Beware of the Queen
There is a certain euphoria in the air….the House of Commons, so long a lickspittle of succeeding governments, told the current one where to go.
The Legislature had landed one full on the nose of the Executive and the Prime Minister was thwarted in his aim of bringing about British participation in American led strikes against Syria.

I am not euphoric….there was crass arrogance and bad management in whipping in the vote on the government side.
Ministers were allowed to absent themselves for ‘family reasons’, ‘holidays’ etc., while two of those actually in the Palace of Westminster managed not to hear the division bell – none so deaf as those who won’t hear….
A more professional performance would have had wiped out the thirteen vote margin by which the government were defeated and the way would have been open for preparations to be made pending a final vote in the House on taking Britain into yet another armed conflict alongside America.

Not, in theory, that the government needs Parliamentary approval to make arms manufacturers rich and mutilate and kill the children of the poor.
Since 2003 there has been an ‘understanding’ that there will be a vote in the House; an ‘understanding’ brokered under Blair, anxious to legitimise his breach of international law in the invasion of Iraq.
But it is only an ‘understanding’.
It has not yet grown into a ‘convention’ – one of those fixed ‘understandings’ which form the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom – and as such cannot claim to have overtaken that constitutional relic….the royal prerogative power to take the nation to war.

I doubt it was noted in the news media, but, victory in the House attained, the leader of the opposition specifically asked the Prime Minister for assurances that the prerogative powers would not be used to achieve his ends despite the vote and those assurances were received.
The constitutional relic is alive and kicking.

It is customary to refer to the Queen as a constitutional monarch, her powers limited by law and exercised on her behalf by government….innocuous indeed, allowing her to concern herself with the receipt of sturgeon and the award of membership of a limited number of the Orders of chivalry…the Garter, the Thistle and the Royal Victorian.

So why should you beware of the Queen?

For the very reason that the prerogative powers are vested in the person of the monarch.
The monarch who is regarded as the fountain of justice and as such immune from criminal prosecution and civil action in the courts.

So? That’s a problem?

Not necessarily in the person of the monarch….but those exercising the prerogative powers on her behalf – the government – claim the same immunity, thus limiting the power of the citizen to ask the courts for redress for government action.

The courts are not without resources…judicial review…the Human Rights Act ….but the problem remains that decisions regarding war and peace, and the power to take measures of internal control when there is no state of emergency give a great deal of power to government to act with neither debate nor discussion and leave the aggrieved citizen – or the relatives of those killed as a result of government action – to rustle up the money to challenge them in court.

There have been attempts to abolish the prerogative powers…there have been consultative committees….but in the end the government claims that it is too hard to disentangle prerogative powers from surrounding legislation and they continue on their stealthy way: relics of an old power, zombies of a new.

In this post democratic age, when the House of Commons – unworthy descendent of Mr.Speaker Lenthall , Wilkes and Bradlaugh – manages a last kick, let us hope that it will manage yet another and reduce the royal prerogative powers to a relic of history, instead of a harbinger of yet more behind the scenes control.


With, hey! the dongle o’er the dale…


The name of the thing itself conjures up visions…or their auricular equivalents…of Benny Hill’s ‘I have got a hosepipe’ and Kenneth Williams’ ‘Song of the Bogle Clencher’, so you might imagine my astonishment when my request for internet access at an O2 outlet in Southampton was met by an offer of a ‘dongle’ from a very personable young man.

My flabber has rarely been so ghasted.

He produced his dongle. I was not impressed.
He persisted…he said it would do the trick… and, to my surprise, it did.

After a fashion.

I could read and emit e mails.
I could consult the net….but not all of it.

O2 was intent on protecting me.

I clicked on a dormant blog which serves me as an index.
Part of the blog title is ‘French Fancy’.
O2 had a hissy fit.

It needed to know that I was over eighteen before connecting me and, enough to make anyone north of the border clench their bogles, it also wanted one pound in order to undertake the registration.

Thwarted, I clicked on a current blog I follow…Chez Charnizay, a thoroughly respectable blog just as was French Fancy

Same result.

I suppose that a person brought up in the era when a Presbyterian minister could declare that the Champs Elysees on a Sunday lacked only the flames to make it hell might be aroused to frenzy by the mention of ‘French Fancy….

But…… ‘Chez Charnizay’?

Where do I go from here….?

terraces 001 Here being a hamlet in the hills behind Castellon de la Plana in Spain, a place well off the tourist route and likely to remain so as its airport, built at a cost of some 150 million Euros of public money and declared open in 2011 has yet to see a commercial ‘plane touch down on its runway.
Just as well in some ways as in 2012 the runway was declared too narrow for any hypothetical ‘plane to turn round.

So I didn’t get here by ‘plane.

Nor by train. I had wanted to, but perusal of what French railways laughingly call online timetables meant that all roads, or tracks, led to Paris.
You want to go cross country and pick up the Paris Barcelona service at some intermediate point?
Or pick up the service from Montpellier to the south of Spain?
Forget it.
The gloomy minds of the SNCF nerds responsible for the online timetables can only provide you with main line services or local ones. Very local ones.
And when you’ve spent three hours on a guessing game as to which very local timetable is the neighbour of the last very local timetable you consulted you find that even if you were to succeed in combining them in an infernal sausage link you inevitably end up in Narbonne at some unearthly hour with the prospect of sleeping on the station until the departure of the morning express for Spain.
Bring back the Thomas Cook European railway timetable…its disappearance another blow for civilisation as we knew it.

So, I booked a Eurolines coach for a seventeen hour journey to Castellon.
After the last encounter with Eurolines, notable for standing in a wind tunnel outside Lille station at five o’clock on a winter morning you would think I would have learned my lesson…but I persuaded myself that
A. Despite the violent overnight thunderstorms it was now summer.
B. There were no changes of coach to be made.
C. It was over one hundred Euros cheaper than taking the train.

Arriving at Poitiers from my one horse dorp on the bus which has replaced the train in rural areas I found that the station area resembled a Cecil B. de Mille crowd scene: the overnight storms had brought down trees which in their turn had brought down power lines and blocked the tracks.
Nothing had stirred since the early morning.

Thank goodness for Eurolines.

I had a seat to myself as far as Toulouse but the next eleven hours were spent with limited legroom, the journey broken up by the usual loo stops – the last of these being, by unlucky chance, only forty kilometres from my destination.
I staggered off the coach at Castellon and headed for the hotel across the road.
An inexpensive room with wifi and, bliss, a full size bath. I soaked there for ages before going to bed and sleeping for six straight hours.
I am not as young as I was.

And then to the house.
The gentleman holding the keys had come into town to collect me – the only bus being late in the afternoon – and we drove out through the remains of a once booming ceramic tile industry…derelict sites lying back from the road….into a countryside of scrub, olives and almonds the road rising and turning before dropping down into a broad valley surrounded by mountains.

A couple of villages, stony tracks leading off the road itself, pig farms, silos poking above the trees like cold war missiles, then turning off on a track between trees and fields of tomatoes…not staked, but sprawling over the golden ground…and with a final heave up the slope we are there.

spain 005 At the house I first saw in photographs over a year ago and last saw in the flesh in winter.

Our pied a terre in Europe…..

We’re out of France!