(Editorial note: the first two paragraphs following were originally drafted 28 November; and nb in particular the second paragraph here)
This office is always glad to renew its contacts with the good Baron Philipp (or, as he is known to obsessive busybodies in several tax head offices around the globe) ‘that ******* Baron ****Philipp’. A man of considerable (and useful) learning, but also with a large capacity for human sympathy, as shown in some of his contributions to this journal over the years. He knows my own preference to receive communications by private mail, and I was not surprised last week to find a large tin alleging it contained maple syrup had appeared overnight in the back yard of the shack, which actually held a handwritten letter which looked at first like bad news, since it reported that he and his wife (the elegant Somali artist) were dissolving the legal aspects of their marriage. It turned out, though, that they were arranging a consensual divorce to deal with the hassles imposed by bureaucracy. Practically inevitable since he still has to circle the globe four or more times a year, like it or not, for another seven years, to avoid paying 94% tax on the huge fortune left to him by his metallurgical great-uncle, while she repeatedly finds she is blocked from turning up as scheduled at exhibitions of her own work, or else gets summarily deported by frontier police whose default assumption is that as a Somali, and brown-skinned at that, her visa is probably forged and she is likely to be a dangerous terrorist. (Not much career risk to the officials if they get it wrong). The letter simply assured ‘all friends’ that there were no planned changes in relationships and activities, and that both of them would continue to take an active part in both their shared and their separate interests.
However, there was a second note in the tin which really seized my attention thanks to a throw-away remark in it, that I should be entitled to a sabbatical respite from the labour of turning out the journal. I suddenly realised the man was right. In fact a sabbatical is already long overdue since I have been hammering away at the typewriter, when I couldn’t find anyone else to share the work, for not six but eight years now, with only the generous contributions from Lady W to encourage me to keep going. So this present sentence before your eyes is not part of the free end-of-the-month supplement which has somehow sidled its way into becoming a fixed feature in the past year or so. And this sentence is an official announcement that publication of the journal is suspended until further notice (said notice to be posted on this website if things are done according to our pretty useless – and not legally binding – charter). Provisionally until mid January (and after all, these days nobody reads anything in December except to decipher the signature on greetings cards, or the amount specified in a festive cheque), but that’s very provisional. According to the custom for sabbaticals I should be allowed a year off if I can make reasonable use of it. Kevin has suggested a sponsored dog-walk from Alexandria to the Aswan High Dam, insisting that this would certainly give a change of climate and temperature from the icy squalls here on the island, and anyway, he says, Egyptians are as crazy about dogs as any elderly retirée in Tunbridge Wells, so they would almost certainly offer hospitality and even free overnight accommodation to any westerner seen walking a King Charles spaniel along the roadside. It is hard to guess with Kevin whether he is passing on some garbled piece of misunderstood reportage or is being deliberately insulting.
(30-11-2018) Cleaning operations over the past two days have turned up a hibernating hedgehog or something very like it, up in the loft where I keep the computer, and countless scraps of paper as well as some photographs, several of which will perhaps be used for blackmail if I can find out the current addresses of the subjects, Strictly honourable blackmail of course, for deserving causes. Also a cardboard box containing some forgotten suggestions for publishable (?) items. Archaeological examination of the stratum in which it was found and the state of the biscuits also included suggest it may have been deposited at the time of Berthold’s last visit to the island some months ago. But a mystery: the notes were mostly scribbled in pencil, but whose handwriting? Certainly not mine, and I’m sure it’s not Berthold’s spidery attempt at a 1930s Dryad hand. Two of the pieces quite ingenious, and amusing, but definitely libellous. Herewith a couple of excerpts, including the only pencilled one still passably legible.
(1) (In pencil) General rule on inventions and discoveries: most accounts simply wrong. E.g. Who invented radar? Not easy! Correct answer depends on which country you are in when you ask the question. E.g. if in US then ‘Americans’, in Germany, then ‘Germans’, if Britain, then ‘GB’. In Russia probably Russkis – in fact believe that is the claim. ‘politically correct’ doesn’t come into it; these answers are; ‘patriotically correct’) Brits claim radar discovered, by them, about mid 1930s. If accurate account required, try ‘Germany’. Could detect plane more than 20 km away by 1935, and ship (big target after all) 50 years before that. (How come Brits beat Luftwaffe 1940?) But British ‘discovery’ less simple than mere link to nationality – Brits say radar invented by Robert Watson-Watt, great figure in lead-up to successful defence of realm in 1940s. This the socially correct version. Actually, junior official Arnold Wilkins suggested use of radio waves to enable British detection of presence of enemy; told to go and make necessary calculations, did so successfully, and was then the man who got stuck in back of jeep or similar to go out and do field trials. Did so successsfully. Radar taken seriously thereafter. Then committee set up, headed by big cheese Robert Watson Watt, to discover radar. (W-W becomes Sir Robert Watson-Watt discoverer of radar 1942.)
(2) (This already typed up)
In some ill-defined way the returning of cultural treasures from one country to another seems to have become a recognised part of decorous political minuets which well behaved nations are learning how to dance. The practice can bring a pleasantly warm glow to those making the return (please avoid the word ‘sanctimonious’ here) especially since there is no need to feel much discomfort in the region of the national wallet, and even more especially since there need be no discomfort at all on the personal level, but instead the chance of a free trip to an interesting foreign country. However there seems to have been less organised planning for a proper international framework than you’d need for buying a Burmese bus ticket. (I speak from experience.)
To start with, if we are talking about an object, then it seems to be necessary to ask where it was made. Sometimes the answer will be easy, sometimes difficult, and sometimes impossible. But even if you know the precise GPS co-ordinates of a site, that is no guarantee of an easy answer since there is no guarantee of satisfactory agreement over who had and has the legal or moral rights to the site, and when. There is a whole zareba of disputes waiting to break out in Africa over rights to ancient treasures as a result of colonial boundaries being arbitrarily imposed on pre-existing nations and cultures. That distinction between nation and culture is going to cause problems, and certainly not only in Africa. In Italy should treasures that have travelled be kept in their natal city state, or should all returns lead to Rome? Suppose a fine golden torque is discovered in Antrim; who has the better claim to keep it (and perhaps melt it down to ‘offset costs of maintaining legal systems governing administration and handling of archaeological artefacts’ as it may be charmlessly put)? Who should it be deivered to? Belfast, Dublin or London, or the descendants of the Tuatha Dé Danann if DNA analysis can identify them (in which case I would like a share)? There is anyway also the issue of whether credit should go to the place where a work of art is actually produced or to the region which developed the culture and techniques from which it emerged, even if that is elsewhere. (The apparently increasing tendency to aim at actual or de facto genocide in order to solve domestic political difficulties presages more such issues in future decades – if any). Other kinds of disputes are waiting to bubble to the surface when you take into account the fact that many transfers have been between willing buyer and willing seller (transactions often made smoother by failing to ask if the latter had valid title, as allegedly with many sales of the Empire State Building to tourists in the 1930s and 1940s in New York) And as if things were not already complex enough we now see the UN trying to distract attention from its complete failure (understandable) to get the world’s nations to attempt some sort of approach to semi-rational political co-operation) with its lists of intangible treasures encompassing such masterpieces of human cultural development as a unique way of preparing ham for human consumption, or Morris dancing, and being reportedly about to add to the list such achievements as Kazakh horse festivals, and Korean Folk Wrestling (perhaps akin to travel on the British railway network?) Yet more scope for ill-will between tight-fisted holders and outraged ‘owners’. All that to be sorted out before asking whether very many treasures might be far better off if not returned, as, of course, many of those currently in possession maintain. A broad vista of ever more disputes over ever more intangible treasures opens out before the world of culture.
(3) Definition Statistics is a scientific technique which is often used, e.g. by economists, to delimit the likely outcomes of given combinations of factors. For instance it is the technique which allows scientists to say that it is very unlikely that you will one day find yourself stark naked before a packed Trafalgar Square giving traffic signals to the pigeons, but that if you and current conditions hold good long enough, one day it will happen.
(4) It is always sad to see someone who has invested a great deal of hard labour in some venture get himself tied into knots and produce something that at best is a superior grade of rubbish. Nascitur ridiculus mus as the Romans used to say. The syndrome can afflict even those regarded as having a high level of expertise. Take for instance the French, a nation which makes a song and dance about its political maturity and its collective grasp of the way that a modern state should be governed. Then run through the presidents they have saddled themselves with over the past few decades. Chirac (elected in the final round with Le Pen as his opponent (with the campaign echoing shouts of ‘vote for the crook to keep out the racist) somewhat like Trump getting elected, under the bizarre American system, because he was not Clinton the representative of the 1%. Then they threw away by far their best option: Aubry not selected to be the socialist champion in the final round, because she was a woman. (Remember the slogan is not ‘Liberté, Egalité, Sororité, and not likely to be in the next half century. Hollande next because he was not Sarkozy. Macron after that because he was not a politician. (His poll rating six months after election already down 30%.
(Editor’s note: Macron’s poll rating 30-11-2018 down to 25%; widespread riots in the streets, and return to traditional police brutality – on camera.)