Two Parts of the Whole

Writing this blog is both a compulsion and an embarrassment.

It’s a compulsion because I keep coming back to it no matter how long I spend away. Even though I have fewer readers than Shakespeare had Greek, my heart aches to return.

Why? I have a theory: on Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram, I am writing for an audience. Every photo and piece of text is written with other people in mind. Here, however, because so far people read this blog, I am writing for me; only me. That helps me to say the things I really want to say (or, at least some of them, since I am not yet brave enough to say everything).

Sehnsucht and Wine is an embarrassment because of the amount of time between each post. The last one was published on 27th November. The one before that, 11th September; then, 22nd August and 28th June.

Actually, it isn’t the blog that is embarrassing, but me. Why can I never stick to a regular schedule? There is an answer to this: I never create one. Not a proper one that I can look at and say ‘Right, this week, I turn to turn my attention to x’. I tell myself ‘I will write this here, and that, there’, but never make an effort to keep to the plan. A few days ago, I wrote up a blogging schedule for S&W, Hilaire Belloc and The Second Achilles. If I stick to it, I will write one post for each each week. Ideally, I would like to write it over the weekend but I’ll be happy if it just gets done.

I don’t want this post to be just about me having a go at myself so let’s catch up again.

The U.K. continues to suffer under the pressure of COVID-19. There was good news at the start of December (the 8th to be exact, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) when the first vaccine against the virus was administered. Bad news, however, followed, as infection rates shot up and a new, more virulent, strain of the virus appeared in Kent. As a result, we entered our third lockdown of the year. It remains in place. That isn’t the end of the story, though, as Britain is now pushing ahead with her vaccination process. I think we are currently the leading European country for vaccinations and perhaps one of the world leaders as well. That’s a piece of news that should make us all happy.

The U.K. left the European Union last year but the transition process only came to an end on 31st December. From my perspective, it has changed absolutely nothing about my life. Of course, other people will have different stories. Brexit is such an important event in the life of this nation that I feel I should be writing much, much more about it; only, I really don’t have anything else to say. I almost feel guilty about that.

Happiest Season
Watching this was one of the highlights of my December. It stars Kristen Stewart (Abby) and Mackenzie Davis (Harper) as a couple who visit the latter’s family for Christmas. It turns out, however, that Harper has not yet come out to them. The film is a romcom but a bittersweet one as Abby and Harper are forced to keep their relationship under wraps. As you might imagine, doing so almost drives them apart before love wins out at the end. Victor Gerber stars as Harper’s father. As it turns out, Harper is not the only one in the family keeping a secret – thanks to her father, everyone is. Because this is a romcom, though, he is not a villain. He is very cute, however. Dan Levy (John) steals every scene he is in. His character is over the top but he is also a Feste-like figure, speaking the truth to those who need to hear it.

David Hogarth
I attended an online conference hosted by Magdalen College about Hogarth last weekend. I will try and write more about it in another post but I am very pleased to say that the conference was a fascinating event that taught me much about this elusive figure.

During the talks, I took a screenshot of nearly every slide that came up – below is one chosen at random (it shows Hogarth as a young boy; inset is Ben Taylor, the Magdalen archivist who is cataloguing the papers). I look forward to sifting through them.

The reason for the conference is the donation of Hogarth’s papers to his old college by Caroline Barron, who is an emerita professor of History at Royal Holloway University. She is also Hogarth’s granddaughter. What a kind gift to make!

Brexit. Saturday, 19th October 2019

Just when we thought our MPs might finally – as Boris Johnson would say – get it done, Oliver Letwin threw another spanner into the works this weekend with his last minute amendment.

It would be easy, so easy, to feel annoyed at Letwin for messing things up, and at Hilary Benn and others for acting like they are the government but that would be unjust.

To the best of my knowledge, the Benn Act and Letwin Amendment are the work of two (and more) people who care about this country, and who want to see things done in a certain way for her good. It may be frustrating that Britain will not get it over and done with and leave on 31st October but who knows, maybe Benn, Letwin et al have saved us from a departure that would unnecessarily hurt people.

Either way, Hilary Benn, Oliver Letwin and co. give Christians, indeed, people in general, an opportunity to practice that great virtue: patience, and we can never have enough practice of that.

A Walk to Pole Hill

Yesterday, while our M.P.’s debated Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement for the third time, I decided to put on my backpack and take another long walk.

My destination this time was Pole Hill in Chingford and an obelisk that was originally erected in the Georgian age to mark the direction of true north from Greenwich. In 2008, the local council – at the behest of a member of the T. E. Lawrence Society – added a plaque to the obelisk recording the fact that Lawrence had once owned land on the hill. I am very interested in the life and times of Lawrence so it was this that I went to Pole Hill to see.

I planned my route on Google Maps. From home to hill it gave me a journey of 8.3 miles, walkable in 2hrs 47 minutes. I intended to walk home again so a round trip of 16.6 miles seemed like an excellent venture – especially since 15 miles is probably going to be the type of distance that I will be walking every day on the Camino.

She jogged, I walked.

I set out somewhere after nine in the morning. The sun was in the sky and my spirits were high. I walked down Stoke Newington Church Street with its various trendy shops and then through Stamford Hill with its strong Orthodox Jewish community. Or are they Ultra Orthodox? I wondered this as I walked and couldn’t think of the answer. I’ve just looked on Google, and it suggests the latter.

Now, I don’t visit Stoke Newington very often, and I go to Stamford Hill even less, but I know the areas. I didn’t leave familiar territory, therefore, until I took a right hand turn on to Gladesmore Road. Minutes later, I was trotting along the edge of a park and then onto the path alongside the River Lea. I remained on this path until I arrived in Chingford.

Remembering how I had not stopped on my walk last week to Ilford, I made sure I did so along the River Lea and, importantly, drank some water.

Before then, however, I took a wrong turn. Not into the canal, fortunately! No, after passing the North Circular Road (the A406), I should have taken the right hand path when the canal path forked but forgot. I realised what I had done a minute or two later, and could easily have turned back but decided to keep going. I said above that 15 miles is the kind of distance I will be walking daily on the Camino but in truth I might well be required to walk much further, so let’s get experience of doing so with the backpack now.

He knew where he was going, even if I didn’t.

This decision meant that I was now walking along the west side of the William Girling Reservoir instead of the east. It also meant that my walk to Pole Hill would now be 9.3 miles in length, taking 3 hrs 5 minutes.

The walk was a pretty straight forward one until I reached Pole Hill Road. It rose steepishly towards a dead end. I had intended to wait until I reached Woodberry Way, further up the road, but could see from Google Maps that there was a right hand turn on Pole Hill Road that would take me to Woodberry Way, which would lead me to the obelisk.

Unfortunately, I somehow missed the turn! I don’t know if I blinked and missed it or if it wasn’t there after all but I managed to walk right past it. A few moments later, I was at the top of Pole Hill Road, and my poor right leg, so quick to take offence, was telling me of its hurt feelings. Oh well, at least I got to go downhill again; that was much nicer.

I continued along the main road to Woodberry Way. At the top, I found Pole Hill. I had not looked at Google Maps properly and expected to see the obelisk there. It wasn’t, and looking at the map now it seemed to be on the other side of the hill. I thought to myself, perhaps I shall just go home now, and use the obelisk as an excuse to come back again another day but quickly dismissed that idea. I set off up the hill. There was a path leading across it at street level but I knew the obelisk was at the highest point, so up it was. And, hardly a minute later, there it was!

Pole Hill Obelisk

I sat down at the foot of the obelisk for another drink and to eat my sandwich. While there, a man came up to me and we started chatting. It turned out he had been researching his family background and had reason to believe that his father was taught by Vyvyan Richards.

T. E. Lawrence didn’t just own land on Pole Hill. After the Great War, he wanted to build a printing press there. His intention was to do this with Richards. Unfortunately, their project never happened. I hope this fellow can prove a connection between his family and Richards (who was a schoolmaster in the area). I told him that if he can, he should definitely let the T. E. Lawrence Society know.

While at the obelisk, I called C.; she is a saintly lady who instructed me prior to my reception into the Catholic Church in 1996. It was out first conversation for 18 or so months so it was great getting back in touch with her. I never come away from a conversation with C. without feeling greatly nourished.

C. and I fanboyed/girled over the upcoming canonisation of John Henry Newman

The time came to leave the obelisk. I have a muscle at the top of my right thigh (groin area, I guess) that always feels very stiff for the first few steps. It soon starts to loosen up, and did so as I began my downhill path.

I didn’t go far – I wanted to stop at a local pub for a couple of beers to see what it would be like carrying my backpack afterwards. As it turned out, the two beers made no difference whatsoever. Unfortunately, my walk home was not without struggle as my right leg felt a bit sore for the whole journey. I managed this pain by taking Ibuprofen, which – probably because of the alcohol – seemed to make little difference – and by stopping to rest along the way.

Lawrence of Pole Hill

Back at the pub, I drank my beer as the Brexit debate wound up on the TV in the background. Fortunately, the sound was turned down so I didn’t have to listen to our indecisive M.P.s natter on. Anyway, sadly for the Prime Minister her Withdrawal Agreement (W.A.) was voted down for a third tine so who knows what will happen now? I, personally, would like to throw those members of the Conversative European Research Group (E.R.G.) who refused to support her and the Labour M.P.s who, I read, support the W.A. but don’t want to be seen to do so, into the sea. If Brexit doesn’t happen they will both deserve their failure.

After finishing my beer, I set off again. Along the River Lea path, I met some bicyclists who were taking a rest. One of them is currently cycling round Britain, which sounds great fun. We had a super conversation about my walk and Camino.

I returned to Islington along the same route that I went to Pole Hill, which means that by the time I got back home, I had walked for at least 6 hrs 10 minutes and a total distance of 18.6 miles.

And once I got home, I rested. My leg started to recover straight away although as I write this blog post, I can still feel a little twinge. It doesn’t hurt, though, and won’t stop me going out shortly.

What did Pole Hill show me?
This: that even when my leg hurts, I can still walk. And that I can do so with a good heart; last night, when I reflected on the day, I was happy; I remembered what was good about it and not just what was bad. I’m really happy that I took that long route – nearly 20 miles! – as it shows what, despite everything, I am capable of. I’m not sure if I will do any long walks next week. I think I might just focus on stretching exercises.

Credit Where It’s Due
All the Photos: me!
John Henry Newman: The Oxford Oratory

The Day That Didn’t Happen

Today was supposed to be Brexit Day. For now, however, the U.K. remains in the E.U. Unfortunately for her, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has not been able to persuade the House of Commons to approve her Withdrawal Agreement (W.A.). Later today, she will commend it to the House for the third time.

Will it work? Reading political journalists on Twitter this morning, it seems the numbers are still against her: too many Brexiteers are remain opposed to the W.A. as does the Conservative’s junior partner-in-government, the Democratic Unionist Party (D.U.P). It looks like the D.U.P will definitely vote against the W.A. but maybe by the time the vote takes place those Brexiteers who are still against the deal will decide that the potential consequences of the deal being voted down yet again are too great to risk and come round.

It’s a high risk time. What would I do if I was an M.P.? I would certainly have voted for Theresa May’s deal. I voted to leave the E.U. because I don’t like super-states and don’t want to belong to one. I’m not concerned with immigration and I would be perfectly happy with a customs union.

Let’s say that Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is voted down for a third time and, ultimately, Brexit fails. I would be very sorry for it but life goes on, and let’s face it, there are advantages to belonging to the E.U. and also other things in life that are much more important: doing good in one’s daily life, for example.

This doing good would have to include not being annoyed at the Brexiteer M.P.s whose actions ultimately killed Brexit off because it was never good enough for them. Of course, they have to vote according to their consciences but when they do I hope they realise that the world isn’t perfect and they will never get all that they want – or even half of it! For now, let’s see how they vote…

One of the reasons I started Sehnsucht and Wine

was so that I could talk about politics and religion. I haven’t discussed the former since my first post so let’s do so now.

My Political Background
The first thing I have to say is that when I talk about politics, I do so as an outsider. As I mentioned in my first post, I am right-of-centre and used to be a Conservative Party member. I let my membership lapse after a year or so. Since then, I have watched on as political events have unfolded from the sidelines.

As a result, I have not made much of an effort to really understand the whats and whys of those events. From now on, and so I can write slightly more knowledgeable blog posts, I am going to try and correct that. Goodness, we have a terrific resource in the BBC website and Guardian Online, which is free to read, and I have a subscription to The Spectator, which I rarely read, so I really have no excuse.

The Current Situation
It’s the morning of 21st March 2019. Britain is in a political mess; not generally, but in respect of Brexit. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been unable to win support from her MPs for her deal to withdraw the country from the EU. Last night, she gave a statement outside Number 10 Downing Street that, judging by the responses I have seen on Twitter, went down very badly. I didn’t listen to it but it seems she presented herself as the champion of the people against recalcitrant MPs.

Brexit Mess: How Did We Get Here?
Theresa May’s lack of a significant majority in Parliament. This has given power to anyone wishing to rebel against her authority in order to advance their own cause.

It may be that even if May had the same kind of majority that Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair enjoyed, the Conservative Party would still be riven but though I speak under correction I find that hard to believe.

Who Is To Blame?
On Twitter yesterday, a political journalist held a poll inviting people to say who they thought was to blame for the Brexit mess: Theresa May, the EU, MPs, all of the above. I think I would have voted for ‘all of the above’.

I respect the Brexiteers, Remainers and EU’s right to fight their corner but there does come a point where one must lay down one’s weapons and come to an agreement, and no one appears to have done this.

This, however, is not a thought I can dwell on because I don’t know in what spirit the various parties have pressed their cause. For example, perhaps the EU bent over backwards in order to meet Britain’s demands for the Withdrawal Agreement. I’d be surprised if they did as that would be bad diplomacy but I just don’t know. So far as is possible, I need to find out more.

Something I Do Know
Last night, Theresa May held talks with the various Parliamentary leaders; or, tried to; when Jeremy Corbyn realised that Chuka Umana, a member of The Independent Group had been invited, he walked out.

Reading the tweet on the left, I get why Corbyn walked out, and actually, I sympathise with him. What is one supposed to do if one feels like one has been taken for a fool? However, I don’t think he acted proportionately. It would have been far better – statesmanlike – if he had simply registered his disappointment at what had happened and let the meeting continue.

We are, after all, in a national crisis. The time has come for all politicians to swallow their pride and do all that they can to find a way through the mess. This especially applies to Corbyn because of the people he has been perfectly happy in the past to meet.

I had no expectation that Corbyn would accept he acted wrongly last night, but certainly didn’t expect him to make the statement recorded by Kevin Schofield in his tweet, below. At this point, all I can do is throw up my hands in despair.

So, what do I know? That on 21st March 2019, Great Britain needs statesmen, instead we have a Prime Minister who can’t lead and an opposition leader who is a rank hypocrite.

What Next?
Someone, somewhere has to give way. Ideally, some people from both sides of the divide should give way so that no one feels they alone have been forced to act against their wishes.

What shouldn’t happen is the revocation of Article 50 leading to the cancelation of Brexit. This would be a betrayal of the decision of the electorate to leave the EU and would make it impossible to ever trust Parliament again.

And neither should there be a second referendum. This is a tough one because it seems reasonable to ask voters if they are happy with Theresa May’s deal. But what if the choice is Yes – Leave; No – Stay in the EU? And the result goes narrowly in favour of No – Stay in the EU? The minute the terms on which we decided to stay changed, that would for fairness’ sake, require yet another referendum. And on and on it would go.

Politically, these are very exciting days. We are living through events that will be discussed in politics and history classes for years to come. If the story is to have a happy ending, though, our leaders needs to make a great sacrifice. Are any of them capable?