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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Uffington White Horse, Blatter on a Platter, University Challenge Tchaikovsky, Autumn Colours, Quote from John Ruskin on Value.

We live a short drive from The White Horse at Uffington in Oxfordshire and I am pleased to say that after 20 years I finally made time to get off my backside and visit this 3,000-year-old phenomenon managed today by The National Trust. This white horse, etched into the side of the hill, appears to be a rather modern design but paradoxically is the oldest one in the UK. It is thought to represent a tribal symbol of some kind. The other paradox is that when you finally make it up the steep footpath to the white horse at the top of Uffington Hill, you can see each piece of the horse – it’s head, back, tail, - but you can’t see the entire creature unless you happen to have a helicopter with you. Or a plane. However, that disappointment (as I had neglected to take my private jet) is fast forgotten when you turn around and look at the stunning views over 6 counties. The hills that I called ‘waves’ are in fact known as The Giant’s Steps and are beautiful and the hill with the top cut off in front of the horse is in fact Dragon Hill, so called as St George is said to have slayed the dragon here and the blood poisoned the ground leaving a white scar, visible today. But whatever you think of the legends, the views and peacefulness at the top of the hill make the journey totally worthwhile, particularly on a gorgeous autumnal day.

Aerial view of the Uffington White Horse 

The Giant's Steps Uffington

Here you can see Dragon Hill where St George is said to have slayed the dragon

At last: Blatter on a Platter! In my June blog, I talked about the corruption at FIFA and said “The way FIFA has acted and been allowed to act for decades is an absolute disgrace and an embarrassment to sport in general. The only surprising thing about this is that Sepp Blatter, the 79-year-old man who has been FIFA’s high profile president and leader through this period and for the last 20 years, is still clinging on and refuses to resign. On the contrary, he has just been re-elected for another 4 years, voted in by a large majority of the 4200+ countries that each have a vote.” I, along with many others, called for Blatter to be removed. Shortly after this, he announced he would leave his post next February but would not step down before this. Many of us were delighted to see that he has recently been suspended from his position for 90 days by ‘FIFA’s Ethics Committee’ (oxymoron of the decade?). He will fight it but is currently excluded from his office and his position, as he should be for having presided over one of the largest cases of continuous corruption across the world for decades. Many of the current FIFA crew across the world were either involved in corruption of are contaminated with it (the correct action would have been to leave or speak out against an organisation so obviously drowning in illegal and immoral activity) so the only correct solution is to shut down FIFA, sack everyone and open a brand new organisation staffed by professionals working to a clear charter based on honesty and openness. I am sure there would be no shortage of candidates for such an organisation. By the way, it is FIFA’s ‘Ethics Committee’ that commissioned the highly respected lawyer Michael Garcia’s to report in 2012 but has still not published the full report it because the content is so inflammatory towards the organisation. The truth is gradually coming out. In my experience, it is virtually impossible to hide lies and evil deeds forever. In most cases the truth will eventually get out. In fact, as each week passes, more is seeping out. The latest appears to be Blatter in suspended mode trying to get his colleagues into trouble. He has just announced that the Russia win had been decided prior to the final vote (that vote when England thought they had a chance but only got 2 votes) and that the Qatar win should have gone to the USA. Clearing up the mess is going to be interesting! More certainly to follow......

I enjoy watching the TV quiz programme, University Challenge, in which two of the UK's top Unis get four of their most brilliant students to answer some of the toughest general knowledge questions in the world. I can occasionally answer a few questions and I am never sure whether I am more stunned by the extraordinary brilliance of the young contestants or my utter ignorance. A couple of weeks ago, in the music round, I recognised one of my favourite pieces of classical music, arguably the most beautiful and emotional violin concerto ever written, after just three notes. Unfortunately none of the 8 contestants knew Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. A theology student from St John’s Oxford made a decent guess by saying Brahms and the leader of the Bristol team guessed Vivaldi! Which anyone acquainted with classical music will know is an awful guess. (A bit like mistaking Hey Jude for a work by the Electric Light Orchestra). But at least he took a chance. Tchaikovsky was a tormented genius. He wrote his violin concerto in 1878 on the shores of Lake Geneva, where he had gone to recover from the depression brought on by his disastrous marriage. When it was finally premiered the performance was given by Adolph Brodsky on December 4, 1881 in Vienna, under the baton of Hans Richter (all famous). Critical reaction was mixed. The influential critic Eduard Hanslick called it "long and pretentious" and said that it "brought us face to face with the revolting thought that music can exist which stinks to the ear". Hanslick also wrote that "the violin was not played but beaten black and blue", as well as labelling the last movement "odorously Russian". Nice chap. The concerto has of course since become one of the most cherished pieces in the classical repertoire although not played that frequently as it is so difficult and demanding for the violinist! Brilliant recordings of the concerto exist by amazing violinists David Oistrach, and Julia Fischer and others. On March 6th, 2011, I heard the Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov play it with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Susanna M√§lkki at the Royal Festival Hall in London. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky

David Oistrach - the finest violinist ever?

Valeriy Sokolov

This is the time of year when I am spellbound by nature’s colours. The autumnal colours seem particularly strong this year (did I say that last year too?). I love this season. We have been blessed with mild, sunny autumn days plus a few crisps mornings and far less grey and blandness than usual. I think this is my favourite season. Here are a few pictures that start to demonstrate the colorfulness that fascinates and delights me.

Bush in our neighbour's front garden
Amazing profusion of pyracanthas
Road near us

“It's unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money - that's all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do."

John Ruskin

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