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Somerset Notebook

10 November 2012

9:00 AM

10 November 2012

9:00 AM

When we looked out of the window last Sunday morning to see thick snow blotting out the Mendip hills above our Somerset village, I’m afraid I immediately thought: ‘The Gore Effect.’ The previous evening, I had been reading how poor Al Gore had belatedly jumped on the latest warmist bandwagon by ascribing Storm Sandy to global warming. It was in 2004 that climate sceptics first noted the Gore Effect when his visits to Boston and New York to preach his warming gospel coincided with the lowest temperatures those cities had known for half a century. In 2006, his tours of New Zealand and Australia to promote An Inconvenient Truth coincided with abnormal snowfalls, including the first seen in Queensland for 65 years. A visit to Italy in December 2008 brought freak snow as far south as Sicily. In 2009, when he testified on global warming to the Senate, blizzards closed Washington schools. Gore himself stayed away from that year’s mammoth Copenhagen climate conference, a fiasco compounded when the city was carpeted in six inches of snow. But the Gore Effect’s greatest triumph came four years ago last week when, as MPs were about to vote almost unanimously for the Climate Change Bill, the maddest and most expensive law ever passed by parliament, Peter Lilley drew the House’s attention to the fact that, outside in Parliament Square, London was seeing its first October snow in 74 years.

The disgrace of Denis MacShane, the relentlessly Europhile MP forced to resign after claiming £12,500 from the taxpayer on invoices forged by himself from a non-existent European Policy Institute, has raised two puzzles. One is why the CPS cannot prosecute him for fraud, because his own admission of guilt is allegedly protected by parliamentary privilege. The other is why such a tireless servant of the EU’s propaganda machine had to resort to such trickery when his friends in Brussels could surely have found more legitimate ways to reward him for all his good work. When Tom Spencer had to resign as a Tory MEP in 1999 after being fined for bringing a suitcase full of gay pornography and two marijuana cigarettes into the UK from Amsterdam, he soon landed on his feet with a trail of professorships in EU-related matters at various universities and was touring the world at the EU’s expense, lecturing on such matters as Europe and climate change. Mr MacShane must hope that Brussels will once again look after its own.

I recently spoke at the London Screenwriters Festival on my book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. To mark last month’s 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film, showing how the hero travelled across the world to slay the monstrous Dr No who was threatening to destroy the West, I began by tracing the remarkable similarities of its plot with the episode in the earliest story of which we have record, describing how the hero Gilgamesh journeyed across the world to save his kingdom by slaying the monstrous giant Humbaba. The success of the Bond stories, as I suggested, lies in how well they dress up in modern clothes the most basic archetypal plot of them all, Overcoming the Monster. The latest example, Skyfall, has won praise for exploring more than ever before the ambiguities of Bond’s relationship with M, played by Judi Dench. As John Pearson showed in his biography of Ian Fleming, Bond was very much a projection of Fleming’s own fantasy self, and in the days when his imperious boss was a man, it might have been thought that M was similarly Fleming’s projection of the father-figure he lost with his father’s death in the Great War. But the most difficult relationship in Fleming’s life, as Pearson recounted, and which gave rise to much else — such as his callous, immature treatment of so many women — was that with his imperiously dominating mother. And, as Pearson tellingly revealed, the creator of Bond always referred to his mother as ‘M’. The choice of Judi Dench to play M was perhaps more appropriate than the scriptwriters realised.

In his entertaining column last week about Edward Heath, Alexander Chancellor told how Heath was given by the Pope a beautifully hand-bound set of facsimiles of all of Palestrina’s music in the Vatican library. In return, Heath gave the Pope a CD of himself conducting the LSO. This uncannily echoed a story told by my old friend Sydney Evans, who was Dean of Salisbury when Heath moved into Arundells, the handsome Queen Anne house across the Close. Shortly after arriving, Heath invited Evans and various local dignitaries for lunch and a tour of his new home, culminating in a visit to the great man’s study, packed with personal memorabilia. The pièce de résistance was a magnificent Persian rug, which Heath told them had been a present from the Shah of Persia. ‘It must be awkward to be given something so valuable,’ observed Evans. ‘Were you expected to give a present in return?’ ‘Oh yes,’ replied Heath. ‘I gave him a signed photograph of myself.’

This week last year, I picked seven pounds of sloes from just two bushes, a record haul in all the 40 years I’ve been making sloe gin. This year, thanks to that wettest ever April when the blackthorn was in flower, the total yield from all the 50 bushes in the same field was just 12 sloes. No doubt Al Gore would blame this on global warming, but fortunately last year’s bumper harvest produced enough bottles to provide our village’s annual harvest auction with enough of its most prized item for several years to come.

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