Saturday, May 19, 2018

Royal Wedding 19th May 2018

BBC Radio 4 had a speaker this week who is a republican and said that he considered the Royal Family to be too expensive and of waning popularity. I doubt that he is correct. Government is expensive as indeed are democratic presidential elections which we in the UK do not hold. Personally I welcome the fact that in the UK we have no president or costly presidential elections. Actually the news that the UK will save £100m this year by not holding elections for the EU parliament, does illustrate how expensive elections have become. That is of course not a reason for avoiding important elections but an argument for limiting elections to those which are essential for preserving democracy.

As for the Royal Wedding;  the marriage of a British prince to an American actress is significant not only to the UK throne but of course more importantly, to  relationships between races both at home and abroad.  

Meghan Markle having taken out British citizenship has not limited interest in the wedding from the USA, quite the reverse if the crowds of multi-national well-wishers gathering in Windsor are any yardstick.

My old long since closed Jesuit boarding school in Old Windsor, Beaumont College, used to require boys to go cross country running through Windsor Great Park to The Copper Horse at the top of The Long Walk. The walk down the mile from there to Windsor itself was also frequently undertaken with or without the Js' permission so I can appreciate how on a sunny May day, how much fun there is likely to be had not only for the happy couple, but also for their hundreds of thousands of well-wishers.

Though the reason for Prince Charles having to be more involved than was originally planned by walking his future daughter in law down the aisle is of course sad I am pleased for Charles that he has become involved in this way. Charles is a similar age to myself  and I suspect was affected in a similar way by being required to attend a far away boarding school. His being caught as a school boy taking a drink of cherry brandy in a local pub made headlines at the time and is still remembered by many of his generation today. I doubt that such an action by any teenager would cause a hair to be turned in C21. Add to that the slightly stultifying effect on individuals that a C20 boarding school education risked then, Prince Charles in my view carries more burdens than the media tend to give him credit for.

Watching the FA Cup Final this afternoon - "come on you blues" - is more my cup of tea.

I wish Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, The Prince of Wales and their families, well.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Football Crazy Football Mad

Having watched the first division football results over the past week or two with some intrepidation I was pleased that AFC Wimbledon manged to scrape over the line and remain in division one. 

Sadly the same could not be said for Northampton Town which was relegated despite being promoted as Division 2 champions in 2016 when AFC Wimbledon scraped through at the same time, as  a winner of one of the 4 teams below. 

Also relegated to Division 2 are MK Dons the team which originally claimed to succeed the former Wimbledon football club but which upon being refused FA permission to make their base in Dublin Ireland, eventually ended up in Milton Keynes some 82 miles north of Wimbledon. Locals who helped form AFC Wimbledon as a new club. regarded MK Dons as a franchise football club. 

However with the return to AFC Wimbledon of the FA Cup, won by the old Wimbledon FC in 1988, when they beat Liverpool FC in the final, attended by yours truly with maytrees max and many other local fathers and sons who hired a coach to make the journey together, the hatchet between the two clubs was largely buried. 

Currently Chelsea FC's ladies having recently purchased AFC Wimbledon's old ground in Kingston for a sum reputed to be well over £1m,  facilitated the return by AFC Wimbledon to SW19 by redeveloping the long since closed greyhound racing track into new housing and  a football stadium.

All the above is fascinating and commendable but the way in which the higher echelons of English football have developed in past years is in my view not. Years ago I recall attending Chelsea FC and standing on the terraces with my father to watch the team play say Arsenal FC. Of course terraces are far from ideal for watching football and  for large crowds are potentially dangerous so money was needed to update the stadium. However the price of the cheapest ticket to a Chelsea FC match exceeds £30 and the BBC reported some 4 years ago that:

The average price of the cheapest (football match) tickets across English football has risen at almost twice the rate of the cost of living since 2011.

My own view is that players are now paid far too much, transfer fees running into £10ms are ridiculous  and the pressure on clubs to play their main games for European leagues rather than domestic matches, risks ruining the sport for ordinary fans. 

The time has come for the FA to consider carefully, what financial limits should be placed on clubs and their players. The need arises for the game to be brought back to the ordinary supporter and of course dare I say it, for a level playing field to be created as between clubs.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

The Ferryman

Old Beaumont friend John John as a boy while he and I were visiting Kew gardens recently, recommended "The Ferryman" ,  a play by Jez Butterworth. 

As the play is set in Ireland where with John, I had first met mrs maytrees  some 45 years ago, and only shortly after the time of our first meeting, I was intrigued, so booked seats for younger sister to join us  for her birthday celebration, at the Gielgud Theatre, to enjoy the play last Wednesday afternoon. 

The production commenced at 1:30pm and finished a only shortly before 5pm so involved a lengthy period of  it turned out, great interest and brilliant acting. 

I cannot better  The London Evening Standard review, which read:

Set in Northern Ireland in the early Eighties, it’s a complex family portrait, played out against the backdrop of the Troubles. At the outset we learn that the body of Seamus Carney, missing for ten years, has been located. Though his brother Quinn — an astonishingly focused Considine, brooding but also tender — is now a farmer, the discovery of Seamus's pickled corpse reconnects him to an ugly past he’d hoped to put behind him.
Quinn is a family man, and in Mendes’s richly textured production his farmhouse kitchen is a place teeming with vitality. As his clan comes together to gather the harvest, the mood is exuberant, but anxieties and resentments fester. One of their objects is rumpled English outcast Tom Kettle (John Hodgkinson, wrangling a live goose) whose presence in their midst is a sour reminder of political tensions. Others who are damaged in very different ways are Seamus’s wife Caitlin (a blazing Laura Donnelly) and Quinn’s wife Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly, a study in ashen fragility). Of the more mature characters, BrĂ­d Brennan’s Aunt Maggie Faraway is especially memorable, mostly static yet capable of summoning up the past with ghostly eeriness. Meanwhile, among the younger generation, it’s newcomer Tom Glynn-Carney who stands out as the eldest of the visiting Corcoran brothers, a livewire who’s alarmingly susceptible to the lure of fanaticism.
The above review does not mention the opening of the play, which intrigued mrs maytrees who is  shortly with some children to attend a  live "Rolling Stones" concert, involving one of the teen-age children in the cast, playing some Rolling Stones hits loudly on his radio.
The many children in the cast including a tiny baby, played their roles brilliantly. Of course 'the troubles' featured as did a strong but also humanly  weak, Catholic priest; yet the whole show was excellent for the packed audience at the theatre, who showed their (our) appreciation with standing ovations at the finish.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Baby Alfie Evans R.I.P

One can only feel compassion and sympathy for the parents of Baby Alfie, who have suffered months of distress and torment caused by the huge deterioration in  their  little boy's well being and deteriorating health, leading it is reported, to his death early this morning.

The family's suffering became the subject of world wide human interest, culminating in Pope Francis even arranging for a plane to be on standby to transport him to a specialist hospital in Rome with another hospital in Munich Germany, also offering to care for him.

The legal issues raised by this little boy's all too brief history are really significant. They may be briefly summarised in the question of how far morally and legally should the attempts to save a life by medical means be taken?

The hospitals in Rome and Munich appear to have confirmed the view taken by Alfie's hospital in Liverpool, which essentially was that tragically his condition was impossible to cure or alleviate and that he could only be kept alive  by artificial means. The German and Italian hospitals were willing to keep him alive there on the artificial means that had been used in Liverpool whereas the Liverpool hospital intended to follow their  medical and legal guidance, by switching off the artificial life support systems.

Courts in the UK from the High Court all the way through the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court having considered the evidence from doctors,  consultants and the Alder Hey NHS Hospital Liverpool, decided that the doctors' opinions were correct  which would mean that little Alfie should be  not be kept alive through use of machines  but should be made as  comfortable as possible when the artificial life support apparatus was turned off. This view was  also upheld by the European Court of Human Rights and the life support apparatus was switched off when all civil legal avenues had been explored. 

Little Alfie continued to live after the life support system was withdrawn so the family returned to the Court of Appeal . The Court carefully considered the latest position but  essentially reiterated the views taken by all the previous judges in the UK and European courts. A few days later, sadly Alfie died from natural causes.

I hugely respect His Holiness Pope Francis but the views expressed by him to the effect that the medical  life support systems should not be switched off, were not made as expressions of faith and morals required to be accepted as such by all of the Catholic faith. Rather they were made by an hugely compassionate man who has met the parents and listened to their heartfelt representations.

Accordingly it is open to individual Catholics to hold other views on the same fundamental issue. 

This  case is tragic and sad but  the lawyers and doctors, came to their hugely difficult conclusions, which without having met with Alfie's parents, seem in my humble opinion to be correct.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Lourdes 2018 - Pilgrimage by old HCPT hands.

Three of us who had retired after many years fulfilling pilgrimages with HCPT - The Pilgrimage Trust, decided to make our own pilgrimage this year in Low Week, after the HCPT Easter Week pilgrimage had finished.

The decision was to travel from London St Pancras to Lourdes by train given that most of  our HCPT pilgrimages to Lourdes had also been by train, mainly using, the now largely defunct couchette trains from Boulogne, Dunkirke  and more recently, Calais.

The first obstacle was overcome by selecting travel dates that did not coincide with the the series of strikes planned by the French SNCF railway unions from between April and June. The next obstacle was the difficulty caused by the closure of Metro Line 4 at Gare du Nord. Nonetheless after some unexpected walking through the lovely streets of Paris and taking a different metro line we duly arrived at Gare Montparnasse in the south of Paris. The travel down to Lourdes was then straightforward and provided ample time for the three of us to catch up on news and to take some French refreshment.

Lourdes seemed much less crowded than usual probably because  both the large HCPT pilgrimage  had departed and many French schools had not quite started their holidays. In any event we were warmly greeted at The Hotel Alba the MD of which had kindly reduced their full board charge by almost 50% upon recognising us, The Alba was also hosting a three day French mountain bike rally in  the surrounding  Lourdes hills and countryside.

Otherwise the beauty of Lourdes, peace, prayer, and song were happily unaltered.  Nonetheless some photos of sights that I had not seen before in Lourdes included;
The sewing of a cooking apron for my 4 year old grand daughter and a few mountain bike competitors;

The cite au secours made for an energetic walk in the Lourdes countryside. Beautifully quiet and with a cafe au lait priced at an amazingly low 40 cents, it was of course my turn to pay. A rather longer energetic walk to Bartres where Bernadette had spent time while recovering from her asthma as girl was also worth the effort as indeed was the walk back to Lourdes - downhill.

The Blessing of the sick, torchlight procession and high stations were all beautiful. Mass in the highest of the three basilicas late on Saturday night was a fitting end to the main part of our pilgrimage.

The journey home by train from Gare de Lourdes we assumed would be uneventful as Sunday was  a SNCF non-strike day. However upon arriving at the station notification was given that the TGV to Paris had been cancelled. There was a chance of finding a train to Paris from Dax so we took a local train to Dax. Over coffee there while we waited many people  French and others mentioned  Mrs Thatcher's union fights which they hoped President Macron would emulate. 

A TGV was eventually found but given the metro difficulties at Gare du Nord, added to which there were huge crowds of English holiday makers seeking to return to the UK for the start of the school summer term, room was offered to us to sleep overnight on the floor of a friend of Bernie living in Paris, as we had missed our return Eurostar home.

However that kind offer was not needed as a lady in the Eurostar ticket office upon learning of our trek from Lourdes found us two seats (Bernie was staying on in Paris and Nevers for a few days) on the next Eurostar to London, free of further payment, despite a public  announcement that all remaining trains to London were full.

A miracle indeed.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Lourdes 2018

Old HCPT Group 35/729 hands decided on a pilgrimage to take place a week later than our customary Pilgrimage with HCPT.

Despite SNCF strikes and dire weather forecast thankfully proving incorrect a hopefully holy and fantastic time was enjoyed by all.

 Staff at the Lourdes Hotel Alpha greeted us all as old friends and limited their charge rates quite substantially, which was much appreciated.

The return train journey on Sunday nearly did not take place as SNCF cancelled the TGV back to Paris.

More to follow.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Strife in France - 1960s Re-visited or Not?

Three of us  are travelling by train to Lourdes next week for a private celebration of 50 years  pilgrimaging with HCPT, having recently retired from HCPT - The Pilgrimage Trust. HCPT pilgrims are in Lourdes this week  so we decided to travel a week later this year, for our quiet celebration. 

Travelling by train, which for most of the 50 years with HCPT was our normal method of pilgrimaging there, brings into focus the possible  rise of union strife again in France. 

President Macron though, has made plain his determination to see through the changes in civil servants and state workers  in France. Some suggest that his actions really mirror those of Margaret Thatcher in C20, when she saw through not too dissimilar changes in British state workers practices, such as those of the coal miners in 1984 and 1985.

Meanwhile for ordinary travellers such as yours truly and friends, train travel next week may be slightly hazardous. 

The immediate background to the French SNCF problems, is said to be that of workers' rights which include; jobs for life,  retirement age of 52 years with a decent pension although that is 10 years before the official French retirement age of 62  a 35 working week and generous holidays. As an aside, the age in the UK at which generally one qualifies for the state pension is already several years over the pension age in France.

Add to the above the fact the fares for passengers travelling by train in France are far cheaper than in the UK, the $50bn deficit of SNCF is hardly surprising. 

On a   practical basis however buying SNCF tickets is both simple and cheap which is to be commended. 

Nonetheless the warnings if probable strike days illustrated below (courtesy BBC) may  make for  some interesting  pilgrimage travel to and from Lourdes:

Hopefully more next week from Lourdes.

Royal Wedding 19th May 2018

BBC Radio 4 had a speaker this week who is a republican and said that he considered the Royal Family to be too expensive and of waning popul...