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Friday 29 April 2011

The Royal Wedding!

Well...what can be said beyond: What a perfect day!

“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this....” lovely wedding. It’s so much more than a day’s celebration. Like the Abbey, it’s a thousand years in the making: the perfect blending of royalty with the people.

There was a time when people blamed their kings and queens for all their ills. There was a time when kings and queens viewed their people with disdain. It has taken centuries for the two to come together and every step along the way has led to the lovely blend of dignity, pageant and respect with the fun and sense of camaraderie that we have seen today. Alongside all the implications for the nation, we shared the joy of two lovely people who are so perfectly suited and who are both fun-loving and dignified - what a perfect combination! I hope they are having a really happy party this evening in the palace!

God bless all of the many, many people behind the scenes who rehearsed in the early hours for months in advance to make this day so lovely for our country!

And every blessing upon Prince William and Princess Catherine! May they always be as beautiful and happy as they are today!

And thank heavens for the survival of the monarchy!!

Thursday 28 April 2011

"I wonder what the [future] king is doing tonight...."

Here, we don’t have Independence Day or Thanksgiving. We don’t have a version of Australia Day, and our religious festivals are swept up in commercialism. In England, we don’t really even celebrate St. George’s Day, as the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day; and we don’t have Burns’ Night or Hogmanay. In fact, in England especially, but throughout most of Britain, we don’t really have anything that celebrates who we are....

Except when it comes to Royal events! And wow! Has this wedding captured the nation...and we do this so well!! Please forgive a little Englishness/Britishness tonight but of all the royal occasions in my lifetime (the Queen’s Silver and Golden Jubilees and the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana), tomorrow seems to not only continue a link in a chain dating back to the processions of the Victorian era, but also to have created something quite new.

Seeing children Maypole dancing in red, white and blue; the shops bedecked with bunting, and the people who camp out all night for a glimpse of the procession, the historical link is so apparent. It could be any celebration from any era when royal visits and occasions were celebrated. My grandmother spoke of King Edward VII coming to Leeds in 1908 and what she, as a schoolchild, did was no different from what children in schools all over Britain have been doing today. The new part, however, is that I don’t think that (in my lifetime) there has been a royalty who inspired such sincere and genuine affection as Prince William. Perhaps it is because the country mourned the death of his mother, that we kind of took him and Prince Harry to our hearts in a way that is quite unique...more likely it is because he has shown himself to be all that could be wished for in a prince: the common touch with the dignity and mystique of royalty; the ability to empathise with ordinary folk and yet to remain a Prince.

And Kate....well, everyone seems to be claiming a part of her right now so I will stick in the oar for the Leeds connection! Her ancestors gave their name to an area of the city (Middleton) and were part of the philanthropic founders of this northern place.

There is so much excitement throughout the country – such a sense of celebration - and it seems like everyone is not only wishing this lovely couple well, but also being so grateful for this opportunity to celebrate who we are as a nation. You have to admit the inch perfect placement of the knives and forks and glasses on the tables, the perfect timing of the processions and the carefully measured placement of every guard along the route is really rather wonderful! Just for tonight and tomorrow, I am so very proud to be English/British...and as night falls the song from ‘Camelot ‘ comes to mind:

“I wonder what the King is doing tonight?” For ‘King’ read ‘future king’....

I know what my people are thinking tonight,
As home through the shadows they wander.
Ev'ryone smiling in secret delight,
They stare at the castle and ponder.
Whenever the wind blows this way,
You can almost hear ev'ryone say:

I wonder what the king is doing tonight?
What merriment is the king pursuing tonight?
The candles at the court, they never burned as bright.
I wonder what the king is up to tonight?
How goes the final hour
As he sees his bridal bower
Being regally and legally prepared?
Well, I'll tell you what the king is doing tonight:
He's scared! He's scared!

You mean that a king who fought a dragon,
Hacked him in two and fixed his wagon,
Goes to be wed in terror and distress?
A warrior who's so calm in battle
Even his armor doesn't rattle
Faces a woman petrified with fright?

You mean that appalling clamoring
That sounds like a blacksmith hammering
Is merely the banging of his royal knees?

You wonder what the king is wishing tonight?
He's wishing he were in Scotland fishing tonight!
What occupies his time while waiting for the bride?
He's searching high and low for some place to hide.
And oh, the expectation,
The sublime anticipation
He must feel about the wedding night to come.
Well, I'll tell you what the king is feeling tonight:
He's numb!
He shakes!
He quails! He quakes!
And that's what the king is doing tonight.

I’ll bet he is!! But he needn’t be...we love him!

Wednesday 20 April 2011

View From the Street...

The shops are filled with memorabilia: Union Jack scarves, tee-shirts emblazoned with the royals crest, tasteful glasses and tacky crockery. There is red, white and blue bunting, dotted with pictures of William and Kate, in the shopping centres; and the pubs are advertising all kinds of deals with screens in the beer gardens for the 29th April. With St. George’s Day approaching and Easter being late this year, there’s a whole series of Bank Holidays coming together, making the working weeks much shorter, and we have amazingly beautiful weather for April – the cherry blossom is out everywhere and the bluebells are beginning to bloom!

Like the rest of the world, Britain is going through a recession engineered by bankers and the shady groups who hide in the shadows. Bread and circuses might seem like the order of the day to some of those who wish to keep us in line with the programme but there is something deeper here in this Royal wedding than simply being appeased with a few street parties and a set of souvenirs.

Is it a strange coincidence that we are having so beautiful a Spring? Britain’s climate is so unpredictable and often so wet that even way back in history the Roman invaders hated being here and the Normans didn’t think much better of it. For the past few years, winters have been extremely long and summers have been virtually non-existent - a couple of sunny days in June and that’s it. As soon as the sun appears the mood changes. We’re no longer the buttoned-up people with stiff upper lips, but the friendly, happy people who hurry out at the first possible opportunity to savour the sun!

It is pretty amazing, though, that throughout my lifetime the loveliest summers and the brightest days have always coincided with royal occasions. I was at school in 1977 when the Queen and the whole country celebrated the Silver Jubilee. We were all
given souvenir mugs and hurried to watch the Queen drive by as she toured the country. In 1981, I recall the Union Jacks in windows for the wedding of Prince Charles and the then ‘Lady’ Diana, and the warmth of those summer evenings. Again, 2002 and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee...warm summer days, the flags, the coming together, the feeling of a country united.
Now, 2011...a wonderfully warm spring; a handsome prince and a real love-match...Our Royal Family obviously doesn’t control the weather, but they certainly raise the mood of the country...and somehow that mood is repeatedly reflected in the weather.

This is so wonderful a time for England/Great Britain. An estimated two billion viewers from all over the world will watch the wedding ceremony, which has also led to so many more hotels bookings, thriving businesses, generating huge amounts of income and providing many people with more work. Pubs (which have been closing down all over the place since the EU directed smoking ban) will prosper on the day. Prince William and Kate asked that people who wish to send gifts, send money instead to their charity, which has already received huge amounts in donations.

Above all, though, this wedding is drawing people together with the great love and appreciation we feel for the traditions of our country and who we really are, which is reflected in our Royal Family who somehow – regardless of their individual foibles – personify the finest spirit and aspirations of this country....and provide us with a wonderful excuse for a jolly good party and fun!!

Monday 18 April 2011

A Different Kind of Hero

One of the most beautiful stories of WWII, and one that shows heroism in a different light, is that of Miriam Milbourne, about whom I know little except for her heroism, which wasn’t of the kind that requires an impulsive moment of great courage, but rather a far-seeing vision, and the fruits of her efforts can be enjoyed today.

During the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, food was in desperately short supply due to the British blockade, and the islanders were compelled to hand over any livestock to the occupying forces.

By the time of the occupation, Miss Millbourne (she is always described as Miss Miriam Milbourne, which I presume is meant as a mark of respect from that era) had been carefully ensuring the survival of the almost-extinct breed of beautiful Golden Guernsey goats by careful breeding programmes for about fifteen years. She was not going to willingly submit her beautiful animals to feed the Nazi invaders and so she somehow managed to conceal them in caves throughout the entire length of the occupation, knowing that if she had been caught, she would have been sentenced to death.

Happily, she and the goats survived. It was 1967 before the herd was successfully
introduced to England, and to my utter delight, there are beautiful Golden Guernsey goats in the farm of Temple Newsam. These gorgeous creatures are so noble in appearance, and so friendly and self-contained that it is impossible to imagine that they could have been wiped out were it not for the courage and love of this little-known heroine.

Animals have suffered a great deal in human conflicts. Over 8 million horses were killed in the First World War (8 million!! and what did they know of human wars?); during Idi Amin’s reign of terror in Uganda, elephants were horrifically slaughtered; the habitats of numerous animals have been destroyed on battlefields; sniffer dogs have been killed while searching for explosives....Thank heavens for someone like ‘Miss’ Miriam Milbourne whose courage enables me and so many thousands of other people to enjoy the beauty of the lovely Golden Guernseys today.

Thursday 14 April 2011

"For Those in Peril on the Sea"

On the anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, the courage of those who daily risk their lives to save others ‘in peril on the seas’ comes to mind. The work of the Royal National Lifeboat Association is truly awe-inspiring since most of the brave people who man the lifeboats are volunteers who turn out in all conditions at the drop of a hat when someone is in distress. It’s a definite reminder that, in spite of what the newspapers and TV broadcasters would have us believe, the world is filled with noble people who are willing to risk even their own lives for others.

One of the least likely English heroines, Grace Darling (whose name always appeared in my childhood history books about great heroes and heroines of the past), embodies that wonderful spirit of humanity that still thrives today. Grace was the daughter of the lighthouse keeper in Northumberland who, one stormy night in September 1838, spotted a wreck from the window of the lighthouse on the Farne Islands. Since the sea was too rough for the lifeboat to be launched, she and her father set out in a rowing boat to rescue the survivors. Her story was brought to the attention of Queen Victoria who was so impressed by her courage that she gave her £50, which must have been a large sum of money in the days when a servant earned less than £20 a year!

I believe that the spirit of Grace Darling and all the other true heroes and heroines of history is still strong today in the Mountain Rescue teams, the Lifeboat teams and all the people who, almost without thinking, automatically perform acts of great courage when they see someone else in need. It’s a natural human response to immediately go to the help of others in need and we are surrounded by heroes and heroines.

Unfortunately we are too often presented with only the dark side of our society: images of war, cruelty, animal abuse, child abuse murder and selfishness. I firmly believe that if the news concentrated more on the noble, the beautiful and the courageous, we would not only see ourselves in a different light, but we would all become better for it.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

"Forever Wilt Thou Love..."

In spite of its unexciting title – and, I must say, some of what seems nowadays its early 19th century over-flowery verse – Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ expresses to beautifully the sense of moments or people of history that seem to remain stamped upon eternity and our common memory, as surely as the images were moulded on his ancient urn.

Addressing the intricate images on the urn, Keats speaks to the young man who is approaching his lover: “Forever wilt thou love and she be fair..” and so it seems to me, looking at photographs of people of the past. It rather reminds me, too, of Shakespeare’s line from Antony & Cleopatra: “Age cannot wither her...” or again from Binyon’s poem that is always read aloud on Armistice Day: “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn...”

It is interesting that, in spite of the ways in which history is written and re-written, and many untruths about the causes of events are passed down through generations, certain images – true images, perhaps – remain unchanged. At the end of his life, Nicholas II of Russia was simply Comrade Nicholas Romanov. Louis XVI was Citizen Louis Bourbon...and yet, in spite of that temporary triumph of those who sought to humiliate and degrade these men, everyone remembers them as Tsar Nicholas and King Louis XVI. Their names and titles are engraved somehow into our common memory and neither the envy nor the anger of those who set out to destroy them has managed to efface that.

Like the engravings on the Grecian urn, some things are eternal...

Sunday 10 April 2011


Following on from the previous post, I would like to draw attention, too, to the plight of certain breeds of dogs, who are being needlessly killed in the name of ‘public safety’. This, taken directly from another website, is the story of an innocent animal named Lennox:

Lennox is a loveable 5 year old family member. He's an American Bull dog Labrador cross that we have owned since he was a little pup. As responsible dog owners that also foster for numerous Northern Ireland dog shelters we had Lennox as a young pup Micro chipped, Neutered, DNA Registered, Pet Safe Registered, Insured and Licensed every year with the Council without fail.

"On Wednesday the 19th May 2010 he was taken from our family home by Belfast City Council as they believe he falls under the dangerous dogs act for Northern Ireland. The Council, without seeking any proper professional guidance declared Lennox to be a breed of "Pit Bull Type" and so they wish to kill him simply because he has the appearance of said breed. The Belfast City Council took Lennox from his loving family home using a wrongly addressed warrant and using copyright ADBA (American Dog Breeders Association) breed standards guide which the Council were never authorised to use, in doing so the Council broke international copyright laws and for doing so have recently been issued with a 'Cease & Desist' order from ADBA Inc.

Lennox has never attacked anyone or anything yet the Council have removed him from his home where he lives with my Husband, myself, our 11 year old disabled Daughter, his kennel mate Juicy a 2 year old female boxer and various foster dogs. Belfast City Council are pressuring our family to sign him over to them to be destroyed however we feel the need to fight his case, he cannot speak but we will be his voice! If this was a human we would declare this racism. We ask every kind hearted compassionate person for your support, don't let them murder him. This may be our dog today but it could be your best friend tomorrow


The Sport of Kings?

Yesterday, I had the misfortune to see the Grand National on television and was utterly sickened not only by what happened, but also by the commentator's inadvertent admission of how we view animals and the bizarre contradictions regarding animals in our society. Every year horses die in this appalling race and this year was no exception. No mention was originally made of these fatalities but as the horses rounded the course a second time, men with chequered flags were directing them away from one of the jumps. The reason for the diversion was that there was – I quote – ‘an obstacle’ at the other side of the fence. This obstacle was a green tarpaulin covering the corpse of a beautiful creature who had fallen the first time round.
“An obstacle...” – is that all it is? A sentient, beautiful being who had been killed in a barbaric race that lasts about quarter of an hour – for fifteen minutes of entertainment, two horses died. Can you imagine taking part in a marathon or another race where fellow competitors had died and you were told just run around their bodies which were merely 'obstacles'?

The picture above is not from yesterday’s race but from another racecourse. The Grand National isn’t the only race where horses die. I do not doubt that racehorse owners love their horses; the stable hands, the trainers, the jockeys – they obviously have great affection for these animals, and this is what is so bizarre. Would you willingly allow your pet to take part in something so dangerous...would you willingly force your child to do something like that? They say, “Oh the horses enjoy running and jumping...” Do they enjoy breaking their necks or their legs and being shot while the crowd goes on cheering as though nothing has happened?

For the past couple of weeks, people have been appalled by the cruel treatment of the elephant, Annie, who was rescued from a circus and is now happily rehoused and enjoying her life. That an elephant should suffer cruelty for the sake of entertainment is an outrage. Is it anymore outrageous that so many horses should be packed into that race and forced to leap such high fences?

And when the race was over and the dehydrated winner was taken away to be rehydrated, the crowds continued their cheering and I doubt anyone watched the poor dead creatures being carted off to wherever they cart dead horses off to.

They call this ‘the sport of kings’. There are few kings left now in Europe and it is a great pity that, having lost so much of the finer part of many European monarchies, we thought to keep this appalling treatment of such beautiful animals.

“If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” St. Francis of Assisi

Friday 1 April 2011

'Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages"

Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour...
...Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages...

I find this opening to the Prologue of Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’ so wonderful because – in spite of its ‘olde English’ that is like a foreign language today – it speaks to something quite timeless: the desire to go on pilgrimages. Even more interesting to me is the fact that he mentions April drawing that longing from people and, though this was written over five hundred years ago yet every spring, just like those 14th century pilgrims, I, think so many people still feel that ‘pull’ in Spring to make things clean and new on every level. ‘Spring cleaning’ seems to be an innate thing – like nest building – and whatever brings us closer to our natural way of being, in tune with Nature, seems to me such a beautiful thing.

All over the world there are pilgrimage sites and holy places of many faiths and it seems that no matter what one’s Creed or beliefs, the same sense of wonder and transcendence pervades them all. Whether they be stone circles or the sites of apparitions or the homes of saintly people of the past, it often seems that places absorb the faith of, and all that is finest in those who go there. I have been in old chapels where the walls themselves seem to drip sanctity; and I have been in ancient woods or wandered in Pagan places where the trees and the earth itself seem to have absorbed that same sense that there is so much more to us than the daily ‘stuff’’ with which we fill our lives. (Incidentally, it is beautiful that the Christian monk, Thomas Merton, when visiting a Buddhist shrine was advised not to enter since – at that time – it was not in keeping with his religion. He entered and later wrote of it being one of the most wonderful experiences of his spiritual life).

Interesting, too, in ‘The Canterbury Tales’ is the odd collection of pilgrims! Saintly, lusty, uncouth, avaricious, interesting and bores; those who came to find Heaven and those who just came along for the ride: these people might just as well have stepped out of the 21st Century. Yet none of those people is simply uncouth, lusty, lazy or anything else – that is but one small facet of their behaviour and they had all chosen to go on this Pilgrimage in search of something more profound...perhaps to discover the wholeness of who they were.

The realisation that, no matter how sophisticated we think the world has become, there are some things that don’t change (our connection to the earth, our human characteristics, our natural cycles and the humorous loveliness of people) and there are eternal truths which do not change, is a very beautiful thought. There is always so much more to us all than meets the eye....

Perhaps this also explains to a small extent the appeal of beautiful palaces and stately homes and the Royalties of Europe. Among the Kings and Queens of the past, the same characters existed as exist today and as were described in ‘The Canterbury Tales’. Marie Antoinette was sometimes frivolous; Edward VII was sometimes a glutton; Wilhelm II was sometimes arrogant; Alexandra of Britain (Denmark) was obsessed with her children and always late; Queen Victoria was sometimes obstinate and domineering (other times, like a little child in search of someone to look after her) etc. etc. etc. None of these people was simply that one facet of their behaviour and, as Royalties, their characteristics appear to have been exaggerated until they are written off by many people as simply that one aspect. Their homes, though, their beautiful palaces, like those sacred places, seem to have absorbed something more – the grandeur and dignity of everyone.

It is very lovely that, no matter how sophisticated or dehumanising the world seems to be nowadays, there is always an innate connection with Nature and the natural inclination towards beauty, exactly as flowers and shrubs naturally turn towards the sun.