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As if their pupils didn't already have enough advantages, teachers at top public schools- Eton included- have been gaming the system by giving them advance notice of exam questions. As Ailz says, "it's not cricket."

I went to a public school myself- a comparatively minor one- also a comparatively civilised one- and I won't pretend I hated the experience because I didn't- but I've always thought- ever since I was old enough to have an opinion I hadn't inherited- that it is wicked and wrong for the rich to be able to buy their kids the kind of head start in life a public school education entails- and bad for the country that its power elites get stuffed with people who aren't brighter than average but just went to the right schools. (Think David Cameron). Successive governments- including those of the so-called left- have failed to rectify the situation. I'm not calling for class vengeance- tumbrils and dynamite- just that the fee-paying schools should be taken into the national system, funded from taxes and thrown open to all and sundry.

It would be good if this current scandal were to light the touchpaper to reform, but I'm not counting on it.


Aug. 28th, 2017 10:56 am
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The ossuary in the crypt of St Leonard's church in Hythe is one of only two in the UK. It was common in the Middle Ages to dig up old burials to make way for new, with the detritus being housed in charnel houses. This practice was discontinued in the early modern period and most communities eventually disposed of their bone collections one way or another- but Hythe was old fashioned. The ossuary has a long wall of femurs interspersed with skulls running the length of the room and shelves of skulls in alcoves reaching up to the vaulted ceiling. It makes me think of an old-time, family shoe shop.

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Ailz: What is this book you've just bought?

Me: The Collected Poems of Charles Causley

Ailz: Is he alive or dead?

Me: Dead.

Ailz (playing on my taste for channelled writings) Did he write them before or after?

Shewhomust brought it to my attention that- had he hung around for a few more years- Causley would have been celebrating his 100th birthday yesterday. I remembered how much I liked him and went looking for his work online. His Ballad for Katherine of Aragon brought tears to my eyes.

The Queen of Castile has a daughter
Who won't come home again
She lies in the grey cathedral
Under the arms of Spain.
O the Queen of Castile has a daughter
Torn out by the roots.
Her lovely breast in a stone cold chest
Under the farmers' boots.

There's something about the ballad form that predisposes my skin to prickle and my eyes to fill but even allowing for this weakness I don't believe there's any post-war English poem that moves me more- unless it's something else of Causley's.

I bought one of his collections in the late 60s and somehow never added to it. Well, that's rectified now.
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It seems the government has been counting foreign students in but not counting them out again- and immigration figures have been inflated as a result. They've been claiming that nearly 100,000 stay on illegally each year when the true figure is under 5,000.

And of course these false figures have been used to ramp up a xenophobic, brexity mindset.

One could put this down to incompetence or cynicism or a combination of both- but however you parse it, it ain't pretty. Kudos to those- in parliament and out- who have agitated to have the true figures acknowledged; no kudos at all to those- including Theresa May- who thought the false figures acceptable.


Aug. 25th, 2017 09:57 am
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A blue tit just flew in from the patio through the sliding door to the kitchen, traversed the dining room, entered the living room and exited (with a little judicious assistance) through the sliding door out onto the patio again. It then needed a little extra judicious assistance to surmount the glass screen that protects the patio from the wild west wind.

It must have been a young'un. It'll learn.


Aug. 24th, 2017 05:28 pm
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We were going down a road called Waggon Lane- wide enough to allow the passage of Constable's Hay Wain and God help you if there was another wain coming in the opposite direction- and something went bang on the roof. Then another thing went bang on the windscreen and this time we saw what it was: we were being bombarded with acorns.

Is my memory adrift or is autumn coming very early this year? I mean it's still August and acorns are falling and chestnut leaves are turning all brown and crinkly and the hedges are full of blackberries. I've been putting off picking apples because of the date but I reckon they're just about ready.
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I found these in the cutlery drawer and think they're winkle-pickers- meaning utensils for eating winkles and other shellfish. This is only a guess. Perhaps you know better....
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The Daily Mail saved me the trouble of reading the new biography of David Bowie by getting an office junior to read it for me and sieve out all the mucky bits.  Apparently Bowie's pansexualism extended to raping girls as young as twelve. Oddly enough no-one is calling for the digging up of his grave and the banning of his music.

Pakistani taxi drivers: Lock 'em up and throw away the key! 

Jimmy Savile: Wipe all the tapes!

David Bowie: Yes, but he was so cool...

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 I love almost everything Kipling wrote but I think I love the Puck books best of all- if only because they're the things of his that make the hair on my forearms bristle the most. This may have something to do with knowing most of the places he writes about. We live on the edge of his stomping ground- and have spent the past three or four years getting to know it better. 

Seely Sussex for everlastin'

I've just finished the first book. If any charge Kipling with being a bone-headed nationalist or racist or anti-Semite they really should read the final story- The Treasure and the Law- and have another think . Kipling himself worried that it was "too heavy for its frame"- and I can see what he meant- because its lightning-flash piercings of the dark are dizzying. Kipling wasn't one for shielding his young readers from life's little brutalities- and never less so than in this story of a prince in Israel who does his adopted nation a good turn in spite of itself. This is Kipling at his most glittery and magnificent- . I didn't understand a word of it as a child- and perhaps just as well.
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I had thought my copy of Puck of Pook's Hill was a hand-me-down from my grandmother but I checked the flyleaf last night and found it once belonged to Reginald Soundy who was the (deceased) husband of our next-door neighbour in Croydon in the 1950s- so it was a gift from her.

Reginald Soundy had it as a Christmas present in 1908. He was born in 1894- so that would make him 14 at the time. I know this much because he was a flier with the RFC and then the RAF- and an outline of his service record is available on line.

I'm re-reading Puck because we were in Kipling's particular corner of Sussex the other day- Wadhurst, Heathfield, Burwash, Etchingham. I wapped one of Peter Bellamy's CDs in the stereo as we were driving through and that strengthened the connection. 

Kipling is so economical. Puck contains enough material to have furnished a more diffusive writer with a whole string of novels. And yet nothing is skimped. 

Here's a vignette that gives us all we need to know about the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings. 

"Half-way up the King's Hill we found a false fellow from Picardy- a sutler that sold wine in the Duke's camp- with a dead knight's shield on his arm, a stolen horse under him, and some ten or twelve wastrels at his tail, all cutting and slashing at the pigs. We beat them off and saved our pork. One hundred and seventy pigs we saved in that great battle."

So few words, so much information, so much texture. And all in character.  We know exactly what happened, what the speaker's values are and also that he doesn't take himself too seriously....

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I was doing it again last night- and this time it was Ty Hardin I was watching- in a clip from the Warner Brothers' production line western series Bronco.

Hardin was a beautiful young man in an Eisenhower era sort of a way that was soon to go out of fashion- which may explain why- although his acting career bumped along for several more decades- his time in the sun was so short. History records that he turned down the lead in a cheap spaghetti western called a Fistful of Dollars. Would he have had Clint's career if he'd taken that gig? Probably not.

Bronco wasn't great art and Hardin wasn't that good an actor- but for my generation of little boys approaching adolescence in and around 1960- he and the other TV cowboys were the ones we looked to for information on how grown men were supposed to comport themselves. They were all good looking- but Hardin was the good-lookingest- which is why we nick-named a handsome French master Bronco- and not Rowdy or Wyatt or Maverick or one of the many other options.

I can still hum the theme tune. I even know the words...
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Seems like I keep doing this- turning to U-Tube to play clips of some musician or actor of my youth who has just died....

By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston, Wichita Linesman- three great songs, transcending genre (are they pop or country or folk? Who cares!)

And timeless. The human condition summed up in three minutes of wistfulness. To do it once is amazing, to do it three times....
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Henry Irving was to the Victorian era what Lawrence Olivier was to the mid-20th century- the acknowledged head of the theatrical profession. As Olivier was the first actor to be made a peer so Irving was the first to be knighted. His productions at the Lyceum were noted for their beauty and spectacle- as if straining after the not-yet-existing condition of cinema- and also for their scholarship and intelligence. He was the definitive Hamlet, Shylock and Macbeth of his generation.

This death mask comes from the collection of theatrical knick-knackery belonging to Ellen Terry- his leading lady, muse and sometime lover...

What a strange and beautiful face it is...

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Smallhythe Place was originally a Tudor shipwright's house, later the home of the actress Ellen Terry- and is now a National Trust property, housing Terry's collection of theatrical memorabilia. The house and gardens are beautiful and the collection ranges from the snuffbox from which Joseph Grimaldi (Joey the clown) took a pinch of snuff just before he died to the green, beetlewing dress which Terry wore to play Lady Macbeth. The dress looks considerably more spectacular in Sargent's famous portrait than it does in real life.

This final picture shows the bottom of the garden with St John the Baptist's church- which is roughly contemporary with the house- behind.

Following on from our visit I've been reading Terry's Autobiography- The Story of my Life- which is full of lively theatrical anecdotes and good advice to actors and utterly lacking in point-scoring and malice.


Aug. 7th, 2017 12:12 pm
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Ailz jogged my elbow- she wants horse pix for her own site- so I went out into the field and snapped away.

Here's the whole herd- back row: Copper and Snowy. Front row: Bluebell (the foal) and Patch.

And here are mother and daughter- Snowy and Bluebell.

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 As a way of tipping my hat to Robert Hardy- who has just died at an advanced age- I watched a couple of clips of the TV show Manhunt (1969-70)- in which he played the anti-hero- Gratz- a chippy, love-lorn Nazi policeman- a sort of powder keg on legs- who succeeds in alienating our sympathies from the British bulldogs who might have been supposed to be the heroes. His performance is every bit as riveting as I remember. He started out in the classics- but came into his own on television- most famously in a popular show about vets which I never watched- and as a serial impersonator of Winston Churchill. He wasn't quite a star or quite a character actor but something in-between- as so many of the best-loved performers are. Millennials will remember him as Cornelius Fudge- a memorable performance in the huge mosaic of memorable performances that is the Potter franchise.


Aug. 2nd, 2017 12:39 pm
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"Who was that?" asked my mother as the carers were leaving.

"Your carers," I said.

"My parents?" she asked.

"Yes, I said, joshing her, "Your parents came calling."

Then I felt bad because perhaps she really did think- for a moment- that it was possible for her parents to have paid her a visit.


Aug. 1st, 2017 11:34 am
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It's not as if they're so very great a nuisance. They're not attacking us. Once they've entered the house (and I haven't worked out yet where the inlet is)  they congregate at the windows to buzz there frantically- flying into a sky that has suddenly gone solid on them- until their motors run down and they drop to the floor or window ledge, walk about a bit then die. Every so often I have a go at clearing the living ones out. I trap them against the window with a plastic cup, slide a forty year old art gallery catalogue between the glass and the cup's mouth, move this improvised  prison to an open window and shake them free. But there are always more. And the little furry corpses pile up.

I'm afraid of needles but I'm not afraid of wasp stings- which is odd...
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The Guardian has a great quote from the actor Jeanne Moreau whose death- aged 89- has just been announced.

Asked whether she felt nostalgia for the French New Wave she replied-

“Nostalgia for what? Nostalgia is when you want things to stay the same. I know so many people staying in the same place. And I think, my God, look at them! They’re dead before they die. That’s a terrible risk. Living is risking.”
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I remember having to eat stuffed marrow- and now nasty it was- watery and greasy and tasting of nothing very much apart from salt and pepper. I don't know quite when this was but certainly a long time ago. These days if marrow comes our way we roast it. We had one for lunch today. Roasted marrow is still fairly tasteless but the texture is much nicer. We also had roasted squash and roasted tomatoes. The truth about vegetables- which I didn't learn until late middle-age- is that almost every variety of it is much better roasted. 

Talking about squash, Ailz showed me a news story about a very ancient pot that had been dug up somewhere n the American South West. It contained seeds. The archaeologists planted the seeds on the off chance that they'd do something and they produced a variety of squash that was believed to be extinct but now isn't anymore. I love it when the past gives something back.


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