Saturday, 14 August 2010

The End of Honesty

A sad little piece in the Daily Telegraph this morning recounts how farmers are having to give up their "honesty boxes".   For many years farmers and smallholders have been leaving their produce - eggs, honey, fruit - at the end of their drives, with a box for buyers to put the right money in, and for all those years the system has worked well.   Now, however, they are increasingly finding that the money, or the produce, or both, are being stolen.

I find this a particularly sad reflection on the way that England is going.   People in the country are nearly always more honest than people in towns anyway, and if they are turning into cheats, then there is little hope for us.   I can't help feeling - or hoping - that it is not traditional country-dwellers who are responsible, but the influx of outsiders of all kinds, who do not share the values we have been brought up to believe in.   In any event, it is depressing.

Friday, 16 July 2010

A Journalist's View

An excellent article by the journalist Jeff Randall in today's Daily Telegraph discusses Peter Mandelson's new book and the insights it gives us into the last two governments, in particular that of Gordon Brown.   It is obviously too long to quote in full, but the following paragraph expresses very clearly what the last 13 years did for this country.   He says that David Miliband ("with undiguised cheek") is urging us to "focus on the problems of the future" rather than dwell on the past, as is his brother.   "You can see why", says Randall, "For them and for us, recent history is a dreadful place to be".

"It is where a dysfunctional clique took the United Kingdom into an illegal war, dismantled border controls, encouraged unprecedented immigration, debased educational standards, attacked the independence of our best schools and universities, botched devolution, eroded British sovereignty, pumped up a consumer debt bubble, ran our private pension system into the ground, messed up financial regulation and wrecked the country's balance sheet".

It is hard to deny any of these accusations.   No wonder they want to "move on"!

Jeff Randall concludes that Peter Mandelson's autobiography, "a marvellous compendium of score-settling, poison and betrayal, will be an enduring reminder of the New Labour horror show.   Life without them in charge feels like coming up for air" - a very good description of what it does feel like.

Monday, 28 June 2010

A National Shame

It emerged in the Budget last week that the nation feels unable to give the Queen the £7 million she badly needs to cover her household expenses.   Unlike everyone else in the country, the Queen has not had a rise since 1990 - 20 years! - and her cash reserves, into which she at present is having to dip, will run out in two years' time (the year of her Diamond Jubilee).

The Queen receives an annual income (the Civil List) paid by the Government in return for handing over the income from the Royal Estates.   The income from the Royal Estates  is currently something like £226 million p.a.   The royal palaces, and in particular Buckingham Palace, are seriously in need of an overhaul, and clearly this should not be paid by the Queen herself, but by the nation.   However, it appears that we can't afford to keep our Head of State in a proper manner.

Meanwhile, we hand over £15 billion a year to the EU.   This equates to £7 million every four hours, most of which disappears in madcap schemes, or into the pockets of corrupt politicians.   It certainly does not benefit us.   Perhaps we could hold back four hours' worth and pay it to the Queen instead?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Sussex by the Sea

God gave all men all earth to love
     But since man's heart is small
Ordains for each one spot shall prove
     Belovèd over all.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
     The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground - a fair ground -
     Yea, Sussex by the sea!

So wrote Kipling, who lived there and loved it.   I spent yesterday in Sussex, partly in the beautiful Cuckmere valley, where the river runs down to the sea, partly in the village of Wilmington, at the feet of the Long Man, carved on the down above us, and partly listening to stupendous opera at Glyndebourne.    It was a glorious day, a day such as we dream of when we think of the English summer, and the countryside was in its full glory.   At Glyndebourne people were picnicking on the lawns in the late sunshine, drinking champagne and looking out from the magnificent gardens across the ha-ha to the sheep grazing in the fields and the line of the Downs beyond. 

The opera was Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd, not the easiest or most cheerful of operas, set in a British man o' war in 1797, with an all-male cast, a tragic tale of good and evil and innocence betrayed.    It was a marvellous production, beautifully sung, powerfully evoking the claustrophobic atmosphere on board ship and the terrible inevitability of the unfolding events.    We might have emerged less harrowed after a tale of love and a happy ending, but it was an unforgettable experience to end a perfect day. 

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Over For Another Year

A sparkling Royal Ascot finished yesterday, after five days of sunshine, horses, hats, champagne and magnificent racing.   Highlights included the wonder filly Goldikova's win in the very first race of the meeting;  the thrilling finish to the Gold Cup, won by a whisker by Rite of Passage;  the daily spectacle of the Royal Procession;  the smiles and happiness on the face of HM The Queen, enjoying five days of her favourite sport among like-minded people;  the beauty of the shining, highly-bred horses;  the elegance of the clothes worn by both sexes - much more than usual this year, I thought;  people had taken trouble and largely succeeded, and there were fewer silly hats with miniature football pitches or large bowls of strawberries.

There is nothing in the world like Royal Ascot.   There are other elegant race meetings and plenty of good races, but Ascot is unique, partly because of the fact that it is the Queen's own meeting, at her own racecourse, where no advertising or sponsorship is allowed, and racegoers are expected to conform to certain standards.   Every race is keenly contested and of a very high quality, and it all makes for an experience which is highly enjoyable.   If the sun shines as well, as it did this year, the party really goes with a swing, for five whole days.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Glory of the Garden

It is about this time of year that the English passion for gardening reaches its peak.   This passion awakes from its hibernation around Easter time and builds up to the Chelsea Flower Show in May, when thousands of enthusiasts, many with pencil and notebook, throng the tents and walks of the Royal Hospital site, and the television programmes introduce us to ever more exotic blooms.    The garden centres fill up with eager shoppers, frowning in concentration as they load their trolleys with plants and saplings for the new season.

June and July are the high months for the English country garden.  Gardens are open to the public and proudly shown off to visitors.  If these months are disappointingly rainy, people say "At least it is good for the garden", and if the sun shines for too long at a time, then we worry about the dry earth and thirsty plants and scan the skies anxiously for a few raindrops to alleviate the drought.
Forget the gnomes and the decking, the salvia and the "water features".   The truly beautiful English garden, while paying due deference to well-tended lawns (preferably shaded by a large cedar), is a place of peace and gentle colours, where lupins, delphiniums, love-in-the-mist, snapdragons and acquilegia fill the borders.   Alchemilla mollis softens the edges of the paths and climbing roses riot over walls and arches, their scent filling the air.  Night-scented stocks and nicotiana take up the theme as evening falls.   There is no place on earth lovelier than an English country garden in its full glory.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Foxes & Humans

I hope Lydia Rivlin will not mind if I reproduce here her excellent and sensible letter to The Daily Telegraph yesterday.   She says:

"The horrific attack on two infants by a fox happened because the fox had lost its fear of people.

In the countryside foxes are hunted.   Many are not caught, but they do learn a healthy respect for humans, which they teach their offspring.   City folk, on the other hand, often treat foxes as honoured guests, even going so far as to feed them.

It is this sentimental attitude that precipitated the ridiculous hunting ban and, unless people people revise their feelings about these seductively beautiful animals, we are going to see more accidents of this type."

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Forest of Dean

Here is a poem I like, by Robin Flower:

The quiet congregation of the trees
Awoke to a rippled whisper.  The light winged breeze
Brushed leaf against leaf, softly and delicately fingering
Silken beech and ragged oak leaf;  and in the cool shadow
And wavering dapple of tremulous sunlight lingering,
As weary of the hot gold glow of the buttercup meadow,
And renewing his strength in the cool green and still shade
Of the forest, deeper and deeper burrowing in
By pathway and trackway and green ride and arched glade
Over hyacinth and the white starred garlic and curled fern,
And dreaming in some unvisited haven to win
New life from the growing grass and rejoicing return
To sweep from hill to valley, from valley to hill.
The birds were still,
Only far off a cuckoo calling,
Drowsily and perpetually a far-off cuckoo calling.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Don't Take It Out On BP

It is irritating to hear President Obama using the words "British Petroleum" when he seeks to find someone to blame for the oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.   This version of the company name was dropped more than ten years ago when the company merged with the US oil giant Amoco, turning it into a transnational conglomerate.   It is having the effect of making Britain very unpopular in the States - quite unjustly.

The rig which caught fire and caused the leak is American-owned and Korean-built.   The Texan firm Halliburton, whose chairman was once Vice-President Dick Cheney, had a hand in it.   The well itself was not operated by BP, but by a sub-contractor, Transocean. The US Coast Guard was not exactly efficient in fighting the fire and the US government itself has responded in a way which many Americans consider "very poor".     BP is doing everything humanly possible to contain the leak, spending literally billions and working round the clock in an environment where no such operation has ever been attempted before.

It is tempting, if unbecoming, for the American President to try and find someone to blame, particularly what can be represented as a foreign company.   The truth is that this is an international environmental disaster, in which many people are involved.   To talk of criminal prosecutions is not helpful. 

BP contributes immeasurable sums in tax to our economy, and we should support them.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Health & Safety Strikes Again

Cooper's Hill is outside the village of Brockworth in Gloucestershire.   Every year for 200 years the locals have held a cheese-rolling contest, when a 7lb wheel of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down the very steep hill, chased by dozens of strong and frankly lunatic young men and watched by cheering hundreds.   This year "health and safety fears" caused the contest to be banned.

However, the people of Brockworth were not going to take this lying down.   The ban was defied and the event went ahead as usual, in spite of official efforts to stop it happening.

How many people were injured, I don't know.   Judging by past years there were probably several injuries of varying severity, but at least they knew what they were doing and took the risk for a bit of fun and frivolity, all too sadly lacking these days.   Well done, lads!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

A Somerset Walk

We spent the long weekend in Somerset, another lovely English county (almost as lovely as Herefordshire!).   The countryside is in its full early summer beauty, the grass green and lush and the trees beginning to be heavy in leaf.   Although the bluebells are over, the chestnut trees are still holding their candles high, and elderflower and cow parsley luxuriate beside the lanes.

Yesterday morning we walked along a ridge behind the handsome honey-coloured Hadspen House.   The grassy track through the estate was once an ancient road, and runs through an avenue of tall pines.   On either side of us the woods fell away, revealing dim blue distant views of yet more woods and fields.   We discovered an interesting stone stile - a flat slab of stone set on its edge in the dry-stone wall, with a neat hole cut into it for one's foot, something I had never seen before.

Towards the end of our walk we came across two magnificent Shire horses, working to pull logs out of the woods below.   The younger of the two was 18.3hh, with hooves the size of dinner plates below his fine, white-feathered legs, and both of them were splendid beasts, all too rarely seen these days.   It was good not only to see them, but to see them working, doing a job which they do so much better than machines.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Queen Visits Eton

I have received the following despatch from my grandson, who was among those present:

On Thusday 27th May Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II made a formal visit to Eton to inspect the Combined Cadet Force on their 150th Anniversary and to unveil a plaque in commemoration of the 44 Old Etonians who have, since its inception, received the award of the Victoria Cross or its equivalent.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at the main entrance to the College at 11:15.  A 21-gun salute from College Field, a games pitch at Eton, heralded her arrival.

The whole school assembled to welcome the queen as she processed through School Yard to the Founder’s Statue, where she shook hands with Eton’s headmaster, Tony Little. From there she made her way to a dais situated at the far end of School Yard to inspect a Guard of Honour. At the end of the inspection the headmaster congratulated Eton’s Combined Cadet Force (CCF), as it is the longest running corps ever.

Eton’s Captain of School then stepped to the microphone to propose a three cheers for Her Majesty, to which the School and those assembled responded heartily.

Her Majesty and His Royal Highness were then escorted to the Museum of Eton Life, followed by a lunch with the leading figures of the School.    All in all the day was a wonderful event for Eton.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Countryside in May

We are spending the weekend in Herefordshire, loveliest of English counties,which at this moment of May is looking at its most heartbreakingly beautiful.    The hedgerows are bowed with waterfalls of blossoming hawthorn, the verges foaming with cow parsley.   The meadows are golden with buttercups or starred with daisies,while the cottage gardens are bright with aubrietia, clematis, lilac and laburnum (which my mother-in-law always called Golden Chains,though I have never heard that anywhere else).   The trees in the Herefordshire cider orchards are thick with pink-and-white apple blossom, perhaps the most beautiful blossom of all, with its promise of future bounty.   Meanwhile the swallows have returned and the garden birds are singing their heads off.   This morning I was delighted to hear a cuckoo calling from the woods.

For me, the brilliantly yellow rape fields are a little too garish for the gentle colours of the English countryside, but there is no doubt that they are spectacular and form a striking contrast to the pale green of the young-leafed trees around them.

It is hard to imagine anywhere better to be, as the longed-for warmth and sunshine illuminates the landscape.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Bluebell Time

It is bluebell time in English woods, one of my favourite moments of the year.   It is always a great thrill of pleasure to see that unearthly blue glow under the young green of the trees.

Recently the English bluebell has become an endangered species, owing to the introduction of the Spanish bluebell, an invasive species, which is hybridising the native flower.   The English version (naturally!) is more beautiful and much more scented, and is what we have been used to seeing in our woods for centuries.   Below is the true English bluebell.

This is the Spanish version:

It would be a huge pity to lose our native bluebells, but it will probably eventually happen, as the hybrids are strong and able to thrive in many more environmental conditions.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Flower of Cities All

I have been watching far too much television over the last week, and the political drama has indeed been gripping.   One thing has struck me however:  the beauty of London in late Spring.   As the press helicopters swooped dramatically over Central London, following the comings and goings, we were treated to wonderful views of the capital, its lovely, dignified buildings cushioned in the green of the parks and gardens, the river glinting between.   Watching Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg at their Downing Street love-in yesterday, I was transfixed by the garden of No. 10, which looked marvellous in the sunlight, full of brilliant green lawns, wisteria and flowering plants.   I am sure I saw a green parakeet flash by at one point, which is not surprising as they are everywhere now, even in the heart of the city.

The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace with its garden and lake, Whitehall and all its majestic buildings, Downing Street, St. James's Park, Green Park, made a stunning background to the politics and made me realise how lucky we are to have such a beautiful capital city.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Many of us woke up yesterday morning with a feeling of dread, fearing that Gordon Brown's pseudo-resignation had stitched up the Conservatives by removing an obstacle to a Labour/Liberal Democrat deal and thus allowing the two losing parties to form a coalition government.   With an astonishing speed, only a few hours later the Lab/LibDem talks had collapsed, Gordon Brown had really resigned and David Cameron was Prime Minister.

Nothing in Brown's premiership became him like the leaving it.   He resigned with dignity, even though it was regrettably late.   The country has a Conservative government again at last and a profound relief is the prevailing feeling.   There may be details which are not ideal, and Cameron has a huge task ahead of him, to put right the terrible damage of 13 years of Labour rule, but the omens are good, the will is there, and if the Tories really can work with the LibDems, great things can be achieved.

I am, however, very sorry that Michael Gove is not to have the Education brief.   His ideas for state-funded independent schools are excellent and deserve to be implemented.   This seems to me to be an opportunity sadly missed.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Paul Sandby at the RA

As a distraction from politics, I recommend a lovely small exhibition at the Royal Academy.   The 18thC watercolourist Paul Sandby's skilful, detailed landscapes chronicle a world that was on the edge of disappearing.   He painted a peaceful, pastoral Britain with a clarity of observation and a fascination with ordinary life that were soon to vanish as the Romantic movement took over.   Look closely at the figures he depicts, people going about their daily life among their animals and their tools of trade, their clothes and gestures lovingly portrayed, as they move through scenes of village and country, terraces and trees.

The North Terrace, Windsor Castle, Looking West

Paul Sandby, and his elder brother Thomas, both founding members of the Royal Academy in 1768, were employed by the King to paint views of Windsor Castle and the Park, where Thomas was a Deputy Ranger, and many of these works from the Royal Collection are shown here at Burlington House.   He was also an engraver and a satirist, and his watercolours, serene as they appear, make it clear that he knew he was observing huge social change.

He is generally known as 'the father of English watercolour painting' (which is a peculiarly English medium), but he is much more than just a topographer.   I guarantee that an hour spent among his beautiful and luminous works will calm the spirit and make it easier to face the hurly-burly of doubt and worry which we are currently undergoing.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Scuppered by Scotland

If we look at one of those maps coloured to represent the hue of each constituency, it is immediately clear that almost the whole of England is blue, with only the inner cities adding a red tinge, and the yellow of the Liberal Democrats in Wales and the South West.   Our problems start at the Border, where of 59 constituencies only one is Conservative.   It is not hard to do the maths that show that if Scotland were taken out of the equation the Conservatives would have an overwhelming majority in the rest of the country.

Scotland has its own parliament, which manages its own affairs in which Westminster has no say.   We, however, in England, have to put up with 59 Scottish MPs voting on matters which do not affect their own constituents, only us.  

All three main parties have indicated that they would support some kind of electoral reform.   At present, Labour has an inbuilt advantage anyway, plus the huge advantage outlined above.   Any electoral reform should take the West Lothian question into account, as well as the necessary boundary changes that would make matters fairer.

England has voted for a Conservative government.   It can't be right that our clearly expressed view can be scuppered by the Scots.   Should Scotland be able to send MPs to Westminster?   I say not.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Still Waiting

As I write this morning it has become clear that a hung parliament is the only possible outcome of the election, and it still remains to be seen who will be our Prime Minister.

It has been an extraordinary election, not the least extraordinary aspect being that people have not seen through Gordon Brown enough to throw him out decisively.   I find this hard to understand and can only conclude that Labour voters will vote Labour even if their leader is the worst prime minister we have ever had, who has caused such damage to the country that it will take years to repair, if we ever can.   I can't imagine that even the most fervent Labour supporters really want Brown back, but I suppose for them the Conservatives would be worse.

So we are still waiting - and still hoping.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Now Is The Time.........

Thirteen years ago, on May 2nd 1997, I watched Tony Blair's triumphant entry into Downing Street, and I thought to myself "This is going to be a long dark night for England".   But even I didn't think it would last for 13 years and that our country would be brought to the state it is now in.   Gordon Brown has ruined our economy by his reckless spending and sheer incompetence, and yet appears to think that although he got us into this mess, he is the one to get us out of it.   Well, I am quite sure he isn't, and so, I hope, are enough sensible voters in the country to make sure that he no longer has his hands on the controls.   I am not even going to go into all the other ghastly aspects of the England created by Blair and Brown between them.

To anyone, therefore, who has not yet voted (provided they are voting Conservative!) - get out there and do it!   This is the most closely-fought election for a generation, and it is vitally important that we do vote and get this dreadful government out.   I hope tomorrow to be watching David Cameron's entry into Downing Street, with huge relief and hope.

Here's to a better tomorrow!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Differences Between Us

If a Conservative doesn't like guns, he doesn't buy one
If a Socialist doesn't like guns, he wants all guns outlawed

If a Conservative is a vegetarian, he doesn't eat meat.
If a Socialist is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.

If a Conservative sees a foreign threat, he thinks about how to defeat his enemy.
A Socialist wonders how to surrender gracefully and still look good.

If a Conservative is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.
If a Socialist is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.

If a black man or hispanic are Conservative, they see themselves as independently successful.
Their Socialist counterparts see themselves as victims, in need of government protection.

If a Conservative is down and out, he thinks how to better his situation.
A Socialist wonders who is going to take care of him.

If a Conservative doesn't like a talk-show host, he switches channels.
Socialists demand that those they don't like be shut down.

If a Conservative is a non-believer, he doesn't go to church.
A Socialist non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced (unless it's a foreign religion, of course)

If a Conservative decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or chooses a job that provides it.
A Socialist demands that the rest of us pay for his.

If a Conservative slips and falls in a store, he gets up, laughs and is embarrassed.
If a Socialist slips and falls, he grabs his neck, moans theatrically, and then sues.

If a Conservative reads this, he'll forward it so his friends can have a laugh.
A Socialist will delete it because he is "offended".

Saturday, 1 May 2010

A Ray of Hope?

The acquittal earlier this week of science teacher Peter Harvey, charged with the attempted murder of a 14-year-old boy, is a rare victory for justice and common sense and brought a sigh of relief to us all.

Mr. Harvey, whose 25-year record as a teacher was utterly exemplary, not to say inspirational, lost his temper when goaded beyond bearing by an unruly class of badly-behaved children, whom he was powerless to discipline or punish, thanks to the policies of the Labour Government and the EU, who have combined to make teachers' lives a misery.   This particular boy, whose own record was one of constant disruption and bad behaviour, swore at Mr. Harvey, who, at the end of his tether and in a moment of utter despair and anger, dragged him out of the room and hit him over the head with a dumb-bell.    It took a jury less than two hours to acquit him of attempted murder, though he had already pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of causing grievous bodily harm. 

Discipline in the classroom is a huge problem in our schools today, and while I don't think teachers should go around hitting pupils on the head with iron weights, it is really important that they should have some means of punishing troublesome children.   We should support our teachers, not persecute them, and we should be grateful in the present state of affairs in this country that anyone wants to go into teaching.   Mr. Harvey should never have been prosecuted, and it is shameful that he was.   Congratulations to the judge and jury who were able to ensure that justice prevailed. 


Friday, 30 April 2010

Garsington Will Live On

I was pleased to read this morning that Garsington Opera is to be rescued by the Getty family, who have stepped in to give it a new home.   The present owner of Garsington Manor, Rosalind Ingrams, had said that she no longer wanted to hold the month-long season at her Oxfordshire house, but now Mark Getty, son of Sir John Paul Getty, has offered his Wormsley Park estate near High Wycombe, from 2011, and the name Garsington Opera will be retained.

Garsington was one of the loveliest settings for English country house opera.   The house itself, originally built in Tudor times, has an interesting history (though that is another story).   The late Leonard Ingrams, the previous owner, and his wife Rosalind, founded the opera festival there in 1989, every year presenting a short summer season of first-class opera, often sung by up-and-coming young singers.   Some of the operas were lesser-known revivals, others joyous productions of well-loved works.

In the true tradition of English country house opera, guests in evening dress and black tie would set up their tables and drink champagne in the beautiful gardens before listening to the operas, which were staged on the terrace of the house in front of a temporary (but quite comfortable and covered) stand, and always introduced by Leonard Ingrams himself.   During the interval picnics would be consumed, as dusk fell over the yew hedges, statues and ornamental ponds.   Afterwards one might be lucky enough to be invited into the house for a final drink.

Garsington Opera had its problems:  the locals were not always supportive, objecting to the cars arriving and leaving, and the sound of the music.   They even resorted to using fly-mowers to drown the singers, and once hired a light aircraft to buzz the house while the opera was going on.   But on the whole, it was much-loved and the tickets were hugely sought-after and always sold out early.

I spent many happy evenings at Garsington, listening to wonderful music in a beautiful setting, and it is very good to know that it will not all be lost.  


Friday, 23 April 2010

St. George's Day and Shakespeare

Today, April 23rd, is St. George's Day, when we celebrate our patron saint (or not, as is sadly perhaps more often the case).   St. George was a 3rd century Roman soldier, martyred for refusing to deny his Christian faith.   His emblem, a red cross on a white background, was adopted by Richard the Lionheart, and he became patron saint of England in the 14th century.   It is traditional today to wear a red rose in one's buttonhole.

The Cross of St. George needs rescuing from football and the BNP.   It is a potent symbol of our nationhood and should be proudly flown, especially today.

But April 23rd is also the birthday of the greatest poet ever born, our own William Shakespeare.   We know that Shakespeare died on April 23rd, but regarding it as also his birthday is much less certain, and it is more of a tradition than a fact.   The English are lucky to "speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake" and to be able to read him in the original.   Think of all the people in the world who can't do that and must rely on translation!   How much they miss and how fortunate we are!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Queen's Birthday

April 21st is the birthday of HM the Queen, who is 84 today.  

To my mind we are inexpressibly lucky to have the Queen as our Head of State.   She is a woman of utter integrity, who throughout her long reign has never put a foot wrong.   On her 21st birthday in 1947, when she was with her parents and sister on tour in South Africa, she made a famous speech, saying:  "I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service", and she has remained true to that promise for all the years between.

She has seen out many prime ministers, from Churchill to Brown (or you might say from the sublime to the ridiculous), and her wisdom and steadfastness have been of inestimable help to them all.

Her poise and dignity, her vast experience, her total discretion, her selfless dedication, her sweet smile and sense of humour, all go to make up someone whom in many ways we take for granted.   We should never take her for granted, but appreciate all she has done for us and realise how lucky we are to have her.

Happy birthday, Ma'am!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Be Proud of Being English!

I was sad to read the results of a recent survey that found the English to be the least patriotic people in Europe, at least in the sense that they did not know when St. George's Day is, and would not fly the Cross of St. George for fear of appearing racist, or politically incorrect.   Six percent said they were actually scared to fly the flag, and many were afraid that they would be told to take it down.  By whom? one might ask.   This amorphous fear of doing the wrong thing in someone's eyes and being judged, possibly attacked or even prosecuted, is eating away at the heart of England.   Can you imagine such a thing 50 years ago?   Englishmen were proud and independent then, not to be told what to do by an overpowering state.

This is a dreadful indictment of our society and what it has been reduced to.   The English have perhaps never felt the need to show overt patriotism:  just being English was enough, without making a great show of it.   Now, however, with the European Union doing its best to erode our sovereignty and reduce us to just another "zone" of Europe, with our own politicians working against us, and political correctness extending its dead hand ever further over our national life, it is becoming more and more important that we should hold on to our English identity.   The English ARE patriotic, but in the present climate they are afraid of being seen to be so.   Is that not a sad and terrible thing?

Be proud of being English!   You have drawn first prize in the lottery of life.

St. George's Day is on Friday, 23rd April.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The EU Strikes Again

There is a new EU directive which bans methyl bromide, an insecticide used to treat willow.   It is alleged that this damages the ozone layer.

As we all know, English willow is used to make cricket bats, and the cricket bat industry has no other means of treating the wood.   The industry, which has a turnover of £10 million a year, could be bankrupted within three months.

Another example of how we benefit from membership of the EU!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries at the V & A

A week or two ago I went to see the new medieval and Renaissance galleries at the V & A.   These were opened last December, after a major refurbishment, and they are stunning.   The V & A has a fantastic collection and much of it is world famous.   The objects on display in the early galleries are unbelievable for their beauty and the skill of the craftsmen who made them: delicate carvings of ivory, enamel so fine that it is translucent (the Mérode Cup), embroideries of silk and silver, bronzes, marbles, superb carvings of wood and stone, illuminated manuscrips - it is hard to know where to look first, and indeed one needs much more than one visit to see everything.

One of the most amazing and beautiful creations is the above miracle of the mediaeval goldsmith's art, the Cologne Tabernacle, decorated with enamel and ivory figures and one of only two such objects in the world.   An enamelled casket, showing the murder of Thomas a' Becket, was made to hold his relics only 20 years after he was murdered.   Then there is the Gloucester Candlestick, made for Gloucester Cathedral at the beginning of the 12th century, covered with tiny gilt metal figures of men and monsters, and again virtually unique.
The galleries themselves are excellently restored and a pleasure to wander round in.   My only minor criticism would be that the captions are very small, rather hard to read and in some cases almost impossible to find.

Upstairs there are world-renowned Renaissance statues by such artists as Donatello and Giambologna.   I didn't have time to explore properly, but I will definitely be going back.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Story of Sprig

Many congratulations to Don't Push It for his Grand National win on Saturday, and to Tony McCoy, winning at last after 15 rides in the race.

In 1927 the Grand National was won by a horse called Sprig.   Sprig (by Marco out of Spry) was bred in Herefordshire by my husband's great-uncle, Dick Partridge.   Capt. Partridge had always intended to ride his horse in the Grand National, but sadly he was killed in 1918, with just weeks to go before the end of the war.   His mother decided to fulfil her son's dream and sent Sprig to leading trainer Tom Leader.   He proved very successful over both hurdles and jumps, and after two unsuccessful runs in the big race, finally won in 1927, ridden by his trainer's son, Ted, and carrying 12st. 4lb, more than any horse has won with since (or ever will, since top weights are now much less).

Apart from Sprig's win, the race was notable for two other reasons:  the King was present, and congratulated Mrs. Partridge, and it was the first time the race had been broadcast.   In the Golden Valley, Sprig's home in Herefordshire, people coming home from hunting that Saturday heard all the church bells in the valley ringing and knew that their local horse had won.

Mrs. Partridge and Sprig

Sprig eventually retired to Herefordshire and lived to a good old age.   When he died he was buried in one of the fields, but my mother-in-law decided to preserve some mementoes of him, so she had him dug up again and cut off his tail and his hooves - which we still have!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The Abbotsbury Swannery

The Abbotsbury Swannery is a nesting colony of mute swans near Weymouth in Dorset.   Swans generally nest in isolated pairs and there are only a handful of known nesting colonies in the world.   Abbotsbury is the largest group of swans on earth.
What makes the Abbotsbury Swannery unique is that it is managed by man - and has been for at least 600 years. The first swan count at Abbotsbury was carried out in 1591, when there were 410 adults and 90 young swans.   The swans are not tame, and they do not have clipped wings, but visitors can walk safely through the heart of the nesting colony, to which the swans return, year after year, to mate and raise their young.

Usually at Abbotsbury there are about 150 pairs nesting at any one time.   This year, because of the cold winter, nesting and egg-laying are a few weeks later than usual.   The female swans, the pens, lay an egg a day for five or six days, with the male, or cob, standing guard over the nest.   The cygnets will hatch after about six weeks.