Friday, June 27, 2014

Poem of the day

Diallo’s Test­a­ment
by Ben Okri

Who can read the riddle of life
In this por­trait of mine?
I am one on whom provid­ence
Has worked its magic reversals.
Behind me are silent stor­ies
Like a storm. I have worn
His­tory round my neck like chains.
Free­dom is a dif­fi­cult les­son to learn.
I have tasted the lan­guage of death
Till it became the water of life.
I have shaped a little my can­vas of time.
I have crossed seas of fires
And seen with these African eyes
The one light which neither empires
Nor all the might of men obscure.
Man is the sick­ness, God the cure.

I read this poem for the first time yesterday in the National Portrait Gallery. The portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo was painted in 1733 by William Hoare and is the earliest known British painting of a freed slave. Diallo was an edu­cated man from a fam­ily of Muslim cler­ics in West Africa. In 1731 he was taken into slavery and sent to work on a tobacco plant­a­tion in Amer­ica. By enter­prise and good luck, Diallo arrived in Lon­don in 1733 where he mixed with intellectuals and high soci­ety, was intro­duced at Court and was bought out of slavery by pub­lic appeal. After nearly a year in Eng­land, he then happily returned to his fam­ily in Africa.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Could they be related?

  The Leader of the Opposition
    World's number 2 tennis player

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


I liked her idea of wearing white at her first appearance in court.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Give me an H!

I was delighted to watch my friends' son take two wickets for Harrow at Lord's on Saturday, thereby contributing to their 51st defeat of Eton since the fixture began in 1805. There was much barracking by the spectators, particularly by the Etonians in the photo. Nevertheless the overall behaviour did not stoop to the lows reached in 1939 which provoked this newspaper report:

"Top hats were smashed in, umbrellas were broken, ties were torn and trousers were ripped off after Harrow had defeated Eton in the annual cricket match at Lord's yesterday for the first time for 31 years. 
As the winning run was hit, Lord's became a well-dressed bear-garden. Grey-haired men from the City and pillars of county society had their top hats kicked out of their hands when they took them off to cheer Harrow. A distinguished old Etonian punched a clerical old Harrovian on the nose, whereupon two other old Harrovians set on the Etonian, threw him to the ground and tore off his trousers.
At first the fighting was confined to old boys, but schoolboys soon overcame the awe inspired by their masters' presence and joined in. Many of them afterwards had bleeding noses and blackened eyes. An elderly woman was knocked down and a girl's frock was badly torn."

Friday, June 20, 2014

Time for the second XI?

Now that we know who's going through, why not play England and Costa Rica's second XIs at Belo Horizonte?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Quotation of the day

"First, get this straight: I hate England. But if England were to play Uruguay, I'd support England. That's how much I hate Uruguay!"
Scottish football fan, 1986.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Belles of yesterday's racecourse

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

18 months was worth the wait...

Here's the darling Claudia wearing the fabulous hat which she made me for Ascot. She learned her millinery skills from Edwina Ibbotson. Now all I need are some good tips!

Monday, June 16, 2014

No strings pulled

My friend was in a long queue for Avis at a regional airport in France. He vaguely recognised the couple in front of him, admiring the lady's shapely legs, and then he remembered who they were: the Middletons! Eventually he plucked up the courage to speak to them with this opening gambit:
"I thought that the whole point of having a son-in-law like yours was to avoid queues like this!"

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ian McEwan

I have enjoyed reading Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth and Solar this month. I preferred Sweet Tooth, the story of a Cambridge graduate going to work for MI5, so delicious that I devoured it in one day. Solar, the tale of a Nobel prize winning Physics professor facing a mid-life crisis, was not as gripping but beautifully written and a masterpiece of black humour which made me laugh out loud. Let me paraphrase one episode for you:

The Prof has bought a bag of salt and vinegar crisps to eat on the Heathrow Express. He sits by the window, opposite a young man who has a bottle of water on the table in front of him. The train leaves Heathrow and Prof is looking out of the window, daydreaming. He opens the crisp packet in front of him and puts a crisp in his mouth, enjoying the sharp sensation of the flavours. He then takes two crisps at once and eats them. At this point he sees the young man staring intently at him and reach over to help himself to a crisp. The Prof is outraged and wonders whether the young man is some sort of nutter, thinking it would be best not to confront him if he were mentally unstable. He takes another two crisps. The young man also helps himself to two crisps, chewing them insolently with his mouth open, all the time staring viciously at the Prof. The Prof thinks perhaps he's reached an age where the young can take pleasure in mocking him, after all this man is a thief, no matter how trivial the goods. He looks around the train for moral support but everybody's silently reading their e-mails and newspapers. Nobody has noticed the pyschological drama occurring between the two men. They are simply two passengers sharing a bag of crisps. The Prof wonders if the man's gay and if this is some sort of signal to him. In days gone by, a sign of homosexuality was wearing an earring in one ear, the Prof can't remember which. This man has two earrings in each ear. By this time, there are two crisps left in the bottom of the packet. The young man offers them to the Prof. The Prof shakes his head and looks out of the window. The train is drawing in to Paddington. The Prof decides to take a stance. He seizes the young man's bottle of water and drinks it, replacing the empty container on the table with a flourish. The young man looks at the Prof with pity. He lifts the Prof's luggage down from the rack and puts it in front of him. He then takes his rucksack and gets off the train. The Prof's heart is racing and he's sweating. He decides to wait a few minutes before disembarking as he doesn't want a confrontation with the young man on the platform: he'd have no chance in a fight with him. He gets off the train and walks towards the ticket barrier, reaching into his jacket pocket for his ticket. To his amazement he feels something familiar in his pocket: an unopened bag of salt and vinegar crisps.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Changing the Guard

I was following the Guards yesterday.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
"A soldier's life is terrible hard,"
                                                                    Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We saw a guard in a sentry-box.
"One of the sergeants looks after their socks,"
                                                                    Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We looked for the King, but he never came.
"Well, God take care of him, all the same,"
                                                                    Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
They've great big parties inside the grounds.
"I wouldn't be King for a hundred pounds,"
                                                                    Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
A face looked out, but it wasn't the King's.
"He's much too busy a-signing things,"
                                                                    Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
"Do you think the King knows all about me?"
"Sure to, dear, but it's time for tea,"
                                                                    Says Alice.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Feed the birds

A journalist sat on a bench in Hyde Park where an old lady was feeding the pigeons and they struck up a conversation. She told him she fed the birds there everyday, always arriving at 11am. He warmed to her and he found her again at the same time the following day. She told him a little of her life. He liked her even more.
The following week, he was passing by and went to see her but she wasn't there. He went there again the next day but there was no sign of her, nor the day after. He asked a park attendant if he knew of the old lady who fed the birds. "Oh yes," the attendant said. "She arrives at 11am and leaves at 11.45 to take the 58 bus."
The journalist went to the bus stop at 11.45. The 58 arrived and he asked the driver if he knew of an old lady who usually caught the bus at that time. "I'm a temporary driver on this route," the man replied. "The usual driver will be back in a couple of days."
Two days later, the journalist asked the same question to the bus driver. "Yes I know her," he said. "She gets off at Notting Hill. I can show you her stop if you like?"
The journalist alighted in Notting Hill. There was a newspaper stand on the street. He asked the paper seller if he knew the old lady. "Oh yes!" he said. "She lives three streets down on the left, in the first mansion block on the right. Don't know which flat she's in though."
The journalist found the mansion block and asked the concierge where he might find the old lady who fed the birds in Hyde Park. "You've missed her," the concierge replied. "She died last week. She kept two large jars in the kitchen, one containing sugar and the other arsenic and she mistook the one for the other. She used to take the arsenic everyday to the park to feed the pigeons."

Monday, June 09, 2014

Cosa Nostra

My friend visited Conrad Black when he was in prison in Florida and asked him how he was coping.
"When I arrived," CB said, "I was asked by an inmate if I was an English Lord. I said I had been given a life peerage for my work.
'There's a man here who'd like to meet you,' said the prisoner who then took him to the cell of Don Gambino.
'Hello Signor Gambino,' said CB.
'Pleased to meet you, Lord Black,' said Gambino. 'We have something in common.'
'You mean we're both victims of the fascist US Government?' enquired CB.
'No. I mean we're both industrialists,' replied Gambino."

Friday, June 06, 2014

Chateau Pichon Longueville

We visited Chateau Pichon Longueville in Pauillac. As you can (just about) see, it is flanked by two buildings in the style of Egyptian tombs which won architectural awards in the 1990s. We went in the one on the right of the photo. The walkway sloped gently downwards. Electric doors swished open to let us through and carved sphinxes glared at us from the furniture of the ante-rooms. We felt as if we were in a James Bond film. At last we reached the main chamber, far below ground level. It was vast and circular, twenty-eight massive stainless steel vats standing around a large flagstone floor with two manholes in it, leading into a 1500 hectolitre vat below.
The vineyard is owned by Axa and the style of wine making is completely different from the family owned chateaux which we'd visited. The families all said that they vary the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot ratio year by year depending on the quality of the Merlot harvest. Pichon Longueville scoffs at this. "Our customers like our wine because they know it is dependable: it's always 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot. We just put Cabernet into some of the vats, Merlot in the others and when the time comes, we pump 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot into the manholes under the floor, stir it about and pump the blend out the other end."

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Pageboy faints at Iranian deal

The Queen's announcement that her government is working towards a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran caused one of her pageboys to faint in the House of Lords today.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Queen Bee

I went to a old school Hampshire reunion. Sue, the hostess, told me that many years ago she and her husband had been at his company's annual dinner and their table had had a bet on the length of the speech. "Forty-five minutes" her husband had said and he duly won the pot of £100. He gave it to his wife saying, "You have it, darling and buy something special." He thought she'd buy clothes but in fact she purchased two bee colonies for £49 each. These have now grown to four colonies.
We put on our protective suits which were rather like astronauts' outfits and went to inspect one of the hives. I had to puff the smoke (see the man holding the smoker on the right of the above photo. Those chaps should be wearing gloves, by the way!) and Sue removed the the top boxes of honey and proceeded to take out the trays of bees as the man on the left is doing. Hundreds of bees were making wax. We saw a few chubby drones wandering amongst the mass of female bees. We were looking for the Queen. Sue had marked her with a green spot and clipped her wings so the bees wouldn't swarm away but instead return to the hive. Angry bees flew towards our faces which were covered in gauze. I puffed the smoke vigorously, almost making us choke. At last we saw her, her black body thinner and longer than the other, rather a sad creature without her wings.