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Sunday, 30 November 2008


Among all the grandchildren of Queen Victoria, Moretta of Prussia is somehow close to my heart. Perhaps it is because she seems to be one of the forgotten ones who has no place in history. Her life was - in the great scheme of how things are written in history - insignificant. She wasn't a saint, she wasn't a heroine, she was, from the start, an also-ran, I guess, and yet I feel for her.

There is a beautiful book of letters from a few brief months of her life, "Queen Victoria at Windsor and Balmoral", edited by James Pope-Hennessy, which gives such a picture into her thoughts, and her thoughts are so touching. The letters are taken from a time when she was - possibly suffering from some kind of anorexia - staying with her grandmother, Queen Victoria. Over the next few days, I would like to write more thoughts about her.

The forgotten people - like the children in the mills and mines, or the members of royal families who play 'bit parts' in history - always stike me as so interesting.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Freedom and Learning from History

In the ancient days of 'O' levels, it was necessary to learn dates and names - The Treaty of Vienna, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Treaty of Versailles; Hastings, Agincourt, Edgehill, The Somme...So much of it was made up of battles - who won, who lost, how the boundaries of countries were redrawn.
Behind the dates and facts were outcomes and it was very much like the old cliché of 'history is one damned thing after another.'
Eventually, social history was introduced. Out went the battles, the treaties and the maps, and in came what was basically a history of 'the poor'. In came factories, children at work, inventions, railways, unions, schools: a kind of history of 'the people.'
It is my firm belief that the only way to learn from history is to understand the individuals - not 'children at work' not kings and rulers or politicians, but individuals: their motivations and psychology because the more we looks at these things, the more we seem them played out time after time.
How many insane rulers have dominated societies? And, more the point, how many millions of people have listened to those rulers, believing themselves powerless until it came to a point where they could stand it no more and the outcome was either a bloody revolution or a war? It seems that throughout history 98% of people have wanted to be led. They did not want to look into psychology or motivation - their own or anyone else's - to see beyond the appearance of things and so sleepwalked into their own abyss. They did not ask, "Why does this man want to rule us? Why do we need to be ruled?" Instead they said, "He is the king/president/Fuhrer/Caesar and he will change everything and make everything wonderful for us!" Perhaps he is a wise king and does his best. Perhaps he is an avaricious power-seeking person. Perhaps he is completely insane ..It doesn't matter what he is - what matters is that people have forgotten that they have the ability to choose their own course, make their own decisions and have entrusted their lives to him.
The bad news is (to my mind) that person can never deliver the expectations.
When they wake up to this fact, the response is anger and a sense of betrayal. If the ruler is a good man, wanting the best for his people - like Tsar Nicholas - they destroy him. If he is a power-seeking individual, like Stalin or Lenin, he destroys them.
The good news is (to my mind) we can learn from history and the biggest lesson is to realize that no one is going to change our world and make it great and make everything right. Only we, as individuals, can change our own lives. There isn't anyone to do this for us. I would venture so far as to say - from a religious perspective - Jesus and all the great spiritual leaders, handed power back to people and what did they do? They ran after him saying, "Saviour! Saviour! Save us!"
King, Tsar, President, Fuhrer, Comrade, Saviour....They never deliver and we kill them are allow them to crush us. Our choice is to wake up and say, "We no longer need to look outside ourselves to someone else to give us freedom or prosperity or hope. It is all within us and there is no one to blame, no one to depend on and no one to deceive us." Freedom comes when we stop expecting it to come from someone else.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


The docu-drama, "World War II, Behind Closed Doors" shows the manipulation and endless one-upmanship between Churchill, Stalin and Roosavelt. Sometimes it seems as those three men sat down and played a game of chess with people's lives. The masses of ordinary people were the pawns in the game, all believing they were fighting for the good of humanity.
When the programme shows interiors of the Kremlin Palaces and shows Stalin walking down those corridors, I cannot help but think how history wrote of 'Bloody Nicholas' - a man who loved his people, who abdicated to prevent a civil war and so as not to abandon his allies - and compare it with the really bloody butcher, Stalin, who for his own aggrandizement murdered millions of his own people as well as the thousand of Polish officers and, basically, anyone who stood in the way of his plans.

Dear Nicholas II never wanted to be Tsar. He never asked for power. He did not want to rule and took his place because he felt it was his duty. What came after him? Greedy, selfish, envious power-seeking Lenin and Stalin...

At the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Nicholas - then in captivity - said, "And they call me a traitor!"
Seeing Churchill, Roosavelt and Stalin, you have to think, "And they call him 'Bloody' Nicholas"????

Monday, 24 November 2008

Being Left-Handed

I never saw much in being left-handed; no one ever made anything of it (apart from people saying, "Don't you write strangely?" er...no??) but I know of other people for whom it was a major issue. It was amazing to me that, according to a recent TV documentary, George VI's stammer came from his father insistance that he write with his right hand. Maybe our brains work differently, or maybe nowadays something is being made of something that is of no significance.

Having grown up in a right-handed world, I can't use left-handed scissors or many of the other things which are now created to accommodate us left-handed people. The biggest thing for me was being unable to sew or knit until I read something about how these things are taught to us by right-handers and we are trying to battle against something that comes naturally to us...But I guess my brain has been so busily working to be right-handed that these things are just too befuddling for it.

A few famous left-handers include - Leonardo Da Vinci, Lewis Carroll, Franz Kafka, Thomas Carlyle, Bob Dylan, Prince William (good for him!) etc. etc. It's fun to be different..a bit like those people who have a different blood group...and that's another story....

I'd like to hear of other people's left-handed experiences....

Friday, 21 November 2008

If Shakespeare knew the Romanovs...

Shakespeare's model of writing, grounded in Aristotle's formula - the tragic hero/protagonist who had to be noble and whose destiny was wrought by his own fatal flaw, and who met a tragic end, is something so timeless and inspiring.

When it comes to writing of the Romanovs, all the elements are already in place: the king, (or Tsar), the glory (Imperial Russia), the secret tragedy (Alexei's haemophilia), the fatal flaw, (Nicholas' trust in other people) and the ultimate tragedy (the massacre of a family - a massacre so tragic that it is far more powerful than the end of Hamlet, where everyone is slain) . The Romanov story fits Shakespeare's and Aristotle's pattern to such a degree that I often wish that Shakespeare were still here to write their true story with his depths of understanding of psychology and motivation, and his own brilliant command of language!

Oh, for another Shakespeare to write this story! Often I think that when Nicholas and Alexandra were in captivity, these words from King Lear might well have been something they could have shared:

"We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage...so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we'll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out;
And take upon 's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies…"

And the death of the beautiful Tsarevich Alexei...wouldn't Shakespeare have written,
"Goodnight, sweet prince, and flight of angels guide thee to thy rest..."

Ah! For another Shakespeare to tell their tale!

Thursday, 20 November 2008


I love statues - I try not to, but I can't help it.

Our cities are filled with statues most of which we pass by, never knowing anything about what or whom they represent. It's lovely to see the instantly recognizable Queen Victoria in most English cities, and then there are forgotten soldiers and heroes of wars that are now politically incorrect but who mattered once, and occasionally are moved or hidden away, according to what is acceptable in any given age. Churches are filled with statues that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the lives of the saints they are supposed to represent - gentle smiles and uplifted eyes as though they suffer nothing in the midst unspeakable torture! - and all the same, I love statues - they tell stories.

One day, I went to Westminster Abbey in search of the statue of Ella - Grand Duchess Elizabeth. After searching every nook and cranny (and finding some amazing stories but unable to find Ella) I gave up, disheartened, went outside and, sitting in the sun (a rare sight that summer!), looked up at the sky and saw her among the other 20th Century martyrs above the West Door. It took me by happy surprise - always looking the wrong place and then finding what I was looking for when I gave up trying. There was something poignant about that, too...the thought of her being out of sight, in second place...a bit like those statues that are lost beneath leafy glades and overgrown parks - a footnote in history. And there is something that I think she would have appreciated about that - the kind of statue that says, "Yes, I did what I did. Maybe I made a difference for some people and I don't want to be centre-stage."

It rather reminds me of children running through poppy fields besides war memorials. The busy world goes on, we walk past statues and whether they are heroes, kings, villains or saints, it all just goes to making up life today. Statues make me think of the athletes in races who hand on the baton. Statues seems to say, "Okay, it's your race now...go on and take it up from where we left off...."

I wonder if, when Ella walked into the Abbey for her grandmother's Golden Jubilee celebration, she looked up at the door and had any inkling that one day her statue would stand there. I doubt she did and I'm glad it does.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Who Wrote the Script?

"All the world's a stage..." Imagine, if you will, that we are all players with our 'entrances and exits'. Imagine, if you will, that your life right now is a play and you are acting your part. Is it a comedy or a tragedy? A dull routine soap opera or an epic film?
Before the performance, comes the script that is learned by heart, you know your character and can play your role to perfection.
"I am so unfortunate...", "I am so lucky..." "Things never work out right for me...", "Other people are the lucky ones...." Whatever you say is scripted and you are so great an actor that you have mastered that part to perfection. What a fabulous performance! So accomplished an actor that the part s/he was playing was every bit real not only to the audience, but even to the actor him/herself.
It's my understanding that everything we do and are begins with a script. The script is written in our souls/subconscious mind. What we think about all day comes into our experience. And, by 'think about,' I mean in the unguarded moments when, much of the time, there is nothing but criticism, fear and noise in our heads. Some script is there and sooner or later it plays out in our day to day performance - the art of living.
But, the big question is, "Who wrote this script?"
It's so easy to put it onto fate, or the great Author of Life...and to me the interesting and shocking thing is that I did. I wrote my script. You wrote yours. We didn't write them when we were thinking of what we want to do and how we want to spend our lives. We wrote them in our unguarded moments; we wrote them while watching horror films or beautiful scenes. We wrote them absent-mindedly while listening to the beauty of music or the screaming of so-called music that shouts of nothing but violence. We wrote them while loving others, or while thinking badly of others....We wrote them. The Author of Life, in my view, has enough faith in us to entrust us with that responsibility. We are more powerful than we know...and that is why, in my view, it's so important to guard our thoughts, and what we allow into our minds and hearts and ears and eyes.
And the great thing is...if we don't like the part we've been playing, we simply rip up that script and start again. All works of art require hours of labour and love and effort so we might find it difficult to change scripts overnight, but that's what it's all about.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Lost Little Boys Who Rule The World

Supposing we started from childhood and looked at the heroes and heroines of history. Let's take Churchill as an example of a hero of history. Once there was a sad little boy whose mother abandoned him, wasn't interested in him and sent him to a school where he received a daily thrashing. He wrote to her regularly and she occasionally replied. The sad little boy wept and his resentment grew. All he wanted was the love of his mother.

The mother's husband died and she, having spent her life to date, and being a victim herself of the chess game that families play among themselves, switched her ambition to her son. Suddenly, the little boy - by now almost a man - took centre-stage in her life and he milked it for all it was worth. The mother paid him every attention; her whole life was devoted to him...and how he relished it! She was American. When war came, how he longed for her approval! If only America were part of the war...(if only my mother loved me...still lost little boy at school)...What if an American ship were sunk...then America would join the war...The Lousitania. Oh what tragedy! And the little boy got his mother's (and America's support).

Earlier, another little boy longed for his mother's love. He thought she didn't love him because he spent much of his life in the care of tutors who were repeatedly (through his eyes) cruel to him - forcing him to mount a horse, when he was constantly falling off it; forcing him into machines to stretch his arm that never grew properly (thanks - in his eyes - to his cruel mother who brought him into the world that way). What could he do to win her love? Show himself to be a strong man! Grow a great big moustache...wear military uniforms...look the part of a great military leader...Dear Kaiser Wilhelm (whom I happen to love) - another lost little boy.

If we go back to Ivan the Terrible, or even Caligula ('little boots') we see history is filled with lost little boys in positions of power. Does the world change? I think not...but before we accept anymore leadership or any more messages from people who tell us they can make everything right, let's look into their childhood and see where they're coming from....

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


We wore our poppies with admiration for the courage of so many people, and with sadness for the horrors of the futility of it all, and particularly for the sorrow of the First World War. When we wake up to the voice of our individuality and realize we don't need to do this anymore, or to listen to leaders acting out their own insecurities on the world stage...Well...

This is a song Poppies:

Young man with a smile on an old photograph
In a uniform smart as your father before,
Pack up your troubles and daring to laugh
As you tramp through the town on your way to the war...

Will you die at a price? Will you die for a shilling?
Is it worth all the pain and the things we don't know?
Is it worth all the horror and bloodshed and killing?
Are you willing to die so a poppy can grow?

Young man with a tear as you walk away crying,
Put down your gun now and lift up your head,
War time is over and breezes are sighing
Through fields of small flowers that blood has stained red.

Did you die at a price? Did you die for a shilling?
Is it worth all the pain and the things we don't know?
Is it worth all the horror and bloodshed and killing?
Were you willing to die so a poppy could grow?

Young man, you who look at the old photograph,
In a uniform smart as your grandfather wore,
Looking so brave now and daring to laugh
As you follow his footsteps and march to the war,

Has the offer been raised? Is it still just a shilling?
Lives are bought cheaply. It's always been so.
When so mine fine people need bloodshed and killing,
We shall slaughter our sons so that poppies can grow...

Sunday, 9 November 2008


It's raining and fireworks are exploding like the shells on the Somme.

The poem, by John McCrae is so moving. What a tragedy! What terrible, unnecessary tragedies were played out in the First World War. May 'the torch' be one of freedom from adulation and passing over our responsibilities to leaders. May it be a torch of independence and knowing we do not have to find someone else on whom to lay the blame, or on whom to place all our hopes...Isn't that what it was all about?

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday, 7 November 2008

There Was A Time...

There was a time when the world was richer - and that doesn't mean more affluent. Richer in colour, in skill, in the time taken over producing something that would last. In the days before plastic; in the days before 24 hour shopping; in the days before the throw-away society, life was richer. There was a time, too, when those privileged enough to enjoy that richness were in the minority. The majority of people sweated their socks off to produce that loveliness - the seamstresses working till they went blind to produce beautiful cuffs and collars; the children who painted beautiful toys in paint that choked them; the miners, the mill workers etc. etc. whose names and faces are forgotten while the names and faces of the few who paid for it all still stand in stained-glass windows in cathedrals or abbeys.

There was a time, too, when people doffed their caps to their 'betters'. It was ridiculous but 'people so love a cage'. And the 'cage' we were in, was one of class and no one could cross that dividing line...or wanted to. There were princesses and princes who wished that the world could be different and life could be fairer, as surely as there were revolutionaries with the same end. There were women stifling because their gifts had no chance of being used. It was a mind-set. They were all enslaved by it.

Then, along came the notions of making everyone equal. No more loveliness. No more beauty. It wasn't about raising us all to the people we can be; it was about bringing us all down to our lowest level. Only speed and 'anyone can be skilled' now, and 'we all have something to say...' is the norm, and the outcome is pickled fish, mutilated cows or unmade beds called art?? I just can't get over the artist, David, spending five years learning to paint hands - and then painting The Coronation of Napoleon in which the hand of the bishop is so life-like you expect it to jump from the wall!

Nor can I get over the notion of any old rot being classed as poetry, compared to the beauty that raises us to our true selves when we read Emily Bronte's brilliant soul-searching, or Masefield's breathlessness before the sea...

Oh...huge sigh....there was a time...If we could only blend it all perfectly and all be the real people we are here to be....

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Please Remember the Hedgehogs!!

On the evening before Bonfire Night - when already many people are beginning their fires - please, before lighting it, remember to check that no hedgehogs have snuggled up in your firewood.
This year there are more helpless baby hedgehogs than even - the hedgehog sanctuaries are taking more in all the time - because the cold spring meant many hedgehogs did not give birth to the babies until later in the year, giving them little time to store up enough fat for hibernation. The little ones (and the older ones too) often snuggle into the wood stacks that people have been preparing for tomorrow night. Please take a peek, first, to make sure a hedgehog hasn't hidden in yours.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Rag and Bone Men

Whatever happened to rag and bone men? Even writing of them, I feel as though I am a thousand years old! They used to come by with a horse and cart and shout 'rag 'n' bone' and, as a child, I recall my mother jumping from the Saturday dinner table to gather up the 'rags' (never any bones!). And, if we took them out to the man, he gave us a ride on the horse-drawn cart....and left us somewhere miles away to walk home!!

Nowadays, there are plastic charity bags that come through the letter box several times a week and, no matter how much you put in them, sometimes they are collected, sometimes not...(Maybe our rags and bones aren't worth collecting!).

Speaking of charity collections..How utterly bizarre that the OXFAM clothes bank, which has an opening the size of a cat flap, says, "Warning: Climbing inside this box could lead to injury." Yeah right...like I was about to climb in there?? I bought a window-cleaning brush today and on the label it said: "Warning!! This is meant for cleaning purposes only. Any other use, could lead to injury." ????? What else would you use it for? Well, maybe there are times when it's better to control one's imagination.

Today is the 144th birthday of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, whose birth shocked her grandmother, Queen Victoria, because the Queen felt her daughter - Princess Alice - should have waited longer before having a second child. The Queen was in for an even greater shock when she discovered that Alice had chosen to breast-feed her baby - something that the Queen considered unpleasant for anyone, and for a princess unneccessary and demeaning! So great was the Queen's annoyance that she ordered a cow in the royal dairy to be named Alice!