Tag Archives: kingsley_amis

Charlatans

Seeing Nigel Farage – yes, i’m sorry – perking his knavery in my face yet again the other day reminded me who he reminds me of. I was pretty certain that he conformed to a type you used to get depicted very well in mid 20thC writing and was sure he existed accurately in The Slaves of Solitude. But it’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I spent a fruitless ten minutes trying to find my copy before giving up and going to a Kingsley Amis poem I felt touched on it, which it does to a degree:

Yesterday you posed as a winking parson
Or a gull from the north, cloaking your belly-laughter
With a false voice that mourned for what you’d done;

To-morrow, in what shrines gaily excreting,
Will you, our champion even if defeated,
Bring down a solemn edifice with one swing.

and at the end

Uneasy, because we see behind your glories
Our own nasty defeats, nastier victories.

Speak for yourself, Kingsley. Doesn’t quite hit the mark anyway, because it’s really about something else – how a serial lover achieves his conquests (and again, KA shd know).

But the type I was looking for is partly articulated in it – the ‘chancer bore’. Can be a travelling salesman, a local solicitor, an obscurely invalided ex army type, whatever, they are expert in a specious bullying manner and suburban or market town seduction.

The last Cavafy post about artistic truth and charlatanism reminded me to check The Slaves of Solitude tho.

Finally located my copy, and yes, of *course* Hamilton did him, nailed him forever. Mr Thwaites, that president in hell at Mrs Payne’s boarding house in wartime Thames Lockdon.

He resounded, nasally and indefatigably, with a steady health and virility .. the lifelong trampler through the emotions of others .. He had money of his own and he had lived, resounded through boarding-houses and private hotels all his life. Such places, with the timid old women they contained, were hunting-grounds for his temperament – wonderfully suited and stimulating to his peculiar brand of loquacity and malevolence. He was as unfamiliar with toil as he was exercise.

Mr. Thwaites getting to hear of this, innuendo at the table was at once begun, astutely detached mention being made of “our German friends in the town” and certain people who “seemed to like them”, thus, according to Mr. Thwaites, encouraging the ineptitude of the authorities, who, instead of locking up, hanging, or shooting them, caused them to multiply and flourish. For although Mr. Thwaites in his heart profoundly respected the German people for their political wisdom, he was not the sort of person who could refrain from participation in any sort of popular chase when one appeared on his doorstep. A supreme and overpowering master of eating his cake and having it too, he was often led into such contradictions.

It’s impossible to go on, because the whole book is practically an essay in this sort of nasty, malicious, shitstirring bore, extending into actual evil.

But my point is, why are we (ykwim) so excitable about someone who we know socially, historically, in our blood, dogs in the street etc, as a self-evident type of fraud? From the mustard trousers, the liar’s-gentry cover coat, to the drawling, indifferent bray and evasive face with its mannered pantomime of duplicitous sincerity. He is KNOWN. Pretty much any pub with regulars has had a of version of him – not as bad, maybe, many comparatively harmless because contained. The sort of person you’re quietly warned to avoid talking to. The sort of person who has his way in a town before being forced to move on. And the people in the pubs and in the shops, and at the race course and the football knew him best of all, with his sham swag and seducer’s manner. So when did we become such a credulous fluttering-handed, feeble-minded bunch of marks? How does this cut-rent demagogue have his way in the papers and television? It’s not so much that such a figure exists to harness the discontent of people for their own self-serving ends, but that it has taken this *form*.

I would have said we were good at spotting this sort of flummery, in life, in entertainment. Only Fools and Horses (Boycey ffs), Fawlty Towers, even stuff like Rentaghost or Never the Twain to pick two random pieces. I know these don’t contain Farage, but they spot and skewer different types of pompous fraudulence.

I genuinely don’t get it.

Best I can do is something along the lines of “spivs were strong in social memory during and directly after the war, thatcher’s period legitimised the moneyed chancer.” Not v strong. Maybe there’s something in the fact that this is a known character, that there’s something performative about his presence. But he’s a been a very successful politician for pure entertainment.

Honorable mention by the way to Half Man Half Biscuit, those great modern day collectors of english types, in their song Bogus Official*

Courteous, friendly, jolly and fat
With a smile that says “Look, I know it’s under the mat,
“I don’t give a fuck about your missing cat.”
B.O.G.U.S. official (“Nice dress”)