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:


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".