Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Great Stink

The peals, or more likely the gusts of laughter from Teheran must have been echoing in the ears of the denizens of Whitehall this week. Now the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy can join with the Home Office in being demonstrably “not fit for purpose.”
Queen Victoria would hardly have been amused, indeed cross, to hear that there had been a suggestion by some faceless bureaucrat that the Iranian captives were deserving of her coveted medal “For Valour.” Perhaps his heart had been softened by the sound of one of the defenders of the shore sobbing in his Iranian cell.
However, it seems the Revolutionary Guard are not totally fearless. Even they could not face Ms. Turney without her knickers.
Thus it was with some relief this weekend that I turned to a book on a more epic period for Britain. Judith Flanders’ "The Victorian House" does ample justice to the era although her title does not do justice to her book. Although she uses the peg of the rooms of a house on which to hang her voluminous material, she has written a stunning social history of the time. It has always been difficult for historians to encompass Victoriana in one volume. In the early days, Mr. Pickwick and his friends were travelling by stagecoach. Shortly after the end, the Wright Brothers were warming up their engines at Kittyhawk, an impossible time span to cover adequately.
Future historians will have a similar problem when they come to deal with the Second Elizabethan period.
But Ms. Flanders has done wonderfully well and her book is an admirable complement to A.N. Wilson’s “The Victorians” and J.B. Priestley’s “Victoria’s Heyday.”
If she dwells somewhat upon drains and plumbing, it’s because the subject was one of ongoing concern to Victorians. In 1858 a combination of a hot summer and a lack of sewers caused “The Great Stink” to arise from the turgid waters of The Thames. Providentially, the House of Commons sat alongside and the problem was sufficiently apparent that the honourable members got off their collective behinds and did something about it, instituting the modern sewerage system of today. If the House had been located at, say, Highgate, probably nothing would have been done.
Which only goes to show that, if you want to get the British government to do something, you have to get right up their nose.
Which is what the President of Iran seems to have done so successfully.

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