Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Queen Visits Eton

I have received the following despatch from my grandson, who was among those present:

On Thusday 27th May Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II made a formal visit to Eton to inspect the Combined Cadet Force on their 150th Anniversary and to unveil a plaque in commemoration of the 44 Old Etonians who have, since its inception, received the award of the Victoria Cross or its equivalent.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at the main entrance to the College at 11:15.  A 21-gun salute from College Field, a games pitch at Eton, heralded her arrival.

The whole school assembled to welcome the queen as she processed through School Yard to the Founder’s Statue, where she shook hands with Eton’s headmaster, Tony Little. From there she made her way to a dais situated at the far end of School Yard to inspect a Guard of Honour. At the end of the inspection the headmaster congratulated Eton’s Combined Cadet Force (CCF), as it is the longest running corps ever.

Eton’s Captain of School then stepped to the microphone to propose a three cheers for Her Majesty, to which the School and those assembled responded heartily.

Her Majesty and His Royal Highness were then escorted to the Museum of Eton Life, followed by a lunch with the leading figures of the School.    All in all the day was a wonderful event for Eton.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Countryside in May

We are spending the weekend in Herefordshire, loveliest of English counties,which at this moment of May is looking at its most heartbreakingly beautiful.    The hedgerows are bowed with waterfalls of blossoming hawthorn, the verges foaming with cow parsley.   The meadows are golden with buttercups or starred with daisies,while the cottage gardens are bright with aubrietia, clematis, lilac and laburnum (which my mother-in-law always called Golden Chains,though I have never heard that anywhere else).   The trees in the Herefordshire cider orchards are thick with pink-and-white apple blossom, perhaps the most beautiful blossom of all, with its promise of future bounty.   Meanwhile the swallows have returned and the garden birds are singing their heads off.   This morning I was delighted to hear a cuckoo calling from the woods.

For me, the brilliantly yellow rape fields are a little too garish for the gentle colours of the English countryside, but there is no doubt that they are spectacular and form a striking contrast to the pale green of the young-leafed trees around them.

It is hard to imagine anywhere better to be, as the longed-for warmth and sunshine illuminates the landscape.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Bluebell Time

It is bluebell time in English woods, one of my favourite moments of the year.   It is always a great thrill of pleasure to see that unearthly blue glow under the young green of the trees.

Recently the English bluebell has become an endangered species, owing to the introduction of the Spanish bluebell, an invasive species, which is hybridising the native flower.   The English version (naturally!) is more beautiful and much more scented, and is what we have been used to seeing in our woods for centuries.   Below is the true English bluebell.

This is the Spanish version:

It would be a huge pity to lose our native bluebells, but it will probably eventually happen, as the hybrids are strong and able to thrive in many more environmental conditions.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Flower of Cities All

I have been watching far too much television over the last week, and the political drama has indeed been gripping.   One thing has struck me however:  the beauty of London in late Spring.   As the press helicopters swooped dramatically over Central London, following the comings and goings, we were treated to wonderful views of the capital, its lovely, dignified buildings cushioned in the green of the parks and gardens, the river glinting between.   Watching Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg at their Downing Street love-in yesterday, I was transfixed by the garden of No. 10, which looked marvellous in the sunlight, full of brilliant green lawns, wisteria and flowering plants.   I am sure I saw a green parakeet flash by at one point, which is not surprising as they are everywhere now, even in the heart of the city.

The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace with its garden and lake, Whitehall and all its majestic buildings, Downing Street, St. James's Park, Green Park, made a stunning background to the politics and made me realise how lucky we are to have such a beautiful capital city.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Many of us woke up yesterday morning with a feeling of dread, fearing that Gordon Brown's pseudo-resignation had stitched up the Conservatives by removing an obstacle to a Labour/Liberal Democrat deal and thus allowing the two losing parties to form a coalition government.   With an astonishing speed, only a few hours later the Lab/LibDem talks had collapsed, Gordon Brown had really resigned and David Cameron was Prime Minister.

Nothing in Brown's premiership became him like the leaving it.   He resigned with dignity, even though it was regrettably late.   The country has a Conservative government again at last and a profound relief is the prevailing feeling.   There may be details which are not ideal, and Cameron has a huge task ahead of him, to put right the terrible damage of 13 years of Labour rule, but the omens are good, the will is there, and if the Tories really can work with the LibDems, great things can be achieved.

I am, however, very sorry that Michael Gove is not to have the Education brief.   His ideas for state-funded independent schools are excellent and deserve to be implemented.   This seems to me to be an opportunity sadly missed.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Paul Sandby at the RA

As a distraction from politics, I recommend a lovely small exhibition at the Royal Academy.   The 18thC watercolourist Paul Sandby's skilful, detailed landscapes chronicle a world that was on the edge of disappearing.   He painted a peaceful, pastoral Britain with a clarity of observation and a fascination with ordinary life that were soon to vanish as the Romantic movement took over.   Look closely at the figures he depicts, people going about their daily life among their animals and their tools of trade, their clothes and gestures lovingly portrayed, as they move through scenes of village and country, terraces and trees.

The North Terrace, Windsor Castle, Looking West

Paul Sandby, and his elder brother Thomas, both founding members of the Royal Academy in 1768, were employed by the King to paint views of Windsor Castle and the Park, where Thomas was a Deputy Ranger, and many of these works from the Royal Collection are shown here at Burlington House.   He was also an engraver and a satirist, and his watercolours, serene as they appear, make it clear that he knew he was observing huge social change.

He is generally known as 'the father of English watercolour painting' (which is a peculiarly English medium), but he is much more than just a topographer.   I guarantee that an hour spent among his beautiful and luminous works will calm the spirit and make it easier to face the hurly-burly of doubt and worry which we are currently undergoing.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Scuppered by Scotland

If we look at one of those maps coloured to represent the hue of each constituency, it is immediately clear that almost the whole of England is blue, with only the inner cities adding a red tinge, and the yellow of the Liberal Democrats in Wales and the South West.   Our problems start at the Border, where of 59 constituencies only one is Conservative.   It is not hard to do the maths that show that if Scotland were taken out of the equation the Conservatives would have an overwhelming majority in the rest of the country.

Scotland has its own parliament, which manages its own affairs in which Westminster has no say.   We, however, in England, have to put up with 59 Scottish MPs voting on matters which do not affect their own constituents, only us.  

All three main parties have indicated that they would support some kind of electoral reform.   At present, Labour has an inbuilt advantage anyway, plus the huge advantage outlined above.   Any electoral reform should take the West Lothian question into account, as well as the necessary boundary changes that would make matters fairer.

England has voted for a Conservative government.   It can't be right that our clearly expressed view can be scuppered by the Scots.   Should Scotland be able to send MPs to Westminster?   I say not.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Still Waiting

As I write this morning it has become clear that a hung parliament is the only possible outcome of the election, and it still remains to be seen who will be our Prime Minister.

It has been an extraordinary election, not the least extraordinary aspect being that people have not seen through Gordon Brown enough to throw him out decisively.   I find this hard to understand and can only conclude that Labour voters will vote Labour even if their leader is the worst prime minister we have ever had, who has caused such damage to the country that it will take years to repair, if we ever can.   I can't imagine that even the most fervent Labour supporters really want Brown back, but I suppose for them the Conservatives would be worse.

So we are still waiting - and still hoping.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Now Is The Time.........

Thirteen years ago, on May 2nd 1997, I watched Tony Blair's triumphant entry into Downing Street, and I thought to myself "This is going to be a long dark night for England".   But even I didn't think it would last for 13 years and that our country would be brought to the state it is now in.   Gordon Brown has ruined our economy by his reckless spending and sheer incompetence, and yet appears to think that although he got us into this mess, he is the one to get us out of it.   Well, I am quite sure he isn't, and so, I hope, are enough sensible voters in the country to make sure that he no longer has his hands on the controls.   I am not even going to go into all the other ghastly aspects of the England created by Blair and Brown between them.

To anyone, therefore, who has not yet voted (provided they are voting Conservative!) - get out there and do it!   This is the most closely-fought election for a generation, and it is vitally important that we do vote and get this dreadful government out.   I hope tomorrow to be watching David Cameron's entry into Downing Street, with huge relief and hope.

Here's to a better tomorrow!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Differences Between Us

If a Conservative doesn't like guns, he doesn't buy one
If a Socialist doesn't like guns, he wants all guns outlawed

If a Conservative is a vegetarian, he doesn't eat meat.
If a Socialist is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.

If a Conservative sees a foreign threat, he thinks about how to defeat his enemy.
A Socialist wonders how to surrender gracefully and still look good.

If a Conservative is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.
If a Socialist is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.

If a black man or hispanic are Conservative, they see themselves as independently successful.
Their Socialist counterparts see themselves as victims, in need of government protection.

If a Conservative is down and out, he thinks how to better his situation.
A Socialist wonders who is going to take care of him.

If a Conservative doesn't like a talk-show host, he switches channels.
Socialists demand that those they don't like be shut down.

If a Conservative is a non-believer, he doesn't go to church.
A Socialist non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced (unless it's a foreign religion, of course)

If a Conservative decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or chooses a job that provides it.
A Socialist demands that the rest of us pay for his.

If a Conservative slips and falls in a store, he gets up, laughs and is embarrassed.
If a Socialist slips and falls, he grabs his neck, moans theatrically, and then sues.

If a Conservative reads this, he'll forward it so his friends can have a laugh.
A Socialist will delete it because he is "offended".

Saturday, 1 May 2010

A Ray of Hope?

The acquittal earlier this week of science teacher Peter Harvey, charged with the attempted murder of a 14-year-old boy, is a rare victory for justice and common sense and brought a sigh of relief to us all.

Mr. Harvey, whose 25-year record as a teacher was utterly exemplary, not to say inspirational, lost his temper when goaded beyond bearing by an unruly class of badly-behaved children, whom he was powerless to discipline or punish, thanks to the policies of the Labour Government and the EU, who have combined to make teachers' lives a misery.   This particular boy, whose own record was one of constant disruption and bad behaviour, swore at Mr. Harvey, who, at the end of his tether and in a moment of utter despair and anger, dragged him out of the room and hit him over the head with a dumb-bell.    It took a jury less than two hours to acquit him of attempted murder, though he had already pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of causing grievous bodily harm. 

Discipline in the classroom is a huge problem in our schools today, and while I don't think teachers should go around hitting pupils on the head with iron weights, it is really important that they should have some means of punishing troublesome children.   We should support our teachers, not persecute them, and we should be grateful in the present state of affairs in this country that anyone wants to go into teaching.   Mr. Harvey should never have been prosecuted, and it is shameful that he was.   Congratulations to the judge and jury who were able to ensure that justice prevailed.