Primrose Day

Benjamin Disraeli, by Cornelius Jabez Hughes

Benjamin Disraeli, by Cornelius Jabez Hughes

Primrose Day

Stephen Michael MacLean, on a date with history

If Theresa May had any historical nous, she would have postponed divulging her polling intentions by one day and announced her plans the following morning, Primrose Day — once a high holiday in Conservative circles.

For April 19th is the anniversary of the death in 1881 of Benjamin Disraeli, the Victorian premier who in many ways wrote the manual for successful Tory leaders. Rumoured to be Disraeli’s favourite flower, a primrose wreath was sent to his funeral by a mourning Queen Victoria. Lord Randolph Churchill — Sir Winston’s father — never one to let an occasion pass him by, coined the phrase Primrose League to take advantage of the deceased leader’s popular appeal. For decades, Conservative party ranks were filled with thousands of loyal members from Primrose Leagues across the United Kingdom.

But Dizzy would have admired Mrs May’s electoral gambit. ‘In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill,’ she explained to the press. ‘The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.’  ‘The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,’ she lamented.

So, the Prime Minister reasons, ‘we need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.’ Disraeli, a wily tactician himself, relished thwarting his political adversaries by ‘dishing the Whigs.’

He would have been equally impressed with the Brexit campaign to free England from European oversight. Having once declared that ‘the programme of the Conservative party is to maintain the Constitution of the country,’ Disraeli would be aghast to learn that his successors were content to suffer the EU to meddle with its institutions and to supersede its laws. Brexit was a vote for restoring Britain’s sovereignty –  over domestic legislation, border security, and relations to the wider world.

Disraeli was acutely aware of continental intrigue. For every 21st-century Brussels bureaucrat there was a 19th-century Europhile grandee ready to belittle the patriotic ambitions of average Britons. ‘Influenced in a great degree by the philosophy and the politics of the Continent,’ Disraeli snuffed, trading retort for retort, ‘they endeavoured to substitute cosmopolitan for national principles.’

And he would cheer Theresa May’s agenda to unleash Britain once again, freed of EU constraint, as a diplomatic and trading power-house. Disraeli wore his imperial notoriety lightly, proud of his crafted vision that dwarfed the ‘Little England’ mentality that constrained the island nation to focus its aspirations inward.

As his beloved Tories prepare the writs for a June general election, Disraeli would have probably presented them with some Primrose Day advice ‘which statesmen ought not to forget’ — to wit, ‘Let your plan be founded upon some principle. But that is not enough.  Let it also be a principle that is in harmony with the manners and customs of the people you are attempting to legislate for.’ This is a perfect summation of the Brexit agenda.

Stephen Michael MacLean maintains the weblog The Organic Tory

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Liszt and Wagner


FRANZ LISZT: MUSICIAN, CELEBRITY, SUPERSTAR, by Oliver Hilmes, translated by Stewart Spencer, Yale University Press, 2017. Reviewed by Stoddard Martin

Where is the historian/biographer who can achieve something approaching pure objectivity? Who will try to comprehend how his subject felt in the morning, waking after a troubled dream and walking out in the dew to greet the dawn over an unfamiliar hill? Who will eschew the journalist’s longing for gossip, the ‘inside story’ of some Daily Mail-worthy scandal, and attend to the spirit as much as to the flesh? Who may endeavour to locate what Proust called ‘the intervals of the heart’ and is ready to go ‘under the skin of the other’, as Schopenhauer counselled and Wagner regarded as pivotal to revelation for his ultimate dramatic persona, Parsifal?

One longs for commentary that does not have one eye cocked toward titillation of a contemporary commercial audience. Biography as sister-genre of reality TV might appeal to commissioning editors hopeful of packaging books in more lucrative media; but for those who sit in libraries surrounded by great works of the ages, as Liszt’s daughter Cosima did for more than five decades at Wahnfried, or travel to and fro across Europe whiling away hours with equivalents to the breviaries, libretti and scores that the composer occupied himself with for even longer, a reductio ad mass taste in the provinciality of our present must seem a mortifying comedown. Continue reading

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ENDNOTES, 16th April 2017

German Artillery Barrage, Ypres

German Artillery Barrage, Ypres

ENDNOTES, 16th April 2017

In this edition; Holst in the heavens: Vaughan Williams at a lake in the mountains: Richard Strauss and a miraculous sunrise – and French élan from Ibert. Reviewed by Stuart Millson

From the Chandos record label comes a recording that makes an immediate impression, a dynamic and finely-recorded “demonstration” version of Holst’s suite The Planets. Conducting the 150-strong National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the equally youthful-looking maestro, Edward Gardner, presents Holst’s astrological scenes with a vigour seldom seen in other recordings of this war-horse. Apropos the opening movement, Marsthe bringer of war – Edward Gardner’s reading of this sinister passage is like no other, the Chandos microphones picking up the ticking, tapping drum-taps at the beginning – as if some great machine is coming into view, one of H.G. Wells’s “Land Ironclads”, perhaps. Relentlessly, the young players of the NYO hammer out these chords of war, bringing a new vigour to the Mars movement. Then, they switch effortlessly to the delicate dreamscape of Venus, the bringer of peace. A soothing half-light – strings, high woodwind and a feeling resembling the opening of Debussy’s Trois Nocturnes – arises from the pure, poised and balanced NYO playing, which also achieves great distances and a slightly unsettling disappearance into nothingness in the end-movement, Neptune, the mystic. Continue reading

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The Miller of Mansfield

Miller frontage

The Miller of Mansfield

Em Marshall-Luck enjoys a tempting menu

The Miller of Mansfield is set on Goring’s attractive high street, in a chocolate-box pretty area of the Thames Valley not far from Reading. Visitors should be aware that the inn is a popular one and that, with only a few spaces outside the establishment, parking can be a problem. One walks into the warm and convivial bar area of the pub, with its bare oak floors, open fireplaces with logs blazing away, and – when we visited – Christmas decorations. The welcoming atmosphere is enhanced by the friendly and helpful greeting from the small reception desk to the side of the bar.

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Our suite upstairs was shabby chic with slightly minimalist design; white painted floorboards, walls and furniture were enlivened by vibrant splashes of colours – purple plush velvet chairs and bright pink cushions, while modern minimalist furniture contrasted with replica Gustavian pieces. The large bed aside, the spacious bathroom with large free-standing bath was the most luxurious element of our suite: although it had the benefit of an extra little room with single bed for young Tristan, our large and relatively empty bedroom, open to the eaves, with all its white and bare floorboards felt just slightly cold and lacking in ambience.

There is no lack of warmth or atmosphere downstairs in the restaurant, where we were seated for dinner by a beautiful old fireplace with greyish painted wooden surround – alas, not lit, but with an impressive cast iron fire screen and with pillar candles, one in an ornate lantern, beaming out a welcome light.  The walls are in a honeyed yellow, with just a hint of green; there are pendant lights with tapestried-patterned shades next to the substantial windows (shrouded with translucent blinds after dark), and recessed downlighters further into the room.  Tables are bare wood with simple, A-frame-type chairs having comfortable padded backs and seats in a blue-grey.  The wall art  is rather sparing, as there is not much wall space, but ranges from modern works to a heavily-romanticised view of The Miller of Mansfield (a work that makes no concessions to the rural working conditions that prevailed at the time, the artist obviously having not read – or had chosen to ignore – the contents of the Mayhew Report).

Once seated, we were brought menus and wine lists by the helpful and friendly staff, although we were slightly surprised when, on requesting a pineapple juice for toddler Tristan, he was presented with a pint glass full of said beverage! (Owner Mary threw up her hands in horror when she saw this as she passed our table and immediately demanded that a more suitable vessel was brought.)

The menu brimmed with tempting things to eat – from the nibbles to the five well-chosen starters and mains, with good options for meat eaters, fish lovers and vegetarians alike. A selection of bread was also brought: the white was crunchy on the crust and had just the right amount of resistance in the crumb (successive pieces were commandeered by Young Master Tristan, who is becoming something of a connoisseur of bread); the beef dripping bread was also exceptionally good: much more piquant than the white, as one might expect, and with altogether more substance; sourdough was good; while the walnut and black pepper bread had a real zing to it (and a bite from the pepper) that was most unusual but which worked very well.

Nick BW - kitchen

We asked for a wine recommendation and were brought an Argentinian Malbec; I was pleased and impressed when we were offered the option of having the wine decanted. It was an excellent recommendation – the wine was dark in colour, nose and flavour, with maturity on the nose and the palate; hints of chocolate and lots of ripe bramble fruits – plump, sweet blackberries, damsons and plums, and a bite of spice – black pepper and a hint of chilli  – on the finish. It was also an extremely and delightfully smooth wine, and went very well with the food.

Given that my husband, exhausted after a very long drive, was eschewing a starter, I decided to make up for it by trying both one of the superb sounding nibbles and a starter. The beef croquettes, offered as one of several nibbles, were wonderfully crunchy on the outside with a burst of salt in the crumb and full of gloriously tender and flavoursome meat inside. Served with a moreish garlicy dip, they were perhaps more scrumpets than croquettes but were utterly delicious, whatever the semantics: I would have been more than happy to sit there and eat these all evening long!

My starter of heritage beetroot was extremely impressive indeed: superbly creamy chunks of buffalo mozzarella were interspersed with different types of beetroot – from wedges of golden beetroot through to a gorgeously earthy deep purple puree. The other accompaniments of horseradish cream and an almost cake-like crumb worked exceptionally well, resulting in a dish full of contrasts of flavour, texture and colours; all of which sang together in harmony.

For his main course, my husband chose the roasted local pheasant, which was very good indeed.  The meat was firm, yet yielding, and had an excellent flavour – not ‘over-gamey’; and was well-cooked, being moist and succulent. It was accompanied by celeriac, cabbage, trompette mushrooms, and a pear and pheasant sauce, all of which complemented the meat well. I had, unusually, chosen beef (seared Hereford sirloin steak), which, I’m afraid, wasn’t quite as good as my starter. There was nothing wrong with the cooking, which was first-rate, but I felt that the chef had been slightly let down by his supplier, as the meat rather lacked flavour; although it was, like the pheasant, excellently moist without being greasy, and the Armagnac sauce that accompanied the beef was delicious. Chips tasted as if they had been triple-cooked in beef dripping and were extremely crunchy on the outside (perhaps just a little too so for my taste), while remaining fluffy on the inside. These were served with excellent homemade mayonnaise.

Miller of Mansfield Dining Room

Miller of Mansfield Dining Room

We had also ordered an extra side dish of Cavalo Nero, and this was the most delicious example of its kind I have tasted – it helped that it was studded with toasted hazelnuts and, I suspect, rather drenched in butter. Fabulously tasty.

We asked to take desserts up to our room, and the kind staff ferried these, along with tea, coffee and the rest of our wine, up for us. Mr Marshall-Luck had chosen the Autumn Apple – apple and cinnamon, with an apple sorbet and spun-sugar sticks. This was a beautifully warming dessert, tempered by the crisp sweetness of the sorbet. I, meanwhile, opted for a chocolate mousse, which was rich, sweet and creamy. The tea and coffee was of high quality as well.

Overall, we had been extremely impressed by an excellent meal, in a lovely, elegant but cosy room with a warm and welcoming ambience, and we felt entirely well-looked after. The Miller of Mansfield is most definitely somewhere I can happily recommend for a superb dinner. But be warned – once you have tasted the croquettes you may not ever want to eat anything else!

bar with fire

Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Food and Wine Critic


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Swan Song

Wewelsberg Castle

Wewelsburg Castle, still awaiting the Grail

Swan Song

Parsifal, an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner, Staatsoper Berlin, April 8th, 2017. Director, Dmitri Tcherniakov: conductor, Daniel Barenboim: reviewed by Tony Cooper

As the audience entered the auditorium of the Schiller Theatre (the temporary residence of Staatsoper Berlin, while their house in Unter Den Linden is under restoration) they were confronted by an open curtain and a Gothic-style setting of the Great Hall of Montsalvat Castle, the home of the Knights of the Holy Grail. Built with a traditional German wooden-beamed roof, supported by four heavy-duty stone columns, it mirrored the original set design of the opera’s 1882 première at Bayreuth.

Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th-century poem – focusing on the Arthurian hero Parzival and his quest for the Holy Grail – is squarely based on Christianity. But the philosophical ideas behind the libretto of Parsifal also draw on Buddhism. Wagner described Parsifal – his farewell to the world – not as an opera, but ‘ein Bühnenweihfestspiel’ (A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage), thereby underlying the deeply-religious overtones of the the work. Continue reading

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Vimy Ridge, 100 Years On


Vimy Ridge, 100 Years On

For Mark Wegierski, history defines us

To many current-day observers, Canada’s participation in the First World War, and the great victory at Vimy Ridge in 1917, may seem far away. The tide of change in Canada has been so massive that the events at Vimy Ridge seemingly occurred in relation to a country which manifestly no longer exists. For Canada has been under something akin to “foreign occupation” as far back as 1963. The “occupiers” are not of course “foreigners” — but Canada’s self-hating, self-alienated elites. Even a person who considers all the resulting changes as positive, would probably concede, that from the mid-1960s forward, a “new regime” has been constructed in Canada which has entailed the eclipse of a more traditional Canada.

Before the 1960s, while the Conservative (or, after 1942, Progressive Conservative) Party rarely held power at the federal level in Canada, the Liberal Party of long-serving Prime Minister Mackenzie King, could be characterized as “centre-traditionalist”, or “traditionalist-centrist”. While the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the precursor to the New Democratic Party) fought against the obvious inequities of capitalist economics, it was socially conservative, upholding traditional notions of nation, family, and religion. Continue reading

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Rush to Judgement?

Victims of Halabja chemical attack 1988

Victims of the Halabja chemical attack, 1988

Rush to Judgement?

In the wake of the US military strike on Syria, Thomas O Meehan asks some awkward questions

We are currently undertaking military action against Syria to avenge a massacre we know very little about. Our establishments are running with the line that Assad is responsible for a gas attack on a rebel-held area of his own territory. The Neo-con war with anybody axis is coordinating talking points in suspicious unanimity. These are the early days of the Trump administration. It is not out of the question that various interests may be involved in this. The tactic of “Testing” a new president is well established.

Footage purports to show victims of chemical weapons. People on the scene were at pains to describe the victims as suffering from a nerve agent. Men stripped off their clothing and fire-hosed it to remove toxic agents before medical treatment, and were shown on BBC and France 24. Dead children in blankets were exhibited for the cameras. Continue reading

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Poems from a Silver Age

The Oath of the Seven Chiefs

The Oath of the Seven Chiefs, by John Flaxman

Poems from a Silver Age 

P.Papinius Statius, Vol. I – Text; Vol. II – Translation; Vol. III – Secondary Apparatus; Thebaid and Achilleid (2007-8) by J.B. Hall, A.L. Ritchie and M.J. Edwards, Cambridge Scholars Publishers, reviewed by Darrell Sutton

People should read classical literature for pleasure, to familiarize themselves with ancient characters and their customs, and in order to clarify ancient writings by means of modern techniques. It was only a century ago that the works of Caesar were used to influence the formation of youthful character and to affect beginners in their introduction to Latin idiom. In most schools now pupils are not introduced to Virgil’s (70BC-19BC) Aeneid until their third or fourth year of study. There are private and public institutions today in which that curriculum continues. As a consequence, eager learners anticipate reading that epic poem. When first I read the Virgil’s initial line ‘arma virumque cano’ – of arms and the man I sing, I was instantly enchanted. Later, though, I was disappointed and unhappy when I discovered that Virgil’s poem was left unfinished at his death. Continue reading

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Bad Lieutenant

Ermolena Jaho as Butterfly

Ermonela Jaho, as Butterfly

Bad Lieutenant

“He dies with honour, who cannot live with honour”

Madama Butterfly, music composed by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, conducted by Antonio Pappano, the Royal Opera, Thursday 30th March 2017, reviewed by Leslie Jones

This is the 5th revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madama Butterfly. Minimalism is the operative word here. Furniture and fittings were evidently in short supply at the Pinkerton residence. Indeed, clothes were stored under the floor. In Act 1, a photograph of the port of Nagasaki, in the background, suffices to indicate the location of the action. Especial credit should go to lighting designer Christophe Forey for his simple but beautiful visual effects.

Argentinian tenor Marcelo Puente, making his Royal Opera debut in the role of B F Pinkerton, cuts a suitably dashing and imposing figure, resplendent in his naval uniform. He excels at depicting the sexually besotted husband of his child bride, Cio-Cio-San, performed by Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho. Continue reading

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This Island’s Nations


This Island’s Nations

Stuart Millson believes that Brexit will rejuvenate Britain

In my anti-federal Europe days of 20 to 25 years ago, never did I believe that I would see a reversal of the European Union’s control of my country. Yet we are now at the exit door of the European project, an experiment that began for us back in 1972, when the then Conservative Government of Edward Heath effectively ended 300 years or sovereign constitutional self-government (not to mention the dissolution of our own economic single market – the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the Commonwealth). Today, a Conservative Government is once again at the helm, but it is executing what, for the liberal establishment, is unthinkable: the wholesale rejection of a system of supra-national administration by experts, the great-and-the-good, the elite, the politicians and Eurocrats who always know best. Continue reading

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