Monday 14 January 2019

Twenty-Four Things - Thing Sixteen

He seems nice. 

Sunday 6 January 2019

Signing off

I was wondering why British convention is to end a letter to someone whose name you don't know - i.e. one that starts 'Dear Sir or Madam,' - with 'Yours faithfully'. How can you be faithful to someone you've never met?

Well, it turns out to be a contraction of what was for centuries the standard valediction to letters, some version of:

'Believe me to have the honour to remain your faithful and obedient servant'

Sometimes, between friends, it got shortened to something like this, from John Wilkes:

Also, I believe it was considered good style to try to end your letter in a way that made your name the object of the last sentence. Here's Lord Chesterfield having a bit of fun with it:

But how did they end letters to people to whom they didn't feel in the least faithful, humble or servile? Well, generally, they just said it anyway, because it was meaningless boilerplate. I gather there's a song in Hamilton about that (No, I haven't seen Hamilton yet. Yes, I know I should). 

But not always. Here's Richard Savage in 1735, writing to a member of the Irish nobility of whom he is... not a fan. 

Friday 4 January 2019

John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme News

Hello! I should probably have said this before, but Radio 4 are currently repeating Series 6 of JFSP at half past six on Thursday evenings, which means you can listen to them again on iPlayer here, at least for a bit.

But perhaps you don't want to listen to sketches from 2016. Perhaps only brand new sketches written in 2019 will satisfy you. In which case... lucky old you, because I'm delighted to say that Series 8 will be broadcast in the spring.

But perhaps you can't wait till then, or perhaps you want to see if the cast's silly voices come out of equally silly faces (Spoiler: Yes. Yes, they do.) In which case.... luckier still old you, because the random ballot for tickets to the recordings in Broadcasting House is now open (though only for the first date so far) and you can apply here.

But perhaps you don't like leaving things up to random ballot; or perhaps you only like seeing sketches that were written earlier that very same afternoon, performed by actors who read them for the first time 45 minutes ago. At most. In which case... luckiest of all old yous, because the cast and I are doing semi-secret try-outs of brand new material at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone, and tickets are available here.

But perhaps you couldn't care less about my sketches; or perhaps you could, but are annoyed that two of these four things are happening in London, where I live; instead of where you live, where you live. In which case... truly you are the unluckiest of old yous. In recompense for your distress, please accept this silly doodle of a castle.

Wednesday 2 January 2019

Knowing your limits.

Happy New Year!

This is Adlai Stevenson, the American Democratic politician and two-time unsuccessful presidential candidate upon whom Peter Sellers partially based his performance as President Muffley in Dr. Strangelove.

In 1949, when Stevenson was Governor of Illinois, a bill was proposed in that state to restrict the movement of domestic cats, in order to protect rare songbirds. Stevenson vetoed the bill, with this judgement:

"I cannot agree that it should be the declared public policy of Illinois that a cat visiting a neighbor’s yard or crossing the highways is a public nuisance. It is in the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming. Many live with their owners in apartments or other restricted premises, and I doubt if we want to make their every brief foray an opportunity for a small game hunt by zealous citizens—with traps or otherwise.

We are all interested in protecting certain varieties of birds. That cats destroy some birds, I well know, but I believe this legislation would further but little the worthy cause to which its proponents give such unselfish effort. The problem of cat versus bird is as old as time. If we attempt to resolve it by legislation who knows but what we may be called upon to take sides as well in the age old problems of dog versus cat, bird versus bird, or even bird versus worm. In my opinion, the State of Illinois and its local governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency."

I wish he'd won.

(Bonus Stevenson fact: when he was considering whether to run for President a third time, the Russians approached him secretly and offered him assistance. He told the ambassador who made the approach that he considered it "highly improper, indiscreet and dangerous to all concerned", and promptly reported it to the sitting President, his political enemy. I mean, obviously that's what anyone would do. I don't know why I even mention it. )