Monday, 20 February 2017

Working in the Background

Events at my church invariably involve coffee and tea, or food, or both.  On Sunday, there is coffee downstairs before the services, coffee upstairs and downstairs after the service, and lunch downstairs. I am sometimes on duty for these activities.  When I am on coffee, I fill the coffee pots, I find the cupboards full of coffee and filters, I find a refrigerator full of milk, and a biscuit tin full of biscuits.  Another cupboard is full of cups.

I don't suppose there is a special Housekeeping Færy at church, nor is there an army of mice in the organ, that come out and tidy things up at the bidding of the Woodpecker. No - it is someone's job to do all this, and they do it, and it is done.  The likes of me would only notice if the cupboard was bare, and I had to go running to find coffee, or milk.  Someone has decided that this task should be done, and either done it themselves, or delegated the responsibility for it to someone who does it.

I doubt if I could name half the jobs that get done in a church.  I doubt if anyone in my church even knows who is responsible for each of them.  Yet, quietly, and helpfully, people are working away to make sure such things get done.  Coffee is in stock, enough welcome leaflets are out, the bins are emptied, biscuits are purchased, leftover service leaflets are cleared from pews, the tea-towels are washed, and communion wine is ordered in for next time.

I am grateful to people that make things happen.  I don't want to take them for granted.  I don't know who they are, and that is probably as it should be.  But, as surely as the minister standing in the pulpit, the organist, the welcomers, and the cooks, they are all part of the work of the church, little organs in a bigger body.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Thankful Thursdays - the dentists

It is a very dangerous thing for me to make promises of new series on my blog, but I hope I might keep up with this.  The world is a rather negative place of late, with Trump, Brexit, terrorism, and other evils.  But there are good things, and things to be thankful for.  I find lots of things in my daily life that I am thankful for.

I am thankful for my dentist.  For a start, it is the Dr Fang Practice, which always makes me chuckle.  Dr Fang is very pleasant and efficient.  The hygienist instructs me strictly, but is very nice too.  And the reception staff are always particularly friendly, and kind; we chat as I pay and arrange the next appointment.  It is always a good visit to the dentist.

Life is so much better when we can be nice with people we see as we go about our business.  I would like to think the dentists think I am a pleasant customer.  I always like to say hello and thank you and goodbye at shops, and be pleasant to staff.  I always smile and thank the bus driver when I get on the bus and touch my Oyster Card in.  Such pleasantries make life taste a little better.

Friday, 3 February 2017

An embarrassment at a wedding

4pm.  Mindful that I am attending a wedding on Saturday, I remember that I wanted to dry clean my suit.  I put it in the dry cleaners, who say I can pick it up on Wednesday, and that they close on Friday for a short holiday.

It has been a busy week, and my laundry basket is VERY full.  I have hardly any clean clothes.

I decide to select a shirt.  The one I really wanted to wear is in the wash and it is too late to wash it for the wedding.  I pick one that only has one tie that goes with it.  I am tired and decide to iron the shirt freshly the next day.

9am.  I get up, rather late (did I mention it has been a busy week).
10am.  I am watching Frasier and eating eggs on toast.
11am.  I am still in my night attire, and listening to Radio Four.
12 noon  I decide I ought to shake a leg and have a shower, and trim my beard.
12.30  Disaster!  I forgot to pick the suit up at the cleaners, and now they are closed.
12.40  I decide that my dinner jacket suit (worn when I am performing in choral concerts) is too over the top to wear.
12.45  I decide that corduroys are not right for a wedding.
12.50  I reluctantly select the only clean pair of trousers, a red pair.  They are a bit creased.
12.55  I put the iron on to iron the shirt and press the trousers a bit.
13.10  I remember the iron.  It is cold.
13.15  The iron still doesn't work.
13.20  I remember I have a navy blue shirt in a packet that is smart.  I had purchased it but not unpacked and worn it yet.
13.30  After unpacking the shirt, and removing 237 pins, fourteen clips, five cardboard sheets, and a plastic collar reinforcer, I realise it is far too creased to wear, and decide to stick with the original purple floral shirt, in the vain hope the pattern will hide the creases.
13.40  I am now dressed.  I feel slightly dishevelled but hope my English eccentricity will allow me to get away with this.
13.55  I realise with a start that, with the wedding being at 3pm, I need to leave at 14.05 to get to church ten minutes before the start, so I can select a seat near someone I know and make small talk until the start of the wedding.
14.00  Putting my tie on over the bathroom sink I drop it into the sink.  It is now dripping.
14.05  After frantically looking through all my other ties, I realise none of them match the shirt.  I reluctantly decide to go without a tie.
14.10  My shoelaces break when I put my shoes on.
14.15  I finally lace up my shoes with laces purloined from an unsuitable pair of shoes.
14.20  I leave home.
14.25  There is no Charing Cross Branch train for ten minutes.  I take the Bank Branch train.
14.45  I change at Camden Town (Bank Branch).  There is no Charing Cross Branch train for ten minutes.
14.50  The Charing Cross Branch train comes sooner than expected.  It is packed out.
15.00  I arrive at Tottenham Court Road.
15.05  I arrive at church.  The vows are underway.  An usher looks at me uncertainly, and clearly disbelieves me when I re-assure him that I really am here for the wedding, and allows me to slip in quietly.
15.06  I slip in quietly.  The whole congregation notices.
15.07  I realise that it is a very smart wedding.  All the men are slim, smart, and bearded, with three-piece suits on, and many wear button holes.
15.08  I sit there, flushed as red as my trousers.
16.00  After the service, there is mulled wine (it is 3rd December, after all).  I find friends from church and feel obliged to explain my appearance, and wonder if they think I am one of those persons who never dresses up for weddings.
16.35  I bump into one of the grooms, and offer him my congratulations, and exchange pleasantries.  I apologise for my appearance, and he is very kind, but, I am certain, very shocked.
19.00  I get home and start doing laundry.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

My Two Thousand Book Reviews

On my thirteenth birthday, I decided to write a brief review of every book I read.  I was a voracious reader, and I wanted to keep a note of everything to help me remember what I have read.  There were a few rules:

1.  I could only write a review for a book I had read completely, from cover to cover.  So, although I read an awful lot at university, I often read half a book, or just a few chapters.  So those books could not count.

2.  For each book, I had to write where I got it, how much I paid for it, and where I had come across the book, and why I wanted to read it.

3.  I could only write one review for each book.  I have read some books more than once - but I could not write a review again.  I may have broken this rule, as, for twenty years, and the first 1500 books, I wrote the reviews down in note books, before starting to write electronic.  I generally remember if I have read a book before, but I am sure a couple slipped through the net, and got a may have got reviews.

Nearly 33 years later, I have just completed the review for book 2000.  I read the first thousand books in thirteen years - I read a lot in my teenage years and my twenties: I was at university then, and, immediately after that, was working shifts, and often nights.  A bit more than half of the books are fiction - because they are often shorter and easier to read.  I think I spend longer reading non-fiction.  History and biography dominate the non-fiction, with a strong representation of theology and philosophy items.

I would dearly love to have the time to go through the reviews and get them all written electronically, and to produce a database or spreadsheet of the results.  I am pretty sure Agatha Christie will be the author most well represented, since she wrote so many books, and I devoured them all in my early twenties.  Jean Plaidy is a writer of historical novels - my aunt introduced me to her novels, and I ploughed through almost all of her works too.

Many of the books are classics - I deliberately set out to read well-known books from all ages and all nations - to find out why they are classics.  I nearly always found that I enjoyed them.  I read most of the Greek and Roman Classics.  The longest is probably the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbons' six volume set that I purchased with book tokens given to me when I left the nursing home.  The longest fiction is Proust  - a wonderful book, although I missed the wood for the trees, and Les Miserables.  Camus and Gide wrote shorter works that affected me deeply.  I guess the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series are among more modern longer ones.

I love to get my reviews out and pick a book when I am unsure what to read.  I have probably read a third of the books again.  My reading volume has gone up and down over the years, but, for the last ten years, has settled to about 50 books a year.  I am profoundly grateful for books, which have been the best of friends, taking me to other worlds, opening wisdom, and shaping my life ever since my grandmother taught me to read in the early seventies.  I have generally never published my reviews, but might from time to time, if I have a book that I feel might be of interest, or which has particularly moved or impressed me.  If I live long enough to get to 4000, I will certainly blog that!

Book Review 1: The Talking Parcel, Gerald Durrell

1974, English
Purchased: Salvation Army Shop, Banbury 1984, 15p
Read: 22nd - 29th May 1984

I read most of this book during English lessons at work, when Mr Matejschuk plonked a box of books on the desk for us all to read.  One week, it had gone missing, and I went down to the Army shop with Gran, and Mr Wilding let me into a damp and dank room at the back, where I found it together with some Blue Peter books I didn't have.

Penelope, Simon, and Peter are on the beach when a parcel washes up in the tide.  It contains Parrot and Dulcibelle (a singing spider), who enlist their help to rescue H.H., the ruler of Mythologia from the cockatrices who have locked up the Dictionary, the Herbal, and the Book of Spells.  Ethelred the Toad, Ms Desdemona Williamson-Smythe-Smythe-Brown the Mermaid, Oswald the Sea Serpent, and a whole array of creatures from mythology join forces to defeat the cockatrices.

Mr Durrell is very good at descriptions, particularly in nature.  I often laughed, and I was very much taken with some of the imaginative creatures and items - the Mooncalves that give milk and cream, and mooncarrots which can be "thought" into all sorts of things.  Parrot uses unusual words from the Dictionary, as they die if they do not get an outing every year.  I was very sorry when I got to the end of this book, and continue to think a lot about the different elements therein.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Book Review 2000: Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

1866, Russian
Purchased: Cottage Bookshop, Penn 1992, 40p
Read: 31st December 2016 to 29th January 2017

I have had this book for a LONG time, and it has sat accusingly on my Penguin Classics shelf, six hundred pages ready to jump out every time I selected a book, but sorely neglected.  I started reading it when I was working nights in 1993, but got bogged down and gave up, a rare occurrence.  I deliberately chose it for this read.

In the story, Raskolnikov, an impoverished student, decides to murder an old woman, a pawnbroker, a "louse" in society.  He believes he will do the world a favour.  The murder is committed, and he ends up murdering her sister too, who happens upon the crime.  Ill, he falls into a fearful fever, much to the alarm of his mother and sister who journey up from Moscow, and he suffers a moral delirium.  The characters weave around him, some blissfully ignorant, others suspicious, and eventually cognisant of his crime.  His crime was the murder, and his punishment his anguish of soul, as he exchanges views and philosophies with friends and foes, and Sofia Semyonovna, daughter of a late acquaintance.

This novel has the typical Russian inter-connectedness where everyone is related, or connected by household, and it is complicate to remember who is who.  The whole novel takes place over just a few weeks, and mainly consists of extended conversations and ramblings by and with the unfortunate Raskolnikov.  The conversations are written in such detail, and with such skill, that I heard and imagined the characters, especially the women.  Rather than being driven by plot, it is ideas that drive this novel, and I was anxious to see the working out of the ideas.  The epilogue is very satisfying, on a plot basis, but, equally satisfying is the resolution of the struggles to comprehend what has been done.  Dostoyevsky, with some daring ideas, yet still understands what it is to be human, and what it means when humanity and humaneness are tested.  I still did occasionally feel bogged down in one or two longer conversations, but my perseverance was greatly rewarded.  This is rightly a classic, and I am cross I have waited so long to read it.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Living Losers of USA Presidential Elections

Everyone knows that there are currently five living former Presidents of the USA - Jimmie Carter, George H W Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama.  But how many former Presidents would be alive if the elections had gone a different way?  Here are the elections, counting back, and information about the losers.....

Of course, this is very recent, and if the loser, Hillary Clinton (who won the popular vote substantially) had won, she would not be a former President, but the living one!

Mitt Romney was the losing Republican candidate, and, at only 69 (younger than President Trump) is still alive and well.

John McCain was the Republican candidate, and is now 80 years old, and still active in politics - being notably critical of the current President.

John Kerry, the outgoing Secretary of State, was the Democrat who lost this election.  He is 73 years old.

It is generally reckoned that George W Bush lost this election and he is still alive and 70 years old.  But the Supreme Court narrowly awarded Bush the victory, meaning that former Vice President Al Gore is the loser, and he is 68 years old, and a noted author and campaigner.

Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in this election, and had been Ford's running mate in the 1976 election.  Dole is still alive, although somewhat frail, but was greeted by Trump at the recent Inauguration.  Dole is 93 years old.

The loser in this contest was the President George H W Bush, and he is still alive (although ill) at the age of 92.  He recently celebrated his 72nd wedding anniversary with his wife, Barbara.

George H W Bush had won this election, and his defeated opponent was Michael Dukakis, still alive at 83.

In Ronald Reagan's second victory, Walter Mondale, Carter's Vice President, suffered the ignominy of only winning one state, and 13 electoral representatives, in a huge landslide for the Republicans. Mondale is 89 years old.

The loser here is the President, Jimmy Carter, still going strong at 92.

The last election where either candidate is still alive is the 1976 election, where Carter beat Ford.  So, taking all the losers, we see that Clinton, Romney, McCain, Kerry, Gore, Dole, Bush, Dukakis, Mondale, and Carter are all still alive - ten people, twice as many as those who won elections (although two of them are in both lists.  Perhaps not winning an election is better for one's longevity!

The Warning of the Holocaust

Every year, I post something on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Every year, I recall the terrible events of the Holocaust that we might remember the dead.

Every year, I recall the Holocaust that we might remember it occurred in Europe at the behest of a democratically elected leader.

Every year, I recall the Holocaust that we might be warned from history to be vigilant to prevent such a thing happening ever again.

Never, in my lifetime, has the warning of the Holocaust seemed so urgent.  In the USA, a democratically elected President has suggested that the crimes of immigrants are published in national newspapers, as Hitler did in Germany for Jews.  In the USA, the President wants a register of Muslims, as Hitler required a register of Jews.  In the USA, the press have been targeted and attacked where they criticise the regime, as Hitler did in Germany.  In the UK, the Daily Mail called the supreme court judges "Enemies of the People" as Hitler did to German judges.  This week, Denial, a film about the trial of Holocaust denier David Irving, is released and reminds us that, despite the huge weight of evidence and personal testimony, people deny the Holocaust even took place.

In the UK and the USA, and many other nations, there is an increased narrative dehumanising immigrants and asylum seekers, blaming them for economic woes, and turning the population against them.

I will not apologise if this seems alarmist.  I just want to heed warnings from history.  This is urgent.  Be afraid.  Warn people.  Do not stand by as governments chip away at the rights of certain groups.  Learn from history.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Nigel's New Year Round Robin 2017

Happy New Year!

The Redford household is in high spirits at the start of 2017, and we think 2016 was a pretty good year (we are not quite sure why so many people have said it was a bad year).  Here is our family news for your enjoyment and admiration:

Max (16) is now taking his “A” levels at sixth form college.  We are terribly proud of his achievements over the summer, when he got twelve GCSE A* grades, and was at the top of his class.  We hope this will motivate you all to encourage your children to reach for the skies.  He is hoping to go on to University to study Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.  He took an internship for our local UKIP Member of the European Parliament.  This seems mainly to have consisted of waiting on visitors at champagne receptions, and dealing with all the tweets that women, Muslims, and immigrants insist on sending the poor MEP.  Following this experience, he hopes to go on an international British-American White Male Exchange Scheme where white males, discriminated against in today’s society, are sent over to the USA to assist in processing immigration applications.  Max was, as you might expect, delighted by the results of the EU Referendum, and this has caused not a little conflict with Amelia.

Amelia (15) will be taking her GCSE’s in June, although she has threatened to flunk them, seeing them as outdated measurements of academic ability that has no relevance in today’s value-based society.  She is very busy socially, serving as a member of Women Against Men, Movement for the Advancement of Women, and Campaign for the Abolition of Marriage.  She is rather strident at times, and I had to take her to task when she told Charlotte to divorce me and burn all her underwear and jewellery.  Amelia hopes, when she has taken her GCSE’s, to work in a women’s commune in Serbia, and refuses point blank to take “A” levels.  She was a member of Young Labour, but has left the party, due to the right-wing policies of Jeremy Corbyn, who she decries as a Tory in Disguise.

Jasper (11) has had a great first term at the Margaret Thatcher Academy.  He has made quite a few new friends, and is planning to set up a co-operative with some of them, to market mobile telephone applications (called apps, I believe).  He has been doing quite a bit of work on this for Charlotte (see below).  His main interests remain Latin and Greek, and he has recently been reading a lot on the study of art, and declared that he might become an artist when he gets older.  I hope he will grow out of such nonsense.

Charlotte has had a very successful year, following her launch of the Essential Homemaker mobile application.  This, she tells me, has freed thousands of women from the tyranny of mediocrity, and allowed them to become devoted providers and carers for their husbands and children.  The application provides recipes and housework tips, and, in the new year, will include a new section on managing household budgets, which will only cost £12.99 a month.  Of course, Charlotte is still far too busy to cook or do any housework here, but, when I was diagnosed with high blood pressure in January, and told to cut down my salt intake, she at last realised that my complaints about ready meals had some foundation, and so we have employed Agnieszka, a Polish cook.  I tried to point out that employing an immigrant to do our cooking was somewhat out of sync with Charlotte’s strongly Brexit sympathies, but, as Charlotte pointed out, we had created a job for Agnieszka, and she was not taking a job that a British person would otherwise do - the middle classes are the proper source of work for immigrant labour.  Agnieszka is a great hit with everyone, except Farage, Max’s cat, who hates her with a passion.

I have had a splendid year.  The Centralised Administration Department has been merged with the Office Procurement Department, and the Office Communications Hub to form the Business Enablement Centre, and I am the head of this new super-department.  I have organised things so efficiently that we have been able to lay off ten administrators, which resulted in a surprisingly large Christmas Bonus.  Furthermore, we have taken on a consultant from the well-known High Street retailer, Sports Direct, who has come up with several very imaginative solutions for saving money on staff, and we plan to move many of the staff over to zero hours contracts, which will allow them more flexibility in work, and the savings made can be used to attract the brightest and best managers.  Amelia says I have changed and sold out, but I think, now we have removed the European yoke, we should be taking control in this way, and making Britain great again.

Because times are a little more difficult than they used to be, we just took two family holidays this year, in Sicily, and South Africa (a very beautiful country).  Charlotte and I took some mini-breaks in Rome, Provence, New York, and Las Vegas, and I took the children to Disney World again, which they had so loved before, while Charlotte took a spa holiday in Hawaii.  We hope that our frugal example demonstrates our commitment and thoughtfulness to those who are not as comfortable as we are.

So Charlotte and I send you our greetings for an even better 2017, together with greetings from Max, Amelia, and Jasper, Agnieszka (the cook), Svetlava (the housekeeper), and Bert (the gardener).  I must also include the pets, Farage, Max’s beloved cat, Greer and Stopes the guinea pigs (who do not belong to Amelia, as humans may not, she tells us, own animals, but they are associated with her as friends) and Caligula, Jasper’s chameleon.  A happy new year to you all!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 in Numbers

Here is my annual numerical report.  I need to lose more eight, and visit fewer coffee shops.

2 flights (down from 6)
51 trains (not including tubes) (down from 73).
207 tubes (up from 101, due to going to church and choir, mainly)
72 buses (down from 253, because I had walked a lot to work in 2015, when unwell)
8 trips to Banbury (the same)

5 doctor appointments (down from 9)
18 nurse appointments (up from 13)
6 blood test appointments (down from 15)
6 hospital appointments (down from 11)
9 kilos off (the same as last year)

41 books read (up from 25)
48 glasses of wine (down from 72)
31 coffee shop visits (this is much too high.  That takeaway coffee on the way to church needs to stop)
12 meals at restaurants (down from 25, which is very good)
52 letters written (up from 35) (personal letters posted)
5 weddings (the same as last year)

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)
"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.