Thank you for visiting! Please feel free to leave a comment. I accept anonymous comments as long as they are polite.

All written content is protected by copyright but if you wish to contact me regarding the content of this blog, please feel free to do so via the contact form.

Please pay a visit, too, to HILLIARD & CROFT


Christina Croft at Amazon

Wednesday 30 December 2009


About depths of feeling, it's so clear that so much of what passes for 'passion' nowadays misses the mark completely. There was a time in film and music where much was left hidden and had an air of mystery about it. Nowadays 'anything goes' but it isn't passion and lacks depth. Most fascinating of all is the fact that the some of the people who are often described as 'cold' or viewed as remote are often those with the greatest depths of passion and feeling.

To cite but 3 examples: Prince Albert, Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Emily Bronte. Apart from being the love of Queen Victoria's life, Prince Albert is often seen as the epitome of Victorian coldness, yet here was a man who inspired not only the love of so passionate a woman, but also wrote music and painted with such depths of feeling. He died at only 42 and I think that had a lot to do with the power of his unexpressed feelings. Being the child of an unhappy marriage, he learned to hide his feelings at an early age but, looking at his art, his music, his social conscience, his devotion to his family, he was one of the most intensely passionate men ever to have lived.

Because she didn't have children and was married to someone who is often maligned, Grand Duchess Elizabeth is also often described as 'cold'. Her letters - filled with exclamation marks and dramatic expressions of endearment and passion - reveal a very different personality! Emily Bronte, because she longed always to be alone, is seen as another 'cold' person and yet she wrote the most passionate novel, and still more the most wonderful poetry of her century.

In an age where blatant and rather boring displays of short-lived sexuality passes for passion, it's small wonder that such people who were so 'whole' in their passion are dismissed as 'cold'. But, as Wordsworth rather clumsily wrote: "To me, the meanest flower the blows can give thoughts that lie too deep for human tears..." I often think that those with the deepest sensitivities, do not wear their hearts on their sleeves because they know that it would not be understood in a rather dispassionate world.

Perhaps it's not that people no longer have these sensibilities - it's that the most powerful feelings are frightening to most people and those who feel them most deeply feel it is better to remain silent about them.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

2009 - A time to heal

During her Christmas Day broadcast, Her Majesty the Queen - a woman of great wisdom - said, "Each year that passes seems to have its own character. Some leave us with a feeling of satisfaction, others are best forgotten. 2009 was a difficult year for many..."

Looking back at 2009, which began with such high hopes (as does every year) the Queen really captured the spirit of the age! A year, here in England, of seeing more and more coffins draped with Union Flags being brought home from Afghanistan; a year of meaningless words spouted by world leaders; a year of M.P.s' expenses coming to light; a year of shops like Borders and Woolworth's closing - empty shopping Malls and people losing their jobs; a year of more nonsense spouted about the climate change, when Nature responds by sending more snow than we have had in decades!!; a years of more child abuse scandals in Ireland being brought out.

But all is not lost! As Her Majesty said, "Each year that passes seems to have its own character..." and it seems like this one was a year of uncovering the lies that have been allowed to remain hidden and have been festering in the manner of, to quote Shakespeare, "something is rotten in the state of...." how things have been. If one wishes to re-decorate a house, it's not advisable to paint over cracks, it is better to strip the whole room and expose the rottenness as only then can it be remedied. A boil sometimes needs to be lanced in order to heal. This year seems to have been a year for lancing boils and for people to be able to say, "Things have gone on in a dark way for long enough; now is the time to expose the shadow side in order to heal it."

The most wonderful story of the year, for me, is Susan Boyle's. What a whirlwind of success for someone thoroughly without guile! After the 'plastic age', where every actor looks the same as the next, it feels as though Nature is regurgitating the nonsense we have swallowed for so long. It feels like a pivotal time of changing direction. As more and more people move to growing their own vegetables again, and finding alternative ways of earning a living than by fitting into someone else's idea of how we must live, as people turn from the idea of advertising designs for how everyone must look in order to be successful, maybe it really is a sign that 2009 will be looked back on as the year of exposure of falsehood, of lancing the boils and of making a small turning point on the road to recovering who we really are and how we might live in harmony, being who we are here to be.

(picture taken from The Telegraph website. If you object, I'll remove it :-) )

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Prince Albert's First 'Family' Christmas.

The image of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria's family at Christmas is one of the most enduring and inspires that nostalgia for the 'Victorian Christmas'. This excerpt from the wonderful book: "King Without a Crown" by Daphne Bennett, describes their first Christmas as parents. Princess Vicky (the future Empress Frederick) was just one month old:

"Driving to Windsor for Christmas, Albert refused to entrust his child to anyone, but held her on his own knee. With the radiant Queen by his side, he was filled with 'quiet satisfaction' (a favourite expression to denote extreme happiness) that Providence had been so good to him.This year his 'dear festival time' held a special meaning - he was now the father of a family. This meant three present tables...the Queen's, magnificently decorated by Albert himself with a huge arch of laurel and multi-coloured chrysanthemums, entwined to form her initials, which made her speechless with delight. An extra surprise was the enormous tree, gay with candles and decoration, which he had had sent from Germany."

Thursday 17 December 2009

Grigory Rasputin

On this day (or yesterday if he died before Midnight) according to the Old Russian calendar, 93 years ago, Grigory Rasputin was murdered in a madcap plan to save the Romanov dynasty. To this day the exact details of his death remain sketchy and Prince Felix Youssoupov's claims to have fired the fatal bullet seem somewhat far-fetched. Nevertheless, the man was killed in vain. It was too late to save the dynasty and it was probably too late for Rasputin to claim to have any influence in anything that was going on in Russia. Events were moving too quickly and Rasputin had already gone beyond his capacity to be of any assistance to anyone.

These are only my thoughts about him and they might be mistaken. Rasputin, to my mind, was a simple peasant with a remarkable gift. He cannot be dismissed as simply a charlatan because the Tsarina Alexandra was far too astute and spiritual a being to be conned by someone so superficial. The driving force behind the Tsarina was the natural desire to end her son's suffering and her sense of responsibility in supporting her husband, Tsar Nicholas, and ensuring that he was able to adhere to his Coronation Oath and maintain the stability of the country. Alexandra was first and foremost a wife and mother. She had no personal desire for power but she had married - out of love - one of the most significant players on the world stage: the Tsar of all the Russias, who, likewise, had no personal desire for power, only the sense of having to carry that burden to the best of his ability. As any loving wife would do, she supported her husband in his work. Their only son suffered from haemophilia - a condition which, at the time, meant the slightest knock could leave him in excruciating pain and even prove fatal. Moreover, that beautiful child, was being groomed to one day rule the mighty Russian Empire and Alexandra's role was so ensure that he was capable of so doing, but the poor boy was often laid low by his illness and, like any mother, Alexandra would have done anything to ease his pain.

Into this scenario stepped the rough peasant Rasputin with his mystical gifts of being able to alleviate suffering. He was certainly successful on one level and he was also able to give Alexandra the hope and support she craved. Naturally, he appeared to her as a holy 'Man of God' - and perhaps he was, in the beginning. Alexei (the Tsarevich) felt better when Rasputin assured Alexandra that all was well. Nowadays, when so much information is available about the power of the mind, such things make a lot of sense, but then it was simply 'miraculous'. Unfortunately, I think, Rasputin came to associate himself with his own power and, becoming arrogant in his complacency, completely lost sight of his gifts. He began interfering and, like a petulant child, became angry when he wasn't appreciated, and his anger was often followed by deep remorse. He was simply 'too big for his own boots'. He couldn't cope with his gifts and they began to fail him. There was no way he could have averted the war (interesting, considering the power of the mind, that he absented himself at the time its outbreak, by drawing to himself (unconsciously) an attack from a fanatical opponent); nor could he have prevented the Russian Revolution and he made his convenient escape by opening himself to being murdered only months before it all fell apart.

The truly mystical part of Rasputin is, to my mind, his way of thinking. A gifted man who could have done so much good, but he became so self-absorbed and incapable of using his gifts wisely that it led only to disaster for him and for a dynasty. I was taught in school that Rasputin was a major factor in sparking the revolution. I don't think that is true. I think he was merely an excuse, among many other excuses, for leading Russia into the chaos that followed. Alexandra and her children respected him and, for that reason alone, I think he needs to be remembered tonight.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

The Royal Variety Performance

The Royal Variety Performance, which took place a couple of weeks ago, was broadcast this evening and, alongside the brilliant northern humour of Peter Kaye, and the brilliance of a ventriloquist and some gymnasts, it featured André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra. What a beautiful return to the age of elegance and beauty!

It irked me a little - as a northerner - that all the comedians (and these were mostly northern comedians) made such a big thing of the north-south divide, rather playing on the idea that all northerners are beer-swilling, uncouth people with no command of the English language. When Whoopi Goldberg then appeared and played on the same kind of divisive theme about how wonderful it is to have a 'black' president and a black princess in the latest Disney film, it seemed as though a lot of old 'chips on shoulders' came into play, rather than people being accepted for what we are.

As a northerner, I find it offensive to be classed in some particular vein - I have the northern accent but I don't have a whippet, a flat cap and have never been down 't' pit, nor do I eat black pudding. I don't like the way that we play on being northern as though it matters where we come from. And, if I were a black person, I would find it equally offensive if someone kept saying how great it is to have a black president. Who cares what colour someone's skin is? It's what he/she says that matters. There are some literary awards open only to women - and, as a woman, I find them objectionable as I find awards open only to people of ethnic minorities objectionable. It often seems that people who speak most vociferously about equality, are those with the largest chips on their shoulders. We are all just people!! Who cares where we come from, what colour or gender we are? The ones who speak in the loudest voices, seem to have the biggest hang-ups about these things and create the widest divides.

However, in the middle of all that, there stepped onto the stage the wonderful Johann Strauss Orchestra - what a beautiful journey back into that age of glittering ballrooms and refinement! The musicians all smiled at one another throughout their performance and it was utterly beautiful! Thank you, Mr. Rieu (I found your image on Google and have posted it here!).

Monday 14 December 2009

Caring for the Planet and the Creatures We Share it With

If, instead of paying attention to so much propaganda from global politicians in the desire to raise taxes and destroy the sovereignty of individual countries, all the people who really care about this planet and the creatures upon it, were to watch this video, I am sure that such evil practices as this would stop immediately. Would that such treatment were top of the list for discussion in Copenhagen!!

Please be warned, this video is extremely distressing:


Prince Albert and Princess Alice

In loving memory of beautiful Prince Albert who died on 14th December 1861 aged only 42. In his relatively short life he had achieved so much - a great artist, composer and musician, he restored the tarnished image of the monarchy in Britain and was passionate about the welfare of the people. Far-sighted in ensuring an excellent education for his daughters as well as his sons, he was a deeply loving father and a true role model...and incredibly handsome too!!

And in loving memory of his daughter, Princess Alice, who, after wearing herself out caring for her family and the people of Hesse, died aged only 35 on 14th December 1878. Like her father, Alice had a profound social conscience and a deep, questioning spirituality. It is significant and beautiful that her last words were, "Dear Papa..."

Saturday 12 December 2009

Some have greatness....

"Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them" wrote Shakespeare in 'Twelfth Night'.

The major front-of-house players on the world stage in 1914 were mostly those who had greatness thrust upon them. Franz Josef became Emperor of Austria in 1848, at the age of 18, due to the mental difficulties of his uncle and predecessor. Nicholas - at 26 - became Tsar of Russia in 1894 due to the untimely death of his father. George of Great Britain became king due to the premature death of his brother, Albert Victor; and Wilhelm II became Kaiser due to his father's throat cancer. With the exception of Wilhelm (who was busy working out the problems of his malformed arm and difficulties with his relationship with his mother) none of these men actively sought power but became the front men for the biggest disaster in history. Behind them, of course, were the same unseen 'dark forces' that continue to this day - the forces of those who 'achieve' greatness, or rather snatch at an idea of 'greatness' and power through sheer arrogance.

Across Europe in the years leading up to 1914, there was a restlessness - women were no longer content to remain disenfranchised; the industrial revolution had led people from their more natural way of life to living by the clock in slum dwellings and that couldn't continue; the population had increased and people were suddenly being herded into jobs which crushed their spirit by unscrupulous factory owners. In such a state of unhappiness, the idea was born that the king/Tsar/Kaiser was responsible for all of this dissatisfaction but in fact it was nothing to do with any of these men all of whom (excepting, perhaps, George of Britain) were victims of their greatness.

Of these 4 kings, the one who has received the greatest criticism is Nicholas, Tsar of All the Russias. So often he has been written off by historians as 'weak' but this is such a glib comment that is merely folk lore. Nicholas went out of his way to avoid the catastrophe of war. He was battling not only against those 'dark forces' of industrialists and bankers who had already decided that war was the best way to acquire wealth, but also against the rising tide of change within his own Empire. When push came to shove, George was most cowardly, in my opinion. Changing his name to Windsor to sound more English, he abandoned his close ally, cousin and friend, Nicholas to save his own skin. Franz Josef, having endured the dramatically tragic deaths of his brother, son and wife, gave up the fight and passed on. Wilhelm, I think, tried to make amends by offering safe haven to his 'enemy' Russian cousins, then fled to Holland but he was already powerless because his ministers had taken over. Nicholas, however, stood by his army, abdicated so as not to turn his army on his own people and suffered the indignity and humiliation of abdicating so as not to be unfaithful to his allies. Of the 4 of them, who behaved with the greatest courage right to the end? The 'weak' Nicholas!

Who came next in these countries? Power seeking psychopaths like Lenin (riddled with syphilis), Stalin (mass murderer), Hitler...massive propaganda machines...and what is happening today in the way of propaganda?

The most fascinating thing about history is that - as so many things in life - nothing is ever as it first appears! The most fascinating thing about the news is also that nothing is ever as it first appears. Let's be awake and aware and not be hoodwinked into believing more untruths.

Monday 7 December 2009

Utterly Revolting Hypocrites

The Copenhagen summit is enough to turn the strongest stomach. 1,200 limousines, gourmet dinners and....free prostitutes???? What a brilliant way to 'save the world':


Saturday 5 December 2009

What Happened to the BBC's Impartiality?

How predictable political matters are, when we look back at history and follow the channels of propaganda through the decades!

Following the briefest of reports of the leaked emails regarding the doctoring of so-called 'global warming' data, the BBC (an authority which, until now, I trusted) suddenly has gone overboard on local news as well as national news emphasising the same old message. Those many hundreds of scientists who oppose the party line were described today as 'a minority' and overlooked in a fraction of a second, while interviews were given to all those who spout the usual line.

Perhaps there is climate change but insufficient air time has been given to those who don't accept that. More importantly, even less time has been given to those (like me) who accept that the climate is constantly changing but doubt that this has anything to do with the human impact on it - which seems the most arrogant assertion of Mankind ever! Do these arrogant people truly believe that there is no power beyond their own claim for it? Have they never looked at history? The various ages show the way this planet has changed but they quote records only for the past 50 and 100 years, forgetting the centuries before that!

How revolting is Al Gore, with his investments in companies for whom these kinds of things are are very profit-worthy, as well as seizing even more control to the little core of people who like to control everyone and everything (poor pathetic creatures!). And now we hear President Obama will attend Copenhagen (undoubtedly with his huge escort of cars and planes - and massive 'carbon footprint') to tell the rest of us that from now on we must use light bulbs that give no light (and are packed, apparently, with mercury) which, because they are energy-saving means the Government can take 9p in tax for every one of them that is sold, and can make a law to remove the brighter ones from the shelves....So we go blind in this half-light and won't be able to read the small print on all the other laws that they sneak through in the name of protecting us. Good heavens!! I thought Lenin was bad, and he snatched power from only one country. Nowadays, it becomes more and more apparent even in America - the 'land of the free' - and in Britain, whose proud heritage has been side-lined to some unelected European power.

Al Gore, and all the others who are claiming to be God in this, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. If you really care for the planet, care for the creatures on it - the people and the animals (don't kill them to eat!), and the plants (individually!) - instead of going around proclaiming doom as a false prophet!

BBC, please give us at least a fair debate, and be the unbiased corporation you were created to be, instead of yielding to your control-minded masters at every turn!

Friday 4 December 2009

An irresistible bandwagon!

At risk of jumping on a massive bandwagon, I just can't get over how truly wonderful Susan Boyle's success is. There is something about her voice which was apparent from that first audition and which is so unique because it is absolutely from the soul. Isn't it interesting that she said on an interview that when she was born her parents were told, 'not to expect much' of her because she had a disability? Just goes to show how narrow minds can be.

Still more lovely is the way that she just comes alive in her singing. It is as though there is such focus on the song that she is the music. So very different from the glossed-over, plastic faces that make so many stars look like clones - Susan is beautiful and untainted by her huge stardom. How utterly refreshing and what an honour it is to hear someone sing straight from the heart!

Sunday 29 November 2009

Lady Constance Lytton

Like Grand Duchess Elizabeth, Lady Constance Lytton (daughter of the Viceroy of India and Queen Victoria's lady-in-waiting) is one of the half-forgotten heroines of history.

A gentle person - a vegetarian and animal lover - who had been a semi-invalid for much of her life,Lady Constance had a chance meeting with a group of working class girls, among whom were some suffragettes. Although she had been opposed to the militancy, she empathised with their cause and gradually began to realize that, without any political voice, all their peaceful protests were ignored. Eventually, she participated in a demonstration to Parliament and was arrested. On account of her aristocratic background she was given preferential treatment in prison and released early. When she received the same treatment a second time, she wished to prove the injustrice of system that treated working class women one way, and wealthy women differently.

She disguised herself as a poor seamstress (as seen in the picture above) and was subsequently arrested for making a protest about the appalling treatment received by other suffragette prisoners in Walton Gaol. Once imprisoned she adopted a hunger strike and was brutally forcibly-fed, without a medical examination which would have revealed her chronic heart complaint and which had been the excuse for her earlier shorter sentences. The treatment she received seriously damaged her health and she never fully recovered.Shortly before her death she wrote a book "Prisons and Prisoners" describing some of the tragic stories of other women prisoners.

In that book she quotes some very beautiful lines, which I think are extremely inspiring:

"Have you seen the locusts, how they cross a stream? First one comes down to the water's edge and is swept away. Then another comes and another, and gradually their bodies pile up and make a bridge for the rest to pass over." She ended by saying, "Well, perhaps I made a track to the water's edge."


There's an old film - "Random Harvest" - about a husband suffering from amnesia and how his wife tries to return him to his memories. The final scene, when he remembers her is so beautiful!

Imagine if, for a moment, we forgot everything we ever were told. Imagine if, for one single second, all we could remember were the kindnesses shown to us and the people we love. All the rest of our memories vanished - no appalling news stories, no bloody history, no slights or affronts - all we remembered was our love for others and our response to love in others. Every day we would awaken with a sense of awe and 'newness'; we would feel such wonder at seeing the sunrise or the moon, the changing seasons and the myriad of colours even in the dark seasons! Every moment would be a blessing and, like babies and small children, we would be able to gaze in fascination at a truck or a flower, a weed or a puddle, and see everything as wondrous!

I guess, as so many wise spiritual teachers say, there really is no moment except this one and in this moment everything that went before is gone like a mirage. There are no grudges or axes to grind and if ever we learn anything from our memories it is surely that, at the end of the day, all we have to do is let it go and know we don't need to make the same mistakes tomorrow, and can simply be in this moment. There are always unresolved issues that need to be laid to rest - the memories of people who were wronged in the past, whose stories need to be re-written to come closer to the truth - but, even more importantly, when we learn from those people we can let the past go and, regathering power of the present moment, know that we need no more tyrants or people to govern us.

We don't need some EU president, unelected prime minister or any governing body to tell us how to live. We don't need some manipulated bank crisis or economic decline to close us down and tell us we are dependent on the state. When we learn to live within ourselves, forgetting the fears that have been instilled into us, enjoying the amnesia that releases us from the bizarre notions that people just like us want to hurt us, we can simply remember that we are much bigger than all of that nonsense because we are created solely out of love. All the rest will pass away but, at risk of sounding trite, Love is the only thing that is eternal...and Love, to my mind, simply means that every single being, all people, all animals, all plants are born with the ability to grow and be themselves.

Saturday 21 November 2009

The Tsar's Album

For whatever reason, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent sent some of their 'family silver' to auction. Among the treasures was an album of photographs from the Russian Imperial Family. There are very few material objects that I possess which hold great meaning for me, but one or two things I would be very reluctant to part with because of their significance in my life. Things handled, created or given to me by people whom I love, still hold something of that person in them. It's not the object itself, it's the energy of the person it belonged to; as D.H. Lawrence wrote:

"Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing
for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them."

Oh, how I hope that the person who purchased the Tsar's album was someone who bought it out of respect for the family, rather than someone who bought it as an investment.

People talk about the redistribution of wealth (which, for the most part, simply means robbing anyone with money out of jealousy!) but wouldn't it be wonderful if things which had meaning for people, landed in the hands of those people simply because they appreciate them? That way, Van Gogh's paintings would never be consigned to safes, not seeing the light of day; beautiful jewels wouldn't be hidden away in bank vaults; people would just treasure what they treasure for whatever reason they treasure it. A diamond is really of no more value to me than a stone gathered on a beach and given to me by someone I love so, if I possessed a priceless diamond and knew someone who loves and appreciates diamonds, it would mean nothing to hand it to them...

But 'some old things are lovely, warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them...' I do hope the Tsar's album was purchased by someone who appreciates its worth!

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Splinters and Planks

In the magical, mystical world of childhood, which we never quite grow out of but sometimes hide for a while, we can be anything we choose to be - a princess, a fairy, a wizard, a king - and we can take any situation and turn it into a fabulous realm where we play the hero, victim or narrator or whatever role we choose. There are no responsibilities there beyond slaying the dragons of our own imagination, or ruling our kingdoms with justice and peace.

Fact is, it seems to me, that fairy tale kingdom is really the Truth about how we live our lives. We come into this world without any responsibilities but, at an early age are taught that we are responsible for one another....and there begins our decline into the idea that somehow we are omnipotent and everything is laid on our shoulders and we grow up. That's the point where we eat the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden - that's when we turn away from our natural playfulness and peace into the idea that we, not God are responsible for what happens around us. And religion encourages this. It's somehow our responsibility that someone is starving, that someone is suffering, that someone is in pain. We must stop our games, and subject ourselves to all kinds of sacrifices to correct this terrible thing that has happened to someone else. It's my fault that someone else hurts. It's my responsibility to care for the poor, the suffering, the oppressed. This is taught from pulpits every day.

And along came Jesus who said, "Why do you attempt to take the splinter from your brother's eye, when there is a plank in your own?" I always took this to mean don't judge other people when you make bigger mistakes yourself, but nowadays it takes on a new meaning.

There we are playing and, while playing, gathering splinters of ideas - ideas about original sin, about debt to society, about how we need to obey people who are cleverer than we are, about how wars are necessary and people are aggressive and not to be trusted, and we need to listen to masters and mediators between us and the Divine - and gradually building whole forests of lies about about who we are, what we're doing here, how we are sinners and have to appease a God who sacrificed his son so horrifically to pay for our sins....and at the same time try to help each other and take the splinters from someone else's eye.

Supposing it were different. Supposing we all cleared our own vision of the world; cleared out our planks, our vision and how we view the world; and more than that, cleared out all the old ideas of how we are supposed to live, then indeed we would see clearly enough to say to one another, "Want to come and play?" There would be no poverty then; there would be no one in need. Sometimes it's easier to feel good about 'doing good for others' than it is to clear our own shadow side, but unless we clear our own planks first, we can never see the beautiful expression of the Divine in others.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Armistice Day

On Armistice Day, in memory of the lost generation of World War I, and those who gave their lives on all sides in so many, many wars.

I love Rupert Brooke's poetry - and his is one of a million tragedies of young men whose lives were cut short 'in foreign fields'.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Friday 6 November 2009

Is it Interesting?

Is it interesting that those who speak most vociferously of the 'redistribution of wealth' are either those in positions of luxury who have no intention of parting with their own, or are those in positions of envy, who feel an inadequacy about themselves - equating who they are with what they possess?
Is it interesting that those who speak most vociferously of 'national security' and keeping us safe, are those whose actions made us targets for other people's anger?
Is it interesting that those who march most vociferously against poverty are often those who step over or by-pass a person begging in the street? Or wouldn't lend you a penny and turn their noses up against someone who doesn't fit their image of the grateful pauper?
Is it interesting that those who speak most vociferously for what Christ stood for, and have such a need to convert the world, are often the least tolerant people of all, and condemn all other beliefs and ways of life(forgetting that Jesus was accused of mixing with Romans, tax collectors and sinners)?
Is it interesting that those who speak most vociferously in praise of a late prophet, are the very people who vilified, stoned or even crucified that prophet in his lifetime? (it's always easier to love a dead prophet and turn him/her into our own image).
Is it interesting that those who speak most vociferously about anything, are often the most insecure people of all and those who have not yet sorted out their own 'demons' so project them onto the world?

No, it's not interesting because it has ever been thus.

What is interesting is the way that someone opens a door for someone else to pass through...and then smiles; or a stranger, seeing someone trip on the pavement, automatically opens their arms to help; or if someone you have never met before and might never meet again, for no apparent reason, suddenly talks to you in a friendly way about whatever they happen to be thinking; the casual conversation in a queue; the person who lets you go in front of them because you have fewer things at the check-out; the person who tells you, you just dropped your purse, or the person who lets you stroke their dog and tells you how old he is, how naughty he is, how much s/he loves him. Interesting, too, the way that they bulldoze buildings and suddenly greenery sprouts through the cracks in the concrete - tiny flowers, little yellow-headed leaves and small shoots, forcing their way against the odds towards the faint November sun (even on cold days this happens!). Interesting how the ducks and birds and ancient trees don't give a fig for the pettiness of who is supposedly 'in power' - they just go on growing, floating, flying and being wise - and they are ever interesting and ever new.

Really, some little boys or girls playing their games of power becomes very tedious. True wisdom often looks like foolishness but the wise things are very different from what appears to be wise, don't you think?

Wednesday 4 November 2009

A Dilemma about a War Memorial - Just Some Thoughts

There's an outcry about the student caught on camera urinating against the poppy wreaths on a War Memorial and the suggestion that he could face a prison sentence (however unlikely) for this offence. The student, utterly ashamed, was apparently so drunk at the time that he has no recollection of the offence and, wearing his poppy to court, expressed his remorse. This, I read in the papers and have no knowledge of the 'accused' other than that.

But it raises all kinds of questions. The fact that someone in a state of intoxication was incapable of seeing where he was relieving himself - for surely it was not meant to be any kind of insult to the 'glorious dead' - is as old as time. The fact there is now a backlash to what the newspapers have chosen to call 'binge Britain' and this particular person was caught on camera, panders to the scapegoat mentality. The indignation of the British Legion and the families recently bereaved by recent wars is absolutely understandable but, putting all personal agendas aside, this was simply a drunk student relieving himself and he happened to do it in the wrong place with no harm or insult intended.

To whom was that Memorial dedicated? To the young men who gave their lives for their country. Many of them - particularly in the First World War - were exactly the same as the student who was arrested. In 1914, young men were intoxicated by the belief that they were going to participate in the 'war to end wars'. They believed in a better life for themselves (and the idea of travelling abroad and coming home as heroes) and were caught up in the dream that what they were doing was heroic. Some short time later, some of them awoke to the reality of what had happened - in much the same state of hangover as that young fellow awoke to his arrest.

In the case of the student, he had offended the sensibilities of decency and what is seen as the honour of those who died. In the case of the volunteers of WWI, they awoke to the realization that they had been sold a lie and had been involved in mass slaughter for someone else's dream. The hangover must have been much the same.

So much spilled blood - for what?? What did World War I achieve?? Only World War II. Had the student lived a century ago, he would have been one of those young men...instead he, without murdering anyone, without depriving a family of a son or a brother or husband, had the opportunity to get drunk and happened to pass water on those poppies. No harm meant. I'll bet some of those soldiers would have given anything to be in that position, rather than squirming in trenches on the Somme. Would they care that someone later urinated on their memorial?

Of course, I don't think it's alright to desecrate memorials, and I have absolutely utter respect for those who gave their live to allow me the freedom to write this, but the average soldier in 1914 (and, like everyone else here, we have our own family members who gave their lives in that war) would probably much rather have joined that boy for a whiskey and have weed on a grave, than to have spilt so much blood in some political war. The student is repentant; enough said.

Siegfried Sassoon (himself a war 'hero') wrote a brilliant poem that speaks many more volumes about what is truly a desecration than the action of the scapegoat student:

The house is crammed: tier beyond tier they grin
And cackle at the Show, while prancing ranks
Of harlots shrill the chorus, drunk with din;
‘We’re sure the Kaiser loves our dear old Tanks!’

I’d like to see a Tank come down the stalls,
Lurching to rag-time tunes, or ‘Home, sweet Home’,
And there’d be no more jokes in Music-halls
To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.

Saturday 31 October 2009

Ever in the Field of Human Conflict

Now, as it is poppy time again, and already fireworks (in the pre-Bonfire Night days) are exploding all evening - reminiscent of the battlefields of the Somme - I was thinking of Churchill's much quoted lines and would like, without taking anything from the bravery of those RAF pilots of WW2, to turn it around.

Churchill said, "Never, in the field of human conflict, has so much been owed by so many to so few."

Looking back at the slaughter throughout history, it is apparent that ever, in the field of human conflict, so much has been given by so many for so few. The average soldier, and later the average conscript of the First World War, was misled by the lie that this was the war to end wars. So few people manufactured that idea, and yet millions marched off with some ideal that this massacre could bring peace on earth. Millions more suffered the loss of a father, brother, husband or friend. These men were just going about their lives, had no axe to grind with the Germans or Austrians or anyone else from another country. Nor did the average German conscript have any axe to grind with the British, French or Russians...Yet somewhere, a few people had a disagreement, felt a need to dominate, and invariably those people had a sense of their own inadequacy and a total inability to look inside themselves at their own problems and so played them out on the world stage at such a cost.

Hitler - poor little, weak fellow - found the means to attract to himself like-minded people because he appealed to the sense of weakness in a nation (a sense of weakness brought about, of course, by the terms of Versailles). Churchill was, I think, no less a megalomaniac - he just happened to be on the 'right' side, but would have done anything to ensure his own sense power - external to himself - to make up for the lack of self-esteem he felt in childhood. Ivan the Terrible - identical story. Alexander the Great - identical story. William the Conqueror, Richard the (so-called) Lionheart....The list is endless

And for the internal conflicts of these men - and such people throughout history - so much has been sacrificed by so many.

Okay, supposing I am wrong....well, here's a question. How come that the people in power, presumably those who are most intelligent, capable and aware, have again and again and again been unable to speak with one another to reach amicable conclusions. I have seen little schoolboys so angry with one another being brought to sit together and in five minutes they make an amicable agreement and become friends. Neither goes away feeling humiliated or having had to compromise their own beliefs. In five minutes, children can sit beside one another and become friends again. Yet some so called heroes of history couldn't do that?

Truly, ever in the history of human conflict, so much has been given by so many to ease the wounded child and ego of so few.

Friday 30 October 2009


The night is so dark and misty - the perfect setting for the lead up to Hallowe'en, and what a set of bizarre reactions there are to that night! Here in England, I have heard from several quarters, a strange sort of backlash against this 'American import' this year. A few years ago, I heard a priest raging against it - calling it 'dangerous' like some kind of satanic ritual.

It's true that until maybe five or ten years ago, beyond the scary ghost stories and occasional pumpkin in a window, it seemed to have died out in England. There were no 'trick or treats' - instead there was (on November 4th) Mischief Night - which really meant stealing the wood from other people's bonfires before November 5th. Mischief Night escalated into putting treacle on door knobs, then throw eggs at windows or stealing someone's gates. People said how bad times were - forgetting that right back to the Middle Ages any excuse for disorder was welcomed! Trick or treat is mild in comparison and, personally, I think it's fabulous fun for children and a great American import Thank you, America!

The priest's reaction seems to go back to another era. The era when we didn't all live so indoors, hiding behind central heating and double glazing - when the dark night wasn't scary and the change of seasons was celebrated; when animals were brought indoors and there was no separation between humanity and the other creatures of the earth: the era, perhaps, before Christianity in its impurest sense arrived on these isles. The darkness of the night, the respect of the seasons was not something to be feared, but something to be respected. It spoke of the darkness within us - the fears, the judgements, the bitterness and the need to hide from ourselves. Samhain, like the May time Beltane, simply marked that contrast in Nature, that is reflected within us. It spoke of our fears as surely as springtime speaks of our hope. And here's an interesting thing: in the days and cultures where such things were acknowledged, respect for the wisdom of the elders was profound. Now, in our culture that fears the dark, we treat elderly people badly. We want only spring, only to be insulated from the natural flow of the seasons, and wonder why the world is as it is.

Hallowe'en - All Hallows Night - Hallowed (the same word that appears in The Lord's Prayer to describe God's Name) is not a nasty scary thing of ghouls and vampires and skeletons. It's no less a Feast Day than any other. Unless we face our fears, we are destined to be haunted by them, and it seems to me that our greatest fears are facing up to our own shadows - our own resentments, judgements, unforgiveness.

So...thank you again, America, for reviving our ancient tradition of remembering All Hallows Night - after all, if God/Life is omnipresent, everything is holy!

(Photograph courtesy of Andre Hilliard www.andrehilliard.com )

Wednesday 28 October 2009


I know an elderly woman who dislikes most people she meets but the moment that they pass from this life, she turns them into saints and won't hear a bad word spoken of them. In some ways she resembles Queen Victoria, I think. Although she adored Prince Albert, Queen Victoria made much of his life so difficult by her mood-swings and criticism and her own neediness. The same is true of her daughter, Alice, who - because she had criticised John Brown - Queen Victoria described to relatives all over Europe as having 'too high an opinion of herself', but the moment she died, she was suddenly a perfect example of humility!

How odd people are in their worship of those who are no longer physically here, and how quickly someone who was vilified in life can be turned into a saint once they have passed on! It's fascinating how many so-called 'saints' were hounded by bishops during their lifetime, and only later the good they did was recognized. John of the Cross, for example, was imprisoned - I believe - by the Church. Julie Billiart was constantly criticised by bishops; Bernadette of Lourdes was all but banished to her convent to keep her out of the way (and typically thought suffering was the only way to heaven, so died young). Jesus was crucified by the Church authorities.

I wonder why it is that people are so drawn to messages only after someone is no longer here to expound their message further?? Is it because it is too challenging to face when they are still here? It's safer and easier to create the image in our own likeness when there is no possibility of that false image being challenged?

In my opinion, heroes are never really heroes - they are all the products of our own image of what we would like to be and believe about all that is finest in ourselves. Dead heroes don't challenge that so it's easier to enshrine them and fit them into boxes. Truth be told, there are thousands of heroes - people who have lived out their lives according to their own lights, and bringing more joy and wonder into the world. The heroes established by 'history' - which often means by the government of the day - are seldom any more or less than the small child walking past their monument, doing whatever we do to get by, to improve our understanding, to be who we really are, unswayed by the need to fit in or fit someone else's mould of how we should live.

I like statues of heroes (and England is littered with them!), and what is most interesting, is scraping the surface to find, underneath, a person who is no different from all the everyday people we pass and talk to as we go about our daily business. We don't have to be dead to be heroes. We just have to be our true selves.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Nursery Rhyme Heritage

A bizarre row is going on because the BBC changed the last line of the nursery rhyme 'Humpty Dumpty' for a children's programme. The original ends with 'all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again.' The changed version gave it a happy ending with the king's horses and men making Humpty happy again.

The row is about changing age-old rhymes to make them less frightening for children and making everything jolly. Apparently, another nursery rhyme about Miss Muffet being frightened by a spider has been changed to make the frightened woman make friends with the spider. Nanny state gone mad!!!! Children are scared of many things - fairy tales are filled with scary characters to help them deal with that. Wrapping them in cotton wool and pretending everything is lovely, while news programmes and political propaganda is creating an atmosphere of fear is utter nonsense - creating people who are unable to cope with something as shocking as a spider or Humpty Dumpty falling from a wall! In the age of double-glazing and super-clean environments which don't allow children's immune systems to develop, this hardly seems surprising. A nation of ninnies will be all that is left, and they will be at the mercy of any tyrant or control-freak who chooses to take power.

However! In this case, the BBC said they were only being 'creative' with their alternative ending. That is all very well but someone somewhere in the corporation must realize that there is a lot more to nursery rhymes than simply nonsensical verses. In the ages before newspapers, TV and radio, the best means of communicating the news was by stories that were easy for the messenger to remember. Rhyming verses are easier to remember than prose and so it was by verses that news travelled the country. Obviously unbeknown to the people who decided to change the end of the verse, Humpty Dumpty tells the story of a cannon that was smashed to pieces during the Civil War. Changing the end of it is rewriting history. It's not a matter of being creative, it's a matter of preserving the ancient traditions of the country. Folk songs carry the same historical traditions, as do Morris Dancers, Maypoles and Mummers. It seems to me really important that these things are preserved as surely as we preserve old buildings and other parts of our heritage. Please don't start messing with nursery rhymes!!!

Saturday 10 October 2009

Meaningless Trophies and Jobs for the Boys

I once had the good fortune to be invited to an award dinner for something I had done. I didn't win the award but thoroughly enjoyed the occasion and was honoured to be there because the people I met were very pleasant. Afterwards I was told confidentially by one of the judges that it was quite exceptional that I was there at all because - I quote - "...they like to keep this among themselves and promote their own. It's not a matter of how worthy you are or what you have done, but about how they want to promote their own things with people they control or know." Being naive and young, I just took that as a compliment that this outsider had somehow broken into a closed group. Now, still happy to have had that experience, the meaninglessness of such trophies handed out by little groups becomes more and more apparent.

On the one hand there are programmes like "The X-Factor" where people with talent find an opening. Such programmes are viewed as 'tacky' by some people, and it is true that the public vote always runs the risk of mass hysteria or being swayed by the media coverage. All the same, a person of talent gets up and people all over the country can have their say. This, though, is scorned by the intelligentsia and seen as hype and tacky.

On the other hand, there are prestigious awards that are seen as having more meaning. The Nobel Prize, for example....It's interesting that Alfred Nobel was the chemist whose work with the armament industry and his association with explosives led him to want to leave a better legacy after his death and so he instituted the prizes. The Peace Prize, he said, would be awarded to to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses..."

The nominees for this year's award were:

Sima Samar, women’s rights activist in Afghanistan: “With dogged persistence and at great personal risk, she kept her schools and clinics open in Afghanistan even during the most repressive days of the Taliban regime, whose laws prohibited the education of girls past the age of eight. When the Taliban fell, Samar returned to Kabul and accepted the post of Minister for Women’s Affairs.”

Ingrid Betancourt: French-Colombian ex-hostage held for six years.

Dr. Denis Mukwege: Doctor, founder and head of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. He has dedicated his life to helping Congolese women and girls who are victims of gang rape and brutal sexual violence.

Handicap International and Cluster Munition Coalition: “These organizations are recognized for their consistently serious efforts to clean up cluster bombs, also known as land mines. Innocent civilians are regularly killed worldwide because the unseen bombs explode when stepped upon.”

Hu Jia, a human rights activist and an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, who was sentenced last year to a three-and-a-half-year prison term for ‘inciting subversion of state power.’

Wei Jingsheng, who spent 17 years in Chinese prisons for urging reforms of China’s communist system. He now lives in the United States.

And President Obama who has er.....talked a lot. What was it that person said to me at the award I attended? Ah yes, I remember now.

Friday 2 October 2009

Rudolf - What makes a tragic hero?

In the days of so-called 'reality' TV (which consists for the most part of minor celebrities airing their dirty linen in public or people grabbing their fifteen minutes of fame by being as outrageous as possible), it is beautiful to remember a more refined age when nothing was so rushed, so trashy, so 'throw away', and where people didn't make 15-minute idols out of people whose sole contribution to society was a desire to present themselves at their worst.

In all ages, however, people seem to have sought an escape from humdrum lives by looking at someone else whose life appeared to be more enchanted. Going right back to the foundations of drama, theatre and the modern cinema, Aristotle's idea of tragic heroes (which so inspired Shakespeare) still rings true. The tragic hero and protagonist had to be of noble (better yet, royal) birth and had to have a personal 'fatal flaw' that led to his downfall. Rudolf of Austria is such a man and if Hamlet were based on a real person, he might have been based on poor Rudolf.

Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria -Hungary was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His 'daddy is rich and his mama good-looking' - he was born into the age of Strauss waltzes, of radiant ballrooms where soldiers wore dashing informs and ladies wore entrancing ball gowns. He came from one of the most powerful countries in Europe, with a genealogy reaching back to the Holy Roman Empire. Gifted, handsome and with everything handed to him on a plate, the world seemed perfect for Rudolf....but he had Shakespeare's.Aristotle's 'fatal flaw.'

Nothing is ever as it seems and here is a different version of his story.

Rudolf was born of a mother who came from a life of freedom and adventure; a minor princess who had enough money to enjoy life without the responsibilities of power. She loved freedom, galloping apace on fast horses and wandering about barefoot. At a young age, caught up in the emotion of the moment, she married a handsome Emperor but had no idea that the Emperor's court was so confined by tiny rules that from that day forth she would be constantly in the public eye, and any infringement of those rules would be criticised. Like a butterfly caught in a net, she was confined and the only son of that marriage was a boy who seemed to share his mother's longing for freedom. Freedom to follow his own path; freedom to love and be and to live...But he was a Crown Prince, and as such had to fit that role. It tore him apart. He could hardly sigh in his sleep without someone reporting it and it absolutely destroyed him because he was forever in an act and never able to be himself.

His suicide at Mayerling is not a romantic story. By then, Rudolf was already destroyed - probably by syphilis and drugs, but more so by his own mind that had so yearned for freedom, as had his mothers.

Nowadays, when people display their dirty laundry on TV for their couple of minutes of fame, it's interesting to think of people like Rudolf who never sought that fame but were destroyed by it (along with the stifling atmosphere of the Austrian Court). Fame is not nearly as glamorous as some people believe.

Tuesday 29 September 2009

What Makes A Classic?

What makes a 'classic'? Is it something that is timeless - a book, a work of art, a piece of music - that has eternal appeal because it speaks to the soul? Or is it something that appeals to nostalgia? Or is it something that is decided on the spur of the moment by one critic, or a group of critics according to their view of the world at that time?

For the past several decades, some songs have been viewed as classics and whether it be for the power of the lyrics and music or simple for the era they evoke remains unclear. Some of them are so powerful to me still (Ultravox's fabulous 'Vienna', for example, or Kate Bush's incredible 'Wuthering Heights') even though the lyrics of some of them seem quite senseless to me now and nothing more than a perfect expression of self-indulgent angst. Perhaps there is room for a little angst in all of us and classics allow us that escape.

Literature is the same. Some books (like 'Moby Dick' and most of the works of Jane Austen - which I found terribly tedious) are regarded as 'classics'. Who decided this? Was it some stuffy don who picked his way through the language in much the same way as a butcher picks his way through the carcass of an animal and then decides to describe what kind of animal it is? Was it a general consensus that at one time people decided this or that was good and so everyone (for fear of being out of step) agreed?

Poetry, too. Poetry, which once to me sounded so harmonious like the beautiful music of Beethoven or the brilliant passion of Tchaikovsky, then became labelled as 'obscure' and trivia, or worse, violent nonsense with cacophonous words and lines of expletives replaced what appears to me as beautiful and 'classic'. We live in such a throw away society that it seems we are deprived of creating what is truly classical and instead is replaced by shallow self-seeking in the name of art. Perhaps it was ever thus.

I suppose what it boils down to, is the wonderfully simple quotation from (I think!) Jean Anouilh: "Things are beautiful if you love them."

Perhaps 'classics' are things which raise us to our true nobility and leave us more aware of that dignity than we were before. No one needs to tell us that...we decide for ourselves.

Monday 21 September 2009

"All In the Mind"

A quite common occurrence (which I have several times witnessed) when people are close to the end of their earthly life is the seeing of someone close to them coming to take them 'home'. The last words of Princess Alice, Grand Duchess Hesse, were "Dear Papa...." on the anniversary of his death and I have no doubt whatsoever that he came to meet her as she passed from this life. An equally common occurrence is that of recently bereaved people who see or in some way experience the recently departed person (or animal) coming to say goodbye or sending a comforting sign that all is well.

Many times these phenomena are dismissed by logically-minded thinkers as simply a means by which a person who cannot cope with loss finds comfort - the work of the brain, or still more dismissively 'all in the mind'.

The question immediately arises as to what is meant by 'all in the mind'. And the inadequate answer received is, "the subconscious protecting you..."
But what is the subconscious? The murky area that logical minds cannot reach....

Yes, indeed, things are 'all in the mind' but then the mind has avenues that logical thinking knows nothing about. Caverns and splendours that cannot be reached by scientific thinking alone, lead us through pathways that science hasn't even begun to charter because they cannot be measured by statistics or recorded by instruments. The dismissive comment of something being 'all in the mind' seems to me to be the frightened response of a mind that has built walls around itself to keep itself safe - a sort of self-imposed prison.

Shakespeare expressed it so perfectly in "Hamlet": "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dream'd of in your philosophy."

And I've included a lovely picture of some trees at Temple Newsam because trees often seem wiser than humans....to my mind!!!

Thursday 17 September 2009


No matter what is happening in the world, it sometimes seems that there are moments of sheer beauty that return us to ourselves and stay with us forever. Today I had such a moment. Walking by the lake at Temple Newsam, I saw two swans gliding so beautifully over the water. Someone walked by with a child in a push-chair, and one swan came out of the lake as though to greet them. By the time I had crossed the little bridge, the people had passed and I thought the swan would have gone back into the lake but he stood there for a while and walked towards me and was so close and so tame that he actually seemed to pose for these photos. Alas! I am not a photographer but it was such an honour to be in his (or her??) company today, and to be in the presence of such amazing beauty.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Relics and Underwear

What would Queen Victoria make of the fact that her bloomers have once again appeared on the news! It appears that her underwear, embroidered with the royal crest, is now a 'national treasure' and her waist and bust measurements are put out for all the world to see. It's an amusing story and one that I think might possibly amuse Queen Victoria. Perhaps it's a sign of a faithless or bankrupt nation that such intimate items are stored as national treasures, and, on the other hand, perhaps it's a sign of English quirkiness and it is something we can all relate to and it is both humorous and respectful...

Yesterday I watched the footage of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Grand Duchess Elizabeth's Convent of Martha and Mary. Expecting a beautiful celebration of the loveliness she intended to create, I found it horrifying and revolting to see her bones being paraded around. I have absolutely no desire to offend the Orthodox religion, for which I have great respect, but would love someone to explain to me why such macabre displays are viewed as pious. Perhaps it is the English mentality (the mentality that laughs with and yet honours an old monarch's underwear) that considers such clothing intimate and worthy of a news report, but to actually take someone's bones and parade them about is horrendous to me. Please, some kind Orthodox person, explain it to me!

Having been raised as a Catholic, I am familiar with the skeletons reverenced in Italy - including the skeleton of St. Frances of Rome; have seen the bodies of Sts. Vincent de Paul and Catherine Laboure in Paris; the relics of saints even in my school chapel; the bits of fingers, the toes, the fragments of corpses, and even the bits of cloth that had touched those bones. At this time, the relics of Therese of Lisieux are being paraded around England. There was a time when I would have found this pious. Now I find it revolting. Much is written in Christian history of the macabre practices of pagans; horror stories are made of mad men digging up bones in the night....and yet these are the relics that are paraded about in the name of piety??

It might sound like I am scoffing at someone else's beliefs or being flippant. and, please believe me, I am not! I just think that Queen Victoria's undergarments are a little closer to the person who is being honoured, and are far less intrusive, than a macabre ritual of bones in boxes...

Friday 4 September 2009

True Courage

Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig - "Ernie" - of Hesse is, in my opinion, one of the overlooked heroes of history and, had he happened to be born on the winning side in the First World War, he would probably have been hailed as such. One interesting fact is that a man who is so frequently (thanks to the gossip of his first wife) described as effete proved to be so heroic during the German defeat and overthrow of the Kaiser and the monarchy.

Overshadowed in history, perhaps, by his sisters, the Tsarina Alexandra and Grand Duchess Elizabeth, Ernie was unsurprisingly a deeply sensitive soul. Not only must he have felt (as children take these things upon themselves) in some way responsible for the death of his little brother, Frittie, who died as a result of haemophilia after falling from a window while waving to Ernie, but then, for the death of his mother. While Ernie was recovering from diphtheria, his mother, distraught at his grief for the death of his little sister of the same illness, removed the mask she was wearing to keep her from contracting the infection, and kissed him to comfort him. As Disraeli told the British Parliament, it was literally a kiss of death. Poor Ernie, at only 10 years old, how he must have interpreted that!

When Ernie was in his early 20s his father died and he became Grand Duke of Hesse-and-By-Rhine. He was a very popular Grand Duke, and undoubtedly had inherited his mother's common touch, along with his father's love of the grand duchy. He was also, like so many members of his family, a gifted artist. Queen Victoria, feeling that he was incapable of managing the Grand Duchy alone, all but forced him to propose to his cousin, Victoria Melita ("Ducky") of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg. The main reason, as I see it (and, of course, who can tell what goes on in someone else's marriage?), for the failure of the marriage was that Ducky was already in love with another man, was too temperamental and flamboyant for the grand duchy, and Ernie may or may not have been more attracted at that age to men than his wife. The death of their daughter was yet another tragedy for Ernie. His marriage to his second wife, however, appears to have been very happy.

Where he really comes into his own, however, and shows his true spirit is during the war. When the rest of Europe was caught up in that manic euphoria of war, Ernie (taken from Charlotte Zeepvat's beautiful book, "Queen Victoria's Family") wrote, "It was a terrible time when men were fired by an excitement and enthusiasm one simply cannot imagine. Throughout the day and night, people sang patriotic songs at the tops of their voices...It was an indescribably feeling, to hear these young men's voices raised in song in the darkness, and to know they were all marching to death. Often it was unbearable."

He was not a brainless thug, obviously! And yet, when revolution came and the Kaiser fled to Holland, and the Kaiser's brother, Henry, commander of the Navy, had to tie red flags to his car to escape from Germany, brave Ernie sat in Darmstadt and waited for the revolutionaries to arrive. He didn't flinch or flee as the others did. He remained calm and greeted them as fellow Hessians. So touched were the revolutionary soldiers by his courage, that he was allowed to keep his estates....Who was the most courageous? The ones who strutted in a macho manner and spoke of the glories of war, or the one who sat there calmly at the end, having seen what the outcome would inevitably be?

A life utterly blighted by tragedy (the death of his little brother and sister, his mother, his daughter...the murder of two of his sisters and 4 of his nieces and his nephew....(and very soon after his own death in 1937, the Hessian tragedy reached a dramatic and tragic conclusion in a terrible plane crash....but that's another story). I deeply admire this man.

Sunday 30 August 2009

Russia, Land of the Tsars

Over the past couple of days I watched this programme again and began being enthralled by the amount of information in it, primarily because I know little about the Tsars prior to Alexander II, and am fascinated by Catherine the Great. However, tonight I watched the episodes from Alexander II onwards and was utterly appalled.

The arrogance of professors, filled with book learning and no understanding whatsoever of humanity or psychology, making such pronouncements as, "Nicholas didn't care about his people. He liked to spend his time boating and playing with his family" (accompanied by the beautiful footage of Nicky's daughters dancing on The Standardt.). He didn't care about his people??? The Tsar who, following the Khodinka tragedy paid for the burial of the victims out of his own money....the Tsar who worked tirelessly every day, meeting delegations, meeting ministers, trying to the the best for his people....the Tsar who would not turn his troops on his own people and abdicated to avoid civil war?? How I despise the way that a few letters after one's name or a position in a university or few published books allows someone to suddenly become an authority on the life of someone with whom they clearly have no empathy or understanding whatsoever. In describing Alexander III's reactionism and oppressive measures, there was a complete failure to grasp his experience of his father's views of a constitutional monarchy and his assassination. Would any of those professors who choose to label him simply as a tyrant have behaved any differently had they lived through several assassination attempts, seen their father try to bridge that gap between the distant Tsar and the people, only to be murdered by people who did not want any kind of conversation, but only to be in that position of power themselves?

It is interesting that the revolutionaries were not the poor, the 'oppressed', the people really struggling to survive. Those people actually loved the Tsar. The leaders of the revolution were intellectuals and people who had an education and who had a relatively privileged background. They didn't give a damn about 'the poor' any more than socialists today give a damn about the poor. They cared only for achieving their own position of power and manipulated the masses to appear as saviours...only to enslave them to something worse. Plus ca change.....

It was a time when the world was changing dramatically and it was very difficult for kings and tsars to adjust. Alexander II was a brilliantly wise man, in my opinion, and they blew him to bits because they knew that his reforms would help people. That wasn't what the revolutionary intellectuals wanted. They wanted people to believe they were oppressed so that they (the intellectual/envious ones) could rule instead. Jealousy and greed - nothing more. How dare someone sit in a lovely college room and say - while understanding nothing! - Nicholas didn't care about his people!!!

Wednesday 26 August 2009

How Could So Free A Spirit....

How could so free a spirit as Pablo Neruda be so espoused to Communism?

Now, you are mine. Rest with your dream inside my dream.
Love, pain, and work, must sleep now.
Night revolves on invisible wheels
and joined to me you are pure as sleeping amber.
No one else will sleep with my dream, love.
You will go; we will go joined by the waters of time.
No other one will travel the shadows with me,
only you, ever green, ever sun, ever moon.

Already your hands have opened their delicate fists
and let fall, without direction, their gentle signs,
your eyes enclosing themselves like two grey wings,
while I follow the waters you bring that take me onwards:
night, Earth, winds weave their fate, and already,
not only am I not without you, I alone am your dream.

How could a man who could write such utterly beautiful lines, and understand the need for individuality and individual choice and freedom so perfectly, align himself to a system designed to create conformity, lack of expression and lack of the freedom of the spirit to express itself?

I think this is an utterly beautiful poem and runs so contrary to everything that the starkness of Communism stands for. My images of Communist Russia as a child were of grey, dark buildings, long queues, empty shops, secret police forces and the oppression of those who had overthrown Tsardom in the name of freedom, only to bask in the Tsar's palaces and live as horrendous tyrants. I didn't take it on trust through the TV stations and newspapers in England, I looked into it by searching books in old libraries, finding interviews with people who lived in that system, trying to get beyond the propaganda of the West, to discover the truth. What I saw as a child shocked me! It shocked me most that ideals of 'freedom' in politics are invariably led by those who simply envy the wealth and power of others and want it for themselves. When power falls into the hands of such people, situations become really dangerous because most of us think, "Oh, it is one of our own....so he is bound to do the right thing..." never realizing that most of those who seek positions of power or to implement an ideal are in it for power alone. It shocks me more to hear the same lies being spouted by the same people with a need to control, but then as soon as I turn my eyes in a different direction and discover something as beautiful as this poem or see the simply divine animals going about their business, just chewing the grass and minding their own business, I am reminded of how the only power that tyrants have is that which is given to them when we believe in their power.

One of these days, I think, there will be a few so-called 'world-leaders' meeting on a stage a summit somewhere, deciding how the rest of us should live, and they will suddenly realize that no one is actually interested in what they are saying. The armies, the police forces, the council officials have all gone home to live their own lives and care for one another in their own communities, and those little boys on the world stage will look so very silly!

And I will still love this Pablo Neruda poem!

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Catherine The Great

It's fascinating that, throughout history, when a woman gains prominence in politics or leadership, some kind of backlash attempts to destroy her, usually through accusations of either madness or frigidity or wantonness. Is that the first recourse of humanity in its attempts to denigrate the role of women of the past?

It goes back a very long way - right back to the time when peoples generally worshipped a feminine form of God, and the Goddess was immediately undermined by the authors of the Old Testament, who took all the Feminine understanding and decried it in the myth of Eve bringing sin into the world by eating the apple and tempting Adam to do the same. And so it continued...Mary Magdalen (and I am not a believe in the simplistic explanations of 'The Da Vinci Code' or the book upon which that story was based "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail') was assigned the position of reformed sinner. Eleanor of Aquitaine is better known for her love affairs than the brilliance of her adventurous life. Joan of Arc was either hysteric or possessed by demons. People delved into the reasons why Elizabeth I, probably the greatest monarch England ever had, never married. It couldn't be simply that she was politically astute enough to know that any marriage would involve a difficult alliance or that her authority would be undermined, it had to be that there was something physically wrong with her. On a very different level, when they wished to condemn Marie Antoinette, they accused her - oh how cruel that was!!! - of abusing her little boy, whom she loved. When Catherine the Great - undoubtedly the most brilliant monarch of the 18th century - passed on, bizarre and ridiculous stories emerged about the cause of her death. The suffragettes, with their well-thought-out arguments and perfectly logical reasons for expecting that women be allowed to vote for laws that affected them and their children, were portrayed as bitter old spinsters. What is it that simply cannot tolerate a powerful woman? And if one speaks up for powerful women, even today one is immediately branded a feminist (which I am not).

Catherine the Great was, in my view, an incredible person. Long before Alexander II's reforms, she wanted to liberate the serfs but had an overview of the whole political situation and how it would play out that she couldn't proceed with it. She was massively interested in bringing education, literacy and new inventions to Russia, (she paid for all her footmen to learn to read, I believe, so that they wouldn't be bored when standing around in corridors) and also (rightly or wrongly) succeeded in expanding the Russian Empire to the shores of the Black Sea. She believed wholeheartedly in creating the stability of the Romanov dynasty and - were it not for the French Revolution, which shook her a lot - I think she would have gone much further in liberating the serfs and even creating an early form of constitution. The Revolution - for which Nicholas II is often so unjustly blamed - really has its roots in Catherine's successors: her silly son, Paul, who so hated his mother that he made a law banning women from the throne and was most unsuited to rule; Alexander I, who wavered on everything, far more than Nicholas II ever did. Nicholas I came to power in the midst of a revolution, and when Alexander II succeeded him, he tried to adopt more liberal views in order to uphold some kind of order, and for his efforts was blown to bits. The Russian Revolution, which is so often laid squarely at Nicholas II's feet, had its roots many years before he was even born. Nicholas was probably closer to Catherine the Great than any of his predecessors, and had she only been around in his time, the outcome might have been very different.

Thursday 13 August 2009


In the past ten or twenty years, all kinds of therapies for physical, psychological and emotional difficulties have suddenly flourished all over the place. There are so many that seem like some new-fangled craze that people follow for a while in the hope of an instant fix, and other people view as a load of rot. All kinds of people with a little learning have set themselves up as healers and advisors. It's not even possible to go to the hairdresser's sometimes, without someone telling you the benefits of various products, though there is often little understanding of what lies behind the product. Advertisers go to town on saying, "This is the only product that contains....[some bizarre name]" as though we will all be taken in by the sudden need to have such a thing!

Having once been a nurse and having seen very clearly on so many occasions, the connection between the mind/emotions and physical illnesses, and also having the unfortunate northern-English scepticism ("we were brought up the hard way...we didn't need all this airy-fairy stuff!") I have been on quite an adventure to try to discover the root of the connection and what can be done - beyond the narrow confines of science and medicine - to really resolve problems that, by the right of our being Children of Life, really shouldn't be there. Airy-fairy stuff and endlessly contemplating one's navel serves no purpose whatsoever. I think the more we delve into many alternative practices, such things become more apparent. However, if we delve a little deeper, it is clear that there are many practices which - though little understood, and often abused by people who haven't thoroughly studied them but set themselves up as 'alternative practitioners' - go right back to the wisdom of the past, combined with the advances in learning and knowledge.

I have come across one method which is truly astounding. It isn't completely new - it was first written about over a decade ago and is based on far older understandings. At first sight it looks so simple that an educated person might say, "What a load of nonsense!" but there's an interesting story in the Bible about Namaan the leper. He came to a prophet to be healed and offered him vast fortunes to be rid of his illness. The prophet told him to bath seven times in the river. It seems a silly thing to do...too simple, too easy. He did it and was healed. The method that I think is amazing is E.F.T. - Emotional Freedom Technique (also known as 'Tapping'). It is so simple that anyone can do it anywhere, at any time, for any challenge - physical, emotional, psychological....absolutely anything. It was discovered by Gary Craig, who has produced many videos and clips about it, and who has a site at:


I have no personal investment in this (I don't know Gary Craig or anyone else involved in the process), other than saying that, having seen so many other things, and having tried this, it is amazing! Don't dismiss it because it is so simple...It truly is an incredible method! It involves no drugs, no needles, no manipulation of any kind, you don't have to pay anyone to do it, you don't even have to get out of your chair! But is incredibly effective!

Sunday 9 August 2009

Original Letters

While reading a translation of some of the diaries of a member of the Russian Imperial Family, recently, I came across a statement by the translator which said something to the effect of, "The rest of the diaries are more of the same - incidental and uninteresting details about everyday life." I was horrified by the word 'uninteresting' because the incidental details were far more fascinating than widely published major events.

Some editors of letters seem quite cold with respect to the authors of the letters. Perhaps these are privileged people who are blessed to have access to some archives but don't really care for the person about whom they are writing. I have read a couple of books where the editor's notes intrude on the letters themselves and make snap judgements about what was going on (rather reminds me of a line from T.S. Eliot's poem "and that isn't what I meant at all..."). On the other hand, I adore Roger Fulford's collections of the letters between Vicky (Empress Frederick of Germany) and her mother, Queen Victoria, because the editor includes notes at the beginning but makes none of those horrid intrusions. "A Lifelong Passion" - the letters and diaries of various members of the Imperial Family - is equally beautiful! (These are the books which - along with "Le Petit Prince" by Antoine de St. Exupery and "Science of Mind" by Ernest Holmes" - that I would take to a desert island if I knew I were to be stranded for some time!).

I have just heard of what must be a wonderful collection of letters between Alix, the last Tsarina of Russia and her long-time friend, Toni Becker. Since this collection is compiled by Toni's granddaughter, Lotte Hoffmann-Kuhnt, it is sure to be written with deep respect and love and none of the intrusion. This will surely be priceless treasure to anyone interested in the Romanovs and who cares about the truth beyond the fiction!


Monday 3 August 2009

Not a Romantic Story

Some years ago, a programme described the plight of orphans in an Eastern European country, who had been raised from their earliest years in a Spartan setting in which they were given everything necessary to keep them alive - food and drink - but totally deprived of any physical contact or warmth. Depriving them of hugs and touch was as damaging as depriving them of food.

Tonight, watching the repeat of the "Revelations" programme about Edward VIII, I had exactly the same impression. Here, it appeared, was a man who functioned without any warmth of personality or humanity - even his relationship with Wallis Simpson was an attempt to gratify his own needs rather than a great romance - a man who seemed to have no sense whatsoever of the effects of his behaviour on other people, or, if he did have any awareness of it, didn't care. It's small wonder when he had father who terrified him and a mother who didn't really like children. I doubt there was any warmth at all in his childhood and he behaved like an infant for most of his life. It's a tragic tale, really, and one that speaks volumes about the influences of parents and how the world is perceived as a child. Interestingly, none of the children of George V grew up without some kind of personality issue; they all seemed to want to punish themselves in one way or another - which isn't surprising when one considers their punishing childhood regimen. Bertie - King George VI - came out best, despite his stammer (surely the result of his childhood fears, too - and not being allowed to write with his natural left hand) and it is a source of continual bafflement to me why George V was so tyrannical and humourless and such a bully to his children when he came from a loving (if overbearing!) mother, and a father who loved all the pleasures of life...

Much is written about the 'stupidity' of George V's elder brother, Albert Victor, who died so young, but he was not half as stupid as he is generally portrayed. He was a warm man, and one who understood many important political questions of the day (Ireland, for example) and would probably have made a far better king than George V. I dare say, too, that Albert Victor would have not been a bully and would have dared to rescue the Tsar and his family...George V, to my mind, was a very nasty man and it is evidenced in the effects on his children.