DP & Boo in Reykjavik

DP & Boo in Reykjavik

A Private View in Reykjavik

My daughter Boo said “Let’s take a trip to Iceland to celebrate your birthday”. So we did. The first time we went down town to visit the Art Museum we found it hard to find, in a very cold wind that took away one’s concentration. So by the time we arrived it was shut. There’s not a lot of day in Iceland at this time of year: it gets light around 10am and dark by 5pm, so we were surprised it closed so early. However, the next day we got there in good time.

“I can’t sell you a ticket”, said the lady behind the desk, “because the galleries are closed for an Opening.” And indeed, people were wandering about the middle of the ground floor with glasses in their hands. So we crept upstairs, in this clean, functional and rather fine building, and across to a picture window looking out onto the harbour, at the other side. It was very large, with a disconcerting crack at the bottom right hand corner of the glass, as if someone had hurled themselves at the window in a frenzied attempt to get out.

A friendly elderly curator came over to us, and we three chatted for a while, looking out of the window – about the weather, the population of Iceland, and so on. Then he said to Boo “Why don’t you put your rucksack in one of the lockers downstairs: then you can join in.” The lockers were facing the public and free: you just put the key back in when you had retrieved your things. No ‘Security’, as in airports: just informal friendliness.

The Opening now began. We were all welcomed in English. “But now,” said the
speaker, “I must say a few words in Icelandic-” which of course left some of us floundering. Icelandic is apparently (it says here) a fully inflected language, and because it has, with rather more success than the Academie Francaise, resisted absorbing foreign words, there is little for an incomer to latch on to. So the sound of Icelandic rippled on for a while, like the sound of a stream rippling over pebbles, not that you could see the bottom, however. At the end people applauded: I failed to do this, through some vague mimsy fear that I might be endorsing some improbable view or demand, which made me feel mean and discourteous. But at that point the galleries were opened, and we all traipsed upstairs.

The main exhibition seemed to be three or four rooms given over to a young American with an improbable name. One room contained groups of two vertical objects, somewhat modified, leaning in pairs on each of the walls. There was a ski, for instance, a vacuum cleaner, and a skateboard with the face of Bart Simpson on it. In the next room there were vertical video screens each containing a still figure in the upper half, while the lower half contained a moving reflection in water of what was above, quivering and shimmering as you looked at it. Another room held a large video screen playing a loud repeating loop: a basket ball player, seen from behind, bouncing a ball, and then throwing it, jump cut to a frontal view of the player, and then back to the bouncing again

I said to Boo “This seems to be an artist with lots of technical skill and no imagination.” “Hush,” she said, ” He may be just behind you.” I don’t have any objection to conceptual art, but how often does it really grab me? It’s been around a long time now – the R Mutt “Fountain” Man Ray’s |”Gift,” and Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined tea-cup were early twentieth century, and the business of Art shocking people, or even provoking them, is worn, apart from being extremely difficult nowadays – Goya’s Desastros seem no more than a note on reality.

In another gallery were some very large paintings by Erro, whose work I didn’t know before. I was rather distracted from the pictures themselves by their sheer size.- they went on for yards. Having recently struggled to get two 6 x 4 foot canvasses into the back of my estate car in such a way that I could drive without looking (and feeling) like Houdini doing an escape, I wondered how you could transport them without doing damage. Anyhow, they were blown up versions of smaller collages, also on show, They were homages to particular painters, or groups of painters. The format was constructed of meandering paralell lines, with paintings or bits of paintings in the collages stuck down between these lines, the whole thing then blown up large-size and painted throughout. There was a Miro panel, a Matisse panel and a German Expressionist panel. I share the attraction of making a copy of a painting you particularly like, partly to see how it is done, partly to get to know the work better. Of course it also relieves you of worry, as the outcome is already a fine solution. I did enjoy the panache of these pictures and the manic energy it took to produce so many of them.

When we went downstairs we found that there were no post-cards of these, presumably current, works. The old story with lack of post-cards. I also couldn’t find a postcard of work by Louisa Matthiasdottir, another painter I hadn’t know before, but whose work I had seen in a large heavy monograph in a shop at the National Theatre. There was also a largish painter of hers there, donated by the family, hanging in the gloom of the atrium. To my mind it was the wrong picture: one of her over-simplified Icelandic horse pictures, not one of the intense self-portraits. A few more of her pictures would have brightened the place up.

The post-card problem returned when we got back to London. We went to the British Museum. There used to be a large collection of post-cards as you went in, down a corridor to the left. Now it seemed there was only a very shrunken selection of PCs in part of the rotunda. The PC was and is the foundation of the poor man’s, or stdent’s, art gallery, as well as a little celebration of companionship – as when a gaggle of Italian girls out on a spree would all sign a card to someone – it was cheap, celebratory and joyful.

Here is a suggestion to the Post Office: bring back the cheap rate for post-cards. They are the perfect vehicle for short communication. My old tutor, who could get more words on a card than most, used to say that it was a perfect way of not having to settle down to a serious letter. And the picture is a bonus. There is nothing, in this era of the insubstantial screen image, like a real physical object, delivered by hand. Bring back the cheap PC rate, and see the traffic increase.

But I keep forgetting: the Post Office isn’t ours now. It’s Private.

Morning at the Cross copy

Syleham Morning Looking North; Brian at his workshop oil on canvas 4 x 6 feet

Back in the ‘seventies, when I lived part & then full-time in a cottage at the Cross, Syleham, Suffolk, I decided to paint these 6 x 4 foot pictures of the view from the cottage upstairs windows, looking North in the morning, down to the Waveney & Brockdish village, and South in the evening at the humpback hills and the road leading up to Wingfield. At that time Brian lived next door (there was a kind of flying freehold). Queenie Harper lived a bit further along, in the lodge of Monk’s Hall, with her husband, the Estate gamekeeper at that time. Queenie had known the urban life, having been a barmaid at the Maid’s Head hotel in Norwich in her time.

Her husband had served in the war: he told me that after a fierce battle to establish the army in Italy his detachment were called out by the commanding officer, who said: “Now you men. You all come from a farming background, and as you can see, there are no able-bodied men hereabouts, and it’s harvest time. So you are going to get the harvest in.” They were fallen out, into this country of women, children and old men. And when the harvest was duly gathered, they were fallen in again, and continued fighting their way up Italy. There’s a film-script in that.

Looking South the road up the hill on the right led I believe to the house where Margo Mellis had lived with Frances Davidson. (Earlier Margo had lived in Cornwall, and befriended Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth when they fled London & came to an unknown St Ives). That was before my time, but the area obviously attracted artists.

The Old King’s Head in Brockdish is being reopened by Vicky Townley (a member of the Harleston & Waveney Art Trail) and her husband. Great news for the village, which used to have two pubs, a post office/shop and a restaurant. Good news for artists too, as paintings etc will be on show in the new Old King’s Head.

The opening is on Thursday the 19th Feb at twelve o’clock. All welcome.

Evening at the Cross

Syleham Evening Looking South; Queenie Harper Riding By. oil on canvas 4 x 6 feet

Somewhere in the corner of the room there has been a lot of discussion about the Arts in the last few days. The Guardian carried an interview with Julie Walters (Sat 24 Jan) in which she said that she, and working class kids like her, probably wouldn’t get into drama school today. This came in the context of a spat about a supposed dominance of silver-spoon singers and actors initiated by the Labour shadow culture minister Chris Bryant. There is an argument to be has as to whether ‘working-class’ is an adequate label any longer, but we know what Julie Walters means.

I would like to start the next paragraph “The fact is…” but we are desperately short of facts. Very little serious research is done into ‘cultural’ education. As a surmise there are probably fewer working class students studying and training on Arts courses these days, for two reasons. Firstly because this education is no longer easily available to the poorest potential students. The Education Ministry over decades pursued a relentless policy of pushing up entrance requirements. As I’ve pointed out before, this was a civil service policy, because until Gove, the average life of a Minister was about two years, which would not have given them the time to take on board and modify existing policy. Back in the ’60s Art and Design course were a conduit into higher education for working-class students; it was fairly easy in those days to get a place on a course.

Secondly this education is no longer free. Presumably the prospect of being lumbered with a £40,000 debt by the time you start work will put off students proportionately the poorer their background.

So far as raising the entry bar goes, in the late ‘sixties we were able to show that having five O levels or two A levels or no qualifications at all had very little influence on outcomes. Most Art & Design students in those days obtained employment related to their study within three months of leaving college. (Ritchie Dight Frost and Dight : The Employment of Art College Leavers HMSO 1972) This put paid to the myth that thousands of long-haired art school leavers were swelling the dole queues, so the report was sneaked out in the Summer recess. in the hope that no-one would notice it. The Ministry, faced with an actual concrete fact, continued nonetheless to push up the entrance qualifications in some drive for uniformity. But every rise in the bar meant denying access to a cohort of working class students. There is no good reason for these requirements: they should be dropped.

The second obstacle, affordability, requires a radical solution. Of course there is a problem of cost to the State when it expands education. Leaving aside the increase in cost itself, the proposition that it should be left to the Colleges to set the fees was crazy. The colleges immediately pitched their fees at the top end of possible charge, to show that they were not inferior to anyone else. Students meanwhile became lumbered with debt. It all was done in bad faith too, because the (non-silver-spoon) MPs who voted for these charges had mostly themselves been the beneficiaries of a free education.

A graduate tax system, which I read is to be advocated by Peter Hain in his new book The Future of Socialism, implies that the community (The State) accepts responsibility for enabling its citizens to undertake education or training to they level they require, while beneficiaries repay the community by paying somewhat higher tax over their lifetime, rather than carrying a mesmerizing individual loan debt at the beginning of their career. I associate this (I’m afraid wrongly) with “Here come I, Little Jack/ With my wife and family on my back!” To which you can add “my student loan and my mortgage”

So far I have talked about access to the Arts via education.
; there needs also to be much discussion about accessibility of the Arts, and the conditions of work and remuneration of the Arts makers. Here are some notes for that discussion:

1 The Arts are not a frill. They are a major industry in which (because of past investment) this country excels. It is in the natonal interest to sustain it.

2 If you want a peak of excellence, you have to maintain a broad base

3 A healthy arts ecology depends on artists of all varieties (writers, actors, musicians, painters, potters, designers etc) receiving a fair percentage of the profits made from their work. The Government can ensure a fair market-place, but does not.

I have given up on Sayid Javid. He doesn’t seem to have done anything as Culture Minister (please explain otherwise if you are listening). In any case the election is coming and he won’t be in post much longer. What I think anyone who cares about this area should do just now is to write to the political parties and ask them for their Arts policies. If, in the memorable words of someone interviwed by the BBC in a Grays Working Men’s Club the other day, “UKIP are Tories in Drag”, maybe they have a good line on drama?

I’ve always enjoyed an event in those early comedy films (was that the Marx Brothers?) where a banknote is given to someone and then artfully retrieved from the distracted recipient by a piece of string attached to it. Something like that has recently happened to a painting of mine which used to sit in a flat belonging to an old friend in the rue Baubourg in Paris. This enabled me to say that, although I didn’t have a painting in the Tate or the Pompidou, in both cases I did have one next door. Well, very sadly our old friend has died, and the painting has returned to England, to live on the wall of a London sitting room, so my dining-out sentence no longer works.


The painting is one of those which sits in a particular period of work, of which you say that you couldn’t do that now. Not entirely true, but an approximation: the technical ability may still be there, who knows, but the drive to produce this particular work, of this kind of work, has gone elsewhere. The conviction would be missing.

I couldn’t do that now!


Sayid Javid, (the new Minister for the Arts), was interviewed in The Guardian on Friday 6th June. What he said was hardly a manifesto, but we might as well start there. He said:  “I’ve made it clear that I didn’t grow up in the kind of family that went to the Donmar Warehouse [in London] or even the Bristol Old Vic. To be frank, it was a treat to get to the cinema to see a movie.”   Mark Lawson, interviewing him, continues: ” ..both the nature and variety of his childhood cultural experiences have informed his call that culture must be genuinely “for all,” drawing in those who have felt excluded by lack of money, education, or, most worryingly, by race or class. Javid is concerned with statistics showing that people from “black and minority ethnic” and “lower socio-economic” groups are much less likely to engage with the arts or to apply for jobs and grants in the sector. Why is that so?”  “Well, I’m asking the question. I’m not going to sit here without any research and come up with the answer.   I’m going to talk to people, maybe feed in my own experiences, and see what can be done to increase accessibility and diversity” This seems to mean that Javid believes in evidence-based policy. Let’s hope it does.


The one really weighty piece of research into Art and Design in our time, which flashes like a beacon, was Ritchie, Dight and Frost’s The Employment of Art School Leavers (HMSO 1972), research which was undertaken under the aegis of Margaret Thatcher  (who, the article tells us, is Javid’s ‘democratic hero’). The Ministry of Education, however, was intent on slimming down Art and Design, and so the intention, as justification, was to show an overproduction of students receiving a final qualification, who thus swelled the ranks of the unemployed. But the Report showed, contrariwise, that nearly three quarters of qualified students obtained an employment related to their studies within three months of completing their course, a better result than achieved by graduates from many other courses at that time. As this was definitely not the message the Ministry wanted, the Report was sneaked out in the Summer Recess, so as not to be noticed. I was on holiday like everyone else: in fact I was in the bath in St Ives when Richard Bourne, then Education Correspondent for The Guardian, rang to ask if I would like to review it. It became clear that the authors of the Report had not been properly briefed, that is to say, had not been made aware that there was a vigorous debate going on in the Art and Design sector about relevant entrance qualifications, Fortunately we were able, with the help of a friendly peer, to get some of the statistics re-run, to show that, in terms of outcome, there was no difference between those who had entered with 5 “O” levels and 1-2 “A” levels, and only a marginal difference between those with no “O” levels or 1-2 “O” levels. That is to say you didn’t do better because you started off with more academic qualifications.. This was obvious to those of us in the sector, but it was nice to have it officially stated. In fact the information was already available in the shape of Royal College of Art statistics. but there are none so blind as those who don’t wish to see.


The Schools of Art and Design since the war had been an admirable mix: women made up a large proportion of the intake, and working-class students learnt comfortably beside middle and upper class students. Within the melting-pot of Art and Design, students were equal, and it was what you created that mattered, not where you came from. That’s not to say that class didn’t impinge. One of my second year students, part of our interviewing panel, advised firmly that we should not accept the applicant we had just interviewed. “Why not?” I asked. “Because you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse!” But the central point is that Art and Design courses were a conduit into creative employment for working-class students; academic qualifications were broadly irrelevant to the skills needed and acquired. And each time the entrance qualification barrier was raised (because of some specious need to achieve uniformity across the system), another cohort of working-class people was denied access to this particular path into skill and employment. Furthermore, it is not enough to make the Arts available to all, though that is a worthy aim: they must also be made by all. And it follows that gifted individuals must be enabled to enter the system, whatever stratum of society they originally come from.


What was true in the early seventies is sadly still true now. Potential students from certain groups, as we are all ceaselessly reminded, are unlikely to have the (irrelevant) entrance qualifications required of them. So if Javid wants to increase access for “black and minority ethnic” and “lower socio-economic” groups, he should seek to get entrance qualification barriers lowered. I’ll say that again: it makes sense to reduce the entry requirements. Now that Gove has been forced out, there may be people in the Education Ministry who will listen to reason On the 6th of June 1968 Sir John Summerson, addressing the assembled members of Hornsey College of Art, Crouch End Hill, said that there were loop-holes in the entrance requirements for his new qualification: “It’s a doorway – but you think it should be a triumphal arch.”  Well, yes! That’s what we thought then, and it’s what we think now.


Dear Sajid Javid,

Welcome to the Arts.


First off, take some time to find out what is there, and what is happening, which is a great deal. Secondly, look at the history behind it, without which it cannot really be understood. For instance, the fact that Great Britain has historically had the most extensive system of Art and Design education in the world, in spite of persistent attempts by the Education Ministry to restrict, reduce, and diminish it, is one of the fundamental reasons for the vitality of the Arts in these islands (not just the visual arts, but also music). Thirdly, in emulation of the Hippocratic oath, DO NO HARM. And finally, DO SOME GOOD.


Policy is the best honesty. Most of the time we (the Public) can’t see what general outcome the Government, or the Opposition, of whatever party, is aiming at. When it comes to direction, there is always widespread fog. So we ask, where are you going? what sort of society are you aiming at? And where do practitioners of the Arts fit into this vision of society?


A statement of fact to begin with: the Arts are a pyramid, or if you like, an iceberg. That is to say, the power of this structure depends on the solidity of its base; it may be, as in the case of the iceberg, that only the tip is glowingly visible above the waves to most people most of the time, but the tip is only there because of what sustains it beneath. In order to have the best television and plays (for instance) you have to have many theatres and production companies, many writers, actors, musicians, cameramen, technicians, designers and so on to choose from. You can’t decide just to support a few, or ‘the best’ – next month ‘the best’ may be another grouping. Unless you have a broad spectrum there is no choice, and without choice you will not get the best. Also, if you allow the base to shrink, then in the longer run (once again, this will not be apparent for some time), the quality at the top will deteriorate.


Now for a guiding principle: intellectual property must be safeguarded:

for the creators. So far from being ripped off, they should be the substantial beneficiaries of commercial transactions. We creators don’t begrudge the disseminators of our intellectual property, those who sell, distribute, broadcast or publish, or the end-users of our works, their proper due, but we do demand a fair return for those of us who create the material in the first place. For Government, however mean-minded this may sound, ensuring that creators get a fair return from the rest of the system is the cheapest way of maintaining standards, and therefore overall income.


We are not talking here about something marginal, the decoration on the cake. The Arts, or the Entertainment Industry, if you prefer to call it that, is a major contributor to this country’s economy, and come to that, to the economy of most advanced nations. The ‘Arts and Culture Industry’ (sic) contributed an estimated £5.9 billion to UK GDP in 2011, that figure not counting the spin-off effect on Tourism. The true figure is probably much greater.


Let us look at some sample issues, all of which bear on our guiding principle. A major issue is the use of music. Through the internet it is nowadays possible for everyone to listen to music, but the payment which originating musicians receive for this use by an audience enormously larger than anyone has ever had in history, is ludicrously, disgracefully low. For instance (a real musician’s example), for 1296 performances of a piece on U-tube Alliance, the royalty for one of the four writers was 0.0284 pence. A penny a play, which does not seem exorbitant, would have produced £12.96 . Two plays on Spotify produced 0.0004 pence. How many million plays would it take, at this rate, to produce a living wage of (say) £20,000 per annum? (I am not a mathematician, so someone else may like to try, but I estimate that if 80% of the Chinese population played the piece on Spotify once a year, that might about produce the required income).



Because the Internet is notionally ‘free,’ consumers expect to have music for free. But music can only be free if the musicians are long dead. Real musicians who are alive need money to live on, and the money necessary to support their production. At present living musicians are ripped off by the big organisations – and by the public: these circumstances will eventually lead to the demise of music – at any rate alive, innovative, relevant music. The problem of how artists of any sort are to be protected from the pirating and exploitation of what they produce is not a new one. In the 19th century authors – Wordsworth, Dickens and others – had to fight for copyright agreements so that they could benefit from the income generated by sales of their works abroad, particularly in the USA – one of the main pirates, interestingly enough, was Benjamin Franklin – (see the useful article at http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/pva/pva75.html), but also from persistent pirating and copycatting at home.


This is not just a problem for musicians: with the Internet we now have a means, which did not exist before, of making visual artworks available to the world audience. But now we have a mass access to art, there must be a system of royalties for the digital use of our material. Like the musicians, we cannot live by bread alone – but we also cannot live without any bread at all. Ultimately negotiating and enforcing a system of payment for the use of intellectual property has to be done at Governmental level.


More crudely put, stop musicians and others being ripped off, on the one hand by internet moguls, and on the other by national pirates – even the piratical general public – as now happens. This could be ameliorated if there were much better Union organisation on the ground. But because access to recorded music has become nearly universal, there is no way individual musicians, or national Unions, can prevent their work being pirated. Once again, we should add, that as the sums are very considerable, the Government, by helping artists, would be helping itself.


Another issue, again focussed in the music area, is the difficulty of getting performers into this country. London has in the past been the vibrant centre of the World Music scene, but it isn’t any more. Our commanding position has been given away out of sheer carelessness. Why? because in the anxiety caused by xenophobic immigration panics, the Government has made it more and more difficult for performers to enter and work here. The number of embassies issuing visas has been reduced, so that many African musicians (for instance) have to apply to a neighbouring country: in some cases to go there in person. Whereas a Schengen passport gives access to most European countries, so that a sequence of concerts can be planned, we have a local system which puts obstacles in the way of a European tour which includes the UK. British visas are expensive, and require guarantors: but most of the small units of production which nurture World Music are not rich enough to be acceptable as guarantors. Through this sort of carelessness, or (or un-joined-up planning), a vital area of production is squeezed out.


One more example, this time in the visual arts. Dealers and galleries have developed the habit of requiring exhibitors whose work has been sold to pay the VAT liable on the commission they charge for sales, on top of the commission itself. This regularly brings the total to 50% or more (and clearly, the greater the commission, the greater the additional tax). The overwhelming majority of artists do not earn enough to register, and therefore to be able to claim back, the VAT already paid on their materials, so they pay tax on the materials to which they add value, but also on the value added at the next stage by the dealer- a perverse interpretation of the tax.


Here are a few issues. Clearly there are many others which can only be resolved at Government level, through the resources commanded by a Minister. You may have noticed that nothing here is demanding subsidy or special treatment, only a decent system, properly run. If you can set yourself to look into some of these issues, and resolve them, you will be doing the Arts and the nation a favour. You don’t have to be a fully paid up aesthetic intellectual to tell right from wrong, and to use your time to all of our benefits. We hope you will surprise us by your tenacity,


People in general conform to their social group, but an artist conforms to his- or her- self. Or not: the old two-headed eagle problem. This is partly due to the nature of reality, and partly to the enlarged ego of the solo operator.  But any artist who has achieved an identifiable personal way of putting things obviously doesn’t compete with anyone else –  because nobody else says that in that tone of voice.

However, a scorpion of doubt lurks in this comfortable slipper, namely “Is my work self-consistent? Do these diverse pieces come across as the work of this one person?”

Creators adopt various rules and self-denying ordinances to cope with this problem.  For instance, Braque would not allow himself light and shade in three dimensions, apart from the odd trompe-l’oeuil nail casting its shadow, a small pictorial joke. Or maybe he just knew he was better at two dimensions, though it is difficult to accept the moral severity of his strictures on ‘eye-fooling devices’. Perspective might be inappropriate, but can it be wicked?

Anyhow, on one side you have artists tying themselves to a rule-book for consistency, while on the other side are those artists ploughing a narrow furrow, who try to ensure that a case can be made for their variety..  Sometimes the result is almost comic, as in this statement by Morandi:

I have always concentrated on a far narrower field of subject matter than most  other painters, so that the danger of repeating myself has been far greater.

I think I have avoided this danger by devoting more time and thought  to planning each one of my paintings as a variation on one or other of these few themes

Dialogues: Conversations with European Artists at Mid-century, by Edward             Roditi, Lund Humphries 1990 p. 107


My smile is with Morandi, not at him, since the modest objective is so beautifully achieved in his calm paintings and etchings. Another case is Lucien Freud: in a recent review of Gayford’s book about his experience as a Freud sitter, Julian Barnes writes:

..Gayford tells us that Freud’s aim was ‘to make his pictures as unalike as possible, as if they had been done by other artists.’

 Heart Squasher, Julian Barnes, London Review of Books, 5 Dec. 2013, p.3 seq.’ (It’s worth the reading the whole of this fine review)

Another smile: if that’s what Freud was after, he made a duff job of it: a man whose later characteristic paint surfaces are dominating and unmistakeable. Of course he could have made his pictures unalike:  he could have abandoned perspective/ flattened everything/ drawn all things by the bounding line, or revelled in pure chromaticism.  But no, this is the man who said that he could not bear the idea of one of his paintings being known as ‘the blue one’. He said he painted things the colour that he saw them. Well, I see them in different colours, and anyway, reproducing the colour of  the objects in the scene is not the only ambition of painting. Terry Frost, who could become totally rhapsodic about the use of pure colour in modern painting, would have been deeply shocked by the idea that you should not paint in all the colours that are available to human perception. (There can, miraculously, be other colours, but to see them you have to become an insect).

However, in spite of the attempts of some to diversify their work, the problem for those of us on this side remains that of consistency: how to ensure that our images hang together coherently.  I would wish a sequence of my paintings to relate to one another like the parts of a sonata – which is, I suppose, not far from what Morandi was talking about. Oh, and that includes the ability to quote and refer, the way that Bartok inserts the little, wheezy musical-box section (or ‘barrel-organ’, as Paul Griffiths has it) in his fifth quartet, without breaking out of the coherence of the whole. But then all visual art wants to be frozen music. And again, again, who says that I as creator should be the judge of this?

The problem for us on this side is, yes, we know our own subject-matter, our tendencies, our harmonies and habits, even though, Braque says: ‘La personalité de l’artiste n’est pas faite de l’ensemble de ses tics’. (Cahiers). But personally we can be overwhelmed by the serious difference of one of our pieces from the last one – or the next one.  We don’t know – we can’t know – whether they look consistent to other people, however soothingly they reassure us, or however brusquely they confirm our doubts. Are we constricting ourselves unnecessarily, and failing to make the leaps, or are we jumping all over the place in an incoherent way? We are left with the condition TS Eliot describes in  East Coker: ‘every attempt/ Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure..’  True, but of course no help to us, struggling with our likenesses and dissimilarities.

ps.  I have put a few recent pictures in my pictures column. Do they hang together? See for yourself. And the intrusive memory serves up the  quote: “Depend upon it sir, if we do not hang together we shall surely hang separately!”

David Page 23 02 14

In the latest Norfolk Contemporary Art Society Newsletter there is a piece from Sculpture for Norwich about Barbara Hepworth’s Sea Form Atlantic, which reads:

SfN has expressed concern to the City Council about the state (and positioning) of this major sculpture now sited in St George’s Street. Already the patina is irreparably worn away in parts by children’s clambering. Following the representations and meetings with councillors and Nikki Rotsos, executive head of strategy, people and democracy, it was agreed that a plaque which Derek Morris has offered to design, should be placed on the plinth providing information about the work an expressing the pride of the City of Norwich in its ownership of a seminal work by this great artist.


Well, if it is decided to place this rather unusual climbing-frame-type object next to a children’s playground, it is inevitably going to get clambered on by little kids who wouldn’t know it was special.  As to the patina, some interaction between the public, the environment, and the work is also inevitable: the wonderful, cheeky bronze David with a floral hat by Donatello (now in the Bargello) used to stand in the open  – was it in the  Piazza della Signoria? – in Florence: it had a gleaming little penis because people stroked it as they went past; not sure whether you could say that was the subtraction or addition of a patina. Sculpture which does not wish to interact with people should presumably be guarded, or out of reach.

But this conflict between sculpture and children has happened to Barbara Hepworth’s work before. Back in about 1962 the Penwith Society of Artists in St Ives decided to reduce the entrance fee for families so that visitors with children would be more able to visit the current exhibition in the Penwith Gallery.  At that time Barbara Hepworth was exhibiting sculpture with stretched strings, (presumably an influence from Gabo?) When she heard that her strings had been twanged by kids, she insisted that the Committee put the entry price back up again. She also objected to the cathedral-like white space of the Gallery being violated by noise.  As the building was actually a refurbished pilchard packing station, it must have rung with the cries of fishermen and fishwives for years before it was consecrated to art.

Incidentally I’m not sure whether it is direct influence or some kind of convergence, but the vertical  Dyson fan-heater has a distinct Barbara Hepworth look.

Three of my recent paintings are on show at the 2013/14 Cut Open, at the Cut Halesworth Suffolk – see below. This is a good,  very well-hung show in a lovely space, and all works submitted have been accommodated on the walls. Well worth a visit. It is on until Sat 11 Jan.



Being Spied on in the Illfare State

Mermaids will not be denied

The last bubbles of our shame

The dragon flaunts an unpierced hide

The true fiend governs in God’s name


Robert Graves,  Mermaid, Dragon.Fiend

I have been reading a correspondence between the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer and the American poet Robert Bly: TT was in Budapest in October 1969, where he visited a Hungarian poet; he wrote:

Pilinsky lives in one room in a flat in central Budapest (like most Hungarians he can’t afford a flat of his own).

I read the sentence with a horrible shock of recognition: forty-four years later this describes the situation for many people in London today. We are going backwards.

Growing up after WW2, the majority of my generation who cared about politics took it as axiomatic that everyone in Great Britain and Ireland should have a job (and that everyone should work); that a job should pay a living wage, and that everyone should have health-care, education, and decent housing, financed by universal insurance via taxation. Maybe the performance fell short, but the aspiration remained the same. No longer true – test the propositions for yourself .

It may seem odd that the spying and intrusion which has been going on has not  raised  much more indignation and protest from older generations.  There is a simple reason for this, namely, that we have all always taken for granted that we were being spied on.  The extended generation I am talking about includes people like Kim Howells MP, Jack Straw MP, Peter Hain MP, Tariq Ali, and a few more millions.

One exemplary event hangs in my mind like a little film-clip – a French student visitor at Hornsey College of Art  in the summer of ’68  lifting the telephone to phone home, and an English student bringing him down with a rugby tackle: nobody was allowed to make connections with other radical groups on a college phone. It had to be done in some random phone-box.

The assumption that the phones were tapped was tested in various ways. One way I heard about took place in central London. One of the radical organisations telephoned several others to arrange a Demo, specifying date, time and place of assembly. Then someone went round on foot to tell the recipients that this was a spoof. At the allotted time and place they took great pleasure in observing the police wagons draw up for the phantom event.  Communication is a two-way street, after all.

At Hornsey College of Art there was an elderly art historian called Susie – from somewhere in Central Europe. She would shout at the student and staff radicals “Well, if that’s what you want, why don’t you go to Moscau!” She was not aware

(why should she have been?) that the minority of students who belonged to formal political organisations were Trotskyists, and that the unattached majority were libertarians. Just the people the KGB would have locked up, or eliminated. after a successful invasion.  In my own case, hilariously, a friend who was teaching army officers told me that my name had come up in conversation as someone to be interned in the case of an imminent conflict. And of course, a list of who to lock up in the case of hostilities with country X or Y must exist, just like the plan in the Pentagon for taking over Great Britain in the event of a Red Government. And no, we can’t prove that it exists, because it is secret.

The Intelligence Community are rather more than less likely to make the same misjudgements as Susie. Firstly because of the political colour-blindness of people in a authoritarian position, and secondly because of the inevitable institutional paranoia of these organisations. They are set up to suspect the worst on our behalf, and indeed they do. Given that some of them thought Harold Wilson and Michael Foot were Russian spies it is only to be expected that they continue to construct paranoid fantasies; only the terms have changed. The organisation which may usefully defend us against real would-be suicide bombers also seeks to defend the State against the Vegetable Defence League. Those members of the Intelligence Community who are closest to the ground, mingling with real people and with some idea what is really going on, are by definition not at the top, making the strategic decisions

Most of the information about us which is now gathered will never be looked at by anyone: there are not the hours of work available. Of what remains, some will be scrutinised for respectable reasons, and some will be used for  quite other purposes: laws brought in for one purpose end up being used for another.  The Russians are not the only people who think “Demonstration = Piracy? =Hooliganism?”

Paranoia is infectious, in all directions, and destroys the social integration which, within a good State, ensures that extreme divergences from our moral standards are not tolerated by ordinary citizens. There is another problem with the Spying State, namely that it supports a conspiracy to insist that secrecy is indispensible, which all members of the Intelligence Communities world-wide affirm. Their international solidarity on this issue is amazing. A very large proportion of what they do is pointless and unproductive, but of course we don’t know what that is, because it is secret.  Spying is not just an inept Government joke.  It also costs us taxes.

Recent figures in the Guardian state that the three British state spying agencies have a combined staff of over 10.000 with a combined annual budget of £2bn. There is a Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, to scrutinizes the intelligence agencies. “Who shall watch the watchers?” the Romans asked. Well not many people it seems, since that committee is underfunded, according to Kim Howells MP. The average number of people killed by terrorism in the UK, 1990 to 2010 was 5.8, whereas the figure of those killed or seriously injured in road accidents in 2011 was just over 25.000. How many lives could we save by applying a billion or so pounds to improving road safety?  A better use of our limited resources?

Teresa May was recently asked by Keith Vaz if she had been told of any concrete  case of danger to personel as a result of Snowdon revelations. She danced round the question, coming across as increasingly shifty and evasive. She couldn’t say, because it was secret. Recently it was also announced that investigation had shown no evidence that the SAS were involved in the death of Lady Di. Well, that may be true.  Or it may not. In Mandy Rice Davis’ formulation “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?” The more this secrecy goes on, the more we don’t believe a word they say.

In 1959 I went to Marburg/Lahn, West Germany, to work as a Lektor. My first job. My friend & predecessor Mary Kern had persuaded her Professor that it might be good to have an English Lektor who had studied English, rather than the usual German language graduate. I arrived with as much German as I could learn on a beach in Jugoslavia from the Teach Yourself German. One project was to give a series of lectures on British Institutions, and one of these lectures was about the Monarchy.


It seems to me interesting, now that we have another Heir to the Throne, to look at this lecture of over fifty years ago, seeing how much has changed, and more surprisingly, how much has not changed.


The lecture was meant to be a Socratic dialogue between a Republican and a Royalist, read by me and a student with very good English.  A student came up to me afterwards and said “I enjoyed your lecture – the English view and the German View”. The Grune Blatt was popular tabloid in Germany at the time.



A.              J  was  reading the  Grune  Blatt the  other day (I read itregularly,  of  course,  like  most  students);  the main article was  about  Fara Dibah.  I  find  that when it isn’t about her it’s about ex-Queen Soraya,  or  King Baudouin,  or  Queen Elizabeth, or  Pricess Margaret,  or  Princess Alexandra.  Even the ex-Kingsof Jugoslavia and Spain, and  old Farouk, and  people with claims to  the  throne  of France are  in and  out of the newspaper everyday.  I  can’ t imagine why they’re  so  newsworthy.

B.            Yes;  I  agree with you; it is odd  that in our democratic countries  the  common  people are so whole-heartedly concerned withthe  affairs of Royal  Families – the  elite, who read the Times and  the  Observer like me (Top People,  you know), don’t learn so much about  them.  The  Court Circular in the Times tells  uswhat  the Royal Family  is doing,  and we’re sometimes discretely told that the Queen is suffering from a slight cold,  but  thereit ends.  And  a  good thing too, I think. Constant prying into the affairs of  the Royal Family is a danger to the Monarchy,in the  long  run.

A.              My God.  You  don’t really approve  of  the whole  thing,  do  you?

B.             Certainly I approve  of it. It’s a much better system than a Presidency,  with all the  dubious  political shuffling that goeswith it. Look  at America,  where the highest representative  of  the State will be the leader of a political party – where,  in other words,  he won’t have the  respect of more than half the population. Or look at  France, where the President is a kind of lay Pope- a  respected spiritual leader who is unable  to use his temporal power to get anything done.  Or again, look at Germany. Imagine the Prime Minister of  England announcing  that he’d decided  to become  King,  and  then a bit later,  that he’d decided. not  to, after all.  What  a  lot of  humbug!  No, our solution is far more satisfactory,  far more dignified.

A.            I’m not  sure I agree with this view of the American or GermanPresidencies,  but  then I’d rather have  the  leader of the  State a  human  being,  with  some admirable  qualities and  some  faults. Like Heuss  was in Germany,  or Tito  is,  in Jugoslavia – he’s  a very good  example.  I’ d always prefer human beings  to  dignified puppets.

B.              This only goes to show what a romantic you are at heart. Tito is really a medieval king who fought his way to the throne through personal combat, and united a grateful people. Very Balkan, of course. But he wouldn’t do in a democracy; after all, he’s not only President of the State, but President of the National Assembly too – very powerful, in other words. You can’t bracket him with Heuss.

A.              It’s interesting that you should bring Democracy into it: in the first place this raises a problem of definition. The President of America has as much power as Marshall ‘Tito: does that mean America isn’t a Democracy? In the second place I have serious doubts as to whether a Monarchy is compatible with a Democracy. But we can come back to this in a moment. The question is, what does work in your Democracy? In other words, if you think Tito has too much power, how much does Queen Elizabeth have?

B              Can I rephrase that “What’s her position? Well, she’s the Head of the State, and the symbol of the State. She’s the permanent part of Parliament: laws are enacted by her together with the Houses of Lords and of Commons. Some things are theoretically hers-The Queen’s Government, the Royal Air-force, the Royal Mail – this is a convenient fiction. She’s also Queen of some other countries-Canada and Australia, for example – and she’s the Head of the Commonwealth, recognized as such even by Commonwealth Republics like India. And lastly she is the temporal Head of the Church of England, which is the official State Church.

A.             Let’s take the first matter. If the Queen has to give her consent to laws before they can be enacted, this ought to mean that she can interfere by refusing to give her consent. But this doesn’t in fact happen, does it?

B.             There’s a long delay – a number of years – before official papers about the Monarch are released, so it’s difficult to say for sure what’s happening, but I think that recent Kings have abided by constitutional practice and simply accepted what their ministers presented to them. All the same, the King has certain rights. Bagehot, in his English Constitution, put it like this:

… the sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn.  And he pictures the             Monarch as saying: I do not oppose, it is my duty not to oppose; but observe that I warn.


The King often does this. Prince Albert, as he was dying, made suggestions about a message from the British Government to the Northern States in the American Civil War-_it was so severe that if it had been sent, the North might have declared war on us. As it was, the message was softened, and they didn’t. Albert, acting with Victoria was fairly powerful. A constitutional monarch can’t really refuse to sign something in the long run, but he can certainly put pressure on his Ministry. King Edward VII once delayed the official announcement of changes in Army pay from early July to late October simply by refusing to sign the necessary papers until his Minister explained to him in full detail what the changes would mean (King Edward VII A Biography by Sir Sydney Lee, II p.216 seq.) In those days there were still Kings in most of Europe, and they were generally related. The Tsar was a relative of Edward VII, the Kaiser was his nephew, and Leopold of the Belgians was his great-uncle. This meant that a good deal of diplomacy could be carried on by subtle hints in family letters. The Prime Minister would have an audience with Edward, who would write a letter to Wilhelm, who would have a conference with his Chancellor. So that communications would be made without any official Government notes. Edward himself had the concept of a kind of Trade Union of Kings. He refused to recognize the new King of Serbia until the assassins of the former King had been punished. He said:

..1 have another, and, so to say, a personal reason. Mon metier a moi est d’etre Roi. King Alexander was also by his metier ‘un Roi’. As you see, we belonged to the same guild,             as labourers or professional men. I cannot be indifferent to the assassination of a member of my profession, or, if you like, a member of my guild. We should all be obliged to shut up our businesses if we, the Kings, were to consider the assassinations of Kings as of no consequence at all. 1 regret, but you see that I cannot do what you wish me to do.

ibid. II p273

This kind of Happy Families diplomacy has naturally died away as Monarchy died away. Within England, however, more recently, George V persuaded Ramsay MacDonald to head a National Government; again, according to Herbert Morrison, George VI discussed particular death sentences with him when he was Home Secretary. Morrison didn’t accept his advice, but at least the King made his point. What it comes to is that the King sees all Government Papers and signs many of them. If he is diligent in reading them he’ll have a very wide knowledge of what is going on, and since he is permanently there, and is above Party Politics, he’s in a good position to give impartial advice.

A.             Assuming also that he isn’t a normal human being with prejudices and preferences. But let’s stick to powers. It’s my turn to give an example. Have you read your Lytton Strachey? Do you remember Queen Victoria’s advice to the First Lord of the Admiralty about the reform of the Navy?

“Her own personal feeling,” she wrote, “would be for the beards without the moustaches, as the latter have rather a soldier-like appearance; but then the object in view would not be obtained, viz. to prevent the necessity of shaving . Therefore it had better be as proposed, the entire beard, only it should be kept short and very clean.”  After thinking over the question for another week, the Queen wrote a final letter.  She wished, she said, : “to make one additional observation respecting the beards, viz. that on no account should  moustaches be allowed without beards. That must be clearly understood.”

Lytton Strachey: Queen Victoria  p.213

B.             This is a very nice example of Victoria’s general tone. But I don’t see how it fits into the power question.

A.             I admit I used it because it amuses me – but look at the way it’s phrased. “On no account •••• that must be clearly understood.”  It sounds pretty uncompromising – almost dictatorial. What about Victoria’s memorandum to Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary, in 1850, when she threatened to dismiss him if he altered dispatches after she had approved them, although the right of appointing or dismissing a Foreign Secretary properly belongs to the Prime Minister? Or what about her remark ‘a democratic monarchy is what she will never belong to’? If Albert had lived longer she might have seriously opposed giving the vote to the working classes. What is there to stop the present Queen from hindering the Government in the same way?

B.              Nothing at all – except custom. That and the fact that Kings have become more and more democratic.

A.              You mean more and more middle-class.

B.              Perhaps, but as that’s the only class left, it is democracy.

A.              I suppose I asked for that. Anyhow, it boils down to the fact that the King has theoretically the power to do a great deal, but in practice doesn’t dare to do a thing.

B.               There is one exception. The King himself decides which people are to be honoured with the Order of Merit, the Garter, the Thistle, and the Royal Victorian Order. Apart from that you’re quite right. But it isn’t that the King doesn’t dare, it’s that Kings have a great sense of duty – public service.

A.               Oh really. I thought I was supposed to be the romantic. Let me put it another way. A satisfactory constitutional monarch must either be very lazy or very stupid, or, if he dares to be intelligent, mustn’t use his intelligence to get anything done. He must try not to let anyone notice it until after he is dead.

B.               I shouldn’t dream of contesting that Kings have been stupid and lazy, but you see it doesn’t matter. It’s the institution which counts, not the man.

A.               Can you really believe that? What would happen if the next King turned out to have a personality like Henry VIII,  intelligent~ wilful, and a natural leader? He’d hardly fit in, would he?

B.               I imagine that he’d eventually abdicate, as Edward VIII did.

A.               And everything would go on as if nothing had happened?

B.               I expect so.

A.               We shan’t make much progress here. What about the second part of the Queen’s position, that she is the titular head of the Commonwealth. What powers does that involve?

B.             None at all, so far as I can see. The Preamble of the Statute of Westminster of 1931 describes the Crown as the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. But you really shouldn’t place so much emphasis on power. Symbolic values often achieve a great deal. For example during the War George VI used to travel up from Windsor every day to work in Buckingham Palace. I’ve seen this ridiculed by A J.P. Taylor, but it must have been an immense boost to the morale of the British people to know that he was in England, and in London, during the worst German attacks. Or again, for symbolic value, think of President Heuss’ State Visit to London. I think that public respect for Heuss did a great deal to improve British feelings about the Germans.

A.             This is probably a good example for the assertion that Presidents are just as good as Kings, for practical purposes.

B.             On the contrary: Presidents change, and by vote, and the next one may not necessarily command as much respect as the last one.

A.             I think you will find that Monarchy is as vulnerable as Presidency: I doubt whether respect for the Monarchy would survive a succession of really bad Kings – and of course, no one can really make a King abdicate if he doesn’t want to, whereas a President is under control. What’s more, there’s a bit of choice when it comes to Presidents. Kings have an awful inevitability.  But let’s come to the last thing you said about the Queen. About her religious position. Does this give her any real power, or is it just another formality?

B.             The Queen is the temporal head of the Church of England. Her title to the Crown derives from the Act of Settlement 1701, which said:

                The Crown shall remain and shall continue to the said most excellent Princess Sophia and the heirs of her body being protestant.


Because of this Act a King may not be a Roman Catholic or marry a Roman Catholic, and must swear to maintain the Established Church. Before you go on, A, let me add that I can see the corner you are trying to drive me into.

A.             In you go, all the same. Do you realise what all this adds up to? The King is obliged to carry out his Royal duties, which occupy most of his time and may work him to death, as they worked George VI to death. He may not go where he pleases or do what he pleases because his time and his person are at the disposal of the nation. He may not do anything positive for the good of his subjects except to warn ministers, and he must stand by powerless and watch these ministers when they do various things which make the nation appear aggressive or idiotic. He may not marry whom he pleases; he must choose from foreign Royalty -with one or two honorable exceptions a scruffy lot of rootless emigrees – or from British noble families, on whom I won’t comment, and furthermore, only from those of them who are Protestants. Naturally he mayn’t worship which god he pleases. And last, or perhaps first of all, he can’t choose royalty as a career: it’s thrust upon him and he can do nothing about it. Really B., it’s intolerable. He hasn’t the democratic rights of his own subjects, whom he is supposed to represent. Isn’t that a subtle corruption, the just British State with its head in an iron mask?

B.             Oh come. No-one has to become king. And of course anyone who feels he can’t do the job properly can abdicate, like  Edward VIII.

A.             That’s a very naive point of view. Kings are brought up as Kings: they are educated from the start in the idea that they are above the level of others, that they have a duty to the State, and so on, and so forth. Your suggestion that no-one has to become a King might be a reasonable one if you could point to one example of an heir to the throne who refused to take up the crown. As for your example of abdication, Edward VIII provides perfect fuel for my argument. He abdicated. and married, and then what?

Does he seem to be living a full and satisfied life? Is

he happy? I can’t believe it. Look at the photographs. Just

consider this. After he had abdicated, when he wrote an article

in a Sunday paper on 24 May 1953, an article critical of the Labour

Party, Herbert  Morrison could write this (and remember that

Morrison was a Labour Home Secretary, and, mind you, an  important member of the Labour Party;)

Such an expression of opinion critical of any political party on the part of a former Monarch is, I think, unfortunate. It confirms my personal view that ex-Monarchs are wise to be silent) and. not live in a country or countries over which they formerly ruled.

Morrison: Government and Parliament  p82

The Labour Party is the one which is supposed to believe in equality! In plain words, when personal honesty leads him to give up the one job he’s been brought up to do, when he realises that he is not trained to do anything else, and not permitted to try anything else, the advice from the Labour Party is “Shut up and  get out!”  Take a more recent case. Mr Armstrong-Jones married Princess Margaret. He’s a a commercial photographer; I’ve seen some of his photographs and they are really good. But from now on he won’t work as a photographer, because Royalty does not indulge in Commerce.  Another good man reduced to opening flower shows and twiddling his thumbs.

B            I can understand your feeling here; in fact I more or less agree with you.  Kings and Princesses ought to be allowed to live natural lives, and in Norway and Sweden they approach far nearer to the ideal than we do.  I would certainly like to see certain  reforms in the way the Monarchy is treated; some reforms have been suggested by Lord Altrincham (a good Royalist if ever there was one).  But you see what happened to him. He was abused in the daily papers and his face was slapped in the street. The British Public just don’t seem ready for these reforms.

A            An argument I’ve heard before to justify not reforming anything of social importance that needed to be reformed – the Death Penalty, the Homosexuality Law – it’s even used about joining Europe, though there isn’t a scrap of evidence to prove that the Public are so unprepared.

B            Or a scrap of evidence to prove the contrary.  So we shall stick to our very different estimates.  But I want to return to your argument.  I suppose I should have to agree that a great deal of sacrifice is expected of a King and a Royal Family: fortunately their devotion to their indispensible office gives them the strength to make that sacrifice. Because my fundamental contention is that the Monarchy is indispensible. You have used Morrison, let me add Atlee, who was Prime Minister from 1945 – 51.  He recently said that democracies with a Monarchy are more democratic than ones with a president.  Well then, if the job is essential, someone has to do it. I’d hate to have the job – and I’d hate others too.  Think of being a dustman. – but there have to be dustmen. I think it’s terrible that there are still miners; I’d like to abolish mining: it’s degrading and appallingly dangerous.  But you know that we have to have miners, and we also have to have kings. But I expect you won’t agree there.

A.             No. I certainly won’t. I would like to see the Monarchy abolished, and I don’t think it at all essential.

B.             You know that Philip Toynbee said that wanting to abolish the Monarchy was the sign of a false radical?

A.             Toynbee’s remark was a silly one: all he meant was that some things are more urgent than others. In any case I’m not the spiritual heir of Toynbee, or of Atlee, or. of Morrison. You can’t talk about ‘Radicals’ just like that, any more than you can talk about ‘The English’. As I said, I’d like to do away with the Monarchy, but it doesn’t depend on me. It’s bound to come to an end anyway. We can’t tolerate this inequality in a democratic state. Think of the things  which are hitched on to it- an Established Church – a kind of built-in religious intolerance. The Nobility – a self-renewing growth of class-distinction and social inequality. lt’s a focus for the most vicious of virtues, Patriotism (you can’t deny that the extremest nationalists are the most fervent Royalists,) an encouragement of inequality in education (since the Royal Children will receive Public School education outside the State System.) And the utter ruin of the design of our Postage Stamps.

B.             Whatever you say, I should hate to see it all disappear, and I wonder how happy you would be with the mangled remains left after your reforms? But I won’t argue about these things, because I want to show you how impractical your ideas are. Supposing you had a party whose members had decided to abolish the Monarchy.

Before those who were elected became Members of Parliament they would have to take the oath, which goes like this:

            I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true

            allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and

            successors, according to Law. So help me God.


Anyone who refused to swear wouldn’t become an MP . And then if your Republicans did swear, they would have to break their oath to carry out their prograrnme. For this they could be, and probably would be, tried in a court of law.  Even without the Parliamentary oath the would probably be committing High Treason, which includes trying to kill the King, the Queen, or the heir to the throne, or starting a revolution to overthrow the Government (by action, not by speaking or writing.) The punishment for High Treason, by the way, is Public Execution, so the Republicans might end up hanged in rows on Tower Hill, just as in A.P.Herbert’s story the whole Government Party was sent to prison for breaking the electoral laws. If the MPs got into Parliament they might not be allowed by the Speaker to debate the abolition of the Monarchy, because it is quite Out of Order to ‘utter treasonable or seditious words, or to use the Queen’s name irreverently, or to influence the debate.’ Even if Bills were passed, they would have to be given the Royal Assent, and under the circumstances the Queen might refuse to give it – and she might be constitutionally right to refuse, too. As long as there was any opposition in Parliament or in the country it would cripple the Republicans, because the system is weighted very strongly in favour of the Monarch. The Republicans would have to keep on holding General Elections to make sure the Public were supporting them-otherwise they couldn’t find out what the Public thought, since there isn’t any machinery in England for the holding of plebiscites. As the Queen is the Head of the Established Church this would lead to a religious conflict.

A.             It’s alarming that we can’t abolish the Monarchy without fighting the Church down to the very last vicar, but at the same time that we can’t disestablish the Church without abolishing the Monarchy. That’s really an insoluble riddle.

B.             Only insoluble if you want to disestablish the Church. Why not leave it alone? It doesn’t do any harm, nobody takes the least bit of notice of it – which may be bad for it spiritually, but at any rate stops it from being effectively intolerant. And the Church  helps the National Economy by putting all its money into steel shares. But I haven’t finished yet. The Queen is the figurehead of the Commonwealth, by the statute of Westminster, which we mentioned before. If a member of the Commonwealth wants to alter its status, the other nations have to approve its staying in the Commonwealth. You will see this process in action soon, because South Africa has decided to become a republic. If you had your way we might get the ridiculous situation of Britain being thrown out of the Commonwealth and Queen .Elizabeth continuing to reign as Queen of Canada and Australia, I daresay they’d be glad to have her. We should be a minor hive-off, like the Irish Republic, only without the dignity of having fought for it. And so eventually, adding it all together, your reform would take years to achieve, would split the nation, and wouldn’t bring about enough changes to justify the vast sums of money which would have to be spent on it.

A.             Here we are back at money again. How much does the Queen cost, by the way?

B.             No, you can’t escape that way. The Queen’s grant from Parliament (The Civil List) was £475,000 per annum as from 1952. That’s not quite 2d per head of  population. I don’t suppose they mind paying 2d a year for a King or Queen, do you? The money covers a lot of necessary expenses, remember. Then on top of that Prince Philip got an annuity of /£40, 000. But consider what a marvelous tourist attraction they are. We must make millions out of that. Presidents don’t excite the tourists, but I bet you they don’t cost much less.

A.             I’ve no idea how much a President costs, but you don’t tempt me into this argument. This is the big financier excuse – it makes money, so it can’t be wrong. I asked because I was curious, not because I wanted to change the subjeet. The fact that the Monarchy works and \would take effort to change seems sufficient to convince you that it is right,,, But somebody has to think about the truth. If 1. am right, that it injures the moral health of the nation and isn’t compatible with democracy, and I believe that I am right, then it will have to go in the end. However, in the mean time I shan’t go around in a dark cloak plotting High Treason in dark corners, I shall just sit down peacefully waiting for the next Bad King. He’ll do my work for me very effectively. I wonder how Prince Charles will turn out?

B.             Yes, 1. wonder how Prince Charles will turn out too. And here, it seems to me, we might as well close the discussion, because we’re back where we started – the truth about Charles is bound to be revealed to regular readers of the Grune Blatt.


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