Sunday, 29 January 2012


I love St Paul's Cathedral (as everything by Wren) but it has no spirituality. The mediaeval cathedrals do if only slightly because they were once Catholic, though now low-key, polite and full of military insignia and gift shops. Religion in England is a peculiarly depressing thing thanks mostly to Anglicanism – even English Catholicism is slightly tinged with the sadness of Anglicanism. Catholicism in Romania had a distinctly Orthodox tinge with much invocation of the saints. Priests behave like the Catholic priests of my boyhood in England – are deferred to automatically. And what is surprising they are all right-wing. In Romania in fact even poets are right-wing.

The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it

‎"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it (George Bernard Shaw). I posted this on my wall in Facebook and a flurry of Romanians clicked like.

I guessed Romanians would like this. It is only half-true, though. Cynics do not observe everything.  

But Romanian are a very religious people who strongly believe in original sin and Man’s fallen nature. Which after all is the only Christian dogma which is empirically verifiable. Though Romanians lack the infinite regret in condemning sin which is the mark of the perfect Christian. On the contrary they have a relish for condemning it. Even sometimes when they commit the same sins themselves. In fact especially when they commit the same sins themselves.

For a long time I thought when Romanians told me about how X was stealing and Y got his money through connections and Z slept her way to a position of power I thought this meant they disapproved and found out later they did not at all. Rather naïf  of me.

Romanians are always terrified of lua teapa (being skewered or conned, to be impaled or literally to receive a stake) and so always believe the worst and are often right.

Syria on the eve of the horror.

I should like the unspeakable Assad to win decisively in Syria, faute de mieux, but it is not possible. What comes next will be much worse. For the Christians especially but for everyone. 

The brave rebels are the majority Sunnis  fighting for their democratic right to take over the state and to oppress the minorities. It took me a while to realise this but not so long as the BBC.

No one is going to introduce a Scandinavian type system of government in Syria. Quite the contrary the Baathists in Syria as in Iraq are secular and believe in women's rights. 

And the new Libyan situation is worse than under Gadaffi and a hundred thousand Christians have left Egypt since Mubarak fell.

I feel like it is August 1914 or the first weeks of 1861 in the USA and things are moving inevitably to an unthinkable disaster, people see it but do not stop it. Much better to have let the Southern states secede or Austria to take Serbia than what happened.

Is this also true of the German invasion of Poland in 1939?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Very good news

For the last 70 years we have been in the grip of a heart disease epidemic that began in the 1940s, rose to a peak in the 1970s and then began to fall. All Western countries were affected and all followed broadly the same pattern. Now it is suddenly falling. No one knows why deaths from heart attacks rose or why they are falling around the world. A good reminder not to believe researchers when they say they do know why things happen. Experts do not know much and are usually pretty incurious. "Les savants ne sont pas curieux.

How odd that no-one noticed the close connection between lung cancer and smoking until the 60s. One day climate scientists will I hope explode the current climate warning panic and genetics will explode many idées reçues about sex and race too. 

Many of the world's problems are caused by second and third rate academics. The rest are caused by second and third rate teachers.

Of Prime Ministers and pubs and Catherine of Aragon

John Major talked of warm beer — along with cricket, green suburbs and dog lovers — in a much-mocked 1993 speech on the characteristics that defined Britain. How odd that he omitted pubs from the list.

Caterine la Fidele, or Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, gave her name to every pub called the Cat & Fiddle. I didn't know this - a charming relic of Catholic England -or about the Marquess of Granby. Though the books on my father’s shelves would have told me. I did  know that the Goat and Compasses – where is that pub? – was a corruption of the Cromwellian pub name ‘God encompasseth us’. Even if they did not love cakes and ale the puritans were not teetotallers. That came much later.

Were John Major or any of our Prime Ministers pub-lovers? I can't imagine it. Maybe Wellington but I doubt it.

David Cameron was pictured unconvincingly in a pub during the elction – looking as uncomfortable as Margaret Thatcher holding that lamb in 1979 or Harold Macmillan sitting in a new built council house when he was Minister of Housing. Anthony Blair took French PM Lionel Jospin to the Dun Cow in Sedgefield, County Durham in 1998 and US President George Bush in 2003 but I am not convinced he went in for a quick one very often. Can you imagine Salisbury or Heath in the pub? John Wilkes or Boris yes but Boris will not be PM nor was Wilkes. Ditto Charles James Fox and George Brown.

''We had the best of educations"

''We had the best of educations — in fact, we went to school every day — ' 'I've been to a day-school, too,' said Alice; 'you needn't be so proud as all that.' 'With extras?' asked the Mock Turtle a little anxiously. Yes,' said Alice, 'we learned French and music.' 'And washing?' said the Mock Turtle. 'Certainly not!' said Alice indignantly. 'Ah! then yours wasn't a really good school,' said the Mock Turtle in a tone of great relief.

Sir John Gielgud was sublime as the Mock Turtle in Jonathan Miller’s druggy-seeming Alice, which does not preserve any of the spirit of Carrol but is a great and very English work of art. And infinitely better than the Johnny Depp version. I saw 3 minutes of the Depp version, all special effects instead of imagination or acting, and told my niece the Miller version was way superior but though I bought it for her as a present several years ago she vehemently and I thought rather rudely disagreed. She is 12..

In the 60s - I can actually remember this just - the Victorian Age seemed close and you feel this watching the Miller Alice. By the mid-70s it seemed infinitely distant.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


A recklessly extravagant friend of mine (now penniless and this is not a coincidence) loves Porsches. He used to own one. For me  Porsche embodies everthing that's boring and idiotic about modern llife. For him they represent an escape from his childhood on a council estate where his school dinners were paid for by the state. This is still is no excuse for materialism in my opinion.

He said in self-defence he doesn’t like the people who drive Porsche SUVs which he regards with the scorn of a belted marquess for a counterjumper. But it's not the owners I object to - it's the people who think Porsches are interesting that make me feel sad.

The only car that ever appealed to me for a moment was a Morris Minor. But walking is best and the metro or bus or taxi is much less bother than a car. And one does not have to park a bus or worry lest the metro is broken into. And in Bucharest a man who drives his own car must be insane – taxis are cheap and plentiful and the town is gridlocked and there is almost no parking.

I remember how I despised the boys in the playground when we were 5 who were fascinated by cars and motorbikes and swore I would never be like them - that is my tragedy. Dr Johnson said there was no joy so intense as a carriage ride at a gallop alongside a beautiful woman so it is all sexual. On the other hand Charles Lamb said only those who have gone mad know what true happiness means.

Still whizzing around London in Porsche  must have been fun if that is the kind of thing you like - I admit a set in Albany appeals to me if i really rack my brain to think of presents I would like (which I did as an exercise while reading The Four Hour Week – I found it very difficult. And a Saville Row suits too which I could afford but never get round to ordering. but I rarely buy myself presents although I was extravagant in Jermyn St in the pre- Christmas sales. A good club in London would also make me happy. My friend wants to be James Bond, I wanted to be Lord Macaulay.

I have always had  a horror of materialism but there are worse sins.

Herr Porsche said something good: When a problem has no solution it ceases to be a problem and becomes a fact.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Women and children first! (2)

I have not followed the Costa Concordia sinking except the very funny transcripts of the conversations between the captain and  his superiors. He sounds like Chico Marx without the skill at playing the violin. Mark Steyn laments that they failed to observe the rule of women and children first.

There was no orderly evacuation from the Costa Concordia, just chaos punctuated by individual acts of courage from, for example, an Hungarian violinist in the orchestra and a ship's entertainer in a Spiderman costume, both of whom helped children to safety, the former paying with his life.

And really after having been forced to believe in sex (I hate the word gender, used except as a grammatical term) equality as a principle of overwhelming importance for forty years why expect men to surrender their lives for a principle – patriarchy, chivalry – which has become almost a crime to defend in public?

Even in the mid- nineteenth century A.H. Clough was not sure: 
Am I prepared to lay down my life for the British female?Really, who knows?

He had in mind saving the British female from a fate worse than death but nowadays it is agreed that there is no fate worse than death.

I wish Britain was one tenth as democratic or as free as the U.S.A. Paul is the first republican with a small or big r in 50 years. I don't like Mitt, very much less Newt,  but all are infinitely better than Bush. Well except Herman Cain or perhaps Sarah Palin.

Rick Santorum would have been a much better man for conservatives to group around than the appalling, corrupt, adulterous Newt. Not only does he say that marriage is for men and women and that homosexual acts are not very Christian but he even said this which might get him cautioned by the Bill in the UK:

Look at Europe. Europe is on the way to losing. The most popular male name in Belgium -- Mohammad. It’s the fifth most popular name in France among boys. They are losing because they are not having children, they have no faith, they have nothing to counteract it. They are balkanizing Islam, but that’s exactly what they want. And they’re creating an opportunity for the creation of Eurabia, or Euristan in the future...Europe will not be in this battle with us. Because there will be no Europe left to fight."

Dear octopus

Sir Winston Churchill died forty-seven years ago today

Sir Winston Churchill, who passed away forty-seven years ago today, bows to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, C.R. Attlee and Herbert Morrison standing behind him.

The royal family made fun of Margaret Thatcher's deep curtsies but this bow seems pretty deep.

In January 1955 Churchill, as recorded in Harold Macmillan’s diary, suggested to his cabinet 'Keep England White. That would be a good election slogan.' How unimaginably long ago.

King George VI meant something but is Prince William of Wales merely a celebrity who wears a morning coat as fancy dress and watches the same television programmes as his future subjects? Mind you, King George VI loved music halls and Harry Lauder. And Lady Mountbatten we know loved Hutch. And the Prince Regent and his Princess of Wales were celebrities avant la lettre.

But the class system though it certainly still exists has changed very much since the days of Harold Nicolson, when we ruled the world and the middle classes were ridiculous and all Americans except Douglas Fairbanks Jr.were vulgar.
America has no conservatives. They were defeated by 1783. (Or maybe the only true conservatives were the Red Indians.)"

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Newt, Mitt and Paul

So Newt beats Mitt in N.C. – this really is another of those nail biting American miniseries except that I suspect it will be Mitt whatever Newt does.

I think American elections bring out the best in our cousins and I wish Britain was one tenth as democratic or as free. Paul is the first republican with a small or big r in 50 years. I don't like Newt or Mitt at all but all the contenders are infinitely better than Bush except possibly Herman Cain. However, I should guess Obama will win. Obama excites his people and Mitt will excite no-one.

I saw this in the Telegraph: ‎' “No, Newt’s infidelities do not concern me,” said one Southern gentleman. “On the contrary, I take heart that someone older and fatter than me can still have an affair.” ' To which the Telegraph journalist added the words "Amen to that", which twenty years ago would have been considered unacceptably racy by the Telegraph.

Maybe 4 more years of Obama is better than Newt. In Terry-Thomas's words what an absolute shower (Paul excepted).
They may not frighten their enemy but by God ..

Story of my Life

By the age of 11, I had read and reread many many times the collected verse of Hilaire Belloc, which was on my father’s shelves and I had memorised much of the Cautionary Tales (in long sessions in the bath I recall).  I decided to start the Hilaire Belloc Society aged 22 and got many famous people to agree to be Vice-president. I see now that it would have done wonders for my social life though this thought was not in my head then. But alas I gave up, telling myself I would drop the idea at some point so as well to give up now. Lady Diana Cooper who had agreed to be President kept writing me postcards in pencil. Oh my friends be warned by me....

Great stuff to have running through your head all the time. This verse for example: 

Heretics all, whoever you may be,
In Tarbes or Nimes, or over the sea,
You never shall have good words from me.
Caritas non conturbat me.

But Catholic men that live upon wine
Are deep in the water, and frank, and fine;
Wherever I travel I find it so,
Benedicamus Domino.

On childing women that are forelorn,
And men that sweat in nothing but scorn:
That is on all that ever were born,
Miserere Domine.

To my poor self on my deathbed,
And all my dear companions dead,
Because of the love that I bore them,
Dona Eis Requiem.

Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Religion prevents the poor massacring the rich

Napoleon said: 

"I do not see in religion the mystery of the incarnation but the mystery of social order: it links the idea of inequality to heaven which prevents the rich person from being murdered by the poor. How can there be order in the state without religion? Society cannot exist without inequality of fortunes and the inequality of fortunes could not subsist without religion. Whenever a half-starved person is near anothers who is glutted, it is impossible to reconcile the difference if there is not an authority to say to him: "God wills it so, it is necessary that there be rich and poor in the world, but afterwards in eternity there will be a different distribution." 

The priests no longer justify inequality but inequality is just and necessary and must be seen to be just. We can justify inequality because of the huge groth in living standards in the developed world and by arguments from freedom and conservatism but these are out of fashion. Instead people argue in favour of equality of opportunity and utilitarianism and this leads to the monstrous regiment of political correctness and the moral right is implicitly conceded for the state to reorder society on rational lines. This is the central weakness of modern civilisation and from this springs post - colonial guilt and the idea that our traditions are oppressive, and from these spring most of the evils of modern politics.

He also said:

I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of the Quran which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness.
Napoleon in a etter to Sheikh El-Messiri, (28 August 1798); published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol.4, No. 3148, p. 42

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Women and children first!

A woman friend of mine posted this comment on Facebook on the Costa Concordia the Italian cruise ship which sank with loss of several lives :

"Women and children first? Why? After all aren't we all "equal?" Sisters doing it for themselves and all that. If only it didn't take a sinking ship to show most people the folly of feminism."
As Lord Curzon  said in 1912:

"What is the good of talking about the equality of the sexes?   The first whiz of the bullet, the first boom of the cannon and where is the equality of the sexes then?" 

Lord Macaulay, my only friend through teenage years

I often hate Allan Massie's opinions but here he and Lord Macaulay are right. Why don't we have Liberals like Macaulay any more?

Gladstone in those days was what Macaulay called the rising hope of the stern unbending Tories - when he became a Liberal he called the Confederate States a nation rightly struggling to be free - he was correct- and Bourbon Sicily the rule of Satan made manifest - probably wrong but I wasnt there.

Nowadays right-wing conservatives are liberals and liberals are socialists and socialists are ...I'm not sure what they are anymore but pretty awful. And are there any conservative left? If so they are called extremists.

On the other hand if the Lord Chancellor told people whom to marry there would probably be fewer divorces and more happy marriages.

If you haven't read Lord Macaulay on Robert Montgomery do so with haste. At any rate it reduced me to hysterics aged 13. Lytton Strachey called Macaulay's humour elephantine which I suppose it is.


The misfortune is that mysticism is true, as Walter Bagehot said.

People always put a spin on things and recreate God in their image. Once He supported absolute monarchies and auto da fe, now he is pro-homosexual and feminist. I am a Catholic with a Protestant mind always suspicious of the spirit of the age which tricks people in every age into mistaking it for timeless truth. For me mysticism is religion and I love Pascal's words in his memoranadum jotting down his incoherent record of his great mystical experience towards the end of his life - 'Not the God of the philosophers but the god of Abraham and Isaac and Joseph.'' In my mystical experiences for which I thank God I had exactly the same impression and very strongly.

I came to believe a long ago in the supreme force which created the world, the First Cause,  but took no interest in Him/it. Later thanks to various experiences I became aware of a very personal God who intervenes in all our lives constantly. Jesus and the Bible are much harder to believe in but I do despite all the evidence believe in the Catholic (and Orthodox) Church/es. Why?  Because I know God reveals himself because he has done so to me and to many others and therefore must have made a general revelation  and because of reasons which pointed inescapably (the only word) towards the Catholic Church as the Truth. Despite the external banalities of modern Catholic worship, despite the fact that the Catholic Church feels like it came into existence in the 1960s,  despite very many things.