May 10th, 2014



No-one hates Rolf Harris. At least they never used to; I suppose they may do now.

He wasn't another Jimmy Savile- about whom there was always a bit of a mephitic haze. Harris was wholesome.  When he sang that lewd old army song, Jake the Peg, one doubted that he grasped the double-entendres. Extra leg? Shame on you for having those evil thoughts. It's a kiddies' song. OK? And it's Rolf singing it and his mind is pure.

Half the joke of his surprisingly effective cover version of Stairway to Heaven- with its wobbleboard accompaniment- was that this was Rolf. No-one could be less rock and roll.

He was loved, trusted. His programmes about art were a delight. I imagine a whole lot of people first discovered Monet, Turner, Van Gogh- through him. He happened to be a decent amateur painter himself.  He knew the tricks of the trade and approached the "greats" as a fellow artisan.

His music has lasted- though I guess it's being stripped out of the play lists now. Sun Arise, Tie Me Kangeroo Down jostled Waltzing Matilda as unofficial anthems of Oz. He was the king of the novelty song.

I'm a little too old to have had him as a formative influence, but he was there for generation after generation of kids. And now that entirely innocent sentence has gone all slimy and rotten.

Ah well...

Driving North And Then West

We were heading for Lullingstone where the Roman villa is- snuggly fitting into a hillside above the river Darent in a fold of the North Downs. The villa- more palace than villa, actually- may well have belonged to a bloke called Pertinax who was Governor of Britain in 185-186 AD and afterwards Emperor of Rome for a dizzy three months in 193 AD. The women ahead of us shelled out £18.50 for parking, two tickets and a guide book, which is a hefty price to pay for looking at the foundations of a house. It made me glad we're members of English Heritage and could get in for free. I was hoping to see the portrait busts of Pertinax and his dad and the painting of the "orantes" which proves that Lullingstone housed an early (very early) Christian chapel- but they've been taken away by the British Museum. I hate how the British Museum snaffles anything that isn't nailed down. Modern archaeology is all about context, context, context- but the BM still thinks in terms of loot. If it's valuable it has to be in London where the foreign tourists can stream past it and admire the spoils of empire. Never mind what it all means, just look at how much of it we've got! The Lullingstone orantes belong in Lullingstone just as the Elgin marbles belong in Athens.

Mind you the mosaics are still in place- and they're among the best in Britain. Here's Bellerophon slaying a beast that looks like an aquatic lion and here's Europa- mother of us all- riding away on the bull.

We had lunch in Eynsford where the river Datchet flows unembanked through the middle of the village. If you're on foot or in a car you use the bridge that was built for pack horses; if you're driving a coach or a lorry you go splashing through the ford.  This quaint ruralism survives at the very edge of London. Drop down over the hill and the mean streets begin.

After Eynsford we drove West and crossed the county line into Surrey- where the stockbrokers live and everything that isn't hillside or forest is golf course.  We went round the charity shops in Oxted- and Ailz bought an enormous teddy bear and I bought an ironstone plate with a painting of a pig and a bag full of plastic building bricks with Cyrillic writing on them. We had tea in Godstone which has a mighty village green and stopped briefly in Bletchingly so I could take look at the very pretty church with its enormous monument to a city wide-boy in an enormous wig. Apparently he and his wife did a lot for charity.