Thursday, 31 May 2012

Lord Balfour

Lord Balfour, quoting from one of his Gifford Lectures - by Sir Max Beerbohm

Max spent his life drawing Balfour and I too find him quite fascinating, though cold and impossible to like.  I suppose, apart from being our cleverest Prime Minister of the twentieth century and perhaps the worst until Tony Blair (I first typed Bliar), Balfour was the one with the most style, Churchill excepted. In late twentieth century terms, Balfour was cool, which no other Prime Minister ever was.  

Only Eden was better looking than Pretty Fanny or equally well read. Unlike the adulterous Eden, Balfour seems to have been a chaste celibate, apart from once being caught snogging with a pretty fellow Soul in a summer house. Piers Brendon, who wrote a fourth-rate sketch of Balfour, said 'he obtained pale gleams of happiness on the tennis court.' One cannot imagine what he would have thought of Sir John Major, whose premiership resembled Balfour's, or New Labour, but he would have approved of Mr. Cameron for class reasons

However much one loves Israel, and I love the country, Arabs and Jews alike, the Balfour Declaration has caused a huge amount of bloodshed and hardship and entangled England and the Middle East in a terrible mess. Had he known what was to follow, he would certainly not have promised the Jews a homeland. This is true of very many achievements of very many politicians, perhaps, but much truer of this one than most. In politics, it is usually better to do nothing than do something, unlike in private life. Much more disastrous was the Liberals' decision to go to war in 1914 but, had we not done so, Balfour I suppose would have spun sophistries to justify the treason of the Ulster Protestants against the Crown in the civil war that would have broken out in the U.K. instead.

A wonderful double portrait of Joseph Chamberlain and Arthur Balfour, by Sydney Prior Hall, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery:

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Favourite words

What word sounds most beautiful to you? For me: 'oblivion'. 

A friend said this said a lot about me. In fact it is not possible to separate sound from sense completely. As T.S. Eliot said 'where Alph the sacred river ran' is much more beautiful than 'where Alf the bread delivery man.'
Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back, 
Wherein he stores alms for oblivion.

A Romanian told me on my first day in Romania that his favourite English word is 'twilight.' I think twilight sounds a bit twee but I think dusk, which has a Roman lapidary feel to it, is one of my very favourites. 

A proper noun that makes great poetry is 'Hebrides'. 

Another very beautiful place name is Madagascar. (Actually I have been to Madagascar and the country herself, inevitably, is not as wonderful as her name - how could she be?)

Danuta Keane's favourite words to say aloud are 'elbow', 'psychopathy' and 'sarcophagus'. I only understand her choice of sarcophagus. On the Brains Trust, long ago before I was born, the not very clever military man chose


Another favourite is Plantagenet. 

"Where is Bohun, where's Mowbray, where's Mortimer? Nay, which is more and most of all, where is Plantagenet? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality"

Yes I detect the flavour of death in many of the words I am choosing - oblivion, dusk, urns and sepulchres, even Plantagenet. Is it the death instinct, which takes command of every mother's boy? Possibly yes, who knows?

In Romanian my most beautiful word to say aloud is 'domnisoara' which means young lady. Feel free to make jokes. A word I like just as much, but which is positively ugly, very un-euphonious, is 'hodoronc-tronc', which means suddenly, out of a blue sky. I wonder what its etymology is. Another word, which my Romanian friends do not like my using - it is gypsy and therefore very vulgar - is 'gagica', which means a hot chick or floozy. The very word 'gagica', heavy emphasis on the second syllable, makes the mouth water as if eating a peach.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Happy Oak Apple Day, 29th May

9th May 1660: King Charles II, the eldest son and heir of beheaded King Charles I, restored
 by General Monk, makes his triumphal entry into London on his 30th birthday.
We celebrate the Restoration of the English on this day in 1660 though 28 years later
the revolution was to depose the lawful sovereign.. Readers of The Vicomte de 
Bragelonne know that D'Artagnan and the three musketeers in their early 50s managed
the restoration, having failed to save King Charles I from the block 11 years earlier.

When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares into you.

Nietzsche's dictum came to mind though this is a sunny scene on Mount Negoiu, in the Fagaras mountains.

Photo: Cornel Pufan

Peking is the capital of China

I passionately agree with Allan Massie that the capital of China is called Peking but I do not believe anyone writing in English ever called Lyons 'Lyon'. Everyone pronounces it the French way but spells it the English way, surely.

A horror I recently discovered in the Lonely Planet guides which are written for cretins is Porto instead of Oporto.

I always do and I always say Bombay too. My new friend the Church of England parson in Bucharest says Constantinople and I am tempted to adopt this but wonder if it is a bit too late.

I hate Budapesht though I was guilty of it myself until rightly told off about it in 1990

Angora is now unfortunately Ankara but I think Smyrna still current rather than the barbaric Ismir. I mourn Ceylon.

Intuitive ethics and moral foundation theory

I told a Liberal Democrat friend (I have an eclectic range of friends) that for me freedom and tradition were the two supreme values. He agreed, he said, about freedom (but regards a great number of restrictions on freedoms as enlargements of freedoms, but let that pass) but said tradition was not important too him. Not important.

Moral Foundations Theory may explain why liberals and conservatives disagree on so many things.

This would explain why some people think only bad people oppose homosexual marriage while others think the reverse. Liberals really do not think tradition matters - it's that simple - in fact they think that traditions are by definition out of date when they are not malign or oppressive.

For a nation of non-conformists it feels like we're in North Korea

The London Olympics will be a demonstration of overwhelming state power and an appalling waste of public money. Dominic Lawson sounds an appropriately curmudgeonly note here. 

The Olympics are as attractive or unattractive as the society which stages them. England's culture no longer values sportsmanship or amateurism but money, diversity and egalitarianism. But my nephews and nieces are delighted they are happening and I am delighted to have bought them tickets for the trampolining event. Trampolining sounds amateurish and jolly. Bouncing on a trampoline is one of the few sports I ever enjoyed. Perhaps I should rejoice that it makes people happy and it makes me happy that I can ignore it completely here in Bucharest.

You never read the same book twice

You never see the same river twice and you never read the same book twice. It is a big mistake to say of a book I read 25 years ago like The Charterhouse of Parma that it is my favourite novel. It was. It was the favourite novel of a different person.

I get a strange eery feeling rereading novels, full of intimations of mortality.

Friends and Heroes

Olivia Manning's third volume in the Balkan trilogy, set in Greece, which I reread while spending the weekend in Athens and Hydra, inclines me to think that the reason I like the first two so much is because of my love of and interest in Romania not Manning's writing. She does not create characters. Her characters are clearly drawn from life in many cases and therefore do not come alive. It is the invented ones like Yaki who live. 

I imagine Athens was a much more pleasant and interesting place before the war than now.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


Smoking is a grave sin comprised under the commandment 'Thou shalt do no murder'. Of course I am not talking about 'passive smoking' which is harmless, but self-murder.

The living moment is a sacrament and time wasting (as opposed to relaxing) is a sin against the light.  

I intend to read Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living which I brought with me when i came to Romania in 1998. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Definition of Britishness

When I ask myself what do all Englishmen have in common the answer comes: knowing the expression, 'The mounties always get their man.'


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who died a couple of days ago,  had ones of those names which once heard is never forgotten, like Lambert Simnel.

Unembarrassable mavericks

According to Dr David Weeks, who did a definitive study of eccentricity, eccentrics tend to be unembarrassable mavericks. And they have the sort of buoyant positivism that comes from being comfortable in their own skin. They are always possessed of a mischievous sense of humour, are opinionated, quixotic, intelligent and impulsive — and are wont to find unconventional solutions to problems. Isn’t this as good a description of Churchill, and Boris, as you have ever heard?

From an article in today's paper about Boris Johnson and Winston Churchill and how eccentrics do not care how they dress. Again I am rather a dressy man at least on weekdays. At weekends i tend to wear Jermyn St. shirts with casual trousers (never jeans which for me represent the ideals of 1968) and I thought this was dreadfully unfashionable and meant to change this until Paulius Kuncinas told me I had been cool for years. And i remember this was cool at Cambridge in the early 1980s. Odd how these fashions continue.

I read this book ten years ago. I am not unembarrassable or not always. When I was a boy and an adolescent (in other words till I was over 30) I was embarrassed a lot of the time. A Romanian women ten years ago said I reminded her of Hugh Grant because I had 'the same embarrassment' so I am clearly not an eccentric but I am much less easily embarrassed these days. But I only once wore (to a wedding) the panama hat a friend bequeathed to me that is one size too small.

I decided when I reached 50 recently that I am too old to worry what people think of me.

The same book said eccentrics are not interested in money or sex. Like intellectuals, I suppose.

I missed St. Constantine and St. Helen's Day

‎'It is a travesty to call such a murderer Constantine the Great. Or perhaps not: for what does greatness mean?' (Michael Grant). A belated happy returns of the day to all Constantins and Elenas.


I wish to thank the Romanian Senate for voting yesterday to make my birthday, 30 November, a public holiday. This is a very nice gesture. But I still think King's Day = Independence Day, May 10, has better weather than 30 November or 1 December which is the National Day.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Dan Nicusor has a good face unlike the other candidates for mayor

Unfortunately my survey of three or four taxi drivers has found that all were going to vote for Dr. Oprescu and none had heard of Dan Nicusor. My employees will also vote for Oprescu and say Nicusor has no chance.


I hope England never becomes a republic and am pretty sure she never will. 
Monarchies are only abolished after military defeats or revolutions.  In any case, no-one wants President Douglas Hurd or President Margaret Beckett. (But, which God forbid, if England does ever become a republic I hope the head of state is called Lord Protector, not President. Lord Protector was used the last time we had a republic and it goes back long before Oliver Cromwell to Protector Somerset and perhaps before.)

I was delighted to be told recently by an insider, Lord Watkins, the Liberal Democrat peer who was ennobled for never quite winning election to the Commons for Richmond, that the Queen has a great deal of political influence. Still she hasn't seemed to have prevented the disasters that have befallen us since 1952. These have been the sixty worst as well as the sixty best years in our history. The reasons why they were the best had almost nothing to do with politicians but the reasons why they were the worst had very much to do with Her Majesty's governments. It is no longer true to say:

How small of all that human hearts endure 
That part that kings or governments can cure.

Though I suppose Her Majesty should not be blamed too much.

One is not a monarchist for reasons. Monarchists despise reasons just as no-one has a reason for loving sunsets or the paintings of Claude Lorrain. But if required to stoop to give practical reasons for a monarchy they are as myriad as the grains of Libyan sands that lie upon the perfumed Cyrenian plain. If you exhaust all the others Romania supplies another desertful. To have had a decent, brave, patriotic, well-educated and gentlemanly Head of State rather than the former Communists Iliescu, Constantinescu and Basescu would have been to let fresh air into the foetid and corrupt political system. And beyond politics, the King has style and grace and suffered a penurious exile as an enemy of Communism.

The abilities or personality of the monarch or his family are of no importance whatever - the charm and strength of monarchy is that, as Melbourne said of the Garter, there is no damn merit in it. Macaulay I think coined the expression 'crowned republic' for the English constitution and there is no good reason for substituting a real republic. Even republicans in England have lost the stomach for it, after the royal wedding and now the Diamond Jubilee. After all, Republicanism no longer means anything - unlike in the 19th century when it meant liberalism, anti-clericalism and, in the old fashioned French revolutionary, not the socialist, sense, equality. But monarchies still mean some things other than tourism earnings and good fun and an excuse every few years for a beano. Things like  tradition, hierarchy, national identity, in European cases Christianity. I think these things are important, even more important than the NHS, which has replaced religion and patriotism in the hearts of some Englishmen, or economic growth or the chimera of 'defeating' poverty.  

Despite diversity and the multiracial society, in both of which he is a great believer, Charles like most indigenous Englishmen is descended from men in furs who go off boats from Germany in the 5th century. That, the fact that he is his mother's son, is why he is there and why we are here. (His forbears include Mahomet and he is related to Vlad the Impaler, by the way.) However it just so happens that the Prince of Wales is also a lovely, good man, despite, like some of his ministers and subjects, committing adultery, is always interesting and cares about his people. I suspect however that if he tries to make the monarchy into a true constitutional monarchy and be more active than the Queen is he will run into trouble with the politicians. Labour treated him with great churlishness when they were in power. Nick Cohen in today's Observer believes, and the wish is father to the thought, that "Charles III will be the best advert the republican cause has had since Charles I".

If only Syria had a monarchy (but the French set up republics in the Middle East unlike the British who set up monarchies) she would be better off. I still hope that they will restore the monarchies in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. For Iraq it is too late, I suppose. It was a dreadful mistake not to have restored the monarchy in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban and while the old king was still alive. He ascended the throne in 1933 the same year that Hitler and Franklin D. Roosevelt came to power and reigned until the 1970s when Afghanistan was the final stop in the hippy trail. Just look at the countries that do not have a monarchy anymore and guess how much better they would have done had they kept theirs: Libya, Tunisia; Afghanistan; Iraq; Egypt. Had the Ottoman Empire only survived or the Hapsburgs, Hohenzollerns or Romanovs... With the Ottoman empire as I never tire of pointing out we would have been spared Israel, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, etc. and the Caliphate would still exist therefore there would be no casus belli for Al Qaeda. Had we only stayed close to them and not allied ourselves with the Czar before the Great War a constitutional parliamentary Ottoman Empire would exist, Greeks and Turks would live side by side in Anatolia and Greece and the Armenians would not have been massacred.

Sunday morning in Lipscani

'My Way' played on a guitar and a violin by two buskers in Str. Lipscani. Oh joy.

When I suddenly had to visit Cuba in 2004 I began the habit of travelling. Before that I had travelled little and if I could to places unused to tourists, like Eastern Europe in 1990. I was therefore an innocent and it was only in Cuba that I saw that old towns in every country  feel like shops in a  multinational chain. In 2006 I visited the Balkan States in August and the old towns of Talinn and Riga told me exactly the fate that would befall Bucharest. (Vilnius which is a beautiful Southern, Catholic city far in the North, with a sprawling old town, still retained vestiges of humanity - in fact I loved it.) I am surprised though that inauthenticity and commercialisation did not happen to Lipscani ten years earlier and am grateful that I had the Old Town to myself from 2000 when I moved here to around 2007. Unself-consciousness has no place in the post-modern (whatever that means) world.

There is now a bar in Str. Lipscani called Havana and it reminds me of exactly the sort of bar you get in Havana. It is completely false in the same way that tourist bars in Havana are.

The difference is that in Havana only foreigners are allowed into hotels or could afford to got to tourist bars whereas here though there are some tourists the Old Town is mostly for Bucuresteni. I noticed the same phenomenon in Tbilisi - a lot of touristy restaurants and bars but no tourists. But nowadays you can be a tourist in your own town, if you eat out.

People who look for authenticity and shabbiness, says my friend Alexandra Cernatoni, are the most bourgeois travellers of all. It may be so.


Bachelorhood is a remedy against conformity but the remedy can sometimes be worse than the disease.

Please read this conversation with a Syrian Christian

Please read this conversation that took place on Facebook between a Syrian Christian wife and mother and me on Facebook tonight

I love Syria so much too and love the Christian quarters of Damascus and Aleppo.

 Oldest church, first alphabet, oldest city, prestigious castles and monuments that survived disasters, wars and earthquakes for thousands of years I wonder if they will survive the current fighting..

Please tell me what is happening?

What you hear at the news each day, demonstrations, army intruding, armed people and street fights, explosions here and there almost every where in Syria.. the level of violence varies in different syrian cities .however, it is not the sacred haven anymore.

 Are the Christians in danger?

They are not the target so far, no ,. anyway, nothing is guaranteed in such situation especially when tension between population is increasing due to political situation Christians are supposed to have (while it is not 100 % true), Christians are closely watching Egypt and Tunisia just to get an idea about what will come next

Good that they are not the target.Things seem worse in Tunisia Egypt and Libya than before. Are Christians leaving Syria?

Well accidents happen here or there, I am not sure about extremists' opinions or intentions as i never met any of them in my live although i traveled around in Syria, many of the villages that are supposed to be inhabited by religious people is mostly a touristic destination in which every individual is used to meeting tourists. of course extremists exist but the various religions that Syria contains might effect the convention on applying strict Muslim regulations (I hope). as for leaving Syria., any family who is in danger or facing hard economic situation will leave when possible, safety is priority especially for the sake of kids

Have any of your friends decided to leave?

yes,some left to lebanon, some from homs moved to damascus and close villages, some decided to leave after the latest big explosion of last week .. leaving decision is not easy, you leave your home, your house, your friends and family , your job , everything ...

What do you think the future is?

i wish i knew, but i think nothing will change in the near future. Those who lost families will not go back, and those who are taking control of events will not give up on their power either.. we pray for a near closure whatever it is,otherwise things will be disastrous as hate is aggregating among syrians and forgiveness will be impossible

yes closure whatever it is is much better than war. If only one side could win quickly.  And for Christians I imagine it would be safer if Assad won.

in theory yes,practically i don't think so.since the father took over the power the count of mosques increased by more than double, many christian schools were transformed into public schools. girls used to go to college wearing short skirts while nowadays wearing tight jeans is not preferable .. he needed to win the majority of the public as a minority controlling the country. besides, hate is growing against Christians who are so far taking the side of the power driven by the fear of loosing the rest of their free practicing of their religion.

I think we will face serious troubles in staying in our country whatever happens.We are the card both fighting parties are playing with. The problem when you are muslim is that you cannot convert to other religion, other religious are considered unbelievers, and that you have to fight to promote the religion.etc.. we need leaders like in golf countries who know how to use qualifications from all over the world to develop their countries meantime they insist on keeping the rights of their citizens above all others . I wish European countries did the same

Yes so do I. Europe now has problems caused by some Muslims.

I imagine and hope it is changing now.. I watched some tv reports about european government tolerance towards some fanatics, be careful they are able to double in count in a matter of year, they don't care about educating their kids as much as they care about teaching them radical religion mostly against christians.

 I know and it is not changing - it is not even discussed - anyone who worries about Islamic fanatics is considered a fascist even though it is they who are fascists.

oil money is the reason i suppose

 No - fear of discrimination against people who are not white. Western Europe has gone mad.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Plagiarism and Romanian education

Victor Ponta’s first two nominees for Education Minister had to stand down after the much-maligned Romanian press exploded them. Corina Dumitrescu made several grammar and spelling mistakes in her CV and it came to light very quickly that though she claimed a diploma from Stanford University  she in fact merely attended a two week course there (she misspelt Stanford on her CV).  The second nominee, Ioan Mang, stood down after being accused of having plagiarised (and allegedly misunderstood) a doctoral thesis from the net. Children and students in every country learn from what they see adults do, not what adults say. Perhaps the two scandals will send the right message to the next generation, or perhaps not.

The position of Education Minister matters very much in Romania where, as in most developing countries, education is given supreme importance. If in America status is defined by money and in England by accent, vocabulary and clothes,  in Romania it is education which cuts it. And this is not something that can be hidden, because Romanian grammar is astonishingly complicated and everyone is judged on how grammatical he is. The grilling of the gypsy politician Marian Vanghelie in a chat show on how to decline the verb to be (he couldn't get very far) seemed to me to be almost cruel but made the educated classes here laugh uproariously and, considering how powerful (and allegedly rich) he is, perhaps justly. On anther television show, Tourism Minister Elena Udrea encouraged Romanian scepticism about attractive blondes with successful careers (and Romanians are usually very sceptical) by not being aware that Norway was neither a republic nor a member of the E.U. I knew a pretty girl who rejected the advances of the fabulously rich politician and tycoon George Copos, not because he was married or much older than she was or even because he was bald, but because he didn’t have a degree.  

Plagiarism, copying and cheating are rife in the educational system here where teachers often have to be bribed not to mark pupils down. Unfortunately cheating and bribing at school are a mirror of adult life.

Like Japan, Romania is an intensely hierarchical society and teachers, doctors and priests, who in the countryside form the elite, expect a great deal of deference and obedience. Yet for all the defects of the education system here and the problems with poorly paid teachers and the old-fashioned educational methods which reward rote learning (students have told me they were failed because they repeated their professor’s ideas but not in his own words)  nevertheless Romanians seem to be (much) more erudite and more informed than Englishmen are. I cannot believe how many English people, whom I asked recently, said they had not heard of Hengist and Horsa, the Jutish chieftains who landed in Kent and are the first Englishmen whom history records. Those who had not heard of them included a retired schoolmistress, a partner in KPMG and an Oxford history graduate of above average intelligence for Oxford (I am not being sarcastic - he was very intelligent). Another Englishman with a doctorate in history had not heard of Carlyle when I mentioned him, nor an Englishman with a Ph.D. in political science of Dr. Johnson. Incredible, but true.

In Romania everyone reasonably intelligent (everyone, in Evelyn Waugh's snobbish phrase, who comes to the front door and most people who do not) knows about Burebista and Decebal, Dacian kings in the pre-Roman period, and the Romanian mediaeval kings who fought against the Turk. They know their poets too and love them. I wonder how many Englishmen and women with degrees know in what order the Kings and Queens of England reigned or even know much about Crecy or Agincourt. Churchill when asked how to make children proud of their country replied, 'Tell them Wolfe took Quebec.' I am not sure how well known this is any more and if children, after being schooled in the orthodoxies of modern liberalism, do know about Wolfe they probably look on him very coolly, as an imperialist whose victory resulted in the oppression of the Quebecois.  No-one in England can be a true hero who does not measure up to early 21st century notions of morality and of being progressive.

Digressing from Romania to England, it is not brains England needs or training but culture - and education in the true sense of developing ones true self. Everyone should have to study Shakespeare and the poets at university for 5% of their course. They have often not read them much before, though they should have, via second-hand bookshops, which are the best universities, where you can absorb learning for sheer love of learning, without exams, modish ideas or brainwashing. And no writings are ever too unfashionable, elitist or conservative for second-hand bookshops.  As Dryden says of Chaucer, 'Here is God's plenty!' 

On the other hand, though they know a very great deal, Romanians are maddeningly not taught to think and to question authority. Perhaps the result is that Romanians, who are certainly clever and well-educated, are stuffed with facts like geese being fattened to be turned into fois gras and tend, to quote the unkind judgement of a character in Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy, to be 'ingenious but not creative'. They are often not good people to have an enjoyable argument with, sometimes preferring just to say no, that doesn't work. When you press your point they tend to say something like, 'My cousin tried it - it doesn't work.'

Medieval history (and in a sense the middle ages lasted here until the end of the 18th century) was very important for inculcating patriotism under National Communism in the Ceausescu years but is not really particularly useful for a modern economy, which needs to turn out white collar employees for the private and public sectors in a world of constant change.  Problem solving and team playing may be more valuable to society than people who can recite Eminescu and have read Schopenhauer. Probably Western educational methods are better but it is a great joy to live in a country, like America but very unlike England, where people are proud of their country’s history, her traditions and religion. 

Even students for doctorates have to attend classes (including a Russian lady I know who does not understand Romanian but is still required to attend lectures in Romanian, even though her doctoral thesis will be in English). In Russia she says as in England students argue with  teachers but in Romania students are expected to learn what they are taught and repeat it verbatim in examinations. This, my Russian says, shows how passive Romanians are compared to Russians, who she says with pride are a race of fighters.

Doctoral students are treated in exams with great suspicion, she tells me, have to sit apart from each other and are required to empty their pockets to show that they do not have calculators or mobile telephones to enable them to crib the answers. Yet cheating even at doctoral level is very widespread. Treating students like cheats encourages cheating perhaps.

I read of an Albanian taxi driver in London who paid to send his child to Albania to receive a better education than he would get in a London comprehensive and I can imagine a Romanian parent in London sending his children here (though I meet numbers of Romanian parents who are saving to send their children to school in England). 

In many ways I suspect it makes sense to send your child to a state school here rather than a private school. There are problems with either choice and the teachers in the state system are corrupt but I hear dreadful stories of the bullying and bad behaviour of the children of the Romanian rich, who apparently are spoilt, ill bred and who cannot be expelled because the school needs their parents’ money.

If you want to supplement the school curriculum with tutors (in English, German, Greek and Latin, for example, which would be my choice were I a parent), tutors are very cheap.

The Cross

Did any first century Christian object in principle to crucifixion as a punishment?

Triangular duel

The cultural war in Europe between Islam, liberalism and traditional Christianity is a bit like the  triangular duel in Mr. Midshipman Easy, a book I loved at 12 - does anyone still read Captain Marryat? - but this duel is deadly without being funny. 

I think liberalism may well win in the end but Islam will be indigestible and be forever a very powerful element in Western European history and will continue to be a source of conflict and even bloodshed. Traditional Christianity is already the big loser as we have seen with civil partnerships. How well Christianity-lite will do, shorn of the old fashioned teachings on women, sex and asceticism, I do not know but I suspect fear of Islam will drive some to church and others to atheism. At the moment, supported by paedophile scandals involving Catholic priests, it is driving many young white people to atheism, yet atheism no longer seems, unlike in the 1960s, the future. It has an old fashioned 19th century feel to it. 

I think God is back to stay but I think Christianity as an organised religion will continue to decline in the developed world. Paradoxically Islam makes converts because it possesses the counter-cultural quality and rock-hard certainty which people recognised in the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s introduced such big changes.

“Progress is Providence without God"

“Progress is Providence without God. That is, it is a theory that everything has always perpetually gone right by accident. It is a sort of atheistic optimism, based on an everlasting coincidence far more miraculous than a miracle.” 

G.K. Chesterton

Belief in God involves problems, but atheism requires a huge suspension of disbelief. Actually once one believes in God it seems, to me at least, impossible not to believe in Him and one cannot understand why it was not blindingly (to coin a phrase) obvious all the time. But the problem of evil still remains. 

Yet I suspect that the existence of evil is not the thing that most people find hardest about belief in God. It is often people who have suffered most in life who have most faith. I think it is the power and ingenuity of Man that has occluded God and nature. 

As W.H. Auden put it:

What reverence is rightly paid
To a divinity so odd
He lets the Adam that he made
Perform the Acts of God.

Woodrew Wilson's folly and the tragic collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

Michael Wharton on President George W. Bush's visit to England, 21 Nov 2003

His humour is mechanical and laboured and he made the same jokes for almost fifty years but he is absolutely right about Woodrew Wilson, though Romanians will never accept this for reasons i can understand. He is not right about Versailles being too vindictive. The mistake at Versailles was not to break up Germany into separate states, each with her own monarchy, a project that should have appealed to Wharton's reactionary spirit. Had Hitler had to start as dictator of Bavaria and even there be subordinate to the Wittelsbachs the history of Europe might have been much happier. Better too had a democratic federal Austria-Hungarian monarchy come into existence including Transylvania and the Banat, instead of the nationalist Hungary of before 1918 or the population migrations afterwards.

In a thoughtful leader, The Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald discusses President Bush's visit and its implications: "A visit to this country by an elected leader of the North American rebel colonists, accompanied by a ceremonial reception befitting the head of a legitimate government, is, though surprising, not without precedent.
"Many of our readers will recall the visit of a previous rebel leader, Woodrow Wilson, in 1918. Commentators in the press have contrasted the warm reception he received then with the hostile reception now accorded Mr Bush in some quarters, and have commended the previous visit at the expense of the present one.
"We scarcely need remind our readers of the circumstances of Mr Wilson's visit 85 years ago. It followed the disastrous entry of American forces into the Great War as it neared its end, which let loose a whole series of calamities when the colonists' leader, in his self-righteous folly and ignorance of world affairs, preached 'self-determination for all nations' and approved the tragic collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and other noble and historical institutions, with consequences that are with us to this day.
"He also took a meddlesome hand in the Treaty of Versailles, which by its vindictive policy towards the defeated Germans helped to make a Second World War inevitable. Altogether, this man Wilson did more harm to peace and stability in the world than George Bush has ever done or is ever likely to do.
"The motives of those who have taken to the streets to demonstrate against him are no doubt mixed. Some of these people belong to the heedless mob which is only too glad to cause trouble and confusion whenever opportunity offers. Others are run-of-the-mill foaming radicals, decayed schoolteachers, struck-off solicitors and unpersuadable blockhead subversives. Some, we dare aver - and these the best - are indignant that a rebel leader should be welcomed with such unbecoming lavishness.
"Our readers, though properly sympathetic to the latter group, are unlikely to take to the streets in protest, any more than they did 85 years ago, when there was much more reason to do so. They will maintain a dignified silence in the hope that wiser counsels may at last prevail, and the rebel colonists, even at this late hour, may repent of their rebellion and seek to reaffirm their former loyalty to Crown and Empire."

Cupcakes are the new cocaine?

I always enjoy Damian Thompson but his new book on addictions disquiets me. I am worried by the expanding idea of addiction - which is fairly recent, useful up to a point, but seems like a reason for us to feel powerless and for governments to regulate people's lives. He is right though that, as Eric Berne said, drugs are instead of people.

Eye candy: we think we like cupcakes because they're 'retro' but actually we're addicted to the sugar in them - Why cupcakes are the new cocaine

What is the point of the Olympic Games any more?

Now the papers report  Beckham, BECKHAM, might play in the Olympics. And some surmise, though he denies this, that this will be in order to sell tickets and help sales of souvenirs and shirts. Either way this multi-millionaire is the antithesis of the spirit of amateurism. My loathing for the Olympics reaches new depths.

The last Olympics in London in 1948 sound infinitely nicer and very home-made. Boris Johnson tells the story here.

I liked this vignette which attracted the Mayor's disapproval:

Trying to sum up what was great about Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four golds in spite of being a 30-year-old mother of two, the Daily Graphic said: “She darns with artistry. Her greatest love next to racing is housework.” 

Queen Elizabeth II and King Michael at Windsor Castle yesterday

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and King Michael I of Romania at Windsor Castle yesterday, 18 May. 

All Smile

Two useful Japanese words

I thought American English was wonderfully inventive (spin-doctors. bimbo eruptions, babe hoover, fuzzy maths) but it seems Japanese is equally so. Who'd have known?
Arigata-meiwaku: An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favour, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude.

Bakku-shan: A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind.

Adolf Hitler on Islam

“Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers — already, you see, the world had fallen into the hands of the Jews, so gutless a thing is Christianity! — then we should in all probability have been converted to Mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies heroism and which opens up the Seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world. Christianity alone prevented them from doing so.”

As recorded by Martin Bormann in the bunker.

The Exalted Cyclops

From the Economist, June 30th 2010: 

THE (fawning) obituaries of Robert Byrd have reminded me that I missed an important organisation in last week's column on job-title inflation: the Ku Klux Klan. 
Mr Byrd held the titles of Exalted Cyclops and Kleagle (recruiter) for the Klan in West Virginia. Other Klan job titles include Grand Imperial Wizard (CEO), Grand Magi (vice-president), Grand Scribe (secretary), Grand Dragon of the Realm (vice-president), Hydra (assistant to the vice-president), Grand Titan of the Dominion (regional vice-president), Grand Titan of the Province (assistant regional vice-president), Lictor (security guard) and Night Hawk (night watchman). Ordinary members were known as ghouls. 
Byrd had plenty of other titles in the rest of his career, including Senate minority leader, Senate majority leader and president pro tempore of the United States Senate, but none had quite the resonance of Exalted Cyclops.

'Recruiter' is not very grand, nor even 'company director', which all spies and con-men put on their passports in the days when you had to state your occupation (the last Earl of Derby put 'coal miner' on his), but I like the sound of 'P. V. E. Wood, M.A. Cantab., quondam Scholar of Queens' College Cambridge, Exalted Cyclops and Kleagle.'

R.G. (Countess) Waldeck, Athene Palace (1943)

The Romanians possess to the highest degree the capacity of receiving the blows of fate while relaxed. They fall artfully, soft and loose in every joint and muscle as only those trained in falling can be. The secret of the art of falling is, of course, not to be afraid of falling and the Romanians are not afraid, as Western people are. Long experience has taught them that each fall may result in unforeseen opportunities and that somehow they always get on their feet again.

Lord Macaulay on the Catholic Church and Landor on death

I hope everyone already knows this from Macaulay's Essay on Ranke which is my favourite passage in English prose but just in case some do not I post it here.

There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

It took me over thirty years from reading this to first visiting Rome (and Antioch too).

Oddly enough, though, the Catholic Church that I was raised in feels like it dates from the early 1960s.

The piece that comes second in my esteem is this from Landor's Imaginary Conversations which is quoted in 88, Charing Cross Rd. I found nothing else in the Imaginary Conversations was nearly so good, but how wonderful to be a teenager and have enough time to read every book there is.

Laodamia died; Helen died; Leda the beloved of Jupiter, went before. It is better to repose in the earth betimes than to sit up late; better, than to cling pertinaciously to what we feel crumbling under us and protract an inevitable fall. We may enjoy the present while we are insensible of infirmity and decay; but the present, like a note in music is nothing but as it it appertains to what is past and what is to come. There are no fields of amaranth on this side of the grave; there are not voices, O Rhodope, that are not too soon mute, however tuneful; there is no name, with whatever emphasis of passionate love repeated, of which the echo is not faint at last. 

Michael Wharton laments an odious, degraded and conformist England

Michael Wharton, thou shouldst be living at this hour, England hath need of thee! 

Michael Wharton was Peter Simple in the Daily Telegraph, in the days when Peter Simple was almost the only comment column there was in a paper which was almost purely news. The wonderful Mark Steyn wrote this obituary of Wharton when he died in 2006.

Everyone used to say in the early 1980s (by everyone I mean one or two journalists) that he was hilarious but it was a shame about his reactionary views. I liked most of his philosophical world view, which I tried to combine with believing in Keynes and the welfare state and disliking racism, but I didn't find him funny. And still don't.

But we certainly need him badly now. His dark fantasy is our reality....

Even Dr Spacely-Trellis, the go-ahead Bishop of Bevingdon, did not approve of people of the same sex getting married, though I am certain he and Jeremy Cardhouse the progressive Conservative M.P. are vocally in favour of it now, in that alternative universe from which Wharton's death has shut us out.

I suspect that unlike those two, Wharton would have had at least a sneaking admiration for Al Qaeda and the Iranian regime. 

Wharton was Jewish by birth, by the way, and had the outsider's passion for England (I, half-Irish, understand this).

An article Wharton wrote for The Spectator in 2000, headlined 'Alien Nation', is worth reading today. I quote:
`DAMN you, England!' cried John Osborne in one of his well-publicised theatrical outbursts in the Fifties. What he was complaining about, I forget: the shortcomings of dramatic critics, perhaps, or snobbery, or the royal family or some such innocent matter. If it was really about the terrible state of England, his aim was off the mark. In those days, England still existed. Seen from the year 2000, that time when wartime austerity was fading away at last seems one of blameless pleasure and virtuous simplicity.....

We have lost our countryside, disfigured or buried under mean housing estates and factories and enormous road systems, transformed by factory farming. By the end of the Fifties, hedges and wild flowers had already gone from most of lowland England; wild birds were dying out, equally the victims of poison and machines. With them went old quietness and seemliness. And, as people began to notice that loss, the `environment' was invented and, as though by an inexorable 20th-century law, itself became an industry and an instrument of state control.
In the last 50 years we have not only lost our country, we have lost our people, at least in large centres of population; and most of all in London, transformed by mass immigration and the alien manners and customs it has brought, most significantly in the ever-growing barbarism of popular music and entertainment. In 50 years what was a largely homogeneous European Anglo-Celtic nation has been turned into what is officially called a `multiracial society', a thing neither wanted nor asked for.
It is worth bearing in mind if you find this article too depressing that Michael Wharton had adopted his profound reactionary world-view before he went up to Oxford, long before the changes he complains of in this article had come to pass. He was a born reactionary (I am one too) who in the Second World War read the Encyclopaedia Britannica from beginning to end in the 1911 edition. 

Wharton admired Enoch Powell whose views on race and other subjects he shared. It is also worth remembering that Enoch Powell said he would not repeat in his mature years the mistake he made in his youth of thinking his country was finished.

I believe that England has so strong a culture that she will somehow always survive though hideously mutated because of various follies but primarily because of mass immigration, which has been permitted in the same way that the British Empire was acquired, in a fit of absence of mind. 

Wharton is completely wrong to blame immigrants for the horrible music or pop culture we have endured since the 1960s or for the 1960s social revolution. Nevertheless, he is right to mourn the passing of homogeneity and of England herself. Homogeneity can be dull but it has innumerable virtues. This is true of England too. Still, we must look to the future, not backwards. Let us preserve what we have, which is a very great deal, pace Wharton, conserve what can be conserved and build on it. 

To be born English, said Cecil Rhodes, is to have drawn the winning ticket in the lottery of life. I doubt if Rhodes would have liked modern England but England is still the best country, I believe, in the world, which is to say the English are the best people in the world.

From "Put Out More Flags"

"The history Lady Seal had learned in the schoolroom had been a simple tale of the maintenance of right against the superior forces of evil and the battle honours of her country rang musically in her ears-Crecy, Agincourt, Cadiz, Blenheim, Gibraltar, Inkerman, Ypres. England had fought many and various enemies with many and various allies, often on quite recondite pretexts, but always justly, chivalrously, and with ultimate success. Often, in Paris, Lady Seal had been proud that her people had never fallen to the habit of naming streets after their feats of arms; that was suitable enough for the short-lived and purely professional triumphs of the French, but to put those great manifestations of divine rectitude which were the victories of England to the use, for their postal addresses, of milliners and chiropodists, would have been a baseness to which even the radicals had not stooped. The steel engravings of her schoolroom lived before her eyes, like tableaux at a charity fete-Sydney at Zutphen, Wolfe at Quebec, Nelson at Trafalgar (Wellington, only, at Waterloo was excluded from the pageant by reason of the proximity of Blucher, pushing himself forward with typical Prussian effrontery to share the glory which the other had won)..."

Friday, 18 May 2012

"Denisa, Lady Newborough, who has died aged 79, was many things: wire-walker, nightclub girl, nude dancer, air pilot."

I have lived in Romania since 1998 and an Englishman told me several years ago 'there are no characters any more in England. In the old days every pub had its character, but that's all gone.' Is this because of PC and New Labour or Thatcherism and careerism? 

Lady Newborough was a character of the old school and probably also a femme fatale. Romania does not have nearly as many characters as England used to have but it has a very strong line in femmes fatales. Her obituary in the Daily Telegraph began:
"Denisa, Lady Newborough, who has died aged 79, was many things: wire-walker, nightclub girl, nude dancer, air pilot. She said that she only refused to be two things - a whore and a spy - 'and there were attempts to make me both'.

 She spoke 14 languages and designed a hat covered in half-smoking cigarettes.
 Her admirers included the Kings of Spain and Bulgaria, Adolf Hitler…Benito Mussolini…and Sheikh ben Ghana, who gave her 500 sheep. By conventional standards, her morality matched her flaming red hair but she remained as proud of one as the other."

That's all I can find on the net. My yellow cutting of the original is in some box in England and even when included in a book of Telegraph obituaries it was condensed. It gets better after that though....

Lord 'Tommy' Newborough began proceedings to dissolve the marriage less than twenty-four hours after it took place, which it did the morning after a night spent playing cards at Monte Carlo.

I remember word for word:
".....she published her memoirs, the character of which can be gleaned from such chapter headings as 'Down and Out in Sofia' and 'Elegant Sin in Bucharest' "
I did not know when I pinned this obituary to my otherwise empty noticeboard in my civil service office in Queen Anne's Gate and watched it slowly turn yellow that my destiny would lie in Bucharest, which in those days sounded the most obscure and exotic possible location.

The obituary ended, sublimely: 

Lady Newborough is survived by a daughter, June, who is married to a dentist and lives in Brentwood.

By an accident that was I realise now predestined I got interviewed by the Daily Telegraph in 1989 and I met the legendary Hugh Montgomery-Massingbird, the Daily Telegraph obituaries editor who revolutionised and subverted the genre.  I complimented him on the obituary but he disclaimed the credit and introduced me to the author whom he called 'the man Jones. and I solemnly shook hands with the genius. 

I met several people who worked on my childhood favourite the Peterborough column who are now famous including Damien Thompson whom these days I always read and agree with and Quentin Letts. Thompson asked me what religion I was. 'Papist', I said, though alas in those days I did not practise, and he replied. 'Good. We are all Papist here and we want to keep it that way.' I ought certainly to have made my career there but I resisted my destiny as I have done before and since and am doing now.

Wonderful evening - shown round the library of the Antim monastery by Father Polycarp - thanks to Ion Florescu - then intelligent conversation at dinner!

 Lovely to revisit the Antim monastery where I had not been for 10 years - until, strangely enough, last weekend. I was surprised to learn it was moved in the 1980s.

(Picture: Mihaela Mihăilă.) 

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Orang-utan trying to play the violin

The majority of husbands remind me of an orang-utan trying to play the violin. 


Robert Graves wrote a wonderful poem on this theme. 

A Slice of Wedding Cake    

Why have such scores of lovely, gifted girls
   Married impossible men?
Simple self-sacrifice may be ruled out,
   And missionary endeavour, nine times out of ten.

Repeat 'impossible men': not merely rustic,
   Foul-tempered or depraved
(Dramatic foils chosen to show the world
   How well women behave, and always have behaved).

Impossible men: idle, illiterate,
   Self-pitying, dirty, sly,
For whose appearance even in City parks
   Excuses must be made to casual passers-by.

Has God's supply of tolerable husbands
   Fallen, in fact, so low?
Or do I always over-value woman
   At the expense of man?
                                    Do I?
                                          It might be so.