The mowing of a field

This passage, the opening lines of an essay by Hilaire Belloc, was one of those pieces we were shown at school, some 50 years ago, as an example of fine English writing.  I have just discovered it again accidentally through the benign agency of the great Project Gutenberg.  I find that I still agree with the judgement.rural-scene

THERE is a valley in South England remote from ambition and from fear, where the passage of strangers is rare and unperceived, and where the scent of the grass in summer is breathed only by those who are native to that unvisited land. The roads to the Channel do not traverse it; they choose upon either side easier passes over the range. One track alone leads up through it to the hills, and this is changeable: now green where men have little occasion to go, now a good road where it nears the homesteads and the barns. The woods grow steep above the slopes; they reach sometimes the very summit of the heights, or, when they cannot attain them, fill in and clothe the coombes. And, in between, along the floor of the valley, deep pastures and their silence are bordered by lawns of chalky grass and the small yew trees of the Downs.

The clouds that visit its sky reveal themselves beyond the one great rise, and sail, white and enormous, to the other, and sink beyond that other. But the plains above which they have traveled and the Weald to which they go, the people of the valley cannot see and hardly recall. The wind, when it reaches such fields, is no longer a gale from the salt, but fruitful and soft, an inland breeze; and those whose blood was nourished here feel in that wind the fruitfulness of our orchards and all the life that all things draw from the air.

In this place, when I was a boy, I pushed through a fringe of beeches that made a complete screen between me and the world, and I came to a glade called No Man’s Land. I climbed beyond it, and I was surprised and glad, because from the ridge of that glade, I saw the sea. To this place very lately I returned.

From: Hilaire Belloc The mowing of a field; in Modern Essays, selected by Christopher Morley 1921



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The trumpet sounds

For all that he swears in public that he will stay on as candidate for the presidency, Mr Trump conveys a different impression.  To me he looks like a man trying on a role for size; it intrigues him, just as he wants to see how far he can get in it – and yes, get away with it – without really lusting for the White House.  He’s probably not given too much thought to what he would do if he were elected in November.  Despite the blustering promises to take clamant action from Day One, Mr Trump is not really looking that further ahead.  Rather, he is in the moment, and loving it, and being brazen about it, not particularly caring who comes with him in the storyline, but alert to the risk of getting bored by this whole show.

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Why are we voting?

Now that the Brexit campaigns are winding down, we are entitled to ask what they were all about.  Not Europe; not even migration.  Judging by what ordinary people going about their lives in front of the media’s lens had to say, the EU referendum offered an opportunity to lash out against the ‘way things are going’: turbo-capitalism, globalisation, inequality, the standard of living, genteel deprivation; above all, a chance to wonder aloud, who makes the decisions that affect me and mine without any participation by me?  “You work, we rule, they said.  We worked, they ruled./ They fooled the tenements. All men were fooled.” (from Empires, by Douglas Dunn).  Whatever the result of the vote tomorrow, this sullen bewilderment and anger has to be addressed, and healed.

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Referendum blues

Ever careful not to be seen as partisan in the Brexit debate, the BBC sallies into the streets to find out what ‘ordinary people’ think.  Presumably they edit the pieces so that we get a truly unbiased view of what the vox pop is saying.  What is astonishing is the number of times respondents claim that they do not know which way to vote in the referendum because they do not feel adequately informed.  Given the amount of coverage in the media, how can this be?  Where have they been? If they end up in the polling booth with only a very superficial knowledge of the issues involved, how far does that invalidate the result?

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Windsor tenacity

Looking at the newly published pictures of HM The Queen and her three male heirs in line of succession, I am reminded that some time ago I posted some speculative trivia predicting how the British throne would pass from generation to generation. Let’s try that again. Continue reading

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Jefferson on French ladies

Thomas Jefferson on the difference in life styles between Frenchwomen and American ladies Continue reading

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Why do the people?

One by one, rich Western democracies have been undergoing voters’ revolts against the status quo: populist insurgencies overturning party political norms and taking bites out of allegedly uncaring, washed-up governing elites.  Continue reading

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La reine le veult

Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II

So the queen is alleged to favour Brexit.  Whether or not she does side with the Outs doesn’t matter.  As monarch, she is not supposed to have any political opinions at all.  Or, to be more specific, Elizabeth Windsor can think what she likes; Elizabeth II on the other hand must remain neutral and silent on any such issue.  That is what constitutional monarchy means.

We the people have reminded the monarchy about this on several occasions, notably in 1215, 1649, 1688-1689, 1834 and 1936.  As a recent play pointed out, it will be a rule that Charles III should bear in mind from the very beginning of his reign.  Not too difficult, surely.

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Brexit Now?

Dammit, it’s happened again.  Every time I want to post something intelligent about current affairs, a columnist writes up the same issue far more quickly and fluently than I ever could.  The worst offender is Simon Jenkins.  He writes like an angel, clearly works fast and I agree with almost everything he says.  Now it’s Jonathan Freedland on the subject of the sovereignty of postmodern states.

“The UK has not somehow lost its sovereignty by being in the EU. Parliament can simply repeal the European Communities Act of 1972 and we’d be out. MPs could do it now without a referendum if they wanted. Such is the power of a sovereign nation.”

Can this be true?   If it is, let’s think it through.  It is surely the case that if David Cameron loses the referendum – that is, the Leavers win – then he would have to resign, or, if he doesn’t, be subjected to a vote of No Confidence in the House.  The Conservatives being well and truly split on the Brexit issue, there is no guarantee that he would survive this.  He or Osborne would have to go to the country.

That means a dissolution followed by a general election fought on the basis of this single issue.  Labour would fight that election, on the case for staying in, by arranging a tactical single-issue coalition with the SNP (for a price) and picking up some Tory votes as well.  If that coalition wins, the 1972 Act remains on the statute book and Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister.  The Corn Laws all over again.  Have I got this right?


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Looking backwards

Years ago it was still possible to make use of a direct train service between Oxford and Cambridge. A single-track two-carriage diesel unit ambled slowly from village to village or hamlet halt along the way, crossing the West Coast main line at Bletchley. Now the track has been cut down into unconnected lengths and it is the X5 five counties coach service that runs several times a day between the two ancient cities; beloved by me, who went to school in Oxford and university in Cambridge.

One thing that the coach does not offer, however, is a rear view for passengers. Taking the train always held out the opportunity to move to the back and take one of the rearward facing seats there. There was nothing quite like slumping there, with the sound of the diesel engine burbling underfoot, and watching beneath half-shut eyelids the countryside slip by through the hot, sunny afternoon, the farms and copses steadily receding towards a flat East Anglian horizon.

Remembering those summer journeys is to recall how the bridges and signal boxes appeared to view, now large beside the track, then dwindling away to vanishing point as the train ambled inexorably onwards, leaving all such features behind. So it has been throughout the years between there and here, then and now, as receding distance exacts its toll on what we think important, resizing all the events and interpretations of our lives to features newly dimensioned, to be resized in turn, all along the track.

Looking backwards redraws our history. By comfort or threat it diminishes what we once thought of as great. But it only works if you acknowledge its basic reality: that all the while you are watching the past recede, with all the various regrets and rewards that brings, you are inescapably travelling forward towards a different perspective, with its own gifts and anguish still to come.

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