Tag Archives: The Crown

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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Netflix Royals -Margaret, the wild card – last instalment

She was a woman who in her time played many parts, to misquote Shakespeare.

Starting life as her father’s pet, she became fashion’s darling, tragic heroine, the centre of swinging London with her brilliant randy husband, England’s first famous cougar and tabloid fodder, a ‘loose cannon’, and finally the sad woman known as ‘walking wounded’ in London circles.

No, the touching scene where their father made the Princesses promise undying loyalty to each other, didn’t really happen. Much more dramatic was the real moment missed by script-writers,  when he came back to his cosy non-royal home in Piccadilly after the abdication, and was greeted by his daughters aged ten and six in the hall, who both curtsied to him deeply, which shook him to his core (his wife was upstairs in bed with flu, overcome by all the long-drawn abdication dramas).

Princess Elizabeth soon began her apprenticeship, coached by her father, and tirelessly overseen by Queen Mary, who took the Princesses on cultural outings, checked on their education, and told their mother, the Queen, they needed more books. Typical of her light-hearted and fun-loving nature. the Queen responded by buying the complete works of P.G. Wodehouse! She also frequently interrupted the children’s lessons to take them off for some fun, to the chagrin of their governess, ‘Crawfie”.

Margaret didn’t have to study the way her sister did, and grew up to be the source of her father’s entertainment and relaxation. This special relationship ended when she was twenty-one and he died so unexpectedly. With no father and no role, equerry Peter Townsend became even more important to her than he had been since she fell in love with him in 1947, when the Royal family were touring South Africa. She was very demanding towards the man she loved, who was eighteen years older than her, and never took any account – as neither had the Royal family – of his duty to his wife and children.

Much has always been made of the fact that he was the “innocent party” in the ensuing divorce, but a husband who neglects his wife and children for his devotion to his employer, and the employer’s pretty daughter, has as much responsibility as has a lonely wife seeking love and support elsewhere.

The fact of his so-called innocence encouraged both he and Margaret to feel they could marry. Unlike the court, particularly Alan Lascelles, the Queen’s authoritative private secretary, (“are you mad or bad?”) the Queen was sympathetic.

The situation burst upon the consciousness of the world at the Coronation when Princess Margaret, decked out in diamonds and diadem and long velvet train, stood outside the Abbey chatting to the handsome equerry, and in a familiar and intimate gesture flicked an imaginary piece of fluff off his uniform as she smiled up into his eyes. The picture went around the world.

The Netflix scenes of Townsend standing on the steps of the aircraft taking the Queen to Ireland, and waving back to the imaginary cheers of the crowd were mind-bogglingly crass. Townsend was a sensible, sensitive man, far too intelligent to behave in such a tactless way, any more than he would have called the Queen by her private childhood nickname,’ Lilibet’, (I cringed as he did). He didn’t go to Ireland, but to Brussels to wait out his time.

These were the years when five foot two, blue-eyed Margaret with an eighteen-inch waist, became the darling of fashion. It was at the first Ascot of the reign when she really made her mark. It was, like ‘My Fair Lady’, a black and white Ascot, as the court were still in six months mourning for the King. By June, ladies were permitted to wear black and white, or grey, and the Princess appeared in an elegant, grey chiffon dress which set all the fashion watchers talking.

Like the Queen she also wore striking black and white outfits on the other racing days and her reputation was made. She became the most glamorous princess in the world,  photographed in an exquisite Christian Dior dress on her twenty first birthday at Balmoral (she’d always hankered for a Dior dress, like just about everyone back then) and almost as dazzling as Diana before her .

When Townsend returned from Brussels, and the pair spent their anguished time together in a friend’s country house, the Netflix script writers missed a rather delicious touch… the lurking press were getting most of their inside information from the ten-year-old daughter of the host and hostess. She was having the time of her life creeping out of the house to give reporters the latest on what was going on inside the house!

Margaret’s decision, which was couched in heroic terms, had more to do with the fact that their marriage wasn’t going to work – he had no money or home – couldn’t afford even one servant. Princess Margaret, on the other hand, was accustomed to the grandest of life-styles and loved the high life. She simply wouldn’t have been able to fill her time with genteel coffee-parties with other RAF wives, or live a quiet life out of circulation, away from all her rich, grand friends. The renunciation was a recognition that she couldn’t live without her Royal status and money, rather than a religious decision

Townsend himself wrote in his autobiography years later: “She could have married me only if she had been prepared to give up everything—her position, her prestige, her privy purse. I simply hadn’t the weight, I knew it, to counterbalance all she would have lost.”

With a bleak Townsend back in Brussels, the Princess embarked on her heady life of partying with all the richest, titled, and most eligible men of the time, who became known as the Margaret Set. It was during this time that she also became famous for what can only be called bitchiness -snobbish put-downs, spilling her glass of wine over the dress of a girl in a more fetching dress than hers, making people stay up into the small hours when they were tired or pregnant, obligatory curtseying, trading on her Royalty, which she did for the rest of her life.

She was twenty-nine when Townsend wrote to tell her he was marrying a Belgian girl much younger than her. Shortly afterwards she announced her engagement to the bohemian, Eton-educated society photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Courtiers and many others were shocked (all the officers in the mess I was stationed in at the time were angry that she was throwing herself away!)

However, Tony the commoner was created Earl of Snowdon, and got on famously, not just with the Queen and Prince Philip, but with the Queen Mother too. They remained friends until her death, and Snowdon continued to photograph the Royal family all his life.

The witty, brilliant, sexy Princess and the witty, brilliant, sexy photographer had more in common than most people realised, and for some years, they were the centre of the sixties hedonistic, sparkling world, surrounded by writers, painters, actors, wits and most of the names of swinging high society.

The marriage finally foundered on their in-ability to compromise with each other – and it has to be said, by the petty irritations of Royal life – the Princess’s maid would bring her a cup of tea in the morning but not Tony, while their nanny resisted him ever visiting the nursery. They both began affairs -Margaret’s rather more transient than Tony’s, and her first one in 1966 only a few years after their marriage .

Margaret then took up with a young man seventeen years her junior, an aristocratic out-of-work hippie and sometime gardener, Roddy Llewellyn. This was the most exciting tabloid fodder the press had had in years, on top of all the rumoured affairs, rows, and royal rages. Pictures were taken of them frolicking in the sea on holiday on Mustique, the West Indian island where Margaret had a house. This triggered Princess and Snowdon into announcing they were divorcing.

Newspapers demanded Margaret be taken off the Civil List which paid her a large sum, while Labour MPs denounced her as “a royal parasite” and a “floosie”. On 11 July 1978, the Snowdons’ divorce was finalised.  In December that same year, Snowdon re-married. Margaret never did. When after some years, Roddy Llewellyn told her he was marrying someone he’d known for years, Margaret never found another real lover, though she had plenty of friendships.

For the rest of her life she was known as ‘walking-wounded’ in London society. She continued to smoke and drink heavily, party with her friends on Mustique, and eventually to enjoy her grandchildren by her admirably well-adjusted children, David and Sara.

She had several mild strokes, and then, in Mustique, she stepped into a bath which she didn’t realise was scalding. Her badly burned legs never healed, and neither did she. She spent her remaining years in a wheel chair and died at seventy-two, four months before her mother, in 2002.

It’s said that her chief legacy is that her divorce made it easier for her sister’s children – Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne – to divorce. Her ashes were placed inside her father’s tomb, and she wrote her own rather revealing epitaph. It’s carved on a memorial stone in St Georges Chapel Windsor:

We thank thee Lord who by thy spirit doth our faith restore
When we with worldly things commune & prayerless close our door
We lose our precious gift divine to worship and adore
Then thou our Saviour, fill our hearts to love thee evermore.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

What to do with two pork chops? I decided we’d have them for lunch, since I prefer a very light supper. I fried them until they were nearly done, then poured in cream, grated a large courgette into the bubbling cream, added a chicken bouillon cube, a teaspoonful of garlic from a jar (lazy), a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and plenty of grated nutmeg and black pepper. I let this all bubble until the cream was thick and crusty round the edges, the chops cooked, and then stirred in torn up leaves of spinach. Served with creamy mashed potato, we had all our vegetables suffused with the fragrant creamy sauce.

Food for Thought

Think not of the amount to be accomplished, the difficulties to be overcome, or the end to be attained, but set earnestly at the little task at your elbow, letting that be sufficient for the day.

Sir William Osler,  famed physician 1849 – 1919

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The Royals, the truth, and The Crown Part 2

She does a marvellous job conveying the goodness, sincerity and intelligence of the Queen, but Claire Foy’s performance misses one thing – the Queen’s sparkling wit and flashing smile which lights up her whole face.

I was lucky enough to experience this wit and its quickness, and that wonderful smile at a reception on board her royal yacht Britannia. It’s an accepted convention not to repeat the conversations had with Royalty, one often ignored nowadays, so I won’t repeat my conversation with the Queen, any more than I will repeat the fun and intelligent talk I enjoyed with the Duke. Even at fifty he was still the good looking, charming man who married his princess, and quite unlike the charmless, bad-mannered person he was portrayed as in The Crown.

Since the series opens with their wedding I’ll go back there too, when Philip, who only had his navy pay to live on at that point, had enough innate self- esteem to be married in his old well-worn navy uniform, rather than borrow or cheat on rationed clothing coupons for the sake of looking smart for the in-laws, courtiers or anyone else.

The muttered conversation between Queen Mary and the Queen Mother denigrating Philip and his background could only have been a figment of the writer’s imagination, since Philip was far more royal than the then Princess Elizabeth. His pedigree goes back to the Tsars of Russia on one side (Nicolas II and the Tsarina attended his parent’s wedding in 1905 – the last big Royal wedding) plus a more direct line of inheritance from Queen Victoria than Elizabeth.

Of the two Queens who were supposedly bemoaning his background, Elizabeth’s mother was an aristocrat with no royal blood, and Queen Mary had been born a Serene Royal Highness, since her Hungarian father was not royal, though her mother, known as ‘Fat Mary’ (she was enormous, and no-one wanted to marry her until Francis of Teck was winkled out of Hungary) was George III’s grand-daughter.

Just as inaccurate were Churchill’s muttered remarks about Philip’s sisters being ‘prominent Nazis’ … One sister had been killed in an air accident that claimed her whole family in 1937, and a teenage Philip had walked to their funeral as he later walked with his grandsons at Diana’s funeral. Another sister’s husband had been a Nazi from the beginning, since like many others he thought Hitler would protect them from the Bolshevism which had assassinated their close Russian relatives – the Tsarina was his aunt.

But as time went on the relationships with Hitler and the Nazis foundered, this sister’s husband was killed in a mysterious air accident, while his brother was imprisoned in the concentration camp at Dachau, and his wife, Princess Mafalda had died in Flossenberg, another notorious concentration camp.

Liberal Prince Max of Baden – married to another sister – had funded Dr Hahn into his progressive Salem School. He lay low after the Nazis closed the school and Hahn escaped to Switzerland, and thence to Scotland via England. There Hahn had founded Prince Philip’s old school Gordonstoun. So that’s all the sisters and their husbands accounted for, and so much for that imaginary throwaway remark.

The apparently reluctant ennobling of Philip by the King was also very unlikely… the Royal family had known Philip even before he  was a frequent visitor to Windsor on his navy leaves, during the war. He always remained his own man, and when required to wear a kilt at Balmoral like all the royal family, curtsied to the King when he met him, causing great laughter all round.

As the years went by (with none of the marital aggro constantly featured  in the Crown) – no affairs – as Philip once famously responded to a reporter questioning him: “Good God, woman,” he thundered at her, “have you ever stopped to think that for the past 40 years I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me? So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?”

Pat Kirkwood, who had spent a night dining and dancing with Philip and her current boyfriend, the photographer called Baron, who’d brought Philip along with them, used to say that that one night in Philip’s company had ruined her whole life and even robbed her of a medal in the honours list. But as Philip wrote to her when she wanted him to issue a denial about a supposed affair, “Short of starting libel proceedings there is absolutely nothing to be done. Invasion of privacy, invention and false quotations are the bane of our existence”.

It’s true Philip was deeply hurt by the establishment opposition to his name, but his marriage remained the love match that it still is after seventy years. Staff tell of a younger Philip chasing Elizabeth up the stairs pinching her bottom, and her laughing and protesting before they disappeared into their bedroom.

Andrew Duncan, in his book ‘The Reality of the Monarchy’, tells of a fracas at a Brazilian reception, where he watched the Queen look miserably at Philip as he tried to restore order. ‘He smiled, touched her arm, and she relaxed, smiling nervously back, a tender look of tragic implications… theirs was a relationship… scrutinised everywhere, derided by critics, devalued by schmaltz’…  Andrew Duncan saw this ’non-public smile’ and wrote he was  reminded that ’this was a genuine love story and love match.’

Philip had resolved to support his wife while finding his own niche, which would lead in the following decades to the active patronage of more than 800 different charities embracing sports, youth, wildlife conservation, education, and environmental causes.

Within the family, Philip also took over management of all the royal estates, to “save her a lot of time,” he said. But even more significantly, as Prince Charles’s official biographer Jonathan Dimbleby wrote in 1994, the Queen “would submit entirely to the father’s will” in decisions concerning their children, so Philip became the ultimate domestic arbiter in their family.

Another biographer has described Philip’s caring fathering. He was recorded for example, saying amongst many other useful parenting tips, that one should never immediately say no to anything children want to do, but to think it over, and if eventually you have to say no they will accept it more easily … for contrary to popular belief he was not an authoritarian father.

In ‘The Crown’  when the couple were in Kenya before her accession, much was made of the Princess claiming  that she knew all about cars as she’d trained on them in the army. This is a well-honed legend, which doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. I was in the army too, and know how such things work.

For six months the Princess was chauffeured to an ATS  (Auxiliary Territorial  Service) detachment near Windsor every day and collected to return to the castle in the late afternoon. In her well pressed uniform or clean fresh dungarees cleaned and ironed by a maid, she joined carefully screened army personnel like Mary Churchill, the Prime Minister’s daughter, but she never lived in an army unit, got close to ordinary soldiers, polished her own shoes, or actually experienced army life.

In those moments in Kenya when she became Queen, I wondered where were the staff – Lady Pamela Mountbatten, lady in waiting, Mike Parker, Philip’s aide, Ruby MacDonald, the Queen’s dresser, Martin Charteris, private secretary, the housekeeper, maids, butler, waiters and so on?  I blenched at the incredibly dowdy mac and chiffon scarf Claire Foy was decked out in on her way to the airport having just become Queen, looking like a fifties suburban housewife going shopping.

The Queen had a full bosom, a tiny waist and elegant legs, and she wore dresses that displayed them to advantage. She would have died of heat wearing that tatty mac in Kenya. Neither did she wear all those dowdy blouses and cardigans. Only at Balmoral did she wear tailored shirts with kilts and cardy, though in her young days she was photographed playing with Prince Charles and Princess Anne wearing an elegant suit with nipped-in waist.

And I felt for the ghost of Sir Anthony Eden, played by a grim faced Jeremy Northam. Eden,  the famously handsome, charming, well dressed foreign secretary, was sporting  in-appropriate town clothes when in-appropriately barging into the King’s shooting party. After a life-time as a tactful diplomat, he’d never have worn the wrong clothes or turned up at the wrong moment!

And with all this whimpering about the series, I loved it for the beautiful interiors photographed in stately homes, lovely furniture, fabrics, scenery, and play of character… though the history was rickety, the drama was fascinating. But as one of the commenters in my last blog said so cogently: ‘If characters are not strong enough to stand on their own history as the stuff of narrative, then find other subjects. If they are, then why not stick to the facts?’

Thank you for those words, good friend at https://colonialist.wordpress.com/

I’ll round off this series next week when I can’t resist covering Princess Margaret’s shenanigans…  pity the producers didn’t use that wonderful line from the inimitable Sir Alan Lascelles, who, when Townsend told him he was going to marry the Princess, replied using that famous phrase about the poet Byron: ‘Are you mad, or bad?”

Food for threadbare gourmets

I had enough pasta for two left over from supper with friends, but instead of preserving it in cold water a la advice from those who know, I mixed it with enough olive oil to stop the lasagne from sticking, and it was much tastier than if it had had a cold bath.

For a quick lunch the next day I sauted an onion in good olive oil, and when soft added a tin of Italian tomatoes, plenty of garlic, a squish of balsamic vinegar and sweet stevia powder to taste, to give it that tangy and sweet flavour. Salt and freshly ground black pepper of course.  When it had all bubbled up, and become a nice thick mixture, I sprinkled lots of grated cheese over the lasagne in a casserole, poured the tomato mix over it, and then tipped plenty more cheese on top of that.

Three minutes in the microwave, cheese melted, and lunch was hot and ready to eat…. with a glass of the Riesling from last night too…..

Food for thought

To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven… a time to keep silence and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes III verses 1 and 7

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