Friday, 21 August 2009


I was pained to learn that I am not, after all, descended from a sister of the Virgin Mary. Nor am I a sprig of Owain Glyndwr, an echo of Edmund Spenser. No Boleyn blood flows in my veins and, saddest of all, I cannot claim kinship with the only ambassador to France who refused to speak French and brought back to England the red streak apple which started the commercial cyder industry and the Hereford cattle which made beautiful our meadows. That non -ancestor was involved in a diplomatic dispute at home when his five-foot vicar, who could not be seen over the rim of the pulpit in his living at Abbey Dore, refused to stand on a box during services. It was, the vicar claimed, “not consonant with the dignity of my office.”
I shall miss being connected to the Skidmore mentioned in Treasure Island, who was a doctor on a slave ship which was captured by pirates. By the custom of the day, he was only forced to spend a limited number of days as a pirate. He so enjoyed it he refused to leave when his time was up and ended, according to Robert Louis Stevenson, dangling from a rope in Execution Dock. “Sir Amoret” in the sixth book of “The Faerie Queen” is based on another non-ancestor who was Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Henry VIII, a heavy responsibility, I should have thought. He was a “parfait gentil knight”. Curious, because when he left his home in Herefordshire he always chained his wife to the wall.
Sad, too, that I can no longer boast a connection with that unfortunate lady in waiting, a Boleyn girl who so offended Queen Elizabeth I by secretly marrying a Skidmore that the Queen threw a silver candlestick at her and broke her finger.
Alas, none of them have anything to do with me.
It's all down to DNA. My family history group took an exhaustive DNA test and mine shows that somewhere in the last 350 years - how can I put it delicately? - a Skidmore wife dropped a cuckoo into the family nest. I cannot complain. Between the ages of fifteen and forty I scattered my seed pretty generously about Western Europe and blood will out.
My former relatives have been kind. Warren Skidmore, an American academic of towering intellect who is the chairman of our Family Group, has adopted me.
Consoling me, the secretary of our group said I might turn out to be descended from the Churchills. I do hope not. In my view, Winston was a war monger every bit as enthusiastic as Hitler and his alleged connection with his aristocratic ancestors is as dubious as mine. According to George Moore, his mother Jennie had 280 publicly acknowledged lovers, including her great love, a Portuguese diplomat known as “Monkey”. Connections which Churchill relentlessly pressured her to use to aid his upward flight and, incidentally, get out of a homosexual scandal in his regiment.
As I have written here, the historian Squire Bancroft has pointed out that the ultimate disaster of Norway, Gallipoli, the pathetic “invasion” of Greece and the Ottoman debacle were not his only blunders. His great talent was for Spin. His heirs are Blair and the TV advertising industry. Though not even Lord Meddleson approaches the heights to which Churchill soared. He ensured his place in the history of the war by writing it himself from papers he had no right to acquire. Typically, the actual work was done by a team of researchers. He just supplied the high octane spin. He also backed the traitor King Edward VIII and later threatened to court martial him. Although a champion of Empire, he sold it as the price of bringing America into the war.
Which angry rant reminds me that I have been very rude about Stephen Fry. I still think he is a lousy actor because he only ever plays himself. I cannot stand the way he parades his knowledge on what are supposed to be comedy programmes and I find his proselytising about his proclivities nauseating. However, I listened to his radio programme on accents and I was bowled over. The man is a brilliant teacher, clearly in love with language. I might have known from the superb book he wrote on the appreciation of poetry. What a waste.


AFGHANISTAN (with apologies to Kipling)

When you're lying alone in your Afghan bivvy,
And your life it depends on some MOD civvie.
When the body armour's shared (one set between three),
And the firefight's not like it is on TV,
Then you'll look to your oppo,your gun and your God,
As you follow that path all Tommies have trod.
When the gimpy has jammed and you're down to one round,
And the faith that you'd lost is suddenly found,
When the Taliban horde is close up to the fort,
And you pray that the arty don't drop a round short.
Stick to your sergeant like a good squaddie should,
And fight them like Satan or one of his brood.
Your pay it won't cover your needs or your wants,
So just stand there and take all the Taliban's taunts.
Nor generals nor civvies can do aught to amend it,
Except make sure you're kept in a place you can't spend it.
Three fifty an hour in your Afghani cage,
Not nearly as much as the minimum wage.
Your missus at home in a foul married quarter,
With damp on the walls and a roof leaking water.
Your kids miss their mate, their hero, their dad;
They're missing the childhood that they should have had.
One day it will be different, one day by and by,
As you all stand there and watch, to see the pigs fly.
Just like your forebears in mud, dust and ditch,
You'll march and you'll fight, and you'll drink and you'll bitch.
Whether Froggy or Zulu, or Jerry, or Boer,
The Brits will fight on 'til the battle is over.
You may treat him like dirt, but nowt will unnerve him,
But I wonder sometimes, if the country deserves him.


Brown, the only politician I have ever hated, continues the calumny that such soldiers as those are dying to keep Britain safe from Terrorism. He is employing the tactics advised by Machiavelli in his instruction book for leaders, “The Prince”. If you invent an enemy, the people will rally behind you. Brown conjures up a Terrorist army with formations and long term strategies. I can accept there are terrorist training camps in the Tribal Territories. The idea that we are facing an organised enemy is rubbish. It is a view that I was honoured to see has been endorsed by the supreme military historian Corelli Barnett who wrote this week unequivocally that we should get out of Afghanistan. More importantly, this view accords with that of the mother of a dead soldier who said last week she thought her son had wasted his life and we should come out of Afghanistan. I suspect the majority of people would agree with her. In the middle ages Froissart, a Frenchman, said that the British made the best soldiers in Europe and I believe that still to be true. As I believe is the maxim of our army, coined in the First World War, demonstrably accurate in World War Two and in every war since, “Lions led by Donkeys”. Donkeys who wait until they are safely retired before they criticise our strategy.
We spend billions on sophisticated aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines of marvellous complexity. Why cannot we perfect a simple device to identify and disable a few sticks of dynamite, tied together and buried at the roadside? Perhaps because its production wouldn't make enough money.
Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counter-terrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: the book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World”, should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What’s more, they suggested that the Yale Press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children’s book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante’s “Inferno” that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí. - Book review in New York Times.


Madam and I spend Sundays visiting gardens, in which Fenland abounds. In my case mainly for the cream teas. The Fellows Garden at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, is only open to the masses one day a year, so we went. As. I sat on a bench waiting for the Herself to park the car, I was surrounded by a Feral of the young, students on a tour of the city. Their guide first told them: "This town is called Cambridge," which they might have gleaned. Then he said: "King's College is a hundred years old” (it is 800) and went on to say, "If you want to buy computers, it's that road over there. If you want souvenirs, it's that road behind you. McDonald's is the second on the left. But don't go anywhere on your own." He was corrected in that - and only that - by a teacher: “Go in threes!”
So ended their only lesson.