IN PRAISE OF THE STIFF UPPER LIP

IN PRAISE OF THE STIFF UPPER LIP

It has been interesting to watch the unfolding saga of Prince Harry versus the press (a battle you would think his personal history would tell him he was likely to lose.)

I am not someone who has a great deal of natural sympathy for the royal family. I recall as a child of perhaps 5 or 6 being marched with my school class, complete with flags which had been issued to us, and being made to stand for a very long time until a large car drove past with two ladies in it. The one on the far side waved (the Queen Mother). I thought (but had the wit not to say), we waited all that time for that?

However, who could not feel compassion for Harry as a 13 year old boy when in the full glare of publicity he suffered the tragic loss of his mother; the axe mark of which damage will remain on his psyche all his life.

Whenever Diana was mentioned, William’s face would remain quite impassive, whereas Harry would shimmer with unresolved grief. (This is not necessarily good for William of course.)

Harry appears to be a nice fellow. (Perhaps he is rather too much like his mother.) He is charming, kind, encouraging… There is much to be said in his favour. However, he is now more mature and you would expect him to be able to form a more detached view about the death of his mother. Clearly he has not achieved a reasonable conclusion. It is not the case that every photographer and/or pressman is a wicked person. Some sections of the Press did not behave well over the death of Diana, but she herself was not blameless. She was being driven at high speed by an (allegedly) drunk driver and she wore no seatbelt. She had been manipulative and had tried to use the press for her own agenda. She was attention seeking, and certainly did not appear to be ready to retire into private life and devote herself to her children. These would be painful facts for him to contemplate and no-one would expect the boy prince to grapple with them, but by now you would expect him to have arrived at a more balanced conclusion.

There is also the fact that the advice his wife gives him about how to deal with the British is liable to be wrong. Americans tend to assume that Britain is like a smaller, poorer version of themselves, whereas we are altogether different. The Americans genuinely admire their rich and famous; whereas our attitude is altogether more sceptical and ambivalent.

In deciding to sue the Press, I would imagine that Harry has chosen to ignore royal family and government advice to the contrary. There are two institutions (there may be more)whom it is inadvisable to take on. These are the Press and the Police. You will lose.

Harry does not seem to realise the vulnerability of his position. We live in perilous times and the most the royal family would seem able to expect ( if indeed it survives Prince Charles) is a pared down monarchy, where there is just the Head of State and the heirs acknowledged as ‘royal’. At the present time they have heirs and to spare for three generations. Harry is not necessary to them.

I wish Prince Harry, as an individual, well, and his wife and child.

It is not always in people’s best interests to let everything hang out and to reveal all your woes amd travails. Sometimes the stiff upper lip has much to recommend it.

a

GENERAL ELECTION BLUES

So we have before us the thrilling prospect of five weeks of campaigning for a General Election. Just what we wanted (I don’t think.) Look at the choices before us.

There’s the minor parties. Brexit never seem to do much in electoral terms but appear to be able to influence the result since if they post candidates they split the Tory vote, giving Labour an advantage. Voting for them is buying a pig in a poke. We don’t know who they are.

There’s the Greens, do-goody and no doubt with merit, but never particularly appealing.

There’s the National Parties for Scotland and Wales whom even I am beginning to find tiresome in that they can’t seem to rise above their one issue.

There’s the DUP, who were never going to agree to anything and it was naïve of Theresa May to waste time on them. I sometimes wonder if we offered Ulster to Eire as a present, whether they would accept it or decline on the grounds of it being too much bother. (Obviously, I jest).

Then we come to the Liberals with their presumptuous, garrulous leader. I don’t think they’re entitled to call themselves Liberal Democrats as the Wee Gnaff in charge of them declares they’re going to fight to remain with everything they’ve got. On what authority, I wonder?

Tthe Labour Party seems haunted by accusations of anti-semitism it appears unable to shake off, and though I think Jeremy Corbyn is a much more formidable opponent than he at first appears, some of their policies would raise your eyebrows at the very least. I would never endorse the sending of any child to boarding school, but people should have the right to educate their children (and spend their money) how they choose and the State should not asset strip such institutions for its own purposes. Smacks of Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries.

Finally we come to the Tories themselves who are the cause of all our present woes. David Cameron did not think enough before he acted and his offering of a referendum on the issue of our EU membership has been catastrophic for British politics – and he did this solely to (as he supposed it would) call off the rabid dogs of anti European feeling that existed within his own party and had been the bane of every conservative Prime Minister of recent times.

None of them have been able to set aside party interests and act for the nation. It’s a mess in every possible respect and there’s no health in any of them.

I toyed with the idea of not voting. I don’t approve of the actions of any of them. But then I though that was feeble. They haven’t behaved well but we, the people, should continue to vote ethically and with conscience. (It is of course possible to do this and vote for different parties. We have to be respectful and tolerant of one another’s view.)

In the referendum I voted to remain. We all know now that the country voted to leave. If we were offered another referendum, I would again vote to remain. But we haven’t been offered another referendum, and therefore the first one still stands. As someone who believes in democracy, I believe we should support the referendum. I’m therefore going to vote for the party which in my view is most likely to be able to effect our leaving the EU (preferably with a deal and on reasonable terms with our neighbours.) So I’m going to reverse the habits of a lifetime and vote Tory. My ancestors will disown me.

The result is unpredictable but I would guess Boris will increase his majority but not significantly and parliament will still be hung.

ON BEING STUPID

ON BEING STUPID

I am discovering (at my advancing age!) that it is undeniably true that weaknesses and deficiencies you have had all your life but lived with and concealed tolerably well, get worse. I have many deficiencies.

I remember writing in my diary which begins in 1986 that if ever it fell into the hands of someone researching the customs and mores of our times, they should pay scant regard to the dates given for they were very unreliable. I can just about be depended on to get the year right. It seems to me that in the great scheme of things it makes very little difference whether things happened on a Wednesday or Thursday. I was always morbidly afraid of booking someone ‘s travel arrangements on the wrong day, but I had a colleague who was meticulous in her planning and she checked them for me and between the two of us we made no mistakes. I did any calculations she had to do – she couldn’t do anything vaguely mathematical whereas I had no difficulties in that area.

It does make a difference sometimes when exactly a thing was said or done – in the fields for example of law enforcement, medicine or sport it can make an enormous difference. These days I don’t seem to be able to send out an invitation without getting the date wrong.

I always had a superb memory for faces and a completely useless one for names. I don’t particularly want to know someone’s name. I can ask for it if I decide I’d like to see them again and their face has been recorded in my mental memory and will be accessible to me in 20 years or more, even if I saw them only once. I will also have formed a judgement of their character which in my experience is rarely wrong (though one has to be prepared to acknowledge that as a possibility.) I also absolutely hate wearing a name badge – I don’t want you to call me Anne if I’ve just met you – and I always ‘lose’ it at the earliest opportunity. Rory, working in a restaurant at the airport

used to wear someone else’s and would be particularly pleased if he found one that said Mohamed or even Fatima.

I’m not good at differentiating between left and right (although I am mildly ambidextrous). And I’ve come to the conclusion that the map in my head is upside down, for whenever there is doubt about whether one should turn left or right; you should at any rate go in the opposite direction of what I think, since I am almost invariably wrong. I never have any idea in which direction North is.

Fortunately my travelling companion in life is not only a superb logistics man and planner par excellence – and can ditch the plan and formulate another if necessary which often such people cannot do; he has maps in his head that are as miraculous as my collection of faces. He will remember the layout of a town even if he only visited it once 30 years ago. He also has an instinct for finding the restaurant area of an unknown town, and nobody can find toilets faster than him.

But he has been known to say to me, For a supposedly clever woman, you’re remarkably stupid at times. I have to agree with him.

SUTTON HOO

SUTTON HOO

On our recent holiday in Suffolk, we visited Sutton Hoo. We had last been there perhaps 30 years ago. Then we had wandered, with our children, through fields (of maize, I think) until we came upon an archeological dig. From here, presently, the archeologist in charge had emerged and given a lecture on the site which was so erudite and elegant that when he drew his remarks to a close, and invited questions, we were so overwhelmed by his eloquence that nobody could gather their thoughts together fast enough to construct an adequate response. Way down the line a woman whom I had noticed was rather restless raised her hand. “What happened to Mrs Pretty?’ she demanded. Edith Pretty was the owner after the death of her husband and she was entitled to whatever honour she may have wished as she gifted this magnificent find to the nation and asked for nothing in return.

This time there was a proper car park, and an attractive visitor centre and cafe, museum shop etc.   It  was (for me) a longish walk through marshy, hilly ground and then you arrive at the burial site.

It is said that Mrs Pretty consulted her deceased husband in a spiritualist session and he had advised her to examine the largest. You did not really require the advice. It was by far the largest mound. The team pressed on, hoping to discover the magnificent treasure which we now know to have been there.

The boat was HUGE. It had been hauled up from the river quite a distance. It had been built of wood and was clinker built. The boat would have held approximately 80 oarsmen and was steered by the helmsman in the rear with a deep rudder.  They reckoned it had been to sea. It was a lovely object.

And then there were copies of the treasures found within the burial. Of the body, nothing remained. There was a beautiful sword with a jewelled scabbard, arm bracelets with enamel and gold. And the glorious helmet. A horse’s skeleton was also recognisable and its precious metal harness from

In the past I have looked with disapproval at cultures who bury grave goods with the deceased. These products were of tremendous value- a king’s ransom indeed. I used to think sniffily that they must have had poor people or those who were ill or injured and needed support and who could have benefited from the sale of these goods, Just letting my thoughts flow where they will, I suddenly realised that these people genuinely believed in the Afterlife, and therefore it made sense to go into the underworld prepared.

We have an ambivalent attitude to life after death. To any of you who still genuinely believe in Christianity’s legend of the afterlife, I have no wish to offend. I admire your faith and hope you may be right. But mostly we do not, in our secret hearts believe it. We have allowed science to seduce us. We don our blacks and we attend the rituals of burial. We say Amen to the prayers for the soul of the deceased. We find the ancient words a comfort, and we are happy to conform to the burial customs. But for us it is like a piece of theatre. In the main, we do not believe.

FINE DINING

FINE DINING

We have been on holiday in our caravan for the past fortnight in Suffolk and Essex. There was a great variety of weather – from glorious heart-warming late summer sunshine, to pre-equinoxial gales, but none of the heavier weather happened when we needed fine, and we were warm and snug in our caravan.

We were in the beautiful town of Lavenham one day and decided to have lunch. We ended up in a ‘fine dining’ establishment (simply because we chose the nicest looking restaurant on the square.) I was reflecting on other ‘fine dining’ experiences I have had – in London, in Sandusky, Ohio, in Normandie in France, and came to the conclusion that I do not like FINE DINING.

I like Good Food of course and a nice wine and efficient service but I remind myself that although we are privileged to enjoying this luxury, other people do not have enough to eat.

There were nice things about the restaurant. It had an elegant dining room with comfortable chairs.

It’s menu was interesting. My small glass of Sauvignon Blanc was very good. When we dined in Normandie, the Maitre D’ was all that you would wish but the waitress was very forward; here the waitresses were lovely, with formal but smiling service and kind and sensitive to the needs of disabled customers and the mothers of babies. Whereas the maitre d’ who was comparatively young seemed mostly preoccupied with preserving his dignity. He did not appear to do anything except issue orders and hamper other people in their work.

I had soup which came in a soup bowl which had a few pieces of chicken and vegetables artfully arranged in it, over which she poured, from a jug the creamy liquid of the soup. Was this really necessary I found myself thinking. Then I had sea-bream on a bed of vegetables, and finally I chose a chocolate dessert which consisted of teaspoonfuls of ice-cream, gateau, sauce and other tiny pieces. I found myself regarding it with distaste and wondering how clean were the hands of the person who had fiddled with my dessert. We also had an amuse-bouche and a small portion of another tiny pudding. It was ALL very good but I found myself irritated at its pretentiousness and thinking I would prefer my food to look more like its original state.

Meanwhile there had arrived a young couple with an 8 month old baby boy, It was obviously a celebration, perhaps of the mother’s birthday. She was a pretty woman wearing a glamorous dress. The Boy was dressed in his finest too. He was a lovely child. His parents still had that look about them that first time parents have: triumph, delight – and shock at how much more difficult it all was than they had ever imagined. The boy was delighted to be out, and set about, from his high chair, of engaging with every party in the room. An elderly couple where the man sat in gloomy silence, listening to his wife’s constant flow of mostly malicious gossip about people of their acquaintance, just sighing at the end of some scurrilous tale but no more inclined to take action than a cat facing a crocodile. (I had privately named them as the Bishop and Mrs Proudie.)

When the boy indicated that he would actually be careful and stick to his pram and be a good buy, the ‘Bishop’ (while sufficiently savvy – he was a worldly bishop )– was not deceived.. The mother fed the boy his lunch while they waited for theirs to come. But at this point the child revealed that he wasn’t all sweetness and light. The waitress came with a basket full of bread rolls, giving one to each of the parents but not to the boy. He shouted at her; in his rage the sounds were almost like words. Then he bellowed at his mother for not fixing the problem to his satisfaction. He cried (mumphed to himself really) and then fell asleep in his pram leaving his parents a brief period of calm in which to enjoy their lunch.

He could have told you all about Fine Dining!

ON REACHING SEVENTY

ON APPROACHING SEVENTY

In December, only a few months away, I will (deo volente) reach the age of 70. I’m quite surprised to have arrived at this point. I don’t understand how I got (quite suddenly it seems to me) to be so ‘dwedfully old’ to quote Dana. It has snuck up on me.

We are mortal; only ever one breath away from death and oblivion, yet we live our lives as though we were immortal.

I’m not someone who habitually watches films more than once but recently John and I watched Quartet for the 5th or 6th tme and I still found it enjoyable. The star studded cast, the humour, the music and the incomparable Billy Connelly make this a very watchable film. This is a good thing because we are not very good at acknowledging the pain and losses that come with old age.

Looking back on my life, I do not think I have recognised how fortunate I was. Although my childhood could be described as ‘difficult’ and certainly was neither standard nor conventional, it was happy. Our parents spent time and energy on educating us. My father was very intelligent and well read, and was knowledgable about many thing – all things natural, the history of Scotland, religion (as proscribed by him), woodwork (I could recognise any tool, no matter how obscure) and so on. He kept bees amd grew most of our food. He was also shrewd and cunning and a master of strategy in which he freely instructed me. He could speak the vernacular, which I never managed but he could also speak the Queen’s English and he was a powerful speaker who could raise a rabble before you could see his intent, He was a dictator of course, but I had inherited his genes sufficiently that when I became a teenager, I could deal with him. He had abandoned all his and my mother’s relatives apart from we three; but we stuck with him to the end.

My mother spoke the Queen’s English and she made sure that we did too and with an acceptable middle class accent. She ensured that I had middle class manners and knew how to entertain, run a house, deal with employees, knew how to seat people according to rank, how to cook and sew. She taught me how to dress well on little money. I had an easy rapport with men, and once I was a wife and mother I got on well with other women.

And in Eugene I had an intelligent companion, one who understood (and still does) where I was coming from. I therefore was rarely what people expected and one or two peope made catastrophic errors of judgement in relation to me (and I have to say that I was never in the least forgiving about these.)

I was fortunate in my husband and children, and I had the luxury of being able to bring up my children myself. I was also rich in friends.

In reaching 70, I feel that I have had a good portion. Life does not owe me anything. I have lived life free, comfortable, relatively healthy (I have no complaints) and. I hope and believe, have been well loved. I have been blessed with son and daughters and with many grandchildren of both sexes. I have travelled and seen many places.

I hope to live a longer portion still, but if the call came for me now, I would go without complaint. God has always been good to me, and it certainly is not because I have deserved it.

JOAN OF ARC

We were watching a programme the other night on Joan of Arc and I reflected that it is very rare for me to entirely espouse the English point of view. Then I figured out why I was so hostile to her. It’s the God question.

Joan of Arc, whether you admire her or not, was an extraordinary person, who as a teenage girl declared that God had sent her with a message for the king of France. She was sent to take charge of his army and to fight the English. God would be on their side; she would drive the English out of France, and he then the Dauphin, would duly be crowned king of France in their traditional place for coronations which was Rheims Cathedral. He had been unable to be crowned at Rheims (the French equivalent of Scone (pronounced Scoon) in Scotland as it was in the hands of the English.)

God knows the English have a habit of going where they have no business, and the fact that I share their view of Joan does not imply any sympathy for their cause in France.

But I have the greatest suspicion of people to whom God has entrusted a mission, (allegedly, generally by themselves) especially one which requires other people to carry out this mission as well. I think such people are either deluded or charlatans. I think personally that Joan of Arc made it all up – that she was both attention seeking and delusional. Why should she (or indeed anyone) have a hot line to God? Why should she be in charge of the army when she had no military experience? France (at that time) was partly under English occupation. Her visions were proved to be in error and she (God’s own woman of high destiny according to her) fell into the hands of the English and was burnt at the stake as an heretic, the English not being magnanimous in victory.   She certainly had ‘bottle’ but she lacked the guile ad strategic planning and caution necessary to be a military success.   Her chief talent seemed to be in self publicity.   She was a celebrity in her day

Incidentally in these cases where the Virgin Mary has allegedly appeared to some peasant girl, she never has anything in the least novel, or interesting or news-worthy to say, but just repeats such platitudes as might occur to an uneducated person. I am not so unspiritual as to deny that mystical experiences do exist. However, I firmly believe that these experiences are for the see-er of the vision alone, and he should not attempt to subvert other people to his vision. Neither do I agree with the medical profession which tends to the view that these experiences represent a brain malfunction, an aspect of disease (though they may do in some cases.) Every person who dreams a dream, or sees a vision, has to integrate that experience into their psyche, however best they can, or dismiss it as of no account. But it’s a problem for them alone.

I completely disapprove of the habit of mankind of declaring people to be saints. Who are we to say? Our own behaviour falls so far short that I doubt if we could recognise a saint (supposing such a thing exists.)

The whole thing reminds me of the woman who in a dream was being chased by her psychiatrist. She kept running and running in increasing terror until eventually she was backed into a corner and in despair said over her shoulder to her pursuer: What are you going to do to me? Lady, he replied. It’s your dream.