This is not a particularly profound post (which, incidentally, is not to claim that regular posts on Q are either), but having just finished Sarah Lyall’s rather delightful (if affectionately acerbic) The Anglo-Files: A Field Guide to the British, I came across this amusing story from the Blair landslide of 1997 at which a record number of women (very patronisingly described at the time as Blair’s babes) were elected to Parliament. Read more
It’s Friday, and so that would normally call for some Friday fun. Well, this post more or less qualifies as a bit of fun, but it’s also a bit of seriousness too. So I’ll let it stand on its own merits. Here is a very helpful and salutary public health warning from the great nineteenth century social reformer and polemicist William Cobbett. It has much to teach us. As I’m sure you’ll agree… Read more
This is one of my favourite short, and true, stories. It comes from the pen of the wondrous Douglas Adams, he of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame. It needs little explanation or introduction. But it is the perfect illustration of all kinds of self-delusions and self-righteousness. Read more
It seems that my prep school, where I boarded from aged 8-13 (yes I know, I’m still trying to catalogue the subsequent privileged hangups), is 150 years old next year. They appealed for memories from old boys to be included in the anniversary book. So feeling in a slightly frivolous and provocative mood that day, I wrote this. Thought some at least might enjoy it. Read more
Many are unaware of L’Abri. And that is both a shame and an inevitability. It is a work that thrives behind the scenes and out of the spotlight. It never advertises or fundraises. It just keeps its doors open to all who come and need it. I’ve only ever spent time at the English L’Abri, but it is part of a family of communities around the world which all sprang from the original work set up by Francis Schaeffer in Switzerland (all the details are on their website). Read more
There’s a key moment when the oleaginous Foreign Office chameleon, Giles Oakley, goads his protegé and A Delicate Truth‘s protagonist, Toby Bell, about what he should do with his qualms about government policy in the run up to Iraq War.
You’re exactly what the Guardian needs: another lost voice bleating in the wilderness. If you don’t agree with government policy, don’t hang around trying to change it. Jump ship. Write the great novel you’re always dreaming about. (p51) Read more
I believe in words. I believe in the importance of words. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I believe in the primacy of words. But words can never be exclusive media of truth, understanding and communication. Please note: they are the primary (i.e. supreme) means, not the only means. I’ve touched on this issue before. Words are still essential.
As I mentioned then, the great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov attacked the myth of the image by saying:
A day late, but hey. It’ll be worth it. But whatever you do, don’t use this for your GCSE history revision. [If you have done your revision, you'll see why]. Having read this, how will you ever be able to confuse the Reformation and the Restoration again? What’s more, whoever thought we’d need Hilary Mantel to bring this era to life?
Anyway, thought I would dedicate one or two Friday Funs to the sublime brilliance that its 1066 and All That. So let’s dive in straightaway, with Henry 6th and his 8 wives. Or was that the other way round? Read more
Nearly 10 years ago, a dear friend of mine was addressing a gathering of Ugandan MPs in the Parliament building in Kampala (around the 40th anniversary of independence). It included those from all shades on the political spectrum, including not a few post-colonial firebrands. My friend is certainly no great apologist for imperialism, but he posed two simple questions.
- “Which Ugandan regions (of those that the British failed to develop) have we since developed?”
- “What aspects of public life, government and rule of law have we improved on or done better in than the colonial regime?”
So it seems our very human rights and liberties are being threatened by Instagram’s change of terms. Or they’re not. Or not in quite the same way. Well who knows?
Just in case they do decide to pilfer my works of art for their own heinous ends, I thought I’d display some of my chefs d’oeuvre from around London in recent weeks to put us all into a bit of a Christmas spirit.
Enjoy… while the world still exists… Read more
20 years ago my parents bought a south-facing wheat-field off a local farmer. As an investment. It’s about 10 acres in beautiful rural Norfolk (here’s a view from the church tower right) So how would you invest?
This is a random Friday Fun. It’s not especially funny, although some will probably think this makes me seem very funny, putting me in the same bracket as collectors of birdsong CDs. Too bad. It just so happened that I was searching for some old files on my computer and came across these – I’d completely forgotten I’d made them. But in the few days before we left Uganda in the summer of 2005, I took my rudimentary digital recorder out into the garden and just let it listen. Read more
Thanks to my indefatigable colleague, Charmaine, who noticed this on The Poke, this week’s Friday Fun is brought to you courtesy of the London Underground. I suspect all Londoners have a love/hate relationship with the Underground e.g. I LOVE the Jubilee line and the DLR, but I HATE the Northern and Circle lines (that sort of thing). But the truth is that we would be sunk without it. It’s great that we can joke about it, though. So this webpage is collecting various attempts to lighten the mood. I just hope I get to see someone in real life soon. Read more
With both children away on camp, Rachel & I ventured out on rather a road trip from Wiltshire along the South Downs and up. Marvellous.
At the start of the week, we had a chance to visit the original Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney’s imagination (see right for poet pic) – Wilton House near Salisbury, home of the Earls of Pembroke. Read more
What an extraordinary night. I’ve never been to an athletics event before in my life (not since defying the odds and coming second in the U13 100m at my prep school – nb there were only 3 other runners and only about 4 others in the qualifying age group in the whole school). But this was one not to miss – a night at the Olympics. Our seats were very high up ‘in the gods’ – but what a perspective, what a joy, what a privilege to witness.
Wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Read more
I have a mild obsession with human attempts to create heaven on earth. Of course, their idealism is infectious: who doesn’t want heaven on earth? But such visions always come with a cost – in whatever society, in whatever generation. But if modernist visions of utopia have been about projecting the dream of the future through rejection of the past, others have been more concerned with recreating the long-gone, supposedly golden past. The English Arcadian vision is one such: it gripped several generations before the English Civil War and is the subject of Adam Nicolson’s fascinating book Arcadia: The Dream of Perfection in Renaissance England.
John Smith MP was one of those tragic political should-have-beens. But while Leader of the Opposition riding on Labour’s 23% point lead over the Tories in 1994 and widely assumed to be Prime Minister in waiting, he died 18 years ago tomorrow from a pair of massive heart attacks. He was only 55. For those concerned with public life, it was one of those remember-what-you-were-doing-moments. But the reason for picking up on it here is that I was blown away at the time, and recalled in conversation last week, the piece written by the great Matthew Parris, at the time The Times’ Parliamentary Sketch-writer and oft-quoted by Q. Read more
When Avatar came out, I couldn’t help but get swept up in James Cameron’s astonishing conception. This is because a hopelessly bad movie was redeemed only by an awesome visual feast of digital artistry, And others were equally swept up. So much so in fact that I noticed at the time that there was a popular sense of despairing yearning for a world as beautiful and stunning as Pandora. Which led me to start a slightly flippant post called Antidotes to Post-Pandora Blues. I never finished it for some reason, but the exhilarating new Hockney exhibition this morning at the Royal Academy brought it back to mind. Read more
Churchill famously declared during the Second World War that the “Truth is so precious that she must often be attended by a bodyguard of lies” – and the British military effort entailed the largest and most complex exploitation of deception in warfare to date. This involved the twin arms of message interception and code breaking (through the extraordinary work of Bletchley Park in particular), and the use of all kinds of deception tactics (including the use of double agents and entirely fictitious battalions preparing to invade the Pas de Calais around the time of D Day’s Normandy landings). Read more
Last week saw the final instalment of the little 1 Cor 1 series in the undercroft chapel in Westminster. Unfortunately, we had the slight inconvenience of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement happening on the same day, and as this had been brought forward to 12.30, there were few who were able to come. No worries though. We happy few had a happy time.
And how nice it was to have a Christmas tree in the centre of Westminster Hall. No thought of winterval here… yet. But give it time I suppose. Now, was it my imagination or does this tree look as though it is leaning to the right…? I’m sure that can’t be significant, can it?