Boxing Day Entertainment by the Kenilworth Lions at Kenilworth Castle and Abbey Fields

The English love to do fun – and some might even think silly – things on Boxing Day.20161226_113145

Perhaps this is a relief from all the stress of preparing for Christmas. It’s also the opportunity for people to gather together in the fresh air and enjoy themselves with traditional English entertainments.

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Here are a few fun things that took place in one of my favourite places, Kenilworth, on Boxing Day – at Kenilworth Castle and Abbey Fields.

The events were organised by Kenilworth Lions who not only give people a lot of fun and enjoyment, but also provide tremendous support to local charities through their fundraising.20161226_111614

The entertainments included Morris dancers, Punch and Judy Show, and the best dressed dog contest at Kenilworth Castle…20161226_112701

 

 

……..and the annual duck race along the brook through Abbey Fields – an event which attracts a huge crowd.  We followed this with another very popular local activity – a walk through the fields behind Kenilworth Castle, through the area once covered by the Great Mere, filled with pleasure boats, out to the former site of Henry V’s “Pleasance in the Marsh” and back again to the Castle….

May I take this opportunity to wish you  a happy New Year and for all of us the chance to play our part in making the world a more compassionate, caring and loving place for us all, one in which people may come together in a spirit of mutual tolerance, acceptance and good will, so in many more countries people may enjoy being together as shown on the pictures in this blog post.

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Book Review (English Social History): “Through the Keyhole” by Susan C Law

It seems part of the psychological make-up of the English people to bestow power upon the wealthy and privileged; whilst at the same time depriving them of the right to privacy.

And as we’ve all recently seen in the General Election, you have to be tough to play for high stakes; winner takes all, and  unsuccessful opponents lose everything.

Through the Keyhole by Susan C Law
Through the Keyhole by Susan C Law

Today’s obsession with the private lives of celebrities and those “in high places” finds its parallel in Georgian and Regency England, where the public was hungry for moral lapses among the aristocracy. This fascinating and scrupulously researched book shines a spotlight onto a universal aspect of human behaviour – but the scholarly focus is upon how eighteenth century society reacted to it, thus enriching our knowledge of the social history of the time.

Aristocratic rakes are the stuff of novels set in Regency England. One of the most striking things about the book is how intensely the opinion-makers of the time wanted to hold on to the idea of “rank co-existing with honour”, despite all evidence to the contrary. Another outstanding aspect of Susan Law’s account is the hypocrisy of the society as the popular press indulged itself in moralising and judgementalism, along with minimal respect for confidentiality, slander and libel, thus feeding a voracious appetite by the public. But I was also surprised by the disregard that the adulterous aristocrats themselves paid to covering up their tracks, and their failure to have due regard to the ominipresence of their servants. Tumbled bedclothes, two dents in the bed, and hair powder on the pillowcases seem obvious tracks to cover up!

Susan Law examines the craze of the 1790’s for printed court reports of adultery trials, which continued through to the late 1830’s with the popularity of the “Crim Con Gazette”. She examines the changes that took place up until the 1832 Great Reform Act which altered the way the nation saw itself in terms of social hierarchies – opening up “previously unthinkable possibilities for the middle class”. Certainly in the early part of the period it is very noticeable that often “cuckolded” husbands (themselves equally guilty of adultery) might be awarded huge damages and then go on to an honourable career in high office, while adulterous women were far more likely to be “sent away” in shame and have their lives ruined.

Chief among the adulterers later on of course was the Prince Regent, and I was amused to read the opinion of Theresa, sister of the Earl of Morley, who wrote in a letter “’tis dreadful to think of the open profligacy of that Monster…. we must all go to the dogs should he ever unfortunately come to the throne.”

To the non-academic reader, the most interesting parts of this book are when the author gives accounts of specific cases, such as that of Lord Ellenborough and his young wife Jane. There are among these stories accounts that will draw a variety of different responses from the reader; for as the blurb points out, the different stories are passionate, scandalous, poignant and tragic.

A fascinating insight into eighteenth century social history, with plenty of material which will give us cause to reflect upon the preoccupations of today’s Britain as well.

Two Excellent BBC Drama Offerings: Wolf Hall and A Casual Vacancy

Michael Gambon & Julia McKenzie in the BBC's The Casual Vacancy
Michael Gambon & Julia McKenzie in the BBC’s The Casual Vacancy

We’ve recently seen two very good dramatizations on BBC TV: Wolf Hall, and The Casual Vacancy.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC's Wolf Hall
Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC’s Wolf Hall

The casting was brilliant, particularly Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, and Michael Gambon as Howard in The Casual Vacancy.

You may think think the two novels on which these dramatisations were based, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and A Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling, could hardly be more different; one story set in the sixteenth century Tudor Court, and the other in our contemporary society. And yet I found striking points of similarity.

In the world in which the two novels are set, we see how central tribalism is to human nature. The historians I have read on the subject of the Tudor Court have emphasised how everything revolved around factions. In Thomas Cromwell’s world he had to navigate the changing fortune of the factions: when the Boleyn faction was in the ascendancy, he advanced the cause of Anne Boleyn; but when the Seymour faction  began to gain the upper hand, it was politic for Thomas to bring about Anne’s downfall to make way for Jane Seymour. After all, in that “dog eats dog” world his own life was always at stake.

In The Casual Vacancy we see how the wealthy and privileged, in our most favoured and idyllic villages, gather together and dominate the local council and influence decisions about the local community in their own favour, so that the poor and marginalised are separated from them even further. JK Rowling is showing us something of how this same principle of tribalism, is replicated in English society today:how members of one group gather together to increase their power over the other: those who consider themselves socially ‘superior’ cluster together and fend off those who are perceived as failures, the socially dysfunctional.

Humans are tribal and we see this in every sphere of our lives.

In today’s western societies we might not turn to genocide and massacres of the kind we have seen in other countries of the world in the past few decades, because our ‘veneer of civilisation’ is still strong enough to prevail; but we are certainly capable of expressing the same dark undercurrents in our hearts and minds, by using other, more subtle methods, to achieve similar ends. The same tribalism is there, deeply rooted in our psyches.

Click here and here to find my own reviews of both books.