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pencilsAt the weekend, I read two comprehensive schools guides concerning the UK.

It astounded me to see how much term fees were for both prep (infant/primary) and secondary independent (including some top-end ‘public’ schools such as Eton and Harrow).  Most were upwards of £5,000 per term. One sixth-form school (last two years of secondary school) charges £13,000 per term. With three terms per school year, parents are paying from £15,000 to £39,000 per annum.

And that’s not taking into account school trips abroad. I don’t mean a ferry trip to Ireland or France. These pupils and students go to Asia, Africa and the United States.

Then there are summer holidays, which, in order to meet with the rather recent British propensity for Jonesing (from the post-Second World War American envy of matching up to ‘the Joneses next door’), a man has to make an incredible amount of money and manage it wisely every year. More importantly, he must be able to keep his job, come what may — takeovers, reorganisations, redundancies and so forth.

I’ll talk more about schools in another post, because my jaw fell open in disbelief at several points when reading these guides. Thank goodness that I don’t have to worry; I just enjoy reading most objectively-written articles and books about school in general.

My point here — with apologies in advance to female readers — is that in my area, blessed enough to seriously consider the schools which these guides include, we have a number of middle-aged mothers who are not working outside the home yet they dislike their husbands.

Many of these men, executives or self-employed, are putting themselves through temporal hell in paying for their wives’ and children’s upkeep, school fees, the mortgage, dinners out, children’s birthday parties (very expensive and competitive here), holidays and so much more. One wonders how they can afford it all.

One mother I know — there are no doubt many more — has said that she doesn’t really enjoy her husband’s company. They barely meet up during the week. If he isn’t working late nights, he’s away on business, which entails flying overseas to distant continents for days at a time. Meanwhile, he has put no demands upon her and happily pays for their teenaged children to attend private schools.

Seriously, if he decided to leave — and I can name four offline husbands who have left their wives once their children become teenagers — she would be left in a huge financial abyss, despite whatever financial support he could arrange for her and the children. After all, he would have to get another mortgage for his own residence and be able to pay for all the expenses that home would require.

Even worse, suppose he died suddenly? The kiddos would have to go to state school like many others, and the widow would find it difficult to find a job paying enough to fill all the financial gaps.

It’s time that more well-heeled women were more grateful for the blessing of not having to earn their own keep yet get away with doing a minimum around the house, escape the ‘oppression’ of cooking a proper meal and expect to be taken out to dinner on Saturdays and Sundays — while their children are attending good private schools.

It’s time to be thankful for what we have, because things can always be a lot worse. Life isn’t fair; many have been dealt better hands (to borrow a card-playing expression) than others.

Finally, I would ask these women to consider what their husbands are thinking when alone on a plane for several hours. It could be they are wondering why their wives have not gone out to seek employment or at least be more productive at home.

By no means am I asking or telling women to become housewives or go and find gainful employment, but some of those who are at home with no demands from their husbands really should think their lives through a bit more and be grateful they have married such good, responsible, undemanding providers.

As some of us know, vulnerability — principally because of age or loss — can create a vacuum to be filled by an unscrupulous, manipulative fraudster.

This has been the case throughout history, although there was a time when the most serious menace a widow in my mother’s city could face was a series of obscene phone calls in the middle of the night. Her other widowed friends warned her that a local man read the obituaries in the local newspaper and looked up the telephone numbers of households where men had recently died, specifically those death notices which mentioned surviving widows. Yes, my mother, as did her friends in their time, received several of these calls over a period of a few weeks.

That is distressing enough, particularly as, when the phone rang at 2 or 3 a.m., she thought I had been seriously injured or died in an accident. It really isn’t big, clever or funny. Nobody knows what happened to that heavy breather on the other end of the phone. He might have died by now or moved away.

Some years earlier, my late grandmother recalled the pigeon drop. It was rampant in her urban neighbourhood — a different city — in the 1970s. Two confidence tricksters — a thirtysomething man and woman — preyed on elderly widows to part with their savings in order to somehow magically get more money. The man presented the money angle; the woman the emotional ‘we really want you to have the cash, you’re so adorable’ gambit.

Anyone with half an ounce of common sense could see where that was going to end, right? Not necessarily. Some of Grandma’s friends were even taken in by the scam, despite the fact that all the senior citizens clubs in her area warned against even talking to these grifters.

Today, I heard an hour-long programme on French radio station RTL about how lone confidence tricksters can prey on married couples and split them apart.

I’ve written about Flavie Flament’s afternoon show on RTL once before, with regard to etiquette.  Her show on May 13, 2014 focussed on the true story of a manipulative man who one day began communicating with a married woman —  Ghislaine (pron. ‘Ghee-len’) de Védrines — and managed to defraud the couple of a serious sum of money. He is now serving a prison term. The woman and her husband, Jean Marchand, have since written a book about their decade-long ordeal. A psychiatrist was also on the show to explain how this occurs.

The psychiatrist, Marie-France Hirigoyen, said that manipulative grifters can sense vulnerability and gradually — my words, not hers — go in for the kill, if you’ll pardon the expression. She said that loss triggers vulnerability in most cases: death, divorce or, perhaps, a job.

Strangely, in Ghislaine (pron. ‘Ghee-len’) de Védrines and Jean Marchand’s case, they were married and living together with their children. Unfortunately, I missed the first part of the show which explained exactly how Ghislaine was ensnared in this man’s universe. Although Jean explained that he tried to tell her time and time again that the man was no good, she refused to believe him.

Amazingly (to my mind, anyway), this disagreement filtered down to their children, who began taking sides with Mom or Dad.

The weird thing is that Ghislaine never actually met this man until later on. However, he contacted her by telephone and he emailed, targeting her mind first and then her wallet.

Therefore, this scenario could happen to anyone, including a married couple who are parents of younger children living at home.

The danger was that once Ghislaine was trapped, she couldn’t get out because the conman had such a psychological hold on her. I watched the show as it took place live in the studio. Ghislaine and her husband look completely normal and middle class. You would not think that one of them would fall prey to such a scam, particularly one that stretched over ten years.

They — along with the psychiatrist — ran through characteristics that these con artists have in common: persuasive communication, drawing the ‘mark’ (targeted person) away from their family and friends, encouraging the mark to trust no one but the con artist himself and ensuring that they have secret communications.

Jean remained by his wife’s side throughout the ordeal, even though — because of the con artist’s manipulative persuasion — Ghislaine couldn’t bear to be with him. She ended up going through psychotherapy and fully regrets that she was taken in by a man who threatened every aspect of the stable family life and financial security she once knew.

It’s interesting that the title of the couple’s book is Diabolique, which needs no translation.

I’m still surprised thinking about it now, hours later. However, it just goes to show us that evil can work under a series of subtle disguises, seemingly good, so ‘good’ that it can seriously damage people, their relationships and their future.

If we’re going through trauma, the best advice we can follow is not to be drawn in by chance acquaintances, whether in real life or online.

This story is proof that a con artist can penetrate even a marriage and active family life.

At least, in this case, the husband persevered. He never gave up reclaiming his wife’s affections and putting his family back together.

As for Ghislaine, she said that the most important thing a mark can do is to apologise to their loved ones by admitting they made a serious mistake.

Some family members would not take a sincere apology well and possibly reject that person.

Fortunately for Ghislaine, her family has forgiven her, although both she and Jean admit that things are no longer what they once were.

We as Christians are called to be kind to strangers. Yet, we can bear in mind Jesus’s words to the Apostles when he sent them out to preach and heal (Matthew 10:16):

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance in our daily dealings with the world.

Description de l'image  Bouvard.jpg.Last week on April 4, 2014, French journalist, editor, author and broadcaster Philippe Bouvard (left), 84, celebrated his 37th year presenting RTL radio’s Les Grosses Têtes (The Big Heads), France’s most popular afternoon programme on what we in Britain call ‘the wireless’.

I watched a podcast of his anniversary show and was moved when RTL’s much younger station director walked into the studio with a huge Opéra cake (seven slim chocolate-based layers, each one of which is unctuous), glasses of fizz for Bouvard and his panellists as well as a bottle of something special for Bouvard himself. Bouvard promised to share the cake with his sizable live studio audience.

Bouvard is a French institution and has even played cameo roles as himself in three films between the 1950s and the 1970s. I first became aware of him when he was editor-in-chief of France-Soir, now sadly defunct. That wasn’t his fault, by the way. It went downhill when he left, although it was still a good read for a tabloid. The racing and puzzle pages were excellent, too.

Over the past few years, I have listened to Les Grosses Têtes off and on during the afternoon. That is my busiest time of day, so I tune in and tune out. Bouvard will be leaving the programme at the end of the summer to return to RTL in the autumn with a new show, yet to be determined.

Bouvard’s programme is much like him: varied, stimulating and never boring. I cannot imagine how he manages to do it nearly every day, week in and week out. Each show is different and demands quite a lot to maintain its audience share, even if Bouvard himself probably does not do all the research or book the guests. Listeners learn something new every day, whether it is about showbiz, politics, history, literature, science, classical education or philosophy. It is recorded in the morning and broadcast in the afternoon, interspersed with news bulletins and a bit of music.

Incidentally, Bouvard was born to a Catholic father whom he never knew and to a Jewish mother. Born in 1929, he was obliged to lie low during the Second World War as an ethnic Jew. When his mother remarried, he took his stepfather’s surname. He has a French Legion of Honour medal, is a Knight of French Arts and Letters and is a member of the Grand Croix de l’Ordre d’Isabelle la Catholique. He has been married for 61 years and has two children.

It occurred to me how pleasant it was for RTL’s much younger director to present him with an anniversary celebration and a short but genuine speech of thanks.

MurrayWalkerAutosportInternational2009.jpgHere in the UK, Bouvard would have been turfed out by the time he reached his 80th birthday, just on principle. The closest British icon we have of roughly the same age group is Murray Walker OBE, who, for many years, was the most remembered commentator for Formula 1 racing on the BBC and ITV.

Walker, now 90, made the decision to leave F1 commentary in 2000. His final race was the American Grand Prix in 2001. Since then, he has featured in retrospectives not only on motor racing but about his own life.

He started his career as an ad man after serving in the Second World War. Odd though it might seem today, advertising was the natural civvie street career choice for British officers in that war.

One Briton who did not fare so well with media management was the veteran BBC Radio 2 announcer Jimmy Young OBE, who left the station in a storm of controversy and public outcry in 2002 at the age of 81. Listeners past and present were outraged at his treatment by the BBC. They deemed Auntie Beeb ageist. Young had made it publicly clear he had had no intentions of retiring; his hand had been forced. Just under a decade later, in 2011, Radio 2 did a retrospective of his life with his participation at age 90. Today, he is still going strong, writing a weekly column for the Sunday Express. Among other subjects, Young has taken issue with the aggressive tone of today’s television interviewers.

Sadly, Britain’s female broadcasters and presenters have fared the worst where ageism is concerned. Two capable — and beautiful women — Moira Stewart OBE (left) and Anna Ford (right) — were turfed out of news presenting well before their time. Stewart was given the heave-ho at the tender age of 57 in 2007 after 34 years in both television and radio with the BBC. Ford stayed on as BBC One’s afternoon news presenter until she was 62. That was in 2006. By then, she had had nearly 20 years continuous broadcasting experience between ITV and the BBC.

In Stewart’s case, young(ish) DJ Chris Evans vowed he would bring her back to broadcasting. She is currently his newsreader for his drive-time Breakfast Show on Radio 2.

Ford has moved on to serve as a non-executive director of J Sainsbury plc and chairs their Corporate Responsibility Committee.

Mary Berry BBC Good Food 2011.jpgA better outcome for British women in media, perhaps, is the career trajectory of Mary Berry CBE, who overcame polio as a young girl and went on to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, write food columns for magazines, author cookbooks, star as a Women’s Institutes (WI) television cook on various programmes to go on to co-present the Great British Bake-off  (BBC2) with Paul Hollywood.

You can’t get much better than that in your sunset years, can you?

Her Mary Berry Cooks (BBC2) has just finished and is a well-presented six-part series on traditional and modern English dishes which are sure to please friends and family. Berry takes the fear out of cooking for the kitchen novice. Her manner is friendly, open and helpful.

I quite like the way Berry is a non-feminist feminist, much like our Queen. Neither talks about feminism. Each has had a longstanding career. (At this point, Berry would quite rightly decry my comparing her to our monarch, which I would accept.) Both are feminine and gracious. Both cherish their husbands and families. Both are well respected women in their fields. Neither went in for ‘feminism’ per se with all its strident events and elements. Both are kind to others, even when things go awry. Both their mothers lived to a great age. The Queen Mother died at the age of 102. Berry’s mother lived to be 105 or 107, I cannot recall exactly.

Some of our elders in the mainstream media meet with more fortune than others. Why that is remains a mystery. However, I do enjoy watching, listening to and reading about them. They all have much to teach us.

Would that there were more seniors in mainstream media now. May we find a more generous younger generation when we meet that age. Our Boomers and Gen-X-ers are perhaps not the best respecters of age.

The other night we saw the first in a three-part series on BBC4, Britain’s Oldest Businesses.

The first in the programme profiled R J Balson and Son from Bridport, Dorset. Richard Balson is the current proprietor. He works together with his brother-in-law Rudi Boulay. The programme revealed that Richard Balson understood the business to date from 1535. However, a subsequent discovery, shown in the programme, dates back to 1515.

A year away from half a millenium of meat sales

The Balson website includes old family photographs of the shop and their first ‘modern’ 20th century delivery vehicle. It’s a short but fascinating read and, if the show is rerun (let’s hope it airs on PBS), it’s worthwhile recording for later viewing at home.

We learned that the first two documents dating the business referred to those Balson men being granted a stall at Bridport’s shambles, where butchery was done live in the main thoroughfare. More about shambles later in the post.

We also learned that market days — the only time butchery was allowed — were Wednesday and Saturday. Therefore, if you wished to make a living by selling meat, you often had to have another job.

One of Balson’s more recent ancestors from the 19th century ran a pub. He was able to sell  more meat through the pub. (These days, outsiders go in to pubs to sell meat of unknown provenance, possibly stolen, at very low prices. Caveat emptor — buyer beware.) However, this proves that selling meat in the pub is an old tradition. It would be interesting to find out how many butchers ran pubs before they were allowed to open a shop throughout the week.

Another detail viewers learned was that the abundance of carcasses on display was generally photographed in the run-up to Christmas as a retail incentive.

Currently, a Balson relative living in the US sells meat from the family firm online. He still has the old date of 1535 in the banner heading.

The Telegraph has a good article — albeit with a misspelling of Thomas More’s name — about the Balson family business:

Although he’s interested in his business’s claim to fame, Richard Balson has never had the time to think about starting a history project. A butcher’s life is busy from cradle to grave. He grew up above the shop and remembers his father warning him from an early age that the Balson butchers never earned enough for a retirement …

Next year he will own a business that has been in the same family for half a millennium. Still, it’s not all good news: “Nothing exciting happened that year [1515], except the birth of Anne of Cleves,” he says despondently.

More disturbing information is in store for Balson, whom we follow in the first part of the series. He becomes increasingly hooked as the story unravels: the shop has, quite miraculously it seems, survived a rather bloody history. One of the Balson butchers lived with a married woman and “had his head blown off” by her 10-year-old son [an accident]; another was sent to a Victorian asylum for electric shock treatment before cutting his own throat [in a wash house, the precursor to a launderette]. What makes these stories close to the bone, as it were, is that they all lived and worked in the same space – as indeed did Balson with his own father.

The Shambles — first butchery sites

‘The Shambles’ was the name for mediaeval and subsequent butchers’ stalls until the 18th or 19th century, depending on the town or city.

A few places by that name still exist today in England — York has The Shambles and Little Shambles thoroughfares. Manchester has Shambles Square.

As the documentary on the Balsons showed us, shambles were set up in the main shopping — high — street in a central location. They were often roofed structures but might have been held up only by columns in some cases to allow freer passage of livestock to slaughter.

Farmers brought in their beasts to be slaughtered and butchered on market days. In principle, the documentary told us, the animals could be cut to order. Any meat not sold on that day could be salted — similar to corned beef — or sent to the local lepers, which was undoubtedly seen as an act of Christian charity; otherwise they might have starved.

However, the shambles represented a hygiene problem over the centuries. Whilst the blood and faecal waste from the animals could flow off into the recesses of the street, in time, cholera and other diseases were rife in these districts. Yet, it would not be until the 18th century when the ‘Godless’ Enlightenment (as many 21st century American fundamentalists perceive it as a whole) would enable town planning and some degree of cleanliness. At that point, Bath being one example, the shambles were removed from the public square and placed indoors with separate slaughter or butchery facilities at the rear of the shops. Some animals were killed offsite and brought into town. In the late 19th century, butchers were among the first to be able to purchase and benefit from refrigerated cold stores to keep meat fresh throughout the week. From that point on, many meat shops were open five or six days a week.

Shambles — etymology and current meaning

The American Heritage Dictionary traces the word ‘shambles’ as follows (emphases in bold mine below):

A place or situation referred to as a shambles is usually a mess, but it is no longer always the bloody mess it once was. The history of the word begins innocently enough with the Latin word scamnum, “a stool or bench serving as a seat, step, or support for the feet, for example.” The diminutive scamillum, “low stool,” was borrowed by speakers of Old English as sceamol, “stool, bench, table.” Old English sceamol became Middle English shamel, which developed the specific sense in the singular and plural of “a place where meat is butchered and sold.” The Middle English compound shamelhouse meant “slaughterhouse,” a sense that the plural shambles developed (first recorded in 1548) along with the figurative sense “a place or scene of bloodshed” (first recorded in 1593). Our current, more generalized meaning, “a scene or condition of disorder,” is first recorded in 1926.

A webpage on the history of York adds that ‘shamel’ also referred to:

Flesshammel, which means to do with flesh – it was the street of the butchers. In 1872 the number of butchers was recorded as 26. This figure dwindled over the years until the last butcher standing was Dewhurst at number 27 the Shambles.

Unfortunately, the nationwide Dewhurst chain disappeared in 1995. I remember seeing them in many towns and London boroughs when I first moved to England. However, the Vestey Group which, although British, branched out into large-scale South American food ventures instead of investing in the UK. They:

developed the country-wide Dewhurst the Butchers chain of butchers shops, which was eventually disbanded in 1995 in the face of increasing competition from the supermarket chains. Dewhurst were the first to introduce the innovation of glass windows on butcher’s shops – previously meat had been exposed to the elements and pollution.

Picture of the Shambles York England

Since 2011, a few Dewhurst shops have made their way back onto the high street thanks to another company stepping into the breach.

I was in York’s Shambles on a visit 20 years ago. I remember we all laughed at the street sign which read:

The Shambles

We didn’t know what it meant, even though we were all steeped to an extent in English history.

However, as the York website explains:

It is said that in certain points you can reach out of the top window and shake hands with a person doing the same daft thing in the house opposite! But if you had walked the length of this street, say, 300 years ago, it would have been a very different experience! Livestock would have been kept behind the shops and slaughtered on site.

Later, when York had the cattle market it meant that cattle no longer lived behind the shops, but the slaughterhouses remained and the cattle were driven in on foot from the market. The middle of street would have been an open gutter and the waste from the butchers was washed out of the shops and into the street. Number 31 has a sloping floor for this reason.


There was also another hazard — human waste from the bedpans and chamberpots. Younger readers should realise there were no toilets at the time. Sorry, but this has to be said. We don’t know how fortunate we are to be living in our times.

In Edinburgh at the same time, there was a common saying among the locals living in similarly crowded conditions, where disease was also rife. Housekeepers and housewifes would empty the chamberpots and bedpans, quickly calling out, ‘Gardy-loo!’ I have heard several historical explanations of this, but the most likely seems to be a corruption of the French, ‘Gardez l’eau!’ or ‘Mind — pay attention to — the water’, not unlike the ancient fencing expression, ‘En garde!’

York’s website says much the same thing:

domestic waste would have been thrown down from the windows above to either drain into open ditches, or stagnate in the road. Manure was collected at night, but no great effort was made to take it very far away. The terribly unhygienic conditions led to several outbreaks of cholera, and yet it was not until the 20th century that changes were made.

It was not until the 20th century that ‘changes were made’ because Bazalgette’s modern sewage and sanitation system of its many u-bends was perfected in the 19th century in London. It made a near-immediate change for the better in the hygiene of London’s residents and was no doubt sent across the country as the way forward.

Never laugh when people talk about the benefits of modern toilet, drainage and water sanitation systems. You would not be reading this if they were not in place.

York: St Margaret Clitherow, butcher’s wife — and priest holes

Whilst in York, strolling along The Shambles, I don’t know if I knew there was a slaugherhouse (abbatoir) behind Nos. 37 and 38.

However, I did see the overhang of upper storeys of the centuries-old buildings:

There remain examples of late medieval buildings in the Shambles, which represents a good example of how houses – topped by overhanging “solars” through which it was hoped that sunlight might be brought through the windows into burgesses’ living quarters – were sometimes within arms’ reach of each other.

Margaret Clitherow.pngTo the dismay of my Anglican companions, I — a fellow Anglican — did visit St Margaret Clitherow’s shrine at Nos. 35 and 36:

Margaret Middleton married John Clitherow, a widowed butcher who had his business at number 35. After her marriage Margaret converted to Catholicism. These were turbulent times for religion, with the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and the continued religious warring throughout the reigns of his children. Margaret gave shelter to travelling Priests, and conducted Mass for local Catholics in her home. Warned and imprisoned for her continual refusal to conform to the protestant way of life, she continued with her activities.

The inspectors would count the windows outside the houses and compare them to the count inside, to see if an area had been concealed to hide a priest. On the evidence of a frightened child they arrested Margaret and charged her with providing cover for the Priests and with practicing Catholicism. She was offered a trial, but she insisted she had no crime to answer to, and so was sentenced to death. To be crushed to death in the prison under Ouse bridge.

Rather than be naked, she made herself a shift of white linen. She lay with a large stone placed in the small of her back and a door was laid upon her body. Stones were piled upon the door until she was dead. She was canonized on October 25th 1970, and her right hand can still be seen in the Bar Convent museum.

I didn’t know about the Bar Convent museum, but visiting her former home was moving. I could feel a chill, which normally hasn’t happened to me in other such places, e.g. the Roman Catacombs. Perhaps this was because the martyrdom was more recent. I cannot say.

My Anglican friends must have felt something, too, because two stepped away quickly and the other suggested a quick exit. I stayed on to read what was written about her and was increasingly moved by her life.

By the way, there were such things as ‘priest holes’. Some were hidden by a heavy stone concealing door with a false appearance on one side. The priest, with some physical effort, could move the stone door, carefully find the staircase to a lower storey — i.e. cellar — and remain there indefinitely as long as someone brought him food, drink and candles. The stone door made the cellar soundproof and rendered the clergyman invisible for all intents and purposes.

Elizabeth I, the reigning Queen, was outraged that Margaret Clitherow had been sentenced to death. St Margaret Clitherow’s Wikipedia entry says:

She was born as Margaret Middleton,[3] the daughter of a wax-chandler, after Henry VIII of England had split the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. She married John Clitherow, a butcher, in 1571 (at the age of 15) and bore him three children. She converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of 18, in 1574. Her husband John was supportive (he having a brother who was Roman Catholic clergy), though he remained Protestant.[4] She then became a friend of the persecuted Roman Catholic population in the north of England. Her son, Henry, went to Reims to train as a Roman Catholic priestA house in the Shambles once thought to have been her home, now called the Shrine of the Saint Margaret Clitherow, is open to the public (it is served by the nearby Church of St Wilfrid’s and is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough); her actual house (10 and 11, the Shambles) is further down the street.

she was executed by being crushed to death – the standard punishment for refusal to plead – on Good Friday 1586. The two sergeants who should have killed her hired four desperate beggars to kill her. She was stripped and had a handkerchief tied across her face then laid out upon a sharp rock the size of a man’s fist, the door from her own house was put on top of her and slowly loaded with an immense weight of rocks and stones (the small sharp rock would break her back when the heavy rocks were laid on top of her). Her death occurred within fifteen minutes but her body was left for six hours before the weight was removed. After her death her hand was removed, and this relic is now housed in the chapel of the Bar Convent, York. Following her execution, Elizabeth I wrote to the citizens of York expressing her horror at the treatment of a fellow woman. Because of her sex, she argued, Clitherow should not have been executed.

From this, I gathered that St Margaret Clitherow would have been a patron saint of butchers. However, she is the patron saint of businesswomen, converts, martyrs and the Catholic Women’s League.

Patron saints of butchers include: St Adrian of Nicomedia, St George, St Peter (the Apostle) and  St Anthony the Abbot as well as St Luke, the Gospel writer.


There are some mysteriously and absolutely foul revisions of the word ‘burgess’ in the Urban Dictionary. Some are simply unkind and others are scatalogical. None of them has a link to history and the original meaning of the word. Therefore, I have not supplied a link to them.

Wikipedia has an international definition, encompassing Europe and the Middle East:

Burgess is a word in English that originally meant a freeman of a borough (England) or burgh (Scotland). It later came to mean an elected or unelected official of a municipality, or the representative of a borough in the English House of Commons.

It was derived in Middle English and Middle Scots from the Old French word burgeis, simply meaning “an inhabitant of a town” (cf. burgeis or burges respectively). The Old French word burgeis is derived from bourg, meaning a market town or medieval village, itself derived from Late Latin burgus, meaning “fortress[1] or “wall”. In effect, the reference was to the north-west European medieval and renaissance merchant class which tended to set up their storefronts along the outside of the city wall, where traffic through the gates was an advantage and safety in event of an attack was easily accessible. The right to seek shelter within a burg was known as the right of burgess.[2]

The term was close in meaning to the Germanic term burgher, a formally defined class in medieval German cities, (Middle Dutch burgher, Dutch burger and German Bürger). It is also linguistically close to the French term Bourgeois, which evolved from burgeis. An analogous term in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu is برج ‘burj’ or ‘borj’, which in itself variously means a high wall, a building, or a tower.

The term is also related to burglar, though this developed in the opposite direction in terms of social respectability.

From my reading of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Young Stalin, the Russians also had a similar word, burgis.

The burgess’s status was underneath that of the alderman’s — alder, elder — who was his superior. However, the burgess was the precursor to the merchant class. As Wikipedia cites, the verses of the ancient song Greensleeves point out:

Thy purse and eke thy gay guilt knives, thy pincase gallant to the eye: No better wore the Burgesse wives, and yet thou wouldst not love me. gives a simpler definition:

A burgess was a landowner or householder in a town or borough. Burgesses paid their share of any communal dues and expenses and therefore shared in town privileges.

The term derives from the word borough (and its alternate pronunciations), as does burgher. Burghers and burgesses were different, however, in that burgesses had special privileges that derived from their support of the community.

Today, we still have boroughs (e.g. London and New York City) as well as aldermen (e.g. Chicago).

The Medieval English Urban History glossary defines burgesses as:

town residents contributory towards the customary payments due the king from boroughs, later in the Middle Ages its varied application does not suggest a precise, universally agreed, technical definition. Broadly, however, it referred to residents of a borough, usually those residents who were members of the borough community in terms of sharing in communal responsibilities and rights; hence we often find the term “comburgess” used, to emphasise that an individual was a fellow member of the enfranchised community (although the term also came to be used, on occasion, to refer to burgesses of higher status). At Lynn the poorest townsmen were clearly described as non-burgesses, “burgesses” evidently being equated with those residents who had become freemen; this appears also the case in Ipswich. Yet in Colchester the same class of poorer residents was described as being burgesses. Outsiders (“strangers” or “foreigners”) were sometimes allowed to acquire some of the same – notably commercial – privileges by entering the franchise under the special status of “foreign burgess”. Towards the end of the Middle Ages “burgess” was more likely to be used to distinguish one group of privileged townsmen from a less privileged group.

There was a fine line between ‘advantages of burgesses’ — a burgess was a freeman — and a ‘monopoly’ on trading. Burgesses became wealthy because they could share in the proceeds of market trade, as this example from old Norwich (Norfolk) municipal laws says, in modern English:

It was a fundamental right of freemen to be able to claim a share in any mercantile bargain made by one of their fellows, if they were present when the bargain was made. Only in special cases could they claim a share if not present. The use of multiple representatives undermined this equal shares principle, and favoured the urban upper class, which supplied most bailiffs – perhaps explaining the final clause of this chapter, suggesting that the bailiffs might be reluctant to investigate such abuses in absence of a specific complaint, and producing a statement of the source of political authority in towns.

Perhaps this is the source of European class conflict, which might well have started centuries ago. Let it further be emphasised that local lords or kings actually owned the land granted to the care of burgesses to rent — tenements (somewhat different to the early 20th century meaning) — on their behalf.

On a lighter note …

The city of Manchester’s website has a photographic history of their Shambles Square. If you scroll down one-quarter or one-third down the page, you will see Ye Olde Fyshing Tackle Shoppe.

The next photo shows that a Will Chambers owns it (look for the postcard reproduced with Jason Kennedy’s permission).

The following postcard or photo shows the same building at a slightly different angle. Could the writing on the card be from Will Chambers? It is certainly signed Will. It says — in as much as I can make out:

Dear Froggy cum ['with' -- Latin] sausage cum roast beef, how the dickens are you, have your muscles grown any, are you quite well, anything fresh, if so let me know, you owe me a letter, you [are] usually so punctual, what do you think of your new nephew, both [mother and son] are doing well.

John HoldrenJohn Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama administration, has chilling notions on families.

Holdren is married and the father of two children. He also has five grandchildren.

In 2009, he said that the government could propose to seize babies from mothers who refused to have abortions.

Now Fox News unearthed another quote of his concerning reproduction (see penultimate paragraph in the left hand column). If this isn’t straight out of the Third Reich, what is? Emphases mine below:

A program of sterilizing women after their second or third child, despite the relatively greater difficulty of the operation than vasectomy, might be easier to implement than trying to sterilize men. The development of a long-term sterilizing capsule that could be implanted under the skin and removed when pregnancy is desired opens additional possibilities for coercive fertility control. The capsule could be implanted at puberty and might be removable, with official permission, for a limited number of births.

This is staggering. Suppose someone had enacted that against one of his children? He would be minus one or two grandchildren.

God gave us the capacity to reproduce. He wants His creation in this world. It is staggering that a scientist serving an American president could have suggested such a thing. Also, how can he be certain that removing this demonic capsule will allow a woman to bring a child to term? What happens if the child is deformed or mentally incapacitated?

Take it further, however. What if certain people are targeted with this capsule, should it come to fruition? Christians, for example, because America has enough of them, let’s say. Furthermore, let’s say, they’re deemed stupid (I believe such a survey exists). The United States doesn’t need more of their type.

I do not think this will happen any time soon, but we should be aware that one of today’s ‘experts’ has posited it.

Bible boy_reading_bibleContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 8:1-3

Women Accompanying Jesus

 1Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.


In these three verses, St Luke gives us more of an insight into our Lord’s ministry.

Jesus did not shy away from the countryside; he visited villages as well as cities (verse 1). He and his disciples travelled by foot, the exception being His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday.

What of His message? He does not speak of ‘social justice’ or ‘political change’. He speaks of ‘the good news of the kingdom of God’.

Charity and justice are not restricted to Christians. They are standard operating practice for world religions and secular humanism. To place those two planks — worthy though they are, and, yes, Jesus did say ‘love they neighbour’ — above salvation would be erroneous. Yet, this is what postmodern clergy — including the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury — promote over faith, repentance, grace and the promise of eternal life.

When we have faith, we will naturally love our neighbour and practice charity because we have a better understanding of God’s sovereignty, His love and that Man was created in His image.

Jesus preached about His Father’s kingdom.  He did not come to transform or rescue Israel from the Romans. He was not an earthly king in the way His contemporaries and we understand kingship. He spoke of more; He was the fulfilment of the Scriptures in a way that many then and now refuse to or cannot comprehend. He lived humbly. He was accessible. He was among people nearly every day.

The Twelve, Luke tells us, were with him (verse 1) as were three women. Our commentators, Matthew Henry and John MacArthur, surmise that the women were there regularly, probably until nightfall. They no doubt provided help with food or practical items to make the day’s journey and evening meal easier.

In addition to the Twelve and these three women, there were other disciples on these forays who felt compelled through faith to follow Jesus, whom they loved as a brother, a teacher and a healer. Matthew Henry says:

Some of them are named; but there were many others, who were zealously affected to the doctrine of Christ, and thought themselves bound in justice to encourage it, having themselves found benefit, and in charity, hoping that many others might find benefit by it too.

The three women whom Luke names in verses 2 and 3 were healed of demons or another illness. They also voluntarily contributed financially toward the upkeep of our Lord’s ministry.

The first woman named is Mary Magdalene. Magdalene refers to her home town of Magdala (Migdal, today). We often think of her as having been a prostitute, yet, both Henry and MacArthur say there is nothing in the New Testament to indicate this. The detail to remember is that Jesus cast out seven demons from her. It is a pity, then, that these verses have been omitted from the Lectionary; otherwise, every churchgoer would know this.

Then we have Joanna, who is married to Chuza, manager of King Herod’s household. Of her, Henry writes:

She had been his wife (so some), but was now a widow, and left in good circumstances. If she was now his wife, we have reason to think that her husband, though preferred in Herod’s court, had received the gospel, and was very willing that his wife should be both a hearer of Christ and a contributor to him.

MacArthur doesn’t say whether Chuza was still living at the time Joanna was a disciple, however, he says of both:

This is very, very, very high ranking. This is an official in the very palace of Herod, maybe the manager of Herod’s personal estate who ruled over his own household …

You have a woman who was from the highest possible state in the land.

Mary Magdalene and Joanna were among the first to find our Lord’s tomb was empty at the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene was also at His Crucifixion.

As for Susanna, we do not know any more than that she was a faithful disciple. This is the only time her name appears in the New Testament. MacArthur surmises:

We could assume that because there’s nothing to describe her that she was among the many non-descript who just came from the poor who dominated the land of Israel.

It is marvellous that the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write of these ladies, all three from different social circumstances. I say this because a small minority of conservative American Christian men control everything their wives do. Some will not let them out of the house without permission and need to know every detail of their day. (Christian blogs on toxic churches have many stories of women who have sought divorce because they have been abused and treated like prisoners.) May these three verses remind our men not to act like obscurantist Muslims!

These three women — ‘and many others’ — gave of their savings to this divine ministry. Jesus had no real home anymore; His life was largely spent on the road, as it were.

MacArthur explains:

Jesus’ ministry was supported by those whose lives He had changed. And that’s really the model of ministry. His ministry depended on the generosity of those who had been changed by that ministry. And there were many of them, no doubt women and men. They had a purse, John 13:29 says, they had a purse, they had a treasurer named Judas. They had more than enough because they were able to take out of their purse and give to the poor. Yet they didn’t have any possessions. The disciples had left all. Jesus had left all, didn’t have anywhere to lay His head, “The foxes have holes,” He said, “the birds have nests, I don’t have a place to lay My head.” At the end of His life they [the Romans supervising the Cross] gambled around the cross for the only possession He had and that was the clothes He was wearing. So they were dependent upon these contributions.

Henry draws a larger message for us today, which is that, when we are in need because of adverse circumstances, we should not be too proud to gratefully accept charity from our neighbour. Our Lord did:

Let none say that they scorn to be beholden to the charity of their neighbours, when Providence has brought them into straits; but let them ask and be thankful for it as a favour. Christ would rather be beholden to his known friends for a maintenance for himself and his disciples than be burdensome to strangers in the cities and villages whither he came to preach.

Next time: Luke 8:4-8

We’ve cut back on inviting others over for four-course lunches and dinners.

We used to push the boat out, but no longer.

We’ve simply had too many fussy eaters over during the past few years. There was one couple with a laundry list of ‘what we don’t eat’. Then there was the vegetarian, a guest among several carnivores. Then there was the guest who said our portions were too large. And another who said we served too many courses.

Fine. More for us to enjoy.

The most galling was the laundry list of ‘what we don’t eat’ which amounts to ‘We’ve never had these foods prepared properly or have never tried them’. They included eggs, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, prawns, scallops, lobster, liver, cream — and many more.

I cannot tell you how difficult revamping that menu was.

We were planning to serve a starter of pan-fried foie gras d’oie (goose) with sauteed slices of plum. That had to go.

Then there was the main course of warm prawns and scallops with a light cream and chive sauce. That had to go.

Then there was the salad — a delight of spinach leaves, sliced mushrooms, bacon lardons and chopped boiled egg in a light vinaigrette. That, too, had to be ditched.

Whatever we planned for pudding — crème brulée, probably — was also out of the question.

Whatever we had (I can’t remember) was fine and we had a lovely evening — they were wonderful guests — but we shall not be inviting them again.

There is something to be said for introducing children to a wide variety of food as soon as possible. Begin with baby food in their infancy then move on to equally varied foods which require a child’s cutlery set so they also know how to use a knife and fork properly.

One mother we know has a son who doesn’t like mushrooms. If she serves them to him, he pushes them to one side. Yet, if she holds a pizza party where each of her children and their young guests assemble their own toppings on the crust, her son invariably piles on the mushrooms and eats them quite happily.

Moral of the story: the sooner you get your kids prepping and eventually cooking their own food, the less fussy they will be. If they add certain ingredients, they’ll love them because they had a hand in making the meal.

Similarly, adopt the example of the father in Spain (see last paragraph) who was able to easily get his children to eat fried calamari (squid).

Food can be an everyday adventure of pleasure and delight.

I have a note in my 2012 diary with a quote from Pierre-Yves ‘P-Y’ Gerbeau, a French entrepreneur who moved to England in the 1990s and heads the Xscape leisure centres in the UK.

Of women, he said:

The four fatal words are ‘Darling, take me somewhere!’

SpouseMouse and I know a woman who seems to have adopted that as her personal maxim. She’s a homemaker and mother. Her husband makes a terrific salary. Yet, she has no interests outside the home except gossip with other women.

She barely cooks. She doesn’t garden. Her children are in school all day long. When her husband comes home after a long day, she asks him for a drink.

We imagine, probably correctly, that every Saturday and Sunday, she utters the fatal words to her husband who, incidentally, is often away from home on business:

Darling, take me somewhere!

They invariably go out to eat at the weekend. The whole family piles in the car mid-afternoon and off they go.

We long for the day when she says the four fatal words to her husband and he responds:

What about the kitchen, darling? A world of adventure awaits.

There is no excuse for a homemaker to not cook. None at all. If it’s a question of nail jobs, then, ditch the nail jobs and save some money or do them yourself so they’re less precious.

Nail jobs are around £10 or £15 every seven to ten days. A basic carvery-style lunch out is around £50 for four. That’s a conservative estimate. This man is spending £110 to £115 more per week than is necessary. Multiply that by 52 and add on extra for holidays abroad. That’s a tidy sum of money.

Where I see a coming dystopia, this woman sees an ongoing middle-class existence, the kind she’s always known.

I pity her the day she comes to us in desperation asking for cooking lessons. Refusal often offends.

(In case you think that’s cruel, we have already offered to teach her as well as give her gardening tips. ‘Oh, no, I’m not interested.’)

Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee year ended with a 60th Anniversary Service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.

It was heartening to read that even though he is not in the best of health at the moment, Prince Philip was able to attend. (Last year, he was in hospital for a brief stay and missed the service at St Paul’s.) Unfortunately, today he was taken to The London Clinic in Harley Street, where he is expected to remain for the next fortnight. Well wishers hope that he recovers soon.

Over the past 12 months, I have read websites where Americans described our head of state in various insulting terms. These are conservatives, not Obama supporters, by the way.

I am sorry they feel that way. I suppose to many of us, Queen Elizabeth is the only queen most of us in the world have ever ‘known’. Yes, there are other queens, but they pale by comparison.

Consequently, we have the idea that Queen Elizabeth II’s life has been one bowl of cherries with no real work at all and no enemies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Queen still has a calendar full of official engagements, private meetings and papers to review every day.

And that her succession was plain sailing was far from the truth in the years between Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936 and George VI’s death in 1952. (George VI was the subject of the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech.) After the Second World War ended, the King’s continued declining health preoccupied many in royal circles.

As historian Christopher Wilson wrote recently in the Daily Mail, two rival factions were at work at that time which could have changed England’s Royal Family and the institution of the monarchy forever.

As most 50+ Britons can tell you, Prince Philip was not the most popular when he was courting the then Princess Elizabeth.

Palace courtiers along with some members of the Royal Family were suspicious of the ambitions of his uncle, ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten. They believed that Mountbatten wanted Philip to become King Consort and that the House of Windsor would become the House of Mountbatten.

Wilson reveals:

Princess Marina, widow of the Duke of Kent, spoke for many in the royal circle when she warned that the Mountbattens were  ‘dangerous people… determined to be the power behind the Throne when Elizabeth succeeds’.

And so, as the King ailed, pandemonium reigned. The most influential figure at court, Sir Alan ‘Tommy’ Lascelles, the King’s Private Secretary, joined forces with the Master of the Household, Joey Legh, in bitter objection to Philip as a future consort.

They were joined by the King’s closest male friends – Lord Eldon, the Marquess of Salisbury, and Lord Stanley. Also voicing disdain of the young naval officer was the King’s brother-in-law, David Bowes-Lyon …

Indeed, even those closest to Elizabeth had caught the anti-Mountbatten fever. Her Comptroller and devoted servant, the war hero ‘Boy’ Browning, warned: ‘Remember Dickie – he’d always rather do something under the table than above.’ 

And to a visitor to Elizabeth and Philip, briefly resident in Malta, Browning begged they ensured  ‘Princess Elizabeth isn’t bossed about by Dickie’.

It is worth remembering that these men — as well as the rival factions — saw in young Princess Elizabeth a vulnerable future monarch. Most had her best interests at heart; however, others did not. Furthermore, certain courtiers were concerned for their own future.

Mountbatten represented one faction.

The other was headed by Kenneth de Courcy, well connected with cabinet ministers of the day and a dining partner of Edward VIII. After the Abdication, de Courcy continued to communicate the latest royal news and intrigue to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

In the early postwar years, de Courcy’s goal was to have the Duke installed as Regent until Princess Elizabeth became older.

The Duke and Duchess — alternating between homes in Paris and the Côte d’Azur as well as holidays in New York and Palm Beach — seriously considered de Courcy’s idea. And de Courcy was not short of advice. He counselled the Duke to tone down his extravagant lifestyle and ingratiate himself once more with the British public. (Not only had the Duke abdicated, he had also married a divorcée and had a certain admiration for the Third Reich.) To the Duchess de Courcy wrote:

I should like to see you and the Duke buy an agricultural property somewhere near London, and the Duke devote a good deal of his time to experimental farming on the most advanced modern lines. This would make a great appeal to the country.

Wilson writes that the Duke did spend a short time in London after this appeal and thinks that the weather put him off pursuing a possible Regency.

We won’t know the full story for years to come. Even today, Wilson says there is still a set of de Courcy’s papers under lock and key in the Hoover Institution’s archives at Stanford University in California.

Perhaps a providential hand was at work. During the late 1940s when the Duke got cold feet and it was unclear just how long George VI would continue to live, Wilson concludes:

… the King was on the road to a recovery and would remain on the throne sufficiently long for the nay-sayers to finally get used to the idea of Prince Philip.

Had either Mountbatten or the Duke of Windsor had exercised control over the monarchy, it could have been dangerous to Britain’s interests. Who knows what alliances with foreign powers and potential enemies could have been made which would have jeopardised our Royal Family?

A footnote on Prince Philip. As I mentioned last year, he said many years ago that he was the only man in the world whose children did not carry his surname. I found out recently that this changed in 1960 when their children who were not in line for succession were given the name Mountbatten-Windsor. That is Princess Anne’s maiden name as well as Prince Andrew‘s and Prince Edward‘s surname (used only when needed, e.g. marriage register).

As for our gracious Queen, we wish her many more years as our monarch and head of state. We look forward to another Jubilee celebration. Even now, many English people still carry the spirit of last year’s festivities in a renewed pleasantness and kindness.

Margaret Thatcher torystoryOn April 27, 2013, BBC2 aired a 90-minute documentary on Margaret Thatcher’s early years, Young Margaret.

The programme content was based largely on the many letters the future (late?) Prime Minister exchanged with her sister Muriel, four years older.

It is still difficult for people to imagine that Margaret Thatcher was ever a youngster — or human. The debate goes on in our own home. SpouseMouse maintains she ‘ruined Britain forever’. I say she was preferable to James Callaghan or Neil Kinnock. My better half replies, ‘She killed off our society. End of’.

Anyway, onto the programme, which I found fascinating. I touched on some of these topics after Lady Thatcher died several weeks ago. Young Margaret elaborated more on them.

The Methodist Church

Alf and Beatrice Roberts were faithful Methodists.

Alf did not allow Sunday newspapers in the house. He did not find them suitable Sabbath reading material.

For Alf, the Methodist Church was the only church. He was dismissive of other Protestant denominations and had a particular distrust of the Catholic Church. He became concerned when Margaret made friends with one of her schoolmates, Mary. Alf feared that Mary would lead Margaret to Catholicism.

Alf was a lay minister. As such, the Roberts family attended church services three times on Sunday. Alf preached at many of these. Margaret absorbed these sermons, which in many ways, defined her spiritual and temporal values.

Although Margaret later attended more Anglican services as an adult, she and her husband Denis (Anglican) were married in the Wesleyan Chapel in City Road, London.

High fashion and impeccable appearance

Alf and Beatrice raised their two daughters above Alf’s corner grocery in Grantham, Lincolnshire.

Beatrice preferred to stay in the background, and it does not appear as if the girls were particularly close to her. That said, Beatrice was a seamstress and the girls absorbed their knowledge of fabric and fashion from her. Beatrice made items of clothing for Margaret, including lingerie. Beatrice also sewed a variety of items for the home, including curtains.

As an aside, anyone who has had a tailor or seamstress in the family cannot help but be interested in good taste with regard to clothes and appearance. Some readers might wonder why I place such value on aesthetics. It is because my paternal great-grandfather (whom I never met) was a tailor. Like Beatrice Roberts, he made many outfits — including coats — for his daughters, among them my grandmother. My grandmother took all of this on board, and what she couldn’t sew for my late father and aunt when they were young, she bought with a particular eye for fabric and cut, even during the Great Depression. My aunt didn’t sew too much but always bought stylish suits and skirts. Similarly, my father was very careful in choosing his attire. My mother also had an eye for clothes — quite possibly because my maternal grandmother spent hours at the sewing machine for her daughters. Along with attention to clothes goes hair and accessories. Dad had two or three pair of high-quality cufflinks which he wore; he was particular. The women in the family chose jewellery with care and their hair was immaculate.

So it was with the Roberts girls, Margaret in particular. Although Alf did not allow his daughters to go to dances until they had finished secondary school, both had fashion sense. When Muriel was away in Birmingham studying physiotherapy, Margaret would write her asking if she could borrow a strand of pearls for social events.

In an interview from 1982, Mrs Thatcher (as she was then) explained why she enjoyed wearing pearls:

They give the face a little lift.

She also advised:

Never press a hem. If you want to let the skirt down, you won’t be able to [because of the crease].

In letters to Muriel, Margaret described in great detail what she wore to dances and, once she went up to Oxford, dates with her beaux.

In fact, even one of Margaret’s boyfriends from Oxford — Tony Bray — could recall years later what she wore when they once went out for a country pub lunch. It was a fetching blue dress with matching coat. Bray said his date looked stunning.

Incidentally, the programme revealed that it was Tony Bray who, years later, mooted the idea of council tenants purchasing their own flats and homes. He and Margaret — then Prime Minister — discussed the plan privately at his suggestion.

Margaret also illustrated her letters with new additions to her wardrobe, including lingerie. She was particularly delighted when another suitor, Willie Cullen (more about whom later), gave her a beautiful black leather handbag with a monogram on the flap: MR. She wrote Muriel saying that, although she had no intention of marrying Willie, she was duty bound to continue dating him now that he had given her such a lovely gift.

Margaret also went into great detail about every meal she had, including drinks. She described the restaurant or ballroom decor in a way that must have made Muriel feel she was there with her.

Mark Thatcher — her son — told the interviewer that he rarely saw his mother in trousers. She wore them only when instructed to for certain official visits (e.g. military).

Home life in Grantham

Alf ran the corner shop, conveniently placed right at the dividing line between the middle and working class neighbourhoods of Grantham. By all accounts, he was a good grocer.

Conversation at home revolved around either the church or politics. In later years, Alf became mayor of Grantham and an alderman.

Therefore, it is no wonder that Margaret became politically active as an adult.

Alf was conscious that he was providing Muriel and Margaret with advantages that few of their contemporaries had. He later wrote Muriel about this, lamenting that Margaret did not seem very appreciative of the sacrifices and trail blazing he had done on their behalf.

He was right. My late mother-in-law was about the same age as Margaret Thatcher. She desperately wanted to go to university, but her father — an executive — said that girls were unsuited to higher education. My mother-in-law waited until she was married to pursue her interest in painting and art history. As a young mother, she also earned her City and Guilds certification in tailoring. She sewed many of her own outfits as well as items for the home: curtains, silk lampshades and cushions.

Schooldays and a love of America

Margaret was a diligent student and won a scholarship to Kesteven & Grantham Girls’ School, which describes itself as ‘a specialist science school’.

Note that she later took the title Baroness Thatcher of Kestaven (pron. ‘KESS-tuh-vun’), not Grantham!

It was at this time that she and Muriel began many years of correspondence. Margaret wrote of teachers she disliked, students whom she considered academic deadbeats and her own detailed school reports.

Margaret became a prefect and, in 1943, head girl. Her classmates remember her as a young woman with presence who was self-contained, mature beyond her years. One said that most were ‘impressed’ and ‘in awe of her’.

In her free time, Margaret enjoyed going to the State cinema in Grantham. She wrote Muriel about the films she and Beatrice saw. The same year she became head girl also saw the arrival of the United States Air Force at a base near Grantham.

The combination of American films at the State and American military in her town started her lifelong love affair with the United States. Thatcher biographer, journalist Charles Moore, explained that Margaret would have known of Ronald Reagan from the movies she saw and that he represented the American man she knew from the Second World War. Therefore, it was normal that the two would create or cement ‘the special relationship’ between the two countries in the 1980s.

Somerville College, Oxford

When Margaret went up to Oxford to read Chemistry at Somerville College, her life and connection with Grantham ended.

Again, Alf deserves much credit, especially for encouraging Margaret to apply to Oxford. Many fathers would not have done so. In fact, as Kesteven & Grantham Girls’ School did not offer Latin, Alf hired a a local schoolteacher to tutor Margaret in Latin so that she could pass the entrance exam.

Oxford students were encouraged to do their part for the war effort and Margaret, not surprisingly, joined the committee which provided entertainment for American troops stationed nearby.

It took Margaret time to settle in to life in college. She wasn’t close with the other girls at Somerville. Some of her contemporaries interviewed said this was because Somerville was known for being left-wing. However, I think Margaret had the outlet for her feelings and experiences in her correspondence with Muriel, so that need was already answered. It is also worth noting that both young women had similar forthright and feisty personalities.

The other girls, those interviewed said, noticed that Margaret was self-contained and had an intellectual curiosity.

It wasn’t long then before she needed an outlet for this. She joined the Oxford University Conservative Association. One of her contemporaries was the Duke of Buccleuch (pron. ‘Bookh-lew’). (The Duke, incidentally, is probably the most qualified by heritage to be our monarch.) He described Margaret Roberts as

very focussed — she knew what she was doing.

These qualities impressed not only the Duke but also the other members of the aristocracy who belonged to the university’s Conservative Association. In fact, the Duke once organised a whipround for Margaret when she was low on funds. Other members donated gladly.

Margaret’s social life largely involved around parties and dances with Conservative Association members. They frequently met at the city’s iconic Randolph Hotel, which features in a number of Morse episodes.

So esteemed was Margaret that the Conservative Association elected her president.

She earned a Second Class degree in Chemistry in 1947.

The world of work — and courtship

As is common for many university graduates, the real world is a letdown. Margaret had the same experience as she interviewed for her first job.

She also had the handicap of being a woman who was forthright and knew her own mind — qualities which, even today, are valued in men but not the ‘fairer sex’. One ICI interviewer wrote that she was too overbearing to ever have a career there. This may go some way towards explaining why there is no ICI today.

Margaret Thatcher thatcher-chemist Washington PostMargaret was hired by a plastics firm in Manningtree, Essex, on the River Stour. Manningtree was close enough to London, which pleased her as she had hoped to enrol in law school. However, letters to Muriel reveal that Margaret found the work tedious and, contrary to what she had thought, the post to which she was assigned offered no advancement to management.

Still, work, as we know, pays the bills and finances social activities. Margaret missed her sparkling Oxford social life and decided to join the Colchester (Essex) Young Conservatives.

Another aside here. In the years following the Second World War, the Young Conservative associations were a gateway to courtship and marriage. My mother- and father-in-law met through the Young Conservatives as did their closest friends, with whom they maintained lifelong contact. Friendships and marriages formed there were strong and, from what I understand, the enthusiasm was infectious not only on the hustings but at social gatherings.

Margaret briefly dated a fellow Young Conservative, Brian Harrison, who had recently graduated from Cambridge. He remembers her as being a very good dancer.

In October 1948, Margaret was part of Oxford’s graduate delegation attending the Conservative Party conference that year. It was through that meeting that she met the people who would later propose her in 1950 as Conservative candidate for Parliament in Dartford, Kent — a safe Labour seat. One Dartford Conservative described her enthusiasm:

Hearing her speak was exciting!

Margaret began dating a farmer, Willie Cullen, aged 35 — the man who would later buy her the monogrammed handbag. Margaret seemed to find out all sorts of financial details about Willie and described his situation to Muriel. Whilst he seemed to fit the bill, she was unsure whether she could live as a farmer’s wife. She also wrote Muriel about a dinner party he had where the other farmers’ wives went off to the sitting room afterward. Margaret stayed with the men to talk politics, which was not well received by some of the farmers. One leapt to her defence saying that there was no way the women would be discussing politics. Margaret was allowed to remain with the men.

Margaret enjoyed being with men a few years older than she. Those who were interviewed for the programme suggested that she actively sought them out. In the latter days of her relationship with Willie, she also met 36-year old Denis Thatcher and 47-year old Dr Robert Henderson. Thatcher, divorced, owned his own business. Henderson, never married, was the inventor of the British version of the iron lung. He worked at a hospital in Dartford.

In 1950, Margaret was the Conservative candidate for MP of Dartford. At a local civic event, her Labour opponent expressed his fascination with her and asked her to dance. Although Margaret later lost the election, she was able to increase the number of Conservative votes by several thousand.

It was at this time when Margaret was seeing more of the doctor and less of Willie. She felt obliged to make the break as painless as possible for Willie. In a letter to Muriel, she effectively handed the farmer over to her sister, provided she was in agreement. Muriel met Willie and within several weeks they were engaged. Margaret was maid of honour at their wedding. Muriel settled in to farming life easily and the couple raised three children. One of them, Andrew, was interviewed for the programme. Muriel bequeathed her letter collection to him.

Meanwhile, Margaret had concerns about Dr Henderson, despite her great admiration for him. She was aware that they had come from different social classes and feared he would marry someone else. She believed it was only a matter of time.

Life in London — and marriage

In 1951, Margaret moved to London. She worked hard to fix up her own flat with some assistance from decorators. Denis Thatcher proved a welcome distraction from hours spent on DIY.

Three months after moving into the flat, Margaret broke off her relationship with Dr Henderson. However, she seems to have remained friends with him as evidenced by a medical question she put to him some years later when her son Mark was born.

Although Margaret was not keen on Denis when she first dated him — prior to moving to London — he grew on her and they enjoyed each other’s company. Alf also gave his stamp of approval to the relationship.

Later that year, Margaret ran again as Conservative candidate for Parliament for Dartford. Again, she lost to her Labour opponent but continued to build on the Conservative votes from the preceding year. Denis helped to campaign for her but they kept their engagement a secret; as Denis was divorced, it would not have looked good for her. Recall that, two years later, Princess Margaret was forced to break off her relationship with Group Captain Peter Townsend for the same reason. It would not have reflected well on the Royal Family, especially the young Queen.

Margaret Thatcher wedding day_107484309 Walking in MayOn December 13, Margaret and Denis were married at the Wesleyan Chapel in City Road, London. In a 1985 documentary, she exclaimed:

This [marriage] was the biggest thing in life!

The couple spent their wedding night at the Savoy before flying to Madeira for their honeymoon.

And so it proved an enduring, loving union. Denis was a reliable and unfailing source of support for his wife. He was happy to remain in the background, offering advice in private. He also acknowledged that he didn’t care much for meeting people, although he did meet many. He had a close circle of loyal friends. Private Eye parodied these friendships whilst Margaret was Prime Minister in the series Dear Bill, a collection of fictional and witty letters from Denis to one of his friends.

The Thatchers lived in Denis’s home in London’s fashionable Chelsea, where they often entertained their friends.

It wasn’t long afterward that Margaret began studying law. As if this were not enough, she applied to Conservative Central office in June of 1952, asking them to put her forward as a Parliamentary candidate. Even then, the Conservatives were looking for more female candidates — this is nothing new. Yet, this proved difficult. Margaret’s forthright personality did not always gel with the local Conservative associations. Central Office made other excuses: she didn’t understand farming; industrial constituencies needed men, not women.

In August 1953, Margaret gave birth prematurely to fraternal twins Mark and Carol. Denis, who hadn’t expected his wife to go into labour so early, was at a test match at the Oval at the time.

Five months later, Margaret passed her law exam. A nanny minded the babies, but Margaret wrote Muriel that she was conscious that the nanny also needed her rest, so she shared night duty with her. To give her more time at home, Margaret decided to specialise in tax law.

It was around this time that Margaret and Muriel wrote each other less. Each had their own lives by now. Muriel was on the farm in Essex and Margaret was still eyeing a political career. However, the families still visited each other, which continued even when Margaret spent prime ministerial weekends at Chequers.

Andrew Cullen said that Margaret Thatcher — one of the most famous women in the world for over a decade — was an affectionate aunt, ‘like anyone else’s aunt’. He added that she remembered the Cullen children’s birthdays and big occasions. He described their parents and the Thatchers as

all good friends.

Life in politics

In 1958, Margaret was selected as candidate for Finchley and won the seat in 1959 with a majority of 16,000 votes. One of her constituents at the time said:

We were lucky to have her!

At last, Margaret Thatcher was able to take her place as a Member of Parliament.

Alf was ‘proud as punch’ to see Margaret in the House of Commons. He died in 1970, so never saw her become Britain’s first Prime Minister in 1978.

Once she became an MP, Margaret’s correspondence with Alf became rarer and rarer. Alf wrote Muriel with his concerns. Muriel’s contact with her sister was somewhat more sustained.

All credit to Alf and Denis

Mrs Thatcher was careful to credit Alf with her success.

Indeed, it could be Methodism’s prominent placement of women as church leaders which influenced Alf in ensuring his daughters were well educated. He also had no objection to Margaret’s entering politics.

John and Charles Wesley’s mother Susanna was a powerful influence not only in the home but during Mr Wesley’s absences. Susanna, a lay preacher told me, used to lead prayer meetings in the family home whilst Wesley was in London.

John Wesley granted a licence to preach to six women, the first being Sarah Crosby in 1761. It seems unlikely that these women softened the church. As he was such a keen evangelist, I doubt he would have chosen women who were seen to dilute the Methodist message.

This is what Wesley had to say in a sermon of his from 1786, ‘On Visiting the Sick’. He, like I, believed that keeping women submissive is Islamic (emphases mine):

It has long passed for a maxim with many that “women are only to be seen but not heard.” And accordingly many of them are brought up in such a manner as if they were only designed for agreeable playthings! No, it is the deepest unkindness; it is horrid cruelty; it is mere Turkish barbarity. And I know not how any women of sense and spirit can submit to it.[3]

It is heartbreaking to read today of ‘Christian’ men — Catholic and Protestant — who want to restrict women in society.

My Catholic maternal grandfather was guilty of this around the time when Alf was encouraging his girls to fly the coop. My mother, Lady Thatcher’s age, was forbidden to move out of the house until she married. My mum — gifted, responsible and diligent — dreamed of moving to the big city and pursuing her own career, but he said no. My mother did not marry until she was 35. She had a long wait. Even then, she was handed over to my dad. She never had any independence in between. Yet, her Catholic friends from childhood did; by the time my mother got married, her girlfriends had been living on their own for years.

Therefore, finding out more about Alf’s fatherly example is important to me. We need good models of manhood, fathers who do not fear or denigrate women.

Denis Thatcher falls into this category, too.

Again, it is soul-destroying to read about Catholics and Protestant husbands who think it’s all right to beat their wives into submission.

I give Denis full credit for being such a wonderful husband and support to his wife. Her ambitions were not his, yet he was there for her. He was his wife’s confidant. They were best friends as well as a married couple.

I would ask all men to reflect carefully on their attitudes towards women. Some are angry at them. Some love them as long as they are subjugated. Some fathers have a really unhealthy relationship with their daughters (purity rituals). Some husbands have a pathological and abusive relationship with their wives.

To those men, my message is to look at the example of Alf and Denis and to learn well from it.

It doesn’t matter what we think of Margaret Thatcher’s politics. What does matter is that she had a father who raised her to lead and a husband who faithfully encouraged that leadership.

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