Saturday, 30 July 2011

At last a personal approach

I get a couple of dozen spam or scam messages every month in response to one of the eleven hundred posts this blog contains, sometimes one I published five years ago or more . But they're no trouble really: they pile up in my junk folder and every few weeks I just delete the lot, though I have to glance at the headings in case a real message has somehow got wrongly identified as spam.

Today I was charmed, and not a little flattered, to receive a comment on one of my recent posts, which was about the royal visit to Canada. This is not one of those sent out at random, by the million: it has been composed with some care and is clearly for me personally:
Greetings Mr. Flowers Sir;
Do you have the address of Wills and Kate?
I am a Nigerian Princess and would very much like the banking details of the Royal Family.
Thanking you most sincerely,

Lynn from Canada

[On second thoughts, perhaps this was not an attempted scam at all but merely a bit of fun by some jokey friend. If so, please reveal yourself, fool; there is no need to be so formal, you may call me Other Men's if you wish.]

Monday, 25 July 2011

Peace in our time

In September 1938 my mother wrote to my sister Audrey, who at that time was a dancer, on the stage in Scotland; she had her ninetieth birthday last March.

My mother first passed on some family news: my other sister and I were about to be evacuated (they brought us back to London later, in time for the Blitz) and my elder brother in the RAFVR had been told to report for operational training.

Then, an update on the national news: " ...trenches and dug-outs are being dug in the parks and even in the cemetery ...we have all been fitted for gas masks...".


"Things certainly seem a lot brighter this morning. It seems that our Premier, the French Premier, Mussolini and Hitler are all meeting again today to discuss the situation, so perhaps war will be averted after all."

My brother died in May 1940, when his Armstrong Whitworth Whitley crashed in France after dropping its cargo of leaflets.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Bat of Burning Gold

So England’s cricketers “will take the pitch to a rousing rendering of Jerusalem”.
This will disappoint those who, in a poll carried out by a digital music channel asking 2,000 people in England what song they would choose to represent their country, chose A Candle in the Wind, All You Need is Love, Vindaloo (what?), Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Abide with Me and several other songs proclaiming England’s sporting prowess, or something.

Jerusalem got 51% of the vote. It’s odd that Blake’s poem should be thought to inspire patriotic fervour, beginning as it does with four questions to all of which the answer is a resounding no. Of course, it’s not to be taken literally, it’s just a metaphor, but surely a rather outdated one: all our dark satanic mills are now loft apartments with designer kitchens and real teak floors. But bits of England are still green and pleasant enough and the idea of building even a metaphorical Jerusalem here has some pretty unpleasant connotations.

But if you forget the ludicrous suggestions it’s a jolly good tune, and there aren’t many other choices. There’ll Always Be An England isn’t really saying very much: there’ll always be a North Pole, if it comes to that, unless we go and melt it.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Fooling around with a trout

It is axiomatic that musical jokes are never funny; this may be because great composers rarely had much fun. But great musicians sometimes do, and this is nicely illustrated in a film made about the 1969 recital given in London by Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zuckerman and Jacqueline du Pré, at which they played Schubert's Piano Quintet in A major D.667, "The Trout".

The film covers the rehearsals and the background to the event and includes their complete performance of the quintet, you will have to buy the DVD. It costs £24.95, but for this you also get a documentary about Schubert.

All five had been friends since they began their careers and had made names for themselves by the time they had the idea of meeting in London to perform together. After that all of them became world-famous and are still with us except Jacqueline du Pré, who performed very little after 1971, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and stopped altogether in 1973. She died in 1987, aged 42.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

A new 419

Emails from gentlemen offering me 10% of $3 million if I use my bank account to carry out a small service for them have not been reaching me for some time.

They are like buses,really: you can wait ages for one and then three come at once. Or rather, the same one comes three times, at two-minute intervals. But this time the approach is slightly different: 

Hi, Corporal Mary Ann MacCombie(E-4) here.
I am an American soldier with Swiss background,serving in the military with the army 3rd infantry division. Please  I am seeking your kind assistance to help me move the sum of Three million,two hundred thousand united states dollars to you,as far as  I can be assured that my share will be safe in your care until I come out of hospital here in Germany ,where am receiving treatment on my injuries,this is no stolen money, and there are no danger involved.
I am presently in a hospital recovering from injuries sustained in a suicide bomb attack,
Please view website for confirmation: http://www.xxxxxx
Please if your willing to assist me contact me for more details at .
Yours in Service.
Corporal Mary Ann MacCombie (E-4).

Clearly, there is some original thinking here. 419s used to involve a request from help from a senior bank official, or a fatal accident to an intestate millionaire, or perhaps a grieving widow seeking to get her inheritance out of Nigeria. Now the plot has changed: a suicide bomber, a female Swiss/American corporal? Is she really In Service, like Mrs Bridges and Rose?

And although her share would certainly be safe in my care, and it is good to know that "there are no danger involved", there do seem to be some uncertainties. How much is my share, exactly? And why doesn't she use Western Union?

These are deep waters, and I shall not offer my help until I have made further enquiries.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Palace, Ottawa

It seems that most Canadians have taken the Cambridges to their hearts, and everyone knows what warm hearts Canadians have. Some Québécois did hold up some handmade banners: "Parasite go home", "Kate go UK yourself" and so on, but most did not strongly oppose the visit, merely grumbling about its cost. And the prince got an undeserved cheer for his schoolboy French.

This raises an appealing possibility. When the time comes for the by-then ageing couple to take their thrones, why should they not become permanently resident in Canada? Presumably they will be considered King and Queen of Canada anyway, as well as of Britain, and there seems no reason why they would have to go on living over here: they could appoint a Governor-General to represent them here, and of course they could come over and make a state visit whenever they felt like it.

This scenario is rather less unlikely than the one that Nevil Shute set out in his novel In the Wet. Shute wrote it in 1953 when he had become disenchanted with socialism and such vile institutions as the National Health Service, and he describes how the Queen had become frustrated by her government's treatment of her. While she is on a visit to Ottawa the heir to the throne indicates that he will not succeed her while this situation persists and then, with the support of the "heavily royalist" Australia and Canada, leaves England. The Government falls and the Prince of Wales becomes Governor-General while the Queen confines herself to Commonwealth matters.

(Actually, the plot is much more complicated than this; Shute was strongly anti-racist, and though a naive or even simple-minded writer in some ways, had some ideas which were ahead of his time (metal fatigue in aircraft, for example) and an extraordinary ability to tell preposterous stories with conviction: in Round the Bend he describes the life and death of an aircraft engineer who founds a new religion and may indeed have been divine.)

Australia in recent years has not been strongly royalist, but Canada with a bit of encouragement might one day be persuaded to give a permanent lodging to Kate and Wills, for this would do wonders for their tourist trade and be one in the eye for the Americans, who would be green with envy.

We could still use all our experience of mounting gorgeous spectacles and pull in the tourists every year or two when the couple and their offspring make state visits, while saving ourselves the huge sums of money they cost us as long as they go on living here, and the BBC could dispense with whoever has replaced Nicholas Witchell as Royal Crawler Pursuivant.