1066 and All That

 

Thinking about literary influences …

When I was very young (A.A. Milne being, of course, a literary influence), around nine, I bought, through our primary school book club, a copy of 1066 and All That.

Wait on – the Wikipedia entry’s right here:

‘1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates is a tongue-in-cheek reworking of the history of England. Written by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman and illustrated by John Reynolds, it first appeared serially in Punch magazine, and was published in book form by Methuen & Co. Ltd. in 1930.’

In Standard Three at Titirangi Primary School in 1970 pupils ordered paperback books through a catalogue. After saving up our cents in our Kashins – dark blue plastic elephant piggy banks distributed to school children by the Bank of Auckland – we  filled-out our book orders and brought our money to school to be posted off by the teachers. I was a good saver in those days. I bought quite a few books; this one I read over and over again.

My copy of 1066 and All That would have cost around 75c, which was considered a bit steep. (A packet of Du Maurier or Rothmans cigarettes was then about 25c; I was sent up the road to buy them for my mother’s husband and my grandmother, respectively. My grandmother moved on to Benson and Hedges and when I took up smoking they were what I started on.)

Without understanding much of it, way before I appreciated what the year 1066 meant in terms of history, I was entranced by the word play in the writing. I was pleased with myself for getting the jokes, when I did. On the back of the book a mock publisher’s blurb read ‘This slim volume…’, referring to both the thinness of the book and its lightweight content.

The only other time I’d come across double meanings of this order was when I visited my childhood friend Sarah. Near the front door of her house there was a sign on the wall which read ‘No knives or stilettos.’ Sarah’s mother Eileen explained it to me: there was a type of knife known as a stiletto, a sharp thin knife meant for stabbing people, not filleting fish. The joke was that stilettos were also shoes with pointy heels (how we loved them in the 80s) and she didn’t want anyone walking over her floorboards in them. Or, obviously, bringing knives into the house. I was bothered by the notice; it was a sinister adult joke, bringing with it the thought that someone might otherwise come in with a knife.

Nobody around me used language in the silly, punning way of 1066. The book was funny in new a way. It was comical and to me, at nine, sophisticated. You could describe it as ‘Pythonesque’, which covers ‘silly’ and the piss-taking of traditional approaches to English history.

History was, and can be still, presented as a monolithic set of circumstances, as a linear series of external events involving countries, dates, governance, war, colonial expansion, exploits, seafaring, adventuring, exploration, exploitation, inventions, imperialism and other manly concerns. Women didn’t figure, unless they were queens or notable consorts, or perhaps the odd nurse, like the marvelously named Florence Nightingale. (The marvelously named Florence Nightingale. See how I’m expressing myself here?  In the style of the time.)

Within 1066 and All That history was subverted, buggered about with. Reduced, its serious balloon popped. History was a tool with which to have fun with language.  ‘Maharajahs, jhams and jhellies’ is a phrase that sticks, nearly 50 years later.

Sellar and Yeatman, a couple of chaps writing before WWII, gave a little girl in West Auckland an appreciation of a subtle, wordy, smart-arsey humour, like that of Edward Lear or Edward Gorey, but rollicking.

I can’t recall the last time I read 1066 and All That. My copy should still be in my mother’s garage; I hope so.

A while ago, I had a go at stand-up comedy. I wasn’t half bad, but I didn’t elicit belly laughs. A few sniggers and chuckles. A friend of mine, herself a successful comic, gave me some feedback: “It’s too intellectual, too cerebral, too wordy. You should swear more.”

Blame Sellar and Yeatman.

 

A Mother’s Advice to her Son about Women and Sex

Only have sex if you want to, not to make her like you. She might even tell you she loves you in order to get you to have sex with her. Don’t fall for it. Trust your gut. If you don’t want sex, just say no. 

Have sex if you want toNothing gives her the right to impose herself on you no matter how great a time you’ve had on a date. You don’t have to have sex to be nice or keep the peace, or because you’re drunk or you’re not sure whether you want to or not… 

Just because she’s paid for your dinner or the movie tickets, that doesn’t mean you’re obliged to fuck her. End of story.

If you don’t want to perform cunnilingus on her, don’t! If you feel you have to go down on her to make her like you, she’s definitely not worth it. And you don’t have to pretend to come to make her feel good! Sexual pleasure is a shared thing. Talk about what works for each of you. Have fun experimenting.

If she tries to talk you into sex without a condom, insist on your right to protect yourself. She may tell you she’s safe but if you’re not sure then don’t risk it.

If she shares intimate photos of you without your express permission, she has no respect for you. Report this and walk away.

Don’t let your heart rule your head – she might not want to see you again after sex. You can have a great time in bed without falling in love with each other.  But if you do, great!

If she  disrespects you in any way for having sex with her, forget her. She might tell all her friends that you two had sex to make herself look big yet still put you down for it. This is called slut shaming. Ignore it, hold your head up high and move on. You deserve better.

If you don’t know or trust her then make sure you watch her pour your drinks. Don’t go back to her place unless you’re confident of your safety. There might be other people there who mean you harm.

If you’re in a group of her friends and she puts you down or makes jokes at your expense or ignores you, she is disrespecting you.

If you don’t want to see her again, that’s it. If she keeps ringing you or turning up at your home or place of work or where you socialise, this is stalking and it’s illegal.

You’re beautiful the way you are. If she suggests you need to lose weight or is disparaging about your body in any way, that’s her problem. Walk away.

You don’t have to think she’s perfect or laugh at all her jokes. Enjoying each other’s company is a two-way street; one person doesn’t get to hold the floor while the other’s the audience. If she keeps interrupting you to explain things you already know, she doesn’t respect your views.

And if you have to pretend to be less intelligent than you are in order for her to like you, forget her. Find someone as smart as you.

Only get into a relationship with someone who is kind and who respects you. If she’s bad tempered, mean, rude or withholding, is this what you really want? Actions speak louder than words. You cannot love someone into being a better person. 

If she tries to control who else you see or who you’re friends with or how you spend your money, run, don’t walk! If she threatens you in any way, ditto.

You don’t need a woman to be with you to prove you’re lovable. You’re perfectly wonderful and worthy as you are, partnered or otherwise.

Now relax and enjoy yourself!