Friday, 31 July 2009

Chatsworth, Derbyshire

This is an extract from the Diaries of James Lees Milne, who travelled the length and breadth of the country on behalf of the National Trust in its early days. The date is 1948. Debo & Andrew drove me to Chatsworth this morning. The site of the house, the surroundings unsurpassed. The grass emerald green as in Ireland. The Derwent river, although so far below the house, which it reflects, seems to dominate it. Black-and-white cattle in great herds. All the hills have trees along their ridges. Neatness and order are the rule although, Andrew says, there are fourteen gardeners instead of forty before the last war. ........The uniform yellow sandstone [of the house] helps link the old block to Wyatville's towered colonnade, which might be taken out of a Claude painting. We wandered through the gardens, greyhounds streaming across the lawns. Andrew turned on the fountain from the willow tree. Water not only drips from the tree but jets from nozzles all around. .............. Andrew let me look through two volumes of Inigo Jones drawings of masque costumes. Henry VII's prayer book, with illuminations, given by the King to his daughter, who was asked to pray for him, inscription in his kingly hand. The scale of Chatsworth is gigantic, beyond comprehension (like St. Peter's, Rome) until experienced. The detail of outside stonework of high quality, notably the antlers over windows, frostwork in the central courtyard, the panels of trophies. ............. As a couple the Hartingtons [soon to be the Devonshires] seem perfection - both young, handsome and inspired to accomplish great things. He has a splendid war record and won the MC ............... Both full of faith in themselves and their responsibilites. She has all the Mitford virtues and none of the profanity. I admire them very much.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

England Expects

by Ogden Nash Let us pause to consider the English. Who when they pause to consider themselves they get all reticently thrilled and tinglish, Because every Englishman is convinced of one thing, viz: That to be an Englishman is to belong to the most exclusive club there is: A club to which benighted bounders of Frenchmen and Germans and Italians et cetera cannot even aspire to belong, Because they don't even speak English, and the Americans are worst of all because they speak it wrong. Englishmen are distinguished by their traditions and ceremonials, And also by their affection for their colonies and their contempt for their colonials. When foreigners ponder world affairs, why sometimes by doubts they are smitten, But Englishmen know instinctively that what the world needs most is whatever is best for Great Britain. They have a splendid navy and they conscientiously admire it, And every English schoolboy knows that John Paul Jones was only an unfair American pirate. English people disclaim sparkle and verve, But speak without reservations of their Anglo-Saxon reserve. After listening to little groups of English ladies and gentlemen at cocktail parties and in hotels and Pullmans, of defining Anglo-Saxon reserve I despair, But I think it consists of assuming that nobody else is there, And I shudder to think where Anglo-Saxon reserve ends when I consider where it begins, Which is in a few high-pitched statements of what one's income is and just what foods give one a rash and whether one and one's husband or wife sleep in a double bed or twins. All good young Englishmen go to Oxford or Cambridge and they all write and publish books before their graduation, And I often wondered how they did it until I realised that they have to do it because their genteel accents are so developed that they can no longer understand each other's spoken words so the written word is their only means of intercommunication. England is the last home of the aristocracy, and the art of protecting the aristocracy from the encroachments of commerce has been raised to quite an art, Because in America a rich butter-and-egg man is only a rich butter-and-egg man or at most an honorary LL.D of some hungry university, but in England why before he knows it he is Sir Benjamin Buttery, Bart. Anyhow, I think the English people are sweet, And we might as well get used to them because when they slip and fall they always land on their own or somebody else's feet.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Tony Blair

I was amused to read the following in this morning's Daily Telegraph. Michael Sandle, an RA and a distinguished sculptor, said in The Oldie, about Tony Blair: "I knew the moment he was elected leader of the Labour Party that this was a most dangerous man - no sense of history, no culture, a complete philistine, but, most of all, because he was mixing up politics and faith. And now he's peddling religious platitudes through his faith foundation. He uses religion as an air-freshener to cover the stench of the rotting flesh he has caused. As for being Middle East peace envoy, it's like employing King Herod to be a child-minder." I couldn't agree more!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Rural Broadband

Herefordshire, among other rural counties, has a problem with broadband. Some areas of the county have the weakest connections in the entire country, and it is unlikely that BT will spend the money needed to address this. Herefordshire Council is looking for a way to solve the problem, and is working with Allpay, a Herefordshire-based company, who are trying out a rural broadband project involving the use of church steeples and towers to relay a super-speed service. It would need only a small box and a subscription. This idea is being welcomed by everyone - the Council, the churches, local businesses and everyone in the county who suffers in this way. It would certainly solve a problem which does not seem to interest the Government, which appears to have no plans whatsoever to help rural businesses in this respect - let alone country residents.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Labour and the Fox

Congratulations to Chloe Smith, 27 years old, the Conservatives' latest MP, who took Norwich North from Labour with a huge swing, converting a 5,000 Labour majority into a 7,000 Conservative one. During the campaign Labour apparently made use of a poster showing a picture of a winsome fox cub, with the caption: 'Vote Labour or the Fox Gets It'. Apart from its ambiguity (if you don't vote Labour they will do away with the fox?), it is a classic example of the way Labour plays on the prejudices of the urban masses to gain its own ends in what it regards as the class war. Well, it was a pathetic try and it didn't work.
Edward Heathcoat-Amory in The Daily Mail on 17th July wrote: "A poorly drafted law, introduced by Tony Blair in 2004 to try to buy off militant Leftwing backbenchers, the ban on fox-hunting has made a mockery of the law throughout rural England..Police have been utterly unable to police the legislation, with the Association of Chief Police Officers recently branding it as ' cumbersome' and 'unenforceable'. "

Friday, 24 July 2009

English Poetry

"The best of our English wisdom, and our clearest visions of the invisible, are enshrined in our poetry. Our best poetry is generally serious, moral, and often definitely religious in its aim". William Inge Dean of St. Paul's 1911-1934

Thursday, 23 July 2009

John Keats 1795 - 1821

Keats has been in the news recently with the re-opening of Keats House in Hampstead after a £500,000 renovation. Keats is the most romantic of the English Romantic Poets - well, Byron was pretty romantic too, but Keats has the advantages in that respect of Dying Young (aged 25), in Rome, and of a Wasting Disease, all of which make him extremely Romantic. There is a film opening soon about Keats' love affair with Fanny Brawne, the girl next door and as far as we know, his only love. The title of the film is Bright Star, and this sonnet, which he wrote on a blank page in his copy of Shakespeare's Poems, is where the title comes from:
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art -
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors -
No - yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever - or else swoon to death.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Well done, England!

Many congratulations to the England cricket team on winning the second Test Match at Lord's. It was a thrilling game, up to the last minute, with brilliant bowling by both Andrew Flintoff and Graeme Swann. It has been widely publicised that we had not beaten Australia at Lord's for 75 years, but it is not so well known that in fact we had not beaten them for 40 years before that, so we can said that it is only the second time it has happened in 115 years. Test cricket is like Wimbledon, or the Derby, or the Grand National - something we can all enjoy and get involved in, whether or not we follow the sport the rest of the year.

Monday, 20 July 2009

More About Wind Turbines

To return briefly to the vexed (and vexing) question of wind turbines, it is clear that we are being misled by the Government as to the extent of the destruction of our countryside that their plans would cause. To meet our peak demand of 56 gigawatts of electricity would require 112,000 turbines covering 11,000 square miles, or one eighth of Britian's entire land area. The new Infrastructure Planning Commission is being set up to force through thousands of the things over the wishes of local people and councils, who will have no democratic say in the matter. In the past we have been able to throw out such schemes, but once the all-powerful commission, which is the brainchild of Lord Mandelson (himself unelected and wielding far too much power in the land), is established, we will no longer have any right to oppose this madness, which will ruin our countryside to no useful purpose whatsoever.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Save The Acre

Did you know that in 2010 the acre as a unit of land measure is to be replaced by the hectare? I hardly need say that this is the result of an EU directive, with very little opposition from any of the groups which exist to protect our heritage. Land in this country has been measured in acres since at least the 13th century. It was calculated originally as the area which one man driving a plough pulled by one ox could expect to plough in a day. The word "acre" means "open field" in old English and an acre is a furlong (i.e. one furrow long) by a chain (22 yards). We have saved the pint, the pound and the mile from the Brussels dictators, surely we can also save the acre?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

White Satanic Mills

We have succeeded in getting rid of most of the dark satanic mills, but the Government has now decreed that we are to be subjected to "many thousands" of wind turbines. Something like 6,000 of these huge, ugly and virtually useless monsters are to be constructed over England's pleasant pastures and mountains green. They will, of course, be situated mostly in areas of outstanding natural beauty. They can be up to 300ft high and make a dreadful noise. And I don't think there is a great deal we can do about it. We have been told that we "must accept it".
Below is Matt Pritchett's take on the subject.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Jenkins' Ear

We probably all remember the War of Jenkins’ Ear from school. In 1731 Robert Jenkins, a part-time smuggler and pirate, was captured by the Spanish in the West Indies, tied to the mast and had his ear sliced off by the Spanish captain, who threatened to do the same to the King of England “if he is caught doing the same”. Jenkins made a dramatic fuss about the incident, but this insult to the honour of the nation was not avenged until 1738, when it was used as a pretext to declare war on Spain – really a dispute about the slave trade. One of the first actions of the war, which lasted from 1739 – 1742, resulted in the capture of Porto Bello, a silver-exporting town on the coast of Panama, taken in twenty-four hours by six ships of the line, under Admiral Edward Vernon. This victory was much celebrated in England, and in 1740, at a dinner in honour of the admiral, the song “Rule Britannia” (actually composed by a Scotsman, James Thomson) was sung for the very first time. And if you have ever wondered why the Portobello Road in London is so called, your answer is here!

Monday, 13 July 2009


The population of Britain will pass 70 million by 2028, it is claimed, in spite of policies by both major parties to prevent it. Our population at the moment is about 61 million, and 70 million is considered to be the maximum sustainable level. 70% of the increase will be down to immigration. This is essentially an English problem, since England takes on more than 20 times the immigrants that Scotland does and has already absorbed more than 11 times more immigrants than all the other home nations combined. Last year we became the most crowded major nation in Europe. It is just not possible for us to go on allowing people into this country. It may not be politically correct to say so, but we simply have to stop immigration, and very soon. The Tories plan an annual cap, and Labour have suggested a points-based system, but Migrationwatch UK claims that neither of these ideas will halt the inward tide. We are going to have to drop the pretence that immigration is a Good Thing and be a great deal stricter.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The English Language

"The greatest legacy the English have bequeathed the rest of humanity is their language. When an Icelander meets a Peruvian, each reaches for his English. Even in the Second World War, when the foundations were being laid for the Axis pact between Germany, Japan and Italy, Yosuke Matsuoka was negotiating for the Emperor in English. It is the medium of technology, science, travel and international politics. Three quarters of the world's mail is written in English, four fifths of all data stored on computers is in English and the language is used by two thirds of the world's scientists. It is the Malay of the world, easy to learn, very easy to speak badly; a little learning will take you quite a long way, which is why an estimated one quarter of the entire world population can speak the language to some degree. By the late 1990s, the British Council was predicting that the turn of the millennium 1 billion (a thousand million) people would be learning English." Jeremy Paxman: The English

Friday, 10 July 2009

Seriousness & Triviality

Reading a review this morning of a new production of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, I started thinking on his epigram about "treating all trivial things very seriously and the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality". This is indeed the English way, to play down truly important things and exaggerate when it comes to less important ones. We would for instance say "My father had rather a bad time during the war", but "We had a ghastly holiday, we met these terrible people and nearly died of boredom". We take things such as wine, dogs and horses, the weather, gardens, and so on very seriously indeed (these are serious matters!), but when it comes to life and death, we tend to make light of it and look with disdain on "making a fuss" or "feeling sorry for yourself". This is probably why other nations think we are cold and reserved, but it is as good a way as any of getting through life.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The English Legal System

"Digests and codes imposed in the Roman manner by an omnipotent state on a subject people were alien to the spirit and tradition of England. The law was already there, in the customs of the land, and it was only a matter of discovering it by diligent study and comparison of recorded decisions in earlier cases and applying it to the particular dispute before the court...... The liberties of Englishmen rested not on any enactment of the State but on immemorial slow-growing custom declared by juries of free men who gave their verdicts case by case in open court." Winston Churchill: A History of the English-Speaking Peoples The first sentence of this extract to me describes exactly what we are having forced upon us by the European Union. We should not accept it, and our politicians should be the first to protect our ancient rights and traditions instead of cravenly miring us ever deeper in an alien culture.

Monday, 6 July 2009

London 1802 (and 2009?)

A sonnet by Wordsworth. Milton! Thou shoulds't 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 hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea; Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free, So didst thou travel on life's common way, In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart The lowliest duties on itself did lay.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Britannia in Trafalgar Square

The controversy over the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square has reached new heights with the "living sculpture", starting this week at the suggestion of Anthony Gormley. For 100 days the plinth will be occupied for one hour at a time by members of the public who are free to do whatever they wish - and some of them are going to be very peculiar! Some months ago, when The Daily Telegraph was featuring the fourth plinth, I wrote them a letter, which they published, suggesting a fine bronze statue of Britannia, complete with helmet, shield and trident, to remind us of our rapidly vanishing sovereignty. I am therefore very pleased to see that one of the people who are going to occupy the plinth for their allotted hour is going to be dressed as just that: Britannia. Helen Barker, a 52-year-old medical secretary from Chester, has a slot next Tuesday (sadly at 1am). She said: "I knew within seconds of being picked who I would go as. I will have the helmet, shield and trident. I am a true Brit so this is a wonderful opportunity to be on the plinth as one of the great British symbols".

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Count the Words

The Lord's Prayer contains 69 words. The Ten Commandments contain 297 words. The American Declaration of Independence contains 310 words. The European Directive on Exporting Duck Eggs contains 28,911 words.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Being English

Cecil Rhodes said: "To be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life". and "Ask any man what nationality he would prefer to be and ninety-nine out of a hundred will tell you that they would prefer to be Englishmen". And it is said that a Frenchman, wishing to flatter Lord Palmerston, said to him: "If I were not French, I would wish to be English". Lord Palmerston replied: "If I were not English I would wish to be English".