Friday, 30 March 2012

Now or never: books to read

The Gospels, the New Testament with a commentary,  the Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus, in King James rather than Douai edition
The Bible designed to be read as literature 
Marcel Proust
Anna Karenina
War and Peace
The Idiot
The Trial
Henry Green
Under the Volcano
Edmund Burke
Sons and Lovers
The Sentimental Education
Try Gibbon’s Decline and Fall
Reread the whole of Shakespeare
Pickwick Papers
Tristram Shandy
Mill on the Floss

Dante and Ariosto in Italian is a sweet dream but life is too short. I haven't read Shakespeare since my teens except for A Midsummer Night's Dream and I know I would love to reread Chaucer's English Works


‎'Other people's lives are human documents. One's own is always a melodrama.' G.K. Chesterton

‎'Thrillers are more like real life than real life.' Graham Greene

'Life isn’t divided into genres. It’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel … with a bit of pornography if you're lucky.' Alan Moore

'People say life is the thing, but I prefer reading.' Logan Pearsall Smith


'You don't understand Glaswegians, Paul', Rupert old me last night. 'When Glaswegians insult you that means they are being friendly. When they stop insulting you you need to worry'.  

How to be American - and why you probably cannot be English unless you already are

I think people changing their nationality is absurd in principle really, like trying to change ones mother and father. Perhaps you can become American but that is the exception that proves the rule for Americans are a nation in a different sense from other nations and not an ethnicity or race. But even there everyone except the WASPs claims to be Italian or Chinese or whatever however many generations back and when they are manifestly as Italian or Irish as the desk on which I type this. Only the WASPs therefore are fully American.

T.S. Eliot and Henry James became British subjects as gestures, because Americans expect newcomers to their country to become American but they always remained American, were never at all British. Only had they come to the UK as children would it have been possible.

I also think to be fully American you need to be Protestant. You certainly can be a deist like the founding fathers or Lincoln, or an agnostic or an atheist, but a Protestant deist, agnostic or atheist. (Protestant atheists are quite different from Catholic, Jewish or Muslim atheists.) Protestants who convert to other religions also remain American. But no-one can say Catholics like the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Mowbray, Chris Patten or David Lodge are not English sans raproche. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Spring is here!

Michelle Obama Desecrates White House Yet Again Not

A very stupid article in a publication called The Ulsterman Report complains that Michelle Obama is desecrating the 'sacred' precincts of the White House 
'again'  by inviting down market TV programmes to be recorded there - the kind of programmes that rather ordinary, not particularly clever people often like to watch in the afternoons, as opposed to historical dramas made by the BBC, I suppose. And this in the room where Lincoln's corpse was laid out. 

Note the religious importance that is attached to these chief magistrates and the attempt to make believe that this all very antique and historic. The White House is not very old by European standards - they rebuilt it after we burnt it down in 1812 and I wonder how much remains from the rebuilding apart from the shell. And Monica Lewinsky desecrated it before Michelle, as did some say Marilyn Monroe, but they added to the story of the house. Guides will enjoy telling the story of the cigar and the stained dress  to future generations who will not remember which George Bush was which (both invaded Iraq so it will be very confusing).

Kennedy risked the existence of the planet in the Oval Office which some might think even more appalling than a 'workout session' with Michelle Obama or Marilyn Monroe.

I prefer Mr. or Mrs. Obama certainly to a warmonger like Abraham Lincoln, with the blood of millions and an unnecessary, brutal, unjust war on his conscience. But what irritates me as a  monarchist is the question: why do republics invest presidents, their official residences and all the trappings, such as there are, of office with a monarchical aura? The answer of course: because the monarchical principle is part of human nature. Hence Americans refer to  'President Obama' not 'Mr. Obama', as if 'President' were a title of honour like a peerage. It just means chairman.

Jimmy Carter was the only true republican President, with a small 'r', in the 20th Century and he was despised for his humility. His coup de grace I remember was looking very dishevelled and unimpressive while running. Michelle Obama's workout seems unlikely to do her any harm except it seems in Northern Ireland.

The average Romanian family owns 2.6 Internet-connected devices

The average Romanian family owns 2.6 Internet-connected devices which can store large quantities of data, found a recent study issued by Kaspersky Lab. Romania ranks last in this ranking, where the first spot is occupied by Saudi Arabia, with 4.3 gadgets. The average in the US is three gadgets per family.

This is a surprising statistic for me. I thought far fewer people had computers here. How long can the internet and the evil Saudi regime co-exist I wonder.



Moscow, March 27, 2012
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for External Church Relations, speaking during the weekly programme ‘The Church and the World’ on Russia 24 TV channel on March 24, 2012, commented on the British authorities’ decision to defend in the European Court of Human Rights the legitimacy of the corporate policy adopted by some British commercial companies to ban the wearing of baptismal crosses.
‘I very much regret such developments as happening in England. I myself used to live in that country and witnessed the way in which liberal and anti-Christian norms conquering ever greater areas in the public space. Because these people have not experienced persecution against the Church, they do not know what it is when your crosses are torn away from you’, he said. He also shared his own remembrances of how a teacher in the school he attended, having discovered a baptismal cross under his shirt, began to tear it off.
‘A grave mistake is made by today’s Western liberals who actually impose on free people the standards of totalitarian regime’, the DECR chairman said.
‘I believe it is a sign of some madness and extreme moral decay when such norms are not only introduced but even discussed. What is wrong with a cross worn on one’s neck? Who and how can it harm? Why one can wear beads, an amulet, an image of some variety singer but a believer cannot put on a cross under his or her clothes? We will never agree with it and will fight against it’, he said.

Fabrice Muamba: Racist Twitter user jailed for 56 days

This is very very very sinister. I think I have reached the point when apart from my loving living in Romania I now actively would not like to live in an England which seems in some respects a fascist state.

Political Correctness is a clown with a sword in her or his hand. 

A man has gone to gaol after tweeting that he was happy a footballer had died.

The BBC likes four letter words these days I am told but is too chaste to repeat the words complained of as are the papers I saw. They are (not for ladies' eyes):

Having first tweeted "LOL. Fuck Muamba he's dead !!! #Haha", he then got involved in slanging matches with people who reacted angrily. Along the way, his ensuing remarks included "go suck a nigger dick" and "go suck muamba's dead black dick".
The words complained of should not be illegal - in effect he is being gaoled for the fatal combination of using the word nigger and for running up against a Diana-style outpouring of public grief. 

Neither the word nigger nor the bad taste should be punishable even by a caution - and I am  prudish about bad language in public. 

We had something similar break out when public opinion, which had not minded News International hacking the Prince and Princess of Wales' telephones was indignant that they hacked that of some much loved minor celebrity. But this time the state is acting on behalf of the mob.

I remember that line from Betjeman about Slough....'It isn't fit for humans now' - does that describe life in England? 

It is about the state making it clear that it is in charge and will impose its ideology of health, internationalism, non-discrimination and equality and badly hurt those who do not obey.

What I wonder would Churchill have said? He'd be gaoled too for making racist jokes I expect. He made a lot of unkind remarks about black people. He suggested that a black civil servant who had been refused a table in a restaurant (because American officers made a fuss) should have taken his ukelele out and played in the band. He also said in the cabinet in Jaunary 1955 that 'Keep England White' would make a good election slogan. This might be illegal now although protected, I suppose, by executive privilege. Lloyd George once talked in Cabinet about bombing niggers in, I think, Iraq, but that was unimaginably long ago. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

‘To the liberalism they profess, I prefer the liberties we enjoy; to the Rights of Man, the rights of Englishmen.’ Benjamin Disraeli quoted by Daniel Hannan. Exactly my philosophy. If only Dizzy were living at this hour.
"The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left." ---Ecclesiastes 10:2

Monday, 26 March 2012

Famous last words

I used to collect my favourite last words and have a large collection which I shall post here one by one if I have the energy. Please feel very welcome to add your own examples in comments.

For now, here are the last words of King Frederick William I of Prussia, the father of Frederick the Great. A Lutheran clergyman was giving him the last rites and said 

Naked came you into the world and naked will you go out

when the King woke from his coma and uttered this valediction: 

Not quite naked, for I shall be wearing the uniform of a Field Marshal of the Brandenburg Royal Guard.

My ignorance of both the King and his famous son is profound (as is my ignorance of history in general). It extends little further than Lord Macaulay's Essay on Frederick the Great which I read a couple of times. It is great prose and very enjoyable reading but no longer up to date, but then increasingly nor am I.  

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The tragedy of Syria

The terrible news from Syria continues to come in and googling Syria and Christians reveals stories not widely reported in the newspapers. I suspect the least bad outcome would be the victory of the disgusting, inhuman, indescribably cruel regime over the brave rebels and the hapless Sunnis who are being butchered. I hate saying this and perfectly understand if others passionately disagree with me. This is how history really is, tragic in the true sense of that misused word. We are seeing the limitations of the liberal imagination.

Democracy it is perfectly obvious now and should have been all the time is not possible in Syria in the foreseeable future though it for the time being works in a way in Lebanon. Though this will probably change if the war in Syria goes on for years. Nor is it possible in a tribal society like Libya. 

It remains to be seen if democracy and Islam can go together, the cases where they do seemingly being exceptional. Freedom flourishes best in Christian and Jewish settings, at least up until now, and not by chance. Enlightenment values, about which I am ambivalent, and the rule of law spring from Greece and Rome and the Jewish and Christian religions. The conquest by Islam of half the former Roman Empire has been a huge misfortune from this and other points of view. I wonder if it is comparable in a certain way to the conquest by Communism of half Europe.

Is the war in Syria only the prelude to a wider more terrible war? A Russian-Estonian bricklayer told me six years ago that World War III has already begun. I hope he was wrong but bricklayers are not intellectuals, so he might be right.

Stray Saturday morning thoughts in late March

Schubert, porridge, heavenly sunshine in Lipscani, a hard copy of the Spectator. God's in His heaven and all's right with the world. Spring fills me with a delicious languor which seems to hold the meaning of life.

My recipe for happiness: trust in God; good health; a sense of beauty; a passion for books; friends; enjoying your own company; not caring about material things; a good sense of humour; a quick mind; a sense of history; being in Romania; glorious spring weather after a hard winter. 

I always intended to listen to Blur and Oasis but I suppose they are one with Babylon and Ninevah? I should listen to Coldplay. My best friend's nephew is the drummer which makes me feel old. I stick with Schubert pro tempora.

I told someone yesterday I could count on the fingers of one hand the people I disliked but now cannot remember any. Diana, Princess of Wales is dead R.I.P.

Shopping for coffee, onions and loo paper in the shop in my street is the kind of shopping I don't mind. Shopping is a great though occasionally necessary evil.

Reading Jonathan Freedland say he will notvote for Ken Livingstone because he is an anti-semite, something designed to attract Muslim votes, I see that Britain is moving to the US style cantonised politics of which Enoch Powell warned. I am slightly surprised that Muslims do not seem to mind Millipede being Jewish but then he is very anti-Israel to make up for it. No-one minds his atheism either. Or his being an unmarried father when he became leader of the party that is supposed to owe more to Methodism than to Marxism but has now moved beyond both.

I suppose I can see how a decent and very well-informed man of the Left can justify having voted for Ken twice before. After all, the congestion charge is an enormous achievement and Ken's work (bring it on in Bucharest). No doubt Freedland is a good Labour man who loathes the Tories but our so-called conservatives who are about to enact homosexual marriage are not true Tories and Livingstone is the greater evil. And whatever else he is, Boris is associated with the great cause of cheering us all up.

‘The neurotic is nailed to the cross of his own fiction’ (Alfred Adler).  One of my favourite quotations. People, read Adler. A friend of mine at university who had very bad pudding-basin haircuts  told me his hair was cut for 50p a time in Hove by Adler's grandson. When my friend told his barber he had won a place at Cambridge barber said ‘You must be an intelligent man like my grandfather who was a professor. Perhaps you heard of my grandfather?’

I came across this quotation yesterday and find it absolutely wonderful and very wise indeed. Almost the Secret of Life. 'To feel comfortable you need your own approval' (Mark Twain). It brings to mind Frederic Harrison's remark, 'No man pleases other who does not please himself'. I must read Mark Twain again - he said so many good things and visited everywhere I have ever been before me. And he is funny. I never enjoyed a book more than I enjoyed Huckleberry Finn at 8 - I remember it as very poetic and about the unlimited  spaces of childhood.

We are what we pretend to be. So we must be careful of what we pretend to be. 

Some people act a part so long that they forget who they really are. They include eccentrics, psychopaths, fantasists, con men, exotics, poets. 

Some people act apart so long. 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Long weekend Brussels and Maastricht in early March

One goes abroad to encounter ones sub-conscious mind which is always the real undiscovered country that one dreams of at night. But Belgium though foreign is less dreamlike and more earthbound than many countries and I know it pretty well by now, having a dear old friend whom I visit in Brussels once or twice a year. Still it is abroad, the eternal other.

The  Grande Place. The turn of the 17th and 18th centuries still has something of the Renaissance and even the Middle Ages to give it power. The dazzling beauty of the facades somehow cannot be looked on for too long. Uncle Toby I always reflect when I am in the Grande Place fought in one of these wars against Louis XIV in which the original Grande Place was razed to the ground. This make it closer to home though I never got beyond the first ten Pages of Tristram Shandy a book I know I would love very much if only I could read it.

I talk to a man in a pub who is 33 and undecided about whether to aim to marry or to remain single and I have no advice to offer except that it is pointless to make a decision which I see was bad advice. I say I think Belgium seems unhappy and he assures me Belgians are very happy despite their political differences. Only in Brussels will I meet real Belgians who speak both French and Flemish. I suppose I thought Belgians were unhappy because the place depresses me somewhat. But it seems modern man can live very happily without God or without a sense of nationality.

Dinner in a Portuguese restaurant full of Angolans, the women with very large bottoms juddering on high heels which push their buttocks outward, with hair dyed mid-brown and large, dangerous, liquid eyes. But the restaurant was too noisy to talk. Brendan who lived in Africa for many years says that whenever Africans meet the noisy is very great.

I rose early the next day, caught the train to Liege and changed for Maastricht. A Belgian woman on the train also assures me Belgians are happy and really why should they not be? Things work, people have money. It is a good decent country and makes very fine chocolate. Harry Lime might not approve but he was an amoral psychopath. She says things ran better in the two years when there was no federal government, which I am sure is true.

And so I am  glutting on 17th century architecture in Maastricht twenty years (can it be?) after the treaty that did for us all. Holland is too cutesy for me, too Dutch but I have to admit I like Maastricht very much on a grey March morning. Light rain. Grey cobbles. Bicycles of course but not thankfully too many as they annoy and frighten me.

The quay. The 17th century buildings the style of which was so much copied in the England of the period and in the Edwardian houses of my native town Southend-on-Sea and much of Edwardian England.

I come to Kruisherenhotel a very fine mediaeval monastery and church turned into a hotel in the centre of Maastricht. It could be the scene for some debauched parties a la Sade but actually the feeling inside is too churchy for debauchery. What a strange monument to Holland’s post-Christianity.


Two wonderful squares, as beautiful as baroque music. The market square is dominated by the town hall, a very fine 18th century building, on which the EU flag flew above two others which I suppose were the Dutch and city flags. The whole place breaths republicanism and civic virtues not the absolutism of other 18th century societies.

The other, Vrijthof Square, is full of tormented, pollarded trees which look like a very fine example of modern art. Somehow prisoners in a concentration camp come to mind. Vrijthof Square abuts the two cathedrals, one Catholic and one Protestant, which are very fine (especially the former) but I was more interested in a gaggle of people in cheap suits and dresses standing outside the Catholic Cathedral. They looked Middle Eastern or Southern and not Greek or Spanish or any physical type I recognised. I wondered if they were possibly Armenians. The first two or three I spoke to did not speak English and the tough looking men in shiny suits were unfriendly but finally I found one who spoke my tongue. She said yes they were Armenian. There are she said 10,000 in Holland and they have come here for the wedding which the Cathedral allows them to celebrate according to their rite. They gather there  because the cathedral is dedicated to Saint Servatius  the Armenian who converted Holland to Christianity. She would love to visit her homeland and like me but with much more reason having spent her life there finds Holland boring. Suddenly my desire to return to Armenia is stiffened very urgently. To get there and to get away from affluent developed Western Europe.

A good meal – beef cooked in beer – in the restaurant where Brendan and I inadvertently drank too much last time. It felt like Belgium unlike his street and immediate area which feels like Morocco. 25% of Brussels population are Muslim and it may by 2030 be 50%. Brendan is unperturbed and says this is only because Belgians do not want to live in Brussels.

Mass on Sunday in English at the lovely St Nicholas’s church near the Grande Place, gothic with baroque furnishings a combination I always love. I receive communion (on the tongue of which he does not much approve) from Brendan, then what is remarkable for an English Catholic a very good sermon in English.

I wandered and finally found in the very smart St Hubertus Gallery (they managed shopping centres like so many things better in the nineteenth century) a poster advertising Albert Nobbs. One of my very favourite short stories, from a wonderful collection Celibate Lives (actually other stories in the collection are even better). Read George Moore people. 

I get out of a lunch party to see it. My biennial trip to the pictures.  Quite good. Not nearly as good as I remember the book. But I suppose the silences of films nowadays are true to life which is unexplained and full of silence. Unlike the films of the 30s which are chatty and full of plot, derived from plays and novels. Albert Nobbs was played by Glenn Close, whose androgynous name and face seem appropriate for playing a woman pretending to be  a man but the part requires no acting and she simply moved through the film without much expression.

How sad the lives of the poor were in the 19th century. And how I identify with Nobbs in some ways.

Then I decided to take the train the twenty minute journey to Malines the charming cathedral city which is the seat of the Metropolitan of Belgium but it was closed. At least the cathedral and churches were, but the town is full of lovely buildings and feels far away from the capital of the EU In the town square the carnival was winding up, music was playing, men in strange hats like Transylvanan shepherds were dancing. The whole country has a beery Northern English flavour- unaristocratic, brick terraced houses, vulgar, intelligent.

Four cathedrals in 24 hours - a perfect weekend.

Finally and best moment of all the weekend, a very good lamb cous cous last night in Brussels, much better than in Tangier - with good unbottled Moroccan pink wine and good company. My priest friends do themselves well, an old Catholic tradition. Now back to Lent.

Meditating on Hitler and the euro

Three newspaper stories about Germany caught my attention this morning. 

First a review by Nick Cohen in the Guardian of a biography of Hitler by A.N. Wilson. A biography of Hitler by A.N. Wilson? I thought I would like to read it. Bringing a novelist's eye to history is exactly what I am trying to do. It sounded like it would teach me some things about Hitler and the modern world until I read this wonderfully damning review in the New Statesman. How satisfying to have written that.

As for Nick Cohen's review, well, of course decline in religious belief brought forth monsters like Nazism and Communism although religion, especially but certainly not only Islam, has brought forth its own monsters. Fascism was very certainly the antithesis of liberalism (Dr. Goebbels said 'This is the end of 1789') but it was the apotheosis of nationalism, another French revolutionary idea. 

Digressing, it is because people read no history, reject the idea that Man is inherently bad which priests and psychologists both teach us, preferring Enlightenment ideas about human perfectibity, that they cannot understand the very terrible slaughter by the Germans of the Jews and single it out from other terrible slaughters, in Russia for example. Germany is one of the homes of the Enlightenment, the land of Goethe and Heine. Turkey, Syria, Cambodia and Rwanda are not. 

As for race and racial hierarchy being widely discredited that depends where you live. Most people in Romania where I live believe in both. They place Greeks fairly near the bottom for example, slightly below Turks but well above Indians. They confuse Indians   with Gypsies whom they place at the nadir. They place the English near or at the top. This used to amuse and slightly shock me but it no longer does. Of course ethnic groups (also known as races) have their characteristics.

I imagine Wilson probably has fun with the sheer boringness of Hitler, his lower middle classness, the dull autodidactic table talk recorded  by Martin Bormann and used to comic effect in  Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Last Days of Hitler. George Wyndham before the First World War said the gentlemen of Europe must not abdicate but they did and were replaced  by men like Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and Franco. All such dull and insignificant men who became, thanks to the First World war and its sequentiae, very significant indeed.

The third story was a thought provoking article by Jonathan Friedland also in the Guardian about Germany the reluctant giant. It made me see how the whole history of the post-war period until this moment is a meditation on the Second World War and Nazism. This is the reason for the European Union and the euro. It was also the reason for the Cold War and America's engagement with the wider world. Cold warriors viewed Communist Russia  as the equivalent of Nazi Germany, overlooking the distinction that Russia unlike Germany was a satiated power and not given to military adventures within Europe. It was much of the reason why Stalin forced Communism on Eastern Europe in the first place. It is the reason why talk of races and racial superiority and the psychology of nations became profoundly unfashionable and why the colonial empires were dissolved. It is the reason for an unprecedented migration of brown-skinned people to make their homes in the formerly white countries where they will presently form the majority. It is even the reason, by extension, why discriminating on the grounds of sex, religion, sexuality, even age are no longer permitted by law. By further extension it is part of the reason why hierarchy can only be publicly justified by meritocratic arguments, why traditions are  considered oppressive and the masculine and martial virtues such as patriotism and love of battle are no longer considered virtues at all. 

For it is not just Germans that feel guilt for Nazism but, strangely, all the Western world including the countries that defeated Hitler at such terrible cost. And yet there is no such feeling in any of the former Communist countries, including those such as Romania which aided him.


I am a snapper up of unconsidered trifles. (I suppose John Aubrey was the frst blogger, perhaps followed by Robert Burton, and both of these are my great soul-mates and favourites.) I found this posted anonymously on the Daily Telegraph site in a comment on a tiresomely politically correct blog post and thought it worth repeating:

Tolstoy wrote:
“The fifth rule of our Lord is that we should take special pains to cultivate the same kind of regard for people of foreign countries, and for those generally who do not belong to us, or even have an antipathy to us, which we already entertain towards our own people, and those who are in sympathy with us.”
On which G.K.Chesterton commented:

“I should very much like to know where in the whole of the New Testament the author finds this violent, unnatural, and immoral proposition.”

On first reading Tolstoy's dictum seems admirable, an example of loving one's neighbour as oneself, but replace 'foreign countries' with 'other people's parents or wives' and our 'own people' with 'our parents or wife'.

I come quite close to fulfilling Tolstoy's injunction.  I feel I  love every country with all my heart, as much as my own one though I do know England (or rather Great Britain) is the best one. And not only do I live in a very foreign country but I almost avoid other British people here. But love of one's country is rather like love for one's mother and love of foreign countries a bit like other love of other women.

Friday, 16 March 2012


Indifference to comfort is the greatest luxury.

Though Mrs. Assad might say indifference to other people's suffering is the greatest luxury as she orders online from Harrod's.

I do not score full  points - I am not at all indifferent to bad food (though I like cheap restaurants more than expensive ones) and I love London clubs very much but I am completely indifferent to hotels and cars and gadgets and 'things'.

Queens' story

... a neat trick ...

" While at Queens' College, Cambridge, Terence White wrote his thesis on Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (without reading it),and graduated in 1928 with a first-class degree in English." ~ Francois Gallix

My college - I can very well believe it. The worst advice I was ever given repeatedly was that you have to work hard to take a First. Not true but I believed it and did not cram for one at the end after terms of inertia. Alas alas - imagine the fun of studying history.
I read the first half of Malory with intense delight when I was 11 but never opened the second book and wonder if i would love it now.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine.

Yes true but even sadder not to read than not to travel. Travel and books are the only things worth spending money on apart of course from wine.

The second Viscount Mersey said these things were sad: to be a virgin: to speak only one language; not to have been abroad. What were the others on his list?

The ruling classes

Stanley Baldwin on how he picked his first Cabinet: "I decided to have six old Harrovians in it," he said. I had forgotten this story and was delighted to come across the quotation again and remember a time before television, feminism and all the horrors of the modern age. He also gave as a reason for not offering Lord Birkenhead a position, 'We are a cabinet of men who are faithful to their wives and want to keep it that way.'

Harold Macmillan said in 1959: ‎'Mr Atlee had three Old Etonians in his cabinet, I have six. Things are twice as good under the Conservatives.' This is very Macmillan, apparantly a joke but really simply snobbish. Boastful too. Much funnier and more snobbish (and possibly anti-Semitic) was his remark that Mrs. Thatcher had more Estonians than Etonians in her cabinet.

Great Britain afterwards, in the 60s and 70s, moved from snobbery to inverted snobbery or at least journalists did. Douglas Hurd in 1990 when charged by a journalist with the offence of being an Etonian: 'I thought I was standing for the leadership of the Conservative Party not some barmy Marxist outfit.'

And now we are back to public school men leading the Conservative and Liberal parties. Briefly while Harriet Harman, who is the pretty daughter of an Earl, was Leader pro tempora of the Labour Party, Prime Minister's Question Time had the agreeable flavour of a light romantic comedy by the late lamented (at least by me) William Douglas-Home. The reason of course is the abolition, for egalitarian reasons, of most selective schools. This has  made it very much harder for people like me from modest backgrounds to get a decent, middle-class education. The 60s, 70s and 80s were the in many senses the Era of the Grammar School Man and Woman, although public school men always were vastly more powerful.

But the men educated at Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Marlborough, Charterhouse and Rugby, civilised, agreeable and public spirited though they are, presided over the devastation of England after 1945. Churchill was too old after 1945 and most of the rest too purblind. 

Cambridge undergraduate rusticated for political poem

Marc Boxer was sent down from Oxford in the early 1960s for some blasphemous poems. One began: 'As God was cleaning his Bentley'. Arnott-Davies's offence seems much less grave though the poem sounds preachy and the ideas it expresses tired. I wonder why this happened. Are Cambridge dons supporting the Tories after sixty years? Surely not.

A footnote to history

"Labour’s Yvette Cooper said that the proposals do not go far enough and called for religious groups to be able to host same-sex weddings if they wanted." Mrs. Cooper, who is spoken of as the next Labour leader, is a practising Roman Catholic and a member of Opus Dei.

President John Tyler’s Grandson on Still Being Alive

John Tyler was President of the USA 1841–1845. Why does this story, about his two grandsons, who are still with us, make me so happy? Schopenhauer would say it appeals to the will to life.
"The past is never dead. It's not even past." 

Sixteen years after leaving the White House, when Civil War seemed inevitable, Tyler, who was a Virginian, chaired a peace conference between representatives from the North and South with the goal of keeping the Union intact. When his peace efforts failed, Tyler embraced the Confederacy . He was eventually elected to the Confederate Congress, but died without taking his seat. In Yankee eyes he died a traitor. In my eyes he chose the right side, since I can see no possible justification for the North invading the South to prevent the South seceding. 

I wonder if Washington and Jefferson would have done the same. Presumably they would, since both rebelled against the UK, both were proud Virginians and both were slave-owners.

Note: there is nothing on the net to suggest that the two grandsons are not still alive in June 2013. Long life to them both.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Death in Riga

I just caught up with the Review of the Year in the Christmas edition of the Spectator. In February 2011 a man eating popcorn noisily was shot dead in a Riga cinema. 

Who was it who defined life as all the things reported in the newspapers under the rubric 'Other News in Brief' ?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Norman St. John Stevas has died

The then Norman St John-Stevas talks to Margaret Thatcher at the state opening of parliament in 1979
    Another intimation of mortality. Norman St. John Stevas's name came up on google news and of course it was because he had died. Michael White my favourite political writer has it here. He has received one of the Daily Telegraph's funniest obituaries almost comparable the best one of all, that of Denisa, Lady Newborough.

    I canvassed for him in Chelmsford while I was up at university in 1983 at the fag end of my Third Year - he was almost the only Tory I could bear to canvass for in those days though now I think he was Wrong but Wromantic and Mrs. Thatcher Right but Repulsive. He called her the Immaculate Misconception. He told me they would have to disenfranchise the unemployed because they would be the majority next time. he took me to my first nightclub - I was astonished at how the mundane Essex girls were transfigured when done up for a club. But he was christened St John and was a Greek restaurant owner's son I think so his very grand title was very silly indeed. 

    In fact his affectations were very silly. He did not have style, unlike the impossibly beautiful Sir Ian Gilmour who was fired at the same time in 1981, the first two of Mrs. Thatcher's opponents, the Wets, to be dismissed. But he was witty and the kind of person who might have been an Independent MP sitting for one of the universities - I cannot forgive Labour for abolishing the university seats. (Though the wonderful biographer anmd former clerk of the House Robert Rhodes James would have done that better.)
    The inimitable and deeply lamented Frank Johnson called Lord St. John of Fawsley Lord Cringe-On-All-Foursley. Johnson did a very funny sketch of canvassing with Stevas (this much loved Victorian monument 'now in danger of demolition') in the Chelmsford election in 1983  a week or so before I went canvassing with him (he was expected to lose but scraped in ahead of the Liberal, Stuart Mole).  One of the canvassers apologised to Stevas for wearing a brown suit to which Stevas replied: 'Very appropriate. Crushed mole.' I have the sketch in a book somewhere and wish it were on the net but it is not. 

People like Stevas, Nicholas Fairbairn, Clement Freud and Leo Abse made politics interesting. Much bigger men like Michael Foot and Enoch Powell did the same. Fitzroy MacLean somewhat earlier. Now we have only Boris.

    I admired in my youth the panache of people like him and Noel Coward never suspecting they were homosexuals. I have always been innocent. Simon Hoggart called him the thinking man's Larry Grayson. This is in a day when homosexuality spelt the end of a political career. After we had finished canvassing he was met by his merchant banker friend and Stevas playfully ran his fingers on said friend's thigh. I always assumed as a practising Catholic that he must be a non-practising homosexual and realise that that was innocent of me but I see the obituary says this is what he claimed to be and probably was.

I also remember meeting him as a teenager with my father in the House when he was shadow Education Secretary, my father extolling grammar schools and Stevas's look of disdain and dislike which my father missed.

The last time I saw him was at an exhibition of drawings by Max Beerbohm in a private gallery in Mayfair in around 1986,“consule Planco”. 1986 then seemed disappointing modern and bloodless, as the present age always does to people who look backwards, but now it suddenly seems as far away, ancien regime and elegant as 1897. Where did 25 years go? 

Some Walter Bagehot quotations

  • A friend told me yesterday that my friend Ruth Dudley Edwards wrote books about Bagehot and felt I had been entertaining angels unawares. How wonderful to be paid to read and write about Bagehot (and how I feel I have wasted my life by not being a historian or writer). This led me to find some quotations. Do read his essays. He is as good a prose writer as Macaulay or Newman:

    The reason that there are so few good books written is that so few people who write know anything.

    Can an undying creature debit petty expenses and charge for carriage paid? The soul ties its shoes; the mind washes its hands in a basin. All is incongruous.

    The trouble with mysticism is that it is true.

    A constitutional statesman is in general a man of common opinions and uncommon abilities.

    A family on the throne is an interesting idea. It brings down the pride of sovereignty to the level of petty life.

    A great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.

    A man's mother is his misfortune, but his wife is his fault.

    A severe though not unfriendly critic of our institutions said that the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to go and look at it.

    All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality - the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape.

    An influential member of parliament has not only to pay much money to become such, and to give time and labour, he has also to sacrifice his mind too - at least all the characteristics part of it that which is original and most his own.

    Conquest is the missionary of valor, and the hard impact of military virtues beats meanness out of the world.

    Dullness in matters of government is a good sign, and not a bad one - in particular, dullness in parliamentary government is a test of its excellence, an indication of its success.

    Honor sinks where commerce long prevails.

    In every particular state of the world, those nations which are strongest tend to prevail over the others; and in certain marked peculiarities the strongest tend to be the best.

    It is good to be without vices, but it is not good to be without temptations.

    Men who do not make advances to women are apt to become victims to women who make advances to them.

    No great work has ever been produced except after a long interval of still and musing meditation.

    No real English gentleman, in his secret soul, was ever sorry for the death of a political economist.

    Nothing is more unpleasant than a virtuous person with a mean mind.

    One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea.

    Poverty is an anomaly to rich people; it is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell.

    The best history is but like the art of Rembrandt; it casts a vivid light on certain selected causes, on those which were best and greatest; it leaves all the rest in shadow and unseen.

    The best reason why Monarchy is a strong government is, that it is an intelligible government. The mass of mankind understand it, and they hardly anywhere in the world understand any other.

    The cure for admiring the House of Lords is to go and look at it.

    The greatest mistake is trying to be more agreeable than you can be.

    The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.

    The habit of common and continuous speech is a symptom of mental deficiency. It proceeds from not knowing what is going on in other people's minds.

    The real essence of work is concentrated energy.

The massacres in Syria and doing nothing

When I was in Homs I was told the regime killed 60,000 people there in 1982 though I think it was somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000. The 1982 pogrom happened unobserved by the outside world. Now it is happening again as I thought it would.  But this time we have 24 hour news, the internet and though foreign journalists are few and in danger of their lives (they are embedded with the brave rebels) 
we know something about what is happening. The journalists and experts think Assad will fall anyway but I don't agree. If you kill enough people you make a desert and call it peace. 

It is hell.

This is what Iraq was not - Saddam was not killing people in any numbers in 2003. This is what Libya was not - Gaddafi was not going to kill thousands of people. The Syrian regime will kill tens of thousands - and there is nothing we can - or even should - do - but how can this be? But it is.

Unlike in Libya the BBC is much more careful about the evidence of atrocities but I have no doubt that this is another Srebrenica but on a much bigger scale but while I wanted Britian to intervene in Srebrenica and especially Rwanda- it would have been relatively easy - we should not intervene here. The other side will be equally violent if they have the chance and intervention would ensure a civil war. Which might very well spread into Lebanon, which would certainly ensure the exodus of the Christians from the homeland they inhabited long before Mahomet. But am I making terms with murder? I think that there will be very much bloodshed if we intervene or not and intervention will not further our interests or those of the Syrian people or the region. Certainly it will not help the Christian minority. I feel bad writing these words thinking of the male civilians being killed, the torture and rapes.

Christianity is not about ethics

Christianity is not about ethics - it is in a sense not even about religion, is in many ways anti-religious.

Jesus did not really preach ethics and disapproved of the ethicists, devout Sadducees and Pharisees of His day - He came to save us from religion in a sense. He did not preach against the Law but he preached something much greater than the Law.

Ethics is what non-believers imagine Christianity is about whereas Christianity teaches us to ask for divine grace not to follow an ethical code by our own efforts. 
Certainly in  Romania you feel that ethics is not at all central to Christianity. Ethics in the Romanian Orthodox Church seems peripheral while the liturgy is central. And Romanians combine an instinctual religiosity and interest in the otherworldly with a realistic appreciation and understanding of the worldly. This is I suppose why people in the Orthodox countries are more religious and in many ways less moral than in Western countries. Things here tend to be about people and emotions not rules.

Eugene Ionesco's remark is very true: religion in Romania means something completely different from what it means in Catholic or Protestant countries.