Sunday, 27 October 2019


Given its slightly unattractive name, conjuring in my mind train carriages full of men snorting into checked pocket handkerchieves, (it’s the echo of mucous that does it for me), Muker in Swaledale is a surprisingly pretty little town. We walked there and after lunch at the pub, I went to visit the church. You can see it on the left in this picture, which looks very badly composed but is actually taken in the only way possible to avoid including various bits of street signage - T junction notices, et cetera - which, as so often, seem to have been placed in such a way as to deliberately clutter up any otherwise beautiful vista of old buildings:

The church was open, at least for humans -  sadly its administration does not seem in the business of encouraging a feathered flock, however eager they may be to be included:

Inside there was little decoration, but there was this welcoming prayer, (provided you aren't a bird):

and, for those of us not very good at committing things to memory, there were these helpful reminders:

I was touched by the decoration of this memorial plaque - the rather dull scrolls and books were presumably the things that took up the workday life of its subject, a benevolent and kind land agent, full of integrity and industry. I admire the family for resisting the temptation to put anything more glorious up there and I rather wish one could have such confidence in the real estate agents of London:

There was a pretty window, although I don't suppose it could be described as anything special, (I have an idea that there is quite a lot of snobbery regarding stained glass around but I am usually grateful if it merely avoids abstraction):

What I loved best in the church though was the gallery of former and present clergy. There is a pattern of change visible as you go through them. And those who snigger at the name of the vicar who looked after Muker's flock between 1935 to 1950 should feel very ashamed of themselves:

The expression of the Reverend Abrahams makes me wonder if the years between 1959 and 1965 were not as jolly as they might have been. The next vicar to appear is the Reverend DD Martin and he is the one I might choose to be in the flock of. He looks as though he might have been an antidote to the Abrahams years.

I wonder if anyone else has a preference for any particular vicar's era based on the pictures of the respective vicars involved? The more I look at them, the more I think I will stick with the Reverend DD Martin. 

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Solve All Present Problems

Christmas draws nearer (although, to my mind, the presence of Christmas decorations already in Jermyn Street, even if they have not yet been lit, is a case of major jumping of the proverbial gun).

But, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, Christmas is coming. As a result, most of us are beginning to experience that familiar seasonal background niggle of worry that is best articulated by the question: “What the hell am I going to give everyone this year?”

Normally I would reply to this query  with the obvious response: one of my older daughter’s beautiful prints, of course.

But some recipients may already have their walls well-covered, while others might prefer reading to looking. For these, I would like to suggest - indeed, highly recommend, based on my reading of its opening chapters  - a book called The Mother of Beauty and written by Nigel Andrew.

The book chronicles what  Mr Andrew describes as his increasing obsession with church monuments made in what he calls “the Golden Age, stretching from the tail end of the sixteenth century through to the great hiatus of the Civil War”. Among its subtexts are his love of poetry, his interest in (or perhaps, to avoid a slightly creepy undertone, his awareness of) mortality and his deep affection for England (but not the immediately post-Princess of Wales England of “lachrymose sentimentality”) and its quiet villages.

There is something immensely comforting about Mr Andrew’s prose and about the meticulous care with which he has gathered his research into this charming book. Luckily, there is enormous scope for a sequel as the author has barely begun a thorough chronicling of all the treasures the scattered, until now unsung (pace Betjeman),  parish churches of England contain.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Former Glories

After ruining my day by attending the People's Vote demonstration in Parliament Square the other day, I wandered home, wondering how long the United Kingdom's journey back to sanity will take, (if it ever happens). As I had to drop into a police station, (long, not very reassuring story - trying to report something to the UK police that doesn't involve any form of identity politics and doesn't constitute a hate crime is very close to impossible), I ended up walking through Lambeth, which is an odd mixture of recent buildings, mostly made from glass - the material of choice for those who, unable to create beauty themselves, hope the reflections of the beautiful buildings around theirs, seen in their uninspired glass facades, will fool passers-by - and the occasional old, lovely one. 

Sadly, the old, lovely ones, are actually very occasional but each one that appeared raised my spirits. Among them was a new discovery for me; it stands on the corner of Lambeth High Street, and I was touched by the care that someone at some time had lavished on the decorative features of the building. 

In an attempt to think positive, I quashed the melancholy thought that, even if anyone was prepared to build such buildings now, there are probably very few people who could provide the craftsmanship to achieve their vision, and instead took a small delight in examining the variety of ways in which the designers had hoped to please the eyes of passers-by:

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Care in the Community

We are looking after a daughter's flat in London. It is near a huge supermarket complex where you can buy almost anything you want to eat, provided you don't mind buying food that may have come from anywhere and, in the case of meat, from animals whose husbandry may not have been especially kind, or, in the case of fruit and vegetables, may have been picked from trees and bushes while half ripe and then chilled in a vast warehouse for ages so that what you buy actually has virtually no flavour. You also have to square with your conscience the great heaps of hard plastic most things in the shop are packaged in.

Leaving those drawbacks aside, it is very convenient, this supermarket. Shopping for the week can be done very quickly. There is an attraction to that, particularly when there seem to be fewer and fewer hours in the day. My hunter gathering approach to life in Budapest, walking daily to the old markethalls near our place and buying things from several different individual stalls, plus towards the end of the week from the gardeners who come into the city with the things they have surplus from their gardens, is time consuming.

But then, wandering through the part of London where we lived for a few years, I came round a corner and spotted the fishmonger I used to buy fish from. At the same moment, he saw me, and his face lit up.

"Hello", he cried, "I haven't seen you for a long time. Where have you been?"

He followed this up with the speculation that it must have been five years since I'd last been there, which was particularly gratifying as it has actually been ten years and I have the distinct impression that every last one of those years is pretty visible in the lines on my face and in my thoroughly grey hair.

I caught up with the course of his life since we'd last met, bought some fish and went away feeling like Kurt Vonnegut did after buying some stamps and envelopes. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't think if I went back to the megastore near my daughter's ten years after shopping there on a weekly basis, I would stand even the faintest chance of a similar experience. Corporate and community do not seem to be words that can ever go together. Which is one of the many reasons I hate the corporatisation of the world.

Sunday, 20 October 2019


I did a really stupid thing yesterday, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it ever since. I've been trying to distract myself with light fiction - Money from Holme by Michael Innes - but even that brings me back to the horrific things that I have been trying to forget.

For I have reached a bit in the frothy narrative where a gallery owner, (foreign, with a rather odd grasp on the English language), explains that the painter whose works he is exhibiting was assassinated in a revolution (or 'revulsion' as he has it) in a faraway country. It was not, he explains, a Fascist revolution or a Communist revolution, but "the worst", that is, a "revulsion of the Moderate Democrats".

And yes, after yesterday, I know that gallery owner's judgment is absolutely right. You see, yesterday I made the mistake of going along to Parliament Square and standing in the midst of Britain's very own Moderate Democrats - lobbyists for that extraordinarily insultingly named initiative, the People's Vote. 

It was horrible. It was vile. Most of all, it was delusional. Those people  genuinely believe that they are actually moderate, when in fact they are fanatics. Furthermore, they are utterly convinced that they are democrats, while simultaneously channelling all their energy into an effort to overturn a democratic vote.  

As soon as I crossed Lambeth Bridge, I began to see them, in their EU flag berets, their clothing acned with stickers bearing the words of the supremely rude (not so much because of its use of a mild swear word but because of its aggressive dismissal of the democratically expressed majority point of view*) Liberal Democrat party's slogan, Bollocks to Brexit. 

Then came the more intelligent arguments:

When did we come to this?

Nearing Parliament, I passed College Green, where once upon time there was nothing and no one, save the occasional lonely Channel 4 journalist recording a piece to camera, hampered by a gritty wind.

Heavens to Murgatroyd, how things have changed. No wonder the journalists strut and preen these days - they have swarmed over that place and turned it into their own private circus. They've built stages for themselves and set up a fence and not only are journalists being filmed to camera but other journalists are filming them filming themselves, while in the background others are also recording yet more interviews with other journalists. It's like one of those mirror facing mirror producing eternal ever diminishing reflections kind of things that you usually only see in shop changing rooms. But actually, in essence, it is more like an outdoor treatment centre for extreme narcissism (or perhaps not a place of treatment so much as a holding pen for sufferers until they can receive genuine longterm help).

And then on, into Parliament Square, which was a sea of enormous fluttering EU flags, held willingly by EU enthusiasts. A really tremendously upsetting sight. Particularly when I heard one of the flag wavers (who was also wearing another EU flag as a toga) saying to his neighbour: "On top of everything else can you imagine how much its going to cost to manufacture all the new flags when they have to take off our star." 
Does he think there are only twelve members of the EU at the moment? Or, despite wearing it and waving it, has he not noticed that there are not 28 stars on the flag as it stands? Who knows. I've since been told that this is in fact a line from an anti-EU comedian, and thousands of people think it is witty and clever and applaud when it is rolled out in "hilarious" Remain comedy venues. Which, unbelievably depressingly, leads me to wonder if many Remainers actually understand anything about the EU, this institution to which they are so fiercely emotionally attached. 

I guess the way to find out might be to ask, "Do you know the difference between the Council of Europe, the European Council and the Council of the EU"? With a supplementary question about the European Parliament and where legislation is initiated and how European Commissioners are appointed and what the Commission does. I have tried this strategy occasionally but I try not to be a cruel person and I'm afraid the responses from Remainers have made everyone involved  in the resulting conversation feel embarrassed and ashamed. 

But I didn't have the chance yesterday anyway because the Letwin amendment was passed and joy broke out throughout the land (well the square):

A woman on the stage (someone I've seen commenting on the BBC regularly but never had it explained to me that she is and always has been an extreme Remain activist), then yelled, without the faintest trace of irony, "Now THAT is democracy. Next stop a People's Vote!" and the crowd went wild.  

While I've never been a great enthusiast for the Common Market, the EEC or its latest iteration, until that moment yesterday I hadn't decided that I was definitely and utterly in favour of Leave. But as the crowd around me roared their support for their own warped version of democracy, I converted and in that moment I recognised that it is vitally important that the UK manages to get out. 

My lack of great enthusiasm for the organisation came initially from the fact that I lived in Brussels for several years - long enough to discover that the EU institutions and those who work for them exist in a bubble where everyone agrees with everybody else. Long enough to be able to recognise that the whole set-up has, among its fundamental functions, that of being a gravy train for the bourgeoisie. 

For instance, I was told not long before leaving Brussels for good that everyone, no matter their salary, who works for EU organisations only has to pay a flat 20 per cent tax rate on everything that they earn, (no matter how high their salary). Such arrangements are often referred to as golden handcuffs and, if indeed that information is correct, it has to mean that all those benefitting from the arrangements are very, very keen that things continue smoothly - and, ideally, (they have children, and eventually those children will need jobs, after all), that the EU organisations  multiply and increase. 

All the same, it seemed to me to be a relatively benign kind of sheltered workshop for people with arts and law degrees. And I liked the restoration work that some parts of the EU funded, (although, now I think about it, I'm not sure an entire bureaucracy covering all aspects of life is absolutely vital in order to ensure restoration - why not just have something solely directed towards the restoration of buildings and cultural institutions and dedicated to helping those countries ruined by years under Soviet rule, a set up along the lines of the kinds of things that went on after World War Two? Is it really necessary to have an entire, separate diplomatic service, on top of the diplomatic services of each member state; or a "parliament"  - more or less a parliament in name only, actually, as anyone who looks at the system quickly understands - that moves between two cities at vast expense; or civil servants working on external human rights and various other things covered by each member state's own government as well?)

But until I thought about it yesterday and today, I tended toward a disgruntled and cowardly tolerance of the status quo (it would all be too hard, would leaving be worth it, would it be too economically dangerous [which is still a question I fear has no good answer]?)

Not any more. There was something about what I witnessed yesterday that turned me against those who wish to force Britain to remain within the Brussels power structures. It seemed to me that what I was witnessing was a meeting of cult members who want to ruthlessly crush democracy and who loathe their dissenting fellow citizens. 

I began to wonder what the main advantages are that they believe the UK derives from remaining in the EU? If they are well-off, there are some selfish ones, such as keeping lower paid workers badly off by flooding the market with cheap labour through freedom of movement. Or, (judging from the People's Vote badge wearing man ahead of me in the queue at the butcher's in Pimlico that morning, who bought vast quantities of meat, explaining that he was off to his house in France and was taking all this stuff to put in the freezer for Christmas, in case Brexit comes and people are no longer allowed to take food over the channel) the equally selfish motivation of access to property that costs less than property in the UK.  

Thinking about it now, that man, I realise, was displaying wonderfully confused loyalties, loving the EU for the chance it gives to buy relatively inexpensive houses in the country, (even if not his own country), but apparently not liking the local produce, (I told you these Remainers were loony - not liking French food, I ask you), and so taking advantage of the opportunity to scuttle across the Channel with nice British meat, while never having to come in contact with the local economy there at all, (the neighbours must really love those Rosbifs).

To clinch matters, I then came home and saw Gina Miller, the Princess of People's Vote supporters, explaining that Britain had to stay in the EU, in case a future government might one day be elected on a promise of diminished rights for some marginal identity group. If the UK did not remain in the EU, she explained, there would be no-one to protect human rights, no outside force to override the democratic will of the nation to take a path that diverged from liberal EU values. 

I saw it then, the most important argument of all, the one about sovereignty. Gina Miller, inadvertently, elucidated it with startling clarity, (after all, she is such a clever woman, innit). If Britain stays in the EU, it doesn't matter what government its citizens choose to elect - democracy will be overridden if that national government strays from EU principles, which will be enforced regardless of what anyone in the nation may think. 

The will of the majority will mean absolutely nothing. Just as with the referendum, it appears, voting will make no difference. Brussels will be the ultimate arbiter. As anyone can see, this is enormously dangerous. And, strangely, it hasn't occurred to Remainers that one day the boot may be on the other foot. The future is long and, who knows, EU principles may change. Then, when their own views are no longer aligned with those of Brussels, the sovereignty issue could be very vexing indeed for them. They really should consider that, but, sadly, I suspect that Remainers are in the grip of a terrible mental illness in which they worship Brussels and all its many elements, while not necessarily understanding them - or perhaps it is a lack of understanding that is most essential to their faith. 

In any case, I am convinced now that it is vital the United Kingdom does leave the Union, particularly as not to do so would be a betrayal of voters. Roll on 31st October, roll on Johnson. Gosh I hope he can pull it off.


* Oh Zoe, but those voters didn't really understand what they were voting for and they were lied to, yes, yes, blah, blah, blah, comfort yourselves with your own vile calumnies but deep in your hearts you know, you do really, that not only are you lying to yourselves but you are undermining the foundations of civil society, which is stupid and dangerous, especially when it is for a cause of so little worth

Friday, 11 October 2019

Dancing Men and Racing Sheep

I went to Masham on the weekend. Masham is a town in Yorkshire. It has an exceptionally pretty square, which is where the major part of the event that had drawn us to Masham was held. This was the Masham Sheep Fair, usually held in September, but, luckily for us, postponed this year until October so as not to clash with a bicycle race that ran through Yorkshire at the end of September.

The fair was a complete delight. The part that involved actual living sheep and the farmers who raise them reminded me of rural shows in Australia, which I love for the same reasons I loved Masham Sheep Fair. That is, both the sheep fair and Australian country shows are places where rural people can enjoy the things they find interesting and admire each others' skills and no one suggests theirs are not important preoccupations.

Here is one of the sheep classes being judged. I love the arcane knowledge that is involved and I find it poignant that there always has to be a loser, although all entrants, I'm sure, have poured so much energy and emotion into this day and their entrant's qualities:

I became rather fond of this sheep, although I never found out whether it won a prize and I certainly don't possess anywhere near enough knowledge to be able to guess:

While we waited for the main event of the day - the sheep races - we enjoyed this rather wonderful display of Morris dancing. I was moved by the fact that a member of the team has a genetic make up that we are encouraged to make disappear, for convenience's sake, (I'm not condemning anyone who responds to the encouragement, simply mourning the intolerance and lack of kindness that leads to people feeling so unsupported that they feel the need to):

All the dancers made their own hat decorations. I got a close look at one and saw how they attach the flowers with wire like the stuff I remember using at the bottom of vases in my flower arranging days. I thought the tambourine player's was a particularly fine floral display and I was tempted to label this photograph, 'Hey, Mr Tambourine Man', but I was told by one of the Morris Dancing groupies that he wasn't a tambourine player at all but something that began with b, I think, and was originally a gaelic word, (which means tambourine player):

The sheep racing turned out to be as exciting as only a sport involving very unreliable creatures can be (we were assured, by the way, that these sheep had been rigorously trained):
To reach the racing we had to walk through the churchyard of Masham's very pretty church, St Mary's. On our way back, we went inside, partly to see the decorations for the harvest festival but mainly to see the church interior.

Victorian stained glass is often sneered at, but the church's examples of the same were really very pretty:

Even in the 1950s they could manage something not actually sickening:

But by the time this, "the Masham Millennium Window" was designed the ability to create beauty seems to have been mislaid. Even the authorities who paid for it seemed to have dimly apprehended this, which is why, presumably, they felt it necessary to put a large explanatory notice beside it, telling the viewer what the pictures are of - indeed, revealing to us that those smudges are representations of leaves and various other things and not just, well, smudges:
If you want further proof of the decline in aesthetic standards, I present to you the contemporary altar cloth on display at St Mary's, Masham:

Ugh. You think you are getting away from the disasters of modern art by leaving London during the Frieze Art Fair, but, if you go into any Church of England premises these days, you cannot be sure that you will be safe from equal horrors.

But never mind, there were other lovely things from earlier times to cheer one up in the church.

For a start, these dear faces on either side of the entrance:

And then a real treasure in the form of something called the Wyvill monument (not that the church itself seems to like it very much - as well as a railing half obscuring it, you had to climb behind a screen and over piles of old chairs and a table to get any kind of look at it, almost as if they were a bit ashamed of it):
There was at least a clear sign that provided information about the monument, once you had completed the obstacle race to reach it. It explained that the monument was begun in 1613, to commemorate Sir Marmaduke Wyvill (or Wyvell). He was involved in the Rebellion of the Northern Earls in 1569 (which I will have to look up) but was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth I and went on to become MP for Richmond (Masham is in the seat of Richmond) in 1585 and between 1597 and 1598. King James I made him a baronet in 1611. He married Magdalen Danby and they had 12 children. Sir Marmaduke did not die until 9 January 1617, the sign tells us, adding that it was actually 1618, since in those days New Year's Day was on 25 March, which was news to me. 
This is Sir Marmaduke's wife, Lady Magdalene, plus an ill-conceived but easily removable sheep-fair-related addition.
Beneath Sir Marmaduke and Lady Magdalene are exquisitely carved figures representing their eight surviving children (six sons and two daughters), kneeling in prayer.

It is a really lovely thing and its sheer age makes someone like me who has spent so much of their life in the new world absolutely astonished that it isn't shown more honour at St Mary's but instead half hidden.

There were several memorial plaques around the church that while not especially lovely to look at, did, through their inscriptions conjure up what on the face of it seems to have been a gentler world:

This is in remembrance of someone who might have come from a Patrick O'Brian novel:

"In memory of John Harrison Esq. formerly Purser with the Royal Navy, who died at Masham, June 19th 1808, a man much esteemed both in his public station and in his retirement respected by the honourable for his integrity, courted by the social for his vivacity and information and much sought after by the sick and needy for his active beneficence."

Integrity, vivacity and beneficence, what more could one ask for in a fellow townsperson?

Well perhaps "filial piety and affection ... the most perfect urbanity of manners and those various qualities of the head and heart which make men estimable", which are the elements displayed in the personality of the man commemorated by this next tablet:

It is extremely rare nowadays, I find, to discover "perfect urbanity of manners" anywhere.

I thought the coat of arms over the main door was rather splendid too. Although possibly not particularly old, it had the benefit of sticking closely to tradition (don't you love the way that almost anything old now has to be improved by a sign of some kind, whether reminding you that the way you came in to a building will also provide a good exit point or, in a street, indicating a T junction, impending set of traffic lights, speed limit or whatever - it doesn't matter to the powers that be, provided that the sign in question is positioned so as to obscure a lovely old building or clutter a beautiful vista:

But at least we will never need to wonder where our emergency assembly point might be.
There was an extremely nice house next to the church that I assume was once the vicar's; I might have been tempted to take orders or whatever it is one does to become a vicar if I'd been promised that place, but of course back in the days when that actually was a vicar's house you weren't allowed to be a lady vicar:

While we were waiting between sheep races, (while the trainers were issuing their last, detailed instructions to the highly skilled sheep, we were told), I looked at grave stones and it occurred to me that ones like these are very good for mental arithmetic - if William was 72 when he died in 1956 and Margaret was 90 when she died in 1999, what was the difference in age between the two of them?:

I also saw a woman knitting with such skill that I was left in awe.

So all in all a great day out. If you are anywhere near Masham and you hear the Sheep Fair's on, don't miss it - you will feel the cares of the modern world slip from your shoulders for a few hours (provided you aren't showing animals yourself, of course) and you might even win a bob or two if you place your bets wisely on a sheep (avoid the one with the blue scarf round her neck, would be my hard-won advice)