I’m taking a Reign Check on the Monarchy

I’m not a monarchist,” wrote the Labour activist Tom Bowell, “but I’m a patriot, I love this country, I respect our institutions and I always carried a deep respect for the Queen. For most of us, she was a constant in an ever-changing world.” That pretty much sums up my own feelings.

For years I have been convinced that the British monarchy is not as beneficial to us as we are led to believe.  Even though it is a constitutional monarchy and quite different to other monarchies throughout the world, I’ve always thought it to be outdated, out of touch, pointless and expensive.  Its hereditary principle means it is based on privilege and accident of birth.  By definition, it is not democratic, and could never reflect the experience of most British people. The successor to the throne will always take the crown regardless of his/her suitability, character, previous scandals etc.  I was never sure how it had benefitted the ordinary working person of this country. As much as the monarch and the royal family may try to understand economic and other hardships we face, they will never suffer them.  They are cushioned from the difficulties of economic pressures, health care availability etc. 

I have no idea how the monarchy would work as a kind of constitutional barrier against a dictatorship or a rogue Prime Minister.  I have no idea what the how much the monarchy and all the hanger-ons cost the taxpayer (though I read it cost us £100m in security alone), nor have I seen any accounts relating to costs versus income* generated (*e.g. through tourism, trade deals etc.).  

I have always struggled to get my head around the monarchy and the aristocracy in general.  I don’t understand the peerage and its relevance these days.  And I have no wish to understand the difference between a Duke, a Marquess, a Baron, an Earl, or a Viscount. All I know is, it stands for hereditary wealth and privilege and for me, it doesn’t sit easily in a modern democracy. The pomp and traditions have never offended me though.  They reflect our history and the development of the United Kingdom.  However, some of them seem unnecessary, bizarre, financially indulgent and slightly embarrassing – given we are trying to portray a modern, forward looking UK to the world.  Being British is about other things too. The Queen made some modernising changes but there is still a long way to go if the monarchy is to survive. 

I have to admit that I do have respect for, and even like some members of the Royal Family.  I think some have an impressive sense of duty and are intelligent and hard working. I have always had a soft spot for the Queen and our new King because I think they have substance, positivity and I think they are nice people. I suspect they work hard although how would we really know?

The recent death of our Queen has resulted in an outpouring of grief and affection here and abroad and like many people I have been glued to the telly, fascinated to listen to the reasons she meant so much to people.  I watched the many heartfelt tributes on news feeds and I have to admit to becoming quite emotional.  I saw more affection for King Charles and more confidence in his future rule than I expected.

Of course, the anti-monarchists will remain respectfully quiet for a while but they will resume their abolition campaign after the funeral.  That led me to wonder what a post monarchic state would be like.  If the monarch gets the boot, surely the House of Lords and all those with hereditary titles must also get the boot?  There would need to be a new elected head of state to meet and greet and make speeches whilst the Prime Minister does all the critical stuff. 

I have to wonder though, would this be any better and would it cost less than having a constitutional monarchy?  Would there be more risk of a Government being hijacked by a Hitler, Putin, or Trump?  How would our politicians foster that sense of national identity, unity and solidarity which many people feel the monarch helped to create?  If the monarchy is abolished, will people miss having a head of state that is independent of party politics and can represent the country regardless of short term political interests? Does it actually do that effectively anyway?

I do know the answers. I just cant get away from thinking the monarchy cannot be justified. That said, I wont be protesting in the streets. I am happy to leave it to the consensus of the British population. 

I feel sure the British monarchy is safe for a while at least. Both the main the political parties seem happy with the monarchy and even north of the border where republicanism is stronger, its easy  to see an Independent Scotland retaining a monarch. 

But I think King Charles has a big job to do to convince me and others that it should continue long term.  He is nowhere near as popular as the Queen.  He will need to prove that the monarchy is relevant and benefits people from all backgrounds, ethnic groups, religions and young people.  Hopefully, he will share the Queen’s undoubted qualities – intelligence, integrity, humility, grace and dignity but he will also have to show good judgement in promoting a modern and relevant monarchy and ensure that the Royals as a whole are good value for money.

To me, he certainly seems to have potential.  He seems to be more affable than the Queen, intelligent, insightful and innovative, and he has shown he is prepared to take on the modernisation of the monarchy. The Prince’s Trust is one of the most innovative and successful charities in modern Britain.  He has spoken out on architecture, the state of the environment, urban deprivation, and agriculture – which has sometimes landed him in trouble.  I have to say, I think many of his comments were justified. And I think he was ahead of the game when he campaigned on the benefits of organic production, spoke out on the dangers of climate change and pointed out mistakes in urban design and conservation.  As King, he will have to keep his personal views out of the public realm but I really hope he will take the opportunity to privately bend the ears of politicians and world leaders. We know he is good at rituals and ceremonies and will do his public duties impeccably.  But I if he becomes a Royal ‘robot’ and does not use his influence to effect changes for good, he will become pointless.

Finally, my thoughts are with the Royal family at this time. We know what they are going through. It makes you think of your own losses and all the wonderful people we’ve known who of course will never receive the same level of recognition.

Lily of the Valley, Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite flower

Short Holiday Breaks – Whitby

View of Whitby and River Esk from West Cliff

We have been to Whitby many times, but this time we arrived in a very different Whitby.  The buildings and the scenery were as gorgeous and as familiar as ever but there was something very different about its visitors.  Whitby has always attracted a good number of what I shall call (for the want of a better word) ‘characters’.  These include the types of characters it does not deserve – like drunken, shouty blokes on stag parties, feral kids and the dog owners from hell who can’t control their dogs. Other more engaging characters include those of the folk community, the Goths, international visitors and other groups who flock to the many festivals in Whitby’s annual calendar.  This weekend we were introduced to a community straight out of a Victorian England which seemed to have gone futuristic.

There were men (hipsters?) in well-ironed suits with waistcoats, top hats and long, straight coats.  Some wore high leather boots, gloves, and goggles. Others were dressed as engineers, pirates or wore military attire carrying an assortment of old and futuristic weapons, with accessorised cogs, clockwork devices and pipework.

Women were wearing dresses complete with petticoats, corsets, gloves and hats decorated with feathers, flowers and antique jewellery . A few were dressed as pirates, pilots or engineers wearing riding jackets, flight jackets and carriage coats.

We saw children from age 5 dressed in similar attire.  You will have guessed by now that these people were ‘steam punks’.  And they were in Whitby to enjoy a steampunk festival weekend.

We didn’t know this was happening when we booked, but what good luck as it turned out, because it was a fascinating and enjoyable side-show to our trip.  I don’t mean in a derogatory geek-show way.  This was a colourful event enjoyed by an artistic and fun group of really nice people.

If you are like us, you will have some idea what it steampunk is visually, but probably baffled about what it stands for and why it is so popular.

Let me help because I was so fascinated I asked Google to enlighten me and we spoke to a few steam punks for their take on it.

Let me make clear first of all, steampunk does not embrace any particular political standpoint, religion, or music genre. 

But it does embrace:

A love of Victoriana and a fascination with the technological advances of the time – most obviously steam power.  One older couple told us that they loved Victorian fashions, dress sense, manners, societal behaviour and morals. Another said that the world seemed a safer, more secure place then whilst at the same time technological, economical and political progress also made it an exciting time.   

A love of steam power. Their love of steam power and the physical beauty of machines is understandable to me.  Steam power might have had an environmental downside but it is a technology that you can see and understand – unlike microchips, computers and AI.

A love of science fiction.  Technological advancements must have made the average Victorian wonder, what is next?  What else could be powered by steam, and will science soon help to advance air flight and ocean and space travel? Steam Punkers are drawn to early science fiction novels by Jules Verne, H G Wells but also later novels written between the 1950s and 1980’s (by authors such as Michael Moorcock, K. W. Jeter and Edmund Cooper).

A love of dressing up – particularly in the Victorian style and in styles reflecting the Belle Epoque in France (1871-1914) and the Civil War era in the United States (1861-1865). I was amazed at the variety of styles and the individuality of the costumes and accessories.  It is clear that many steam punkers are flamboyant and very artistic people and so even those outfits intended to reflect the austere and strict Victorian styles were often playful, decadent and amazing works of art.  Some of the ladies’ creations were quite sexy, taking influences from Goth fashion,  French dancers and post apocalyptic warriors – but not, from what I saw, rude or over-suggestive.  I did notice that for some gay participants it provided an opportunity for cross-dressing.  Each to their own.

I hope that helps a bit. 

During the weekend we called at ‘The Pavillion’ where the Steampunk convention HQ and retail emporium was based.  Anyone could enter free of charge to browse the many stalls selling all sorts of steam punk clothing, art and accessories.  You could buy metal clocks, dials, cogs, goggles, flying hats, customised steampunk mobile phone covers and radios, gin and steam punk books and novels.  Outside there were musicians playing Beatles songs, punk rock, folk, sea shanties and vaudeville. We were also entertained by steampunk folk and Morris dancers.  All along West Cliff, steampunkers perambulated up and down, only too pleased to be photographed and to chat.

The organiser Andy Dolan was quoted in the Yorkshire Post.  He said, “Steampunk is a future that never was and it explodes people’s imaginations and the only limit is your own. It gives people a new lease of life. It is a great thing to be involved in, people come for the weekend, forget every day troubles, let their hair down and be who they want to be.

We would have enjoyed Whitby without Steampunk.  It is a wonderful place to explore, walk, eat out, drink and relax.  But the Steampunk festival certainly added to our weekend.  Steampunk is good fun and I totally get it.  Have I bought my hat and goggles yet?  Well, let’s not get carried away.

Monday Window – Whitby Windows

We have just spent a couple of days in the wonderful historic sea-side town and fishing port of Whitby, Yorkshire. There will be a post coming very soon on our trip to Whitby, but for now here are some Whitby Windows – my contribution to Ludwig Keck’s weekly photographic challenge Monday Window.

The first picture is an old street in the centre of Whitby. The variety of building types and the fenestration gives the street so much character and interest. As is typical of these older buildings, many of the window frames are far from straight but amazingly quite a few are the original windows.

Old shopping street

The second picture is one of the many shops selling jet (a locally mined black gemstone) and jet jewellery. This is in one of the backstreets and I was drawn to it because of the unusual wonky shop window (and because I’m a Simpson).

Jet Shop

The picture below is an unusual ‘arts and crafts’ period designed house. Its a bit over the top for me but architect has certainly spent some time designing the windows.

Fancy house on a hill

The last one is a more a picture of ‘missing‘ windows. It shows the remains of the 7th Century Christian Monastery which later became a Benedictine Abbey. Most of what you see was built just after the Norman conquest in the 11th Century*. The lack of windows in these beautiful weathered stone arches is as a result of Henry VIIIs dissolution of the monasteries, the bombardment of Whitby by a German battlecruiser at the start of World War One, and the plundering of what was left by locals. (*The original abbey fell as a result of the invasion of the Danish Vikings.)

As many of you will know, the ruins of Whitby Abbey which dominate the landscape, and the eerie setting of the ruins, gave Bram Stoker the inspiration for his book ‘Dracula’.

Whitby Abbey

Monday Windows – Andalucia

Welcome to Monday Window – a weekly photographic challenge hosted by photographer/blogger, Ludwig Keck.

This week, my photographs are from Andalucía, Spain.

As we struggle with the current heatwave here in the UK, we should take a tip from the Spanish. Windows are for keeping sun and hot air out during the day, not for letting air in.

Nerja
Nerja
Rhonda
Nerja
Rhonda
Frigiliana

Hope you liked these. I think they are full of character and so colourful against those white walls.

Visit Ludwig’s latest Monday Window post to see his latest post and other bloggers’ wonderful windows.

Short holiday breaks – Oswestry (where Shropshire meets Wales)

My wife and I have just spent a couple of days enjoying a spa hotel break in Shropshire. We like drivable short breaks in the UK . They give you a change of scenery and culture without travelling for hours and hours, and you don’t have to cook. There is so much less stress and pre-planning involved than with a long holiday or holiday abroad. And you don’t need passports, travel insurance, loads of documents and foreign money. You don’t have to go to an airport and queue in zig-zag lines to take your shoes off and put them back on again to do an 8 mile walk to the departure gate. You’re not restricted by baggage allowances and language, you don’t have to drive on the incorrect side of the road, and from experience there is less chance of getting funny tummy or malaria.

Its not all plain sailing (or rather plain driving) however. You do need as much luggage for two days in the UK as you do for a fortnight in Spain because you will need to pack your winter coats and shoes (even in the summer) and you will take home-comforts and gadgets just because you can fit them in the car. Also, you do have to you have to be prepared for traffic delays unless you are rich enough to go by rail and there are no strikes or feathers on the tracks. In fact ‘traffic obstructions on the road’ are a big thing these days – just ask my satnav – as more and more herberts crash or breakdown for the fun of it.

Anyway, this time we went to a hotel in Oswestry. Situated in a quiet corner of Shropshire, Oswestry isn’t the prettiest, most buzzing and fashionable place but… it is a tidy, pleasant market town, has plenty of character, a good few independent shops and we found the locals to be extremely friendly. Its big plus point is the fact that it is surrounded by history (castles and heritage attractions), and attractive countryside. It is also close to, in fact half surrounded by, Wales and close to little Welsh gems like Llangollen.

During our stay, we visited the wonderful British Ironwork Centre and Sculpture Park. Here you can put your arm in the mouth of a shark, walk with elephants and meet Spiderman, Robocop and SpongeBob SquarePants, all in the same afternoon– whilst following up with a coffee and meal in the Forge cafe.  We walked the 90 acres of land, exploring the amazing sculptures, browsed the artisan workshops and the showroom filled with the most eclectic and funky collection of iron goods and home accessories The centre also has a social conscience – focussing on sculptures of endangered species and promoting awareness of national and global sustainability issues. Here are a few of the photos I took.

Other highlights of our trip was the Stonehouse Brewery on the outskirts of Oswestry where we enjoyed a great meal and some fine beers in a wonderful setting adjoining a babbling brook and an apple orchard. And believe me, we needed a drink having walked there from the town and getting lost on public footpaths on a hot day. If you are in the area and fancy a visit, go on a weekend when you can catch a train (the Cambrian Heritage Railway) from the town to the Western Wharf ‘period’ station adjoining the Brewery and join one of the brewery tours. I was so in the moment enjoying my beers and meal I forgot to take photos!

The photos below feature Cae Glas Park – one of the nicest and most pristine town park I have been to for some time.  Packed within its 7 acres there there is a bandstand, a ‘Sports Village’, a bowling green, children’s play area, areas of spring and summer bedding displays, a pavilion, greenhouses and a house which is rented out. After a good ‘pottering’ and a game of crazy golf, we crossed through the Memorial gates across the road to our hotel for a rest and spruce up before setting out for our evening meal.

On Wednesday, we sampled the busy and colourful Oswestry street and indoor Market. I had to be dragged away from the two vinyl record stalls after (according to my wife) spending too much time rummaging and talking to the Welsh stallholders.

Oswestry was never on our bucket list of places to go. My sister in law suggested it after finding a good hotel deal and we knew it was an interesting area. I’m glad we went. It just shows you how much there is out there to see and experience within 100 miles or so and without giving yourself stress and silly expense.

Here are some more images of Oswestry……

Monday Window – Shop Windows (which one do you like?)

Here is my entry to this week’s Monday Window – a photographic challenge hosted by photographer/blogger, Ludwig Keck.

This week, my photos feature more shop windows.

The first is a cute florists, cum grocers, cum wine shop. This was taken a few years ago on holiday in Cornwall and the shop is in a little sea-side village called St Agnes.

Shopfront in St Agnes, Cornwall

In contrast to the above attractive and colourful shop fascia, the photo below is a shop window on the outskirts of Oswestry town centre. It features a convenience store and the most uninspiring window display I think I have ever seen. The white sign in the window says, “Smiths sliced bread sold here”. We didn’t buy any Smith’s bread or any toilet rolls or car oil. I think they might have installed the burglar alarm in lockdown when they amassed their stockpile of toilet rolls.

Shopfront in Oswestry, Shropshire

Beautiful Beaches

Terri, from Second Wind Leisure, hosts Sunday Stills photo challenge, and the challenge this week is ‘Beautiful Beaches’.  Follow the link and join in or just enjoy looking at Terri’s and others’ photos.

My contribution this week is a mixed bag. I have loads of photos of beautiful beaches but my computer is misbehaving and my choice of picture folders is currently limited. Anyway, I hope you like them.

My first two are from Borth-y-Gest in North Wales.

The image below is a beach at Es Pujols on the wonderful island of Formentera near Ibiza. Yes, those are my legs.

The last one is a small cove in Nerja, Spain. I have no idea who, if anyone, lives there or what it is used for but doesn’t it look cool?

Monday Window – Southern France

Welcome to Monday Window – a photographic challenge hosted by photographer/blogger, Ludwig Keck.

This week my windows are from Southern France, in particular Cannes, Hyeres and Nice. I was drawn to photograph them because of the wonderful colours of the buildings and shutters. I hope you like them.

Cannes

Cannes

Giens Peninsula, Hyeres

Hyeres

This last one was taken a few years ago at the Nice Carnival just before the start of the ‘Battle of Flowers’.

Nice

Please note I own the copyright of all photos See ‘Legal Stuff’ above.

Monday Window – Lymm windows

Hi, I’m new to Monday Window – a photographic challenge hosted by photographer/blogger, Ludwig Keck.

I’ve always found doors and windows to have their own ‘beauty’ (architectural, historical or functional) and ‘mystery’ (what lies beyond?).

For my first attempt, I am including some photographs of shop front fascias and a pub fascia from my archives. These were taken in Lymm, Cheshire, England. Its a charming little place with a characterful historic centre (much of it a ‘Conservation Area’) and there are some great building frontages.

My first is the local butcher’s shop window which is of traditional design with a recessed doorway and tasteful advertising. Its so inviting (so long as you are not a vegetarian).

The second shop (adjoining the butchers) is equally pleasing aesthetically with tasteful advertising/lettering and an engaging window display.

This last one for this week is a nearby old pub with traditional Georgian style sash windows. Its interior is also ‘traditional’ and unfussy and the place just happens to serve by favourite beer – John Willie Lees bitter.

My evening with Count Arthur Strong

I am still laughing a week after my wife and I and a friend went to see ‘Count Arthur Strong, And This Is Me’ – a one man show based on the character Count Arthur Strong created and played by comedian Steve Delaney – at the Leeds City Varieties theatre. Bits of that evening of comedy keep coming back to me and as much as I try to explain to people unfamiliar with Arthur, what makes him funny, I start talking in the same confused and befuddled way as the Count himself and just end up snorting and giggling to myself.

At heart, Arthur is a forgetful showbiz veteran on a short fuse and over confident in his knowledge and talents. He appears as a befuddled old dodderer in a badly fitting suit and a Tyrolean hat staggering about the stage talking about himself, or as he says, “me and the man behind myself which is also me”, delivering rambling stories, mangled logic, and bizarre anecdotes and fantasies. He struggles with his memory and the English language, and rarely finishes a story, digressing and losing himself up the garden path in his confusion. In his frustration, he momentarily loses his cool and then finds another subject to ramble on about.

His ramblings include hundreds of hilarious malapropisms, many which are sheer genius and which the audience applaud individually if they are quick enough to get it. His doddery yet very physical movement on stage mixed with the funniest confused facial expressions are masterful – and why I think you have to see him perform and not just listen to his radio stuff.

As you can tell, I’m a fan. I’m also a fan of surreal comedy and this show delivered in that regard

His topics included considering the wives of ‘Henry VII I am’, the benefits of humans having a dislocatable jaw, and his recommendation that reading the chemical contents of Toilet Duck is as good as a Dickens novel for relaxing with a good read on the toilet.

Some ludicrous and surreal moments included a ventriloquism act where he struggles to delineate between himself and the doll, a tribute to Elvis – appearing in a white judo suit, Napoleon singing about Waterloo in the words of Abba playing a squeezebox, and French dancing. This wasn’t far away from Reeves and Mortimer territory.

At the end of this fun and uplifting performance I hovered over the merchandising stall and I wanted to buy a T shirt. I liked the one of Count Arthur’s face with the words ‘Sod It’ underneath – but my wife told me to grow up!

May be, but as Count Arthur might suggest,

“You could purchase my wonderful tee shirt on the interweb without her knowing and marvel at the wonderful photograph of me on the front …which I have to say has not been hairbrushed in any way and is head and soldiers above other tee shirts out there. It is ethicately man united in some foreign country where it is cheap as crisps to make. Mind you, have you seen the price of crisps now? They’ve gone up and I’m sure they’re putting fewer crisps in the bag. Its a diabolical liberty and I for one won’t be giving my money to Gary Lineker. Anyway, stop going on about crisps will you. So , as I was saying, use the intfinet or one of those computer pages to buy my wonderful tee shirt. Besides, why would you want to buy it from me at that price. I certainly wouldn’t. Its not rocket salad is it? Oh, I didn’t think that through did I? Anyway, neither did you because if you bought it, you could only wear it out of sight of your wife….. or she might give you a mouthful or an earful and that might break the camel mightn’t it?

In a previous post ‘Not Another Trouser Fire‘ there is a clip from his BBC TV comedy series. To go straight to the clip, click

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