Tag Archive: England

A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh (First published, 1934)

dustIn his chosen career as a novelist Evelyn Waugh has to write about human beings but you get the strong feeling from this cynical and morally vacuous novel that he didn’t like people much. He became a committed Catholic soon afterwards and presumably he took comfort from an organized religion that takes it for granted that we are all born sinners.

Its title comes from a line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land – “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” – an allusion to death given that someday all of us return to dust.

Like a vindictive deity or grim reaper, Waugh moves his sad characters around like someone idly engaged in a game of chess with himself. None of them are presented in a flattering light and their actions are mainly driven by apathy, ennui or spitefulness. They are well off, comfortably placed and bored out of their skins.

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I’m not one of life’s flag wavers. I usually associate the Union Jack with fascists, racists and hooligans than with anything positive.

I think the Royal Family should be privatised and have no patience with those who live under illusion that Britons will never be slaves.

But sit me down in front of an England football match and those dormant patriotic instincts rise to the surface.

I was 8 years old when England won the world cup in 1966 since when they have not even reached the final of a major tournament. I vividly remember watching them lose 2-3 to West Germany the world cup quarter finals in 1970 after being 2-0 up.

But irrational hope springs eternal and I will watch England vs Italy in the Euro 2012 quarter-final today with my heart in my mouth and head in my hands. Even if they do summon up a victory, there’s the prospect of Germany in the semi finals and a repeat of that traumatic childhood experience.

To quote from John Cleese in the movie Clockwise “I can take the drama – it’s the hope I can’t stand”.


PJ Harvey in Paris, Valentine's Day 2011

I can’t get enough of PJ Harvey at the moment.

Her new album, Let England Shake, was released yesterday and is simply an amazing piece of work.

It takes as its theme England’s role in wars past and present, yet despite this subject matter these cannot be classified as straight protest songs. Instead they are a form of reportage as if she had already accepted the post of ‘official war song correspondent’ offered this week by the Imperial War Museum.

Polly Harvey lets the atrocity of human conflict speak for itself and is more of a lament for wasted lives than an exercise in finger pointing at warmongers. Continue reading

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