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Archive for the ‘Personal rant’ Category

Aug 18,2009

Prompted by the excellent exhibition, “Henry VIII: Man and Monarch“, at the British Library, which I visited last week, I have been reading David Starkey’s book, “Henry: Virtuous Prince“.  I am not sure whether the book inspired the Channel Four series (which I didn’t watch) or whether this is the book prepared for the TV programme and its viewers.  Certainly, it ends abruptly just after the death of the son Henry had with Catherine of Aragon and the arrival at court of the young Thomas Wolsey in 1511.  We will have to wait until September 2010 for the rest of Henry’s life.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Starkey’s focus on the young Henry – particularly as most of the history I remember being taught concentrated on the later – more tyrannical – Henry and dwelt on his wives and what became of them.

However, I wonder if many of today’s school-children even know that much.

I was reminded how little British history is now taught these days, when – again last week – I watched a group of about thirty ten- and eleven-year-olds being asked where the names came from of Waterloo Station and Trafalgar Square.  The former produced various lavatorial answers, but the latter produced nothing.  The kids knew that the “thing in the middle” was Nelson’s Column, but, when asked who Nelson was, the best they could come up with was Nelson Mandela.

Now I accept that history should not just centre on Britain – and certainly not just on its Kings and Queens – nor should it end in 1815 or 1901.  An understanding of world history and of the social factors that underlie historical events is an essential part of being able to interpret what is going on around us today.

However, an essential part of being British ought to be at least some general awareness of the chronology that led to the modern United Kingdom.  Maybe this makes me sound like a reactionary old f*rt – no doubt many would say that that is what I am – but, as we debate the meaning of citizenship, I can’t help feeling that some knowledge of the historical basics should be a prerequisite both for those applying for citizenship and for those whose citizenship is their birthright.


So come along then:  where does Henry VIII rank amongst our greatest Kings?  Certainly, the events of his reign (like the break with Rome) had a profound influence on the country’s future, but did that make him great?  And how would he rank if you included the Queens in the list?  And Cromwell, as Lord Protector?

Aug 7,2009

Normally, I would be quite squeamish about the idea of someone having his genitals drenched in Sambuca and then having them set on fire and I would be cringing with sympathy for the man concerned.  However, the story of  Stuart Feltham leaves me singularly unmoved.

His version of events is that he was having a quiet night out with a few friends at the end of his holiday in Crete when a women suddenly appeared, poured something over him and set it alight.

Her version of events – and the women in question is being feted as a national heroine in Greece for the defence of her honour – is that he was drunkenly propositioning her, grabbed her breasts and buttocks, and then exposed himself to her.  She threw her drink at him and walked away, only discovering later that he had (stray cigarette?) caught alight.

Obviously, I don’t know what happened, but I know which version sounds more plausible.

I also know that too many British people behave atrociously when they go away on holiday and that many European resorts are trying to restrict the heavy-boozing and boorish behaviour of their UK visitors.  Frying the worst offenders’ genitalia may seem a little harsh, but I suspect it would make them pause for thought ….

Aug 7,2009

I am not the sort of person who wets themselves at the sight of a steam locomotive and, whilst I had a train set when I was a child, it was a very small one and I grew out of it by the age of eight.  However, I have to admit to enjoying a visit to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden this afternoon.  It is the first visit I have made there (apart from a brief foray into a drinks reception there last year), since it was re-opened following a major re-fit in 2007.

It is now well laid out with a trail to follow – starting 200 years ago and moving forward.  It is sensibly inter-active (early on, pressing a lever tells you how many tonnes of horse manure were deposited on London’s streets each day in the early 1800s, leading to the high-spot of a simulator for those who want to drive an underground train down the Edgware branch of the Northern Line) and for a moment I was even nostalgic for the inimitable smell of a 1960s tube carriage.

Currently, the Metropolitan Police, the London Ambulance Service and the London Fire Brigade are also on hand to provide street safety tips to children.

Jul 26,2009

The lead story in today””s Sunday Times is – if true (and we are talking about The Sunday Times here) – quite extraordinary.  According to the article, the Ministry of Defence will be going to the Court of Appeal to try to cut the compensation awards made to two servicemen for the injuries they sustained serving in Iraq in one case and whilst training in the other.  The “principle” that the MoD is seeking to defend is that it should only pay compensation for the injuries received, rather than for any complications that arise during treatment.  Three judges in the High Court had previously ruled that it would be “absurd” to divorce the injury from the treatment.

There should be no quibbling about compensation in such cases.  If the suggestion is that the treatment was at fault, then that should be a matter between the MoD and those providing the treatment (presumably part of the NHS).  It is patently unreasonable to expect service personnel, who have been asked to risk their lives on behalf of the country, first to do battle with the MoD, whom most people might have expected to be defending their interests, and then to sue separately for negligence over the way in which their injuries were treated.

Not only is the decision to go to the Court of Appeal to try to get the compensation awards cut morally wrong, it is also politically crass.  The Government having had a good record previously on the Gurkhas managed to get themselves hammered on their rights to settle here a few months ago.  More recently, there has been the row about helicopter support to our troops in Afghanistan (whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it is a fact that the US provides far more helicopter support proportionally for the number of troops they deploy than we do).  Now there are escalating concerns about the rise in the number of casualties in Afghanistan.  It doesn”t take a political genius to realise that to embark on a row by seeking to cut compensation awards already agreed by the existing appeals process is a battle not worth fighting.  Time for Ministers to get a grip ….

Jul 18,2009

Of course, I don’t seek recognition, but, if anyone felt inclined to vote for me as one of their Top Ten Political Blogs, I would be honoured, humbled indeed, not to say cravenly grateful …..

Jun 26,2009

Am I alone in wondering why politicians feel the need to comment on such matters as Michael Jackson’s death?  Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have got in on the act.  At least, David Cameron seems to have acknowledged that there were some issues about Michael Jackson …

However, under most circumstances, politicians would be extremely reluctant to associate themselves with an individual who, while acquitted of charges of child molestation, avoided earlier charges following a $20 million settlement with the family of a young boy – let alone those accused of animal cruelty.

Jun 22,2009

This morning the SlimStat function on WordPress informed me that this blog has now notched up more than 250,000 hits since I started up last October. The question for me is how pleased about this should I be. Does that quarter million mean that my investment (admittedly not huge) in time and effort into blogging has been worthwhile? Or have I created a pointless chore for myself? Is anyone (apart from me) really interested?

Jun 21,2009

Last night we went to see ‘The Winter’s Tale’ at The Old Vic. The theatre was packed to see Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project (transatlantic collaboration) production of one of Shakespeare’s least (by me anyway) well-known plays.
To be honest I can see why the play is not often performed: the first act is grim tragedy (in this production played largely by the English) while the second act, set 16 years later, is lighter (played largely by Americans) with a happy ending if you are prepared to suspend sufficient disbelief to accept a statue coming to life.
However, the Old Vic production is excellent and makes the most of the play. There are particularly fine performances from Simon Russell Beale (Leontes), Rebecca Hall (Hermione), Sinead Cusack (Paulina), Richard Easton (Old Shepherd), and Ethan Hawke (Autolycus). The direction is inspired – watch out for the balloon scene and the original ‘Exit pursued by a bear’.

Jun 18,2009

I see that two Scottish Health Boards are to be directly elected.  This is a pilot announced by the Scottish (SNP) Health Secretary.  The pilot will be evaluated after two years.  What would have been even more interesting would have been to run a parallel pilot in which the functions of two Health Boards were taken over by the relevant local authorities.

If people are really committed to the concept of local democracy and local accountability, then the answer is to make local councils genuinely all-purpose and equip them fully to represent the interests of their communities.


Jun 7,2009

The European Election results are awful for Labour across the country so far.  However, I cannot help but notice that the results in London were still bad for Labour but not anything like as bad as those in Wales, the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber.  So far, the fall in the share of the vote in London is the lowest recorded in any region.  London is, of course, different, but maybe there is something about the London Labour Party that is working better with the electorate ….