Ingerlund strategies for the Euros

Image result for google images harry kane

England has a wonderful crop of young attacking players establishing themselves this season, but there are doubts about the goalkeeping position, and the midfield looks pedestrian. We don’t have a de Bruyne, but the right-back can cross like de Bruyne. We don’t have a Pirlo.

Best of all, we do have Harry Kane. He is so good that you want him playing forward, in the defence, and the fulcrum in midfield. He can do everything, brilliantly.

So, how should the manager build his team, with so little time to prepare?

Strategy One: Harry Kane everywhere

Kane is so good at the number ten position (and no obvious alternative is available) so why not play him with a spearhead number nine like Calvert-Lewin? Imagine marking both of them in your penalty area for a corner! And both of them defending one. Harry could be given license to roam as the link man, join with the wingers and wing-backs, and run the team as the thinking-linking captain. It would be his team, and he would tell the others where he wanted them. He has vision. The problem is that the two centre-forwards might get in each other’s way, and Harry might not like the idea; but, if he did like the freedom, it could be devastating.

Strategy Two: A very English midfield

Liverpool went to the Champions League Final by beating the artists of both Barcelona and Manchester City with a brilliant forward line and a very English midfield of Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner. No Fancy Dans. Just solid, hardworking, tough, uncompromising workhorses. Blokes that will not let you through. England now has a brilliant forward line, so perhaps all we need is solidity in midfield. Henderson, Declan Rice and Oxlade-Chamberlain or Milner (he’s still doing the business). What do you think? Not much creativity there, but remember that the crosses, beautiful crosses, will be coming in from the wing-backs, and that Harry will be sliding in the visionary balls down the channel and the perfect one over the top for a runner.

Strategy Three: A blended midfield

I always liked the way Harry Redknapp blended a midfield. He had a Passer, a Tackler, a Dribbler and a Water-carrier. And the Passer was also a freekick expert. It’s always useful to have a goal-scoring deadball specialist. On the other hand, when Harry’s Portsmouth kept losing away from home he bought two Bullies and the losses stopped: Sulley Muntari and “The Wardrobe,” the late lamented Papa Boupa Diop may he rest in peace, commanded the middle of the pitch, and nobody liked to contest it with them. The England manager has Henderson as Tackler, Phillips as Runner, and Maddison and Ward-Prowse as Passers available to him. Ward-Prowse is a deadball wizard. But will a blended midfield like that be sufficiently dominant?

Strategy Four: Run them ragged

We have an abundance of young keen talent. We should play all of Sterling, Rashford, Foden, Grealish, Sancho and Mount in attack. Bringing three new ones on, young fresh fast and hungry, early in the second half, will demoralise and destroy most tiring defences. Jimmy Case recalls Bob Paisley sending him onto the field in a European final with the instruction: “Just run around and create havoc.” That’s the spirit.

Defensive Strategy

John Stones is suddenly looking like the complete centre-half. What an extraordinary stroke of luck for England: we might actually have a very good defence. But we all know that an ordinary undistinguished team can be very hard to beat if they are hard-working, motivated, and all pulling together. As an international team of stars from different clubs it is not necessarily easy to create that club team spirit. Step forward, once again, Harry Kane. The captain can give the lead, and can inspire the sense of solidarity. Harry looks as though he has the qualities to do that. Let us pray that they all buy into the dream of being a they-shall-not-pass “Harry’s Team.”

The Case Against History – an intemperate rant.

There is no such thing as a Beethoven of History or an Einstein of History, and never will be. Why? Because the study of History does not ever reach the organic completeness of form that an art does, or ever develop the confidence of knowledge of a science.

Daniel Kahneman did the controlled studies. Academic historians cannot predict the future any better than a random control group. They have no idea what the future will bring, and yet – surprise surprise – they write history as though it was all predictable, as though it all made sense. That is their function: to make sense of it: “These are the causes. They built up over many years. Great social forces were on the move. It was inevitable. And then it happened!” So why can’t you see what is going to happen next year? The writing of history is a retrospective fiction of rational development and explicable causation.

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What does this mean?

Il y a 50 ans, Mai 68 | Les Echos

The impact of the French Revolution? “It’s too early to say.”

Zhou Enlai 

Every event is enmeshed in millions of little incidental causes and conditions, all interacting on each other in incomprehensible ways, entangled in weather, ecology, harvests, technology, family life, moods, accidents, mistakes, misunderstandings, bizarre politicians, sex scandals, fraud, death, industrial failure, sunspots, rays from outer space, you name it…  A historian can make any number of of well-argued stories about logic and inevitabliity out of this. It is all hokum. With fictional stories at least we know that the story is chosen by the writer as an act of creation with its own internal logic, a form of truth that does not depend upon claims to objectivity.

La grande mobilisation sociale de Mai 68 en France | Aujourd'hui l ...

How did it happen?

There is far too much material, and we are adding to it daily with trillions more details. It is impossible to sort it out or to see the patterns in it. And that is what is so tempting to, and ripe for exploitation by, ideologues.

Ideologues of Left and Right can easily find what they want and tell the story from their pre-conceived point of view, endlessly repeating their ur-narrative propaganda. From the boundless supply of bits and pieces of ‘evidence’ the historian can select the facts that slot in nicely to the predetermined political framework. It proves nothing. It is not a science. Many committed ideologues make splendid careers out of writing and teaching History.

And my last charge against History is a spiritual one. History assumes continuity. Time rolls on. Everything continues. The future will be more advanced; our children will make great progress. This fools us about important truths. The fact that there is a public realm of discussion in libraries and archives that persists beyond individual deaths is a deceptive form of sentimental comfort-blanket. No! Your death obliterates the entire universe and all your knowledge and history, and the history of the world.

Life, knowledge, thought, experience, awareness, understanding – they all exist in functioning conscious minds – and only there. They do not exist in the continuity of archives and old clips of black and white film. Your death ends it all. Don’t imagine that it smoothly survives while you watch from afar, with a benign smile on your face, wishing them well. Don’t think big, over the grand panorama of History. Think small. Think now. This moment is the only one that exists. All the past and future, all eternity, is in this moment, or it does not exist at all. Isn’t that thrilling? Live this moment! This is where love is, and all the answers are to be found.

And Sociology! And Psychology!

Sociology is notoriously plagued by ideologues. It is as vulnerable to infiltration by entryists with fixed ideas as History, international aid agencies, Trades Unions, and well funded think tanks. Like History, its source material is infinitely complex and its methodology is invent-an-explanatory-narrative. But how much can sociology tell us of what we want to know? After more than a century of academic study, during which the sciences have added immeasurably to our knowledge, can the modern sociologist tell us any more about social problems than we could have learned from Socrates’ grandmother, Aborigine grandmothers, African grandmothers, Lao Tsu’s grandmother or any other thoughtful and observant human being with some experience? We need to know how to bring up a difficult child, how to deal with anti-social people, how to build a housing estate for harmony, how to advise our married children, how much these fancy new politicians with their seductive slogans are likely to achieve this time, what poverty and wealth do to people, how likely it is that prisoners will reform if unmotivated, how to liberate people from addictions, the wonderful effects of a loving family with a moral framework… Wise people of the past thousands of years knew exactly as much about these issues as a modern sociologist. But thanks for inventing the opinion poll.

And Psychology!

Be honest, if you are of a certain age you were duped by Freudian psycho-analysis, weren’t you? And then you were seduced by R.D.Laing, weren’t you? And now you are reduced to the simple truths of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, aren’t you? And CBT is the ancient wisdom of the Buddha, known to old men and grandmas for millenia, but stripped of its lovely transcendence. Oh dear oh dear.

The Hall of the Victims

A five star hotel 
where Skull Stack Street
meets Charnel Square

(All prose sections in the following are quoted from a catalogue entitled The Interpretive Words for the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, written by Zhu Chengshan for the Memorial Hall Museum, Shuiximen Street, Nanjing, China)

After taking Nanjing on December 13, 1937, the Japanese troops, in flagrant disregard of international conventions, slaughtered over 300,000 disarmed Chinese soldiers and unarmed civilians during six weeks. Over 20,000 rapes and gang rapes occurred in the city. Most of the major massacres took place by the Yangtze, and over 100,000 corpses were thrown into the river. 

The green man walks
and a thousand people hurry
at the mass grave

The command of the 6th Division received an order that says, “Kill all Chinese, regardless of sex and age, and burn all houses.” For details about the sites of massacres, visitors can press the button with the corresponding number.

Japanese invaders thrust bayonet into the man

Plum blossoms
thanks be thanks be
my life so easy

Xia Shuqin:  Her grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, two elder sisters and a younger sister were killed by Japanese soldiers. Her mother and two elder sisters were gang raped. Xia Shuqin was seven. She and her four year old sister were the only survivors. They lived for fourteen days beside the corpses on rice crusts left by their mother and cold water in the vat, until they were discovered by a neighbour. 

Childhood memory -
numbers tattooed on his wrist
the smiley old gent

The statue complex is called Catastrophe of the Ancient City.  This stereoscopic granite sculpture is four meters in height, entitled “Call of the Mother.”

Harassed by sculpture
I turn to the long long lines
of names, names

These are photos of Japanese soldiers raping women which were found on Japanese captives.

Prayer for the dead -
smoke belches from incense fardels
in dense mist

This is Mr. John Rabe, manager of the Nanjing branch of Siemens. He saved and aided over 200,000 Nanjing citizens. He repeatedly protested to the Japanese embassy over Japanese troops’ atrocities and recorded them in his diary. The National Government of China awarded him a medal in red, blue and white. 

Faintly through mist
human voices
a colossal Pusa

This is Ms. Vautrin, an American missionary, who was teaching at Ginling College of Humanities and Science. She set up a refugee camp in the college, protecting over 9,000 women and children.* She was likened by John Rabe to a hen guarding her chicks. She got serious melancholia from too much tension, which failed to be cured after she returned to America, where she gassed herself at home. 

Temple of the Lord of Hell:
in a fantastical cauldron
naked people boiling 

“Mass Grave of 10,000 Corpses”: From here, people can see the cross section of the layers of the victims’ remains. Part of the remains is incomplete and buried abnormally in chaos.

Badly focused
my photographic view
and ill composed

Remains No.5 is the skeleton of a 6 year old, with his skull on his chest, mandible and ribs around. It is attested that its head and neck had been apart before death.

My father a conchie
my mother a pacifist
evil-blind, perhaps

Remains No.8 is the skeleton of an old woman, with upper and lower mandibles apart. It is inferred that she had been choked in her oral cavity before burial…  Remains No.114 is the skeleton of a young female, with a horizontal penetration of a nail in her skull.

Jumble of bones
the guard clockwatching
an evening of skulls

Japan-China Friendship Association has organised some Japanese to Nanjing for planting trees every spring since 1986. They call this activity as “the green atonement.” 

So green the leaves
a light breeze ripples
my heart

The First Priority

Image result for liberty

Everything flows from the first choice. The first choice is between liberty and politics. You cannot have it three ways: liberté! égalité! fraternité! It’s liberty, or a utopian fantasy morphing into a tyranny.

The logic of liberty is: “Leave me alone.” The logic of equality is: “Interfere with me; confiscate my privileges; steal my house.” How can you enforce equality without invading a lot of people’s liberties? Liberty says, “You will not impose your political ideas on me.” Equality says, “Our idea is much more important than leaving you alone.” Nobody is safe from equality. The martyrs of the last hundred years keen in their millions. Tens of millions. Yes, really – tens of millions.

Outskirts of Harbin 5 April 1968

What is liberty? It is the two legal rights established in Magna Carta. The rulers cannot steal your house (because courts will uphold your property rights); and the rulers cannot arrest you without producing persuasive evidence against you in front of an independent court, within two days, and holding a fair trial in front of twelve of your peers and an independent judge.

Party chiefs in Harbin are denounced in front of a large crowd in April 1967. Photo: Li Zhensheng (The Chinese University Press)Party chiefs in Harbin are denounced in front of a large crowd 1967. Not a proper trial with legal counsel, impartial jury and independent judge, but a ‘struggle session’

It would be nice to have more equality and fraternity as well, of course, and we can move towards that ideal once liberty is firmly established as the bedrock, but anyone who prioritises equality over liberty is going to steal your big house in the name of the people and end up shooting you if you object. And anyone who idealises the virtues of the so-called “collective” over the despised “individualistic” will justify the murdering of you. Of course they will – regretfully, maybe – because the logic dictates it. Prioritise the collective and the individual will have to suffer if she objects. The martyrs to collectivisation in the last hundred years are also legion.

Li Zhensheng, Public shaming by the Red Guards in front of the masses, 1966. © Li Zhensheng, SIPF 2016. ‘Public Shaming by the Red Guards in Front of the Masses.’ Struggle session, 1966.

How is it that so many of my educated friends, including several historians, people who have lived through many decades of the last hundred years, have not noticed these obvious truths? Do they imagine that the inexorable logic will not work when someone well-meaning implements it? The earlier generations of socialists were also well-meaning. Do they have some cognitive trick that fools them into believing that their form of socialism has nothing to do with communism, although it has the same ideals and priorities? Theirs will end in joy, this time, following the same principles that ended in horror last time: ‘equality’ and ‘the collective’? History does teach one lesson: anyone who has a bigger political idea than liberty is a terrible danger to you. For all her good intentions  and moralistic fervour, she will end up terrorising you in the name of equality, or race, or religion.


Ren Zhongyi, the former party chief in Harbin city, wearing a dunce’s hat and being publicly humiliated, in a ‘struggle session’ when people were shaved, forced to wear tall hats [of humiliation], had their homes searched, and were executed .

What about “democratic socialism” – surely that is harmless? Yes, if it prioritises democracy and its liberties as we in the United Kingdom understand them, it will serve a very useful function in administering the state more fairly. But, if it prioritises socialist ideals, it will invade your liberties to further its political agenda of establishing a millenarian vision of a perfect society of equals. This will not be popular, so those in charge – regretfully, maybe – will never let you vote again. It is not an accident that socialist societies have denied you your liberties and your democracy and devoured their own children. If you think that has nothing to do with your beloved socialist ideals you are fooling yourself. It is the inevitable logic of prioritising equality over liberty. 

All photographs of the Cultural Revolution by Li Zhensheng from Red-Color News Soldier Phaidon 2003


Who duped the Labour Party?

House of Parliament

The Labour Party three times voted against Theresa May’s soft Brexit, closely aligned to Europe, which was very much like the Labour Party’s manifesto policy on Brexit. They joined with the Tory Brexiteer rebels to deny the government a majority and paralyse the House. This collapsed May’s government and ushered in Boris Johnson’s much more hard-line Brexit, which is nowhere near Labour Party policy, and has most Labour MPs shrieking with horror. Why did they do this? Why did they vote against their own interest, and against the national interest, not once but three times, on a three line whip?

In all the terrible and confused Parliamentary wrangling of the past two years, with the Scottish Nationalists, Ulster Unionists, Lib Dems, Remain Tories, Leave Tories, Remain Labour members and Leave Labour members all manoeuvring plotting and counting votes, the party that has won has been one of the smallest, the European Research Group, which only has between twenty and forty hard core votes. How did they persuade the Labour Party to lend them two hundred and sixty more votes and to vote against their own interests? On the face of it, the Labour Party has scored a spectacularly stupid own goal. Were they persuaded by circuitous reasoning that they would gain some political advantage by destroying May’s government? Did some cunning ex-military intelligence officer (surely, they are the sort of chaps who lurk in the ERG) lure them into a trap, with a fantasy future outcome? Or did the Labour Party manage this great cock-up all by itself? Whatever, when indignant people of the left protest furiously about Boris Johnson’s right-wing takeover, the proper response is to say, “Well, it is all your own work.”

Boris Johnson arrives back in UK after supreme court ruling

Mistaking the genre of Catch 22

Image result for catch 22

George Clooney and his actor friends have made an actorly mistake in adapting Catch 22 for a TV series. They thought it was about characters, but it isn’t. They thought they would create some splendid parts for themselves. But there are no “characters” in Catch 22, in an actorly sense. There are what we call “larger than life” characters, each one with an extreme characteristic, which you might think was like a Moliere comic extreme – the Miser, the Snob, Jealousy. But it is not a human characteristic that a Heller character has; it’s a mechanical one.

Each Heller figure is a function of the insane bureaucratic mechanisms of warfare. Each one is an extreme of something institutional: Parades (Sheisskopf), Hierarchical Ambition (Cathcart), Neatness Obsession (Bomb patterns), Hiding in a Non-job (Major Major), Institutional Opportunism (Milo Minderbinder). These are the cogs, rods, joints and dials of a bureaucratic machine. They do not have “personal feelings” or “back story” or “motivation”. The only motivation they have is the inexorable crazy logic of a machine blithely churning out death with no regard for the humans at all. Acting them as fully rounded human beings is absurd and ruins the whole enterprise.

You should not cast serious actors. You need Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Eric Sykes, the Goons, the Carry-On Crew, Sacha Baron Cohen, the Keystone Cops. It is a farce, and needs to be a fast ratatatat of quick-fire absurdities as the careless logic of bureaucracy crushes one human need after another with irresistible paradoxes. You need a cardboard stage set with revolving doors, collapsing walls and exploding beds. The music should be played on a kazoo and a penny whistle. To see actors frowning, emoting away, and being wistfully contemplative, mistakes the genre. It is horrible,  slowing the whole thing down into a turgid mess. The Clooney dramatisation is a mistake.

Genre-busting role-shifters: Hannibal Lecter and Killing Eve’s Villanelle

Image result for hannibal lecter

Thomas Harris in his Hannibal Lecter books developed three rather brilliant genre-busting features to supercharge his surprising variations on an ancient format. The creators of Killing Eve have taken the same tricks even further and with wonderful panache.

Firstly, Harris took a good old-fashioned Villain out of the role where he attracts all the opprobrium and hatred rightly heaped on criminal masterminds with hearts of ash, and switched him into the Helper role, where he could blossom into an interesting and appreciated character, free to enlist our sympathies. We liked his intelligence, culture and wit. He was safely incarcerated, so we could get close to him and hear him talk, and he had the scope to indulge his florid genius without threatening us too much. This meant that Harris had to create another person to fill the vacant Villain role, and he duly offered a dull cypher to occupy that space, while the Helper doubled as a False Villain, a much more zingy role, full of ambiguity.

In folktales the Helper is a wise one, in sympathetic harmony with nature and the animal kingdom. It might be old woman, old man, badger or bird or breeze, but the Helper is closer to understanding the workings of fate and the mind than ordinary beings are. The Helper can see the Hero’s future and offer warnings and a magical amulet.

Image result for hannibal lecter

The Villain-in-Helper-role was an original idea and Harris ran with it very cleverly. But after the second Lecter book, The Silence of the Lambs, he saw an even more genre-busting opportunity. In Hannibal he cunningly led us, the readers, to think we were settling into a Detective Thriller. He duped us with the expected clues, and suspence. But we weren’t in a cop story. It turned out to be a Killer-Chase sensuously mutating into a Romance, and he managed to keep us guessing, and to spring a strikingly effective surprise ending, full of gruesome black humour.

Image result for Killing Eve

Killing Eve uses the same tricks, but with a feminine wit all of its own. Series 1, brilliantly brought to life by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is a story of a detective chasing a serial murderer who is every bit as psychopathic, charming and stylish as Hannibal Lecter. Jodie Cromer has a wonderful time pouting and winking as the spoilt brat charming assassin, creating one of the most memorable characters of the decade. The detective story begins to look like a Romance as it gathers momentum at the end of Series 1, but in Series 2 Villanelle is shifted from the Villain role into the Helper role to keep her out of prison and give her scope to entertain us with more tricks. The Romance deepens, but rather too much, in my view. It should be a tease, not a full-on courtship, if we are to keep the genre teetering between the positive Romance and and the negative Assassin poles of the two characters’ magnetic field.

An extra layer of fascination develops as we hear the expert on psychopaths turning his attention to diagnosing Eve. Her obsession with Villanelle becomes a mystery about the depths of their character flaws. The creators of Series 2 go further, and very funny it is – both funny and disturbing – because all the detectives start showing the same symptoms as the slavering psychopathic killers: low boredom threshold, callousness, attention-seeking, deceit. The mirroring of the Villains by the Heroes is an intriguing tease that adds a much more interesting brand of “constructive ambiguity” than the stuff peddled by the NEC of the Labour Party at the moment. It keeps us guessing. Is Eve a psychopath? Is Hugo? Is Carolyn? Am I? I love it so much, I must be one too. Are we all?

Emerald Fennell took over the writing for Series 2 and she has drawn us deeper into psychopathy whilst spraying sparkling jokes around. It is a very clever variant on Aristotle’s Reversal and Recognition through which we recognise our appalled collusion with the imaginative charm of the violence. The same thing happened to Starling in Hannibal as she switched to the Dark Side and gave herself to globe-trotting arm in arm with Lecter, from one pleasure to another, opera houses to fine dining. It is the third genre-busting role shift, from Hero to Submissive, no longer the hunter but the one who has got her heart’s desire and retired from the chase, much to her own surprise. A Heroine, in the uncomfortably ironic Romance sense. Eve has not quite reached that point yet. But she will. Or will she?

  Image result for Killing Eve

Selected Haiku (and a tanka)

Matisse tanka

Calm red inside
and blue veins climb. A woman
touches the fruit bowl.
In the window, trees

More grandson haiku

Before school
ten minutes in heaven
drawing devils

It’s after bedtime -
he proffers a specious argument
with a smile.

he moves his mouth in silence
as the head appears.

Koan retreat haiku

On Here Hill,
at Now o’clock, I meet This.
A chestnut stallion.

A new gentle me -
sheep keep their distance
the crow flaps off

Roshi’s sermon -
a wren at the window
hops from thought to thought

Fire-heat and the lamp’s hiss.
Whilst from the kitchen
the sound of a whisk.

Path to the farm -
herringbone ruts
glistening with ice

Zazen - I have
“Ordinary Mind”; my shadow
ordinary head

the demon plans a well-received
study of demons.

sit under their stars
sharing our wonder


Maglev train
picnic party - the floating world
on a concrete path

Three people
I judged uncultured
kind to me today

Again and again
the white surf breaks
as we hold from talking

in my stiff fingers
its eager heart

Rain on the window.
The knife in the bowl

Ten thousand bright waves -
the anchor warp squeaks
as we bow to each one.

Lord Plover
in wet ermine
sucks mud

Dad never spoke of love
but now, the tongue risen
the mouth gapes

The curlew’s call
still resonating, I dream
the withered baby

Spotlit, stepping
on a gold-flecked plinth,
the chipped old buddha.

One son missing
the other a fool
Christmas marmalade

Tugged half under,
the mooring buoy
in the spring ebb tide

Incense for John
rising into whatever
the grey sky is

the same notes at dawn
for 10,000 years

Contorted trunk
clambers its twist to
a tuft of birdsong

splash and scream
in an angel’s wing

In the winter wind
between derelict factories

Feeding ducks
the ginger skinhead
opens and shuts his mouth

The wipers sweep, sweep,
on the radio news
an abandoned child

Orange sun white cloud
through the plane’s
egg window

Flapping fingers
stinking of varnish
she laughs at vanity.

Always roaring
the echo in me
of the wind between stars

Fractals in sand -
the ebbing tide
knows how

Picking winter scraps
in The Mower’s blades
old yellow-beak.

Always roaring
faintly in the background
tinnitus of bliss

Ken’s Great Leap
into the all-too-clear
from the unknown

Golden snakes
behind the bins,
the dog eating wasps

Flickering shag -
at first thrilling...
then baffling     

(after Basho)

Under the hill
tarmac whispers
shadows of passing

To stragglebush
the topiarist
brings pride

In a non-world
I taste the salmon sandwich
I didn’t choose

Rounding the headland home
the shushing of ripples
licking the hull

Forgiveness -
and after the rain swallows
feast over fields

That pretty cloud
I saw yesterday
and liked so…

Lying in the grass
watching; hearing 
the skylark disappear

Family barbecue
the moon sails West

clouds sail East

Rain on the frail roof
fiercely drumming
Ancestor Blues

In reverie I feel
her shadow cross my eyelids.
Rockpool scattering

I bow to great nature
and wave a goodbye
to all of you

The Image of Britain Part Deux

William L Wyllie had a successful exhibition which made his reputation, called The Tidal Thames, in 1884, but this etching is from 1924. Presumably he had seen the Monets exhibited in 1903 (see my previous post). Did he rework one of his Tidal Thames images? Or remember the Monet series?

He has drawn the Parliament much more beautifully than Monet (with two towers, Victoria tower added behind Big Ben), whilst rendering it mistily, like a great idea: the historical framework. In the foreground, solid and dirty, is the industrial present, staffed by straining workers heaving at a monstrous barge. There is a bridge, but otherwise the view is of a maritime democracy, an island at flood tide, just as Monet portrayed us.

It took a Frenchman to make the image of Britain!

Claude Monet came to London in the early 1870s to escape from warfare in France, fearing that he would be conscripted. He returned to London thirty years later at the turn of the century, now a successful sixty year old, to stay in the Savoy hotel and paint the Houses of Parliament. In 1899, 1900 and 1901 he painted them again and again, particularly fascinated by the effect of light on fog and fog on the precision of one’s perceptions. He thought that, “It’s the fog that gives London its marvellous breadth.”  Oscar Wilde said that the painters “invented fog,” a typically striking exaggeration. As my friend Francis points out, Dickens did fog very well in Bleak House half a century earlier.

Monet painted parliament in sunrises, and in sunsets; he tried to find the place on the South bank from where he could get the sun to shine directly above the parliament, reflected on the water. He continued working on the whole group of canvases on his return to France and in 1904 exhibited thirty seven of them in Paris. The exhibition was a great success.

The central image is of the Houses of Parliament, blurred by fog into an archetypal fortress shape, with a tower. Parliament is apparently surrounded by water, as if an island in the middle of the sea. As a portrait of Britain at the height of its imperial pride, the pre-eminent naval power in the world, reduced to its essence, it could not be bettered. And although the first impression is of solidity, the massy structure enduring the blasts, the aftertaste, of course, is of the strength of democracy and ancient inherited freedoms under the people’s law made in parliament.

French painters paint the quaies of the Seine, but as promenades, not as a surrounding sea. English painters paint parliament, but as a piece of intricate architecture. It took Monet to make the image and reduce it like a French chef to its intensest jus. Boiling off the steam, he repeats it into significance, its aroma arising, its resonances ringing: the sea, the parliament, the fog! In his sixties he wanted to “sum up…impressions and sensations of the past.” No doubt the idea of parliament in London’s marvellous breadth of fog, seen across the river from St Thomas’ hospital, had stuck in his mind from the 1870s.


The image for France is Liberty leading the people, with Marianne the embodiment of French liberty.

Liberty Leading the People. 1830. Oil on canvas, 260 x 325 cm.

If I look for a great portrayal of Britishness I think of The Monarch of the Glen, Rowlandson’s Portsmouth Point, or a crowded Hogarth print, perhaps The March of the Guards to Finchley.



 Turner painted all around the British coastline, but perhaps the image that sticks in the mind is The Fighting Temeraire, a sad piece of nostalgia for a Britain once great. It took an obstinate, repetitive Frenchman with an outsider’s eye on our weather, to spot what was right in our noses.