Monday, April 30, 2007

Delphic oracles

One advantage of going to Greece in April is having the beaches to oneself. Fabulous sunshine although the sea was rather cool. En route from Lefkada, I stopped at Delphi, the omphalos or "navel" of the ancient world where two eagles dispatched by Zeus met, thereby officially establishing the geographical centre of the world. The oracle there, pronounced by a priestess in the Temple of Apollo, was consulted by people far and wide from 1100BC to 300AD and her words were paid for handsomely with elaborate offerings. The bronze statue of the charioteer was presented with full chariot and horses (none of which have survived to the same extent) by Galon, tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily in 478BC as thanks for the oracle's advice which enabled him to defeat the Carthaginians in the battle of Himera in 480BC. Not all the oracles at that time were so propitious, however, or perhaps it was because they were generally rather vague and open to wide interpretation. Anyway, when the Athenians asked for advice in the face of the Persian advance, they were told to trust in the "wooden wall" which they took to mean the navy. They therefore evacuated the civilian population, leaving only the treasurers and priestesses on the Acropolis to guard the possessions of the gods. As a result, the Persians marched in and burnt down the city. The Parthenon which we know and love today was built thirty years later.

Friday, April 20, 2007

non timeo Danaos

Off to Greece for a week. Back 30 April.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A racing uncertainty

Gordon Brown's unwilling to back the privatisation of the Tote because a private equity company's in the management consortium bidding for it and he doesn't want to annoy the unions ahead of the leadership "contest". Tessa Jowell's not having much luck at the moment...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Will he or won't he?

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is deciding whether to stand for President of Turkey. This is worrying as his Islamist tendencies go against the principles, the Six Arrows, on which Kemal Ataturk founded the republic.
The Six Arrows were republicanism (moving away from the multi-cultural Ottoman Empire to the nation state of Turkey), populism (no class privileges and an introduction of women’s rights including the right to vote), secularism (not only a separation of religion from state but also religion from educational, cultural and legal affairs and a banning of headscarves), reformism (modernising traditional institutions), nationalism (which preserved the independence of the Republic of Turkey and respected the right to independence of all other nations) and statism (whereby the state should regulate the economy and engage in areas where there was no private enterprise).
Mr Erdogan’s wife wears a headscarf. He was imprisoned for reciting an Islamic poem in public which included the lines, “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers..." He’s now trying to make out that he’s not as hard-line as people believe and is saying that he won’t bring his wife to official functions. Some compromise!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happy Danes

King Canute would be jumping in his mortuary chest in Winchester cathedral at today's news that Denmark is the happiest country in Europe. He oversaw a Danish realm which incorporated England, Norway, south Sweden and parts of Finland. It went downhill after his reign and later sided with Napoleon which resulted in its losing Norway and Helgoland and this loss of land and nerve arguably resulted in its neutrality in both World Wars. This was not such a smart move, however, as it was occupied by the Germans from 1940-45. Nowadays its population is only 5m and what makes them happy is a 37 hour working week, one year's maternity/paternity leave, nearly half of which is at full pay and subsidised childcare. They also refused the Euro. The survey's result seems to answer the most famous Danish question:"To be or not to be?"

Monday, April 16, 2007

Beauty and the beast

The garden at Easter rather overshadowed my simnel cake, some of whose 11 marzipan apostles were rather charred on top whilst it was neglected for too long under the grill.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Play the game

I wonder whether the Government officials who allowed the sailors to sell their stories to the press have read Sir Henry Newbolt's poem:

There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! play up! and play the game!'”

The sand of the desert is sodden red,
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
“Play up! play up! and play the game!'”

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the School is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind
“Play up! play up! and play the game!'”

Thursday, April 12, 2007


The Limehouse lynchers have been caught! So many racing bikes were being stolen along that path that the police took action. A plain-clothed policeman cycled along it in the early evening and was set upon by the three robbers, whereupon eight policemen jumped out of the bushes and caught them, not without a fight which resulted in one robber going into hospital.
Mark Langford died in a car crash in Spain on Monday. He had been the CEO of Accident Group and was worth £75m before the company went bust. He enraged his 2500 employees by informing them of this by text: "Urgent. Unfortunately salaries not paid. Please do not contact office. Full details to follow later." It subsequently emerged that the company directors had shared £11.8m in dividends just before the bankruptcy whilst the employees received no redundancy payments.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Chinese chips

My Easter was rather a cooking marathon whose highlights were a flaming baked alaska, a simnel cake and a rhubarb meringue pie. The rhubarb crop in my garden is prolific, rather more so than the asparagus whose harvest has so far totalled two spears. McDonald's potato supplier, Simplot, has spent the last twenty years improving its potato farms in China, mainly in Inner Mongolia which is on the same latitude as Idaho. When they arrived in China in 1988, most farms used a horse and plough and Simplot persuaded them to join together to justify the investment in tractors and fertiliser machinery. Ten years ago they dealt with 1000 suppliers, now they have just 100 but these 100 produce one billion fries per year: not a bad yield.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Happy Easter

to all my readers. Back next Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Welsh wonder

Now here’s a question for my Welsh readers: are you fans of Bryn Terfel? I heard him sing the part of Gianni Schicchi at Covent Garden last night and he stole the show. What a man and what a voice! This is a Puccini vignette which they’re showing in a double-bill with Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole and it is great fun. The Puccini story is that Buoso Donati dies and his family are looking forward to getting their hands on the inheritance, only to discover that he’s left everything to the local monastery. “Nobody would have predicted that real tears would flow on Buoso’s death.” To cut a long story short, Gianni Schicchi (not a member of the family) is brought in to see if he can change the will and he ends up masquerading as the dying Buoso and dictating a new will to the family lawyer. Of course, not all goes as the family has planned and although they get various parts of the estate which they’ve requested, the house in Florence, the much coveted mule and the mills which they each desperately want go to….Buoso’s “devoted friend Gianni Schicchi.”

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The colour of infinity

There is a piece of orange and yellow damask covering the top of the sideboard in my dining room and on that are a few favourite ornaments including a silver bowl whose sides slope inwards and then outwards. The consequence of this is that the upper part of the bowl is reflected in the lower part ad infinitum. From the perspective of the dining table, the bowl appears to be not silver at all but a myriad of orange and yellow, apart from the oval point of infinite reflection which is matt black.

Monday, April 02, 2007


It’s funny how life turns out. When I was young I wanted to have six children. As it happens, I have none but I do have six godchildren, five girls and a boy, who give me much pleasure. This year’s annual pantomime trip for my Gloucestershire goddaughter, Emily and her twin brothers, Harry and Hugh, had to be delayed until virtually Easter but it was worth the wait to see Mary Poppins. We were entranced by the set effortlessly transforming from the interior of 17 Cherry Tree Lane to the park with its wrought iron gates and lively statues to the rooftops with chimneys glistening in the moonlight. We hooted with laughter when the kitchen descended into absolute chaos whilst the cook was out. We were cheered and impressed by the enthusiasm and energy of the chimneysweeps’ dance, particularly when one of them walked vertically up the side of the stage, continued upside-down along the top and then back down the other side. We were amazed when Mary Poppins, holding her umbrella of course, literally flew high above the audience. The ice creams in the interval were jolly good too.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Spring has sprung