26 JANUARY 1945, Page 4

A SPECTATOR'S NOTEBOOK

TN speculating, as everyone is doing and must be, about the possi- bilities of the Russian advance (if that mild word may be used for a steam-roller turned Rolls-Royce) it is necessary to take account of the difference in gauge between the Russian railway system and the Polish and German. It is a difference which tells much more against Russians invading Germany than it did against Germans invading Russia, for since the Russian is the broader gauge it is a fairly simple matter to pull up one rail and move it a few inches inward. To turn a narrow gauge into broad gauge it may be necessary to lay down a complete new set of sleepers. That may not be beyond Russian industry and ingenuity, but you cannot suddenly widen bridges and tunnels to take wider trains. It may be that the Russians have captured enough German rolling-stock to get on with on the German railway system, though that seems hardly likely. Difficulties like this make the Russian achievement the more astonishing. Meanwhile, the tone of the German propagandists is so singular at first sight—or first hearing— as to arouse suspicions as to what may be behind it all. Are they by any possibility trying for some reason to deceive the Allies about their extremity? I should say not. It is hard to see what would be gained by that. On the whole, it seems to be the exaggerated German equivalent of the Prime Minister's "blood, sweat and tears" appeal. And on Germans it may have some effect. Or, again, it may be simple masochism. There is a strain in the German character which delights in self-flagellation. * * * *

The sordid but sensational trial of an American soldier and an English (or Welsh) woman at the Old Bailey, among other things, underlined one of the fundamental features of English justice, that previous counts against the accused should not be mentioned till after the verdict has been given. The jury is concerned solely with the question whether the accused did or did not do what he is charged with in the one case before it. That is a matter of evidence, and the jury's minds must not be influenced by any knowledge of his past misdemeanours. The Judge, of course, may rightly be, for it is reasonable that a sentence on a confirmed criminal should be heavier • than one on a first offender. As to the Old Bailey case, the more popular papers of Wednesday morning showed how active their staffs had been in working up the deplorable history of the female defendant. Too much of that is a bad thing, but in papers filled day after day with nothing but war news, I am bound to say that the case-history of a depraved woman, however lamentable, is something of a welcome variety. It has its serious side as a psycho- logical study—or, if you like, as a contribution to the series "How

other people live." * * * *

The literary omniscience of our remarkable Prime Minister is a perpetual astonishment and delight. When, in last week's debate on the international situation, he observed, in connexion with the coming Big Three Conference, "When the roll is called up yonder we'll be there," the declaration was greeted with "laughter." Yes, but I wonder how many Members knew where the quotation came from. How, for that matter, did the Prime Minister himself know Moody and Sankey's hymns? He has been many things at many times, but never, so far as I know, a revivalist. But if ever he or anyone else heard the swing of that triple "When the roll is called up yonder," followed by the thundering assertion "I'll be there," he would certainly not forget it. Where Moody and Sankey's hymns are Sung now I don't know, hut they clearly have their vogue, for when I tried to get a copy of the hymn-book, to pursue the quotation a little further, I found the publishers were completely sold out and waiting for a reprint. However, I have now acquired the book else- where, and am well primed on its principal features.

* * * *

"The primary obligation of the laundry," said the Master of the Rolls in the Court of Apjeal on Wednesday, "not merely to take due care to launder but to launder." A little like "an archdeacon is a dignitary who discharges archidiaconal functions" perhaps ; but actually the words formed part of a very interesting judgement, of considerable importance to anyone whoever sends garments to be washed—a common and quite desirable practice. In this case some- one sent a dozen particularly good linen handkerchiefs to the laundry and got none of them back. The laundry, relying on the usual clause in its contract with customers, to the effect that lia- bility for loss or damage is limited to twenty times the charge made for laundering the article in question, offered xis. 51d. The County Court judge ruled against them, and awarded the owner of the handkerchiefs £5 and costs. The Court of Appeal has now reversed that, holding that the clause in the laundry contract is valid in all ordinary cases. So we now know where we stand with the laundries—unless the case goes to the House of Lords.

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There are some strange aspects of this war. It is over seven months from D-Day, over five months since the Allied armies got right across France into Belgium. Yet there are still groups of Germans holding out in various parts of France—at Dunkirk, at St. Nazaire, and quite a lot-8o,000 it is said—farther south in the Gironde. Lorient, moreover, is also still in German hands. And, of course, there are the Channel Islands, but that is a diferent matter. These pockets of resistance tend to get forgotten alto- gether. They are of no strategic importance, and it is not worth wasting many Allied lives in assaulting them, but they prevent France from looking what Field-Marshal Montgomery would call tidy.

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We are gradually getting quite a lot of light on "spitchered." The first claim, it will be remembered, was that it was Maltese in origin. Then it cropped up in Tasmania, with the suggestion that Cornish miners had taken the word there. How, I asked last week, did Cornish miners get hold of it? An interesting answer to that comes from Truro. The word, it seems, is well known in West Cornwall (where the mines are), and it is submitted that it came from the old Cornish language (no mere dialect), now dead. The verb fetha is said to mean "overcome or conquer," and the adjec- tive Feth means "beaten." Hence "fitchered " (which seems rather to have superseded " spitchered ") with the same meaning.

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I referred last week to Lord Stradbroke, whose father fought at Vittoria in 1813. Here is something even better. The father of General Sir-Nevil Macready, who is the same age as Lord Strad- broke, eighty-two, played in Romeo and Juliet at Birmingham in aio—subsequently, of course, becoming one of the most famous Shakespearean actors the English stage has known. ANUS.