2 SEPTEMBER 1972, Page 5

Another Spectator's Notebook

I am one of those crusty reactionaries who feel that the slide downhill of the Times as a newspaper began when advertisements were put on the front page; and was virtually completed when Sir William Haley vacated the editorial chair. Having thus given a hostage to fortune I am nonetheless certain that many, if not most, careful Times readers will agree with me that the level of accuracy in reporting, and good taste in editing, has been steadily declining under the easy-going and episcopal William Rees-Mogg. The culmination of decline in quality was reached in the issue of Saturday, August 26 — which, incidentally and ironically, carried a letter from Mr Naylor Hillary referring to the paper's " enviable international reputation for accuracy." The main news story of the day concerned the resignation of Mr Bernard Perkins from the Community Relations Commission. The headline read, "Race relations board man resigns over decision to admit Ugandan Asians." Now, Mr Perkins was not, of course, a member of the Race Relations Board; and, so far as I know, he never has been. He resigned from the Community Relations Commission, an entirely separate body, with entirely separate functions.

Royal Naval cod

I own to being a trifle perturbed about the extent to which the Royal Navy is going to provide protection for British fishermen after September 1, when the Icelanders plan formally to extend their territorial waters to 50 miles, and exclude fishing trawlers of other nationalities therefrom. That Gilbertian character, the Icelandic Foreign Minister, commenting on rumours that British trawlermen intended to paint out the names and registration numbers of their ships, to avoid detection by the Icelanders, deplored any such intention, on the grounds that its implementation would make the British, stout defenders of international law as they are known to be, little better than pirates. I pass over the asinine hypocrisy of this hypocritical representative of a non-nation which intends to violate, not merely longestablished international laws, but an agreement signed by it only a few years ago, to wonder why it should be necessary for British fishermen to act covertly. Is the Navy so run down that it is incapable of protecting them from five Icelandic gunboats, only one of which is modern? That dread thought gains hold on my mind When I hear that only one British frigate is to be on anything like permanent station in Northern fishing waters: during the last cod war there were four. We are come to a pretty pass if we cannot bring the Icelanders to heel; and if we make no effort to do that these absurd little wouldbe bullies will think themselves well on the way to another wet arrangement which will give them what they want. Nothing less will do than a guarantee of absolute naval protection to our fishermen in Northern international fishing waters.

Noise in the pub

I am perturbed by a new phenomenon which is beginning to make life hell for us dedicated pub goers. (Of course, I distinguish between pubs and chi-chi West End saloon bars.) Some years ago Kenneth Allsop wrote a splendid piece denouncing the introduction of 'Muzak' — that endless and repetitive piped stream of semi-melodious non-music — •into pubs; and, of course, at that time we were all bewailing the redecoration in plastic and gilts of good, straight-forward, oldfashioned English pubs. Now, however, I will willingly bow the head to ' Muzak ' if I can be spared the new development of neo-reaction in pub entertainment. My favourite local — The Crown and Anchor in Brixton Road — has introduced, on certain days of the week, a West Indian singing pianist, complete with loudspeaker — or should I say loud-hailer? — whose efforts make all conversation, or other than shouted exchanges, impossible. Unfortunately, he has been regularly present when I have paid my once regular prelunch Sunday visit, and his cacophony forced me to abandon that agreeable practice. Last Sunday, happening to be passing the pub, and hearing no sound, I went in. Lo, the pianist had vanished. Inquiry elucidated that he was ill, but that a substitute was being provided — a record player. Since the Crown and Anchor also has a juke-box, which I have learned, gracelessly, to tolerate, the whole thing became too much, and I departed. Now, The Crown and Anchor is not the only pub going in for this sort of attack on the eardrums. The Skinner's Arms, another local, has an organ and drums. And The Cheeky Chappie, a new Bass Charrington house in South London has an amplified juke-box. One of the difficulties is that these, and others I could mention, are all rather small pubs, and are not built so that they can localise noise. Nor have I heard anything but complaints from others of their patrons. Please, if we compromise and accept 'Muzak,' can we get rid of the rest?

Irish break through

I have been reading an excellent new work by that doyen of Irish historians, Professor R. Dudley Edwards, called A New History of Ireland (Gill Macmillan). Edwards has always been known more as a teacher and essayist than as a book writer, and this is very much the fruit of a teaching lifetime, in which he tries to explore some of the characteristics and consequences of thinking and teaching about Irish history over the last half-century. It has always been the case that Irish historians give predominant emphasis in their work to the importance of Anglo-Irish relations. I have myself often argued that English historians should do as much in reverse, since there have been moments when events in Ireland have tipped the scale of events in this island, and these are under-explored. Attempting to look at matters through a different glass, Edwards explores the idea of community — or communities — in Ireland. He believes that, throughout history, there have been layer upon layer of separate communities, with widely differing interests, in Ireland, and that their development has been as much in relation to each other as in relation to Britain. This has an obvious truth and relevance when one considers the state of relations between Ulster and the rest of the island today, but it is more complicated than that. For instance, the political antagonism between the two sections of Ireland at the moment is overlapped by religious and cultural antagonisms dividing the two communities both against each other and among themselves are further horizontal overlays to he detected on a re-examination of Irish history over the past couple of millennia. Whereas southern Irish historians in the past have tended to concentrate on the essential unity of these elements within the island in the past — in the face of England — Edwards concentrates on its divisiveness. The book marks nothing less than a revolutionary breakthrough in the conception of Irish history, and one of its themes of conflict is, I believe, developed in Conor Cruise O'Brien's new book, States of Ireland, due out from Hutchinson later this month. Aside from their value as works of scholarship and interpretation, these two studies are encouraging signs that the southern Irish are beginning to undertake the revaluation of the principles of what has for long been a closed and sheltered community, in the face of the political challenges which now confront them.