Friday, 5 August 2016

Sounding Scottish

It is time I relieved myself of a feeling of irritation caused by Will Self. I put my hand up at a public meeting a couple of years ago and asked him his opinion of the then-impending referendum on Scottish independence. Self stared at me and said sarcastically 'You don't sound Scottish'.

The usual retort to this accusation is to quote Hancocks Half Hour : ' we're not all Rob Roys, you know' but I forgot, and have been kicking myself ever since.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Correspondence from Muscat

A despatch from H.M. Consul-General, Muscat, to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Home:

                                                                                             British Consulate-General

27 August 1960

My Lord,

I have the honour to refer to Your Lordship's despatch No.8 of July 29, in which you requested me to ascertain, on behalf of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, whether the B flat clarinet music, enclosed with your despatch, was a correct and up-to-date rendering of the National Salute to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman.

2.  I have encountered certain difficulties in fulfilling this request.  The Sultanate has not since 1937 possessed a band.  None of the Sultan's subjects, so far as I am aware, can read music, which the majority of them regards as sinful.  The Manager of the British Bank of the Middle East, who can, does not possess a clarinet.  Even if he did, the dignitary who in the absence of the Sultan is the recipient of ceremonial honours and who might be presumed to recognise the tune, is somewhat deaf.

3.  Fortunately, I have been able to obtain, and now enclose, a gramophone record which has on one side a rendering by a British military band of the "Salutation and March to His Highness the Sultan of Muscat and Oman".  The first part of this tune, which was composed by the bandmaster of a cruiser in about 1932, bears a close resemblance to a pianoforte rendering by the Bank Manager of the clarinet music enclosed with Your Lordship's despatch.  The only further testimony I can obtain of the correctness of this music is that it reminds a resident of long standing of a tune, played by the long defunct band of the now disbanded Muscat infantry, and known at the time to non-commissioned members of His Majesty's forces as (I quote the vernacular) "Gawd strike the Sultan blind".

4.  I am instructed by the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs that there are now no occasions on which the "Salutation" is officially played.  The last occasion on which it is known to have been played at all was on a gramophone at an evening reception given by the Military Secretary in honour of the Sultan, who inadvertently sat on the record afterwards and broke it.  I consider, however, that an occasion might arise when its playing might be appropriate: if, for example, the Sultan were to go aboard a cruiser which carried a band.  I am proposing to call on His Highness shortly at Salalah on his return from London, and shall make further enquiries as to his wishes in this matter.

5.  I am sending a coopy of this despatch, without enclosures, to His Excellency the Political Resident at Bahrain.

I have, etc


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' and UKIP

Leo Tolstoy - UKIP supporter?
Ahead of BBC Radio 4's whole New Year's Day adaptation of 'War and Peace' tomorrow, it is worth reminding ourselves that Leo Tolstoy was passionately opposed to Napoleon's 'European Project', as he made clear in Book Ten, chapter 38 of 'War and Peace' where Napoleon writes:

'The Russian war should have been the most popular war of modern
times: it was a war of good sense, for real interests, for the
tranquillity and security of all; it was purely pacific and
It was a war for a great cause, the end of uncertainties and the
beginning of security. A new horizon and new labors were opening
out, full of well-being and prosperity for all. The European system
was already founded; all that remained was to organize it.
Satisfied on these great points and with tranquility everywhere, I
too should have had my Congress and my Holy Alliance. Those ideas were
stolen from me. In that reunion of great sovereigns we should have
discussed our interests like one family, and have rendered account
to the peoples as clerk to master.
Europe would in this way soon have been, in fact, but one people,
and anyone who traveled anywhere would have found himself always in
the common fatherland. I should have demanded the freedom of all
navigable rivers for everybody, that the seas should be common to all,
and that the great standing armies should be reduced henceforth to
mere guards for the sovereigns.
On returning to France, to the bosom of the great, strong,
magnificent, peaceful, and glorious fatherland, I should have
proclaimed her frontiers immutable; all future wars purely
defensive, all aggrandizement antinational. I should have associated
my son in the Empire; my dictatorship would have been finished, and
his constitutional reign would have begun.'  and so on...

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Passing- bells

Church bells
Sometimes it's the little things that get to you. A  misplaced apostrophe. A wrong emphasis. On TV last night a WWI drama was trailed and the voice-over mentioned 'passing bells' with the stress on the word 'bells', as if the phrase was using 'passing' in the same sense as a passing thought or a passing pedestrian. This betrayed shameful ignorance of the intended  reference to the first line of the WWI poem 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfrid Owen: 'What passing-bells for those who die as cattle' - which only scans if you put the stress on 'passing'.  Even so, as any ful kno  (except the BBCTV voiceover person)  a 'passing-bell' (emphasis on 'passing') is the word used for bells tolled after a funeral,  just as 'wedding bells' are rung at weddings. The phrase is meaningless  if you stress 'bells'. What did the voiceover person think a 'passing bell' pronounced like that could be? And if she (it was a woman) didn't know - why didn't she ask? Harrumph.

Friday, 26 September 2014


Dumfries hospital outpatients reception
It is T S Eliot's birthday today, an excuse to revisit The Waste Land and the Four Quartets.

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind us of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Cricket against slavery

 Pope Francis and his cricket XI

A wonderful day on Friday at the inaugural charity cricket match in aid of Global Freedom Network, the Vatican vs Church of England at Kent County Cricket ground in Canterbury. The sun shone all day, and the C of E won with a magnificent four off the second ball of the last over. Then we all went into the members' pavilion for a slap up dinner and much house red.
One of our party (in pink) with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the background

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

On the Eve

Ivan Turgenev
The great and wonderfully readable 19th century Russian short story writer and novelist Ivan Turgenev wrote a novel in 1859 called 'On the Eve', which, like all great novels, is hard to summarise in a few sentences. However, for the purposes of relevance to our own referendum ballot tomorrow, it is worth mentioning that one of the main protagonists is a Bulgarian freedom fighter, seeking to liberate his country from the Ottoman empire.  In 1853, the year 'On the Eve' is set in, Britain, France and the Turks were on the verge of going to war with Russia over the Crimea, and the good people of Moffat burned an effigy of Tsar Nicholas I in the High St, which he had visited as a teenage Grand Duke thirty seven years before.

An item on last night's 'Newsnight' broadcast live from outside St Andrew's church in Moffat asked if the secession of Scotland from the Union might be the last installment in the story of the British empire, very largely built by Scots. There is another way in which this novel is timely: it was written at the time that Garibaldi ( a great hero and personal friend of Thomas Carlyle of Ecclefechan) was leading the fight to unite Italy.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum tomorrow, it has been an enormously exciting process, a testament to the benefits to be derived from actually sitting in a public space like Moffat Town Hall with neighbours and having a serious peer-to-peer among equals discussion about stuff that matters to all of us. How about tackling the blight of the Mercury Hotel next?