Monday, 2 March 2015

The security cameras where Nemtsov was murdered mysteriously weren't working

The political system of Tsarist Russia was described as despotism tempered by assassination. Russia today seems to be becoming a despotism exacerbated by assassination.

The claim that the surveillance cameras on the walls of the Kremlin, trained on the bridge where Boris Nemtsev's murder took place, were switched off at the time. awaiting repairs, stretches credibility beyond breaking point. It very strongly suggests that this murder was planned and carried out by the Russian state.

However at least one camera was working, as Moscow’s TVC television network broadcast street camera footage said to show the killer running out from behind a snow-removal vehicle, parked on the bridge, to confront Nemtsov. There was no snow on the bridge on Friday night and the weather was unseasonably warm.

It is, as I say, almost impossible to doubt that the Russian state organised this murder, though people can convince themselves of almost anything and some people do doubt it. Yet it is noteworthy that the Russian state does not really try or wish to hide its guilt, 
though it denies its complicity, of course, and suggests Ukrainians or Islamists may be have carried out the murder. Had the state wanted to kill Nemtsov and leave few traces it could have done so, without difficulty. 

This is a state that lies as a matter of policy all the time and sometimes does not even wish to be believed, as when Mr. Putin looked into the cameras and told a press conference that there were no Russian soldiers in Crimea. A while later he congratulated the men and issued them with medals.

In the same way the Russians pretend not to be involved in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, yet cannot expect anyone to believe them. Yet it serves their purposes and prevents Barack Obama unleashing draconian sanctions as he threatened that he would do if Russia openly invaded. Day by day, the Russians take more and more of Ukraine without crossing Mr. Obama's red lines.

Paul Roderick Gregory's very instructive article in Forbes magazine today goes into detail about the killing.
The murderers had to conceal themselves while waiting for Nemtsov. The murderers required eleven minutes and three separate cars from the shooting to their final departure from the crime scene, more than ample time for the police to reach the scene. Given the heavy security in the area, it is not unreasonable to suspect that the police were looking the other way. 
A real investigation to find the assassins would be a piece of cake: The driver of the snowplow surely could be found. There were numerous pedestrians and vehicles that drove by the scene. Nemtsov’s companion was an eyewitness to all these events.
Hours before his death, Nemtsov said he had “documentary” proof that undercover Russian soldiers were fighting in Ukraine and their bodies being flown back at dead of night to Russia. The Russian secret police who searched his apartment will have removed this documentary evidence but it would honour the dead man's memory if journalists could investigate and uncover this story.

The liberal opposition to Vladimir Putin has been gravely weakened by popular enthusiasm for the Russian annexation of the Crimea and invasion of the Eastern Ukraine, both of which Nemtsov opposed. Many prominent liberal leaders are now outside Russia, in prison or dead. Unlike his ally Gary Kasparov, Boris Nemtsov believed Russia could become democratic through peaceful pressure from the public. This seems very unlikely for many years to come, though one day it might yet happen.

In fact I suspect that Mr Putin's chance of dying in office of natural causes may be less than before he invaded the Crimea.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Why kill Boris Nemtsov?

One of the last Facebook posts by Boris Nemtsov ended:
No pity on murderers.
The murder of Boris Nemtsov in Red Square late on Friday night put me and everyone else in mind of the murder of Kirov in Leningrad in 1934 - especially when Putin promised to take charge of the investigation personally, as Stalin did in Kirov's case. Kirov's murder has not been solved to this day. Ominously it was the signal for the start of the purges. I don't suppose this murder will ever be solved either.

I was impressed by a remark of Ben Judah 
Boris Nemtsov took not a step nor a breath that wasn't under the intense surveillance of the FSB. Just like all opposition leaders in Russia. Nothing Boris Nemtsov did was not bugged, tailed, filmed or monitored by the secret police. It is quite simply impossible that this man could have been shot dead without the Kremlin knowing there was a plot afoot to kill him.
Still, I asked myself who benefitted for Nemtsov's death and could not think of an answer. I assumed Mr Putin had not ordered it but had, by his talk of Fifth Columns, created the atmosphere where it happened. A sort of
Who will rid me of the meddlesome priest?

Today I have changed my mind.

I think this explanation by Ilya Ponomarev makes sense.
The audience for that crime was not the Russian people; the target audience is within the Russian elites, who knew Nemtsov very well, and even those who were Putin supporters had great respect and they knew him as first vice prime minister; and elites in the West - an even greater target than elites in Russia.
In other words, this is not aimed at ordinary Russians who did not know of Nemtsov, or, if they did, did not care for him, but the liberal intelligentsia in Russia. That makes sense. And that points to the man at the top, a man who is paranoid, not very clever (though very cunning indeed and very streetwise) and who hates being looked down on by the intellectuals.

This would explain why the murder took place in such a very conspicuous way, so close to the Kremlin. Yes, as apologists for Mr. Putin say, had he wished to get Mr. Nemtsov out of the way he could have done so much more discreetly: a car accident; poison. But perhaps the reason for the murder was to spread fear and to demonstrate power, not to get rid of a man who was not much of a threat.

After the Russian legislative elections were rigged in 2011 a long series of demonstrations in Moscow struck fear into Mr. Putin's heart. These could have been Russia's equivalent of the Maidan in Kiev which overthrew Mr Yanukovych and most of what Vladimir Putin did for the next years was aimed at preventing a Maidan in Russia. This is why it is so important to him that Ukraine does not become prosperous democratic and close to the EU. I think Boris Netsov was all Putin's fears incarnate and his murder is therefore symbolic, almost a ritual killing out of Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough.

As the American analyst Paul Goble said yesterday,

Instead of a Maidan, the Donbas has come to Moscow.
Mr Putin has been accused of complicity in many political murders, often I expect unfairly. He probably didn't order the killing of Anna Politkovskaya, but it looks like he did order the murder, in London, of Alexander Litvinenko. One former British Ambassador in Moscow is on record as thinking so and he read the MI6 reports. I imagine, though I have no evidence, that Mr. Putin also ordered the killing of Boris Berezovsky. And, remember, there exists some surprisingly strong circumstantial evidence linking the Russian secret service to the Moscow apartment block explosions that took place very shortly after Mr. Putin became Prime Minister in 1999.

As Disraeli said, the unexpected always happens, which is why following the news is so rivetting, but Mr Putin does more unexpected things than almost any political leader I can think of, even Kim Jong-un, North Korea's Supreme Leader. It is Vladimir Putin's conscious policy, to keep other people off balance. It's a street fighter's trick and the adolescent Putin, as he boasted, was always getting into fights in the street.

Meanwhile cyberspace is filling up with people calling Nemtsov a Jew, a homosexual, a traitor and saying the CIA probably killed him. Mr. Putin himself said the death 
bears all the hallmarks of a provocation
by which he implied it was a 'false flag' operation, designed to discredit him. It's interesting how many of Mr. Putin's opponents are murdered just to discredit him. 

I wonder how the death of Mr. Nemtsov will play in Washington D.C. and the chanceries of Europe. I think the answer is that it will be forgotten as the downed Malaysia Airlines jet has been. 

This interesting analysis by Stephen Kotkin in Foreign Policy portrays the Russian leader as devious and ruthless (no-one will argue with that) and yet expresses the hope that the West does not make him a pariah.  I don't think treating him as one will do much good, but nor will not doing so. And, although we sometimes must make terms with murder, it is not pleasant. Scroll up please and see the quotation with which I began this piece.

What is happening in Ukraine, by the way is a sideshow. What counts is what happens in Moscow.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Why is there no word Hinduphobia?

And why is there no such thing as Hinduphobia?

No-one is anti-Hindu except possibly Muslims in India. Muslims make waves everywhere, it seems.

Anti-Indian, yes, anti-immigrant yes, colour prejudiced yes (but not often nowadays), anti-Hindu never.

Why is there no word Catholicophobia, come to that?

By the way, as a Catholic I am indifferent to anti Catholic prejudice. In fact, to be honest I am secretly pleased that people take us seriously enough to dislike our beliefs, beautiful though they are. It makes me feel I belong to a select club.

I wonder why Muslims mind Islamophobia.

I also wonder if humility is a virtue in the Muslim religion. I read somewhere that it is unique to Christianity, but it is one of the greatest virtues.

Immigrants should be the most patriotic citizens there are because only they choose their country. We make a great mistake teaching them to feel victimised or to take offence. Though it is the children of immigrants who more often are discontented. The invention of the word Islamophobia was a very great mistake. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Beauty is a short lived tyranny

Socrates said
Beauty is a short lived tyranny.
Nowadays surgery can sometimes lead to what Churchill called
a tyranny made perhaps more protracted by the lights of perverted science
but surgery only helps delay aging.

There is a short poem I like by Matthew Prior, called The Lady Who Offers Her Looking-Glass to Venus:
Venus, take my votive glass;
Since I am not what I was,
What from this day I shall be, 
Venus, let me never see.
When I read Prior in my teens that seemed pretty but now I understand much more. Aging is NOT pleasant for very pretty women.

Some, like Brigitte Bardot, deliberately make themselves look as unattractive as possible, some grow old gracefully, some fight the ageing process, few as successfully as Raquel Welch.

A friend of mine explained on his Facebook wall how Raquel Welch keeps her famous figure in old age. (Raquel Welch an old woman?) 
I was having Sunday lunch at the Dorchester a few years ago and Raquel Welch was at the next table looking stunning. Moving into her 70s with a body bordering on the miraculous in a tight, tailored two piece Chanel dress suit: taut, toned, flat but swelling in all the right places. I keep a watchful camp eye as she'd ordered everything we had (lavish traditional three course roast with all the trimmings, smoked salmon, toffee pud etc) and you don't keep your figure looking like THAT eating like a mere mortal. She did the old movie queen trick of eating exactly half of everything on the plate with almost mathematical precision and kept to a single glass of white wine (50% left at the end of meal). Staggering self control - the food was superb - and undoubtedly practiced for decades. Oh, the joys of stardom...
This diet works, by the way. I know because a friend of mine kept it, but it requires will power.

This all reminds me of something Mary Kenny wrote:
It is a law of life that there are compensations to everything: and among the compensations of age is the satisfying observation that your contemporaries are ageing at just about the same rate. Anna Ford was the great beauty of our time, and while she remains an attractive woman, for her age, she is unmistakably a woman in her fifties. Age brings a kind of equalisation. I see women I knew as girls who were Zuleika Dobson figures in their time: stunning beauties all our boyfriends wanted to go out with. And now they are pleasant, but lined, middle-aged women just like the rest of us. In some cases the stunning beauties age less well than the average, for no better reason than the lottery of life.
Her whole article is here

At the age of 47 the Comtesse de Courtebiche, in that wonderful novel and TV series Clochemerle
retired from the pleasures of the boudoir 
to be a religious chatelaine on her ancestral estate in the Beaujolais village of Clochemerle, defending the Church against the republicans as had her fathers. When I read that I  was 46 and felt I was still young. 

Gloria Swanson and Diana Dors

British Muslim girls who run away to be brides of ISIS fighters are certainly brave

According to Scotland Yard, nearly 20 young British Muslim girls have gone to Syria to join ISIS in the past year. They are brave girls, warlike perhaps, who want adventure and want, like many stroppy teenage girls, to rebel against their families and schoolteachers. 
Some British Muslim girls do this just by wearing a full veil. These have gone much further. Most are under eighteen, in some cases only fifteen, and the BBC and the papers want to stop them going or bring them back. Some kind people are worried for them, others hope that they never return.

The girls should obey their parents, but I don't think we can bring them back. (By the way they are all much older than Muhammed's youngest wife, Ayisha, who is said to have been six or seven when they married and nine when she went to live with him, but this is a digression). 

The girls might find fulfilment with ISIS, perhaps. ISIS fighters are genuine Muslims who take the Koran very seriously, even though their interpretation of it is not the only one. 

I don't agree with those who say good riddance to them - they, after all, are very young. Their behaviour is probably symptomatic of a huge dissatisfaction on the part of young British Muslims with British society. I can offer no suggestion as to what we can do about that.

They presumably see ISIS building an ideal Islamic society. Whether they are sadists, as some teenage girls are, and find the thought of beheading Christians or killing infidels exciting, who can say? No doubt warriors appeal to them and rejecting the country whose passport they carry. 

What I do know is that British subjects should be free to fight in foreign wars, as Orwell and Laurie Lee did in Spain. Or free to go abroad to marry foreign fighters, though only when they reach the age of consent. 

ISIS, by the way, are no worse than the Spanish Republicans, for whom Orwell, Laurie Lee, etc fought, dominated as they were by Stalinists. The Spanish Reds killed countless priests and raped countless nuns. The Spanish Civil War was for Communists a dress rehearsal for the takeover of Eastern Europe after 1945. (Walter Roman, Petre Roman's father and 500 other Romanian Communists took part.) ISIS have not committed as many atrocities as the Spanish Reds, though admittedly it is early days so far.

Some people, like Orwell, left Spain disillusioned with Communism but many others remained Communists all their lives. Some went on to tyrannise Eastern Europe or, in the case of Jack Jones, undermine Britain as a Communist trade union leader who took his orders from Moscow. i remember the BBC sentimentally televising his reunions after his retirement with the other veterans of the Spanish Civil War, no doubt many of them card carrying party members and enemies of their country.

So it will be with people who join ISIS - some will die, some will be wounded, some will return disillusioned, some hardened in their faith. Some will never return.

The girls, despite what so many people, including Julie Burchill, Rod Liddle and others, ​ are saying, have to be free to return too. The great issue is not whether to let them go or let them come back but whether we want more Muslim immigrants in the future in the UK.

The haunting beauty of Bucharest

There are some people for whom aesthetic experiences are almost more powerful than other emotions and they see life in aesthetic terms first, rather than in psychological or pragmatic terms. I am probably one of these people and this is why I love Bucharest.
The former Alhambra Summer Theatre, Str. Sărindar, Bucharest, now the Capitol Summer Theatre, Str. Constantin Mille.

Monday, 23 February 2015

72 hours in Transnistria

Transnistria is soporific but refreshingly uncool even by Eastern European standards. Nothing is less avant-garde than communism.

I took this picture in the Romanian village in Transnistria where I spent Saturday morning and I apologise that it is the cliched Transnistrian snapshot. There is much  more to the place than just statues of Lenin, and though the villages feel like a time warp they have changed a lot since the Soviet Union split up.

The villagers think the 1920s and 1930s famines in which many died of hunger were not Stalin's fault and bitterly regret the end of the USSR, the end of the village kolkhoz (collective farm) and the loss of the markets for their produce in Siberia and the Baltic states etc. Now the farm is split up and run by businessmen who exploit their workers. They sound like kulaks. Things were better in Mr. Brezhnev's time.

This article is what Wikipedia calls a stub. Come back in a few hours or a day and it will be a wonderful travelogue. Alexander Kinglake won't be in it.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A journey to Moldova and Transnistria

My friend Tony has two great hobbies - learning languages and visiting unusual places. He has just arrived in Tiraspol, capital of Transnistria, and will spend two weeks there studying Russian. Transnistria is a country, but one that does not appear on any map and is not recognised by any givernment. It's an enclave of the republic of Moldova on the Ukrainian border which, though not contiguous with Russia,  is occupied by a Russian army.  It is a conflict that began with a fighting a disco in a small town and has been frozen since 1991. 

I am jealous of Tony's knowledge of languages and much more jealous of the fact that he was there in such times and places as Mozambique when it was a Portuguese colony, Libya just after Gaddafi came to power and Albania in 1979 under Hoxha. The fact that I'm jealous will please him as he is a competitive person and I am glad that I thereby make him happy. However, I shall not envy him Transnistria because I intend to muscle in, by taking a couple of days off work and staying in the same hotel in Tiraspol. I shall arrive in Chisinau tomorrow morning, go to Transnistria Friday morning and shall blog about it.

But I start by copying Tony's Facebook status of today.

End of my second day in Transnistria. My guide told me that i was his first client this year but he was expected things to pick up. He also told me that there were two expats living in Tiraspol, but one, a 70-year old German had recently left. The other one is an American called Tim who runs an unlicensed hostel and is married to a local girl. I met Tim this evening, he looked drunk and washed-out and was with 10 tourists from an adventure tour company lead by an Englishman living in China. This person told me that nine out of 10 of the people in his Group had been to North Korea and so Transnistria was a natural follow-on. He also does tours to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

My Russian teacher told me that there were rarely music concerts in Tiraspol and that performers were mostly local or from Russia. The only international name, Boney M, performed here 15 years ago. Since then nobody has been. She also said there were foreigners who came to Tiraspol to learn Russian and that i was not the first. On average the school where she worked had four students per year.

When all is said, Tiraspol is quiet and friendly and very Russian. They consider Russians their saviours and protectors. I like this place, it is not Soviet but has some of the post-Soviet charm that you found in Kiev before the Orange Revolution in 2004.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Why do Muslims keep murdering Jews?

As everyone knows, an attempt to replicate the Charlie Hebdo murders took place in Copenhagen yesterday, a meeting with the cartoonist who drew Muhammad as a dog was attacked and one person murdered. A security guard died in a separate attack at a nearby synagogue.

Is it stupid to ask why Muslim fanatics keep murdering Jews? Is it about Palestine? If so, why not kill Indians because of Kashmir? Or Serbs because of Bosnia?

A friend of mine, who is a member of the Liberal Democrat Party in England and holds achingly politically correct views on everything, especially the Middle East, shocked me a couple of days ago. He said he assumed Israelis would not find employment in Azerbaijan because it is a Muslim country. I wondered whether, as sometimes happens, I had missed something. And even odder, my friend, like most British people, considers racism a sin of sins and islamophobia another sin of sins. I wonder how he squares these circles. I should ask him except that I know I wouldn't get a clear or useful answer.

By the way, I imagine Azerbaijan and other ex-Soviet Muslim countries are not anti-Jewish, or no more so than anywhere else in the former USSR, but that's not what I want to write about.

In the murder spree in Paris last month a kosher supermarket was attacked. In May last year a Muslim gunman opened fire at the Jewish museum in Brussels, killing four Jews. 
In the 2008 terrorist attacks in Bombay the terrorists found the one small, obscure synagogue in the mega-city, where they tortured and murdered the rabbi and others. And so on and so on.

Mehdi Hasan, a prominent British Muslim left-wing journalist, wrote in 2013:

‘It pains me to have to admit this but anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it’s routine and commonplace. Any Muslims reading this article – if they are honest with themselves – will know instantly what I am referring to. It’s our dirty little secret.’
Mehdi Hasan was congratulated by other journalists for his courage in writing that. Had someone from UKIP said it he would have been denounced. Had someone from EDL said it... oh my fur and whiskers!

One or two British Muslims I have known loathed Jews - one Bengali friend, when I pressed him hard, turned out to be Hitlerian on the subject - and I wish I had asked them why. I suspect they did not hugely esteem other white British people but they did not say so to me. One or two British Jews I have known returned the favour. But then they disliked all non-white immigrants and colour prejudice is a separate issue. I really do not understand this Muslim dislike of Jews. Can anyone explain? 

And why are people not asking this question? It's the elephant in the drawing room.

Whatever the explanation, what a hole we find ourselves in because of post-war mass migration into Europe, including the huge movements of people in the last fifteen years. The first law of holes is: when in one, stop digging. But few people seem to be saying this, either. It's another elephant in an increasingly crowded room.

The Arabs' huge anger is their great political strength in their conflict with Israel. Perhaps the anger is not just against Israel but against the modern world. This anger is shared by many Muslims who are not Arabs.  My best guess at why Muslim terrorists like to kill Jews is that Jews in Israel represent modernity, as they did in Europe in the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Books read in the years of grace 2013 and 2014

Bold means I loved it and highly recommend it. * means I have read it before.


Not for Turning Charles Moore I reviewed it here.

The Ministry of Fear* Graham Greene I've read it three times. His best book. One of the best books about the Blitz and the war: surreal but also a ripping yarn. Reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, John Buchan and Michael Innes.

Mister Johnson Joyce Carey I loved this wonderful novel set in Nigeria. 

The Tao is Silent Raymond Smullyan

Dark Star Safari Paul Theroux - I reviewed it here - very good but I think my account of Ethiopia is even better

Notes from a Small Island Bill Bryson For a mass audience, but full of insights into England 

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes* Conan Doyle was not a good writer, unlike Buchan, the stories are silly melodrama,  but Holmes and Watson are wonderful, peerless characters

The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford

Golden Earth Norman Lewis - he wrote very well about his journey to Burma in 1951


Burmese Days George Orwell (much) better than Thackeray. Great social comedy.

Around the World in Eighty Days Jules Verne I skimmed it - fun. 

Finding George Orwell in Burma Emma Larkin - interesting, though not well written.

The River of Lost Footprints - Thant Myint U absorbing history of Burma

The Glass Palace Amitav Ghosh - unfinished, but a readable historical saga set in Burma

Greenmantle* John Buchan I reviewed it here. My comfort blanket.

Iron Curtain Anne Applebaum - I reviewed it here. Liberals do not write thick, satisfying history like conservatives or Marxists but she proves to be a historian, not just a journalist.

Romania John Villiers (ed.) - dull little collection of essays. Don't bother.

Selfish, Whining Monkeys Rod Liddle A big disappointment - I reviewed it here.

De Ce Este Romania Altfel? Lucian Boia Very, very good.

Dracula’s Bloodline Radu Florescu, atrociously edited but fascinating.

The Man without a Face Masha Gassen - MG is a Russian-American lesbian. She is a good writer too. Very informative account of Vladimir Putin and recommended. 

Everything is Illuminated - unfinished -  East European narrator's comic English was wearing

Riddle of the Sands Erskine Childers - unfinished: very well-written but too much yachting

Fragile Empire Ben Judah - I keep meaning to post my review.

Bloodlands Timothy Snyder - a good book, though very harrowing. I wrote about it here.

Cheating at Canasta William Trevor unfinished

The Beetle* Richard Marsh unfinished. I loved this 1890s occult novel when I was 26. Now disbelief cannot be suspended. A man turns into an Egyptian god and then a beetle?

The Perfect Spy John Le Carré unfinished - not enough spying, too much a novel.

The Classless Society Alwyn Turner - about John Major's Britain, not a patch on Andy Beckett's books about recent past in Britain, but it just about whiled away a plane journey.

Churchill:  The End of Glory John Charmley in progress

The Danger Tree Olivia Manning - a good novel. The Second World War now seems long ago. 

What a lowbrow list. My schoolboy self would be disgusted that everything I read was written after 1890, it includes four thrillers plus Jules Verne, no poetry and nothing literary, except The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford, which I hated. Ford reminded me of Henry James. Worse than that I cannot say.  

How very few books I read in 2013. The reason was my internet addiction. In fact I only read THREE cover to cover: the three novels. At least I read three novels. I usually only manage one or two. I do most of my reading online, though, these days, which is a great shame because books, even on a kindle, are so much more enjoyable. Books are absorbing,the net enervating.

In 2014 I started by reading more books in two months than in the year before, although most were connected to my holiday in Burma. I then started reading on my kindle but tailed off and The Danger Tree was the only thing I read in the last three or four months. It's the first novel of Olivia Manning's Levant Trilogy, the continuation of her Balkan Trilogy which I have read several times. I strongly recommend the first two autobiographical novels set in Bucharest in 1939 and 1940.

The Danger Tree is better than any of the Balkan Trilogy but I shall not read the remaining novels. Olivia Manning writes well but I do not care a jot about any of her characters. Still, it's a much better series of books than Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy (and I am a huge Waugh enthusiast). I am not sure how it compares with Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time.  ADTTMOT is probably better but I have only read the first and third volumes, many years apart. 

John Charmley's Churchill:  The End of Glory, published in 1993, is very good, though before starting it I had already come to accept his thesis and think that the conventional history of Britain's role in the Second World War is very misconceived. Dr. Charmley tells the heart-rending story of how Great Britain gave away her power and became the American satellite she is today. Cicero said
An unjust peace is better than a just war.
That is not always true, but true very often.

I have a big pile of books to read, I still intend to finish Gibbon, laid aside two years ago, but my priority now is War and Peace (about time) in preparation for my expedition to Moscow.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The grand old Duke of Norfolk and the MCC tour of Australia in 1962-63

From the memoirs of the cricketer Ian Wooldridge.
It was the first time that most of us had met the portly, florid aristocrat...we hardly knew what to expect: he hadn't exactly sprung to mind as a front-running candidate for the job. It was a black-tie affair, of course, and none of us dared get drunk. Eventually, over the port, the Duke rose, cleared his throat and delivered himself of a sentence I shall treasure till the end of my days:
he said,
"I wish this to be an entirely informal tour. You will merely address me as 'Sir'". 
Wikipedia fills in the background to the Duke's appointment
The announcement that the Duke would manage the MCC cricket team in Australia in 1962–63 came as a complete surprise. He was a keen cricketer, who was President of the MCC in 1956-57 and was still a member of its powerful committee. He had managed his own tour of the West Indies with a Duke of Norfolk's XI in 1956-67, which had included the England players Tom GraveneyJohn WarrDoug Wright and Willie Watson, and would organise another in 1969-70. His father the 15th Duke had built the picturesque Arundel Castle Cricket Ground and the Duke hosted matches against touring teams there from 1954, a tradition continued by his wife Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk after his death in 1975. He was not a good cricketer, even at village green level, and it was customary to let him get off the mark before he returned to the pavilion. At Arundel the umpire was his own butler, who when he was out would diplomatically announce "His Grace is not in". The Duke was chosen after a chance remark while having drinks after a MCC Committee meeting. Billy Griffith was the prime candidate to manage the tour, but he had just been appointed the Secretary of the MCC and needed to remain at Lord's to oversee the change from the old divisions between amateurs and professionals that had been decided that autumn. The Duke offered his services when it was mentioned that the new captain Ted Dexter would be difficult to control. Like Dexter the Duke was a keen follower of horse-racing, and as President of Sussex County Cricket Club he was often at Hove and Arundel and had appointed Dexter county captain. When his appointment was announced it was joked that only a duke could manage "Lord Ted". In those days the MCC tour was seen as a social event.

In England the 1950s were intended to be a return to the 1930s and the early 1960s were a continuation of this. The 1960s social revolution only got underway in about 1964. My grandmother and her sisters and my father, working class people with not a lot of money, all maintained that England was a much better place before the war and especially before the 1960s. It was wrong of them, as  my mother once pointed out, to poison my mind against my own era but they did. 

Nevertheless, I was convinced that they were probably mistaken about the 1930s having been better. In the 1930s, as they themselves repeatedly said, there had been real poverty in England ('There's no poverty today'). So I thought, before I came to live in Romania in 1998. Romania in 1998 had the same standard of living as in England in 1959 and many other things in common. It felt like the 1950s here and I came to see why my parents regretted the 1960s. 

The 1962-63 MCC tour reminds me of Belloc's immortal lines

For the hoary social curse 

Gets hoarier and hoarier, 

And it stinks a trifle worse 

Than in the days of Queen Victoria, 

When they married and gave in marriage, 

And danced at the County Hall, 

And some of them kept a carriage. 


But, pace Belloc, I still regret the passing of a cohesive, homogeneous, repressed England united by class distinction, jokes in common, a sense of patriotism and what Maurice Cowling called 
England's real religion, low-key respectability.
I hope and believe that that England has not completely passed, despite the politicians. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Danube delta in November (Sorin Onisor)

To thine own self be true

Just be yourself. You'll save a lot time and energy by not trying to seem to be something you are not.

But first you have to have a self to be.