Category Archives: low life

Oscar Wilde’s Peculiar Demise

I was thinking this evening about Oscar Wilde’s prison related deprivations. It was prompted by a comment made by Wilde’s prison warden. The warden said that while Wilde was holding up in prison despite being subjected to hard labour, he would not survive more than three years after being released. Men who are unused to such treatment never do.

The man knew what he was talking about. Wilde died at the age of 45, exactly three years after his release.

How long  was Wilde’s prison term? I knew at one time but could not remember. My first thought was that it was less than a year. Or was it three years? In fact it was two years. That might not seem very long if one is just sitting in a jail cell, reading books and writing letters. But Wilde was not that fortunate In case you are wondering,

The deterrent object of imprisonment had been officially laid down as “hard labour, hard fare, and a hard bed.” Evidence given by a variety of witnesses before a recent Home Office Committee on Prisons had shown that two years imprisonment with hard labour, involving solitary cellular confinement, with its attendant laborious and largely useless work in the shape of the treadwheel [pumping water or grinding grain], the crank [turning the handle in a cylindrical metal drum] and oakum picking [separating loose fibers in old rope used in caulking scams of wooden ships], which had to be performed on a poor and inadequate diet, were calculated to break a man in body and spirit.

The last sentence of the above quote bears emphasis — hard labour was calculated to break a man in body and spirit. Being sentenced to hard labour was a serious matter, and I would guess it was a bit unusual for it to be imposed on a gentleman. Indeed, Wilde suffered enormously from hard labour. He did not complain, and he never showed bitterness over his treatment. But the punishment was brutal. If you are interested in the more lurid details, you might refer to the above link.

And perhaps Justice Wills, who had sentenced Wilde, would have been pleased by this. At sentencing, Wills said in open court

It is the worst case I have ever tried. I shall pass the severest sentence that the law allows. In my judgment it is totally inadequate for such a case as this. The sentence of the Court is that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years.

Worst case? Two years at hard labour — calculated to break a man in body and spirit — in effect, a delayed death sentence prefaced by torture,  was “totally inadequate”? Clearly Justice Wills had got his dander up.

What provoked him? I do not see the extreme provocation from what I know of the legal matter itself. True. the alleged activities were considered to be salacious but there was no violence or obviously great harm to society. To the contrary, in the Victorian era,  illegal sexual activity by members of polite society was not so serious as long as it was conducted in a discrete manner. Wilde was not an aristocrat, but he was accepted in polite society. And he was not accused of publicly conducting illegal activities. Nor was there any evidence that Wilde had injured anyone,  either physically or otherwise. Last but not least, the witnesses for the prosecution were notoriously unreliable, and testifying for money.  So, yes, there was a crime involved. But was it that horrendous? One shudders to think what additional punishment the good Judge would have imposed had he had the power to do so. Perhaps burning at the stake?

So if it was not the legal issues, what was so bloody awful? My best guess is that it had less to do with the homosexuality than the publicity about it. This was not a run of the mill trial. To the contrary, Wilde was a celebrity, and the press riveted public attention on the matter. Wilde contributed to this by his eccentric manner in court, and by having his lawyer read letters from Queensberry to evidence bullying. Unfortunately, these letters also referred to the prime minister, Gladstone and even the queen. This created an indirect suggestion that these figures —- who should have been above reproach in public —  were somehow involved in the scandal. And of course, Wilde had attempted to use his libel suit to continue what came out as a scandalous lifestyle.  Perhaps there was a feeling that unless Wilde was smacked down, the above figures and the court might be seen by the public as endorsing public immorality.  That could not be tolerated!

BTW, this line of thought finds support in the way the government acted. The first criminal prosecution of Wilde ended in a mistrial. The government might have let the matter drop and some argued at the time that this was the right thing to do. The government did the opposite, going full bore with the toughest prosecutor they could find, in order to go back to court and this time get a conviction. There is no recorded reasoning for this decision.  Using hindsight, it does appear to be excessive, though in line with Justice Wills’s level of outrage about the case.

And the government got their conviction on the second go round. The punishment then had the desired effect. Wilde was broken, bankrupted, and soon dead. And not only that, Wilde’s reputation was so blackened that his wife had to change the family name to protect their two young boys. As Churchill put it, Wilde was “obliterated”.

One hundred years later, it is not so easy to understand why all of this was necessary. The fact is that Queensberry did provoke Wilde – not just once, but repeatedly. He was acting like a nut case, which apparently he was. Wilde may have been less than brilliant in deciding to bring his libel suit, but one wonders what alternatives he had given that Queensberry was likely to continue his provocations. It was not just a matter of honor. Queensberry was attempting to  disrupt Wilde’s ability to earn his living. Given this, one might expect at least some sympathy from someone.  Nope. There were clearly emotional elements to the case that are hard to fathom from our perspective.

Perhaps we might conclude by stating the obvious – the intense emotions arose from something that we see very differently now. The Victorians were obsessed with public propriety. They would have found the rise of someone like Donald Trump unthinkable. Come to think of it, I am still getting over that one myself. No matter what happened in private, for Victorians, it had to stay there. Wilde may not have intended to breach this standard —, and he had a point that it was Queensberry who was forcing things into the open — but in the end Wilde got the blame for doing just that. The man who used publicity to make his literary fame, died from an overdose of it. No one comes out smelling like a rose from this, though Wilde’s work is still entertaining. We disregard the unpleasantness of his obliteration.

Starting off the New Year with a Bang

For some reason, the return flight from New York to Helsinki was just horrendous. It was not the Airline’s fault. True, Finnair was 3 hours late getting out of JFK, and true they gave me a voucher that was only good at Mcdonalds and a few other places that I could not find nor wanted to. Despite that, they were felicitous if less than efficient.

My problems started when I decided to spend my unexpected 3 hour layover at JFK with Bobby Van.

Image result for Bobby Van JFK

What could go wrong? Allow me to explain. Too much food and wine just before a long flight. ´Funny that I did not think of that while I drained glass after glass of Sancere and bantered with the waiter who had become my best friend in the world. Sitting on the plane, I had the distinct impression that Godzilla was trying to escape my tummy via my bellybutton. And my lower back started to groan that I was the bastard child of a rabid whore dog. My head promptly fell off onto the floor and I could not reach down to pick it up. Worst of all, I forgot my lovely hat as we disembarked.

I liked that hat and will miss it. But the loss of the headpiece had more immediate effects. Stepping out of the departure gate to board the bus for the Tallinn plane, a razor cold gust of wind made what is left of my hair to fall out. I was back in Scandinavia! Hooray!

“Good thing”, I thought, “that I am going back to a warm home.” Errrr …. not so fast. My ex called while I sat in the airport to remind me that most of the radiators in the house were not working while I waited for delivery of a new bedroom unit. Ooops!

She was helpful to a point. In addition to rearranging my papers, she had cleared off all of the dishes and such from the wood fired stove in the kitchen and she relayed that her brother had been heating the place for a few days that way. “But” she said, “it may be a bit nippy when you arrive. He forgot to heat the place today. Stop at the gas station on the way home  and buy some wood.”

Yikes! And so it was. That night, back in Tartu, I burned wood, reflected on my trip, and began to feel a tiny bit better. Even my back started to loosen up a bit after I imbibed my usual turmeric concoction.

Then I found I had a comment waiting on this blog for review. Here it is

Hillary is Pinocchio and greedy and murderer and power hungry and egotistical…DUH…..When Bill was governor of Arkansas, Hillary asked when are the f…ng ree-tards (handicapped childrens) getting out of here……….Hillary asked Louise “How long do I have to keep this kid (her own daughter)…DUH……..People are too blind to see TRUTH about her……

The first three words were promising. But as I read further I felt myself sliding down into a whirlwind of angry nonsense. How do people get into such snits?

A thought began to trouble me. Is this what the new year has in store for us? Good Lord! Better stock up on the Bushmills!

And BTW, a hearty thank you to all of my dear friends who tolerated my blovations while I visited!

Onward!

PS Usually things start looking better after a good night’s sleep After I woke up, I promptly lost my car keys.

You Think You have Regrets?

Consider this

There was a little-known third cofounder of Apple named Ronald Wayne. Two weeks after Apple was incorporated in 1976, Wayne left and sold his 10% stake in the company for $800. Now 84, Wayne lives off his social security check outside Las Vegas. Today, his shares would be worth $63 billion.

Ouch!

As it turns out,  dealing with regret is a more common problem these days than you might think. Check out the article for more.

Tony Bourdain’s Sure Fire Hangover Cure

Tony is one of those public figures who likes to boast of his foibles and I like him for that. For example, he admits that he will from time to time get toasted and wake up  feeling as if Vesuvius had relocated to his stomach and Genghis Khan and his hordes were marching across his tongue.

What to do? tony has a cure

“aspirin, cold Coca Cola, smoke a joint, eat some spicy Szechuan food.”

Hmmm …. The aspirin, yes. But I find that vitamin b with lots of liquids works wonders.

When Tony Bourdain Goes Berserkowitz

This might prove to be a bit embarrassing for all concerned. Tony advises

“If you invite me to your house for dinner and cook with a cheap non-stick pan, I’d probably bludgeon you to death with it,” Bourdain has said. “But it would probably break half-way through.”

And where will one find the great Tony?

After leaving L.A., Bourdain will jet off to San Sebastian, Spain. “This is not going to be a punishment. So much great food and ingredients and a lot of great places to eat. They are food crazy. Something I’ve noticed over the years is they are very similar to Japan and even Italy,” says Bourdain. “There is this notion, particularity in the Basque country, that you take two-three ingredients and do your very best to honor them.  They have a true tapas culture. They know how to live and their level of douchery is minimal.  It’s awesome.”

Lat Night I wanted “Just Gross” for Dinner

I don’t know what gets over me on some days. There are days when I see dinner as a chance to just “put on the old feed bag”. I don’t want anything refined or difficult to make or requiring a lot of time or concentration. Just enough to keep the machine running and put me in the mood for a movie.

I have a few “go to’s” in these situations. There is always sushi. And btw, Estonians have gone mad for sushi. You can get mediocre sushi  (which does the trick)in just about every food store.

And there is always pan fried fish. i might even go for fish cakes — though not the frozen ones that take like cardboard.  Mr. Ottelengi captures the idea

The beauty of a fishcake, by which I mean any dish made of chopped-up fish (squidgy Thai tod mun pla, Turkish balik koftesi, Jewish gefilte fish, British flaky potato-based cakes, South American ceviche) is that it allows the fish to mix with all sorts of other ingredients and absorb their flavours, resulting in some wonderfully surprising combinations. In many cases, the fish turns into something far more textural, while its flavour stays in the background, gently holding everything together.

But with pan fried fish or fish cakes, you need tartar sauce. Here is the thing. Home made tartar is so much better than store bought crap. Even in these nights, where I am bloody minded. I still want to make my own tartar sauce.

If this matches your “occasionally luney” profile as well, check out BA’s recipe for tartar. It will work.

And go for it! Errr …. but not every day.