Thursday, May 9, 2013


“Who could wonder that foreigners loved London?  Though as different from Vienna or Paris as Peking, it was no less essentially a capital, with all the attractions of the centre of an Empire.It remained unique in being a masculine city, as it had been throughout its history, created to the same degree for men as Paris for women.  The luxury shops were unrivalled in their appeal to male tastes, were full of cigarettes, and objects made in leather, glass or silver, better than those to be seen anywhere in foreign capitals; solid, plain, unimaginative, but showing the English feeling for material; the English sobriety. As for suits, shirts, shoes, ties, hats, London was acknowledged throughout the world, by all races, by all colours, [1] to set the fashion for men.  And these years, 1913 and ’14, were the last when there was a successor to the long line of fops, macaronis, dandies, beaux, dudes, bucks, blades, bloods, swells and mashers, who for so many centuries had given life to the London world of pleasure.  To these was now added the nut or, more jocularly, the k-nut, as personified by a young actor, Mr. Basil Hallam, who in this respect both summed up and set the tone in a song entitled  Gilbert The Filbert, the Colonel of the Nuts!’ – the refrain ran 


I’m Gilbert the Filbert, the Nut with a K,

The pride of Piccadilly, the blasé roué,
Oh, Hades, the ladies all leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert the Filbert , the Colonel of the Nuts. 


  Dressed in a grey tall-hat and a morning-coat, Hallam gave a rather languid rendering of this song at the Palace Theater every night in the Passing Show, a revue which was running throughout the summer of 1914 and until after the outbreak of the war.  It was no unusual greeting for a young man, wearing a new suit, to be told, What a k-nut you look !’  The nut must be thin, clean-shaven except for a small cut moustache, and have an air of concave and fatigued elegance, in this taking after his Dundreary grandfather rather than his father the swell.  On the other hand, he had to dance with vigour and ease, in the new style . . . The nut died fighting in the trenches of 1914, and Mr. Basil Hallam, his amiable exemplifier, was killed in the spring of the following year.  He was in a captive balloon with a rather inexperienced observer, and when the balloon was shot down this man had difficulty in fixing his parachute harness.  Hallam stayed to help him and was too late to save himself.”

[1]  The tradition survived.  In 1925, when I was in New York, I asked a Negro singer, Taylor Gordon, how he liked Aldous Huxley, whom he had met; and received a rich-voiced reply, When I think that that man comes from the capital of the world’s tailoring !”

NOTE: Breaking from dizzy-making work today to read about Basil Hallam in Osbert Sitwell’s Great Morning (1948) was restorative and uplifting. 

  Unfortunately, the contrast this afternoon between vivacious and virtuous Basil and serially dishonest, sanctimonious, hideously ugly Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland’s ranking troll in Congress, could not have been more distressing. 

  Addressing State Department officers testifying about the worst work fuck-up they had ever witnessed, and the Benghazi victims’ families, Cummings said:   “As I listen to your testimony I could not help but think of something that I said very recently -- two years ago now -- in a eulogy for a relative. I said that death is a part of life, so often we have to find a way to make life a part of death.” 

 The brave, hapless, doomed, Benghazi dead were what – 30 years old?  35?   40?

 Words As Shields; Words As Weapons. Contempt, Theft, Murder. Shit happens.

 Caroline said something to me recently that I will never forget:

 We’re living in the Dark Ages, but even during the Dark Ages people managed to live pleasant, productive lives. 

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