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A sense of Self


When Spike Milligan, of hallowed memory, brought the Beachcomber columns of J.B. Morton to UK television about 40 years ago, in each episode there was an interlude when Sir Michael Redgrave would stride on-stage, solemnly put on his reading-glasses and then recite a string of names from the Anthology of Huntingdonshire Cabmen. It was the purest rubbish, of course, but the sonorous majesty with which Redgrave would intone, “Spagthorpe, Oliphant; Spiggens, J. Thelonius; Spiggens, J. Xylophone; Spoggins, Q; Spunt, Aloysius Raspberry” made the risible listings almost spellbinding.

I was reminded of this over the weekend, when Will Self was giving A Point of View for 10 minutes on BBC Radio 4. He was expatiating (insofar as it’s possible to expatiate much in 10 minutes) on the respective rights of humans and animals. His subject was serious, of course, and he was hypnotic, nailing the battery farm industry with the merciless description of “vast, clucking concentration camps”. I thought what a delight it would be to hear Will Self reciting from the Anthology. Even if he were to be talking drivel, which he rarely does, it would be a privilege to listen to his rich and languorous tones imparting dignity to it.

And now I hand you over once again to the department for debunking trivia. Spike Milligan’s gravestone reads “I told you I was ill”, in Gaelic (Alright then: Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite). Oh, how typically, uproariously, nose-thumbingly Spike, people thought when he died in 2002. Well, yes, but Dorothy Parker (d. 1967) got there first. When asked to suggest her own epitaph, she proposed not only that one but also “This is on me” and “Excuse my dust”.

Finally, since this blog purports to be about language, grammar, punctuation and comical or costly misunderstandings arising:

Almost certainly fake, but it's irresistible!


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