Monday, 31 August 2009

Better Off Out

It was reported last week that our net contribution to the EU is soon to rise to £6.4 billion p.a, the equivalent of £730,000 per hour. It is possible that the real cost of membership may be even as much as £120 billion, or £2,000 per year for every person in the country. Where all this money is going is anybody's guess, since the EU accounts have not been signed off for years, and the only person who tried to do anything about it was sacked. As a country we are now in the position of borrowing money to send to the EU, while our soldiers die in Afghanistan for lack of funds to pay for their equipment and people here are told to tighten their belts. What have we EVER got out of the EU? Can anybody point to a tangible benefit? Mrs. Thatcher negotiated a deal to keep our net contribution down, but our rebate was thrown away with typical ineptitude by Tony Blair, and in any case the promises she got from Europe were never kept. Now all we do is pour money out of this country into the pockets of corrupt officials in foreign countries, who take no notice whatsoever of the EU edicts to which we adhere so slavishly and which are ruining all our lives. We would be better off out, and most of the nation now agrees with this. We must have a referendum soon!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Englishness - A Quote

“Yes, there is an emerging Englishness which is still thought to be slightly incorrect. Something is bursting to come out. But sadly, the English intelligentsia, or the liberal English middle class, which ought to be leading political developments, ought to be taking over this emerging feeling; saying yes, let's make a democratic, tolerant, forward-looking nation; is just sitting back and saying: "English nationalism, awful, horrible, leave it to the yobs."” Neil Ascherson

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A Norfolk Poem

The Coast: Norfolk by Frances Cornford As on the highway's quiet edge He mows the grass beside the hedge, The old man has for company The distant, grey, salt-smelling sea, A poppied field, a cow and calf, The finches on the telegraph. Across his faded back a hone, He slowly, slowly scythes alone In silence of the wind-soft air, With ladies' bedstraw everywhere, With whitened corn, and tarry poles, And far-off gulls like risen souls.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Well Done England!

After last Sunday's events at the Oval, what can I do but congratulate the English cricket team once again? It was a splendid match, and our bowlers rose magnificently to the occasion. It has been an exciting series and it is wonderful that the Ashes are home again. I can see a time in the future when it might seem strange to our descendants that people were enthralled by a game that lasted five days and sometimes never reached a conclusion, but it seems to me that test cricket is the essence of sport: subtle, complex, skilful, strategic, demanding, compelling. All the more pity that not everyone can watch it on television. Would the £18 million that the BBC is paying Jonathan Ross not be better spent on bringing our national game to the screens of everyone in England?

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Essence of Englishness

I read in the Daily Telegraph this morning that what is described as a 'tourism quango' has developed a scent designed to capture the essence of England. The scent is called "By George" and is intended to promote the country during the Ashes series. Those who smell it will be taken 'on a journey through an English seaside garden with salty sea air notes mingling with damp earth', as well as 'subtle exhaust fumes of the lawnmower'. I can't wait to try it!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

From Corot to Monet

There is a lovely small exhibition at the National Gallery at the moment, charting the development of outdoor landscape painting by such 19thC artists as Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau, Simon Denis, Jean-François Millet and so on, up to the works of Claude Monet, and tracing their influence on the Impressionists. All the 90 or so paintings come from the National Gallery's own collection, and the exhibition is free. Most of them are quite small and every one a pleasure to look at. We are lucky that the National Gallery has such a magnificent collection.
Although Corot painted mainly in Italy and France, Monet (as we know) did paint in England. Here is one of his pictures from the exhibition, The Thames Below Westminster:

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Holidaying in England

We have all been encouraged this year to stay in this country for our holidays, and yesterday I was talking to a friend who every year spends a fortnight in August on the North Norfolk coast, which she would not miss for the world.
Below is a watercolour by Martin Hardie of The Windmill, Cley-next-the-Sea, a lovely evocation of the wide Norfolk skies and windswept distances.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Brown or Blair?

The question sometimes - quite often - arises: is Gordon Brown the worst prime minister ever, or should that be Tony Blair? Brown is certainly the most obvious candidate at the moment: dour, humourless, indecisive, arrogant, oblivious to anything but his own agenda and blind to his own failings, he is clearly a total incompetent. But most of the damage he has done to this country, bad as it is, was done when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now Blair! Although he was successful in terms of being elected three times and surviving for so many years, the destruction he succeeded in wreaking on the United Kingdom, and particularly on England, during those ten terrible years is so comprehensive and enduring that I doubt we shall ever totally recover. It is all the more galling that he is swanning around the world making money on the back of our misery and actually seemingly quite likely to become President of the European Union, when that dread title becomes a reality. It's a hard choice.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Hunting Act: Another Case Collapses

A case brought under the Hunting Act collapsed last week. Robert McCarthy, Huntsman of the Percy Hunt in Northumberland had been charged with illegally hunting a mammal but the District Judge Stephen Earl ruled on Thursday that there was insufficient evidence and threw the case out. Robert McCarthy was charged over an alleged incident on 12th November 2008 and three days had been set aside at South East Northumberland Magistrates to hear it. Following the collapse of the case Mr McCarthy has been awarded costs.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Churchill's English

That great Englishman, Sir Winston Churchill, wrote of his early life: "By being so long in the lowest form [at Harrow] I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek, and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. As I remained in the Third Form three times as long as anyone else, I had three times as much of it. I learned it thoroughly. Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary English sentence, which is a noble thing"

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Volunteer

In the wake of the recent deaths of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, our very last World War I veterans, here is a poem I love: The Volunteer by Herbert Asquith Here lies the clerk who half his life had spent Toiling at ledgers in a city grey, Thinking that so his days would drift away With no lance broken in life's tournament: Yet ever 'twixt the books and his bright eyes The gleaming eagles of the legions came, And horsemen, charging under phantom skies, Went thundering past beneath the oriflamme. And now those waiting dreams are satisfied; From twilight to the halls of dawn he went; His lance is broken; but he lies content With that high hour, in which he lived and died, And falling thus, he wants no recompense, Who found his battle in the last resort; Nor needs he any hearse to bear him hence, Who goes to join the men of Agincourt.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

An American in England

from Notes From a Small Island, by Bill Bryson "We drove home over the tops, a winding, 6-mile drive of unutterable loveliness, up on to the Wuthering Heights-like expanses around Kirkby Fell, with boundless views of Northern glory, and then began the descent into the serene, cupped majesty of Malhamdale, the little lost world that had been my home for seven years. Halfway down, I had my wife stop the car by a field gate. My favourite view in the world is there, and I got out to have a look. You can see almost the whole of Malhamdale; sheltered and snug beneath steep, imposing hills, with its arrow-straight drystone walls climbing up impossibly ambitious slopes, its clustered hamlets, its wonderful little two-room schoolhouse, the old church with its sycamore and tumbling tombstones, the roof of my local pub, and in the centre of it all, obscured by trees, our old stone house, which itself is far older than my native land. It looked so peaceful and wonderful that I could almost have cried, and yet it was only a tiny part of this small, enchanted island. Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realised what it was that I loved about Britain - which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad - Marmite, village fêtes, country lanes, people saying 'mustn't grumble', and 'I'm terribly sorry but', people apologising to me when I conk them with a careless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays - every bit of it. What a wondrous place this was - crazy as f**k, or course, but adorable to the tiniest degree. What other country, after all, could possibly have come up with place names like Tooting Bec and Farleigh Wallop, or a game like cricket that goes on for three days and never seems to start? Who else would think it not the least odd to make their judges wear little mops on their heads, compel the Speaker of the House of Commons to sit on something called the Woolsack, or take pride in a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy? What other nation in the world could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, the Open University, Gardeners' Question Time, and the chocolate digestive biscuit? None, of course." PS He is wrong about the Woolsack - it is the Lord Chancellor who sits on that!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Magna Carta

There are four original copies of Magna Carta left in the world, and these have recently been granted World Heritage Status, being admitted by Unesco to the Memory of the World Register in recognition of their value to social liberty. The best preserved copy is kept in Salisbury Cathedral; the British Library has two, and Lincoln Cathedral the fourth. King John was forced to sign Magna Carta, which limited the power of the monarchy and established the principle that the law must stand even above the king, at Runnymede, near Windsor, in 1215. Here is a brief extract: "No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor send upon him, except by the legal judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny, or delay, right or justice".

Friday, 7 August 2009

Cider Song

by G. K. Chesterton THE wine they drink in Paradise They make in Haute Lorraine; God brought it burning from the sod To be a sign and signal rod That they that drink the blood of God Shall never thirst again. The wine they praise in Paradise They make in Ponterey, The purple wine of Paradise, But we have better at the price; It's wine they praise in Paradise, It's cider that they pray. The wine they want in Paradise They find in Plodder's End, The apple wine of Hereford, Of Hafod Hill and Hereford, Where woods went down to Hereford, And there I had a friend. The soft feet of the blessed go In the soft western vales, The road of the silent saints accord, The road from heaven to Hereford, Where the apple wood of Hereford Goes all the way to Wales.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Here is an update on the letter I posted a couple of days ago. Another DT reader, Mr. John A. Ball of East Sussex, has written today: Sir, Roger Mason was correct to offer a Master of Foxhounds as a referee for his shotgun licence. In his Palliser novels, Trollope sets out the order of precedence in a county: first, the Lord Lieutenant, second, the Master of Foxhounds and only third, the MP.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

A Lover of England

“I often ask myself why I love England so much. There is so much I detest about her: our Labour leaders, the crude, uneducated, spoilt lower classes. And yet how small a thing this is compared with the grand sweep of history which is England, the green fields, the quiet rivers, the dark woods and the chalk downs, a lovely country inhabited by a race that is true and good at heart, brave and resolute, and, as human beings go, honest.” H.V. Morton

Monday, 3 August 2009

Which Would You Trust?

Letter in this morning's Daily Telegraph, from Mr. Roger Mason, of Devon: Sir, I was surprised to have my shotgun licence application rejected, owing to the fact that the co-signatory was unsatisfactory. Apparently the occupation of Master of Foxhounds which had been written in the relevant box did not represent a person of sufficient standing in the community. The firearms officer politely suggested that it should be an MP or someone similar. At least, in these austere times, the police still retain a sense of humour.