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July 1 - 7, 2009
Find Simon Heffer and all the Telegraph columnists at telegraph.co.uk/comment
I’ve DIY to do this weekend, which brings St Vitus Cathedral in Prague to mind. The cathedral was started in 1344 and finally finished in 1929, which is roughly the timetable I have in mind myself. Start about quarter to two and finish just in time for supper. If you are given to a Gregorian calendar, St Vitus’ Day is celebrated on June 15.
If, however, you insist on Julian date notation then his feast is 13 days later and celebrated on June 28. As he was, among other things, the patron saint of oversleeping it seems to me entirely appropriate to rouse ourselves to his celebration on the last day possible.
There was a time when people used to take St Vitus’ Day as a fine excuse to dance in a manic fashion before a statue of the poor martyred fellow. This free-form movement led doctors to nickname the neurological condition of chorea (where the patient suffers an abnormal involuntary movement disorder) St Vitus’ Dance. It wasn’t a grand jeté for Vitus to get the gig as patron saint of dancers, comedians and other entertainers.
As, I suspect, there is a fine line between full mental capacity and being in showbusiness, this seems entirely appropriate. What I don’t understand is why Vitus was also given (along with Saints Hubert and Roch) the brief of patron saint for dogs. Mind you, he is also in charge of dog bites, so it may not have been the happiest of relationships.
I like dogs. I am very much a dog person as opposed to a cat person. They are bright creatures. Indeed, I
suspect it is only in the world of dogs that you can find a boxer who is intelligent. Nevertheless, I have some difficulty with people who take canines too seriously. My daughter Jesse and I once entered our Shih Tzu in a dog show at the local fair. Despite the fact that he has an underbite reminiscent of Jimmy Hill broadcasting in a high wind, we thought he was a shoo-in for some prize for cuteness.
We hadn’t reckoned on the seriousness with which even a village dog show is approached. The judge tried to get our beloved pet to stand to attention, at which point the dog slipped his lead and excused himself against the table leg of the rosette stand. We departed against the sort of tsunami of tutting you can also get by having your mobile phone with an amusing ringtone go off during a funeral.
The first “conformation dog show” was held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on June 28. This is a competition for pure-bred dogs, not impure ones like mine whose distant relatives brushed up against something unsavoury in their swim across the gene pool.
The conformation shows represent a curious world where people are described as “fanciers of working dogs” without also being on some warning list held by the local authorities and a bitch is not the woman who stole your grooming brush. Clearly, the participants do it for the love – 22,964 dogs took part in the UK’s biggest annual dog show, Crufts, last year. The winner of the top
prize took home £100. I once took home £100 from bingo and I didn’t have to use a roll of Sellotape to get hair off my clothes afterwards.
I suppose the thing about dogs is that we humans like to believe they really love us. Dogs come when they are called. Cats give you the sense that a more formal invitation would have been preferable and they’ll have to get back to you. Cats have made it very clear from the beginning of time that affection has nothing to do with their interaction with humans. Homeless
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people don’t have cats because felines give up on them the moment having a home becomes an issue.
I like to think my dog understands me but I do wonder how much of the “man’s best friend” imagery is in our imagination. Take Henry VIII. He had dogs all his life and, in the moments when the wife was being a bit tricky, probably thought that at least his canines were on his side. He came to a rather smelly end and his bloated body was shipped off to Windsor for burial. Sometime during the night his funeral director took his eye off the ball and, although I hate to tell you this if you are snacking on something, his coffin burst open and in the morning dogs were found licking his remains.
Perhaps what we all really like is the cartoon notion of the loyal pup. Years ago, I took my now grown-up daughter to Disneyland Paris. It is a place filled with St Vitus’ entertainers, many of whom spend their days in faux fur outfits pretending to be Disney characters who adore children.
Despite her disheartening Shih Tzushowing experience, Jesse loves dogs and was delighted when we encountered Mickey’s pet Pluto. He bent down to be stroked and, as he wandered off, she whispered to me: “That’s not a real dog.” I watched the six-feet-tall man in bright orange fur wander off on two legs and turned to my four-year-old. “How could you tell?” I inquired. “His nose wasn’t wet,” she replied.
From The Sunday Telegraph, June 28
Michael Wright C’est La Folie
Ever since a mouse ran up the kitchen wall at La Folie and hid behind the clock, Amélie’s favourite nursery rhyme has been “Hickory Dickory Dock”. But now that she and I have planted marigolds, pansies and sunflowers in that designated corner of the vegetable patch where our two-year-old Dimmock-in-waiting is licensed to wield her toy rake, I am wondering if “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” will take its place at the top of the charts. I like it when nursery rhymes come to life.
On the other hand, I have become quite fed up with “Jack and the Beanstalk” at bedtime, ever since the single French bean plant that we planted in Amélie’s garden started growing so much faster than any of mine. I know she only asks me to tell the story again and again to taunt me.
Family rivalries aside, I have been working extra hard in the “ potager” recently because Gilles is coming to La Folie to shear the Rastafarians. And my vegetable social worker, as Alice now calls him, will, I know, be casting a beady eye over the former jungle that he came and ploughed for me a few weeks ago. If I cannot aspire to a gold star, I am at hoping to avoid his
withering disdain. True to form, the first thing Gilles does when he arrives is to wander down to my jungle kingdom, where he stands for several seconds, his head motionless as his eyes dart over the wonky rows. And then he wanders back, shaking his head as slowly as a toy bulldog swaying on the parcel-shelf of a Vectra. My heart sinks.
“ C’est propre,” he says, with a shrug of disbelief. “ C’est vraiment propre.”
This is probably the nicest thing anyone has said to me all year: Gilles approves of my vegetable patch, for it is weed-free – and liable to remain thus for, oh, the next five minutes at least. I sense that the French love it when things are “ propre”. Not so much clean, exactly, but neat and tidy. In Britain, from the arrangement of our sofas to the layout of our herbaceous borders, we have a weakness for the wild; the offbeat; the higgledypiggledy. The French, by comparison, appreciate straight lines and polish far more than the Impressionists would have us believe.
Unfortunately, I forgot to remind my sheep about this before the arrival of their hairdresser. The Rastafarians absolutely do not want to be shorn. I haul them into the barber’s chair
easily enough. But no sooner has the buzzing started, and Gilles has begun to prod the blurred blades of the clippers through Daphne’s chestnut chest fur, than Gilles begins to curse. Before he even starts on Doris, his second victim, he yanks the cord that silences the Lister shearing machine, dives into an ancient wooden chest for a screwdriver, and starts calling his equipment some very rude names.
“What’s the problem?” I ask, innocently.
“ Ça ne va pas,” he growls, unscrewing the overlapping combs of the shears and beginning to scrape black gunk from between the teeth.
“Something wrong with the machine?”
“Something wrong with your sheep.” Now blaming one’s tools is all very well, but casting aspersions on another fellow’s beasts does seem a little infra dig. “Actually, it’s both,” adds Gilles, softening. “The shears aren’t cutting properly, because your sheep haven’t sweated enough.”
“But I’ve had them cooped up in their ‘ cabane’ since first thing, and it’s a hot day…”
“ C’est le vent du nord,” says Gilles, shaking his head again.
“It’s the north wind,” he explains. “No good for sheep shearing. You want a south wind. Look how dry the sheep are.” Now that he mentions it, I realise that my hands are dry and tacky after handling the sheep, rather than oily and slick with lanolin as you’d expect.
“But surely the wind can’t dry the oil from a sheep’s wool?”
“The north wind can,” he says. My old friend soldiers on with this task, though I can see that it’s a bit like trying to shave a squad of hairy pensioners with a blunt razor. Alice brings Amélie out to watch.
“Sheep… haircut?” asks Amélie. “Yes, and look: here’s all their wool.” I open one of the bin-liners of dark chocolate wool that I have collected. I didn’t make it three on purpose; it just worked out that way. But I can see her mind whirring.
“Three bag foo?” she asks, her head on one side.
“That’s right,” I laugh. And I dare to think that “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” will always mean more, much more, to our trainee shepherdess than it ever meant to me.
Þ Read more of Michael Wright’s comic adventures of living in rural France at www.telegraph.co.uk/expat telegraph.co.uk/expat
Global vision All the news from around the planet telegraph.co.uk/world T
July 1 - 7, 2009
By Damien McElroy Foreign Affairs Correspondent
AMID CONTINUING AngloIranian tensions, eight British embassy employees were arrested on Sunday over accusations they were involved in the post-election unrest.
“Eight people were arrested. Five were freed and three are still being interrogated,” Hassan Ghashghavi, a ministry spokesman, said at a press conference in Tehran on Monday.
State media had previously reported that nine staff had been held following riots in the wake of the disputed presidential election.
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, described the detention of local employees at the British embassy as “completely unacceptable”, while the EU warned of a “strong and collective reponse” to harassment.
The arrests followedthe
Journalist Jason Fowden was among UK passport holders detained for ‘underground activities’
expulsion last week of two Iranian diplomats by Britain, after Tehran threw out two British diplomats, claiming they were spies.
Gordon Brown last Tuesday told the Commons that Rasoul Movahedian, the Iranian ambassador, had been told that two of his staff must go home. “Iran yesterday took the unjustified step of expelling two British diplomats over allegations which are absolutely without foundation,” he said. “In response to that action, we informed the Iranian ambassador today that we would expel two Iranian diplomats from their embassy in London.”
The British diplomats had been told their expulsion was for unwarranted interference in domestic affairs, a Foreign Office official said.
Britain has been subjected to increasingly lurid allegations from Iran since riots broke out
after the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hard-line president, earlier in June. Iran has accused London of sending spies to exploit political divisions, and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denounced Britain as “most evil” in a speech heralding bloody attacks on protesters.
Britain has demanded consular access to any Britons in Iranian custody after a report that a UK citizen was among five foreigners arrested over the protests there.
Fatameh Shams, a student at St Antony’s College, Oxford, said her husband, Mohammadreza Jalaeipour, had not been heard from since he had been held at Tehran airport on June 17.
It emerged last Wednesday that British journalist, Jason Fowden, who had been working for The Washington Times, was among UK passport holders who had been detained for “underground” activities.
The Washington Times, which commissioned him to work in Iran, said it stood by his journalistic credentials.
Last Friday, Iran’s hard-line regime warned the leaders of the protests that they were “worthy of execution”. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a member of the clerical leadership, used Friday prayers at Tehran University to accuse the regime’s opponents of “rioting” in defiance of God’s will. Those arrested should be punished harshly, he said, while their leaders could face the death penalty as enemies of the Islamic republic.
The authorities have taken a stronger line in the absence of mass demonstrations, which ended after a brutal police and militia response led to the deaths of dozens of people.
President Barack Obama and the G8 foreign ministers condemned Iran’s repression of the pro-democracy demonstrations, which began after Mr Ahmadinejad was declared re-elected on June 12. Protesters allege vote rigging.
Mr Obama praised the protesters, dismissing as “not serious” Mr Ahmadinejad’s demand for an apology for what he claimed was American interference in the election.
By Damien McElroy
IRAN has banned memorials for a young woman whose death has become the focal point of protests against the clerical regime.
Neda Agha Soltan, 27, was named the “Angel of Freedom” after a video appearing to show her being shot by a government sniper was posted on the internet.
The graphic scenes show Neda – her name means “the call” – walking with her father among demonstrators before she is seen lying on the ground covered in blood as attempts are made to save her life. The video, which was posted online on June 20 and has been viewed hundreds of
By Damien McElroy
IRANIANS are sending millions of pounds out of the country after the mass demonstrations that have paralysed commercial life. Fears of a new round of crippling sanctions are also thought to have increased the rate in which money is being withdrawn.
Western intelligence agencies are reporting that prominent private businesses
The death of Neda Agha Soltan was filmed by protesters after she was reportedly shot by a pro-government militiaman
thousands of times, appears to show blood pouring from the nose and mouth of Ms Soltan as she lies on a Tehran street.
Bystanders desperately tend to the woman, who wears jeans, a black jacket and an Islamic headscarf. Her eyes roll back as blood spreads across her face. People around her scream and a white-haired man tells her: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid!”
Online posters of the woman have emerged, including one modelled on a prominent image of Barack Obama during the US presidential campaign. There has been speculation the image will come to symbolise the protest in the same way as that of the unnamed man
standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and the summary execution of a Vietnamese Communist prisoner by Col Nguyen Ngoc Loan in 1968.
Messages of sympathy and outrage flooded the internet following the posting of the video on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. A Facebook page entitled “Angel of Iran” has been set up to honour her. Bloggers and Twitter messages have called her: “Neda: Angel of Freedom”.
The people who originally posted the video on YouTube and Facebook said Ms Soltan was shot by a pro-government militia member, but foreign media have been banned from covering the demonstrations,
making it impossible to verify the authenticity of the video.
Photos of Ms Soltan have been used at demonstrations around the world. Police broke up a gathering of 1,000 people in Tehran’s Haft-e Tir square after online calls for protesters to pay tribute to her.
The Iranian authorities last week sent out a circular to mosques banning collective prayers for the woman.
In Washington, the son of the late shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, produced an image of the alleged slain protester from his pocket alongside pictures of his family. “I have added [Ms Soltan] to the list of my daughters. She is now forever in my pocket,” he said, fighting back tears.
and wealthy families are moving tens of millions of dollars out of Iranian banks into overseas accounts.
The Italian foreign intelligence service is said to have detected multiple transactions, each of up to £6.1million, by Iran’s big four banks on behalf of Iranian families seeking a safe haven.
Iran has already been hit by three rounds of financial sanctions from the United Nations over its nuclear
programme. The UN has limited its access to international finance and trade. In Britain, a spokesman for the Treasury hinted that further action could be taken, particularly in relation to Mojbata Khamenei, the son of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, who runs his father’s office.
“We do not have this person on the sanctions list and while we do put people on the list on human rights grounds we
do it very much in conjunction with the EU and the UN,” the spokesman said. “We can be very aggressive in pushing within those bodies, though I’m not saying we’re doing so in this case.”
Meanwhile, one of Iran’s leading foreign investors, the Austrian oil and gas firm OMV, said it would not invest any more money in a large offshore gas project and gave warning that it would pull out if I ran demanded more cash.