In the Critics this week

Bryan Appleyard on Evgeny Morozov, Gabriel Josipovici on Thomas Bernhard and Will Self on eels.

In the Critics section of this week's New Statesman, Bryan Appleyard considers Evgeny Morozov's angry polemic against political evangelism on the web, while T G Rosenthal explains the origins of his book in defence of L S Lowry.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft is enchanted by David and Gareth Butler's weighty tome British Political Facts and concludes that "every politically conscious home should have one". Olivia Laing's low expectations for Claire Dederer's yoga memoir Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses are exceeded, thanks to the writer's wry style. And Jonathan Beckman is grateful to the translator of Antal Szerb's Love in a Bottle for resurrecting the Hungarian writer's short stories from the 1930s. Marc Stears is not convinced by James T Kloppenberg's attempt to uncover the intellectual roots of Barack Obama's aversion to political conflict, while our Critic at Large Gabriel Josipovici extols the comic virtues of the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard.

Elsewhere in the Critics, Ryan Gilbey is unshocked by the climax of Danny Boyle's 127 Hours. Rachel Cooke wishes the casting of BBC1's Zen had been as imaginative as the Michael Dibdin book it is adapted from. Andrew Billen finds farce meaningful in the Old Vic's production of Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear. Brian Dillon reflects on the Korean artist Nam June Paik, who turned television sets into art, and Antonia Quirke appreciates the fun James Naughtie has with the King James Bible. In his Real Meals column, Will Self talks pie, mash and jellied eels.

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Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt