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shaking  hands ryan2point0wordpresscomWe think of the word Establishment to mean those running the country who govern our lives.

However, in the May 2015 issue of Tatler, Matthew Bell tells us (p. 104):

In 1955, Henry Fairlie, political commentator of The Spectator, coined the term ‘Establishment’ … As Fairlie said: ‘The exercise of power in Britain (more specifically, in England) cannot be understood unless it is recognised that it is exercised socially.’

The article goes on to look at what Tatler call A-Grade Entertainers who bring together the notional great and the good. They throw grand parties, host weekends away and introduce other influential people to each other.

Of course, this has been going on forever not only in England but all over the world. Matthew Bell did fine work looking at hosts from a century ago as well as those today. Some are household names, others less so. He also explored what a top host needs to succeed. Besides the obvious connections, money and large house, one also needs bags of charm, endless patience, interest in others and a good sense of humour.

My point is that conspiracy theorists would do better to study these political-artistic social connections rather than focus on Bilderberg and the Masons.

A-listers enjoying champagne and canapés at someone’s home are likely a more representative nexus of power.

On Sunday, May 17, 2015, the 1 p.m. BBC1 news broadcast had a segment about the likely possibility that Islamic State (IS) militants are on board migrant boats to Europe.

A summary of the story is on the BBC website.

Abdul Basit Haroun, an adviser to the Libyan government, is saying what Egyptian and Italian officials surmised months ago.

Haroun says he has had conversations with smugglers in parts of North Africa controlled by militants.

According to him, IS allows the boats to continue operating as long as they receive half the income. As Libya has had such a weak central government, it is easy for IS to take control of the situation. Local militias also are thought to be partners with the smugglers.

The televised news story explained that, in some cases, IS arranges with the boat owner to take a certain number of militants. Once on board, these militants are segregated from the migrants. The men in charge of the boat are told in advance that the boats must not capsize and must complete the journey. It is thought that these journeys have been successful thus far.

Once the migrants land in Europe, the IS militants blend in with everyone else and could be travelling anywhere. Authorities would have a difficult time detecting them and, for this reason, have little evidence this is happening.

However, that does not mean it is not happening.

Meanwhile, Europe has thousands of home-grown radicals going to Syria with others returning from the country.

The centrist London Evening Standard has the best coverage of the situation in the UK.

Last week, the paper told us that a 17-year old Londoner who intended to fight with ISIS then returned once he arrived in Turkey will face no prosecution, even though he refused to participate in a government counter-radicalisation programme:

… the prosecution had to be abandoned after the  Attorney General, the Government’s top law officer, refused to authorise the charge. He ruled that taking the boy to court would not be in the public interest because of his age and immaturity and the fact that he came home before entering Syria to fight.

The decision is the only occasion on which the prosecution of a Syria-related offence has been vetoed on the grounds of public interest despite the existence of enough evidence to justify charges.

Anything could happen now.

In April, the father of a 15-year old girl who ran away from her East London home in December 2014 to become an IS bride in Syria, admitted that he took her on

a flag-burning rally led by hate preacher Anjem Choudary outside the US Embassy in 2012 …

Images of Mr Hussen, 47, at the US Embassy protest emerged after his 15-year-old daughter Amira and two teenage friends went missing from their family homes in east London, prompting an international police hunt.

He has expressed his regret at taking part in the rally and has apologised. Also:

Mr Hussen said he was “disappointed and upset” at his daughter for apparently joining IS. She has reportedly not had contact with her family since she left the UK in December.

This just shows how strongly young people can be influenced.

Additional Evening Standard articles on young British radicals can be found within the two aforementioned links.

Nazir Afzal, the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service in north-west England, told The Guardian in April 2015 that another 7/7 attack could happen.

He says that, for some young people, IS terrorists have the appeal of popstars. So far, adult appeals against radicalism, even those which are neighbourhood-based, have been unsuccessful. Afzal thinks the approach must change:

The reality is that they’re no more than narcissistic, murderous cowboys. We need to stand up and say that very, very clearly, rather than allow kids to be drawn to them like the equivalent of pop idols.

True, but this is a form of youthful rebellion — in all its meanings — and it is unlikely that grown-ups will be listened to.

One wonders what the turning point will be and when it will come.

The weekend of 8 – 10, May 2015, saw several celebrations and ceremonies recalling the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

The BBC televised the main events. The media have also interviewed many veterans and others who were but children at the time.

Their recollections follow, emphases mine.

The Queen and the new film

A new film now showing in cinemas, A Royal Night Out, purports to tell the story of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret out on the town on VE Day.

Unfortunately, much has been fabricated. Many will see the film and think these things actually took place when they did not.

The Queen’s first cousin and best friend, the Hon. Margaret Rhodes, 89 — then Margaret Elphinstone — set the record straight for the Daily Mail. She was working as a secretary for MI6. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were both active in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). The future Queen served as a lorry driver and mechanic.

Mrs Rhodes reveals what really happened on May 8, 1945, when she

was lodging at Buckingham Palace while working as a secretary for the military intelligence service MI6. She recalls how a small gang including 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, 15, and Mrs Rhodes’s brothers, left the Palace by the Privy Gate.

Princess Elizabeth was wearing her Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform

As was Princess Margaret.

The princesses were protected on their VE Day jaunt by Captain Harold Campbell RN, equerry to Princess Elizabeth’s father, King George VI. ‘He was deeply disapproving of the whole manoeuvre,’ says Mrs Rhodes.

The Express‘s account of the evening adds:

Mindful of her war service and the need for his daughters to let their hair down the King and his wife gave their blessing, despite mutters of disapproval from advisers.

The royal adventure into the thronging streets of London was to be unofficial and a group of 16 chaperones was hastily convened to ensure the Princesses came to no harm ...

Among those accompanying the Princesses was Lord Porchester, a Royal Horseguards officer, who recalled: “We were mixed up in the crowd.

No one recognised Princess Elizabeth or Princess Margaret and we went round up Whitehall, up Piccadilly, into the Ritz Hotel and back through Hyde Park Corner, down the Mall.

“Everyone was very jolly, linking arms in the streets and singing Run Rabbit Run, Hang Out The Washing On The Siegfried Line, Roll Out The Barrel, Under The Spreading Chestnut Tree – all those sorts of things.”

It might seem remarkable now that the Princesses were not recognised but Elizabeth wore her uniform with the cap pulled down over her eyes.

Mrs Rhodes said that one of the officers said that he would not continue to accompany them unless the Princess wore her cap properly. She quickly adjusted it correctly and the group pressed on into the streets of London.

Mrs Rhodes said that, contrary to what the new film portrays, there was no evening romance with a young man named Jack. There was also no gambling and no visit to a brothel in Soho. Furthermore, Princess Margaret never escaped on a bus. In reality, the group stayed together.

Mrs Rhodes also disputed another episode in the film in her interview with the Mail:

Princess Margaret is also shown quite drunk. ‘No! There was no possibility. We never encountered anyone offering one a drink,’ insists Mrs Rhodes, the daughter of the 16th Lord Elphinstone.

Mrs Rhodes described people kissing each other, although the Royal party did not engage in such activity.

I hope this film tanks at the box office. Why make such a disrespectful movie about the world’s longest serving monarch, a lady who has served her country and the Commonwealth faithfully every day for 63 years?

Film aside, it was a rare outing on an historic and happy day:

The party returned to the Palace after midnight. ‘It was emancipation,’ says Mrs Rhodes. ‘I don’t think anybody realises what she has had to give up. You give up your independence. Poor Princess Margaret is dead, but that night is something I know the Queen will never forget.’

She explained:

It was like we had all been living under a huge, heavy, dark cloud. And suddenly, it had gone.

In a recent interview with the Radio Times, Mrs Rhodes said that the future Queen was excited about the prospect of her handsome beau, Prince Philip of Greece, returning from war. King George VI and the Queen Mother were planning on extending an invitation to him to spend several days with the Royal Family.

More memories of VE Day

A veteran quoted by the BBC said on Sunday, May 10, said that no brawls broke out that day because

everyone was sick of fighting.

The Radio Times (2-8 May 2015, p. 176) interviewed 88-year old Joan Alexander who spent the war at the Air Ministry, working long shifts. She was part of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). She remembers Winston Churchill’s courtesy:

He used to come in at night, doff his hat and say ‘Good evening ladies!’ Very courteous.

Of VE Day, she said:

You nearly got squashed. Everyone went mad!

She was with her friends, fellow WAAF comrades, that day, adding:

And then the crowd surged up to Buckingham Palace to see the King and Queen on the balcony. There were all these Americans and Canadians. Some of us girls walked back to Chelsea to see my mum and dad, and everybody was celebrating because the war had gone on so long.

But VE Day wasn’t a party for everyone. One veteran whom the BBC interviewed on Sunday, May 10, recalled that he was still stationed in Italy. Despite war being declared over, fighting continued in parts of Europe for the next few weeks. This man remembered his commanding officer telling the troops that it was business as usual. Indeed, they were fired upon that day before the enemy eventually surrendered.

This Army veteran also said that his parents were preparing for his brother’s funeral on VE Day. The young soldier had been gunned down in another European country only a few days before peace was declared. The veteran was unable to attend his brother’s funeral or share in his parents’ grief because he had to concentrate on war.

For some, peacetime was boring

The BBC interviewed a woman who worked in the Timber Corps. She explained that she chose that route rather than enlisting in one of the women’s military corps because she never liked taking orders.

She remembered the Timber Corps as being very hard, yet gratifying, work. Despite the heavy lifting and felling of huge trees — as well as the constant blistered hands and feet — she missed the experience when the war ended:

Peace was here and we had to put up with it.

However, she was able to reminisce with her husband in the decades that followed. He also served in the Timber Corps. They married soon after the war.

Women’s conscription

It is worth mentioning that women were conscripted during the Second World War.

Although many volunteered to join the military and the Land Army whilst others worked in munitions factories, in December 1941, the British government passed a second National Service Act:

It widened the scope of conscription still further by making all unmarried women and all childless widows between the ages of 20 and 30 liable to call-up.  

Women served as pilots, lorry drivers and did what had been considered men’s work. The National Archives site has an excellent page describing the women’s effort:

Times had moved on and along with, still vital, clerical and domestic duties, women were driving and maintaining vehicles, manning anti-aircraft guns and RADAR stations, ferrying aircraft from factories to airfields, deciphering coded German messages in secret naval communications units and working as spies in the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

As part of the conscription requirement women had to chose whether to enter the armed forces or work in farming or industry. By December 1943 one in three factory workers was female and they were building planes, tanks, guns and making bullets needed for the war.

One civilian choice open to women was to join The Women’s Land Army, set up in June 1939. At its peak in 1943, there were over 80,000 ‘Land Girls’. The women undertook hard farm work including ploughing, turning hay, lifting potatoes, threshing, lambing and poultry management. Six thousand women worked in the Timber Corps, felling trees and running sawmills.

Women’s contributions were huge. It is no wonder that so many marvellously feisty females emerged from that generation!

Not such a happy time for all

Although the war was officially over in Europe, fighting was still going on in Asia. That did not end until August 1945.

Actress June Brown, 88, told the Radio Times (2-8 May 2015, p. 34) that she was in Scotland serving with the Wrens on VE Day:

… I was with a young naval chap at the time and he was being sent to the Far East. Things like that held it back from being a full celebration.

What children then remembered

The BBC commentators told us that, for security purposes, there were no weather forecasts during the war. Imagine six years of not knowing whether to carry a brolly or prepare for snow!

The Radio Times interviewed several actors and other media stars who were children when the war ended. Nearly all recalled the return of light, which after nightly blackouts, was as welcome as it was startling.

Joan Bakewell, now 82, remembered (p. 33):

I can remember the war ending, when I was 12, and this tram coming down the tracks from Stockport that night, illuminated so brightly, covered in light bulbs. We’d lived under a blackout for so long that we’d not seen any electric lights during the night. All of us children, we just ran out and started dancing around the tram, amazed to see so much electric light.

Raconteur and comedy writer Barry Cryer, 80, said that the smells from wartime England stuck in his mind, particularly wet earth and the rubber of his gas mask.

VE Day street parties were aplenty. Many octogenarians recall attending them or family-style parties in the pub. Euphoric dancing, singing, kissing and hugging marked VE Day.

Any readers who remember VE Day are most welcome to comment below!

In closing, I hope that, in future, these memories are passed down to younger generations. May we always remember our ancestors’ sacrifices for our freedom.

After Election 2015, London quickly made the segue into a weekend-long remembrance and celebration of victory in Europe in 1945 on May 8.

Ceremonies and celebrations

That Friday afternoon a ceremony took place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, at which all the party leaders — including those who had resigned just hours earlier — were present.

The Daily Mail‘s Robert Hardman reported:

If Mr Cameron exuded the authority of a man freshly delivered of a clear mandate from the British people, it should also be said that the outgoing leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties showed great dignity, too. There was no yawning, no fidgeting or the faintest hint of a scowl from two men who had just gone 36 hours without sleep, lost the fight of their lives and, subsequently, their jobs.

Both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg could have deputed this ceremony to someone else and gone to bed. Instead, both had dressed immaculately – as had Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Both joined in all the hymns and prayers (not bad for two professed atheists). Both sang the National Anthem with gusto (unlike Miss Sturgeon, who appeared to chew it instead).

As for the ceremony:

All stood solemnly to attention as Randolph Churchill, 50, a former Royal Navy officer, recited his great-grandfather’s immortal VE Day broadcast: ‘After gallant France had been struck down we, from this island and from our united Empire, maintained the struggle single-handed for a whole year,’ said Mr Churchill.

‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.’

The first VE Day was hardly the end of the war for a number of those in active service:

After the party leaders had laid their wreaths, Mr Churchill stepped forward to lay one with former Able Seaman Robert Gale DSM, 92, from Headley, Hampshire. Mr Gale and his landing craft flotilla had been through all the big Allied amphibious landings before VE Day, by which time he found himself in India preparing for the final push against Japan. ‘I was bloody annoyed because they were celebrating the end of their war and we were still fighting out in the Far East,’ he said.

Various events took place in London for the veterans and their families at the weekend. Some were open to the public, who seized the opportunity to wear 1940s attire.

The BBC televised the main events.

Westminster Abbey Service of Thanksgiving

On Sunday, May 10, a special service took place at Westminster Abbey. The Royal Family, religious leaders, military officers, dignitaries and representatives of the political parties (Harriet Harman for Labour, Tom Brake for the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage for UKIP) joined 1,000 Second World War veterans and their families.

Canon Dr John Hall led the service.

The Abbey choir sang the processional hymn Praise to the Lord so exquisitely, it was as if we heard the voices of angels.

(I am using the ESV for the Scripture readings below. The Psalm, set to music, no doubt has lyrical variations.)

The first reading was Isaiah 58:6-9a, 11-12:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed[b] go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

11 And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

The choir sang Psalm 107:1-16:

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble[a]
and gathered in from the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
    finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
    their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    till they reached a city to dwell in.
8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
    and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
    and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
    they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
    and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
    and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Prime Minister David Cameron read Romans 8:31-39:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a brief sermon. He emphasised not only peace but also the reconciliation of peoples that took place after the Second World War.

Military cadets and veterans read out the prayer petitions which followed. Winston Churchill’s great-granddaughter and a veteran shared another reading.

Excerpts from King George VI’s unforgettable VE Day speech were also read:

Armed or unarmed, men and women, you have fought and striven and endured to your utmost. No-one knows that better than I do, and as your King, I thank with a full heart those who bore arms so valiantly on land and sea, or in the air, and all civilians who, shouldering their many burdens, have carried them unflinchingly without complaint.

With those memories in our minds, let us think what it was that has upheld us through nearly six years of suffering and peril. The knowledge that everything was at stake: our freedom, our independence, our very existence as a people; but the knowledge also that in defending ourselves we were defending the liberties of the whole world; that our cause was the cause not of this nation only, not of this Empire and Commonwealth only, but of every land where freedom is cherished and law and liberty go hand in hand.

In the darkest hours we knew that the enslaved and isolated peoples of Europe looked to us, their hopes were our hopes, their confidence confirmed our faith. We knew that, if we failed, the last remaining barrier against a worldwide tyranny would have fallen in ruins.

But we did not fail. We kept faith with ourselves and with one another, we kept faith and unity with our great allies. That faith, that unity have carried us to victory through dangers which at times seemed overwhelming …

There is great comfort in the thought that the years of darkness and danger in which the children of our country have grown up are over and, please God, forever. We shall have failed and the blood of our dearest will have flowed in vain if the victory which they died to win does not lead to a lasting peace, founded on justice and good will.

To that, then, let us turn our thoughts to this day of just triumph and proud sorrow, and then take up our work again, resolved as a people to do nothing unworthy of those who died for us, and to make the world such a world as they would have desired for their children and for ours.

This is the task to which now honour binds us. In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause into the hand of God and he has been our strength and shield. Let us thank him for his mercies and in this hour of victory commit ourselves and our new task to the guidance that same strong hand.

As his speech shows us, George VI was a devout Anglican, unafraid to speak of the Almighty.

The last hymn was Christ is the World’s True Light, sung to Martin Luther’s Now Thank We All Our God.

Veteran’s walk and lunch

Most of the veterans participating in this year’s VE Day commemorations will not be returning if there is a 75th or 80th anniversary.

They are at least 90 years old now.

After the service at Westminster Abbey, the veterans and their families walked up Whitehall, past the Cenotaph to Horse Guards Parade and, finally, to St James Park for a delightful picnic lunch.

When passing the Cenotaph, they saluted it, remembering their fallen friends and family members. One veteran also blew a kiss.

As I watched these men and women walk, I was struck by their relatively robust health. Although, not surprisingly, a good number of them were in wheelchairs or required walking sticks, there were many who walked unaided — and briskly. This is a testament to the NHS and postwar medical care.

The Prince of Wales — Prince Charles — and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, greeted the veterans when they arrived at Horse Guards Parade to listen to the massed bands before lunch.

One veteran was so thrilled to see them that he leapt out of his wheelchair and rushed to shake their hands. They all talked for a few minutes. The elderly man had difficulty returning to his wheelchair; the two women accompanying him helped him, but it took a few minutes.

The gathering ended with a flypast with the Red Arrows as well as Spitfires and Hurricanes. The Lancaster scheduled to fly was out of service, unfortunately.

The Daily Mail has magnificent photos of Friday’s events and Sunday’s. Looking at them will make you feel as if you were there.

Youngest looking 93-year-old

The BBC interviewed several men and women who saw active service or participated in the war effort.

I shall look at their memories tomorrow.

For now, SpouseMouse and I were amazed to find out that one of the interviewees, Frank Tolley, is 93 years young. He served in Bomber Command and is very physically active. He has very few wrinkles and looks as if he were in his late 60s. More power to Mr Tolley. Whatever he’s doing is working a treat.

The Guardian front page, first edition, May 8, 2015On April 28, I wrote about the UK’s general election, which was held on May 7, 2015.

After endless months of polls showing the two main parties, the Conservatives and Labour, either neck and neck or with a difference of three percentage points, election night television coverage showed a remarkable exit poll that defied belief. The Conservatives — Tories — were set to win comfortably.

The Conservatives had been in a Coalition government with the Liberal Democrats for the past five years. Although it worked very well, clearly, Prime Minister David Cameron had hoped to govern independently this time around. But no one, except Australian campaign manager Lynton Crosby with his private polling, thought that would become reality. Probably only Chancellor George Osborne believed Crosby’s polls as he was the only upbeat Tory. Everyone else was quietly cautious.

Even the most accurate poll — the exit poll — slightly underestimated the final total. The Conservatives won a clear majority of seats, surpassing the magic number of 326 to end up with 331!

Interestingly, all the party leaders gathered at the Cenotaph the afternoon of May 8, for a memorial service marking the 70th anniversary of VE Day. That is the last time we shall ever see them together.

Obamarama

Americans might be interested to know that Obama campaign strategists played a role in this very British election.

Miliband hired David Axelrod as his campaign adviser and Cameron took on Jim Messina as his.

Success bred success — in one case.

Historic defeats

The IndependantThe 2015 election will long be remembered for unthinkable defeats:

– The Scottish Labour Party was routed north of the border by the Scottish National Party (SNP). Even their leader, Jim Murphy, lost his Parliamentary seat. Murphy has not resigned from SLP leadership.

– The Liberal Democrats were wiped out in England and Scotland, going from 56 seats to … eight. Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the second most powerful man in Britain from 2010 to 2015, stood down as his party’s leader the morning of May 8. At least he held onto his Sheffield Hallam seat. It was rumoured in the days immediately before the election that Tories there were planning on voting for him just to keep out Labour.

– Big — longstanding — MPs lost their seats. One was Liberal Democrat Vince Cable for Twickenham, west of London. The most notable was Labour shadow Chancellor Ed Balls who lost to a Conservative in the West Yorkshire constituency of Morley and Outwood!

– Labour leader Ed Miliband, although winning re-election to his constituency, stood down as party leader at lunchtime on May 8.

– Spoiler party UKIP experienced an increase in votes, however, in the end, they only won one seat, Douglas Carswell’s Clacton in Essex. Party leader Nigel Farage lost his bid for Thanet South in Kent to a Conservative. Farage announced his resignation soon after the result but said he might be back in the autumn after taking a break.

England speaks

Metro second editionEveryone is examining how the Conservatives did so well.

It seems as if the English were able to speak up in the privacy of the polling booth.

The English are not allowed a voice at any other time unless they deprecate their own country and people.

However, the silent majority finally had their say — and how!

The threat of a Labour government working hand in hand with 50+ SNP MPs finally got through to the English. Ed Miliband mooted a Mansion Tax for those with houses worth £2m and upwards. He also wanted to put a stone monument with the main Labour manifesto points in the garden of No. 10 Downing Street, which many of us thought was very strange, indeed.

The Daily Mail reported (emphases mine):

It was the idea of Torsten Henricson-Bell, 32, the director of policy. A former Treasury economist, he wanted a version of Tony Blair’s pledge card which worked so well for Labour in the 1997 election.

‘Torsten thought we were not getting our policy ideas across, so he persuaded Ed to do the stone,’ said another Labour insider.

Axelrod, on a rare trip to London, enthusiastically signed off on the hubristic monument, having long championed the idea in the US of enshrining policy ideas in ‘stone tablets’. Tom Baldwin, one of Miliband’s media advisers, was also keen.

‘He was like an excitable puppy dog scampering around the newspaper offices, boasting that Labour was going to unveil a brilliant new idea that would be a huge vote winner,’ said another source.

Miliband also has no love of England or the English. His physical presence is uncommanding making it difficult, if not embarrassing, to imagine him on the world stage. He was rumoured to admire French president François Hollande’s policies, which are turning out to be a nightmare economically and socially.

Most importantly, we had not forgotten the 13 years of Labour government from 1997 to 2010 which put the country on a weak footing both economically and socially. No one wanted a repeat of that, especially so soon.

Two telling comments from Telegraph readers express what many of us thought. Note the mention of queues at the polling stations:

peterl: I live in David Cameron’s constituency and like many I thought that Ed Miliband would be walking up Downing Street (a thought that made me sick to my stomach), that is until Thursday morning when I went to vote. Normally you can just walk in, register and vote within 5 minutes but on Thursday there was a half an hour queue out of the Town Hall door and my wife found it the same later on that afternoon.

It was pretty clear to me then that the ‘English were speaking now’ and the subsequent exit polls declared at 10pm were not a surprise.

hawthorn: Your experience mirrors mine almost exactly. I don’t live in that constituency, but I had just the same sickening feeling about Miliband. Then I got to the polling station and had to queue! Even if just for a short time, I remarked on returning home that I had never before had to do this. And I wondered…..

Left-wing bias

As in other Western countries, British media is very much left-wing.

There are very few commentators and pundits who conduct balanced interviews and present their opinions impartially. The BBC is the worst offender. ITV, on the other hand, does an excellent job of overall analysis. SpouseMouse and I watched their coverage on election night and the following day with the briefest of check-ins at the Beeb.

And, contrary to what hardcore leftists say, there is no ‘Tory media’. Even the Daily Mail and The Telegraph have a lot of journalists openly critical of the Conservative Party.

Election campaign commentary nearly everywhere largely revolved around David Cameron losing his career on May 7. However, by the middle of last week, several endorsements went to the Coalition or the Conservatives. Rupert Murdoch’s papers played a blinder. In the UK, The Sun openly endorsed David Cameron and, in Scotland, the Scottish Sun came out for the SNP!

At least The Telegraph‘s James Kirkup had the good sense to apologise to his readers (emphases in the original):

This is the confession of a political journalist. I get paid to know about politics, to explain politics and yes, to predict politics. On this general election, I failed. I got it wrong. I didn’t see this result coming.

The same is true of a lot of people, but that’s neither excuse nor justification. My job is to tell the people who read me things that will leave them better-informed about the subject at hand. And I didn’t do that job as well as I could have done.

That makes me sad, but happy too. I hope you’ll allow me a minute to explain some of that, and to apologise …

That was based partly on reading opinion polls, something that’s now clearly shown to be an error. Some of it was based on talking to Conservatives in all parts and levels of the party, from Cabinet ministers to party staff, from MPs in rock solid seats to those in marginals. Almost of them predicted that the party would suffer net losses. 

Overall, I doubted whether the party’s general election strategy could deliver the majority David Cameron now enjoys …

All of this led to me to write about the Conservative campaign more harshly … But again, that’s irrelevant now. The people who ran the Tory campaign have been vindicated. And I was wrong. 

The BBC could not bring themselves to discuss Ed Miliband’s failure and David Cameron’s triumph. They spent a lot of time on Scotland in the election result coverage and were still banging on about the SNP victory in the evening news on May 8. They gave David Cameron brief coverage lasting only a few minutes.

The endless and inaccurate polls

This year, British pollsters went American-style, much to the disappointment of the English.

We had frequent polling from various organisations every week. They showed the same results with insignificant fluctuations. All were wrong.

The only one which turned out to be right was the exit poll commissioned by the BBC, ITN and Sky. This is because it was done by a handful of specialists overseen by John Curtice, the UK’s foremost psephologist. If Curtice didn’t think the permutations from the various data drops during the day fit, the numbers had to be redone for accuracy.

As far as the other polls go, thankfully, the British Polling Council is launching an independent enquiry to examine how and why they were so inaccurate. YouGov’s Peter Kellner blamed everyone but himself and his organisation:

… “What seems to have gone wrong is that people have said one thing and they did something else in the ballot box.”

… “We are not as far out as we were in 1992, not that that is a great commendation.”

But he blamed politicians for relying too heavily on polling data during their campaigns and said they should instead concentrate on standing on a platform of what they believe in.

However, as Kellner knows, the fact of the matter is that polls do generally shape not only a campaign but also the final result.

Number Cruncher Politics has an excellent analysis of the 2015 polling and ‘shy Tories’. Anyone interested in surveys and polling will wish to read all of it. Ultimately:

Most predictions of election results make the assumption (implicitly, perhaps) that polls are unbiased. But the implications of of this are far from being merely psephological, they are also political. They drive the narrative and set the tone. Parties have ousted their leaders based on poll ratings.

But (emphases mine):

  • Opinion polls at British general elections are usually biased against the Conservatives and in favour of Labour. In 10 of the last 12 elections, the Conservative vote share has been underestimated and in 9 of the last 12, Labour’s share has been overestimated. The spread between the two has been biased in Labour’s favour in 9 of the last 12 elections, including 5 of the last 6 …
  • Every one of the 16 opinion polls with a comparable election in the last two years has seen a pro-Labour bias in terms of the spread. This has closely matched the period during which the Labour lead was falling.

Whilst polling organisations are continually updating their models to adjust for bias, it seems as if they inherently favour Labour.

A Telegraph article noted this loud and clear:

They subscribed to an inherent Left-of-centre bias that infects much of the public discourse in this country and embraces a set of values that are simply not shared by most people. Whether they are sitting in the news rooms of the BBC or the so-called liberal media, they simply fail to understand that this quiet “small c” conservatism constitutes a majority in Britain and always has, even if it manifests itself in different ways.

What happens now?

David Cameron took Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ slogan and made it his own when he spoke on the afternoon of May 8 after visiting the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

He was careful to reassure the Scots about fuller devolution and pledged to achieve this as quickly as possible. He also addressed the concerns of Labour voters in summarising his health and education plans and accomplishments thus far.

Cameron must also make good on his second promise for a referendum of Britain’s membership in the EU. A minority of voters upset with his reneging on a ‘cast-iron’ promise for a referendum several years ago became UKIP supporters. Those Eurosceptics still supporting the Conservatives were able to forgive Cameron once but will certainly hope he will make good on his second pledge for a referendum by 2017.

In short, he will have a challenging time. However, he has the full support of his Chancellor George Osborne who is now also First Secretary of State. This may imply that Osborne is in line to become the next leader of the Conservative Party for the 2020 election. And to think I heard many over a decade ago describe Osborne as weak and simplistic. People do mature and become wiser. Osborne has done an outstanding job as Chancellor, given his relative youth (compared to mine and that of his critics).

Whatever happens, expect stability.

In response to my post ‘Lifting the lid off the piano’, one of my readers Michael J McFadden, author of Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains and Tobacconacht – The Antismoking Endgame, asked:

We’re all familiar with Beethoven’s hearing problems, but has there ever been a famous composer who didn’t physically know how or was incapable of playing the piano themselves?

A great question.

There are many classical composers who are considered to be ‘disabled’ through depression or addiction. However, for the purposes of this post, disability is considered on the basis of incapability or difficulty of playing a piano or other instrument.

Gustav Holst

Gustavus Holst was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on September 21, 1874. His father Adolph von Holst was a renowned pianist and his mother Clara was a student of his with whom he fell in love and married. Clara died when Gustavus was eight years old.

Gustav Holst is best known for his magnificent orchestral composition, The Planets, still very popular in Britain today. He wrote it in 1914.

Young Gustavus was a sickly child. His eyesight and chest functions were weak. He also suffered from neuritis, which affected his learning the piano and other musical instruments. His hands were shaky. This prevented him from playing an instrument for any length of time. As a result, he was unable to attend a prestigious conservatory for further training.

However, he did not let his disability overcome his love of music. He persevered and, when he was 17 years old:

He was appointed to play organ and act as a choirmaster at Wyck Rissington. He gave his first official performance with his father at a concert where he played the role of the pianist. The audience of that show called him Gustav which he opted [for] instead of his original name “Gustavus”.

In 1893, he was able to enter the Royal College of Music, with financial help from his father. His first job after graduating in 1898 was with the Carl Rosa Opera Company where he coached and played piano during rehearsals.

In 1900, he wrote a symphony performed to great acclaim in 1902. He married Emily Harrison in 1901. He decided to teach music. After a period spent at a school in south London, the well-known St Paul’s Girls School appointed him Director of Music. He worked there until his death in 1934 of a duodenal ulcer. His funeral was held at Chichester Cathedral on the south coast. Composer Vaughan Williams played Holst’s music during the service.

Holst’s other compositions include:

First Suite in E-flat for Military Band, Second Suite in F for Military Band, I vow to thee, My Country, St. Paul’s Suite, In the Bleak Midwinter, A Choral Fantasia, Two Eastern Pictures, The Wandering Scholar, First Choral Symphony, Ave Maria, A Moorside Suite, In Youth is Pleasure, The Magician and Hammersmith among others.

I vow to thee, My Country and In the Bleak Midwinter are popular hymns to this day.

Today, Holst is still considered as one of England’s greatest composers.

Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt

The late Belgian guitarist Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt (1910 – 1953) also had a hand disability.

He suffered burns to his left hand in a fire, which paralysed his fourth and fifth fingers.

Like Holst, he refused to allow this disability to affect his love of music. He played chords with the index and middle fingers only. This resulted in a new style of music, sometimes called ‘hot jazz’, which attracted the attention of Duke Ellington, with whom he toured in 1946, and Stéphane Grappelli among others.

Whilst Reinhardt was a jazz musician, he is worth including because of his perseverance in overcoming disability. The fire also left his right leg paralysed. Doctors wanted to amputate it, but Reinhardt refused. Within a year he was able to get around with the help of a walking stick.

Allan Pettersson

The late Swedish composer Allan Petterson contracted rheumatoid arthritis in the 1950s.

By 1968, he was housebound. He remained at home until his death in 1980.

Despite severe arthritic pain — and unfriendly neighbours — he continued composing prolifically:

he composed 15 large-scale symphonies which are among the most powerful of the 20th century, along with several imposing concertos of comparable length.

Incredible!

Maurice Ravel

In the midst of a stunning career French composer and arranger Maurice Ravel began experiencing problems with speech, hand co-ordination and memory.

No one is sure what the condition was. Some suggest Ravel had Pick’s Disease. Others say aphasia.

The symptoms began in 1927, much to Ravel’s distress as well as that of his fellow musicians, family and friends. His contemporary, Igor Stravinsky, said:

His final years were cruel, for he was gradually losing his memory and some of his coordinating powers, and he was, of course, quite aware of it.

In 1932, Ravel suffered severe head injuries in a collision. He was a passenger in a taxi.

It is thought that the injuries exacerbated the disorder he already had. With the help of transcribers, he wrote his last piece in 1933, the score for the film Don Quixote.

By 1937, Ravel was in great pain, though socially active. He sought expert help from one of France’s foremost neurosurgeons who operated on him. The surgery appeared to be successful, but within a short period of time, Ravel lapsed into a coma and died in December of that year.

Charles John Stanley

The English composer and musician Charles John Stanley (he later went by ‘John’), lived between 1712 and 1786 and was nearly blind for most of his life.

At the age of two, he struck his head on a marble hearth whilst carrying a china basin.

Despite this, Stanley began studying music at the age of seven. As well as playing the organ and harpsichord he was also an accomplished violinist.

By the age of nine, he was an occasional organist at the Church of All Hallows Bread Street in London. When their regular organist died, the church officials appointed him head organist; Stanley was 11 years old.

At the age of 14, he was appointed head organist at St Andrew’s, Holborn. At 17, he became the youngest person to earn a Bachelor of Music degree from Oxford University.

Persistence and hard work — despite near-blindness — paid off from Stanley’s childhood!

In 1734, he became the organist for the Society of the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court. He held this appointment until he died in 1786. His assignment also included playing the organ at Temple Church, where he met George Frideric Handel, who used to hear Stanley play frequently. He later directed Handel’s Oratorios, committing them to memory first.

Stanley wrote several compositions, which he played at well-attended venues such as Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, Covent Garden and the Drury Lane Theatre.

In 1734, he married Sarah Arlond, whose father was a captain of the East India Company. Sarah’s sister Ann transcribed Stanley’s compositions.

Stanley had an active social life with many influential friends. Amazingly, he was also an avid card player!

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) is probably best known for his Messiah and Water Music.

In Britain, we also know his Zadok the Priest which he wrote for George II’s coronation in 1727. It has been part of our coronation services ever since.

This is the best recording I have heard, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to present this in a proper context rather than giving it a gratuitous mention, tempting though that is:

In Britain — including Ireland, then under British rule — Handel was also famous for giving many charity concerts.

In August 1750, Handel was returning to England from a visit to his native Germany. He was a passenger in a carriage involved in a serious accident somewhere between the Hague and Haarlem in the Netherlands. The following year, he had lost some of his sight in one eye. A London surgeon operated on him, but the procedure seem to worsen his eyesight.

It was during this time that John Stanley (see above) took over directing Handel’s music at concerts.

Handel died in Brook Street in central London in 1759 at the age of 74. He lies buried in Westminster Abbey.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) needs little introduction.

This Baroque composer came from a family of musicians and is one of the greatest of all time.

He spent his entire life in Germany. Most of his appointments were to Lutheran churches. His last major work was Mass in B Minor which he wrote between 1748 and 1749.

That was fortuitous, because in 1749, his health began to decline. Bach began to lose his eyesight. A British eye surgeon travelled to Leipzig to operate on him early in 1750, but the great composer died in July of that year, aged 65. Although the cause of death was stroke and pneumonia, a newspaper at the time noted:

the unhappy consequences of the very unsuccessful eye operation

as the true cause.

After his death, Bach’s music went out of fashion for a time. Some of his family members who were bequeathed his unpublished compositions fell on hard times and had to sell them. The unhappy result was that over 100 cantatas have been lost as well as his St Mark’s Passion.

However, by the end of the 18th century, Bach’s reputation was revived by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann and Mendelssohn who incorporated some of his techniques in their own work. Beethoven described Bach as the

original father of harmony.

Louis Braille

Although we think of Louis Braille (1809-1852) as being the inventor of the famous reading and writing system for the blind, he was also an accomplished cellist and organist.

A devout Catholic, Braille was the organist at two churches in Paris: Saint-Nicholas-des Champs and Saint-Vincent-de-Paul in the 1830s and 1840s.

He was also highly intelligent and very well educated, more about which in a moment.

Braille’s father had a successful leather and horse tack business. Young Louis loved to play in the workshop. One day, when he was three years old, he tried making holes in leather using an awl. Unfortunately, Louis had his head close to the awl. The tool slipped and struck him in one eye.

As the family lived close to Paris, they were able to take him to a highly respected surgeon for treatment. However, the surgeon said that nothing could be done. Louis’s eye became infected and, in what is known as sympathetic opthalmia, his other eye also was severely affected. The boy was in great pain.

By the age of five, Braille was blind in both eyes.

His parents were undaunted and were determined that Louis live as normal a life as possible.

Louis’s father made him sticks which allowed him to navigate the village. He was even able to study at the local school until he was ten years old. His teachers and the local priests were impressed with Louis’s ability to learn.

Braille was admitted to the Royal Institute for Blind Youth — now the National Institute for Blind Youth — in Paris where he prospered.

He absorbed the school’s entire curriculum and asked to stay on as a teaching assistant. In 1833, he became a full professor there and spent most of the remainder of his life teaching history, geometry and algebra.

As for his reading and writing system, Braille used an awl, the same tool that blinded him! He had largely developed his Braille system by the age of 15 in 1824! French Army Captain Charles Barbier had an influence on Braille when the youngster began using the officer’s method of ‘night writing’ as well as his slate and stylus tools in 1821.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Louis Vierne

French composer and organist Louis Vierne (1870-1937) was born legally blind with congenital cataracts.

Despite that, he was able to attend school locally before he began studying music at the Paris Conservatory.

Vierne had a gift for music from the age of two. A pianist played him a Schubert lullaby and the toddler began tapping at the correct keys afterward.

As an adult, Vierne’s life was marked by divorce and the death of both his brother and son in the Great War.

Nonetheless, he went on to become the principal organist at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. He held the post from 1900 until his death in 1937.

For his compositions, Vierne used huge sheets of paper, enabling him to see the notes he was writing. Wikipedia tells us:

His output for organ includes six organ symphonies, 24 Fantasy Pieces (which includes his famous Carillon de Westminster), and 24 Pieces in Free Style, among other works. There are also several chamber works (sonatas for violin and cello, a piano quintet and a string quartet for example), vocal and choral music, and a Symphony in A minor for orchestra.

Vierne also taught music. His students described him as kind and encouraging.

On the evening of June 2, 1937, Vierne gave his 1750th organ recital at Notre-Dame. He had finished the first part of the concert playing magnificently, the best ever, according to contemporary accounts of the time.

When he began his closing section, he suddenly lurched forward. He lost consciousness from either a stroke or a heart attack, however, his foot was on the lower ‘E’ pedal of the organ. The sound reverberated around the cathedral for some time.

As shocking as it must have been for the audience, Vierne had achieved his lifelong dream of dying at the console of the organ in Notre-Dame.

Jean Langlais

The style of French organist and composer Jean Langlais (1907-1991) is more contemporary classical.

Much of his canon was comprised of Masses influenced by Gregorian chants as well as polymodal harmonies.

Langlais, as some of the other composers here, went blind in early childhood. Langlais’s malady was glaucoma, which usually afflicts middle-aged and older people. He was only two years old.

Like Louis Braille, Langlais attended the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. Like Louis Vierne, he progressed to the Paris Conservatory, where he received prizes for organ playing and composition.

After completing his studies, he taught both at the National Institute for Blind Youth and at the Schola Cantorum. His teaching career began in 1961 and ended in 1976.

Most people know of his fame as an organist, however. He was the principal organist at Paris’s Basilica of Saint-Clothilde from 1945 to 1988. He also toured the world, giving concerts and recitals.

Langlais died at the age of 84. His widow, second wife Marie-Louise Jaquet-Langlais, and three children, Janine, Claude and Caroline, survive him.

Beethoven’s deafness

We all know that Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was deaf, but how much and when?

He was a prolific composer. His best known compositions comprise:

9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works (including the celebrated Missa solemnis), and songs.

Beethoven’s father Johann was an accomplished musician who began the boy’s musical education. Alas, home life was unhappy, and young Ludwig used to play the piano in an attempt to stop Johann beating his mother.

Beethoven could hear until he reached his 20s, at which time he began to grow increasingly deaf.

When Beethoven died in 1827, his autopsy report stated:

… The ear cartilage is of a huge dimension and an irregular form. The scaphoïde dimple, and above all the auricle, were vast and had one and a half times the usual depth…

By 1796, according to Beethoven’s letters, he began to experience buzzing noises and other abnormal sounds.

By 1801, the composer had lost 60% of his hearing.

He went completely deaf in 1816.

Although doctors have studied his case posthumously, no one has reached a definite cause of deafness. There was no family history of it. Beethoven had no ear problems when growing up. Furthermore, no matter what doctors tried, nothing worked. The deafness continued to progress. This leads some to think that Beethoven had syphilis, although this has not been proven.

Beethoven eventually gave up concerts and recitals. At his last concert in 1824, stage assistants had to turn him around to face the cheering audience.

Nevertheless, he continued to write compositions in private.

Interestingly, he wrote many of his most famous works whilst being completely deaf.

Conclusion

Disabilities are terrible afflictions.

However, the preceding stories should give parents and siblings of the disabled — as well as the disabled themselves — hope for the future.

If men living up to 300 years ago can be successful despite blindness, deafness or hand problems, then, we, too, can encourage the disabled to follow their dreams and do what we can to help.

And, finally …

Thanks, Michael, for the question. I hadn’t realised this would have been such a fascinating and inspiring topic!

Until a few days ago, I’d never really thought much about the piano.

My maternal grandparents had an upright, which my late mother and aunt learned how to play. My late paternal aunt owned and played a Yamaha baby grand. I could read music and play a bit myself.

However, lifting the lid off the piano reveals a world of science and nature many of us haven’t contemplated.

The French newsweekly Marianne recently reported on the intricacies of the piano, from sound to brand dominance (‘Un Steinway, sinon rien?’ [‘A Steinway or nothing?’] by Emmanuel Tresmontant, 24 – 30 April 2015, pp. 80-83).

Hundreds of manufacturers, now gone

There was a time when every Western nation — even a US state — had its own piano manufacturer. Wikipedia has a nearly complete list here. (My grandparents had a Gulbransen, not included.)

Very few of them are still in business. A handful of survivors have moved production to the Far East.

The French manufacturer Pleyel was the most recent to stop production. That was in 2013.

Interestingly, around the time Pleyel was winding down, a new company in England, Cavendish Pianos, launched. Named after the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Cavendish being their family name — and partly financed by them — the company makes five models from uprights to grands. They are located at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire and use the county’s finest expertise, wood and wool in manufacture.

However, most of us know only the Steinway and Yamaha brands. And there’s a reason for that. More in a moment.

What classical composers used

The Marianne article tells us that in the 19th century, Paris had over 100 piano manufacturers (p. 81).

The pianos were made in various shapes depending on the sound desired: pear, pyramid, cube and even a giraffe! Some pianos were able to indefinitely carry the sound of one note played until the person playing lifted his finger. If you try this today, you’ll be disappointed. The sound fades out even with your finger on the key.

Pleyel pianos were developed by the classical composer Ignaz Pleyel. He introduced the upright model to France in 1815. This piano was developed from models popular in Britain at the time. By 1834, Pleyel et Cie employed 250 workers who constructed 1,000 pianos each year.

Chopin composed and played on a Pleyel, said to have a singing sound quality. Liszt used a piano made by rival Erard, thought to have been even better in tonality. Pleyel bought Erard and another pianomaker Gaveau in the 1980s.

Today, only a few models made by these companies and others around the world exist. The classical pieces we hear today from other pianos lose some of the earlier subtleties in the original compositions.

Steinway’s world dominance

These days, most concert pianists play a Steinway, the leading brand of piano.

French music critic Alain Lompech explained Steinway’s evolution, which began in the 1800s (p. 81):

The genius of Steinway & Sons, founded in New York in 1853 by Heinrich Steinweg, a German, was to take the best innovations of the other manufacturers and integrate them in a harmonious unit. At the first Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867, Steinway took three gold medals from Pleyel and Erard. The most unbelievable bit is that Steinway pianos are made the same as they were in 1880! Nothing has changed since the patents were granted. It’s an absolute miracle.

Philippe Copin, arguably one of Europe’s best piano technicians, told Marianne why Steinway dominates the market (p. 82):

Steinways distinguish themselves by their capacity for resonance. They can project sound in concert halls with 3,000 seats, which had never been done before. Steinway also knew how to accommodate from the start the demands of composers such as Liszt, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov who needed more percussive pianos: a fortissimo from Prokofiev does not have the same impact as one from Mozart or Beethoven.

Copin adds that few professional pianists know how to get the best from a Steinway:

They don’t know how it’s made and how this affects its timbre. Most often, they all ask for the same thing: that their piano be adaptable and allow them to play all repertoires … In order to respond to all these demands, it has been observed that only one brand can meet them: Steinway! Add to that that a grand piano for concerts costs €140,000 whatever the marque. You then understand why there is so little diversity.

Marianne points out that other manufacturers ended up trying to imitate Steinway to meet the demands of pianists. For example, the sound from the Austrian make Bösendorfer started out as ’round and soft, deep’ (p. 82). Not so long ago, concert pianists complained that Bösendorfer wasn’t powerful enough, so the maker altered its hammers in response, resulting in a ‘hard and metallic’ sound.

Incidentally, Yamaha bought Bösendorfer in 2007.

Musicologiest Ziad Kreidy told Marianne that he is sorry the original sounds which distinguished one piano manufacturer from another are history (pp. 82, 83):

… to satisfy demand on a global scale, piano manufacture has become extremely automated and standardised.

Modern pianos have such heavy, sonorous and rich basses that it’s impossible to respect the pedals played, for example, by Chopin in some of his Nocturnes.

This also holds true for Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3:

On a modern Steinway Beethoven’s instrumentation is impossible to achieve. A too-insistent resonance ruins the sound and the interplay becomes cacophony. On an old Pleyel, by contrast, you had only to respect the pedal indications for the melody to unfold naturally.

He went on to say (p. 83) that, previously, each manufacturer had their own notion of tonal

warmth, clarity and the natural which made the reputations of Pleyel and Erard, handmade by passionate artisans, depositors of a savoir-faire completely lost now …

With these instruments, as rare as they are fragile, we enter into another poetic universe. The sound is natural, round and golden, as if it were amber.

Concert virtuoso Alain Planès was fortunate enough to play a 1836 Pleyel which he said sounded

totally authentic … exactly as Chopin intended.

He was also able to record Debussy’s Préludes on an 1897 Bechstein which left his heart pounding with excitement.

Yamaha, the only real rival

Marianne noted that, whilst the Italian manufacturer Fazioli and the German Bluthner still make ‘excellent’ pianos, Steinway’s only real rival is Yamaha, especially with their newest model, the CFX (p. 82).

Only time will tell.

Hammers and wool

Modern Steinways have much harder hammers than the old, beloved makes of piano (p. 83). This affects the sound quality, making it bold, percussive and heavy.

Another factor contributing to sound is the sheep’s wool felt used on the hammers. Alain Planès said that the late, great pianist Rudolf Serkin who died in 1991, surmised that modern felt is considerably different to that of the old days:

He thought that today’s sheep are badly nourished, that their wool no longer has the same quality as their ancestors’ and that this, naturally, has a direct influence on the sound coming from the piano.

An interesting theory, one which might be true.

It is interesting to note that the earliest covering on piano hammers was leather. Felt replaced leather. The first piano felt manufacturer was JD Weickert, based in Leipzig:

In 1847 the first felt for piano hammer was made in Germany by the Weickert factory. This felt was successful[ly] tested and used by the piano factory J.G. Irmler. Piano Felt Factory J.D. Weickert was the new name of the company.

The existing and newly founded Piano factories at that time caused an increasing demand for Piano Felt. Even today well-known companies as Steinway, Blüthner, Bösendorfer , Ibach, Bechstein or Rönisch were already customers of the Felt factory. The factory had to increase the capacity and had to add on new facilities. The number of staff increased by 50 in year 1860 to 350 employees at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the late 19th century, The Guardian tells us:

more people were employed making pianos in London than in any other manufacturing business.

Highly technical

None of us doubts that manufacturing a piano is an involved process.

So is being a piano technician. Philippe Copin spent ten years training at Yamaha’s factory in Japan. It can take a highly trained technician up to two days to properly tune and adjust a piano before a major concert (pp. 81, 82).

This video describes some of what is involved in adjusting individual key’s temperaments:

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on Boston’s Timothy Gilbert and his piano patents from the 19th century, which were very technical and highly successful.

The technology and mathematical calculations behind piano hammers is discussed here, complete with illustrations.

Today, at Cavendish Pianos, owner and founder Adam Cox told The Guardian that:

With each piano made up of as many as 20,000 parts, the suppliers include hardwood sawmills, feltmakers and a hand-spinner of piano strings, all within easy reach of the ex-cowsheds.

“China and the far east have many advantages but we can beat them,” says Cox, whose favourite statistic is a reminder of the glory days of British piano sales.

Whilst many reading this will say, ‘Keyboards get the job done, too,’ Cox says:

Keyboards and the like had a novelty but people are realising their limitations compared with a real piano.

When it comes to music, nothing’s grander than a grand — or even a standard upright piano! Expensive, yes, but well worth it. And now we know what’s under the lid.

What a great sporting event for the first Bank Holiday in May: the first ever Tour de Yorkshire!

Tour de France enthusiasts will recall that the 2014 Grand Départ took place in this beautiful English county for the very first time. It was so successful that planning quickly began for a short three-day race in 2015.

The Tour de Yorkshire planners did a marvellous job in attracting sponsors, teams, television coverage and an official artist.

The race was televised in more than 100 countries around the world. In the UK, ITV4 and Eurosport carried both live coverage as well as highlights. We watched ITV4, whose commentators and former riders — Chris Boardman and David Millar — did a great job of bringing the race to life. Millar, in particular, did a star turn in giving us a younger rider’s perspective on what today’s races are like. He was a welcome addition and we hope that he will be a regular in the Tour de France commentary team this year.

The stages reprised part of last year’s Grand Départ route. Stage 1 began in Bridlington and ended in Scarborough, via the North York Moors. Stage 2 started in Selby and ended in York, one of the cities in last year’s Tour. The final stage began in Wakefield and ended in Leeds, also in the 2014 Tour.

Eighteen teams took part. Each had eight riders. The 2012 Tour de France champion Sir Bradley Wiggins formed his own eponymous team. He placed 59th, and told ITV4 that the course was ‘very hard, very hard’ work.

Team Sky’s Lars Petter Nordhaug was the overall winner.

The Tour de Yorkshire generated the same enthusiasm among spectators that the Tour de France did last year. A quarter of a million turned out for Stage 1. Stage 2 attracted 450,000 bystanders. Stage 3 saw between 500,000 and 750,000 lining parts of the route.

The BBC reported:

Race organiser Gary Verity said: “This has exceeded all our expectations.

“To get so many people out to see the first ever Tour de Yorkshire is incredible. I cannot thank the people of Yorkshire enough for their support.”

Even Prime Minister David Cameron managed to catch some of the action, visiting the village of Addingham, near Ilkley, in a break from election campaigning.

Let’s hope another Tour de Yorkshire will take place in 2016!

When we read of Christ being the Good Shepherd, we often think of Him cuddling a little lamb.

However, our Lord knew that, in reality, the life of a shepherd is fraught with hardship and strenuous work which demands an indefatiguable amount of mental and physical energy.

It is time we moved away from a sentimental view of shepherding and towards considering it as a very real and demanding job.

James Rebanks wrote an excellent article on shepherding, published in The Telegraph. He says this is not a job for dreamers, romantics or the fainthearted.

Rebanks also wrote a book of his own experiences called The Shepherd’s Life, published by Allen Lane.

He warns:

You need to be tough as old boots. Imagine working for weeks on end in the rain, and then snow, and lambs dying of hypothermia, with the difference between life and death being you and your knowledge. Even if you do your best they still die, and you will need to keep going. The romance wears off after a few weeks, believe me, and you will be left standing cold and lonely on a mountain. It is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

And there are other serious considerations: having the patience to put up with wayward sheep behaviours, knowing that lambs will be slaughtered, the necessity of being able to train sheepdogs, being considered an apprentice even after decades of shepherding and the willingness to suffer frequent verbal abuse from a seasoned head shepherd.

Rebanks and his ancestors have been shepherds in the Lake District for 600 years. Moving to a different part of the British Isles involves different shepherding techniques. For example, in Wales:

You will need to have studied the Welsh Mountain sheep so you are not completely clueless when it comes to making key breeding and selling decisions. It takes about three generations to acquire the knowledge to “be someone” in the world of shepherds. I am a fairly experienced shepherd but if I went to Snowdonia it would take me a decade or more to learn how to judge their sheep properly.

Whilst Rebanks’s late father Jim, who died in February 2015, trained him well and the family understood the hardships, newcomers to shepherding have their hopes dashed and family relationships destroyed. One of the commenters on Rebanks’s article said that he knew a shepherd who had suffered respiratory problems for decades and lived in a tied cottage. His wife left him for a ‘normal’ life.

Our Lord had a much more difficult mission and life than today’s shepherds. However, both demand complete dedication and devotion.

This excerpt from James Rebanks’s book explains more about shepherding and our modern misconceptions about it. Well worth a read.

Even non-drinkers cannot help but notice that wine goblets are getting larger and larger.

These sizes might be new to the general public but are what trained sommeliers and wine merchants have sampled from for many years.

They should never be more than one-fifth full, less so at a tasting. The generous goblet allows the drinker to get full benefit of aeration, bouquet and flavour.

Admittedly, some wine drinkers out for a night on the tiles abuse this. But they would abuse wine anyway, regardless of the size of glass.

On April 28, 2015, the Telegraph reported:

The fashion for large wine glasses has fuelled a rise in the number of ‘invisible’ calories people are inadvertently consuming through alcohol, the chair of the Royal Society for Public Health has warned.

Professor Fiona Sim said that the slow increase in the volume of glasses meant few people realise how much they had consumed, or were aware how calorific alcohol can be.

A 175ml glass of wine contains around 160 calories, the same amount as a slice of madeira cake, but many bars and restaurants now serve wine in large 250ml glasses or even larger.

Professor Sim is also a visiting professor at the University of Bedfordshire, a part-time GP (general practitioner) and trains GPs in public health matters.

It seems that she might not be a wine aficionado. If she were, surely she would have told the great British public how to use these goblets and drink wine responsibly.

And what about other alcoholic beverages, such as the highly calorific and carby beer, which really does contribute to obesity?

Wine is on the approved drinks list for the ketogenic diet, which is high fat, moderate protein and very low carbohydrate way of eating. The body will burn off the calories from dry wine or spirits quicker than beer, which the high-carbohydrate content prohibits.

What we actually need in this instance is not advice from a GP but from a sommelier. These men and women are never drunk and know how to enjoy wine responsibly. Their lessons would be much better placed here than a doctor’s misunderstanding of how wine is served and in what quantity.

I would be surprised if establishments poured huge gobletsful for their customers.  Perhaps Dr Sim and other well-meaning do-gooders should actually head to a wine bar or two and see for themselves. They might just be surprised.

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