Monthly Archives: November 2020

Truth does matter

It must be hard for a plainish, dumpy, brown-eyed actress to play the part of a vivacious and witty, beautiful blue-eyed woman, possessed of a tiny waist, lovely legs, and an exquisite complexion. Mind you, this actress has form. She also played the wife of King George V1 in the US film, ‘Hyde Park on the Hudson.’

George VI was portrayed as a good mannered but pompous prat, while his proverbially charming, warm and outgoing wife was played by Colman as a hard, bitter, bitchy snob. This was a Hollywood version of the King and Queen, so hardly surprising that an America film for an American audience would distort the characters of these two decent people. Even the great President Roosevelt, a profound and intelligent man, was portrayed by Bill Murray as a manipulative philanderer, so no surprises there.

Typical of that Queen, who became the Queen Mother, was when she was touring New Zealand in 1966, and at Clyde, the male photographers jostled and hustled seventeen -year- old cadet Eileen Wockner out of the way. Years later, Eileen told me how the Queen Mother noticed, and stopped the proceedings, so Eileen could take her picture in peace, and later posed especially for her, pretending to weigh gold – just the sort of kind and perceptive action which made her beloved throughout her sixty-six years as a Queen.

Such simple acts of perception and sensitivity don’t make it into The Crown. The debate at the moment over the latest version of the Netflix Crown series saddens me. It must appal the people themselves, who are being portrayed in such a cynical bitter light. I was so alienated by the distortions and untruths in the first instalments that I haven’t watched any since.

When I met the Queen, I spoke to an intelligent, witty woman, putting her whole heart into the job she’d been born to. Prince Phillip, her highly intelligent and much maligned partner, was born to the job too – twice as Royal in genealogical terms as the Queen, he was never the self -indulgent, spoiled and immature spouse, dodging Royal duties as portrayed by the screen writers – nor was he a philanderer – another brush with which he was tarred. He likes women, like many men who were brought up by, or surrounded by a bevy of sisters – both of which were his fate, with a truant father and hospitalised mother.

In spite of his distinguished war record in the Royal Navy, he was often derided as ‘Phil the Greek’ by the ignorant and prejudiced. But unlike Prince Harry’s wife, who in spite of the cheering crowds and warmth and enthusiasm with which she was welcomed, still complained of prejudice against her, Prince Philip adopted the dignified royal mantra of never explain and never complain.

He’s also been pilloried for being a rotten father, but this too is untrue even though Prince Charles in his darkest moments has bad-mouthed him. None of his other children have complained of the father who was quoted as saying “It’s no good saying don’t do this or that, you can warn them or say this is the situation you’re in, these are the choices, on balance this is a sensible one. Go and think it over and come back and let me know what you think”… His biographer Basil Boothroyd, who followed him around observing him, said Prince Philip ran family life as a committee and watched the affection between him and his children.

Though the Queen was not a noticeably maternal person with her two elder children, as a more mature mother, and as an experienced monarch, she was able to give her younger children a lot more mothering – as she did too, with Princess Margaret’s children – usually taking them on holiday with her own while their parents were off to the West Indies.

Philip was always a supportive parent to his children – more so with the three younger ones. Prince Charles’s fate, that of many previous eldest Royal sons, was to have anxious conscientious parents trying to groom him for kingship and making mistakes from the best of intentions.

Having invaded the Queen’s private life, and damned her with imaginary mockery and coldness in her response to the tragedy of Aberfan ( one look at the deep grief on the devastated Queen’s face on newsreel is enough to contradict Colman’s hardness) it was inevitable, I suppose, that writer Peter Morgan should have delved into the tragedy of Charles and Diana’s marriage with such salacious relish, given his past excesses.

I walked out of his acclaimed play, then film, ‘The Audience’ about the Queen’s weekly audience with all the prime ministers of her reign. Once again in this un-satisfying pseudo- documentary, he skewed the facts, shifted the truth and caricatured the characters, including the Queen, played by Helen Mirren. Her energy was so heavy and her humour so mocking, her heavy wigs so ugly, that there was almost nothing of the real person in her impersonation of an attractive, witty and intelligent monarch.

Morgan’s portrayal of Princess Anne was puzzling too… while happy to expose her marital skirmishes and relationship with her bodyguard, he didn’t bother to show her in her finest hour, during the kidnap attempt in the Mall, when several people were shot and badly wounded, and she resisted the kidnapper. Her courage and  refusal to panic or show the slightest discomposure as he tried to drag her out of the car – ‘Not bloody likely!’ she exclaimed as she resisted – were a nation’s delight at the time.

 The admiration of the country was won too, by the Queen’s courage and composure when she was shot at six times while leading her Guards down the Mall on horseback, two years after the IRA had also attacked at the end of her birthday parade. Then, they left four dead men, eight dead horses and thirty-one wounded men lying all over the road. (the Queen once called it “the worst day of my life”) And as an ex-army person myself, I also admired her perfect salute unlike the shabby amateurish attempt of Olivia Colman’s. Every recruit is taught how to perform correctly this simple military gesture of respect.

Respect is a quality missing from this script. The tally of distortions, untruths, destructive interpretations and fictional scenes in this series doesn’t just change history into fiction – and it’s a mean-spirited un-enlightening version at that – not just white washing the facts but black painting and tarring them with nonsense and negativity.

But there’s something much more significant.

Before Mel Gibson released his fictional and prejudiced account of Scotland’s history in the film ‘Braveheart’ – a tirade against the English from an American/Australian – relations between Scotland and England had been amicable ever since the Scots request for Union in 1707. Then, the English Parliament had paid off the Scots’ debts in exchange.

After ‘Braveheart’ had been seen and believed in Scotland, the whole relationship was disrupted, with surveys showing that the Scots now believe the English were as perfidious as Gibson had portrayed them. This was when the demand for independence gained the traction which is now pulling the Union apart.

Similarly and sinisterly now, some surveys have shown that more than fifty per cent of watchers in England alone, believe and disapprove of this fictional and derogatory version of how the Royal family live their lives – with pettiness, arrogance, and mean-spiritedness.

 The Netflix Crown series is undermining the respect, regard, affection and approval of the people on whose support the monarchy depends. While Prince Harry and his wife have recently demeaned the dignity of their family, The Crown is successfully and regrettably doing the same thing, with potentially more damaging effects.

Historians may mark the decline and gradual fall of this thousand- year old unifying institution from this moment in time – when a disastrous and destructive work of fiction was delivered into the homes of many people who believe it must be fact. The ethics of blackening people’s characters and inventing questionable behaviour when they are alive and in no position to defend themselves is another matter.

So sadly, this trivial and dishonest Netflix money spinner seems to be yet another nail in the coffin of respect for the past, and for the rituals that bind a community and a country. It is loosening the safeguards against politics, money and power becoming the dominant force in the nation.

 The mayhem the world is watching in the dis- United States of America is a reminder that the monarchy may be a hereditary and imperfect institution, but it also provides stability, and still has a function to play, and services to perform in one of the world’s oldest democracies. Constitutional monarchs can’t interfere in politics, but do perform the duties of a head of state who is above lobbying, campaigning, or manipulating power. So yes, it seems logical to end with ‘Long live the Queen!’

Food for threadbare gourmets

As ‘sumer is icumen in’, in the words of the 13th century English song, I have a glut of tomatoes. I played around with the thought of the big beefsteak tomatoes I ate in France as a child, stuffed with real golden mayonnaise – a true taste of summer.’

So I cut a sliver off the bottoms of my smaller tomatoes so they would sit properly on the plate, and hollowed out the insides, keeping the tops and seeds to use elsewhere.

I mashed blue cheese with some good bought mayonnaise and stuffed some. For others I used real homemade mayonnaise, with  ripe avocados mashed in, and stuffed the third row with simple homemade mayonnaise. With baby spinach leaves and warm sour dough bread and unsalted butter, they made a simple satisfying light supper

Food for Thought

Just a thought in these divided times: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Anonymous

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Small Happinesses

Small happinesses are the things that keep me going in these tumultuous times. As Thomas Paine so famously wrote as he tried to  bolster the morale of the thirteen American colonies who were about to break away from Britain: ‘These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman’.

That was in 1765 … and today it seems that we all, all over the world need our morale boosted as civilisation seems to be struggling with crisis after crisis, which I don’t intend to list… we all know what they are. My way of coping with the outside world is to savour the world near home… it does no good to wring my hands over the tragedies and trials cutting their path through lives in every corner of the globe, it seems. So instead of adding to the pile of pain, I try to revel in the goodness of life.

And there’s so much, from the wonderful electrician in the States, who realised that the house of Gloria, belonging to the old woman whose dangerous light fixture he was repairing, needed a lot more repairs to her dilapidated old house. On Facebook he organised a crew of tradesmen who came along and repaired and rebuilt and improved the lonely old lady’s home. They also befriended her, calling themselves Gloria’s Gladiators, and thus sparked off other communities who now do the same. (I bet Gloria’s Gladiators were both Republicans and Democrats, because goodness, generosity of spirit and kindness don’t recognise politics or boundaries)

Then there’s the new trend of leaving a bunch of flowers on a park bench or in a bus shelter to lift spirits, and for someone to take and enjoy. There’s the old lady who used to walk around our local park refilling with water all the bowls she left under hedges for birds and the chickens who lived there; the woman who began leaving books in a phone box in an English village for people to borrow and enjoy during lockdown, which developed into a place where people left fresh eggs and home grown vegetables, and meals for people who needed them, and notes about services they could offer for free.

There’s the retired fire fighter who sold his house and bought a small country place where he could re-house all the stray cats trapped and due for death in his town, and who now has rescued ducks and dogs and donkeys and pigeons. He works at night in order to support his menagerie. I met him in the hospital ward where I lay – where this big burly man was dancing a light-footed tango to cheer up his sick mother.

Just reading about these committed, not random, acts of kindness lifts my spirits, and then there are other heart lifting small happinesses.

My Albertine rose is blooming, bright pink buds flowering into blowsy pale pink powder puffs- we nursed it through drought and storm and the most dangerous attacks of all, from hungry possums who love its buds. Night after night we draped it in layers of mosquito netting to foil the pests, and now it’s rewarding us with all its beauty.

There’s the small happiness of feeding the wild quails and waiting for the day they bring their tiny fluffy offspring… the pleasure of subsiding tiredly into a well-made bed, the satisfaction of accidentally stirring ginger into asparagus soup instead of garlic from an identical jar, and finding the soup now has an inner warmth that comforts my chest as well as pleasuring my taste buds.

There’s the joy of sitting with friends as we did last night, eating, drinking and laughing under a starry sky, waves of perfume from blossoming manukau trees wafting by, and thinking, oh bliss, more lovely honey for this year… watching the planets and the constellations come out, Mars and Orion the brightest, the light of satellites beating across the dark void, the flashes from an old iridium satellite… and an owl calling nearby. As the sky sparkled with coruscating jewelled pricks of light the words of beauty from Yeats poem crowded into my mind:

‘Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light… ‘
The last line reads ‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’ Yes, we do still dream and we do long for a peaceful world in these ‘times that try men’s souls.’

And small happinesses for me are the signposts to finding our peace in our own corner of the world.

Back in 1945, writer Frances Partridge wrote: “I used to assume that there was some stream of human existence which would prevent any great loss of civilisation already won. Now it seems as though that very thing has happened… and the violence of the present world. Oh how one longs for tolerance, humanity, kindness and for thought and discussions to come back into their own again.”

When re-reading those words written seventy- five years ago (another small happiness, re-reading the books one enjoys) it felt as though the turmoil engulfing the world at the moment is yet another turn of the wheel. It seemed to me that rather than be overwhelmed by times that try men’s souls, we can still dream of making a better world; that small happinesses, and committed kindnesses, and goodwill to all men can be the yeast that quietly helps us all to rise above fear, judgement, grief, and anger, or despair, doubt and despondency during this turn of the wheel. These small happinesses bring us back to the present moment, and anchor us in the goodness of the world.

Roses and birdsong, starry skies and soft rain, all the gifts of the world can comfort and enrich us if we recognise them. We just need to remember to look and feel. We are not ‘sunshine patriots’ in Paine’s words. We are citizens of the world, and our optimism and courage can be our gifts to our world and our civilisation, and our next step into the future as the wheel turns once again.

PS Not having blogged for a while, I find that WordPress in its wisdom has changed the method of posting a blog… hence the strange appearance of a photo I hadn’t intended to use, but gave up in the end… que sera sera…

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