The Garden

I have been enjoying the garden in it’s late summer mode.

The crab apple tree, Malus John Downie:-

And its companion, Malus Golden Hornet:-

The medlars, or cat’s arse:-

Angelica gigas:-

Abuilon megapotamicum:-

I’m learning.


The sacking of Sonia Khan

I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a bit more commentary on the sacking of Sonia Khan, because, as I read it, it was almost certainly illegal. From what I have read in today’s papers, she was a career civil servant who had worked in several other departments before being employed in the Treasury by, first, Philip Hammond and, now, Sajid Javid. So, she will either have reported to the Permanent Secretary – most likely – or Javid himself, if she had the status of a Special Advisor. Either way she should surely have been subject to the normal disciplinary procedures of the civil service, if she had, indeed, committed an offence, which is unclear.

Of course, she won’t go to an employment tribunal. People seldom do because they will be conscious that it will damage their future employment prospects.

What Cummings has almost certainly done is something which he wasn’t authorised to do, contrary to all established HR procedures, and possibly open to the charge of bullying.

Funny that ! It feels like their general approach to the rulebook, which is why they are so keen to tear it up.


Prorogation (2)

Having read a certain amount about the decision to prorogue parliament today, I am struck by two things particularly. The first is the letter that Boris Johnson wrote to the One Nation group of MPs in order to win their support in July in which he said so categorically that he ‘would like to make it absolutely clear that I am not attracted to arcane procedures such as the prorogation of Parliament. As someone who aspires to be the Prime Minister of a democratic nation, I believe in finding consensus in the House of Commons’. He put the issue so beautifully clearly. This was a month ago. How must they now feel if they voted for him ?

The second is that he appears not to have discussed the decision in cabinet, which includes so many, including Amber Rudd, Sajid Javid and Matt Hancock, who have gone on public so recently expressing their extreme hostility to the idea of prorogation. So, it is not just parliament that he has kicked in the teeth, the Queen and his political opponents, but so many of his allies and supporters. How must they feel as they face their families and friends over the breakfast table and have to defend, and support, a decision, which they so vocally don’t and can’t ?


Prorogation (1)

I have been asked for my views on the Prorogation of parliament, but the truth is that I have rather given up commenting on politics after Edward Chaney, a passionate pro-Brexiteer and, as he claims, a founder member of UKIP, pointed out, which I do not deny, that I am not especially well informed on politics and do not speak, and so therefore, cannot write with any particular authority on it. I am also conscious that I represent exactly the constituency of people that the Brexiteers detest: a London-based, middle-class professional who is pro-Europe as much for historical and cultural reasons as for its economic and political benefits, which are, and always have been, more disputed.

The truth is that I feel, as many others must do, a colossal sense of anxiety and disillusion. I have never previously experienced what feels like a putsch from a group of highly motivated, politically dedicated, well-organised and passionate believers in a cause I do not share. I am sure they regard themselves as well-intentioned, fighting for what they believe to be a just cause. I know some of them. But we have lived at least since the seventeenth century in a parliamentary democracy and I had understood that that was what the Brexiteers most wanted to preserve: the sovereignty of parliament. So, to suspend parliament and to think that this will help create a spirit of national unity behind a forced Brexit is, so far as I am concerned, deeply anti-democratic, probably, but not necessarily, fatally misguided. But I am not yet out on the streets protesting. Just worried.


The Thames in Rotherhithe

Before Monteverdi, I walked down to the shore of the Thames, which is reached past the Mayflower and warehouses and was beautiful at dusk, the quiet of the river, with Tower Bridge in the distance and the Shard looming over it all:-


Monteverdi in Rotherhithe

I was invited – and was very pleased to have been – to a performance of Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1638) by Ante Terminum Productions, a group of young singers, dancers and musicians assembled by Frederick Waxman. It was in the most astonishing space – a vacant drum, belonging to the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, which I think must be the original Grand Entrance Hall to the tunnel under the Thames, which was designed by Brunel for the East London line, with a fine red staircase recently added by Tate Harmer.

It provided a wonderful resonance, even in spite of the noise of the trains, for Monteverdi’s music, dance and singing:-


Pork Pies

Since pork pies are much in the news at the moment (and we know what an expert Boris Johnson is on them), I feel I should recommend our local Anglesey pork pies, made by The Fat Pig at the Marram Grass, and as good as any I have tasted, although probably not in Thailand:-


Sunday Morning

I walked yesterday. But it looked different having been away and in the bright late summer sun.

Stepney Green:-

The churchyard:-

York Square, The Old Ship and the view into Barnes Street:-

The willow tree by the lock on the canal:-

And the lock gate on the point of being opened:-


Kerry Downes (4)

In re-shelving my copy of Owen Hopkins book, I discovered that I had a mint copy of the catalogue of the 1962 Arts Council Hawksmoor exhibition, together with an invitation to the private view on Friday 7th. September 1962 (I was only 8 at the time). It’s a bit of a period piece, listing the sponsors of the Hawksmoor Committee, including T.S. Eliot, who had refused to sign the letter to the Times on the grounds of its illiteracy and including a typed insert regretting the fact that they had failed to include Denys Lasdun, the Bishop of London and the Duke of Marlborough in the list. Ian Nairn was treasurer. I like the description of Hawksmoor in the Introduction, which was by J.H.V. Davies (Vaughan Davies was a civil servant who had published an article on the dating of the Greenwich Hospital), not Kerry Downes, as ‘a man of monumental single-mindedness’.


Kerry Downes (3)

Now that I’m back in London, I’ve been looking back at Kerry Downes’s books, following his death on August 11th.

The best account of how Downes came to study Hawksmoor appears in Owen Hopkins’s book, From the Shadows: The Architecture and Afterlife of Nichooas Hawksmoor, which, based on letters Downes wrote to him, describes how he and his father, who was organist at the Brompton Oratory – this helps to explain his susceptibility to the baroque – visited the Hawksmoor churches on cycling expeditions – they were long ones – from Ealing, where they lived and where Downes attended Ealing Priory School. What I had forgotten is that there was a plan to pull down Christ Church, Spitalfields in 1960, which led to the establishment of The Hawksmoor Committee, with John Betjeman, of course, as its chairman and Kerry Downes as an active member, organising a small exhibition of Hawksmoor drawings for the Arts Council in September 1962. Hard to remember that there was a time when Hawksmoor was not so appreciated.