Sunday, 13 December 2009

Twenty-First Century Christmas

We are lucky enough in this country to have a caring Government, which is keen to ensure that we all enjoy Christmas (or the Winter Holiday, as I expect they prefer to call it). Just to make sure that you will all have a risk-free time, here are some of the pointers they have given us:

DON’T:

Eat too much, especially anything high in sugar or fat (you are on the road to obesity!)
Drink more than half a glass of wine (that is your recommended quota)
Put up decorations or lights (you might fall off the ladder)
Ring the church bells (noise pollution)
Sing carols in the middle of the road (you have been warned!)
Mention the birth of Jesus (you might offend a minority)
Give extravagant Christmas presents (you can’t afford it)
Make jokes (they will probably be politically incorrect)
Put a piece of silver in the Christmas pudding (someone might swallow it)
Set fire to the pudding (an obvious hazard)
Pull crackers (again, clearly dangerous)
Let off fireworks (too obvious for comment)
Kiss under the mistletoe (you might exchange a deadly virus)
Play silly games (you could injure yourself or others)
Attend a Boxing Day Meet (definitely not a government-approved activity)
Drive to see friends and relations (what about your carbon footprint?)
Put your rubbish in the wrong bin

My advice is to spend Christmas alone in a darkened room with an apple and a glass of water – but make sure you wipe that apple before eating it, and the water – surely not bottled?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Suspension of Service

With everything that goes on at this time of year, and all there is to do, I am not going to post anything more until the New Year - unless there is anything that cries out to be noticed, or something I truly want to say.

So to all my faithful followers, all 12 of you (although since I seem to have inadvertently got myself on to the list and don't know how to get off it, it is really only 11), I wish a very, very happy Christmas, and a New Year full of hope for us all, and particularly the hope that we might get a new government that will put England back on the right path to contentment and prosperity.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Did You Notice.....?

Did you notice that among the provisions of the Chancellor's shamelessly political mini-Budget yesterday it was reported that the UK's net contribution to the European Union will increase next year to £6 billion?   This is an increase of £1.2 billion over this year, and means that our contribution will have doubled in three years.

Margaret Thatcher negotiated a rebate for us in 1984, to counteract smaller benefits in farming payments.   Tony Blair and Gordon Brown agreed to abandon this rebate in stages, in return for a promise to review EU farming subsidies, but while we have kept our side of the bargain, the EU has signally failed to keep any of their promises to us. 

We are ruled by people who have no idea about standing up for Britain's interests.   As long as they keep their jobs, and can make vast amounts in lecture tours and directorships after they retire, the country can go hang.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

England's Griefs

from The Deserted Village
by Oliver Goldsmith

Ill fares the land, to hast’ning ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay;
Princes and lords may flourish or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroy’d, can never be supplied.

A time there was, ere England’s griefs began,
When every rood of ground maintained its man;
For him light labour spread her wholesome store,
Just gave what life required, but gave no more:
His best companions, innocence and health,
And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.

But times are alter’d; trade’s unfeeling train
Usurp the land, and dispossess the swain;
Along the lawn, where scatter’d hamlets rose,
Unwieldy wealth and cumb’rous pomp repose:
And every want to luxury allied,
And every pang that folly pays to pride.
Those gentle hours that plenty bade to bloom,
Those calm desires that ask’d but little room,
Those healthful sports that graced the peaceful scene,
Lived in each look, and brighten’d all the green;
These, far departing, seek a kinder shore,
And rural mirth and manners are no more.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Sir John Soane's Museum

This eclectic and unusual museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields, was the house of Sir John Soane, one of the greatest of English architects.    Soane was born in Berkshire in 1753 and came to London at an early age to study architecture at the Royal Academy.   He travelled extensively in Italy and on his return to England in 1780 became well-known as an architect, in 1788 winning the important commission of designing the Bank of England, as well as the dining rooms of both 10 and 11 Downing Street, Aynho Park in Oxfordshire and Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, among many other fine buildings.



No 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields was his family house, and in 1813 he rebuilt No. 13 as a new home and a museum, adding No. 14 in 1823.   Here he displayed his remarkable collection of art, opening the museum to the public, while refusing to admit visitors in 'wet or dirty weather', something with which we can all sympathise.   Soane died a widower, estranged from and disappointed in his two worthless sons.   Until his death in 1837 he was constantly adding to and rearranging the displays in his museum, and today the rooms remain almost exactly as he left them.

It is hard to describe this extraordinary museum, crammed with works of art of all kinds:  hundreds of paintings, ingeniously displayed on pull-out hinged screens of Soane' own design, drawings, marble sculptures, bronzes, urns and sarcophagi,  furniture, architectural models, something like 7,000 books, all set out apparently higgledy-piggledy in a series of rooms on several floors.   Among the great treasures are the two series of pictures by William Hogarth, A Rake's Progress and An Election (the original paintings which Hogarth displayed in his studio to encourage the sale of sets of engravings), and three stunning Canalettos.

Nowadays they let you in even if it is raining, and admission is free.   It is an unforgettable experience.



Friday, 4 December 2009

Miss Lloyd

Miss Lloyd was my English Literature mistress. For five years she taught us Chaucer, Shakespeare, Thackeray, Eliot (both George and T. S.), the Brontes, Jane Austen and the War Poets. She was a tall, beaky woman, with fiery black eyes, her hair looped up and always escaping from its pins. She wore tweed suits, and over the top a tattered academic gown which fluttered from her shoulders like black wings. She would sweep into the room and quell us with a single look, before launching into a lesson guaranteed to absorb and enthral us – well most of us, anyway. If one of us produced a howler, which happened quite frequently, she would cry out in distress: “Child of the wilderness, prairie flower!! How can you??” I still remember her horror when we had been told to read one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Sophie Comyns-Carr, always known to Miss Lloyd as “Sophie Tucker”, (where are you now, Sophie, I wonder?), chose to read The Miller’s Tale. Anyone who knows Chaucer knows that The Miller’s Tale is not suitable for young ladies, but we didn’t then and were fascinated when Sophie started to describe the action, to be rapidly cut short by Miss Lloyd.

She was not the first person to instil in me my love of poetry and English literature – that was my father. But she certainly encouraged and nurtured it and presided over those all-important years of reading and learning by heart.  Dear Miss Lloyd!   She died only a few years ago, and I remember her with great affection. She was an inspiration.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Where Our Money Goes (3)

Open Europe, a Eurosceptic think tank, recently published a list of bizarre and wasteful schemes funded by the European Union.   Here are some of them:

£760,000 for a "gender equal" cultural centre, which was never built.
£358,000 for a Marathon for a United Europe
£358,000 for a project to get children to draw pictures of each other "to develop active European citizenship"
£155,000 for a top Portuguese golf resort
£89,000 for a Spanish hotel chain
£72,000 to create a virtual version of the city of Malmo in the online fantasy world, Second Life.   Only 40 people watched the opening of this.

and £6.3 million for a cultural scheme "to encourage people to think about European identities".   This last included a donkey called Asino, who was trotted around Holland to be shown to primary school children.   The donkey apparently wrote a blog, which included a description of him waking up under a tree to find other animals staring at him.   It read:  " I was embarrassed!   Now I understand a little how people from different cultures may feel in the Netherlands".

And yes, that was £6.3 million.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Churchill's English

In his book, My Early Life, Winston Churchill wrote:

"As I remained in the Third Fourth three times as long as anyone else, I had three times as much of it [English Analysis under Mr. Somervell].   I learned it thoroughly.   Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence - which is a noble thing.   And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage.   Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English.   I would make them all learn English; and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat"

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Royal Society

In the last few weeks I have written about several English icons that are "the oldest in the world" of their kind - a peal of bells in Suffolk, the Lord Mayor's Procession, the Ashmolean Museum.   Today I am writing about another such, the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, always known as The Royal Society, which is the oldest scientific institution in the world, and which in 2009/2010 is celebrating the 350th anniversary of its founding.

The Royal Society, the oldest and greatest of our learned societies, was founded by Charles II in 1660, and the reigning monarch has always been its Patron ever since.   To be elected a Fellow is a great honour, since the main criterion for election is "scientific excellence", though since 2000 there has been a category for Honorary Fellows, and previous Prime Ministers have also had the honour of election - recently Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher.   It is currently based in Carlton House Terrace in London.

The Society awards medals, prizes and lectureships, it funds scientific research and publishes scientific books.   It funds young scientists early in their careers and encourages foreign collaboration.   It provides science policy advice to the Government and generally promotes public interest in and understanding of science.

To mark its 350th anniversary, the Royal Society has made available online some of its published papers.   The site is called 'Trailblazing', and the current president of the Society, Lord Rees, says:  "The scientific papers on Trailblazing represent a ceaseless quest by scientists over the centuries, many of them Fellows of the Royal Society, to test and build on our knowledge of humankind and the universe".

http://trailblazing.royalsociety.org/

Monday, 30 November 2009

Did You Know........?

Did you know that we are paying Child Benefit to 37,900 children who live in Poland?   These are children who have remained behind while one or both of their parents is working in this country.   Because our handouts are much higher than in other countries - particularly eastern Europe - Britain is a very attractive country to foreign workers.   In Poland the equivalent of Child Benefit is £5 a week;  here it is £20 for the first child and £13.20 for others.

The total cost of Britain supporting Polish children is estimated at £24 million a year.

This is the result of regulations of the European Union, in the false belief that all member economies are at the same level, which they are clearly not.   All these regulations do is to encourage people from poorer EU countries to go and work in richer ones.

Why are we handing our taxpayers' money to Poles who live in Poland?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Advent

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday, the beginning of the true season of preparation for Christmas.   Now that it has all become so relentlessly commercial, the shops start pushing Christmas in September, or even earlier, but strictly speaking, carols should not be sung, nor decorations hung, until after this weekend, when we can all legitimately throw ourselves into getting ready for the big day.

Here is a poem which perfectly evokes the season :

Christmas 
by John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again

And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker’s Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial public houses blaze
And Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad,
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? And is it true?
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single truth compare –
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Definition of Englishness

In April 2004 the Daily Telegraph ran a competition for the best definition of Englishness.   This was the winning entry:

He views the Channel as a trench,
Laughs at the Germans, hates the French.
Though docile on his starchy diet
He'll rush abroad to quell a riot.
He hates a fuss, seldom complains,
Accepts poor service and late trains.
But full of ale, there's hell to pay -
Remember that on St. George's Day!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

How Many More?

When I was born there were fewer than 50 million people in this country.   Today there are 61 million - and the number is rising steadily.   It is forecast that there will be 71 million people by 2031 and 85 million by 2081.   We are already the fifth most densely populated country in the world. 

One reason is that we are living longer and that child mortality rates are at an all-time low, both Good Things.   But the main reason is immigration.   Every year hundreds of thousands of people arrive here to swell our numbers, both by their own presence and by the fact that the birth rate is much higher among first- and second-generation foreign mothers.    All these people need houses, proper sanitation, education, health-care, jobs, pensions.   The impact on our society and our culture cannot be denied, whether or not we are happy about the situation.

Can we sustain it?   Roger Martin, the Chairman of the Optimum Population Trust does not think so.   He says:  "Britain's population increase is out of control and we are on course for a high-density, low-quality future where overcrowding and congestion are the norm and resource shortages, particularly of vital commodities like water and energy, are ever more pressing.   Every addition to the population pushes this country further from sustainability and nearer to a position of extreme environmental precariousness.   This is a future nobody wants".

We owe to it to our children and grandchildren to halt this frightening process, and we look to our politicians to do so.   However, it is a fact that we can, and probably will, be forced by Europe to take MORE immigrants.   Our own politicians, hampered by political correctness and lack of power, can do little.   We have lost control of our borders and a bleak future awaits.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Salad Days

Last night we went to see Salad Days at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.   This marvellous and quintessentially English musical, by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds, is much loved for its joyous innocence and fun.   During the 1950s it ran in London for three years, 2,288 performances, and held the record until Oliver came along.   An attempt to take it to Broadway in 1959 failed badly, as the Americans just could not 'get it', and since then it has rarely been revived.

The present production, which is by a small company called Tête-à-Tête, sticks faithfully to the original, not attempting to update it, rework it or send it up, and the result is an evening of unalloyed sunshine and pleasure, full of sparkling songs, happy and unihibited dancing, laughter and jokes.   The young and talented cast all were clearly enjoying themselves, and the audience, many of whom, like us, were revisiting their youth, responded in kind.   Truly a treat.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Pyrland Hall, Somerset

In 1943 James Lees-Milne, visiting on behalf of the fledgling National Trust, wrote this:

"I had a horrible day with Colonel Pemberton at Pyrland Hall, near Taunton.   He is a fiendish old imbecile with a grotesque white moustache.   When I first saw him he was pirouetting on his toes in the road.   He has an inordinate opinion of himself and his own judgement.   He is absolutely convinced that Pyrland is the finest house in Somerset and he is doing the Trust a great service in bequeathing it.   The truth is the property does not comprise land of outstanding natural beauty and is of insignificant size.   Moreover the house, though large and basically eighteenth century, has been thoroughly Victorianised as to windows and rendering. ..........  I was drawn into several acrimonious arguments with the old man, whom I cordially disliked, for he insisted on contradicting whatever I said.   He gave me an exiguous lunch of bread and cheese, both hard as wood, a baked potato in its skin, dry as sawdust, and a watery apple pie with Bird's custard.   Ugh!   He expected me to return and waste the following day in discussion.   But I had already made up my mind after the first half-hour of my visit.   I could not have borne him or Pyrland an hour longer.   Having hated me like poison, he was nevertheless furious when I left at 4."

Friday, 20 November 2009

Canterbury Cathedral

I suppose today I should be writing on yesterday's non-election of an EU president and the surprise selection of a Labour nonentity to fill the post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs.   However, my heart simply isn't in it, the whole thing is too depressing.

Instead, and much more pleasant to contemplate, here is a photograph of the oldest stained-glass window in Canterbury Cathedral.   It shows Adam Delving and dates back to 1176.


It says in Isaiah 54, vv. 11-12:
“I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay their foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.”

Canterbury is of course where St. Augustine brought Christianity to England, and the Cathedral, along with St. Augustine's Abbey and St. Martin's Church is one of the UK's 28 World Heritage Sites.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Anish Kapoor

Anish Kapoor, whose current exhibition at the Royal Academy I visited yesterday, is among the most renowned and admired sculptors in the world.   Some of his outside pieces are astonishingly beautiful and mesmerising.   The exhibition at Burlington House begins in the courtyard, with one such piece, an airy tower of shining stainless steel balls, each reflecting a slightly different view of the classic façades.  



Inside he has been accorded the unique honour for a living artist of having all the galleries turned over to him.   Because many of his works are so massive, this does not mean that it is a large exhibition - on the contrary, there are only about 30 exhibits, some of which take up more than one gallery by themselves.   An enormous block of solid red wax moves imperceptibly on rails through three galleries.   A cannon shoots periodic bolts of more wax through into another room.   Extruded concrete coils, like giant wormcasts, fill a whole room.  Three more vast artworks occupy a single gallery each, and the main room has half-a-dozen of his beautiful curved and mirrored pieces.

Kapoor has said himself that he has no "message" that he is trying to put across, which leaves his mysterious voids and gleaming depths open to individual interpretation.   What was palpable yesterday was the involvement and enjoyment of the visitors, who were intensely engaged with the sculptures, animated, curious, chatting to strangers.   I am not really quite sure why, yet, but I would not have missed it for the world.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

An EU President

Tomorrow the leaders of the countries of the European Union are to meet to choose their first President and a Foreign Minister (aka the High Representative for Foreign Affairs).   It is  now thought that the post of President will not go to Tony Blair, which is at least a relief.   His style would have been flamboyant, a World Leader, globe-trotting, stop-the traffic kind of a guy, which would have been hard to take.   No, it seems likely that it will be Herman Van Rompuy, the prime minister of Belgium, whose style is low-key, though unswervingly federalist.   His appointment would not bode well for England retaining any sort of independence - but actually, that hope is virtually lost anyway, whoever it is.

Step by step our sovereignty is being eroded - a little taken away here, a little there, until one day we will wake up and find that we no longer exist.

I am interested to know what sort of position the President of Europe will be in with regard to the Queen?   Who will take precedence?    

Monday, 16 November 2009

Dry Stone Walls

Sadly, it is being reported that our traditional dry stone walls are being despoiled by thieves who use the stones for  rockeries and other 'garden features'.   These walls, which have been skilfully built by craftsmen for at least 3,500 years, are a feature of counties such as Derbyshire, Co. Durham and Yorkshire and in the Cotswolds, where trees and hedges do not grow easily.

Dry stone walls are constructed without any mortar to hold the stones together, and the skill lies in the manner in which the stones are fitted together to form strong and solid boundaries.   It is estimated that there are something like 125,000 miles of dry stone walls in this country.   Now, however, wallers are being forced to consider departing from tradition and using cement to bind the walls, in order to deter thieves and vandals, who take advantage of remote locations to make off with the stones.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Lord Mayor's Show

Congratulations to Nick Anstee, who today is assuming the office of Lord Mayor of London, the 682nd Lord Mayor.   The event will be celebrated most of the day in the City of London, by the Lord Mayor's Show, believed to be the oldest procession in the world.   It dates back to 1540 and has only ever been cancelled once, for the Duke of Wellington's funeral in 1852.



The Lord Mayor travels in the 252-year-old golden State Coach, and watches an RAF flypast before setting off.   The parade begins at the Guildhall and includes stops at St. Paul's, where the Lord Mayor will receive a blessing, the Royal Courts of Justice, where he takes an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen, and Mansion House, his official residence.   All sorts of events accompany the parade, which is three miles long.   There are decorated floats, races, military bands, marching by, among others, the Honourable Artillery Company and The Royal Fusiliers, who have the privilege of marching through the City of London.   The Great Twelve Livery Companies—the Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Merchant Taylors, Skinners, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners and Clothworkers—participate as of right; other Livery Companies participate by invitation, though the Lord Mayor's own company is always among these, as are representatives of the charities he supports.     In fact there are 63 participating organisations - made up of 122 vehicles, 149 horses and 23 bands, and in the evening a magnificent firework display.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

November

November

by Thomas Hood (1799 - 1845)

No sun, no moon!
No morn, no noon!
No dawn, no dusk, no proper time of day,
No sky, no earthly view,
No distance looking blue,

No road, no street,
No "t'other side the way",
No end to any Row,
No indications where the Crescents go,

No top to any steeple,
No recognitions of familiar people,
No courtesies for showing 'em,
No knowing 'em!

No mail, no post,
No news from any foreign coast,
No park, no ring, no afternoon gentility,
No company, no nobility,


No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member,
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!


This poem was written when London, in particular, was subject to the most terrible fogs, and November was the worst month for them.   It is a little unfair on November these days, and here is photograph of what we expect and enjoy in November now.


Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Armistice Day



I am writing this shortly before the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the moment when the guns fell silent at the end of the First World War, the moment we still pause to remember the millions who died in those terrible battles and who have died in all the conflicts since.    It was supposed to be "the war to end all wars", but of course it wasn't, and today we are still losing brave young men and women on faraway battlefields.

There is nothing I can say to add to all the words that have been written on the subject, except that for myself I find it immensely reassuring - one of the few reassuring facts of modern life in this country - that we do still pause to remember the sacrifices of those who died that we might be free.

When you go home, tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow we gave our today.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Now It's Our Worms!

The British earthworm is under siege from invading European worms.   These foreign species have recently been found in the New Forest and are ousting our native worms, who are less able to withstand the drier conditions we are apparently experiencing.   Two new non-native species have also been found at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.   The Natural History Museum has said that foreign worms could have a effect on British flora and fauna, and pose a serious threat in the future.

Is there no end to it?!

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, believed to be the oldest museum in the world, dating back nearly four centuries, has recently reopened after a £60 million transformation. Its great Neoclassical façade, by Sir Charles Cockerell, dating from 1845, remains unaltered, but behind it is a spacious high-modernist extension of steel and glass, more than doubling the existing display area and exhibiting a widely ranging collection of treasures too diverse to detail. As well as Greek and Roman sculpture, there are galleries devoted to ancient India and China, a marvellous collection of European painting and sculpture, jewellery, silver and curiosities such as the hawking glove of Henry VIII, and the very lantern Guy Fawkes was carrying when arrested in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament in 1605.



Study of a Kingfisher, by John Ruskin

The Ashmolean dates back to the early 17th century, to the enthusiasm of John Tradescant the Elder, who was Charles I’s Keeper of Gardens, Vines and Silkworms, a famous botanist and an avid collector of just about anything. His house, the Ark in Lambeth, full of his curiosities, was open to the public at sixpence a head, making it the world’s first public museum. Later his collection, by somewhat murky means, was inherited by Elias Ashmole, who eventually donated it to Oxford University. Over the years it has grown into the world’s greatest university museum of art and archaeology, and with its stunning redesign has truly entered the 21st century.


Hunt in the Forest, by Paolo Uccello

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Lest We Forget: A Poem for Remembrance Sunday

The Battle of Britain
by C. Day Lewis

What did we earthbound make of it?
Of vapour trails, a vertiginously high
Swarming of midges, at most a fiery angel
Hurled out of heaven, was all we could descry.

How could we know the agony and the pride
That scrawled those fading signatures up there,
And the cool expertise of those who died
Or lived through the delirium of the air?

Grounded on history now, we re-enact
Such lives, such deaths.   Time, laughing out of court
The newspaper stories and the faked
Statistics, leaves us only to record

What was, what might have been:  fighter and bomber,
The tilting sky, tense moves and counterings,
Those who outlived that legendary summer;
Those who went down, its sunlight on their wings.

And you, unborn then, what will you make of it -
That shadow-play of battles long ago?
Be sure of this:  they pushed to the uttermost limit
Their luck, skill, nerve.   And they were young like you.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Where Our Money Goes (2)

The European commission has just spent £2.4 million to study the possibility of putting black boxes in every car, as in aircraft.   These would monitor the speed of the vehicle, the actions of the driver, when and how often the brakes, indicators and horn were used, and could very easily be decoded and abused to watch every journey you make and record it.   They could cost up to £500 per car.

It seems to me that this is an extension of the surveillance system, as well as another huge waste of money.   We are already watched at every turn by an army of cameras and recording devices.   Do we really want another layer imposed on us by Europe?   What about personal privacy?   And how legal would it be?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Remember, Remember

Remember, remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.



Today is Guy Fawkes Day, a traditional English celebration dating back to the early 17th century.   Guy Fawkes was one of the leading conspirators in a plot to blow up Parliament in 1605.   He and his fellow plotters, who wanted the restoration of the Catholic faith in England, stored large quantities of gunpowder in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament, to be ignited when King James I and most of the nobility were inside for the State Opening.   However, the plot was betrayed and Guy Fawkes and his gang were arrested and ultimately beheaded.

We celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks and bonfires, traditionally burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes (from whose name derives the term "guy" for a man).   In recent years the American (and much more commercial) festival of Hallowe'en seems to be taking over, and Health & Safety are imposing their own ludicrous restrictions on the fun.   For instance, a rugby club in Devon has been forced to have a "virtual bonfire", when participants will gather round a giant screen showing a fire, to the accompaniment of recorded crackling noises, a smoke machine, and sparklers.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A Black Day

Yesterday President Klaus of the Czech Republic finally signed his country's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty (the European Constitution), the last of the 27 countries of the EU.   The treaty will now become law on December 1st and we shall lose a huge chunk of our sovereignty and independence.   The way is clear for the selection (not election) of a President of Europe, a Foreign Minister (also apparently to be known as the High Representative) and the abolition of a number of our vetos.   More than ever we shall be subject to the dictates of the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, unable to legislate for ourselves, to speak for ourselves, to govern ourselves or to refuse any of the astronomical sums of money demanded from us.

David Cameron has had to admit, quite rightly, that there is no point now in the Conservatives promising a referendum if he should become Prime Minister.   This is a fait accompli, and there is little more we can do about it.   We can either bow to this force majeure and watch the disappearance of a great nation, or we can do all we can to get out altogether, which will be so complicated that it would take years, even if we, as a nation, had the will to do it.   The sad thing is that I think we do have the will, but no one ever asks us.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Where Our Money Goes

As we know, the presidency of the European Union currently rotates between all the countries involved.   During the time of the French presidency the Summit for the Mediterranean was held, in July last year.   Recently released accounts show that a custom-built shower was installed in the Grand Palais in Paris for the use of President Sarkozy.   It had power and massage jet buttons and surround sound radio.   The shower cost £250,000 and was never used.   It was later destroyed.

The summit's opening dinner cost almost £1 million, which works out at £23,000 per head.   I think even Croesus would have found it difficult to spend that amount, but the EU appears to find it quite normal.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Forever England - in Japan

The developers of a 22-storey tower block in Osaka have reproduced the church of All Saints at Brockhampton in Herefordshire on the top two floors of their tower.   It seems that the Japanese are very keen on Western-style weddings, and the owners of the building, who came across the church while travelling in England, realised that it would be a draw for young Japanese couples.   They applied to Brockhampton Parish Council for permission, which was granted, and the replica, which is three-quarters the size of the original, is now in operation.   To make things easier for everyone, the 21st floor, which is where the church stands, has restaurants and photographic studios, while the 22nd floor has hotels and honeymoon suites.   Everything under one roof!


All Saints in the sky:  the church in situ on the 21st floor

All Saints, Brockhampton, is a Grade I Listed building, and is one of the few thatched churches in the country.   It dates from 1902, and is the work of the Arts & Crafts architect William Lethaby.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Fox's Prophecy

November 1st marks the official opening of the foxhunting season, though most hunts will be holding their opening meets today.   My post today is a long one, though I have pruned it heavily.   I do urge you to read it, however, and with care, because it is extraordinary.   This poem was written in 1871, by an unknown author.   It tells of a huntsman on a fine hunting morning who has temporarily lost his hounds. Beneath a tree he sees an ancient fox, who to his surprise speaks to him “like a Christian man”. The poem is too long to reproduce here in its entirety, but the fox utters a series of prophecies, which have come startlingly true. He tells the huntsman (and remember this was written 140 years ago):


“But ere your limbs are bent with age,
And ere your locks are grey,
The sport that you have loved so well
Shall long have passed away.

Too well I know, by wisdom taught,
The existence of my race
O’er all wide England’s green domain
Is bound up with the Chase.

Better in early youth and strength
The race for life to run,
Than poisoned like the noxious rat,
Or slain by felon gun.”

He goes on:

“For not upon these hills alone
The doom of sport shall fall;
O’er the broad face of England creeps
The shadow on the wall.

The woodlands where my race has bred
Unto the axe shall yield;
Hedgerow and copse shall cease to shade
The ever-widening field.

The manly sports of England
Shall vanish one by one
The manly blood of England
In weaker veins shall run

The furzy down, the moorland heath,
The steam plough shall invade;
Nor park nor manor shall escape –
Common, nor forest glade.

The sports of their forefathers
To baser tastes shall yield
The vices of the town displace
The pleasures of the field.

For swiftly o’er the level shore
The waves of progress ride;
The ancient landmarks one by one
Shall sink beneath the tide.

Time-honoured creeds and ancient faith,
The Altar and the Crown,
Lordship’s hereditary right,
Before that tide go down.

Base churls shall mock the mighty names
Writ on the roll of time;
Religion shall be held a jest
And loyalty a crime.

No word of prayer, no hymn of praise
Sound in the village school;
The people’s education
Utilitarians rule.

In England’s ancient pulpits
Lay orators shall preach
New creeds, and free religions
Self-made apostles teach.

Nor harvest feast nor Christmastide
Shall farm or manor hold;
Science alone can plenty give,
The only god is Gold.

The homes where love and peace should dwell
Fierce politics shall vex,
And unsexed woman strive to prove
Herself the coarser sex.

Mechanics in their workshops
Affairs of State decide;
Honour and truth – old-fashioned words –
The noisy mobs deride.

The statesmen that should rule the realm
Coarse demagogues displace;
The glory of a thousand years
Shall end in foul disgrace.

Trade shall be held the only good,
And gain the sole device;
The statesman’s maxim shall be peace,
And peace at any price.

Her army and her navy
Britain shall cast aside;
Soldiers and ships are costly things,
Defence an empty pride.

The footstep of the invader
Then England’s shore shall know,
While home-bred traitors give the hand
To England’s every foe.

Disarmed, before the foreigner
The knee shall humbly bend,
And yield the treasures that she lacked
The wisdom to defend.”

The fox does go on, however, to prophesy that this sorry state of affairs will not last:


“But not for aye – yet once again
When purged by fire and sword
The land her freedom shall regain
To manlier thoughts restored.

Taught wisdom by disaster,
England shall learn to know
That trade is not the only gain
Heaven gives to man below.

The greed for gold departed,
The golden calf cast down,
Old England’s sons again shall raise
The Altar and the Crown.

Again the smiling hedgerow
Shall field from field divide;
Again among the woodlands
The scarlet troop shall ride”.


I am not looking forward to the fire and sword, but it is reassuring to know that things will get better!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Tony for President?

For anyone who has not already done so:   read Jeff Randall's excellent article in this morning's Daily Telegraph, headed "Tony the twister now wants a free ride on the Euro Express".   He has summed up the Blair years perfectly, and the situation we now find ourselves in after his ten disastrous years of broken promises, lies, spin and deceit.   Anyone reading this could be in no doubt that Blair was just about the worst Prime Minister we have ever had, and to make him President of Europe, which he is clearly angling for, would be a travesty.

You can read the article on telegraph.co.uk/jeffrandall.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Green Man

The Green Man is a mysterious figure from folklore and legend, found in many countries of the world in many different forms and variations.   He is usually depicted as a head emerging from leaves and foliage, which sometimes grow from his face or ears, or represent his hair and beard.


  Green Man from Ludlow
The Green Man (nearly always male) seems to be a pagan and primitive symbol of rebirth, or "renaissance," representing the cycle of growth each spring, perhaps a fertility figure or a nature spirit, not always entirely benevolent, similar to the woodwose (the wild man of the woods).   He frequently appears, carved in wood or stone, in churches, chapels, abbeys and cathedrals all over England, where examples can be found dating from the 11th century through to the 20th century.



Green Man Carving from Dore Abbey, Herefordshire

Green Men to me are a bit sinister, representing something much older than our civilisation, something wild and primitive, belonging to an age when people were closer to nature and when strange and unexpected things lurked in the forests and woods.  

 

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Can We Afford the EU?

Members of the European Parliament have voted to increase British payments to the EU by £5 million per day, on top of our current net contribution to the European budget of £4.1 billion a year.   Two-thirds of the total EU budget goes to the Common Agricultural Policy, benefiting French farmers a great deal more than it benefits us (which it doesn't at all).   Millions are squandered on grandiose projects.   Waste is endemic and corruption is rife - large sums go into the pockets of corrupt politicians in countries that shall remain nameless.

The question is:  can we honestly afford all this?   We are the second biggest net contributor after Germany.   While this money is pouring out of the country, we are in the depths of a recession, our economy is at rock-bottom, we owe more money as a nation than ever in our history, our soldiers are dying in Afghanistan for lack of proper equipment, we are all being asked to tighten our belts and advised by newspaper cookery pages on how to cook nettles - it can't go on!
 
More than 25% of voters in the European elections earlier this year voted for parties that want to take Britain out of the EU.   Disaffection is felt throughout the country, and things are unlikely to get better.   In fact they are likely to get much worse as the EU's grip tightens with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

Nobody can point to any benefit to this country from the EU - on the contrary, it is helping to ruin us.

Monday, 26 October 2009

For the Record: Making Things Clear

I believe in:

The Monarchy
Freedom of speech, freedom of choice and freedom of the Press
Ministerial responsibility
The Armed Forces
A strong and visible police force
The civilising effect of Christian values
Patriotism
Law and order
Private enterprise and personal responsibility
Low taxes
Marriage and family life
Discipline and sound teaching in schools (especially English history) and including the sine qua non of teaching English to foreign immigrants, whatever their home language
Good manners and thought for others
Respect for one’s elders
Tolerance of minorities
Foxhunting
Dogs


I do NOT believe in:

The European Union
Political correctness
Uncontrolled immigration
Bureaucracy
The marginalisation and neglect of the rural population
High taxation and stealth taxes
Multiculturalism
Racism
Fascism
Communism
Socialism
Extremism of all kinds
Intolerance and banning things
Homophobia
The subjugation of women
The negation of our history and culture
The nanny state: being told what we can and can’t eat or how we should live
The Health & Safety Executive
Over-protective parents
Social workers removing children from their parents without really good cause
Inversion of blame – as when someone defending their life or property becomes a villain and the perpetrator goes free
Allowing such practices as forced marriages to continue in this country because we are too weak and appeasing to protect the innocent victims (see PC)
Teachers being sacked for disciplining unruly pupils
The compensation culture
Ridiculous sentences handed down by over-liberal judges
The police spending time and money on prosecuting clearly decent people
Surveillance of individuals and interference with private lives
CCTV and speed cameras
Bad manners
Litter
Excessive noise – especially very loud music played in cars with the windows open
Being called by my Christian name by people I have never met
Dogfighting

Friday, 23 October 2009

Freedom and the BNP

Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time last night brought out some of the best and worst in British life.   The decision of the BBC to allow him air-time was absolutely right.   Freedom of speech in this country has been a cherished right for centuries, although it is being gradually encroached upon by political correctness and the dictates of the EU.   Loathsome though his views may be, Nick Griffin has as much right to express them as anyone else, and to me the distorted faces of the protesters in the crowd outside the BBC centre were just as distasteful as the opinions being expressed inside.

The BNP has two members duly elected to the European Parliament (which is more than can be said for most of the people who now make our laws).   Their following is largely made up of disaffected Labour voters, who do not believe that the Government has addressed their concerns, or ever will.   For this Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and their governments are greatly to blame.   Many of us agree with the concerns of these voters, though we would not go so far as to vote BNP.   Our voices are simply not listened to.

As Voltaire said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Update on Trafalgar Flag



For those who have not seen it in the press, the last surviving Union flag flown at the Battle of Trafalgar (see my post of 8th October) was sold at auction yesterday for the staggering price of £384,000, more than 20 times its pre-sale estimate.

The tattered flag, said still to smell of gunpowder, was sold by a descendant of Lt. James Clephan, who was presented with it by his admiring crew after the battle, and was bought by an anonymous telephone bidder.   As the auctioneer, Charles Miller, said,  "This demonstrates that this is a unique and charismatic artefact linked to the greatest naval battle of all time".

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Trafalgar Day

Today, October 21st, is Trafalgar Day, when we remember Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson's famous victory against the French and Spanish off Cape Trafalgar in 1805.
Nelson was born in Norfolk and spent his life in the British navy, in the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the West Indies. He was noted for his ability to inspire and bring out the best in his men: the so-called 'Nelson touch'. His grasp of strategy and his unconventional tactics produced a number of important victories in the wars against the French. Nelson could at times be vain, insecure and overly anxious for recognition, but he was also zealous, patriotic and dutiful, as well as courageous. He was wounded several times in combat, losing one arm and the sight in one eye, difficulties which he never allowed to hamper him.
The Battle of Trafalgar, the greatest of our great sea battles, is seen as a turning point in the fight against Napoleon's attempt to make Europe his personal empire. The battle was won at great cost to the country, as Nelson himself died during the day, hit by a French sharpshooter. He was the nation's hero and his death was sadly mourned. He was given a state funeral, and is, of course, commemorated by Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Euro Soap Opera

President Klaus of the Czech Republic, in the face of bullying threats from Brussels, seems to be wavering. Will he sign? Or will he be able to resist? And now the Slovaks have joined the fray! They want opt-outs too! Can David Cameron resist the call for a referendum? Or is he secretly hoping that Klaus will sign and make it irrelevant? Meanwhile, Tony Blair, feeling the hand of history on his shoulder yet again, is waiting in the wings. Is it a comedy? Is it a tragedy? Or is it perhaps a tragi-comedy? Don't miss the next thrilling instalment!!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

London 1802

Still on the subject of Milton, this sonnet by William Wordsworth seems to me just as topical today as it was in 1802.
Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee; she is a fen
Of stagnant waters; altar, sword and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart;
Thou hads't a voice whose sound was like the sea;
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So dids't thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on itself did lay.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Milton in Florence

"Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks In Vallombrosa........" These lines from Milton's Paradise Lost often come into my mind at this time of year. Milton, one of the greatest of English poets, travelled through France and Italy for fifteen months in 1638/9 and spent some time in Florence. On the mountainside of Vallombrosa there is a house, with a plaque announcing it as "La casa di Giovanni Milton", and he is reputed to have written some of Paradise Lost while staying there. Milton, who travelled by horseback, had with him letters of introduction from England which enabled him to make many friends among the Florentine intellectuals, including Galileo. His manners and erudition brought him admirers from all walks of life. He visited the city's academies and met a number of famous and influential people, and he enjoyed his time in Florence enough to return a short time later for a couple of months. In Vallombrosa the brooks still run down through the woods and I am sure the leaves still strew them.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Young British Artists

There is a riveting (and long-overdue) article by Mark Hudson in today's Daily Telegraph on the subject of Damien Hirst, who has a new exhibition of paintings at the Wallace Collection, which has been almost universally panned by the critics. Hudson argues that we might be witnessing a pivotal moment in the history of art, no less than the realisation that the "art" of the last two decades has been little more than money and celebrity, fuelled by relentless spin. Hirst has made an enormous amount of money with his pickled animals and diamond-encrusted skulls, which most of us knew all along were meaningless, along with Tracey Emin's bed and Sam Taylor-Woods' "vacuous" videos. The Young British Artists have done very well on being famous for being famous. The difference now is that Hirst has actually put brush to canvas, as opposed to getting others to make his "art", as he usually does, and the result shows just how bad an artist he actually is. This does not make any difference to his arrogance: he compares himself to Francis Bacon and Picasso, but as Mark Hudson says, "Hirst's presumption in comparison with the technical inadequacy of the work" is "simply unforgiveable". One of the great mantras of contemporary art is that "skills needn't matter". Hudson says "the great lesson of today's responses to Hirst's paintings is that skills most definitely do, should and always will matter". I found this article totally refreshing. A corner has been turned - or let's at least hope so.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The House of Stuart

Musing on how lucky we are to have the Queen as Head of State (thoughts prompted by the looming threat of President Blair - stay firm Mr. Klaus!), I started wondering who would be King of England now if the Stuarts had remained the ruling house.
It seems that the direct and legitimate male line of the Royal House of Stuart ended with the death of Henry IX, Cardinal York, in 1807. After that date the Headship of the House of Stuart passed through various royal houses, and by various means (descent or marriage) to the House of Wittelsbach, with whom it rests today. The current head of the House of Stuart is Duke Francis II of Bavaria, whose photograph is below, and who succeeded his father in 1996.

The family was specifically excluded from the line of succession to the throne of England, Scotland or Ireland by the Act of Settlement in 1701, and since 1807 they have never tried to make a claim, and in fact discourage their supporters from doing so on their behalf.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Hold on there, Czechs!

The Czech Republic is still holding out against ratifying the Lisbon Treaty - or at least their President, Vaclav Klaus is. He has succeeded in forcing his government to negotiate opt-outs to the treaty, though even if these demands are met it is not certain he will agreed to the ratification. His opponents are calling for his impeachment, and the situation seems to be very confused. This could mean that the treaty would not come into force until after our General Election, which in its turn would mean a referendum for us, IF the Conservatives are elected, and IF David Cameron keeps his promise.

Monday, 12 October 2009

A Sad Story

I seem to be writing a lot on the subject of bells at the moment, but this story struck me as being a sad example of what we are coming to in this country. Taylors of Loughborough, the bell-foundry whose history goes back to the 14th century, and which made Great Paul, the bell which hangs in St. Paul's (see Saturday's post), has been run by the Taylor family since 1784. The company is now in administration. And why? They have fallen foul of the dreaded Health & Safety Executive, which demanded that they spend £70,000 on re-roofing their tuning hall. This was enough to ruin the company and put 13 of their 28 staff out of work. One of them has been there for 17 years and was taught by his father how to tune a bell when he was seven years old. He can tune a bell to a hundredth of a semi-tone. Apart from the human cost here, it would be disastrous for bell-founding in this country if Taylors goes under. There are few bell-founders left to carry on this living tradition. Change ringing is a very English practice and the sound of bells ringing out over the countryside proclaims the glory of God and the celebration of human achievement. When our bells fall silent, we shall know that the EU, from which Health & Safety get their directives, has succeeded in putting yet another nail in England's coffin.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

St Paul's Cathedral

Watching the service of commemoration from St. Paul's yesterday morning, attended by the Queen and most of the Royal Family, I was reminded of just what a sublimely beautiful and magnificent building St. Paul's is. It was built, as we all know, by Sir Christopher Wren, on the site of the earlier mediaeval church destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, and finished in 1704. It is perhaps the fifth cathedral on that site. Wren drew his inspiration from the great buildings going up on the continent - St. Peter's in Rome, S. Maria della Salute in Venice - who themselves referred back to Palladio and through him to Vitruvius and Ancient Rome. It is a very English kind of restrained baroque, but none the less splendid for that. The height of St. Paul's is 365ft, up to the top of "the cross of gold, that shines over city and river", evoked by Tennyson in his Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington.

The north-west tower contains 13 bells hung for change ringing, while the south-west contains four, including Great Paul, at 16½ tons the largest bell in the British Isles, cast in 1881, and Great Tom (the hour bell). The bell is only rung on occasions of a death in the royal family, the Bishop of London, or London's mayor.

Although struck several times by bombs during World War II, St. Paul's survived, and indeed became a symbol of London's resistance to the Blitz, as shown in the iconic photograph of the famous dome rising above the smoke and flames of war.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Falling Asleep

Today I am posting a favourite poem, evocative of autumn and the English countryside and as good a description of falling asleep as I can think of. Siegfried Sassoon (who was English in spite of his name - his mother loved Wagner) was a First World War poet, and there are also undertones of the war in this beautiful poem.

Falling Asleep
Siegfried Sassoon

Voices moving about in the quiet house:
Thud of feet and a muffled shutting of doors:
Everyone yawning.  Only the clocks are alert.

Out in the night there’s autumn-smelling gloom
Crowded with whispering trees; across the park
A hollow cry of hounds like lonely bells:
And I know that the clouds are moving across the moon;
The low, red, rising moon. Now herons call
And wrangle by their pool; and hooting owls
Sail from the wood above pale stooks of oats.

Waiting for sleep, I drift from thoughts like these;
And where today was dream-like, build my dreams.
Music … there was a bright white room below,
And someone singing a song about a soldier,
One hour, two hours ago: and soon the song
Will be ‘last night’; but now the beauty swings
Across my brain, ghost of remembered chords
Which still can make such radiance in my dream
That I can watch the marching of my soldiers,
And count their faces; faces, sunlit faces.

Falling asleep …. the herons, and the hounds ….
September in the darkness; and the world
I’ve known, all fading past me into peace.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

A Memento of Trafalgar

A Union flag, believed to be the only one remaining that flew at the Battle of Trafalgar, is shortly to be sold, with a pre-sale estimate of £15,000. After the battle in 1805, the flag was presented to Lt. James Clephan by the crew of his ship, HMS Spartiate, and it has remained in his family ever since. James Clephan was pressganged into the Navy in 1794, when he was 26, and was promoted to first lieutenant after Trafalgar. By his retirement in 1840 he had reached the rank of captain. The tattered flag is covered in holes caused by splinter fragments and is said still to smell of gunpowder.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel
I was delighted to read this morning that Hilary Mantel had won the Booker Prize for her historical novel, Wolf Hall. This is a fascinating book, imaginative, thoughtful, very well-researched, beautifully written and utterly compelling. It is the story of Thomas Cromwell and his rise to favour at the court of Henry VIII, whose Chief Minister he became from 1532 - 1540.
Hilary Mantel takes an unusual view of Cromwell, who is generally depicted as being cold and ruthless. In her book he becomes very much the "hero", a just and humane man, while Thomas More, later regarded as a saint, is the cruel and unreasonable one. It is a challenging book, 700 pages long, and needs concentration, but even for those who are not usually readers of historical fiction, it is a great book by a fine writer.

Thomas Cromwell 1485 - 1540 , by Hans Holbein the Younger

Monday, 5 October 2009

Oh, Ireland!

Sadly, the Irish, who little more than a year ago voted so bravely and independently to reject the European Constitution, have now been bullied, bribed, browbeaten and bamboozled into saying 'Yes' to the Lisbon Treaty, the Constitution in all but name. Only the Poles and the Czechs now stand between us and the treaty becoming law, and it appears that both these nations will ratify before very long. We are now in a very difficult position. The promise of a referendum made by the Labour Government has been broken, and David Cameron will not find it easy to give us one after the Conservatives are elected if all the nations of Europe have ratified the treaty. It looks as though we must now tamely surrender a huge chunk of our sovereignty and independence to an unelected body in a foreign country, which seems to be intent on foisting extraordinary laws and regulations upon us and changing our ancient consititution against our will. Where is democracy? How can we accept this? We know that most people in the UK do not want it, but they have never been asked. We appear to be helpless. I wonder if the Irish thought it through properly. Do they really want Tony Blair as their President?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Wild White Cattle of Chillingham

For at least 700 years, at Chillingham Park in Northumberland, a herd of wild white cattle has roamed, untouched by man. They are the last remnants of the wild herds that were once found across Europe. Today they number about 85 beasts, and live in 365 acres of parkland, enclosed by a stone wall. Since their enclosure in the 13th century they have been inbreeding and have managed themselves to keep the breed pure and healthy. There is always a "King bull", who remains in charge and sires all the calves until successfully challenged by a younger animal, usually after three or four years. In this way, he avoids mating with his daughters. When a calf is born, which takes place away from the herd, it remains hidden for some days before being introduced to the herd. The King bull examines the calf closely to decide whether it should be admitted. If he approves, the cows will also inspect it. If he does not, he will kill the calf at once, thus helping to ensure the survival of the best and fittest. They invariably breed true to type and never throw a calf that is not entirely white. They are the only herd in the whole world that has remained truly pure, without any outside blood ever having been introduced. Because the cattle are completely wild it is not possible either to feed them (they will not eat normal cattle food, though are sometimes fed hay in winter) or to give them veterinary help, though they seldom suffer from any disease. They now belong (as far as it can be said that they "belong" to anyone), to the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, bequeathed by Lord Tankerville, the owner of Chillingham Castle, in 1971. The Association keeps a benevolent eye on the cattle and their surroundings and protects them from the modern world. However, they have looked after themselves entirely successfully for the last seven centuries, and it is to be hoped that they will still be there after at least another seven.
The Wild White Cattle of Chillingham

Friday, 2 October 2009

Anaerobic Digesters

If, like me, you are opposed to huge white windmills being erected all over the countryside, in some of our most beautiful landscapes, you might care to know about anaerobic digesters, a much more environmentally friendly alternative. An anaerobic digester uses bacteria to break down organic material and gives off a large amount of methane which is then converted into electricity. It produces electricity 24 hours a day (as opposed to only when the wind blows), and produces heat and organic fertiliser as well as consuming waste. Other countries are already on to this, and in Germany there are 4,000 of them. India has 300,000. Needless to say, our own government, committed to building thousands of expensive and virtually useless wind turbines, which need power stations to back them up, is not yet encouraging digesters, and gives double the amount of incentives to the building of the turbines. If we do not want England ruined by ugly and intrusive wind farms all over the place, we should lobby as hard as we can for MORE DIGESTERS!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Englishness

“Englishness, in my view, is not about nostalgia for a lost England that never really existed in the first place, it is about a respect for long-established institutions - the Church, the monarchy, Parliament and the judiciary - and the national character which created and maintained these and which manifests itself in tolerance, consistency and common sense.” Martin Townsend How sad it is that at least one of these institutions - and I will leave you to decide which - is fast losing that respect!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Signor Fido

Returning for a moment to the subject of Stowe, the following is an inscription on the back of the Temple of Worthies, which is now sadly lost but recorded by several early visitors:
To the Memory
of
Signor Fido
an Italian of good Extraction
who came into England
not to bite us, like most of his Countrymen,
but to gain an honest Livelyhood.
He hunted not after Fame,
yet acquir'd it;
regardless of the Praise of his Friends,
but most sensible of their Love.
Tho' he liv'd amongst the Great,
he neither learnt nor flatter'd any Vice.
He was no Bigot,
Tho' he doubted none of the 39 Articles,
And if to follow Nature,
and to respect the Laws of Society
be Philosophy,
he was a perfect Philosopher;
a faithful Friend,
an agreeable Companion,
a loving Husband,
distinguish'd by a numerous Offspring,
all which he liv'd to see take good Courses.
In his old age he retir'd
to the House of a Clergyman in the Country,
where he finished his earthly Race
and died an Honour and an Example to the whole Species.
Reader,
this stone is guiltless of Flattery;
for he to whom it is inscrib'd
was not a Man
but a
Grey-Hound.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Something to Ponder

The Government is borrowing money at a rate of around £6,000 every second. That's something to think about when Gordon Brown delivers his speech. Last year, Gordon's conference speech lasted 58 minutes. If he speaks for as long this year, we'll have racked up about another £20 million of debt during the time he is speaking.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Stowe

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to visit Stowe and its marvellous landscape gardens, seeing it all on a perfect afternoon of sunshine and early autumn colours. This magical place was created in the 18th century, as a sort of political and philosophical manifesto, by Viscount Cobham, member of a great Whig family and heir to the men whose opposition to the absolutist ambitions of the Stuarts had culminated in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It later passed to the Grenville family and the Dukes of Buckingham
The vast honey-coloured house, built in the 1770s, now houses the well-known public school, whose pupils are fortunate enough to have the run of the place, but the gardens, more than 400 acres of lawns, lakes, temples, statues, grottoes, bridges, monuments, urns and rotundas, are owned by the National Trust.
Stowe: The Palladian Bridge
Perhaps no other 18th century garden can rival the number, scale and complex iconography of the buildings at Stowe, many of them by celebrated architects such as Vanbrugh and William Kent. The gardens are laid out as a picture of idealised nature, whose elements are grass, trees and water, with buildings carefully sited to give accents to the view and allow the wandering eye a resting place. But not only are they beautiful to look at, every building has a carefully thought-out meaning, which would have been apparent to 18th century visitors, if less to our way of thinking. Its Arcadian landscape has always attracted crowds of admiring visitors, from Alexander Pope to Queen Victoria, and though it would take many visits to see and understand it all, I can think of few better ways to pass a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Stowe: The Temple of Concord

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Turner & The Masters

A fascinating new exhibition, Turner & the Masters, has just opened at Tate Britain. It seems that Turner, one of the greatest of English painters, was extremely competitive and liked to pit his skills against those of the great masters from whom he drew his inspiration. For the first time these directly competing paintings have been hung side by side, mainly in pairs. The result is enthralling. In most cases Turner comes out very well against the likes of Rembrandt, Titian, Canaletto, Veronese, Claude Lorrain and Poussin, though it has to be admitted that he does not match up on every occasion.

Many of the paintings have been lent for the first time for many years from great collections in Washington, Madrid or Japan, and as well as following the theme of the show, it is a great pleasure to see these wonderful pictures here in the Tate.

A Rising Gale by Van de Velde

Turner's Version: The Bridgewater Sea Piece

A World Statesman?

I read with incredulous amazement that Gordon Brown has received an award as "World Statesman of the Year" from some American organisation. This bizarre award to someone who is arguably the worse prime minister we have ever had could not possibly have been given by anyone who knows his record. It must have been Buggins' turn. The trouble with giving him something like that is that it will only inflate his ego even further. Can anyone say why he should have received it? If so, please comment below and I will read it with interest.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Burberry Live

The 25th anniversary of London Fashion Week finished with a bang last night, with the much-anticipated Burberry show. The very English fashion house was showing in London for the first time for 18 years, and Christopher Bailey, their brilliant young designer, produced a series of pretty and feminine variations on the famous trench coat, once worn in the trenches of World War I. Christopher was born in Yorkshire and still spends as much time there as he can. The fashion show was shown live online, and judging by the excited comments coming in from all over the world, Burberry is as big a name in Hong Kong, Vancouver or Sydney as it is here After the show there was a party for 1,500 at Burberry's spanking new headquarters. As a company, they are among England's best ambassadors, and at the very top of the fashion tree.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Richmond Park

Richmond Park, 2,500 acres of it, lies on the edge of London, but once you are there you might be 100 miles away. There are several car parks, which always seem to be fairly full, but after two minutes' walking you can find yourself alone with the trees, and can walk for an hour without seeing a single soul - just deer, squirrels, rabbits, jays, and of course, the famous green parakeets, who flash noisily through the ancient trees. The park is full of ancient trees, great woods of oak and sweet chestnut. To walk through these woods with the sunlight dappling through the leaves and the deer moving quietly around you, is utterly refreshing and calming . There are wide open spaces, where skylarks nest, or which are covered with seas of bracken. Sometimes you see antlers rising magnificently above the bracken, or turning a corner come face to face with a hind and her fawn. The deer are red, or fallow, and graze in large herds across the park. They have been there since 1515, and the park is known to have been a royal park in the 13th century. At the highest point is the famous view of St. Paul's, which you can see through a ride cut arrow-straight through a wood. At the very end, filling the gap completely, is the familiar dome, 12 miles away. Just now the bracken is beginning to turn and the green seas are patched with brown and gold. The deer will soon start their rut and primeval bellowings will sound from the depths of the woods. I like to think of the park at night, when everyone has gone home and the gates are shut, the foxes and the owls come out and the night is filled with strange rustlings.

Monday, 21 September 2009

More on Europe

It seems that the Czechs may come to our rescue over the so-called Lisbon Treaty. A group of Czech Eurosceptics are mounting a legal challenge to their country's ratification of the treaty, which could last months and possibly until next summer, which would be after our General Election. So even if Ireland votes Yes, the Czechs could delay matters long enough for the UK to have a referendum (which we are clearly not going to get under this government, in spite of its promises). If David Cameron fulfils his promise of a referendum after the Conservatives return to power, before the treaty is ratified by the Czechs, the chances are we will vote No and scupper the whole thing. If the Czechs and the Irish both vote Yes before our election, and Cameron is forced to fulfil his promise, it risks becoming a vote on whether we should remain in the EU at all. 70% of people in this country want at least the chance to vote. Incidentally, President Sarkozy of France "exploded with rage" when he heard the news, and is threatening the Czechs with unspecified "consequences" - which illustrates how things work in the oh-so-democratic EU.