BETWEEN BATH AND BRISTOL

We spent 8 days in our caravan on a site (adults only) between Bath and Bristol. I wouldn’t have specified the ‘no children’ clause but it was quite peaceful and quiet. We had neighbours who arrived with their dog, a kind of elderly cross collie. I never observed the woman close up, but she had a very youthful style of dressing for a middle aged woman, with pretty dresses and with her hair worn long and with flowers in it. When they were on the site, she sat outside with the dog beside her. Every time anyone walked past, the dog barked, and if the passerby was a man, he did a long howl as part of his I-ain’t-nothing-but-a-hound-dog act, whereupon the fairy princess would reprimand him, and then embrace him. They could play this game for hours. I was mildly irritated when I discovered his name was ‘Woofy’. How is that helpful? I wondered if you could have a site that specified, No children, No dogs (No fairy princesses?) then I thought, No, that wouldn’t do. You never know where you might end up.

The roads in Somerset and Wiltshire are often very narrow, very hilly, and with high hedges. The standard of driving was poor and I was astonished at the rudeness of many drivers (failing to acknowledge a courtesy for example.) Something has happened in the country at large but I cannot quite put my finger on it yet. There was a faint air of sullenness and resentment.

We went one day to Burnham on Sea and Weston super Mare. The beaches are wonderful; the towns less so. We had a coffee on the promenade where an elderly blind woman sat by herself, praying (out loud.) I felt like saying, God will hear you even if you are silent; but forebore.

There was a lake beside us (Chew Valley Reservoir) and we often went there to watch the ducks, grebes, Canada geese and swans. We bought ourselves a good pair of binoculars (so much more useful than a ruby!)

We visited Wells another day. Only with our blue budge were we able to find anywhere to park. Wells is an attractive town but it was very busy. We had lunch in the sunshine in the terrace of a hotel.

We drove to Bristol and walked at the docks and waterfront. We debated going on to the SS Gt Britain but we had seen it before and it was drizzling.

Bath is always a delight, even infested with tourists. A notable feature of our trip was the absence of foreigners; but the Japanese and the Americans were out in force here. Bath really is a beautiful city with its crescents, its circles and its squares. However it was reaching a level of crowdedness that was bordering on unacceptable for me (but I would regard the ideal state of affairs as ourselves,at one end of a street and another family at the other!) We went round the Museum of Ffashion, which was interesting, but when you come to the modern exhibits, what is shown is so unlike anything one would ever see worn by any sensible person, it makes you wonder about the veracity of all the other exhibits. We had lunch in a pub called the Marlborough which was excellent. On another day we returned to Bath and visited The Baths. I have mixed feelings about this place. The real story here is how during the whole history of man inhabiting the earth, the Bath waters have flowed at a steady rate and temperature, and when you stand before them in the steam you realise we walk on a living planet whose complexities and miracles we barely understand. Beside this miraculous wonder, the Roman and Victorian buildings seem largely irrelevant. I make my genuflections 3 times as we pass through: once to the head of a god ‘experts’ speculate on his identity, but which in my opinion is clearly Neptune; once to the goddess Minerva, and once again to Neptune at the outpouring of the water. I dip my fingers in the water which is warm to hot (though there are signs telling you not to do so.) We had a late lunch at a Blanc Bistro where we had lamb, pink and tender; and a wonderful pudding of pistachio souffle and chocolate icecream which I shall attempt to replicate. We also had a look inside Bath Abbey which had an exhibition of needlework diptychs on the life of Christ which were quite stunning.

On another day we decided to have a quiet day at the conservation village of Lacock. However it was hosting a second world war re-enactment and was full of tanks, 2nd world war vehicles, men dressed up in uniform, men carrying machine guns under their arms (were they real guns, were they loaded? – I don’t know, but I didn’t think, given the times we live in, this was a good idea.) I saw one man, tall and good-looking but running to fat in his middle age, strutting his stuff in Nazi uniform, and informing a fellow enthusiast that although he was wearing Nazi uniform, he wouldn’t wear the swastika. I must admit the logic escaped me.

It was a pleasant holiday and I’d recommend the area.

STANDING IN A PLACE OF GRACE

STANDING IN A PLACE OF GRACE

I’ve been thinking on the nature of democracy which, while an imperfect institution, is better than any known alternative. I was rather alarmed to hear people (good people in my estimation) stating that the result of the referendum ought to be disregarded. If you profess to be a democracy, the will of the people has to be accepted, even if it were by only one vote. Otherwise it’s the thin edge of the wedge: reject one result because you deem it unsuitable or inconvenient and you could end up in a one party state before you could say Vladimir Putin.

David Cameron seemed, when he started out, an example of the best you can expect from the Tories. Courteous and calm, with compassion, having suffered grief and loss in spite of his privileged background, loyal to his friends, untouched by financial or sexual scandal, you thought as he took office, he’ll do, and good luck to him too. Yet he has proved to be that most worrying of failures – an incompetent, and of poor judgement. He has gambled with our future stability and well-being – and lost – but even had he won, the risks he took were not worth what he might have gained.

Referenda would appear to be a blunt and unsubtle instrument. In the Scottish referendum on Independence, Cameron he did not lose outright. But the putting of the question and the size of the vote that it attracted effectively legitimised the Independence position, and strengthened their case even though they did not win that vote. The issue has certainly not gone away. I was surprised on our recent travels in Scotland to see the Saltire flying all over the place, and a fair number of car stickers saying, Ask me now and I’ll say Yes. It was apparent that people who a year ago were vehemently antagonistic to the idea of independence were far more relaxed about it now. It is my belief, if the question keeps being put in its present form, that the Scots will eventually vote Yes and then it will not be possible to deny them. It is undeniably the case that the question can be put however many times it takes, and regardless of the intervals, until the desired answer is given, but the electorate only has to say Yes once, for the outcome to be virtually irrevocable. Westminster should have remembered this. There are two other factors that were overlooked. The electorate believes in fair play, and it does not respond submissively to bullying.

We have seen with referenda that the electorate will vote Leave or Remain as instructed, but that it is not necessarily giving those answers to the questions which it was asked.

My guess is that so far as Brexit is concerned, London and the South being prosperous and near Europe largely voted Remain it being convenient for them. Scotland voted Remain to the last county and it has always been pro-Europe as a counter-balance to England, but the Scots also voted Remain in support of independence. The Irish in Northern Ireland voted for Remain in support of a United Ireland.

The English Midlands and Northern counties voted Leave in a spirit of dissatisfaction with Cameron’s government; and English coastal areas voted Leave because of their despair over having to cope with an unending influx of migrants with no government acknowledgement of their difficulties or help with the accompanying problems.

I’m quite sure that a fair proportion of those people who voted Leave for the reasons I have argued, did not actually expect that the overall vote would be to Leave and so got a result that was unexpected. Protest votes are dangerous and best kept for bi-elections!

George Osborne, of unlamented memory, was always described as being a wily strategist, which clearly was NOT the case, since the outcome here has been a catastrophe for him. But you cannot enjoy such a reputation for no reason. I’ve come to the conclusion that to be a good strategist, you need to be able to predict the reactions of a wide variety of people, including ones unlike yourself. People, as I have attempted to argue, vote from different motivations. Some vote for self interest; some vote altruistically; some vote in hatred or prejudice; some vote in family tradition. George Osborne, I suggest, understood extremely well the turpitude of his shoddy colleagues (of all parties) in Westminster, but he had no understanding of the hopes and dreams his fellow countrymen carried in their secret hearts.

Every incoming British prime minister, I believe, sets out with the goodwill of the British people.   Mrs May, I think, has so far conducted herself (and God knows I have no sympathy for the Tories) so that she still stands in that place of grace where we will give her the benefit of the doubt and wish success to her endeavours. Let us pray then that she continues as she has begun, for she is going to need all the good will she can muster to steer us through the rough times ahead.

SCOTLAND, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW I T

On our journey to Scotland a few weeks ago, we stopped for the night as we usually do at the Westmorland Hotel at Tebay services. We were having a pre-prandial drink in the bar when a tour group of Americans began to congregate. A woman called Patricia began to talk to me. “I’m so pleased we’re in Scotland,” she told me, “I’ve always wanted to see it.” I told her she wasn’t there yet, and she looked extremely confused and referred to a higher authority (her husband ) as if I didn’t know what I was talking about. He came from Idaho so he only knew about wheat and had no idea. “We’re having a lecture on how to build stone walls.” she volunteered. “I think it must be a hobby.” I left her to it.

After our horrendous experience in Skye coping with the influx of mostly American tourists from a gigantic cruise ship, I thought I could design a tour of Scotland that would appeal to most of them.

Cross the Border and visit Floors Castle (Downton Abbey). Proceed to Edinburgh by way of Rosslyn Chapel (the Da Vinci Code)and visit Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street and Holyrood Palace to see where Rizio was murdered in Mary Queen of Scots room. Through Stirling visiting the Wallace Monument (Braveheart). Drive through Glencoe, (Skyfall) hearing the tale of how the Campbells broke the laws of hospitality and murdered their hosts. Over the sea to Skye, visiting Dunvegan Castle and Flora Macdonald’s cottage (it’s amazing how many cottages she lived in), then back across the new bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh, popping down to see what we heard one visitor refer to as Elaine Donan’s castle (Eilean Donan) (iconic Scottish castle though in fact it is a fake, built in the 1930s). Over to Loch Ness (Nessie). I read that Loch Ness ‘contains more water than all the other lakes in the British Isles put together’ and wondered who had measured that and how. Finally across to Deeside to see Balmoral.

It is Scotland, Jim, but not as we know it.