using the raw API), select a record by Record Number and display 
it on the screen :-)
It's very early days but at least I feel I will be able to makes some 
Many thanks :-)

If the guy — for they are invariably guys — isn’t a roundhead, I shall eat my hat.

. . .

As I have previously admitted, I keep a keen eye on my ‘stats’ and who reads this blog, where they live and what particular entries they read. As to where they live, at the last reckoning it was the United States, good Old Blighty, Netherlands, Brazil, India, South Korea, Pakistan, Sweden, Canada and Germany. But I must admit that it has crossed my mind more than once: what on earth do they make of this opinionated idiot who knows far less than he likes to make out, has continually to revisit the blog entries to correct spelling mistakes, literals and the occasional complete gobbledegook, and who apparently takes nothing at all seriously? Well, my advice is: don’t take him at all seriously and remember that he loves to talk and given that often there is no one to talk to — some might say ‘talk at’ — he is obliged to settle for second best and write. It’s as simply as that.

1 comment:

  1. Kev writes:
    Recently I read an article by a well known UK newspaper columnist about the time he’d written an entry for Wikipedia. Within an hour of being up-loaded, it had been deleted on the grounds that it cited no references and was therefore unverifiable. (In reality, it may have been little more than a gap-filling essay – but it remained an incisive, astute and succinct introduction to the matter in hand.) So our man, actually an authoritative political journalist, decided to track down the identity of his censor, only to find that he had had his contribution removed by an American, who makes a living as a professional baseball referee. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The Simpsons suggested ‘The Coastguard?’

    I had a look at the revisionist’s entry in Wikipedia for ‘The OS’ and knew that I’d be bored stiff by the end of the introduction: nothing more than promotional pap and some egregious name-dropping. I can see why former pupils excise ‘The Oratory School’ from their public CV’s. I note that the entry for the school has no link to an official website.