• Jessica Lucy ‘Decca’ Freeman-Mitford was one of the six legendary Mitford Sisters — caricatured by The Times journalist Ben Macintyre as “Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur”.
    • In this very well-connected aristocratic family, Jessica was known as the “red sheep”.
    • Both Jessica and her sister Nancy wrote about their childhoods, in Hons and Rebels and The Pursuit of Love / Love In A Cold Climate respectively.
    • When Jessica was 12, she opened a ‘Running Away’ bank account. She would add to this fund by, for example, selling her removed appendix to her sister Deborah (the future Duchess of Devonshire).
    • She discovered Communism at a young age, allegedly as a reaction against her sister Diana’s admiration for Fascism. Legend has it they would compete to decorate their childhood bedrooms with Hitler / Stalin.
    • At 19 she eloped to Spain with her second cousin, who had just returned from fighting fascists in the Spanish Civil War.
    • This prompted the foreign secretary (and future prime minister) Anthony Eden to telegraph the British Consul with the words: “Find Jessica Mitford and persuade her to return.”
    • The reply came back: “Have found Jessica Mitford, impossible to persuade her to return.”
    • A naval destroyer was then sent to retrieve her. This also failed.
    • Her sister Diana became the mistress and then husband of the leader of the British Union of Fascists: Oswald Mosley.
    • Her sister Unity became a personal friend of Adolf Hitler.
    • (Technically a Unity Mitford fact, but is it any surprise she was such an admirer of Adolf Hitler when she was given the middle name of Valkyrie?)
    • Jessica’s husband died in the Second World War, and she later married an American civil rights lawyer (Robert Treuhaft).
    • When the Mosleys were released from prison in 1943 she wrote to Winston Churchill: “They should be kept in jail, where they belong.”
    • When living in the United States, she and her husband were invited to join the US Communist Party. She replied “We thought you’d never ask!”
    • She got into trouble with the Party when she promoted a women’s caucus event with a poster promising “Girls! Girls! Girls!”
    • Jessica and Robert eventually left the Communist Party to concentrate on their work for the Civil Rights movement.
    • In addition to writing books such as Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking and Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business, she had a publishing hit with her exposé on dirty tricks in the funeral industry: The American Way of Death.
    • She also had a band — “Decca and the Dectones” (a cowbell and kazoo orchestra) — in which she was the singer.
    • Her band once supported Cyndi Lauper, and there is a recording of her singing Right Said Fred with Maya Angelou.
    • J.K. Rowling considers Jessica Mitford to be “my most influential writer”, and named her daughter after her.
    • Jessica Mitford died of lung cancer aged 78. Her funeral cost $533.31.

Here’s a story from the beginning of the month that I found absolutely fascinating – almost worthy of fiction:


It’s a blog article about an experiment, conducted on the website Reddit. For the uninitiated, Reddit is sort of an internet within the internet: a sort of gigantic web forum on pretty much any topic you can think of, with a ‘sub-reddit’ for any conceivable interest group.

What Reddit did was to give its users a space, called simply ‘Place’, where for a limited period of time they could each draw one pixel, and then another, and then another.

Here is a time-lapsed video of what happened:

But really, it doesn’t mean much until you read the article, which tells a great story in a great way.

It’s called When Pixels Collide, and I would add the subtitle: or How I Learnt To Embrace The Void.

A return to my Apropos of Nothing series, in which I feature something in quite a lot of detail, for no particular reason.

This month: Sammy Davis Jr.

“Why?”  Because he was one of the greatest entertainers in living memory.

“So what?  Why does everyone keep going on about the Rat Pack, and why Sammy Davis Jr particularly?”

Those are three separate questions, and only the last one is interesting.  Because he was extraordinarily talented.  Because he was a very interesting guy.  Because he went through some very hard times and they didn’t defeat him.  Because he risked his life on a daily basis to speak out against endemic racism.

But the same could still be said of lots of people.

Basically, I think he was proper bona-fide 24 carat star.  Let me try to give some examples why:

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