No, not the medieval monk and chronicler, I mean Matthew Paris the ex-Tory politician, columnist for the Times and former (junior) diplomat.
My step-mother-in-law, a wonderful if slightly unreconstructed ex-colonial and serial petitioner against cruelty to elephants, pointed me at his Parting Shots: Undiplomatic Diplomats – the ambassadors’ letters you were never meant to see (Matthew Parris, Andrew Bryson Penguin Books Ltd, 2010). It’s a book of ‘valedictory’ despatches from UK ambassadors and consuls stretching out over 50 years of de-colonialization. They range from the insightful to the out-and-out offensive. At their worst, one shudders at the thought of these racist, snobbish, chauvinistic people being sent out to represent us. On other occasions, one groans with despair at the extent to which some of the timely and insightful advice these (invariably) men set down was ignored by the governments of the time. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating and alternative ‘oral history’ of modern times and conflicts from a unique set of perspectives.
It isn’t the content of the book that really annoyed me, though. This sentence did.
Discussed briefly in the Introduction is the 2006 decision by the FCO so to curtail the impact within the Office of a valedictory despatch that (diplomats have told us) the whole tradition has effectively been ended.
I regard myself as a broadly literate person. But I’ve tried and tried in vain to parse this sentence. I’ve read it out loud, split it into individual and dependent clauses, translated it into Latin and back again in the hope that it was some strange echo of public school classical grammar (no, not really), but the sense of it continues to elude me. It’s ugly. Where was their editor? They did have an editor, right? I mean, this book was put together by a Times journalist and a radio 4 producer. How could they let this slip through?
Trivial, I know. But it’s Friday.
P.S. Fact of the week – did you know that one of the girls on the cover of Roxy Music’s country life was the sister of Can’s guitar player, Michael Karoli?