Sunday, 29 December 2013

Rangoon jottings

Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon - a beautiful, winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple spire. It stood upon a green knoll…"there's the old Shway Dagon,"

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The King of Romania's Christmas message, 2013

Photo: The Message of His Majesty King Michael I at Christmas 2013


The year now drawing to a close has been a time of achievements, despite the effects of the economic crisis. The younger generation displays vigour and talent, and a large number of Romanians are studying or working honourably and skilfully in countries around the world. The private sector as well as the whole of civil society have consolidated themselves and developed with each passing year.

Our country is confidently moving in the direction of democratic values and freedom. Unfortunately, deeper Romanian society sometimes has a greater openness and understanding when it comes to such values than do society’s representatives.

Our family celebrated a number of significant anniversaries in 2013. On 10 June, the Queen and I celebrated our sixty-fifth wedding anniversary. We would both like the example of our life together to inspire our contemporaries, demonstrating the importance of the family in the present day. In September the Queen reached the beautiful age of ninety and was congratulated by the whole of Romanian society.

The affection and trust you have all shown us every day are a blessing to us. Although the years pass, and we are unable to answer every invitation we receive from all over the country, the Queen and I feel at every moment your devotion to the Crown.

This year the Royal Family visited countries in Europe and around the world, representing the Nation’s fundamental interests. After my visit to the Vatican in February, the Crown Princess and Prince Radu represented me in Chișinău, Bălți, Soroca, Orhei, and other places on the other side of the Prut, re-forging these regions’ historic link with the Crown seventy-one years since my last visit to Chișinău.

It has been a year since Prince Nicholas joined the family here, getting to know the country and its people and assisting our consolidation in the areas of the economy, education, ecology and national heritage.

Peles Castle is one more a place full of life, lending splendour to the present and consolidating the future. Sinaia is the Seat of the Royal House of Romania, a guarantor of our identity and symbol of the modern Romanian State. Each moment our Family spends there strengthens and inspires the Country. All those who have crossed our threshold, at Peles or Pelisor Castles, leave filled with pride and hope.

Year after year the Royal Family has looked after Romania’s senior and youngest citizens. The examples of volunteer work and social responsibility we set are important guiding principles of the present.

Over the past year we have received tokens of respect from the Romanian military. Thanks to their efforts to adapt to modern military concepts, thanks to their striving to respect the memory of the past, Romanian soldiers continue to do their country proud and defend its future, serving it worthily and courageously. I became an officer seventy-six years ago and since then I have never forgotten respect for the Romanian Army.

During these days, Savarsin House resounds to carols, bustle and preparations. At Christmas the whole of Romanian society views Savarsin as part of its own hearth and home. I am sure that from somewhere up in Heaven Queen Helen is rejoicing in all these things. Over the years, my mother was the heart and soul of preparations for Christmas and a parent to every Romanian.

I wish a happy holiday, spiritual peace and reasons for pride to you all, to children, parents and grandparents, to those in Romania and Bessarabia, to those spending Christmas in other countries around the world, and to those of you posted on missions that do honour to Romania!

So help us God!

25 December 2013, Savarsin House

King Michael of Romania is the last surviving head of state and commander-in-chief from the Second World War. It would be very disrespectful to describe him as a guest blogger on my

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas one and all!

'He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute' (St. Augustine).

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas, season of faulty plumbing and e-card spamming

All man's problems are caused by his not being able to be happy alone in a room, said Pascal, but he forgot the many problems caused by plumbing. My existential problems were caused

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Oh no! Peter O'Toole has died!

Oh no! Peter O'Toole has died! And I realise I loved him. It seems he died of drink at the age of 81.

I bitterly regret watching him on the stage in Jeffrey Barnard Is Unwell and spending Act II

The earth was warmer in Roman and mediaeval times

"Les savants ne sont pas curieux" (Anatole France)
Very good news! The earth was warmer in Roman and mediaeval times, according to a
study. It is clear that the global warming myth is exactly that, a myth. Like many other
myths our rulers believe in. 

Meanwhile Egypt has had her first snowfall in a hundred years this weekend.

Christians continue to flee Iraq as well as Syria and Egypt

More news of Christians leaving Iraq. All this was caused by the Anglo-American toppling of Saddam. Saddam it is clear was  better at ruling Iraq than anyone is likely to be in the

Tony Blair and Rosia Montana

The Sunday Telegraph today says that at Nelson Mandela's interminable funeral Tony Blair introduced Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, whom the paper called Mr. Blair's prospective client, to Mr Obama.

Back in the summer, when Mr. Blair flew to Bucharest to dine with Mr. Ponta, I heard that Rosia Montana Gold corporation is Mr. Blair's client, which is why he met Mr. Ponta.  

It does seem some thing ignoble that former first ministers of the British crown make money in this way in matters completely unrelated to British interests. 

Nor is it necessary. Former prime Ministers have plenty of money. Mr. Heath lived in style on the money he accumulated over twenty years from his salary as cabinet minister, leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister. Mr. Callaghan saved enough from his pay to buy a farm. But Mr. Blair has always been fascinated by the very rich and aspires to be very rich himself. As Mr. Callaghan said of Mr. Blair when he first saw him at the  1983 Labour Party Conference,
I don't know what that young man is but he is not Labour.
This will probably be the puzzled judgement of history, with the caveat that not being Labour does not mean not being left-wing, if left-wing means promoting egalitarianism, along with marked inequalities of income, and a powerful state. Mr. Blair created a new kind of left that combines admiration for the rich and powerful with internationalism, enthusiasm for the EU and social liberalism. It should fit in well with Victor Ponta's ideas, and those of the PSD - a socialist party run by millionaires - except for the social liberalism, which will come to Romania only under pressure from the E.U. There are no votes in it.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Jacques Chirac on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square ?

I supposed they would put Nelson Mandela on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, which seems to me absurd. I would give it to Jacques Chirac, though I have in general a very low opinion of him, simply because he pleaded with England and America not to go to war with Saddam in 2003.

But it seems I am out of touch and Mandela's statue is in Parliament Square not far from that other revolutionary Oliver Cromwell, erected from his own money by Lord Rosebery to pacify the Noncomformist vote - at the cost of, understandably, angering his allies in the Irish Home Rule Party. Washington for some reason is in Trafalgar Square.

Chirac, unlike Washington, tried to prevent war.

A world without Facebook is not imaginable

Will the day come when Facebook ceases to be popular? Logically the answer must be yes, yet it is impossible to imagine. I remember asking myself in 1984 if the Cold War would last forever and coming to the same conclusion.

Blonde tells children Santa Claus is white shock

'Be good sweet maid and let who will be clever.' 

This newscaster (newscastress is a word?) is in trouble for telling the children of the USA
that Santa Claus is white. Everyone who comments on the net seems to be furious and many of their denunciations of this pretty girl are blood-curdling and expressed in obscenities. The collective unconscious of America has been troubled by this nonsense.. She has touched off America's mental breakdown about race.

When I saw this story my urge was to protect this nice girl from the leftish goblins attacking her. Of course Jesus may have been, probably was, off-white but one understands what she meant. Then I read further and saw that Megyn was responding to this. 

In a column for Slate earlier this week, Aisha Harris wrote that she had always been confused as a child because the Santa in her home had brown skin like her, but the Santa in malls and on television was always white.
So Harris made the case “that America abandon Santa-as-fat-old-white-man” and adopt a penguin in his place.

“For one thing, making Santa Claus an animal rather than an old white male could spare millions of nonwhite kids the insecurity and shame that I remember from childhood,” she wrote.

Well I get her point too but it is a ridiculous one - perhaps we should be laughing at Miss Harris not the fair Megyn.

Actually, though she is amusingly misinformed not to know that Jesus was not, actually, very white, nevertheless at the risk of being called a Nazi, a black Santa does seem pretty odd to me. St Nicholas might have been beige for ought I know, though not if he was a Greek which I think he was, but, after all, if Santa lives in Lapland ...... 

What colour are Lapps, now I come to think of it? 

In America they think Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, so he might be eskimo, though I dare say only Nazis use the word eskimo these days. Perhaps I shall get away with Esquimaux.

Anyway, Santa was certainly white when Coca Cola invented him.

If Miss Kelly said these words on British television she would probably be fired, by the way. And that, to my mind, is not amusing at all.

I have just remembered that I caught sight of Father Christmas leaving my bedroom once and I am embarrassed to say I refused to disbelieve in his existence until my parents told me he did not. This might weaken my credentials for persuading people to believe in Christianity but in fact as Cardinal Newman said, a Catholic is required to believe in seven impossible things before breakfast. I was simply being a good conservative.

Nelson Mandela, the great conservative

The endless threnody for Nelson Mandela continues to make the front pages for yet another day and this I hope justifies me in writing about him again.

I admit I feel a certain desire to deride Mandela just to show we still have some degree of

freedom left. The ludicrous Mandela cult is linked to this dreadful thing which is taking over the Western world. It's like an invasion by aliens.

Still, Mandela was in many ways admirable and is not responsible for most of the bad things that have happened to South Africa since he came out of the jug. They would have happened without him, when whites ceded power. Let us hope things do not get worse, though they may well do. It was inevitable, sooner or later, that whites would cede power. This is why De Klerk did.

Ian Smith put it best. He said 

'I was right about Mugabe but wrong about Mandela'.

(Is is significant that Mugabe was educated by Jesuits and Mandela by Methodists? It is in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, anyhow. Mandela might have been a Marxist but he was a Protestant Marxist.)

F.W . Klerk comes out of it all best, I think, Mandela very well but the apartheid regime deserves credit too. Unlikeable though the National Party were they saved South Africans, of all races, from Communism. F.W. Klerk  in today's Times gave some of the credit for avoiding civil war to Margaret Thatcher. I think this is fair.

This article by the (former?) Trotskyite Brendan O' Neil, describes how the ANC were taken by surprise by the township violence that started in 1976. In fact if the role of the ANC was to tame the angry young black men this is to the ANC's credit. The ANC is often blamed by right-wingers for the horrific 'necklacings' and other killings and torture that took place in the 1980s but they are fingering the wrong people. The ANC leaders believed in violence in theory, but were not instigators of it or even prepared for it. 

I was particularly struck by this passage: 

The youthful Black Consciousness movement, as it called itself, was centred around university campuses and was also influential among black schoolchildren and teenagers. Its spokespeople were individuals like Stephen Biko, a radical student union and community activist whose contempt for white liberals who pitied oppressed blacks immediately set him apart from the ANC old guard. (Biko would be murdered by Apartheid prison guards in 1977.) As Alistair Kee argues in his essay, ‘Redemption of the Poor: South Africa’, these radical black students of the early 1970s launched a critique not only of ‘liberal white analysis’, but also of ‘the analysis of the ANC’ (1). They were anti-reform, anti-assimilation and impatient. Mandela’s shock at the radicalism of this new cohort of agitated black youth was summed up by his response to the ‘insolence’ their leaders displayed when they were sent to Robben Island in the 1970s: ‘These fellows refused to conform to even basic prison regulations’, he wrote. Asked to remove his cap in the presence of a prison officer, one Black Consciousness leader respond: ‘What for?’ Mandela was shocked: ‘I could hardly believe what I had just heard. It was a revolutionary question: “What for?”’

It has been the fate of many radicals, from Cromwell to Lloyd George and Ramsay Macdonald, to end up conservatives. Even the Communist Tito in his later years slightly resembled the Emperor Francis Joseph, in whose army he had once been enrolled as a private. If Mandela ended up as a curiously conservative figure, that is something truly worth celebrating. 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Genetic differences account for 58% of the differences between pupils' exam scores

An interesting item in today's Independent reveals what the journalist calls 'a bombshell conclusion.'

Researchers from King's College London found that genetic differences account for 58 per cent of the differences between pupils' GCSE exam scores - while environment (home or school) only accounted for 29 per cent.

I would have thought it was no surprise - and only a bombshell to people who have not thought about how much they and their family owe to genes. It has of course great implications for education, psychology and politics but these implications are unwelcome to opinion-formers.

I wrote a little about this here

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Saint Nelson? Or not? Peter Hitchens' view

The orgy of grief for Nelson Mandela reminds me of what Oscar Wilde said about the death of Little Nell. You would need a heart of stone not to laugh.

I was sick to death of the Mandela coverage the moment I heard the news - it brings back the double standards about South Africa in the 80s when the white regime was much better than any of its neighbours. This does not mean I liked apartheid - I loathed it - but I did like white rule - though I recognised it could not last. I liked colonialism and it is the history of colonialism which urgently needs to be understood in our day. Instead clever people of good will believe the white races have done terrible things to the brown and yellow races, when in fact on balance the colonial powers have so much to be proud of.
I never believed in the rule de mortuis nil nisi bono. I looked in vain for Peter Hitchen's comments on the death of Nelson Mandela but he seems to have written nothing. I am posting this link to his summing up of Mandela several years ago.


I just came across this published yesterday by Mr Hitchens, which I missed. It contains this:

Anyone looking at the world in the second half of the 20th Century could see that the harshest and cruellest regimes on the planet were Left-wing ones, in Moscow, Peking and Havana. But the fashionable Western Left will never admit that. They are interested only in ‘Right-wing’ repression and secretly think that Left-wing oppression might actually be justified. 

That is why there was nothing like this fuss on the death of another giant of human liberation, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn was at least as great as Mandela – and, in my view, greater. He never wielded anything more deadly than a typewriter, yet he brought down an Evil Empire, with all its concentration camps, tanks, guns and bombs. But when he died in August 2008, I don’t recall hours of eulogies on the BBC, or his face on every front page. Ask yourselves why.

Another of my recipes for happiness

I came across this by accident, that I wrote last April, and like it.

My recipe for happ
iness: trust in God; good health; a sense of beauty; a passion for books; friends; enjoying your own company; not caring about material things; a good sense of humour; a quick mind; a sense of history; being in Romania; glorious spring weather.

Friday, 6 December 2013

St. Nicholas in Bucharest

Saint Nicholas (Nicolae in Romanian) was a bishop in 4th century Anatolia who had a reputation for giving presents secretly. His cult spread across Europe with many charming legends attached. Today is his feast day and in Catholic and Orthodox countries children receive presents on St Nicholas's Eve, 5th December. 

Santa Claus is a Dutch phrase for the saint and the idea of Santa Claus was taken to North America. He now figures in the global post-Christian commercial hagiography along with St Valentine.

This summer Martin Harris, Mihai Ivanescu and I made a tour of Bucharest churches. The highlight was the church of Mihai Voda, one of the few Bucharest churches that I have visited fairly often. (It's a ten minute stroll from my flat.) 

A clever engineer, Eugen Iordachescu saved it and a number of others from destruction by Communist bulldozers and had it moved on rollers. It is now completely hidden behind apartment blocks. Thank God Eugen Iordachescu had the idea of the rollers and thereby saved a number of fine churches, at least until the next earthquake. Having no foundations they may fall to the ground like a deck of cards. 

But it was the highlight because Martin pointed out 'There is Santa Claus's hand!' and there indeed was St Nicholas's mummified hand. It is not in a very prominent place and I had previously not noticed it.

Is there a black market for stolen holy relics? If so, they should guard it carefully. Stealing holy relics sounds very mediaeval but so do lots of things that happen in this country, which, I suppose, is why I love this place.

Mihai, who once told me that he is not particularly religious, is quite certain that this is indeed St. Nicholas's hand and that someone tried to steal the relic from the church and died in prison on December 6, St. Nicholas's Day. 

I would like to believe that St Nicholas was involved in this death, and in fact can at a stretch, but I very much doubted if it really was the saint's hand and said I would look up how many of his hands are to be found in churches in Europe. 

Yet I was loath to do so. I decided to leave it that it is the saint's hand indeed. But, just as many towns claimed the honour of producing Homer, so relics of St Nicholas are widely distributed in Romania. In St. George's church, not far away, the saint's right hand is preserved in a glass case.

The mourning for Mandela feels almost like the mouning in the USSR for Stalin

I had Mandela fatigue as soon as I saw the news on Facebook last night that the great man had died. Today it reminded me a bit of the mourning in Russia for Stalin. I couldn't help

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The joy of doing nothing

The joy of doing nothing, with a nice empty hotel in the mountains in which to do it. I learnt yesterday that Durkheim said personal time is essentially different from social time and not measured by hours or minutes.

Friday, 22 November 2013


"The experience of Joy for C.S. Lewis was the precursor to an intellectual and moral conversion which culminated in his acceptance first of theism, then full blooded Christianity. Almost from the moment of his conversion to Christianity, Lewis’ life exploded with creativity and prodigious accomplishment. His achievements would not have been possible without his experience of sehnsucht—that intense nostalgia for something lost which had to be found. This sense that fulfillment comes from the recovery or remembrance of things past is at the heart of conservatism, and echoes the wisdom of Plato who taught that all learning was a matter of remembering what we once knew."

Read more here.

This makes me realise how I am not yet converted.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

'Britain and the Beast'

" I am not making a plea for the retention of those repellent, jerry-built, sham-Tudor houses that so disfigure England ; but I do suggest that the reason why people are happy in them, why they take pride in them, is worth studying.

You can't impose theories of living on the English. You may want to if you belong to political parties, either right or left, that have no tenderness for liberty ; you may want to if you are an enthusiastic young architect with views about the ' ideal home' ; but in England you cannot design anything for an ideal society ; you cannot presuppose an inclination on the part of the public to acclaim logic and convenience ; you cannot, even by implication, order the English about, and insist that life has got to be lived in such and such a way ."

- John Gloag (contributor ) - 'Britain and the Beast' (p.199) - Published, 1938

Acknowledgments to Julian Craig for bringing this to my attention.

We are not the men our fathers were

Oh no! David Cameron referred to the Rev. Paul Flowers in the House as the 'the Rev. Flowers'.

I already suspected that most of my generation and the next were uneducated vulgarians but he is the nephew of a baronet. He went to Eton and took a First at Oxford.

Experts are concerned that children's fitness levels are declining

"Experts are concerned that children's fitness levels are declining as a study finds many cannot run as fast as their parents did."

This BBC headline demonstrates the two big problems we face in the rich world. There are far, far too many experts and they are far too concerned about how other people live.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

In defence of the rich

An excellent Boris defence of the rich. "The top one per cent of earners now pay 29.8 per cent of all the income tax and National Insurance received by the Treasury." 

The Silence of Colonel Bramble

I was a very bookish child and my parents worried that I would live life at second-hand. I wonder if I did. Anyhow, when I was fourteen one of my favourite books was The Silence of Colonel Bramble, a very funny and charming book, or so I thought when I was 14. It is one of only two or three books that I tried to read in French. Now when I mention André Maurois people correct me and say you mean Andre Malraux. 

I have just found it on the net and recommend it to you. Dipping into it, its charm has not diminished for me.

' We are a curious nation," said Major Parker. ' To interest a Frenchman in a boxing match you must tell him that his national honour is at stake. To interest an English- man in a war you need only suggest that it is a kind of a boxing match. Tell us that the Hun is a barbarian, we agree politely, but tell us that he is a bad sportsman and you rouse the British Empire." 
" It is the Hun's fault," said the colonel sadly, " that war is no longer a gentleman's game." 
" We never imagined," continued the major, " that such cads existed. Bombing open towns is nearly as unpardonable as fishing for trout with a worm, or shooting a fox." 
"You must not exaggerate, Parker," said the colonel calmly. * They are not as bad as that yet." 
 " But don't you find yourself, Aurelle," went on Major Parker, " that intelligence is over-estimated with you? It is certainly more useful to know how to box than how to write. You would like Eton to go in for noth- ing but learning? It is just like asking a trainer of racehorses to be interested in circus horses. We don't go to school to learn, but to be soaked in the prejudices of our class, without which we should be useless and unhappy. We are like the young Persians Herodotus talks about, who up to the age of twenty only learnt three sciences: to ride, to shoot and to tell the truth."  

"That may be' said Aurelle, "but just see, major, how inconsistent you are. You despise learning and you quote Herodotus. Better still, I caught you the other day in the act of reading a translation of Xenophon in your dug-out. "

A wonderful funny and inspiring book and a handbook for how England should be.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Me nationalism

I met a very nice Hungarian in Mercurea Ciuc who told me his two names were both Hungarian warrior names (one was Levente, the other I forget). I asked him if he were therefore a Hungarian nationalist and he said, 'No. I am a me nationalist, a me and the

The Bucharest I love

Bucharest used to be mostly shops like this fifteen years ago. I have watched the advance of progress here with dismay. Acknowledgements to Bucurest Saizecist and Bucuresti Realist, whose wonderful page I recommend.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Pasajul Englez

Oddly, a couple of hours after seeing this picture on the Bucharest Realist Facebook page and hearing of Pasajul Englez, I accidentally found and walked down Pasajul Englez  - for

Thursday, 14 November 2013


"I've come here more times as prime minister than I've been anywhere other than Belgium." 
- David Cameron , New Delhi , November, 2013 ...

" ... if India should go ... England, from having been the arbiter, would sink into the inglorious playground of the world. Wondering pilgrims would come to see us just as they climb the Acropolis or inspect the Nile... A congested population would lead a sordid existence with no outlet for its overflow, no markets for its manufactures ... swallowed up in a whirlpool of American cosmopolitanism ... our aspirations defined only by a narrow and selfish materialism ... England would become a sort of glorified Belgium."

- Lord Curzon , Birmingham, December, 1907 ...

"In the seventies we tried being Belgium and we didn't like it."

Julie Burchill, sometime in the 1980s

(Acknowledgments to Julian Craig for bringing the first two quotations to my attention.)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

What the Left-wing human rights industry won't tell you about the Roma

My old friend, Tom Gallagher, has started blogging for the Daily Telegraph. He blogs here about Romanian gypsies. I had hoped to become a Telegraph blogger but well done, Tom.

The rather populist headline reminds me that human rights are not at all the innocent or admirable thing they sound - they are mostly about entitlements not rights - and ways of restricting freedoms and democracy. Which brings to mind this conversation.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Romania: living here and writing about it

The heart is the undiscovered country. You travel to a foreign country to discover your unconscious mind.

Laurence Durrell said you have two birthplaces. The place where you are born and the

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Octav Dragan's Bucharest

Octav Dragan has give me permission to reproduce some of his wonderful pictures of Bucharest. His pictures can be found here.

This extraordinarily good picture of Cismigiu at night reminds me of the book illustrations of Jan Pieńkowski.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Today is St Michael and St Gabriel's Day in the Orthodox calendar

Image result for sf mihail gavril

King Michael celebrates his saint's day today. O good old man, how well in thee appears the constant service of the antique world. La mulţi ani, Majestate!

Some poet (a modern, was it Robert Graves?) wrote something about deposed kings with faces seen on much used coins, almost rubbed out, or something.

Today, along with their King, Romanians celebrate angels. Many happy returns of SS Michael and Gabriel's Day to your Majesty and all Mihaelas, Mihailas, Mihais, Gabriels and Gabrielas.

Like last year I have been too lazy to write anything but for details of Romanian traditions about this day click here. The Mihais, Mihailas and Gabis I spoke to had not heard of any of these traditions. But it is a joy to live in a country where saints' days are universally celebrated, even by atheists. Romania is in so many ways more civilised than England.

Archangels and angels are not given very much attention these days by the devout in post-Protestant countries like England or America (one exception is this book by Dr. Martin Israel), but in late antiquity they were very much venerated and still are by Romanians, who understand that religion is about the supernatural.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A mystic solidarity with the land of one’s birth

I just found this quotation from Mircea Eliade. This is probably from his semi-fascist early phase but still it is good.

“Until recently there persisted among Europeans the obscure awareness of a mystic solidarity with the land of one’s birth. It was not a commonplace love of

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Sweden and the decline of the West

On October 1, four candidates to be Archbishop of Uppsala, the highest position in the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden, were interviewed by church officials in front of the media and, among other questions, were asked, “Does Jesus provide a truer picture of God than Muhammad?” Only one of the candidates said that He does. (This candidate came second.)
The woman who got the job, Antje Jackelén, answered:
“One cannot reduce the whole of religious theology, that is to say the question of how different religions relate to one another, to a yes-and-no question. It
amounts to doing violence to a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be found there.”
I would have thought the question could easily have been answered skirting the subject of Muhammad altogether and talking about the divinity of Jesus. Even Hans Kung would agree that Jesus is essential to salvation.

The Archbishop-elect of Uppsala is not to be confused with the Bishop of Stockholm, who is a lesbian, lives with her woman priest partner and is the world's first openly active
homosexual bishop. I am not making this up.

As it happens, I saw my first ever woman priest in 2007 in Stockholm Cathedral. It was a surprise to see a woman priest but I was astonished to see that she was an absolutely beautiful blonde. I hadn't expected that. This seems to me an additional reason to think women cannot be clergy. However, women have been ordained in the Swedish state church for fifty years.

Despite its strongly feminist public culture, Sweden, once a very law-abiding country, has the worst rape figures in Europe. Many rapes are committed by immigrants. The conservative Norwegian blogger Fjordman wrote this very interesting essay, which deserves reading, on the subject of Swedish attitudes to what I call sex but is now called gender.

A day after writing this comes fresh news from Sweden: they are going to introduce ratings to warn about sexism in films.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

King George VI

One of those two wonderful diarists, Sir Harold Nicolson or Sir Henry Channon, said that HM King George VI looked like a Russian icon. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor called the Queen Cookie because she looked like a cook. 

One sees why here. This picture is from the State Opening of Parliament in 1948. They had ceased to be Emperor and Empress of India the year before. When Andrew Roberts asked the Queen Mother what is was like to be Empress of India she replied, 'Very nice'.

The future King George VI on the helter-skelter at the Wembley Exhibition, London 1925
1925 Wembley Exhibition. Imagine Musso, Stalin, or Hitler on a helter-skelter. You can't. FDR maybe.
I think King George VI was so unintelligent as to be not quite but almost mentally retarded, but the majority of his subjects were not clever either. He is one of the few monarchs to have made the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, for telling W.H. Auden 'Abroad is bloody.' Like George III he gloried in the name of Briton. 

He was a good man, not a bully like his father or a cad like his elder brother. When he ascended the throne he reigned over the most powerful and most civilised country in the world. It was left to our present Queen, his daughter, to preside over what we have now.

He was informed of our present Queen's birth while playing golf. A servant brought him a telegram with the news. He read it and then continued his game. I am old enough for this to seem understandable to me because I remember a time before mobile telephones and before fathers attended births.  I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled....

He won admiration for staying in London during the blitz, though A.J.P. Taylor said that while other Londoners stayed there because they had work to do the King and Queen stayed there to be bombed. He had a ration-book like his subjects and at Buckingham Place he ate spam on golden plates. 

He stammered very badly and was very shy. Waugh said his wartime broadcasts to his subjects did not inspire them so much as fill them with fear that he would be unable to finish his sentence. According to Andrew Roberts' very funny essay on him in Eminent Churchillians, he once reviewed a battalion of WRACS who had just landed in Sicily, asking the first: 'When did you arrive in Sicily?' and receiving the reply: 'This afternoon, sir'. He then repeated exactly the same question with the remaining WRACs, receiving the same reply each time.

He was very right-wing, but not a fascist like his brother, King Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor. Sir Oswald Mosley's wife, Lady Diana Mosley, said of the latter, 'Of course, he was much more right-wing than my husband '. 

George VI greatly admired Neville Chamberlain and wanted Lord Halifax, not Churchill, to succeed Chamberlain as Prime Minister. The King thought the National Health Service a bad idea. 'You might as well give people free shoes...' 

He smoked sixty Capstan unfiltered a day and died of lung cancer at the age of 56.

The Queen and Queen Mother never forgave Edward VIII for abdicating. They blamed him for George VI's early death. 

King George VI opening the Festival of Britain in 1951 in the South Bank. The royal family laughed at Mrs. Thatcher's deep curtsies but Churchill's bow seems much deeper than the nod people usually make to the Sovereign nowadays.

Was Winston Churchill a great man?

The short answer is yes, of course. The quotations and the books show a man comparable to the Pitts, Fox, Disraeli or Dr. Johnson. He was a very great war leader who led the UK to victory, but was it a Pyrrhic victory? What if anything was his lasting achievement?

On his last birthday, Churchill said to his daughters:

I have achieved much to have achieved nothing at all.

The Wrong Box

Which is the funniest book of all time in your opinion? 

It might be Decline and Fall, Scoop or A Handful of Dust but it might be this unjustly obscure (and oddly modern) masterpiece by Robert Louis Stevenson and his stepson.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Hallowe'en - and vampires - in Romania

Hallowe'en is an ancient Catholic tradition but now just an excuse to make money and for American cultural imperialism. But whatever you think of it, it has an apostrophe in it, people.

This is what I wrote last year about Hallowe'en in Romania.

This, on the subject of real-life vampires, of whom I have known two or three in Romania, might also be of interest.

Catholics celebrate the unknown saints in heaven on All Saints' Day, November 1. The Secklers in Harghita and Covasna, who are Catholics, on this day dress the tombs of their family members and gather at them with candles - it is a very big occasion. On the eve of All Saints - Hallowe'en - the souls of the dead who are in Purgatory are said by tradition to haunt the earth.

This explains Hallowe'en's Catholic origins and why Protestants don't like it.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

A weekend in the Secklerland

No-one knows what these paintings on the church tower at Csikrakos (Racu) mean. The tower is said to have been built in 1080 though no-one is sure. The most recent theory is that the paintings derive from the pre-Christian religion of the Hungarians and their close cousins the Secklers. Without examining the evidence one just knows this explanation is

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Our Man in Havana

This was first published in Vivid in 2004.

Life in Bucharest has been transformed since the bloody events of December 1989 but three large apartments in a 1960s block in Mihai Eminescu have escaped the changes. Marked only by a discreet  flag and a yawning squaddie on guard they house the Cuban Embassy, a serene place where nothing much has altered since Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania were friendly socialist countries. I was received there recently with

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The strange charm of dereliction

Museum of Archaeology "Vasile Pārvan"

I published this deeply irresponsible article in the Bucharest Daily News back in 2005 and it was and is a cri de coeur. Someone pointed out that it was printed next to a worthy article calling for more investment in infrastructure, by my friend, Dan Visoiu. It is a synopsis in one page of the book I am writing about the Paris of the East.
"Bucharest has a lot to do in order to become a city worthy of the status of a European capital." 
This headmasterly admonishment was made by Jonathan Scheele, the soft-spoken British civil servant who heads the European Commission Delegation in Romania, at last week's "Investment Opportunities in Bucharest" conference.

Am I alone in dreading the day when Bucharest becomes worthy of the status of a European capital? To my mind it's the nicest European capital because it is unworthy of Mr Scheele's esteem. What other capital in Europe is nearly so unself-conscious, so unlike the
rest, so full of energy and shadows and yes so un-European, despite the satanic malls, hypermarkets, highly paid foreign consultants and other horrors of democracy? I know the streets become unfordable rivers when it rains. I know I should be pleased when the
potholes and the broken pavements are renewed with EU pre-accession funding but I am not. Irresponsibly I am elated by a beauty I find in the dereliction and have been since my first visit in 1990.

The wooden Ottoman Bucharest of 1830 where the men wore turbans and kaftans was rebuilt in the late nineteenth century in stucco and brick, its architects paying homage to Paris and an imaginary Orient at the same time. Later came Art Deco buildings that are unequalled anywhere in Europe. Bucharest was up to the minute in architectural terms before the war and ahead of for example Paris herself. But the faux-French surface of Carol I's Bucharest has been badly cracked over the last sixty years.

Nothing in this city apart from a score of churches is old but those parts that escaped the 1980s rebuilding feel more than half as old as time. I haven't passed the Museum of Archaeology for a couple of years ago but then behind its padlocked iron gates half-lost amid tall grass stood a long row of Roman tombs and statues, protected from the rain by a rotting eave. It seemed to me whenever I passed as if the Museum itself were becoming an archaeological object and I were the archaeologist stumbling across it for the first time.

The decrepit fin de siecle villas and filthy Art Deco masterpieces are becoming one by one a real estate broker's dream of avarice as they are painted and varnished to look the way they originally looked. But for me at least the ramshackle way the streets look now, especially under a melancholy November sky, has a greater beauty than when they are new and shiny.

The old town when I moved there five years ago was not a museum but a slum and the one part of Bucharest where you felt you were in the Near East. The gypsies were part of the reason but it went deeper than than. Now especially that it has been pedestrianised it is on the way to being a complex of restaurants and antique shops. When Bucharest starts receiving tourists in numbers it will go the unauthentic way of the historic centre in every other European capital.

Dirty, disreputable, frivolous but gloomy, full of laughter and misery, mercenary and mystical, improvised, exasperating and serendipitous, Bucharest is a city which either repels you or steals your heart. The kiosks which made a Bangladeshi friend of mine compare Bucharest to Dakar have been eliminated at Mr. Basescu's command. So have the packs of occasionally ferocious stray dogs but it will be fifteen or twenty years before Bucharest ceases to feel Third World. When it does will it have become almost as dull as Athens? Very possibly but let us hope if Bucharest must emulate European cities she can become not Athens but Naples.

But one problem cannot wait fifteen years and cannot be romanticised away. The gridlock in the centre of the city gets worse at a tempo so fast that the deterioration can be observed on a weekly basis. Road-widening and road-building unless very sensitive to the city's architectural heritage will destroy Bucharest's semi-rustic character. What after all is the northern stretch of Calea Victoriei than a country lane? Luckily the solution to the traffic problem is easy. Charge motorists for entering the city centre between 8-6 weekdays and encourage Bucuresteni back to their city's excellent public transport system. It worked in London and would work here. Does any politician have the courage to adopt this idea? Mr. Scheele, what do you say?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Ireland, a poor, half-witted, gypsy relative of England

I just came across this brilliant remark about Ireland by Hugh Trevor-Roper, thanks to Henry Hopgood-Phillips. I love it though though I know Trevor-Roper was that most objectionable thing, a Protestant atheist.
'Through all our history she clings to us, a poor, half-witted, gypsy relative, defying our improvement, spoiling our appearances, exposing our pretences, an irredeemable, irrepressible slut, dirty when we are most clean, superstitious when we are most rational, protesting when we are most complacent, and when we are most prosaic, inspired'.

Romanians at work

This article first appeared in Vivid magazine in 2003 and the world it describes has changed enormously, but not completely beyond recognition. 

Romanians have spent thirteen difficult years of transition “encamped like bewilderedtravellers in a garish  and unrestful hotel” in the phrase of Joseph

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

'That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of our time'

John Stuart Mill

That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of our time.

Ronald Firbank 

`O, help me heaven,' she prayed,`to be decorative and to do right.'

'The life of nations, no less than the life of men, is lived largely in the imagination'

Roger Scruton
The fact is that the people of Europe are losing their homelands, and therefore losing their place in the world. I don’t envisage the Tiber one day foaming with much blood, nor do I see it blushing as the voice of the muezzin sounds from the former cathedral of St. Peter. But the city through which the Tiber flows will one day cease to be Italian, and all the expectations of its former residents, whether political, social, cultural, or personal, will suffer a violent upheaval, with results every bit as interesting as those that Powell prophesied. 

Charles Moore

All this [mass immigration] need not be a total disaster. It is possible, though hard, to forge a United Kingdom made up of many ethnicities. Leaders like Mr Cameron are right to try to insist on common standards and better rules, rather than to despair. But whatever it

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The slave trade 'rescued slaves from night-black Africa'

It is clear that there are certain people who are free and certain who are slaves by nature, and it is both to their advantage, and just, for them to be slaves. Aristotle

Embedded image permalink
A former slave named Gordon shows his whipping scars. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863

It would be very interesting and perilous to write the history of the Africans in North America from an objective point of view. 

Slavery, as opposed to serfdom, faded out in Europe by the 12th century and was abolished by the British Empire in 1833 - other countries following us. Outside Europe, slavery had always existed and was probably justifiable in prehistoric times and in primitive tribal societies. Life in such societies was, in any case, nasty, brutish and frequently short.  

Slavery is in the forefront of people's minds these days not because it was a cruel institution, but because it was an example of white people exploiting brown ones. We hear less about the African slaves owned and traded by Arabs. We hear next to nothing about the 23 million Russian serfs, one-third of the Russian population, who greatly outnumbered the fewer than four million American slaves and who were freed in 1861 by Czar Alexander II. 

At school we might have heard of the English thralls, including those enslaved by the pagan Danes, but one rarely hears of the white slaves captured by the Barbary pirates, or of slavery in India or China. Slavery in China was abolished in 1909 but continued until 1949 under the Nationalists. Under Chinese Communism it continues to this day, of course - the slaves are nowadays prisoners. In its more traditional form, slavery continues in Mali and other parts of Muslim Africa.


Slavery is therefore not something for which only Europeans, and in particular the British and Americans, are to be blamed. On the contrary, Europeans, in particular the British and to a lesser extent the Americans, can be credited with its abolition.

However terrible slavery in the Americas was, and it certainly very often was (as was serfdom in Europe), slavery was an African institution, as it was an institution in most primitive societies, which whites adopted. The African slaves were enslaved by other Africans, who sold some of the slaves to white men. 

Slavery is barbaric, but it brought African slaves to civilisation, as a very good interview with the (black) Governor-General of Jamaica in the Spectator reminds us.  I cannot forbear to quote a few lines from it:
As we waited for the tea, Cooke began to speak in patriotic terms of Jamaica as a colony of "marvellous antiquity", far older even than British India or Australia. 
"Now hear me on this. When Australia was just a convict settlement, Jamaica was an established outpost of British commerce and British civilisation. "Civilisation? "Yes," he replied. "Even during slavery the British were sending some very good people out to Jamaica . . . missionaries, reformers . . . but, as I said, to Australia, just convicts." 
"But Jamaica was a brutal place . . . the plantation," I said. 
Cooke was not going to condone slavery, was he? 
"Well, neither am I going to harp on about the wickedness of slavery. Jamaica's greatness was due entirely to slavery." 
Yes, the iniquities; yes, the horrors; but slavery, for all its manifest brutality, had rescued Cooke and his forebears from "night-black" Africa and shown them "true" (that is, British) civilisation.
Sir Howard Cooke is a British patriot to put both the BNP and British intellectuals to shame.

An interesting proof of the civilising effects of slavery is that the freed American slaves who settled Liberia did not intermarry with the natives but treated them as coolies and regarded themselves as representatives of a higher civilisation, which of course they were. I remember people wrote about Liberia as the first free black African country, when it was in fact the last colony. The rule of the 'Americo-Liberians', the black colonists, was only ended in 1980, by a military coup.

I once outraged a liberal Anglican parson friend of mine, who was a very intelligent trained philosopher, when I suggested slavery was a relative rather than an absolute evil. He congratulated himself that he did not think like this, but I have never known how Christians can square the idea of slavery as an absolute evil with the fact that the Old Testament takes it for granted and approves of it. I recently came across, thanks to Mr. Valentin Dimitrov, this very interesting explanation of why slavery might have been morally acceptable in the time of King David and later but not in America in the 18th or 19th centuries. 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Bishop Spong and the death of God

I came across these insightful words by John Shelby Spong, about priests facing the congregation, which seem accurate. Spong is the wildly liberal bishop of the Episcopalian Church in the U.S.A. 

"This shift has become almost universal in liturgical churches over the last fifty years. Though it seems a minor change and has been defended by proponents in a variety of ways, it signifies to me the gradual realization of the death of theism. The priest or pastor with his or her back to the people is addressing the

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hague and Cameron should resign, because of what they did to Libya and what they wanted to do to Syria

William Hague and David Cameron are both very able men indeed - especially William Hague - but they should resign because of what they did to Libya and for losing the vote on Syria. Mr. Hague at least should go. But they do not face even a vote of confidence.

Bombing Syria would not have been about chemical weapons, as far as Mr. Hague and Mr. Cameron are concerned, but a way to achieve regime change. For Mr. Obama, an