Dogs at polling stations, Lord Buckethead at declarations: the eccentricities of a UK election

It is said that the recent General Election cost the taxpayer £130 million pounds. Many complain about this. I reckon that this works out at under £5 per voter, and the hours of entertainment which it gave (I watched all night) were well worth this. I’d pay £5 just for that shot of George Osborne’s face as he turned his knife into the woman who sacked him when Cameron fell.

There is a point here about Theresa May, incidentally, which is relevant to her subsequent failure (as I write, the gossip is of backstage plots to oust her). No-one, including Osborne himself, can have been surprised that he did not keep his post. Theresa May took the opportunity to tell him what she thought of him and to give him some rather patronising advice about needing to show more humility if he ever wanted to be prime minister. Tomorrow belonged to her, or so she thought, and I suspect that there were others whom Mrs May treated with disdain. Be nice, or at least polite, to people you meet on your way up because you may meet them on the way down. Continue reading

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Oxford to St Agnes by train, plane, boat and golf buggy

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.

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The “accused” not the “prisoner” in First World War discipline, and sentence before evidence in 40 Years On

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

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Microlights over Port Meadow

Port Meadow has been home to flying machines of various kinds over the years. There was an RAF aerodrome there once; there was a 1935 plan to build a proper airport; we used to have a model aircraft flying club; and big planes heading for Brize Norton pass by quite frequently.

What set me thinking about this was a microlight which appeared one evening last week. This photograph captures it as it headed west towards the trees at Binsey, accompanied by some ducks.

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A wood which looks like a bird leads to an airfield and a reservoir

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

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Retracing my steps from 35 years ago from old pictures and StreetView

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

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Pretty cups from the attic

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

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