Bruce Robinson May Love Jack But He Hates The Victorians

jack

Considering how much credit I’ve got on my Amazon account at the moment, it really was rather naughty of me to have bought this in Waterstones, but I justified it by picking up a couple of Lego Batman figures while I was there*. It’s also had very good reviews, was longlisted for a number of awards and was recommended to me while I was reading the blurbs on the back by a little old lady with a mauve rinse as being “the best of the lot”. So it wasn’t much of a contest really.

Now, I have to confess that I’ve only read the first chapter (and it’s a rather thick book) but I’ve already alternated between outrage, horror and a couple of giggling fits. Bruce Robinson, a wonderful American screenwriter, wastes no time in stripping the veneer off Victorian values and showing them up for the hypocrites they were. He does it with a caustic wit that I can see myself quoting rather a lot for the foreseeable future. If I may offer a few quotes:-

“Reactionary nostalgia for the proprieties of Victorian England is unfortunate, like a whore looking under the bed for her virginity.” (That’s the opening sentence. What a start.)

*In 1888 you could f*** a child for five shillings, but you couldn’t read Zola. What the Establishment didn’t like about Zola was his treatment of the working class, who he had the French neck to represent as human.” (I rather like Zola as well.)

“MPs call themselves ‘Honourable’ because no-one else would.” (Ouch)

I have not come across a book so righteously – and rightly – angry in a very long time. I think in this era of right-wing Little England mindset (and I daren’t know what to think about the other side of the pond, apart from it being quite terrifying) this kind of “Victorian values” thinking is all too common. It’s lovely to have a blunt, honest appraisal of what it was really like, and what bloody appalling double-standards were applied, even if this is meant to be a book about a murderer. It may yet be – I’ve got another twenty chapters to read yet. If they are half as good as the first one, I’m going to be delighted.

And I really must buy that little old lady a cup of tea next time I see her. She really does know a good book when she sees one.

* I got Commissioner Gordon and Mr Freeze.

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DUDLEY AND STEPHENS – A VARIATION ON THREE MEN IN A BOAT

raft

This is an old case from the mid-1800s but is interesting because it raises quite a few questions about what constitutes a defence to murder. It also continues a theme I have previously broached on here, which some people may find offensive. It doesn’t bother me much as I don’t eat meat anyway.

After a shipwreck in the mid-Atlantic, Messrs Dudley and Stephens found themselves adrift in a small boat with the 18 year old cabin boy, Richard Palmer (there was a fourth man with them, but he played no part in what happened next, so I’m ignoring him). After a week, they had run out of food and had minimal fresh water left, and there was nothing on the horizon to indicate that there was a chance of rescue. So they decided to draw lots on the principle that the loser would be murdered and eaten, to give the others more chance of surviving. No prizes for guessing who drew the short straw.

So, Dudley and Stephens promptly slit the poor lad’s throat and proceeded to live off him until they were finally rescued about three weeks later. They were near to death when they were picked up and freely admitted what they had done, but claimed they had killed the boy “out of necessity.” Unfortunately, the Court disagreed that it was ever necessary to kill anyone, so Dudley and Stephens were found guilty and hanged.

Now I was thinking about how this principle applied, especially since many years later, the survivors of an air crash in the Andes were acquitted of the same charges in very similar circumstances – but then the penny dropped. The Andean crash survivors hadn’t killed anyone. They survived by eating people who had already died, so they hadn’t committed murder and consequently could not be liable.

Clearly, it seems to be the Court’s way of thinking that in such a situation, a person would simply have to starve, unless they can show that the person they are eating died without their assistance – which could be tricky, given where most of the evidence will end up. That said, it’s worth bearing in mind in case you ever find yourself stranded on a life raft with someone you don’t like very much and you’re miles from the nearest takeaway.

Fifty Shades of Magnolia

Let’s face it, when you think of a magnolia, this is usually what springs to mind – or worse, if you live in rented accommodation (like I do) something like this –

Something vaguely cream, off white, inoffensive and bland are words usually used to describe magnolia. In plants, I often think of spring, cascades of gorgeous flowers and sweeping up petals about a week and a half after they bloom. They do get everywhere. So imagine my glee when I discovered that there are over 200 types of magnolia in the world – and they certainly don’t all look like that! In fact, very few of them are actually magnolia coloured – and yet again, I’m surprised.

The most common variation in magnolia is the colour, and the overwhelming majority of magnolias are various shades of pink, as you can see here:

This is Magnolia Betty, a deep pink/mauve which retains the “traditional” shape of the magnolia flower. Another, Magnolia Marilyn, combines the pink and white in a beautifully contrasting flower:

It’s a bit of a showstopper isn’t it? I’d be delighted to have that in my garden, although I’d need to keep her well pruned back as magnolia do like to take up space.

A very unusual type of magnolia is the star magnolia, so called because they have beautiful stellate flowers. They also come in a range of colours but the one I’ve chosen is almost pure white – simply gorgeous:

It doesn’t really look like a magnolia does it?

And, because I simply can’t resist finding a flower that totally bucks the trend, here’s a yellow magnolia – just to prove that they really do come in all shapes and sizes:

I’m fairly sure if I looked hard enough, fifty shades of magnolia wouldn’t be difficult to find at all.