‘One adult for The Hobbit in 3D, please,” I said, thus setting the bar pretty high for the Saddest Thing Uttered in 2014 contest. It can’t be helped: a residue of youthful Tolkein geekdom means that a part of me will always yearn for the world of dragons and pointy-eared arrow flingers.

What a weird piece of work Peter Jackson’s Hobbit is turning out to be. He has Tolkein’s mix of the cosy (inns, pipes, sing-songs by the fire) and the horrific, but, just occasionally, while gaping slack-jawed at the unfolding panoramic orc holocaust, one wonders why the horrific has to be quite so horrific. Especially in 3D: slobbering, snarling goblin-heads bulge forth, only to be swiftly lopped from their shoulders by a dwarvish axe. Split splat splot go the orcs as the goodies lay into them, severed arms and legs flying in all directions as we hurtle down a river in one stupendously daft sequence in the middle of the film. The slaughter is more or less continual, and quite why such fare qualifies as a ‘family’ film rather than an X-rated horror I’m not entirely sure (although the same could be said of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, one of the most revoltingly violent movies ever made).

The concluding scenes with Bilbo nattering away to the dragon (much as the same two actors converse as Holmes and Watson) were very pleasing, but it occurred to me as I left the Vue that The Hobbit was the movie equivalent of Nando’s: enjoyable upmarket junk with a lovingly detailed but contrived ‘authenticity’. Mind you, that analogy probably occurred to me because Nando’s is exactly where I went next, for an early tea. And like the cinema, you can just about get away with going there by yourself. ‘Table for one, please!’

***

With a bop and a bip and a bip and a bop, a wardrobe with three little owls on the top.

So begins Three Little Owls by Emanuele Luzatti, a current favourite book of E, and I’m sure you’ll agree that as an opening line it knocks ‘Call me Ishmael’ into a cocked hat.

***

My fellow editor Gaw sends me this article about Schopenhauer’s views on writing for money. The commentary rightly critiques the Buzzfeed traffic-grabbing style of so much web guff, but it is also interesting to read Schopenhauer’s thoughts in the light of the Nick ‘I only write for money’ Cohen ding-dong of the last Dabbler Diary:

There are, first of all, two kinds of authors: those who write for the subject’s sake, and those who write for writing’s sake. The first kind have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, while the second kind need money and consequently write for money. They think in order to write, and they may be recognized by their spinning out their thoughts to the greatest possible length, and also by the way they work out their thoughts, which are half-true, perverse, forced, and vacillating…

The author is cheating the reader as soon as he writes for the sake of filling up paper; because his pretext for writing is that he has something to impart. Writing for money [is], at bottom, the ruin of literature. It is only the man who writes absolutely for the sake of the subject that writes anything worth writing…. It seems as if money lay under a curse, for every author deteriorates directly [whenever] he writes in any way for the sake of money. The best works of great men all come from the time when they had to write either for nothing or for very little pay.

Talking of which, if you like The Dabbler and value its continued existence, please donate here!

***

‘I’m bringing sexy back, yeah!’ boasted Justin Timberlake in his hit song Sexyback, this inevitably popping into my head when into The Dabbler’s Twitter timeline popped a picture of 1950s pin-up Vikki ‘The Back’ Dougan, famed for… well, her sexy back. Google yields a host of shots of her showing it off. Such saucy people, those mid-twentieth century Americans, yet so discerning. Not for them the limited bodypart preoccupations of today: in those days a man could feast his eyes on such a person as Ms Dougan – apparently the model for Jessica Rabbit -  and pick out the specific erotic appeal of her back. ‘I’ve always been a spine man,’ one lounge lizard might drawl to his buddy, as Vicky makes her showstopping entrance into the nightclub, backwards. ‘Guess I’m more of a kneecap kinda guy,’ comes the cool reply. These are real men, Everything Men, know how to appreciate the female form in all its aspects. ‘Show us yer shoulderblades!’ some rube might yell from near the cloakroom, before being rightly given the bum’s rush by Italianate bouncers.

A culturo-historical study of sexy backs, encompassing The Rokeby Venus, Ary Scheffer’s Francesca da Rimini, Degas’ After the Bath, and of course Vikki Dougan, surely waits to be written. The Erotic Review would lap it up.

***

San Miguel de Gove has been lately vindicated on academies (you probably missed that, the BBC whispered it here), but now finds himself roundly traduced for criticizing the ‘Blackadder’ version of World War I as universally taught in British schools. They even wheeled out Baldrick to have a pop. Gove is hated for being the boy who points out that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Also for his specs and for his weird mouth which when he’s talking or even listening seems to alternate between S- and O-shapes, as if he is send coded distress signals. Yet I examine my own education and find that Gove’s aim is once again alarmingly accurate. Everything I was taught at school about the Great War came from the War Poets and, yes, we were indeed shown episodes of Blackadder Goes Forth in class. First rate poets, excellent sitcom, of course, but it was never hinted that there was more to the story than a bunch of upper class General Melchett-types callously sending ignorant men to their slaughter for no good cause. It would be tempting to conclude that we live in a sort of reverse North Korea, where British history is rewritten to show how beastly we are, but World War II education is much more positive (one came out of school with the general impression that we decided to fight Hitler in order to liberate Auschwitz, which, of course, we didn’t).

***

On Thursdays C has started an after-school club called ‘Fun and Famous Art’. I gather the general idea is that as well as painting their own pictures they will learn about famous artworks. So when C came home with her drawing of Mickey Mouse I was a little underwhelmed but thought, oh well, they’re breaking them in gently. ‘So did you learn who it was that drew Mickey Mouse?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ said C. ‘Was he called Walt Disney?’ ‘No.’ ‘Yes, yes he was. Walt Disney…’

‘No, Daddy,’ said C kindly, ‘he was called Andy Warhol.’

***

For virtually the whole of my life I have played football at least once a week, with the consequence that most of my muscle mass is in my calves. And the consequence of that is that the current trend for skinny-legged trousers is a personal disaster. It’s not just that the shops are full of skinny-legged trousers, it’s that they only stock skinny-legged trousers. When trying on a pair in the changing rooms I literally cannot pull them over my legs, even when the waist is plentiful. In fact, since waistlines are not generally shrinking but growing, I can only conclude that the sedentary 2014 lifestyle means that even as the British male’s stomach grows rounder his leg muscles are wasting away, and the country must be full of fatties tottering around on absurd narrow pins like so many Foghorn Leghorns.

Needing some new jeans, therefore, I decided to skip the tedium of trying new brands and go straight for something reliable and timeless, so I made a beeline for House of Fraser, grabbed a pair of Levi 501s and marched confidently to the changing room, where, a few minutes later, I could be found almost weeping with rage and frustration as the denim resolutely refused to squeeze past my shins. ‘Et tu, Levi?’ I cried, and, dressing furiously, did what I should have done in the first place, which was go to TK Maxx. Amongst the crowded rails of that glorified jumble sale I found some candidates, including, funnily enough, a pair of Levi 501s. And do you know, of all the ones I tried they were the only perfect fit? Not just that, but at £35 they were a full forty quid cheaper than House of Fraser’s skin-hugging imposters. Imagine my smugness as I queued to pay.

I wore the new jeans on Friday, and at lunchtime took a walk up the hill in them. It was a cold afternoon with a glum slate sky, although far across the fields a curtain of sunlight was draped over distant Somerset. Very comfy these jeans, I thought, right pleased, but at the top of the hill the wind picked up, and all of a sudden I felt an ominous chill down where it was least wanted. Reaching below, I felt the awful truth: the discount Levis were afflicted with a dodgy  descending zipper. The wind sighed in the trees. Nasty, twisted trees with trunks like tortured spines. All broken, deformed backs. Vikki Dougan is long dead and the worms have eaten their fill. One winter on this lane I came across a dead wolf, splayed and rotting in the sludge. Closer inspection revealed it to be in fact the greyed corpse of a deer, struck by some vehicle, churned up by scavengers, innards splattered about like orcflesh. Ashes and dust. Bloody TK Maxx. As I turned to go back down the hill the air was ripped open by the unspeakable howl of a warplane on exercises, which came straight over my head and down into the valley, heading for Somerset like Smaug bringing death to Laketown. Down, down, heading to blot out the last of the light, beating its wings, flying low.

 

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  1. malty on Monday 20, 2014

    The visualisation of the inner workings of Tolkien’s bonce was bound to be controversial, the original, a series of cracking good yarns became a cracking bad headsfest. For entertainment gain without pain Despicable Me, one and two, are vastly superior, in my granddaughters and my opinion, as we sit on the hearthrug and watch the DVDs for the umpteenth time, much to the annoyance of others.

    (one came out of school with the general impression that we decided to fight Hitler in order to liberate Auschwitz, which, of course, we didn’t). Precisely dear boy, when wot happened woz some bloke signed a bit of paper wot said that ‘if Jurgen wallops Tadeusz we are gonna wallop Jurgen.’
    The motto being ‘when wallops are about ne’er stamp and shout’

    Regarding the trousers fiasco, they are called drainpipes, the default leg-irons of fifties teddy boys. For complete satisfaction visit the local Rohan shop, purveyors of near perfect leg adornment.

    • Sophie King on Monday 20, 2014

      Malty – I’ve read Lord of the Rings a couple of times and I don’t remember Tolkein mentioning the Trousers of Rohan…

  2. Peter on Monday 20, 2014

    I thought we fought World War 1 to save plucky little Belgium.

    It isn’t so much that modern films are violent, it’s that they are gory–gratuitously so. I don’t know how many times I’ve been forced to sit through an obligatory, wretch-inducing gore-porn scene in the name of……I dunno, man’s inhumanity to man? Ditto with the obligatory vomiting scene. Nice to see we are now exposing the kids to this high art. I’m half awaiting a re-make of Mary Poppins that features close-ups of Mary disemboweling Bert and the penquins for driving her mad with their frivolity.

  3. worm on Monday 20, 2014

    Brit I think its about time you moved into the ‘sensible clothing’ bracket and start wearing bottle green cords from M&S. You know you want to….

    The Hobbit films sound awful, I can’t stand all that whizzy spinny computer camera work stuff, makes me feel seasick

    • Brit on Monday 20, 2014

      I should say that despite the remarks above I really enjoyed Hobbit 2.

  4. David on Monday 20, 2014

    On Thursdays C has started an after-school club called ‘Fun and Famous Art’.

    I was seriously impressed at what an entrepreneurial prodigy C is, when I realized that “started” does not mean in English what it means in American.

    The saving grace of WWII, as far as the educational establishment is concerned, is that it was a massive government program that helped the less fortunate and discriminated-against.

    I find I liked the second Hobbit movie much better than the first, although that might be because I saw the first in some hyper-realistic, super definition format (72mm?, superfast film speed?) that made the cgi look like stop-motion models of less than Davey & Goliath levels of sophistication, if that’s a reference that flies in England. I find that when I think that Jackson could have refused to make the Hobbit a trilogy, I don’t like it; when I think that the commercial reality was so compelling that Jackson had no choice, I think he’s doing a decent job (and I’m still hoping that he’ll find a way to include Tom Bombadil).

  5. Gaw on Monday 20, 2014

    I think the idea is that you can still describe your ‘gore-porn’ film as one for the family if it’s only non-sentient humans that are slaughtered (so orcs and zombies gets a pass).

    Re WWI, I think it is fair to say that the great majority of the British people of the time thought it was a just and victorious war. It was also one that saw the British upper classes killed in disproportionate numbers. In the mythical words of Michael Caine, ‘not many people know that’.

    I think some fine and progressive people often tacitly use history to illustrate how clever and enlightened we are today. The dead are the only people left whom it’s perfectly fine to patronise: silly, wicked or deluded people who would have avoided a lot of trouble and injustice if they’d been more like us.

    • Brit on Monday 20, 2014

      The only flaw in that theory, G, is the lack of family zombie movies. Is it simply that the limb-severing, head-chopping etc all happens to the baddies?

      The action in The Hobbit is brilliantly done, but after a while the pattern becomes wearily familiar: goodie slays a bunch of orcs, big mutha orc sneaks up behind goodie and is just about to kill him, when – bang! – just in the nick of time another goodie we haven’t seen for a while appears and dispatches big mutha orc. This happens a LOT.

      • Gaw on Monday 20, 2014

        Yes, I suppose it’s more the family video games (if that’s what they’re still called) that feature zombies. My boys and I must have killed thousands of them.

  6. David on Monday 20, 2014

    And right on cue from the BBC comes, 10 Myths about WWI, including the myth that everyone hated it :

    Like any war, it all comes down to luck. You may witness unimaginable horrors that leave you mentally and physically incapacitated for life, or you might get away without a scrape. It could be the best of times, or the worst of times.

    Many soldiers enjoyed WW1. If they were lucky they would avoid a big offensive, and much of the time, conditions might be better than at home. For the British there was meat every day – a rare luxury back home – cigarettes, tea and rum, part of a daily diet of over 4,000 calories.

    Absentee rates due to sickness, an important barometer of a unit’s morale were, remarkably, hardly above peacetime rates. Many young men enjoyed the guaranteed pay, the intense comradeship, the responsibility and a much greater sexual freedom than in peacetime Britain.

    • Gaw on Monday 20, 2014

      Despite their being frequently labelled as straightforwardly anti-war poets Sassoon and Graves often admit to the attractions of the fight.

      • Gaw on Monday 20, 2014

        Though personally, as a fully-fledged 21st century milksop, I’d want to give it all a miss…

  7. malty on Monday 20, 2014

    The previous owner of our house was, as well as being a local farmer, the factor at Bemersyde, the ancestral home of the Haig family, given back to Earl Haig ‘for services rendered’ during WW1. His son, a fine man apparently, had to live with the legacy, something he bore with fortitude and tipple. The Earl Haig is buried near here at Dryburgh abbey. When, in the mid nineties, I told my mother what it was we had bought she was aghast, her father had died in the late fifties, a blind vegetable, since the end of WW1 he had languished in a Durham mental hospital. Whether Haig was the main culprit or part of the corporate guilt machine I could not say so would doubt that I would have been capable of carrying out my mothers request regarding his last resting place.

    One thing is for sure, no one was brought to book over the appalling lack of regard for human life, a case of the corporate mindset suffering amnesia.

  8. Daniel K on Monday 20, 2014

    Schopenhauer is right on the essentials of motivation, except that a great deal of terrible writing is done for love, and some writing done for money is pretty good. Elmore Leonard was a commercial author, I doubt he would have written much if he couldn’t have earned ca$h doing so. Or he might have stuck in advertising.

  9. BenSix on Monday 20, 2014

    Writing for money [is], at bottom, the ruin of literature…

    There speaks a man born to wealthy parents…

    Gove is hated for being the boy who points out that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

    One could, of course, have made the point that polemical portrayals of the evils of the war do not reflect all of the facts without misquoting, while mocking, an eminent historian and mischaracterising the nature of the debate. Gove’s attribution of the “don’t just blame the Germans” line to left-wing academics was especially amusing given that his own adviser, Niall Ferguson, wrote a book that blamed the Brits for giving rise to the conditions that precipitated the war.

    • Brit on Monday 20, 2014

      Well that’s a proper ad hominem, Ben – ie it doesn’t follow from Schopenhauer not needing payment for his writing that his observations are wrong. What you need are counter-examples, of paid writers being superior to unpaid ones. These are legion, since most unpaid writing is twaddle.

      On the other hand, he has a point about professionals “spinning out their thoughts to the greatest possible length” – how many op-ed articles, even whole books, have you got to the end of and thought: “Well that could have been said in a short paragraph. And didn’t you say it last week anyway?”

      • BenSix on Monday 20, 2014

        Well that’s a proper ad hominem, Ben…

        Indeed! But it was also a joke. I think there are upsides and downsides to being paid as a man of letters. A Tolstoy was free to reflect on his ideas without having to shove them towards hack work, and a Kafka gathered experiences to inform his prose, but Dickens and Orwell would have been stuffed had they not been able to make a living.

        You are right, of course, that most of the opinions published in the press are attention-seeking trash or monotonous drivel but I think this has more to do with the demands of the papers and the cultures of the media elites than with the remuneration of contributors. A good amount of the writers on CiF and HuffPo appear to be unpaid but their articles are still far more liable to be bad than good.

  10. Pete on Monday 20, 2014

    Carhartt jeans will fit you well. They look good for a long time too – compared to Levi’s which ‘gain character’ (fall apart) in about a year.

    • Brit on Monday 20, 2014

      Thanks for the trouser tip, Pete!