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Over the past week, President Donald Trump welcomed Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe of Japan, Justin Trudeau of Canada and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to the White House.


Before Trump welcomed Shinzo Abe and his wife to the United States last weekend, he already had a big fan club in Japan. This video was filmed on Inauguration Day:

The Abes were in Washington DC on Friday, February 10. Trump and Abe held a joint press conference, wherein Trump pledged ‘even closer’ relations with Japan, including reaffirming America’s security guarantee:

The two leaders met privately before posing for a photo op:

The Daily Mail reported that Mrs Trump did not guide Mrs Abe around Washington, because the latter already had plans for the day: a visit to Gallaudet University for the deaf and hard of hearing followed by a National Cherry Blossom Festival committee meeting at the Japanese Embassy. There is also a language barrier. Mrs Trump does not speak Japanese, and Mrs Abe does not speak English.

However, they rode together that afternoon to meet their husbands for a weekend at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach:

This video shows their arrival in Florida. Each leader had his own entourage. This was the roadside reception for Trump. Abe must have been impressed:

That evening, they had dinner with Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, Superbowl LI champions:

On Saturday, Trump and Abe discussed issues of the day over a round of golf:

Meanwhile, Melania Trump took Akie Abe for a tour of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden in Delray Beach, not far from Palm Beach, where the two couples spent the weekend.

Afterwards, the first lady took Mrs Abe to the Episcopal church where she and Trump got married, Bethesda-by-the-Sea:

A working dinner followed:

That evening, while the couples were having dinner, North Korea launched a missile into the Sea of Japan. The two leaders made an impromptu joint statement:


Trump met with Justin Trudeau on Monday, February 13. This was a day trip.

Time reported:

The neighboring leaders, polar opposites in nearly every way, took up the thorny subjects of trade and immigration, with Trudeau eager to build a relationship with the new U.S. president.

At a joint press conference after a series of meetings, the two emphasized their shared goals. Trump pledged to work with Canada “in pursuit of our many shared interests.” Trudeau spoke of a special bond and the “deep abiding respect” between the two countries, though he also said that “relationships between neighbors are pretty complex.”

While the two leaders stressed shared interests, their contrasting views were also on display. Responding to questions from reporters, Trump defended his refugee and immigration orders, saying that “we cannot let the wrong people in.” Trudeau, on the other hand, said Canada continues to “pursue our policies of openness.”

Trudeau later noted that there have been times when the two countries “have differed in our approaches.” But he said “the last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they chose to govern themselves.”

Trudeau gave the president a photo. It was of Trump and Justin’s father, the late Pierre Trudeau, also a prime minister of Canada.

Trudeau also met legislators at Capitol Hill.


Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arrived at the White House on Thursday, February 16.

This is their formal welcome to the White House, followed by friendly conversation — they met at Trump’s residence in Trump Tower after the election — and the official photo op:

This short video from Netanyahu’s Twitter encapsulates the highlights of the day:

Trump and Netanyahu held a joint press conference before their private meeting:

NPR has a transcript of the press conference. Topics included the usual concerns, primarily peace in Israel and in the Middle East:

While the two leaders met, their wives went to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture. This was apposite as February is Black History Month in the United States. Museum guides provided the two ladies with assistance in viewing important exhibits and interactive displays:

Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu was a sharp and welcome departure from the Israeli’s meeting with Obama in 2014. The Atlantic detailed the breakdown in the relationship, with one White House staffer calling Netanyahu a particularly vulgar word denoting a coward.

For that Obama staffer, if this is what a coward looks like, then I’m the pope. This is Bibi as a young man (courtesy of The_Donald):

As you can see below, Trump picked up on that at the time. Here’s a comparison between Obama and Netanyahu:

Here’s another:

Now back to the 2017 visit. The Daily Mail has a complete rundown, including photos, of the Netanyahu visit to Washington.

Melania Trump’s white suit is a Karl Lagerfeld creation.

Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, thought to be a prime mover in strengthening US-Israeli relations, attended the press conference. The Kushners also know the Netanyahus well.

That evening, the Trumps co-hosted a dinner for the Netanyahus. Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R) and his wife Jeanette were the other co-hosts.

Joel Pollak wrote a good article on Breitbart, detailing five ways in which this visit will improve relations between the US and Israel, not to mention the Middle East with regard to terror.

In closing, this was the fourth state visit Trump has hosted within the past three weeks.

I am not sure when we had such great presidential optics online. Despite all the slings and arrows the new president continues to take, this one best sums up his inner serenity. From the Abe visit to Mar-A-Lago (note Mike Flynn standing in front of the statue):

The Trump meetings have terrific photos and videos. Long may they continue.


One of our big discoveries of 2015 was the French food show.

As I mentioned last summer, our late afternoons in Cannes were spent indoors watching Christophe Michalak’s Dans la peau d’un chef (DPDC) on France 2:

Decorating fruit tarts — the French touch

Piping whipped cream — the French touch

We were amazed at how open Michalak, a top pastry chef with his own business, was towards the contestants in revealing culinary short cuts. We were also grateful for his generosity in demystifying various techniques the professionals use. Actually, once you find out how simple they are, you start using them all the time.

When we returned home, although France 2 is closed to us because of geolocalisation, we found several episodes of DPDC on YouTube.

Qui sera le prochain grand pâtissier?

SpouseMouse searched for more French cooking shows and found the first two series of a show with French-speaking professional pastry makers, Qui sera le prochain grand pâtissier? (‘Who will be the next great pastry chef?’).

My word, how these young men and women — many of whom started their careers in their adolescence — can bake, decorate and work sugar.

The programme features a jury of four professional highly experienced pastry chefs, one of whom is Michalak. It is a gruelling competition which starts with ten contestants, who are gradually eliminated until there are two finalists.

I was surprised that France 2 airs this series during the month of July, because the viewer would have to watch three hours of episodes a week in the height of summer. It’s a serious show and is not recommended for those with heart trouble or anxiety; the tension is palpable. Hard as it may be to believe — after all, this is ‘only’ pastry — you will be on the edge of your sofa.

What we learned is that anything is possible, and we saw how to do it!

Inserts were a huge revelation: placing one or more layers of different elements — mousse, jellied coulis, meringue — in the centre of a cake. When one insert was used, it was often a round or a heart shaped element which provided a ‘surprise’ to those eating it.

The other discovery was seeing the contestants receive training in top pastry kitchens, whether in restaurants, five-star hotels or upmarket boutiques. The tasks they had to undertake were jaw-dropping. See how elaborate the results were.

The 2015 series is now on YouTube, and we have just finished watching it. The winner, Grégory Quéré, won the show’s customary prize of a tour of the world’s top pastry kitchens and a cookbook of his own recipes. Quéré’s book was published immediately after the show ended. This photo gives one an idea of the exquisite nature of his creations. Quéré continues to work for his employer, Frédéric Cassel, in research and development. He is Cassel’s right-hand man.

The runner-up, Tris­tan Rous­se­lot, has left his post at Paris’s prestigious restaurant Fouquet’s for a job with Michalak, heading the latter’s new shop in Le Marais in the Left Bank. Michalak has also hired contestants from the previous two series. They give courses in pastry making.

Le meilleur pâtissier

Illustration.The French equivalent of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO), Le meilleur pâtissier (‘The best pastry maker’), aired on M6 before Christmas and may still be available on the channel’s replay site, 6play. M6’s show is made by the same production company and the format is very similar.

GBBO, which we also watched, had just finished prior to Le The Great British Bake Off title.jpgmeilleur pâtissier. Whilst both shows feature home bakers, the difference between the two shows is striking.

Although GBBO‘s participants make bread, whereas the French do not, that is, sadly, where the British distinction ends.

We were surprised to discover how experienced, expert and versatile French home bakers are. In the first series, the runner up — Sébastien, a dustman — has long been known by family and friends as the Macaron Man, as he makes them every week! Mounir won the second series and has since opened his own pastry shop. A policeman from Bordeaux, Cyril, won the fourth series in 2015. We were amazed to see how proficient he was with multi-layered inserts and outer glazes which shone like mirrors.

After having seen Le Meilleur Pâtissier, we’ll probably never watch another series of GBBO.

French journalist Agnès Poirier is of the same opinion. She noted the difference between British and French bakers in 2013. Her article for The Guardian is enlightening. What we make in the English-speaking world — not just in the UK — looks clumsy and rudimentary by comparison. Poirier learned how to make rather a variety of desserts as a child, including madeleines, waffles, brioche, financiers, fruit tarts and chocolate mousse.

We English speakers, on the other hand, are stuck with sponges, sweet biscuits, pies and, if we’re good with yeast, cinnamon rolls. SOSDD — same old stuff, different day.

That said, most other countries are no better.

Culinary semper reformanda

In fact, the only other nation which seems to have taken pastry making seriously is Japan. In international competitions, they are France’s toughest competitors.

On December 21, a top French pastry chef, Christophe Felder, said on RMC (French radio) that he has been hired as a consultant to some of Japan’s most prestigious pastry kitchens. The Japanese have noticed that French pastry seems to evolve rather than stay put year after year. The question most on the lips of his Japanese clients is how to create and anticipate new trends without disturbing the true nature of dessert classics.

FEUILLE_AUTOMNE.jpgWith apologies to Protestant theology, France has what one might call a culinary semper reformanda. WhatFantastik Praliné, Citron visitors to Paris or Lyon saw in pâtisserie windows in the 1970s is very different to the creations one sees now. Furthermore, famous chefs are always creating new desserts. Forty years ago, Gaston Lenôtre came up with La Feuille d’Automne (‘The Autumn Leaf’), a modern classic. (Photo credit: Mercotte) Christophe Michalak has a line of his own modern cakes, the Fantastiks. (Photo credit: Christophe Michalak)

There’s a whole other world of pastry out there. That’s what I intend to explore — and try for myself — in 2016.

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.

Occasionally in the afternoons, I enjoy listening to Flavie Flament’s On est fait pour s’entendreWe’re made so we can understand each other — on RTL (Paris).

The studio camera is often on for her shows, so we can see her and her guests discuss various topics of social interest.

There is something amazingly youthful about Frenchwomen. It’s hard to believe that Flament is old enough to have a teenage son. She looks as if she just graduated from university. She also has a gentle enthusiasm and innate kindness which, in many of us, disappear all too early once the responsibilities of everyday life take over.

Anyway, on Wednesday, January 22, 2014, Flament’s guest was Laurence Caracalla, journalist and author of Le savoir-vivre pour les nuls, or Etiquette for dummies. If you’re a francophone, you can replay the whole show at the first link.

So impressed was I by what Caracalla had to say that I have ordered her book from Amazon in the UK.

Many of us think that manners and conventions are outmoded. We no longer understand their purpose or history. However as Caracalla said, good manners put others at ease and make life more enjoyable for everyone.

What follows are a few highlights. These are universal norms of courtesy and not ‘just French’, by the way:

Gallantry towards women: Caracalla said that it was a shame that women began rejecting common courtesy from men (holding doors open, giving up their seats on public transport) later in the 20th century. Gallantry dates back to the Middle Ages and is a sign of the utmost respect for women. Gallantry does not involve condescension. It should be revived and cultivated. She made it clear that, despite what women say, men should continue offering their seats to ladies.

Shaking hands: Caracalla maintains that the French are probably the most enthusiastic people in the world when it comes to greeting people properly. A large part of this is the willingness to shake hands and with feeling — as she put it, ‘”the French touch”, la touche française‘. She is 100% correct there. I have observed this on countless occasions; they really do leap to the fore on this. They shake hands eagerly and properly, grasping the whole hand firmly but not bone-crushingly. They never have damp or sweaty hands, and they are mindful of the fact that women wear rings. Caracalla says that we must always be careful not to cause any pain in shaking hands, especially to ladies. It doesn’t take much to crush a finger against jewellery.

Saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. She said that the most important thing you can do is to teach your children to greet people they know when they see them, whether on the street or in a shop or in a lift. Again, I can speak from personal experience on this: when in France, certainly be ready to say, ‘Bonjour, madame‘ and ‘Bonjour, monsieur‘ when entering a shop, hotel, restaurant or taxi. The employee or proprietor will say that to you first, and, as courtesy, will look forward to receiving a similar response. We seem to have forgotten this a bit in English-speaking countries. The same holds for a goodbye — au revoir — in order to close proceedings.

Mobile devices at table. As Caracalla says, ‘Your mobile phone has not been invited to the table’. They should be turned off. Men should leave them in their pockets for the duration of the meal. Women should leave theirs in their handbags. We are there to enjoy present company, not follow up on business, future dinner dates or the results of the latest reality television show. If you’re on call (e.g physician), politely leave the room to check for messages.

Staircases, escalators and the sexes. Men precede women in ascending and descending staircases and escalators. There is a reason for this — and it is not because men are somehow superior.  Men precede women ascending a staircase or escalator so that they are not tempted to overly admire their physique. A gentleman precedes a lady on the way down in case she trips or falls; he can then break her fall and lessen any injury.

Setting the table for a dinner party. Caracalla said that a poor cook can cover a multitude of culinary sins by laying a sumptuous table. My American readers will know how Ina Garten and Martha Stewart place a high priority on a well-appointed dinner setting. This is the reason why — we lesser mortals need all the help we can get! Caracalla also said that no one sets a better table than the Americans, although, in terms of overall dinner or lunch etiquette, she still believes the French have them trumped. It’s the Old World courtesy and manners which do it.

Hostess gifts and flowers. Caracalla advises sending flowers to one’s hostess the day of the dinner (early on) or the day after. Bringing a large bouquet when the hostess is finishing off the first course and worrying about the main is not going to please her at that very moment. If you prefer not to bring flowers, then choose a good bottle of wine or champagne — or a box of quality chocolates. A hostess receiving flowers on the day of the dinner should quickly ring the donor to thank him or her and say how much she is looking forward to seeing them later in the day.

The best tourists. Here, Caracalla left the French touch behind. She said that worldwide surveys show the Japanese make the best world travellers. They address everyone with great courtesy, even if they are not happy with accommodation or a meal. And who are the worst when abroad? Sadly — but for some of you, not surprisingly, perhaps — the French!

Caracalla’s book is in French, but it is a good gift idea if one of your younger family members is off to study or work in France. Knowing the language, etiquette and the culture will make that experience all the more meaningful. It can also open many doors of friendship and opportunity for the future.

Yes, I’m late to the party on an analysis of the aftermath of the natural disasters which have befallen Japan.  Part of the reason is that I do not wish to sound condescending in discussing their plight.  So, let’s just contrast a few online articles, blog posts and comments from the British and Americans.

At the same time I was reading about the Japanese, I ran across two UK items of interest, both of which concern children.  Emphases mine throughout.

Item 1 – ‘Dismay as kids snub free books’ (Daily Gazette (Essex), H/T: Ambush Predator)

A BID to get schoolkids reading by giving away free books flopped after no-one turned up.

Book-lover Brian McKeown [aged 72] had almost 50 copies of his favourite read – All Quiet on the Western Front – to hand out at Clacton library as part of a million-book giveaway …

But it ended up being all quiet on the library front after youngsters snubbed the chance …

Mr McKeown tried to interest a group of teenagers who wandered in.

“One of them turned round and said he couldn’t read and the others said they didn’t read books,” he said …

“I think it’s a disgrace. The schools were all aware of it because we rang them up and sent emails …

“English teachers would have jumped at the chance 25-30 years ago,” he said …

All Quiet on the Western Front – by Erich Maria Remarque – describes the horrors of trench warfare during the First World War through the eyes of a German soldier.

“Every generation should read it – we shouldn’t forget what happened.”

Agreed — it was on our high school reading list and was read in some of our English classes.  Everyone loved it.  And that’s the problem — it’s about soldiers and war.  That won’t do today.  Mr McKeown would have done better to give away copies of some pomo novel about emo bisexual drug addicts from a gritty industrial town who bunk off school.  Now that’s the ticket!  Teachers would have applauded such an enlightened choice.  Oh, my aching angst!

I knew the parents of a boy who went to a well-known private school in England. About five years ago, he accompanied his parents who popped round for lunch one afternoon.  All he talked about was the gay awareness week going on at his school.  (Is he is gay?  I have no idea.)  When I asked him what else he was studying at school, he gave me a blank look.  Go figure.

Item 2: ‘The daffodil police’ (Daily Mail) and ‘Hooray for the daffodil police’ (Heresy Corner)

Before you read the story, it’s helpful to be aware that UK parks have daffodils springing up in random places.  The price of the bulbs and planting comes out of taxes.  It’s taken as read that these flowers are there for everyone’s enjoyment. It is also an offence to pick them or dig them up.  It’s something that everyone knows, so we have no signs.

The Mail handled this story from Dorset poorly:

Sisters Sienna, four, and India, ten, and their stepsister Olivia, six, had been on a Sunday walk in the park with their parents when they stopped to pick the flowers. But they were spotted by a passing councillor, a member of whose family called the police.

The officers moved the family on after warning Olivia’s mother Jane Errington, 35, that she and partner Marc Marengo, 49, father of Sienna and India, that they could be arrested for theft and criminal damage.

Miss Errington claimed the girls were reduced to tears and Sienna is now frightened about returning to the park in case her family are ‘taken away by the police’.

Miss Errington, who runs a property maintenance business with Mr Marengo, said of the incident in Whitecliff Park in Poole, Dorset: ‘The little ones had been riding their bikes, but after a while they got bored and went to play in the daffodils …

‘They said basically we had committed a crime. They said, “We have been really nice and let you off, but if you don’t leave it we will have to arrest you for theft”

Peter Adams, a Conservative councillor on Poole Council, claimed the girls had taken ‘large bunches of 70 to 80 flowers’ …

A spokesman for Dorset Police said: ‘We had a report at 12.57pm on Sunday that criminal damage had taken place from a member of the public.

‘We were told a significant amount of daffodils were being pulled out and thrown around.

‘Two police constables attended, spoke to the mother of the children and explained that as the flowers were laid by the council for the enjoyment of all, that people were not allowed to pick them.’

I’ve read several accounts of this story by commenters on various sites.  A few mentioned that earlier someone else had spoken to the parents, who gave them short shrift.

This is the best thing that could have happened to those girls.  They should be tearful and fearful.  I hope they learn from the experience.

This reminds me of an anecdote I read about Alfred Hitchcock when he was a little boy.  If I remember rightly, he committed a minor infraction in a nearby shop in East London, something like stealing a piece of penny candy.  The proprietor went round to his house and spoke with his parents, one of whom walked the boy to the nearest police station and asked that he be locked up alone in a cell for a few hours.  Hitchcock said that few hours put the fear of God into him for the rest of his life.

‘Give me a child until he is seven …’

Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.  (Proverbs 22:6)

Heresy Corner explains the beauty of our parks with daffodils:

The daffodils are beginning to flower in the city where I now live, glorious along the riverbank. A symbol of Welshness it may officially be, but nothing – even the all-white inhabitants of picture-postcard fictional murder hotspots – is as evocative of England in the springtime as hosts of golden daffodils, fluttering and dancing in the breeze. They are cheap and plentiful, perhaps, but as Wordsworth noted they take pleasure in crowds, which is why they never look more joyous or spectacular than when arrayed in public parks, a common resource. Conversely, cut at the stem and dumped in jugs of water, they hang forlornly and quickly droop …

Two constables are said to have observed the situation for around twenty minutes before walking up to the mother and her partner and pointing out that ripping out the council flowers constituted criminal damage. Quite apart from being monstrously anti-social. Ms Errington was furious – not with her delinquent children, though, but with the police who upset her little darlings. She suggests that “the police have better ways to spend their time and taxpayers’ money.” But do they? It’s taxpayer’s money, after all, that funds the daffodils in the first place and I for one am pleased that the police consider protecting the public environment a worthy use of their time.

Not that the police operation is beyond criticism. It’s strange that the officers wasted twenty minutes “observing” the situation – during which time large numbers of daffodils will have been wantonly destroyed … The story doesn’t say much for the Big Society, though, does it? Neglectful parents, disrespect for public amenities, police who sit around “observing” the daffodil massacre before plucking up the courage to intervene. The press, quick to decry or ridicule the “daffodil police” rather than ask what sort of society it is where parents don’t, pre-emptively and as a matter of course, instill in their children that in a public park you DO NOT PICK THE FLOWERS.

A Daily Mail commenter from Wales — wildlife, LLangefni UK, 16/3/2011 13:50 — had this anecdote (I’ve edited the punctuation):

Today I found a man with a small child of about three throwing stones at swans who had climbed up onto the shore to rest. I kindly said to the child, “Don’t throw stones, you might hurt the swans.”

The man said, ‘She can do what she wants – she’s feeding them.’ A stone glanced of the neck of one beautiful swan who tried to avoid the child’s next missile.

“I am concerned,” I told the man, “that the child will grow up cruel and unaware of the needs of wildlife. Can you ask her to stop?”

“Don’t tell me how to bring up my daughter, she can throw what she likes at anything she likes.”

It is the parents who need to know how to teach children to respect other peoples property and wildlife.

Too right.  Another thing that everyone used to know is that all swans in the UK are the property of Her Majesty the Queen.  Yet, we have crimes committed against swans up and down the country.  They are baited, killed and eaten — mainly by men from Eastern Europe. (More here.) The same happened at one of our poultry farms in Norfolk, where live ducks on one farm were thrown around by staff.  What is it with people?

Drive-bys might say, ‘This is really petty.’  Not really.  Our societies used to be orderly with a respect for public and private property.  My regular readers have been brought up to be mindful of others’ public and private space.  These are biblical precepts, although they are evident among non-Christian cultures and nations, too.  And being mindful of others and their property begins with little things.

Which brings us to the question on everyone’s lips: ‘Why is there no looting in Japan?’

In ‘Why the Japanese aren’t looting’ American Thinker‘s editor and publisher, Thomas Lifson, describes how parents bring up children to respect private property:

… most contemporary Japanese have internalized a deep respect for private property, that is manifested in a ritual of modern life for children, one which we might do well to emulate. When a child finds a small item belonging to another person, even a one yen coin, a parent takes the child to the local koban and reports lost property. As chronicled by T.R. Reid in his wonderful book about living in Tokyo, Confucius Lives Next Door, the police do not resent this as a waste of time but rather see it as part of moral education, solemnly filling out the appropriate forms, thanking the child and telling him or her if the owner does not appear to claim the item, it will revert to the finder after a certain period of time.

This extends into adulthood, as Pavlov’s Cat reports:

The largest Japanese bank note is the ¥10,000 an ‘ichi-man’ at the time I was living there this was about  £65, a deal of money at any time, but being as a Becks was ¥600 it was probably equivalent in buying power to a £25 pound note on a night out.

A … friend was going home … at about 1:00am and needed some money for the next day, so he went to the the cash point and got out ¥50,000 …

I saw him the next day in the bar looking glum, I asked the problem and he replied

“I got ¥50,000 out the cash point, got a taxi home, paid for the cab with one note, but when I checked just now I only have ¥30,000 , I must have dropped one putting it into my wallet.”

To which a Japanese acquaintance also at the bar interjected.

“Have you tried the Police Station?”

We scoffed incredulously at him, Roppongi Crossing on a Friday night is as busy as Piccadilly Circus

So they went over the road to the Police Station, explained that he had lost an Ichi-man at around 1.00am near the CITI Bank cash point.

Lo and behold the note was produced from beneath the counter, with the correct instance of its finding and a stern admonishment to look after one’s money as ‘you worked hard for it’.

Pavlov’s Cat readers share their admiration for the Japanese in general and especially during the earthquake:

Delphius1: No wailing, no histrionics, no demands of “where is the state?”, just organising and getting on with it, in complete contrast to what would happen over here

JuliaM: The thing that most annoyed me about Katrina was all the pundits scoffing at the looting going on and claiming that they had been ‘left to fend for themselves, do you want them to starve, you heartless right-wing monsters?’

Blue Eyes… I have not yet been to Japan. A keystone of my ignorant impression of Japanese culture comes from an Anthony Bourdain novel. The chef goes over to Tokyo to turn around a restaurant that is not doing as well as hoped. He tells the story of a friend who got stuck in the centre of Tokyo after the last trains and had no money for a taxi home to the suburbs. The chap explains his situation to a policeman and the policeman produces enough money for the taxi fare from his own wallet. Astounded, the chap asks “how will I repay you?” and the policeman says, “I am on duty around here again tomorrow, come and find me”.

There are more anecdotes and perspectives in the American Thinker article and the comments afterward.  Also worth reading is Ed West’s blog entry for the Telegraph with pages of comments and anecdotes:

Otsuka Duojinshi (03/14/2011 02:51 PM): On my first visit to Tokyo, I went to the Akihabara district – an area dedicated to consumer electronics. Outside on the sidewalks were tables a meter deep and a foot thick with blank video tape, cases, film, and accessories of all sorts. At the close of business the shopkeepers put a tarp or blanket over these tables. I inquired whether or not people ever stole things. I was accorded a quizzical look and the answer spoke a volume about Japanese character, “Who would do such a thing?” Honor.

Damocles  (03/14/2011 10:38 AM): … Maybe having a society that is largely homogeneous and based in respect they aren’t so self interested and grasping.

therebelsaint (03/14/2011 10:48 AM): For the same reason that Tokyo is the safest city in an industrial world … a sense of personal accountability beyond this lifetime; a belief that honour & respect aren’t just human social constructs but divine/spiritual truths.

Jellybelly (03/15/2011 01:10 PM): There are also vending machines, drinks of all sorts including alcohol, food and cigarettes all over the place, even in some obscure unlit back all[ey]s and they never get vandalised or broken into. While my ship was docked in Yokohama I went to use the public phone outside the dockyard gate and I left my umbrella hanging from the shelf, the next night I used the same box and there was my umbrella

Lefties will hate this.  It goes against everything they push for: state intervention, entitlement, rights, emotion and disregard for personal property.

Never has a disaster taught the Western world about personal behaviour so much in recent times.  Well done, Japan.

Through a good Christian example in the West, we can help revive some of our society’s lost consideration for others.

In the meantime, continued prayers for the Japanese people.

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