1926-30 - Miscellany

The Mahatma's "Fight for Freedom"

Now that Mr Gandhi has been authorised by the Congress Committee to proceed with his subversive schemes, the Government of India will be compelled to take steps to save the people from a recurrence of the bloodshed which marked his former campaigns. The Government has the power to cope with the revolutionary movement with which it is threatened, and there is no cause for the spread of alarmist reports. But it is pertinent to show the fatuity of "negotiating" with fanatics who are prepared to inflict endless misery on their fellow-countrymen in order to further their political aims. The indifference of the prime movers in the campaign of "non-violent non-co-operation" to the consequences for the people of India if their revolutionary plans proved successful has again and again been demonstrated. The ruin of the credit of the country, the certain outbreak of communal disorders, the danger of invasion and the menace of famine are light-heartedly ignored by men who were justly described by the Viceroy as "false friends of India". These dire possibilities must be present to the mind of every educated Indian. - 1930

Prima donna

Mlle Lenglen is a remarkable lawn tennis player, perhaps the most impeccable player who has ever held a racquet, but that is no reason why she should absorb public attention to the extent she does. The press is silly about her and the result is that she not only claims to be allowed to behave like a spoiled prima donna, but generally succeeds in getting that claim admitted. On Wednesday last, though down to play in two matches, she did not actually appear on the Wimbledon courts at all. It was said that she did not understand that she was expected to play a single before the important international double which was to be played in the Centre Court later in the afternoon. The audience were, of course, greatly disappointed, and the champion's apparent casualness was thrown into greater relief by the Queen's having been present for the purpose of seeing her play. If Mlle Lenglen had been English, she would have been scratched for non-appearance on such an occasion. She was saved partly by her eminence in the game but still more by her nationality. It is impossible not to approve of the action of the Managing Committee in permitting her to play her matches on the following day, but it might be well if her friends were able to make her understand that to the English public such behaviour savours more of the stage pet than of an amateur athletic champion. - 1926

A Channel Tunnel

A Channel Tunnel can do nothing to open the markets of Europe to us. Even as regards Northern France, the commercial advantage of the tunnel is doubtful, and in regard to most other places there can be no advantage at all. Why should Yorkshire and Lancashire send their fabrics to Holland or Germany via London and Calais, paying the high tunnel tolls, when they can be shipped direct from Hull to Hamburg or Rotterdam? There are plenty of sound schemes of national development which will require Government support, but the Channel Tunnel is not one of them. We deplore the fact that sensible people should still be spending their energy in advocating so impracticable a project. There will be no Channel Tunnel. - 1929

A new Morris

The Morris Minor makes its debut with an enormous sales and service organisation behind it. Four models are listed, of which the cheapest is a four-seat tourer in blue or brown cellulose, at £125. For an extra £10 the buyer can obtain a fabric saloon. The suspension system is the vital item of these lilliputian designs, and the Morris designers have tackled it with remarkable success; for the car does not pitch and steers very pleasantly, even on moderately rough going. The internal accommodation is roomy for cars of this size. There is nothing particularly novel about the technical details of the chassis, but they are sensible and up to date throughout. It remains to be seen how far this excellent car will drag a new stratum of the public into the motoring arena; nobody knows how many more of our petty bourgeois can afford to buy a tiny motorcar by monthly payments, or to run it when it is bought. - 1928

After Picasso

It is becoming the fashion to belittle Picasso. This may be taken as a sign of his greatness, but what does it mean? It means that our eyes are becoming so used to seeing things to which they were blind before Picasso put his spectacles upon us that we are inclined to dispense with the optician. Cubism, dead as it is, has left its mark everywhere. Since Picasso, a different standard is demanded of painters, and this standard, Picasso's standard, does not so much imply the carrying out of any particular things in a work as the absence from it of certain untrue conventions. - 1927

No more airships?

There may have been structural defects in R101; there may have been failure of instruments. The navigators may have been at fault, or they may have been victims of an atmospheric disturbance. It is even arguable that, as one school of experts has always maintained, the lighter-than-air vessel is fundamentally bad. The newspapers this week have recalled in particular the objections taken by the naval architect, Mr E F Spanner, and some have seized this moment to dot the i's and cross the t's of Mr Spanner's "I told you so". We have learnt our lesson, they say. We must refuse to take any more such risks against such overwhelming odds. Let America and Germany go on with their crazy projects; for Britain, airship building is at an end. We disagree. We do not believe that this country will abandon, or ought to abandon, airships. It would be deplorable if the present doubts and fears were hardened by panic-mongers into a permanent opposition to further advance. - 1930

This article first appeared in the 29 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, An explosion of puffery