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Life in England

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Image from Pixabay“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Bob Dylan

The British people have spoken…

…well – just over half of them have and it was more of an incoherent cry of rage than anything cogent – but democracy demands…

I have pontificated a number of times in these pages concerning the increasing inequality between those in the ‘one percent’ and the rest of the world’s population. In this post from February 2013 – entitled ‘The disenfranchised‘ – I wrote:

History would suggest that were this trend to continue unchecked, at a certain point a revolutionary ire would finally be aroused, the formerly silent majority would declare that enough was enough and an insurrection – in some form or other – would almost inevitably follow. The difference this time is that the 1% – by becoming a global phenomenon and by disassociating themselves from any particular nation state – have thus essentially rendered themselves untouchable.

And if not the state then against whom should we rebel – and how?

I believe that we may just have had the answer.

Consider these details from the polling:

  • London, the major cities, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted by decent margins to remain in the EU.
  • Younger voters in the main wanted to stay in.
  • Those who benefited from higher education tended to vote in favour of remaining.
  • Bankers, economists, scientists, academics and other ‘experts’ mostly supported the status quo.

It seems clear that the UK has divided along a fault line that separates those who have done reasonably well over the past four decades and those for whom what can now clearly be seen as the end-game of the Thatcher experiment has seen year upon year of slow decline and ever decreasing influence on the direction that the union has been taking.

There are those – of course – from middle and higher class backgrounds who did campaign for Brexit – both politicians and entrepreneurs. It is quite likely that one of these will shortly hold the reigns of power now that Cameron has done that which he declared Britons would not do – and quit. That his successor will have been elected by the mere 150,000 members of the tory party and foisted upon the rest of the electorate is one of the ‘delightful’ ironies of the situation. Dare we hope for an early election – or is that just too grim a prospect? Actually, now that the Labour party seems hell bent on self-destruction that seems increasingly to be the most likely outcome.

In any event, the motivation of such people should – as suggested in my last post – be carefully scrutinised. We have already been subjected to the most unedifying spectacle of a number of the leave campaigners furiously backtracking on what many voters consider to have been firm campaign pledges – particularly with regard to funding and immigration. Hardly has the dust settled on this grim chapter than those who cynically rode a wave of disaffection to bring about their desired outcome have set about demonstrating just why those on the receiving end were right to be disaffected.

Clearly, if these political (and commercial) chancers have any belief at all it is in taking any possible opportunity for their own advancement, promotion and enrichment. By the time the ‘disenfranchised’ realise that when it comes to ‘taking back control’ they have been sold down the river – simply swapping one unaccountable elite for another – it will be far too late. The victims may at that point attempt a more forceful rebellion against the state, but the culprits will simply take the money and run, merging imperceptibly into the untouchable global elite that sees every world event – however cataclysmic – as an opportunity for personal enrichment.

It is most telling that amongst the leaders (or would-be leaders) of the rest of the world’s nations – who are even now contemplating with disquiet the happenings in the UK – there are only two who – for their own reasons – express unalloyed delight at the decision that the British electorate has taken… Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump!

I trust that no further comment is needed…

One final thought. Some on the far right have been voicing hopes that – following the UK result – other European peoples will demand similar referenda with a view to leaving the Union. The ultimate desire of these right-wingers would seem to be to see the whole European project collapse. Quite apart from the dazzling hypocrisy of those who complained bitterly about the UK having rules and regulations foisted upon it from without now wanting to dictate to other nations what they should or should not do – this hankering in some quarters for a return to a Europe of independent nation states all jockeying for position would seem to betray a longing for the continent to return to its conformation of the years before the Great War.

Perhaps some of those of the far right are hoping for a re-match!

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image from Wikimedia“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

H.G. Wells

I have done my utmost thus far to avoid adding to the hideous cacophony that surrounds this coming week’s grisly event in the UK – the referendum that is in danger of permanently tearing apart a nation that I love. After the appalling happenings of the last few days, however, I find myself compelled to say something – anything – regardless of the utter pointlessness of so doing.

Politicians on all sides are currently performing an intricate dance to avoid drawing any connections between the wicked slaying of MP Jo Cox and the rebarbative and vicious campaigns that have been waged on either side of the ‘debate’. Good form suggests that this is out of respect for the life – and tragic death – of a politician whose example clearly puts to shame the venal efforts of certain others. It would not be entirely cynical – however – to surmise that some of the shameless hucksters concerned are also desperate to avoid their own words and actions becoming associated with – or even blamed for – these awful events. When the full truth finally emerges they may find themselves considerably less lucky than they are hoping for.

Those leading and supporting the campaign to remain in Europe have much to be ashamed of. The manner in which they have tried to frighten voters into backing their position – rather than having faith that a reasoned and full debate would carry the day – betrays the lack of trust that both they and the electorate have in each other.

Those campaigning for the UK to leave are – however – far, far worse – for they are perpetrating a great deception on the British people. That they will eventually be found out and punished for it is of little comfort. By then it will be too late.

These devious villains – whilst peddling a romanticised notion of a ‘golden age’ that never existed but to which an exit from Europe might somehow return us – are banking on the great mass of their acolytes having no grasp of history at all. They are relying on the population not knowing or caring just how and why this great European project came about. They want us to believe that this has all been a plot by those devious foreigners rather than grand scheme for the protection of the entire continent, of which we in the UK were the joint architects.

The Brexiteers dismiss any notion of a united Europe being essential as a means of avoiding a repeat of the calamitous wars of the last century. They posit that times have changed – that there are no more fascist dictators and that with the end of the cold war Russia is no longer a threat(!). They do so – mind – whilst at the same time invoking the spectre of Hitler and Napoleon in reference to our European partners. In any case – they demur – our defence now lies in the hands of the Americans.

What these ‘educated’ men (public school and Oxbridge all) wish their followers to forget is that the causes of the second war are to be found with few exceptions in the outcome of the first. The Great War itself became tragically inevitable as the individual nation states of Europe – competing against each other for power, influence and wealth – bound themselves into a Gordian knot of treaties, arrangements and deals that ultimately tipped the continent into a cataclysmic and unlooked-for war over a relatively trivial issue – because by then none of the ‘educated’ elite could find a way to extricate us from it. It was these events that led directly to the European project – that which some are now determined to dismantle in an effort to return us to a situation not dissimilar to that which led to the conflict in the first place.

The other great lie that these shysters will sell to anyone who can be persuaded to fall for it is the notion that – once we can govern ‘ourselves’ again – all the ills that bedevil the modern UK will be resolved. Let us be clear. These unscrupulous millionaires do indeed want ‘control’ returned to the UK, but they have no intention of sharing it – or any of the corresponding wealth – with any of the ‘great unwashed’ who might be persuaded to follow their cause.

These men (and they are in the main men) would love to see a return to nineteenth century employment practices – to see swept away all of those inconvenient protections that were hard-won throughout a century of endeavour – both in the UK and across the continent. They would also like to see the UK withdraw from that beacon of post-war achievement – the European Convention on Human Rights. Should you believe that those who peddle this line have at heart the interests of the whole of the British people then I fear that you are in for a rude awakening.

Nothing is quite so sickening as observing the carrot of higher NHS spending – posited as a potential outcome of leaving the EU – being dangled by those who do not actually believe in a state-funded health service at all. They would much rather see it privatised and added to the pool of money-making opportunities for them and their egregious buddies to paddle in.

Nothing is quite so sickening as watching those who would happily exploit any source of cheap labour playing the race card to pander to the oldest fear of all – that of immigration swamping all that we hold dear. When those responsible for these falsehoods betray those who have placed their trust in them – as they inevitably will – the guilty men will aim to have made their millions and to be long gone.

Surely in such desperate and dangerous times we should be doing all in our power to find ways to work together across continents – to co-operate with each other? Is that not the true lesson of the twentieth century? The belief that we can isolate ourselves and set ourselves apart from our neighbours sets us on a precarious path that I for one would fear to tread.

It scares me to hear Brexiteers argue that we should stop listening to the advice of ‘experts’. In Wells’s ‘race between education and catastrophe‘ there can be only one acceptable winner.

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No – the Kickass Canada Girl and I are not emulating the couple in Ford Madox Brown’s painting of the same name. No quite yet at any rate!

These are instead a few random Fuji X10 images – most likely the last such for now – capturing facets of the English summer.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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IMG_0534As previous postings to this online journal (here and here) attest I have been a not altogether irregular attendee at the premiere event on the English rowing calendar – the Royal Henley Regatta.

My previous school won the trophy for school’s VIIIs – the Princess Elizabeth Cup – a year or so before I joined them in the late 90s and have indeed taken the prize on several further occasions since I left in 2005. They did not – however – do so whilst I was in post there. Given that they are the only school in the land to possess their own rowing trench their repeated success comes perhaps as little surprise.

My most recent school – though winners in the past – experienced mixed fortunes at the event during my time of employ there, and I never saw them reach the final.

Until this year!

It seems entirely fitting then that – just two days subsequent to my retirement from the School – the first VIII met in the final of the Princess Elizabeth our closest London rivals and favourites to take the trophy. You will have gathered by now from the tone of this post that a famous victory was won and everyone with the slightest connection to the School is now over the moon with joy!

Heartiest congratulations to all concerned!

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vennOn Saturday last the Kickass Canada Girl and I enjoyed a really rather splendid day in town. ‘In town‘ refers – of course –  to ‘The Smoke‘… to London! I don’t normally feel much inclined to drive all the way in to town again at the weekend – having done most of the journey each and every day during the working week – but on occasion exception must be made – and made it was on Saturday.

We lunched with good friends in what was probably the first of a number of such ‘farewell’ events at one of our favourite eateries in St James – The Wolseley. We then indulged in a little retail therapy in one of London’s iconic department stores – Selfridges – before heading for the West End to see a show. This latter – David Mamet’s ‘American Buffalo‘ starring John Goodman and Damian Lewis and currently playing at Wyndham’s – was a late addition to the day’s festivities in that we only decided to try for seats on the morning itself.

Why – you might wonder – am I regaling you with this directory of Dionysian delights?

The answer is that it occurs to us – as it must do to others in a similar position – that we might, subsequent to our departure from these shores, rapidly come to realise that we miss terribly all the cultural and epicurean delights of the big city. We might even compare – unfavourably – our new home with that which we have left behind and become – as a consequence – ‘homesick’.

I decided to get my comparison in first!

The Wolseley is indeed lovely and serves one of the three best ‘Eggs Benedicts‘ in the world (from my admittedly somewhat limited experience). The second such of these may be obtained just a few hundred yards further along Piccadilly at The Fountain restaurant at Fortnum and Mason. The third – at John’s Place in Victoria!

You might cavil that this latter is clearly an entirely different proposition when compared with the pomp of London’s finest, and you would be right… the ambiance is very different. One need only – however – look at the testimonials on their website to realise that John’s is a very special Place, and that their food really is of the highest order. That one has to fight to get a table for Sunday brunch tells you all you need to know.

Victoria can also offer plenty of other good dining experiences and you will doubtless find me waxing lyrical as to their qualities in future posts.

Could The Bay in Victoria really be compared to Selfridges? There is no denying that the London store is really rather flash and that if one is searching for what the younger folk might at some juncture have referred as ‘bling‘ – then it is probably the place to be. Of a weekend – however – it is also jam packed, overheated and extremely noisy. Frankly I prefer my retail experiences to be a little more civilised.

It will come as no surprise that Victoria cannot hope to compete with London when it comes to the theatre… but then – nowhere else in the world can either (not even the Big Apple!). We did see – however – only a few years ago Eric McCormack in Mamet’s ‘GlenGarry, Glen Ross‘ at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver. Certainly we could not reasonably wake up of a morning and expect to be able to book tickets for a hot show starring internationally respected talent that same evening! Both Vancouver and Seattle are within range, but serious planning would be required to mount an expedition to either. We will just have to spend more time on preparation. Fortunately, time will not be in short supply…

On the other side of the equation – driving into London from Berkshire can take up to two hours of traffic-crammed grind – and one must then repeat the odyssey on the way home later. The public transport alternative is no better – hot, exhausting and very, very long. From Saanichton into central Victoria takes around 20 minutes by car, and one gets to look across the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the Olympic mountains for much of the way.

Hmm! Not much in it by my reckoning…

 

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"The Saracen Army outside Paris, 730-32 AD" by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld…though that should in this case more properly be ‘Crusaders and Saracens’!

Those old enough to have been – in their youths – enchanted by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman’s wonderful parody history – ‘1066 and All That‘ (does this joyous tome register at all with anyone under the age of fifty?) – will recall that one of the memorable events of English history was the struggle between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads during the English Civil War. The Cavaliers were characterised as “Wrong but Wromantic” – the Roundheads as “Right but Repulsive“.

As reported in this recent post the latest skirmish in this particular conflict was enacted last Saturday in south west London. Sadly – for all of us ‘wromantics’ – the wrong side won, though the outcome might have been somewhat different had the Roundheads been just a little less… er – ‘repulsive’!

No sour grapes however! Well done the Saracens.

Until next year…

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Benjamin_Disraeli_by_Cornelius_Jabez_HughesI have – to this point – made no comment on the somewhat startling outcome of the recent UK general election. This is in part because – as I have stated before within the compass of these scribblings – this blog has no inclination to major on politics. It is also in rather greater part because the result was just so dashed depressing!

Actually – the further we travel from the election night itself the less truly startling the outcome appears, and the more all would seem to have been a dreary inevitability. Similar ballots involving Christmas and large birds of the genus Meleagris spring to mind… but then – I am hardly an impartial observer.

No matter. It is what it is – and I am in any case pretty much disqualified from judgement by my imminent departure to a different – though perhaps no more agreeable – political clime.

One thing – however – I can’t just let go…

I am appalled by the Tories’ post-election notion – courtesy of Cameron himself it would seem – to attempt to re-appropriate the ‘One Nation‘ soubriquet. Benjamin Disraeli (from whose 19th century novel, ‘Sybil‘, the term originates) truly believed in paternalism as a mechanism by which the poor and the needy should be offered support, and that it was the duty of those fortunate enough to have gained thereby to assist those who had lost out in the amoral jungle of the free market. Considerable social reforms were effected as a result during Disraeli’s terms in office.

This paternalism formed the basis of the Tories’ ideology – on and off – for a considerable stretch of its history until the New Conservatism – of which Thatcher was the flag bearer – swept it away during the 70s and 80s in favour of a belief in the unfettered power of the market to shape whatever actually existed of ‘society’.

You might expect me to raise at least two cheers for the return of the Tories to their former doctrine, and I might indeed be persuaded so to do were it not for the fact that – as in so many other things – this new direction is simply another cynical attempt to co-opt a meaningful philosophy (which actually has a track record) as some sort of promotional device for something lesser (which clearly does not!). This is nothing more than marketing and PR at its very worst.

Disraeli’s ‘One Nation‘ was intended to be just that. It was un-equal – certainly – but the intention was to care for the poorest and most destitute even if only by the largesse of their ‘betters’. Cameron’s nation – whichever ‘one‘ it might actually be – would certainly have been unrecognisable to Disraeli. It is – for example – apparently necessary to qualify to belong to it. There may indeed be welfare but only for the deserving – those who are ‘hard-working‘. This clearly excludes single mothers bringing up families – or the disabled who cannot work.

I could go on – but others have written on the subject with far greater lucidity than I could manage. This is The Observer’s editorial on the Queen’s Speech that opened the new session of parliament.

What perhaps galls the most is that the Tories have wasted not a second in setting in motion their campaigning for the next election – five whole years hence. No Tory is allowed to put in an appearance in any of the media without in-canting the party line on ‘One Nation‘ and ‘hard-working families‘. This is PR drivel of the highest order – presumably intending by endless repetition to hammer home the Tories’ ‘brand essence‘! Never have I been more relieved that I for one do not have to endure this farce.

What is worst of all is the sneaking feeling that just such cynical, patronising feculence very probably did help to win them the election just passed.

Doesn’t bear thinking about.

 

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Bath_Rugby_logoRegular readers of these marginalia will be all too familiar with my love of Bath.

I do not – it should be clear – refer here to my predilection for long soaks in a hot steamy tub, though my reputation for being something of a water-baby is well founded. No – I am alluding here to that most beautiful and splendid of Georgian spa cities to which the Kickass Canada Girl and I are in the habit of repairing whenever we are in dire need of a little R & R, or indeed feel inclined to celebrate some significant event in our existence… such as it being the weekend, for example.

I am – in particular – a keen follower of the progress of Bath Rugby club. Postings such as this one make very clear my enthusiasm both for the city itself and for its practitioners of the oval-ball game.

Thus it was that Saturday last found the Girl and I ensconced in a rural hostelry some miles from home (TV coverage being sadly limited to a subscription TV channel to which we do not subscribe!) watching the semi-finals of this year’s rugby Premiership.

Bath Rugby has a long and glorious history, winning – for example – the old Courage League six times between 87/88 and 95/95. Since the game turned professional in the mid 90s – however – they have struggled to achieve their former heights and have never won a Premiership final.

Over the last few seasons a great deal of hard work – and a healthy injection of cash – has paid off and Bath are now playing at a level that has not been reached for several decades. Their scintillating, fast-flowing brand of rugby is finally reaping its due reward and this season saw them finish the regular season in second spot, thus ensuring a home semi-final against their old enemies – Leicester Tigers.

Leicester play an uncompromisingly physical (brutal!) brand of muscular rugby based on an impenetrable defence – the complete antithesis of Bath’s more adventurous style. The contrast on Saturday was all too apparent. Leicester had the lion’s share of the possession and spent much time straining fruitlessly against Bath’s stalwart defence. Bath visited the Leicester 22 only eight times during the match – and scored on seven of those occasions! The final score of 47 – 10 may have flattered Bath somewhat, but for sheer exhilaration if nothing else one could not possibly begrudge them such a winning margin.

Watching such a breathtaking display turned out to be too much for our delicate reason and before the second half was half done we were searching online for tickets for next Saturday’s ultimate showdown against Saracens. By the time the final whistle went we had already snapped up a brace thereof – before realising that the match clashes with an pre-existing invitation to lunch with dear friends. They most kindly (if with slightly rictus smiles) agreed to take a rain-check.

Oh dear!

Still – if Bath win the final in our final season in the UK…..

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With riotous laughter we quietly suffer
The season in town, which is reason enough for
A weekend in the country
How amusing
How delightfully droll
A weekend in the country

Stephen Sondheim – ‘A Little Night Music’

Just such…

…a weekend in the country with oldest friends. The Fuji x10 came too!

One of many the reasons that this is the perfect time of year in the UK… English asparagus!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

A walk is most definitely called for…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid‘Et in Arcadia…’

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

 

 

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zero“Generally speaking, we get the joke. We know that the free market is nonsense. We know that the whole point is to game the system, to beat the market or at least find someone who will pay you a lot of money, ’cause they’re convinced that there is a free lunch.”

Ron Bloom

We all know this to be a truism – that there is no free lunch and that always, always, the little guy ends up paying – and through the nose at that!

Except – perhaps – when it comes to that totally wonderful organisation – Freecycle!

You may be familiar with their mission statement:

“Welcome! The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 5,238 groups with 8,743,027 members around the world. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them’s good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on ‘Browse Groups’ above the search box. Have fun!”

Not for the first time we find ourselves massively grateful that such an organisation exists. We have in just a few days found a good home for my treasured piano, for a surplus double bed and for some old bookcases that had been in use in the garage (‘shop’ to our Canadian friends) to house the usual tool-shed detritus.

If one were to ask for advice in this day and age regarding the disposal of an old upright piano the received wisdom would be that “you couldn’t give it away”. Except that it turns out that you can! Selling a piano may indeed be a near impossibility (given that most of us do not have the space for such a beast even should we actually want a real one rather than an electronic substitute) but Freecycle has enabled us to locate a good home for the instrument with someone who will appreciate it and use it but who couldn’t possibly have justified the cost of purchasing one.

Likewise the bed – really nothing special though in good condition – went to someone who was so grateful to have it that it hurt… and the bookcases – which I was all for taking to the dump (as we call landfills here in the UK) – have found a home with someone who ‘distresses’ furniture. Not that they will need to do too much in this case!

Each of these items came into our possession in a different way. They have all served us well and owe us nothing. We are delighted that we can now freely pass them on to others for whom they will have their own uses and meanings.

How satisfying is that?

 

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