AT school in Townsville just after World War Two we used to sing “There’ll always be an England” at the top of our tiny voices. The robust patriotic song, written in 1939, looks a little shakey in 2012.
In Britain today most people accept that the country is on its knees but citizens – at least in London and the SE – are going about their daily lives absorbed by their jobs (if they have one), the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the London Olympics and England’s progress to the World Cup.
I agree with Judith’s assessment the other day: it’s a bit like the “phoney war”, that period in the late 1930s when everyone in England knew that war with Hitler’s Nazi Germany was inevitable but everyone choose not to acknowledge it.
It must be something in the Anglo-Saxon gene: a capacity to maintain a stiff upper lip and soldier on regardless. As a national trait it is bizarre and quite delusional.
To Cecil Court off Charing Cross Road, the home of a tight cluster of Victorian era shops which sell books, prints, stamps, posters, maps and everything antiquarian. It’s a special place for browsers, dabblers and the inquisitive where it is unwise to carry a credit card: the price can be enormous. I’m searching family history, my forebears who began the Oz dynasty in the 19th century opening tin mines on the Atherton Tableland, North Queensland. Arriving at Storey’s Limited – “specialising in antique engravings and original maps” – I asked if they had a print of the Flying Cloud, the clipper which brought my great grandfather Joseph Wilesmith of Worcester and Christine Wallace of Perth, Scotland, to Brisbane on March 13, 1865. It appears that love blossomed on the voyage for they married five months later on July 24. Storey’s manager disappeared down a steep flight of stairs to a hidden basement and re-emerged with an original 1933 litho colour print of the ship. It cost me 45 pounds but to hell with the expense: this is family.
The HMV shop on Oxford Street, with a couple of floors of CDs and DVDs, is packed on Saturday morning with people of all ages buying their home entertainment.
Under the sign “Rock and roll/pop” I find the latest award-winning album Prisoners by the Jezebels. The CD’s jacket carries the credit: Producer Lachlan Mitchell. I move it to the front of the rack so that shoppers can’t miss it.
My eldest son Lachlan conquers Oxford Street: a moment of intense pride as I think of the hours, days, weeks, months and years he has put into his music career.
Friends and loyalty
On the key principle that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, we have been reconnecting with old friends and socialising on a grand scale. Dinner the other night at the elegant home of Carmen Callil, the co-founder of Virago whose energy, opinions and activities never flag. We were joined by writers Francis Wyndham and James Fox, ex-Sunday Times colleagues, actor Kika Markham, widow of Coren Redgrave whose career is suddenly in bloom with a TV series in production, and Diana Melly, widow of the great musician-writer George Melly. In two words: utterly memorable. We have also been to dinner with three former Sunday Times colleagues: Magnus Linklater, former editor of The Scotsman and now editor the Scottish edition of The Times, Ian Jack, former editor of Granta and now a weekly columnist in The Guardian and Lewis Chester, great writer, raconteur and loyal friend. We chose the Kolossi, the Greek eaterie which was founded in the 1960s on Sunday Times expense accounts. Our special delight was to meet up with Bruce Page and his wife Anne at their City of London apartment. Page was editor of Insight, deputy editor of the Sunday Times, editor of the News Statesman and author of the sweeping book, The Murdoch Archipelago, which laid bare the Murdoch enterprise years before it became notorious around the world. The other guest was Louise Asmal, widow of the South African liberation fighter, intellectual and human rights activist Kader Asmal who died last year. Page is of the firm view that James Murdoch is a few picas short of an inch (i.e. a buffoon) and that he has no future as a corporate player and that we haven’t heard the last of Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor and Prime Minister David Cameron’s first director of communications.