14 November 2021

It’s been increasingly autumnal although still unseasonably warm – must be all the hot air in Glasgow talking about climate change while making vague commitments to do something, sometime, maybe. Or maybe not. The weather people are predicting the onset of a deep freeze due, apparently, sometime next week with the usual apocalyptic predictions of sub-arctic temperatures and 83 feet of snow. We’ll see.

Penelope and I enjoyed a short, quiet break during the week. We set off on Tuesday to visit Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill in Kent, now owned by the National Trust followed by an overnight B&B and a visit the following day to Hever Castle, the ancestral home of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. The weather was “fine-ish” (overcast but dry and warm for the time of year) and both were very interesting and enjoyable, each in their own way.

The estate of Chartwell dates from the 14th century with stunningly magnificent views over the Weald of Kent. (How many of you know what a Weald is? I had to look it up). It was the views which “sold” Churchill on Chartwell. The fact that it was sold to him by a former school mate from Harrow was a bonus. He bought the house and estate in 1922 and spent the next two years rebuilding and enlarging the house and carrying out extensive landscaping. The location is, indeed, magnificent although the current house is pretty unimpressive – it was described by the author of a guide book as, “Victorian architecture at its least attractive, a ponderous red-brick country mansion of tile-hung gables and poky oriel windows” and that seems pretty fair.

In 1946, when financial constraints forced Churchill to consider selling Chartwell, it was acquired by the National Trust with funds raised by a consortium of Churchill’s friends led by Lord Camrose, on condition that the Churchills retained a life-tenancy. After Churchill’s death, Lady Churchill surrendered her rights to the house and it was opened to the public by the Trust in 1966. A Grade I listed building, for its historical significance rather than its architectural merit, Chartwell has become among the Trust’s most popular properties; 232,000 people visited the house in 2016, the fiftieth anniversary of its opening.

After a splendid trek around the estate, we drove down the road a few miles to Hever Castle and the site of our overnight B&B accommodation. This was in the grounds of Hever Castle in part of a mock-Tudor village built in the early 1900s – very picturesque with a view of the castle from our bedroom window.

The oldest part of Hever Castle dates from 1270 and consisted of a gatehouse and a walled bailey. At that time it was owned by James Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele (the same family which owned/own Broughton Castle just near Banbury). The castle was converted into a fortified manor in 1462 by Geoffrey Boleyn, the great grandfather of Anne Boleyn. Her father, Thomas Boleyn, inherited the castle in 1505 and she grew up and lived here until she was sent to the Netherlands in 1513 to receive an education at the court of the Archduchess Margaret. When Henry VIII was pursuing Anne he regularly stayed at the nearby Bolebroke Castle as well as at the aforementioned Chartwell.

In the early part of the 20th century the estate was purchased by William Waldorf Astor who initiated a period of repair, restoration and renovation. It was he who built the mock-Tudor “village” in which our B&B was located and also carried out extensive landscaping – he created the lake and gardens. He also added the Italian Garden to display his collection of statuary and ornaments. The castle was sold to John Guthrie in 1983 and is now owned by his property empire Broadland Properties. As well as being a tourist attraction it is also now a high-end entertainment and hospitality venue.

And, if that wasn’t enough excitement for one week we had a lovely meal out at the Royal Oak in Eydon with one set of our lovely neighbours on Thursday evening which was excellent. Not only was the company great but the food was delicious.

When we arrived at the pub Penelope exclaimed that she was really looking forward to it as she had never been there before. I did (tactfully, I hope) remind her that we had indeed been there before but it was many years ago when we were still living in Byfield. We even sat in exactly the same place although even that didn’t refresh her memory. To be fair, the pub has changed hands several times since then, I think.

This could easily become our “go to” pub for lunch/dinner rather than our previous convenient favourite, the Crown Inn at Weston. It has a more extensive menu and is just as easy to get to.

The corruption saga rumbles along with the droves of Conservative MPs with their noses in the trough glancing up from time to time to see how much public and media criticism they’ve generated. Every time this sort of scandal makes the news there’s always an outcry with various people proposing a ban on MPs taking on second (and third and fourth) jobs. One might imagine that being an MP would be a full-time job. After all, even the most lowly MP is paid £80,000 a year but for many, mainly Conservative MPs, this is simply not enough. So, they use their political connections to acquire “consultancies” which rarely require much actual work, just the occasional lobbying effort which is where the problem arises – being paid to lobby the government is against the rules. One does wonder, though, what these companies are paying for because it certainly cannot be for the intellectual capabilities of the MP concerned.

One marvellous example is the case of Chris Grayling, former Transport Secretary who you may remember was responsible for awarding a ferry contract to a firm which had no ferries – their only experience was as a pizza delivery company. The contract was eventually cancelled but it still cost the UK takpayer £50 million in compensation. In spite of his serial incompetence he has a second job as a “strategic adviser” to Hutchinson Ports Europe for which he earns £100,000 for 336 hours of work. That’s just under £300 per hour. You have to wonder what sort of strategic advice he can offer given that he awards ferry contracts to pizza companies.

One of the more egregious examples which came to light this week was the perfectly legal Geoffrey Cox, former Attorney General and very successful and highly paid barrister. It’s reckoned that he has earned £6 million acting as a barrister whilst at the same time also allegedly representing his constituents in Parliament. And you can easily see how it adds up:

He reported additional earnings for his second job of £930,588 in 2021 so far, including a retainer with corporate law firm Withers worth £400,000 a year, requiring him to work 10 hours a week outside parliament.

The Guardian

And so, on to an analysis of the trade benefits to the UK from leaving the EU. The Office of Budget Responsibility, the government’s own number crunchers, have calculated that the benefits of the new trade deals which the government is concluding with countries outside the EU will amount to about £3 to £7 per person over the next 15 years. That is in contrast to the anticipated £1,250 loss per person of being outside the single market. What a great deal!

Finally, Happy, Happy Birthday to our lovely daughter-in-law Lucy who is 21 again today.

Meanwhile, keep happy, keep smiling, keep isolating as much as you can, wear a f**king facemask when you go out and keep your distance. And keep safe.

Lots of love to you all,

Greg

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