Sunday, 29 May 2016

Royal flight of fancy puts republicans in a spin

       So Prince William and his wife Kate hired an £8m helicopter. This story - featured large in a national paper - took a dim view of this flight of fancy, quoting the cost (£5,000) and tutting puritanically at Will and Kate's apparent laziness in choosing 45-minutes by air over a much longer but cheaper journey by land.

       And, in an attempt to get its readers on side, the article stresses that such extravagance comes from the pockets of ordinary hard-working people who are expected to bow, scrape and touch their forelocks for the privilege.

       But will the proletariat be stirred to action by such princely goings-on? Will blue- and white-collar workers unite behind the republican flag? Should members of the monarchy be tumbrelled along the mall lined by peasants baying for blood?

       Hardly. Let's not forget that kings, queens and princes are put on high only because lesser mortals actually want someone to look up to. Although - or even because - many once-trusted institutions are falling by the wayside along with our belief in God, humans still feel the need for figureheads, the reassuring presence of a well-known face. And, because celebrities come and go or - unforgivably - grow old, monarchs and their offspring will do nicely. 

       Of course, monarchy* comes at a price.  When the nation of Israel was formed under the Mosaic law, rulership was by Almighty God through His judges and prophets. This worked well as long as the people kept to the commandments, but when the prophet Samuel grew old and his sons proved unworthy of taking on their father's role, the people demanded a king. They wanted a majestic icon, just like the kings of the surrounding nations - someone they could see. "Give us a king to judge us."

       Samuel was devastated at what was, in effect, a rejection of Israel's God. Under inspiration, he warned Israel not to appoint an earthly ruler, listing everything a king would have the right to demand. "He will take your sons and put them in his chariots and make them his horsemen.....and he will appoint for himself chiefs....and some will do his plowing, reap his harvest, and make his weapons of war.....He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards and your olive groves, and he will give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grainfields and your vineyards, and he will give it to his court officials and his servants. And he will take your male and female servants, your best herds and your donkeys.....he will take the tenth of your flocks, and you will become his servants." (1 Samuel 8:1-18)

       Did the people listen? No, they were determined to have a king "like all the other judge us and lead us and fight our battles." Anyone who has ever studied the history of Israel will know how few kings succeeded in bringing peace, security and happiness to the people. On the contrary, most of Israel's rulers caused untold misery.

       Fortunately, modern-day royals have comparatively few powers, existing almost solely to be seen and admired. And if they bring gaiety (along with a thriving tourist industry) to the nation, who would begrudge them the occasional helicopter ride?

*Monarchy (the Greek word mon’os meaning ‘alone,’ and ar-khe’ meaning ‘rule’) is the oldest form of human government, a system which has long been viewed as a unifying force. One eminent teacher of medieval history, John H Mundy, explains,   “Because it transcended particular parties, the institution of monarchy was suited for large areas with diverse and conflicting regional interests.” (See my post

Sunday, 1 May 2016

A walk in the Peak - Wormhill and the River Wye

       It’s Friday morning, the sun is shining and my lovely daughter has come up from London for a few days of fresh Derbyshire air….and to see me, of course!
       But Madam already has plans. Before the milk cools on her porridge she’s leafing through the little Green Book*. “Now, where shall we go on our walk today?” she asks.
       I sigh inwardly. “Well, I was thinking….”
       “Oh THIS looks good! Wormhill. Not far to drive - and it’s by a river with breathtaking views!”
       Views? Oh-o. Where I live ‘breathtaking views’ mean only one thing - upward slogs up breathtaking hills!
       “….and it’s 5 miles!” she adds, reaching for her sand boots. “Oh good!” I reply, “We’ll be walking all day!” Gingerly, Madam shakes each boot to make sure no spiders have taken root inside. “I wish you wouldn’t keep them under the stairs.” she moans, but I’m busy looking for the oxygen mask! 

      Wormhill is a tiny hamlet near Peak Forest on the Sheffield road, a nice drive through gorgeous scenery. We manage to find the perfect parking spot outside an ancient church graveyard. “That’s handy!” I thought. Actually, I rather like graveyards, so we spend a few minutes strolling around and reading old tombstones before setting off on the first leg of our journey.
       “About a 50 yards past the de-restricted sign, we turn right at the footpath sign.” my daughter directs as she strides ahead confidently (and a little too quickly for my liking!) This brings us to a grassy path leading downhill and, true to the little Green Book, the view is wonderful if a little scary. “Let’s not get too close!” I warn, as Madam pushes towards the edge. Time for a photo. “Oh no! You’re not going to take photos all day!” she tuts. Seems she has a thing about my hobby. 

       We then follow a stony path wreathed by gorse bushes to the bottom of the gorge and cross a bridge over the river.  

       From now on, it’s uphill all the way but, despite the panting and gasping, the vista that awaits us is truly worth the trek with its dry stone walls, distant rolling hills and lush green fields. The sweet air of Derbyshire is like nectar which even a distant muck-spreader can’t spoil. Fortunately, the wind is blowing the stench in the opposite direction!

       Having reached the apex of our climb, the path levels off and takes us through Blackwell Farm just in time for the owner to pass by on his tractor, giving us a friendly wave. We pause in the farmyard to admire the views. “Are you lost?” asks a lady emerging from a barn. “No, just looking,” I reply, although in fact I was about to take another photo! Situated on top of a hill, Blackwell Farm must have the some of the best views in Derbyshire – magnificent scenery on every side! It also produces one of my favourite delicacies - Stilton cheese! 

      The Green Book now tells us to continue along the farm’s drive, turn left at the bottom and cross the main road at the next junction. A few more yards of tarmac and we take a sharp left along a walled footpath which opens up to more panoramic views of the Peak as we head for Miller’s Dale. 
       “Oooh, the book says there’s a pub there! The Dale House Inn” exclaims Madam. “I could do with a coffee!” Now that sounds promising….
       Sadly, when we arrive at Miller’s Dale village, there’s not an alehouse in sight. A group of builders renovating a large property on the main road have never heard of the Dale House Inn - and if anyone would know they would! Although the Green Book has proved unerringly accurate to date, it was published 35 years ago, so the hostelry has obviously shut down since then.
       Disappointed, and by now very thirsty, we follow the footpath along the River Wye back to where we crossed the bridge originally. An information sign tells us to watch out for water voles by the river’s edge but, look as we might, we don’t see anything except torrents of water and broken branches being swept along with the current. It’s been a long, wet winter and the Wye is wider and deeper than usual. 

       As we walk, my legs begin to buckle and my lungs are tightening with every step. Eventually, having crossed the bridge again, what was a gentle downhill ramble at the beginning of our walk now looms ominously into sight; the gorge is rising and the slope we first descended looks a lot, lot steeper going up!        
       “I’m just going to have to take it easy!” I announce as we start the ascent, yet Madam has no problem at all. She bounds ahead of me, her stride as strong and confident as ever. Talk about feeling my age! At least I can take more pics while her back’s turned!!

*Short Walks in the Peak Park by William and Vera Parker
Maps by Paul J Williamson

Published by Derbyshire Countryside Ltd. 1981

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Does being 'nice' get you anywhere?

       It all depends where you want to go.

       Columnist Liz Jones* believes niceness gets you nowhere, citing several unpleasant experiences she’s had of late with ungrateful and uncaring people. Sadly, the world’s like that. Not so much ‘do as you would be done by’ as ‘do others down before they do you!’

       Yet I firmly believe that true niceness gets results. My daughter (who despite being extremely nice is certainly no pushover), works for a building society and, as you can imagine, receives her fair share of complaints. Many customers are indignant and some are downright nasty, but is she phased by this abuse? Not on your life! The worse they are and the more they rant and rave about their overdraft/failed payment/interest rate or whatever, the calmer and more intractable my girl becomes until even the most determined plaintiff slams the phone down in defeat, exhausted and a good deal poorer!

       On the other hand, a customer who is apologetic for their error (in banking, the customer is rarely right!), is reasonable and nice gets 5-star treatment. In fact, my daughter will go out of her way to help them, even persuading the powers-that-be to reduce or drop any penalties.

       None of us are perfect, of course, and however hard I try to be a nice person, I’ve had my moments. Impatience, pride, anger, envy, resentment and sheer selfishness can influence us all at times, while the world we live in seems to foster such negative traits. No matter who or where we are, there will always be challenges from others and, when slighted, insulted or faced with aggression, it takes huge self-control not to retaliate, to keep one’s cool. To be nice.

       But does being nice, as Liz may argue, simply get you trampled on? It depends what you mean by nice. According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘nice’ has 3 meanings: 1) ‘good natured, kind’ 2) ‘subtle, slight’ 3) ‘fastidious, scrupulous’.  For me, however, there can be no better description of all round niceness than Galatians 5:22 which lists the spiritual fruitage of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control." Far from being weak, such qualities can have a powerful and positive effect. 

       With so much violence, selfishness, haughtiness, pride and greed surrounding us, it may seem easier to follow the crowd, but please! don’t go that way! Don’t let this horrible world grind you into its mould. And don’t let anyone stop you being NICE!

The Book of Proverbs by King Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived, highlights some nice benefits:  

“An answer when mild turns away rage”

“A mild tongue itself can break a bone”
“He that is slow to anger (patient) is better than a mighty man”

“All his spirit is what a stupid one lets out, but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last.”

“The one who is slow to anger has great discernment, but the impatient one displays his foolishness.

“The desirable thing in earthling man is his loving-kindness,” 

“The goodness of the righteous makes a city rejoice”

Saturday, 9 April 2016

A walk in the Peak - Eyam

       I’ve been meaning to write this post for a fair while now but, you know how it is……’time and unforeseen occurrence’, not to mention my addiction to online scrabble!
       Anyway, having been dragged away from the computer by a group of friends recently, I joined them for a walk in Eyam, a quaint little village in the heart of Derbyshire’s Hope Valley where I learned some fascinating facts for all you history buffs.    

       Eyam (pronounced E’em) has quite a history, dating back at least as far as the Romans who discovered a rich vein of lead in the area.  The village was recorded in the Domesday Book under its olde English name, Aium – and would have remained an attractive yet obscure hamlet but for a shocking, heartrending disaster 6 centuries later.

'Black Death' illustration courtesy of
       In 1665 the Bubonic Plague (aka Black Death), already raging in London, arrived in a bundle of cloth infested with fleas.  The first victim, the local tailor’s assistant George Vickers who took delivery, died within a week of contracting the disease that was already spreading like wildfire throughout the village. 
       Attempting to contain the infection, the village rector Reverend William Mompesson and Puritan minister Thomas Stanley, drew up an emergency plan of action, which called for supreme sacrifice from the residents.  Bodies were to be buried by their own families, church services were relocated to a natural amphitheatre in Cucklett Delph, and, most famously, the entire population agreed to be quarantined, cordoning themselves off in order to protect neighbouring communities. 
       For 14 months, the plague decimated the village, causing at least 260 deaths. The exact figure is unknown, although, according to one account, only 83 people survived out of a population of 350. 
       These survivors were later thought to have had exceptional immune systems, which according to one research programme, were passed down to their descendants...some of whom are thought to be resistant to HIV/AIDS!*
Rose Cottage, home of the Hawkesworth family

One of many plaques relating to plague victims
       Today, Eyam is a thriving tourist centre, populated mainly by well-heeled stalwarts of St Lawrence’s, the parish church. 

St Lawrence's Church, Eyam

       Architecturally and geographically, little has changed since the 17th century. Most of the buildings in the centre of the village have remained intact, frozen in time for curious visitors. 

       Even the stocks remain, ready to punish the drunk and disorderly!

      Our walk took us past Eyam Hall and the local Museum (sadly shut at the time!).....

.......through the village square with its dainty tea room, to the Miners Arms public house, which has quite a history of its own. (See Plaque) 

Miners Arms, Eyam

       From here, we strolled up a steep lane towards open country where we met a herd of llamas looking beautifully snug with their amazingly soft coats.....enough wool for a few hundred pashminas, no doubt!

The views were spectacular......  

View of Eyam
 ....with bags of stile!

Stile and signpost to Mompesson's Well

  ....although the going got tough occasionally!


Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Why is mainstream media sinking into sleaze?

       Amazing what passes for news these days. In one popular daily, featured prominently among a host of nude celebrity selfies, a young woman is pictured with her trousers round her thighs as she urinates in the street – apparently caught short by her bladder and an ever-ready smartphone! 

       Elsewhere in the same newspaper, there’s a graphic shot of someone’s earwax - thought to be the biggest ever lump of candle grease ever fished out from a lug-hole. This after weeks of unedifying pus being popped from enormous pimples! 

       Hard to know which ‘story’ has been the most gut-churning. Was it the scandalous tale of a pretty blonde who, having failed to flush away her poo from her new boyfriend’s lavatory bowl, hid the offensive matter in her handbag? (Obviously, the girl was embarrassed, but not so overcome with shame she couldn’t share the experience with millions of readers. She was even willing to pose without a brown paper bag over her head!) 

       Or could it be yet another earth-shattering shot of a Kardashian bottom? The biggest blackhead in the world, perhaps? Or intimate details of a reality star’s underwear? 

       So what’s going on? Why are activities that should only take place in private now being paraded by leading newspapers and magazines? Why are images once confined to top-shelf sleazy rags being devoured with the Kellogg’s at breakfast? 

       It’s not just the nudity or the steamy revelations of (in)famous affairs. It’s the smallness of it I find offensive. It undermines human dignity and lowers our standards. It’s the sniggering kind of smut that passes for humour behind school bike sheds. It’s childish and demeaning to all concerned. 

       So come on dailies - Clean up your act!!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Why human governments can never succeed

     Forget the Magna Carta. Despite their promises, human governments have failed miserably to deliver. Peace, security, liberty and justice remain as elusive as ever.  
       Where did it all start, this determination by certain individuals to rule over everybody else? And while we're about it, why do we need human governments at all? A case in point, thanks to a too-close-to-call election some years ago, Belgium had no government for several months, yet nobody seemed to notice. (In fact, while the politicians tried to sort things out, the economy actually improved!) 
       Belgium apart, has there ever been a period when humans could live freely, independently, tilling their own patch of paradise and feeding their families with no interference from anyone else? After all, wasn’t that the original plan when Adam was a lad?
       The oldest, most widespread form of human government is monarchy, (the Greek word mon’os meaning ‘alone,’ and ar-khe’ meaning ‘rule’) whereby a single individual is imbued with supreme authority as permanent head of state. If this is absolute, he or she becomes a majority of one whose word is law. As a governmental system, monarchies have been viewed as a unifying force. One eminent teacher of medieval history, John H Mundy, explains,    “Because it transcended particular parties, the institution of monarchy was suited for large areas with diverse and conflicting regional interests.”* In those days, kings invariably conquered such areas by military means – so much so that, as another historian reflects, war was “commonly regarded as the first criterion of successful kingship.”
       This being the case, military genius Alexander the Great was an ideal candidate and the first of the Hellenistic kings to be viewed as a god, setting a precedent for the deification of kings and queens throughout the ages, and such perceived divinity persists to this day in one form or another. Conceited yes - yet, ironically, the very fact so many sovereigns have insisted on being viewed as gods, particularly during the Roman Empire, is a tacit admission that they really don’t have the RIGHT to rule their fellow men and women.
       The world has now seen every conceivable type of government – capitalism, communism, republicanism, democracy, theocracy and straightforward tyranny –none of which has succeeded in providing the peace, security and justice the human family craves. One notable exception was Solomon’s reign, which kept Israel peaceful and prosperous until the king’s latter years when he succumbed to some of the pagan practices of his 1,000 wives!
       Sadly, throughout history, it’s been the strong and the greedy who have commandeered the land; annexing pastures, woods and rivers, and forcing ‘common’ folk, or serfs, to look to man-made governments for their means of life as well as paying taxes for the privilege.
       Will it always be this way? Only time will tell. 
*“The High Middle Ages 1150-1309” by John H Mundy

▫I’m not being sexist here – the words Man and Mankind are inclusive of all humans

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Laws of attraction. Do they exist?

       Just browsing through an online newspaper when this item caught my eye. 
       Which got me thinking. ARE there any rules when it comes to romance? Oh sure, we may draw up a checklist of our ideal soulmate but love rarely works in such a logical way. As any trained assassin will testify, the best time to strike a target is when they least expect it. So it is with those arbitrary arrows of love.
       Now I’m not talking about that lovely boy or girl next door, you understand – the person with whom you’d share your woes, fears and dreams. Nor am I referring to that remarkably good-looking, incredibly suitable, Mum-friendly match with his/her own car, house and a sense of humour. No. What I’M talking about is far more basic – that unadulterated (and usually mindless) thing called ‘chemistry’.
       How else can we explain why a stunning young woman falls in love with a seedy, unpleasant middle-aged man? What draws a well set up guy with matinee idol looks to a homespun girl with open pores?
       There are countless pundits and relationship experts who’ll offer their theories….many quite plausible and maybe even true. But one explanation which has always impressed me is in the book “Families and How to Survive Them” – a collaboration by comedian John Cleese and family therapist Robin Skynner.*
       I no longer have the book and my memory’s not so hot these days, so apologies if I misinterpret the authors’ findings, but here goes:
       From infancy we learn from our parents and other significant adults which emotions and subsequent behaviours are approved or not. On the positive side, if we’re caught lying or stealing perhaps, our parents’ negative reaction prevents us doing the same thing again. That’s discipline, teaching us the do’s and don’ts of everyday living. Which has to be good thing, right?
       Unfortunately, when emotions are involved, boundaries can get blurred. If, for example, a child cries during a sad film only to be told to ‘stop being a baby’, he or she may keep such future tears in check and the compassion which caused them may, in effect, be put ‘behind a screen.’ If he or she gets angry, even justifiably, and a parent shows disapproval for that anger, it gets put behind the screen. A child who is discouraged from displaying any ‘undesirable’ emotion puts it behind a screen. Likewise, unpleasant experiences of any kind – such as, accidents, bullying, domestic discord, separations – are suppressed and put behind a screen.
       So what does this ‘screen’ have to do with attraction? According to Cleese and Skynner, we each have an emotional sensor which comes into play whenever we meet someone new. Intuitively, we sense if a person has had similar experiences to ours, recognising a potential ‘soulmate’ even before we know them. Because, of course, those emotions are still there, just hidden behind a screen.
       For example: Charles and Penny met as teenagers and it was love at first sight. When Penny went to live with her mother on another continent, the feelings remained. Both Penny and Charles met other (very suitable) people, yet their feelings for each other remained, in fact grew even stronger! Several years later, Penny returned, married her first love and they’re still together 50 years later! Now that’s chemistry!
       What caused such a powerful bond? Although neither knew about it in their early years together, they later found that during infancy both their fathers were absent, serving in the forces. Both Charles and Penny felt resentment when their fathers’ returned, were unable to relate to them and believed the ‘interloper’ disapproved of them. There was also a natural jealousy in having to share their mothers’ attention. Could these emotions, which neither felt able to show, have been the cord which drew them so closely together?
       Maybe. Maybe not. It is just a theory after all. But, if it’s possible to explain love, romance, infatuation, attraction or whatever you want to call it, this fascinating book may well provide the answer!