Going through my mother's effects, I came across a page of The Times she had saved for some reason. It was dated 1 March 1994, and at the top was the headline: "Europe still splits the Tory Party". Really?
Moored to a buoy in Pyefleet Creek – between Mersea and the mainland – it cannot get better than this. A perfect evening, listening to Tchaikovsky from the Proms, the violin concerto which my mother loved, and a glass of wine, well, several actually ...
Although, there is a very low tide tonight, and I have just noticed that there is less than a foot of water between the keel and the sea floor with another two feet of falling tide to go…
Ah well, I certainly don’t intend to be going anywhere this evening.
Recently, I have been trying to marshal my thoughts and understand why it is that I find some churches – and church services – peaceful, spiritually calming and even beguiling, when a) key aspects of Christian doctrine – the Virgin Birth, The Trinity, The Resurrection etc. are, to me, absurd, and b) in my world view, the likelihood of the existence of God is fairly close to zero.
The only way I can explain these feelings, is the consideration that the actual buildings are frequently very old, and their use by many generations of people for community worship to a similar liturgy, with similar rites and rituals, somehow communicates itself to me over the centuries.
Some time ago I made contact with a distant cousin via a genealogical journal. She kindly sent me a book of poems by a mutual relative published in 1945. The poet’s name is Eric Chilman, and his poem Above the Market-Place seems to convey just such a feeling:
Said the church tower:
“These ant-like market folk
Have toiled within my shadow since that hour
When the dawn broke.
“They linger still,
Transfigured in the flare
Of sunset bright on Georgian pane and sill
Of the old square.
“When sunset wanes
And curfew ends the show,
Then home to farmsteads lost in printless lanes
The farm folk go.
With boom of curfew sped,
I have watched their going half a thousand years,”
The church tower said.
My dear mother – the original Mirli – has died at the age of 94. The Guardian have published an obituary of her in their Other Lives section online; you can read it here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/06/annemarie-maggs-obituary
Mirli came to this country, travelling on her own, as a refugee from Nazi Austria just before the last war. She was, what we would call now, an asylum seeker; she was under fifteen years old, and spoke only the English she had learned at school.
Eventually I will put a fuller version of her life story on this website. Meanwhile, there is a Just Giving page in her memory to Safe Passage, a charity set up to open safe and legal routes to protection for unaccompanied child refugees, and reuniting them with family members: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/grannemarie
I’m surprised that in the relentless attempt to persuade the ‘Answers from Genesis’ lot – who believe that the earth was created in six days, 6,000 years ago etc. – that they’re talking bollocks, more is not made of the whale.
I dare say most people are aware that whales, dolphins etc. are warm-blooded, air-breathing mammals and not fish, but I wonder how many know that they evolved from four-legged land-living animals. The whale’s nearest land-based relative is the hippopotamus, unlikely as it may seem, and an excellent indication that this is what happened, is preserved in whale skeletons.
This can easily be seen in the Natural History Museum. They have removed the iconic ‘Dippy’ – the skeleton of a diplodocus – from the main hall and replaced it with a skeleton of a blue whale. About two thirds of the way down the spine from the head are two tiny triangular bones, separate but adjacent to the spine. They are all that is left of the pelvis, which being the hinge point of the hind limbs has all but melted away over the millennia. Apparently though, some species of whale do still retain rudimentary hind limbs.
It is a perfect demonstration that evolution really does exist.
I’ll admit that in my despair following this country’s disastrous vote to exit the European Union, I never, ever, dreamed that two years on, we would find ourselves in the mess we are currently in.
We have a weak prime minister, and a government without a majority hopelessly split as to how to proceed, with senior cabinet ministers briefing against each other. Our European partners must be rapidly running out of patience.
As I predicted in a post shortly after the vote, the question of Northern Ireland and the border with The Republic is a circle that just cannot be squared.
Now, I hear that a report on a potential deal for trade with the USA post-Europe, based on contact with insiders in that country ‘in the know’, claims that such a deal, if it ever gets agreed, would leave us in a far worse state than we are at present.
There is more and more talk of us ‘crashing out’ of the European Union, reverting to WTO rules. ‘A bad deal is far worse than no deal’ it is said. I just cannot imagine the queues of lorries at Dover and Calais that would result. And what happens to the Irish border then?
If there is a person out there with the leadership qualities able to get us out of this mess, now is the time for him or her to come forward. Even in the darkest days of Thatcher, or Blair over the invasion of Iraq, I was never as depressed about politics in this country as I am now.
I love the Detectorists. For anyone unaware, it is a TV programme about a couple of unlikely misfits, united in their commitment to using metal detectors to find lost treasure in the Essex and Suffolk countryside. It perfectly encapsulates that particularly English eccentricity that can be both charming, infuriating and quite crazy.
But I have to confess an agenda. The main protagonist, Andy – played by the excellent Mackenzie Crook, who writes and directs the series – has a wife, and she is played by Rachael Stirling. Rachael Stirling has a voice of pure liquid velvet, a contralto brimming with barely contained fun and, well, sexuality.
She is, of course, the daughter of Diana Rigg, who appears in the series as her mother. I remember Diana Rigg in the early 1970s on the London Stage in Ronald Millar’s Abelard and Heloise. Peter Abelard was a famous mediaeval philosopher who seduced one of his pupils – Heloise – and paid for it, literally, with his vitals. But the play was brilliant and had a scene when Abelard, played by Keith Michell, and Heloise walk on to the stage from either side completely naked. It was not, I promise, the reason I went to see the play, but it was a memorable moment; Diana Rigg was breathtakingly beautiful.
Well, ok, but you cannot expunge these memories.
Last night I watched the 1964 film Dr Strangelove again. In those uncertain times, the subtitle: ‘How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb’ was so apposite, just two years after the Cuba Missile Crisis, that somehow it was comforting.
Now of course, it all seems to be starting up again. No sooner do the North Koreans appear to be coming to their senses, than we have neo-aggressive Russians and a lunatic in the White House determined to scupper the Iran deal with the prospect of conflict between Iran and Israel.
The likelihood of nuclear war is too terrifying even to contemplate, but somehow Dr Strangelove, with its dark humour, makes it bearable. Astonishing that a film that came out more than 50 years ago is still so watchable and undated. I remember paying ten shillings at the time – a considerable amount then – to see it at a cinema in Shaftsbury Avenue.
The film is superbly cast and brilliantly directed by Stanley Kubrick. Acting honours must go to Peter Sellers, George C Scott and Slim Pickens. But for me, what made last night’s viewing infinitely more enjoyable, was to see the excellent Peter Bull as the Russian ambassador, unable to control his mirth, as Peter Sellers as Stangelove struggles in his wheelchair with his black-gloved right arm which refuses to obey him. All eyes, of course, are on Sellers’ hilarious performance, but I’ll bet if Kubrick had seen Peter Bull struggling not to laugh, he would have reshot the scene as he was known to do many times.
After a very helpful telephone call from an Amazon help desk, and doing exactly what I was instructed, here we are back in the same loop, talking to Alexa. And the buggers have the effrontery to send me an email asking me to rate how they did! If there was any alternative ...
Update 6 May...
In the interests of accuracy, I have to report that the 'problem' was actually my fault. In fact the very nice lady on the help desk telephoned 'Alexa' on my behalf, and revealed the solution to the problem. Which is now solved. None of which, for a moment, excuses Amazon's behaviour in suspending my sellers' account without telling me!
I have probably defended Amazon in the past on the basis that a) it is an excellent, cheap and efficient source of books and b) it allows me to sell my own books through it, also relatively cheaply and easily.
But now, I feel like I am trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare where the same things keep happening over and over again. It started two days ago, when I noticed that my book Murder in the Red Barnshows on the Amazon listing as “Currently unavailable, we don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.” Hmm. I check my inventory status on Amazon, plenty of stock… Hmm. After about half an hour I manage to navigate through the tortuous system that is the Amazon “help” procedure, and send them an appropriate message. Twelve hours later, the answer comes back, the account has been suspended because I have not validated my bank account – the account where funds from sales via Amazon are sent.
Except that getting that information took three messages from me and three from Amazon; each one was from a different person, thanking me for taking the time to contact them and wishing me a wonderful day. I have pointed out to them that I have never had this request from them, and it seems rather strange commercial practise to suspend my account when someone at Amazon has not only forgotten to send me a message, but has failed to warn me of the impending suspension of my account.
And this morning, the same message is repeated. I suspect I am in contact with a Siri or Alexa…
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs