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


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 :

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



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,

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.