A friend recently alerted me to the quaintly excellent Seven Stars pub, a survivor of the Great Fire of London, and its resident cat, Tom Paine. I blogged about him here. Tonight I ventured over there to meet a friend for a pint or three and to catch a glimpse of this famous feline. I am sad to report that he is no more. He has passed over, as all Tom Paines must, to join our great namesake.
He is fondly remembered by the charming and friendly "belles of Carey Street" (I was married for more than thirty years and never called 'darling' so much) and is commemorated in this poem (click to enlarge) on the pub wall. I am afraid the flash obscured the first two lines, but they read "I'm Roxy's cat, I'm called Tom Paine | The Seven Stars is where I reign". The real Tom was no fan of the verb 'to reign', but then he never wore a ruff neither. It's touching that he was commemorated in feline form for a while, but for as long as liberty is revered, his name will last forever.
I shall be there this Saturday in Trafalgar Square at high noon (though I shall not be in Hallowe'en costume). I am just looking forward to having a drink with free men and women. Given the submissiveness and/or indifference to the state of most people around me, I need the reassurance there are still free people out there.
Taking a bracing walk through a Warwickshire village yesterday, I noticed first that (it being where the Gunpowder Plotters plotted) there are several houses named after them. As they have been considered the vilest of traitors for much of our history, with small children encouraged to burn effigies on November 5th each year, this seemed rather impressively robust. Then I saw a sign beneath someone's doorbell which read:
If you have been invited here, welcome! If not, you had better have a bloody good reason to ring this bell.
Grumpy old sod? Or sturdy English yeoman? I rather think the latter. I resisted the temptation to ring the bell to tell him so.
The new film Anonymous revives the old claim that William Shakespeare, Immortal Bard of Avon, was a mere front man for some better-educated writer. As the film-maker admits, it's not that he has any evidence that - as he portrays it - the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays and poems. Rather, he simply can't believe that a humble grammar school boy from the Midlands could have done it and the good Earl '...has the most going for him...'
This is angels on pinheads stuff, God knows, and ultimately an irrelevance. The works are brilliant, whether or not the man we think wrote them, did. But what always strikes me when this hare is set running is that the motivation is so very clearly snobbery. It's is amazing that in this democratic era there are still cap-doffing, forelock-tugging sorts who think such a genius must have had blue blood. It's doubly remarkable though that our class warrior friends at the Guardian find nothing in that to comment on. Perhaps there is just too much manly wisdom in Shakespeare's works for Guardian-reading tastes? Perhaps they would like that wisdom tainted by association with the aristocracy they profess to despise?
For myself, I am quietly content that the greatest genius of the English was such a workaday fellow as Bill; a man I would have liked (unlike Goethe or Beethoven) had I met him at the pub. I am particularly content that he was famously a rational economic actor. He wrote for money and stopped when he had enough. Only an English genius would down quills and rest once he had enough to buy the house of his dreams.
Bless his abused memory. When England is gone, there will be Shakespearians yet and the memory of our nation will live on in some future version of a wooden O. History will tell if there will be Oxfordians too. Let's hope there are no Guardianistas.
They never learn and they will never stop until they have laid waste to all that is good. The Labour Party is the greatest enemy of the British people, bar none. Education on the other hand is the greatest hope of our (and any) people. Anyone who provides good education, on any freely-agreed terms, is a benefactor not just to the nation, but mankind. And anyone who pays through taxation for a service they then choose not to use is also a public benefactor. Such people subsidise handsomely the public education system Shadow Ministers should be plotting to improve.
The mean, dark, crooked heart of The Labour Party is envy. Better for them that all should grovel in the mud than that some should look up at the sky.
A left-wing newspaper reports that some left-wingers at a German think tank report that Britain is not left-wing enough. Colour me astounded.
Life in Britain is not 'fair.' As every properly-raised child will have heard a thousand times in the course of his or her upbringing, life itself is not fair. If there is anything fixably unfair about life in Britain however it is this; an oppressed minority of the British population are time-share slaves for more than two-thirds of each year in order to keep millions of slave-drivers in idleness, uselessness or both.
I don't suppose the Guardian thinks anything should be done about that.
I spent yesterday at the congress of The People's Pledge at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. The campaign has a simple aim which unites people across Britain's political continuum; it asks voters publicly to register the following pledge;
I am voting for an in-out referendum on EU membership. I will use my vote to help secure a majority of MPs in Parliament who support an EU referendum.
and to campaign for that referendum. If you agree, please click on the link above and sign up.
It's a cross-party organisation and I found myself in uncomfortable company. The Communist Party and RMT union both support the campaign, as does UKIP. Most supporters want the referendum so they can vote to leave the EU. Some pro-EU people support it because they want to resolve the issue once and for all so Britain can really commit to political union.
Apart from squirming at receiving fraternal greetings from the Central Committee of the British Communist party, I also found it embarrassing that pro-EU speakers (whose support is of great value to the campaign) were howled down by the antis, even when they made sensible points. I found it uncomfortable to look around at those doing the howling. I agree with them on Britain leaving the EU but I didn't much like the look of them. I couldn't help feeling the media, to the extent they decided to cover the event, would have fun with the images of elderly - and rather snarly - Daily Mail readers.
The scariest part for me was the confusion on all sides between politics and economics. Pro-EU speakers spoke of banding together against the peril of an economically-rampant China as if we would need gunboats to make the Chinese buy and sell stuff. Anti-EU speakers spoke of locking ourselves into a failing bloc in economic decline, as if by remaining a member we could only sell to EU countries. In fact overseas trade only accounts for 15% of GDP and EU countries account for only 50% of overseas trade. This, despite forty-odd years of being trapped inside the EU's tariff barrier, which makes us less competitive in global markets.
The economic vision of most participants seemed to be at the level of the medieval guilds. It was as if Adam Smith had never written the Wealth of Nations. Of course, this wasn't true of all those there, as conversation over drinks and dinner with my old Blogpower mucker Ian Grey of Shades of Grey confirmed.
To be fair, this was a well-organised political event that drew more than 2,000 delegates from across the country. It was far bigger than the 'Occupy the City' nonsense that is dominating the newspapers. It made very clear that many people in Britain (opinion polls suggest a majority among supporters of all parties) want to have a say on whether Britain continues with the EU project or not. Politics is a dirty business and sometimes you have to work with whomever will help you to your destination, even if they plan to mug you on the way. I also learned new respect for the abilities (if not the ideas) of Keith Vaz, who was the only pro-EU speaker who could get the hall to listen to him politely. He really is an ingratiating little slime ball.
For me, however, the speaker of the day was Ruth Lea. She calmly and wittily put the economic case for Britain's withdrawal from the EU and skewered the scaremongering of those who pretend millions of British jobs depend upon membership. We run an enormous trade deficit with the EU. There is no way BMW will stop selling us their cars or Poggenpohl their kitchens. Even if, when we leave, our EU friends want to get all politically medieval on our economic arse, we are a market they can't afford to lose. Liberated from the tariff barrier and the Eurocratic obsession with regulating our every economic breath, we would become an even more important one.
One of the things I most enjoyed about Cheltenham Ladies' College, my daughters' private school, was Speech Day. Partly because the then Principal had a wicked sense of humour and gave an hilarious, but still informative, account of the year's events. But mainly because of the 'old girls' who came back and gave, for the most part, very inspiring talks. Nothing could have been more empowering than for the pupils to see what girls before them had gone on to achieve. I said to Mrs P. on one such occasion that it was a shame our old school, a bog-standard comprehensive up North, didn't ask former pupils back to speak. I remembered how little idea we had of the world's possibilities at that age and imagined how it might raise the aspirations of kids like us to hear about interesting lives. She observed drily that 'no-one remembers we were there so how can they ask us back?'
Private schools have an ethos, a history and a need to maintain contact with pupils and their families for marketing and fund-raising. State schools don't. Not only do they have no incentive to tell the world what a good job they do, they are under no pressure to be any good. In the topsy-turvy narrative of the state sector, outcomes are determined by social conditions. Success and failure are mere accidents to be equalised. They have nothing to do with talent or effort. Given such a world-view, it's amazing that any state schools do great work. The occasional inspiring leaders who make that happen deserve to be national heroes - not treated with suspicion by their 'right on' professional colleagues.
I have encountered many interesting jobs in my professional career that I had never heard of when I was at school. As the teachers had effectively never left school, they were no help in this respect. The idiot careers teacher even suggested Mrs P join the local electricity board as a telephonist. How epic a fail was it to recommend a job that would shortly cease to exist anywhere in an organisation that was about to be abolished? But she was a working-class girl from a council estate. Her life outcomes were socially-determined. For her to do better than end up on the dole would have undermined that all-important narrative.
Not to cavil, because I am genuinely pleased by Peston's scheme, but the one flaw is that it's not going to match speakers with their own schools. It's much more confidence-inducing to meet someone successful who once sat in the same classrooms as you. For example, it's great that the Prime Minister has volunteered to take part. I congratulate him, but will it really be empowering? It may only confirm the self-destructive ignorance of the public sector narrative. There's nothing wrong with Eton, you understand. It's a great school. If the Misses P had been Masters P, that's where we would have sent them. But surely the last thing Eton needs is to perpetuate the legend that it can put rich buffoons into positions of power?