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Wednesday 28 July 2010

July 28th 1914

July 28th, one month after the murder of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, the Austrian ministers sent the ultimatum to Serbia which would precipitate war on a scale no one could have imagined. Gavril Princip, (ironically translated as 'prince'!!) the young consumptive terrorist who killed the Archduke, must have been sitting in his cell and wondering what he had been drawn into and what he had started. A mere pawn in a game, or a person whose name was written into the history books, the poor, silly lad must have really felt nothing but despair at having been so inflamed by some inner anger that he fired point blank at an innocent man and woman and those 2 bullets were to lead to the mindless slaughter of millions...a whole generation.

However, Princip wasn't a cold calculated killer. He was an opportunist and his opportunity came when he least expected it by the fluke of Franz Ferdinand's car reversing in front of him as he left the sandwich shop. (Brings to mind Auden's poem: Musee des Beaux Arts:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on

Behind him, were the calculated killers who issued the ultimatum. They had a month to consider their response to the murder of a man they hated: Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Within that month, they waited until the French President had left Russia so he couldn't confer with Tsar Nicholas, and until Kaiser Wilhelm had set off for his holiday on the Norwegian fjords, while their own Emperor was away at his summer residence.

If they had only known what they were letting themselves in for....Where are they now, those people who wanted war to bring themselves glory? Most people today don't even remember their names any more than we remember the names of the countless millions who died on battlefields.
Poor Princip, what an unlikely candidate for such a burden....

Tuesday 27 July 2010


In the July Crisis of 1914 - the events which could have prevented WW1 - it's interesting that 2 of the 3 supposedly major players were away. Kaiser Wilhelm was shoved aside, against his better judgement, to continue his plans for his holiday touring the Norwegian fjords; Emperor Franz Josef was at his summer residence, Bad Ischl...and Tsar Nicholas was working day and night to find a peaceful solution through an international agreement (he contacted the British Foreign Secretary, Grey) and suggesting presenting the whole matter to a fair council in The Hague. Nicholas comes out of the war as a weakling (for some utterly bizarre reason!); Wilhelm as a monster, and Franz Josef is virtually forgotten in the popular imagination. Everything was created behind the scenes by ministers when their kings were out of the way...and afterwards they blamed their kings for the horror of it.

"If only..." is such a pointless thing, but it seemed to me that if, during the German successes in the early part of 1918, the Central Powers had succeeded in driving the Allies home, it might have been a better long term outcome. If Germany had won WW1, I dare say that Belgium would eventually have regained her borders; France would have still lost Alsace and Lorraine but would have survived; Britain would have still been Britain; the defeated Tsar would have been shipped off to somewhere safe (perhaps Denmark); Kaiser Wilhelm would have retained his throne and, above all, WW2 would never have happened. Germany, at the time, was one of the most progressive countries in terms of care of the workers, the unemployed, the elderly and the 'needy' and also at the forefront of literature and music. Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany was probably one of the best places to live in Europe at that time. The travesty of the Treaty of Versailles utterly destroyed a nation which, until then, had been one of the most enlightened in the world...and so gave rise to the darkness of Hitler.

As an English person, I love my country...and, apart from seeing the pointlessness of that horrendeous war, think it would have been better for all of us, if Germany had not been defeated.

Friday 23 July 2010

The Taboo of Illness

In these interesting, post-politically-correct times there is still a strange taboo which cannot be crossed without appearing totally hard-hearted: the question of illness and the care of the sick. I would like to make a statement which would appear to be the most cold-hearted of all but which I write out of love: one of the deepest tyrannies that afflicts countless people today is the tyranny of the invalid.

Having been a nurse and having carried out voluntary work including working for several years in pilgrimages to Lourdes, there is something quite bizarre to me about the way in which 'sickness' is somehow honoured. Growing up among 'family invalids' and being in hospital myself as a child, it seemed being ill was something that goes with the territory of being human.

There are many advantages to playing the sick role. You can relinquish all responsibility and have others wait on you. You can be the centre of attention. You can turn your pain into the pleasure of control, without having to lift a finger, and share that misery around with anyone who comes into your vicinity. You can write of it on forums and be immediately respected for being ill and 'brave'. (Why is it 'brave' to be ill?). You can be as rude as anything to those who look after you and they will forgive you because you are 'ill', and basically, have the healthy world run around after you while you earn their attention and pity until you run those who did that into the ground.

There are many disadvantages to playing the sick role. You need to find willing partners to play your game. If people tire of it, you might end up completely alone and feeling more sorry for yourself. You might have to spend a lot of time watching others do the things you would like to be doing but you cannot give your game away so have to remain on your sick bed. You might then become desperately jealous and that, of course, will make you more ill. You will eventually really suffer for it. But, it might or might not be worth it - it's up to you.

It truly seems to me there are only 2 types of illness. The first is the manipulation of those who decide to be ill in order to play that game. The second is the result of that and affects those who went along with the game and consequently wear themselves out, begin to believe the only rest they can have is by playing the game, too, buy into the scheme and end up ill and wondering why they feel that way. Some even die of it.

If, as some people believe and is still preached from some pulpits, illness is somehow part of God's scheme (a bizarre and illogical notion), why did Jesus never spend a moment pandering to it? He walked in, said, "You're healed..." and that was it. Is there a single mention in any sacred text - or, more importantly in our own minds/recollection - of anyone being healed by someone pandering to their imagined illness.

Illness, I think, is the outplaying in our bodies of what our thoughts have been doing. We think badly of ourselves or others, we find a corresponding illness. In the overall scheme of things, if one believes in a Deity and the goodness of Life, how could one ever, even for a moment believe illness was anything other than a state of mind? I do not honour illness or 'the sick'. That is an insult to the people who are displaying the sickness. I do honour the moments of being misaligned in order to realign and gain further alignment; I honour the occasions when I or someone else feels unwell as indicators of growth. Above all, surely the most important thing is to honour the total wellness of everything and everyone because that is closer to our reality than all the messages of playing the sick role and how it is somehow holy to suffer!

Here's to the brave healthy people who go through life thinking so clearly that they never expect others to sacrifice their own happiness by pandering to their misery!

Thursday 22 July 2010

Who Had the Most to Gain?

With the beautifully respectful and desperately tragic story of the new cemetery at Fromelles, comes the century-old question of 'what was it for?'
The Second World War - on the surface at least - seemed to have a genuine cause for which so many gave their lives, but the First World War? The more I study it, the more I wonder if anyone knew what he was fighting for, all of which begs the questions: who wanted that war and why?

As a small child I sat on my grandmother's knee as she sang (untunefully) songs of the era and told me stories of all the people she had known who were killed there (happy scenario for a small child??). Everyone explained what had happened but no one said why. It was the Kaiser's fault. It was 'for England' and 'for our freedom'. Was it heck! The Kaiser, I am absolutely certain, had no desire for war. He, who held his dying grandmother (Queen Victoria) in his arms had a love-hate relationship with Britain and a desire to appear 'strong' to Cousin Nicky in Russia, was a loyal German, wanting the best for his country - which hadn't known any war since Unification and was thriving. Why would he want war? He didn't.

Nicholas, in Russia, far from being the 'weak' or unintelligent Tsar of popular imagination, worked overtime to prevent a recurrence of the Balkan Wars with a brilliant understanding of psychology (note his suggestions for a Bulgarian settlement after the Bulgarians' routing in the Second Balkan War) and what was best for his own country. He ordered 12 or 14 days mourning for Franz Ferdinand and then worked day and night to achieve a peaceful solution to the 'July Crisis' of 1914.

Franz Ferdinand, whose death was the catalyst to the tragedy, wanted to create an American-style government in Austria-Hungary, giving a kind of autonomy to each of the states within the Empire. His trip to Sarajevo was, I think, part of that plan - to hand power back to people.

None of the kings had any desire for war. They were friends, relations; they attended the same functions, met occasionally, lived the same way of life and every single one of them wanted the best for their people.

How many soldiers went to war because their landowner or his son went first? That doesn't show that the people were forced into something against their will; it shows rather the amount of respect they had for caring employers. Here's another lie - the generals and officers stayed safely behind the scenes while the ordinary soldiers went to their deaths. 78 British Generals were killed in World War I and countless officers, most of whom were first out of the trench, armed with only pistols against machine gun fire.

So who wanted war? Well...obviously, there were the power-seekers and the hot-heads most of whom posed (and continue to pose) as 'socialists' who have the welfare of the people at heart but really are seeking only their own gain. In Austria, there was Berchtold and Conrad. Behind them, stood the bankers and economists for whom war is always profitable, and behind them is the whole mass of people who are happy to be led without thinking for themselves.

I have such deep feeling for those who died in those trenches and firmly believe that almost 100 years later we still haven't uncovered who and what was really behind that mass slaughter. It certainly wasn't for freedom. It certainly wasn't for the pleasure of kings (who suffered more from it than anyone!) and it certainly wasn't for all the reasons that have been taught ever since then.

There is so much more to say....

Sunday 18 July 2010

Beauty and Freedom

To quote Queen Victoria, "dear, lovely Ella" was thrown down a mine shaft on this date 92 years ago.

I believe Ella's - Grand Duchess Elizabeth's - whole life was dedicated to beauty and bringing beauty to the lives of those around her, by recognising the beauty in every individual being.

In these days of a throw-away society - or perhaps a post-throw-away society, as we become more aware of the beauty of the planet, of animals (Ella became a vegetarian, too), of Nature and craftsmanship - someone who exudes true beauty (not what passes for beauty in the shallow advertising of everyone appearing to look the same) still remains a bright light!

In memory of 'dear, lovely Ella' - an individual, murdered by the conformist bolsheviks on 18th July 1918.

Saturday 17 July 2010

July 17th 1918

In Memory of the Russian Imperial Family, murdered July 17th 1918

Saturday 10 July 2010

Queen Victoria as a Grandmother

On 6th July 1868, when told of the birth of her seventh granddaughter, Queen Victoria remarked that the news was ‘a very uninteresting thing for it seems to me to go on like the rabbits in Windsor Park.’ Her apathy was understandable - this was her fourteenth grandchild, and over the next two decades twenty-six more would be born. Though the Queen herself had given birth to nine children she had never been fond of babies, viewing them as ‘frog-like’ and ‘rather disgusting…particularly when undressed.’ The early years of her marriage had, she claimed, been ruined by frequent pregnancies; and large families were unnecessary for wealthy people since the children would grow up with nothing worthwhile to do.

Nevertheless, her initial reaction to the birth of Princess Victoria of Wales belied the genuine concern that Queen Victoria felt for each of her twenty-two granddaughters. ‘As a rule,’ she wrote, ‘I like girls best,’ and for the rest of her life she devoted a great deal of time to their well-being and happiness, showering them with an affection she had seldom shown her own children. Though at times she found them too big, too noisy, too boisterous or too ill mannered, she was ever on hand to offer support and to welcome them into her homes. No matter how pressing affairs of state, she never missed their birthdays and was always available when they were in need. When one was in labour the Queen was quickly at her side, holding her hand and mopping her brow; when one’s marriage failed or another’s love was unrequited, the Queen held her as she wept. She felt deeply for their troubles, sympathised with their sorrows and worried about their futures. Even when they exasperated her by ignoring her advice, she was quick to forgive them. She missed them when they were far away and took offence if they did not accept her invitations to Osborne, Balmoral, or Windsor. The truth was that, almost in spite of herself, she loved them deeply: “They are like my own children;” she wrote to the Earl of Fife, “their happiness is very near my own heart."

The twenty-two princesses were raised in eight separate family groups - the Hohenzollerns, the Waleses, the Hessians, the Edinburghs, the Christians, the Connaughts, the Albanys, and the Battenbergs - and their lives and personalities were as varied as their names. Some lived and died in virtual obscurity, others played a major role in world events. Some were pale and sickly, others robust and energetic; some strikingly beautiful, others tragically plain. Several met with appalling violence and tragedy, while others enjoyed the carefree lives of wealthy Victorian women. They grew up as far apart as England, Germany, Malta, and India, sometimes amid great wealth, other times struggling to maintain royal standards. Twenty-seven years passed between the birth of the first and the birth of the last, but they shared the common bond of being shaped by their English grandmother, whose influence was apparent even in their names. The Queen often expressed the hope that all her grandchildren would be called after her or their grandfather, Prince Albert, resulting in seven Victorias, while the majority of the rest had Victoria or Alberta somewhere in their litany of names.

By 1914, through a series of dynastic marriages, the Queen’s granddaughters included the Empress of Russia, the Queens of Spain, Greece and Norway, and the Crown Princesses of Roumania and Sweden. As their brothers and cousins occupied the thrones of Germany, Britain and Denmark, Prince Albert’s dream of a peaceful Europe created through bonds of kinship seemed a real possibility.

“All our cousins,” wrote Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein, “were more like brothers and sisters than mere blood relations.”

Yet in little more than a decade after Queen Victoria’s death, the Prince Consort’s dream would lie shattered in the carnage of the First World War. Royal cousins and even siblings would find themselves on opposing sides; two of them would die horrifically at the hands of revolutionaries and several others would be ousted from their thrones. They had lived through the halcyon days of European monarchies but their lives, like the lives of millions of their subjects, would be changed forever by the catastrophe played out on the battlefields of France.

Through all the upheavals, tragedies and conflicts one person had bound them together and, even when wars had divided their nations, to the end of their lives, they would look back and remember ‘dearest grandmama’ with love.

Friday 9 July 2010

Silly Season

It's the 'silly season' in England. As soon as we have a glimpse of the sun for more than a couple of days in a row, the news changes and people change. Now, because the sun appears, we turn into children again - and how lovely is that! Politics fades and 'Paul the Psychic Octopus' appears on the news. We were kind of hoping that our team would do well in the World Cup, but we're used to that hope fading sooner rather than later, that we simply switch to sun-worship again.

The effect of the Nature is constantly apparent. (It always seemed like the Romans, coming from sunny Italy, were rather reluctant to conquer these shores and dark climes, and the further north they moved, the less successful they were - hence, they never made any headway in Scotland). How the weather affects nations is a constant source of fascination. Remember that hot summer of 1914 when, in the middle of a Bank Holiday in August, the people suddenly felt a sense of bravado and everyone enlisted to 'crush the Hun'? Had that happened in November or February, I really doubt that the response would have been so vigorous! The same was true all over Europe - in Berlin, in St. Petersburg and Paris....a hot summer's night when people felt they could take on the world...the silly season turned sour.

Having recently watched Andrew Marr's utterly brilliant "Making of Modern Britain" again, it is endlessly absorbing how easily people slip into the expected patterns. I am most intrigued by Lloyd George (whom, despite my ancient relatives telling me how wonderful he was because he introduced pensions, I never trusted (see his treatment of the suffragettes and his self-serving ambition) ) and the way the 'big government' came about through him. Little boys playing their games are always a bit suspect.

I think, perhaps, the silly season is the very best time of year because it's the one time that people think for themselves, turn their noses up to the idea that politics and politicians are necessary, and we all simply live and smile and be pleasant and life is lived as it's meant to be lived.

Saturday 3 July 2010

Happy Independence Day!

What a wonderful epitome of a place: "...the land of the free and the home of the brave"

I grew up (in England) amid Western films about 'cowboys and Indians' and, later, frontiers people - women eking out a living from the land (like Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman, Little House on the Prairie, the Waltons etc) and the realisation that the so-called 'Indians' were so wise and civilised and nothing like they had been portrayed in old films. In my teens came the influence of McDonalds and baseball caps and Dallas and Dynasty - the era of oil magnates, followed by all kinds of crime scene stuff. Then I met real Americans and, dismissing the Hollywood view of life, saw the wonder that is America! What a place! What incredible people! So vast, so diverse, so founded on ideas of individual freedom and opportunity; and founded on the idea that each person can think for him/herself! And a place from which so many new ideas emerge because of the diversity! Could there ever have been a more ideal setting for such a 'dream' than a whole untried Continent, ranging from forests and swamps to deserts and mountains, with such a diversity of species of animals, and into which came people like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who spoke such wisdom as:

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."

And: "A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference. "

and who founded a nation built on the idea that each person has the power to think for him/herself!

God bless America, Americans, and freedom of belief, freedom of race, of dreams and Happy Independence Day from England to everyone American!
Happy Independence Day!