(Or perhaps I should have said, a left ding-dong!). In mid-January I wrote about the leading candidate for the Presidency of the European parliament, for the second half of the current five-year term: German socialist MEP Martin Schulz. He it was whom former Italian President Silvio Berlusconi famously said would be a good man to play the Nazi Camp Commandant in an up-coming film of the Second World War. Berlusconi’s off-the-cuff remark, in the heat of the moment, caused great offence, and even more mock-outrage. Yet in the light of subsequent events, it seems to be at least partly vindicated.
As we voted for a new President of the parliament last month (I voted for Nirj Deva), we feared that as President, Schulz would be dictatorial, officious and peremptory, and our expectations were not misplaced. Schulz’s style in the Presidential Chair has already caused considerable offence. He has also introduced a rather curious innovation. He has provided himself with a hand-bell, which he rings near to the microphone to call for order in the chamber. It is not clear that a small bell makes any positive contribution to cutting through the Babel-like cacophony of hundreds of voices in dozens of languages, but he rings it none-the-less.
Schulz’s innovation rang a bell (sorry) in the dim recesses of my memory, and I went away and looked up Lewis Carroll’s celebrated poem “The Hunting of the Snark”. I found two stanzas which seemed both relevant and prescient. So I sent out an all-points e-mail in the parliament, as follows:
In respectful recognition of the campanological proclivities of our new President of the parliament, may I offer you a couple of verses from the famous English poem “The Hunting of the Snark”, by Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice in Wonderland”:
The Bellman himself they all praised to the skies —
Such a carriage, such ease and such grace!
Such solemnity, too! One could see he was wise,
The moment one looked in his face!
This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out
That the Captain they trusted so well
Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,
And that was to tingle his bell.
I suppose I shall find that I’ve been left off Schulz’s Christmas card list, but never mind. If you haven’t read the Snark for a while, I do recommend doing so. It’s hilarious, and has lost nothing in the century or more since it was written.