Out Now!

Thursday, 27 July 2017


The title is a teaser, clickbait even, and those inclined that way are in for one hell of a surprise. Lord Tredegar put the hard in core, but this new book on the reprobate peer focuses almost entirely on death duties and the demise of an ancient estate.

In 1865, Sanford and Townsend in their The Great Governing Families of England   set out to remind the nation of the permanence given to English policy by the influence continuing through centuries of a limited group of families.
Foreseeing no immediate end to their hereditary power, the aristocracy had always put the nation’s long term interests before their own for: ‘. . . with the greatness of England their own is indissolubly bound up.’ They were in Burke’s eyes: ‘The great oaks that shade a country and perpetuate the benefits from generation to generation. Similarly for Sanford and Townsend the aristocracy were seen as a thread in our social fabric, one that stretched from Alfred to Victoria. Ideas like these were an integral part of an aristocratic self-consciousness and succinctly expressed in George Meredith’s novel Beauchamp’s Career. Rene, a French aristocrat explains:
‘ I know my ancestors are bound up in me by my sentiments to them . . . We shame them if we fail in courage and honour . . . If we break a single word, we cast shame on them; why that makes us as we are.’

And then we have Evan Morgan who saw Tredegar House as a venue for extravagant parties. The writing was on the wall even before his death and those he left behind paid the bill. Between profligacy and swingeing death duties his inheritance was all but obliterated.

William Cross wisely sandwiches essentially dry letters between some potted background for those who know nothing of Evan Morgan, and ends with  a detailed timeline of his life. There are a few stylistic infelicities in the potted background, but then we get on to the letters, an absolute goldmine for the historian and—that word again—hardcore aficionado of all things Evan. 

They reveal the last death throes of an ancient estate being torn apart by land valuers, Inland Revenue, and the National Trust—which was initially seen as a safe port of call. The letters by their very nature are dry. That’s the nature of bureaucratese. In the words of the Honourable Emily Eden commenting on William Gladstone: (If he) ‘were soaked in boiling water and rinsed until he were twisted into rope, I do not suppose a drop of fun would ooze out.’ 

What does ooze out is the tragedy of a vast, historic estate being torn apart by scavengers in pinstripes and perhaps wearing spectacles.

The book, Evan Lord Tredegar, Final Affairs, The Aftermath is beautifully produced and has some wonderfully evocative photographs, but its primary aim is to wrap up a history; as I said earlier a goldmine for historians, background for writers of historical fiction and those interested in the decline of an ancient family. For the general reader, I’d recommend instead earlier books that focus on the essentially tragic history of Evan and his sister Gwyneth Morgan.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

'Simple Simon met a pieman . . .'

A fool and his money are soon parted. This is especially true of a fool who loves pies. It’s why I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a food market. This little lot:
A packet of wild boar bacon (dry and disappointingly  tasteless)
A packet of traditional pig bacon. (Nice, one very happy fool.)
Four cheeses. Cheddar. Unpasteurised. (Hit the tastebuds running)
And five pies ranging from Chicken, ham and leek, Steak and Kidney, Venison, Beef in wine, and Wild Game pie.  I would still have been buying but someone with more sense pulled me back.

I love pies. Every kind of pie, though I draw the line at what I call the ‘adventurous pie.’ One that I still dream about we bought from our local butchers in Aintree and also local chip shops. They were small and round in hot water pastry. They contained a large dollop of peppery minced meat swimming in hot gelatine, and they were heaven. If anyone knows where I can buy them, please send me a line – better still a pie. *

The adventurous pie is an entirely different kettle of fish. They’re a bit like the previous mixed metaphor. They’re just wrong. I’m talking about pies like Beef and Stilton and worst of all – curry pies. Wrong wrong wrong, like Saris in Iceland, roast pork in Mecca, Gazpacho in Saskatoon, and Mars Bars deep-fried. There are also curry pasties, and they’re pretty foul too.

But enough of this, I have a fridge full of pies to get through and four solid weeks in the gym

*I’m wondering whether they were called Scotch pies but googling it, it seems they have gravy in them – not the hot succulent, gelatinous meat I remember. The search continues.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Strong tea, trolleys and weird women.

I only recount this dream to illustrate a point. I was with my wife in a large cafeteria echoing with the clinking of crockery and cups. Our table was an exception, for we had no cups. We had no tea. And we were thirsty. I stood up to investigate.

At the far end of this place of pine and polished steel, a tea urn gleamed, and I headed towards it.

Damn thing was empty. Looked like it had been empty for years.

I sensed my wife’s roaring thirst catching up on me. A waiter dressed in green tweed sailed by and ignored me until I wrenched him by the arm. ‘We want tea!’ I said with some force.
 He pointed to another tea urn still farther away. ‘That’s bloody ridiculous,’ I said, boiling with fury and rage . . .

 . . .  even as I drifted into consciousness, and realised I could just roll out of bed and drink all the tea I could possibly want. But the dream held me back. I wanted blood . . . and tea. This fellow in tweed was not going to get away with his insolence. It was a classic example of Dream vs Reality. Rage vs a teabag just a moment away. Reality overcame insanity—just—and I staggered into it and all the tea I could drink. 

But sometimes dreams invade reality and the borders between the two become blurred.

Was I dreaming when I read a notice in an upmarket supermarket (Waitrose) exhorting customers not to wheel their trolleys into the toilets? And I’m still not sure about another incident on a long and wearisome journey.

I was dozing on a National Express bus from Liverpool to Monmouth, when someone hissed loudly in my  ear. “It’s disgusting. May the Lord have mercy on their souls.”

I opened my eyes and a woman in green tweed stared into them. “I shouldn’t be telling you—a gentleman like you?”

I must have looked puzzled.

She brought her face closer. “Two women kissing. Just walked past them now. Front of the bus. Driver should never allow it.”

The woman was stocky and grey, middle-aged and with the intensity of a witch or a Welsh non-conformist. I struggled to make some kind of reply. Was she dreaming or was I? Was I still in the C21st?

“Obscene. I’ll pray for their immortal souls,” she muttered before walking on to the back of the bus.

I tried to go back to sleep still not entirely convinced it wasn’t a dream. Sleep wouldn’t come. The picture of women passionately kissing just six rows up front, put paid to all thoughts of sleep. The damage was done. Whenever the bus stopped I looked up to see who these mysterious creatures were—discreetly mind, in case the woman behind might feel obliged to pray for my immortal soul too.

No one left the bus before Monmouth, and I stood intrigued but discreetly so. I cast my eyes this way and that as I made for the door.

The woman was blind, opinionated but blind. The couple that had provoked such Godly wrath were most definitely heterosexual: a comely woman in black leather and jeans and her boyfriend whose hair was longer than hers.

I leapt of the bus eager to be home with a pot of strong tea and a bathroom with not a trolley in sight.