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We made a decision we weren't going to mow the lawn this summer and now it's a meadow, full of cowslips and clover and feathery grasses. How, and I'm feeling quite evangelical about it, is this not preferable to something that looks like a bowling green?

As a concession to what the neighbours might think we allowed Julia to cut a few strips to serve as pathways and to make it plain that not mowing isn't laziness but a choice.
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Little whippy middle-aged guy gets stopped on the promenade by a TV interviewer.

Interviewer says, "What does Brexit mean to you?"

Little whippy guy says, "Doesn't mean a thing. Don't know what it is."

Wish I could say the same....

There are many reasons for wishing the Tories would go away and stop bothering us but the unending, stupid, low energy, soap opera that is Brexit (essentially a grudge match between two wings of the party) comes high on the list. It has wrapped our politics, our national life, in a smog of negativity.

Heat Wave

Jun. 21st, 2017 02:01 pm
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Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot...

One "hot" for every day in an unbroken sequence of heat.

This is so unEnglish. People are talking about the unforgettable summer of 1976 as the last time we experienced anything like it.

We've been watching the tennis from Queen's Club- where one of the commentators told us yesterday that it was topping 100 degrees Farenheit out on court.

Lots of flies. We've been burning citronella candles and running a gadget with windmilling arms to keep the little buggers away from our food.

St Francis

Jun. 19th, 2017 12:59 pm
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This full-sized papier mache model of St Francis was created by Stan Andrews in the 1990s as the centrepiece of a Sunday School stall at the Minster-in-Sheppey Flower Festival. After moving around a bit- and spending time in a garage- he acquired a permanent home at Holy Trinity Church, Queenborough- where he occupies his own reserved pew.
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Queenborough was celebrating something yesterday but I didn't like to show my ignorance- and proclaim my outsider status- by asking what it was. The high street had been closed to traffic and people were selling bric-a-brac on makeshift stall outside their houses; we bought two second-hand soft toys and a dolls house. There was a flower festival inside the church, And people were walking around the streets in 17th century costume, interacting with the public. My best guess is they were celebrating (if that's the right word) the anniversary of the Dutch raid on the Medway in 1667. I'm saying that because a lot of the buildings were flying tricolours and they weren't the French one.

We hadn't gone because of the celebration (whatever it was) but because we like going places we've never been before. Queenborough had a prosperous past as a port at the juncture of three rivers- Thames, Medway and Swale- and was the site of a magnificent round castle, built by Edward III for Queen Philippa and raised to the ground- so nothing visible remains- by Oliver Cromwell. The High Street is mainly 18th century and opens - or would if there weren't a nasty concrete sea wall blocking the view- onto the mud flats and waters of the Thames Estuary. We came home and- as we usually do when we've been somewhere we've liked- looked at house prices.

This is Queenborough Hard. The 17th century-type ship is flying the Jolly Roger and the Dutch tricolor. It may be a fixture or it may be part of the celebrations.

Here's Queenborough's early 18th century Guildhall.

And here's the Creek. Remember it was low tide on a very hot day. Edward and Philippa's castle once towered over this view- deterring foreign invaders and local runagates- one of England's great lost buildings. Channel 4's Time Team dug up the foundations in 2005 and were greatly impressed.

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A young guardsman collapsed in the heat. I only know this from newspaper accounts because the TV cameras very cleverly avoided showing the incident.

It must be foul having to parade in 80 degree heat wearing headgear designed for the Crimean winter.

Those bearskins! Victorian soldiers were actually expected to fight in them. Crickey!

The ceremony itself goes back to a time when flags served as rallying points for soldiers scattered on the battlefield. The "trooping of the colour" was about parading the regimental flag in front of the men so they knew what it looked like. I didn't know that before.

The wonderful gold uniforms worn by the mounted musicians have hardly changed since the late 17th century, the silver kettle drums were a gift from William IV, the household cavalry wear uniforms Queen Victoria would have recognised, the shiny guns being pulled behind the limbers were fired in anger during the Great War...

Time is defied, informed that it doesn't actually apply in situations like this. That's what we mean by "tradition". And let's throw a little anachronism into the mix- Victorian bearskins and red jackets but modern automatic weapons. The Queen is in her twentieth century granny gear, the Dukes of Edinburgh and Kent, Colonels of Regiments, wear top hats...
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You've got to admire people who go out on a limb and lead extreme lives so the rest of us don't have to.

Anita Pallenberg for instance.

Talking about going out on a limb I just watched a young sparrow fledge. When I first caught sight of it it was backed against the trunk of a holly tree in a little ball of fluff with its friends and relations coming and going around it. Then, gradually, it edged out along a branch, stopping to stretch its wings and preen, growing sleeker by the minute until, when it was three quarters of the way towards nowhere in particular it spread its wings fully- flew...
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Trollope was a conservative but...

It takes one to know one...

The Tories in The Way We Live Now are a sorry bunch- ignorant, bigoted, lazy, materialistic. They'd sell their grannies to make an easy buck, but since grannies aren't particularly saleable they sell their sons and daughters instead. When someone comes along with a bit of a talent in the money-making line they prostrate themselves at his feet- even though he's obviously a wrong'un. The swindler- Melmotte- is a brute, but at least he has energy- which they singularly lack- and there's something Napoleonic about his trajectory from gutter to gutter by way of the highest reaches of society. They, the conservatives grandees, are brutal too- under their craquelure of breeding- but also utterly feeble- in head, heart and hand. They despise trade and hate Jews- but if a Jewish merchant punts money their way they'll scoop it up- while reserving the right to sneer at him behind his back. They sit on their estates- if they're old- and plot their dynastic marriages- or in their clubs- if they're young- and gamble their money away. Typical of the younger sort is Sir Felix Carbury- a man so enervated that he flunks his elopement with an heiress who could solve his money worries even though the girl has made all the arrangements for him.

Good conservatives do exist- staunch, old squirearchical types like Roger Carbury- but their day is over- and positioning yourself so that you're always looking backwards at a day that is over condemns you to futility and pathos. His protégé gets into a relationship with a energetic American widow- a woman with a past in the Wild West, where she shot a would-be rapist dead- and he does all he can to discourage and thwart the love match because, my boy, consider her antecedents...


P.S. The first sentence of this post is untrue. Trollope was actually a Liberal. My mistake. He did, however, describe himself as "a conservative Liberal"...
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I was going to post a picture of our eldest granddaughter's 5th birthday party but Ailz pointed out there were a lot of children in it- other people's children- and making it public could be a contentious thing to do.

Crazy old world...

My daughter had hired a hall- with lots of room for the kids to run around in- and a couple of entertainers- one of them dressed as Elsa from Frozen- to keep them running around in a reasonably disciplined manner. Children's parties (I speak from experience) can be hell and to bring in professionals is absolutely the right thing to do...
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It's not clear whether we even have a government at present.

Mrs May has just suffered the humiliation of having to sack her two closest advisers. You'd think she might have said, "If they go, I go." But, no, loyalty in the upper reaches of governance only goes one way. Does Mrs May think that sacrificing her friends will keep her in office? But why would she want to cling to office when every public appearance will be a rite of mortification?

Someone- someone breathing down Mrs May's neck- will have to prepare a speech for the Queen to deliver at the State Opening of Parliament. What on earth can be said in it that won't provoke laughter?
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Like the Brexit Referendum and the recent Presidential elections in the USA and France the 2017 British election has produced an "interesting" result- by which I mean one largely unanticipated by the power elite and unpredictable in its results. Mrs May expected a landslide that would put her in a strong position to negotiate with Europe. Instead she provoked a Labour resurgence that has wiped out her majority, left her personally discredited and reliant on the support in parliament of the party founded by Ian Paisley. "Coalition of Chaos" was the placard she tried to hang round Jeremy Corbyn's neck. Now she's wearing it herself.

It hardly seems likely that a Conservative-DUP coalition with a wafer-thin majority, led by a Prime Minister who has forfeited the support of much of her own party will wobble along for long. Corbyn's Labour is riding a big wave- with Corbyn himself the most popular politician in Britain- while Boris Johnson, like Churchill in 1940- is waiting for his country's call.
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The fields are now fully fenced- and the horses shouldn't be going anywhere we don't want them to- so long, that is, as I remember to shut gates behind me. I forgot the day before yesterday- and we were treated to the sight of Justin Spottyhorse strolling up the drive with his mouth full. Fortunately none of the mares had followed him. I took a circuitous route, picking up a bit of a stick on the way, came up behind him and shooed him back through the open gate.


Jun. 6th, 2017 04:51 pm
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Our fences are insubstantial things- but what a difference it makes when they are taken down.

The effect is psychological rather than visual. Visually these fences of ours are insignificant- walls of air- a few verticals and a few horizontals with landscape in the gaps- but psychologically they dominate the scene. They stand for property, boundaries, thine and mine- here you may go and there you m'ain't.

Simon and his assistant are renewing the fences between us and the neighbours' meadow and just for today there's a break in the line. There used to be two fields, now there's a prairie. Everything feels so different. I stepped over the now invisible boundary with the sense of doing something mischievous- anarchic even- not that the neighbours would mind in the least...


Jun. 6th, 2017 11:07 am
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Matthew said he needed to trim a rickety hornbeam that was overhanging and threatening the welfare of a fence he's replacing- and I visualised the operation as a tasteful pruning. Well, he's done it now- and trimmed the tree right back down to the ground.

Leaving a naked stump.

"It'll grow back" he says cheerily. "Only we'll need to put a fence round it so the horses don't eat all the new growth."
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The image I keep coming back to is the G7 leaders in a posse strolling through Taormina while Trump putters along behind in a golf buggy.

My imagination adds further spurious details. The leader of the free world has a rug over his knees. The buggy morphs into a 19th century bath chair.

Authority leaks away from the Presidency. Trump announces he's leaving the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and a chorus of mayors and governors from around the nation pipes up with, "Well, we're not." Mayor Bloomberg adds that if Trump withholds funding he'll personally make up the shortfall. When Trump says he was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh not Paris the mayor of Pittsburgh tells him to get lost.

It's become a meme- bouncing round the media and internet- that 2017 marks the end of the American century.

Trump has played his part; he has stirred things up and united the world in opposition. He has made his enemies strong. The French president- a vigorous young man with whom Trump instituted a handshake contest only to lose- has turned his election slogan against him. "Make our planet great again," he says.
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I told the foreman I hadn't been expecting such a show of strength and he said something about pulling in extra hands because it was Friday and the lads wanted to get done quickly and go home. Judging by their accents most of the gang were Welsh and home was a long way away.

We'd been warned to expect the electricity to be off all morning- from nine till two. In the event the job was done in an hour and a half.

I was asked if I wanted to keep the old pole. And I said I did. Matthew can chop it up and feed it into his wood-burning stove.
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This morning the electricity company is replacing the poles that carry the cables that supply our little corner of the village. Thus far eight white vans of varying sizes have driven up and parked themselves in the neighbour's field. It's like the circus came to town...
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There must have been Tory voters in the audience last night but they weren't sticking up for their gal (Amber Rudd standing in for the notoriously absent Theresa May.) Jeremy Corbyn was cheered and whistled at and clapped, but the liveliest response Rudd elicited was the belly laugh she got when she said her party should be judged on its record. If one didn't know better- or put no faith in the pollsters- one might have supposed- from the mood of the meeting- that the Tories were heading not for easy victory but a humbling electoral wipeout.

Rudd looked glum throughout. I imagine she's quite cross at May for sending her in to face the rough music that she, May, had ducked away from.

I don't, for a moment believe, in spite of harrumphing from the likes of Boris Johnson, that the BBC had packed the Senate House with lefties- because that would have been more than its charter is worth. What it shows, I think, is that people vote Tory out of self-interest, deference, resignation, habit- motives like that- but no-one actually likes them.
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Put it this way: Jeremy Corbyn is a more interesting person than Theresa May. He appeared on The One Show yesterday and we learned that he likes trains and manhole covers, working on the allotment and making jam. So he's a geek (which I understand is cool these days) and a highly individual one. OK, lots of people like trains, but manhole covers? And how many people who obsess about peculiar aspects of our industrial heritage also make jam?

He has a streak of steel. The presenters had got hold of some childhood pictures of him and he was taken by surprise- and wanted to know who'd supplied them- I mean, really wanted to know- and one got the impression that if he found out who they were that person would be very, very sorry.

He's incorruptible, he's an idealist, he likes to keep his private life private (no spouse on the sofa to support him) and he has cold blue eyes. He can do conviviality but it only goes so far. Get on the wrong side of him, betray his trust and....

Think Robespierre...


May. 30th, 2017 12:23 pm
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I don't know London any more. I gather, from all I'm told, that it's shinier and very much more corporate than it used to be.  My bro-in-law, who conducts guided tours of the East End, tells me most of the old Jack the Ripper sites are buried under steel and glass.

There was a time when I knew London quite well- parts of it anyway. These days I rarely get any closer than Greenwich or the Elizabeth II bridge at Dartford. I can't exactly approve of the Shard or the towers of Canary Wharf- monuments to capital that they are- but they do look splendid from a distance.

I've just finished Emeric Pressburger's long neglected and now reprinted novel The Glass Pearls- first published in 1966- and it has brought back memories of the London of my youth- gritty, cheap, smelling of dust and petrol, with the war damage still being undone and the modernist buildings going up and catching the eye because they were still rare. Pressburger's characters inhabit seedy lodgings with shared bathrooms and kitchens- attend concerts at the Royal Festival Hall and treat themselves to an "expensive" speciality duck dish which costs them all of 12/6- which is just over 50p in today's money. They go to a "Twist Club"- where young trendies gyrate grimly and the central character- who must be in his mid fifties- passes out from the cultural overload.

I'm not going to say, "those were the days" because they weren't particularly. Pressburger's London isn't modern London but neither is it the London of the Blitz, or Dickens' London, or Pepys'. Great cities are in a constant state of flux. A handful of monuments resist the current and everything else is always changing. Did I love the London of my youth? I'm not sure I'd have said so at the time; it was just a place I went watch European movies and generally mooch around- and it usually sent me home with a migraine headache- but it seems that I love it now.


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