Tag Archives: UK

An English Christmas 2 (Revisited): Mince Pies In Royal David’s City

Happy Christmas! Or if you’re American, Merry Christmas! This post first ran on Christmas Even 2010, but the ritual is the same…

When I lived in the US, Christmas always seemed to start just after Thanksgiving. Sure, there were Christmas displays up in some stores before that, but only to give people something to grumble about. We knew that it wasn’t open season on Christmas until Santa Claus showed up at the end of Macy’s parade.

Here in the UK there’s no national celebration in late November, so there’s no natural or definitive start to the Christmas season; it just creeps up on you. But there is, for many people, an accepted starting point for Christmas itself: at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve when BBC radio broadcasts the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from the chapel of King’s College in Cambridge. (I’ve put a link to it on the right-hand side of this page under Featured Links; the BBC will leave the recording there for people to listen to only for the next seven days, so if you’re interested, don’t wait.)

I listen every year, maybe because singing in a choir is the closest I ever got to playing a team sport, I still love the sound and remember what it feels like to perform, and I don’t have that many opportunities during the rest of the year to hear a really good choir. They usually do some of the medieval carols that I love anyway, but that are especially satisfying when sung in a medieval mini-cathedral like this “chapel”, built over a hundred years from the middle of the 15th century to the middle of the 16th. Why start Christmas at King’s? It’s traditional. But if you need more of a reason, you might be interested to find that King’s College is officially named “The King’s College of Our Lady and St Nicholas in Cambridge”, so there’s a pretty good connection to Christmas built in.

Some of the carols everybody knows here have the same words that Americans sing, but set to different tunes, and the British also have lots of Christmas carols I never heard until I moved here. Did any American readers out there grow up singing “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree”? One of these new-to-me carols, “Once In Royal David’s City”, sung by one choirboy alone, always starts the service. As I understand it, two or three choirboys have practiced the part, but no one knows who will do the solo until everyone is in place, the director raises his hands, and finally indicates who is to sing. That, I’m told, is supposed to stop them from being so nervous.

Right. If I were one of them, the suspense would crank me up to peaks of anxiety I can scarcely imagine. It gives me palpitations just to think about it.

They also include modern carols, some of them commissioned for this Festival, either this year or in previous years; maybe these will grow on me, but they seem dark and muddy. Okay, the words may sound silly, but give me “Ding Dong Merrily On High” any time. Some of the modern compositions seem to have been stripped of any scrap of the joy and goodwill that make some of the traditional songs such a treat.

And speaking of treats—I was in the kitchen making my mince pies while I listened. That’s the second of the three English Christmas desserts. The British serve these little tarts with brandy butter, but that’s going too far for me; I want to taste the joy and goodwill of the brandy and orange zest, sharp and clear, and not muddy them up with cream.

So bring on Christmas. I’ve got the mince pies made and I’ve heard the little boy start the carols; I’m ready.

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An English Christmas (Revisited): Part 1

Most current subscribers and readers have been following my Anglo-American Experience for less than a couple of years, so I’m taking the liberty of reposting, this year, a series of Christmas posts from 2010.  I’m not updating it, although there’s no snow this year, which might be a shame; then again there’s no probablem with BT’s phone lines this year, which is a definite plus.  In any case, I hope you enjoy it, and I wish you a happy mid-winter festival, whichever one you may celebrate.

It snowed last week and for a while the world outside my window looked like a Christmas card—well, that is, if your Christmas card picture of snowy English countryside includes a British Telecom engineer up on a telephone pole.

Americans often romanticize England—no BT engineers allowed—and almost everybody romanticizes Christmas. So what is a modern Christmas actually like in our part of England? I’m going to have to take that question a little bit at a time, and I’ve left it rather late. I’ll start with food—in fact, I’ll start with just one dish.

The three wise men on a Christmas cake.

There are three traditional desserts at Christmas. It’s not that people choose one of the three; they generally offer them all. Many Americans will have heard of the most important one, Christmas pudding (also called plum pudding), even if they’ve never tasted it. The majority of English people would think a Christmas dinner that didn’t end with Christmas pudding was incomplete. Then there are mince pies the size of small tarts, which are more informal and are served not just on Christmas day but throughout the season to guests who drop by, or at teatime—or to guests who drop by at tea time. But the one I hadn’t heard of before my first Yule in England is Christmas cake.

First, you have to realize that the English idea of fruitcake is very different from the American “let this cake pass from me” attitude. British readers may not be aware that fruitcakes are objects of derision in American popular culture, right up there with accordions. (I was living in Belgium when I first saw the Far Side cartoon in which those entering heaven are issued their harps, and those entering hell are issued their accordions. My Belgian colleagues didn’t understand why I thought that was funny—one of the guys even said “My mother plays the accordion”—so I didn’t try to explain.)

Everybody in the US has heard tales of fruitcakes that are never eaten, but that make the rounds from new giver to new recipient every Christmas for decades, Christmas being virtually the only time that Americans eat fruitcake. The British wouldn’t necessarily get the humour in that; on the whole, they like fruitcake. If you’re invited over for someone’s birthday the cake will probably be a fruitcake, wedding cakes are traditionally fruitcakes, and no British summer picnic is complete without fruitcake.

An English Christmas cake is a fruitcake topped with a layer of marzipan, then royal icing, and finally decorations, which can be as simple as a ribbon tied around the cake, or very, very elaborate. You can coat holly leaves in egg whites and sprinkle with sugar to look like snow, you can buy special molds to make your own sugar Christmas bells, or you can have another glass of wine and put your feet up, having bought some Christmas cake decorations ready-made and thereby bought yourself some time.

My family\’s Christmas cake decorations.

Or better yet, if you’re really lucky, someone will give you heirloom Christmas cake decorations. The ones I use were passed down to me from my mother-in-law, who was given them by an English lady when their family lived in Sudan many years ago. Being an American, my mother-in-law hadn’t heard of British Christmas cakes and didn’t realize that’s what the decorations were for, so for decades she set them up as a little Christmas scene on the sideboard. When I encountered English Christmas cakes, we realized what we had, and now I decorate our cakes with those little old-fashioned figures made of plaster, wood, and some kind of bristles (for the evergreen branches): two snowy trees, a cottage, a cockeyed snowman every bit as big as the cottage, and a tiny church over which the little Father Christmas looms like Godzilla.

I made my Christmas cake this year ridiculously late, barely more than two weeks before Christmas. You’re supposed to start about Hallowe’en. You wrap up the cake in grease-proof paper, which is something like American waxed paper, and then foil, and then shut it into a cake tin, which you open every week or so to dose the cake with liquor, which is called feeding the cake.

You’re supposed to feed the cake by trickling a teaspoon of brandy into it, but I was way behind schedule and the bottle had only about half a cup left in it, so I just gave the cake the best feeding a cake ever had and emptied the bottle. A little more never hurt, surely. In fact, I think the problem with American fruitcakes is that they don’t put enough booze into them.

Elaborate Christmas cake decorations to buy from http://www.cakecraftshop.co.uk. I’ve never seen a purple Christmas cake, though.

Pretty soon it’ll be time for me to take the cake out of the tin, cover it with the marzipan, and mix up the dreadful icing which, while inedible, does cover a multitude of ills. I read about a lady whose cake came out dramatically lopsided, but she went right ahead and iced it, and decorated it with little figures of skiers, plunging down the slope. Now that’s panache.

So the icing blankets the cake in something like the way the snow blankets the landscape, and that’s a sort of romanticizing, too. The snow covers, or at least masks, all the imperfections—including the blue bathtub that the farmer across the road has in the field as a horse trough—leaving the viewer to imagine that an English Christmas is just like the ones on the Christmas cards or in the storybooks.

It’s starting to melt, but I’m hoping it’ll hang on. It’s only two days until Christmas.

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Thanksgiving Turkey and Pumpkin Pie: American Cultural Imperialism?

I hope American readers had a great Thanksgiving celebration yesterday; over here, it was a regular workday, of course, like any other.  It’s not part of British tradition to go “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” for a turkey dinner.  Nor do they shout “Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!”—okay, Americans don’t either, except in the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods song, but pumpkin pie is almost unknown here.  Happily for me, that’s changing. It’s getting easier to find Libby’s canned pumpkin nowadays, although it’s only available seasonally, and you have to find a store with a section of American imports, but when I first moved to Britain, I couldn’t get pumpkin at all.  And what’s Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie?  I think that’s more important than the turkey.

A wild turkey does his courtship display on the grounds of Ash Canyon B and B, which my friend Mary Jo Ballator manages as a wildlife and bird sanctuary. This species is the Gould Turkey, which is common in the Huachuca Mountains of SE Arizona. Photo courtesy of Ash Canyon B&B — http://AshCanyonBAndB.com

My November column for the Guildford Dragon NEWS was about Thanksgiving and turkeys, as it happens, and featured one British person who does seem to ‘get’ Thanksgiving: Surrey turkey farmer Derek Joy.  His big market is Christmas, because that’s when the British traditionally eat turkey, but he told me he sells a lot more Thanksgiving turkeys than you might suppose—about a third as many as he sells for Christmas.

I’m learning, in writing columns for the Dragon NEWS, how different it is to write for a primarily British audience rather than a primarily American one.  I recycled an anecdote  from last Thanksgiving’s blog post  for the opening of that NEWS column, and had to make some interesting changes.  For American readers, I just reported a conversation between two “British TV personalities” about what Thanksgiving dinner is; for British readers I can say who the “personalities” were, which brings in all the overtones and implications of those personalities’, er…personalities.  British readers can be amused that it was Carol Vorderman who came out with wrong information, because she’s a game-show host and a sort of professional know-it-all (UK: know-all), whereas American readers would just say “Who?”  And British readers wouldn’t bat an eye to hear that Vorderman said that Americans eat chipolatas for Thanksgiving.  For all they know, it’s true; for Americans, that’s the punchline.  She thinks we serve turkey and chipolatas?  What the heck is a chipolata?

Another handsome turkey (or is it the same one? I can’t tell) poses for the benefit of potential mates. Photo courtesy of Ash Canyon B and B — http://ashcanyonbandb.com

Most British people don’t really seem to understand Thanksgiving—and of course there’s no reason for them to keep up with the festivals of other countries—so I was surprised to learn from Derek Joy that British interest in Thanksgiving is growing (the Dragon NEWS column has a bit more info).  So far, celebrating Thanksgiving hasn’t caught on in Britain to the point that it sparks the kind of pushback there is against trick-or-treating, which is seen by a number of people here as a nasty habit being imposed on Britain by American imperialists bent on cultural domination.  Er, no.  Americans do not care one bit whether British kids go trick-or-treating.

I suppose if enough British people ever become interested in Thanksgiving, that could start to rankle, too.  As of the last census, there were about 160,000 American-born people living in the UK, out of a total population of over 62,000,000. So I think we’re safe for a while yet.

Of course, if there is a secret plan to take over UK culture, one American-imposed holiday at a time, Mr Joy might be part of the advance party, and those cans of Libby’s pumpkin might be the thin end of the dastardly Thanksgiving wedge.

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Remembrance Day Update on London Poppy Day

It’s Remembrance Day here, and at the end of a day full of ceremony and solemnity, I’m pleased to report that London Poppy Day (see previous post) brought in £802,000 (that’s $1,275,000)for needy veterans and soldiers and their dependents.  That’s even more impressive when you consider that last year’s total was £450,000.  As the British say, “Well done, you!”

The Queen touring a poppy factory.

Some poppies are made by hand, in factories set up to employ disabled veterans and their dependents.  Click here to follow a link to a YouTube video of the Queen visiting a poppy factory, and making her own poppy to wear.

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London Poppy Day

(I’m supposed to be writing about Blake and Parry and “Jerusalem”, but blogging is a kind of journalism, so I’ve got to consider current events, too—and they don’t stay current for long.  Besides, as Arlo Guthrie says, “You cain’t always do what ya s’posed to do”.  I’ll get back to “Jerusalem” soon, but in the meantime…)

A member of 23 Engineers collects donations and distributes poppies at Waterloo Station in London on Nov 1.  He’s a communication specialist, as my father was in WWII; when I described what my father did in the Pacific, this soldier said it’s much the same task today.

Every year in late October Britons start wearing little paper poppies in buttonholes or pinned to lapels, until by about November 3rd, almost everyone you meet—and certainly everybody you see presenting a programme or reading the news on network television—will have a little red paper flower on show.  And they—no, we—will be wearing them through November 11th, Remembrance Day, aka Armistice Day, aka Poppy Day.

You get your poppy, and a pin to hold it on, from someone collecting donations on behalf of the Royal British Legion.  The money goes to help veterans and serving military personnel or their dependents who are in need; the poppy is meant to remember the fallen in all of the wars, chosen because of the poem, well-known on both sides of the Atlantic, that begins

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row…

(You’ll also find the first line given as “In Flanders fields the poppies blow”.  The Wikipedia page for the poem gives the word as blow right next to an image of the handwritten poem that clearly has the line ending in grow.  Since the handwritten copy is from the poet—Canadian military physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae—and has his signature, I’m going to assume the word should be grow.)

Members of the King’s Royal Hussars, a cavalry regiment, gearing up to go collect donations and give out poppies at Waterloo Station. Yes, we still have cavalry units; they deal with tanks and other armored fighting vehicles.  I’m extremely sorry that these pictures are such low quality; you can’t tell that they wear distinctive red trousers (they call them crimson; Americans would call them maroon).  Because of their red finery, they’re nicknamed the Cherrypickers.

I happened to pass through Waterloo Station in London yesterday, and saw more than the usual number of veterans and soldiers out collecting money and handing out poppies.  By their uniforms, they were from all different regiments, too.  There had to be something out of the ordinary going on, so I asked around, and found myself speaking to Jeremy Stephenson, one of the founders of London Poppy Day.

Seven years ago, he and a few friends collected donations outside one London Underground station and raised £500 for that year’s Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.  The project has grown a bit: this year Mayor Boris Johnson zoomed up the Thames in a Royal Navy RIB (rigid inflatable boat) to kick off London Poppy Day, carrying a plastic poppy several times bigger than his head as he boarded HMS Severn ; military bands played at locations all around London; Military Wives, the surprise hit of a recent reality television programme for choirs, performed; and a real Spitfire aircraft visited Covent Garden.  And over 2000 volunteers from the British Army, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, and several City firms (you can think of the City as similar to Wall Street) collecting at over 60 railway and Underground stations aimed to raise £1,000,000—in twelve hours.

A member of the London Irish Rifles collecting donations at Waterloo Station. He declined to let me photograph his face, but he did take my pound coin and give me a poppy. I watched while a couple with two small kids came up, and the kids were each given a coin to throw into the bucket and helped to put on their poppies–another generation taking up the tradition. What are the chances we can stop sending kids to war before those two are old enough to go?

I stopped to speak to a couple of the soldiers collecting.  I’m in awe of people willing to put themselves in so much danger on behalf of someone else, though I don’t understand, actually, why we’re still asking people to do that; it’s 2012, and I should have thought we’d be clever enough by now to figure out a way to avoid having to send young people off to shoot at each other.

But the day we work out a better way for all of us to share the same planet is going to be a long time coming, and until then we have to deal with war and its aftermath; this isn’t news, I know, but it’s one thing to see photos of soldiers in Iraq, watch video interviews from army camps in Afghanistan, or cheer for Paralympic athletes who lost limbs while in uniform, and it’s something else again to speak face to face with someone who has been there; who feels that he’s lucky to have come back; who admits that he’s lost friends; who agrees with me, when I say that the job must be terrifying, that it is terrifying; but who’s still a soldier.  It is in fact staggering that people do this at all, and especially when you can see how young they are; I talked to a veteran who, at age 25, commanded men who turned 18 on active duty in Kosovo.

Mr Trevaskis, who comes to my front door every year collecting for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

And that’s why I always get a poppy and wear it.  I’ve read opinion pieces explaining why the writers choose not to wear poppies (which shows you how common it is to wear one; not wearing a poppy is an aberration that requires an explanation): this one believes that the government should take care of veterans and dependents and not leave them to rely on charity, and that one feels that the poppies that once signaled “Never again” have changed meaning over the years, since the warfare we say we don’t want somehow never seems to stop.  But these aren’t theoretical soldiers who shouldn’t have to fight, they’re real human beings who have fought and who I’m sure want to see an end to war more fervently than the rest of us.  And yes, the government shouldn’t leave veterans and dependents out in the cold, but when it comes to needy people and charity– well, saying  “someone else should do it” doesn’t get you much of anywhere.

Young people still put themselves in danger for others, hoping to do good, making huge sacrifices; I respect them, and thank them, and wear a poppy.

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How did those feet in ancient time become a patriotic song? : “Jerusalem” (part 1)

The Olympics may seem like ancient history to the fast-moving blogosphere, but I’m still mining the opening ceremony for elements of British life that Americans and other foreigners might not have understood.  After all, the designers set out explicitly to display Britishness, and they didn’t make many concessions to people unfamiliar with Britain.

In that ceremony—after the countdown, and after Bradley Wiggins rang the enormous Olympic bell—11-year-old Humphrey Keeper sang these words from a poem by William Blake:

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

(Rules of punctuation weren’t as firmly set in Blake’s time, so those aren’t typos you see there, I’m just presenting the lines the way Blake wrote them.)

The William Blake poem that furnished the lyrics for the hymn “Jerusalem”

To anybody here in the UK, this hymn, generally called “Jerusalem”, immediately ticks the box (US: checks the box) marked Patriotic Song, though most foreigners must have been puzzled.  Jerusalem? And, um, something Satanic?

The first stanza is straightforward, if odd: the poet seems to ask whether it’s true that Jesus visited England, and in fact many different legends here say he did.  This isn’t like the Mormon story of Jesus appearing in the US after the resurrection; these legends suggest that in the gap the Bible leaves between Jesus, age 12, and Jesus, age 30, he dropped in on us.

Blake’s engraving “Christ as the Redeemer of Man”

Other people say he traveled through India, Tibet, Persia, Greece, Egypt—clearly he got around rather more than the average Judaean teenager—but in England alone you can take your pick from several options: Joseph of Arimathea (the man who donated Jesus’ tomb) was Jesus’ uncle/great-uncle and was a sailor/a shipwright/a tin refining worker/a tin merchant, who visited Cornwall/Somerset for his business/on the request of St Paul/because Jesus wanted him to deliver the Holy Grail/to become the first bishop of these islands.  He brought young Jesus along on the trip once/twice as a cabin boy/as a ship’s carpenter/to enroll him in a school run by the Druids, who at the time offered the best education to be had.  His mother Mary came, too/didn’t come/came, died, and is buried on these shores, but in any case, Jesus came and settled here a while/was shipwrecked here/was stranded here for the winter, until the weather was favorable to sail back. (And those aren’t even all the known variations. It isn’t only nature that abhors a vacuum; a lot of people must have felt a need to fill in those missing years.)

“Joseph of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albion” by Blake

Unfortunately, after I had a great time researching all that, I found that Blake probably wasn’t writing about a visit from Jesus at all.  Once the idea of such a visit comes up, it seems almost impossible to think Blake could be talking about anything else, but folklorists have found no other trace of the stories before about 1890, which is almost 100 years after Blake wrote the poem.  That doesn’t mean that the stories originated with Blake, either; scholars have found no other evidence, in the thousands of pages Blake wrote, showing that he believed any such thing, though they’ve found similar passages in which it’s clear that Blake was thinking about Jerusalem, not Jesus.

The frontispiece to Blake’s poem “Milton”, from which the lines for the song were taken; Blake did write a poem called Jerusalem, but the words for the song didn’t come from that poem, because that would be far too easy…

For my purposes it doesn’t matter; I write about British life, and I’d bet my house that the average Britons on the street, if they have opinions about the lyrics at all, believe Blake referred to those same old stories.  The stories themselves are part of British history anyway; early 20th-century folklorists recorded plenty of tales of the form “Of course everybody knows Jesus visited our town”, particularly in tin-mining communities, where they also found a folksong, “Joseph was a tin man”, and where tin workers used to call out “Joseph was in the tin trade” as a good luck charm at one dangerous step in the refining process. It’s a good bet that at least a few people in Britain today still believe that Jesus walked “upon England’s mountains green”.

In any case, Blake’s poem moves right along from the feet and countenance (whatever they refer to) to the building of Jerusalem, apparently in England—a strange idea, but one for which there’s a lot more data out there.

Emanuel Swedenborg. For a visionary who claimed to speak with angels and demons, he looks remarkably ordinary, even boring.

Blake, for all his personal mythology, was a Christian, though a Nonconformist (one who rejects the Church of England; it’s a term still in use).  And, at least for a while, he followed the teachings of Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, who said that anybody can understand the Bible in the obvious, earthly way, but only he, Swedenborg, could read it in a special, spiritual way and interpret it for everybody else.

That’s because the second coming had already occurred, in the form of a revelation to Swedenborg personally, which resulted in Swedenborg’s freedom to come and go from heaven and hell as he pleased, and to converse with angels, with demons, and with spirits from other celestial bodies: the moon, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Venus,  and planets beyond our solar system.  His list didn’t include Neptune, Uranus or Pluto, which hadn’t been discovered yet, which seems a bit of a giveaway about  Swedenborg’s celestial knowledge.  (Although I’m skeptical, to say the least, I don’t mean to offend any of the 10,000 members of Swedenborgian congregations in the US, the UK, the Netherlands and South Africa who are actively worshiping along these lines.)

A bust of Swedenborg in Stockholm. Before he became a mystic, he was a scientist, mathematician, engineer and inventor.

Blake, with others, signed a declaration saying he believed all that to be true and called for the establishment of the New Jerusalem Church, but he didn’t have to be a Swedenborgian to talk about the New Jerusalem; the term comes from the book of Revelation, which is full of mystical stuff and therefore right up Blake’s alley (UK: right up Blake’s street).  Mysticism was in the air back then; Blake knew people who claimed they could raise the dead, and not only did these people say they had conversations with God and Jesus, one artist he knew claimed the Virgin Mary had posed for his painting, which must have given him an edge over all Madonna-painting artists before or since.

The preface to “Milton”, showing the poem that provided the lyrics for “Jerusalem” as they appeared on the page, under a prose paragraph calling Homer, Ovid, Plato and Cicero “Perverted”–Blake didn’t pull his punches–and calling the Bible “Sublime”.

Blake, following Swedenborg, didn’t take Revelations literally, but thought of the New Jerusalem as symbolic of a new church movement that would sweep away the old, and clearly from the poem (that is, from the second verse, which I haven’t mentioned yet, sorry) Blake believed we would have to put in the effort to construct it ourselves, among the “dark Satanic mills” of the industrial revolution.

But, having made it through the first stanza, with Jesus’ visit to England, and most of the second, with the new Jerusalem, I’ll have to leave the subject until the next post—along with the question of how this song came to be associated with patriotism in the first place.  To tide you over, here’s a clip of the crowd at the last night of the Proms singing “Jerusalem”; I’ll have to tell you about the Proms another time, but for now you only need to know that it’s a series of concerts, conventional until the last night when, er, audience participation breaks out in a big way.  Believe it or not, this clip from 2011 doesn’t show nearly as much flag-waving as clips of some other years, but I like this one because you can see close-ups of people singing.  Okay, a few are looking down at their programmes to be sure of the words, but most of them are just singing along because almost everybody here knows this song, with its obscure words, the same way most Americans know “America, the Beautiful” (which is a lot easier to understand).

The video shows the interior of the Albert Hall, where the orchestra is, and Hyde Park, where big screens display events to the thousands who didn’t get tickets.  Unfortunately the video isn’t always in sync with the sound; the young men with beer cans seem to be almost a phrase behind, but you can tell they know all the words and are singing their hearts out.  Near the end of the video, back inside the hall, you can see a young lady in an Islamic-style headscarf waving a Union jack and singing what is fundamentally a Christian song about Jerusalem—which is, to my eye, rather a nice way to characterize modern multicultural Britain.  I wonder what Blake would think of it.

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An Announcement, Enhanced with Autumn Colour

Looking across a vineyard toward the main building at Denbies in the summer; you could almost be in the Napa Valley (but it’s a little *too* green). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Please excuse me for delaying the promised post on the William Blake/Sir Hubert Parry song “Jerusalem” by posting this announcement instead: As of last week, I’m writing a column  for the Guildford Dragon NEWS, Guildford’s independent online news(not-actually-on)paper.

Vine leaves changing colour at Denbies.

I’ll be looking in those columns at the same sorts of things I write about here, except that I’ll focus on people, places and events in the Borough of Guildford, with Guildfordians as the target readers.

The publisher has seen fit to call the column “The Eagle Eye” (not my choice; feel free to suggest something better!), and we may soon have a logo, drawn to resemble a pub sign.  The Guildford Dragon is interested in pubs—but who isn’t? I’ll probably write a certain amount about local pubs, though at the rate they’re closing I’d better hurry.  (There are none left in the village where I live, three having closed since we moved here–not that I’m implying causality there, you understand.)

More vineyards at Denbies. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The first column went up last week, though readers here might recognize most of that offering as one I made earlier (as the chefs on telly/TV say); it’s a reprise of my article on the civic procession for the service for the mayor after last May’s Mayor Making.  (Bet you can’t say that three times fast.)

After this, there should be a new Eagle Eye column appearing in the third week of every month.

More Fal–er, Autumn colour at Denbies

Now, the one rule of blogging is Don’t Be Boring, so in an effort to give you something more interesting for your time spent here today, I’ve added some photos of Denbies,  a winery in the eastern part of Surrey.  Vineyards in Britain?  Absolutely!  The first ones were planted by the Romans.  Look for a post on the Denbies winery, probably in the new year.

Main building at Denbies Wine Estate. The light-coloured tower is above the main entrance, but the wing in the foreground, painted black, houses the Surrey Performing Arts Library, which was the reason for my trip.

The winery building houses, for reasons unclear to me, the Surrey Performing Arts Library, a branch of the public library, and I was there to do research on the composer of “Jerusalem”.  With the vine leaves turning colour on a sunny autumn (Brits don’t call it “fall”) day, it was glorious; you see, I hope, the sacrifices I make to research these posts.

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