Shoah Memorial Day 2023

At one time, I wouldn’t have written about the Holocaust simply because I felt so much had already been written and spoken about it. What more could I possibly say?

There is, however, a great deal more to say as new discoveries and accounts have emerged. I’ve been listening to The Rest is History podcasts that have featured Jonathan Freedland’s recent book, The Escape Artist, about two Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz who escaped the notorious concentration camp. I was particularly struck by the accounts of Jewish people who willingly went to the camps thinking they were being deported from Germany, where they were harassed, attacked and denied many basic freedoms, to start new lives elsewhere. Once the camps were fully operational, others were convinced to join their families through an elaborate system of faked letters about how pleasant the camps were from those supposedly inside. The so-called authors of these letters were likely to be dead – some 80% of deportees to Auschwitz died within hours of arriving.

Freeland’s book describes how the two young men escaped in 1944, and more importantly how they authored a lengthy and detailed report about the horrors taking place in Auschwitz and struggled to get it taken seriously. The report was sent to Jewish leaders in Eastern European countries, where Jews were being deported to Auschwitz. After some convincing, Hungary stopped its deportation as a result, saving some 200,000 lives. Upon reading the report, Churchill went straight to the Department of Defence, bypassing his Cabinet, to order a sabotage operation of the train tracks to Auschwitz. But he was met with resistance due mostly to practical military matters, and the operation was sent to the Americans. Like Churchill, Roosevelt felt something had to be done urgently and came up against resistance. Antisemitism in America was pervasive at that time, and military officials expressed their doubts, treating the report as ‘Jewish exaggeration.’ Such accounts of the US response chime with Ken Burns’ recent documentary The US and the Holocaust, detailing the anti-immigrant and antisemitic fervour that played a role in America’s delay to fight in Europe and its shameful unwillingness to accept Jewish refugees.

On a personal note, the subject of the Holocaust often brings back a memory from childhood. When I was about nine years old, I was watching television at a friend’s house. I can’t recall what brought this about, but during the ads, my friend’s grandfather rolled up his sleeve to show us the tattooed numbers on his forearm. Too many years have passed for me to remember his exact words, but it was something about the war and being Jewish.

I’ve ended up having something to say about the Holocaust and a reason for saying it. As the witnesses and survivors are dying off, I feel the weight of responsibility on my generation – the children and grandchildren of those who lived through WW2 – to keep the conversation going, to share the knowledge so that history does not repeat itself.

Jewish Cemetery, Nice, France

Learning Foreign Languages

Some 30 years ago I was asked to author an article for a little-known inspirational magazine in the US on the topic of teaching yourself a foreign language. I’m reminded of this every year around this time when language learning websites are in promotion overdrive, targeting people who resolve to take up a foreign language.

The popular press also plays into this, and the London Times recently ran a piece about a language learning guru who spoke seven languages and claimed to go from nothing to ‘fluency’ in three months. This polyglot, Benny Lewis, defines fluent as ‘up to a conversational level.’ By this definition, I’m fluent in French and Italian – which I am not. I can manage certain types of conversations in both languages, but still stumble speaking to my French neighbours in Nice about problems with our building’s finances or with an Italian about politics (I know there is a joke in there somewhere about a country with 70 governments in 50 years). I simply don’t have the years of exposure to these languages and their cultures to be fully ‘conversational.’ Anyway, fluency is a slippery word that linguists avoid using. David Crystal, the popular linguist, once noted that while he is a native speaker and fluent in English, in a room full of physicists talking physics he would struggle to communicate.

Lewis does speak sense when he talks about ways of learning languages. On the topic of Duolingo for fluency he says that it’s ‘just never going to happen. Simple as that. It will get you started, you’ll get your little trophies, and you’ll feel that sense of achievement. It’s better than doing nothing.’ I agree completely. Duo is fun, but it relies too much on translations and that doesn’t help a person to think in the language. It also uses mostly language out of context – sentences and little paragraphs – and that makes it difficult to retain new vocabulary. Having said that, I’ve been using Duolingo everyday for the past 670 days – not to boast, but I’ve got a streak going and am into the Diamond League (whooo hooo). But I use it for languages, like French and Italian, for which I already have some proficiency. It helps me to practice the grammar through repetition, but I’m not learning new vocabulary or interacting in a meaningful way.

Since I wrote my article 30 years ago, self-taught language learning has come a long way thanks to the internet. Through YouTube, I watch news in Italian and documentaries in French, and I have language partners who chat (and correct me ad nauseum) via Skype and Teams. As for that article, as it was never digitalised, it’s in the dustbin for lightweight features – and just as well. When the editors discovered that I was female (they had assumed a Dr of linguistics was male), they denied me my by-line for the reason that their predominately ‘businessmen readership’ wouldn’t ‘respond well.’ Unforgettable words.

A piece of advice on learning languages from this female linguist is to simply experiment and discover how you learn languages best. I’m an auditory learner, so I learn more from listening than reading and more from speaking than writing. How ironic you might think given that this blog in my native English language is all about my life as a reader and writer.

Not advertising- just mentioning.

Hamnet and Harry

While journalists have been speedreading Prince Harry’s memoir, I’ve been reading at a leisurely pace Maggie O’Farrell’s critically acclaimed novel Hamnet. I have no intension of reading Harry’s book and anything I have to say about it comes from reading extracts and summaries in the press.

O’Farrell’s Hamnet is a work of fiction, a point the author makes at the end of the book. It’s based on the lives of real people, William Shakespeare and his family, though more about his long-suffering wife and their children. Hamnet was the bard’s only son, and he died as a child. While the reason for his short life is not truly known, O’Farrell takes the position that the boy died from the plague. We know that the plague, or ‘pestilence’ as it was called then, was in England at that time and that Shakespeare’s own playhouses in London were closed periodically because of the highly contagious scourge. The book is filled with intriguing details of how people in 16th century England lived, with Shakespeare’s wife being something of an herbalist, running her own business of plant-based tinctures and ointments while the medical doctor advises his patients to wear a dead toad around their stomachs. That is, there is a great deal of historical fact in this work of fiction, making it entirely plausible.

Ultimately, Hamnet is about grieving parents and how both deal with their loss. For Shakespeare, Hamnet is honoured with the tragic play Hamlet (incidentally, my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays). O’Farrell makes the case that Hamnet died of the plague even more plausible by noting that despite the intrusion of the disease in people’s lives, none of his plays mentions it. This suggests that Shakespeare was grieving and perhaps too emotionally pain-stricken by the subject of the plague to include it in his works, needing another outlet, the simple renaming of a character. The connections between the Hamlet story and the loss of Hamnet are made in the beautiful and deeply moving final scene of O’Farrell’s book. (No spoilers here.)

Prince Harry’s book is the inverse of this. It seems Harry is trying to dispel the fictions about him spread by the media by writing his ‘true’ account of his life. This is why I’m not going to read his book – I really do not care that much about his life. I watched all six episodes of the Netflix documentary by and about the Sussexes to be a participant in popular culture (and to appreciate the jokes when people made fun of it), and I felt I had enough of the couple’s self-absorbed cooing at each other through soft-focus lenses. Having said that, I am sympathetic with Megan’s experience of the racist and misogynistic press, made worse by uncensored social media postings. Of course, the reader of Harry’s book doesn’t know what is fiction or truth, or Harry’s truth, coloured by selected memories and emotions. This tell-all memoir brings back memories of his mother’s complicity in her biography by Andrew Morton and her interview with the BBC’s Martin Bashir.

This unlikely comparison between a brilliant work of literary fiction and a ghost-written celebrity memoir does have one more link worth considering. Hamnet became Hamlet, a revenge tragedy, where the grieving son avenges the death of his father. It could be said that Prince Harry is avenging the death of his mother. I’ll leave that to the psychologists.

Blogging the year

I’ve decided to make 2023 my year to focus on this blog. You might recall a few years ago I set myself the task of writing in my journal every day. That was an interesting exercise, not only as a writer, but for the self-administered psychotherapy that came with it. As this blog is more about the ideas I run into and less about me than my journals, I don’t know what to expect from a routine of regular weekly blogging. My current practice is a blog once every week or two, with larger gaps between blogs if I’m working on a writing project. During those gaps, I’ve made notes and journal entries on things I want to blog about but then didn’t get around to. There’s a stockpile of ideas and fragments of blogs in case I run dry some weeks. I don’t know if that will make me a breaker of the blogger’s code if I don’t always adlib.

I first took up an interest in blogs not as a writer of one myself but from the perspectives of sociolinguistics and psychology. In the early days of blogging, this written genre was a curio for researchers with a hint of condescension. Looking through my folders from a dozen years ago, among the pieces on ‘online language’ – I don’t know what that means anymore – I found an article saying this:

‘The results of two studies indicate that people who are high in openness to new experience and high in neuroticism are likely to be bloggers. Additionally, the neuroticism relationship was moderated by gender indicating that women who are high in neuroticism are more likely to be bloggers as compared to those low in neuroticism whereas there was no difference for men. These results indicate that personality factors impact the likelihood of being a blogger and have implications for understanding who blogs.’

You can read a lot into this, but I’ll stop myself from a feminist interpretation since this was written in 2008. Blogging has since become normalised and no more for the novelty-seeking neurotic than the ever so quotidian Facebook. Today blogging is used by writers of all sorts, a mainstay for citizen journalists, politicians, travel writers and activists. Let’s not forget the promotional blogs that pretend to be informative, masking their agenda to sell the likes of gardening tools, sports kit and (sorry publishing friends) books.

So, why am I blogging? I’m reminded of that worn quote, sometimes attributed to a character in the film Contagion: ‘Blogging is graffiti with punctuation.’ True, sometimes I blog to express myself on political and social issues with the attitude of a graffiti artist. Other times, I share ideas that I find give some meaning to life, sometimes making it clearer, sometimes more ambiguous. A lot of this is through the lens of what I read, fiction and non-fiction, or what I’ve observed in the visual arts and occasionally film and television. With all this in mind, I hope, dear reader, you will continue to read and enjoy my blogs. Here’s to the writing year ahead – clink.

2022 – the year of language myopia

Recent years have witnessed some bizarre verbal gymnastics with the English language. Remember ‘alternative truths,’ meaning lies, and ‘fake news’ for truthful reporting. What has struck me in recent months is the wave of dictating vocabulary choice under the guise of not offending people. Sure, political correctness did a lot of this going back to the 90s. With PC, people started using new terms to describe groups of people as these groups wanted to be described themselves. Example: ‘handicapped’ became ‘disabled.’ This was about avoiding offence. What I’m seeing these days is different, and I have to say as a linguist, rather annoying.

Stanford University, following in the footsteps of other US institutions, launched ‘The Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative.’ These are guidelines for their IT department and page creators of the university’s website. Among the gems that have been thoroughly ridiculed in the press are instructions to not talk about ‘flogging a dead horse,’ or ‘killing two birds with one stone’ since these expressions ‘normalise violence against animals.’

These list makers clearly do not know that these are idiomatic expressions, or dead metaphors. With use and overuse, the literal meanings and underlying comparisons have been lost. Flogging dead horses is merely a more colourful and colloquial way of saying that some effort or continued action is a waste of time. Training or working with horses is for most of us urban dwellers an old-worldly idea from storybooks and films. Any literalness is far removed from our lives. And does anyone really think that when someone kills two birds with one stone that any feathered creature could be in harm’s way?

I’m even more perplexed and again annoyed by this Stanford group advising its IT staff to refrain from calling themselves ‘webmasters’ because ‘historically, masters enslaved people, didn’t consider them human and didn’t allow them to express free will, so this term should generally be avoided.’ These language dictators are not acknowledging that words change their meanings over time. A ‘master,’ whether they are master chefs or master craftspeople are experts who have worked hard or mastered (to use the verb form) their disciplines. Incidentally, if people want to prescribe language used based on etymology or historical use, the word master comes from the Latin magester, which meant not only a master, but also a teacher or leader. Speaking of etymology, the word picnic is apparently offensive because of its supposed origins. Some people believe that the word ‘picnic’ came from ‘pick a N-word’ (if I were to type the N-word, even to refer to it as a lexeme, WordPress would put an offence warning on this blog). The word’s origins actually come from the French and had nothing to do with lynching or slavery, just the custom of eating together outside. Reuters did a noteworthy factcheck on this. This is not to say that picnics weren’t associated with racist lynchings in America. At their height in the early 20th century, these horrible events were community celebrations, and most were done with the full knowledge of local law enforcement.

Brandeis University has included picnic on its offensive word list to staff communicating with the public. This has rightly been mocked by among others, writer Joyce Carol Oates, who pointed out: ‘while the word “picnic” is suggested for censorship, because it evokes, in some persons, lynchings of Black persons in the US, the word “lynching” is not itself censored.’

I do wonder if these prescriptive language dictums are the result of workshops with PowerPoint slides and groups huddled around flipcharts imagining scenarios of possible offence. The results make word lists into language offences themselves.

Reading Russia

I’ve long held a fascination for things Russian even though I’ve never been there and have only visited a few former Soviet and Iron Curtain countries (Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, East Germany). While I grew up in the fearful times of Cold War America, Russia occupied a high place on the cultural scene. Its Bolshoi dancers were next to none. Its painters, like Chagall and Kandinsky and writers, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev and Tolstoy were closer to spiritual leaders than artists during my teens. One of the first pieces of classical music that I fell obsessively in love with was Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto.

How does this square with Putin’s Russia? Well, it doesn’t. No more than the great twentieth century American novelists and musical giants of jazz can be put in the same box as Tr*mp. Trying to understand any country by its rulers and political leaders is an exercise in futility.

In recent months I’ve been dipping into things Russian again by rereading some Ivan Turgenev, followed by Mark Galeotti’s A Short History of Russia. This reading exercise might sound heavy-going, but really it wasn’t. Turgenev is probably the most accessible of the classic Russian writers, having been well ahead of his time by embracing a more modern, and less ponderous, style than his contemporaries. A Short History of Russia, though written by an academic, is intended for a generalist audience.

An article in The New Yorker about Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons inspired me to give this book another read. In The New Yorker piece, Keith Gessen mentions almost in passing that this classic was not a reflection of Turgenev’s relationship with his own father nor with a son as the writer never had any, but that it made some connection to Turgenev’s relationship with his illegitimate daughter. I thought rereading the novel would be a less blokey affair and might take on something of a feminist reading. Not quite. Published in 1862, it still revolves around the lives of men, but it’s more about the bromance between the two main characters and their ideals – the one, Bazarov, being an arrogant, often rude nihilist, the other, Arkady, trying to be a nihilist while respecting his elders and society’s norms. Yet, I was pleased to rediscover the women characters, who are far from frivolous. Example, Anna Odinstov captures the attention of both men through her intellect and skills in debate, chipping away at the nihilists’ disregard for love.

The action of Fathers and Sons takes place in 1859, just before the emancipation of the serfs (1861) and during a time of heated debates over the future of Russia. According to Galeotti’s history of Russia, Alexander II’s freeing of the serfs was ‘the most ambitious social-engineering project Russia had yet seen.’ While the serfs wanted their land, the country operated on a system of landed gentry. There were those in the country who favoured the modernisation along the lines of Western Europe. Others, the conservative Slavophiles, saw Western influence as decadent and wanted Russia to carve out its own place in the world, neither East nor West. Basically, everyone wanted change, but no one knew what to do. Much of this debate continued well into the next century, being reshaped by the first World War and the Revolution. What Galeotti is particularly adept at doing is showing how the country defined and redefined itself through its own sense of history and patriotism, one that has been rewritten and skewed over the centuries. We see the latest version with Putin.

Of course, this isn’t unique to Russia. Consider what Britain is experiencing in the re-evaluation of the monarchy and its connection to colonialism and the slave trade. I’m not a huge fan of the self-absorbed Harry and Meghan, but I was glad to see their Netflix documentary putting the spotlight on such issues and having the sense to bring on board the Black British historian David Olusoga. Ah, I wasn’t going to be yet another writer voicing their opinion about H and M. Sorry, readers. Back to Russia – both books are worth a read and reading history alongside fiction is highly recommended by this blogger.

Words of the year – 2022

Gaslighting? Really? This word that was cool in my childhood appears to have been resurrected by the current generation of internet and social medias users. Thus, Merriam-Webster has recently crowned gaslighting their word of the year. Just when I was about to slam this choice as a tired word merely enjoying a modern audience, I stumbled across this use by Hadley Freeman in The London Times:

‘…to tell women that not accepting biological males in their spaces puts trans people at risk is outrageous gaslighting: women are far more likely than trans women to be killed by male violence in this country, but such facts have suddenly become very unfashionable in progressive circles.’

Perhaps gaslighting isn’t so bad after all.

The Oxford English Dictionary has taken a different approach for their word of the year, having invited the public to vote from a shortlist of three, presumably arrived at via a scholarly analysis of corpora of written and spoken language produced over the past year. A far cry from the subjective, though amusing, lexicography of Samuel Johnson. The OED’s three runners-up were: metaverse, the hashtag #IStandWith and the phrase goblin mode. Since metaverse conjures up images of a self-obsessed Mark Zuckerberg, it didn’t get my vote. The hashtag #IStandWith certainly is a testament of our time of activism, movements shared online and individuals making their mark. Cute and less important is goblin mode, which denotes ‘a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations’ – a phrase apparently popularised by post-pandemic attitudes to work and socialising. The voting closed on Friday 2 December, and the winner was announced yesterday as goblin mode. It could have been worse, but I’m left feeling outside of popular vernaculars – again.

Collins English Dictionary chose permacrisis as its word of the year. Apparently, this word has been used a great deal this year by the British media and economists to describe Liz Truss’s short reign as PM, along with the state of the UK government and the Brexit-whipped economy. I can’t argue with that even though I did have a problem at first using ‘perma’ with ‘crisis.’ But Collins’ lexicographers have explained that away: ‘While ‘perma-’ could not logically be applied to the original sense of ‘the turning point of a disease,’ it can be applied to this secondary meaning without being a contradiction.’ Yep, life in Britain these days can be described as a permacrisis.

Ah, the joy of neologisms.

Apparently, a goblin.

Twitter, You’re Out!

This blog will appear in my last tweet. Ever. I mean it this time. I’m not particularly fond of baseball metaphors, but for me, Twitter has committed its third strike and is now out and should be sitting on the bench humiliated.

The first strike occurred during the Tr*mp presidency. If the orange one’s affectation for the social media platform weren’t enough to make someone want to quit, the twitterer-in-chief was making false claims about Covid. It took Twitter a dangerous while to start posting warnings that the tweets were medically untrue. The delay had to do with ‘freedom of speech,’ allowing anyone to say anything regardless of their position to influence. In the interest of public safety, Twitter finally gave in.

Strike two was made this summer, when Salma al-Shehab, a Saudi PhD student at the University of Leeds, was jailed by a Saudi terrorism court for 34 years for the ‘crime’ of following and retweeting a couple of Saudi social and feminist activists on Twitter. It was obvious that this dental hygienist was not a terrorist. In fact, it would be a stretch to even call her an activist. Not taking on any duty of care for its users, Twitter made no public statement on this. Many have speculated that this has to do with Mohammed Bin Salman’s sovereign wealth fund having an indirect stake in Twitter.

I really wanted to leave Twitter then and make a stand against the Saudi regime’s human rights abuses and the way they are buying democracies throughout the world to ignore their actions. I was in a right huff over it. But then, I selfishly thought about my writing being promoted on Twitter, along with my academic life and socio-political interests being shared on the site. To my shame, I chickened out. I remained on Twitter and spoke up for Salma al-Shehab by tweeting articles about her case and signing yet another Amnesty International petition and posting that on Twitter.

Strike three came about over these last few weeks. This is where the baseball metaphor falls apart as a strike of a bat is quick – perhaps it’s strike three in slow motion. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has seen three weeks of crashing chaos with the firing of staff, charging users for a special ‘blue’ status only to reverse it days later, and then reinstating Tr*mp to the platform. This last act in this vanity project was made worse by the way this was conducted. Musk held an online election, using Twitter, of course. The Twitter-using public supposedly voted to let Tr*mp with all his vulgarity, racism, misogyny, infantile vindictiveness and misspellings back on to the social media platform. After the vote came out in Tr*mp’s favour, Musk, with his warped sense of democracy, tweeted about the voice of the people being victorious. Firstly, I’m not so sure about the people really being heard. As I placed my vote, I imagined bots and users with multiple accounts voting en masse. Secondly, Musk is again conflating public debate on social media with a form of truth. John Naughton beat me to the punch on this point in his brilliant commentary on Musk’s flailing with his new ‘plaything.’

I joined Twitter in 2011 at a time when the site had just morphed from a place where people recorded the banalities of their lives in 140 characters (‘I’m now mowing the lawn’) to a forum for academics to share their research. Or so I thought. Reluctant to share work-in-progress, academics and their publishers use Twitter as a stream of billboards advertising published work. Despite that and those three strikes, I’m going to miss Twitter. It does remind my followers that I’m a blogger and draws people into conversation with me. I’m also going to miss Led by Donkeys, J.K. Rowling, a few academic journals, some linguists and yes, Joyce Carol Oates (cats and all). That is, I’ll miss them until they join the mass migration over to Mastodon. You’ll find me there: @paolatrimarco@universeodon.com

A Proust Dipper

It’s been a big couple of years for Marcel Proust fans. Today marks 100 years since his death, which comes on the heels of the 150th anniversary of his birth, celebrated last year. It’s been an even better year or two for people who like to criticise Proust fans for being ‘snobs’ and ‘masochists.’ Guilty on both counts. That is, if you accept that reading literary classics is a sign of snobbery. As for masochism, I don’t know why I tackle some of the tomes that I do, especially in French, or even worse for me in Italian.

So, what is it like to read Proust? According to the Proust Society of America, Proust’s longest sentence was 958 words. Why not break this sentence up into other sentences? I ask, wearing my editor’s hat. I’m sure Proust had his reasons. I suspect it had to do with the many thoughts that operate in our minds at the same time, a sense of time collapsing on itself. That is one of the things I enjoy about reading his fiction – it often challenges our sense of space and time in the context of day-to-day life without entering fantasy, sci-fi or magical realism (not that there’s anything wrong with this genres).

Remembrance of Things Past (La Recherche, as the French call it), Proust’s highly autobiographical masterpiece, has a dream-like quality of a broken narrative that reconnects at the will of its narrator trying to figure out his life. I’m re-reading the first book of this 7-volume, 3,000 + page magnum opus– this time in French – snob, masochist.

Proust’s writing and life are intertwined, and I suspect that is a part of the fascination and cult-like following that Proust has garnered. He lived during the scintillating times of the Belle Epoch and hobnobbed with artists, writers and socialites of the day, including Andre Gide, James Joyce and Sarah Bernhardt. Nobel laureate Annie Ernaux, who is also a masterful practitioner of autofiction, says of Proust:

‘He is the total writer. One has the impression that Proust, as a person, does not exist. He is entirely in La Recherche. That’s what I admire so deeply. He is the total work- he cannot be compared with another.’

Although he never publicly admitted to being gay, his relationships with men are well known and included in nearly every biography. According to William Carter, one of Proust’s many biographers, “Proust was the first novelist to explore the entire spectrum of human sexuality.” Carter adds, “Characters could be homosexual in the first part of their lives and heterosexual later, or the reverse.” Proust was ahead of his time as a philosopher and sociologist of sorts on matters of sexuality and gender. While I’m reading La Recherche in order – that is, beginning to end – I dip into it to read a few pages at a time, and sometimes before bed, a few long paragraphs before nodding off. I find myself leaving it for a couple of weeks to read some other novel by a completely different type of writer and then returning to Proust, not always remembering all the details of characters or events. But strangely, that doesn’t matter as the language and sentiments soon draw me back in. According to Alice Jacquelin, literature lecturer at Nanterre University and Proust specialist, “There’s no sacrilege in dipping into it.” The book lends itself to that. The reader can experience snippets of a life and still feel immersed in Proust’s world, a world cherished by us literary snobs and masochists.

The only known film image of Proust from a home movie of a wedding.

The UK Government – In other words

It’s been a good week for adjectives. The abrupt end of Liz Truss’s premiership, positioning the country for its third Prime Minister in two months and worryingly fifth Chancellor (finance minister) in four months, has given political writers and pundits plenty to say. But what do you say when a country and its leading political party are in meltdown that doesn’t sound cliched or as inarticulate as pub-speak on a Saturday night? I was hoping for some colourful metaphors but have mostly encountered adjectives.

I’m not a great fan of adjectives. Their overuse plagues student writing, genre fiction and celebrity memoires. But today I make an exception, noting that the weekend papers have resurrected the adjective in good form – at least for now. Among those used to describe the actions of Liz Truss and her cabinet include ill-fated, calamitous, demented, brexity, Gonzo, eye-popping, chaos-churning and career-serving (though obviously careers at the top of government have crashed to an ignominious end, these clown ministers will likely have high-paying jobs in the private sector for years to come). The best stacked-modifier award goes to Patrick Cockburn of The Independent who described Boris Johnson, who is bizarrely a contender for PM again, as having a career with ‘a comic opera Gilbert and Sullivan feel to it.’

But it hasn’t all been about adjectives. The -ism nouns haven’t done too badly either. Several pundits have stepped back from the immediate circus that is the British government to ask what this means for the ideologies that have gained prominence in the West in recent decades. Could the fall of Britain in such a way trigger the end of neoliberalism, of libertarianism, of populism, of nationalism? As these ideas have been put into practice and have disastrously failed, one does wonder. Writing in The Independent, Adam Boulton, remarked that the Conservative party, which is likely to reign for another two years, will continue with its factionalism and the instability it creates. That is, some of the aforementioned isms aren’t likely to go away overnight, or quietly for that matter.

Oh, yes, I did stumble across one metaphor from Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer that brought a smile to my face for its sentiment as well as its creativity: ‘… the polls suggest the Tories will be disembowelled by the voters when they get their hands on them at the polling stations.’ Nothing beats a good metaphor.

Larry the cat, who lives at 10 Downing Street has outlasted six Prime Ministers.