A weird letter

A couple of days ago, this peculiar typewritten envelope was put through the door:

The ALL CAPS typewritten envelope reeks of ‘political nutjob’ and the red cross in the corner, for those of you who don’t know, is the English flag — the cross of St George, in fact — which during major football tournaments can be passed off as support for the England football team, but at other times tends to be a sign of racist views.

So I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the letter was going to be about, but in fact it was odder than that. For one thing, notice that the envelope starts with a poem of sorts:


Inside, we find 5½ photocopied pages stapled together, all still typewritten all-caps. From now on I’m going to start using lower-case , though, because  it’s easier to read. The writer introduces himself/herself:

Dear reader,
I introduce myself as a person who has lived in London for over 78 years since birth,
I have children, grand children, also great grandchildren,
I know of pre war years, fear free streets, open front doors and when life was simply happy for all.
I also know of the war years, and the Blitz,
also death from the skies, for like many others I was here, I also know of post war years and the happiness and joy of realising I had not died like many others in the bombings of London.
So in fact like many others I had great fear at the front of my life, my youth was taken from me,
but now in my old age once again like many others fear is deep within my final years, when my mind should be calm before I am called,
leaving behind my descendants and an England on a path to destruction,
many young as well as the majority of the old have curfew fear,
no we dont go out after dark its not safe, wrong places at wrong times,
it dousnt look very good does it.

Which is actually kind of moving. But what surprised me was the proposed solution: write to the Queen, and ask her to abolish political parties, let her know directly what your concerns are, so that she can abolish the corrupt political system that has brought us 86 years of Con/Lab government. Apparently that’s ‘the only solution to prevent the revolution that will destroy the England that you stand upon.’ Although frankly, a mass grass-roots movement to completely overthrow our political system doesn’t seem like a way to avoid revolution.

The whole thing is long and rambling and repeats itself; but the other bit that stands out is about getting police back on the streets:

As is well known there are few crime preventers upon the streets.
Ref, =coppers with legs=
Even few of those are without fear,
Because they have no means of protecting their own lives let alone the general public.
Few criminally intent go alone,
more often than not the minimum is two but the norm is about four =++,
the first thing that must be done is to reintroduce our preventers,
yes you have it, the bloke in blue with legs,
it can be done you know,
but he must be given the tools for the job.
The rapid fire sleeper dart pistol capable of a multi knock down,
not straight away of course, but who is going to kill a copper if they have a dart in their arse and sleepie byes follows a little later,
it is an ugly solution to an ugly problem but its the only one to deal with todays primitivity,
deaths will occur in instances of dart dose and alcohol combinations also drugs.
In these instances the arresting officer will be exonerated following coronas report.
In the light of the approaching recession these problems must be taken up before further degeneration takes place.
The following is a must. Stop and search vehicles for knives and guns.
Instant custodial sentence for those caught in possession, no trials.

I don’t why I’m sharing this with you really; it’s just an interesting thing. You can see the whole letter on Flickr here if you want.


Happy un-England Day

Canada Day and the Fourth of July have made me jealous.

We need a special holiday to do English things. Like drinking tea, talking about the weather, overcooking vegetables and being casually rude about the Welsh for no obvious reason.

» In tatters, posted to Flickr by geraintwn and used under a Creative Commons attribution licence.


Going Dutch by Lisa Jardine

Full, slightly overblown title: Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’s Glory. This is a book about the relationship between England and Holland in the C17th. It’s an interesting period, of course: the C17th was Holland’s ‘Golden Age’, when the country was not only a wealthy global power but at the intellectual and especially artistic forefront of Europe. For me, the art is especially remarkable: there are three of the all-time greats in Rembrandt, Rubens and Vermeer, and a huge number of other important artists like Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, and Aelbert Cuyp.

Indeed, not only were the Dutch producing lots of their own great artists: they exported them over the channel; most notably but not only Anthony Van Dyck and Peter Lely, who between them seem to have painted most of the society portraits in England at the time. And of course the other most notable Anglo-Dutch connection was that by the end of the century, England had acquired a Dutch king: William of Orange.

That acquisition is usually referred to by the British as ‘The Glorious Revolution’, a name which combines just the right amounts of grandeur and vagueness to discourage too much analysis. But as Jardine makes clear, seen from an outside perspective, and especially perhaps from a Dutch perspective, it looks an awful lot like the Dutch conquest of England. William sailed across the channel with a fleet of 500 ships and 40,000 men, including 20,000 armed troops, marched on London and took power. The only reason it can be remembered as anything Glorious, rather than a bloody conquest or yet another Anglo-Dutch war, is that James II didn’t put up a fight. He was unpopular with just about everyone, not least because he was Catholic, and not really getting on with his own army, and he decided to flee rather than press the issue. Who knows what would have happened if he’d been a little more forceful and decisive.

This was, in some ways, a family affair: William and his wife Mary were both grandchildren of Charles I.* In fact they probably would have been most likely to succeed James II anyway, except that James’s wife, after a long string of miscarriages, unexpectedly produced a male baby and screwed everything up for the Oranges.

The strength of William-and-Mary’s claim to the throne made it easier for the English to accept them as joint monarch; Lisa Jardine’s books sets out to demonstrate that the tangled relationship between the Stuarts and the House of Orange is actually typical of a very strong cultural link between England and Holland throughout the C17th; that much of what became typically English, and much of the groundwork that enabled England to became a great power in the C18th and C19th, came from Holland.

She certainly successfully demonstrates an enormous amount of interaction between the two countries: in art, music, gardening, science and indeed socially. One of the most striking examples was the testing of Christian Huygens’s clock design on a British ship; Huygens had been corresponding with members of the Royal Society in London, who arranged for his new clock to be tested as a possible solution to the longtitude problem by a captain in the Royal Navy. On the very mission where he was testing this Dutch clock design, the captain plundered all the Dutch trading posts along the coast of Ghana, triggering the Second Anglo-Dutch War in the process. You might think this would interfere with relations between London and the Hague, but no, the correspondence carried on as though nothing had happened.

I suppose the only question a sceptical reader might have is whether you would find similar levels of influence and connection if you studied, say, Anglo-French relations at the same time. Is there a specific and exceptional connection between England and Holland at this period, or just the normal amount for two neighbouring countries? She seems pretty convincing to me, but I’m not in a position to judge.

* I’ll try to explain, but the same names keep coming up attached to different people, so you’ll need to concentrate. Charles I’s daughter Mary married William II of Orange; her son William is the one who became king of England. He, William III of Orange, married another Mary, the daughter of James II and thus the granddaughter of Charles I (and his own first cousin). So when he invaded England, he was deposing his uncle and father-in-law.

» The pictures are all details from the wedding portrait of the fourteen-year-old William to the nine-year-old Mary, painted in London by Anthony Van Dyck and now in the Rijksmuseum. Both because that picture seems appropriate and because there’s a high-quality reproduction of it in the Wikimedia Commons.


The Century of Revolution by Christopher Hill

The full title is The Century of Revolution, 1603-1714; i.e. the century in question is the longish C17th from the death of Queen Elizabeth to the death of Queen Anne. I guess most centuries are centuries of revolution somewhere, and in one way or another, but the C17th was the only time the English have had an actual literal political revolution. In fact we had two, or one and a half. The first one, in the 1640s, definitely was a revolution — with parliament deciding to put an axe through the king’s neck, and power resting with the army and so on — but is usually referred to as the ‘Civil War’. The second one is referred to, at least by the English, as ‘the Glorious Revolution’, but was really something else: half invasion, half coup. It’s probably a bit strong to describe it as the Dutch conquest of England, but it was probably something closer to that than a ‘revolution’.

I bought this book because I was aware of a gaping hole in my knowledge of British history when it came to this period; I mean, my historical knowledge is patchy anyway, but I’ve read quite a few books about the C18th and C19th, and some about the Tudors and the medieval period, whereas my knowledge of the C17th didn’t go much beyond the clichés; right but repulsive vs. wrong but wromantic, and all that. So I bought this book hoping to get an overview.

And it did provide that; if anything I think I should have gone for something slightly more specific. A book that covers a whole century of history in a few hundred pages is inevitably going to be a firehose of facts; an enormous amount to take in, and not much of the kind of detailed context and human interest that sugars the pill a bit when reading history. Hill divides the period up into four sections, and for each, he organises the material into  ‘Narrative of Events’, ‘Economics’, ‘Politics and Constitution’ and ‘Religion and Ideas’. Which works pretty well, and I do feel that I’ve been given a good grounding in what was going on. I don’t know how much of it I’ve retained, though. If I was really serious about trying to get a handle on the period, I should probably read it again. Which I don’t think is going to happen.

It’s an interesting period, though. The Elizabethans seem so distant and exotic; the Georgians are so modern in comparison, and that difference, that spectacular change, is what makes the C17th so fascinating. Constitutional power shifted from the monarch to Parliament, Cabinet appeared, the civil service started to develop, economic power shifted from the landed gentry to industrialists and merchants, the stock market was established, credit notes removed the need for all business to be done using discs of shiny metal, the religious monopoly of the Church of England was broken, Britain became a dominant naval power, agriculture was modernised. We became modern: or at least more modern than most.

» The photo of a Loyalist mural in Belfast was posted to Flickr by Benjamin Harrison and is used under a CC by-nc licence.


più alto, più rapido, più forte

Well, today the Capello era really gets started. After two months of blissfully fact-free speculation, conjecture, analysis and day-dreaming, we have to get down to the sordid reality of playing actual football.


Even after the match, it’ll be too soon to tell much really. Not that that’ll stop the pundits. Obviously they have to offer some kind of opinion—they have airtime or newsprint to fill—but it’s a rare bird indeed who truly manages to bear in mind that, as the health warning on financial advertising puts it, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.

It’s not just the professionals, of course; we all do it. If a team is playing brilliantly in November, we confidently predict that they’re going to win the league. Even over the micro-short term: if a match is 3-0 at half time, and one team has been dominant, you can guarantee that the pundits, even the Beeb’s collection of melancholic pessimists, will predict a scoreline of 5, 6, or 7 to nil. This despite the fact that the balance of play almost always swings back and forward during a match, and that if one team has been particularly good it’s much more likely that they’ll go off the boil a bit in the second half.

Me Other

Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch…

Wales beat England at rugby this afternoon, which (don’t tell my father) I quite enjoyed. I keenly support England when they’re playing South Africa, Australia, New Zealand or France, but against other teams I often find myself rooting for the opposition.

I guess it’s largely support for the underdog (today was Wales’s first win at Twickenham for 20 years, so I don’t think it’s too patronising to call them underdogs), but I never feel the same way when England play soccer. I don’t know why I don’t feel the same emotional connection to the rugby team, but there it is.

Of course if you’re English you have to have flexible sporting loyalties anyway: English during the World Cup but British during the Olympics. And it’s amazing how golf clubs suddenly become hotbeds of European solidarity during the Ryder Cup.

It always seems like it ought to be a healthy model of patriotism. Lots of overlapping loyalties which come to the fore at different times in different contexts, none of which insist that they have to be exclusive. And yet oddly enough British sports fans aren’t known for their flexible, easy-going tolerance and sensitivity to cultural nuance.