Tag Archives: culture

Sunday Poem 112

Two Wars – by Edmund Blunden (1896-1974)

Professing loud energy, out of the junction departed
The branch-line engine.  The small train rounded the bend
Watched by us pilgrims of summer, and most by me, –
Who had known this picture since first my travelling started,
And knew it as sadly pleasant, the usual end
Of singing returns to beloved simplicity.

The small train went from view behind the plantation,
Monotonous, – but there’s a grace in  monotony!
I felt its journey, I watched in imagination
Its brown smoke spun with sunshine wandering free
Past the great weir with its round flood-mirror beneath,
And where the magpie rises from orchard shadows,
And among the oasts, and like a rosy wreath
Mimicking children’s flower-play in the meadows.

The thing so easy, so daily, of so small stature
Gave me another picture: of war’s warped face
Where still the sun and the leaf and the lark praised Nature,
But no little engine bustled from place to place;
When summer succeeded summer, yet only ghosts
Or tomorrow’s ghosts could venture hand or foot
In the track between the terrible telegraph-posts, –
the end of all things lying between the hut
Which lurked this side, and the shattered local train
So easy it was; and should that come again -.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Rev-ved up on BBC2

Aahhh – the beautiful Tom Hollander.

Last night, the much anticipated second series of ‘Rev’ was shown on BBC2.  Hollander plays a young vicar, Adam Smallbone, who has relocated from a rural parish to Hackney in the East End of London.  Rev. Smallbone is an ordinary person, an ordinary man.  Not a comedy vicar like Dawn French, Ardal O’Hanlon or Derek Nimmo, but a kind and humorous man who is riddled with self doubt, who makes mistakes, and who truly cares about his parishioners and believes he can make a difference, however ill-judged some of his endeavours turn out to be.

I won’t tell you the plot of the first episode because I really, really want you to watch it on iPlayer/Catch Up etc and then continue to watch the rest of the series avidly. I will tell you though, that there is a striking cameo by Ralph Fiennes as the Bishop of London, and Hugh Bonneville appears as a white suited, ambitious and worldy colleague.

His wife Alex (Olivia Colman) has her own career as a solicitor and she really struggles with the 24-hour nature of his vocation.  She loves him so much but desperately wants to spend time with him alone and is keen to start a family but, as she points out to him, ”You don’t shag me enough.”

Some of Smallbone’s finest moments are when he is sitting on the bench outside the church, fag in hand, discussing his problems with the local drunk, who frequently offers a weird kind of sanity.  He is out of his depth, burdened with a shrinking congregation, a crumbling building and a dysfunctional but devoted support team.  And yet, as in all his roles, there is a beauty and stillness to the character which takes your breath away.

I have never seen Hollander in a duff role.  Everything he does has depth and conviction whether he’s George V in ‘The Lost Prince’, the cold and calculating Beckett in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ or the flamboyant Darren in ‘Bedrooms and Hallways’.

And he’s really, really gorgeous. Which is nice.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews, The Gallery

Shire Book of the Month: The Women’s Institute by Susan Cohen

The Women’s Institute is a radical organisation and always has been.  That took me by surprise as well.  Susan Cohen’s book ‘The Women’s Institute’ is a real eye-opener and is full of unexpected facts that should serve to blow away any lingering prejudice that the WI is all about Jam and Jerusalem.

The first WI was set up in 1915 in Llanfair in Wales and was inspired by the Canadian WI which was already well established.  The original mission was to harness the skills of country women and to encourage them to play a more active role in village life and to give them opportunities to share activities in a social context with other women. The Great War was already on and there was a great deal that needed doing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the initial movers and shakers in the WI were suffragettes for whom the Institute was an excellent tool in furthering the cause of women.  Country women were often very isolated and there was little opportunity for socialising or personal development and the WI offered the chance to broaden their horizons from politics to practical skills, from art classes to charabanc tours.

The WI catered for women from all walks of life and everyone was equal; the scullery maid would sit at the same table as the lady of the manor and everyone had a voice.

A fine example of WI needlecraftf the manor and everyone had a voice. This situation would have been unheard of in any other context and is another example of the radicalism of the WI. Initially though, women had to be nominated and seconded by someone already in the group which could be quite nerve-wracking.

I asked my friend Mrs Grable why she had initially joined the WI.  She told me that, as a young mother, she was quite lonely at home all day on her own and the WI offered an opportunity to get out of the house and socialise with like-minded women and learn some new skills.  It was also a great way to meet her neighbours and they encouraged each other to go.  She has now been in the movement for forty years and it still has the same appeal, although the activities have expanded considerably since the 1960s.

During the WW2 the WIs were significantly involved in all aspects of war work including organising evacuees, food production and canning projects as well as fundraising and knitting socks for seamen.

The modern WI has also had a major impact in changing the law and leading campaigns including libraries, food labelling, domestic violence, mental health and global poverty and Cohen tells a wonderfully illustrated and evocative story of the importance and relevance of the Women’s Institute and its activities from its inception to the present day.  Perhaps it could broaden your horizons?


Filed under History, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Shire Books, Slider

The Two Minute Review – 14: Tin Tin

Film:                Tin Tin : The Secret of the Unicorn

Starring:         Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis,
Daniel Craig, Nick Frost,
Simon Pegg

Director:          Steven Spielberg

This film had me totally hooked before the end of the title sequence, which is one of the best I’ve seen in years.  The motion capture technology leaves you gasping, the music is so good you’ll want it on DVD and my sister and I sat there oo-ing and aah-ing all the way through.  This is a tale of high adventure; a worrying accurate portrayal of a drunken sea  captain, the charmingly inept Thompson Twins and some fabulous little plot ‘extras’ which serve only to delight.  The story is full of thrills and twists and yet remains as light as a feather and you will come out feeling thoroughly entertained.  The opening scenes show Tin Tin at a street market with Snowy, and the lusciousness of the detail and a lovely moment with a street artist are so satisfying you could cry.  I wanted to go straight back in to see it again.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews, Slider

Vampires – a Practical Guide

Vampire by Edward Burne Jones

Imagine you are a vampire hunter on the trail of a beautiful young girl who has just been taken by the evil yet strangely alluring Count Dracula and you have ventured into the family crypt to release her from her terrible curse and allow you and your family to sleep at night without a string of pungent alliums and a sharpened piece of two b’four.

The vampire appears!!!! Aarrghghg! You dive into your bag for the acknowledged accoutrements of vampire slaying; garlic, wooden stake, crucifix … when suddenly you remember that you’re Jewish.  What do you wave at the advancing fanged predator?

I’m sorry to say that this is a situation that has been vexing me for some months now, so I did the only thing possible.  Some research.

Vampire legends go much further back than one might imagine, although the word ‘vampire’ only really came into common usage in the 18th century and comes originally from Serbia.

Lilith - first wife of Adam

Mysterious creatures of the shadows who feast off the living exist in the myths and legends of nearly every culture around the world.  Early Hebrew writings describe a winged demon  with the body of a woman and talons like an owl.  Her name was Lilith and she was the first wife of Adam and, as she was created from the same earth as him, she believed herself to be his equal.  But she refused to be submissive, so God banished her to the realm of demons after which she was believed to devour infants and small children, seduce men, steal their semen and then drink the blood of her victims.  She vowed to feed off the children of Adam i.e. humans, forever.  Without Lilith there would be no vampires.

This type of vampire is called an estrie and the only way to make sure she stays dead is to stop up her mouth with earth.  Estries don’t always attack in obvious ways and they would sit on hands or fingers, waiting for the person to rub their eyes or mouth and they could then enter the body.  To prevent an attack by vampires, Jews would place a bowl of water at the side of the bed to wash their hands before walking, thus preventing invasion.

Vampire legends appear all over the world and it occurs to me that the form which the creature takes tells us something about the psyche of the region.  Often the vampire will appear in the guise of a beautiful woman in order to gain access to its prey whilst others present as monsters, animal forms or pallid and degenerate replicas of humans.  They are often shape-shifters which adds another layer of fear as the vampire hunter may not even know what he’s looking for.

Vampires legends in brief:

China - Chiang-shih

China – Chiang Shi:  A recently deceased corpse who becomes possessed by a demon, covered with white or green hair, with long claws, teeth, glowing red eyes and lethal halitosis.  It can fly and  change into a wolf.  Repelled by garlic, salt and rice.  Killed by a bullet or thunder.

Japan - Gaki

Japan – Gaki:  Pale-skinned, cold and hollow-eyed blood drinkers.  Can shape-shift, impersonate humans and possibly go invisible.

Philippines – Aswang: Beautiful woman by day, tubular-tongued blood drinker by night.  Prefers children and after eating them, its belly swells and it flies home and breastfeeds its own children with the blood.

India - Rakshasa

India – Rakshasa: If a child is forced to eat human brains it becomes a Rakshasa who then needs human blood.  Again a shape-shifter, sometime a beautiful human, sometimes animal.  It lurks in trees to spy out its victims and if you so much as stray into its territory you will become seriously ill.

Ireland - Leahaun-shee

Ireland – Dearg-Due: This ancient vampire goes all the way back to the Celts.   The only way to stop it is to pile stones on the grave if you suspect the incumbent might be a vampire.
The Irish  also have the Leahaun-shee who is not technically a vampire but is vampiric in nature.  A beautiful woman, she lures young men under her spell  and then effectively shags them to death.  I’ve known women like that.

Scotland – BaoBahan-sith: is similar to the Leahaun-shee but is always dressed in green.

Germany – Doppelsauger: In the Slavic region of northern Germany, the Wends believed that once a baby was weaned, if it was breastfed again it would turn into a vampire.  It would eat the breast and take the life force of the mother.

Africa: the Africans are generally terribly keen on vampire stories and have Asanbosam, Adze, Impundulu and Ramanga to name but a few. The Ramanga is my personal favourite because it not only drinks blood but eats the toe nail clippings of nobles. Now that is truly horrible.

The Americas are awash with stories because they have the varied cultures of French and African Voodoo, the West Indies and South America as well.  Their monsters are often female and often corruptly sexual in nature.  The Chupacapra of Mexico/Puerto Rico is particularly well known as a creature that eats the flesh and drinks the blood of domesticated animals.

Isn’t it interesting how often these creatures are female and involve breasts and babies?  Is it at all possible that some of these stories emerged in cultures who were terrified and mystified in equal measure of blood, women, childbirth, breast feeding and women’s perceived power to enchant and ensnare?


Modern Vampires

Although vampires have appeared in fiction and poetry since the 1700s, it was Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ which changed the depiction of vampires into elegant, sophisticated and desirable beings with their romantic suggestions of virginity, sex, blood and death.

Now, of course, vampires are all the rage with ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and the ‘Twilight Saga’ and psychologists think that this has come about through a combination of the modern fascination and pre-occupation with sex and the enduring terror of our own mortality.

But what’s really interesting is that every so often, present day societies will still become convinced that vampires are among them, these hysterics often emerging at times of terrible political or economic turbulence.

In 1970 it was rumoured that a vampire haunted Highgate Cemetery in London which a local man claimed to have exorcised and even that he destroyed a ‘nest’ of vampires in the area.
In 2002 stories of vampire attacks swept through Malawi in Africa which culminated in one individual being stoned to death and four others being attacked, one of whom was the Governor who was believed to be colluding with the undead.
In 2004 a Romanian family feared that their dead relative had become a vampire so they sensibly dug up his corpse, ripped out his heart, burnt it, mixed the ashes with water and drank it.

Clearly vampires are everywhere so, in true Wartime Housewife style, here are my top tips for repelling or killing these modern-day, blood-sucking hooligans.

How do you know if a grave contains a vampire? Get a virgin boy to ride over the grave, naked and bareback on a virgin stallion.  When the horse stops at a grave and won’t move forward, there’s your vampire.

Preventative Measures: Garlic, nailing clothes to coffin walls, do not invite them in to your house (no really, don’t), religious symbols* made of silver, mustard seed, wolfsbane, mirrors will sometimes repel.

Killing a vampire: sunlight, a wooden stake through the heart, preferably made of aspen or hawthorne (although this might just immobilise it), decapitation (dead cert), total immersion in running water or fire, drinking the blood of the dead, a silver bullet or knife, holy water, nail its coffin shut with silver nails.

* In order to bring this fascinating subject back to the beginning, religious symbols are a relatively modern method of protection.  The Catholic church decided that they, and only they, had the power to kill vampires and this is where the idea that a cross would repel these beasts but only, only mind you, if it was held by a true believer.  Presumably the unbelievers deserved to die. They also had the monopoly on holy water which should be thrown directly onto the vampire in question.

If you are at all worried, please feel free to contact this website for further advice.  And consider adding silver nails, sharpened sticks and a small phial of holy water to your DIY kit.  The rest, as one would expect, are probably Storecupboard Ingredients.

Christopher Lee - that's more like it


Filed under Religion, Slider, Storecupboard

The Two Minute Review – 13: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Actually, this took three minutes - what a betrayal.

When I saw the trailer for this in the cinema, I got very excited.  It looked full of thrills, star-studded cast, spies, 60s Britain – can’t go wrong with this.  However, I spent most of the film staring, bewildered, at the screen, trying to work out what the bloody hell was going on.  The time frame skipped backwards and forwards like Red Riding Hood on acid, there was a significant party, someone got shot, John Hurt sellotaped photographs to chess pieces.  At one point Smiley inexplicably went to the optician  and apparently this was a critical pointer to where we were in time – one pair of glasses = this time, another indistinguishably similar pair  indicated another time.  I was half expecting a montage of Smiley’s personal care regime – Smiley goes to the chiropodist, Smiley goes to the barber.  My friend, Mrs Cecil, told me that it was a story about personal love and betrayal.  Oh.

The cars were good.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews

The Two Minute Review – 12: Johnny English Reborn

Film:            Johnny English Reborn

Starring:     Rowan Atkinson, Dominic West,
Rosamund Pike, Gillian Anderson,
Tim McInnery, Daniel Kaluuya

Director:     Oliver Parker

I was prepared for this to be a poor copy of the first, but actually I’m not sure that it wasn’t even funnier.  English has been out of commission (leading a spiritual life in Tibet) for five years following a massive cock-up in Mozambique but he gets called in to investigate a plot to kill the Chinese Premier. He has a new sidekick, Agent Tucker, who is very young and slightly in awe of him, but nonetheless has his eye on the ball and there are some great jokes about his youth.  The stunts are terrific and Boy the Younger and I both laughed our heads off all the way through.  English may be an idiot in many ways but he is possessed of the qualities which we most admire;  loyalty, patriotism, determination and kindness.  We loved it.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews

The Big Bang Theory

L-R: Sheldon, Howard, Rajesh and Leonard

For ages I got really annoyed because in the vast wilderness of the TV schedules I kept thinking there was an interesting science programme on, only to find that it was some American comedy. Oh how I wished I’d taken the time to watch it.

The Big Bang Theory is now on every evening, two back-to-back episodes at 6pm on E4, and it doesn’t matter what mood I’m, it has me laughing out loud.

The basic premise is that there are two hyper-intelligent physicists, Leonard and Sheldon who share a flat in Pasadena.  They have two friends, Howard and Rajesh who are also brilliant physicists and they all work at the California Institute of Technology.  There is also a lovely, kooky girl called Penny who lives across the hallway and works in a Cheesecake cafe but who aspires to be an actress.

Sheldon is a theoretical physicist who gained his PhD at 16 and who is clearly somewhere quite high up on the Asperger’s spectrum;  he is obsessed with routine, finds interpersonal relationships bewildering, cannot distinguish irony or subtle humour and is generally at sea in any social situation.  Yet his jaw-dropping dialogue is so precise and camp and his unbearably accurate way of talking is so funny it’s painful and one is constantly left gasping at the things he comes out with.

The other three characters are all equally geeky and socially inept but all have their part to play and all are utterly likeable.  Leonard tries so hard to establish relationships, often briefly successfully – at least he has sex from time to time or ‘coitus’ as they all insist on calling it –  and he and Penny treat Sheldon like an indulged child.  He is a relentlessly kind person who struggles to do normal things, whilst his head is full of mind-boggling calculations and mathematical formulae.

Howard is an aerospace engineer and he is the only one of the four of them who actually makes physical stuff.  He is a Jewish boy who lives with his raucous, vulgar mother and there is always an underlying mystery about what happened to his father.  He fancies himself as a bit of a ladies’ man and his attempts to pull and the appalling chat-up lines which he rolls out are, surprisingly, sometimes successful.

Rajesh, a particle astrophysicist, comes from a wealthy New Delhi family.  He freezes in the presence of women and his social anxiety is only suppressed by alcohol or when he thinks he has had alcohol.  His comic timing is impeccable.

These four male characters are everything you would expect from the unnaturally brilliant: geeky, sci-fi and comic book obsessed, socially ill at ease, generally useless with women, whilst Penny provides an anchor point of normality onto which many of the stories are hitched.  But somehow the writers have created characters that you genuinely like and root for.  It ought to be awful but it just isn’t, there’s something about the ‘spirit’ of the thing that has you on the edge of your seat, wondering what on earth they’re going to do next.

I can feel a DVD boxed set coming on.  I have even hovered my mouse over a Bazinga! t-shirt on the Big Bang Theory website.  For my son, of course, hem hem.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews

Sunday Poem 107

Better late than never….

Evening Schoolboys – by John Clare (1793-1864)

Harken that happy shout – the schoolhouse door
Is open thrown and out the younkers teem.
Some run to leapfrog on the rushy moor
And others dabble in the shallow stream,
Catching young fish and turning pebbles o’er
For muscle clams – Look in that sunny gleam
Where the retiring sun that rests the while
Streams through the broken hedge – How happy seem
Those schoolboy friendships leaning o’er the stile,
Both reading in one book – anon a dream
Rich with new joys doth their young hearts beguile
And the books pocketed right hastily.
Ah happy boys, well may ye return and smile
When joys are yours that never cost a sigh.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

The Two Minute Review – 11: Jane Eyre

Cinema Film:   Jane Eyre

Starring:           Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender,
Jamie Bell, Judi Dench

Director:          Cary Fukanaga

The casting of this film is perfect – at last a Jane who is genuinely plain.  Fassbender as Rochester is so brooding and sexy it makes you weep and it was lovely to see Jamie Bell giving an earnest and convincing performance as StJohn Rivers.  The music was perfectly balanced and the landscape and settings were characterized as strongly as the humans. The cinematography was mind-blowing.

As a lifelong fan of ‘Jane Eyre’ there were scenes that I felt should have been left in and some of the peripheral characters beefed up a bit to give Jane another dimension.  However, this is churlish of me given this astonishing and powerfully restrained performance.  I may go again on Saturday.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews

The Two Minute Review – 10: Thor

Cinema Film:          Thor in 3D

Certificate:              12A

Starring:                  Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston,
Anthony Hopkins and a lot of Scandinavian sounding
people you’ve never heard of

Director:                  rather unexpectedly – Kenneth Branagh

I really didn’t want to see this film and I was cross because it was in 3D and I usually get sensory overload when I watch 3D,  to say nothing of the increased ticket price.

Well that’ll teach me to be a grumpy chops because this film is SO much fun.  Thor is an Asgard dwelling, swashbuckling, know-it-all god created by Marvel Comics who goes against his father, Odin, by taking on the Frost Giants and ends up getting stripped of his powers (and his hammer) and is banished to Earth.  He is followed there by Asgardian baddies, but cannot get his hammer back until he proves himself worthy – ie. less hot-headed and a bit more wise.  There he falls for Scientist, Jane Foster, and together they fight the baddies, the American Secret Service and Loki, Thor’s dodgy brother.

Go and see it, it really is tremendous fun and the special effects are great.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Sunday Poem 84

Robert Browning had very little formal education and gleaned most of his knowledge from his father’s library, including a smattering Latin and Greek.   He lived with his parents in South London, travelling once to St Petersburg and twice to Italy and during this time published his poetry at his parents’ expense.

He secretly married Elizabeth Barrett in 1846 and they spent most of their married life in Italy.  Elizabeth was a poet of considerable distinction in her own right and was extremely productive during this time, including the production of a son.  After her death in 1861, Robert returned to England where he achieved significant success with his poetry which embraced predominantly classical subjects.  He died in Venice in 1889.

April – by Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Oh, to be in England now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England  – now!

And, after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
– Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Sunday Poem 83

I was delighted to discover that the guest on Desert Island Discs today was Terry Gilliam, who is one of my heroes.  I therefore dedicate this Sunday Poem to him as he directed the marvellous film ‘Jabberwocky’ in 1977.

This poem also makes ‘Word’ run out of red paint for the underlining of unfamiliar words and I gain a quiet satisfaction from knowing that it is flummoxed and may break down sobbing at any moment.

Oh, and another thing.  It also reminds me of Sister the Second who, when at school, was asked to write a translation of this poem into recognisable English.  I have always been delighted by her interpretation of the 4th line of the 1st verse “And the mome raths out grabbed themselves”.

Lewis Carroll however, needs no introduction.

Jabberwocky – by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The Frumious Bandersnatch!’

He took the vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought –
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

‘And hast though slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Sunday Poem 82

This week, there has been a bit of a coup on the poetry front.  Keats lived next door to his lover, Fanny Brawne, to whom he wrote many love letters.  Thirty-nine of Keats’ letters have survived and all of them are in American collections.

Until now.  Keats’ House in Hampstead, London is a museum and place of pilgrimage to lovers of his poetry, indeed the plum tree under which he wrote ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ still grows in the garden.  Keats had contracted consumption (tuberculosis), and although Fanny lived next door, they dared not meet for fear of her catching it too.  A love letter to Fanny, lamenting that his disease prevented him from kissing her, came up for auction and was bought, with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, for £96,000, by Keats’ House.  Hurrah!

John Keats was born in London, the son of a West Country ostler who married his employer’s daughter.  Although Keats was not of distinguished birth, there was no shortage of money when he was growing up as his grandfather had left generous bequests.  He was a handsome, cheerful and somewhat belligerent chap but the death of his mother in 1810, also of consumption, left him stricken with grief, and he left school aged 15.

In 1811 he became apprenticed to an apothecary and went on to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital.  Poetry had already taken hold of him and he abandoned his studies to pursue it.  Unfortunately, his affairs were mismanaged and his adult life was decidedly impecunious.

He had been well educated and had a gift for translation of the Greek poets and philosophers and many of his poems reflect this passion, although his early work was not well received.  In 1817 he went on a tour of Ireland and Scotland and made a pilgrimage to Burns’ House.  Fatigue and exposure made him vulnerable to an hereditary consumptive tendency and his health declined from thereon in.

In 1820, despite his worsening health, he accepted  an invitation from Shelley to visit him in Italy and he died in Rome aged only 25.  Despite his youth, the poetry that he left behind was of the highest quality and it is tempting to speculate on what he would have written had he lived.

Andrew Lang wrote that he felt that Keats’ letters should never have been published as they lacked manliness and were no indication of his real character.  I disagree.  I think that the letters were deep and passionate and showed as much, if not more, of the depth of his feelings that he expressed in his poems.

Ode on Melancholy – by John Keats (1795-1821)

No, no! Go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come more drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty – Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her Sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

The Return of Midsomer Murders

Wednesday night at 8pm on ITV1 sees the return of Midsomer Murders.  Tom Barnaby has retired and his cousin, John, (who we met in a previous series) has kindly come up from Brighton to take over as Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby in the interests of continuity.

Now this is quite a turn up for die-hard Midsomer fans.  The main character has left, but we are thankfully rescued by someone from the same genetic pool.  Not like poor old Taggart.  The eponymous Taggart dies and, 300 years later, we still have a programme called Taggart but with no Taggart.

That would not do for Midsomer Maniacs.  No no.  We are gently lulled back to a happy state by another Barnaby and he seems to be a decent chap with a glint in his eye and I’m sure I will like him.  Phew everything’s back to normal.

Except it isn’t.  It’s not enough that there are more murders per square mile than South Central, that anyone in a floral frock will almost certainly cut your throat, or that an innocent reading circle is more than likely a murderous gang of octogenarian hedge fund managers.

It’s far worse than that.  There are No Brown Faces in Midsomer.

Now.  I live in a small, middle class, rural village, in the East Midlands, twelve miles out of Leicester.  Leicester, along with Peterborough, now has more than 50% ‘of the population who are not White British, that is Asian, Afro Caribbean etc.  Being an escaped Londoner, I enjoy going into Leicester and seeing a broader ethnic mix and I relish the cultural diversity that comes with it.

But in my village, the one next to it, the two next to that and the several beyond that, I can count on one hand the amount of brown people who live there.  Boy the Younger’s school, which is in one of these villages, has a few brown families, not that anyone even thinks about it, and Boy the Elder’s school which is about 5 miles out of Leicester hardly has any – in fact I’m not sure I’ve seen a single one.

I make no judgement about this.  I will not attempt to suggest reasons why there are few brown faces, or hint at any socio-economic undertones governing the demographics, it is simply a fact that in rural villages one is less likely to see the cultural diversity that exists in large towns and cities.  My Asian friends live in villages nearer to Leicester because they are professionals and their jobs are in the towns or cities.

Brian True May, the producer and co-creator,  phrased himself badly when he suggested that the presence of ethnic minorities would make the show less English, or that he was appealing to a certain audience and wouldn’t want to change it.   I asked two of my brown friends if they had an opinion on it and their view was pretty much that they’d never noticed.  But now they’re hopping mad about it – actually I made that last bit up, they couldn’t give a toss.

Criticising Midsomer Murders for lack of racial diversity is missing the point.  It’s far more important to encourage the television companies to commission a broad range of good drama that reflects both historical and contemporary society.  There’s a lot of crap on our screens that neither informs nor properly entertains.  How about paring that down and spending the money on quality programmes and encourage some of the brilliant upcoming writers and producers to make something that will make us catch our breath?

Midsomer Murders is a jolly good detective drama, set in a fictional county with a preposterous and jaw-dropping amount of intrigues, deaths, maniacs, deviants and mutilations.  Despite that, there are no depictions of graphic violence, there is no swearing and there are no sex scenes.  On the whole, I’d say that the ethnic representation is the most realistic thing in it.


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