Knight and Dame, you are the one


© The Daily Telegraph                                            Dame Agatha, showing off

With publication of the Birthday Honour’s List comes the thorny issue of EQuality. It highlights that scales have tipped and queries how to accommodate this refreshed EQulibrium. Let me clarify.

Since the dawn of our times, Knight-hoods have entitled Sir + first name to replace Mr/Dr/Prof/et al + surname. The wife of a Knight becomes Lady + surname. Remember, only daughters of an Earl, Marquis or Duke are styled Lady + first name: Lady Diana [Spencer] for instance.

Now that women have broken the surface to have their contributions recognized, Dame-hoods have increased in number. Their spouse, however, doesn’t seem to be accorded similar recognition.

Is that because it’s difficult to know the right term? In no world would it be accepted to address a couple as, say, Dame Agatha & Laddy Christie (mebbie a dodgy example in virtue she was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1971, three years after her second husband, Max Mallowan, was knighted for services to Archeology: but you get the idea).

How then do we ensure a just balance? If women share their husband’s honour, should not a man be similarly acknowledged? And what happens in same-sex partnerships: how’d that work?

[In case you were wondering, it seems from archive pictures, Dames are presented with a grand medal rather than a sworded, regal tap on each shoulder while knealing.]

[[Spare a thought for Harold [1874 – 1961], husband of Dame Laura Knight. Both acclaimed portraitists, her work outshone his which, in the context of their times, was somehow miraculous.]]


From  In total 1,073 people have received an Honour as a Queen’s Birthday present:

  • 920 candidates have been selected at BEM, MBE and OBE level: 306 at BEM, 399 at MBE and 215 at OBE
  • 75% of the recipients are people who have undertaken outstanding work in their communities either in a voluntary or paid capacity
  • 508 women are recognised in the List, representing 47% of the total
  • 0.4% of the successful candidates come from a BAME background
  • 5.9% of the successful candidates consider themselves to have a disability (under the Equality Act 2010)
  • 2.8% of recipients identified as being LGBT

Tradesman’s entrance


Tradesmen (9) by John Johnson in the ownership of the Bodleian

There are times when all one craves is a supercilious footman to peer down his nose and instruct the person at the door “Tradesmen round the back”.

As the country braces itself to rise in full height to dignify higher ideals of the #special relationship, it is possible to lose focus on its transitory players. Thus, we reflect on the curious mirroring of throwing toys from the pram which the peoples are doing inspired by the jejune reactions of their elected [and candidate] leaders.

The United Kingdom is not alone being in turmoil. Turns out it appears to be a function of the Millenium. If we look at neighbours near and far, none seems immune from expressing national displeasure. Seems that in leaving the Twentieth century behind, an appetite developed for refreshed engagement between rulers and ruled: the peasants have revolted and contrary to 1381’s precedent, are unlikely to re-submit to serfdom.

All of us are at the service of something beyond us in one way or another, whether the demons who drive gamblers, the merchants who drive trade, the oligarchs who swell their coffers, the families we wish to cherish and protect. What seems to have shifted and opened a space for dialogue is the acceptance that absolute power is an indication of the absolute corrupt-ness of its holder. And with that acceptance, it is discounted.

With the #Resident’s arrival through the Palace’s gilded front door° moments before the seventy fifth anniversary of D-Day’s Normandy beaches landings, perhaps there’s a chance to take a breath, listen to echos of the sacrifice others have made on our behalf and extend empathy for all those trapped in cycles of hellish atrophy.

© Akron Museum                                                     Put’s things in perspective

° Just learnt the #Residential party will land in the Palace garden.

William, William …… wherefore art thou?


It seems perfectly apposite that in the month captured within “the lovely April of her Prime”, [Sonnet III c. 1609] the site of Shakespeare’s London residence has been identified.

After ten years research, dedicated theatre historian, Geoffrey Marsh has truffled out the precise location as      35 Great St Helen’s, EC3 at which was written, inter alia, Romeo and Juliet. Sends a positive thrill down the spine to discover the place whence sprang lines transplanting us to the Verona of 1597/98.

Appropriate, then, to view its location at a distance.

Our shot shows the Manhattanizing of the City. The gap between Tower 42 (NatWest Tower as was) on the right is separated from the thicket on the left by Bishopsgate. It is exactly at that point where St Helen’s church is sited. The graveyard over which his rooms looked is gone, the house too. But ground beneath our feet is the ground that once was beneath his. Ain’t that utterly scintillating?

St Helen’s encircled [with Spital Fields top right]                                                 Image courtesy of Geoffrey Marsh/Jack Delaney

Mr Marsh – director of the V&A’s Theatre and Performing Arts department – has delivered up to us a veritable time machine by virtue of Research. It is as compelling an ignition to the imagination as anything could be: like directly plugging into the socket of history. 

Shakespeare was a tenant of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, miraculously still located in St Helen’s. 

Alas Romeo would now be hard pressed to wonder          “… what light through yonder window breaks?” given that over St Helen’s there loom not gothic glories to God but millennial mountains to mammon.

Wholly weak amid Holy Week


Remember when nostalgia was a 9-letter word? And a subtle knife was needed to cut through the smoke on the top deck and women knew that being groped or belittled was what had always happened so had, mutely, to endure its continuance?

The Assange business is an odd one. A man who claims to fight for truth yet runs from the opportunity to air the truth of his actions in a Swedish court room would appear conflicted.

Ages ago, we wrote on the emotional intelligence and rationality of teaching children how to behave with each other. [Here’s the link] Well now: it would seem there remains the need to spell out what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in virtue there are those who still don’t grasp the intolerable wrongness of their actions. We refer to it as being soooo last century.

From Greeks onwards (I’m sure that should be from Mesopotamians onwards but I don’t have the Akkadian) philosophers have promoted the idea that a Human Being is an End in themselves and ought never be used as a Means. Think how horrid it is when you’re used: it’s soiling. And while the reality is that it shrinks the wholly weak ab-user, it takes time for that process to manifest.

Although an unrepentant Agnostic, I’m hip to the genial intention of repentance, redemption, sacrifice and renewal. Let’s hope that the relief of truth proves too strong a pull for those burdened by their actions such as to redeem their forsaken souls.

Bleakness induces screaming ab-dabs


Listening to Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, this morning talk of the state of play, it was impossible to expunge the slippery image of Mr Vholes from one’s mind.

Dickens published Bleak House through 1852/53 and in it gave voice to his dismay at the wanton, excruciatingly self-serving legal processes which grind away at the little man. Mr Vholes claims to his naïve client that the wheels are turning when the bleak truth is that nothing ever happens in Jarndyce. 

Has politics ever been more interesting than at this moment? The atrophy seeping through both major parties has sheered off individual members of each, frustrated by the absence of moral authority, leadership, vision and compassion.

Mr Hammond spoke words which appeared to lack content: or purpose, or even direction. He didn’t sound as though he was expecting to convince the audience in light of he himself being sceptical of where, as a Party, the Tories are headed.

Bleak times indeed, particularly as the stakes simply couldn’t be higher.

All that was drafted on 21.ii.19: inertia prevented its posting. Since then, countless others appear to take up the Vholes baton. But last evening, while gliding from shower to wardrobe, I caught Matt Thorne sharing that idea of Jarndyce & Jarndyce skinship with Brexit.

On the day the Disunited Kingdom was to have sheared itself off, the week also heard a perfectly rational explanation for the mess. Alas, I forget which broadcast it was but a journalist (?) rather thought the zeal with which the PM has driven forward Britain’s exit is a function of her dismay at the decision these isles made.

I wonder if we haven’t all been thinking that but it is the first time I’ve heard it uttered.

And that was written on 29.iii.19

Lithograph in forthcoming BM exhibition Edvard Munch: The Scream

Neither was posted: it seems trivial to point out what stares us in the face.

But self-control evaporated yesterday when Jeremy Hunt actually said on the radio news that the wheels are turningPositive proof, were it needed, that nothing ever happens in Brexit.

The British Museum opens an exhibition Edvard Munch love and angst on 11.iv.19

Amid Lambo and Purgatory


© Compassion in World Farming                                                            Spring

First Day of Spring has a different ring to it, donchafind? 2019: there’s an otherness. Not even near cresting its Fell / Furth / Munro / Fawr … top is what I’m trying to say, it seems as though we’re all goldfish, opening and closing mouths with nothing useful emerging. Our unchartered waters are … well, what are they: choppy? turgid? modal?

It feels like we’re all in a state of suspended animation.

Terrible things, really terrible things are happening in the world yet there’s a sense each is just another fish in the bouillabaisse of woe. The grinding tedium of this dismal process offends every fibre of generosity cultivated over a life-time of believing that we’ve just this one world [unless and until China finishes building its new wall on the Dark Side of the Moon] and isn’t it kinder to be cheerful with our neighbours?

Not an apologist by nature – I wonder how these isles would respond were they forced to devote n years’ time, humanity and resource to the internal affairs of a neighbouring country? I daresay the UK would respond as Princess Anne so ably instructed a photographer eons ago [Badminton, 1982] to Naff Orf.

© News International                                                                                  Image

As we ricochet between Limbo and Purgatory in a kind of maniacal pinball, what words of comfort are there to find, better to soothe geological laid furrows of our brow?

We can and will do this: we can and will make it through and we shall emerge into a fully sprung Spring with something over which to be joyful.

Convinced? Naaaaaah: neither am I.

Pulling in opposite directions


Many moons ago, my boss chirruped that an old mucker of his had become the Prime Minister’s press secretary. Plain old Gus O’Donnell was a bright chap well versed in finance and had spent the preceding year in a similar role for the Chancellor: given the holder of those two great offices of State shared numerical identity in the form of John Major, that’s not so surprising.

Weaving himself through the highest echelons of power, his tenure as Cabinet Secretary from 2005 to the end of 2011 was not to be the end of his political prowess and he now sits in the Lords as a Cross-bencher.

To say he knows a thing or two about how Westminster functions would be uncontroversial.

On the radio this week in the context of Brexit’s impasse, Baron O’Donnell said “What the Civil Service is after is direction”. [BBC R4 PM 12.iii.19 @ 17.24]

And there we have it.

While you may also have steam of frustration and tears of exhaustion pouring out of you, maybe you also wondered how a once finely-ordered set of isles had imploded into a cess-pool of its own creation?

Seemingly, it lies in virtue of the Government and Civil Service being in a tug-of-war. [After Brexeat, what next?]

Where does one even begin with this vacuous void? Perhaps with a spot of emotional intelligence-gathering?