CATS upon the stage

cats the musical
The return of Cats to the West End stage has revived the old argument: Was T S Eliot a genius or a twat. This article may help you decide

On the back of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s successful revival of cats there was an article in The Daily Telegraph over the weekend about the poetry of T S Eliot. here’s a taste:

Fifty years after TS Eliot’s death, the beauty of his verse shows how poetry can be appreciated before it is understood, by Allan Massie

The record-breaking musical Cats is singing and dancing again. The run of the new production has been extended – and there are plans to take it to France, Germany and Broadway. Yet when it was launched in 1981, even the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber wondered if he were out of his mind. A musical with no plot and the cast dressed as prancing felines, the lyrics drawn from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, light verses written by the otherwise famously difficult poet, TS Eliot – what could possibly go right?

Of course everything did, gloriously. It ran and ran and ran, and it still works today. [ …] I find myself thinking I would have liked to have had some such explanatory aid available when I first read The Waste Land 60 years ago. That was more than 30 years after its first publication, and yet it still seemed strange and baffling. I understood very little of it and was puzzled by its abrupt transitions. Yet, on reflection, I am not so sure that my perplexity was such a bad thing. It meant I had to surrender to the poem.

The comment thread followed the usual pattern of any discussion on the works of Eliot and that other literary wanker James Joyce, both of whom admitted that they wrote with the intention of being understood by literary or classical academics.

The sheeple who will believe anything sombody who waves an academic qualification around tells them to believe came down in support of the dogma that Eliot was the genius who dragged poetry into the modern age.

The other camp consisted of those who love poetry and read it regularlyand generally thought Eliot a pretentious, condescending elitist snob and an all – round twunt. Here’s my favourite:


When I was at school Eliot’s Wasteland was part of our A level English studies. Many questions were put to our English master on it, one of which has stayed with me when one of my classmates asked; “Instead of writing this, why didn’t this guy just top himself”?

One reference that came up several times was to John Carey’s book “The Intellectuals And The Masses” which is an exposé of the new elitism of the academic class.

Here’s one comment that recommends it:

Eliot’s poetry is quite deliberately obscure; the dense allusions to, and quotations from, other literature are designed to encode into it levels of meaning that make it inaccessible to all but the most highly-educated. This was a reaction to the rise of mass-literacy common to many modernist writers; they actively wanted to preserve literature as the preserve of a small elite. I highly recommend John Carey’s book, ” The Intellectuals and the Masses” – it’s quite extraordinary. None of this makes The Waste Land and Prufrock any less masterpieces – but in context, they are the last-ditch fight by the literary set against paperbacks and the sort of people who think Kipling’s “If” is a great poem.

Are the spadefuls of praise for Heaney justified

Are we allowed to speak ill of the recently dead? The general convention is No, we are not and when the dead are darlings of the inellectual elite we are usually expected to shovel on the hyperbole in praise of their talents, real or otherwise. But Boggart Blog was never inclined to follow the crowd especially when the honest response is to say “let’s face it he was a bit shite”. So let it be with the late Seamus Heaney.

Over the past few days Heaney has been called “a colossus”. Liam Neeson, a man whose acting ability has often been compared to that of a plank said “he defined our place in the universe”. Andrew Motion (onetime British poet laureate) referred to him as “great”. Heaney’s local university (Queens, Belfast) asserted that: “His contribution to the world of literature has introduced millions of people around the globe to the enjoyment of poetry.”

Really? as someone who has seen my modest scribbling appear in print I would say Heaney, along with his late best mate Ted Hughes was the kind of elitist tosser who put people off poetry for life. Their was the generation of literature professors who believed poetry was something to be written by literature professors for literature professors. If ordinary punters could understand your verse or even worse enjoy it, you were a bad poet.

So what is this brilliant poetry that, according to the hype, has seduced “millions of people”? Can anyone spontaneously remember a single line of Seamus Heaney? When novelist Sean Thomas asked this question of Twitter he reports his laptop screen filled with tumbleweed while the speakers gave out the sound of a soughing wind punctuated by the funereal ringing of a single bell in the old adobe Mission Hall, until someone eventually suggested that Heaney’s memorable talent was, arguably, proven by this line: “Between my finger and thumb, the squat pen rests, I’ll dig with it.”

Well, yes, that line resonates in the memory doesn’t it? We hear it quoted whenever people gather to reflect on digging, thumbs, squatting, and pens that metaphorically resemble spades.

Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times, wrote a two page paean to the Nobel prize-winning bard. In that understated way so typical of the Irish he said “Seamus Heaney made us gasp in wonder that, for all its follies and terrors, Irish culture had such a person in it…” “The great maker of such phrases will not be lost, for he is among the immortals now…” Then he gave an example of an “immortal” Heaney phrase:

Two buckets were easier carried than one.

Well bugger me with the blunt end of a ragman’s trumpet, I’ve had it wrong all these years. Poetry is not about the magic of language, the ability of words to evoke emotions, it is about bland truisms. My doltish teachers always told us to avoid cliche and we, fools that we were believed them.

Forget lines like:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,
look on my works you mighty and despair,


But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.


The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.


And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.


cold winds do shake the darling buds of May
and summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

because it is all about carrying buckets.

But isn’t poetry supposed to be about love and loss, our relationship with the divine or the splendours of love FFS? OK, I can hear all the protests. Modern poetry isn’t about rising above the daily grind, it is meant to be awkward, dull, obscure, and forgettable, like the working class people elitist intellectual poets look down on. It is about people who sit in ivory towers and imagine the miserable, joyless lives, of drudgery and suffering lived farm hands, mill girls, rude mechanicals, webfoot cockle – women and tidy wives. The Hughes / Heaney school of poetry, for all the poets pretensions to working class origins never understood the sensuality and rich humour of working class life.

Some late twentieth century poets did and managed to write lines that were beautiful and memorable and made you sit up and go “Fuck me, that could be about my life.”.

I bet you know a few phrases of Philip Larkin. “They fuck you up your mum and dad, they may not mean to, but they do,” Or “What will survive of us is love.”

And maybe a few people are familiar with these lines:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

or what about the poet of suburbia, John Betjeman, and the wit and irony of:

“Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
furnished and burnished by Aldershot sun”


“Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

And what about the gobsmackingly brilliant Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night“, which is so good it would be a crime to select one or two lines so I recommend you click the link and read it all.

Seamus Heaney is simply not singing from the same song sheet as these guys.


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Black characters put parents off books, new Children’s Laureate says

It seems very strange to me the new children’ laureate is a person descended from the dark skinned races and the first thing she does in her new role is make children’s literature a race issue.

Isn’t that erm, you know … a tad racist.

Marjorie Blackman (no pun there, that’s her name)also said that when she was younger, she never once read a book that featured a black child, which left her feeling “totally invisible”.

Obviously she never read Rudyard Kipling. Oops, pardon, he was denounced as racist for having black characters in his stories wasn’t he?

And what about Wind In The Willows, Mole was surely almost back and ratty would be brown.

Blackman, a former script writer for children’s television series Byker Grove, (hmm, were there any black characters in that, I mean, I’ve never seen any around Newcastle) intends to spend her time as laureate concentrating on older children and teenagers, a group she feels it is “time to embrace”.

The people who gave her this award have learned nothing from Jimmy Savile then?

Read full story

I was amused by this comment from the thread.

“If you have ever attempted to buy books for children recently it is impossible not be absolutely appalled by some of the offerings,which are little more than dire multicultural politically correct progressive politics themed propaganda.

One particularly nauseating book had on the cover a pretty drawing showing mixed race couple, one Asian male child, one African female child and a white girl in in a wheelchair and a happy smiley woman in the background

The subject matter? All about the joys of being taken away by the nice social services lady and put with right on foster parents (not UKIP supporters presumably)

Happily the classics still sell and there is some splendid modern children’s literature around.”

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How Hopeless Pupils Can Pass Exams

A regular commentator, Nenesse1, left a response to yesterday’s post sayng (in French) that it will soon only be necessary to write one’s name on the paper to pass an exam.

I don’t know if my reply, in French, will impress Francophones but it impressed me 🙂

Clearly though the Frech education system is not yet as dumbed down as ours because here lazy pupils who know how to work the politically correct making system can assemble a pass mark though the various uplifts available. We posted on that a couple of years ago so let’s do a bit of recycling:

In my school days, admittedly more years ago than I care to remember, trying to justify the non – delivery of homework projects with the excuse “please Sir, the dog ate it,” was not exactly fresh and original but was still guaranteed to raise a ripple of laughter from classmates. Now of course it is a tired and lame excuse used as a last resort only by the terminally dull – witted. Family pets have advanced in status so much they can actually make a positive contribution to academic achievement.

Britain’s leading examination boards announced this week that results may be upgraded if it is known that the candidate has suffered an emotionally distressing experience in the run up to the exam. Qualifying experiences include death of a parent or sibling (5% upgrade) parent or sibling being diagnosed with a serious illness (5%) death of a distant relative (3%) a broken limb within 48 hours (3%) a broken limb on the mend (2%) – this throws a whole new light on the theatrical expression of encouragement “break a leg” – and so on, with the death of Fido or Pyssykins weighing in at 2% if it happens within 48 hours of the exam or 1% between to days and a week prior. Monty Python fans will be emotionally distressed to learn that the death of a parrot warrants nothing.

A spokesperson for one of the examination boards responding to criticism that the scheme is politically correct mollycoddling of the young said that the maximum upgrade had been set at 5% in order to discourage abuse of the system. As she does not say whether the upgrades will cumulative I fear the bureaucrats have once more underestimated the ingenuity of ordinary punters. Consider the possibilities in a literature examination…

QUESTION: In Shakespearean tragedy the downfall of the main character is often a result of a failure to address obvious flaws in his own character. Discuss this with particular reference to Hamlet and Macbeth.

ANSWER: Both Hamlet and Macbeth are… Oh GOD! WHAT IS THE POINT? Why should I sit this exam when with a bare bodkin I could my quietus make. Who cares about qualifications and careers. Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Shakespeare’s tragedies? Are there not enough tragedies in the real world. To write or not to write that is the question, when all our yesterdays have lit the way of fools to dusty death.

Only yesterday my beloved Labrador Bonzo shuffled off this mortal coil when a car, driven by my uncle Jim, mowed him down. Jim did try to avoid Bonzo but lost control of the car and perished himself when he hit a wall.

I felt guilty about having let Bonzo off the leash and rushed to cradle the poor dogs noble head as he breathed his last. When the paramedics led me away I noticed my hands were covered in blood. “Will all Neptune’s great ocean was clean the blood from this my hand I cried out.
Just then my mobile phone rang. It was my mother calling from the hospital to tell me she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and within six months would be heading for that unexplored country from in whose bourne no traveller returns.

In a perfect world I would be able to turn for comfort to my Dad, a virtuous man, but as it says in Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2 “Virtue itself ‘scapes not calumnious strokes and Dad has been paralysed these three years.

I asked my sister, a Goth to let me have some of her downers, after all our little lives are ended with a sleep. “Each man is but a poor player who frets and struts his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more so help me exit pursued by a bear,” I entreated her.

“But in that sleep of death what dreams may come? Fuck off and buy you own drugs;” she quipped rather wittily in the circumstances just before falling downstairs and breaking her leg.

Then I heard a terrible sound coming from the kitchen and rushed in just in time to see poor Pussykins choke to death on a furball.

I tried to sleep last night, for after all, we are such stuff as dreams are made of, our little lives are rounded with a sleep.

But what will it avail me if I pass this examination. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy Mr. Examination Marker.

And if you add it all up that should be worth a pass.

Cold Comfort – Frozen Pets The Latest Craze
“A levels are only for thickos” says Private School Headmaster

Afghanistan, Financial Crisis, Climate Change – Forget it, Katie Price has quit the jungle.

Big news today is nothing to do with any of the major crises happening around the world, not with a government in meltdowm or the most frightening story, the one about new EU Prez. Van Rumpy Pumpy pledging to steer the union towards a system of global governance, a world government. You will not find that one reported anywhere in mainstream media although it is the news item thinking people should want to know about.

No, the big news today is that Katie Price, the slapper formerly known as Jordan has quit – ahem – “reality” television show I’m a celebrity, give me some wonga.

The return of Katie Price to the show’s line up (she first ate Kangaroo testicles a few years ago so must have a taste for them) was a surprise that had been trailered for a month before the show started.

The public always hates a shameless publicity seeker and by the time Katie arrived at base camp and the votes for who gets to eat worms, grubs, bollocks, eyeballs and shit began it was obvious the punters were going to give the pneumatic one a hard time. They had ben wound up to do so.

Day after day she was elected (more democratically than the EU President it has to be said) to stick her head in buckets of eel slime, cavort with rats (and we’re not talking about Joe Bugner there) crawl through caverns of cockroaches, shimmy with snakes and get covered in shit until finally, right on cue which proves she had read the script even if she has never read any of her own books, Katie’s resolve was broken.

Official rumour has it that a leak from the production team forewarned her she would have to eat the festering carcass of a dead wombat in the next trial. Unofficial rumour has it that the deal was she suffered ritual humiliation in return for lots of camera time and a chance to show her vulnerable side and then feigned an emotional breakdown and walked out on full pay.

So what is Boggart Blog trying to tell you all here? That reality television has become even more cynical and manipulative since the premium phone lines scams were shut down?

We would not dream of such a thing.

If anybody is thinking of saying they can’t believe I watch such rubbis, I have not watched a single program. Five minutes on a web celebrity gossip ite give me all I need to know. I might slag off reality TV but I’ve never said Boggart Blog is not cynical and manipulative. One of my biggest successes at American site was an review of the book How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard which I reviewed without having read it.

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Marking computer Says No AsTop Writers Fail Their English A Level.

Boggart Blog makes it our business to invigilate the progressive education lobby for sings of loonyness. An we have to be honest, they keep us busy.

One of the most crackpot ideas to come out of the academic clique that supervises the dumbing down of standard was the recruitment of a marking computer to assess A level papers.

On being given samples of writing by great authors including Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway and John Donne the computer failed them all, dismissing John Donne’s line “No man is an island.” as incomprehensible.

A very atmospheric passage from Dickens was branded too repetitive as was a transcript of Churchills “Fight them on the beaches” speech.

Extracts from William Goldings “Lord Of The Flies” and Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” were described respectively as “erratic” and “bizarre.”

Apart from being pedantic the marking computer cannot cope with metaphor, colloquialism or handle stylistic variation. All of which shows that despite the lurid fantasies of computer scientists Artificial Intelligence is as far away as Intergalactic Travel.

It is nicely ironic that in an education system designed, it is claimed, to encourage creativity, creativity is frowned on. The system sems to be giving out the message, “You will be creative, but only as creative as we allow you to be.”

Once again we see the underlying ideal of progressive education is control freakery.

Just as a final, satisfying, nail in the coffin of the computerized exam marker in its appraisal of Chuchill’s speech it corrects the use of “might of” in the phrase “might of the German Army,” advising the author it was an incorrect way of writing “might have” when in fact it is an abstract noun and perfectly correct. So did Churchill pass his A level?

Computer says No.

Read about the computerized exam marker at The Times

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Wuthering Heights – Condensed Version

Boggart Blog has often slated politicians and senior civil servants for drawing big fat salaries without having done any work to earn them. There is one profession however who are worse than even politicians when it comes to being paid for doing nothing and yet these people seldom come in for criticism. They are newspaper television critics.

Come on, how often have you read a review of a new show and thought “that bugger wasn’t watching the same programme I saw”. In fact he wasn’t watching anything, he was down the pub with his mates. The review is a thinly disguised version of the TV company press release.

The show that brought this to mind was the dreary, plodding adaptation of Wuthering Heights shown in two ninety-minute episodes over the weekend. Wuthering Heights has never been a favourite novel of mine, not so much a book as a bucket of shit in fact. My favourite version of the story was Monty Python’s Wuthering Heights in semaphore. Heathcliffe is too obviously a stereotypical sexual fantasy for repressed late – Georgian spinsters and I could never see the appeal of whiney Cathy. I did once know a very sexy Kathy who lived on Wuthering Heights, or Withins Moor as it is known locally. Other than that, a Gothic angst-fest comprising three hundred pages of misery, resentment and alienation is not really my cup of tea.

There is not much to the story. Out on the wylie windy moor people stomp about a lot, or occasionally roll and fall in damp heather, the whole setting is shrouded in mizzle, that peculiarly Pennine weather that can’t make its mind up whether it is mist or drizze and so is know in the local vernacular as “that fine stuff that wets you through.” People scowl at each other. Every now and then a horse drawn carriage drives along a muddy track and someone dies.

Then there is a ghost haunting the male lead.

Why did that take three hours prime time tele. Kate Bush knocked the whole thing off in six minutes and still found time to do a bit of Marcel Marceau inspired dancing.

So, you might well ask, how did this travesty of a travesty attract glowing reviews. Well as already mentioned the critics did not watch it. Neither did we actually, we got bored after forty five minutes and put Dave on. Mock The Week was better even though we have seen it three times now.

One of the givaways in my paper’s review was that the critic described the actress playing Cathy as “newcomer Charlotte Riley.”

Newcomer? I had seen her two nights before playing female lead in a two year old episode of George Gently, starring Judge John Deed (TV drama is becoming very incestuous like Norfolk or The Dingles in Emmerdale).

As for Wuthering Heights, if they had crammed it into six minutes like Kate Bush did it might have been OK. Like this:

Fade in to shot of grey, bleak moorland shrouded in that fine stuff that wets you through. In the distance stands a grey mansion house, even greyer than the moors and the sky. Pools of grey light fill the windows. The camera zooms in and through the portal into the mansion’s interior. A grey, brooding man stomps about. Suddenly a window smashes and an arm reaches in, it is very pale grey and clothed in a grey sleeve. (It’s a ghost, see.)

The grey arm grabs the man’s coat and a ghostly voice says “Heathcliffe, it’s me, Cathy, I’ve come home now – wooo – ooooo – oooo – oooo”

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle. People in grey clothes run about with oil lamps.

Cut to outside. The fine stuff that wets you through sweeps across the bleak moorland. Heathcliffe is digging a hole. The camera zooms in and we see he has dug up Cathy’s grave and climbed in the coffin for a quick bunk up with the skeleton. From this we know Heathcliffe has a lot of issues.

We jump back in time. The bleak moorland is clad in sere and yellow (oops, sorry. That’s Shakespeare) and the house is not grey, just greyish.

A serving woman speaks: “Ayup Mistrurnshaw,” she says to a fat man whose ruddy complexion says he has cardio vascular problems.

“Ayup Nellie,” say the fat man although the woman is not called Nellie but Raquel from Coronation Street.

“’oo’s yon raggy arsed little wazzock tha’s fotched whoam wi’ thi’ Mistrurnshaw?” asks the woman.

“Yon mon’s callt ’eathcliffe Nellie, ah fun ’im I’t gutter i’ Liverpoo’ gi’ ’im a wesh and some scran and ’ee can be a brether fer R Cathy and R ’indley.”

Cathy is thrilled with her new brother but Hindley says he’s a theiving little Gyppo bastard and punches him in the face. “’ee’s a cuckoo in t’ nest R Cathy,” Hindley tells his sister.

We jump forward several years. Cathy and Heathcliffe are no longer children while Hindley has grown into that weird looking guy from Torchwood. R ‘indley will be comin’ whoam soon says Mistrurnshaw. Cathy smiles, Heatcliffe scowls, Mistrurnshaw then clutches his chest and falls over. Hindley tells Heathcliffe he is a servant and hits him with a stick.

OK that covered the first forty five minutes. Anyone who stuck it out through the full three hours can pick up the Boggart Blog condensed adaptation if they wish.

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Paddington Bear has ditched his beloved marmalade sandwiches in favour of marmite. Shock! Horror! How can this be? In an article in The Times Natalie Haynes claimed that Paddington’s creator, Michael Bond, had written the script for the commercial starring the duffel coated bear from darkest Peru trying out a marmite sandwich, suggesting that he had received a shed load of money to change Paddington’s tastes. Mr. Bond was quick to repudiate the allegation. In a letter published in today’s Times he says, “I should be so lucky…”
So what is going on exactly? I think we should consider the possibility that Paddington has been taken hostage by the PFFM (People’s Front For Marmite) and is being made to make these commercials against his will.

Literature Is Pants

Literature is pants, not in a colloquial sense although some “literary fiction” does have the entertainment value of limp lettuce. No, literature is literally pants, without ancient undergarments there might not be any books, comics, newspapers etc.
Were it not for the widespread adoption of underwear in the medieval period there would not have been enough rags available for the making of cheap paper. This was the development that made the inventions of Gutenberg and Caxton economically viable.
So if you though that brown tint the pages of an old book have is due to age, think again. Its really down to skidmarks on antique guzzies.

How To Talk About Books We Haven’t Read