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The Metafizzical Essays
of Nicholas Hancock

The Poet of Despair

Published by The British Hancock Society
with the permission of the author.

THE TREMULOUS
UPPER LIP

THE TREMULOUS  UPPER LIP

Was the British labium superior ever stiff? It’s something certain English classes prided themselves on. The ideal of the nineteenth century Raj was to continue phlegmatically chewing one’s tiffin even as mutinying sepoys marched towards one over the blood-drenched lawn. You didn’t show your fear any more than any other feelings: to have done so would have been weak. Like all ideals it was proved by its many exceptions; but generally the affluent middle and upper classes maintained this fiction in all seriousness.
     Today our lips are veritably wobbling. The change may have begun in 1997 with the death of Princess Diana when we outdid each other to make them quiver more than anyone else in the land. Now the paradigm is to show your emotions even if you don’t feel them. Tears, which used to be considered private, are now to be recorded by television cameras. We exult not so much in sorrow, love or fear as in the exhibition of these.

'We sit there quietly and look around his room,’ said Mr Jones.
‘It has not sunk in yet that he is not coming back.
‘I go and sit in Rhys’s room and on his bed. I go and draw the curtains and put the light on every night. I’m still doing it because it is really hard to stop.’
¹

One recent example will suffice:

This is the father of the eleven-year-old who’s just been murdered. Now I don’t question his grief, but I am certain that something happens to the most heartfelt feelings as soon as they are subjected to television scrutiny. Physicists tell us that inanimate phenomena may ‘behave’ differently under observation; but if this is true of subatomic particles, it is a fortiori that much easier to understand that a multi-atomic human being is yet more reactive to examination.
     Under the alchemy of being the object of attention – nationwide attention – genuine grief can become maudlin, gushing, mawkish, unctuous and schmaltzy. It can also produce bad poetry. Rhys Jones’s father was not only to write but to share an appalling piece of doggerel with the public in the pages of the Liverpool Echo, which I feel obliged to subject you to all over again:


Now God wanted a football match
And to play it up in heaven
But first he needed players
And select his first eleven.
Georgie Best, big Brian Labone
The legend Dixie Dean
Alan Ball and Bobby Moore
All made it in the team.
He needed one more player
Someone who would be quick
From up above he looked down
And saw Rhys there in his kit.
So Rhys was taken up above
God took him by the hand
To play the game he loved so much
Where sponsorship is banned.
There is no cheating either as
God is the referee
There are no mega wages
And the transfers they are free.
The games are live on telly
You don't have to subscribe
The players all stay on their feet
Cos no one takes a dive.
So Rhys plays now so happily
To the angels in the crowd
And every time he hits the net
They roar his name so loud.
Have fun my little blue boy
You're safe and in God's care
Till it's time for me to get my boots
And join with you up there.



There, you see it. Even the ghost of a sense of humour doesn’t compensate for this depth of the bathos.

     Maybe our upper lips should rigidify at least a little.

¹The Telegraph, 31 August 2007.