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Sadiq Khan.jpgOn Thursday, May 5, 2016, England, Wales and Scotland held local elections.

(Photo credits: Wikipedia)

New London mayor

London now has a Labour mayor who is also a Muslim, Sadiq Khan. As French radio station RMC put it in their newscasts that day (translated):

London, Europe’s most cosmopolitan city, is on course to elect its first Muslim mayor.

The next day, one of RMC’s talk shows took a listener’s poll asking if they could envisage French voters doing the same. One woman rang in to complain that the question was ‘racist’. In any event, 78% voted ‘yes’ and 22% ‘no’.

Khan, the son of a bus driver and born in Tooting (South London), won largely on the housing issue. London property is frightfully expensive and many people are forced out of the market, either as buyers or renters. Although I did not follow the campaign closely, when I did pick up a copy of the London Evening Standard, the Khan soundbites of the day were about affordable and available housing. And ‘son of a bus driver’ was in every article.

It is unlikely that anything will change in a significant way immediately, however, over time, who knows? It is possible that we will see a certain amount of vocal social polarisation popping up in the coming weeks with a mayor whom a significant percentage of London’s population sees as one of their own.

Zac Goldsmith MP at 'A New Conversation with the Centre-Right about Climate Change'.jpgKhan’s opponent was Zac Goldsmith, the highly popular Conservative MP for Richmond Park. Goldsmith’s sister Jemima was married for several years to the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. During that time she lived in Pakistan and still holds dual nationality with that country and the UK. One of their sons helped Goldsmith campaign in Muslim neighbourhoods. Imran Khan’s name still has a lot of pull and meeting his son went down well but, in the end, not quite well enough. Nor did questions about some of Sadiq Khan’s associations.

Jemima Goldsmith tweeted her congratulations to the new mayor and, in a separate tweet, wrote:

When Khan’s predecessor Boris Johnson won re-election as Mayor of London in 2012, pundits predicted that it was highly unlikely that another Conservative would be elected to that post in 2016. And so it happened. One reason is the natural political cycles from right to left and back again. Another is demographic; the city has many more Labour voters who are diluting what used to be the doughnut of outer boroughs which voted overwhelmingly Conservative.

Scotland

A dramatic reversal of fortune for Labour took place in Scotland. For the first time in years, the Conservatives have become the second most prominent party, knocking Labour off that spot. The SNP, representing independence, also no longer has an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament.

Incidentally, it is interesting that these three political parties are headed by women.

Wales

Incredibly, UKIP — the UK Independence Party — won seven seats in the Welsh Assembly.

One of the newly elected UKIP Assembly Members has blamed Cardiff’s increased litter on Eastern European immigrants, although he was unable to back up his assertions with any data.

Labour still hold the majority of seats (29), and Plaid Cymru (pron. ‘Plied Come-ree’) have 12, nudging the Conservatives into third with 11.

England

Despite doubts over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, their mayoral and council losses were not as dramatic as some pundits predicted.

That said, UKIP managed to win six council seats in Thurrock, Essex (east of London), sapping the Labour vote. This puts them on level pegging with the Conservatives. Each party has 17 seats. Labour have 14 seats and an Independent councillor has one.

Our next national election will be on June 23, as we vote whether to leave or remain in the European Union.

On September 6, 2015, Channel 4 broadcast The Queen’s Big Night Out, which told us about the one evening in her life when she was most able to be a member of the public. It was a fascinating programme and beautifully narrated by actor Allan Corduner.

This post summarises the programme’s content.

(Photo credits: Wikipedia)

May 8, 1945

As soon as Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s 3 p.m. announcement that the Second World War had ended, the British public flooded into the streets to celebrate. That day, half a million people ‘poured into London’. Some travelled by train just to party in the capital.

After six years of war, one-third of a million of Britons had lost their lives. Three-quarters of a million homes had been destroyed.

Although rationing would continue for another nine years, at least they no longer had to worry about heading for bomb shelters, a frequent occurrence in London.

On VE Day, Britons heard the first radio weather forecast in years. These had been suppressed for security reasons.

Street lamps, neon signs and house lights lit that night startled many Britons who had become accustomed to total darkness. The lights-out measure was also for security purposes, to try and keep German pilots from finding their targets.

Crowds in London flooded The Mall, waiting for George VI and the Royal Family to appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. The King gave a radio address about the war coming to an end. He and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) appeared on the balcony to rapturous cheers.

Pubs stayed open late that night. Some ran out of beer. People, even total strangers, hugged and kissed each other. Dancing went on everywhere. It was ‘mayhem in the nicest of ways’.

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret

On VE Day, Princess Elizabeth was 19. Princess Margaret was 14. They had spent much of the war at Windsor Castle.

Margaret Rhodes, 89, one of the Queen’s cousins and her close friend, recalled that Princess Elizabeth was privately tutored there by the headmaster of nearby Eton. Princess Margaret was envious that she was not afforded the same privilege.

Princess Elizabeth went on to serve in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) with the rank of Second Subaltern. She learned to drive and work as a mechanic.

The princesses’ night out

Margaret Rhodes, who was at Buckingham Palace that day, remembers that the princesses asked permission to leave the palace. The King was reluctant to allow his daughters to leave, however, he relented.

Sixteen members of the Royal Household accompanied the princesses, Rhodes and Jean Woodruff, who later became a lady in waiting, for a night in the streets of London. The Queen recalled in 1985 that she pulled her uniform cap over her forehead in an attempt to disguise herself until a military officer in the entourage said he was not going to accompany her unless she wore her uniform correctly. She adjusted her cap and the group left the palace.

They were able to see their parents on the balcony of the palace waving to the crowds. That was at 9 p.m.

The group managed to make their way down the Mall. By 10 p.m., they’d reached Horseguards Parade, also teeming with people expressing ‘happiness and relief’.

At 10:30, the Royal entourage reached Trafalgar Square, full of Britons kissing, huggnig and dancing.

Group Captain Peter Townsend was among those protecting the princesses. Princess Margaret was fascinated by him (their later romance was quashed), although his only intention was to ensure the safety of his Royal charges.

The entourage reached Piccadilly Circus at 11 p.m., just when the crowds were at their peak. This was the most boisterous area of central London. Knowing this, the group tried to stay on the outer edges but the force of the crowds pushed them ever closer to the centre.

Piccadilly Circus in the 1940s was not quite what it is now. Back then, prostitutes stood around the Eros statue and lit torches (flashlights) to discreetly show off their legs. Nearby newspaper vendors sold condoms. The Regent Palace Hotel (as was) charged for rooms by the hour.

The Royal party reached The 400 Club, by 11:15. It was a favourite of some in the group and was also known for its upper-class assignations. They didn’t tarry, however, and joined the conga line down Piccadilly going towards the Ritz. The future Queen was ‘just another face in the crowd, laughing and joking’.

When they reached the Ritz at 11:30, the Royal entourage continued to conga as they entered the hotel. Margaret Rhodes remembered it as a poke in the eye to the hotel’s clientèle, ‘so stuffy’. Their shock didn’t last long, however, as the princesses had to be back at Buckingham Palace by midnight.

They had a shock of their own at Green Park, however. It was 11:45 p.m., and couples were engaging in public displays of affection and sexual congress everywhere. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret had never seen a couple kiss much less anything more. Used condoms were scattered on the ground. Some overly excited people inexplicably burnt deck chairs.

In an interview many years later, the Queen said that she had sent a message to her parents asking them to return to the balcony at midnight, so that she and her sister could see them from street level. The crowds were still outside the palace.

VE Day was the one time the Queen could let her hair down. It was her one night of relative freedom which she still remembers fondly today. Yes, she had a few drinks and danced with the public. However, she was still mindful of her status and was wearing her ATS uniform. Ultimately, she had to behave herself.

In the weeks that followed, Labour won the general election. Their government would establish the National Health Service and state provision for the needy.

This came as no surprise to the Queen. She knew people had become accustomed to centralised government and state control during the war years.

A few years later, when Princess Margaret reached majority age, she and her friends frequented the American Bar at the Savoy. Her sister, attended by ladies in waiting, sometimes joined them, always at 8 p.m. and, even then, only for a short while. The Queen was — and continues to be — above reproach in every respect.

Coventry Scouts groups have a visit from Bear Grylls.jpgThis week in Britain, the notional artist Grayson Perry took issue with the masculinity that adventurer Bear Grylls displays, terming it ‘useless’.

(Photo of Grylls courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Perry is known for his cross-dressing, which you can see in a Spectator article on his sniping against alpha males. Perry is currently doing a show for Channel 4 which explores the ‘problems’ that ‘masculinity and manly men’ cause society.

Perry, 56, has enjoyed cross-dressing from his childhood. Not surprisingly, this fractured the relationship he had with his parents and his step-parents. In 1979, his step-father told him not to return home. He has been estranged from his mother since 1990.

He is best known for his pottery, although he has also created tapestries. Some of his work explores explicit sadomasochism and child abuse. However, he has had a one-man exhibition at the Stedjick Museum in Amsterdam in 2002 which led to him winning the Turner Prize in 2003. Incredibly, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to contemporary art. In 2015, he became chancellor of University of the Arts London.

He is married and has a daughter, born in 1992.

Unlike Perry, Edward Michael ‘Bear’ Grylls does not have any honours, although he has been Chief Scout since 2009. He was the youngest ever Briton to become one. He was 35 at the time.

His parents are Conservatives. He attended Eton College and has two university degrees. He has been interested in mountaineering and martial arts since his teenage years. For several years he served in the Territorial Army and as a reservist with the 21 SAS Regiment (Artists Reserve) until 1997.

His expeditions are too numerous to mention but include Everest, the Himalayas and Antarctica. He has starred and presented several television programmes for Channel 4 on extreme life in the outdoors. He also gives motivational talks to various organisations, including schools and churches.

He is married and has three sons.

His Christian faith is deeply important to him.

Perry finds Grylls appalling:

Top of his no-no list? Bear Grylls. Yes, Perry says that the Old Etonian adventurer is a ‘hangover’ who represents a ‘masculinity that is useless’:

‘Try going into an estate agent in Finsbury Park [London] and come out with an affordable flat. I want to see Bear Grylls looking for a decent state school for his child!’

Bear Grylls would have no problem at all in choosing a school for his sons, state or otherwise.

Perry also attacked Grylls’s show The Island:

Perry says it helps foster a masculinity that makes life in modern society more difficult.

Grylls responded in his usual gentlemanly style:

In the wild, quiet courage, humility, persistence and selflessness makes a man and also a woman. That is never outdated.

I agree with the Spectator when they say they’d be interested to see how Grayson Perry would fare in the wild — if only he could bring himself to leave leafy London.

Although I do not watch his shows, I’ll take Grylls’s alpha male masculinity any day, especially when he says:

my faith is a quiet, strong backbone in my life, and the glue to our family.

It’s time he was awarded an honour.

In reading the latest news and opinions on Brexit at PoliticalBetting.com — a fine resource for my fellow Britons, particularly the readers’ comments* — I ran across an interesting comment from a man who works for his family’s firm.

Recently, he was going through some old paperwork and discovered a note one of his cousins had penned in the 1930s:

God has been very good to our family. We have been asked to play a role in which we can serve the public, in a manner that is pleasant, and is not unrewarded in worldly terms.

Interestingly, the cousin started with a statement of thanksgiving, perhaps as a reminder to other family members. Then, he went on to describe their company as playing a pre-ordained role, as if God put them in that business for a particular reason. Judging by the last clause, they were very successful and, no doubt, continue to be so today.

It is a thoughtful, considered way to think of one’s family business.

* Read comments bottom to top.

Today, BBC1 broadcast the Queen’s 90th birthday walkabout from Windsor.

Tens of thousands attended and Her Majesty unveiled a plaque at The Queen’s Walkway, which is 6.3km long and marks 63 significant points of interest in the town.

Although the majority of well-wishers were British, a number of them, especially women, came from Commonwealth countries and the United States. One British-American group of women met in the crowd at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They have kept in touch ever since and made plans to attend this historic event.

Queen Elizabeth looked resplendent in a ‘spring grass green’ coat and matching hat trimmed with fresh white and yellow flowers. She was all smiles as she accepted cards, flowers and gifts from young and old alike. She deftly handed them to her lady in waiting. Groups of schoolchildren and adults sang Happy Birthday as she walked along the route. Prince Philip kept a discreet distance behind his wife and also talked to the crowds.

As one commentator put it, when it comes to meeting the public, the Royal Family say, ‘We’re in the happiness business’. The BBC interviewed a variety of celebrities and authors who have met the Queen. Everyone said that they were in awe of her but felt at home at the same time. They added that she puts you at the centre, however briefly.

Most people lining Windsor’s streets have never known any other British monarch. Sixty-three years and counting is a very long, intergenerational time — the longest any sovereign has ever ruled over our nation.

During that time, the world has seen rapid change and upheaval. One pundit said that the Queen’s presence gives us a sense of stability and continuity. No matter what happens, she is there with us as our head of state.

The mayor of Windsor and the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire acted as hosts for the walkabout and tea party at the town’s Guildhall. At the Guildhall, the Queen and Prince Philip met several nonagenarians. The Queen then cut her birthday cake, made by last year’s Great British Bake Off winner Nadia. Another Bake Off contestant from the same series, Martha, also baked cakes for the party guests.

After spending time at the Guildhall, the Queen and Prince Philip stepped into a brand new custom Range Rover which has a large open-top roof, allowing both of them to stand and wave to the crowds as they were driven down streets in Windsor town centre. Someone dubbed it the Queenmobile.

This evening, the Queen will celebrate her birthday at Windsor Castle with 60 people, family and friends. Entertainment will be laid on.

A discussion took place as to whether the Queen knew what was being planned. Those in the know said that she probably did. She does not like surprises. She likes an orderly plan for everything.

They also said that while Queen Elizabeth presides as head of state, Prince Philip is the head of the household. He gives the orders for everything, including when to clear plates from the table. Servants watch him for the cue.

Commentators said that Windsor Castle really is the nexus for the Royal Family. Everyone feels comfortable there. They also consider Windsor as their home town. They know a lot of people there and feel an affinity with all the residents.

In closing, RMC (French talk radio) announced the walkabout on their morning news broadcasts. One of the talk show hosts also mentioned the new Royal website. He added that part of the job description for the site’s community manager, who also is in charge of tweets, is to have lunch with the Queen whenever she is in residence. How wonderful!

Queen Elizabeth II March 2015.jpgQueen Elizabeth turns 90 on Thursday, April 21.

Millions of people, not just in the UK but around the world, will wish her a very happy birthday and many happy returns.

Britons are blessed to have her as their head of state. She is the glue that holds us together.

What has made her so successful and well respected?

On October 31, 2015, Channel 4 broadcast How to Be Queen: 63 Years and Counting which revealed the ‘secrets’ of the woman who is more popular than ever.

Below is a countdown of the Queen’s ten secrets to No. 1 — the most important. The subheads below come directly from the programme and the text summarises its content.

10/ Stay out of politics

The film The Queen, starring Helen Mirren, explores this principle in depth, especially in the depictions of her conversations with then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Queen does not say anything about politics outside of her family circle, however, to politicians like Blair, she makes her thoughts known through a look or a brief remark that can cut one down to size in an instant.

By contrast, Prince Charles, whose opinions are well known on a variety of subjects, has little of his mother’s near-universal appeal. Perhaps it is time he took a leaf out of his mother’s notebook.

9/ Say nothing

Unlike Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, the Queen does not give interviews.

Discretion is the better part of valour.

The only exception was in 1992 when the Queen noted in her Christmas Day message to the nation how awful that year had been, but used a Latin expression. She pronounced it an ‘Annus Horribilis‘. A number of Royal scandals broke that year. Windsor Castle also caught fire and was seriously damaged.

8/ Do your duty

The Queen was brought up to do her duty to the nation. She has never wavered from serving her people.

She is the opposite of two of her ancestors. When Queen Victoria’s son Edward VII ascended to the throne in January 1901, he continued his previous playboy lifestyle, even though he was married to Princess Alexandra.

A more shocking example, however, was that of Edward VIII who reigned for 326 days in 1936 before abdicating to lead his own life. After abdication, he took his ladyfriend, American divorcée Wallis Simpson, whom he later married, on a trip to Nazi Germany. Understandably, public opinion was so hostile to him that he spent most of the rest of his life in France. His successor (brother) George VI — Queen Elizabeth’s father — and his mother Queen Mary threatened to cut off his allowance if he returned to the UK uninvited. It is no wonder that Britons over the age of 50 consider him to be one of our worst ever monarchs.

7/ Don’t fluff your lines

The Queen has always delivered her addresses in a clear, professional way.

The Queen Mother no doubt had a role to play in that. Her husband George VI had a stammer which marred his radio addresses to the nation. His speech therapy was the subject of the film The King’s Speech. The film builds up to the King’s wartime broadcast of 1939, which had to be delivered flawlessly to have the necessary gravitas. A nation held its breath. Fortunately, all went well. The Queen’s father occasionally stammered after that, but much less so than previously. The British public considered him all the more human for it.

6/ Protect the brand

The Queen has always been conscious of the Royal Family’s status as a brand.

The Queen Mother instilled that in her from childhood, but it actually originated with George V during the Great War. He and Kaiser Wilhelm were first cousins. The British public were understandably unhappy during a time when anti-German sentiment was rampant. George V changed the family name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor, after the castle.

In 1917, the King faced another difficulty, this time involving another cousin, Tsar Nicholas. He wanted very much to bring the tsar and his family in Russia to safety in the UK but decided against it. He feared that bringing the Russian royals to Britain would also foment a revolt in Britain, similar to the Russian Revolution.

Unfortunately, not all of the Queen’s children share her desire to protect the brand. Some royals appeared in the television programme It’s a Royal Knockout in 1987. Rather than boost their popularity, it did the opposite. Lesson learned.

Ironically, it is the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, who makes the most gaffes, too numerous to mention here. Reading them is painful, but people who have met him and heard them find them rather amusing. Hmm.

5/ Don’t mix with the staff

When it comes to confiding in her staff, the Queen appears to abide by the maxim ‘Trust no one’. Her record is blemish-free.

This has not always been the case with previous monarchs. After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria spent a lot of time with Mr Brown and then Abdul Karim. These associations with palace attendants scandalised the royal household and the courtiers.

More recently, Princess Diana confided in her butler Paul Burrell, which generated much publicity for him after her death and some difficulty for the Royal Family as a result.

4/ Earn your keep

The Queen was brought up to be a hard worker.

She understands that if one is going to live at the taxpayer’s expense, one had better earn one’s keep.

She, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne are the most dedicated of the Royals. Much of the charity work that Princess Anne does goes unnoticed by the media, and that is the way she likes it.

The Queen is careful to work hard and maintain a sober, low-profile private life.

Her responsible approach contrasts with Edward VII’s partying and cavorting more than a century ago. In our time, Prince Andrew rightly came under public criticism for his affair with Koo Stark in the 1980s and, in recent years, for his profligate air travel.

3/ Keep a stiff upper lip

The Queen always controls her emotions.

She was brought up to practise emotional reserve and displayed little physical affection for her children.

Her grandfather George V was also very reserved, even towards his wife, Queen Mary. With regard to his children, the Channel 4 programme said he was ‘cold’.

Does this mean there was no love? Hardly. In fact, many Britons would point to the old dictum ‘Still waters run deep’.

The Queen’s children have taken a different approach to parenting. Prince Charles, in particular, was careful to show his sons much affection in their childhood.

One of the few times one could see a scintilla of deep emotion in the Queen was when the royal yacht Britannia was decommissioned. Television news footage captured the monarch, her lips quivering ever so slightly as she blinked rapidly.

2/ Find true love

The Queen is deeply in love with Prince Philip and always has been.

The feeling is mutual. The couple have been married for nearly 70 years.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate Middleton) share that same sort of love.

The film The Young Victoria depicted Queen Victoria’s profound love for Prince Albert in the 19th century. Her diaries record that he used to help her dress in the morning and would put her stockings on for her.

1/ Listen to the people

The Queen has only had one crisis during her reign and she mitigated that by listening to the people.

Another thing that helped was not to react instantly but rather wait and see what way the wind is blowing.

This troublesome period was the week following the death of Princess Diana at the end of August 1997. The Queen and the Royal Family were on summer holiday at Balmoral in Scotland at the time. The Queen decided they should leave for London four days later.

Meanwhile, public emotions were at fever pitch. I know. I worked in London at the time and saw a few of my female colleagues rail against the Queen, calling for her death. A lot of women laying flowers at Kensington Palace felt the same way. Television reporters interviewed a number of them for news broadcasts every day. The newspapers were filled with anti-Royal sentiment.

Once in London, the Queen went on a walkabout in front of Kensington Palace to see the queues of people ready to lay flowers in front of the late princess’s residence. The Queen has a scene which actually took place that day, later shown on the news. Queen Elizabeth spoke to a little girl holding a posy. She said something to the girl about the flowers being for Princess Diana. The little girl said, ‘These are for you’, and handed her the bouquet. That moment reversed the Queen’s dismal week because it signalled the turning of the tide away from animosity.

Later that day, the Queen gave a televised address to the nation with regard to Princess Diana’s death. It was her first public statement on the subject. Admittedly, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair had been advising the Queen on the hostile mood in London, but she does not say anything she does not mean.

In the address, she displayed no sign of regret but she delivered two messages in a muted fashion: continuing authority — ‘As your Queen’ — and true sentiment — ‘something I say from the heart’.

On the day of the funeral, Queen Elizabeth did something unusual. When Princess Diana’s coffin passed by, she bowed her head as a mark of respect. She might have done that as a nod to public opinion.

The Queen carefully averted what could have easily turned into a crisis. The following week saw a calmer atmosphere in the capital and a gradual return to normality.

Conclusion

How to Be Queen: 63 Years and Counting concluded that if the next generation of Royals can master Queen Elizabeth’s ten secrets, our monarchy’s future is secure.

Many of us will pray, particularly today, that it is.

The French news site L’Internaute has a fascinating photo collection of Queen Elizabeth showing us how they view her.

Most of the photos were taken last year. Below is my translation of the text, photo by photo. Her life is so instructive that I’ve highlighted significant events and routines:

1/ The incredible Elizabeth II will celebrate her 90th birthday on April 21, 2016. She has seen nine French presidents during her reign and remains very active in spite of her advanced age. The Queen sets the example. Here she is behind the wheel of a Jaguar on July 19, 2015, driving through Windsor Great Park on her way to church. Elizabeth II is the only person in Great Britain who is allowed to drive without a driving licence.

2/ A great traveller with more than 300 state visits to 130 different countries, Elizabeth II has never had a passport, although all British passports bear her name. Although she has reduced her engagements, she still travels regularly. In this photo, taken on June 26, 2015, the Queen was in Berlin for a state visit lasting several days.

3/ The photo was taken on November 2, 2015. At the age of 89, the Queen still rides horses, here around Windsor Castle, along the Thames (Berkshire). The Queen has always been passionate about horseriding and is an excellent horsewoman.

4/ Here during a horse race organised at Windsor in 2013, the Queen follows the progress of her horse First Love under a headscarf that renders her unrecognisable.

5/ Having become the longest reigning British monarch on September 9, 2015, she has been on the throne for 63 years and counting. In this photo taken a few months ago, handbag on her arm, she inspects a battalion of Welsh Guards outside Windsor Castle.

6/ At the Garden Party on June 3, 2014, at Buckingham Palace, the colour-coordinated Queen and her umbrella welcomed a myriad of guests. An event that is routine for her as she receives, on average, 50,000 guests a year at garden parties and dinners.

7/ Linked from the beginning with the world of show business, ‘Lizzie’ [really? must be a French thing?] has always been accustomed to shaking the hands of the most famous people at the time. On December 7, 2009, at the end of the Royal Variety Performance — a charity gala sponsored by the Royal Family since 1912 — she met American singer Lady Gaga, herself an unwavering fan of the monarch.

8/ In spite of her advanced age, Queen Elizabeth continues to give the Queen’s Speech to the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster, although the Prime Minister writes the text. Here in London on May 27, 2015, she announces the government’s legislative projects for the upcoming parliamentary year.

9/ Here Her Majesty examines pieces of the set for Game of Thrones, of which she is a huge fan, during her visit to Titanic Studios in Belfast on June 24, 2014 …

10/ Every Sunday after church (and before lunch), Her Majesty drinks gin with her son and grand-daughters. Could this be the secret to her longevity? In this older photo, she toasts the Duke of Edinburgh to usher in the year 2000.

11/ Every year, rain or shine, and despite the effect of the cold on rheumatism, the Royal Family attends the Highland Games …

12/ And she’s still very happy! The Highland Games present opportunities for plenty of Royal laughs.

13/ Her Majesty and her corgis meet members of the New Zealand All Blacks XV rugby team at Buckingham Palace on November 5, 2002 …

14/ On November 22, 2006, the Queen met members of the Mohican tribe at Southwark Cathedral in London. The monarch was there for the funeral benediction of a Mohican chief who died in London in 1736. At that time, no foreigner who died in the city was allowed to be buried there. The chief was buried in an anonymous plot in the cathedral grounds.

15/ Visiting a factory in 2009, Elizabeth II presses a button to start a brand new cardboard box assembly plant. This was nothing new as the Queen was a mechanic during the Second World War and loves anything mechanical, especially automobiles.

16/ … For the opening of the Olympic Games in London in 2012 a double of Queen Elizabeth made a parachute jump at the stadium in Stratford …

17/ Visiting a Canadian factory in Ontario in July 2010, Elizabeth II discovered the latest functionality of the Blackberry. New technology does not faze the Queen; she sent her first tweet in 2014 (after having officially launched in 1997, the Crown website and been the subject of a hologram portrait earlier this century).

There are several more photos, but I’m running out of time!

However, there is enough material here to give us an idea of the very modern, active person that Queen Elizabeth is. What a great example she is to us all!

Queen Elizabeth II March 2015.jpgQueen Elizabeth turns 90 on Thursday, April 21.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Queen Elizabeth II was born in April, her official birthday is celebrated in June with the Trooping of the Colour.

I read some years ago that the date in June began with Edward VII, who was born in November.  The weather here was too inclement for him for public celebrations in late autumn, so he transferred it to the present time, although it did not appear to be the annual event that it is today.

As such, it is work as usual for the Queen this week in Windsor. Wednesday, April 20 marks the 500th anniversary of the Postal Service. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh will visit the Royal Mail delivery office in William Street, Windsor. They will be able to meet postal workers who will explain how the latest technology enables more efficient service. Her Majesty will unveil a plaque marking the visit and The Royal Mail choir made up of frontline staff from Bristol will sing.

Afterwards, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will go to Alexandra Gardens to open the new bandstand. The Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire will show them an exhibition about the bandstand and introduce them to local schoolchildren who helped to decorate it. The Queen will unveil a commemorative plaque.

On April 21, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will undertake a walkabout in Windsor. Her Majesty will unveil a plaque at The Queen’s Walkway, which is 6.3km long and marks 63 significant points of interest in the town. The Outdoor Trust designed the Walkway in honour of the Queen as Britain’s longest serving monarch on September 9, 2015.

That evening, the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, will light a beacon and see two other beacons lit to begin a period of national birthday celebrations. Several hundred more will be lit around the country and a number of local councils will host beacon-lighting ceremonies open to the public.

The Radio Times reports that a very private birthday celebration will take place at Windsor Castle (16-22 April, p. 12). Actor and singer Julian Ovenden, 39, will be performing. Some might remember him from Downton Abbey; he played ‘the dashing’ (their words) Charles Blake. He is there partly thanks to his father, Canon John Ovenden, who was the Queen’s chaplain for 14 years until his retirement in 2012. As the family home adjoined the church where he took the services, the Ovenden family got to know members of the Royal Family who dropped by at Christmas for mince pies. Ovenden told the Radio Times he was not sure who else, if anyone, would be entertaining the Queen and her guests.

The Telegraph has information on 90th birthday events in May and June. Between May 12 and May 15, a pageant with 1,500 performers and 900 horses will take place in Windsor. The Queen will attend the final performance. All tickets have been allocated, but the event will be televised on ITV that evening.

Celebrations move to London in June. A Service of Thanksgiving will take place on June 10 at St Paul’s Cathedral. The event is private but will be televised. The Duke of Edinburgh turns 95 that day, incidentally.

On June 11, the Trooping of the Colour will take place in Horse Guards Parade, marking the Queen’s official birthday.

The Patron’s Lunch takes place in the Mall on June 12 and is the final major event of the Queen’s birthday celebrations. This street party and picnic lunch celebrates her patronage of over 600 charities. Most people attending will be charity workers.

Below is a retrospective of my posts about our remarkable monarch:

A look at the British Monarchy on the Queen’s official birthday (2011)

On the cusp of Diamond Jubilee Weekend — facts about the Queen and the 1950s (2012)

Prayers of thanksgiving for our gracious Queen on her Diamond Jubilee (2012)

‘Elizabeth the Great’ — Diamond Jubilee sentiments (2012)

Palace intrigue: background to Queen Elizabeth’s ascent to the throne (2013)

The Queen as you’ve never seen her (2015)

On Holy Saturday, the last day of Holy Week, Catholics and Protestants look forward to celebrating our Lord’s resurrection and preparing a feast for family and friends.

You might find my past posts about Holy Saturday helpful in understanding its significance:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Last week, I summarised the first part of English food journalist Mary Berry’s look at Easter food traditions in various countries and denominations, encompassing those in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland.

The second, concluding part of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 aired this week. Berry’s enthusiasm for Easter as both a religious and gastronomic feast matches mine, which is part of what made the programme so enjoyable.

Christians make special breads at this time of year to recall Jesus as the Bread of Life. Lamb is also popular, as He is the Lamb of God, the once perfect sacrifice for our sins. As the Archbishop of York, the Right Revd John Sentamu explained, ‘Easter is the Passover of the Lord’.

Greece – tsoureki

Berry visited St Sophia’s Cathedral in London, a breathtakingly beautiful Greek Orthodox church.

Fr Savas, the priest who gave her a tour of the cathedral, said that 1,000 faithful normally attend Midnight Mass on Holy Saturday. Everyone takes a lit candle home and blesses their home with the light of the Resurrection.

Fr Savas’s cousin Katarina made the traditional Easter bread — tsoureki — for Berry. It is a plaited (braided) bread with a red coloured hard boiled egg at the top. The three plaits symbolise the Holy Trinity. The egg symbolises Jesus Christ, and the red colour represents His blood that He shed for our redemption.

Tsoureki dough is an enriched one, resembling a brioche. It is flavoured with two spices: one, mastiha, which comes from tree resin and the other, mahlepi, from ground cherry stones which gives it an almond flavour.

Before baking, the tsoureki is glazed with egg wash and topped with sesame seeds. My Little Expat Kitchen has a recipe that looks like the one Katarina used.

The Netherlands – Easter Men

With the help of her grandchildren, Berry showed us the Dutch Easter Men recipe that she makes every year.

She saw them many years ago on a trip to Holland around Easter and was intrigued.

Berry likes the simplicity of the one-rise bread dough used to make this charming little bread of a man holding an egg — the risen Christ — in his arms.

Once the dough is risen, Berry portions it out and cuts into each one to shape the head, the arms and the legs. She secures a raw egg in the folded arms and decorates the heads with raisins or blackcurrants for simple facial features. She glazes the men with egg wash and bakes them for 25 minutes. The egg cooks as the bread bakes.

This is a simple, straightforward recipe that children will enjoy. They can help shape the limbs, once cut, and decorate the faces.

The Philippines – lechon

Berry visitied a Catholic Filipina, May, who made her a roast pork dish called lechon, an Easter staple in the Philippines.

May explained that, traditionally, lechon is a whole hog roast. Her father used to roast several hogs at Easter when she was growing up in the Philippines. Friends, neighbours and family would then join in for a massive Easter feast.

For home cooks, May recommends pork belly. She brined one with thyme, crushed lemongrass and bay leaves. After several hours, she removed the pork belly from the brine and patted it completely dry, enabling it to crisp when baking.

May laid it out flat, skin side down, and, in the centre, placed a few stems of crushed lemongrass, several spring onions cut lengthwise in half and added a lot of crushed garlic on top before seasoning well with salt and pepper. She then rolled the pork belly tightly and tied it well with butcher’s string.

Once roasted, the lechon had a glossy, dark outer skin. Inside, the meat was moist and tender. The belly fat had cooked out, with some going into the meat. As this recipe has no crackling — the outer skin is too hard to eat — it might be suitable for cooks who prefer less fatty, yet succulent, pork.

May explained that the Spanish introduced lechon to the Philippines centuries ago.

The dish is also popular in Cuba.

England – roast lamb

Berry went to York to watch the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu — a political prisoner from Idi Amin’s Uganda who moved to England 42 years ago — make her own recipe for roast lamb.

Sentamu and his wife Elizabeth both talked about how important Easter was for their large families in Africa. Sentamu’s mother taught him and his siblings how to cook. His father insisted not only on roast lamb on Easter but also curried goat and curried chicken.

He and Elizabeth have been using Berry’s lamb recipe ever since they saw it on television years ago. Berry confessed that she’d long forgotten about it, but it looks very tasty, especially with the touches the Sentamus have added over the years.

The Archbishop cut the main bone out of the leg of lamb. He took several thin slices of deli ham, spread a herb (predominantly rosemary leaves) and garlic mix over each slice and layered them neatly one on top of the other. He rolled the layered ham neatly and inserted it into the middle of the lamb.

He layered his roasting tray generously with tarragon and placed the lamb on top. Around it he put several onion halves. He took a bottle of white wine and poured it until it just covered the onions.

Once the roast was resting, he strained the juices from the roasting pan and made a sumptuous gravy. My mouth was watering. The Sentamu family must surely look forward to lunch on Easter!

Italy – Easter dove bread

Colomba di Pasqua is a traditional Italian bread made in a dove mould, although it can be made in a round one.

The dove symbolises Christ, the Prince of Peace.

To see it made, Berry visited Maria, who cooks for the priests and visiting clergy at St Peter’s Italian Church in London’s Little Italy.

The dough is enriched, as for a brioche, and contains currants and orange peel. It requires a 12-hour rise.

Maria placed the dough into a dove-shaped mould and topped it with whole almonds and crushed sugar. This recipe, which includes a picture, resembles Maria’s. The sugar bakes into the top of the bread leaving an appetising topping.

I wished I’d been with the two very happy priests when she served it to them. They tucked in with gusto.

Easter feast

Nearly all of the show’s participants and their families gathered at Berry’s parish church in the Home Counties not far from London for a sumptuous Easter feast.

They brought their special dishes and Berry brought hers. If you can see the hour-long episode, you’ll agree with me that it was a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable occasion. I would love to have been there.

Everyone got along famously and tried to learn each other’s language. It was a beautiful sight as many promised to keep in touch with each other.

I hope that everyone’s Easter feast is as special as Mary Berry’s.

As we eat, may we remember the risen Christ and give thanks for His resurrection from the dead and His promise to us of life everlasting.

On Monday, English home cook, author and former food journalist Mary Berry — star of The Great British Bake-Off and her own television shows (BBC) — introduced the British public to the traditions behind Good Friday and Easter foods.

The first of two episodes of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 saw her explore traditions in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland. I highly recommend it. Below is a synopsis of the first programme with additional information from other sources.

Berry, an Anglican, told us that she is a regular churchgoer. She said she goes to Sunday services because ‘it is important to give thanks’. Easter is her favourite religious feast. (Finally, there’s someone who loves Easter as much as I do.)

Easter is the Church’s greatest feast. It has always been celebrated, from the earliest days after Christ’s death and resurrection. Christmas celebrations did not come about until much later.

Hot cross buns

Berry went to St Albans Cathedral to find out more about hot cross buns.

The cathedral’s historian explained that, in England, the precursor of this bun was the Alban bun. In 1361, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a monk at St Albans Abbey, made highly spiced buns which the monks gave to the poor who appeared at the refectory door on Good Friday. The historian added that Brother Thomas was likely making peace with the locals who resented the Church. Monasteries at that time held an enormous amount of power.

St Albans Cathedral website tells us that their hot cross buns are still made locally — at Redbournbury Mill, which the abbey once owned. Anyone interested can find them the old fashioned way, by going to the Abbot’s Kitchen. They are available throughout Lent to Easter Monday.

The historian gave an Alban bun to Berry, who said it was much spicier than conventional hot cross buns. There is also no pastry or paste cross on the Alban bun, rather one which is formed with a knife before baking.

Although Berry and the historian did not discuss the significance of the bun’s ingredients, the spices symbolise those used to embalm Jesus after His crucifixion. I cannot find anything about the meaning of the dried fruit in them, but years ago, I read that it represents the gentle character of Jesus. I have also read that the fruit pieces suggest the drops of blood He shed for us.

For centuries, people ate hot cross buns only on Good Friday in contemplation of the Crucifixion. These days, sadly, they are available nearly all year round.

During the Reformation, England’s Protestants — and, later, Puritans — condemned the eating of hot cross buns as Catholic superstition. During Elizabethan times, one could only purchase them in London on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials.

Historians point out that fruit breads with a cross existed in ancient Greece. The cross made it easier to divide the bread into four pieces.

A number of superstitions about hot cross buns abound. As for them not going stale, I can assure you that they must be eaten within 12 to 18 hours. They get hard as a rock after that. And, yes, they also go mouldy.

Mary Berry makes hot cross buns for her family during Lent. The BBC has made her recipe available.

Jamaican bun

Berry spent time with Bettina, who is originally from Jamaica and belongs to a Baptist church in Nottingham.

Bettina makes Jamaican buns for the ladies at her church during Lent. They are actually large cakes, served in thin slices, often with Jamaican cheese. The buns are also very dark, because they have stout in them. This recipe looks like the one Bettina uses.

Escoveitch fish

Bettina also made a standard Good Friday dish of escoveitch (ceviche) fish for Berry to try. After marinating in a ceviche manner, Bettina pan fried the fish, basting it regularly. It looked delicious.

She served it with peppers, chocho and chilis. This recipe is like Bettina’s.

Bettina explained that marinating fish in vinegar dates back to the Moors, who introduced it to Spain. The Spanish, in turn, took the technique with them to the New World.

Russian devilled eggs and pascha

Berry met with a Russian Orthodox home cook and a priest, who explained how their Church observes Lent.

Father Peter explained that church members continue to follow the centuries-old vegetarian Lent, which starts two weeks earlier than the Catholic and Protestant one. They do not consume any food at all on Good Friday. Lenten fasting does not end until the Easter Vigil service ends, which is sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. Afterwards, everyone — including children — enjoys a feast.

Holy Thursday, which the Orthodox call ‘Clean Thursday’, is a busy, yet contemplative day, Father Peter said. It is the traditional spring cleaning day and it is also when the Easter cake, pascha, is made. Pascha is the word for Easter.

Pascha is a cheesecake with dried fruit. It is put into a pyramid mould with a Russian Orthodox cross on one side and ‘XB’ (‘Christ is risen’) on the other.

Another Russian Easter favourite is the devilled egg. A home cook made this for Berry. It involves peeled hard boiled eggs which are left to steep in beet juice. The programme did not mention this, but the red juice symbolises Christ’s blood. After several hours, the eggs are cut in half, the yolks devilled and piped back into the egg white centres. Caviar is a favourite topping.

Babka

Berry went to meet a Polish family in Cambridgeshire. They explained the importance of getting their Easter food blessed at church on Holy Saturday. I wrote about that in 2010.

In addition to coloured eggs, onto which the children were busy etching designs, olives are also an important Easter food for the Poles, probably because of their egg-like shape. Both symbolise life.

The husband made Berry a babka, the traditional Easter cake, which takes three days to make properly. Most of that time involves the rise of the enriched dough, similar to a brioche. He used a babka mould, similar to a kugelhopf mould, and added a chocolate insert. You could use a bundt cake mould.

Those who do not care for chocolate can add dried fruit instead.

A number of babka recipes exist, however, I have not been able to find the one this man used, which is the traditional one. He used his mother’s and, watching him make it, that’s definitely the original. Beware of ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ babka recipes. If anyone can point to one, please share the recipe or a link by commenting below. Many thanks!

Incidentally, he explained that ‘babka’ is also a complimentary word for a woman and a gracious name for a grandmother.

I’ll watch next week’s show and let you know what else Mary Berry discovers in the world of Easter food traditions.

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