Titles 2

I've been reading about Egypt at the time of the first dynasty (in Joan Grant's Winged Pharoah- wonderful book, read it, read it, read it!) at which time titles meant exactly what they said. They were job descriptions. If you were Vizier of Whereveritwas it meant you resided in that place and managed its affairs and if you bungled the job you could be removed from office. No title was honorary, no title- except perhaps that of Pharoaoh- was hereditary (and even then the job had to be trained for and worked at). The idea that someone could call themselves Vizier of Whereeveritwas and reside in the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of Monte Carlo would have been considered absurd.

Modern titles are a mixture of the functional and the preposterous. The Archbishop of York does in fact have ultimate responsibility for the running of the Diocese of York- and a palace in that city, but the Duke of Devonshire has his ancestral seat in Derbyshire. The titles the Queen hands out to her nearest and dearest are particularly absurd- by which I mean non-functional. The Duke of Edinburgh has no particular connection with Edinburgh- and no responsibilities towards it- and the Duke of Cambridge didn't even go to Cambridge University. To his credit the current Prince of Wales has always taken his geographical responsibilities seriously, owns property in the Principality and, I believe, speaks a few words of the language.

According to the latest information the Duke and Duchess of Sussex- who so far as I know have no property in Lewes or Chichester (or even Arundel- which is owned by the Duke of Norfolk) are about to take up residence in Canada.


Titles are indicators of function. If a person has "Doctor" in front of their name it tells the world they have expertise in some particular area- most commonly medicine. And if a person has "Captain" in front of their name it indicates that they can probably be entrusted with the care of a ship or an aeroplane.

Titles also confer a certain status. This makes sense within the sphere in which the person's expertise is exercised. For the sake of the smooth running of the organisation to which they belong it makes sense for the private soldier to defer to the sergeant- but if they meet down the pub after retiring from the service there's no reason for that deference to continue. It needs to be added that titles are only the roughest guide to a person's competence- and the world is full of title-holders who are not really up to the job.

A royal personage exercises a particular function within a polity. In the past that function was clearer than it is today- but it's still understood that a person with HRH in front of their name should be available to do certain jobs. If that person withdraws their labour there's no earthly reason why they should continue to use the title. The world has long agreed that there's a certain pathos to persons who cling to titles and status they're no longer working to sustain...

Punching The Air

Our eldest grandson, Fabrizio- who is 11- has been granted British citizenship. Wonderful news.

Now to get citizenship for his sister and brother...

It has to be done gradually- one child at a time- because the costs (payable to government and solicitor) are considerable.

Birds Are Smart

1. So many sparrows!

They used to be if the most visible of British birds. Chirpy, fearless, adaptable. Then they went into decline. I was worried about them.

But things are changing. I don't know about the broader national scene but here in West Kent, close to the Sussex border, they're crowding round our feeders in the sort of numbers I remember from my childhood. They've found a way round whatever it was that was discouraging them- and they're proliferating.

2. Robins are ground feeders.

But this morning I saw one perch on top of a hanging coconut shell and peck downwards at the contents for all the world as if it had been watching the tits- and had figured out how they do it.

3. Birds are smart. They're not locked into their behaviour patterns. They learn.

Stuck Up And Spooky

That was Storm Brendan. It was a noisy bugger. It kept going for two nights. The front path is under water- and Wendy, who arrived at 9.00 this morning- says there's a lot of woody debris on the drive.

The day that came between the two noisy nights was relatively quiet, though the rain persisted. We went into Tunbridge Wells which is something we rarely do. The second-hand bookshop I used to go to in my teens (and still frequent in my dreams) is still there but has had a refit- and is no longer dusty and quaint. I suppose it always thought of itself as "antiquarian" but the prices of the better sort of old book has gone through the roof- and the first editions and nice bindings I used to buy as an impecunious young person are out of my range now I'm a prosperous old bloke. I went in, browsed a bit- and came out empty handed- which wouldn't have happened in the old days. They had a copy of Wells' The Holy Terror I quite fancied- but not at the price they were asking for it.

I read a book recently (I think it was by J.B. Priestly) which characterised Tunbridge Wells as a typical English country town- which is exactly what it isn't. Most English country towns have a long, long history- but The Wells didn't get going until the 17th century with the discovery of the Chalybeate spring. Before then it was wilderness- and the wilderness is still there- an expanse of heathland with weird weather-sculpted rocks in it that extends right into the heart of the settlement. For a period it was intensely fashionable. The beaux and the belles hung out there and Rochester wrote a verse satire about it that is so relentlessly and wearingly obscene that I've never been able to get through more than a page and a half. There are plaques all over the place recording the residence of this or that luminary- and Edmund Kean played in its theatre. Then- as travel became easier- its position as London's favourite spa town was usurped by others more exotic and further flung- and it relaxed into respectability- becoming a by-word for rigid gentility and deep-dyed conservatism- for wealthy spinsters and disappointed nabobs- and all the repressed passion that accompanies such things. I don't quite know what its character is now (because I avoid it) but those who do their shopping there say it still holds itself aloof.

It's a weird place- and I mean weird in every sense of the word. The Pantiles- the old quarter- a kind of 17th century shanty town that sprung up around the chalybeate spring- would- on a day like yesterday- when the rain had driven almost everybody off the streets- make a great setting for some story originally authored by Sheridan Le Fanu or M R James. Imagine our hero or heroine being stalked through the colonnades by something not quite of this world- or encountering a raddled 18th century horror (as in Madame Crowl's Ghost) behind one of the peeling Georgian facades. And if you should happen to need an impressive and private place to stage your ritual blood sacrifice look no further than the druidic rocks out at Rusthall. I don't believe anyone has ever filmed a horror movie in the town but somebody should- they really should...

Catching Up

Now that we have a big TV with i-player enabled I've been catching up on shows I thought I might like but never got round to watching at the time.

When you're a carer- and cups of tea need to be provided regularly and trips to the toilet facilitated at times you can't predict- it's pointless to try to give the TV your full, undivided attention unless your set possesses a pause button.

The BBC's new Dracula is highly intelligent and surprisingly moving. Poor old Drac; he's a sad case really.

Detectorists is as sweet and humane as everybody says it is- a gentle comedy interspersed with shots of dragonflies. McKenzie Crook is an original.

Bright Phoebus

A storm passed through last night. The new front gate- a huge metal thing- the sort of gate farmers use for field openings- was swinging about- I heard it clang- so I got out of bed (this was about half past midnight) and tied it in place.

This morning the sun is getting through.

My favourite passage in the BBC's new Dracula (which I was watching yesterday afternoon) is the scene where the Count has hoiked the dying Harker up to one of the turrets of his castle and is saying, "There is one thing you can do for me; you can tell me what she looks like..." and this goes on for a while and you wonder who he's talking about until you realise that Harker is lying in the re-gold light of the sunrise and Dracula is crouching in shadow- and the "she" in question isn't some old lover but the sun- which he hasn't been able to look at for hundreds of years.

Wolf Moon

There was one of those eclipses last night where the moon passes through the earth's shadow and goes dim. I made a mental note to watch it but then the TV news came on and I forgot all about it. What was the news story that was so absorbing? I forget that too.

Was it the bush fires in Australia? No I don't think that was the lead.

Prince Harry sacking himself from the Royal Family? No, Channel 4 rises above such things.

Ah, I know- at least I think I do- it was Sinn Fein and the DUP finally agreeing to get together to run Northern Ireland- because if they didn't there would be new elections and they'd both be hammered for being so fucking useless.

Off The Top Of My Head

1. I dreamed I was one of a group of people who were having lucid dreams (that is, dreams where you know you're dreaming) and discussing them when they woke. The odd thing was that while the dreams within the dream were lucid the framework that contained them wasn't lucid at all- and I didn't know I was dreaming the self that knew it was dreaming....

2. The outlet pipe to the washing machine was blocked- and flooding the boiler room. I had wondered if it was something I could sort out by myself- but I'm glad I didn't try because it has taken Peter all morning- and he knows what he's doing.

3. These lines from Yeats' "Under Ben Bulben" have been going through my mind for days:

Many times man lives and dies
Between his two eternities,
That of race and that of soul,
And ancient Ireland knew it all.
Whether man die in his bed
Or the rifle knocks him dead,
A brief parting from those dear
Is the worst man has to fear.
Though grave-diggers' toil is long,
Sharp their spades, their muscles strong,
They but thrust their buried men
Back in the human mind again.