The Writing on Our Wall

Rembrandt, Belshazzar’s Feast c. 1636 Oil on canvas National Gallery, London. Image: WGA

“We are leaving the EU and there will not be a second referendum”  (UK Treasury, 17 October 2017)

The handwriting on the wall that spoiled Belschazzar’s party and was interpreted by the Jewish prophet Daniel for the terrified, incompetent king of Babylon, translates roughly as:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians
(Holy Bible, Daniel 5:26–28)

More than an angry god, more than truth and justice, more than the costs of redecorating the wall, the average person fears owning up to a stupid mistake. Our elected representatives owe it to us to be bigger than their individual selves.

“THERE ARE FEW, VERY FEW, THAT WILL OWN THEMSELVES IN A MISTAKE”
Jonathan Swift

Our days are numbered.

REVERSE BREXIT
SAVE US ALL

 

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Lying in our hearts

Tired, wannabe Cassandra delegates living, influential, paid voices like this one (Patrick Cockburn in The Independent) to persuade friends and countrymen to get over the referendum and move on to saving all the living inhabitants, and future generations, of this shrinking island.

Defying and rejecting the result of last year’s opinion poll, changing our minds, admitting we were wrong – except in protesting that the EU needs monitoring and reform, just like all states, institutions and individuals on the planet – would be morally courageous, a collective act of heroism to save our children and their children, so why don’t we do it?

Horse Frightened by a Storm, watercolour by Eugene Delacroix, 1824. Image source: WGA

Does the Voice of the People only respond to the owner’s call?

In any other species, the self-preservation instinct would prevail – horses wouldn’t jump the Brexit fence, cats would turn their noses – so why do we carry on pretending we want to do it?

Or do we want Theresa to do our dirty work, and die with BREXIT lying in her heart?

Mary Tudor, queen of England and Ireland, by Antonis Mor, 1554. Image: Wikipedia
Though it is disputed that she said
“When I am dead and opened, you shall find ‘Calais’ lying in my heart”,
the implication that “Bloody Mary”, her conscience clear about
burning people alive, was tormented by guilt about the loss of
English empire in France, is touching.
In her rational Renaissance mind, the part uninfected by fanaticism, this dutiful woman who believed she was carrying out the Will of God,
knew we were stronger staying in Europe.
She was as devoted to the national interest as her more successful and popular half-sister, Elizabeth I.

Neither the 16th Century’s Will of God nor the 21st Century’s Will of The People are infallible; they are not sanctified by reason or ethics, they are bombast, slogans to sell shoddy policies and shameful desires.

Theresa is easily bullied and derided, she’s neither an orator nor a charmer, she is neither spontaneous nor profound, she does not please Leavers or Remainers, can’t trust anyone around her because they want her job, so we need her to be brave, braver than any British politician since Churchill, we need her to carry on containing Brexit in the national interest, until it stops completely.

The battle is ruining her health, we can all see that saving Britain could kill her, but sacrifice, not self-interest, should be the measure of anyone who would rule.

 

Give them back their future

If you were young, how would you be feeling about your future, decided by your elders in a badly informed opinion poll last year?

Past and Present, No. 2 1858 by Augustus Leopold Egg 1816-1863Augustus Leopold Egg Past and Present, No 2 1858. Image: Tate

Two orphaned sisters are reduced to poverty and despair because of the actions of their parents. The elder girl is now responsible for both their fates, and neither she nor we see any hope for her as she looks yearningly at the moon.

On Saturday’s Unite For Europe march, the intelligence and passion of three speakers (Ismaeel Yaqoob, Elin Smith, Felix Milbank) representing Students for EU moved the crowd in Parliament Square and along Whitehall as in turn they pleaded eloquently for isolationist, zenophobic Brexit to be reversed so they can have their futures back.

The New Cosette, marching to Unite for Europe on 25 March, 2017 © Martin Hübscher

In 1858, Egg told another tale of an older generation’s betrayal of the young. A whole family, father, mother and two children, are victims of unfair, unnatural social rules designed by patriarchy to benefit itself.

Continue reading

The air in my country

“The air in my country is very foul”
Ian McEwan, at a press conference in Barcelona, March, 2017

Pieter Breughel the Elder, The Fall of the Rebel Angels 1562
Oil on oak, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. Image: WGA

“Now is not the time to obstruct the will of the people” Theresa May in the House of Commons, 2017.

“Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country’s most urgent needs.” Robespierre, in a speech to the National Convention, 1794.

Robespierre

The embodiment of the people ‘s will, and the exponent of State terrorism: Maximilien Robespierre, smiling his sweet megalomaniac’s smile, before the Revolution.
Maximilien Robespierre, oil on canvas by Pierre-Roch Vigneron, 1786; in the Museum of French History, Palace of Versailles. Image: Britannica.com

We are being bullied into acquiescence with a disastrous rupture with Europe. Our economy and civilization are being degraded, people we love might be torn from us, and we are told to be silent.

Brexit is being imposed upon us in a reign of Terror, in which dissent is suppressed and the rule of law threatened.

“Any institution which does not suppose the people good, and the magistrate corruptible, is evil.” Robespierre

“Enemies of the people” Daily Mail denouncing the judges of the High Court who upheld Gina Miller’s case for parliamentary sovereignty.

Our centuries’ old representative parliamentary democracy is broken, smashed under the weight of public opinion polls and political opportunism.

This is not democracy; this is authoritarianism.

If you don’t like Brexit, and you love your country, don’t shut up.  Never stop protesting.

“It is the right of those of us who voted to remain to continue to speak for what we believe is in our country’s best interest and not allow ourselves to be cowed into silence.” Ian McEwan, March, 2017

the rape of europaDetail from The Rape of Europa, bronze by Il Riccio (Andreo Briasco), 1520.
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest. Image: WGA

DON’T LEAVE, TIFFANY

DOING THE MACARENA TO CATASTROPHE

IF ONLY IT WAS A BAD DREAM

ALFRED’S DOOMS

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Alfred’s dooms

AlfredJewel

Drawing of the Alfred Jewel, incribed “AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN” (Alfred ordered me to be made). The gold, quartz and enamel jewel, two and a half inches (6.4cm) long, was discovered in Somerset in 1693. The figure of a man holding two flower-like sceptres is thought to represent Sight or the Wisdom of God. Image: Wikipedia

Alfred, King of Wessex from 871 to 899, the man who let the cakes burn because he was too busy thinking about how to run the country, liberated the Anglo-Saxons from Viking oppression and, crucially, made peace with the Danish immigrants.

Maintaining close political, economic and cultural links to mainland Europe was central to Alfred’s policy.

He saw strength in unity, not in division.

He believed that educating the English, especially those training for high office, in Latin as well as their own language was essential to English influence and future protection of rights: “All the sons of freemen who have the means to undertake it should be set to learning English letters, and such as are fit more advanced education and are intended for high office should be taught Latin also.”

Alfred the Great is the only English king to be a hero of parliamentary rights and American Independence. His codification of English laws, his ‘Deemings’ or Doom book (Book of Laws), dated circa 893, were the foundation of English Common law, established, according to Thomas Jefferson, “while the Anglo-Saxons were yet pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced or that such a character existed.”

“Parliament is sovereign and the guardian of our democracy.” (Philip Colvin QC)

Today, 1000 British lawyers have delivered a letter to the government protesting the illegality of the EU Referendum, and that it was not held in the long-term interests of the people.

The British Government might have breached the 2015 European Referendum Act. This is the same government so swaddled in its own tax-funded cocoon that it completely misjudged the public’s disaffection, palpable to the rest of us, when it called for a Referendum to appease its own right wing, never dreaming, apparently, that it would lose the vote.

A series of blunders is determining our national destiny.

Alfred was a centralizing ruler who promulgated democratic rights: “Doom very evenly! Do not doom one doom to the rich; another to the poor! Nor doom one doom to your friend; another to your foe!” (from Alfred’s Doom Book).

Alfred was a secular Christian, not a bigot. He saw Christianity, and Latin civilization, primarily as a tool for restoring and improving standards of education, government and culture in lands devastated by ignorant marauders, not as moral bullying to stamp out other beliefs.

Alfred and his achievements survived the cult that the Victorians, in their self-righteous way, made of him in their own image. Like God, Alfred was turned into a genteel, bearded C of E patriot in fancy dress. The probability remains that he was still England’s greatest king.

The amazing thing about Alfred is that, unlike Arthur, the legendary Romano-British king of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, he lived in flesh and fact, not as a projection of hopes for national destiny, not an amalgam of shadowy warriors and fictional constructs, not an allegory, but a reality.

His head was on the coins, which were inscribed AELFRED REX and were highly valued currency.

Arthur shows us what imagination and idealism can achieve, the eternal quest for meaning, the beautiful yearning, the divine poignant pointlessness of being human – he shows us the picture of our souls – while Alfred shows us the template for good government.

Alfred proves you really can provide an enlightened programme of arts and education reform alongside a sound economy, fair legal system, peaceful foreign policy and a strong, properly equipped army and navy.

Good government is worth a few burnt cakes.

At a time when England has no leadership, when the United Kingdom is threatened with internal division, adrift and friendless in northern seas, where the weather gets worse every year, Alfred is one of the few statesmen whose reputation is untarnished.

If you want to be loved and respected, it helps to be a ninth century king, so far away that not even a Chilcot Enquiry can touch you.

This blog is haunted by untouchable dead people, all of them known unknowns, their thoughts and feelings impertinently second-guessed.

Let’s imagine, for instance, what Elizabeth I would have done with a woman called Andrea who told her that she wasn’t fit to be queen because she was not a mother with a stake in her country’s future. Some form of time-warped justice has been done, because Leadsom has been hoist with her own petard.

Elizabeth I with Father Time
Allegorical Portrait of Elizabeth I, painted about seven years after her death.
Childless Gloriana mulls regretfully over the legacy of her reign – and she was one of the best statesmen Britain has ever had.
Pearls drip heavily from her clothes while Old Father Time dozes behind her on the right; Death grins over her left shoulder and two elongated, middle-aged looking putti fly in to remove the crown from her head.
Never before or since has sovereignty looked so tired.
English School, c. 1610. Image: Pinterest

What would Alfred, the far-sighted man in the jewel, see now? Unity, tolerance, fairness, higher education, science, art, economy, trade, justice all under threat again; a record of social inequality and shameful foreign wars.

He would see that a series of blunders is determining national destiny.

A divided people have been led by fools in a bloodless remake of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Great Britain has voted itself to be one of the “what-ifs” of history.

There is hope, enshrined in law and democratic rights, initiated by Alfred’s one thousand year old deemings:

“For all of these reasons, it is proposed that the government establishes, as a matter of urgency, a royal commission or an equivalent independent body to receive evidence and report, within a short, fixed timescale, on the benefits, costs and risks of triggering article 50 to the UK as a whole, and to all of its constituent populations. The parliamentary vote should not take place until the commission has reported.”

Parliamentary sovereignty must be upheld. It is the heart of our democratic constitution, fought for and refined over centuries. Democracy is not an advisory X Factor public vote of 52 -48. Continue reading

If only it was a bad dream

The country you live in is changed

CamelotIdyllsoftheKing_3CAMELOT: Gustave Doré, illustration to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, 1868

extracts from an article in The Guardian by IAN McEWAN:
“The country you live in, the parliamentary democracy that ruled it, for good or bad, has been trumped by a plebiscite of dubious purpose and unacknowledged status
. From our agriculture to our science and our universities, from our law to our international relations to our commerce and trade and politics, and who and what we are in the world – all is up for a curious, unequal renegotiation with our European neighbours. How did we get to this? What can you do?

…. we’re almost evenly split. One third wants to leave, fractionally less than a third wants to stay, and a third doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Seventeen million against 16 million. Each full of contempt for the other. And on this basis and unlike any other country in the world, we are about to redraft our constitution and much else besides.

….the lies that needed to be told to gain the result. The £350m a week that would become available to the NHS; that we could halt immigration from Europe and remain in the single market….

Meanwhile, the economy is in decline, the pound is drifting towards parity with the dollar, the jobless lines are lengthening. Racists and xenophobes are gripped by an elated sense of entitlement….

IT WAS ALL A BAD DREAM….”

idyllsofthekingLargeDoré, illustration to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, 1868.
Vivien leaves Merlin sleeping in the oak tree in which she has ensnared him “and the forest echoed ‘fool'”.

Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm
Of woven paces and of waving hands,
And in the hollow oak he lay as dead,
And lost to life and use and name and fame.

   Then crying “I have made his glory mine,”
And shrieking out “O fool!” the harlot leapt
Adown the forest, and the thicket closed
Behind her, and the forest echoed “fool.”
From Alfred Tennyson, ‘Merlin and Vivien’, Idylls of the King

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A Regency Romance (3)

revolutionary baloonFashion, Transport, Political and Sexual Revolution in on one balloon: a gentleman and lady, waving the tricolore with a perfectly true to Regency Romance “arch” expression on her face, in a fashion plate from Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1797. Image: Dames a la Mode

The real Regency was the most elegant time in history to be alive – if you were rich and fashionable.

It was also a time of violent psychological and social upheaval during almost constant continental war, revolution and counter-revolution, of increased national danger and private suicides, of intellectual and emotional struggle, of technological innovation and female emancipation, of radical changes in fashion and education, of mass consumerism and society scandals, of experiments in free love and drug abuse, of famine and rural poverty, of volcanic eruptions and climate change.

The sense of anxiety reached into the heart of middle England where Jane Austen’s heroines  were embarking on perilous journeys of self-examination, and where Marianne Dashwood fell into the emotional abyss.

Women’s Rights beyond the domestic sphere had been declared, but for most of the female sex of the middling and upper classes, the competitive marriage market, for all its humiliations and disappointments, was the lesser of two evils, the other being poverty.

The working poor woman had no elegant choice to make: she worked, she mated, she mothered, she cooked, she cleaned, she worked in a cycle of drudgery. Her alternative was destitution.

The rituals of polite society masked the sordid reality that women were being sold into a luxurious form of slavery, without rights to keep their own property and money when they wed. Men’s financial interest even more than gender discrimination kept women subservient.

At its best, making a good marriage was similar to modern film and theatre casting, decided by who’s related to whom, who’s got money, connections or the most powerful matchmaker/agent behind them, who’s good at manipulating opportunity, who cares enough to run the gauntlet.

Yet women were allowed the power of influence, some of them were acknowledged (by a brave minority) to be the equals, even on rare occasions the superiors, to men in their wit and intelligence, their literary, acting and artistic talents, their philanthropic work and housekeeping acumen.

Like her ancestresses, Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Beatrice and Congreve’s Millamant, the Regency Romance heroine outdazzles her beau with her wit, she wears the trousers metaphorically at least, even while she likes leaning on a strong masculine arm. Theirs is an essentially camp relationship.

There was more hypocrisy, but less compartmentalization, about sexuality and gender. It was the age of the dandy, after all, and when an actress (Siddons) and a princess (Charlotte) were notable for showing more positive masculine attributes than most men.

In many ways, Jane Austen was at odds with the Regency period in which her novels were published. She was torn between the self-expressive freedom of Romanticism and the moral patterns of the earlier Enlightenment, where the landscaped gardens and elegant columns of Pemberley belong.

Charlotte Brontë was born the year before Austen died and grew up to hate her books and everything they represented about the repression of female sexuality.

That was understandable but unfair, because Austen’s couples enjoy, after a struggle, realistically happy unions, while the Brontës’ creations, for all the blazing emancipated passion and voices calling across the moor, do not. Austen wrote prose, prosaically. For her, getting your man didn’t mean having to maim, blind and nurse him. He was allowed a past you didn’t know about, a club you weren’t allowed to enter – not an ideal modern marriage, but with more space than most.

Independence was not yet attainable, but a truce, even a peace, was within the art of the possible..

Jane Austen used irony as a tool with which to open a window on human life, not as a shield to hide behind.  Romantic infatuation was a trap, not an escape. Continue reading