Divers Englishmen, the Newt Fancier

More about my great enthusiasm, the Greater and Lesser Spotted Englishman.

2) The Newt Fancier (amicus pleurodelinae)

Primarily, though not exclusively a British species, found widely, but particularly prevalent in places of extreme learning, such as Oxford University, the English Folk Song and Dance Society and Lords. Colouration various but a beady eye and extreme concentration are universal characteristics. Very vocal when interest engaged, otherwise silent. Difficult to spot, but once lured out of the undergrowth, unmistakeable. Lives entirely in its own world. Well worth the effort.

Typical specimens:

Augustus Fink Nottle      Gussie is a long standing chum of Bertie Wooster. Typical of the species, amicus pleurodelinae, he is retiring and inarticulate, except when strongly moved. Unfortunately, the only thing that moves him is the behaviour of newts, which he studies to obsession level and, more important, to the exclusion of all normal social awareness. Indeed, in trying to woo Madeline Basset, the girl of his dreams, Gussie decides to take a hint from the Newt’s Guide to Courting. Thus he explains to Bertie his intention to attend a fancy dress ball in scarlet tights:

‘In a striking costume like Mephistopheles, I might quite easily pull off something pretty impressive. Colour does make a difference. Look at newts. During the courting season the male newt is brilliantly coloured. It helps him a lot.’

‘But you aren’t a male newt.”

‘I wish I were. Do you know how a male newt proposes, Bertie? He just stands in front of the female newt vibrating his tail and bending his body in a semi-circle. I could do that on my head. No, you wouldn’t find me grousing if I were a male newt.’

‘But if you were a male newt, Madeline Bassett wouldn’t look at you. Not with the eye of love, I mean.'”

‘She would, if she were a female newt.’

You see? Surreal, but Gussie, who lives entirely in his own newtified world, is quite unaware of it. The Mephistopheles venture, of course, ends in tears. Does Gussie learn from that and change his behaviour? He does not.

See Right Ho Jeeves by The Master, P G Wodehouse.

Robert Webb      I was not sure about naming a performer, even after Webb’s jaw-dropping performance on Comic Relief as a hair tossing breakdancer. After all, performers pretend. The great truth about the amicus pleurodelinae is that it is without artifice. And it is wholly unaware that its obsessions are not universally shared. However, Marion Lennox directed me to this quite different RW clip, and I am now convinced.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTchxR4suto

The intensity, that lack of self-consciousness, the sheer beady-eyed lunacy certainly qualifies. Any lecturer from the twenty-fifth century, when he prepares study notes with quotations from Jane Austen to guide his class of Little Green Jelly Fish through their mid term exams,  will undoubtedly add ‘a gentleman does not conga’ to the list of Mr Darcy’s bons mots.

He Who Does Not Twitch       Twitchers collect lists of birds they have seen. They want numbers. They want rarity. They are, if you like, the collectors-for-collecting’s sake of the bird world; the one night standers; the flybynights. Your true Birder, by contrast, is one who studies, savours, concentrates and delights.

I was once in a small – very small, it seemed to me – boat on a river in Northern Queensland with a Birder of my acquaintance. There were twelve people in the boat, many of them substantial. It was low in the water. The river was known to contain salt water crocodiles. The Birders (i.e. everyone except me) kept their binoculars glued to the branches of tall trees on the opposite bank, looking for rare species. Indeed, I saw a Papuan Frogmouth myself, and an utterly charming bird it is, too. BUT – but, but, but – there were crocodiles in that thar river and nobody but me was keeping an eye out for them. Floating logs  approached our boat and I nearly fainted with horror; a low hanging branch brushed my back andthere was a moment of quasi heart attack whichs still sends me all of a doo dah, if I think about it.  It went on for hours.  When we got to dry land, I could barely speak.

When I mentioned this some time later, the Birder was surprised and just a little bit disappointed in me.

‘You should have been paying attention,’ he said. ‘We weren’t there to look for crocodiles.’

Yup, the amicus pleurodelinae lives in his own world.

Gentlemen, I do not begin to understand you, I think you are barking mad.  I count myself blessed that I live in the same world as you. Respec’


In praise of Divers Englishmen

What’s the point of a blog? To share things you know and love, right?

Right. I’m starting with Englishmen. Some of my best friends (and a good percentage of my lust objects) are Englishmen. I don’t think they get the press they deserve. Maybe because we don’t take the time to think about them rigorously enough. So I’m going to try.

1) The Frivol (homo hilaris urbanus)

An entirely British species, generally found south of the Tyne, with a pronounced chattering call, playful, very sociable. Fond of word games.

Typical specimens:

Henry Blofeld – cricket commentator extraordinaire, who cheered me up no end today by confessing one of his worst on-air mistakes. ‘You get into terrible trouble with Spoonerisms,’ he said darkly. Then he described being in the commentators’ box when Graham Gooch scored 333 against India at Lords. As the hero left the field, Blofeld told the radio audience, ‘Let the crowd do the talking’ and paused for 10 seconds, presumably to allow the listeners to throw their gardening hats in the air. Resuming, as he says himself, in full Churchillian mode, he announced to a grateful world, ‘Never before in the history of this great ground of ours has a cloud crapped like this one.’

Dr Spooner – a Victorian Dean of New College, Oxford, who gave his name to the transposition of consonants to change meaning. Probably most, possibly all of the examples quoted are apocryphal. The one most loved in my family was ‘Let’s raise a glass to the queer old Dean’ – otherwise the dear old Queen. Though my own favourite is ‘the Lord is a shoving leopard’. Yeah. I’ve lived with cats like that.

The Voice from the Back – Someone out there knows who this particular VFTB is; sadly I don’t. On my first day in the Overseas Department of the Bank of England three people told me about him. Whoever he is, I take my hat off to him. For, back in the early 70s, when the world came off the gold standard and the IMF was trying to devise an international unit of currency, the relevant committee was chaired by Mr (later Sir) Jeremy Morse – who went on to become Chairman of Lloyds Bank and inspire the Inspector of that Ilk.  Eventually they came up with SDRs (Special Drawing Rights) in the IMF. Not a name to conjure with. What might they call them instead? Sequins? Doubloons? Said the Voice from the Back, ‘You could always call them Morsels.’

Thank God for the Frivols.

Gentlemen, I salute you.