Earlier this week, we accompanied our daughter-in-law, Hannah, to her British citizenship ceremony, she having passed the necessary tests. (Hannah is American, from the great state of Montana. She retains her American citizenship.) She had been offered the opportunity of attending a free ceremony with about 20 others, but this fell on the due date for her second baby. She was not allowed another date unless she paid £100 for a private one. This means, in theory at least, that the authorities could earn £600 an hour if they moved fast. So there were only four of us — Hannah, my wife and I, and our granddaughter Elizabeth, who is nearly 18 months old. We were received by a very friendly woman registrar in a dreary council building in Crowborough and waited briefly while she warmed up the room. The ceremony was simple. Hannah stood near two Union flags and a photograph of the Queen and swore the oath of allegiance to the latter and ‘her heirs and successors according to law’. She also made a ‘pledge of loyalty’ to the United Kingdom, expressed ‘respect for its rights and freedoms’ and promised ‘to uphold its democratic values’. I felt this was superfluous, since the oath of allegiance surely implies all of the above, but it was inoffensive. Then, assisted by a recording, we sang the National Anthem. The registrar guessed — correctly — that we knew the second verse, so we sang that too, asking God to ‘scatter her enemies’, ‘confound their politics’ and ‘frustrate their knavish tricks’. Elizabeth resolutely refused to be held and photographed, because she is obsessed with flowers and wanted to rush off and smell the bunches disposed in vases about the room. The flowers smelt of nothing, being artificial, but she did not seem to mind.
The only unsatisfactory aspect of this touching occasion was the explanatory waffle which the registrar had to read out. It was several baggy Blairite paragraphs of stuff about ‘community’, ‘values’, ‘equality’, ‘diversity’ and the four ‘nations’ which compose the kingdom. None of these things is bad, exactly, but collectively they make one feel a little wary because nowadays we live in a public culture which tries to make such mostly benevolent general sentiments justiciable. Diversity, for example, no longer means social acceptance of difference of background, faith, race etc. It has become a much sterner concept which tries, in effect, to impose quotas upon private employment, university entry and faces on television. These increasingly amount to knavish tricks with our traditional understanding of the law, motivated by a politics which needs to be confounded.
In Sussex, we are feeling a little bruised by the behaviour of our absentee Duke and Duchess. They have so far spent fewer than six hours in our county. Their new website title, Sussex Royal, was not cleared with us. We comfort ourselves that it sounds like a new breed of potato, which we shall be loyally happy to grow, so long as the adjective which governs the proper name is authorised at the very highest level.
Tributes have rightly been paid to the late Roger Scruton’s intelligence, courage, cultural range and so on. I think the combination of his commitment to European civilisation — witness his work for dissidents in the Soviet bloc during the Cold War — and his commitment to Englishness was particularly impressive. Too often, each tends to exclude the other.
In general, the impression one gets from reading about Roger this week is too serious. He certainly had a high mode in which he held forth about Hegel and so forth; but there was another one, when he was guying himself. Once, staying with friends in the country, we went riding with Roger walking at our side. ‘The wonderful thing about riding,’ he said, ‘is that you are in communion with a non-opinion-bearing animal.’ He was mocking the fact that he himself was an animal heavily loaded with opinions. In a stream nearby, another guest caught a trout and put it in the fridge for his breakfast. Roger came down earlier than the angler, opened the fridge, took out the trout, cooked it and ate it. When the fish’s owner arrived and protested loudly, Roger said, ‘A gentleman should always eat fish for breakfast,’ grinning delightedly at his own ungentlemanly way of having just done so.
Although we all moan about Twitter and other aspects of the internet for encouraging the shortest possible attention span, the technology of the 21st century also offers the opposite. Last week, I was invited by the Sun to speak about my biography of Mrs Thatcher and other matters for its podcast. I turned up at Murdoch Towers, hard by London Bridge, and was interviewed by a very intelligent and well-informed young man. ‘How long should I go on for?’ I asked. ‘As long as possible,’ he replied. So we spoke about trade union reform in the 1980s, the nature of modern monarchy and compared and contrasted Margaret and Boris for 45 minutes, an amount of words which will surely never have appeared in one article in any printed edition of the Sun in history. My interviewer told me a few days later that 279,000 people had already listened in to this definitely highbrow gig.
My apologies to last week’s correspondent from Australia, John Maloney [Letters, 11 January]. It is clear from what he wrote that he thought I thought that the ‘ope’ in Calliope should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘hope’. No: I agree with him that it is pronounced ‘oh-pee’. I did not write this phonetically because it had not occurred to me that anyone would think otherwise. I should have done, though. My father remembered a horse called ‘Nota bene’ running one day at Newmarket. The bookies pronounced it ‘Not a bean’.
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