Daily catch-up: a long time ago, a galaxy far, far away, and Tolkien’s distant world

Also, railway stations from a different lost world of the past

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The Independent Online

1. The Andromeda galaxy’s actual size in our sky if it were brighter. As Jen Foehner Wells says, Cool, huh?

It is the closest spiral galaxy to our own: its light is two and half million years old by the time it reaches us.

2. I missed this last week: an interview with JRR Tolkien from the Telegraph magazine in 1968, which the newspaper has just reprinted. I assume it is well known to heavy-metal Middle-earth enthusiasts, but it is all new to me, and full of wonderful things. Then 76 (he died five years later), his books had already acquired a cult following, about whom he appeared indulgent and pleased.

“It is the appendix, Tolkien thinks, which has helped trigger the enormous new enthusiasm for the Ring among students in the United States: ‘A lot of it is just straight teenage stuff. I didn't mean it to be, but it’s perfect for them. I think they’re attracted by things that give verisimilitude.’”

His father died when he was three and he was orphaned at 12, his mother dying at the age of 34 of diabetes. 

“As a child, I was always inventing languages. But that was naughty. Poor boys must concentrate on getting scholarships. When I was supposed to be studying Latin and Greek, I studied Welsh and English. When I was supposed to be concentrating on English, I took up Finnish. I have always been incapable of doing the job in hand.”

This leads to his account of how he started writing his life work:

“It all began when I was reading exam papers to earn a bit of extra money. That was agony. One of the tragedies of the underpaid professor is that he has to do menial jobs. He is expected to maintain a certain position and to send his children to good schools. Well, one day I came to a blank page in an exam book and I scribbled on it. ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’

“I knew no more about the creatures than that, and it was years before his story grew. I don’t know where the word came from. You can’t catch your mind out. It might have been associated with Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt. Certainly not rabbit, as some people think. Babbitt has the same bourgeois smugness that hobbits do. His world is the same limited place.”

Nor did I know that he had expressed a view on filming The Lord of the Rings:

“He feels strongly that the Ring should not be filmed: ‘You can’t cramp narrative into dramatic form. It would be easier to film The Odyssey. Much less happens in it. Only a few storms.’”

3. In yesterday’s catch-up I noted that the Government had just belatedly published its Charter for Budget Responsibility. This involved George Osborne hastily reversing out of the trap he laid for Labour and into which he had himself fallen.

Ed Balls still calls the Tories extreme, yet he’s prepared to go along with the Charter, which sets out the common Conservative and Liberal Democrat plans until 2016/17, when the coalition parties diverge, rather than to the end of the next parliament. So either the Tories have become less extreme, or they become extreme only half-way through the next parliament. That rather blunts Labour’s message.

4. More analysis of our ComRes opinion poll at the weekend, which asked people to place themselves on a spectrum from 0, left wing, to 10, right wing, with 5 in the centre. Men (5.35) see themselves as more right wing than women (5.18). Older people 45+ (5.29) see themselves as slightly more right wing than younger (5.23).

Scottish people (though note the small sample, 176) see themselves as more left wing (4.95) but not more so than those in Wales (sample of 107)(4.97), while those in the South-East outside London (sample of 258) see themselves as more right wing (5.50). This reminds me of the research by Ailsa Henderson (chapter 20 in Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box), which found that Scottish people have similar attitudes to the English on the big questions usually used to define left and right, but simply think of themselves as left wing. 

5. Nine Lost Railway Stations, including the grand old Euston. Inexpressibly sad. Thanks to Labour History Group and Heritage Calling.




6. And finally, thanks to Frances Crook for this:

“I’m glad I’m a woman. According to Guardian obituaries page women hardly ever die.”