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

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
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

I do NOT believe in:

The European Union
Political correctness
Uncontrolled immigration
The marginalisation and neglect of the rural population
High taxation and stealth taxes
Extremism of all kinds
Intolerance and banning things
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
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

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, 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!