Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Times it is a-changing

Some time in early Spring 1966 The Times dropped a bombshell. Since the year dot (and in the case of The Times this is a pretty remote dot – 1785, says Wikipedia): in place of the classified ads that had previously appeared on the front page (Wikipedia says 'the front page featured' them FFS. But the point is that the front page was featureless) they were going to print news. What a thing for a newspaper!
<autobiographical_note date_range=1965-6>

This was about the time my big brother came home with a nylon-stringed guitar that had a broken back, repaired with a three-inch screw where the fretboard met the body. Above the octave, the strings were a good half-inch away from the frets.This meant that before a string met the fretboard it stretched; so the higher up the fretboard you played, the sharper the note became not so much the Well-tempered klavier – the Ill-tempered vihuela perhaps.
Took a bit of a liberty with the instrument there, but the consonance (all three vowels) was too good to miss. 
In the spare time that pubescent boys had in those pre-National-Curriculum days, I started to pick out tunes. Mick had borrowed a 'teach-yourself' LP (on the Argo label) which tied a particular style of accompaniment to one song: 'hammering on' – 'Trouble in Mind'; arpeggios – 'Black Girl'; 'clawhammer'  – 'There Were Three Bothers'; calypso – 'Dip and Fall Back' ...and so on.

When the news of The Times' concession to sensationalism hit, Bob Dylan was still in his protest phase. 'The times they are a-changin'' was in the Zeitgeist. And the title of this post 'came up' from the depths of my mind (and you might have detected, in that 'came up', my current interest in subvenire). But I hadn't got far enough in my guitar 'studies' (I could do a pretty impressive accompaniment to  'Trouble in Mind', but nothing else) to think of making that first line into a song. I squirrelled it away, and here it is at last.

Well,  John Walter who founded The Times on the 1 January 1785 as The Daily Universal Register, will be spinning in the family vaults (which his mortal remains have occupied since November 1812). This Saturday The Times had neither classified ads nor news on its front page, but a photograph taken on the occasion of a celebrity wedding. OMG or what? Murdoch hadn't forked out for the actual wedding photos, but the grubby intent was still there.

This calls to mind a scene from my as yet unpublished (as yet undone, except for a 30-odd page sample that I hawked around a few publishers in the late '70s) translation of Eça de Queiroz's Cartas da Inglaterra (a sort of Victorian Letters from America, but written by a London-based Portuguese diplomat and man of letters [no pun intended, and none taken I hope]). It was a breakfast scene, with a daughter doing her filial duty and saving Papa's eyes by reading from The Times over breakfast. But some filthy bounder, an infamous scoundrel of the first water (whatever that is), had breached 'The Thunderer''s Victorian firewall and somehow amended the proofs, substituting obscenities. When his daughter read the results of this cruel deception, Papa nearly choked on his kedgeree.  (I meant to quote this properly, but the translation, and indeed the text, is In a Box in the loft. Allegedly. Fingers crossed.)

My reaction on Saturday morning was similar. Well, all right, The Times did make a concession to the news of an insignificant little war somewhere East of Suez. But don't worry, there'll be no 'boots on the ground', only 'suits in the board-room'.

Or perhaps they could use pogo-sticks; no dusty boots then.

Update 2014.09.30.14:20 – Added this clue (not  relevant to anything in this post)

Evacuation without a breach of faith. (9)

Update 2014.10.01.14:30Esprit d'escalier, in blue.
Update 2014.10.01.14:20 – Encore plus, in maroon.
Update 2015.09.10.09:25 – Added PS
OK, time's up: DEFECTION

Update 2017.06.27.16 Removed old footer

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