Saturday, August 23, 2014

Commemoration


This August, Britain has been commemorating the start of the first world war, which began 100 years ago.

As part of the commemoration, 800,000+ artificial poppies have been placed in the moat at the Tower of London, each poppy representing one British or Commonwealth life lost.

It must have been the most devastating war to live through. What always strikes me travelling through Britain and France is how many names there are on each village memorial. Particularly as the villages were almost always much smaller in those days, at least in Britain. Some small communities must have lost all the guys aged between 16 and 35. Probably every family in Britain lost someone; mine certainly did. There was a brother of my father's mother 'shot while trying to escape' from being taken prisoner, which she seemed to find entirely in character. Then there was my mother's mother's father, who survived the trenches only to die in vile influenza epidemic that broke out during the last year of war and the first years of peace.

On my many travels I've developed a theory that Britain and America were actually quite similar in outlook up to 1914. There was an unashamed patriotism, and a strong belief in science and technology as agents of positive change. There was also quite a lot of religious belief expressed and publicly celebrated. Both nations, and indeed countries like France and Germany, felt they were special and unique and blessed by god, or at least good fortune.

After 1918, in Britain and Europe, many people felt that modern war had rendered such beliefs absurd. How do you believe in a technological utopia when science has produced poison gas, high explosive and the machine gun? How would any kind of loving god sit on his hands whilst Europe bleeds itself white, and then rewards the peace with an influenza outbreak that kills almost as many people who died in the war? How can one be patriotic, when patriotism has led to so many pointless deaths? Above all else why was the war fought and was the price in blood and treasure remotely worth paying?

Now I know America did enter the war (late as usual as British cynics would add). But although Imperial Germany felt the growing weight of American arms towards the final months of war, American casualties were, by European standards, tiny. Now don't get me wrong, 100,000+ deaths is awful - far greater than the numbers of US dead in for example, Vietnam. But from a population of 90 million, they don't have anything like the same effect as 700,000+ British dead from a population half that size.

So in the years that follow, the United States remains very religious (at least on the surface), supremely optimistic about science and technology, and unashamedly patriotic. European culture is the exact opposite; and I reckon it's because of the first world war.

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Monday, July 07, 2014

Roger Federer


We went to Wimbledon on Saturday for the women's singles final.

Disappointing as a match, it featured my favourite Petra Kvitova in Matrix like form as she destroyed Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-0 in 55 short minutes. 

A couple of doubles matches followed, but for me the real highlight of the day was at around 11am when, acting on a tip-off from a kindly official, we settled into the tiny outside Court Number 4 and saw Roger Federer practise with friend and hitting partner Fabrice Santoro and coach Stefan Edberg.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Best Week-End of the Summer is Over

This was a great week-end as it marks the highpoint of summer for me.

The reason? Wimbledon and Glastonbury coincide, this year along with a World Cup, although the less said of England's results in that competition the better. 

Glastonbury is the only time of the year I seriously pay attention to music these days, and I always make a list of artists that have impressed me. This year the list was:

The Horrors

The Bombay Bicycle Club, although M and I were impressed with them back in 2012 when we saw them supporting Blur in Hyde Park.

Ellie Goulding who comes from near Kington, a village I know on the Herefordshire border.

Kasabian who headlined Glasto this year in the prestigious Sunday evening top-of-the-bill slot.


* Strangely enough the performances weren't bad in a couple of the matches.


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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Holidays in the Sun


On Sunday we arrived back from a week in Benalmadena.

It was lovely to feel the hot sun on our backs, attempt some tennis and actually swim in an outdoor pool without flirting with hypothermia.

But work on Monday was brutal - I'd not sat at my desk for nine days and felt incredibly bored, distracted and miserable to be back. No change there then.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

49 Today

I can't believe I'm 49 but a fact is a fact.

It was a really beautiful sunny day and we went up to Norfolk to see a relative's paintings (lino prints, actually). But curses! 

The amateur community arts center only opens from 10 to 1pm on Saturday. So we left and found a cafe in pretty Woolpit and drank tea and ate cake instead.

My pressies included some wonderful Clarks Desert Boots, a belt, a tee-shirt, Hunger Games 2, Endless Summer and Gravity on DVD and money.

We've just got back from pizza and salad and it was a lovely day.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Latin is Shit

Here's a brilliant blog post from Donald Clark. He's someone far more educated than me who argues that teaching kids Latin is a complete waste of time.

I concur.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Saddest Country and Western Song

The saddest country and western song ever is sung over the titles of John Carpenter's sci-fi film Dark Star.

I've been humming and partially singing it for about 30 years now, and have finally discovered a full set of lyrics on the Internet (which is a wonderful thing, especially if your memory is a crap as mine). It's a song of love and loss and remembering. As you can see, it's even sadder than I thought:

A million suns shine down
But I see only one
When I think I'm over you
I find I've just begun
The years move faster than the days
There's no warmth in the light
How I miss those desert skies
Your cool touch in the night

Benson, Arizona
Blew warm wind through your hair
My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there
Benson, Arizona
The same stars in the sky
But they seemed so much kinder 
When we watched them, you and I

Benson, Arizona
Blew warm wind through your hair
My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there
Benson, Arizona
The same stars in the sky
But they seemed so much kinder 
When we watched them, you and I

Now the years pull us apart
I'm young and now you're old
But you're still in my heart
And the memory won't grow cold
I dream of times and spaces
I left far behind
Where we spent our last few days
Benson's on my mind

Benson, Arizona
Blew warm wind through your hair
My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there
Benson, Arizona
The same stars in the sky
But they seemed so much kinder 
When we watched them, you and I

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