Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Seven ways of coping with the USA election result

I remember well the shock of Brexit and how surprised I was at the visceral reaction I had to that calamity.  I remember feeling I did not fit in anymore, that I was part of a country with values opposed to mine.  I saw rich white men in triumph while non-whites feared.  And this will be happening to folk in the USA, and even around the world.  Here are some stratagems to help you cope – I learned some of these when I learned to cope with Brexit.  I hope they help you.

  1. Allow time for your grief.  I felt I had lost my country, and lost my place in that.  It is a big thing to lose.  Look after yourself over the next few days.  Find good friends.  Do good relaxing things.  Go for a walk and look at nature.
  2. Switch off from social media for a while.  Yes, many will feel like you.  Some won’t.  Neither will do you much good.  Now is not the time for arguments about what the results mean.  Even interactions with those who feel the same will keep you thinking about what has passed.  Try to focus on other things for a couple of days at least.
  3. You have not lost your country.  The physical nation in which you live has voted for something that is not your vision.  But your vision lives on.  A President can do terrible things.  But he cannot change your hopes and heart.  Remember what is dear to you and do not give up on it.
  4. In the midst of anger, hatred, racial tension, social media trolling, and general unpleasantness, don’t be dragged down.  Not every troll has to be answered.  Not every unfair comment must be countered.  Choosing not to fight a particular battle is not the same as losing that battle.  If you need to step back, step back.  If you need to unfriend, unfriend.  Keep your cool, even while all is fury around you.
  5. Reach out to those who may be more affected by the result than you are.  As a white man in the UK, I was dismayed at Brexit.  But I had immigrant friends, and BME friends who feared.  In the USA, immigrants, Latinos, blacks, the disabled, LGBT+, and even women are fearful.  Reach out to them.  Show them you care.  Show them you will stand up in their corner.
  6. Hold the new regime to the promises it made.  Be relentless.  Such results happen when those who feel disenfranchised feel someone is speaking up for them.  In the UK and USA it was the working poor: make sure they are being lifted out of poverty.
  7. Never give up.  Your hopes and dreams of a better society are still your hopes and dreams.  Work towards them wherever you are.  Don’t rely on politicians to do something – do it yourself.  Make your little part of the world a better place.  Show love and compassion to those around you.  You are in a very dark place.  But a little candle is not overwhelmed by darkness.


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Even without Trump, I would vote for Clinton

This will be unpopular with almost everyone, but I shall say it nonetheless. Disagree if you will, but don't be nasty :-)

If I were an American, I would vote for Hillary Clinton.

I would not vote for her because she is a safer alternative than Donald Trump, although she is.

I would not vote for her because I agree with everything she has ever done or said, because I don't.

I would vote for her because I believe her to be a good candidate for President. She is capable (dangerous, when you are a woman in the public eye), she is experienced, she has shown more grace than her detractors deserve. She is committed to equality, reducing poverty, and has good economic sense.


I hear the hatred, I hear the fear, I hear the misogyny, I hear the concern. I don't share any of them.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Current Female World Leaders

Tomorrow, the United States goes to the polls, and, if all turns out well, will have its first female President.  I wrote some time ago about the First Female Prime Minister.  It seems to me that with Germany and the UK both being headed by women, that it would be interesting to see what other nations have female leaders at this time.  There have not been many elected female leaders - Margaret Thatcher was only the fifth!  The current female leaders are:


  1. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, in power since 2005, and a formidable figure on the European scene.
  2. Sheikh Hasine, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, in power since 2009.  Unusually for a Muslim country, Bangladesh has had several female prime ministers.
  3. Erna Stolberg, Prime Minister of Norway, in power since 2013.
  4. Saara Kuugongelwa, Prime Minister of Namibia, in power since 2015.
  5. Beata Szydło, Prime Minister of Poland, in power since 2015.
  6. Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar, in power since April 2016.  Because her late husband and her children are British citizens, she is constitutionally barred from becoming President.  After her election victory, this post was created to bypass the rule, and she is, de facto, leader of Myanmar.
  7. Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK, in power since July 2016.  It seems somewhat ironic that the right wing Conservatives have had two female prime ministers before left wing Labour has managed one.
In addition to this, the following nations have female elected heads of state:

  1. Liberia
  2. Lithuania
  3. South Korea
  4. Chile
  5. Malta
  6. Croatia
  7. Mauritius
  8. Nepal
  9. Marshall Islands
  10. Taiwan
  11. Austria 
  12. Estonia
There are also seventeen countries which have a female monarch - sixteen reigned over by Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, and Denmark, which is ruled by Margrethe II.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

A nasty political campaign

It was a savage and unpleasant campaign.  It divided a nation.  It caused rows on Facebook.  Even families were at odds with one another.  Two opposing sides with such contrary views that they could not believe anyone of sound mind could vote for the other.

One side represented the Establishment in the eyes of many.  It stood for much of what had gone before, although with a newer look.  This side, overwhelmingly, had the support of business, was the recommendation of the economic experts, political experts, historians, and the allies and supporting nations around the world.

One side represented a Challenge to the establishment, and protest against what the Establishment stood for.  This side prided itself on challenging the political correctness of the Establishment in order to push a more right wing agenda.  It blamed immigrants for all the ills of society.  It stirred up the working poor and convinced them that in the Challenger was the help they needed, that the multi-millionaire business man would help them, and suddenly they would find themselves enriched.

The working poor looked on as the liberal elite told them to vote for the status quo of the Establishment, as expert after expert warned them against the Challenger.  They were scolded by the middle class and told to be sensible.  They felt they wanted to protest.  They felt that the Challenger, a passionate and irascible orator with shocking hair, spoke for them, the ignored majority.  Silently, they purposed to vote for the Challenger, to reject the Establishment, to ignore all the advice and warnings, and to listen to those who knew that the outsider and foreigner was to blame for their ills.

Few admitted they were going to vote for the Challenger, and when the polls were close, they were still wrong.  The far right rejoiced and became even bolder in their racism.  Immigrants began to be abused much more frequently, and with increasing violence.  The Challenger stood firm, and promised to lead the nation and deliver it from neo-liberalism, into a new restoration of its former glory, to return the nation back to its citizens.  The Establishment was seen as responsible for all manner of evils, from liberal social laws, to sending soldiers to die in meaningless wars in the Middle East.  Evangelical Christians, ignoring their founder's commands, piled in against the foreigner, and joined the jingoism.  Even Putin of Russia seemed to favour the Challenger, which ought to have warned everyone that had not the best of the nation in view.

At last came the day of decision.  The Challenger's voters turned out in force, determined to voice their protest.  The Establishment voters felt sure they would win, and some stayed away, particularly the younger voters.

As polls came the disaster unfolded.  Financial markets shuddered, the nations of the world shook their heads in disbelief, and the triumphant Challengers took to the airwaves.  Racist groups were emboldened and the centre, centre-right, centre-left, and liberal left felt disenfranchised.  It was going to be a long and difficult path.

In June, the United Kingdom became Little England.
In November, the United States became Lesser America.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Great British Bake Off Sponsored by McDougall Flour and Dr Oetker Cake Decorations

(Loud music fades, as camera pans over a cheering audience to a large stage in the middle of a sports arena, with a central marquee display with eighteen kitchen counters, and two presenters in the middle.)
(Woman turns around and shouts to the camera)
"Welcome to the Great British Bake Off Sponsored by McDougall Flour and Dr Oetker Cake Decorations, Bringing a Touch of Class to Your Baking.  I'm Davina McCall."
(Audience cheers wildly)
"And I am Chelsea Essex"
(Audience cheers and wolf-whistles)
Both:
"Let's Bake Off"
(More loud music and cheers from the audience as eighteen contestants walk on stage and take their places at their work-stations.  One walks on doing cartwheels.  One is naked.  One is a woman with a man on a lead).
"After the break, let's meet the contestants"

Commercial break.

...35 minutes and three commercial breaks later....

"Well, Tansy-May-Jade, what are you making in the Signature I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Cake Trial?"
(Tansy-May-Jade, who has nineteen piercings, a black Mohican, and pink eyebrows, stops stirring her bowl, and flutters her eye-lashes at Judges Gordon Ramsay and Dermott O'Leary)
"I am making a F*** It Cake.  It has bubblegum chips, parsnip icing, and a creamed corn filling."
Gordon Ramsay "That sounds terrible, you f******* freak.  Why the **** have you come on the programme?  You are a total waste of space"
Tansy-May-Jade bursts into tears.  Nearby, a fight breaks about between two other contestants over the use of a Zanussi Freezer.
Davina intervenes:
"Do make sure you use the Kenwood Superchef 2500 Mixer to blend your icing.  It is the most powerful mixer on the market and more chefs choose it than any other brand".
Chelsea Essex "Let's take a break.  Afterwards, we will find out who is Topshop Baker, and who will walk the Bird's Custard Pie Walk of Shame as Crap Baker of the Week."

.....fifteen million viewers turn over to a documentary on BBC4 about a pelican crossing in Ealing....

Monday, 5 September 2016

Auntie Jean

My Auntie Jean, the elder of my father's two sisters, has died.  I wrote some time ago about her husband, Uncle Mike, who died a few years back, and many similar things could be said about her.

Auntie Jean, the Down Town aunt, was a wonderfully kind lady.  She was always cooking and baking.  If there was a wedding in the family, Jean would make the cake (and quite a lovely cake it was too, rich, fruity, dark, and full of brandy).  When I lived with my grandmother in my teenage years, I would go down with Nan for Sunday dinner, where an enormous plate, replete with home-soaked mushy peas, would be served.  Then, while we were sleeping it off in front of the blazing fire, Jean would be out in the kitchen making prawn sandwiches for tea.  In later years, one of her specialities were little spicy vegetable samosas, baked, not fried.  In summer, there would be barbecues and great bowls of macaroni salad.  All were welcome to these gatherings, and, especially in the summer, and if it was close to Fairport Convention, there would be quite a crowd there.

She was a keen darts player, often pairing up with her sister, and a keen fan of Bullseye, which was on at Sunday tea-time.  I don't think she ever enjoyed good health, and I remember going to visit her in hospital some years back, when she was recovering from a quite major operation, and she was sitting up in bed eating a bowl of cockles and mussels.  In later years, after a nasty compound fracture, and various operations, she walked with crutches, and, I think, suffered a lot, but I never remember her getting down about it or complaining.

She loved cats - from Tiger and Kipper of previous renown, through Kippy and Fee, and the latest, Hayley, who was on her bed when she died, with her three children at her side.

As well as her chuckling, and love of a joke, I remember Jean's kindness most of all.  She telephoned her mother every day - "hello duck, is your Nan there?" she would say.  I was always amused at the end of their conversations "ta-ta ta-ta ta-ta" almost as if it was a competition to be the last to speak.  Even when my branch of the family had populated most of Banbury, huge bags of parcels would come up every Christmas, with not even the most distant great-nephew forgotten - I always got a nice bottle of wine.  She was interested in everyone, was always baking to raise money for charity, and I never heard her say an unkind thing.  In her kindness, she reminded me, painfully, of her mother, my grandmother.  Such kind women (or, indeed, men) are rare in this world, and I shall miss her a lot.  It will be a sad look at her house as the bus speeds me by, when I am home visiting mother.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Burkini or not burkini?

A lot of the news this week has been about the burkini, and the various controversies in France, where local mayors have banned the burkini, and courts have overturned the ban. France, which vigorously defends the secular state, has a long history of banning the burka, and other religious clothing.  I find there is an interesting clash of interests here.

More liberal folk, who are usually proudly feminist, and who defend the right of all not to be oppressed by wicked religions, are outraged by the ban and defending the right of women to wear burkas (burkæ?) and other religious clothing.

More conservative folk, who are usually busy telling women what to wear, and what to do, and forbidding them from doing things men do, welcome the ban as an important victory in the war against Islam.

I myself feel some of these conflicts.  I feel uncomfortable with the burka as a sign of men oppressing women.  I feel equally uncomfortable with the burka being outlawed.  What to do?  I offer two view from Muslims:

Nadiya Hussein is the Muslim who outraged the Daily Mail by winning the Great British Bake Off in 2015.  She is a confident, funny women, who is an imaginative baker, and who, in my view, represents much that can be good about Britain, which, of course, is now under threat from the Brexit gang.  She has been given a series The Chronicles of Nadiya which shows her travelling to Bangladesh and cooking her way through the country.  In the first episode, she explained why she wears the hijab.  Reading that, I would find it hard to ban the burka.

Sadiq Khan is the Muslim who outraged the Conservative Party by winning the London Mayoral Election in 2016.  He is a confident politician, a good communicator, and, in the days since coming to power, and the calamity of Brexit, has boldly proclaimed that "London is Open".  He has made it clear that no-one should tell women what they can and cannot wear.

Khan has it right.  For too long, men have dictated what is, and is not acceptable wear for women.  They have either encouraged women to dress as sex toys for the titillation of men, or covered them up, as dangerous beings capable of stirring up improper desires.  Let women dress as they wish!

There is one last postscript to this.  Quite a few people on Farcebook and Twitter were sharing articles, often spoof, such as this, suggesting that fat men should be banned from beaches too.  It is an unwelcome reminder, that, while women will find their defenders, everyone thinks it is fine to insult overweight people.  I think, like women, we should not tell fat people what to wear, either.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

A Level Results - 3 types of people

There are three sorts of people today. Some who got good "A" level results. Some who got bad "A" level results. Some who did not take "A" levels. I shall comment in reverse order:
If you did not take "A" levels, then that is fine. They are not for everyone. It does not make you less of a person. They are only suitable for people with a certain sub-set of skills, and with certain ambitions. You have other strengths and aspirations. You have chosen another path, and excel at things many "A" level students cannot do. There is no hierarchy of whether you are a valuable person or not. And that is just fine.
If you took "A" levels, and you are disappointed by your results, then I am sorry. But remember this - "A" levels are not a measure of your person, they are an academic measurement only. Not getting the results you want might change your plans right now, or send you to a different university. Once you are at university, your grades are irrelevant. In life, they are pretty irrelevant. So don't think your life is ruined, or shaped by this.
If you got the results you wanted, then well done. I hope they will make you take the next step in your life. But remember, they are a snapshot of the work you have done. The real measurement of you as a person comes in how you proceed, and how you develop as you take the opportunities before you. You are privileged. Never forget it, and never despise the less privileged.
I hope all can take heart today. Share this so that your friends, and their friends, and their children, know their worth.

Friday, 24 June 2016

A difficult day

Today has been a hard day.

I have felt incredulity that people have chosen to leave the EU. I have felt disappointment, fear, anger.

I have felt that my country, that I was proud to be a citizen of, has been taken away from me. I was brought up in a country that welcomed the people of the world, worked together with Europe, with the Commonwealth, and with others for democracy, relief of poverty, and peace around the world. It was not a perfect country but it tried to do the right thing.

Today, I have been told that the majority of people do not have that view of Britain. They think the UK is a very different sort of country. And that is hard. I feel like I don't belong.

But I am trying to end the day better than it started. I am reminded that nearly half those who voted do share my view of this nation. The former United Kingdom might be going in a different direction, but we do not have to change our hopeful hearts. The Mayor of London captured this very well when he reached out and said:

"I want to send a clear message to every European resident living in London - you are very welcome here. As a city, we are grateful for the enormous contribution you make, and that will not change as a result of this referendum.
There are nearly one million European citizens living in London today, and they bring huge benefits to our city - working hard, paying taxes, working in our public services and contributing to our civic and cultural life.
We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign - and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us."



Friends from around the world have reached out to me, acknowledging my sorrow, and encouraging me with kind messages, concerned emails, wise comments. I am grateful. They have rescued me from my rage and frustration, lest I become that which has destroyed this nation's identity. The days forward will be painful and hard. But where there is life, there is hope.

Monday, 30 May 2016

EU Referendum - why I believe we should vote to remain in the EU

The most important vote I will ever make (except maybe, the vote I made at a Church Meeting once about whether to adopt a new hymnbook in 1999) will be the vote in the EU Referendum on 23rd June.  This vote will have wider consequences than any vote I have ever cast in any General Election, important though those votes are. 

As the referendum campaign rages on, become ever more and more embittered, especially within the Conservative Party, I offer a few reasons why I believe a vote to remain is the best thing for the United Kingdom.

1.       A vote to remain means remaining in the largest single market on earth.  We have free access to this market now.  If we leave, we will have to negotiate access to that market on terms the EU imposes.  Undoubtedly, this will probably mean keeping most of the conditions we currently have, but without being in a position to have a say in the matter.
2.       The EU is largely responsible for 70 years of peace in continental Europe.  Just over 70 years ago, Europe had been torn apart by World War Two.  A generation before that, it was World War One.  A generation before that, Germany, France, and Austria were at war with one another in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars.  A generation before that and Britain, France, Germany, and Spain were warring together in the French Revolutionary Wars.  A generation before that, and Austria, Germany, Russia, France and England were at war in the War of the Austrian Succession.  A generation before that, and Austria, Germany, Sweden, Great Britain, France, Holland and Spain were at war in the War of the Spanish Succession.  I think you get the picture.  In fact, to find 70 years of peace in continental Europe we need to go back to the second century in the Roman Empire.
3.       Co-operation with other powers in Europe is the best way to preserve European peace.  Most European wars have been caused by nationalist strife.  Working together suppresses the harmful form of nationalism, while still allowing national pride and distinctiveness to come through.  Churchill himself advocated greater co-operation in Europe as the price for peace.
4.       Leaving the EU could in fact de-stabilise it, and might make other nations consider leaving, leading to factions and, perhaps, a division between the first members of the EU and later members.  It is not inconceivable that this could lead to war.
5.       Vladimir Putin wants the UK to leave the EU.  Why is this, do you think?  Does he believe it is the best thing for the UK?  No – it seems clear he wants to extend Russia and is bearing down on the former Soviet republics, and opposes Ukraine joining the EU.  An EU that is unstable and liable to fracture suits his purposes well.
6.       Britain is not an isolationist country.  Closing ourselves off from other nations will do us no good at all.  Britain has links with Europe, and, through the Commonwealth, much of the world with more influence than one would expect for a nation her size.  To withdraw into an introspective mono-cultural stance would harm Britain, and rob the world of our influence.
7.       Donald Trump wants Britain to leave the EU.  Why is this, do you think?  Does he believe it is the best thing for the UK?  Or does this xenophobic laissez-faire character believe that Britain is best controlled by big business, with fewer regulations.
8.       Boris Johnson wants Britain to leave the EU.  When he became Mayor of London he wanted Britain to remain in the EU.  Heading the EU Leave campaign is a career choice.
9.       Iain Duncan Smith wants Britain to leave the EU.  There is nothing new about this.  Have we seen any evidence from his miserable career that he can be trusted to put the well-being of normal citizens first?
10.   Every world leader who has expressed an opinion, has, with the exception of Putin (see above) and Robert Mugabe (himself no friend of free people) said that they believe Britain is better off in the EU.  Barak Obama put it quite strongly, which, coming from such a powerful man, and one of our closest allies, ought not be ignored.
11.   If we leave the EU, we will not only need to negotiate trading rights with the EU, but with other nations too.  And that will take time.  They will be less interested in trading with a separate nation from the EU and we will have less trading influence.
12.   The EU is best placed to deal with environmental issues.  The EU, as a collection of 28 states, has great influence in passing environmental regulations, rather than nations individually passing their own, perhaps conflicting laws. 
13.   Leaving the EU will not stop bureaucratic laws being passed.  The media has long blamed the EU for every unpopular and bureaucratic law.  Here is news – every nation has unpopular and bureaucratic laws.  The USA, the most bureaucratic nation on earth, is not part of the EU.
14.   Leaving the EU will not mean that all the laws passed while in the EU are cancelled.  Laws are rarely abolished, and, if any are, they will be replaced with new laws and regulations.
15.   The EU has championed workers’ rights, often in conflict with UK governments.  We can thank EU regulations for the minimum wage, maternity and paternity entitlements, sick pay entitlements, holiday entitlements.  The Conservatives who want to take us out of the EU all opposed these measures.
16.   Leaving the EU will cost us more in bureaucracy.   Much has been made by the Brexit campaign of the supposed £350 million a week we pay to the EU.  The National Statistics Authority has repeatedly said this is misleading, and it is, but it is, nonetheless, that we are net contributors to the EU.  If we leave the EU, the negotiation of new trading agreements, perhaps with tariffs, the negotiation of immigration and emigration processes with nations of the EU, the possible return of up to two million Brits living in the EU, will all cost us more. 
17.   The EU has brought down mobile telephone roaming prices, and obliged manufacturers to produce standard telephone chargers.
18.   The EU permits travel throughout Europe, often without border controls. 
19.   If we leave the EU, access to the UK for EU citizens will almost certainly be a condition of a trade agreement, as it is for other countries accessing the EU market.  EU immigration is unlikely to fall much as a result of leaving the EU.
20.   The immigration that seems to cause the most angst among the anti-immigration squad is actually that from outside the EU, mainly from the Middle East and areas where the UK has either participated in military action, or provides arms.  This immigration will be little effected if we leave the EU.  And these immigrants, who have very little, and whose homes are being destroyed, are the ones we need to take!
21.   Immigration has enriched the cultural life of the UK and not undermined it.   There can be no return to a mono-cultural Anglo-Saxon society (that never really existed) so beloved of the xenophobes.
22.   Two million UK citizens live in the EU.  They also enjoy free access to do so.  If, in the very worst case scenario, they return to the UK, they certainly out-number EU immigrants in the UK.
23.   If we leave the EU, we will remain part of the Council of Europe, and subject to the European Court of Human Rights.  That will not change.  Which is a Good Thing.
24.   Being in the EU is good for science and research.  Many of our top scientists and universities receive EU funding.  EU collaboration has led to important scientific advances.  The scientific community overwhelmingly supports remaining in the EU.
25.   In contrast, the Christian Right want the UK to leave the EU.  Often confused by the belief that the EU is the Ten Horned Beast of Revelaton, and always tainted by the xeonophobic dominionism of the fundamentalists, many Christian organisations are urging hapless believers to vote for an exit.  Not only is this a betrayal of basic biblical teaching, but it perpetuates fundamentalist desire for power to be held in the hands of a few white men.
26.   Being in the EU is good for national security.  We can share intelligence much more easily and work more closely with other nations.
27.   Being in the EU is good for business, and most large business, and about half of small businesses think so.
28.   The financial institutions such as the Bank of England also believe the UK is better off in the EU.
29.   Being in the EU is better for the NHS, and allows the NHS to employ EU workers.  Without these, the NHS would grind to a halt.
30.   This is not the time to have a referendum on the EU, and not a good time to leave the EU.  No major changes to EU policy or constitution have been made.  This referendum was promised by David Cameron in 2013, when he was running scared of a seemingly insurgent UKIP.  He did not think, for one minute, that he would defy expectations and win the 2015 election, obliging him to hold the referendum.  The deadline for the referendum is an artificial one from the Conservative Manifesto.  It would have been much better to have set a more advanced date, held negotiations with the EU, and then gone to the polls on manifesto promises on that basis.
31.   If you consider that David Cameron did not achieve much when he made negotiations for this referendum, with EU leaders who want the UK to remain, consider how much a UK Prime Minister will achieve when he has to parley with leaders for the Brexit agreement, when they are piqued at our departure, and have no interest in providing us with advantage.
32.   David Cameron must almost certainly leave Downing Street whatever the outcome of the Referendum.  Do not use the referendum to vote him out, or as a protest vote against the establishment.  He has made the mistake of saying he will not fight the 2020 election and is a lame duck who has stirred up the nasty elements in his party to a civil war.
33.   Leaving the EU will cause difficulties in the UK.  If Scotland (or, indeed, any of the other nations of the family) vote to remain, but the UK as a whole (by which we mean England) votes leave, then Scotland must surely be entitled to another independence referendum.
34.   The EU is culturally progressive, politically liberal, and has a great world influence.  These are all things we should be part of.
35.   Katie Hopkins.


These are not all my reasons and arguments, and they are not equal in importance.  For me, 1, 2, 12, 24, 26, and 34 are the most important.  Wanting does not mean I believe the EU to be perfect.  Wanting to remain does not mean I am always happy with the loss of sovereignty over some issues.  But it does mean that believe that, as a European nation, our best interests, and those of all our citizens, of the continent, and of the global community as a whole,  are best served by remaining.

Cleopatras III, IV, V and VI

Cleopatra III has already figured in the story of her mother, Cleopatra II.  Cleopatra III was the daughter of brother-and-sister Cleopatra II and Ptolemy VI born in 160BC.  When her father died, her mother married another brother, Ptolemy VIII, and ruled with him, but, in 139, he married Cleopatra III, while still married to her mother.  The three ruled Egypt, but eventually, following a rebellion by Cleopatra II, Cleopatra III fled Egypt in 130, taking refuge in Cyprus before returning in 127.  In 124, Cleopatra II, III, and Ptolemy VIII all ruled Egypt jointly.

When Ptolemy VIII died in 116, Cleopatra III ruled with her mother, and with her son, Ptolemy IX, who was married to his sister, Cleopatra IV.  There was continual family strife, and Cleopatra eventually removed Ptolemy IX, and replaced him in 107 with her younger son, Ptolemy X.  They ruled together for six years, and, in 101, Cleopatra was murdered by Ptolemy X.  Cleopatra had ruled Egypt for 41 years, and done little to prevent the continual family strife that weakened the nation.


Cleopatra IV was born in 138, the daughter of Cleopatra III, and her uncle Ptolemy VIII.  Cleopatra IV had a much shorter reign than the previous Cleopatras.  She married her brother Ptolemy IX, and is probably the mother of Ptolemy XII (father of the Famous Cleopatra) although there is some uncertainty about that.  Cleopatra ruled Egpyt with her husband Ptolemy IX, and with her mother Cleopatra III, from 116-115.  In 115, she had fallen out with her mother Cleopatra III, who obliged Ptolemy and Cleopatra IV to divorce, and married Ptolemy to another sister, Cleopatra Selene I. 

Fearing for her life, Cleopatra IV fled to Cyprus, where she married Antiochus IX, King of Syria.  Antiochus IX was at war with his half-brother Antiochus VIII, who was married to Tryphaena, Cleopatra’s sister.  A brief war raged, and Cleopatra, taking refuge in a sanctuary  in Antioch, was murdered on the orders of her sister Tryphaena in 112.  She was 26 years old.

Ptolemy IX and Cleopatra I Selene had had a daughter, Berenice III, who ruled Egypt for a period, firstly with her husband and uncle Ptolemy X, and then later with her second husband and brother Ptolemy XI, who had murdered her 19 days after their wedding.  Berenice’s only child was Cleopatra V, daughter of Ptolemy IX. 

Cleopatra V married her half-brother Ptolemy XII, son Cleopatra IV and Ptolemy IX.  Our knowledge of her is quite sketchy, as the chroniclers of previous reigns were not replaced.  Her children with Ptolemy were Cleopatra VI, Berenice IV, Cleopatra VII, Arsinoe IV, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, all of whom ruled Egypt.  It is possible that the last three children are children of a second unknown wife, as we know that Cleopatra V is not mentioned after 69, and may have died then.  She ruled with her husband, a weak and dissolute man, but she did not have much power or influence.


In 58BC, Ptolemy XII fled Egypt, where his drunken-ness had weakened the monarchy.  His daughters Cleopatra VI and Berenice IV ruled in his place, until he returned in 55.  That is all we know of Cleopatra VI!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Dynasty: Cleopatra II of Egypt - Intrigue, Incest, and Murder

Last time, we took a look at Cleopatra I of Egypt.  Today, I want to look at the next Cleopatra, Cleopatra II, daughter of the first Cleopatra.  I warn you – it gets messy now, and there is a lot of incest and murder, and general confusion.  Add to this the fact that nearly everyone involved is called Cleopatra or Ptolemy, and you will see I have my work cut out to make you understand.  Here goes…..

Cleopatra II was born in about 185BC, and was the daughter of Queen Cleopatra II of Egypt, and King Ptolemy V.  Her mother, who was ruling Egypt as regent for her son, Ptolemy VI Philometor, died in 176 BC, and Cleopatra soon married Ptolemy VI – her own full brother.  They had several children, some of whom figure in the story later – Ptolemy Eupator, who was regent under his father but died young, Cleopatra Thea[1], Cleopatra III of Egypt (of whom more later and next time), and another Ptolemy, who was murdered by his uncle Ptolemy VIII Euergetes.  They also probably had Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator[2]

Cleopatra II ruled Egypt with her husband, Ptolemy VI, and her brother, Ptolemy VIII, but there was always tension.  Eventually, in 164, Ptolemy VIII deposed the couple and they fled to Syria, returning the next year and being restored to power, the three of them ruling together until Ptolemy VI’s death in 145.  At the death of Ptolemy VI, Cleopatra’s son and daughter, Ptolemy VII and Cleopatra III joined her, and Ptolemy VIII in the rule of Egypt.  Cleopatra II married Ptolemy VIII, her younger brother, and he murdered Ptolemy II, leaving just the three of them ruling Egypt.  Cleoptra and Ptolemy had a son, another Ptolemy, helpfully called Ptolemy Memphites.

In 142, things took a nasty turn when Ptolemy VIII married Cleopatra III, having not even divorced Cleopatra II.  Throughout the 130’s, Cleopatra II and Ptolemy VIII schemed against one another culminating in a civil war and, in 131, Cleopatra II drove Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III out of Egypt.  In revenge, Ptolemy VIII murdered Cleopatra’s youngest son by Ptolemy VI, another Ptolemy, and then murdered their own son, Ptolemy Memphites, and dismembered the corpse, sending the head, hands, and feet to back to Cleopatra in Egpyt.  There was now outright war, and Cleopatra III even offered the throne of Egypt to her son-in-law, Demetrius II Nicator of Syria[3]

Eventually, in 127, Cleopatra II fled Egypt and went to Syria, and corresponded with her daughter Cleopatra III until she returned to Egypt in 124, once again ruling with Cleopatra III and Ptolemy VIII. She eventually died aged 68 in 116BC, just after Ptolemy VIII.  Cleopatra had ruled Egypt, with two short breaks, for nearly 60 years.  She was a shrewd political operator, but her constant wars with her family weakened the state of Egypt considerably, much to the advantage of Rome, which, following the destruction of Carthage, was now the pre-eminent power in the Mediterranean.



[1] She married three different kings of Syria, before being murdered by her own son.
[2] There is considerable uncertainty about his origins and parentage.  Having read around, I think the most likely explanation is that he is son of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II.
[3] He had married Cleopatra Thea.

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Unknown Queen Cleopatra of Egypt

Many readers of the Banbury Man will know of my interest in the history of monarchs over the centuries, and I intend to start writing a series about female monarchs of various nations.  I have always found the queens regnant[1] to be more interesting than their male counterparts – how did they come to succeed in a male-dominated society?  How did they fare against more distant male claimants?  The marriage of a queen regnant is enormously important in a society where the wife is subservient to her husband – will she marry a foreigner, and subject the nation to overseas influence?  Will she marry a subject and divide the nobility?  Or, like Elizabeth I of England, will she resist both of these, and not marry at all (which then subjected the nation to a succession controversy).

I shall look at the various female rulers, and give a brief account of their life and reigns.  This will be, as ever, entirely at my caprice, and coupled with my own interests in history and genealogy. 

The first monarch I want to look at is called Cleopatra, and she was Queen of Egypt.  Everyone has heard of her, of course, but the Queen who seduced Julius Cæsar and then Mark Anthony was Cleopatra VII.  I may well look at her later, but first, I shall take a look at Cleopatra I of Egypt.

When Alexander the Great died, his enormous conquered territories were divided up, and the two richest and largest portions went to Seleucus, who got the Persian Empire and Ptolemy, who got Egypt.  The next three centuries are a tale of internecine strife, with these families, and others descended from the Diadochi, successors of Alexander’s generals, fighting, inter-marrying, fighting, quarrelling, and eventually coming up against the rising power of Rome.  Both the Seleucids and the Ptolemies took on certain characteristics of the monarchies they inherited.  The Ptolemies, indeed, took on the ancient Egyptian custom of Pharoahs marrying their sisters, in order to keep the bloodline pure.  This was because the succession was often thought to devolve on the daughters of the Pharoah, and so it kept power in the family too.  Many women therefore had the title of Queen regnant, even when they did not exercise power themselves.

Egypt had had several female Pharoahs before, most notable Hatshepshut, who is possibly identified in the Exodus accounts, but Cleopatra I was the first woman to rule in her own right in the Ptolemaic monarchy.  This is all the more curious as she was not born Egyptian, but was the daughter of Antiochus III the Great, King of Syria[2], and his wife Laodice III[3].  The Seleucids and the Ptolemies had been at war with one another, and Antiochus III had taken some cities in Asia Minor[4] which had been part of the Ptolemaic dominions.  The Ptolemies had Rome on their side, so in 196BC, Antiochus III made peace with Egypt, and married the ten year old Cleopatra to the sixteen year old King Ptolemy V of Egypt[5].

The young Cleopatra was clearly capable and impressed her husband.  She dutifully produced three children[6] and was accorded honours as if she were the king’s sister, as well as his wife.  In 187, aged only seventeen, she was appointed Vizier, effectively Prime Minister.  When her husband died in 180, the twenty-four year old Cleopatra was proclaimed Queen and ruled also as regent for her oldest son, Ptolemy VI.  Ptolemy V had been planning to go to war against Cleopatra’s brother, Seleucus IV Philopator, and she immediately ended war plans, and ruled Egypt for another four years, dying in 176. 
Although not even thirty when she died, Cleopatra I was clearly a capable political operator.  For a foreign princess to rule her new country was no mean achievement.  She also seems to have avoided the familial strife that is so common in the Ptolemies, although it returned in the reigns of her three children.  She is known as Cleopatra I Syra, being born in Syria.




[1] That is ruling in their own right, as opposed to queens consort, who married a king.
[2] One of the most powerful of the Seleucid monarchs
[3] Like many, she has a number, but does not appear to have been a sovereign queen.
[4] Modern day Turkey
[5] He had inherited his throne at the age of five, and there had been successive civil wars and fights over the regency, which had significantly weakened Egypt.
[6] Ptolemy VI, Cleopatra II, and Ptolemy VIII, of whom more later.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

London Mayoral Assembly

On 5th May, Londoners get to vote for a new Mayor.  Millionaire Boris Johnson, now in Parliament and campaigning against EU membership in a bid for the top job when Cameron resigns later this year, is not standing again.  Like all on the electoral register, I received a lurid pink leaflet with manifesto of all[1] the candidates, listed in order of drawn lots.  I hereby summarise them all for you:

Sophie Walker for the Women’s Equality Party
I want more money for women.  I want cheaper childcare for women.  I want new buses with extra room for pushchairs for women.  Men are evil.

Lee Harris for Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol Party
Hey man, be cool.  I am cool.  I am 79.  Have a joint. 

Zac Goldsmith for the Conservative Party.
I am rich.  Very rich.  I used to be a non-dom.  But I don’t want to talk about that.  I don’t want to talk about my father.  I want out of Europe, but I don’t wanted to talk about that.  I will make sure everything stays the same.

David Furness for the British National Party.
I am a thug.  I am also an Anglican.  And the Archbishop of Canterbury agrees with me.  And my vicar says the BNP stands up for Christians.  British people, vote for me.  Everyone else, *$@# off!

Caroline Pidgeon for the Liberal Democrats.
I am left wing.  I am not like the coalition Liberal Democrats.  I will build houses introduce cheaper bus tickets.  I can’t win, but please vote for me.

Paul Golding for Britain First.
I am more of a thug than David Furness.  I get fools on Farcebook to like my page.  If you don’t vote for me, I will break your shins.

George Galloway for the Respect Party
I am different.  I wear quirky hats.  I want out of Europe but am a lefty.  My wives think I am a good guy. 

Peter Whittle for the UK Independence Party.
I am not a racist.  You have never heard of me, so here is a picture of me with Nigel “I am not a racist” Farage.  I want to make London better for all white British men in employment.

Sadiq Khan for the Labour Party
My dad was a bus driver.  I am ethnic.  I will stand up for multi-culturalism in London.  I will freeze transport tickets until 2020.

Sian Berry for the Green Party
I want affordable houses.  I want affordable energy.  I want affordable transport.  I want affordable banking.  I want to protect the environment.




[1] Two candidates, Ankit Love for the One Love Party, and Prince Zylinski, an Independent, who recently challenged Nigel “I am not a racist” Farage to a duel, chose not to submit mini-manifestos to the booklet.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Lambing 2016 - latter day lambs and bottle feeding.

The latter days on the farm seemed to go quite quickly, with a very slow stream of lambs arriving, and never at a time when I could see them.  Pregnant ewes are in the Labour Ward, two pens in a big barn, where they munch their way through enormous quantities of hay, and sit around contentedly.  As soon as one is in labour, she gets moved up to the lambing shed, where a freshly disinfected and strawed individual pen awaits.  Deliveries take place there, in a cleaner situation, where there is room to assist if necessary.  Once the lamb or lambs have been born, and is well and suckling, she is lamb-napped to the tractor shed, where a suite of individual pens house mothers and their little ones, giving them a good time to bond.  The lambing pen is scrubbed and disinfected and left empty for the next mother-to-be, with the straw being burned (if possible, as it can be damp).  While in the tractor shed, the lambs have their tails castrated by the fitting of a tight little rubber band, which causes the end of the tail to drop off.  Without this, the tail would almost reach the floor on a fully grown sheep.  Castrating is painless if done in the first week of life.  Each lamb is then sprayed with its number, and the numbers of her offspring are sprayed onto the mother.  This is preparation for when mother and lambs are returned to the bottom pen of the barn, once enough pregnant ewes have vacated it, and it is quite certain that the ewes and lambs are well bonded, so they stick close together once mixed up into a big crowd.

Even with only one or two ewes lambing a day, this means that there is always something going on – someone to move, a pen to scrub, some lambs to castrate, as well as twice a day feeding, and making sure that everyone has a good supply of hay, and that the straw in pens is clean enough – a layer is added when necessary.  In the tractor shed, a continued eye is kept on sheep and lambs – are the mothers caring for their lambs, and keeping them clean (a euphemism for making sure they keep their bottoms clean)?  Are the lambs feeding well?  Are there any signs of entropium, an inward turning eye lash problem that can lead to blindness, and which used to trouble the flock, but which now seems to have been bred out?  And what about selenium deficiency?  Lambs that feed well and grow fast can sometimes show signs of stiff legs and goggly eyes, which is a sign of this deficiency – single lambs are more prone to this, but an injection usually puts this right.  Any mother that has had a difficult birth, with a lot of intervention or internal examination is normally carefully observed to see if she is developing an infection.  A prophylactic injection is given anyway in these situations, but a further one might be necessary.

One ewe, which had twins, developed mastitis, an inflammation of the udder, which means she is unable to give milk.  This is fairly disastrous, as it means her lambs cannot feed, and, in attempting to feed, may exacerbate the problem.  This was on one side of the udder only, meaning that her two lambs were competing for the other side, therefore not getting sufficient milk, and endangering the other part of the udder from over attention.  The remedy for this is to take away the strongest and largest of the lambs, which has the best chance of survival, and bottle-feed it.  It must be taken from its mother, so that it does not continue to feed, and so the remaining lamb can thrive.  It is a rather sad thing to do – the mother usually is distressed at losing a lamb, although this particular ewe seemed resigned to her fate, and was quite down in the mouth anyway, so she did not spend hours bellowing for her lost lamb, taken into a different building.

The little lamb, nearly a week old, was taken and placed in his own pen in the lambing shed, with straw, a box to snuggle in, and a decent covering of straw.  However, inevitably, the poor lamb, bereft of its mother, and struggling to understand his sad new situation, bleated piteously for his mother.  This is why the lamb must be in a separate building, so the lamb and mother are unable to hear one another.  He now needed to be bottle-fed every four hours.  As usual, when he tried his first bottle, he did not want this nasty concoction which was not nearly as nice as his mother’s milk.  He took little and continued to bleat for mother.  In these situations, the poor orphaned lambs bleat until their voices run out, and the last bleats are hoarse and crackly, and so sad to here.  But, as is usually the case, eventually the lamb is hungry enough to take the milk, and begins to feed eagerly.  Also, the lamb begins to relish the company of the human, and is very contented to be held on the lap, with a bottle in its mouth.  My last feeding of the lamb was at three am on my last day, and he felt fairly full, and did not want much, but he did want very much to snuggle up to me and have the comfort of a warm body contact.  I find it very endearing and touching that this should be so.  His mother, who will not recover to feed properly again, and so take a visit to the Mutton Maker, is showing signs of feeling better, and both her lambs are growing well.  In a few day, the lamb’s feeding can come down to every six hours, and there is no reason why he will not thrive and grow into a fine ram.


The mothers and lambs are slowly introduced to the barn – this is a great opportunity for the lambs to run around and make new friends.  At first, an eye is kept out to make sure no sheep are being unkind to a lamb – if a lamb approaches to suckle, a sheep always sniffs its bottom to make sure it is hers, and will be butted away if it is not.  There are always a few mixups, but this normally settles down quickly.  The barn remains their home until there is enough grass in the fields to allow them to go out into a field – and this depends on the season.  It can be late April through to late May – a period I have not been on the farm.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Lambing - Easter Day

Easter Day started earlier than usual, as, not only did the clocks go forward during the night, but I was also on the 7am watch on the ante-natal ward.  All was quiet there, which was good, given the wind and rain.  Sunday on the farm means church when you can get it (8.30am, 10.30am or 6pm) and lunch of roast mutton which the sheep like to try and disrupt if they can, being naturally heathen creatures, and inclined, like all sheep, to go astray.  As I was up early, I was able to assist Mrs Farmer (who was already busy in the kitchen) by peeling a mountain of potatoes for roasting.  The mutton had already been cooked for several hours.

We then went off to early said Communion at Paul Church.  The Church of St Pol de Léon in Paul has a rather splendid tower that can be seen for many miles around, and which looks decidedly Iberian in character.  It has the grave of Dolly Pentreath, who is reckoned by some to be the last native speaker of Cornish.  Communion is said from the Book of Common Prayer and attended by about fifteen people.  The minister (I feel the word priest is incorrect for reformed churches most certainly Do Not have priests) was in a white vestment with dressing gown cords and there was a lot of marching up and down, and hand waving and bowing.  It kind of feels like a different religion to me, and somewhat alien, but the words of the Prayer Book are very good indeed, and, if you do not know them well, can be helpful.  Having dry sherry and wafers does distance the whole thing somewhat, but it was not an unhelpful service, despite vestments and rituals trying to distract us from the matter at hand.

Back on the farm, and there was time to do some writing, and prepare for lunch.  The New Mrs (formerly the Old Miss) turned up with a box of chocolate and fruit goodies for everyone, before we all sat down to an enormous lunch.  The Sunday lunches in Cornwall are quite an event, and usually end with everyone feeling comfortably, or even uncomfortably, full, and having to have a nap.  The traditional Easter pudding is Jalbert’s ice-cream with large dollops of clotted cream - alas, I could not have that and had a nice soya chocolate dessert.  It was then off to church again, this time to the Methodists, for the evening service - a much more helpful affair, with the same visiting minister we had heard and enjoyed on Good Friday.  He has that rare mix of speaking with warmth and kindness, and yet with theological rigour.  We were much encouraged.

It was back to the house for tea, where Mrs Farmer proudly presented humming bird cake - a lovely sponge with nuts, honey, and pineapple, and encrusted with nuts.  Cocktail hour followed, and it was off to bed, having broken almost all dietary rules.  You wonder why I do not mention sheep - it was a singularly eneventful day for them.  Surely there will be lambs tomorrow?

Lambing - Holy Saturday

I shall not write a report about Easter Saturday, as Easter Saturday in 2016 falls on 2nd April and is the day I return to the City.  However, Holy Saturday was yesterday, and I can write about that.  After the lovely sunshine of Good Friday, Holy Saturday was grim stormy affair, with a very strong southerly wind - a wind the farm is largely sheltered from, but one that brought waves onto the promenade at Penzance.  Saturday has two traditions - pasties for lunch, and sausage and mash for tea.

The Cornish Pasty is a specially designated food that must be made in Cornwall.  There is a long mythology around the origins of the pastie, and how they were designed to be taken down the tin mines by miners, with a knot on the crimp so that they could be held in dirty hands, and with two different fillings, separated by a pastry wall.  Like most such legends, there is possibly some truth in it, but I doubt much of it is true.  All this said, the pasty is a lovely thing.  Let not the purchased variety, or the dreadful Ginster’s Cat Food Pasties deceive you.  A true pasty has a crimp on the side, and is stuffed with potato and swede and steak.  It should be eating very warm (not really hot) by hand.  The large size is to be recommended.

In the middle of the afternoon, between hailstorms, and when the drizzle was only persistent, rather than heavy, Mrs Farmer and I went out to the tractor shed, to visit the three mothers and their lambs.  We chalked up the boards that identify each mother and her lambs, and then each lamb had its tail fitted with a castration ring - this is painless, and trims the tail, which would otherwise drag on the ground almost.  The lambs then have their number - 1 for the first of the lot, and so on, sprayed on their back, and the mother has the number of her lambs sprayed on her back, which assists when they are all together in the barn later.  All seemed to be progressing well, and the single lamb was becoming quite huge.

Later that afternoon, one of the sheep in the upper pen appeared to be a little discontented, and had assigned a choice corner to herself, butting away any others who dared trespass.  This is a strong indicator of labour, and, sure enough, she showed membranes later on, and was hastened to the lambing shed.  She Did Not want to go and, once in, we noted from her previous labour, that she had been difficult to move before, but that her labour had processed quickly and efficiently, and that she had produced her lambs when no-one was looking.  After waiting until she had settled down, we decided to go and investigate tea.  Surely enough, when the Young Mrs went to check, the ewe had produced two healthy lambs with no fuss, and informed the Young Mrs that she Did Not need to be checked upon and that she was Quite Capable of looking after things on her own, thank you very much.  We therefore all retreated and consumed indecent quantities of sausages and mashed potato, while the rest of the sheep naughtily continued to chew cud and look most unwilling to deliver their lambs.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Lambing - Good Friday

Good Friday dawned with lovely sunshine, giving warmth, and making us forget the rain and wind of yesterday.  I did the 7am check on the sheep, but they were determined to enjoy the comfort of the barn, and told me to go away and leave them to eat.  As Mrs Farmer is currently unable to drive, I was put on her insurance so I can drive -  I only get to drive two or three times a year, and it is a treat to do so, even among the single track lanes, and huge 20% hills of this part of Western Cornwall.

Mrs Farmer and I drove down to the fish merchants, to obtain the necessary fish for Friday, but were dismayed to find them closed for Good Friday.  Muttering away at the injustice of this, we hastened to the butcher, to buy 174 sausages for Saturday supper, and they too were closed.  We picked up three basketfuls of vegetables and fruit from the friendly greengrocer, who always remembers me and wants to know what is going on in London (London is impossibly distant and exotic).  After this, we went to church, at the Methodist chapel, where a relief minister led a superb service of suitable hymns and Good Friday reflections.  We liked him very much, as well as the five hymns he chose, and, having had the foresight to bring with me the music group, I was able to sing the tenor line.  The more regular minister would have had us considering the ways of the crow, and how we too should sitting on branches and caw a welcome to one another, before meditating on the shininess of the stones of the stream of life.  

The sun was really quite warm, so, having stopped at a fishmonger on the way home, we went out delivering parish magazines among the village close to the farm.  By village, what is meant is two groups of five houses, plus another three or four farms.  Mrs Farmer was able to relate the provenance of each, and several extended conversations were held, discussing the deeds of the children, the evils of Europe, the gynæcological complications of Mrs Tregwavawiddy, and the difficulties of selling, buying, or living in property in Cornwall.  I actually caught a bit of sun on my face, so lovely was it.

Good Friday passed without event as far as the sheep were concerned.  They continued and told us that such fine weather was not the suitable time for having lambs.  Later that evening, the New Mrs (formerly known as the Old Miss) came along with bump and we had a good old chat as I tended a bonfire - burning off straw from the lambing pen, as, with rain forecast for the rest of my stay, a sunny day was too good an opportunity to miss.  Alas, it was Quite Windy (not Very Windy, which is normal for here) and I got smothered in smoke, and now smell like a barbecued hog roast.

Good Friday is one of my favourite parts of the church calendar - the sombre reflection of the kindness of God is much more suited to my temperament than the crass joy of Easter Sunday.  As we did not sing Bach, I made sure some was played, especially with the alternative harmony, and meditated much therein.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Lambing 2016 - journey and arrival

Lambing 2016 has begun - this time, quite late, due to the moveability of Easter, and the vicissitudes of the holidays at the college where I work.  As ever, a long journey starts the lambing season - it is over 300 miles from London to the farm.

My journey started with a trip on the Underground, joining the tube at about 7.15, during the morning rush hour.  Unusually for someone who lives in London, I do not have to get public transport to and from work - I have a simple 20-25 minute walk.  This puts me in a privileged position.  Even if it is raining, and I decide to get the bus, it is rarely very crowded.

This is not the case for most Londoners.  Most Londoners get on a tube or bus or train heading into Central London.  Certainly, from where I am in Finchley, a seat into London is rare.  The tube is full of people looking tired, and resigned.  Women sit and put their make-up on and tweezer their upper lips and eyebrows.  Men surreptitiously pick their noses and wipe the nasal detritus on the coats of people standing near them.  Youths listen to loud tinny music, others read kindles, and a few attempt to read free newspapers.

As I got on the train, with my suitcase and rucksack, there was indeed a seat available.  I went to it, stood by it, and took my rucksack off, but, just before I sat in it, a man nimbly slipped into it.  “Gotta be quicker than that, mate” he said.  I was so shocked, I did not know what to say.  Someone tutted and glared at him, and offered me their seat.  I gratefully declined.  I guess, if I took that journey everyday, I would feel less well-inclined towards my fellow passengers, but I think I would not commit such an egregious social crime.  The smooth running of the rush hour depends on the cooperation of all, although I do sense a simmering resentment on some trains.  If all did not cooperate, chaos could break out.  There are unwritten rules about how assertive to be when storming along a passageway, and woe betide those who break it.  I am sure I would not thrive if I had to make these journeys every day.  A friend of mine writes regular accounts of his journeys into the City on the tube, and the fellow passengers he encounters; there is much of interest in his narrative, but a hint of the crowding and standing is also there.

Once I finally got to Paddington, I eventually found an outlet selling a coffee but without a fifty metre queue - the station is in a state of continual upgrade ready for the arrival of Crossrail in the next couple of years.  I found my train, and, as expected, my window reserved seat was next to a pillar with no window view at all.  The train, bound for Plymouth, was very full and nearly every seat was reserved, so I felt it politic to stay put, especially once I had disturbed a passenger to take my seat.  After Reading, people were standing on the train and I felt relieved I had my reservation.  Eventually, a couple in front of me left at Tiverton Parkway, and I could see that there were no further reservations on their seat, so I disturbed my passenger again, and took the seat there, so I could retrieve my rucksack from the upper rack, and issue myself with sandwiches.  

At Plymouth, the express train terminated, and I had to get the local train down to Penzance.  Cornwall has a very poor train service, and is often treated as little more than a branch line.  I have rarely been on an express train that did not have people standing as far as Truro (nearly five hours from London).  To my horror, the train awaiting us at Plymouth was a tiny two carriage coach on rails.  I got on and secured a seat.  More and more people arrived, and, eventually, passengers were struggling to find even standing room.  This little train, travelling just eighty miles down to Penzance, was due to call at Devonport, Saltash, St Germans, Menheniot (request stop only), Liskeard for Looe, Bodmin Parkway, Lostwithiel, St Austell, Par for Newquay, Truro for Falmouth, Redruth, Camborne, Hayle, St Erth for St Ives, and Penzance.  Until Truro, the train was indecently full, but emptied considerably there so that all passengers had seats.  I do feel that running this sort of service is not acceptable - Great Western Railways are more interested in their lucrative lines to Bristol and South Wales, and their other services are often formed of short trains with standing passengers.  It is accepted as a dreary necessity by the poor folk of the West.  

Once I alighted at Penzance (in rain, of course), I was met by Mrs Farmer and Sir, and transported to the farm, where a cup of tea was taken, and there was a catching up of all the news - houses being cleared, tractor sheds being divided, and the naughtiness of another sheep that had given birth to twins that morning - on the right day, for I arrived on the due day, but too early.  I went out to inspect the sheep, and inform them of my arrival.  I also visited Roger the Parrot who was most displeased to see me, and puffed himself until he thought I was not looking.  He always officially dislikes me, but I do bring him food, and I play the piano sufficiently well for him to get on the swing (anyone not good enough gets squawked at).

After dinner, with no sheep in labour, a game of Scrabble took place with Mrs Farmer, who beat me convincingly, including a seven letter word score.  I was quite appalled but it was great fun, and the overall score reached seven hundred.  However, vengeance will be mine, saith The Banbury Man.