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September 30, 2007

English heritage

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A view of Audley End, once Walden Abbey, now part of English Heritage. The old abbey cloisters are part of the Tudor-Jacobean house. The old garden is farmed organically. The common land, once enclosed, is open to all.

May your week be good.

September 29, 2007

Peel's bobbies

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I have a special interest in the police since I was once assaulted on the street and was consequently forced "to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen" as Robert Peel puts it.

Robert Peel was a cool man whose smile resembled “moonlight playing on a tombstone.” On 29 September 1829 he established the Metropolitan Police as a civilian force with clear principles and limits.

The public was concerned that the police might be repressive. Peel made certain that the "bobbies" served the people and were not an arm of the Government, as would be the case in a police state.

Peel's essential principles of policing -

1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.

3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.

4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.

5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.

7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.

9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

These are not only essential police principles; they are an indictment of the present British Government. It has helped to create a country in which crime is neither solved nor prevented and a citizen assaulted in his home or on the street may actually have to defend his right to defend himself to the police.

A man like Peel would know what to do.

Jeff Watson and the Golden Eagle

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Golden Eagle in Scotland
Image: Tooth and Claw

Jeff Watson, who died of cancer on September 19 aged 54, was the world's foremost authority on the golden eagle and played a vital role in ensuring its future in Scotland and further afield.”

Watson wrote The Golden Eagle, established conservation programmes, and “played a vital role in the creation of the Cairngorms National Park and the protection of the Flow Country and many other precious areas”.

He stood very much in the British tradition of protecting animals, and made a unique contribution.

A creative response

A creative response to the challenges facing England by a Canadian producer and blogger who loves her.

Scroll down for the video. Consider the music an anthem of resistance.

September 28, 2007

Freedom and Christianity

I was pleased to hear on Thought Today this morning that the commentator was drawing parallels between the Buddhist monks currently leading the fight for freedom in Burma and the various Christians in British history who created the freedoms and prosperity that we enjoyed until recently. He made particular reference to John Lilburne and the Levellers (they preferred to be called Agitators) who fought for freedom in the 17th century. Lilburne went to prison more than once to defend freedom, including the right to silence. His wife Elizabeth joined him in Newgate. Out of prison she led a campaign to free him.

September 27, 2007

Reason and Christianity

There are some who believe that reason has nothing to offer religion, and others who believe that religion has nothing to offer reason. When I was attending school I was told that reason had barely escaped the ravages of religion. Prior to the Enlightenment (what PR man came up with that term?) all had been darkness.

Naturally I was surprised to find that my research for the Science Timeline suggested the exact opposite.

The host of British scientific geniuses includes many boys who floundered in their teens. Poor and unschooled, they struggled until they had an exhilarating encounter with reason, mathematics, and the real world, and other Brits noticed, and helped them out.

As I peered more closely at their lives I saw that Brits helped them with schooling and grants and mentoring and teamwork because they lived in a Judaeo-Christian country that respected reason. I saw what I had never seen before because it was as invisible and as pervasive as air –

In Christian schools and universities the British felt called by their faith to celebrate God by understanding God’s world. They believed that reason was a gift of God. Explore, describe, verify! And Brits did just that with indescribable intensity and ardour, supported by communities of respect and trust. Not surprisingly, Brits also found that thinking rationally contributed to their well-being and prosperity.

Despite assorted conflicts, and an extremely disagreeable period when some of the best of the Brits dared to defend freedom of conscience and were burned at the stake, Brits lived in a country of largely reasonable men and women whose faith taught them to use reason, to help each other, and to search for those Eureka! moments also known as epiphanies.

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The astonishing results are evident in THE SCIENCE TIMELINE.

(This post is a revision of one we posted a year ago.)

Oh, lovely! 315,000 Images of England at English Heritage

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The Albert Bridge, one of 6,283 bridges featured in Images of England.
Image: English Heritage

The Telegraph reports that after £7.4 million and seven years of hard work by 2,200 volunteers, English Heritage has launched a new website overflowing with 315,000 images of almost every English building, structure and monument with architectural and historical importance.

The volunteers “clocked up 1.4 million miles and used 13,000 rolls of 35 mm film” that were translated to digital. It was a labour of love.

The Telegraph reports images of 420 castles, 7,484 parish churches, and eight waterfalls, as well as bandstands, boat houses, telephone kiosks, historic homes, and many other memorable and occasionally eccentric architectural features.

Shy millionaire leaves money to children's hospice

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Jack Witham, who lived in a two-bedroom flat and did not appear to have two coins to rub together, has left £6 million to a children’s hospice.

Mr Witham died in November 2004, aged 79, having amassed a fortune in property investment, and has left most of it to Naomi House, in Sutton Scotney near Winchester.

The extraordinary generosity of Jack Witham will help build a new extension for teenagers with terminal illnesses.

Naomi House chief executive Ray Kipling said: "It's fantastic. We've never heard of such a big bequest. It's just wonderful."

Witham was a surveyor. He loved football and classical music, and never married.

Like so many other hospices, hospitals, and schools, Naomi House was started and sustained by charitable British people. If the tax situation were arranged properly, more people could give, and the good-heartedness of the British people could manifest more easily and to the greater good.

Jack Witham's spirit was exceptional. Today the national government's insistence on doing everything while taxing us all heavily is a blight on generosity and local initiative and contrary to a thousand years of British tradition.

September 26, 2007

Millais at the Tate

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Sleeping, 1865, a partial view of the painting

John Everett Millais (1829-1896) was a child prodigy who became part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and then supposedly dissipated his gifts in paintings of more popular appeal. The Tate's new exhibit suggests otherwise.

His exquisite paintings of romantic, unhappy women appeal to many people. His big Scottish landscapes are less well-known. They look wonderful. They seem to be painted for love of the earth. At the Tate it will be possible to get close to them and the haunting Ophelia.

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Lingering Autumn, 1890

The Tate’s exhibit opens today and runs through January 13. Early reviewers say the painter's genius glows.

September 25, 2007

Tax ideas - bound to irritate somebody

As long ago as the 11th century unfair taxes were irritating the British. David Challice passes on a story about taxes that may amuse you -

Ten old friends met for a drink every weekend at the pub. They usually spent £100, and they worked out a system. The first four paid nothing. The fifth paid £1. The rest paid more according to their wealth. The tenth (the richest) paid £59

One day the landlord came up to them: "I've been thinking. You're good customers – from now on I'm going to cut your bill by £20. Beer for the evening will now cost £80.

They kept the same rules for paying their share, so the first four still paid nothing. The rest divided the £20 windfall in a fair manner: They decided to reduce the remaining six shares by the same amount. For example, the seventh man now paid £5 instead of £7. The ninth paid £14 instead of £18. The tenth man (the richest) paid £49 instead of £59.

When they got outside, the seventh man started to complain: 'I only got £2 out of that extra £20. And the eighth man joined in: "That's right. I only got three quid back when he - pointing to the richest man, got £10 – it's not fair. The rich get all the breaks!” The four poorest then chimed in: “The system exploits the poor. We didn’t get anything at all”.

The nine of them surrounded the tenth and beat him to a pulp. Next week he didn’t turn up. So the rest of them sat down for an evening’s beer. When the bill came they couldn’t raise enough cash to pay it.

To quote Professor David Kamerschen, Professor of Economics at the University of Georgia: “And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how the tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they may just not show up anymore. In fact they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is more friendly”.

Please remember that there is no such thing as “Government Money” or “EU Funding”. It all comes from the pocket of somebody who made it in the first place.

The Bruges Group has some fascinating and horrifying reports about EU taxes and operations planned for British citizens.

Fountains and fires – Lancelot Andrewes

Lancelot Andrewes (1555 – 25 September 1626 ) has been called the author of fountains and fires.

When Andrewes was bishop, and gave sermons in Winchester Cathedral, his listeners called him the “angel in the pulpit”. They liked his paradoxes, erudition and colloquialism, brevity and word play (Oxford DNB).

His students liked him. They said he was kind to everyone he met, stopped to talk with anyone who stopped him, and was never too important or too busy to listen.

Translating from Ancient Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, Lancelot Andrewes and fellow scholars created the King James Version of the Bible. With them he is responsible for language which runs like “fountains of living water” through centuries of Anglo-American poetry and prose. The KJV has influenced the words and cadences of African-American spirituals, the Gettysburg Address, Churchill, Hemingway and the speeches of JFK ("Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country"), to name just a few.

In 1606 Andrewes recommended celebrating the deliverance of King and Parliament from the Gunpowder Plot of the 5th of November 1605. We are not sure he had Guy Fawkes Day bonfires in mind, but his suggestion struck a spark.



September 24, 2007

The SUN - EU is greatest threat to liberty

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The Sun has taken on PM Brown and his refusal to hold a referendum on the EU constitution now known as the Reform Treaty. The print edition has page after page clearly and boldly explaining why the EU is the greatest threat to British freedom since World War II. Even page 3 girls have been nudged aside (though not on the web edition).

Highly recommended.

Manliness - Walter Bagehot

Roger Kimball in Commentary describes Walter Bagehot as

"a delicious writer, commanding a manly, outdoor style, a quiet but infectious sense of humor, and a sensibility that was at once large and admonitory. Of course, those very qualities help explain why he is out of favor today. . .

Bagehot's prose is . . .sinewy, forthright, focused outward toward the world. His mind ranged nimbly over history, economics, literature, politics, and what we would today call cultural criticism. His collected works run to some 15 stout volumes.”

Bagehot believes that a liberal democracy requires manliness to survive -

"History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it." - Physics and Politics

I spent the afternoon reading Sharpe’s Fury by London-born writer Bernard Cornwell. As I am an odd duck I found the historical sections of the book more interesting than the fictional intrigue.

Manliness is Cornwell’s theme. The description of outnumbered British soldiers fighting Napoleon’s troops outside Cadiz is a remarkable story. While the Spanish troops sat about a mile away on the beaches (due to an unfortunate incident of supine Spanish leadership that horrified the Spanish people) British troops fought with discipline, bravery, skill and unbelievable endurance.

I think that manliness is an excellence and that, yes, it belongs to men, but I wonder, what is the true object of manliness? (I assume it needs a goal.)

Does manliness have a goal today? I believe it does.

Is that goal clearly articulated? I don't think so. Where is the modern Bagehot?

Thanks to Powerline for the Commentary link.

September 23, 2007

Aidan

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Silver bowls from Sutton Hoo in the British Museum

We mentioned last week that years ago, when Britain was shadowy with trees, there was a man who could see a person's true, inner face, and that he might tell us something today. See Your true face .

September 22, 2007

Historic first - East Stoke calls for referendum on EU

East Stoke voters supported the idea of a referendum on the EU constitution, otherwise known as the Reform Treaty.

"Using a little-known part of the law, they held a parish poll asking the 339 residents: "Do you want a referendum on the EU Constitutional Treaty?"

The answer was a resounding Yes."

And a clear message to the Prime Minister and Parliament.

Thank you, East Stoke.

For more on why they feel this way about the EU - see the threat to freedom.

Update: The Sunday papers will have more on the story. East Stoke has many part-time residents. The turn-out of fulltime residents was impressive.

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee on women

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"The inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has called for an end to the 'stupid' male geek culture that disregards the work of capable female engineers, and puts others off entering the profession.

Berners-Lee said that a culture that avoided alienating women would attract more female programmers, which could lead to greater harmony of systems design. 'If there were more women involved we could move towards interoperability.'"

The precise definition of interoperability eludes us, but as Dr Maturin would say, we are much obliged, Berners-Lee.

The Science Timeline points out that Berners-Lee is also in the thick of the effort to keep the worldwide web open and free.

Report thanks to Instapundit.

September 21, 2007

A transatlantic leap - Christopher Wheeldon

Christopher Wheeldon, the Somerset-born dancer and choreographer, has launched a new ballet company, Morphoses.

After training and dancing with the Royal Ballet, Wheeldon moved to New York and became soloist with the New York Ballet. In 2001 he became Resident Choreographer and received acclaim for choreographing ballets such as After the Rain. The San Francisco Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and the Royal Ballet have commissioned and performed works by him.

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In a transatlantic leap Wheeldon has now left the New York Ballet to form his own ballet company, which will perform in New York and London. The world premiere, at Sadler Wells Theatre, continues through 23 September.

Silver financial linings

The Wall Street Journal reports today that a number of British companies have been purchased by foreign companies, including ICI, Britain’s largest and most profitable; 150-year-old UK news and financial-data provider Reuters PLC; and Heathrow and Gatwick airports (bought by a Spanish construction firm). A 40% stake in the London Stock Exchange has just gone to groups from Dubai and Qatar.

For major investors, and for many people whose pensions depend on stock market growth, whether they receive them as former government or corporate employees, all this may be good news.

In what appears to be good news for the City, the paper also reports, “Britain’s financial regulator, the Financial Services Authority, says 20% of the world’s cross-border bank lending, more than twice that of the US, is arranged in London. One-third of global foreign-exchange trading comes through Britain, compared with 19% in the US.”

But silver linings come with clouds, as the WSJ observes -

In Cowley, BMW’s investment in Morris Minis means that the Cowley plant, doomed to closure seven years ago, “now employs 4,700 workers”. All well and good, but “BMW has hired many Eastern Europeans to keep plant costs down, and there are now more foreign-born employees here than British workers, BMW says.”

Supporters of free trade, who understand why the government setting prices and wages is a disaster, may still wonder why free trade benefits company owners, stock market investors and consumers, and is a negative for British-born workers.

First Post

James Morris of First Post emails that the online magazine has just published a piece on the best of British designers from London Fashion Week and the clothes some of us will be wearing next spring and summer.

More interesting to me is First Post, which we've written about before. The online magazine is never long, and often surprising.

Kenneth Branagh's As You Like It jostles elbows with Dod Proctor's paintings; the eloquent silence of her art meets the compressed wit of Edwin Reardon's best reading this week.

Alex Kee reports sports at top speed, while Peregrine Worsthorne writes about whatever interests him - this week it was money - with a confessional tone which resonates - "Dread of impoverishment in this world has taken the place of dread of eternal damnation in the next, to the point where financiers, who protect our riches, have assumed the importance of priests who once took care of our souls."

And always there are images, old and new.

September 20, 2007

For women we have. . . for men. . .

According to Hilary Alexander we women will see high winds sweeping out our entire closets and, to the tune of thousands of £s, redressing us as tweedy, tailored (Jacqueline Kennedy Déjà Vu), and odd (knitted cardigans over sequinned cocktail dresses). "Luxurious, shimmery" fabrics are dedicated to the clothes where they can do the least good - sportswear. The latest colour is lavender. For those of us who do not want to reinvent our wardrobe, the colour is black.

Is there something depressing about this fashion news, darling, or is it just me?

On the same island of Britain, Scalextric, the world-famous car game, turns 50 this year, and enthusiasts (read men and boys) are celebrating half a century of replica racing by thoughtfully adding a luxurious, shimmery line of new models to their extensive slot car sets. Says one of those boys -

“I had one. My best mate had one. My friends at school had them. When I was 10, Scalextric was THE toy for a boy to play with.

And it was an inspired British toy-maker who set off a craze which endures to this day."

In 1952,

"Britain's Fred Francis launched a range of clockwork tinplate cars. He called them Scalex.

His cars were popular because they were detailed replicas of real racing cars. But they were about to become even more popular.

In 1957 at the Harrogate Toy Fair, he unveiled his first Scalex car to be powered by an electric motor. It ran on a moulded rubber track.

For the brand name, he combined the words "Scalex" and "electric" and the legend of Scalextric was born."

Meanwhile, laying track in their cords and pullover sweaters, the men look just terrific. . .

Courage in September, 1944

In Arnhem, the Nazi Germans' heavy tanks have crossed the bridge and are shelling the houses where the last defenders hold out. The Brits have no anti-tank weapons unless one counts Digby Tatham-Warter's umbrella. . .

September 19, 2007

About lions for curious readers

The lions (couchant) posted yesterday drew some questions. As far as we know the last lions roaming Britain became extinct around the end of the last Ice Age. They made a triumphant return in the retinue of King John, who was trying, we think, to compete with his brother, Richard the Lionheart.

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A lion rampant was first used by Richard's father, Henry II on his Royal Coat of Arms.

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Richard's first, rather charming variation on the lion theme.

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Richard's 1198 lions, looking very like the lions on the Royal Arms today.

There were enough lions roaming around the Tower of London that Edward I built a lion tower for them. Today they are happily ensconced in a few British parks and on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.

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The Royal Arms as used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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The Royal Arms as used in Scotland.


September 18, 2007

Bloom in Strasbourg

Godfrey Bloom UKIP MEP in full flight at the EU Parliament on the very critical issue of the City of London's financial independence. We sometimes wonder what value there is in having Britain's fiften or so eurosceptic MEPs in Brussels or Strasbourg. This 2- minute video will partly answer that question.

Enjoying England

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Image: Kristina Fields

A different kind of sage – Timothy Sprigge

Timothy Sprigge was an affectionate father and a Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at Edinburgh University from 1979 to 1989, when he became Professor Emeritus. In his philosophy he “managed to combine absolute idealism with utilitarianism”.

Idealism with utilitarianism is a fair summary of the history of freedom in Britain, and Timothy Sprigge believed in free will. I’m touched to learn that serving as chairman of Advocates for Animals meant as much to him as being elected President of the Aristotelian Society.

We need philosophers who care about children and animals. Logical thinkers are in short supply, too.

A graceful denunciation of Mr Brown by Christopher Booker

Christopher Booker describes the undemocratic expansion that turned the European economic community into a slow-motion political mudslide that is about to sweep away Britain. He also calls Mr Brown a liar for pretending the Reform Treaty is not the EU Constitution and denying the British people their democratic right to vote yes or no to it.

Booker’s essay, which was published in the Wall Street Journal (subscribers only), is printed in full in Richard North’s EU Referendum.

Armed robbery

OJ Simpson, a notorious character unrelated to Homer, was recently arrested in Las Vegas for armed robbery. He will be brought before a judge within 72 hours, and the judge will have to decide if there is sufficient evidence to hold him. The right to habeas corpus of a person arrested in America is, of course, directly related to Magna Carta.

OJ, who would have been known as Jugo de Naranja if he lived in Spain, would have been kept in jail there until the authorities finished investigating his case, which could be six or nine months. Jail is probably the right place for OJ to be, but if you or I were unjustly arrested, we would like to have the right to habeas corpus, now under threat in Britain from the EU.

September 17, 2007

Accomodation and respect from Muslim citizens for the common law

Thomas Lifson writes that Islam can accommodate itself to the needs of the 21st Century. The first Muslim in space, aboard a Russian spacecraft, has been given leeway over holding his prayer position in a zero-gravity environment.

Likewise Muslim cabdrivers in the West need to accomodate themselves to transporting the seeing-eye dogs of the blind, while all citizens and visitors to Britain are bound to respect Britain's common law.

Developed by British people over the centuries, common law is their gift to us - thoughtful, fair, equitable, just, and incorruptible. Common law is a shield against evil, a defence against domestic and national tyranny, and a guardian of freedom.

Common law is not law passed down from high by rulers. Further, it includes the right to trial by jury. A jury always has the right to give a not guilty verdict even if it runs counter to the interpretation or logic of statute law, the law created by Parliament. This means the people have the power to decide that a law is unjust and overturn it.

This guarantee of freedom is the reason that the self-aggrandizing European Union wants to destroy it.

Hang on

Go down, go long, hang on.

They did.

Diamond Light Source to uncover secrets of rare scrolls

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Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory (RAL), Oxfordshire

RAL was named after Edward Appleton , who made long-range radio and radar possible by discovering that radio waves with a wavelength short enough to penetrate the lower region of the ionosphere will be reflected by an upper region. This upper region is now called the Appleton or F layer, the layer where radio waves travel best. Ernest Rutherford was the tremendous thinker who established nuclear physics.

The Diamond Light Source is the latest remarkable addition to RAL. Diamond's "X-ray beams, 100 billion times brighter than a medical X-ray" allow it to reveal the hidden composition of material. "The machine works by propelling electrons at great speeds around a giant tunnel". The Guardian reports that the Diamond will be used to read scrolls which are too fragile to unroll. I imagine this is just one of many interesting jobs for Diamond.

RAL sounds fascinating. Built on an old RAF airfield, the facility hosts particle physics, microelectronics, atmospheric sciences, space science, spectroscopy and renewable energy research.

Gordon Brown and the golden goose

Ruth Lea, director of the Centre for Policy Studies, accuses Gordon Brown of recklessly squandering the advantages of the British economy. It is difficult to disagree with her case.

By implication the British people have created a brilliant economy they are in danger of losing due to a Chancellor, now PM, who does not understand economics and who does not believe in freedom, though it is fundamental to British prosperity.

September 16, 2007

Seeing their true faces

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In the 7th century, when Britain was shadowy with trees, there was a man who could see a person's true, inner face. We'll look at him next week and see if what he tells us speaks to us today.

May your week be good.

September 15, 2007

Victory - Paul Potts

Paul Potts stood with homely dignity, opened his lips with his awkward tooth and moved an audience to tears as he sang Nessun Dorma. "None shall sleep. . .victory!"

The album that resulted from his spring win in the Britain's Got Talent contest has appeared, and soared to the top of Britain's charts.

Hew Butler

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The men and women of “the greatest generation” continue to depart.

The latest is Hew Butler, who was with the Seventh Battalion when he was wounded in the Battle of the Mareth Line, Tunisia, in 1943, and taken prisoner. “He was held in various camps in Italy before being transferred to Stalag VIIA at Moosburg, Bavaria.

"Just before Christmas 1943 he and a brother officer, Captain Bill Spears of the Royal Corps of Signals, escaped and headed for Switzerland”. Captured and interrogated by the Gestapo, he survived and continued to serve in the army, rising to the rank of Major-General before retiring.

Hew Butler then focused his energies behind the Beit Trust, a charity which invests in hospitals, orphanages and schools in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. The trust, which celebrated 100 years in 2006, built many of the great bridges of Central Africa and over 400 smaller ones. It now makes grants in health, education, and the environment.

Butler also campaigned to save the black rhinoceros in Zimbabwe.

Celebrating with English roses

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We put the website up a year ago, and today we celebrate with English roses, the beautiful scented roses created by David Austin.

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David CH Austin and David JC Austin

In June, David CH Austin OBE was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's birthday honours list for services to horticulture.

The path that led to the honour began sometime around 1946, when he was just 20, and “a copy of George Bunyard's book on old roses” gave him the idea of crossing the beautiful old scented roses, which had all but died out, with modern roses.

Modern roses are very beautiful, but wandering through the Portland Rose Garden you often see the wistful expressions of those who find the rose they have just sniffed is unscented.

Austin embarked on fifteen years of cross-breeding the wide colour range and repeat-flowering qualities of modern roses with heavily scented old roses - gallicas, damasks, and albas. He introduced his first variety in 1963. No one thought his idea would catch on.

The son of Shropshire farmers, Austin now oversees one of the world’s largest garden rose breeding programmes with his son, David. He has introduced more than 200 hardy varieties. Their fragrance is wordlessly lovely.

We cannot bring you fragrance, but we will try to keep bringing you some of the old and new, the beautiful and strong.

September 14, 2007

Does The Queen do anything for us?

George Orwell thought so.

Totalitarians are fiendlshly clever at appropriating the beloved symbolism of a country, and making it synonomous with their wretched political movement. Italian Fascists and German Nazis did it, and politicians in Britain have attempted to do it.

In Britain the symbols of our country have been kept separate from self-serving, partisan politicians, at least until recently.

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George Orwell

"It is at any rate possible," Orwell wrote in 1944, "that while this division of functions exists, a Hitler or a Stalin cannot come to power."

The monarch symbolizes ideals of justice, freedom, and mercy. But she (or he) has a crucial Constitutional role that we think has been forgotten or repressed by politicians.

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See Your Own Choice for details.

Update: We notice the Monarchist has been writing about similar ideas.

September 13, 2007

UPDATED - King Alfred and the survival of our children

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Winchester Cathedral Library
The library holds over 4,000 books. It was begun by the monks of a Benedictine monastery, later called the Priory of St. Swithun, who copied and preserved in Latin the few books in existence in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. These monks taught Alfred the Great to read and write.

Does Alfred's history give us any clues about the upbringing and survival of our children?

Some of the monks who preserved civilisation were Irish, as has been famously described elsewhere. Some, like St Swithun, were British. In violent times they offered children several distinct advantages, aside from being able to teach them.

By the time Alfred became king, the chaos created by repeated invasions was so terrible that civilisation hung by a few threads. He later wrote, “I did not know one priest south of the Thames who could render his Latin service-book into English.” From the monks, who swore a vow to stability, and from the ghastliness of life lived under repeated attack, Alfred developed an appreciation for the stability that makes life, learning and the pleasures of life possible. He came to realize that this stability was based on fundamental principles of truth, goodness, and excellence that had stood the test of time and which, like fertile soil, allowed new growth and developments.

Alfred found these truths written in books, but the books were in Latin. He wanted them in English so English people could read them, but his schedule was a little tight for working on translations, since he was fortifying towns, building a navy to defend England, establishing the common law and hearing and reviewing cases.

However you do what you have to do, and Alfred made time to translate the books he had from Latin into English. They included the universal history of Orosius, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the Consolation of Boethius, and the Pastoral of Pope Gregory. Alfred expanded on his texts. Having heard Othere’s account of his journey round the North Cape to explore the “White Sea”, Alfred added it to the universal history. When he translated an account of Nero, he added a passionate denunciation of the abuses of power. To the stoicism of Boethius he added warm words about the goodness of God.

Since, as we observed elsewhere, Alfred wanted people to be able to read his English books, he started grammar schools to teach them.

Alfred's curiosity, his active life, and his love of books made him happy, and his happiness was shared by many of his countrymen and women over the next thousand years. They were made possible by a belief in God-given reason, Judaeo-Christian ethical principles, and the stability that makes learning possible in the first place.

The kind of teaching that Alfred received, and that grammar schools gave British children, helped to create not a perfect society but a society of ever-increasing ebullience, inventiveness, justice, freedom, and peace. That is the kind of society children thrive in.

It was made possible because Alfred loved books and had a solid grounding in ethical principles and because he was willing to put his life on the line to defend them.


Foot and mouth disease and Sir Albert Howard

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Image: Linda Wettengel

That foot and mouth disease is back in Britain is tragic news for farmers. We don't pretend to have answers, but we think Sir Albert Howard may be on to something when he says that treating the disease the government way by slaughtering the animals is completely useless.

Howard deliberately brought his animals into direct contact with diseased cattle, pasturing them together or separating them by a low hedge over which they could rub noses. After 26 years of experiments at agricultural stations in India he wrote -

This experience convinced me that foot and mouth disease is a consequence of malnutrition pure and simple and that the remedies that have been devised in countries like Great Britain to deal with the trouble, namely, the slaughter of the affected animals, is both superficial and also inadmissible. Such attempts to control an outbreak should cease. Cases of foot and mouth disease should be used to tune up practice and to see to it that the animals are fed on the fresh produce of fertile soil. The trouble will then pass and not spread to the surrounding areas providing the animals there are also in good fettle.

Howard has been called the "father or organic gardening" Science Timeline - scroll down). In his Agricultural Testament he describes in detail how to create "land with good heart".

We think this kind of farming and its products are increasingly popular with the public, but it's time-consuming. It's also increasingly costly due to market distortions and population pressures on open land produced by the European Union.

Of course, there's an easy solution to the EU which can be summed up in two words, good bye.

Unions strike blow for freedom

Delegates at the annual Trades Union Conference overwhelmingly voted that the Prime Minister should give the British people a say in a national vote on the EU reform treaty -

Union leaders, who represent more than one million workers, yesterday accused ministers of "breaking their promises".

Colin Moses, from the Prison Officers Association, said: "We have had a belly full of broken promises and what we have here is another broken promise.

"Promises should not be made in the heat of an election, they should be kept and they should be brave enough to go to the people of this country and ask them.

"And if they say 'no', that should be the answer."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, added. . .: "We should have the arguments and a full debate. People should be able to decide their own destiny."

We support a referendum to tell the government that the British people do not want the EU constitution and do not want to be part of an EU superstate. However, we hope you'll agree that the sovereignty and freedom of Britain cannot be given away in a referendum or a vote by Parliament.

To do so is unconstitutional according to the British Constitution created by the British people. It is high time we defended our Constitution.

September 12, 2007

Daring to see the role of faith

"By ignoring the influence of religion on progressive politics, the new atheist orthodoxy reveals itself as stupid and solipsistic." Tristram Hunt has bracing words in the Guardian for the latest flock of atheists.

Hunt points out that". . .not only did much Enlightenment thought - its reasonableness, scepticism and reflexive knowledge of the self - have its foundation in elements of the Protestant tradition, but its practice was closely woven into religious institutions. In England and Scotland, the popular Enlightenment was intimately connected with non-conformist Protestantism, from Matthew Boulton's Lunar Society to Glasgow University to the dissenting academies of the east Midlands. With its flourishing Deism and non-conventional Christianity, the Enlightenment was not everywhere the great anti-religious moment the atheists would have."

Politically, says Hunt, their approach "leads to a heavily flawed rewriting of history in which the motives of those involved in progressive politics - from the abolition of the slave trade to the fight for female suffrage - are recast in a secular, 'humanist' brace with the 'poison' of religion extracted whether they like it or not. The result of such daring, rationalist inquiry is not a politics free from superstition and hierarchy - but rather a milquetoast, left-liberal consensus unnerved by the radical energy of religious faith. And, with it, an angry, narcissistic rhetoric that continues to infantilise public debate and close down political choices."

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Almost the entire history of liberty and justice in Britain consists of brave Christians defying oppressors, and daring to throw open the doors of scientific enquiry. It's a wonderful story.

“A safe pair of hands” - Sir Tasker Watkins, VC

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During World War II, Tasker Watkins and his company crossed booby-trapped cornfields while under heavy machine-gun fire. It was a little different from the rugby he had played for the Glamorgan Wanderers as a young man. In France, carrying the ball was for keeps.

When Lieutenant Watkins found himself the only officer left in the 1/5th Company of the Welch Regiment, he singlehandedly “charged two enemy posts in turn, killing or wounding the occupants with his Sten gun” (Telegraph). Counter-attacked by 50 Germans, he led a bayonet charge that ended enemy action.

Attempting to lead his men back to their battalion, Watkins was “challenged by an enemy post at close range. Ordering his men to scatter, he charged the post with a Bren gun and silenced it. Then he led the remnants of his company back to battalion headquarters”.

His citation for the Victoria Cross recorded that "his superb gallantry and total disregard for his own safety during an extremely difficult period were responsible for saving the lives of his men and had a decisive influence on the course of the battle".

Reflecting on these events years later, Watkins said, “I'd seen more killing and death in 24 hours - indeed been part of that terrible process - than is right for anybody. From that point onwards I have tried to take a more caring view of my fellow human beings, and that, of course, always includes your opponent, whether it be in war, sport or just life generally."

Married, and the father of a boy and a girl, Watkins read for the Bar after the war and practiced on the Wales and Chester Circuit. He was practical, compassionate, and thoroughly grounded in the common law.

Respected for his common sense and his “unruffled” air, he investigated and ended the unjust treatment of mentally ill patients by staff; designed procedures to expedite the time and costs spent on criminal trials; and helped to establish in a historic appeal case that husbands living with their wives could be convicted of raping them. On his way to becoming the Deputy Chief Justice of England and Lord Justice of Appeal, he “released a fraudster from prison after hearing of the man's gallantry in diving into a fast-flowing river to save a four-year-old girl”.

He retired from the bench in 1993 at 75, and immediately brought his sure hands to the Welsh Rugby Union, which he served as president until 2004. He received many honours, but he never looked for thanks.

Heroes.

Wild beauty

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Image: Douglas McGilviray

For the wild beauty of the heather, good company and a glass of whisky, I think we could hardly do better than visit Scotland in September.

The mystery of history

In his book West Chester to 1865, That Elegant and Notorious Place, Douglas Harper uses an original source to describe the reaction of children caught near the Battle of the Brandywine. (We posted on the battle, which came close to ending the American Revolution yesterday.) Harper writes -

The morning (of September 11, 1777) was wretchedly hot, with some clouds that brought little relief. Persifor Frazer’s three young children were at school in Thornbury. The oldest was Sally, age eight. Many years later, she remembered hearing the gunfire and cannonading: “The teachers went out, and listened some time, and returned, saying, ‘There is a battle not far off, children, you may go home.’ As we returned we met our mother on horseback, going over towards the place of action, knowing that. . .our father must be in the midst of the affray.” Strong-willed Mary Taylor Frazer knew her husband well.

Reading between the lines, there are interesting insights into British life in Pennsylvania in the 18th century. First there is the fact that children went to school, and the school was large enough to have more than one teacher. Second, girls were taught as well as boys. (Education would help make America prosperous.) Third, the battle put a crimp in lessons, but the teachers apparently thought nothing of sending children across country, perhaps straight toward two armies. Fourth, women rode horses, and were used to taking care of themselves. Fifth, if they really loved a man, or wanted him home, they rode into battle to find him.

Some of these comments may apply only to the Frazers, but we know from other sources that boys and girls were taught to read and write and ride and to be self-reliant.

If only we knew what Mary Taylor Frazer felt about her husband, and whether she found him, and what she said to him. . .

September 11, 2007

Theodore Dalrymple writes about good and evil in the New English Review

"One of the formative experiences in my life was working for a British surgeon in Africa who for me was all that a doctor should be. In those days, and in that place, there were very few aids to diagnosis; observation, logic, experience and instinct were all. The surgeon was such a brilliant diagnostician that his opinion was like a final court of appeal for all other doctors in the hospital (to say nothing of the patients). I never knew him to be wrong. . .
But his technical accomplishment was, if anything, less impressive than his moral character. He was a man of perfect temper: I never knew him to be other than calm, even when in the middle of an operative crisis, or be less than polite to anyone; called up from his bed in the middle of the night, he was as equable and self-contained as by day, and this despite the fact that he must have had at least two nights’ disturbed sleep a week for many years. His patients - mostly poor Africans - trusted him utterly, and were right to do so.
. . .Although highly respected in his hospital, he gained no wider renown through his work; the satisfaction for him was in doing good. I never knew a better man.
And yet I found his example intimidating to me: not, of course, because of anything he said or did, but because I knew, indubitably and at once, that I should never be as good a man as he. My problem was ego. . ."

Theodore Dalrymple, who has had considerable experience with evil, searches for goodness, its source, and whether it is real. He also looks at those who adopt the Nietzschean position that compassion is really disguised weakness, contempt or drive for power, because, unwilling or unable to be compassionate, they cannot bear to see goodness in others.

Stem cell pioneer - Dr Edward Boyse

Edward Arthur Boyse, who died recently, realised that every placenta that was tossed out after a delivery was rich in blood stem cells. In 1989, when he was 66, he experimented with extracting and freezing these stem cells over different lengths of time and showed that the cells would survive long periods of freezing. Dr Boyse had the idea that when patients’ bone marrow was severely damaged by chemotherapy, and their own stem cells had been destroyed, they could be replaced by the stem cells of placenta or umbilical cord blood.

This is now routine practice and has saved many lives. He also discovered the different types of T lymphocytes, including the killer and helper functions of the different types.

Dr Boyse did most of his work in America at the New York University Medical School and the Sloan-Kettering Institute of Cancer Research. Born in Worthing, he went to Worthing Grammmar School, joined the RAF at age 17, and qualified as a flying instructor. He trained as a doctor at St Bartholomew’s. He kept fit by running and digging his garden.

Dr Boyse is one of the many people who, visibly and invisibly, have been making contributions to our country, our world, and our health and happiness.

The beacons are being lit - parish polls

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Bodinnick

Iris Binstead of SOS reports that the parish of Lanteglos-by-Fowey (Polruan, Bodinnick, Whitecross and Mixtow) in South East Cornwall had a meeting last night (10 September) at which the voting was 17 to 0 to support the parish poll calling for a referendum on the EU constitution. There was just one abstention (the Parish Clerk who had also declined to take the minutes). The paperwork will now be sent to Caradon District to demand a poll.

Last night Sidmouth East Town ward also won a parish poll by a 10 to 2 vote. Sylvia Brownlee was the organiser leading the effort. As David would say, 'well done!' He has more about parish polls here.

9-11-1777 With courage and luck revolutionaries survive battle

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Image: H. Mahnke

On the morning of September 11, 1777, the United States of America was almost destroyed due to intelligence failures in a battle that killed an estimated 3,000 soldiers and that saw George Washington, John Marshall, James Monroe, Alexander Hamilton, and Lafayette in action. It is hard to imagine the United States surviving the deaths of these leaders, but at the Battle of the Brandywine the American Army came close to complete disaster. A number of American soldiers were killed by friendly fire. Washington only escaped death due to the enemy’s chivalry and his own coolness. That the Americans were not utterly defeated is partly due to a forgotten Virginian and his brigade, and to American spirit, which touches us on the sixth anniversary of 9-11.

As is pretty well known, the British Army considered the American Revolution an insurrection by fellow British subjects. The Americans, who began the struggle to defend their rights as freeborn Brits, saw the war as a struggle for independence and freedom.

In 1777, the third year of the American Revolution, General William Howe landed with 13,000 British troops and 5,000 Hessian mercenaries in Maryland, and headed north to seize Philadelphia. By September 9, his army was at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, six miles west of Brandywine Creek and the Chadd's Ford crossing. Facing him on the east side of Chadd's Ford was George Washington with 11,000 American soldiers.

Trees grew so thickly on the banks of the Brandywine it was impassable to an army except at the fords. Washington was guarding these, but he had been given inadequate intelligence, and had overlooked a crossing to the north.

Howe had better information about the terrain. He decided to send part of his force to attack Washington at Chadd’s Ford while the rest of his army, screened by woods and rolling green hills, marched north, crossed the Brandywine at an unguarded crossing and launched a devastating surprise attack.

Reports reached General Washington that British brigades were moving north, and he ordered Nathaniel Greene to strike across Chadd’s Ford. But the next intelligence to reach him inaccurately suggested that Greene was attacking the entire British army, and Washington pulled him back.

By early afternoon, the British army was about to descend in force on the unsuspecting Americans. A local, Thomas Cheyney, who had barely escaped capture, arrived with the news at Washington’s camp. Washington sped orders to his commanders to move to high ground and block the British at the Birmingham Meeting House. The Americans

“. . .raced toward the British, who halted and opened fire. Seeing this, Sullivan's rear brigade delivered a volley. This fire did not reach the enemy but plowed into Stone's hapless troops from the rear, and they broke and fled. . .

The British pressed their attack. The Americans laid down a telling fire, slowing the British advance, but were steadily forced backward on the flanks. After almost an hour, the British were close enough to launch a bayonet charge against the American right flank held by a brigade under a French volunteer, General Prud'Homme de Borre. As the scarlet line drove in, De Borre panicked and fled, followed by his brigade. . .Under increasing pressure, the Americans on the left also gave way, but the center held on.

In the meantime, the sound of the battle had carried to Chadd's Ford. Washington immediately ordered Greene out of reserve to reinforce the troops at Birmingham Meeting House, and Greene's men, Weedon's brigade in the lead, were soon pelting across the fields. Then, as the gunfire swelled, Washington turned over command at Chadd's Ford to Anthony Wayne. Guided by a local farmer, Joseph Brown, the General and his aides started for the battle in a cross-country gallop reminiscent of Washington's fox-hunting years in Virginia.

. . .The threat of imminent encirclement forced the Americans to abandon Birmingham Meeting House. With most of the artillery horses dead, the cannon had to be left behind. The troops fell back half a mile along the Dilworth road to a hill, where they formed another line. There the British struck them again, but were hurled back-not once, but five successive times. However, the Americans' ammunition ran low, and few were armed with bayonets; at the next British charge the surviving Americans began streaming down the hill.

At this point Washington reached the scene and, with his staff, tried to rally the men, disregarding the hail of British bullets. . .Meanwhile, Weedon's men arrived - they had double-timed four miles in about forty minutes - and deployed at a narrow defile on the Dilworth road a little to the rear. They parted ranks to let the retreating troops pass through then closed up again, halting the pursuing British with volley after volley" ( John B.B. Trussell, Jr., Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission).

Weedon was a tavern owner in Virginia. As the Hessians drove across Chadd’s Ford, overrunning the artillery, as Wayne’s men fell back, fighting hand-to-hand in orchards and fields, and Sullivan’s men retreated from the Birmingham Meeting House, Weedon and his men stood all that sweltering afternoon and fought, withdrew and stood and fought again. Their fighting withdrawal bought time for the American army to escape as darkness fell.

Artillery was lost, but not all of it. African-American Edward Hector, a private in Proctor’s Pennsylvania Artillery, in actions of outstanding bravery, rescued some of the Artillery’s equipment in the face of the Hessian advance.

The Americans retreated toward Chester. Howe sent cavalry to cut the road, but Polish volunteer Count Casimir Pulaski, leading American cavalry, covered Washington’s retreat. (This is not the first time that Polish-led cavalry has proved helpful. When the Ottoman Empire attacked Vienna on 9-11 1683, the Polish King, Jan Sobieski, led the successful cavalry charge that turned the Islamic invasion into a rout.)

Howe had defeated the American Army, but he had not crushed it. The troops were in good spirits. They hoped to recoup their losses in the future, and they did. None of them knew how close they had come to losing Washington.

Patrick Ferguson of the British Army had adapted the breechloading mechanism used in sporting guns in his military rifle and he was a brilliant marksman. He had Washington in his sights somewhere near Chadd’s Ford. Seeing him, Washington turned his back on him, and as Ferguson later wrote, “the idea of shooting in the back someone who was going about his duties so coolly ‘disgusted’ him. Even when told. . .that the officer in question was Washington, he did not regret his chivalry” (Dr. M. M. Gilchrist, St. Andrews).

Chivalry, though it goes by different names today, remains an enduring principle in British and American armies.


September 10, 2007

The handsomeness of age

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A well-travelled air is best.

The recently bruited idea of replacing The Queen and the royal coat of arms in UK passports with the wee stars of the EU flag will not, we trust, meet with the Manolo's fashion approval.

The handsomeness of age is always to be preferred to the shallow callowness of youth, as the Manolo recently remarked to Osama Bin Laden.

The comment from a Telegraph reader responding to the proposed change sums up our sentiments-

Why should we put up with this?
Posted by André on September 9, 2007 3:01 PM

"You have liberated a people"

This post has been updated.

The article "You have liberated a people" by John Hopkins scholar Fouad Ajami is about Americans in Iraq, but it has real relevance from a British point of view. First, because British soldiers joined Americans and allies in Iraq.

Second, because its views are so very different from the BBC/ABC/NHK poll taken in August, and released on the eve of Congressional testimony on the surge and the new counterinsurgency strategy by General Petraeus.

Whom to believe?

One aspect of the poll is that it does not state how many of its 2,000 respondents were minority Sunni and how many were Shia, though religious affiliation is fundamental to the conflict in Iraq and to opinions about its future. The poll was organized along "regional divides", but the published report fails to state how many people were interviewed in Baghdad, how many in the Kurdish north, etc.

Is it too soon to ask whether the surge is working? The BBC never addresses this essential question. General Petraeus has just reported to the US Congress that the military surge is working, and that military and civilian deaths are down, but the political surge, the social surge that will make a difference to war-weary Iraqis, is bound to be lagging behind the military surge.

The BBC has long said that Iraq is an unredeemable shambles where nothing is working. Only one thing apparently does work - its ability to take a scientific poll that reflects its editorial opinions.

ABC News was also a sponsor of this poll, which has been repeatedly used as a bludgeon by Congressional Democrats making speeches to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. How interesting, then, to learn that ABC still refuses to release on DVD "The Path to 9/11", the documentary that won seven Emmy nominations and 28 million viewers last year with its devastating critique of intelligence failures and both the Clinton and Bush administrations. ABC/Disney is apparently concerned about its effect on the Hillary Clinton campaign. Their deafening silence on releasing the DVD contrasts tellingly with their sponsorship of this poll. (Report in WSJ print edition, 9-11-07)

My belief is that there is unfinished work in Iraq. American, British, and allied soldiers who have died in Iraq will not be forgotten and they have not died in vain.

“By God, England will not fall while I am Queen”

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Cate Blanchett is Elizabeth I for a second time in the new film directed by Shekhar Kapur. Elizabeth faces the Spanish Armada and assassination plots. The invasion, which came so close to succeeding, was thwarted by the Queen and patriots.


People of East Stoke first to vote in parish polls on EU constitution as demand for referendum grows

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Dorset. The English Channel is visible in the distance.

In a historic poll, the citizens of East Stoke, Dorset, will decide whether a referendum should be held in Britain on the EU constitution. The date of the poll is 20 SEPTEMBER. The question is critical since Britain is being increasingly submerged by EU bureaucrats and socialism.

East Stoke will be the first in a series of parish polls to be held across Britain if grassroots organizers are successful. The parish is one of the smallest electoral districts in Britain and very close to the people. Trevor Colman of UKIP SW is heading up the alliance planning the polls. It is not the easiest thing to get a parish poll approved, but to their credit they have managed it.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown continues to deny the British people the right to vote on whether they want to be part of a superstate that will destroy their freedoms. He is convinced that he knows what is best for all of us, and is uninterested in our desire and our right to decide what is best for ourselves.

The parish poll signals the people’s demand to be heard.

September 09, 2007

To Autumn

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run,

To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core,

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel, to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.


Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind,

Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,

Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook,

Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.


Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,

While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue,

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river shallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies,

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn,

Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft,

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats, 1795 - 1821
May your week be good.

September 08, 2007

Reading Mister Pip

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I think I would be happy reading in either of these rooms, but the green room has a distinct advantage – the company of a dog. The book I’d like to read is Mister Pip, by New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones, which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The novel is set against a rebellion in Bougainville in 1991 when 20,000 people died, and the Papua New Guinea government blockaded the island, cutting it off from the outside world. At the novel's heart is a recluse who opens a school and introduces his pupils to the literature of Charles Dickens.

The rooms come from a 1987 book called English Country by Caroline Seebohm and Christopher Simon Sykes.

Goodbye, Pavarotti

BBC1 plays England's soccer and Italy's Pavarotti together - the sublime on earth, just the way Pavarotti liked it.

September 07, 2007

Love and war at Dunkirk

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Atonement

First Post reviews the film, which opens this weekend.

Winston Churchill describes a critical scene in the film, when the Germans overran Belgium, the Netherlands, and France and the British and French armies retreated to Dunkirk in May, 1940. In the actions of French and British forces and civilian British under unrelenting German attacks, there was gallantry and love.

At first there appeared to be no way to bring 220,000 Tommies and their French comrades to safety.

". . . By intense effort Fighter Command maintained successive patrols over the scene, and fought the enemy at long odds. Hour after hour they bit into the German fighter and bomber squadrons, taking a heavy toll, scattering them and driving them away. . .Wherever German aircraft were encountered, sometimes in forties and fifties, they were instantly attacked, often by single squadrons or less, and shot down in scores, which presently added up into hundreds. . .Sometimes the fighter pilots made four sorties a day. . . Unhappily, the troops on the beaches saw very little of this epic confrontation in the air, often miles away or above the clouds. . ."

Meanwhile,

“The French in Lille fought on gradually contracting fronts against increasing pressure. . .These Frenchmen, under the gallant leadership of General Molinié, for four critical days contained no less than seven German divisions which otherwise could have joined in the assaults on the Dunkirk perimeter. This was a splendid contribution to the escape of their more fortunate comrades and of the British Expeditionary Force. . ."

And across the Channel,

"From the streams and estuaries of Kent and Dover, a strange fleet appeared: trawlers and tugs, scows and fishing sloops, lifeboats and pleasure craft, smacks and coasters; the island ferry Gracie Fields; Tom Sopwith's America Cup challenger Endeavour; even the London fire brigade's fire-float Massey Shaw - all of them manned by civilian volunteers. . ." They sailed across the Channel to Dunkirk and under the deadly fire of the German Air Force rescued their exhausted, bleeding sons. (Quotation from William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill.)

There was love at Dunkirk.


Response to hardline Islamic sect in Britain

Our response to the Times report that "Almost half of Britain’s mosques are under the control of a hardline Islamic sect" is here.

We are waiting to hear a response from the British Government.

The Unnatural History of the Sea - new book on restoring fish and fishing

In what is likely to be a controversial book, Callum Roberts calls for closing at least one-third of the seas around Britain and taking fish management out of the hands of government so what has become an ocean wasteland can be renewed.

"Researchers at York have calculated that over the past couple of decades, EU ministers have set quotas every year at 25 to 30 per cent more than fish stocks can stand. He calls it "quota setting by competitive bargaining."

He favours taking the day-to-day management of stocks out of the hands of politicians and putting it in the hands of experts, as the decision to let the Bank of England set interest rates did with the economy."

This is a subject dear to the heart of all those who care about the earth. Cut away the strangling net of the EU and British Government and restore the sea and local fishing.

RAF Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire - "All the characteristics of a saint"

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The boy who became RAF Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire grew up in a secure home without grinding poverty or fights between parents. Encouraged and cherished, he had what his biographer R. Morris called a “disciplined” life, the kind young children often respond to - they like regular dinner times and bedtimes and playtimes. Loving discipline seems to give them strength. It certainly didn't repress Cheshire's wild spirits.

Fast cars, reckless exploits

At Stowe, where his teachers included TH White, the author of The Once and Future King, Leonard was described as being determined, competitive, and "not very gifted”, aside from his skill on the tennis court. Athletic, with boyish good looks, he went on to Oxford where he became known for “fast cars, reckless exploits, fantastic extravagance”.

Nor was he forgotten at Stowe after he returned “as an old boy in a fast racing car and managed to drive unscathed through the cricket screen” (Mandarin). For awhile “he held the undergraduate record for the fastest return from Hyde Park Corner to Magdalen Bridge, in an Alfa Romeo”. Between outings he made a point of studying hard.

Something evil abroad

By 1936 he had joined the Oxford University air squadron. He was a competent flyer, but no one thought him brilliant. However, he was watching Hitler’s progress, and unlike many people of the time he had become aware “that something evil and dangerous was abroad” (The Times).

Cheshire believed that evil had to be opposed, and he accepted a permanent commission in the RAF. In June 1939, he was sent to flight training school, and in June 1940 he was posted to 102 squadron, Bomber Command. He was growing up fast.

It has been suggested that he chose Bomber Command because fewer young men did, and he thought it was a good place to make a name. Perhaps that is true. What Cheshire quickly learned from his New Zealand co-pilot, Frank ‘Lofty’ Long, was how to fly by night using instruments, and how to fly under heavy enemy fire. It would prove useful information.

RAF Wing Commander

Leonard began carrying out raids on Germany industry. “His rapport with his air crew and with his ground crew became legendary: one later commented that 'He could get me to do anything. He was once criticized for drinking with his crew in a saloon bar reserved for officers, but replied: 'If I am good enough to fight and fly with these men I am certainly good enough to drink with them'" (DNB).

He became famous for his skill, in one case bringing home his shot-up and burning aircraft and its crew after an attack on Germany by flying on faith and little else. He always volunteered for missions.

Men and women who know that life might end at any hour, and often did, tend to move fast. In Montreal to pick up a plane, Cheshire fell in love with screen actress Constance Binney, and they married, returning to England together. It was Constance who suggested that he keep a record of his experiences. Cheshire did, writing between operations, and published Bomber Pilot. The book sold out, and made him a public figure.

His targets were the most heavily defended in Europe, and he was under relentless enemy fire month after month, but he escaped without harm. He constantly tested plans of attack and made improvements to his aircraft. Due to his leadership he became the youngest group captain in the RAF. This, however, took him away from flying.

D-Day

Cheshire insisted on returning. Reverting to the rank of wing commander, he took command of Guy Gibson’s 617 squadron and intensively trained his pilots to mark targets by diving and dropping marker flares from only a few hundred feet so Allied bombers could drop bombs from a safer altitude.

Flying a new single-seater Mustang, Cheshire marked V-weapons sites designed to send 600 tons of explosives raining on London every day. The sites were destroyed. He also played a leading role in ‘the RAF's greatest spoof operation’, which lured Nazi German fighter defences 150 miles away from Normandy on D-Day.

Cheshire received the Victoria Cross for "four years of sustained courage, and bombing sorties in the face of heavy ground reaction", and was praised for the "careful planning, brilliant execution and contempt for danger which has established for Wing Commander Cheshire a reputation second to none in Bomber Command".

Shortly afterwards Cheshire flew his 100th mission, and was grounded. He was attached to a mission in Washington, was sent to the Pacific, and became an observer of the attack on Nagasaki on 15 August 1945.

The key in our hearts

The experience was overwhelming. Cheshire could never forget seeing the destruction of an entire city and all its people. Invalided out of the RAF, his marriage over, his life became "an attempt to achieve the kind of peace to which the key exists only in men's hearts".

Learning that Arthur Dykes, an ex-serviceman he had known, was dying of cancer, Cheshire brought him to Le Court, a country house in Hampshire, and nursed him until he died. Then he wondered if there weren’t others, 'dying and unwanted' whom he could help. He decided he would not go out of his way to find them, "but would merely leave things to take their course. If they came my way, I would accept them" (Morris).

After Dykes came a woman of ninety-five, ill and alone. Le Court began to fill with "the disabled, the unwanted, the helpless". Four months after Dykes died, on Christmas Eve 1948, Cheshire became a Roman Catholic and dedicated his life to helping people.

Because of his war record, anything he did was news. He and his patients were living hand-to-mouth, but donations kept trickling in, and nurses began arriving to help. "Le Court became transformed into a real home, where human wrecks discarded by society were able to regain their self-respect" (The Times).

The central concept of the Cheshire movement “was not ‘how disabled is he?’ but, ‘with his disabilities what can he accomplish?’; and the answer was always surprisingly encouraging” (DNB).

Help pours in for independent homes

The helpers included Cheshire's parents. By now Le Court was overflowing. Cheshire found an abandoned building, and thought it could become another home for the disabled. Again the project attracted donations and helpers. By 1955 there was a ‘family’ of six Cheshire homes in Britain. Each home was run as an independent entity under its own management, but was accountable to the Cheshire foundation. Cheshire was the active and guiding guardian spirit.

Marriage

In the 1950s, Cheshire established new homes in the third world, and began working closely with Susan Ryder, who was carrying out charitable work among concentration camp survivors in Poland. Sue was once described as fiercely determined and having "a wistful charm" (Mandarin). A good companion for Leonard, then.

After working together on a joint mission, Leonard and Sue married. On their honeymoon they toured their projects. It would not be everyone's choice of a romantic interlude, but it suited them. They established a hospital they called Raphael after the archangel of healing at the foot of the Himalayas, and hospitals in Nepal, Tanzania, Australia, and New Zealand. Later they raised a son and a daughter.

The characteristics necessary for a saint

By 1992 there were 270 Cheshire homes in 49 countries. Some of them were residential; some provided care for the disabled. It's worth mentioning again that “All were locally run and financed, according to the Cheshire ethos; and disabled people were themselves represented on every level of the foundation's organization” (DNB). This kind of local, private, practical accountability, so different from the way government usually does things, is effective.

Leonard died in 1991. He had always believed that “If the cause is right, the means will be found somehow” (Morris). He remained enthusiastic about playing tennis and watching sports on television. It was his old teacher, TH White, who wryly but inadequately observed that he had “all the characteristics necessary for a saint - obstinacy, fanaticism, charm" (Morris).

Leonard Cheshire had faith, too, and love and hope.


September 06, 2007

Spaceport for Virgin Galactic's White Knights and Spaceships

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Image: Plans for Spaceport America

British architect Norman Foster, in collaboration with American design firm URS Corp, has designed the spaceport for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. According to Aviation and Space, "it will include Virgin Galactic's pre-flight and post-flight training facilities and lounges, as well as the maintenance hangar for two White Knight 2 and five Spaceship 2 aircraft. . ."

We wrote about swashbuckling Richard Branson here.

His new facility "is a low-slung structure that uses natural earth as a berm and relies on passive energy for heating and cooling, with photovoltaic panels for electricity and water-recycling capabilities. A press release describes a rolling concrete shell that acts as a roof with massive windows opening to a stunning view of the runway and spacecraft. The terminal and hangar facility are projected to cost about $31 million, and will provide a destination experience for visitors to Spaceport America in New Mexico." From there, if all goes well, it's off to the stars.

Thanks to Instapundit for alerting us to the story.

Reflections on Saunton beach

I am in Saunton, on the North Devon coast, and have gone down to the beach with my brother’s dog, Lucy. The sea is postcard blue and calm. The wildflowers – evening primrose and viper’s bugloss - are flowering in profusion on the sand dunes.

This country we love is under threat by the misguided promoters of the EU. Many of the people we cherish are suffering under rules they had no hand in making.

Of all the British MEPs, Roger Helmer seems the most effective at communicating EU issues which these days increasingly impinge on our lives. His latest newsletter is here.

Geoff Holt's 'personal Everest'

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I've been following the voyage of a Hampshire sailor who is paralysed from the chest down but has been sailing solo around Britain.

Like everyone in Britain Holt faced some stormy weather this summer, but he cheerfully carried on. Now 41, he has been disabled since a swimming accident when he was 18.

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Leaving Portland in the Challenger. Holt describes his voyage on his blog.

Geoff made painstaking preparations for his journey, which has raised awareness and funds for RYA Sailability, a national charity that helps disabled people to sail. His wife and five-year-old son are part of his terrific support team.

Yesterday he came home, completing his voyage of 1400 miles and becoming the first disabled person to make a solo circumnavigation of Britain. He was greeted in Southampton Water by hundreds of well-wishers.

A horn sounds

“Demands for Gordon Brown to grant the British people a say on the EU reform treaty will reach new heights today when a powerful, cross-party group of MPs launches a nationwide campaign for a referendum”, writes the Telegraph.

MPs have been working quietly, possibly as a precaution against being derailed by the PM, to gather support.

"The move by senior MPs from the three main parties is evidence that pressure for a national vote comes from all sides of the political spectrum - and includes prominent pro-Europeans as well as Euro-sceptics. "

MPs may be waking up to the fact that the EU will make them and Parliament redundant. There is certainly evidence that many Labour MPs understand that a referendum promise was made in the last general election, and it has to be kept or they will risk alienating voters.

Europhiles may be hoping that a referendum will go their way. They will be looking for the support of the British people in building their pan-European superstate. Those will be siren calls, hard to resist.

Meanwhile little is said about the British Constitution, which prohibits delivering the freedom and soverignty of the British people to any foreign power. Its horn is still faint, but it is sounding.

September 05, 2007

Evolving personal style in the country – Stella Tennant

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Stella Tennant for Burberry

In remarks published today, American fashion designer Vera Wang said, “One of the women I have always admired a lot is Stella Tennant. She puts vintage together with new. She puts boyish with dress-up. She makes fashion her own,” 5 September, Wall Street Journal.

Beautiful and six-feet-tall, Stella Tennant grew up on a thousand-acre sheep farm, and reluctantly began modelling for Vogue, Chanel, and Burberry when she was 21. ("That was why I was able to take it in my stride," she tells Liz Jones in the Scotsman. "When you are 16 you really are not ready.”)

Stella was married in her home village wearing a Helmut Lang dress. Today she lives in the country outside Berwick-upon-Tweed with her husband and their four children, and fashion shoots have faded from her mind. Though not entirely.

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Stella at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2004 exhibit, Dangerous Liaisons, Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century

Shorn of make-up, dressed in old jeans and Converse sneakers and standing amid a clutter of dog baskets, toys, and Wellingtons, Stella happily says the country is a wonderful place to raise children.

Money is a help. The spirit is everything.

Into "the drink"

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An example of British humour.

Britain on the Brink Conference

David Samuel invites you to a brilliant conference at Winchester Guildhall on Saturday, 22 SEPTEMBER, 10 am to 4 pm.

"Our country, the mother of Parliamentary democracy, of freedom under the law, of the world’s most widely spoken language, head of the Commonwealth of Nations representing 30% of the world’s population, the 4th largest economy, and for centuries a beacon of liberty has, since 1972, had its system of government, and its institutions, hollowed out and dismantled piece by piece with the full acquiescence of two generations of British politicians with little or no faith in the future of their own country.

As a result of our membership in the EU, which we were told was nothing more than a mere common market, we are now no longer a self-governing nation."

Samuel promises that six speakers will make the case that "either the ‘not the EU constitution’/reform treaty must be rejected by our elected representatives in the House of Commons who have no right to give away the powers that we the people lend to them a term at a time, or we MUST have the REFERENDUM that was promised".

The speakers are film producer Trevor Colman; Christopher Gill, former Tory MP and Maastricht rebel; Guy Herbert, from the NO 2 ID campaign; barrister Michael Shrimpton, defender of the Metric Martyrs; Helen Szamuely of the Bruges Group and EU Referendum; and Mark Wallace of the Freedom Association. Q&A with the audience will be a vital part of the proceedings.

I hope we can generate some “out of doors political activity” along the lines Catherine mentions below.

“Out of doors political activity”

From Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit,

Traditionally, Anglo-American political philosophy allowed for what Gordon Wood called "out of doors political activity" -- behavior that was extralegal, but not exactly unlawful, in response to overreaching by authorities. Pauline Maier's excellent book, From Resistance to Revolution, documents this during the colonial and revolutionary eras, but it actually persisted for some time afterward. The thinking was that government officials couldn't always be checked via law, because they controlled the law and its administration -- thus the need for citizens to (in the words of the Tennessee Supreme Court) "keep in awe those who are in power." The out-of-doors activity wasn't necessarily violent: generally, property was targeted first (think Boston Tea Party), and efforts against officials were generally designed to be embarrassing or humiliating rather than seriously dangerous.

As we suggested in a post on Robin Hood (below), the internet is already taking on part of this role. What about email cartoons that would puncture EU pretensions and YouTube parodies of EU pomposities. . .

Laughter frightens politicians. . .

September 04, 2007

So brave - Jane Tomlinson

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Jane Tomlinson
21 February 1964 - 3 September 2007
Image: Leeds University

Seven years ago Jane defied her diagnosis of death in six months from cancer. While enduring painful chemotherapy treatments, she completed a degree, ran marathons and completed an Ironman triathlon that raised £millions for charity. She saw both of her daughters enter university, her son turn nine, and her granddaughter Emily born.

"When I was first told I was going to die," she recalled several years ago, "my son was only three, and I could not bear the idea that he would not remember me. . .Now at 40 I feel I have done more than a lot of people do in a lifetime. So if it's my time this year, I would say, thank you, God, for what you gave me."

Her husband Mike and their three children gave her "unwavering support". They joined her in 2006 when she cycled 4200 miles across the United States from San Francisco to New York.


Jane detested being thought of as a cancer sufferer, and never thought she was special. She was simply determined she would not curl up and wait to die. Her physical exertions have entered medical literature because they may have helped her to stave off the disease.

The work of her charities lives on. To give to a UK charity in memory of Jane, click Jane's Appeal.

The man who loved plants - Graham Stuart Thomas

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'Graham Thomas'

He seemed to know everything there was to know about plants, but he wore his learning lightly and radiantly. You might find some things you'd like to know in the new file about Graham Stuart Thomas. It's here.

September 03, 2007

Life Savers

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Flt Lt Dave Kenyon
Image: Ministry of Defence

On 6 October 2006 Flight Lieutenant Dave Kenyon and his crew

"were called to the rescue of a seriously-injured casualty close to the summit of Glyder Fach, a 3,262 foot (1,000m) mountain in Snowdonia. Low cloud and heavy rain permitted little visibility while 70mph winds and severe turbulence buffeted the Sea King helicopter around in the skies above the rescue site. So severe was the turbulence, that the co-pilot, Flt Lt Iain Smith, recalls seeing hailstones rise vertically within the cloud.

With little fuel remaining and two spotlights out of action, the crew picked the rescuers and casualty from the clouded peak in almost pitch darkness before Flight Lieutenants Kenyon and Smith turned their Sea King towards the safe exit from the mountainside and towards Bangor hospital."

The Vodafone Award is designed as "a celebration of human compassion and achievement". Every year a national search identifies men and women who have saved the lives of others. They are given Life Saver awards. This year Lieutenant Dave Kenyon flew in to pick up his second Life Saver as the captain of this year's winning RAF Valley crew.

Looking for Robin Hood

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Robin Hood and Little John walked down a forest path where all around the leaves danced and twinkled as the breeze through them and the sunlight came flickering down. Quoth Robin Hood, ‘I make my vow, Little John, my blood tickles my veins as it flows through them this gay morn. What sayst thou to our seeking adventures. . .?’ From Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

It’s Labor Day weekend in America, and most of us have taken Monday off. This morning I ran the Wildwood trail in Portland, Oregon.

Heading uphill and down through the trees I remembered that thousands of children loved the story of Robin Hood. The faint clear notes of a distant horn sounds, a winged arrow splinters into a branch inches away from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s face. Moving like green shadows, Robin’s Merry Men separate him from his ill-gotten gold, and vanish into the depths of Sherwood Forest.

For eight hundred years children have made Robin Hood’s story theirs. We loved the band’s love of fair play, the individual wit and character of each member, and their breathtaking escapes in which each member of the team plays an indispensable role.

It is often overlooked that Robin Hood stole from the taxman, and returned the money to those who had earned it. His target was the rapacious state and church, not entrepreneurs and hard-working folk.

Today the state expands in power, protects people less and takes more of their hard-earned wages. Are Robin Hood and his merry men and women taking a stand in the forest of the internet?

One of the things men and women on the internet are calling for is a precise accounting by the US and British governments of exactly what they spend on what and on whom posted on the internet. This would include 'pork' and which representative requested which 'earmark'.


A Plain Man’s Guide

Graham Wood first published A Plain Man’s Guide to the EU Constitution in 2005 in response to the EU constitution proposed in 2004. Graham has now republished the booklet. It is 16 pages of extremely readable prose about the new EU treaty, the old constitution in all but name as everyone from Giscard d'Estaing to Angela Merkel have helpfully told us.

Graham's thirteen chapters describe what a consitution is, the constitution that the United Kingdom has, the preposterousness of the proposed EU constitution, and the threat to our freedoms. I highly recommend this guide.

Write Graham for copies at grahamwood32@yahoo.co.uk, or send £1.50 to him at 32 Station Road, Poppleton,York YO26 6PY.

In the garden

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Drawing by Graham Stuart Thomas in The Garden Through the Year

One of the certain things about writing about Brits at their best is that we are sure to have overlooked someone.

Somehow I failed to mention Graham Stuart Thomas when I wrote about the English Garden, even though his book, The Garden through the Year, was eyeing me from a bedside bookcase.

Thomas, who died in the spring of 2003 at 96, began his garden career at the age of six when “My Godfather gave me a large-flowered Fuchsia. . .which set me on my earthly career.” He was a a botanical artist, a kind and generous plantsman with an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants, a garden historian, a writer of indispensable garden books, and a conservator and restorer of National Trust gardens, including the very beautiful Mottisfont Abbey which he filled to overflowing with roses. We are working to right the omission. GST's file will appear later today, after I have slept on it. . .


Bryn Terfel in the sun

The Anchoress reminds us why we like Bryn Terfel so much. Here he is singing Ombra mai fu by Handel, a song for Graham Stuart Thomas’s sun-loving roses.

(Yes, as the Anchoress blithely admits, the aria has been transposed into a lower key.)

We wrote about Terfel here.

"Pooh, whatever happens. . ."

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Written by A. A. Milne and illustrated by Ernest Shepard, Winnie-the-Pooh first appeared in 1926. Christopher Robin and Pooh have spoken to millions of children since.

May your week - at school, at work, at home - be good.

September 02, 2007

Thanks to the Czech Foreign Minister for remembering a fine principle

Karel, the Prince of Schwarzenberg, is the former Chairman of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, and supported the freedom of dissidents oppressed by Communist states. Now a Czech Senator and Minister of Foreign Affairs, he has a keen eye for totalitarian repression. Recently he summed up the code that should define civilised nations,

“Democracy is not just a question of voting systems, and having a good constitution,” he says, “It is a question of—and the English have a wonderful expression for it. . .things which are done and not done.”

Exactly. Things which are done and not done - such as promising a referendum on the EU Constitution, and then reneging on that promise.

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More on the ways we like things done here.

Thanks to EU Referendum for the story, and congratulations on the new look of their website and the launch of their new defence site.

September 01, 2007

Two British Christians and Mother Teresa

Christopher Hitchens writes in Newsweek about Mother Teresa,

When Mother Teresa first rebelled against the quiet life of the Loreto Sisters in 1946, and sought permission from her superiors to start a new order—The Missionaries of Charity—she was at first turned down and told to stay in her allotted place of humility. The local archbishop, a man named Ferdinand Perier, then found he had a true believer on his hands: a woman hungry for humility and yet fantastically immodest. (“Come Be My Light,” the slightly sickly subtitle of this book, is what Mother Teresa claims, not that she said to Jesus, but that He said to her.) Only after she had wearied the diocese with demands that her ambition be referred to the Vatican did she finally, after two years of pleading and cajoling, get her way. And then, two months after she started her own show in Calcutta in 1948, the demons checked in and, in effect, never quite checked out again. She got what she wanted, and found it a crushing disappointment.

That is, after obtaining her ministry she could no longer feel the presence of God. She felt abandoned by God. She repeatedly asked God to respond, but God did not answer, and she felt she was living in a dark tunnel. Meanwhile she was trying to help the poorest people on earth as best she could.

Christopher Hitchens's cynical analysis may not be correct, but the publication of Mother Teresa's letters suggest a person who is grieving loss of God and unable to escape the feeling of loss and her own needs and desires. Hitchens would like to think Mother Teresa received no answer because there was no God to reply. There is another possibility for failing to feel the love of God, and since it is good news I hope it won't be seen as a criticism of Teresa.

The 18th century British Christian William Law fed the poor and schooled children. He had a fair idea why religious people hurt others and were depressed. He wrote simply, and bluntly,

"They turned toward God, but they did not turn away from themselves."

There is a remarkable, unknown British Christian of the 14th century who described the union with God that Mother Teresa longed to have. In The Cloud of Unknowing, he (or she) wrote,

"Let me say this: everything you think about, all the time you think about it, is ‘above’ you, between you and God. And you are that much farther from God if anything but God is in your mind."

In other words, if you are constantly looking for a response from God, you’re not going to get one. You’re just thinking about yourself and about what you want. Every parent who has ever loved a child understands this – understands that when they are truly loving and cherishing their child, they have forgotten about themselves. If they constantly asked their child, ‘do you love me?’ or if they constantly looked for signs of affection, they could never really love their child or feel loved themselves.

The author of the Cloud is Socratic in his insistence that we know ourselves. Being practical he understands that to truly know ourselves is to know that sometime somewhere we’ve messed up. The way to heal and feel better is to ask forgiveness of the person we’ve hurt, and of God. Guilt or unhappiness or pride will keep us apart from others and God.

The author of the Cloud feels so strongly about this that he says contemplation, and therefore union with God, is quite impossible if we haven’t cleared our conscience. He gently urges his readers to do this, and not be afraid, since “It is not what you are or have been that God looks at with his merciful eyes, but what you would be.”

So how does the author of the Cloud advise us to seek union with God? By putting a “cloud of forgetting” between ourselves and the world and a “cloud of unknowing” between ourselves and God. In the healing silence, we say a simple word whenever a thought distracts us. (The author is realistically and ruefully certain his mind and our minds will wander off, and sure that God is glad when we return. Departure and homecoming are part of contemplation.)

One thing more, and this is the most important part. The author of the Cloud wrote,

“By love God can be caught and held, but by thinking never. Don’t even think how wonderful God is! You must go into the darkness with a kindling love, and only love and nothing else but love.”

The Cloud of Unknowing is one of the world's great mystical texts. The unknown author's purity of intention seems partly affirmed by his disinclination to take any credit for his book.

We stand

Off to ring bells for a wedding. Before I do, I note an old, true post with a number of replies. I like this one best,

What an excellent - if somewhat gloomy - post Mr FM, made all the more interesting by the supportive and defiant comments of your readers. The ship is not sinking, it is listing and the lifeboats are ready but, if and when we must, we will step up into them, not jump down on to them. For the time being we stand and we fight: Nil illegitimi carborundum. Furthermore, as someone who spent half his life (and most of his working life) overseas, I concur with the Englishman: the glass is half full and despite all the pondlife this England remains a darn good place to live.


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