Thursday, July 25, 2013

The little Prince in waiting

Well here he is at last. Let joy be unconfined. Crack open the bubbly, launch the Red Arrows, fire off a 41-gun salute. Wait, better make that 51. No, 61, just to be on the safe side. We wouldn’t want to appear disrespectful, would we?

Yes, HRH Prince George of Cambridge has breathed his first, and waved his innocent hand at a world which will soon expect him to be doing a heck of a lot more waving.

And a world that will eventually see him crowned King of a rather small country that still thinks it’s very important.

It looks like he might have quite a long wait, though. As third in line to the throne, Roderick Elphinstone MontMorency Windsor (one of the options we made up before he got his real name) will have to attend three funerals before he gets to the top of the royal tree. And if you’re looking for longevity, his great-grandma’s side of the family has it in spades.

The Queen Mum, Gawd bless 'er
The Queen Mother made it to 101, though history does not recall whether or not she got a telegram from her daughter.

The Queen herself is still going strong at 87, and shows no sign of abdicating. (Unlike her counterparts in some other European countries, who appear to think that monarchy is something you can retire from – for her it’s a lifetime obligation).

It’s a sobering thought that you would have to be 65 at the very least to remember what it was like being reigned over by anyone else.

And it’s equally sobering to reflect that most of us old enough to read (and indeed write) this waffle will have turned up our toes long before Crispin Delaney Barnabas Wintergreen accedes to the throne.

All of which goes to show that whatever the cynics may say, the Royal Family does have a point.

If nothing else, it’s there as a permanent, enthroned, bejewelled and anointed reminder of our own mortality.

Let’s hope, though, for his own sake, that Capriole Randolph Bandersnatch has a long, long wait before he takes on his kingly duties.

As one of his forebears (or at least top royal playwright Shakespeare) put it: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

And who would wish any sort of uneasiness on a lovely little baby?

Friday, July 12, 2013

We'll dig dig dig dig dig...

Sometimes life imitates art.

It was a warmish Saturday, before the heatwave really got going. Mrs D had realised her life’s ambition and ordered a polytunnel, fruit and veg for the growing of.

Yours truly had taken a look at the proposed site, waved a spirit level in its general direction, and decided that it wasn’t flat enough.

So yours truly, in a moment of madness, offered to do a bit of digging to even it out.

Now the thing about digging is that it lets your mind wander, even as your lily-white hands get shredded and blistered.

Not that it’s a mindless job – it’s just that it seems to let you split the functions of your brain, with the staid and boring left side getting on with the spadework, while the flamboyant, inventive right side gets up to all sorts of mischief.

Regular readers of this column will no doubt be aware of Mrs D’s recorded catalogue of Time Team.

Phil Harding off of Time Team. Not Indiana Jones,
 by any stretch of the imagination.
And with a bit of creative thinking, in the middle of all that digging you suddenly become an intrepid archaeologist. Rather like that bloke with the hat, but not quite as hairy.

Or  like Indiana Jones, but rather more handsome.

Every sod you lift promises to uncover some new treasure – a jewel from the Bronze Age, perhaps, or a pot from the Iron Age. Or even, if you’re incredibly lucky, a couple of stones from the Stone Age.

At the very least, you’ll expose the charred earth and mangled skeletal remains that prove incontrovertibly that Bath was once a hotbed of human sacrifice, and that the original Temple of Doom was located smack bang in the middle of your better half’s vegetable patch.

At the very best, you’ll discover the Dixon Hoard, a trove of Roman coins of such size and antiquity that your name is certain to go down in the history books – at least until that nice Mister Gove changes them all round again.

Meanwhile, though, Mrs D is voicing doubts about the necessity of all this digging. Leave it to the men to sort out, she says. And when they arrive a week or two later, they do.

No, whatever the Romans did for us, they didn’t do it on Mrs D’s prize-winning plot. But we should still get some nice tomatoes.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Farewell to the big red book

Sad news reaches us from the cloistered world of railway timetable publishing: the next edition of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable will be the last.

After a 140-year publication history and 1526 volumes, the so-called "Red Book" – 500-plus closely-packed pages of train and ferry schedules, listing every journey you could ever want to take (and quite a few you wouldn't) is being consigned to the great big remainder bin in the sky.

Sad indeed. In our courting days, the not-yet-Mrs D and her young swain would rely on the Red Book as we went on expeditions around the lesser-known corners of France.

In the course of several holidays, we trundled through the lush fields of Normandy and the scorching uplands of Quercy. We arrived in Canfranc, a one-horse Pyrenean border town, in a howling blizzard, where we stayed at a hotel whose proprietors didn't show up to collect the bill.

We saw soaring mountains, roaring rivers, bustling cities, sleepy villages.

We left behind us a trail of lost wallets, dodgy Eurocheques and empty bottles of cheap red wine.

We returned with half a baguette, some very smelly cheese and five francs in loose change.

All without a car, and all thanks to the Red Book to help plan the route.

And even when we weren't actually travelling, it was always useful for those ever-pressing questions that seemed to get asked on long winter's evenings when we only had four TV channels and no internet: "How long does it take to get to Zagreb?"; "What's the best route from Bergen to Bucharest?"

So what? you may say. These days you can find out train times online.

True, but you don't get the big picture, the sense of a purposeful, humming network stretching out across the Continent.

Because the Red Book was as much a work of imagination as of fact: 500 pages of numbers, footnotes and pictograms through which you could travel with your mind, even when you couldn't afford the tickets.

Others may take on the continued publication of the European Timetable as Thomas Cook concentrates on package tours.

But volume 1526 of the Red Book should become a collector's edition.