We are on St Agnes, the westernmost inhabited rock of the Isles of Scilly. Years ago, I worked for a while in Uzbekistan (don’t ask) and once got to my flat in Tashkent in less time than it took my family to reach St Agnes. To get there this week we used a cab, two trains, a minibus, a plane, another minibus, a small boat and golf buggy.
The first train took us to Reading, until recently a quaint red-brick obstruction blocking the way to and from the west, now replaced by a huge concrete and glass palace. When first opened, the enormous gallery which runs across all the platforms was an impressive open space. It was quickly filled, however, with tacky booths flogging tat at inflated prices. Britain’s railways were always driven by profit, but they once had class, in their architecture as well as in their locomotives, carriages and service. Now the whole thing seems a rather vulgar racket stitched up between a rapacious Treasury, unworldly civil servants, and companies whose very names – “First Group”, anything with “Virgin” in it – make you check that you still have your wallet.
The route west from London has recently been electrified, with ugly metal gantries littering what was once a rather attractive line.
I am re-reading Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That and came across an unexpected piece of sensitivity towards the status of those allegedly in breach of Kings Regulations or, at least, in the label given to them.
We are not talking here of Courts Martial and serious offences but of minor matters dealt with in the Battalion Orderly Room. Sessions would apparently last “for five hours every day, at the rate of one crime dealt with every three or four minutes”. Graves gives some dialogue:
Escort and prisoner, right turn! Quick march! Right wheel! Left wheel! Mark Time! Escort and prisoner, halt! Left turn!
Given the rate at which these offences were dealt with, one would not expect the army to be overly sensitive as to the language used. Graves notes, however, that:
The sole change brought by the introduction of the civilian element into the army was that, about halfway through the war, an Army Council instruction laid down that henceforth the word of command must be: “Accused and Escort, right turn, quick march…” instead of “Prisoner and escort, right turn, quick march…” Continue reading
Old maps juxtaposed with new maps can unpeel the history of a place and show how the landscape has adapted to changing times. Ancient fields give way to an RAF airfield of World War II; nearby, more fields disappear under a reservoir. But first, a wood which appears to resemble a bird.
There are some things you see fly by on Twitter which just have to be followed up. This tweet caught my eye yesterday, posted by @StamfordLiving1 and RT’d by @LordBonkers.
A quick search for Ketton on the Ordnance Survey map (Bing has all these btw) shows that there is indeed a wood shaped like a bird just west of the village. Is this some carefully planted joke? That is not verifiable, but it is possible to see if it has been around for a while. Continue reading
It is 6 April 1982. We are in a cafe in Megève, just north of Italy’s Alpine border with France, having some coffee before setting off across the snowy Alps. Opposite us, a man is reading a newspaper whose headline says something like “Thatcher invia flotta da guerra per le Falkland”. I have no Italian, but the meaning was clear – Thatcher sends battle fleet to the Falklands.
I don’t remember how many days we had been driving to reach Megève. The pictures shows that we visited several Great War cemeteries – British, French and German – and stopped at Reims and Dole en route. Continue reading
Turning out the attic reveals some miscellaneous china, including tea cups which belong to the days when tea was accompanied by thinly-sliced cucumber sandwiches (this is no mere cliché, by the way – I was at Oxford with a chap whose tea parties involved bone china and cucumber sandwiches, all three – chap, cups and comestibles – remarkable for their delicacy).
What do you do with such things? They have no cash value; charity shops would accept them with gritted teeth; we have cupboards enough crammed with unused things to eat and drink from; they are certainly not going back in the attic. Continue reading
The really dim ones – the sort of person who crows about “taking back control” or who whines about the “humiliation” of having a passport which is not blue – will conclude that I am saying that Theresa May is like Hitler. Do get someone to read this slowly to you before attacking me on that ground.
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, said incautiously in an interview that she did not read much history. Where have we heard that before? Ah yes, Tony Blair wishing rather belatedly that he had read more history before becoming prime minister.
Theresa May read geography at Oxford. In my day, geography usually meant 6’4″ blokes more skilled with oar or rugby ball than with brain. No one is suggesting that Mrs May is unintelligent – far from it – but her geography should have encouraged her to appreciate the value of actual trading relationships with your immediate neighbours rather than speculative ones with countries much further away. You might also have expected her to be able to place Gibraltar on a map, even if the minutiae of the Treaty of Utrecht might justifiably have passed her by.
I am reading Berlin: The Downfall 1945 by Anthony Beevor. Its central narrative is about the invasion of Germany by a Russian army which murdered, raped and destroyed on its way to Berlin, with everyone from Stalin down to the lowest soldier driven by a thirst for revenge inspired by German conduct in Russia. If Tony Blair had read any history, he might have considered the possibility of a similar reaction before casually setting fire to the Middle East. Continue reading