Saturday, 30 June 2012

Hitching in Bromley

As I've mentioned before, I first heard the first Hitchhiker when it was first broadcast on the radio, back in 1978. 

And, old fart that I am, I still believe that first radio series was the best, and that the TV wasn't as interesting. Notoriously, and obviously, the pictures weren't as good on telly - but also they messed around with the plot and to my mind simplified it.  And the books (which came in between) were the source for the TV version and shared many of the weaknesses of those shows.

Although, I know, lots of people liked the cartoon versions of the book on TV (and they were cartoons, not digital, back then), and DNA (Douglas Adams) liked the fact that in the books he could add back in a few lines that he'd written but which hadn't made it to the final broadcast on the radio, and he could also lose some John Lloyd-isms.  So in that sense it was purer Adams - but for me at least it wasn't purer Hitchhiker.

I also heartily disliked the Book at Bedtime version of the Eoin Colfer continuation.  And of course the most recent film was vile, despite being based on an Adams' script.

So I'm a bit fussy on this subject.

However, how could I resist an advert for "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show... Live!" at the Churchill theatre in Bromley.  It had many of the original radio cast - that is:

Simon Jones as Arthur Dent
Geoffrey Mcgivern as Ford Prefect
Susan Sheridan as Trillian
Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox
and the voice of Stephen Moore as Marvin The Paranoid Android.

Each night the Book would be played by a different guest star.  Like I said, how could I resist, even though there was typical confusion regarding the script to be followed (ie, it seemed to be the original radio series but the teaser video talks of it being based on the novels).

What a strange experience.  A live band - who were quite good - with a light show. At one point they switched to playing the Dr Who theme music - which was allowed, I suppose as Adams did act as script editor for a while and wrote some episodes.  A comfy chair for the Book (we had Andrew Sachs - Manuel to some of you) towards the right rear of the stage, a series of microsphones for the stars to perform the Radio show, and a live version of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  In other words a couple of chaps doing the special effects on stage as the action developed.  And very good they were too - I especially liked their renditions of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster and the falling (and landing) Whale.

The show really began when these two grey-haired old blokes tuned up. 

Years ago we used to watch Live & Kicking on BBC on Saturday mornings with our (then) young sons, and I can remember Andi Peters and Emma Forbes beginning one show sitting with a very old, grey-haired, rumpled-looking man on the sofa.  Quite unpreposessing.  Andi explained to the kids that he was amazing, and that their parents would know who this man was as soon as he opened his mouth and said something.  Which he promptly did.  He said 'Good morning children,' or something like that, and not only was it immediately clear that he was Oliver Postgate, but I was transported back to Ivor the Engine and Noggin and Pogles and so forth.

Something very similar happened last night in Bromley.  The two grey-haired blokes started talking and it was immediately obvious that they were Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect.  Their voices were unchanged,  I shut my eyes and it felt like the radio a long time ago.  It was only at that point that I realised one of the old blokes was wearing a dressing gown. 

And it worked.  Finally a new version of H2G2 that I could warm to. 

The first half was a cut down verion of the first four Fits, slightly altered and edited (and with some stuff from the books, but not too intrusive).  the second half was a rather messy selection of good bits from the rest of the stories in a pretty arbitrary order.  Which they recognised ('Arthur according to our records you seem to be missing several chapters from your life').

Toby Longworth was good as Slartibartfast, and the Vogons worked, too.

And Marvin was wonderful.  A puppet Marvin, with an operator in black, based on old bits of radio and a tape recorder - with Stephen Moore doing the voice, what's not to love.  Not the horrible Marvins from the TV and film, this one fitted in and worked!

OK, so they changed the name of the worst poet in the Universe for the obvious reason, I assume, and they referred to the 'Big Bang Burger Chef' rather than 'Bar', losing some of the aliteration to no discernible benefit.  And Sachs struggled with the script occasionally (some reviews on the Web suggest that other Books were more into the Guide and did better).

But other innovations worked well.  For example the extended scene with an increasingly frustrated Arthur trying to get a cup of tea out of a nutrimatic drink dispenser.  And failing.  And then the nutrimatic machine leading the audience in community singing - of "Share and Enjoy".  The Crikkit song and Marvin's song also stood up - just about.

Mostly however what made the show was these weird old people, who for some obscure reason had these remembered and much-loved voices from over thirty years ago, and were happily sharing them with us.

It could have been some kind of rock-show retrospective - like how John Cleese described performing the Parrot Sketch on tour (first silence, and then applause (but few laughs)).  But it didn't feel like that at all, and the audience laughed at many of the jokes (as well as mouthing them along with the performers).

Ah, the audience.  You would expect a fair number of grey haired old fogies out there as well.  And there were certainly some - with towels, and '42' and 'Don't talk to me about life' tee shirts, and dressing gowns.  But gratifyingly, there seemed to be quite a lot of people of all ages there and enjoying themselves, including some quite young children.

Anyway - I was won over.  Finally.  By Hitchhiker (sort of) away from the radio.

Here is the teaser from Youtube.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Poem of the Week

Easter, 1916
W B Yeats
I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

The Pubs Around Nunhead 22: In the Nun's Head


Starbucks, South Mimms

So when the barrista asked if I wanted my name on the cup, I had to be a smartarse...

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Pubs Around Nunhead 21 - The Rye

And now, as promised, The Rye.

No longer The Rye Hotel, please note - not that it was a hotel for some time beforehand, so far as I could see.  As previously described it is mentioned in The Ballad of Peckham Rye, which may be its most significant claim to fame.

The newly (re-)opened The Rye smells of paint, and someone has spent significant sums in remodelling the place.  Physically, the old L-shaped bar has been knocked through, so now there is a central island bar (retaining some of the old woodwork and the clock) with seats all around.  The kitchen and loos have been moved and the entrance to the (still huge) garden at the rear changed and opened out. 

It does feel more open and airy - lots of white walls and varied seating - some more comfortable than others.  The kitchen seems large and they are obviously pushing the menu, while the bar drink prices seemed cheapish, at least for the present.

It does currently feel very, very new, and somewhat soulless.  The smell of new paint and clean walls are part of that, plus the new awnings and lighting.  It still needs to develop a character.

It is also true that the staff are still feeling their way.  The chap who served me couldn't be sure about the wine they had available, then he discovered he couldn't log in to the cash terminal.  Lots of  'how do I...' questions shouted around.

And there were an awful lot of staff there when I called in (around 5pm-ish a couple of days ago, a weekday in sunny weather).  Five in chef's full fig in the kitchens, plus another 5 or 6 behind the bar at various times.  Maybe they were expecting crowds later, or it was a training day.  Certainly there were few customers around.

And did I mention, it smells of paint?

The old Rye Hotel (I don't mean the temporary MeatWagon incarnation, which was always transitional, but the previous management) was indeed very far from perfect.  Eg staff did occasionally get bullied and let go for no good reason, and there were issues around stock sometimes.  But it had character.  It had live music (sometimes) and events.  The new The Rye will have to build that all afresh.

TANH will, of course, continue to monitor the situation in a hands-on kind of way.

Secure Delivery

Our Olympic tickets were delivered today.  Lots of security - texts, official van, signature, etc.  Much more secure, it seems, than the delivery of my new passport last year. 

Still I haven't checked they are the right ones yet.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


The view through the window of my train for Chippenham today, as it rushed through the Vale of the White Horse...

Monday, 18 June 2012


So I went to Bath last week, for a meeting, and was put up in a rather nice boutique hotel (the Paradise House hotel.  It is an old 17th century mansion).  Apparently every room is different. 

Above is the view from the large picture window in the room I had.  The coffee kit in the room was a cafetiere and there were (as you'd expect) a digital radio and a digital TV (plasma) in the bedroom. 

Then I went into the bathroom. 

Huge.  Stone floor.  In the middle of the room sat a massive, ornate jacuzzi. 


Oh, and a second screen you could watch while you bubbled.

Room 3, if you are ever there...

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Poem of the Week

Louis MacNeice

Grey brick upon brick,
Declamatory bronze
On sombre pedestals -
O'Connell, Grattan, Moore -
And the brewery tugs and the swans
On the balustraded stream
And the bare bones of a fanlight
Over a hungry door
And the air soft on the cheek
And porter running from the taps
With a head of yellow cream
And Nelson on his pillar
Watching his world collapse.

This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades -
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.

The lights jig in the river
With a concertina movement
And the sun comes up in the morning
Like barley-sugar on the water
And the mist on the Wicklow hills
Is close, as close
As the peasantry were to the landlord,
As the Irish to the Anglo-Irish,
As the killer is close one moment
To the man he kills,
Or as the moment itself
Is close to the next moment.

She is not an Irish town
And she is not English,
Historic with guns and vermin
And the cold renown
Of a fragment of Church latin,
Of an oratorical phrase.
But oh the days are soft,
Soft enough to forget
The lesson better learnt,
The bullet on the wet
Streets, the crooked deal,
The steel behind the laugh,
The Four Courts burnt.

Fort of the Dane,
Garrison of the Saxon,
Augustan capital
Of a Gaelic nation,
Appropriating all
The alien brought,
You give me time for thought
And by a juggler's trick
You poise the toppling hour -
O greyness run to flower,
Grey stone, grey water,
And brick upon grey brick.

The Pubs Around Nunhead: 20 - Rye Hotel Re-Opens

One pub shuts and another reopens. 

Or at least it appears that the Rye Hotel has finally re-opened, after some time

Mixed reports are reaching TANH, from 'It is really Pukka!' through to 'A bit like a Harvester and the staff are still quite uncertain.  Not trained up yet.'

We will investigate further in due course.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


... And it is fair to say we at TANH are very much looking forwards to this year's Bloomsday, with a full day event on Radio4.  Look at the Beeb Website.

Serendipitously, I went out and bought a new copy 2 weeks ago (Foyle's on the S Bank), and am really enjoying the re-read...

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Ray Bradbury

I must by now have seen or heard half a dozen obituaries for Ray Bradbury , who sadly died last Tuesday at the age of 91, but not one of them has mentioned the short story I thought was his most well-known: 'A Sound of Thunder'.

That's right, it is the time travel, dinosaur hunt, butterfly one.  Read in schools across the land.  But not a mention.

But, of course, and rightly, lots of memories of Fahrenheit 451, The Silver Locusts, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked..., the Day It Rained For Ever, etc.  Just no Thunder.  Strange.

I can see I'm going to have to go on a rereading splurge.

Poem of the Week

Inglan' Is A Bitch
Linton Kwesi Johnson

W´en mi jus´ come to Landan toun
Mi use to work pan di andahgroun
But workin´ pan di andahgroun
Y´u don´t get fi know your way around

Inglan is a bitch
Dere´s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
Dere´s no runnin´ whey fram it

Mi get a lickle jab in a bih ´otell
An´ awftah a while, mi woz doin´ quite well
Dem staat mi aaf as a dish-washah
But w´en mi tek a stack, mi noh tun clack-watchah

Inglan is a bitch
Dere´s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
No baddah try fi hide fram it

W´en dem gi´ you di lickle wage packit
Fus dem rab it wid dem big tax rackit
Y´u haffi struggle fi mek en´s meet
An´ w´en y´u goh a y´u bed y´u jus´ can´t sleep

Inglan is a bitch
Dere´s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
A noh lie mi a tell, a true

Mi use to work dig ditch w´en it cowl noh bitch
Mi did strang like a mule, but bwoy, mi did fool
Den awftah a while mi jus´ stap dhu ovahtime
Den awftah a while mi jus´ phu dung mi tool

Inglan is a bitch
Dere´s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
Y´u haffi know how fi survive in it

Well mi dhu day wok an´ mi dhu nite wok
Mi dhu clean wok an´ mi dhu dutty wok
Dem seh dat black man is very lazy
But if y´u si how mi wok y´u woulda sey mi crazy

Inglan is a bitch
Dere´s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
Y´u bettah face up to it

Dem a have a lickle facktri up inna Brackly
Inna disya facktri all dem dhu is pack crackry
Fi di laas fifteen years dem get mi laybah
Now awftah fifteen years mi fall out a fayvah

Inglan is a bitch
Dere´s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
Dere´s no runnin´ whey fram it

Mi know dem have work, work in abundant
Yet still, dem mek mi redundant
Now, at fifty-five mi gettin´ quite ol´
Yet still, dem sen´ mi fi goh draw dole

Inglan is a bitch
Dere´s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
Is whey wi a goh dhu ´bout it?

Top Five Regrets

I'm not sure quite what I make of this - it is a Guardian report from a few months back on a palliative care nurse who has recorded her 'Top Five Regrets of the Dying' in a blog and book.

They include a range of different wishes, including:

"I wish I hadn't worked so hard" (every male patient) - which is more about not giving all your time to work and spending more with family, children etc, and

"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

But the piece does, I have to say, come across as a highly sentimental piece of writing. It grates badly.  So while I can see and agree with what is being said, the manner of it is a real barrier. At least for me.

Saturday, 9 June 2012


Another item of news that we missed here (partly due to the Jubilee) was the departure from HP of Mike Lynch.  This against a background of HP shedding a reported 27,000 staff worldwide.  Lynch was the only named individual to leave the company (that I saw).

Famously, Lynch founded and grew Autonomy - a software company specialising in high-end search tools built around Bayesian mathematics - to become one of Britain's most successful high-technology companies.  He was notoriously proud of being British, and there were always rumours that Microsoft had offered him shed-loads for the firm and that he had always refused.

A few years back, I went to their offices, in an industrial park just outside Cambridge, to see if they could help us at the Museum.  They had a certain flavour.  Each meeting room was named for a different Bond villain (I think we were in the Goldfinger suite).  As I was leaving I noticed the fish tank behind the receptionist's desk actually contained pirhanas.  'Yes, Mike makes the least successful salesman each month fee the fishes,' joked my host.  He was apparently very proud of Bond as the home-grown, Brit super-agent, and wanted to make a point about the British being competent and world-class at some stuff.

Anyway, HP eventually bought Autonomy last year for £7bn.  The rumours are that the entrepreneurial small-business culture in Cambridge clashed horribly with the international corporatism of HP.  And that lots of high-calibre people have already left the Autonomy part of the business - and thus Lynch's departure was unsurprising.  Also speculation about how long the Autonomy part will exist as a separate arm before being fully merged in.  All a little sad, I guess, although Lynch has left with loads of dosh and an apparent intent to invest in and to build more innovative British firms.  We shall see.  Perhaps he'll turn up on Dragon's Den.

On the same day as the HP announcement, Jonathan Ive became a 'Sir' for his work on industrial design.  Most famously of course, he was the key designer for a lot of Apple's i-stuff.  So the shiny look and feel that people love about the Apple products is attributed to his work.   Well done, of course, but - probably unfairly - it feels somewhat superficial to me by comparison with the Autonomy software.  And of course, although a hugely successful British industrial designer, he ended up working in the US to gain that success.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Other Things have been Happening...

Well, although the Jubilation isn't quite finished (there is for example, the local Jubilee do on the Aquarius Golf Course with Steve Boltz still to come today), and bedraggled bunting can still be spotted around and about, we at TANH would like to remind our reader about the other stuff that has been going on while our Overlords have been celebrating their rule. 

This is just a random selection, in no particular order.

Dragon Lands The SpaceX Dragon landed successfully in the Pacific Ocean on May 31.  This was the first commercial spacecraft to dock successfully with the ISS.  The second stage of the rocket contained some of the ashes of the actor James Doohan, who played Scotty in Star trek, as well as (Keroy) Gordon Cooper, one of the secen original astromauts in the Mercury space program.  Gordon Tracy, the pilot of Thunderbird 4, was named after the latter.

Jeremy Hunt at Leveson The Leveson inquiry has shown that Jeremy Hunt was very, very much in favour of  the Newscorp bid to take over BSkyB.  The Prime Minister knew this when he appointed him to decide upon whether the bid should proceed.  Given that Vince Cable was removed from this role because of his bias (in the opposite direction), how was this a sound decision by the Cameron?  Can we assume that Cameron wanted the takeover to go ahead as well, so was unworried by Hunt's lack of neutrality, or was it just incompetence?  Hunt has said he thought the bid would have been good for British media, but (as far as I can tell) has failed in any way to say how.

The Awful Baroness Warsi has seemingly been breaking a few rules, with the (non)disclosure of some of her own financial arrangements.

Bankia in Trouble Spain's banks look as though they are in trouble, with Bankia, the fourth largest bank in Spain, asking for a 19bn Euro bailout, and the Eurozone crisis is lurching into new problems.

The Annan Plan in Syria seems to be failing, with escalating violence, while armed militia stormed Tripoli airport yesterday.

HIGNIFY Resurgent For a few series now, Have I Got News For You has been a little moribund. But just recently it seems to have perked up again. Firstly with an appearance bu Ken Livingstone, who Hislop agreed was a less interesting guest on the show than Boris Johnson, but would have been a better Mayor of London. And then last week we had Alastair Campbell as chair. Which turned into a straight battle between Campbell and, well everyone else. A real bruiser and very, very funny. Watch it again on i-Player before it goes. It also includes the largest margin win I've seen so far.

And Finally... Don't forget the Transit of Venus - just visible tomorrow in the early morning...

Monday, 4 June 2012


Yesterday we tried to see the flotilla, in accord with the notion of enjoying JubilationSo we caught the bus up to Tower Bridge, only to find the river securely blocked by stewards and security guards.

Lots of people wandering around getting nowhere near the Thames.

A group of Republic protestors who had an agreed area to rally in (the 'scoop' by City Hall), also couldn't get in. We met and chatted to them - they were very pleasant, and filmed by the press. 

According to today's papers, some Republic people in the scoop, who had managed to get in earlier in the day, had their placards taken away by private security staff.  So much for democracy.

When asked, most of the burly men on the gates were pleasant and apologetic, and agreed it was a cockup, but wouldn't let anyone past.

Peter Tatchell turned up in red jeans, had a quick discussion with a a police steward and cycled off again. Altogether rather sad, low-key and unattractive event from the outside.

People wandered down to Rotherhithe to see the river, and the boats once the 'dignitaries' had left them, or turned around in the hope of a spot further upstream.

Families sat on steps against hotels and warehouses to eat their sandwiches, wearing rather folorn-looking Union flags.

I'm sure all those people inside the barriers and behind the screens enyoyed the spectacle. But we hadn't expect the flotilla to be a tickets-only event....

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Strange Objects on the South Bank

I have no idea what they are...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Getting Visceral

Oh, yes, and there is one event we are looking forward to that isn't about the insufferable Jubilee.  We are off to Viscera Theatre on Monday, in the Old Vic Tunnels near Waterloo.  Should be good...

Fag-Ash Liz

Green Nunhead

It has been pointed out by a kind friend, that in expressing my general - and well-founded - dislike of the Jubilee and all things Royal I may have gone wildly off-topic. Now I don't really accept this - it says 'Some Other Thoughts' above, which allows us here at TANH an astonishingly wide brief.  That being said, there may be a question of balance to be considered. 

So here are some trees around Nunhead for your pleasure.
This horse chetsnut on Barforth Rd (above) has featured before.  It was heavily pollarded a few months back (another bugbear topic with this site) and now has a very strange profile, to my eyes.

The regular reader will also spot that this gorgeous Chinese willow near Nunhead Green has similarly  made previous appearances. Lewis Schaffer (well-known local comedian, and the voice of an American in Nunhead on Resonance FM) seemed to believe it was under some threat.  I do hope not.
Happy now?  Can I go back to moaning?

Flags and stuff

I was genuinely pleased to see that there was very little festooning going on in Nunhead today.  Ok, there were a few flags in shop windows, and the odd excressence of bunting, but mostly the displays were quite reserved and rather low key. We will do this, but not very well, kind of thing.
So well done all!


Sod it - even Google are in on it...
'Don't be evil', indeed....

Friday, 1 June 2012

On Jubilation

As noted before, I have this memory of floating in a punt on the river Wear with a music box of some kind (portable record player? That doesn’t sound right – a cassette seems so much more likely for all sorts of reasons), drifting past some of the colleges and playing the Sex Pistols at high volume. I’m sure it was the Silver Jubilee in 1977.
We played God Save the Queen (it’s a fascist regime). I wasn’t a punk, but I enjoyed punk music. More importantly, perhaps, I was no fan of the Royal family by that age.

I seem to remember I was more tolerant earlier – Charles’ investiture was in 1969 and I collected the stamps issued for the event. They are sitting in the little album now, looking quite battered (I hadn’t worked out how to look after them and ensure they kept their value at that point).
But even then the royals seemed peripheral at best – other things interested me far more. It was the stamps that held my attention, not the heir to the throne.

In 1977 I suppose I felt vaguely rebellious – and we were also pretty amazed that the BBC had bothered to fiddle the charts to make sure the record wasn’t number one in Jubilee week.

Four years later, for the 1981 Wedding, I felt more strongly, I think.  I sported a 'General Strike Against the Monarchy' badge and a few of us went up a mountain to get away from the general hullabaloo.

Now, as we approach the great beast that is the Diamond Jubilee, I find I have a yet bleaker view of the royal family and indeed the whole idea of monarchy. It seems tied up in a nexus of wholly negative ideas and beliefs that do great harm.

Obvious amongst these, of course, are the ideas of inherited privilege and wealth, and the sense that royalty shores up and normalises the idea of an unequal society. It encourages bad behaviour and a disregard for others.

The one time I was in the same room as the Queen and Prince Philip I saw this at first hand. We were waiting in two lines to meet the so-called Royal party in the British Museum’s Round Reading Room. This was the posh, grand opening of the Great Court, the big open hub at the centre of the Museum. Everyone in the room had been working on the project for many years, and the new, space was the final outcome of all their efforts.

So Brenda spotted someone she knew on the far side of the RRR and ignoring all those who were waiting to meet her, toddled over for a chat. She never did do the handshake thing with the workers. On the other side of the room,

Phil the Greek meanwhile saw one of the new multimedia terminals we were presenting, and went over to look at it. Now, we knew the system was a little flaky, so the deputy head of the team who was demonstrating it had an agreed, safe script she was going to run through for him. To show him some of the gorgeous images and animations in the system (and they really were good).

Instead, with a “what does this button do, luvvy?” he crashed the system. He was then absolutely foul to the woman - who had of course been dedicated to this one project for a number of years.  He berated her and suggested she ought to get a man to sort it for her as she clearly didn’t know what she was doing.  He then strode over to join his missus, leaving the poor member of staff in tears.

Thus, my only experience of the royals so far suggests they are arrogant, selfish, ignorant and crass. Full of an unmerited sense of their own importance and a wholesale disregard for the feelings of others. Just as you might expect if they’ve lived their whole lives in a safe, secure, privileged bubble.

This idea of wealth, power and fame being awarded for no good reason also seems to link to and support the inane celebrity culture we have at present. Children growing up whose only ambition is to be on the telly. The X-Factor generation.

This seemed at its most obvious in the spontaneous, country-wide, outpouring of grief for the death of Diana, the People’s Princess. The whole public response struck me at the time as bizarre in the extreme, and still does. While recognising the great sadness her death will have caused to those who knew her, her family and friends, I cannot get my head around the deep and apparently sincere emotional connection and grief felt by people who had never met her, and indeed weren’t even avid royal watchers. It seems a hard to explain, excessive and overcharged response.

Private Eye got it right...
On the day of  the  funeral, we took the children out to the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway.  Ride the trains and avoid the telly and radio.  But at New Romney station, at 11am, an announcement was made and for the minute's silence all of the engines stopped.  The big, burly drivers stood uptight in their tight little cabs - towering over the trains - and  (I fear) doffed their caps.  Quite, quite surreal.  The resulting image, rather than suggesting respect, was inadvertently and inappropriately funny.

Moving on from this picture, it also appears to me that this sense of privilege, of being able to do whatever they want without consideration of what is right and proper, or of its impact on others, connects in some way to the posh Tory boy’s government we have at the moment. The idea that if you inherit wealth, power and ‘status’ you are entitled. And of course you add to this the banking culture that has caused the financial crisis.   This establishment is immensely strong and infiltrates the culture at so many levels, and there is a small and dwindling sense, it seems to me, of any sense of respect or credit based on merit or morality.

And the Royals contribute to this problem in so many ways.

So what to do? Ignore the street parties and the flotilla of boats on the Thames? Or go along and shout at people? Probably not very wise. 

As mentioned here previously, we managed to get away from the collective insanity of the Royal Wedding, last year, to France – a proper, Republican country that seems to know what to do about royalty and nobility. A smashing couple of days were spent away from the madness.

However, this year we are stuck in London for the event.  No running away this time.

I don’t know. I like parties, meself, and the bread-and-circuses spectacle will at least be interesting. We are celebrating the wrong thing for the wrong reason. (Sixty years in the same job, which as far as I can see she doesn’t do very well at all?  Most of us can’t assume we will keep our jobs for the next year or two in the current economic climate, let alone sixty – aren't we all meant to have portfolio careers and embrace contract culture? And when did she last have a proper appraisal?). But at least we get a party, I suppose.

Anyway, the Trees will remain a little island of Republican sanity.  Hence Marvell's Horation Ode a few days back. 

Now there's an idea: perhaps we might also visit St Mary's church in Putney - home of the Putney debates of 1647. 

Yes, that sounds good...

Poem of the Week

An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland
Andrew Marvell

The forward youth that would appear
Must now forsake his Muses dear,
Nor in the shadows sing
His numbers languishing.

’Tis time to leave the books in dust,
And oil th’ unused armour’s rust,
Removing from the wall
The corslet of the hall.

So restless Cromwell could not cease
In the inglorious arts of peace,
But thorough advent’rous war
Urged his active star.

And like the three-fork’d lightning, first
Breaking the clouds where it was nurst,
Did through his own side
His fiery way divide.

For ’tis all one to courage high,
The emulous or enemy;
And with such to enclose
Is more than to oppose.

Then burning through the air he went,
And palaces and temples rent;
And Cæsar’s head at last
Did through his laurels blast.

’Tis madness to resist or blame
The force of angry Heaven’s flame;
And, if we would speak true,
Much to the man is due,

Who from his private gardens where
He liv’d reserved and austere,
As if his highest plot
To plant the bergamot,

Could by industrious valour climb
To ruin the great work of time,
And cast the kingdom old
Into another mould.

Though justice against fate complain,
And plead the ancient rights in vain;
But those do hold or break
As men are strong or weak.

Nature that hateth emptiness
Allows of penetration less,
And therefore must make room
Where greater spirits come.

What field of all the civil wars
Where his were not the deepest scars?
And Hampton shows what part
He had of wiser art,

Where, twining subtle fears with hope,
He wove a net of such a scope
That Charles himself might chase
To Carisbrooke’s narrow case,

That thence the royal actor borne
The tragic scaffold might adorn,
While round the armed bands
Did clap their bloody hands.

He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe’s edge did try;

Nor call’d the gods with vulgar spite
To vindicate his helpless right,
But bowed his comely head
Down as upon a bed.

This was that memorable hour
Which first assur’d the forced pow’r.
So when they did design
The Capitol’s first line,

A bleeding head, where they begun,
Did fright the architects to run;
And yet in that the state
Foresaw its happy fate.

And now the Irish are asham’d
To see themselves in one year tam’d;
So much one man can do
That does both act and know.

They can affirm his praises best,
And have, though overcome, confest
How good he is, how just,
And fit for highest trust;

Nor yet grown stiffer with command,
But still in the republic’s hand;
How fit he is to sway
That can so well obey.

He to the Commons’ feet presents
A kingdom for his first year’s rents;
And, what he may, forbears
His fame, to make it theirs,

And has his sword and spoils ungirt,
To lay them at the public’s skirt.
So when the falcon high
Falls heavy from the sky,

She, having kill’d, no more does search
But on the next green bough to perch,
Where, when he first does lure,
The falc’ner has her sure.

What may not then our isle presume
While victory his crest does plume!
What may not others fear
If thus he crown each year!

A Cæsar he ere long to Gaul,
To Italy an Hannibal,
And to all states not free,
Shall climacteric be.

The Pict no shelter now shall find
Within his parti-colour’d mind;
But from this valour sad
Shrink underneath the plaid,

Happy if in the tufted brake
The English hunter him mistake,
Nor lay his hounds in near
The Caledonian deer.

But thou, the war’s and fortune’s son,
March indefatigably on;
And for the last effect
Still keep thy sword erect;

Besides the force it has to fright
The spirits of the shady night,
The same arts that did gain
A pow’r, must it maintain.