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.

IS BORIS OUR MAN?

IS BORIS OUR MAN?

There is generally a honeymoon period between an incoming Prime Minister and the country, even for one who has bypassed the proper entry process (Boris, Gordon Brown, Theresa May.) They have arrived at the doors of No.10 by whatever method, and we wish them good fortune. This halcyon period does not last very long.

I find Boris interesting but quite difficult to understand. His obvious cleverness in his speech and wit is underwritten by a strategic cunning. In the recent ‘election’ he did not play to us, the country – which he would have to do to win a general election – but then he didn’t have to. He made his appeal to the Tory supporters, who were the only people voting – and this strategy paid off. I don’t understand why he plays the fool so much. We know he isn’t one; so who is he setting out to deceive?

I find myself surprisingly tolerant of Boris’s lapses from grace. He will not be brought down by irregularities in his personal life: we don’t expect anything else. (Whenever John Major dons the mantle of wise elder statesman and pontificates on some issue or other, I remind myself that this is the man who was stupid enough to have an affair with Edwina Curry, and the lack of taste displayed thereby.)

Boris has written a book on Winston Churchill and is known to be an admirer, which I find rather worrying. Churchill was wrong about absolutely everything – except for the one thing that really mattered. He was steadfast in his implacable opposition to Hitler and used his considerable powers of persuasion to steady the nerves of the British (we will fight them on the beaches; we will never surrender; etc.). For his unstinting service to our cause, and for his capacity to go on believing we would ultimately prevail, and to speak that part in his lion’s roar] we forgave him all his faults and took him for our hero. It really did seem to be a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man.

So here we stand, on our beaches, looking towards Europe. The hour has come upon us, but I am by no means certain Boris is our man. However, this a national emergency, so some sacrifices are required.

And so I wish Boris, the Prime Minister every success.

MISSING THE MAITRE D’

COLLECTIONS OF STUFF

I’ve often reflected that a good Maitre de (front of house manager) is irreplaceable in a hotel or

restaurant, although the better he is, the less he will appear to be necessary. I’ve seen some very bad ones in my time: one who rejoiced in the name of Homer and appeared to have the sole duty of being everyone’s friend; a red-headed youth in Glasgow who when I said to him, That was a very nice meal and the service was good (to which he should have replied, We are happy to be of service, madam) instead muttered, Och aye, while not looking at me.

While we were in the Cotswolds we visited the National Trust’s house in Snowshill Manor with Joanna and family. We look it up for location and accessibility. It has a long cart with seats in it, pulled by a tractor. So we set off. It is not particularly easy to find, nor is parking very plentiful. As soon as we disembark from our cars, we see a sign that baldly announces, buggy transportation cancelled. A sign points to a rough looking track disappearing round a corner and announces, 15 minutes walk. I decide to attempt it with John and my walker but it soon becomes apparent that the person who measured the walk was wearing 7 league boots. In addition the path which is rough and difficult to push vehicles along goes up and down steep hills. I notice that people with quite mild difficulties – an elderly gentleman with a stick; a lady pushing a twin pram; a young man carrying a large, complaining child – are becoming quite distressed. John decides I will never make it there and back and leaving me to go with Joanna, returns (up hill and down dale) to the car for the wheelchair.

We rest, wheezing, on the small terrace before the house. Tickets are timed, and ours is for 4 pm. It is currently 2.30 pm. We send Lawrence in to use his friendly Glaswegian charm to persuade them to admit us earlier. He is successful and when John has taken his inhaler and rested for 5 minutes we seek admittance. The welcoming steward has eyes of the oddest colour I have ever seen; they are a deep, bight turquoise. He says to me, Now you have to remember, Madam, that everything in this house was hand-made. I am not quite sure why he is telling me this.

The house presents a classical exterior to the terrace (although windows to the right of the door are a slightly different design to those on the left). But once within you realise that the classical exterior is fraudulent and has been tacked on to the side wall of a mediaeval house which still stands in all its huddled disorder, In addition the house is not furnished really; it is stuffed with random ‘collections.’ I can see no unifying pattern to these hoardings; if the gentleman fancied them, he bought them, lots of them whatever they were; and you could not say that his purchases exhibited any great taste.

There are models of ships, some of great size (these are in every room.) There are Oriental cabinets, which in a Japanese house would be displayed in solitary splendour in an otherwise almost empty room but here are stuffed in great quantities (not very wabi sabi) into small poky irregular shaped rooms. There are uniforms like the terracotta army, but complete with accessories and made of metal. There are dolls and doll-houses. As with the boat models, vast numbers od very noisy clocks chimed at all the wrong times. There are penny-farthings with a little dog attached to the picnic but with a built in toolkit. There were musical instruments in a room which appeared to have been a kitchen.

Had we enjoyed our visit the reception guide asked, looking slantwise at us through the turquoise eyes. I realised why he had stated at the outset that these artefacts were all hand made. He knew they were trash. (More considered view: they weren’t all trash, and some of them were OK but one was left with the impression that this ‘hobby’ was an indication of a disturbed mind.) I replied that it was amazing what could be done and he graciously suggested that we did not return up hill and down dale. He would open a gate off the terrace and John could bring our car to there.

We were quite taken aback that he had not made anyone aware he had that option. John pulled himself together and accepted the kind offer.

We then went off at quite a trot to collapse into the car before someone countermanded his offer; we had a light refreshment and headed out for home.

Returning to the maitre d’. The staff at Snowshill Manor were kind and helpful. In the end, they gave us very assistance at their disposal. However they need to provide better access; it is not OK to blithely announce that the buggy service is ‘OFF’. And the attraction of Snowshill is the loveliness of the entire village, how one beautiful house after another sits peacefully in this glorious valley. They should make an exotic garden there, and build a really fine tearoom and shop, plus an adequate car park.

As for the motley collections – I’d recommend they throw them out.

I would not recommend you visit Snowshill just at the moment and when you do go, nake sure you are wearing boots, carrying inhalers, and have a loudspeaker to summon assistance when you get lost!

THE LITTLE TRUMPET SHOP

 

I haven’t written for a few weeks.   I had nothing to say.

I got a flu like illness which wasn’t in itself too bad but which made me lethargic and rather low in spirit and it’s difficult to write when feeling like this,    The illness, being flu like, lingered for a long time and it is only now after more than a month that I begin to take an interest in things again.   At first I didn’t notice that I hadn’t blogged and then I didn’t care.

Meanwhile the Tory leadership affair has been trundling along.   I think it’s grossly unfair and undemocratic that a handful of Tories get to elect the next Prime Minister and I think parties who elect leaders in these circumstances should be obliged to call a General Election at once.   I don’t object to Boris, but I dislike the smug Hunt,  and I find the dishonourable, promise-breaking., disloyal Gove too  despicable to even dislike.

I’ve  had my eye on Rory Stewart for a long ime, before even he was an MP; I had him tipped as a future Foreign Secretary   I also like that his name is Roderick, as  is our Rory, so h upholds my theory that Rory is a nickname for Roderick in Scotland.   It is too soon for him to run for High Office   He has been out-voted but he has enhanced his profile and gained some experience,    Watch this space.

We went to the RHS Garden at Wisley on Sunday.    They have opened a new larger shop, café and garden centre which are enormous and full of wonderful things.    I bought 8 little lozenge shaped dishes. decorated with cherry blossom    I can put pins, vitamins, my   earrings or rings into them..   There were delphiniums of such intensity of colour that it was painful to look at them for too long.

Finally, William materialises at Robert (his father’s)  elbow..   ‘DAddy’ he says.   ‘I want to go to a little trumpet shop.,’    Robert is slightly surprised   William explains,  I want to buy a little trumpet and learn how to play it.   He rises the imaginary instrument to his lips and prepares to hoot and toot into it, while also performing the fingering.    I suggest they hire one and See how he gets on – better to go with the instrument the child has chosen.

Will it be painful to listen to as he begins?    The violin in the hands of a 5 year old sounds excruciatingly awful.d.    Elisabeth and I sat in the audience once and could hear a clarinetist running through her piece.   Do you think that is Joanna practising, I asked Elisabeth.   No, she replied unkindly.   There’s not enough squeaks and mistakes.

Know that your sins will find you out!

MARRYING JAMES McCOY

MARRYING JAMES McCOY

I’ve been experiencing difficulties with my sewing machine (Janome Decor, bought no more than three years ago. Its needle kept falling out in mid seam, and in addition I found it very difficult and time consuming to rethread. I had it serviced at a cost of £50 and for a time it had worked, but now it was back to its old tricks.

I explained the problem to John who responded, Let’s go this morning to John Lewis and buy another one. (This is one of the reasons I married him. He’s generous and decisive.. He doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet. He was just as positive and decisive about me; asked me to marry him on our first date. We were married on the 8th day after he was granted his divorce; you had to wait a statutory 7 days. I told this story to my children and said I had never regretted it, but I could not really recommend it as a course of action!)

Anyway, while I was getting ready he did a bit of research and we decided that we’d probably get a Brother, a Japanese model. I had had a knitting machine of this make which had been entirely satisfactory. A saleslady approached us to offer help whenever we began looking at the machines. I explained about my difficulties and she produced a model that the manufacturer recommended for persons with limited manual dexterity, that was suitable for children over 8 years old, and that was very easy to thread. The lady had said that she herself owned this machine and so I asked her, Was this true? Oh yes, she answered confidently enough, though adding after a short pause – a trifle ominously I thought, – ‘Once you get the hang of it’.

We took it home and John set it up for me. I sat down with the manual – a vast tome. I filled the bobbin and fitted the bobbin thread with ease. You just appear to plop it into the space for it and abandon it. Somehow it manages to link up with the top thread all by itself. I then proceeded to attempt the top threading but here I drew a blank. However I fiddled with it, it didn’t work. I spent two hours painstakingly reading and re-reading the instructions but no joy. I could of course have abandoned the attempt and threaded the needle manually but I resisted this. I was on the point of ringing my friend Alison (she can fix anything) and begging for her help, when I idly turned the page and found the headline saying ‘For Machines which Do Not have the Threading Adaption.’ The diagram at last made sense, and I had the machine threaded in about half a minute. Although I would have bought the ‘adaption’ had I been offered it, the machine does seem to be very quick and easy to thread even without it.

So I started sewing. So far I have made a decidedly hodge-podge affair of pieces of random fabric sewn together and backed and edged with black cotton to make a blackout blind for the young children’s bedroom; a pair of double thickness aprons with their initials for Elisabeth’s boys; part of a pyjama set for Elisabeth, with lace; a patchwork cushion-cover for Elisabeth in colours that she likes. In the pipeline ready to be completed, is a cream cotton dress made from a duvet cover, with dark red butterflies which just happens to go with a jacket I have; a dressing-gown and pyjamas made in white cotton lawn with added white embroidery from an old tablecloth; an alteration to a pair of pyjamas I have already made where the top is too long and the pants too narrow (who ate all the pies?) I also intend to make a Harris tweed waistcoat for John to wear with his kilt, and some loose comfortable trousers and tops in cotton prints for myself for summer.

My previous machine, complete with all its tools and its instruction book is boxed up for Glasgow where I hope in a house with three daughters, at least one of them might be interested to learn to sew.

My mother used to sing a song about a young woman who sewed all day, the chorus of which went, If I didn’t have my sewing machine, I’d have married James McCoy. No chance of that in my case: John was too quick for him!

IS IT TREASON?

The case against Gavin Williamson, is interesting. It is alleged that he leaked information on the subjects discussed at a meeting of the National Security Council to a Telegraph journalist; and as a result Theresa May has sacked him. I am reminded of the Cat’s speech in Tale of a Mouse in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

“I’ll be Judge, I’ll be Jury.”

Said cunning old Fury.

“I’ll try the whole lot,

and condemn them

to Death!”

Gavin Williamson swore, on the lives of his children, that he was innocent of the charges. He did admit (there was a record of his call so he could scarcely deny it) that he had spoken to the journalist immediately after the break up of the meeting. It is possible that he did not leak, but a man of any sense would not have taken the call. Clearly, Williamson is not at core a sensible man I had at first some sympathy for him, stripped of his robes of office, his enhanced income, his power – all in a single afternoon, with no reference to supportive evidence that might endorse his protests; but his face, in my opinion, is a witness for the prosecution and in no sense supports the case for the defence.

Labour’s Tom Watson, an opponent both devious and dangerous urges a police enquiry, but this is fraught with danger for Williamson. If the result went against him, he could face criminal charges, possibly including treason, a crime which the populace despises especially when it is against the country itself.

I was appalled to hear him swear his innocence ‘on the lives of his children’. (Though I did hear some cynic wondering if he had any). We tend sometimes to assume that the swearing of an oath is a trivial matter, but it is not. When I served on a jury, I secretly objected to being made to take an oath, for since I had every intention of behaving with integrity as best I was able it seemed to me to cast aspersions on my honesty. I chose to swear ‘by Almighty God’ and I have to say it made me think carefully before I applied my persuasions to my fellow jurors. To swear an oath on the lives of your children is a terrible oath and one wonders what his children felt about this, or their mother. He has sustained great losses already, but there may be longer term damage yet to come.

I recall feeling much the same chill when I heard the distasteful Jonathan Aitken saying he was taking up the sword of truth to fight injustice and one knew that he was lying. He had also induced his daughter to commit perjury on his behalf. I remember thinking, this will end badly for you, and indeed it did. Anyone taking up ‘the sword of truth’ should be sure he is fit to wield it, otherwise it will turn on him and destroy him.

Did Williamson simply choose a headline grabbing phrase because he doesn’t believe a word about the binding nature of an oath? Is he desperate to realise his ambitions while he thinks he can? Even if he were innocent of the charge, it would be almost impossible to prove, so does he think the extreme nature of his protestations will make them more believable?

Which would one rather be mistaken for – a traitor, a fool or a liar?

Meanwhile, we should perhaps add Gavin Williamson’s children to the body of people we all pray for. I am sure they will be fine. God is not partial.

COFFEE COMPANIONS

COFFEE COMPANIONS

I’ve been reflecting recently on the kindness of my friends.

John had expressed anxiety about the length of time I sometimes spent alone when he was playing golf and was beginning to doubt whether he should go. I was quite horrified about this. I think it is very important that he continues to go. He really enjoys golf. It’s good exercise. He gets to stride out and not toddle along at my snail’s pace! He enjoys the masculine company (and occasionally some ladies.) He gets to spend time in a circle that is exclusively his own and nothing to do with me.

I manage quite well on these days. Usually my children telephone me for a chat. I have an emergency button should I require it. I have plenty of things I like doing. But I suggested to John that I set up an arrangement among my girlfriends that someone will come and have a coffee wIth me on these days. He agreed he would feel more comfortable if I had some company.

So now we have a group of 30 ladies who come and have coffee with me. I was gratified by the prompt and positive response to my request. Only two ladies declined and both had good reason and hope to join us later.

I send out a list of dates and people ‘offer’ for them as suits them. Often the dates are quite far in advance but if they find nearer the time that they have other demands on their time it is quite simple to find someone else who is available. I find it really enjoyable to see my friends one-to-one (although sometimes they elect to come in pairs and that is fun too.) It is good to have a quiet uninterrupted conversation, catch up with their news, enjoy their company. It keeps me in touch with everybody and I really enjoy seeing them all. I appreciate people’s generosity in giving up their time; in their encouragement of me; how they ask if they can do any small thing while with me; how they make me laugh and support me.

Surrounded as we are by the horrors of terrorism and cruelty, we have to make an effort to hold on to the fact that although there are dreadful things happening in the world, by far the majority of people are kind at heart and wish to do good things. Unfortunately, acts of kindness and generosity do not make very interesting headlines!