The English aren’t really royalists

Why was it necessary for the media to carry stories of the will of the Duke of Edinburgh being sealed for ninety years? As much as there was no public interest to be served in the details of the will being made public, there was equally no public interest yo be served in the will being locked away. Whose business would it have been to know who received bequests from the late Duke/

As much as they might lay claim to be royalists, many, if not most, English people seem to regard the monarchy with intrusive curiosity rather than with solemn allegiance.

The relationship between the people and the Crown has often been shaky.

The execution of King Charles in 1649 would not have been possible if it were not for the fact that the Parliamentarians commanded the support  of a large element of the  ordinary population. Forty years later, the fact that James II was the reigning monarch was not sufficient to prevent seven leading peers to invite the king’s son in law, William Prince of Orange and his wife Mary, daughter of James II to take the throne. Religious conviction far outweighed allegiance to the king.

Twenty-five years later, after the death of Queen Anne, George Louis of Brunswick-Lüneburg, the Elector of Hanover, was invited by the Whig government to become king. King George I was not popular, he was said to mistreat his wife, and to devote too much of the Crown income to the maintenance of his two German mistresses.

George IV, who reigned from 1820-1830, and who had been Prince Regent during his late father’s illness, prompted one biographer to write, “With a personal income ‘exceeding the national revenue of a third-rate power, there appeared to be no limit to his desires, nor any restraint to his profusion.” His wife Queen Caroline, had to suffer the indignity of her carriage being stoned in the street.

In more recent times, the public reaction against the Crown at the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales suggested a people very fickle in their loyalty.

The story did not go away, there are people who still believe that there was a plot to murder Diana. Motivations which were advanced for such a conspiracy include suggestions that Diana intended to marry Dodi Al-Fayed, that she intended to convert to Islam, that she was pregnant, and that she was to visit the holy land. Organizations which conspiracy theorists suggested were responsible for her death included French Intelligence, the British Royal Family, the press, the British Intelligence services MI5 or MI6, the CIA, Mossad, the Freemasons, or the IRA. It was suggested that the intent of some of the co-conspirators was not to cause death. Alternatively, Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed were believed to be alive and living incognito! None of which speculation suggests a respect and trust for the Queen who would have needed to be complicit with any of the fantastic ideas proposed.

Much loyalty to the Crown probably owes much more to the extraordinary dignity and integrity of Queen Elizabeth, than to inherent royalist sentiment. When she is gone, it is hard to imagine what will happen.


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The fading memories of bombers

It’s Battle of Britain Day, although there seemed little acknowledgement of the anniversary.

In our area, it was not the Fighter Command who rose to meet the Luftwaffe who were the presence of air forces, but aerodromes from which both fighters and bombers flew in the war of attrition against the Nazis.

The nearest airfield to us was Weston Zoyland, used by both the RAF and the USAAF in the Second World War. Surrounded by undergrowth, shrouded in ivy, the few remaining airfield buildings there become less and less visible as the years pass.

Perhaps the ownership of the land is unclear, perhaps the deeds lie gathering dust in a distant office, perhaps no-one wants to claim responsibility for the pockets of rough land and the ruinous structures.

Once they were the property of the War Office, or the Royal Air Force, or whichever branch of government that was responsible for airfields and their associated installations. The purpose of the short, squat tower-like buildings never seemed entirely clear, when aircraft flew took off from the runways built across flat Somerset moorland, the function of each building would have been more apparent.

In my younger days, the buildings brought an ambivalent feeling. There was something reassuring about their presence: they were a declaration that my family and my neighbourhood had been part of something for which the aircrews would take off into the darkness, uncertain of what dangers may await them.

The reassurance came with a dark shadow. The bomber crews sustained heavy losses; the aircraft returning fewer in number than those which had departed. The bombing missions might have been against military targets, or they might have been against cities whose streets were not so different from those of London, where my grandfather had been a fireman during the Blitz.

The airfields in our community had brought with them their own dangers, Luftwaffe attacks in the area might be against the airfields, or might be against much more vulnerable targets. In 1942 the Cow and Gate milk factory in Somerton had been bombed by a bomber flying at roof height in daylight; eleven of the forty people working in the factory had been killed.

Each brick in the airfield buildings tells a story of times now disappearing from memory.  The drone of aircraft engines and the sound of airfield vehicles and the bells and sirens of alarm and the thud, thud, thud of anti-aircraft guns and crump of explosions are sounds now only to be imagined. It is good such fearful noises are no longer to be heard, but their absence, and the gradual disappearance of the runways, and the year on year decay of the buildings, brings with it a forgetfulness.

To have served in the forces between 1939 and 1945 and still to be alive means being at least ninety years of age. In the next decade or so, the bricks will be the last reminder, still in their original place, of events that once seemed so fresh in the memory.

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Music, music and more music

A song by Bo Diddley was played on the radio. Its mood seemed timeless, rooted in its own decade, it seemed music that might be played at any time in an indeterminate future.

No-one in our family was musical. In our house, my mother was the only person who could sing, the rest of us would have been hard pressed to have carried a tune in a very large bucket.

Yet there was always music.

We had a radiogram, a prized purchase in the late-1960s. It had a radio with a three band tuner, Medium Wave, Long Wave and FM, and it had a record deck that allowed the playing of records at 33 rpm, 45 rpm, and 78 rpm.

To the schoolboy looking at it, the 78 rpm option seemed an odd inclusion. Could you even buy 78 rpm records anymore? Being a child whose perspective was always that of the present, the thought did not occur that there were many, many people whose collections would have included many 78 rpm records.

A visiting uncle and aunt had to be shown the new radiogram and there was great hilarity as the lid was lifted. Some mouse seeking refuge from the outside world had found its way into the record deck and made a nest by chewing up the pages of the instruction booklet. If there were features of the radiogram that were not obvious to a user, then we would never know what they were.

The radiogram in the living room and the transistor radio in the kitchen played music.

Although he would only have been eight years old when Glen Miller’s aircraft disappeared, my father had a collection of Glen Miller records, which, in my memory were 45 rpm, perhaps they had been re-released. There were Long Playing discs of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and Rhapsody in Blue. Other American songs included Hey Paula, sung by the duo Paul and Paula (it didn’t seem a very original name for the group

From our own side of the Atlantic Ocean, I remember Val Doonican’s Walk Tall and Only the heartaches, as well as The Bachelors’ Diane. There were rock and roll and Lonnie Donegan records

Looking back now, the selection of records seems odd. The sort of records my parents played seemed almost to have stopped at a point in the early-1960s. No Beatles, no Rolling Stones, although my father enjoyed the music of both The Rolling Stones and The Animals.

Perhaps it was the radio that did it, perhaps when BBC Radio 1 was launched in September 1967, there was no longer an inclination to buy discs. When there is music, music and more music for free, why spend money?

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Two fingers to the garage

My late father never believed in paying someone to do a job that he could do himself. Sometimes, it was the case that we could not have afforded to have paid someone to do things, tradesmen were not cheap. Sometimes, he was just determined to do things himself.

One summer, he bought two Renault Dauphine cars, one for £30 and one for £25, and made one running vehicle with parts from the two. Another summer, he changed the clutch on our Bedford van whilst parked in a field at a campsite (he was assisted by two good humoured men from Birmingham who contrived to make the experience almost entertaining).

The first television he bought was in the 1980s, up until that time our televisions had been hybrid models with components from various defunct sets. He certainly did not believe in paying for television aerials, contrivances with coaxial cable and wire coat hangers brought us far more channels than enjoyed by our neighbours.

Last year, a former neighbour told me that the principle of not paying for things he could do himself extended to him believing that other people should not pay someone else for jobs that he himself would do for them for nothing.

Derek told me of my father standing in the kitchen of their house looking at a broken down washing machine and saying, “I won’t  promise you, but I’ll do what I can.” Derek remembered my father getting the machine to work and then doing similar repairs for the family next door. Not once did my father ever tell of having fixed the machines.

Frustrated at a garage here in Dublin, I heard his voice saying to me, “do it yourself.”

“That’s alright, Dad. You could do things. I’m rubbish at anything practical, you know that.”

The issue arose when I went to try to register my ageing Peugeot. The Vehicle Identification Number on the bulkhead had become corroded and the NCTS station would not accept the number as it appeared on the windscreen or doorpost.

“You need to go to a Peugeot main dealer and get a letter from them confirming the car details.”

I phoned last Friday and they said they would call back. Of course, they didn’t.

I called at the garage on Saturday, and the service department was closed, so they took my number and said someone would call.

On Monday, a man called and I explained I needed a simple note.

On Monday afternoon, I phoned. He would need to speak to his manager.

On Tuesday, I phoned. There would be a fee for the note and he would need to speak to his manager to confirm the details. He would call me.

No call came.

The clock is ticking on the time in which I must register the car.

I went to a shop and bought metal scouring pads. I rubbed down the area on the bulkhead where the number was engraved. I covered the letters with white paint and then wiped the surface clear. The only paint that remained was in the indentations. The number is not very clear, but it is legible.

Dad would have asked why I hadn’t done that in the first place.

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Kafka in a bookshop

Is the bookshop still there? Or has its odd eccentricity disappeared, carried away like so many things by the government’s lockdowns?

It had only been encountered because the door of the barber’s shop had been firmly locked. A shutter was down and a sign in large letters declared, “Lunch, 1 pm – 2 pm.”

I had looked at my watch and it was twenty-five two. There was insufficient time to do anything other than wander up the street, looking in the shop windows.

Coming to the eccentric bookshop, I went in through the open door.

“Can I help you?” called a voice behind a desk at the far end.

“Um, no, it’s OK, I’m just browsing.”

It had been a combined bookshop and wine merchant, the bottles on the lower shelves and the books on the upper. It had seemed strange to see bottles of claret and burgundy juxtaposed with chick-lit.

Looking for something that might provide reading over the approaching autumn, I came upon a collection of Franz Kafka’s works with a crumpled front cover. Taking it to the far end of the shop, I handed it to the man sat behind the desk.

“This book has no price,” he said, accusingly.

I shrugged.

He picked up a bar code scanner and stared at a computer monitor. “It’s not scanning, either. It doesn’t seem to be on the system.”

“Perhaps Kafka would smile,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Franz Kafka’s story The Trial, the character in the story is arrested and put on trial and has no idea why any of it is happening. Perhaps a book that doesn’t exist in the system belongs to that strange and arbitrary world.”

“I’ve heard of Kafka,” he said.

The Trial is short and makes you think.”

“£2.50.” he said.

It seemed a lot for a book that might have been bought for a pound in a second hand bookshop. I handed him the coins and returned to the barber’s shop, where I had sat on the window sill and read Kafka until 2 pm.

Browsing Kafka’s work for something to express that moment, I found Give it up, a short story of just 126 words written between 1917 and 1923.

The bookseller might have been the policeman in Kafka’s story.

It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted, I was on my way to the station. As I compared the tower clock with my watch I realized it was much later than I had thought and that I had to hurry; the shock of this discovery made me feel uncertain of the way, I wasn’t very well acquainted with the town as yet; fortunately, there was a policeman at hand, I ran to him and breathlessly asked him the way.

He smiled and said: “You asking me the way?”

“Yes,” I said, “since I can’t find it myself.”

“Give it up! Give it up!” said he, and turned with a sudden jerk, like someone who wants to be alone with his laughter.

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