Friday, August 30, 2013

Bad joke of the day

This guy was so lonely he decided to have a pet. He went to the pet shop and said he wanted an unusual pet. After some discussion, he finally bought a centipede which came in a little white box for use as its house. He took the box back home, found a good spot for it and decided he'd start off by taking his new pet to a bar for a drink.
"Would you like to come for a beer at Frank's with me?" he asked the centipede.
There was no answer. After a few minutes he asked again, "How about coming to the bar with me for a drink?"
Again there was no answer from his new pet. He waited a few minutes more, thinking about the situation. He decided to ask once more, this time putting his face up against the centipede's house and shouting, "HEY YOU IN THERE! WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO TO FRANK'S PLACE AND HAVE A BEER WITH ME?"
A little voice came out from the box...
"I heard you the first time. I'm putting my bloody shoes on!"

Thursday, August 29, 2013

An expensive six months

My Taiwanese friend told me about a broking company which took a Taiwanese corporate on a roadshow to Hong Kong. When they were there and had checked in, the Taiwanese complained to the broker (whose company was paying for the accommodation) about the hotel. At 1.30am the CEO rang the broker in her hotel room to say he'd found rooms for all of them, including the broker, at the Four Seasons Hotel and they were all moving hotel with immediate effect.
The final bill from the Four Seasons was a large multiple of the hotel expenses envisaged by the broker and she suggested to her company that the corporate should foot the bill. Her boss was outraged: the client should not pay! He told her to bring the bill back to the office. Looking at the sum involved, he saw her point. He refused to pay it. He said that the broker should pay it herself and send an invoice to the Taiwanese company for a refund. She did as she was told but had to wait six months for the refund. Ouch!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

(Quarter) poem of the day

Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviar, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste - 
He's sure to have his personal taste.
(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he's finished, licks his paws
So's not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat's entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his NAME.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Honi soit qui mal y pense

The Economist has a review of Edward III and the Triumph of England by Richard Barber. Barber claims that the "y" in the above quotation refers to King Edward III's claim to the French throne and that the Order of the Garter, which has Honi soit qui mal y pense as its motto, was created to commemorate Edward's victory against the French at Crecy on 26 August 1346 and the capture of Calais in 1347. Edward sailed over to France with 1000 ships, many of them fishing boats, carrying 13,600 men. Carts were loaded onto the ships to transport the stores once in France and stalls were fitted to transport horses across. The provisions included 130,000 gallons of wine as the water wasn't safe to drink.
On his return to England, Edward founded a society of knights called the Company of the Garter, headed by himself and his eldest son, the Black Prince. 35 knights were appointed companions, 33 of whom had been present at the siege of Calais. These knights went on to be at the core of the next English victory in France: the Battle of Poitiers won by the Black Prince in 1356.
The chief duty of the knights of the Garter was to attend an annual service on St George's Day at St George's Chapel, Windsor and this service is still attended by the present day knights and the monarch 666 years later.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Goodwood House

I took the Australians to see Goodwood House. It opens for one week every year, nevertheless it was surprisingly uncrowded. Originally a hunting lodge for the first Duke of Richmond, son of King Charles II and his French mistress, Louise de Keroualle, it was extended into a grand house by the third Duke when his London house burnt down, uninsured.
The original part of the house has some beautiful tapestries with amusing scenes from Don Quixote, which were given to the third Duke by Louis XV in 1766. There is a stunning Sevres porcelain collection on display in the Card Room, commissioned by the third Duke before the French Revolution and decorated with exotic birds, copied from illustrations in one of his books. The Red Hall contains wonderful memorabilia from the Battle of Waterloo, including standards, drums and a painting of the Duchess of Richmond's ball in Brussels.
Then there's the Egyptian Dining Room, decorated in high Egyptian style with crocodiles carved on the chair backs, magnificent gold candelabra and braziers burning in the corners. One year, when he was on his annual visit to Goodwood races, King Edward VII said he didn't like it so the Duke redecorated the whole room in Georgian style for the King's visit the following year. The room was redecorated back to its (more or less) original Egyptian style in the 1930s.
We had tea in the magnificent Ballroom, surrounded by ancestral Richmond/Keroualle portraits. When we left there was a No Entry sign on the road by which we'd entered. We tried two other roads out of the estate, only to find closed gates at the end of them. Our third attempt was along a road signposted "Horseboxes" and "Golfers". Part of the golf course was on our right and the road was becoming narrower and heading into a wood. There was an unassuming turning to the left which led to a small tunnel so off we went. Emerging from the tunnel, we saw a sign saying "Fifth tee" and some bemused golfers looking down at us. "In 25 years of playing on this course, I've never seen a car here!" one of them exclaimed. "May I take your photograph?" He very kindly then showed us to a gate which happened to be open and we were able to escape.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sir Stanley Spencer

Inspired by the Stanley Spencer paintings we'd seen at the Fitzwilliam Museum, MDB and I visited the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere. It was built as a memorial to Harry Sandham who died of malaria just after the end of the First World War and was therefore not officially recognised as one of the "war dead." He had served in the Salonika Campaign, as had Stanley Spencer, and his parents commissioned Spencer to paint the walls of the chapel with scenes of that campaign. You can see the everyday life of the soldiers and hospital workers: pouring tea from huge urns, scraping off the frostbite, standing in the trenches, having bread and jam in the ward (see above), polishing their buttons, scrubbing the floors etc. On the wall behind the altar is a huge mural depicting the resurrection of those soldiers, their horses, dogs and tortoises. The men burst out of their graves in the foreground, unwinding their bandages and barbed wire, stroking their dogs and holding their tortoises, with a column of resurrected horses marching towards Christ in the background.
The chapel's closing for restoration on 29 September until the end of July and sixteen of the paintings will be going on their first ever tour, to Somerset House from November until January, and then to Pallant House in Chichester.

Monday, August 19, 2013


I took our Australian visitors to Mottisfont. The Priory was built in 1201 and pilgrims would visit en route from Salisbury to Winchester to see the forefinger of John the Baptist. It was dissolved in 1536, the finger was lost and Henry VIII gave the estate to his Lord Chamberlain, William, Lord Sandys. The house was extended and renovated over the years by various families and in 1934 was bought by Gilbert and Maud Russell who commissioned Rex Whistler to paint the salon in magnificent trompe l'oeil style, to be the scene of many marvellous parties. The gardens are beautiful with plane trees dating back to 1760, Monet style bridges over the Test and a stunning walled garden with magnificent roses.
Maud gave the house to the National Trust before she died.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Word of the day

I received a letter which thanked me for a glorious tea in my "bosky garden." Assuming this to be a modern insult, I checked the dictionary. To my surprise, it means "wooded." Another friend wonders if it could be a suitable adjective for Chardonnay.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cocktail of the day

My dear reader, Portinari, who has a very good nose for a drink, introduced me to Zubrowka (bison grass vodka) and Fever-Tree tonic, and jolly refreshing it was too! Happy birthday Portinari!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chanson du jour

À la chasse, à la chasse.

Courons tous à la chasse ;

Dieu des cœurs, cédez la place ;
Non, non, ne régnez jamais.
Que Diane préside ;
Que Diane nous guide,
Dans le fond des forêts ;
Sous ses lois nous vivons en paix.

À la chasse, à la chasse.

Courons tous à la chasse ;

Nos asiles
Sont tranquilles,
Non, non, rien n’a plus d’attraits.
Les plaisirs sont parfaits,
Aucun soin n’embarrasse,
On y rit des Amours,
On y passe les plus beaux jours.

À la chasse, à la chasse.

Courons tous à la chasse ;

Friday, August 09, 2013

Hippolyte et Aricie

I saw Jonathan Kent's very entertaining production of Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie at Glyndebourne. You remember the Greek myth? Hippolytus is mad keen on hunting and a staunch devotee of Artemis. Artemis demands that her followers are chaste, much to the chagrin of Aphrodite who curses Hippolytus and makes his stepmother Phaedra fall in love with him. When a messenger reports that Hippolytus' father, Theseus, has died whilst away from Athens, Phaedra declares her love to her stepson, who is completely appalled. News comes that Theseus is not dead after all and Phaedra hangs herself in shame. Theseus falsely accuses his son of raping Phaedra and Hippolytus is fatally wounded in an accident, revealing the truth to his distraught father just before he dies. Euripides' play Hippolytus was written in 428BC.
Racine, the French tragedian, wrote a version, Phedre, in 1677 in which appears another character, Aricia, the sole survivor of the royal house of Athens whom Theseus has supplanted and whom he has forbidden to marry. In this version, as well as Phaedra's forbidden passion for Hippolytus, there is also a (forbidden) passion between Hippolytus and Aricia. The news of Theseus' death creates tensions not only of love but also of a power struggle between these three characters as Phaedra says Hippolytus should marry her to retain the throne, whereas he wants to marry Aricia which would restore the old royal family.
Rameau's version had its debut in Paris in 1733 and was modelled on Racine's play, substituting Cupid for Aphrodite.
Jonathan Kent's production is set around a huge fridge with Artemis (Diana) appearing as the ice maiden from the ice box and Cupid breaking out of an egg. Diana's temple is a game larder with stags hanging from meat hooks. Theseus, down in the Underworld (the element behind the fridge), begs his father Neptune  to ask Pluto to release him back to the land of the living. The request is granted but Pluto tells Theseus to expect "hell on earth" when he arrives home and this of course comes true when he discovers what's been going on in his absence. Brilliant.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Your very good health!

Last night I tasted my first 2013 wine and it was excellent. Have you tried Sir George Fistonich's Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand? It's a bargain at £5.20 a bottle in Tesco's sale!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Poem of the day (second half)

'The time has come,' the Walrus said,
      'To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
      Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
      And whether pigs have wings.'

'But wait a bit,' the Oysters cried,
      'Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
      And all of us are fat!'
'No hurry!' said the Carpenter.
      They thanked him much for that.

'A loaf of bread,' the Walrus said,
      'Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
      Are very good indeed —
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
      We can begin to feed.'

'But not on us!' the Oysters cried,
      Turning a little blue.
'After such kindness, that would be
      A dismal thing to do!'
'The night is fine,' the Walrus said.
      Do you admire the view?

It was so kind of you to come!
      And you are very nice!'
The Carpenter said nothing but
      'Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf —
      I've had to ask you twice!'

'It seems a shame,' the Walrus said,
      To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
      And made them trot so quick!'
The Carpenter said nothing but
      'The butter's spread too thick!'

'I weep for you,' the Walrus said:
      'I deeply sympathize.'
With sobs and tears he sorted out
      Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
      Before his streaming eyes.

'O Oysters,' said the Carpenter,
     ' You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
      But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
      They'd eaten every one.

Lewis Carroll

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Macclesfield Psalter

I was looking at the Macclesfield Psalter at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and admiring its colourful, witty illuminations. Although you may think it's an example of fine art from Cheshire, it was in fact produced in East Anglia in 1330 and came by its name through its last owner, the Earl of Macclesfield. Its core element is the book of Psalms and the amusing drawings in its margins are fascinating. Rabbits ride hounds, suitors advance towards ladies with pointed swords, only to be rejected, enormous fish scare men out of their wits. The patron of this fabulous work is unknown but some scholars suggest it was John, the eighth Earl of Warenne (1286-1347) who is also thought to have commissioned the Gorleston Psalter (1300-1330) which is in the British Library and came from Gorleston, near Yarmouth.

Monday, August 05, 2013

vale Mussolini, ave Caesar!

Ignazio Marino, the new mayor of Rome, has vowed to dig up the avenue built by Mussolini, which leads from the site of Mussolini's office on the Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum, in order to create "the planet's biggest archaeological park." He hopes to unearth the fora of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Trajan and Nerva. Hail Caesar!

Friday, August 02, 2013

Limerick of the day

There was a young fellow called Gover
Who bowled 29 wides in one over
Which had never been done
By an archdeacon's son
On a Thursday in August in Dover

Thursday, August 01, 2013

A Tale of Two Richards

It was overcast and windy and in fact there was a mild pea-souper when I arrived at Glorious Goodwood yesterday. The racing made up for the weather though. What a day for the trainer Richard Hannon (below right on another day at Royal Ascot) and his jockey Richard Hughes! Not only did they win the big race of the day, the Sussex Stakes, with Toronado (see above - RH in blue) who managed to beat the favourite, Dawn Approach, but they went on to have two more winners with Toormore and Magic City. Bravo!