British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors, Brits at their, English country scene

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I have been training for the Portland Marathon in Portland, Oregon. Over the five months preceding the Marathon I have been running through the woods and along the river in both Hampshire and Portland. Typically you build to running twenty mile runs, and, alas, in my case, to spending more time than I had ever planned going to the massage therapist and the physical therapist, and icing my legs.

It is striking how many Brits I've met on my training runs. I shall have the Union flag tacked to the back of my shorts tomorrow, and I hope that we Brits will encourage one another along the way. I know that there will be many Americans encouraging me, and responding very positively and warmly to the British flag.

It was Brits who established the Marathon's famous 26.2 mile distance (26 miles, 385 yards) as we mention in SPORTS & STYLE > The Marathon Race at the first Olympics had been set at 26 miles, in tribute to the distance between Athens and the location of the great battle of Marathon. In 1908, 385 yards were added to the Olympic Marathon, held that year in London, so runners could finish in front of the King and Queen in the royal box. Since then that magical .2 has made all the difference.

September 29, 2006

A Heroic Point of View - 1

As a commander Horatio Nelson was known for bold action, deep respect for his men, and an occasional disregard for orders. In various engagments he lost the sight in his right eye and his right arm. In the modern view of the world, his injuries made him a victim, a "handicapped" or "challenged" person. In another view, his war wounds made him a hero.

In Nelson's view they meant nothing whatsoever. What counted was not his injuries, but his actions and their outcomes.

Nelson's victories prevented the invasion of Britain by Napoleon, and contributed to an unexpected outcome: The Royal Navy took charge of the world's sea lanes, and stopped the slave trade, as described

September 28, 2006

The Last Invasion

It is 940 years since William the Conqueror invaded England on September 28th, 2006. We have resisted every attempted invasion since. No other country has remained under its own sovereignty for nearly so many years.

In my lifetime, much of our sovereignty has been given away to the European Union. And there has certainly been an unofficial invasion of all sorts of folk. More people have arrived in the last thirty years than in all the preceding thousand years.

This raises some important questions, among them, is it worthwhile trying to preserve a culture. For instance, if 50 million Americans uninterested in French culture were suddenly to move to France, it might be difficult for France to retain its culture. To my mind that would be very sad.

So I ask, is the French or Italian or Tibetan or British culture worth preserving, and how many people imbued with the culture and its traditions are essential to keeping it alive?

Holbein in England


Holbein's Henry VIII, a copy of the Whitehall mural, which burned.

When he first arrived in England from Basel in 1526, Hans Holbein was broke. He hoped 'to scrape a few angels together'. He was looking for English men and women who wanted a self-portrait and were willing to pay in gold coins stamped with the Archangel Michael.

He found them. Or rather, they found him. Eventually the entire court found its way to his door, rather as if he were the Tudors' Richard Avedon.

Without much English under his belt, Holbein silently observed the fears and desires he saw in the faces of his sitters. Undistracted by conversation he did not understand, he saw into people – strong, educated women, young, determined girls, headstrong men, corrupt, idealistic, or brutal servants of the King. Holbein’s hand captures them – especially he captures their eyes.


Sir Thomas More, who died for his principles, but also, ruthlessly, forced other men to die for theirs. The Frick Collection, New York

Holbein’s pencil drawings are fresh and immediate, as if the sitter, absent an odd Tudor hat, were still alive and strolling in Hampton Court. The paintings with their smoldering velvets and caressable furs look their period, but the faces are alive. The quality of the painting is so vivid it's no wonder that Henry VIII ordered Holbein to paint his portrait.

The King had everything; Holbein had nothing except the tools of his trade and genius. Yet it is possible that Henry VIII owes the artist everything, for Holbein created an iconic image of Henry, which blazes with power.

You're familiar with Henry's lurid marital history and his break with Rome, but it's Holbein’s painting you remember. The glaring white stockings on the King pull your eyes to his strong, planted legs, as if men approached him on their knees. Your gaze travels up, over an embellishment assuredly odd to modern eyes, up over Henry's bejewelled clothes, which trumpet power and wealth, up until you meet his commanding face and his imperious, cold, and supremely confident eyes. Once seen, never forgotten.

When Henry was trying to select his fourth wife, he sent Holbein to Europe to paint the portraits of a number of ladies. He was delighted with Holbein’s painting of Anne of Cleves, but not with the lady when he met her in person. Anne could not speak English, and struck Henry as dull and unappealing. Holbein spoke her language, and has painted her with a slightly amused look in her eyes.

Obliged to marry Anne, Henry never consummated the marriage, and is supposed to have described her as a Flanders mare. Presumably this was an ironic remark, as Henry's Flanders mares were the best brood mares in his stable.

Henry's ministers choreographed an end to the marriage. Anne was made Henry's sister, and he set her up in a fine home at Richmond, and married a lady more to his liking. Anne was happy to be free of Henry and Cleves.

A year after they had first met, on January 3rd, she rode over to visit the king from her house in Richmond. She had discarded the dowdy clothes she had worn when first meeting Henry, and had gifts for Henry’s new queen. For Henry she brought two horses with violet velvet trappings. You might like to imagine they were Flanders mares.

Tate Britain’s Holbein in England showcases one of the world’s great artists. He was able to create due to the patronage of the English. The sheer beauty of his paintings and drawings has always captured observers, and biographies of his sitters increase their fascination. For show details, TATE BRITAIN .

September 27, 2006

Violence and Reason

During our researches, I often found the back story of British scientific geniuses to be rather moving. Most of them were boys, and many of them floundered in their teens. Poor and unschooled, they struggled until they had an exhilarating encounter with reason, mathematics, and the real world, and other Brits noticed, and helped them out.

There are various reasons why these encounters happened. One reason they occurred, though we don't talk about it much, was reason, particularly reason as an expression of faith.

Reason is a subject that has recently aroused the anger of violent Islamists who apparently believe that reason has nothing to offer religion. My schooling in America was the reverse of theirs, and persuaded me that religion had nothing to offer reason. Reason, I was told, had barely escaped the ravages of religion. It was a close-run thing.

To my surprise, our research for the Ingenious Timeline suggested the exact reverse. Peering through the mists of time I could see what I had never seen before because it was as invisible and pervasive as air: The Judeo-Christian faith called thinkers to celebrate God's world by understanding it. Explore, describe, verify! And Brits did with indescribable intensity and ardor.

Of course they were not all religious, and the Church was not always supportive, but many were, and the Church often was. Supporting their scientific endeavours was the widespread belief that reason was a gift of God. Not surprisingly, Brits also found that thinking rationally could be profitable.

Lee Harris recently discussed the relationship between violence and reason. He observed in the WEEKLY STANDARD >

If it is left up to the individual to use violence or reason, then those whose subjective choice is for violence will inevitably destroy the community of those whose subjective choice is for reason. Worse still, those whose subjective choice is for violence do not need to constitute more than a small percentage of the community in order to destroy the very possibility of a community of reasonable men: Brute force and terror quickly extinguish rational dialogue and debate.

Despite assorted battles, the Glorious Revolution, and an extremely disagreeable period when some of the best of the Brits dared to defend freedom of conscience and were burned at the stake, Brits lived in a country of largely reasonable men and women whose faith taught them to use reason, to help each other, and to search for those Eureka! moments that are known to Christians as epiphanies.

The astonishing results are evident in THE INGENIOUS TIMELINE >

Winning the Pot

Today in the surgery, I met an Englishman from Bromley. He was clearly very successful in the States. I reflected that I rarely met a Brit in America who was not successful. In every corner of the States that I have been to I have met Brits who are flourishing – working as the head of a hospital department or as the chief of a critical division of a high tech company or as an entrepreneur.

So I was not surprised to read recently in the SUNDAY TIMES that a British couple, Crispin and Jules Leyser, are the leading teachers and practitioners of No Limit Texas Hold 'em. The husband and wife team is claiming half of the record pot ($12 million) won last month by the appositely named Mr Gold. They assert, for reasons too tedious to explain here, that they had an agreement that Gold would split the pot with them if he won, and the judge has agreed they have a case.

What I found interesting, however, was that Mrs. Leyser had been a UK Regional Chess Champion; had read English at Trinity College, Oxford; had a one-woman show at the Edinburgh Festival, was nominated for best actress, and won the best newcomer award. How this CV led her to Texas Hold 'em is not entirely clear, but obviously the game can attract significant talent. It requires quick wits, good judgement, and dramatic flair. This little tale throws into relief my observations that America is attracting many of the best and brightest Brits; in all sorts of fields.

September 26, 2006

Flying to the Rescue

According to the WALL STREET JOURNAL, the peripatetically energetic Richard Branson has announced that he will pledge $3 billion of profits from his Virgin airline and railroad businesses to combatting global warming. He plans to invest in biofuels such as ethanol and rapeseed through Virgin Fuels.

Questions immediately arise like balloons.

1) Will large-scale biofuel farming result in deforestation and monocultures harmful to other living things?

The land to grow the fuel has to come from somewhere. Already butterfly species in Britain are declining because of the destruction of their woodland habitats. Mr. Branson will probably be growing his fuel somewhere other than Britain, but other countries have forests and animals and butterflies to lose.

2) Will Mr Branson’s decision to ride to the rescue of Earth do anything to reduce global warming? The answer depends on the answers to two other questions:

3) Is global warming actually occurring? Many scientists say yes. Many other scientists say no, or, we don't know.

4) If warming is occurring, are man and womankind causing it?

Curiously, for several hundred years during the early Middle Ages, Britain experienced a marvellous warming and drying of the island’s moist climate. In 1265, Simon de Montfort was riding with his prisoner King Henry III and the loyal bachelor knights, trying to keep the reforms, which had begun with Magna Carta, alive. Just as they had for a century past. the long, golden days of summer unfurled warm and glorious.

Just thirty-five years later, the Little Ice Age began. It would last hundreds of years, with plunging temperatures all across Europe, and probably all over the world. One consequence may be that current temperatures seem warm in comparison.

5) Will his plan prove profitable?

Clearly we don’t know the answers to all of these questions, but we’re pretty sure the answer to question 5) is yes, Branson will make a profit. We base our answer on the theory developed by an 18th century Brit, Thomas Bayes, a nonconformist minister and a mathematician whose probability theory has become crucial to data searches used by Google and Yahoo. With Bayesian theory, the likelihood that something will happen can be plausibly estimated by how often it has occurred in the past.

In the past, Richard Branson has always made money, even on ventures others considered risky, therefore he probably will make money in the future. Furthermore his projected profits do not depend on global warming but on the British Government’s recent decision that 5% of all fuel sold in service stations will be from renewable sources beginning in 2010.

The Brits have an 800-year-history of invention that combines technological innovation and private investment, so Richard Branson is following an extremely successful formula. And we suspect he rather enjoys playing the role of chivalrous knight errant to boot.

To read more about Bayes, see the INGENIOUS TIMELINE >

September 25, 2006

Brits Win Ryder Cup

Samuel Ryder, a Brit who made a fortune putting seeds in packets, learned to play golf quite well in his 50s. Watching a match between Brits and Americans in 1926, he decided to put up seed money, and make it a biennial event. The first match began with gusto in 1927 with the Brits and Americans swinging for dominance in single and team matches. The Cup (Mr Ryder donated a very handsome gold specimen) went on ice during World War II, but returned when the war ended. However, by the1970s Brits had tired of not winning the Cup, and it was decided the Cup should include European players.

The blue and gold EU flag is certainly very visible on the Ryder Cup website today, and Europe now seems to dominate the Cup, leaving the Americans, who play a more solitary game in the States on less touseled greens, struggling. But does Europe dominate?

The Brits, as we explain HERE > invented, or perfected, the game of golf.

At this year's event, as Richard North explains in more detail HERE > half the victorious "Europe" team were British. Two were Irish, and there were two each from Spain and Sweden. There were no representatives from 21 of the current 25 EU countries. All the Brits took their matches.

It might be said, with modesty, it was the Brits took the Ryder Cup this year.

September 23, 2006

Barefoot Soldier

Pte Johnson Beharry, 27, of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment received the Victoria Cross (VC) for tremendous courage in saving the lives of his fellow Brits in two actions in Iraq. The TELEGRAPH > reports that he twice cheated death in acts of exceptional bravery when his Warrior tank was hit by rocket-propelled grenades in two ambushes in 2004. Exposed to enemy fire, with his hatch blown away, his communications gone and his periscope shattered, he led his five-vehicle convoy to safety then clambered on to the red-hot metal to save colleagues, including his commanding officer. Two years later, he remains in considerable pain from his head injuries.

Beharry, who moved to Britain from Grenada when he was 19, recalls how the Army saved his life before he went into action. and what has happened to him since in Barefoot Soldier, which will be serialised in the Telegraph > tomorrow.

September 22, 2006

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Radio Praise

I've written before about NPR, the US version of the BBC, roughly equivalent to BBC Radio 4. In addition there are two other stations I listen to regularly when I am in Oregon. One is KBPS, 89.9 FM, the classical music station. Entirely based on voluntary subscriptions, it plays classical music twenty-four hours a day, mostly recordings, introduced by competent, easy-on-the-ear disc jockeys. The most popular one is an Englishman, Edmund Stone.

This evening being Rosh Hoshana, the focus is on sacred Jewish music. Some of the music resembles the Gregorian chants we hear in our cathedrals in England. More surprising is that the interspersed Psalm and Old Testament readings have been taken from the King James translation of the Bible, published in England in 1611.

The other station that I enjoy is 750 AM. The AM stations have a reputation for appealing to a low-brow audience. Red-necks, as my daughter would say. But this is where you hear the pulse of the people. Talk radio is an American phenomenon, which, together with blogging, is changing the political landscape here. Much feistier than Talk Sport, it is more outspoken than any political commentary in Britain. I will say more about this soon.

The musical celebration has turned to the origin of the world and praise for the Creator. It is sad music at the moment, as if the burden of being created were too much sometimes for us to bear. But quickly the music becomes hopeful, and turns to praise. I forget sometimes to give praise and thanks.

Corfu honours Durrells

. . . We sped down a white road covered in a thick layer of silky dust that rose in a boiling cloud behind us, a road lined with prickly pears like a fence of green plates each cleverly balanced on another's edges, and splashed with knobs of scarlet fruit. We passed vineyards. . .At last we roared to the top of a hill, and Spiro crammed on his brakes and brought the car to a dust-misted halt.

'Theres you ares,' he said, pointing with a great stubby forefinger; 'thats the villa with the bathrooms, likes you wanted.'

Mother, who had kept her eyes firmly shut throughout the drive, now opened them cautiously and looked. Spiro was pointing at a gentle curve of hillside that rose from the glittering sea. The hill and the valleys around it were an eiderdown of olive-groves that shone with a fish-like gleam where the breeze touched the leaves. Half way up the slope, guarded by a group of tall, slim cypress-trees, nestled a small strawberry-pink villa, like some exotic fruit lying in the greenery. The cypress-trees undulated gently in the breeze, as if they were busily painting the sky a still brighter blue for our arrival.

So ends Gerald Durrell’s first chapter in My Family and Other Animals, a wonderful and hilarious memoir of the boy and his dog and family who fled the gloom of an English summer and settled in Corfu in a series of villas bursting with siblings, guests, the boy’s expanding collection of animals, his harassed and good-humoured mother, and his genial and acutely intelligent mentor, Dr. Theodore Stephanides.

Gerald’s affectionate, funny, and luminous evocation of Corfu entranced his readers, and brought shiploads of travellers to Corfu. Lawrence Durrell, Gerald’s older brother, contributed to Corfu’s mystique in Prospero’s Cell, an eccentric travel guide.

On Sunday, September 24th, fifty years after My Family was first published, Corfu will honour the two brothers who put Corfu “on the map” by naming public gardens after them. The GUARDIAN > has details.

The number of Brits who travelled far and wide, and fell in love with the places and people they encountered is staggering, as is the only slightly smaller number who wrote about their experiences.

For more about Gerald’s heroic work saving animals, you could look HERE >

For laughter, lovely and healing, it's enough just to read My Family. . .

September 21, 2006

Hobbit Born

On this day in 1937, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, was first published.

Even as a child I was torn - between the comfort of Bilbo Baggins' Bag End and the lure of the Misty Mountains.

We would love to post a piece on British Children's literature – from Robin Hood (another childhood favorite) and King Arthur to dear old Mole in Wind in the Willows and Alice in Wonderland; from Peter Pan fighting pirates to Lucy exploring Narnia, and Harry working hard at Hogwarts.

If you have anything you'd like to say on this or any other subject, keeping in mind that we prefer Brits at their best, do email us >

A Thread

Karen Armstrong, a former nun and the author of a number of popular books on world religions, recently castigated the Pope in the Guardian, and wrote that "Hatred of Islam is so ubiquitous and so deeply rooted in western culture that it brings together people who are usually at daggers drawn." She also made a number of statements about Islam as a religion of peace.

Many of her respondents disagreed with her grasp of history, and said they judged violent Islamists not by ancient prejudices but by the two most obvious things about them – they were Muslim and they were violent. Numerous others – this is the longest published thread I have encountered online – offered their opinions on great sweeps of history and Islamic, Christian, and Jewish scriptures, and were, in turn, "corrected" by others.

Amazing, sez I to myself, as I ran down the thread. There are defenders of reason and freedom and the Enlightenment here; there are defenders of the Pope, Islam, the 12th Mahdi, and even atheism; and there are many who attack Islam and Christianity, but unless I have overlooked a post, there is not one person who is aware or at all grateful for the particular contributions of Christianity and Christians to freedom and civilization.

Humbly I realized that before we researched the Liberty Timeline I was just as unaware.

The Brits who fought so hard for habeas corpus, the right to a jury trial, the idea that no one, not even a king, was above the law were Christians, and sustained by Judeo-Christian thinking. They endured flogging on the streets of London and death on the battlefield and burning at the stake to advance and protect the right to just laws and representative government and freedom of conscience.

Discovering their stories, I felt as if I had removed a blindfold, and was standing in sunlight.

Seeds of Evolution

NPR (National Public Radio) is the American equivalent of the BBC. It has the same prejudices and predilections. The BBC hires exclusively from Guardian readers; NPR exclusively from readers of the New York Times. Their accents are different - NPR's are frequently easier to understand.

Unlike the BBC, NPR will often find British people it admires. This morning, NPR was talking about Darwin, now their most revered Brit since Tony Blair lost favour over the Iraq war. NPR revealed that Darwin was puzzled over the singularity of kangaroos in Australia and New Guinea. Clearly, kangaroos had not made any long sea voyages, but had somehow managed to develop in Australasia.

However, Darwin noted that the more humdrum cabbage, which had even less locomotive powers, was found all over the world. Darwin, his son, and his butler made some curious surmises, and the upshot was a lengthy experiment floating seeds of various species in various household containers filled with salt water. They discovered that many seeds survive in salt water for quite a few days. If a seed lasts 60 days in water, and is in a current travelling 20 miles per day, it can wind up over a thousand miles away. If it finds hospitable terrain, it will germinate, and thrive.

Then Darwin's son raised the question of whether birds might transport seeds. This seems obvious now, but was not so then. Darwin, always keen to test a hypothesis, began floating dead birds with seeds in their stomachs in saltwater. . .Unfortunately it was at this moment that I had to leave the car to attend to patients.

Alfred Russel Wallace, who was exploring South America and Indonesia, enjoyed adventures as exotic as Darwin's, and arrived at the theory of evolution at the same time (1858). You might want to take a look at the INGENIOUS TIMELINE >

September 20, 2006

Lord Carey Speaks Bluntly at Time of Great Peril

THE former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey of Clifton has issued his own challenge to 'violent' Islam in a lecture in which he defends the Pope’s 'extraordinarily effective and lucid' speech. Story in the TIMES >

Violent Islamists have burned churches, and murdered a Sister who tended the ill in Somalia in a violent reaction that has the ironic result of underlining Pope Benedict XVI's speech in Regensburg last week.

Pope Benedict suggested that reason was one of the gifts of God and that Muslims misunderstood God if they believed God supported violence rather than reason as an expression of their faith. The Pope also suggested to the secular West that reason unrooted in faith and the love of God loses its life force, and historically has become the tool of totalitarianism.

Though he may well attract the violent animus of Islamists, Lord Carey took his stand beside the Pope by defending him. He also challenged Muslims to address “with great urgency” their religion’s association with violence.

A Happy Ending

In 1803, a Dutch merchant by the name of Jan Teerlink collected seeds during his travels to the Cape of Good Hope, carefully tucking them in packets he placed inside his notebook. Unhappily for him, his ship was captured by the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars, and his notebook was seized, and passed from hand to hand until arriving at the National Archives where its seeds lay in a deep sleep for two hundred years. Last year a guest researcher from the Royal Dutch Library opened Jan's notebook, and discovered the seeds. The seeds were passed to the Millennium Seed Bank, a Royal Botanic Gardens project established to preserve seeds from 10% of the world's flowering plants. Gardeners there managed to wake up three of the seeds, and three sleeping beauties are flowering.

For the full story, see the GUARDIAN >

For details about the Brits’ irrepressible interest in plants and gardens,
look HERE >

Did Those Feet

Speaking of hymns, Willliam Blake's best-known hymn is Jerusalem.

Did those feet in ancient times
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills? . . .

The current edition of THIS ENGLAND reminds us of the legends that Jesus visited England early in his life. The magazine contains interesting evidence from the author Glyn Lewis that suggests the legends may be true.

When Jesus was a boy, traders from Israel and Phoenicia sailed to Cornwall to pick up ingots of tin. Lewis says there is evidence that Joseph of Arimathaea was involved in the tin trade, that he was Mary's uncle, and that he became Jesus' guardian when Mary's husband Joseph died. Indeed archaeologists have translated Phoenician pictographs carved on the arch of an old church in Cornwall as referring to Jesus's early life. They come from an ancient shrine that predates the church.

September 19, 2006

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A Pity

I did not want to post about the aging young man who is once again calling for death to those who criticise his religion. You probably saw him shouting outside Westminster Cathedral, and may even have wondered why he was not immediately arrested for incitement to murder.

It is said that his wife and children rely on monthly welfare benefits of around £2000 to survive. This means that the British taxpayer, who earlier paid for the fellow's education, is now helping to underwrite his malfeasance.

There is no doubt that taxpayers exhibit very kindly and caring impulses in wanting to provide help. However, 19th century Brits who studied the welfare issue decided it was a bust. For details see LIBERTY, THE TIMELINE, 1834 >

The Lapwing Cries

Lapwings, whose bewitching black feathered crests look as elegant as any paraded at Ascot, are the friends of farmers. According to the Oxford Book of Birds, they feed on insect pests in ploughed fields (and have a penchant for dining by moonlight). Their tumbling flight in spring, which shows their dazzling acrobatics (and white tummies), makes them entrancing to those who see them. Shakespeare wrote about them several times. Far from her nest the lapwing cries away. . .

Lapwings may be known to you by their Latin name Vanallus vanallus, or as the green plover or peewit.

Both lapwing parents bravely protect their young. Unhappily, as their natural country of ploughed fields, diverse crops, marshland and river valleys declines in Britain, they are having fewer babies.

But happily, individuals such as Charles Grisedale > and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds > have flown to their defence. Working with farmers they are recreating the wet meadows hospitable to lapwings.

Brits concerned about the widespread killing of birds, whose feathers were exploited for fashion, founded the RSPB in 1889. It is one of the largest wildlife conservation organisations of its kind in the world, and one of the oldest, and I salute the Brits who continue to support it.

The Night Ride

Early this morning, the world from the third floor was white, a dense fog that gave way to brilliant and brief appearances of sun later in the afternoon, before clouding over. Tonight the air is bracing, and the dark night sky approaches a midnight blue shot full of snow-white clouds. Running a few errands, I catch glimpses of the weather drifting across Oregon.

Less than a hundred years ago my grandfather was on horseback, riding in from the family farm to court my grandmother at a dance in town. My grandfather would have had plenty of time to think and plan on his ride, and to feel and smell the earth, and see and hear the strong and delicate changes occurring all around him. Though American, he lived a life much like the outdoor life many Brits once lived – hard and exuberant and conducive to building a man's courage, resilience, and freedom, or a woman's.

I think about this while skimming a story online. A Telegraph reporter has been inspired by a British doctor to exercise whenever and wherever he can. As a result the Telegraph's man experiments with reading and writing while walking miles on a treadmill. He finds his energy increasing. He also manages to lose a few pounds. You can find the somewhat depressing story HERE >

Never mind losing pounds.

I'm losing the mysterious wild without even knowing it. The gifts it might bring me are lost, and I hardly know I'm missing them.

Once, Brits knew that wild mystery.

September 18, 2006

Armed with an Umbrella

In a war full of heroism, Digby Tatham-Warter's courage and sense of humour are astonishing. On this day in 1944, he tried to hold the Arnhem Bridge against overwhelming Nazi forces. FOR MORE >


The Australian Government has proposed that immigrants take a citizenship test to show whether they have a sincere interest in the values, customs, and history of Australia. If they show "fair dinkum", they will be welcomed into Australia.

Naturally, some see this proposal as heavy-handed or even jingoistic.

In the common sense corner are those who understand that testing is also a way of teaching. Australia has an identity it wants would-be citizens - who will benefit from Australia's freedom, health care, retirement security, and job opportunities - to know and share.

The government would also like citizens to pledge their commitment to democracy, to obeying laws and defending liberties.

We have made a similar proposal in DEFENDING FREEDOM AGAINST THREATS, #2 >

Those who fail the test will be allowed to take it again.

Given that it takes a little time to imbibe a country's values and customs, John Howard's government suggests that would-be citizens be given time to learn about their new country before sitting down to the test.

In the Land of the Living

This is the season when children begin trooping back to the cathedral with their parents. Last week, their voices joined the voices of the choir, newly returned and marching down the nave, and the voices of all of us in the pews, singing Anglican hymns that make my heart beat wildly as if I'm riding a big wave to shore. The tunes are gorgeous - from Winchester New to American Gospel, from Duke Street to Mendelssohn and St. Columba. The British hymn writers, from Isaac Watts and John Newton to George Herbert and Christina Rossetti, and dozens whose names I cannot recall, have a softly blazing message. Not for them Matthew Arnold's sea of faith with its "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar". They are alive to all the promise in the words of the psalmist - "I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living".

September 16, 2006


On the 16th of September 1776 men in America stood fast in a line stretching across the northern end of Manhattan. King George's forces, moving north, met them around present day West Broadway and 106th Street, close to where, two hundred years later, I attended school.

The American lines held in early fighting, but gradually began to fall back, while their cousins from Britain advanced, irritating the heck out of them by playing the “Call to Ground”, a signal during foxhunts that the quarry had been trapped in its hole. The call was well known to the Virginians, and must have set Washington's teeth on edge. Reinforcements gave impetus to the hunters who pushed north as far as present-day 125th Street, where farms spread out around the small village of Harlem.

Washington ordered the Connecticut Rangers under Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton and the Virginians under Major Andrew Leitch to advance. Fighting courageously they forced the King's Army to retreat. When the battle ended, Knowlton and Leitch and at least 100 others were dead. The reprieve was temporary.

Washington's subsequent flight across the Hudson River and New Jersey with his men, who had been on the road and fighting for almost a year, but who refused to surrender though hungry and shoeless, is a measure of their fierce and tender love of liberty.

They learned this love from the best of the Brits. When Americans drafted their Constitution and Bill of Rights, they based it on the British Constitution which includes Common Law, the Charter of Liberties, the Coronation Oath, Magna Carta, the Petition of Right and the Declaration of Right.

It would take years for Brits in America to win their independence, and eleven years before they had a constitution - a reminder in an impatient modern world that establishing freedom takes time. (We can hear some of our solons now - "Hang it up, George. This war of independence is a quagmire. It's a civil war! People are dying every day. A major city is going up in smoke!" New York City did burn, and probably because rebels set it alight.)

When I climbed the stairs from the subway that had rattled me north from 34th Street, and strolled through the gates of Columbia, and across the brick quad, I was, though I hardly thought about it, the recipient of all their sacrifice.

For more about the Brits' daring and extraordinary efforts to achieve freedom and representative government we point you toward LIBERTY! THE TIMELINE > and FREEDOM NETWORK >


The British International School is opening in New York, joining Boston, Washington, and Chicago in offering a private school whose curriculum is more geared to those typically found in Britain.

My children grew up near Portland, Oregon. The Oregon Episcopal School, under its then British headmaster, provided an education as good as at any English school. The headmaster himself taught them Cicero.

I note that the new New York school has adopted the International Baccalaureate (IB) syllabus. This is more rigorous than the woeful state of A levels at present in Britain.

However, perhaps the importance of formal education is overrated. Our research into great inventions by Brits show that many of our greatest inventors and innovators - Hooke, Boole, Beaufort, Maudslay, Dalton, Heaviside, George Stephenson, Alexander Bell - had little formal schooling. They educated themselves. You might be interested in checking out our INGENIOUS TIMELINE >

September 15, 2006


In 1776 on this day, Brits in America fought Brits from Britain in New York City.

Brits in America were fighting for "their trueborn rights as Englishmen". They were very well informed about the unique freedoms that Brits had obtained over the preceding 900 years. It may be this love of freedom that made the Brits from Britain less than wildly enthusiastic about fighting their cousins in Manhattan.

Nevertheless, two weeks earlier, in August, King George's Army had routed the Americans in the Battle of Long Island, and was poised to capture the entire American army. British commanders went to bed with the supreme confidence of men who plan to finish a job with a minimum of strain the next morning.

That night, on August 27, every small boat in Manhattan and for miles around headed across the East River and secretly, silently ferried the American army away. Without the cover of fog and a propitious breeze that sprang up after midnight, this early Dunkirk operation could not have succeeded, a fact that always spoke to Washington of the helpful hand of Providence. On waking next morning to find their cousins had vanished, King George's Army was not well pleased.

But the Americans almost lost the war again (near escape seems to be something of a theme ) when Howe landed 4,000 soldiers on Manhattan at the foot of present-day 34th Street on September 15, and the American troops guarding the shore grabbed their rifles, and fled.

Washington galloped south from Harlem Heights, to meet his fleeing troops around present-day 42nd Street. When they refused to stand and fight, perhaps deeming caution the better part of valour, he lost his gigantic temper, usually tightly reined.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

The cousins who made such an extraordinary contribution to freedom and consequently to human happiness are described in more detail in LIBERTY! THE TIMELINE >. . .

Oriana Fallaci Dies

Richard Fernandez writes "The darkness came and yet the darkness claimed her not."

Michael Ledeen remembers Fallaci as the lioness she was.

As a child during World War II, Oriana Fallaci stood with the Brits and resisted Fascists in her native Italy. As a woman and a journalist she dared to confront and expose evil and powerful men. As an atheist, she revered Christianity's gifts of reason, love, and freedom. And as a defender of Western Civilisation, she attacked the murderous irrationality of violent Islamists and spoke bluntly about her concern that immigration was threatening Italy's freedoms. Italy intended to imprison her for daring to speak her mind.

We remember her courage and passion and words of warning.

HERE we examine the threat posed by violent Islamists, and suggest our response.

Truth and Prizes

The Man Booker Prize judges have short listed six novels, which they claim have “a distinctive, original voice and audacious imagination that takes readers to undiscovered countries of the mind, a strong power of storytelling and a historical truthfulness."

Parched as we so often are for historical truthfulness from our daily newspapers – for informed, unslanted accounts of the great issues and people of the day, we can only be grateful if we find truthfulness here. The short list:

Edward St. Aubyn for MOTHER’S MILK


Kate Grenville for THE SECRET RIVER


Hisham Matar for IN THE COUNTRY OF MEN

Sarah Waters for THE NIGHT WATCH

The winner of the £50,000 prize for contemporary literature must be a citizen of the British Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland, and will be announced October 10.

When we were children, our books spoke to us of beauty, courage, and truth when adults were silent.

Here at Brits we've written about a few writers and hope to write about many more. You might like COWBOY SINGER > or WITNESSES FOR THE DEFENCE > or COMEDY TO LOVE >. . .