Saturday, 30 June 2007
Those wishing to view my (very) brief appearance on Canada's CTV Network last night, in which I discuss Sunday's Concert for Diana and the attending celebrity pop stars (certainly not my area of expertise!) may do so by clicking HERE FOR VIDEO. The video should play automatically on most computers. A 15 second commercial will start and, after a short pause, will be followed by the 2 minute video. Those who cannot abide celebrity gossip might prefer to fast forward 90 seconds.
Last night's broadcast was the final installment of a series of segments I had recorded for Canada's CTV Network and which were aired every evening last week in preparation for the Concert for Diana. Each segment dealt with a different subject (the charity work of Diana and her sons, the concert, the paparazzi, the funeral etc.) and all were incorporated into the daily entertainment news programme "E-Talk". Needless to say, last night's celebrity focus was far from my usual territory.
The Concert for Diana airs tomorrow from 4pm to 10pm GMT (11am to 5pm ET).
Friday, 29 June 2007
The car bomb discovered in London in the early hours of this morning appears to have a connection to "international terrorism". These are the tactics of Baghdad coming to London: a Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) detonated in a crowded area. In Baghad they choose crowded markets -- in London they choose the West End and the City.
The car was discovered outside Tiger Tiger, a prominent restaurant and nightclub. If this establishment was targeted it might suggest an intended strike against so-called "western decadence". I have dined at this restaurant in the past, sitting at the window across from which the car was parked. I can therefore imagine full well the carnage that would have resulted were this device to have exploded.
However I also know the spirit of London. Londoners endured the relentless firestorm unleashed by the Luftwaffe, standing firm against the might of Nazi Germany and the terror of its V1 and V2 rockets, the forerunner of the ICBMs. We saw our ancient city in flames and our historic buildings crumble. We remained undaunted. The harder we were hit, the more resolute we became. If London could withstand the dark days of 1940-1941, which saw vast swathes of the imperial city engulfed in terror, it can certainly withstand the feeble attempts of terrorists to crush its spirit. The motto of this city was then and remains: London Can Take It!.
Thursday, 28 June 2007
Today saw the publication of the Royal Finances Annual report, which includes details of public expenditure. Once again the report revealed that the cost of the Monarchy to each UK taxpayer is a mere 62 pence per annum, which is the approximate cost of a chocolate bar or, to quote the Buckingham Palace press release, is "less than the price of two first class stamps". When one considers that in exchange for this paltry sum Britain receives the benefits of 1,000 years of stability and continuity, including the world's oldest democratic constitution, one really must consider this the deal of the century. The deal is even better for tax payers in Her Majesty's other realms as they do not have to bear any of these costs (although they must bear the costs of their own Governors-General, Governors, Lieutenant Governors, State Governors etc., as well as the costs incurred during a Royal Homecoming)
The Report demonstrates that the Monarchy continues to bring value for money and as an institution is as far removed from the image of extravagance and proflicacy portrayed by its unfair critics as it is possible to be. Despite rising inflation and other increased costs, wise fiscal management by Sir Alan Reid, Keeper of the Prviy Purse, has resulted in expenditure for 2006-07 of £37.3 million, 0.3% lower than in the previous year. Indeed, Sir Alan reports that "the total cost of the Monarchy is now 7% lower in real terms than it was in 2001. The reduction in the amount of Head of State expenditure reflects the continuous attention the Royal Household pays to obtaining the best value for money in all areas of expenditure."
A reduction of expenditure by 7% since 2001 is truly remarkable when one considers the very significant costs that the Monarchy has had to bear in recent years, not the least of which is the cost of increased security necessitated by the events triggered by the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001.
But it gets better. Sir Alan Reid continues: "In the current year there was a real decrease in expenditure of 2.7% due mainly to a reduction in refurbishment costs at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, offset by increased costs in dealing with a greater number of Freedom of Information enquiries."
Republicans often cite the cost of the Monarchy as an argument in favour of abolition, however, realistically, any British republic would require the creation of an office of "President" and the establishment and maintenance of such an office would be far from cheap, particularly when compared with the very reasonable cost of our modern Monarchy. Certainly the cost per person of the French and United States presidencies far exceeds 62 pence per person see HERE (and HERE).
Of course it must also be stressed that, in reality, the Monarchy does not cost taxpayers anything. In 1760 King George III agreed to surrender his income from hereditary revenues such as the Crown Estate in exchange for funding from the Civil List, which was funded by taxation. These hereditary revenues of the Crown, the proceeds of which now pass directly into state coffers, far exceed the sum of the annual Civil List.
For example, the Crown Estate alone generates annual revenue of approximately £200 million for the Treasury. If one substracts the £37 million pound annual cost of the Monarchy from this sum, the Monarchy benefits the Treasury (and the nation) to the tune of approximately £160 million per annum.
Criticising the cost of the Monarchy does become difficult when faced with such facts!
Wednesday, 27 June 2007
Photo: The Lord Lyon with the Young Fogey, St. Andrew's, 2006.
With the departure of one Blair another appears soon to follow. It has been announced on various Internet discussion groups and message boards that Robin Blair, Lord Lyon King of Arms, head of the Court of Lord Lyon and one of the Great Officers of State in Scotland, is to retire in December. Whilst I have not seen any official confirmation or announcement, I have received e-mail confirmation from more than one source. None of these e-mails contained privileged or confidential information and, having been intended for wide circulation, the contents are now deemed to be public knowledge.
The Lord Lyon has responsibility for regulating heraldry in Scotland, issuing new grants of arms, overseeing Scottish state ceremonial, confirming pedigrees and serving as the judge of the Court of Lord Lyon, the world's oldest active heraldic court. The unlawful use of arms remains a criminal offence in Scotland and, treated as tax evasion, may lead to prosecution in the Lyon Court (which has criminal jurisdiction). Whilst the Lord Lyon is the sole judge, his rulings may be appealed to the Court of Sessions and, eventually, to the House of Lords.
I have had dealings with The Lord Lyon and Lyon Court in the past and I have found Robin Blair to be an extremely helpful and cordial gentleman. I am most grateful for the assistance he afforded me in the acquisition of material for publication by Burke's Peerage and I wish him a happy retirement and continued success in his future endeavours.
As Tony Blair and Robin Blair exit, Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, will be feeling rather lonely!
Having written about two celebrations of the Feast of St. John (those of the Order of Malta and the Venerable Order of St. John) it would be remiss of me not to note a third noteworthy St. John's Day celebration that took place here in London this week: a concert for Quebec's National Day (St. Jean Baptiste being Quebec's patron saint).
I had the pleasure of attending the "Quebec Annual Concert" as a guest of the Agent-General of the Quebec Delegation for London. The concert was held, appropriately, at St. John's, Smith Square and featured Marianne Fiset (soprano) the First Grand Prize Winner of the Montreal International Musical Competition. At the Montreal competition Marianne Fiset also won the Jean A. Chalmers Award (for Best Canadian Artist), the Joseph Rouleau Award (for Best Quebec Artist) and the People's Choice Award.
At St. John's the carefully structured programme (which included Richard Strauss, Rachmaninov, Charpentier and Puccini) enabled the young soprano to demonstrate her wide vocal range. She was accompanied by the distinguished pianist Louise-Andree Baril.
To describe Marianne Fiset as a talented young artist is to deny her proper recognition, for her ability is quite remarkable. I am certain that she has a glorious career ahead. I urge all to note her name.
Following the concert the Quebec Delegation hosted a lively reception in the crypt (if a crypt can be lively!). In honour of the occasion my guest and I both wore ties emblazoned with fleur-de-lys; fortunately our ties were not of the same colour -- indeed, my guest's tie featured gold fleur-de-lys, the traditional symbol of the French Bourbon monarchy, and I did wonder whether some might have regarded this as a demonstration of support for a restoration! Contrary to popular belief, the white fleur-de-lys featured on the flag of Quebec relate not to Quebec's French royal heritage but, rather, to the Virgin Mary.
The concert and reception made for a very pleasant evening -- particularly as I had attended another reception earlier in the evening (this one hosted by the excellent Constitutional Unit of University College London) at which I was delighted to see the great historian Professor the Rt. Hon. The Lord Morgan. The BBC was filming at the UCL reception but, as delightful as it was, I cannot think in what context this event would have been reported.
Saturday, 23 June 2007
Will he or won't he? Rumour-mills have been churning ferociously in recent days, sprinkling little tidbits pertaining to Prime Minister Tony Blair's possible conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. Most pundits feel fairly certain that the Prime Minister shall cross the Tiber sometime after leaving office which, given that he departs Number 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, may well be sooner rather than later.
The issue became a "hot topic" last week following comments by Father Michael Seed which were reported in various national newspapers. Father Michael, the Franciscan Friar involved in the conversion of HRH The Duchess of Kent, Anne Widdecombe, M.P., and former Cabinet Minister John Gummer, is a friend of the Blairs and conducts Mass for them every week at Number 10 Downing Street.
Father Michael and I share mutual friends and I dined with him a few weeks ago; however we did not discuss the issue of the Prime Minister's possible conversion and so I cannot claim any special knowledge of this subject. But, I do know that he is in a privileged position to know about such things and therefore it is likely to be true. At any rate, the Prime Minister himself does not seem interested in quashing these rumours. If anything, he has actively fuelled speculation.
There can surely be little coincidence that the Prime Minister's final foreign visit was to Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican, nor that the gift he presented to His Holiness comprised three framed photographs of Cardinal Newman, perhaps Britain's most revered Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism.
I watched the Prime Minister closely as he presented His Holiness with the gift. The pride and joy so clearly etched on his face left me in no doubt as to his desire to convert.
Yesterday, when questioned about the likelihood of his conversion, the Prime Minister chose not to deny the rumours but said: "I don't want to talk about it. It's difficult with some of these things. Things aren't always as resolved as they might be." Along with providing a clear indication that he does want to convert, one cannot help but wonder whether this quote suggests that he might have received a little grilling in Rome regarding some of the decisions he has taken as Prime Minister.
For I am surely not alone in thinking it odd that a Prime Minister who has engaged in a war which was condemned both by the current Pope and by his predecessor should have an easy entry into the Church. Speaking about the possibility of an invasion of Iraq before his election to the papacy, the then Cardinal Ratzinger said:
"All I can do is invite you to read the Catechism, and the conclusion seems obvious to me…the concept of preventive war does not appear in The Catechism of the Catholic Church." Later he would say: "It should never be the responsibility of just one nation to make decisions for the world."
Following the start of the War His Future Holiness was unequivocal in his views: "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war'."
One might also wonder whether Tony Blair was asked to explain to the Holy Father why his Government tried to force faith schools in England to open up to accept 25% of pupils from other faith backgrounds -- a move which was strongly, and successfully, opposed by the Catholic church.
Similarly, Tony Blair may find himself in a slightly uncomfortable position if the Pope decides to ask him if he doesn't think it slightly odd that he should seek entry to the Roman Catholic faith so soon after his Government created civil partnerships between gay couples and, most recently, ignored the Roman Catholic Church's desperate plea to exempt Roman Catholic adoption agencies from equality laws on gay adoption. And of course his Government's stance on abortion and stem cell research, and his wife's support of planned parenthood groups, is not likely to gain him many bonus points either.
Tony Blair is also in breach of the Code of Canon Law as he is known to have taken Communion repeatedly, despite the fact that, as a non-Roman Catholic, he is only permitted to take Communion when he is in danger of death or when there is no church of his own faith within reasonable reach. Neither situation presented itself on any of the occasions when Tony Blair received Communion; indeed, several years ago his decision to take Communion at Westminster Cathedral resulted in a letter of rebuke from the late Cardinal Basil Hume, OSB, OM.
Whether I personally agree or disagree with any of the Prime Minister's decisions is irrelevant; I simply find it odd that he should apparently regard the Roman Catholic Church as a natural home. I for one hope very much that, if he does convert, he shall publish a detailed account of his motivation and the reasoning behind his decision.
Yesterday saw the Roman Catholic Order of St. John (Order of Malta) celebrate the Feast of its patron with a Mass at the London Oratory, and today was the turn of the "Protestant" Order.
The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem held its Annual Service at London's historic St. Paul's Cathedral. In the splendour of Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece Bailiffs and Knights and Dames of St. John gathered with Chaplains, Commanders, Officers, Serving Brothers, Serving Sisters and Esquires as well as with members of St. John's Ambulance Brigade to give thanks to God.
The Order is composed of almost thirty thousand members and four hundred thousand volunteers working in its worldwide ambulance brigade, hospital and clinics. The Most Venerable Order is the only one of the Orders of Saint John which does not have a denominational restriction on membership; it is open to any suitable candidate professing one of the major Christian faiths or who is ready to sustain the tenets of "this Christian Order".
The work of the Order covers two principal activities. Firstly support of the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem, secondly the Saint John Ambulance Brigade. The Eye Hospital mainly serves the Palestinians living in the Israeli occupied territories, who are not entitled to receive Israeli free medical or hospital aid.
Although inspired by the more ancient Hospitaller Order that preceded it, the modern Venerable Order of St. John, as a Royal Order with the Monarch as "Sovereign Head", dates from 1888. The Grand Prior of the Order is HRH The Duke of Gloucester. The Order's head quarters are in Clerkenwell and the Order retains the use of historic "St. John's Gate" (pictured). (I have been busy today and consequently the text in paragraphs 3 and 4 is courtesy of Guy Stair Sainty) :
Friday, 22 June 2007
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, otherwise known as the "Sovereign Military Order of Malta" (SMOM), the "Order of Malta" or the "Knights of Malta", today held its Annual Mass at the London (Brompton) Oratory in celebration of the feast day of its patron, St. John.
I was unable to attend this year, however here are some photographs taken in 2006:
The Order of Malta is the world's oldest military-religious order and has its origins in a hospice and confraternity in Jerusalem founded some time before the First Crusade (1099). Admission to the order is restricted to Roman Catholics of good standing. Internationally, the Order currently comprises 12,500 knights and dames, many from some of Europe's most important Roman Catholic families.
In accordance with its Constitutional Charter, the purpose of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is "the promotion of… the Christian virtues of charity and brotherhood. The Order carries out its charitable works for the sick, the needy and refugees without distinction of religion, race, origin or age. The Order fulfils its institutional tasks especially by carrying out hospitaller works, including health and social assistance, as well as aiding victims of exceptional disasters and war…"
Today the Order is a major global, professional organisation in terms of the humanitarian aid, medical care and emergency medicine it provides, in its management of hospitals, specialised homes for dependent elderly people, socio-medical care centres, the collection and transporting of medicines and the training of workers and ambulance staff. It has a body of more than 80,000 permanent volunteers and 11,000 doctors and nurses to deliver medical and relief aid; and its national Associations are present in over 120 countries.
For historical reasons the Order is a sovereign and neutral entity in international law and has accredited diplomatic missions in ninety-seven nations around the world. The Order has also received observer status at the United Nations and has delegations to various international organisations.
The 78th Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta, His Most Eminent Highness Fra' Andrew Bertie is accorded the ecclesiastical precedence of a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, with the diplomatic honours due to a sovereign head of state. Last month saw the Prince and Grand Master make a highly successful state visit to Poland (the first that a Grand Master of the Order of Malta had made to Poland since that carried out by Grand Master Chigi Albani della Rovere in 1931).
The Grand Master with the President of Poland during last month's state visit:
Portrait of Count Bogdan Hutten-Czapski (1851-1937), Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour & Devotion, President of the Polish Association during the previous state visit to Poland by a Grand Master of the SMOM.
Thursday, 21 June 2007
I have been asked to record a series of television segments which shall be aired every evening next week on Canada's CTV Network, in the lead-up to next weekend's "Concert for Diana", the musical extravaganza organised by TRH Princes William and Harry at Wembley Stadium to mark the July 1st birthday of Diana, Princess of Wales, on this the 10th anniversary of her death. Two other commentators have also recorded segments, one is the former Features Editor for British Vogue and correspondent for Fashion File and the other is a "Celebrity Lifestylist".
Each segment deals with a different subject (the charity work of Diana and her sons, the concert, the paparazzi, the funeral etc.). The segments will be incorporated into the daily entertainment news programme "E-Talk". The 30-minute entertainment magazine airs weeknights at 7 p.m. ET (check local listings) and repeats in a late-night 1:35 a.m. ET time slot and at 10 a.m. the following day (check local listings) on CTV.
CTV is also the official Canadian broadcaster of "The Concert for Diana" which shall be broadcast in Canada at 11am ET / 8 am PT on July 1st, 2007.
The confirmed line-up includes the English National Ballet, Sir Elton John, Rod Stewart, Bryan Ferry, Status Quo, Duran Duran, Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman, Tom Jones (all representing Diana's era) and Nelly Furtado, Joss Stone, Natasha Bedingfield, James Morrison, Take That, Fergie, Lily Allen, P.Diddy, Pharell Williams, Will Young and others (all representing the choices of Prince William and Prince Harry). I shall be at the concert and will be amongst those commentating on what promises to be a very special occasion.
Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Top right corner: Robert Watt, Canada's outgoing Chief Herald, wearing the Collar of Cs and holding his ceremonial baton. Robert Watt stands next to Dr. Claire Boudreau, the newly appointed Chief Herald of Canada. Photograph: Group photo of heralds attending the XXVIIth International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences in St. Andrews, Scotland, 2006. (Photo Source: http://www.congress2006.com/Heralds.html)
Today I received the following e-mail from Saguenay Herald of the Canadian Heraldic Authority:
"I am delighted to announce that yesterday Dr. Claire Boudreau was appointed Chief Herald of Canada, with the effective date of June 26, 2007, to succeed Robert D. Watt, who is retiring after having served as the first Chief Herald of Canada for the past 19 years. I shall send more details later, but I was eager to share with you this excellent news."
A country forged with a pioneering spirit, it is perhaps no surprise that Canada should have led the Commonwealth in the creation of "Symbols of Sovereignty", to quote a certain Canadian Garter King of Arms. From the Maple Leaf Flag, to the Order of Canada, to the Canadian Heraldic Authority, Canada has served as an inspiration to nation-building states in the Commonwealth and beyond.
The creation in 1988 of the Canadian Heraldic Authority by Letters Patent, signed by The Queen, established Canada as the first Commonwealth realm outside the United Kingdom to have its own heraldic authority. Robert Watt (Fellow of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada and Academician of L'Academie Internationale d'Heraldique), the outgoing Chief Herald, was instrumental in the creation of the CHA which, under his leadership, has established Canadian heraldry as arguably the world's most dynamic and exciting.
Having known Robb for a number of years I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his leadership and contributions, as herald, scholar and administrator; and I wish him a happy and well-deserved retirement.
And as Canada's first Chief Herald retires we see him replaced by the first female head of a Commonwealth heraldic authority: Dr. Claire Boudreau, formerly the (first) Deputy Chief Herald of Canada, Saint-Laurent Herald and Registrar of the CHA.
Claire Boudreau, Academician of L'Academie Internationale d'Heraldique, is an internationally recognised scholar in heraldic studies and has published numerous articles. She has been the principal designer and administrator of the CHA's pioneering online Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada, which was unveiled in July 2005. Dr. Boudreau's most important publication to date is the monumental:
L'héritage Symbolique des Hérauts d'Armes: Dictionnaire Encyclopédique de l'Enseignement du Blason Ancien (XIVe-XVIe siècle) (Le Léopard d’or, Paris, 2006). ISBN 2-86377-204-X
Claire Boudreau possesses all of the skills and qualities required of an excellent Chief Herald. I congratulate her warmly on her appointment and wish her continued success in the years to come as she steers the CHA on its steady path.
I was pleased to see the office of Chief Herald acquire a ceremonial aspect over the last few years (primarily through the acquisition of a Collar of Cs and a ceremonial baton) and I hope we shall see this trend continue.
Arms of Office of the Chief Herald of Canada:
Sunday, 17 June 2007
Iran has today condemned the decision to confer a knighthood on Sir Salman Rushdie, the Booker Prize winning author of "The Satanic Verses". It was the publication, in 1989, of this controversial novel which prompted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a "Fatwa" (death warrant) against the Indian-born, Rugby and Cambridge educated British citizen, forcing him to spend almost a decade in hiding.
Iran formally revoked the fatwa in 1998 however some Islamic clerics maintain that it is irrevocable and have urged their followers to kill Rushdie.
Speaking earlier today, Iranian spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini declared that "Honouring and commending an apostate and hated figure will definitely put the British officials in (a position) of confrontation with Islamic societies."
Hosseini continued: "Giving a badge to one of the most hated figures in Islamic society is basically an obvious example of fighting against Islam by high-ranking British officials."
Whilst I have no particular interest in Sir Salman's novels I am pleased to see him honoured as his knighthood demonstrates that whilst honouring our own we will not be intimidated or influenced by outside political pressures.
It is of course ludicrous to claim that this honour is "an obvious example of fighting against Islam by high-ranking British officials." Were this true we would not have seen a 2005 knighthood bestowed by The Queen upon Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, described by The Guardian as the "Most Influential Muslim in the UK".
Rather than criticise the British government, Iran should congratulate Britain for having recently raised a number of British Muslims to the highest ranks of British Society as members of the House of Lords. These include Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, the first Muslim peer; Lord Patel of Blackburn, leader of the British Hajj Delegation; Baroness Falkner of Margravine; and Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green.
Of course this incident does give rise to the question: Which is the greater honour? To have received a Fatwa or a Knighthood? Certainly in the case of Sir Salman both are badges of distinction, one demonstrating his commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of expression and the other acknowledging his contribution to literature.
A hearty congratulations to Sir Salman Rushdie, Knight Bachelor.
Saturday, 16 June 2007
The Queen's birthday honours were announced today (with knighthoods bestowed upon Sir Ian Botham and Sir Salman Rushdie amongst others) however, as important as these honours are, I would prefer to focus upon the new appointments to the Order of Merit, which were announced on Wednesday.
"The Queen has been pleased to appoint The Lord Rees of Ludlow (President of the Royal Society), The Rt Rev The Lord Eames, (former Anglican Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh), and Sir Timothy Berners-Lee KBE, (inventor of the World Wide Web) to be members of the Order of Merit.
The Order of Merit, founded in 1902 by King Edward VII, is a special mark of honour conferred by the Sovereign on individuals of exceptional distinction in the arts, learning, sciences and other areas. Appointments to the Order are in the Sovereign's personal gift and ministerial advice is not required."
Congratulations to all three on appointment to what is arguably the rarest and most prestigious meritocratic honour.
Today we officially celebrate the birthday of Our Sovereign Lady, HM The Queen.* Her Majesty is the fourth longest reigning Sovereign in British history, surpassed only by Queen Victoria, King George III and King Henry II (in England) and by Queen Victoria, King George III and King James VI (in Scotland).
As she has done every year of her reign save 1955, Her Majesty today took the salute at Trooping the Colour; thus continuing the historic ceremony which, in its current form, dates back to 1748 and which affords Her Majesty and Her Majesty's armed forces the opportunity to pay tribute to each other.
This year is particularly noteworthy as it is the 60th anniversary of The Queen's first participation in Trooping the Colour: in 1947 the then Princess Elizabeth, as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, rode behind her father, King George VI, as he inspected the troops for the first Trooping the Colour for 7 years.
At this time, it is perhaps appropriate to recall the great cry of a thousand voices which greeted The Queen from all corners of Westminster Abbey immediately following the homage paid by the Princes and Peers of the Realm:
"God Save Queen Elizabeth!
Long Live Queen Elizabeth!
May the Queen Live For ever!"
Happy birthday Ma'am!
* Other realms celebrate the official birthday of HM The Queen on different dates. In Canada The Queen's Official Birthday falls upon Victoria Day, which is the Monday on or before May 24 (the date of the old Empire Day and the date of Queen Victoria's birth). Australia, except Western Australia, celebrates The Queen's birthday on the second Monday in June. This date conflicts with Western Australia's "Founders Day" and consequently the Governor of Western Australia proclaims a separate date for The Queen's birthday (usually the last Monday in September or the first Monday in October). New Zealand celebrates The Queen's birthday on the first Monday in June. The Queen's Official Birthday is a public holiday in Bermuda and Gibraltar; and it is interesting to note that despite being a republic, Fiji continues to celebrate The Queen's birthday.
Thursday, 14 June 2007
On this 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands I had intended to pay my own tribute to the heroism and professionalism of the British Armed Forces as well as to the leadership and determination of Baroness Thatcher. However, having read a speech by former Conservative Party leader William Hague, I have instead decided to post an excerpt from the Rt. Hon. gentleman's address. The speech is long and I have therefore pruned it to those excerpts that best reflect the sentiments I wish to express:
"Next Thursday, the 14th of June 2007, will be the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands. In celebrating that date, we will be remembering the ingenuity, heroism, the world-beating professionalism, and of course, the sacrifices, of the British armed forces, whose people were then, and are today, the best in the world. That it was possible to mount so successful a military campaign, 8,000 miles from home from a standing start and often in bad weather and on difficult seas, is testimony to their extraordinary efforts. That such an effort was made to restore freedom to 1,800 Britons is further testimony to our strong British sense of right and wrong, our support for international law and our fundamental belief that those who have lived under the protection of Britain should have the right to determine their own future, rather than have it dictated by anyone else.
And furthermore, that all of this was done, and that it was done with an unwavering sense of leadership which combined the necessary application of military force with the great advantage of moral force, is a tribute above all to the extraordinary resolve and clear sighted determination of our then Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher. As she said on the 20th of May that year, "Britain has a responsibility to the Islanders, to restore their democratic way of life. She has a duty to the whole world that aggression will not succeed and to uphold the cause of freedom." It was a time when the world held its breath and when much of it then breathed the long sigh of relief that a leader who said such things turned out also to mean them.
That is why the liberation of the Falkland Islands will always be more than just another one of the countless military engagements of history: the manner and purpose of their recovery are no mere details in the historical record, but a lasting inspiration that showed that freedom can be defended, and a lasting reminder that we must always retain the strength to do so. So while tonight we are celebrating this event 25 years on, we can be confident that we or our successors will be doing so 50, 75 and 100 years on and that what was established beyond doubt in 1982 will not be forgotten.
..we are here this evening to celebrate the achievement of our former leader and former Prime Minister, who inspired a country to support a war we did not seek, but in the end had to fight, and to help people few in number, but who are as British as all of us here.
Margaret Thatcher sliced through the official opinions of many mandarins at the time, not to mention a few Ministers, and brought a diplomatic and military campaign into being through sheer force of personality. In doing so, she ensured respect for Britain in the world, as a champion of freedom and law. She set the tone which allowed her to strengthen alliances which confronted the global threat of that time, alliances which the United Kingdom still holds dear.
Her passion for liberty, her respect for the rule of law, her willingness to confront regimes who pose a threat to liberty and law, and her determination to do what was right, are part of an enduring and precious legacy not only to the Conservative Party but to the whole country. Whenever in the future we need to safeguard Britons at home or abroad, or confront those who threaten us, or defend the right of a people to decide their own future, the events in the Falkland Islands will always set a standard and the name of Margaret Thatcher will forever be an inspiration." -- The Rt. Hon William Hague, P.C., M.P.
Tuesday, 12 June 2007
The past three days have afforded this Young Fogey such an array of social distraction that he has been unable to attend to his usual routine, which includes blog-writing. However, with the return of normalcy, normalcy being relative (and in the case of a Young Fogey far from the norm), I am now able to provide a brief synopsis of my recent activity.
On Saturday I found myself in the sublime surroundings of Cambridge University. The purpose of my trip had been to attend the Golden Jubilee Banquet of the Cambridge University Heraldic and Genealogical Society ("CUHAGS", pronounced "KEW-HAGS"), a warm and welcoming society of scholars and enthusiasts who together comprise British academia's finest collection of correct form adherents.
My three guests for the evening were David Lumsden of Cushnie, Garioch Pursuivant to the Countess of Mar; Hugh Macpherson, Esq., of the Heraldic Porcelain Company; and Captain H. Caulder of the United States Air Force (all pictured here).
Prior to attending the main event my guests and I called upon Peter Avery OBE, a Fellow of King's College and an internationally recognised authority on Persia. Having arrived at the University in 1958, Mr. Avery shall celebrate his Cambridge Golden Jubilee next year and is one of the few remaining Fellows to have a permanent residence within the elegant King's College Gibbs Building. In the comfort of his rooms, we enjoyed fine wine and fine reminiscences.
The weather was perfect and as we strolled to the banquet reception, which was held in the Scholars Garden of Clare College, we smiled for the various tourists who deemed us worthy of a holiday snap. The reception was lively and all were in good spirit. Those attending included four members of Her Majesty's College of Arms, (Garter King-of-Arms, York Herald, Somerset Herald and Bluemantle Pursuivant) and various other respected heraldists and scholars some of whom had travelled from the United States and Europe.
The CUHAGS banquet, which was held in the Great Hall, was a splendid occasion and we were treated to a superb musical interlude. The highlight of the evening was the presentation, by Garter, of a grant of arms to the Society. The speeches were enjoyable, although it would be remiss of me not to note that one speech raised more than one eyebrow...on no fewer than three occasions.
CUHAGS dinners always provide one with the opportunity to catch up with various old friends and this evening was no different. The dinner carried on well past 11pm, following which a number of us continued our evening elsewhere, finally retiring at around 3am.
On Sunday, following a rather unpleasant alarm call, I was up and ready for Mass, following which I joined various members of the Heraldry Society in the Great Court of Trinity to hear the College Choir. At midday on the final Sunday of the academic year the Choir sings antiphonally from two of the towers in the college's Great Court, with a brass ensemble performing from the third. Over 200 of us stood and listened to the exquisite sound. This was the second consecutive year of my attendance and it shall not be the last. I was subsequently joined in the quad by David Lumsden and Hugh Macpherson, both of whom had been invited to partake of a snifter in another Fellow's rooms and arrived at Trinity after the choir's descent.
At the previous evening's banquet a friend had introduced my party to a sound Cambridge undergraduate, by the name of Gwilym Ap Evans, who informed us that he would be hosting a small drinks party the following afternoon (June 10) to celebrate White Rose Day, the anniversary of the birth, in 1688, of the so-called "Old Pretender", also known as "James III and VIII". As Lumsden, Macpherson and I are Royal Stuart Society Council members, we were warmly invited to attend. Thus did we find ourselves unexpectedly munching canapes and quaffing free-flowing champagne on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the delightfully secluded and tranquil surroundings of St. John's Fellows Garden. We enjoyed meeting various kindred spirits, most of whom sported white roses in their well-tailored lapels, and discussing all manner of reverent and irreverent subjects before bidding our host adieu. The dean, by whose kind permission the event was made possible, extended his kindness by escorting us to the gates.
Leaving the carved and manicured glory of St. John's we made our way to King's College to say goodbye to Peter Avery, who invited us to take a turn around the Fellows Garden and then sit on the grass outside his window on the ground floor of the Gibbs Building, on the corner nearest King's College Chapel (pictured supra). As I looked out out at the punts floating gently on the Cam and listened to the bell summoning one and all for Evensong I recalled the words of William Ernest Henley:
"Life is good, and joy runs high
Between English earth and sky"
At 3:25 we crossed over to King's College Chapel for Evensong, following which we collected Mr. Macpherson's car from Jesus College and returned to London (stopping off at Regent's Park for a short walk around Queen Mary's Rose Garden) and to impromptu dinner and drinks in Pimlico at the kind invitation of Mr. Macpherson, where we were joined also by my good friend Richard Carruthers, who was returning home to Vancouver the following morning.
I lapsed into the arms of Morpheus at 1am on Monday and rose at 7am in order to attend a pre-arranged morning engagement in Westminster. In the afternoon I joined Mr. Macpherson and another gentlemen, of Jermyn St., at the Rivoli Bar of the Ritz Hotel for Bucks Fizz following which we took luncheon in the Ritz Restaurant. Feeling quite merry after our excellent lunch, we continued to the Carlton Club to meet a good friend, a purveyor of fine Russian icons, and enjoy a cigar and a glass of port. I left the Carlton in the late afternoon and sauntered around Jermyn St., purchasing shirts and some ties.
Crossing Regent St to make my way home I bumped into a cousin whom I had not seen in two years. We ventured into a near-by coffee house and brought each other up-to-date on our recent activities. Parting company an hour later we agreed to meet up soon again. It now being 6pm I was in no mood to do battle with the headless hoi polloi on the subterranean railway and so I called upon two recently relocated New Yorker friends, now living in Covent Garden, whom I knew to be dining in Soho.
I left them at 7:30 and headed on to a small cocktail/dinner party at a friend's flat in Knightsbridge. My host's neighbours were enjoying an al fresco soiree and had hired an accomplished pianist and a string quartet for the occasion. Of this we were the unexpected and most grateful beneficiaries as we were able to dine to the accompaniment of the soothing sounds of Mendelssohn, Franck and Schumann.
Sound sleep had evaded the Young Fogey the previous three nights and, having enjoyed an excess of decadence, he offered his apologies and left early, returning to Chateau Fogey at 11pm to sleep the sleep of the innocent for the first time in several days.
(My thanks to Antti Matikkala, former President of CUHAGS, and Capt. H. Caulder for sharing their photographs)
Saturday, 9 June 2007
I have recently been engaged in a delightful correspondence with various gentlemen members of the New Sheridan Club, a bastion of chappist civility which now boasts an Internet presence. I have particularly enjoyed an exchange with two members on the subject of red socks. My interlocutors and I hold the traditional view that red socks are a good thing. Alas, the long-standing high regard in which red socks have been held, and the VIF (very important feet) which they themselves have held, have been forgotten by a great many social commentators.
I discovered this myself in November 2005 in no less a respectable publication than the increasingly unrespectable former broadsheet The Times. Writing with reference to Her Britannic Majesty's former Ambassador to the United States of America, Sir Christopher Meyer (styled as a "red socked fop" by the sartorially-challenged John Prescott), Michael Gove, that otherwise sound Tory, wrote as follows:
"...our former ambassador to Washington has run into trouble for committing the sort of social solecism that could happen to any of us. If only he had consulted a wider circle of friends with practised judgment he might have escaped embarrassment.
"I’m not talking about Sir Christopher’s decision to spill the beans about his private conversations with his colleagues in return for a handsome advance for his memoirs DC Confidential...
"No, Sir Christopher’s real mistake was in the hosiery department. John Prescott’s revelation that Our Man in Washington was known throughout his time in the States as “the red-socked fop” exposed the real frailty in judgment. Just as every man over the age of 35 needs to know how to deal with aural hair growth, so no man over the age of 25 should attempt individuality with his socks.
"Brightly coloured or, even worse, patterned, socks worn with business suits are a catastrophic faux pas, ...
"The decision to go for red is meant to show an air of devil-may-care individuality and loveableness. But I fear it’s the sartorial equivalent of hanging a “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps!” poster above your desk. It is, in the profoundest sense of the word, a deeply Brentian act.
"...there is a very thin dividing line between dressing wittily and looking like a clown. Best not to go there, and leave the red socks to the Welsh rugby team."
Needless to say, such ignorance could not be permitted to remain unchallenged. I therefore set quill to parchment and scratched out an appropriate letter of correction which was duly published in The Times of November 26 under the heading "Knees Up in Rome":
"Sir, Michael Gove, that noted arbiter of taste, has decreed that by choosing red socks Sir Christopher Meyer has committed a “catastrophic faux pas” (times2, Nov 23).
Alas, this statement only reveals its author’s unfamiliarity with the dress code of the upper classes. Coloured socks have long served as a social indicator, revealing much about the wearer’s background and sympathies, and in a crowded room can help to identify kindred spirits. I have attended formal dinners at which those who were (or believed themselves to be) of the “blood royal” wore red socks with evening dress. Red socks are also occasionally worn by well-heeled gentlemen at certain exclusive dining societies.
If Mr Gove visits Jermyn Street or Savile Row, he will find any number of renowned gentlemen’s shops proudly selling the very socks he finds so objectionable.
For a true education, however, I would recommend a trip to Gammarelli, sartoria per ecclesiastici, a small shop off Piazza Minerva in Rome. Official outfitter to popes and senior members of the Roman Catholic clergy, it is better known by English gentlemen as the source of the world’s finest flaming-red knee-length socks." (Link to the original piece in The Times)
One never knows whether columnists bother to read letters to the editor, still less whether they pay them any real heed. I was therefore delighted to hear from a friend that Michael Gove had referenced my letter in a subsequent column, which he wrote on December 21:
"Socks appeal: it works for men
"The last time I wrote about male footwear on this page I got it in the neck from a reader who fired off a learned missive upbraiding me for my hostility towards red socks. Did I not realise that a peacock display of scarlet hosiery was a badge of rank, up there with ermine, which signified that blue blood coursed underneath the red stockings?
"That’s as maybe. But I can’t help thinking that it reinforces my point that such self-conscious dandyism is best left to those who have no social summit left to climb...."
Mr. Gove might not have conceded his error, choosing instead to reinterpret his argument, but I had at least been afforded the opportunity to set the record straight and, hopefully, save other red sock enthusiasts from the misplaced smirks of those who might otherwise have considered them a fashion calamity.
Thursday, 7 June 2007
Yesterday afternoon I ventured into the Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Justice (the month old successor to the Department for Constitutional Affairs) to hear Baroness Hayman, the first Speaker of the House of Lords, address a small group about her newly created office.
The position of Lord Speaker was established through the Constitutional Reform Act, 2005, depriving the Lord Chancellor of his ancient function as the Upper Chamber's presiding officer. The Government believed that the Lord Chancellor's varied roles as moderator of the House of Lords, cabinet minister and head of the judiciary left the Government open to challenges under the Human Rights Act. Thus can it be argued that the creation of the position of Lord Speaker is directly related to the European Union's increasing influence over Britain's constitution.
Baroness Hayman was elected Lord Speaker in July 2006, making her and the surviving hereditary peers the most democratic element within the otherwise wholly-appointed chamber. There is surely some irony to the fact that, having been elected, those who now sit in the Lords by virtue of their ancient pedigree have a greater claim to democratic legitimacy than those who have arrived in the Lords following a long career in the House of Commons.
Baroness Hayman, whose term runs for five years, explained that the term "Lord Speaker" has been in use for over four centuries but that the Lord Chancellor's role as a "Speaker" was far more minimalist than that of his Commons counterpart. Unlike the Commons, the "Other Place" is largely self-governing and thus the Lord Speaker's tasks remain far less onerous and far less procedural. The Lord Speaker does not select members to speak, select proposed legislative amendments or engage in the other activities most normally associated with Mister Speaker. One will not find this lady calling "Order! Order!".
What, then, does the Lord Speaker do? In many respects, the role of the Lord Speaker is to act as an ambassador for the Upper House. One might say that the Speaker is the chief PR officer: debating, defending, advocating for and upholding the House of Lords against criticism and attack. The Speaker exists to dispell myths and set the record straight. I was heartened to hear Baroness Hayman enter into a spirited defence of the Lords. Such a refreshing sound!
Alas, I was disappointed and, indeed, annoyed to learn that this Government treats the office of Lord Speaker as unequal to that of Mister Speaker. For whilst Mister Speaker enjoys the benefit of an official residence within the Palace of Westminster, no similar accommodation has been afforded the Lord Speaker; this despite the fact that the Lord Chancellor's apartment is vacant and ideally suited for the purpose(particularly given the sumptuous refurbishment provided by the Prime Minister's first Lord Chancellor!). One can only assume a political motivation. I detest such petty and meaningless actions. They achieve nothing and are the product of small minds.
More annoying, dare I say infuriating, is the completely ludicrous ranking accorded the Lord Speaker. As any properly educated schoolchild will proudly reveal, legislation passes from Commons to Lords prior to receiving Royal Assent. The Lords is the "Upper House" with the Commons ranking below. Yet, inexplicably, the Lord Speaker follows Mr. Speaker in the Table of Precedence. What lunacy! One need merely look to the Canadian situation to see the correct order, with the Speaker of the Senate taking precedence immediately before the Speaker of the Commons. The decision to rank the Lord Speaker after the Speaker of the House of Commons is a purely political decision (the unconstitutional illogical logic presumably being that the Lords is subordinate as it is an unelected ratification chamber) which makes a mockery of our constitutional system. Quite simply it stinks. I for one find it indefensible and deplorable.
I was afforded the opportunity to address the Lord Speaker and I did raise this point, in diplomatic terms. Baroness Hayman, who must remain neutral and non-partisan at all times, carefully acknowledged that the subject of precedence had caused some debate but, quite understandably, declined to comment further.
It will come as no surprise that as a High Tory and a traditionalist I am steadfastly opposed to change. Nevertheless, once change has occurred, and however much one may lament the loss of that which went before, one must soberly analyse the current situation and determine its palatability. I am pleased to say that I was impressed by Baroness Hayman and found her defence of the Upper Chamber encouraging. The Lord Speaker's role as Champion of the Lords is also to be welcomed. Whereas the Lord Chancellor might not have advocated for the Lords with much enthusiasm, a separate and independent Lord Speaker is now able to defend and promote the Upper Chamber with all guns blazing. And that is a good thing.
Britain was once a proud nation. A nation which had no need to assert its identity or reaffirm its notion of self. So pronounced was its self-confidence it didn't even bother to put its name on its stamps. Everyone knew Britain was great; that it was also green and pleasant was a bonus.
Yet now we are told that Britain is afflicted by an identity crisis. The meaning of Britishness is poorly understood and Mother Labour wants to teach us what it means (ah, if only Labour's Britain were my Britain!).
Truth be told, we would not be in this sorry mess had generations of loony lefties, at all levels of government, not embarked upon a decades long policy of Britain-bashing, in which Britain's legacy and achievements and its symbols and institutions were ignored, devalued and debased whilst ghettoised minority communitites were actively encouraged to celebrate and foster their own cultures and traditions, in their own languages. One cannot help but wonder whether there just might be a connection...
When one adds devolution, the rise of the European Union and the concomitant erosion of British sovereignty to the depressing mix, there is little wonder that some are dazed and confused.
To be fair, whilst Labour has not acknowledged that it is largely responsible for this lamentable state of affairs, it should be congratulated for finally realising that action must be taken; it is only a shame that its good intentions are so poorly directed.
According to two Labour Ministers, the solution to Britain's malaise is "Britain Day". Yes. I know, I know. My thoughts exactly.
Other countries have national days of celebration but these mark pivotal moments of nation-forging, be they days of independence (USA and many Commonwealth republics), revolution (France), discovery or first landing (Australia), federation or confederation (Canada), or the signing or coming-into-force of treaties or national constitutions (New Zealand and Poland).
One of the marked disadvantages of having the world's oldest and most stable democratic constitution and system of government (as Britain does) is that Britain doesn't have any great date upon which it can claim to have been born. We have no Phoenix moment. Ours is a story of relatively peaceful evolution. How civilised. How British.
The closest we can come to a birthday is the date of the Act of Union, yet we saw its tercentenary pass this year without a single catherine wheel or roman candle.
The date proposed by Labour ministers is the date of the State Opening of Parliament. Yawn! Only long-term residents of the Westminster Village would propose such an uninspiring date. It is safe, relatively PC and boring! The public is unlikely to connect with this in any real way.
If any "Britain Day" is to succeed it must be tied to an event or date which has great historic and popular appeal and that event should be central to the celebrations. The only dates that spring to mind are Battle of Britain Day (September 15), Trafalgar Day (October 21), or the old Empire Day (May 24, which is also Queen Victoria's birthday and is currently celebrated in Canada as "Victoria Day").
Of course, the great national days of other states are days of enormous pomp and pageantry: flags and bunting galore, fly pasts, fireworks, parades, concerts; a great smorgasbord of patriotic fervour, all designed to stiffen the sinews and reaffirm that ___________________ (insert name of country) is a splendid place.
Alas, what we have been offered is a day of local community initiatives....which sounds like a dull and very wet affair indeed. The real world equivalent would be for a tour guide to go to Heathrow airport to greet an enthusiastic first-time tourist, eager to see Britain's greatest and best, and then skip London completely, taking the poor soul to Milton Keynes or Basingstoke, before sending him back home.
The proposed Britain Day is an artificial creation that is doomed to fail. If the government seriously wants a national celebration of Britishness it should organise major events on Coronation Day or Queen Victoria's birthday. The Monarch is the ultimate symbol of our state and it is towards the Monarch that our national pride is traditionally directed. The anniversary of a monarch's birth or coronation is the appropriate time to celebrate Britain and all things British.
However, more important than any short-lived celebration, if the government wants to strengthen pride in Britain it must take proactive steps to instill British values in two critical groups: the young and immigrants.
The government should ensure that a portrait of The Queen is erected in the lobby of every state funded school, college and university and that the national anthem is reintroduced to school assemblies. It must make the study of British history compulsory through all levels of primary and secondary school and ensure that the history that is taught is balanced and unbiased.
The government must also ensure that British culture and values are never sacrificed or made to take a backseat to minority interests. New immigrants must enroll in civics classes that offer instruction on our culture and our history and, prior to receiving citizenship and in addition to an English-language test, these immigrants should, as in Canada, have to pass a test demonstrating comprehension of our national qualities and history.
The young, new immigrants and indeed many adult Britons, whilst enjoying a day off, will see no reason to attend a day long celebration of Britishness if they are not first taught what being British means. Let us not place the cart before the horse.
Monday, 4 June 2007
The new London Olympic logo was unveiled today amidst much fanfare and self-congratulation.
An excited Lord Coe, the London Olympic organising committee chairman, stated: "This is the vision at the very heart of our brand.
"It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world. It is an invitation to take part and be involved.
"We will host a Games where everyone is invited to join in because they are inspired by the Games to either take part in the many sports, cultural, educational and community events leading up to 2012 or they will be inspired to achieve personal goals."
Well that all sounds very jolly hockey sticks and I admire the Committee's motiviation, however I for one find it hard to imagine that the garish neon logo can inspire anyone to do anything other than look the other way...or perhaps reach for the migraine pills.
This is undeniably London's decade. Having recently supplanted New York as the financial centre of the universe London has now, for the first time in almost a century, regained its status as "Capital of the World". Fate dealt this mighty city a great hand in offering it the opportunity to broadcast its newly-acquired status via the world's most visible platform: the Olympic games. The Olympic Logo should demonstrate the strength, confidence, vitality, pride and values of this city and its people as well as our message for the global community.
The Olympic logo should inspire. Yet I find myself looking at something not dissimilar to the admittedly accomplished doodling which, in the mid-1980s, used to grace the covers of the notebooks of my then 14 year old cousin. It is all very Blondie, Tiswas and Swap Shop. Indeed, the video that acted as the vehicle for the launch of this new logo, and which featured multi-coloured shards erupting through council estates and parks all over London, resembles the sort of low budget television programme one would watch on Children's BBC circa 1987.
One cannot help but wonder how much of the £400,000 that has been spent on this project was directed at market research. The old logo was not overly inspirational but it was attractive and easy on the eye. I do not want to appear as a negative Olympics-basher as I do in fact support the Games; I simply believe that we, by which I mean Londoners and Britons, deserve better than something which could be mistaken for the sort of cheap plastic jigsaw one would find in inferior christmas crackers -- and which disappointed children would eagerly swap for tipsy grandma's spinning top.
London is a city of design classics. The telephone box. The red pillar box. The policeman's helmet. The mini. The tube map. The London Eye. We are a discerning city. All we seek is something of which we can be proud. Come on Olympic Committee! Go for Gold!
Saturday, 2 June 2007
On this date in 1953, HM The Queen did "solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, and of [Her] Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs."
Her Majesty has faithfully fulfilled her oath for over 50 years and on this Coronation Day all of her peoples in each of her far-flung realms should give thanks. Through dedication, self-sacrifice and commitment to duty The Queen, the embodiment of our collective spirit and our national story, should serve as an inspiration to all.
I am fortunate to have been born upon the First of June, one of the two dates of the year Britons traditionally hold to be "Glorious" (the second being the "Glorious Twelfth" of August). Yesterday evening, in celebration of my natal anniversary, 12 friends joined me for a private dinner in the historic surroundings of London's Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Rebuilt in 1667, following destruction in the Great Fire of London, the Cheshire Cheese is one of London's most historic taverns/chop houses and was a known haunt of Dr. Johnson, Charles Dickens, and various other literary luminaries. In the atmospheric surroundings of the Johnson Room we gathered, kindred spirits all, to be merry and to indulge in good living.
Given the Cheshire Cheese's Stuart pedigree, its link with Samuel Pepys and the proximity to the date of the Restoration of the Monarchy (May 29th 1660), we thought it fitting to read an excerpt from Pepys' diary entry for June 1st, 1660:
"At night Mr. Cooke comes from London with letters, leaving all things there very gallant and joyful. And brought us word that the Parliament had ordered the 29th of May, the King’s birthday, to be for ever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny, and the King’s return to his Government, he entering London that day."
Given the date, of the various toasts proposed at the dinner one offered to the Royal Navy is worthy of note. The Glorious First of June was so named following a naval battle fought in the Atlantic Ocean between the Royal Navy and the navy of Revolutionary France. It was the first major naval battle of the French Revolutionary Wars and following the British victory it was decreed that the First of June would be forever "Glorious". We therefore remembered in particular those brave sons of Britannia who fought in that battle.
One amusing aside: aboard the ship Tremendous, which took part in the battle, Mrs Daniel Mackenzie gave birth to a boy, Daniel "Tremendous" Mackenzie, that baby was deemed to have been a participant in the battle and was consequently awarded the Naval General Service medal, with a rating of "Baby" – surely the youngest person ever honoured for active service!
Following our hearty meal, several of us stumbled on to the Carlton Club for cigars and post-prandials -- there being only four weeks left for cigar afficionados to enjoy their (ever more guilty!) pleasure in elegant surroundings, the English smoking ban taking effect from July 1st) and I finally lapsed into the arms of Morpheous on the morning of a day which had long ceased to be my birthday.