Serious, seriously good, seriously stupid and maybe not so serious after all…

Covers a lot, that does.

Seriously good is a book I have been working through for about a month: Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family and Fatherland by Carmen Callil. Peter Conrad:

Carmen Callil is part-Lebanese, part-Irish and wholly Australian. Trebly colonised, she has devoted herself, after settling in England in 1960, to biting back. I remember her once dragging a brush through her recalcitrant hair before leaving her office at Chatto & Windus to go to a publishing party. ‘My ancestors used this hair as barbed wire,’ she said. ‘They hid behind it and shot at the invaders.’ In her publishing career, she continued their dogged campaigns; like a cultural guerrilla, she used books, not bullets, to change the world…

… she begins her book with a startling account of her early misery. After a purgatorial childhood in Melbourne, she came to England and then, a couple of years later, attempted suicide. A companion saved her life and sent her to see a therapist, who happened to be Anne Darquier. The doctor revealed nothing of herself to her patient; they became friends, but remained strangers. Then, one morning in 1970, Callil arrived for an appointment, rang the doorbell and received no answer. Anne Darquier was dead upstairs, having taken an overdose of barbiturates during the night.

Callil only later discovered Anne’s family history and dug up that absentee Australian mother. The book she has written is an act of reparation, grieving for Anne and excoriating the parents who damaged her. But the family and the fatherland it broods about may also be Callil’s own; like all the best biographies, it is secretly autobiographical. She pays tribute to Anne Darquier as a wounded healer, whose ‘singular empathy’ came from ‘her own experience of pain’. A similar compassion is responsible for the agonising tenderness of this book.

Primarily, however, it concentrates on the bad faith of the loathsome Louis Darquier. Righteous anger has always been one of Callil’s grand qualities, admirable even when the cyclone is whirling in your direction, and her portrait of her anti-hero is a masterpiece of lacerating satire, worthy of any of the novelists she fostered. Darquier was a shiftless sponger, who affected a monocle and treated himself to an imaginary baronetcy; he lived off hand-outs from his long-suffering family, but was constantly doing midnight flits to evade creditors…

When Anne was enrolled at a village school in 1941, she was listed as having ‘no parents and no legal guardian’. She met the irresponsible pair only as an adult and at once discovered the truth behind their fabulations. Her father turned out to be ‘a loudmouth barfly and bruiser’, not a war hero; her mother, reputed to have been ‘the darling of Parisian society’, was holed up in sodden stupor in a boarding house near Paddington in London. After those first disillusioning encounters, Anne cut them off. The shock, however, maimed and probably killed her. Callil, invoking the brisk and brutal justice of Greek myth, regrets that she chose ‘self-destruction, rather than patricide’.

Anne, too, is brought back to life by Callil, whose portrayal of her has the feel of a tragically helpless fellow-feeling. Her shoulders were bowed by the weight she carried and, when she stooped, her hair stooped with her. As Callil adds in another of her deft novelistic perceptions, ‘her very French legs went all over the place’. In a book about forgetting – the selective amnesia of the jumped-up Tasmanian Joneses, who to this day refuse to admit Myrtle’s culpability, and the disinclination of the French to remember the disgrace of the Vichy regime – this character study is unforgettable.

And yet Callil is too rambunctiously Australian to stray into sentimentality. In a sentence that sums up the way she used to deal with her Chatto & Windus authors, she says of Anne: ‘Sometimes, I wanted to rise up and retrospectively shake her.’ I was grateful for the shaking she gave me all those years ago; I am now even more grateful to find her shaking up a shameful past, disturbing ghosts and doing justice to the memory of a dead friend.

It is an extraordinary book, it really is. ss10

Chilling too, for me, is the continuity one sees between the creatures swanning around 1930s France and the anti-multicultural, anti-Muslim and ultranationalist push in the Europe of 2011. Same mind, same mind! Tragic.

See also The enemies of free speech are everywhere; Anti-semite-in-chief; Carmen Callil on The Other France.

Forget that she recently called the Australian cricket team a bunch of poofters – that gaffe (if not the assessment of the cricket) pales into insignificance in the light of this book and its achievement.

Conservatism as a mental illness, or at least a personality defect? I often wonder….

Seriously stupid is what I found Ann Widdecome to be on Sunday night on SBS. However, she is colourful – I’ll grant her that, and not really stupid – just perverse.

But why was I not surprised when I also discover she understands climate change as a non-issue easily resolved by sticking one’s head out the window?

If you are going to be a public ass, why not be predictable about it? Though to be fair to conservatives she does seem rather out of tune with Margaret Thatcher… For more see Factcheck – Ann Widdecombe on climate in the Daily Express.

Given our Australian infatuation, thanks to the likes of Alan Jones, with that total ninny Lord Monckton I was amused to see, as an aside to the Widdecombe post, this: Lord Monckton attacked from all sides… by climate sceptics. They seem to be saying he is a BBC plot designed to bring sceptics into disrepute! I would never have imagined Alan Jones being part of such a conspiracy, but there you go!

…He is attacked on Dr Richard North’s EU Referendum blog for being too over-the-top in his claims. Dr North is a former member of UKIP where Lord Monckton is now deputy leader, but there appears to be no love lost between them. Dr North writes:

"Monckton is not the only climate sceptic in town – he does not represent ‘us’, whoever ‘us’ might be, and many people with sceptic views feel uneasy about his bombast and his faux scientific certainty.
But it is classic BBC tactics to pick on the easiest target, create a straw man and knock it down."

He adds:

"The BBC has an unerring ability to spot the ‘swivel-eyed loon’ and build them up. The ‘mark’, usually with an over-inflated ego, is invariably flattered and falls for it every time. Monckton fitted the bill admirably, and the hatchet job proceeded apace." …

Oh and just in case you need it, go to New Scientist to remind yourself what sane climate science really looks like: Climate change: What we do – and don’t – know.

And watch SBS tonight at 7.30 for something seriously good on a related matter.

Contrast what passes for environmental journalism on the other side of the paywall at The Australian. (I still buy the Saturday issue for the review section.)



Seriously stupid, as no climate scientist or scientific body of any repute simplistically links particular extreme weather events to climate change. Graham Lloyd is spinning the story, massaging the document to his own ends – to cast doubt, again, on the climate science. He needs to ponder what probability actually means and why scientists can never be “certain” of anything. The fact remains that global warming at rates beyond what might have been expected without the human input in the past century or two yields highly probable – but not certain – scenarios of varying degrees of extreme weather events and catastrophes. It is also highly probable, but not certain, that we have seen examples several times over in the last decade, and also highly probable that we ain’t seen nothing yet. And guess what? Politics has nothing to do with it. Except that it seems to be getting in the way of effective precautions.

Compare and contrast some real climate scientists on the same report: The IPCC report on extreme climate and weather events.

See also D.R. Tucker: Occupy Conservatism.