Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Queen's Birthday Party

The Queen's Birthday Party at the Bragadiru Palace was enormous fun on Tuesday evening, much more so than the ones Robin Barnett, the last Ambassador, threw. The Prime Minister and Crin both made speeches. The PM speaks good English with a strong accent. Crin's English reminded me a bit of Dr. Johnson's comparison between a woman preaching and a dog standing on its hind legs - 'It is not done well but one wonders to see it done at all'. My ironing - I iron once every 15 years or so - is also like that.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

One of the last Victorians has died

I see from the Daily Telegraph obituaries, read on my telephone in a swelteringly hot Turkish restaurant in the back streets of Bucharest, where I eat every day, that my former boss, James Stuart-Smith, Q.C. Emeritus, known to me as the JAG, to rhyme with hag, has died.

I worked at the JAG's office in 1988, at a time when most traditions seemed to be dead (they do in every era) but when in fact (as in every era) the hearts of a lot of traditions were still beating.

Nancy Mitford said that the 'Victorians did not talk like us.' She meant of course the Victorians of her class, the ones who, in Evelyn Waugh's phrase, 'came to the front door'. 

For example, they put a 'eey' sound after the letter 'm'. When they said of someone that 'He is not a marrying man', a phrase in those days pregnant with meaning, they pronounced it 'meey - arrying meey-an'.
The JAG, who had an extraordinarily old fashioned and terribly smart accent, was the only man I ever knew who kept up this pronunciation of the letter 'm'. None of the peers in the House of Lords, where I worked before the JAG's office, did so, as far as I noticed. 

I remember once borrowing an old, unwanted audio tape from the office to record something and it had by chance one of the JAG's summings up on it. I found myself unable to stop listening to it with wrapt attention, admiring his curious diction. He was summing up in a case involving a soldier and - I forget the details of the case - a well-known type of sweets called Murray Mints, which the JAG had to refer to over and over again. He always did so, very carefully, as if gingerly handling a vase of great value, with the pronunciation of the upper middle classes of Mr. Gladstone's day.


The defendant said he put down the Meey-urray meeynt...

And so on. 

I suspect that people who went to Eton like Mr. Gladstone and Lord Curzon might have spoken differently. Curzon always used a short Derbyshire 'a' and considered  a long 'a' middle class and we know that Gladstone retained the short 'a ' of his native Lancashire because he famously said

 All the world over I back the masses against the classes

which does not work if you pronounce 'classes' with a long 'a', as required by Received Pronunciation nowadays. 

(Does Received Pronunciation as a phrase still exist? I don't want to get in a sneer at modern living in everything I write, which I am in danger of doing, I know, but it sounds very ('frightfully' is the word the JAG would have used) inegalitarian and undiverse for our compulsorily egalitarian and diverse age.

Monday, 24 June 2013

'Saudi Arabia is the best place in the world for women'

My feminist and militant atheist woman friend, posted to Riyadh, says Saudi girls tell her it is the best place in the world to be a woman. Women, they say, are treated like queens there and, my feminist friend says, there is a lot of truth in this. 

She does not forbear to point out though that many Saudi girls are fat. My feminist friend is a standard issue left-wing Yale graduate but she is also a Romanian girl and cannot help noticing these kind of things.

She is a passionate anti-racist who hopes that in her lifetime the majority population of Italy will be African. This she thinks is a just consequence of Italy's colonisation of four countries in Africa for less than half a century. But her anti-racism falters when it comes to gypsies. I am not anti-gypsy, although almost everyone I know in Romania is, but this does remind me of Kingsley Amis's remark,
Everyone is reactionary about the things they know about.
She is in her twenties and part of a new generation of clever young Romanians educated abroad who believe in the left-wing orthodoxies of Western universities and the ideas of the Frankfurt School of Marxism, despite what Romania endured under two generations of Marxists. 

Everything flows.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Night of the Sânziene, June 23rd- 24th





My friend Sarah last year wrote one of her enchanting blog posts about tonight, the night of the Sânziene.  


It puts me in mind of one of my very favourite poems, Bishop Corbet's wonderful lament for Catholic England. In Catholic England magic and fairies existed, as they still do in Romania which never had a Reformation to remove what the old churches subsumed of paganism, pre-Christian magic and a close connection with the earth. 



Witness those rings and roundelays 
Of theirs, which yet remain, 
Were footed in Queen Mary’s days 
On many a grassy plain; 
But since of late, Elizabeth, 
          And later, James came in, 
They never danced on any heath  
As when the time hath been. 

Sarah, who left Romania years ago, knows a hundred times more than I about this country and makes me ashamed. But like me (and very unlike some foreign bloggers) she loves Romania with a passion. 

More here about the Night of the Sanziene.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The death of King William IV

Frederic Harrison said his first memory was of his father paying a very rare visit to the nursery and saying, 
'Frederic, I am going to tell you something now that you will remember for the rest of your life. The King is dead.' 

'I said, "Oh, papa, who will be King now?" and my father said, "We are not going to have a king. We are going to have a queen." 
'And I said, "So it has come to that." '

'Whose lovely little girl are you?'

Sabine Baring-Gould once said to a little girl at a children's party: 'Tell me, whose lovely little girl are you?' She replied: 'Whose lovely little girl am I? Why yours, papa.'  

I sympathise. I have a bad memory for faces too. 

I researched Baring-Gould more on the net - how wonderful to have ones own university library in a small box perched on a table in my sitting-room - and discovered on a BBC page these interesting details that I did not know about the author of Onward Christian Soldiers.

The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould is best known for writing the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers. But he is also thought to have inspired his friend George Bernard Shaw to write Pygmalion - which was later made into the film, My Fair Lady.He took Holy Orders in 1864 and became a curate at Horbury in Yorkshire.It was in Horbury that he met mill girl Grace Taylor. He sent her away to be educated and then married her in 1868.The couple were married for 48 years until Grace's death in 1916 and they had 15 children! However Baring-Gould appears to have had little understanding of his offspring. Apparently at a children's party one evening he called to a young child "And whose little girl are you?" The child burst into tears and said "I'm yours Daddy".

Baring Gould wrote Onward Christian Soldiers while at Horbury, and was amazed at its popularity.He said he had dashed the words off in no more than 10 minutes as an occasional piece for a procession of school children.

He returned to Lewtrenchard in 1881, where he was the squire and parson.It's believed he had more than 200 works published, but the thing he was most proud of was his collection of folk songs from Devon and Cornwall, called 'Songs of the West.'

He spent 12 years travelling in the two counties, learning the songs from old singers and then publishing them.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Girl guides go Godless

A sad piece of news from the Independent.
For decades, Brownies and Girl Guides have promised to “love my God,” and “serve the Queen and my country”. But now, in a triumph for secularists, the organisation has decided to drop references to the deity – and the nation – from the oath taken by members.

Instead the Guide will promise

  to be true to myself and develop my beliefs.

What a narcissistic, pagan and empty promise and how appropriate for the age. What tedious young women these new guides threaten to grow into. I also discover that bob-a-job was abolished twenty years ago, but that was boy scouts.


"However, the Guides decided to retain the pledge to serve their patron Queen Elizabeth II in the Promise. Anti-monarchy campaigners told The Independent that the organisation had “missed” an “opportunity” to truly open up the organisation."

It sounds like a parody, perhaps written by Evelyn Waugh. Who are these anti-monarchy campaigners?



Monday, 17 June 2013

Things people told me today in Jerusalem



A foreign Protestant clergyman:


Islam is a very insecure religion. Why? Because it has always lived alongside two more developed cultures, Christian and Jewish.

Hitler made war on the Jews because he was making war on God. The Jews introduced the world to the monotheistic God of love.

The paedophile crisis in the Catholic Church is mostly a crisis of homosexual priests and most of their victims were boys over the age of puberty.

The current multiculturalist ideology will give way in the USA to its opposite: racism and discrimination. Americans do not find a middle course.


An experienced foreign journalist, Jewish with Zionist sympathies:


Arab Christians often say they get on well with Muslims but the truth is different. The Christians are often scared of Muslims. In particular there are many cases of Muslims sleeping with Christian girls with no intention of marrying them. In some cases raping them. Muslim youths would not dare sleep with Muslim girls before marriage because the girl's tribe would take revenge. Christians tend not to be organised in tribes and to be less vengeful.
A Christian television station in Palestine was finally forced off the air after the owner had received death threats and his headquarters had been fire-bombed.
Arab Christians in Israel suffer from religious and social discrimination but they have absolutely secure legal rights. On the West Bank they suffer from those forms of discrimination and do not have the rule of law.
From a well-guarded building in Jerusalem Christian missionaries are sent to all the Middle Eastern countries. They often face great danger. 
The foundations of first century Nazareth were discovered by accident in 2000, while preparing for Pope John Paul II's visit. The place is called Nazareth Village and is kitsch but impressive.
In the last three years the Catholic Church has been organising affordable housing for Christians and this has slowed emigration. 

An American Christian theology teacher and missionary, who speaks Arabic well:

In my experience, almost all Arab Christians have a public discourse in which they say that they and the Muslims are brothers and a private discourse in which they complain about the Muslims and say they are ill-treated by them.

I asked all the Muslim converts to Christianity that I know if they think that the God they worshipped while they were Muslims was the same God they worship as Christians. To my surprise, I would say 60% of them said no. I had not expected so big a number to say that.

An Arab taxi-driver from East Jerusalem, who is an Israeli citizen:
Things would probably be worse if the Arabs got back East Jerusalem. Why? It would be corrupt, taxi licences would only be obtained though bribery. The Israelis award them fairly, with no bribes.

A Muslim who kept a religious souvenir shop in the Christian quarter:
I spent ten years in prison for being one of the leaders of the first Intifada. I love that man [points to picture of Yasser Arafat]. See what they are doing? Beating up women in West Jerusalem for wearing veils. [Points to story in his newspaper.]

This is certainly not any kind of representative sample, of course. On other visits to Jerusalem I have met plenty of Christians and Muslims who complained in strong terms about the Jews, for good reasons. Some Christians told me that they had problems with Muslims but all said they had much worse problems with the Jews. I do not think the Israeli Jews are more sinned against than sinning.

My journalist friend said few people had written about Muslim ill-treatment of Christians in the West Bank but that Peter Hitchens had. I found this, from an article he wrote in 2010.
[In the West Bank] I saw the outline of a society, slowly forming amid the wreckage, in which a decent person might live, work, raise children and attempt to live a good life. But I also saw and heard distressing things.
One – which I feel all of us should be aware of – is the plight of Christian Arabs under the rule of the Palestinian Authority. More than once I heard them say: ‘Life was better for us under Israeli rule.’
One young man, lamenting the refusal of the Muslim-dominated courts to help him in a property dispute with squatters, burst out: ‘We are so alone! All of us Christians feel so lonely in this country.’
This conversation took place about a mile from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where tourists are given the impression that the Christian religion is respected. Not really.

I was told, in whispers, of the unprintable desecration of this shrine by Palestinian gunmen when they seized the church in 2002 – ‘world opinion’ was exclusively directed against Israel. I will not name the people who told me these things.
I have also decided not to name another leading Christian Arab who told me of how his efforts to maintain Christian culture in the West Bank had met with official thuggery and intimidation.
My guide and host reckons there are 30,000 Christians in the three neighbouring municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit-Sahour and Beit- Jala. Soon there will be far fewer. He has found out that 2,000 emigrated between 2001 and 2004, a process which has not stopped. What is most infuriating about this is that many Christians in Britain are fed propaganda blaming this on the Israelis.
Arabs can oppress each other, without any help from outside. Because the Palestinian cause is a favourite among Western Leftists, they prefer not to notice that it is largely an aggressive Islamic cause.

The West Bank was once predominantly Christian but the Christians are leaving. Bringing the story up to date is this very alarming news item from three weeks ago.



Sunday, 16 June 2013

Back in Jerusalem

'If English was good enough for Jesus Christ it is good enough for me.' 
(Allegedly said by a politician in the American South, but really a canard.)

I should write a book about Americans. If I did I might get to understand them. I am on the internet in the Notre Dame centre which is an odd and very American combination of  religious institution and four staff hotel, just outside the walled city.  It was built in the 1880s but restored in the 1970s and feels very 1970s. Every guest (pilgrim) seems to be American.  

Around me are Americans talking across me at the top of the voices. One offers to send me a video about the history of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When I suggest we cannot know if the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built on the site of Calvary he looks absolutely furious. As if I had doubted the existence of God. He is not going to send me that link. I feel like a dangerous freethinker. I begin to understand for the first time why some people are pleased to be atheists.

One expects more subtlety from Catholics, but American Catholicism is very Protestant, just as Romanian Catholicism (happily) is very Orthodox. The Catholicism of this place seems breezy and cheerful, like the late Senator Edward Kennedy's grin. It has none of the darkness of the Spanish baroque, for example. On the first floor the interior of an English Gothic church has been created. Mercifully, though, the evening Mass is half in Latin.  I wish the last pope had ordered every church in the world to say or sing the Gloria, Credo and Sanctus in Latin, but I tell myself to be self-forgetful and obedient.




I saw this poster in the kasbah in the Christian quarter, from the good old days. 'No photographs' read the sign alongside it.

I like travelling alone and coming closer to ones true self than when at home. I like meeting new people. I like the solitude though there is perhaps faint undercurrent of not displeasing melancholy. I like this quotation from Thomas De Quincey which I just came across:


Solitude, though it may be silent as light, is like light, the mightiest of agencies; for solitude is essential to man. All men come into this world alone and leave it alone.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia


"If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts."

"A woman simply is, but a man must become. Masculinity is risky and elusive. It is achieved by a revolt from woman and it is confirmed only by other men. Manhood coerced into sensitivity is no manhood at all."

"The trauma of the Sixties persuaded me that my generation's egalitarianism was a sentimental error. I now see the hierarchical as both beautiful and necessary. Efficiency liberates; egalitarianism tangles, delays, blocks, deadens."
"Every day along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, one can watch the passage of vast oil tankers and towering cargo ships arriving from all over the world. These stately colossi are loaded, steered and off-loaded by men. The modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role — but women were not its author. Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due!"

"I am troubled by the provincialism and amorality of the gay world and as a lesbian, I'm sick and tired of the gay rights movement being damaged by the cowardly incapacity for self-examination of many gay men."

"History shows that male homosexuality, which like prostitution flourishes with urbanization and soon becomes predictably ritualized, always tends toward decadence."
"Homosexuality is not 'normal' On the contrary it is a challenge to the norm...Nature exists whether academics like it or not. And in nature, procreation is the single relentless rule. That is the norm. Our sexual bodies were designed for reproduction...No one is born gay. The idea is ridiculous...homosexuality is an adaptation, not an inborn trait...."
"I have written repeatedly about my theory that homosexuality is an adaptation, rather than an innate trait, and that it is reinforced by habit. With its cant terms of “oppression” and “bigotry,” gay activism, encouraged by the scientific illiteracy of academic postmodernism, wants to deny that there is a heterosexual norm."
"Every man must define his identity against his mother. If he does not, he just falls back into her and is swallowed up."
"The more woman aims for personal identity and autonomy ... the fiercer will be her struggle with nature - that is, with the intractable physical laws of her own body. And the more nature will punish her: 'Do not dare to be free! For your body does not belong to you.'"
"Television is actually closer to reality than anything in books. The madness of TV is the madness of human life."
"To me the ideal education should be rigorous and word-based—logocentric. The student must learn the logical, hierarchical system. Then TV culture allows the other part of the mind to move freely around the outside of that system . . . I want schools to stress the highest intellectual values and ideals of the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions. Nowadays, “logocentric” is a dirty word. It comes from France, where deconstruction is necessary to break the stranglehold of centuries of Descartes and Pascal. But to apply Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault to American culture is absolutely idiotic. We are born into an imagistic and pagan culture ruled by TV. . . We need to reinforce the logocentric and Apollonian side of our culture in the schools. It is time for enlightened repression of the children."
"Teenage boys, goaded by their surging hormones run in packs like the primal horde. They have only a brief season of exhilarating liberty between control by their mothers and control by their wives."

"Men know they are sexual exiles. They wander the earth seeking satisfaction, craving and despising, never content. There is nothing in that anguished motion for women to envy."
"Out with stereotypes, feminism proclaims. But stereotypes are the west's stunning sexual personae, the vehicles of art's assault against nature. The moment there is imagination, there is myth."

[My gloss on the last quotation. I am too old to know what the word stereotypes means exactly but I hear intelligent people using this clunking word to shut off argument. Of course stereotypes are in principle good. Prejudices can be ancestral wisdom but some people in universities hate ancestral wisdom on principle. Ancestral wisdom can be wrong but to assume it is as a default setting is a sign of decadence.]

Read more here.

Monday, 10 June 2013

King Michael and Queen Ana celebrate today 65 years of marriage

I  wish them a happy Sapphire anniversary.

Tony Blair in Bucharest last night

Tony Blair and Victor Ponta were dining upstairs at Casa Doina last night while we celebrated Emilian Dima's wedding. The newly weds had their picture taken with Mr Blair but Emilian, who is more English than the English,  wishes it had been Margaret Thatcher Norman Tebbit.

According to the press:


Victor Ponta said that discussing with somebody who was prime minister for ten years was an extraordinary opportunity. “On the labour market and in the investment area, Romania has to be taken increasingly more serious and I believe that, although I am not overly optimistic, just realistic, I believe Romania can become a Poland in its geographical area,” said Ponta after meeting Blair. Also he said that when he asked him for a piece of advice for Romania, Blair said Romania should increase its self-confidence. “Self-confidence was his advice, because if we do not have confidence in Romania nobody else will have more confidence than we have,” says Ponta. 

This was a very astute judgment on the part of Mr. Blair. Giving countries self-confidence is hard to do but can be done. Margaret Thatcher, whatever one thinks of her legacy, did this and so, with the same caveat, did Ronald Reagan and Charles de Gaulle. I cannot see any political leader doing something in similar in Romania. it will be up to Romanians themselves then.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Bad verse and worse


All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling, said Oscar Wilde and this is usually, though not always, true. I love really good bad verse. Somewhere in Bucharest I have the commonplace books I wrote by hand aged 22, with scores of examples, but they are not to hand. Still, here are some bad poems.  Does anyone have any other more?

The first everyone knows.

UP the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And a white owl's feather!


William Allingham, a better diarist than a poet.




Few months of life has he in store
As he to you will tell,
For still, the more he works, the more
Do his weak ankles swell.
Wordsworth



Across the wire the electric message came.
He is no better. He is much the same.

Said to be by Poet Laureate Alfred Austin on the illness of the Prince of Wales but someone read the whole of Austin's dreadful verse and it was not there. How much better life is now we have computers. Gladstone thought of appointing Christina Rossetti as our only female Poet Laureate but instead left office with the position vacant and Lord Salisbury unforgivably preferred the hack, Austin



And now, kind friend, what I have wrote,
I hope you will pass o'er,
And not criticise as some have done
Hitherto herebefore.

Eliza Cook wrote this. She was American equivalent of William McGonagall. I have not bothered to read very much or quote him here. Perhaps I am put off by the fact that Spike Milligan liked him. The Goon Show was great but before my time and in my time Milligan had ceased to be funny.



Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

Browning, Mr. (Rabbi Ben Ezra)

Will you oftly


Murmur softly?

Browning, Mrs.




Death!

Plop.

The barges down in the river flop.

Flop, plop,

Above, beneath.

From the slimy branches the grey drips drop...

To the oozy waters, that lounge and flop...

And my head shrieks-"Stop"

And my heart shrieks-"Die"

Ugh! Yet I knew-I knew

If a woman is false can a friend be true?

It was only a lie from beginning to end-

My Devil- My "friend."...

So what do I care,

And my head is empty as air-

I can do,

I can dare

(Plop, plop

The barges flop

Drip, drop.)I can dare, I can dare!

And let myself all run away with my head

And stop.

Drop

Dead.

Plop, flop.

Plop.

"A tragedy" by Theophile Marzials

I am one of the few people, I suppose, who has read a whole book of Marzials' verse. I was at Cambridge and not studying for my degree. Betjeman put me onto him.


I also read much of James Russell Lowell's poetry and essays. They left me with the abiding suspicion that Americans cannot write. How much indiscriminate reading I did. Had it been harnessed to some cause...

"Over his keys the musing organist,

Beginning doubtfully and far away,

First lets his fingers wander as they list,

And builds a bridge from Dreamland for his lay..."

"The Vision of Sir Launfal" by James Russell Lowell


Lowell of course was one of the famous Brahmins, who gave rise to a very good poem:



And here is to good old Boston,

The home of the bean and the cod,

Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots

And the Cabots talk only to God.

I could have added most of certain poets, of course, like Southey, for example, another Poet Laureate. The only good thing he wrote was his Ode to Gooseberry Pie, which led me after reading it to buy my mother six pounds of gooseberries (my father said they were only in season for about a week so I bulk bought them when I saw them in the greengrocers). She made and I now love the eponymous dish. How ancient that makes me sound. Greengrocers. Fruit being in season. Reading Southey (though probably few people did, even then).

By the way I had a completely mistaken idea of how to pronounce Southey's name until I read Byron rhyming it with 'mouthy'. (I did, however, know how to pronounce Carew and Cowper.)

I do not like TS Eliot much, except for Prufrock, which I love, and thought of including something of his, but instead I shall cheat and give you the first stanza of a parody of Eliot which he himself admired, Chard Whitlow by Henry Reed. Parodies are something else I once collected and are of course not bad poems at all.


As we get older we do not get any younger.

Seasons return, and today I am fifty-five,

And this time last year I was fifty-four,

And this time next year I shall be sixty-two.

And I cannot say I should like (to speak for myself)

To see my time over again— if you can call it time:

Fidgeting uneasily under a draughty stair,

Or counting sleepless nights in the crowded Tube.



When I was twelve I thought Lord Macaulay's essay on Robert Montgomery the funniest thing I had ever read. Lytton Strachey called Macaulay's humour elephantine but it still makes me smile.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Adventures of the Rt. Hon. John Bercow in Romania

John Bercow: Eastern European immigrants are better workers

I sent this John Bercow story to the Daily Telegraph and it is today's lead story on the front page. I scooped the world. 


This was the blog post I wrote and sent to the papers.

By the way, this story is not about Romania but about English politics. I have no objection whatsoever to what Mr Bercow said about immigration or anything else but I have the strongest possible objection to the Speaker of the House of Commons saying anything that anyone in the House of out of it could reasonably disagree with. He is meant to be a silent impartial semi-judicial figure in a wig and gown.


The Telegraph and Daily Mail headlines both inaccurately quoted the Speaker as saying 'Migrants are harder workers than Britons.' The other newspapers, even the left-wing Guardian, followed the Telegraph.

The Telegraph contacted Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, who stood against Mr. Bercow at the last election. Mr Farage said, reasonably:
“It is outrageous that Mr. Bercow is happy to overthrow the wisdom of ages and think it acceptable to comment on matters that are both highly political and deeply contentious. He is a disgrace to the office of Speaker.There are very good practical and constitutional reasons why the Speaker is neutral, reasons that he obviously believes are beneath his own august self image.”

Some people in England are getting fed up with the behavior of Romanian gypsies and this makes the story more topical than would otherwise be the case. However, the  story is not about Romania or about immigration. It is purely about English politics and the once revered (what is left of it) English constitution. The English Constitution, unlike the ones of every other country in the world (Bhutan might be another exception) is ‘ unwritten’. That means it is not contained in any one document but in thousands of them, including Acts of Parliament, books of constitutional theory and  old court decisions. This means it is constantly being changed by inadvertence or on purpose. Mr. Bercow has been driving a coach and horses through it since he became Speaker.

Personally, I think Romanians and other Eastern Europeans make the perfect immigrants. I wrote about this here. I also think it is disgraceful that the UK is taking immigrants from outside Europe when there are Romanians and Bulgarians available, who are European and Christian. 

A British diplomat mentioned to me today at lunch that the British Government intends to make visa even easier for Indians to obtain. 




For those who want to know more of Mrs. Bercow, a photograph of her, wearing only a bed sheet, with the House of Commons in the background, appeared in the London Evening Standard, along wsith an interview in which she  said "Becoming Speaker has turned my husband into a sex symbol". She later said, "It was just meant to be a bit of fun, but obviously it has completely backfired on me and I look a complete idiot. This makes me feel for her. She is a rather jolly upper middle-class girl trying to have some fun but it never goes right for her. She took part in the Big Brother competition in 2011 and was, predictably I feel, the first person to be evicted.

Below by the way is Mr Bercow's coat of arms, which amused or disgusted his countrymen. The ladder represent the fact that he climbed to his present eminence from the lowly beginning as a taxi driver's son. The motto 'All are Equal' might seem very odd for a man who was a Conservative politician but nowadays conservatives and liberals in England seem to believe in equality as much as socialists. The words of the motto are punctuated by pink triangles, representing his support for equal treatment for homosexuals.

To the ladder born: Speaker Bercow's new coat of arms

By 'England' I mean 'the United Kingdom'. By 'he' I mean 'he or she.' Death to inclusive language!

Dear readers, please note, for the avoidance of doubt that by 'England' I almost always mean 'the United Kingdom'. By 'he' I mean 'he or she'.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to Scotland, a great Catholic country that I love with all my heart and hope one day to visit. But England has been used far more often than Great Britain (or worse Britain)  to mean Great Britain or the UK since 1707 when the two countries merged and therefore England is slightly more correct than Britain. Disraeli signed the Treaty of Berlin as 'Prime Minister of England' and Churchill always spoke of England not of Britain. So did almost everyone until forty years ago. 

I hate the false pedantry of people who think England used in this sense is wrong. They are the same people who pronounce data to rhyme with martyr and call Peking Beijing.

Only Northern Irish Prods and brown skinned people are British. When the newspapers refer to Britons I imagine a druid with a long white beard performing a human sacrifice.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

'Maramures is a rural fairytale'



"I shall never forget my visit – the wild flowers and birdsong, haymaking and horses and carts, festivals and faith, woodcarving and other crafts, evoking a time when life was hard, but also calmer, simpler, slower, richer."

The Daily Telegraph today has a travel piece on the Maramures 'and an ancient Romanian way of life'. The writer got to the Maramures too late and so did I, eight years ago, but one always gets to places too late. The only place I visited where I was not too late was Romania in 1990, which is the reason why I live here now. Remember, dear reader, however much it is too late now, in twenty years time or even five now will seem an idyll.

This is what I wrote in 2005, just after the terrible bombings on the London underground. How did eight years hurry away so fast?



"The country is holding its breath today," read The Times. “Tension and nerves will be felt by millions who know that the bombers have chosen Thursday as a day of atrocity.”The world has been rewritten by the writers of cheap thrillers. And not necessarily present day thrillers. We feel as if we are in the neurotic pre-1914 landscape of William Le Queux or early Edgar Wallace. 
While Londoners were waiting pensively in the tube I was in another kind of pre-1914 landscape, driving through villages in the Maramures, the northern edge of Transylvania bordering on Ukraine. Here life hasn’t changed very much in centuries but it will soon change utterly. Here in the most conservative part of Romania, Europe’s least modern country, peasants have not completely given up traditional costumes, for example. Such tractors as were to be found here under Communism were long ago sold off and horse-drawn ploughs are universal. Old women in black scatter seed in the fields. This is subsistence farming of a kind which had disappeared elsewhere and must soon disappear here too.It took me fifteen years to get to Maramures. In 1990 when everyone in the Transylvanian countryside wore traditional costume to Mass and cars were scarcely seen, I asked my Romanian companion, ‘Is this the poorest part of Romania?’ It was my first day here. ‘No, it’s the richest. Can’t you tell?” A disconcerting reply. ‘If you want to see somewhere poor and old fashioned you should go to Maramures. In Maramures they’re still living in the Stone Age.’In those fifteen years Maramures has changed like the rest of Romania. Gloucestershire has been bought up by stockbrokers wanting weekend cottages and Maramures I had read was full of villas built by customs officers and police colonels.  And there are plenty of big new houses around. A lot fewer people wear costume every day than did when I missed my first chance to visit. Tourism is bigger business now than it was then and there is a steady stream of foreign visitors but the area still feels pretty undiscovered, well protected by its inaccessibility. You can’t get there easily from anywhere by car, train or plane.
In Maramures villages men in hats and women with scarves, aged from thirty upwards, spend a lot of time sitting on roadside benches. They look attentively at each car or pedestrian that passes and conversation languishes. Tranquil is I suppose the word. The bomb explosions in London seemed unreal to Londoners but less real in Maramures.Agrotourism, putting up with peasants, is the joy of travelling in Romania. This is tourism on a human scale, bespoke. You are a lodger but treated as a friend.  Catch it before its innocence has been lost and before Romania enters the E.U. in 2007. Your hosts who are subsistence farmers provide milk for your coffee fresh from the cow at the end of the garden. How much will be lost when EU health regulations bring all this to an end.The priest’s wife in the village of Botiza, Mrs Victoria Berdecaru, has revived the carpet making industry in the village, organised a very neat crafts museum and organises accommodation for visitors. I stayed with Vasile the handsome 40 year-old local carpenter and handyman who built the museum and who told me ‘I do everything except dig graves. I won’t dig graves.’I came on a chance impulse to see the 38th edition of the Hora La Prislop festival. Horas  are traditional Romanian dances and every village has its dances. Hora La Prislop is held on a mountainside and participants from villages throughout the Maramures compete for prizes. It attracts a big well-mannered audience who sit on the grass watching the stage neither eating, drinking nor talking. I also noticed three or four foreigners, one bestrewn with two large and expensive cameras. The festival is great fun on a sunny Sunday afternoon if you repress the adage about trying everything once except incest or Morris dancing.
The date of the first festival, 1968, is telling. Nicolae Ceausescu was just beginning to wrap himself in the flag and emphasise the traditions of the Romanian peasantry, twenty years before he began to knock down villages to make way for agro-industrial complexes. We were back in the 1970s and you expected to see local party dignitaries in crimplene suits make speeches praising agricultural output.This was the eve of Assumption Day. In Romania as in much of Southern Europe the Assumption of the Virgin is one of the most important days of the year. It is treated in the countryside as an unofficial holiday. The roads were full of processions, adults in full costume, and angelic girls in white as for a first Holy Communion.
People from all over the area and the two biggest processions converged on the Monastery of Moisei where Mass in the open lasted from early evening till midday. Until 1989 these processions were forbidden by the police and had to be held under cover of night but today every ex-Communist politician wants to be photographed on the Assumption at some famous monastery. Moisei was crowded with visitors and stalls selling refreshments. Long before the first procession was near the narrow road to the monastery was blocked and impassible by car.Wooden churches are what Maramures is renowned for, with spires, steep roofs and wall paintings. I attended Mass the next morning in a Greek Catholic church in Iaud or rather in the graveyard amid hollyhocks and brightly painted crucifixes with most of the congregation. The women stood together in the front, the men together at the rear. Most of the women wore scarves and traditional blouses and skirts but there were a few in blue jeans and loose hair. Each year the numbers of the latter increase.
The priest at the close read out the names and size of the contributions made by parishioners to the cost of building the new church. (“€100 on the part of Mrs Ionela Ghica, €100 on the part of Vlad Dumitriu…”) Everywhere you go in Maramures new churches have been or are being built alongside the houses of incomers.  A few miles away an impressive Orthodox monastery complex has been built on the site of one suppressed in the eighteenth century.Iaud is a village where half the population is Greek Catholic. The Greek Catholic rite resembles that of the Orthodox but the Greek Catholics, also known as ‘Uniates’, recognise the authority of Rome. Iaud boasts several fine wooden churches and a reputation for large families.  It seems that the inhabitants observe the Church’s teaching better than in richer parts of Europe. According to Vasile: ‘If you have three children here people think you’re impotent.’Sighet, a pleasant Austro-Hungarian town a mile from the Ukrainian border, houses the infamous prison where after the Communist takeover the leading politicians and opinion-formers were incarcerated, tortured and in many cases killed. Today the prison is a well-designed museum that explains the Stalin era. When I visited the museum had plenty of customers. Children ran around noisily. I got a slight sense in the exercise yard of the horrors of the recent past, I stood in the little cell in which democrat Iuliu Maniu had died and I went out. I was pleased that President Ion Iliescu, a leading member of the Communist Party’s youth wing during the years when the prison was busiest, had not been to see it.
Vasile told me that the secret of a happy life is preserving tradition. ‘You have to change but you should keep the traditions.’ I thought of life in London where traditions have been dissolved by affluence, technology, pop culture and multiculturalism. In the Maramures past and present are seamless, the existence of God is assumed rather like the sun rising each morning, neighbours know everything about each other and no man is an island.
But the numbers of cars we saw everywhere with Italian driving licenses testify to the exodus of Moreseni to work abroad. In the locality where I was staying everyone went to Northern Italy, where the discipline of Italian life was irksome but the money was very good. In other parts of the Maramures I am told everyone goes to Spain. Maramures is beautiful but desperately poor and an economic impossibility. As Vasile said to me ‘When you say agriculture you say poverty.’ Europe no longer has room for subsistence farmers and even if people like Vasile would never swap their lives for anyone else’s, his three daughters will go to college and not return to live their mother’s way of life. Vasile has no regrets. ‘They must fulfill their destiny. I hope they will return here when they are old.’© Paul Wood 2005  

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Why have there been no great men since 1950?

Great Britain has been going through a new dark age since 1950 in the arts, ideas and writing. A fall-off much more striking than the simultaneous diminution in our political power. I recently reread this wonderful article by Andrew Thornton-Norris on this subject which I highly recommend.

I think the same is true of Western Europe (and Eastern Europe too under Communism and then the post-Communist explosion of a kind of capitalism). And in all the rich countries,  and in the world in general the story sounds pretty similar.  

Please correct me if I am wrong. 

What is also interesting is that I have never seen this phenomenon remarked on except in this article.

And what are the reasons for this sudden steep decline?

In the West, we seem no longer to do great men. And please do not mention Mrs Thatcher, Martin Luther King or Ronald Reagan. Who after 1950 compares with Keynes, Jung, Joyce, Laurence, Churchill, Evelyn Waugh, Proust? Or the painters like Picasso, Matisse, etc, etc?

Add to that loss of religious faith and loss of faith in Western civilisation as superior to other civilisations and you have have decadence, yet we had technological innovation and the amazing post-war economic miracle.  For everyone, rich and poor, life in Western Europe was better than it had ever been. The Communist Eric Hobsbawm referred to the period 1950-1973 as Western Europe's Golden Age, but things continued to improve since. Even in Communist Eastern Europe between the death of Stalin and 1989, living standards rose slowly and war was avoided.

They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.

From the article I linked to, I particularly liked and completely agree with this aphorism of Maurice Cowling's,


...secularisation so far from involving liberation from religion, has involved merely liberation from Christianity and the establishment in its place of a modern religion whose advocates so much assume its truth that they do not understand that it is a religion to which they are committed.

One of my greatest regrets is that university I did not get to know and sit at the feet of Maurice Cowling (and Edward Norman and the Peterhouse people). Their kind of conservatism appealed to me, even though I did not like their Thatcherite conclusions they drew from it. I found Margaret Thatcher's ideas repugnant and simply completely  uninteresting. I was a romantic. She has been proven right about a lot of things but she was, at best, to quote Sellars & Yeatman's description of the Roundheads, Right but Repulsive.