The Curmudgeon


Monday, November 24, 2014

The Cross of Carl

A self-avowed allegory published in 1931, The Cross of Carl was written by one Walter Owen. The author is described in General Ian Hamilton's preface as "a man of business in the Argentine", so presumably he was the Scots translator and stockbroker who "transvernacularised" the South American epics into English. The translator was born in Glasgow, and the book refers at one point to a "Balclutha of the soul", Balclutha being derived from the Scots Gaelic for "town on the Clyde". According to his own prefatory note, Owen was prevented from taking part in the Great War by a painful illness, the symptoms of which he attempted to alleviate with opium. Under the drug's influence, in July 1917 he had a form of out-of-body experience in which he simultaneously experienced and observed the events described in the story.

The story's four sections are titled after stages in the passion and resurrection of Christ. Carl, an overweight rookie whose nationality is never specified, goes over the top in a dawn attack on Hill 50: "you'll never get there," his sergeant says laconically. "Might as well be Hell 50." Although Owen's prose, especially at its most allegorical, is occasionally somewhat convoluted, it can also be inventively poetic, and the advance on the hill is a tour de force of horror:

He is treading on bodies on which his feet slip and blunder. It is like walking on bolsters full of stones. Bones pop underfoot. He looks down and sees a face give under his boot, then slides and comes down. A gnashing mouth closes on his leg; he frees himself and is up again. A lane crashes through the crowd, missing him narrowly, and a welter of fragments whirls around him. A man in front goes down on his knees and, shrieking, grabbles blindly at a stringy mass that pours downward from the lower part of his body...

Carl survives the attack, but falls unconscious from his wounds and is mistaken for a corpse. The empire for which he fights does not waste its dead; they are neatly trussed up and sent to a Factory, which renders them into "pig-food, fats, glycerine and manure". Carl's experiences at the Factory drive him insane; he wanders the countryside and eventually digs himself a grave, from which he is resurrected by the Emperor and Marshal on whose orders the slaughter is occurring. Now possessed by a prophetic voice, Carl denounces these minions of Mammon at some length before being put in his place; nevertheless, the Emperor condescends to observe that "he did his bit" and the customary metal trinket is dispatched to his wife.

Presumably it was the Factory scenes that led Karl Edward Wagner to list The Cross of Carl among the thirteen best science-fictional, as opposed to supernatural or non-supernatural, horror novels; given the ending, and depending on one's religious beliefs, a case could just as easily be made for placing it in either of the non-SF categories. The Factory reminded me of the industrialised nightmares in Peake's Titus Alone, to say nothing of the more recent enterprises of a certain supermarket chain. In fact, the latter comparison is unfair: Satanic evil is easily outdone by British bad taste, and whatever else it may be, the Factory is not pretty. The book ends on a note of approaching and proportionate doom for the villains; but for the moment they seem, as usual, to be doing very well.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Multiple Offences

For those of us who struggle to produce one or two pieces of fiction a year, there are few people more annoying than those who churn the stuff out day after day, especially if there is no corresponding diminution in quality. One such is Justin McKeating, formerly of Chicken Yoghurt, who returned to regular bloggery eighty-something days ago and has produced eighty-something short fictions since. Some are satirical, some are poignant, surprisingly few are last-line killers and some are just plain daft. The fact that Justin's is one of the comparatively sole weblogs on the internet to quote me in its strapline is hardly enough to redeem it; I can only recommend that you start visiting daily and hope that it will jinx him before he gets the century.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Real Story

The Kippers are here, the Kippers are there,
The whole of our system is up in the air!

The Kippers are swimming the populist tide,
With working-class bankers along for the ride!

The Kippers have policies, or perhaps not;
But they are so funny, who cares what they've got!

The smell of the Kippers hangs over our news;
The fragrance of fine, forthright scapegoat abuse!

The Kippers have triumphed, the Kippers have won,
They're ugly and racist; but gee, aren't they fun!

(In other news: During these jubilant scenes,
A governing party got beat by the Greens.)

Randy Pressman

Friday, November 21, 2014

We Will Not Tolerate Bigotry Against the Flag-Waving Community

One thing is clear from the Rochester fiasco, namely that the Milibeing's defiance of the scumbag press is somewhat watered down when his own family members are not involved. The shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, tweeted without comment a picture of a house in the constituency. The house was festooned with England flags and had a white van parked outside; since Emily Thornberry represents Islington South and Finsbury, this was clearly a deadly insult to the flag-waving, van-driving, scumbag-press-reading white working class on whose votes the Milibeing hopes to sneak into Downing Street without having to rely on any dangerous leftists, and Thornberry was unceremoniously sacked before the night was out. Even the ridiculous Brooks Newmark, who proclaimed that charities should get on with their knitting and leave the important stuff to the grown-ups, lasted a bit longer after a tabloid set him up; and of course grotesque incompetents like Duncan Smith, Gove and Graybeing have been allowed to hang on for years. Even by the standards one would expect of Gordon Brown's former environment secretary, it was an abject performance.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reckless Assertions

Britain's Head Boy's new ticks and squits monitor has followed up his recent triumph at the big breweries' benefit vote with a bit of a blather on the prospect of more defections to the Farage Falange. Mark Reckless, the Falange's candidate in today's by-election, has claimed that at least two further back-bench baboons are poised to line up and inflate their purple buttocks for the Caudillo; but then Reckless, like Britain's Head Boy, is not above lying to, through and about his own party when prompted by his conscience and the expediency of the moment. Britain's Head Boy's new ticks and squits monitor, by contrast, is one Michael Gove, whose previous achievements in truth-telling are so legendary as to verge upon the purely mythical.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Equal Before the Law

While Chris Graybeing has been working to deprive the undeserving of legal aid, the Chancellor has invested some of the Treasury's ever-diminishing tax receipts in another, equally worthy enterprise. The Euro-wogs have conceived some sort of delusional foreign idea that bankers and other real people should take on some of the financial burden which Osborne is trying to restrict to the broad and shirking shoulders of those who do not habitually vote Conservative. There are even whispers that the size of a person's take-home pay packet might, in a rationally operating economy, be somehow related to whether or not that person has recently helped to engineer a global recession. Bankers have dodged the bonus cap by increasing their salaries, leading the governor of the Bank of England to suggest "some form of clawback", provided it wasn't the nasty, left-wing form of clawback known as tax, and provided it was used to pay fines so that governments would have more money to throw at corporations, rather than being used to give the proles free schools and hospitals at real people's expense.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Slightly Disconnected

Economics, of course, is no more an exact science than similar vocations like theology, astrology and quack medicine; and thus it frequently happens that certain actions in the economic sphere can appear to have unfortunate results even when the actual results are wholly benign. At the beginning of the present Parliament, for example, the coalition dispensed with several thousand nursing posts on the grounds that they constituted needless red tape; now, somehow or other, the NHS has all sorts of problems with patient care, but of course there is no connection. Similarly, the coalition has spent the last four and a half years taking money away from people who barely had enough to start with; somehow or other this has coincided with a massive upsurge in poverty, malnutrition and suicide, but it would be quite unscientific to imply any causal link.

For its own part, the Home Office has paid out nineteen million taxpayers' pounds in redundancy packages so as to save money at the Passport Office; only to discover that, somehow or other, there are now fewer staff to cope with a workload which has not always been obliging enough to diminish according to the Government's convenience. You would, of course, be a fool and a terrorist to believe that there is any real connection between the Passport Office sacking lots of people and last summer's backlog fiasco; nevertheless, the Passport Office has now launched a hurried recruitment drive, because the economic wisdom of inconveniencing thousands of potential Farage Falange voters during an election year is dubious even to the the mad old cat lady at the Home Office.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why Can't She Get A Proper Job?

Hilary Mantel, the evil non-Bagshavian fiction writer who broke the Duchess of Cambridge's heart and virtually assassinated the sainted Thatcher, has been up to no good again, comparing the coalition unfavourably to the man whom the noted historian Boris Johnson probably thinks chopped off Charles I's head. In 1536 Thomas Cromwell tried to introduce a law to provide financial aid to people who were unable to work, and also to employ the idle able-bodied in public works. Parliament threw it out, partly no doubt because of an entrepreneurial British antipathy to the thought of meddling with the free market just to bring down unemployment, but mostly because it would have meant raising taxes to subsidise elderly, sick and disabled scroungers. Not content with this level of iniquity, Cromwell also drew up an anti-enclosure act limiting the number of sheep which a single person could own. Fortunately, Rupert Murdoch was quite young in the sixteenth century and thus managed to ride out the Socialist storm until Cromwell expired by royal appointment some years later.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I Have Another Cunning Plan

Lord Dannatt, the former army chieftain whose activities in the Blair Crusade did so much to help bring the Middle East to its present enviable state, has been pontificating about the next escalation in our nice new Iraq war. Nothing will be done for a while because there is an election in the offing, and Britain's Head Boy is much more concerned with maintaining the uneasy coalition of thieves, morons, freaks and baboons known as the Parliamentary Conservative Party than with putting boots on the ground to stamp out Islamic State. Nevertheless, Lord Dannatt has a plan: bomb the bastards, build up local forces, keep all options on the table, have a wider discussion, work out what may or may not be important and, should it become necessary, think the unthinkable in order to do the undoable - not at all like last time.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Stealth Versus Stupidity - But Which is Which?

Labour has placed the Caudillo of the Farage Falange under what passes for pressure these days over his attitude to privatising the NHS. The Caudillo was caught on video a couple of years ago blathering about the kind of corporate insurance-based system that has been working so well in the United States. The Caudillo said he was uncomfortable about his money returning due value if he had to pay it in taxes to the state rather than into the all-wise benevolent fund that is the free market. Doubtless the Caudillo only made the statement because it seemed to be expedient at the time; and now that the statement seems expedient in some constituencies though not in others, the Caudillo has decided that he has neither dropped it nor accepted it. Labour, by glittering contrast, is merely the party that caused the Conservatives' lunatic PFI boondoggle to metastasize throughout the NHS.