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A Pivotal Year

 

1963 was a pivotal year for me.  It was the year I completed High School and matriculated to University;  the year Bob Dylan became big in my life; and Beatlemania began; the year JFK was assassinated. 

The year had started with a mystery the Bogle-Chandler deaths in Lane Cove National Park in Sydney that confounded Australia. Then came Buddhist immolations and a CIA supported coup and regime change in South Vietnam that was both the beginning and the begining of the end for the US effort there. 

Suddenly the Great Train Robbery in Britain was headline news there and in Australia. One of the ringleaders, Ronnie Biggs was subsequently found in Australia but stayed one step of the authorities for many years.

The 'Space Race' was well underway with the USSR still holding their lead by putting Cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova into orbit for almost three days and returning her safely. The US was riven with inter-racial hostility and rioting. But the first nuclear test ban treaties were signed and Vatican 2 made early progress, the reforming Pope John 23 unfortunately dying midyear.

Towards year's end, on the 22nd of November, came the Kennedy assassination, the same day the terminally ill Aldous Huxley elected to put an end to it.

But for sex and scandal that year the Profumo Affair was unrivalled.

The Profumo affair has been eviscerated in the media and in books many times and has been glossed-over in almost as many.  The Netflix drama series: The Crown comes to mind.

The most recent manifestation is: The Trial of Christine Keeler.  A BBC television series that:  "takes us behind the headlines to tell a human story about the sexual and cultural politics of one of the most revealing and iconic stories of modern times". 

According to the blurb:  "The Trial of Christine Keeler takes a fresh look at one of the most infamous British stories: the chain of events in the 1960s that came to be known as the Profumo affair."

"At the center of the storm was 19-year-old Christine Keeler - a young woman whom the powerful, male-dominated establishment sought to silence and exploit, but who refused to play by their rules."

Christine is represented as a 19-year-old ingenue, drawn-in, under a powerful man's spell. Presumably for the purposed of dramatisation, serval of the events depicted as contemporary were not. They began in 1961 and took place periodically - over nearly three years - coming to a head with the trials in 1963, when she was 21.

 

Profumo

John Profumo was a British cabinet minister, Secretary of State for War, in the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan. Profumo had been targeted by a Soviet agent as a possible source of strategic information.

Christine Keeler was the bait and Stephen Ward was the, perhaps unwitting, facilitator.

At the height of the scandal there were fresh revelations almost daily, involving all sorts of colourful characters: West Indian drug runners and jazz musicians;  Russian spies; Royals and members of the British aristocracy; actors and entertainers. 

It had the potential to bring down the British Government and to damage the Monarchy. But the real interest for me was simple:  I thought Christine Keeler was hot.

It amazed me that Christine was only three years older than me and her equally notorious friend, Mandy Rice-Davies, only a year my senior. Time would tell that I chose the wrong one to set on a pedestal. Mandy used her notoriety to good effect; kept herself smart and remained a minor celebrity until her death in 2014 (aged 70). Not so Christine.

The Profumo scandal was the Bill Clinton - Monica Lewinsky affair of my teen years.

 

 


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Travel

Laos

 

 

The Lao People's Democratic Republic is a communist country, like China to the North and Vietnam with which it shares its Eastern border. 

And like the bordering communist countries, the government has embraced limited private ownership and free market capitalism, in theory.  But there remain powerful vested interests, and residual pockets of political power, particularly in the agricultural sector, and corruption is a significant issue. 

During the past decade tourism has become an important source of income and is now generating around a third of the Nation's domestic product.  Tourism is centred on Luang Prabang and to a lesser extent the Plane of Jars and the capital, Vientiane.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Queen is dead

 

 

A personal recollection.

 

 

When George VI died unexpectedly in February 1952, I was just 6 years old, so the impact of his death on me, despite my parents' laments for a good wartime leader and their sitting up to listen to his funeral on the radio, was not great.

At school assemblies I was aware there was a change because the National Anthem changed and we now sang God Save The Queen.

Usually, we would just sing the first verse, accompanied by older children playing recorders, but on special occasions we would sing the third verse too. Yet for some mysterious reason, never the second.

About that time, two gold booklets to celebrate the forthcoming Coronation, arrived in the mail from Grandma (my mother’s mother) who was, at that time, a member (Chair?) of the Newcastle upon Tyne Education Committee, one each for Peter and for me.

 

 

 

In 1600, that loyal City, that would later fight off the Scots, particularly the Jacobites, three times, had received its Letters Patent from Queen Elizabeth I. Now, my grandma and her fellow councillors enthusiastically welcomed a new Queen Elizabeth to the throne.

I, like most people of English nativity, made the assumption that the two Elizabeths were related in some discernible line of succession, although I soon learnt that Elizabeth I was the Virgin Queen (well not actually, if the historians are correct, but she had no offspring). But sat least her little son, one day to be King Charles III, must be in a direct line of succession from the previous two. So, that was all as it should be.

 

 

Accompanying the gold booklet was a larger folder of thin colour-printed cardboard sheets that could be cut-out, carefully, to assemble, in three dimensions, the royal coach and horses (tab A goes into slot A and so on), together with various royal accoutrements: the orb; crown; sceptre, mace (rod) and sword that were also assembled, and the whole placed, in pride-of-place, on the wide sunroom windowsill, where it sat, until reduced to confetti by the Australian sun.

We were invited to get to know our young Queen and her attractive family, Prince Phillip, young Charles (Heir Apparent) and little Anne.

 

 

A little later, another parcel came from England, this time from Granny Welsh (my father’s mother). Incomprehensible to me at the time, it's been of much more lasting utility. It’s a special edition of the Book of Common Prayer, containing the Coronation order of service. It also contains Elizabeth I’s 'Articles of Religion' (the 'true' religion as it says in Latin on her tomb in Westminster Abbey), as well as containing that mysterious second verse of the National Anthem.

 

 

The second and third verses of God Save the Queen

 

Thus primed, we all sat up, on a cold June evening in 1953, around a roaring fire in the living-room, for the Coronation broadcast. Later, we would travel into the city to see highlights, in colour, at one of the several newsreel cinemas that then existed.

 

 

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Soon our coins (shillings and pence and their divisions) and paper currency (ten-shilling notes) bore another head.

But the real excitement would come in 1954, when the royal yacht sailed into Sydney Harbour and for the first time in history Australia’s Monarch would set-foot in their distant realm.

At school we were issued with cardboard periscopes, two mirrors set at 45 degrees to each other at opposite ends of a cardboard tube (box), and taken, by train and bus, to the Sydney Cricket Ground.

After sweltering, for what seemed like hours, among a vast crowd of children, mostly from other schools, the royal car, at last, made its way around the perimeter.

Despite our Prime Minister’s enthusiasm, I caught the slightest periscopical glimpse as she passed by and failed to love her, because I thought I might die (of heat stroke).

 

 

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It was a lot better when the Royal Train made its way to Newcastle. As the line ran close to my primary school in Thornleigh, we made our way to the track and caught a longer glimpse of Her Majesty waving characteristically (one arm raised, hand rotating slowly) - or maybe it was another cardboard cut-out.

Like the real and mythical beasts on the Royal Coat of Arms, hysteria was rampant, in both senses. Many country towns erected archways for the royal conveyance to pass through. Katoomba, where the new Queen dedicated a lookout, had several, one of which persists to this day.

Of a population of less than ten million, it’s said that over seven million Australians turned out to see the Queen.

Among other gifts bestowed, by her royal presence, was the elevation of the Australian Ensign to become the National Flag, so that it could now be flown equally to, or instead of, the Union Jack. In the Cubs, down at Pennant hills Scout Camp, we had a ceremony, elevating our new flag.

Soon Canada went one better, removing the Union Jack from their flag altogether.

Having been born in Britain it was not surprising to me that my family’s passports were British. Yet, I was surprised to discover in the 1960's that travelling Australians also had 'British' passports. Although Australia first issued separate passports in 1949, the words 'British Passport' remained on Australian issued passports until 1967.

Throughout the 50’s and 60’s 'God Save the Queen' continued to precede most public events like concerts. Everyone stood to attention and many people would sing. At the movies, the National Anthem, accompanied by a short film of Her Majesty, typically riding a horse, caused everyone to stand.

When television came to Australia, broadcasts ended each night with a similar declaration of loyalty; and it is said that in some households (not ours) people would also stand, some stirred from their slumbers.

Soon, all this changed.

After the War, the British Empire began to collapse, soon to became a Commonwealth of nations. Canada, New Zealand and Australia abandoned their dominion status; South Africa got chucked out; Rhodesia disappeared; and so on. Our countries abolished legal appeals to the Privy Council, elevating our High Court.

Australians got new passports and imposed visa restrictions on Poms. Soon we abandoned the Sterling zone, floating our currencies against the US dollar.

The once nascent (largely Irish Catholic) Australian Republican Movement gained momentum.

For a more detailed discussion about the decline of Empire:  read more Here...  and  Here...

I now sat at the movies, surrounded by others still standing, not because I craved an elected President (unless based on the toothless Irish kind - read Governor General) but because Australia has no State Religion and I refused to acknowledge a hymn as our National Anthem.

Gradually others agreed. And soon Australians (all?) would instead: Advance Australia Fair.

As I discovered myself, naturalising Englishmen were now obliged to foreswear their past allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and instead, swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II of Australia.

Thus, change came upon change.

Yet, throughout it all, Queen Elizabeth II has been a constant, a touchstone to stability and thus, paradoxically, a reminder of how much has changed.

I will miss her.

 

The succession

The Queen is dead. Long live the King!

So long has she reigned, that few among my friends and acquaintances remember the death of King George VI.  Had he a son of any age, for example instead of Margaret, then we would have had another King.

That's no longer the case. The succession was changed in 2015 by the British Parliament and, after a 2011 agreement, by the other 14 Parliaments of countries having the Windsor heirs as monarch, to accept daughters equally and to allow Roman Catholics (and those having other religions or none) as consorts. 

But it might surprise some that the current succession is not British at all.

The previous, line of succession, from the Tudors and Stewarts, was broken when Charles II (he who restored the monarchy) died in 1685 and his Roman Catholic brother ascended to the throne.

England was by then strongly Protestant and so outraged were the people and the Parliament at his attempts to reintroduce Roman Catholicism, that the Dutch William of Orange, the husband of Mary (daughter of James and initially second in the line of succession), was invited to invade and to depose James II, in the 'Glorious Revolution'.  William became William III of Britain and ruled along with Mary. 

In 1689 the Bill of Rights would provide that: henceforth the new monarch must rule with the consent of Parliament, and he or she is subject to a raft of constraints. Parliament thus removed the concept of absolute monarchy and put aside the medieval belief in the Divine Right of Kings (who are anointed in Heaven, prior to conception) a concept that had made Christianity so successful with totalitarian rulers throughout Christendom for over a thousand years. 

As William and Mary had no children together, in 1701 Parliament enacted the Act of Settlement that requires that: the British monarch must be a descendant of the German Princess Sophia (the nearest Protestant heir to William of Orange), and be in communion with the Church of England. 

Again, it was the now ascendant Parliament that set this new law.

Constitutional monarchy thus evolved; and 'across the pond' the American Revolutionaries (Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams et al) would see no reason at all for this mystical inheritance of authority, no longer the preserve of God, and would decide on an elaborate (and flawed) method of electing their king. In the process, they would decide to rename him their President (women were disenfranchised and effectively excluded).

In the meantime, the British Parliament continued to further constrain their monarch, who soon had far less power that the US President. Thus by 1788, when Australia was settled by the British - some would say 'invaded' - the process was almost entirely in the hands of the British Parliament. 

The initial governors in the colonies, who were otherwise autocratic rulers, could nevertheless be, and sometimes were, removed by appeals made by colonists to the Parliament in London. From 1840 onwards, the Australian colonists wrested increasing democratic rights from the government. So, by 1864, New South Wales had a functioning Parliament. Similar advances had already been made in Canada.

So why has the hereditary Sovereign been retained, long after our National Parliament, together with the local Judiciary, became the only source of governance in Australia (and for that matter the Parliament is effectively all-powerful in the United Kingdom)?  Put simply, because, by much trial and error, it 'sort of' works. 

It was Churchill who remarked:

'Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… '

 

During the past century, Australia, together with Canada and New Zealand, the United Kingdom and along with other similar constitutional monarchies like Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, has demonstrably done better for its citizens, in terms of social support, health, education, longevity and lifestyle, than less effective systems of government. 

And as we've always said: 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'.   

 

More ceremonies

 

The events now taking place in England: the proclamation of the new King, requiring the involvement of the Lord Mayor of London, among others equally anachronistic, feels, to me, a bit ridiculous in a modern Britain. Yet, I must add that the Queen's funeral was very tasteful and touching and the troops, now including women, drill-perfect.

The service reminded me of my one-time communion in Elizabeth I's religion, into which I was baptised and confirmed. It was very familiar, although I'm no longer a believer.

Less than a hundred meters from Elisabeth II's coffin, as it rested at the funeral, is the resting place of Elizabeth I.  The inscription on her tomb is in Latin but is officially translated as:

Sacred to memory:

Religion to its primitive purity restored, peace settled, money restored to its just value, domestic rebellion quelled, France relieved when involved with intestine divisions; the Netherlands supported; the Spanish Armada vanquished; Ireland almost lost by rebels, eased by routing the Spaniard; the revenues of both universities much enlarged by a Law of Provisions; and lastly, all England enriched. Elizabeth, a most prudent governor 45 years, a victorious and triumphant Queen, most strictly religious, most happy, by a calm and resigned death at her 70th year left her mortal remains, till by Christ's Word they shall rise to immortality  - and so on

 

Among the articles of religion ratified by Elizabeth thus establishing the 'pure religion' was, and is, the Lutheran observation that Rome had, over the centuries, allowed false doctrines, 'grounded upon no warranty of Scripture', to creep into and corrupt Christianity. Among several listed is the matter of what happens when we die.

 

ARTICLES of RELIGION (1571)

XXII. Of Purgatory
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well as of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

 

Thus, we were repeatedly reminded that the departed has gone to 'sleep' with her husband, as do all true Christians equally, to await the return of Christ, when all will be awakened to be judged.

None of this 'granny's up there looking down or now she can have a nice reunion with Phillip nonsense. With this, I continue to agree. Read more...

Now that that's over we can look forward to another Coronation.

Recalling the last Coronation, I know to expect golden carriages drawn by beautifully matched teams of horses; massed troops marching to music, streets lined with adoring flag waving crowds; perhaps the return of periscopes?  

Wendy and I have recently returned from the UK where we travelled north in England and into Scotland as far north as Aberdeen. We also travelled around the Baltic and to Holland and northern France. Economically, the UK is not doing well by comparison. Inflation is high, and people have been warned that average annual energy bills will rise by around A$3,000 this year, due to insufficient reliable domestic energy resources (mainly wind as the domestic nuclear programme is well behind schedule).

It may well be a good time for a party, to lift spirits, but it will result in some serious 'conspicuous consumption' of State resources, that might otherwise have gone to more urgent and/or productive ends. 

 

An Australian Republic

 

So, maybe it is time to replace our Head of State with one requiring less pomp and circumstance and more relevant antecedents: by removing the present descendent of Princess Sophia as our monarch and replacing our several 'King's Representatives' with Presidents (or some other title, to address the status of State Governors). In reality, this is already the case. So, it's simply a matter of amending the several Constitutions to provide that these figureheads should be agreed to and installed at regular intervals (currently five years, by convention) by our various Parliaments.  

But let's not elect them every five years. And when they die let's have a modest memorial, befitting an esteemed citizen.

Travel and life experience has taught me not to support the separate election of Presidents. If it ain't broke don't fix it'.  

Electing a President introduces a competing democratic power to elected Parliaments. Competing candidates need to contrive a 'platform' and, by financial necessity and contest, often fund their campaign agenda through hidden patronage, as in the United States.

Throughout the world there are at least a dozen examples of presidents using their initial success and supposed 'mandate' to seize power over the constitutionally established parliament and to install themselves and/or their chosen successors indefinitely.  The most glaring examples are Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China but the same applies in almost every 'new democracy' in Central Asia, that gained a 'US style' constitution at independence. Even the US itself was recently subject to a coup attempt by a president reluctant to relinquish power.

For the worst example in history, we need only cast our minds back to the Weimar Republic in Germany in 1933, to appreciate the risks that empowering an autocrat entail.

In maintaining Churchill's 'flawed democracy' our leaders should continue to be our democratically elected parliaments alone, because it's the best of: "all those other forms (of government) that have been tried".

Thus, echoing the 1689 the Bill of Rights, our new figurehead needs to continue to be beholding to the Parliament alone.

 

Opinions and Philosophy

The demise of books and newspapers

 

 

Most commentators expect that traditional print media will be replaced in the very near future by electronic devices similar to the Kindle, pads and phones.  Some believe, as a consequence, that the very utility of traditional books and media will change irrevocably as our ability to appreciate them changes.  At least one of them is profoundly unsettled by this prospect; that he argues is already under way. 

Read more ...

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