August 31st, 2019

Dictators- Tinpot And Otherwise

The words "tinpot" and "dictator" have fused- so that now they almost always come out together whenever anyone reaches for the appropriate cliché to describe an enemy who is throwing their weight around. I don't entirely know what "tinpot" means. It suggests one of those cheap, brightly-coloured metal toys that were popular at the beginning of the last century and are now, ironically, rare and highly valued- but I've no idea whether the first user of the phrase had those in mind.

Or who they were. I asked the internet. The internet doesn't know. Perhaps it was Mark Twain. He seems to have said most of the clever things that were said in the era from which I assume the phrase to have come.

When is a dictator tin-pot? Only when they're not that good at dictating. The people who are really good at the job get called something else- "emperor" for instance. The gold standard dictators hardly need a title at all; their name alone suffices: Stalin, Mao.

To be a gold-standard dictator you really need to die in your bed- still causing awe. This definition would exclude Napoleon. So was Napoleon tinpot? Hardly. Perhaps Napoleon was something else altogether.

The image that comes to mind is of some over-dressed shouty little chap- like Adenoid Hinkle in Chaplin's The Great Dictator- but the smarter kind of dictator knows to avoid the trappings of tinpottery. Napoleon favoured a corporal's uniform. Hitler kept it simple too- eschewing the display that- for example- Goering went in for. If you're the main man everyone knows who you are- and your aura alone suffices. You don't need epaulets, medals and plumes to draw all eyes when you enter the room. Most contemporary dictators- tinpot or otherwise- favour the business suit or its cultural equivalent. Erdogan, for instance, presents himself as nobody in particular- just another neatly turned out, middle-aged baldy- but the world knows otherwise.

This isn't going anywhere in particular, just noodling around the subject. "Tinpot dictator" is currently being thrown at Boris Johnson for proroguing a parliament he can't be bothered with. Cromwell did something similar once- and Cromwell was gold-standard. Johnson hasn't been in power long enough for it to be clear whether he's gold-standard, tinpot or not really any kind of dictator at all. He has more of the aura of power than any British leader since Churchill- but it could well turn out to be illusory.

The Last Day Of Summer

We've reached the end of summer, meteorologically speaking. Chris has let the horse into the lower field so she can spend the autumn munching her way through the accumulated herbage. The willows have lost most of their leaves- and the leaves of the horse chestnut look as though someone has been burning holes in them with a lit cigarette. I stood and gazed and a knobby, spiky conker dropped behind me.

We had blazing weather all though our short vacation- and it's warm today- but I believe rain is approaching. My sister has had family staying over two weeks and we're tired too so we agreed she'd pass on her normal weekend visit. Kristina is an inventive cook and my mother has been pampered while we've been gone. When I was tidying the living room this morning I found an all but untouched orangey drink sitting on the table by her armchair. It contained two sodden and faded strawberries- which is the sort of touch I'd never have thought of.

I have hundreds of photographs of East Anglian scenes to process- which will be pleasurable so long as I don't push ahead too hard. I've done a little already, but only a little. Next up are the pictures of Layer Marney tower- which might have been the grandest of all Tudor palaces if the builder hadn't died or the money hadn't run out or whatever. All that got built is the front range with its super colossal gatehouse. Henry VIII was an early visitor and took notes.