The Dark Magic of the Msoura Ring

“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

In the north of Morocco, in the countryside south of Tangier, is an ancient site known as Msoura, or the Msoura Ring. To provide the simplest and the shortest description, Msoura is made up of a circle or ellipse of 167 standing stones, the largest of which is known as El Uted, or The Pointer, which stands over 5 meters high. Most of these huge stones seem to have been broken at some point, while other megaliths lie fallen elsewhere in the vicinity.

Inside this stone circle lie the remains of a vast tumulus or burial mound, described as fifty-five meters across and six meters high. As far as I understand, we do not know if the tumulus predates the stone circle, if the circle predates the tumulus or if both structures were raised at the same time. There is a cornucopia of fascinating aspects to this site and I will present just a few of them in this post, but good manners compel me to make clear at the start that I shall leave the curious reader to discover the vast majority of the details for himself or herself, as I wouldn’t knowingly deprive another soul of the intense pleasure that arises from the prolonged contemplation of these matters.

There seems to have been a belief that the giant Antaeus was buried in this place after losing his fight with Hercules, who fought and slew Antaeus either before or after his visit to the Garden of the Hesperides to steal the golden apples. There seems to be little doubt that Plutarch wrote in some detail about this strange tomb in an intriguing passage in his description of the life of the Roman general Sertorius [123 – 72 BC]:

“His [Sertorius’s] arrival in Mauritania being very acceptable to the Moors, he lost no time, but immediately giving battle to Ascalis, beat him out of the field and besieged him; and Paccianus being sent by Sylla, with a powerful supply, to raise the siege, Sertorius slew him in the field, gained over all his forces, and took the city of Tingis, into which Ascalis and his brothers were fled for refuge. The Africans tell that Antaeus was buried in this city, and Sertorius had the grave opened, doubting the story because of the prodigious size, and finding there his body, in effect, it is said, full sixty cubits long, he was infinitely astonished, offered sacrifice, and heaped up the tomb again, gave his confirmation to the story, and added new honours to the memory of Antaeus. The Africans tell that after the death of Antaeus, his wife Tinga lived with Hercules, and had a son by him called Sophax, who was king of these countries, and gave his mother’s name to this city, whose son, also, was Diodorus, a great conqueror, who brought the greatest part of the Libyan tribes under his subjection, with an army of Greeks, raised out of the colonies of the Olbians and Myceneans placed here by Hercules.”

I’m sure that a detailed study of Plutarch’s original text would repay the time and trouble put into it, but Dryden’s translation shows that something truly extraordinary took place. To begin with, however, there is a problem with the location of the grave, as Plutarch repeats the words of the Africans, that Antaeus was buried in the city of Tingis, or modern Tangier, whereas the Msoura Ring is some miles to the south. It may be that Plutarch’s original text allows for a sense of the grave to lie with the boundaries of a city state, or in a realm or region ruled over by a city, but this remains to be seen.

Be that as it may, the sense of the account of Sertorius being made aware of the grave strongly suggests that while he accepted that Antaeus was a historical figure rather than one from mythology and was furthermore a giant, the tumulus or burial mound was so huge that he doubted that any giant could have been so big. If Sertorius had possessed even a passing interest in these matters, he must surely have known that burial mounds or tumuli were always bigger, to a greater or lesser extent, that those entombed within them, so a huge mound would not have automatically suggested the presence within of an almost equally huge corpse.

Logic further suggests that when Sertorius was told about this being the grave of Antaeus, his informants must have assured him that a truly colossal set of bones was buried beneath the mound, as Plutarch tells us in as many words that Sertorius had the tumulus opened to prove or disprove the incredible assertions that had been made to him. Of course, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of any archaeologist or scientist admitting that there were once giants, let alone towering creatures to whom we were virtually ants by comparison, but Plutarch is admirably and unambiguously clear on this point.

He tells us that “…finding there his body, in effect, it is said, full sixty cubits long, he was infinitely astonished…” I’m not remotely surprised that Sertorius was infinitely astonished, because by my embarrassingly amateurish calculations, the remains that Sertorius’s men discovered in that unearthly tomb must have been roughly ninety feet tall.

We might not have been surprised if Plutarch had ended the story there, perhaps finishing with something along the lines of “Or so the old story goes” as a minor postscript or qualifier, but he did not. Instead, he records that after Sertorius had been infinitely astonished by the sheer size of the body he’d seen, he “…offered sacrifice, and heaped up the tomb again, gave his confirmation to the story, and added new honours to the memory of Antaeus.” It’s hard to imagine a more positive affirmation that this grave once held an unimaginably huge body than the one we have seen in Plutarch’s detailed account, but there are many other intriguing aspects to this ruin that is astonishingly so little-known.

The Msoura Ring may be a forgotten ruin in the middle of nowhere, but it seems that there’s a very good chance that we know some concrete details about it from antiquity, thanks to Plutarch. For example, we can reasonably infer from his account that the people of the region were so insistent that the body of Antaeus, an inconceivably huge giant, was buried in the mound, that their faith and lurid tales prompted a Roman general to get his men to unearth this giant’s remains, so that he could see and judge for himself.

Careful and meticulous excavation of the site ought to be able to tell us if the tumulus was indeed opened in the early part of the first century BC, when Sertorius was in the region, while it’s not unthinkable that evidence might be found of some of the other things that Plutarch mentioned, such as rebuilding of the mound at that time and propitiatory sacrifices of some kind. After all,  in recent times, Stonehenge has suffered centuries of abuse and destruction, including a terrible period during the 1950s and 1960s under the archaeologist Professor Richard Atkinson, but we are still occasionally able to glean knowledge of minor wonders from its remains. Some of this is due to archaeological excavation and subsequent study, but I’ve personally spent around two decades finding illuminating original information on Stonehenge from other sources.

Just one of the many things that consistently amazes me about Stonehenge is the way in which it is always described as a mysterious place with unknown origins, yet just as is the case with the Msoura Ring, we have a clear, detailed written account of how it came into being. This account or history was provided by the 12th century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth, who said that Stonehenge was intended as a memorial by King Aurelius to the three hundred British elders of King Vortigern who were treacherously slain by Hengist and his household. Aurelius summoned Merlin, who had learned of the king’s wishes for a memorial and the wizard replied to them in this now famous exchange:

“If you are desirous,” said Merlin, “to honor the burying-place of these men with an everlasting monument, send for the Giant’s Dance [Stonehenge], which is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland. For there is a structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise, without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts. They are stones of a vast magnitude and wonderful quality; and if they can be placed here, as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand forever.”

At these words of Merlin, Aurelius burst into laughter, and said, “How is it possible to remove such vast stones from so distant a country, as if Britain was not furnished with stones fit for the work?”

Merlin replied: “I entreat your majesty to forbear vain laughter; for what I say is without vanity. They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue. The giants of old brought them from the farthest coasts of Africa, and placed them in Ireland, while they inhabited that country. Their design in this was to make baths in them, when they should be taken with any illness. For their method was to wash the stones, and put their sick into the water, which infallibly cured them. With the like success they cured wounds also, adding only the application of some herbs. There is not a stone there which has not some healing virtue.”

Naturally, one highly intriguing aspect of these revelations of the origins of Stonehenge by Merlin is that the stones were brought to Ireland, apparently, by giants of old from the farthest coasts of Africa. One would imagine that the location of the farthest coasts of Africa would depend on a number of factors, one necessarily being the land in which an observer was writing, but there’s a good case to be made that the precise area in which the enigmatic Msoura stone circle is situated was regarded as one of these “farthest coasts”.

Without going into the vast amount of enchanting detail available on the subject, we know that the Garden of the Hesperides, the place to which Hercules travelled to fulfill his eleventh labour, slaying Antaeus somewhere along the way, was thought to be in the region of the Atlas mountains of north Africa and close to what we now call the Atlantic Ocean; in other words, as far as the Greeks and Hercules himself were concerned, they were the farthest coasts of Africa, far to the west where the sun set and where the Earth was girdled by the River of Ocean. How strange it is, then, bearing in mind Merlin’s description of the origin of Stonehenge, for us to learn of the discovery in antiquity of the body of a real giant, an event that was recorded as an historical happening rather than as a legend, while this giant’s tomb lay inside a huge stone circle at the farthest coasts of Africa.

The wonders do not end there, though, because I learn from elsewhere on the internet that in former times, the Berber people inhabiting the area believed that the stones and the tumulus had been raised by Djouhalas, or pagan giants from a time predating Islam. I do not know if this is true or not, but if it is, it is yet another intriguing echo of what Geoffrey of Monmouth told us about the origins of Stonehenge.

I also understand from a number of sources that the name “Mzoura” means “The First Ones”, but I do not know if this is true, either, while if it is indeed reliable, I do not know which “ones” are referred to. It may well have been remarked upon elsewhere by others before me, but when I pore over Plutarch’s description of the body of Antaeus being sixty cubits long, I am immediately reminded of an Islamic tradition that says that Allah created Adam and made him sixty cubits tall, although I don’t know if this size was said to have existed on Earth or later in Paradise, after Adam’s death. Either way, I find it to be an absolutely amazing coincidence that Adam was indisputably one of the ‘first ones’ or first human beings created on Earth and that there’s a well-documented tradition saying that at some point, he measured sixty cubits, while there exists a written record of a body measuring sixty cubits having been found in a set of ruins known as “The First Ones”.

I could continue in this vein for hours more, because as I said towards the start of this post, there is a cornucopia of fascinating aspects to this site. As I have detailed above, the Msoura Ring has a number of tantalising links to Stonehenge, which in turn is arguably the world’s most famous and enigmatic prehistoric site, to which roughly a million visitors a year are drawn. Stonehenge is rarely out of the news, but nowhere will you find so much as a mention of the Msoura Ring in connection with it, as far as officialdom is concerned.

A reasonable person might think that after Professor Atkinson’s rampage at Stonehenge, at the end of which he referred to the original builders of the monument as “Practically savages – howling barbarians”, the present custodians of Stonehenge might feel the need to inform the public about this astonishing monument to the fullest extent possible by way of compensating for the way that Atkinson ransacked the site for years, yet only published a bare minimum of his findings before he died.

As things stand, however, the amount of illuminating, thought-provoking information on Stonehenge available online to a casual enquirer from the general public is minimal, particularly so if the unfortunate querent is naive enough to go to what one might call an “official” source in the course of their search for enlightenment. When there is scant official acknowledgement that sites such as Bluestonehenge and the “Cradle of Stonehenge” at Blick Mead even exist, then we cannot be surprised that such seemingly exotic, Stonehenge-related subjects such as the Druids, the missing altar stone, Stukeley’s tablet of tin whose loss is “eternally to be lamented”, the Msoura Ring and countless others aren’t deemed worthy of mention in polite circles, let alone discussion.

Nonetheless, along with beliefs from a former time that Stonehenge was the last resting place of Boadicea, or that it was once visited by Joseph of Arimathea, these endlessly fascinating subjects comprise our intangible cultural heritage, so they deserve not just to be preserved, but to be promoted far and wide so that as many people as possible the world over can bask in the sense of wonderment that inevitably ensues from prolonged contemplation of these arcane and enchanting things.

There are others besides myself who are captivated by the enchantment that permeates the Stonehenge landscape and seek to preserve it, one being Austin Kinsley, creator of the Silent Earth site. On this occasion, I am indebted to my American friend of long standing Andrew Gough, who recently visited the Msoura Ring and with typical generosity of spirit, allowed me to use some of the photos he’d taken while he was there.

Andrew was researching the site, after which he presented his extensive findings on an episode of Discovery Science’s “What On Earth” series. This involved speaking to the site’s current caretaker with the help of an Arabic interpreter, while he discovered much else in addition to the meager fare I’ve posted above concerning Sertorius and Stonehenge.

As a few examples, Andrew looked into the curious affair of the Spanish archaeologist Montalban, who extensively excavated the site of Msoura in the 1930s, but who was thrown into prison and who died there before he could publish his findings, so no one seems to know what he discovered there. The site’s guardian informed Andrew that in recent times, the Moroccan military had stood guard at the ruins for days, while there remains the belief in some quarters that treasure is buried there, awaiting discovery.

There are yet more stories of the remote site being cursed, along with tales of some excavators having gone mad, while I’ve read elsewhere that some people in the region are said to refer to it as “The Devil’s Temple”. Anyone who is familiar with the rampages of the antiquarians in Britain and with the voluminous folklore attached to our barrows or burial mounds will find these stories eerily familiar, so in my view, it’s hard to overstate the cultural value that the Msoura Ring holds for us all.

The better-known it becomes, the more likely it will be that our Moroccan brothers and sisters can eventually benefit from something approaching the kind of tourist numbers that Stonehenge or the Giants’ Dance has enjoyed for so long, while we in turn can only become richer through learning of ancient giants, Roman generals and dusty ruins, somewhere on the farthest coasts of Africa.

Once more, I’m enormously grateful to Juris Ozols of MOJO Productions for his infinite patience and technical assistance. All photos taken in Morocco are copyright and the property of Andrew Gough.

“It is not down on any map; true places never are.”
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

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The Forgotten Fairy Origins of “Eldritch”.

I have been familiar with the word ‘eldritch’ for decades, as a result of seeing it appear in the incomparable works of the horror fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft. Knowing Lovecraft’s fondness for what most people today would consider to be exotic language, or exotic English, I had always assumed that ‘eldritch’ was an archaic form of the word ‘old’ or perhaps ‘elder’, because to my partially-trained eye, the words seemed to be related, and also because this meaning always made sense in the context in which it appeared.

Earlier this evening, however, a conversation with my daughter prompted me to look up the word ‘eldritch’ in my battered copy of The Concise Oxford Dictionary and I was astonished by what I saw. Firstly, I was told that the word was Scottish and that it meant either weird or hideous, not old or elder, so I found it hard to believe that I’d been attributing the wrong meaning to it for so long. What really made me sit up and take notice, however, was the rest of the entry for ‘eldritch’, which reads [16th c,: perhaps f.OE elfrice (unrecorded) ‘fairy realm’ ]

I do not claim to be an expert on the way dictionaries are compiled, so I admit that I do not know how the word elfrice can be shown while at the same time being said to be unrecorded, because such a thing seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. That aside, I have long had far more than a passing interest in the subject of fairies, especially in the Caer Sidhe, so I know from personal experience with my investigations into various words associated with Stonehenge and Silbury Hill that an awareness and study of both eldritch and elfrice will inevitably open some gaping portal for me that I never previously suspected existed.

“I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.”
H.P.Lovecraft, Dagon.

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The Choirboys

Last Sunday, my daughter Tanith presented me with a unique and unforgettable handmade card and a very welcome bottle of superior red wine for Father’s Day, while my son Jack bought me a book that had long been missing from my collection, because I had lent my last copy to someone a few years ago and I had never got it back. The book was The Choirboys by the American author Joseph Wambaugh and while its contents were long ago indelibly branded on my memory, it was nonetheless shocking and thrilling to delve once more into the pages of this supreme masterpiece and to be reminded of the tragic and uproarious stories that made such a lasting impression on me when I first encountered them at some point in the late 1970s, not long after the book had first been published.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Choirboys, the title refers to ten policemen who would regularly meet up in a park in the city of Los Angeles after their shifts had finished, to indulge in wild parties that they euphemistically termed ‘choir practise’. They held these ribald celebrations as a means of winding down after the shocking scenes they regularly encountered during the course of their shifts, and also to find solace and understanding from their fellows. At this point, I had yet to read A Clockwork Orange, among others, but I was already familiar with other lurid written material such as The Siege of Trencher’s Farm and the works of Catullus, a Roman poet to whom I’d been introduced by my enlightened Latin teachers.

One of the recurring themes in The Choirboys was the way in which a policeman could commit an act so outrageous that it instantly earned him a macho nickname and which made him the sole topic of conversation throughout all the police stations in the city within twenty-four hours. This seemed to be an echo of events from centuries before in England, when Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hell Fire Club became notorious on account of the activities of its various members, and I’d read about this colourful institution within a few years of picking up my first copy of The Choirboys.

As I suggested in A Tale of Sound & Fury, an autobiographical work I penned a few years ago, I was grateful for the way in which these books opened my eyes to various ways in which I might enjoy myself when I was in my late teens and early twenties, while I always kept an eye out for other people of a broadly similar disposition. While I was leafing through my new copy of The Choirboys prior to reading it once again, I naturally thought of the five years I spent from 1988 to 1991 working as the Earl Marshall on what was then the world’s only touring mediaeval jousting tournament, as I do not remember a solitary day in all that time that could ever be described as boring or mundane.

While I was idly reminiscing about some of the more colourful characters I’ve met over the course of my time, I was also reminded of a former colleague and drinking partner from my time in London, who now seems to have happily taken up residence in the Philippines. Neither my son or daughter could reasonably be described as unworldly, I feel, but they were both stunned and absolutely appalled by just one brief memory of the aforementioned gentlemen, so I feel the nature of the fund of tales I’ve yet to tell bodes well for the next installment of my autobiography, something I’m more and more inclined to start work on.

And by one of those sad coincidences, I learned later that night of the passing of a man by the name of Martin Chandler from Usk, the village in south Wales where I was born and where I grew up. The first time I remember seeing or encountering him was when I was a child at some point in the late 1960s, when he was employed on a building site that produced what would become my family’s home, as well as other houses. Martin drove a dumper truck and he let me ride for a while beside him, something that would simply not happen in these days of micromanaged health and safety regulations. I thought that splashing through great pools of water and scrambling through banks of mud on this growling machine was the most exciting things imaginable and it’s something I’ve never forgotten, so for this reason alone I’m forever indebted to Martin.

As I grew older, I became more and more aware of Martin Chandler’s jaw-dropping social exploits and when I was a teenager, I would often drink alongside him in a few of Usk’s pubs, most notably the Royal Hotel. Some of the stories of what this man got up to after a few pints defy credulity for those who were never lucky enough to meet him, but as the innumerable posts on social media all make clear, he was one of the most colourful characters my home town has ever produced, and a legend in every sense of the word. One of these fine days, I shall have to try to write about my recollections of him in greater detail, because he was also an incredibly amusing and warm-hearted man, but for now, Martin, God bless you and it was a true privilege to have known you.

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In Grateful Memory of Kirsty Boden

I cannot meaningfully add to the expressions of sorrow we all feel for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks here in Britain, but there are nonetheless two people who were caught up in these outrages that I feel compelled to speak about.

The first is the as yet unnamed police officer who is currently in hospital recovering from his knife wounds, the man who rugby tackled one of the rampaging murderers on Saturday night in London. To my mind, it takes a rare degree of bravery to confront, let alone rugby tackle, someone who is not only brandishing a large blade, but who is also wearing a suicide vest, even if this garment later turned out to be a fake. I don’t know what to say other than I wish this man a full and speedy recovery, and that I stand in sheer awe of the courage he displayed when he chose to try to save the lives of others.

The second person I wish to speak about is Kirsty Boden, the young Australian lady in the photo at the top of this post who worked as a nurse in one of the nearby hospitals, so I feel I need to try to explain why her untimely death moved me so much. As I understand it from this BBC article, Kirsty worked in recovery, in theatres, so as I underwent major surgery in a London hospital last year, it follows that I am intensely and eternally grateful to all those like Kirsty who cared for me after my operation.

Furthermore, my wife is a nurse, as is my mother-in-law, an aunty, my younger sister and at least two cousins. I’ve had the rare pleasure of meeting and working with many Australian nurses over the years, while one of them is a godmother to my daughter, so I don’t need to read statements from others about the many fine qualities of these people to know for an absolute fact what wonderful human beings they all are.

Had I happened to meet Kirsty, by some chance, during the course of one of my visits to London, it follows that after everything I’ve just written, I would have deferred to her, I would have  treated her in a respectful fashion, I’d have readily told her of my automatic admiration for her, I’d have offered to buy her a drink and I’d have almost certainly asked her if I could have given her a hug, so in awe am I of Kirsty and all her colleagues in our NHS and elsewhere.

Goodbye and God bless you, Kirsty; thank you for everything you did for your fellow human beings and although we never met, it was a privilege to breathe the same air as you.

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Scipio and Leonardo

Last Saturday, I was browsing through some books on sale at a stall at Exeter’s Respect Festival, when a historical novel dealing with Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus leapt out at me. I had previously read a trilogy of books dealing with Hannibal by the same author, Ross Leckie, so I bought his novel about Scipio instantly, certain in the knowledge that I would thoroughly enjoy it.

It was so good that I buried myself in its pages for long hours on end, without watching television once. My sympathies have always been with Hannibal Barca, the unparalleled Carthaginian general of antiquity, but by simple virtue of the fact that this amazing man spent fourteen years in Italy, destroying every army sent against him, it stands to reason that I have a great deal of admiration for Scipio, the supremely cultured Roman who finally defeated Hannibal in Africa at the battle of Zama.

I could write about these matters for hours on end and long before now, I’ve done precisely that in the form of an essay on the wonderful site run by my friend Salim George Khalaf. All the same, the object of my short post is less to enthuse about the relative qualities of Scipio and Hannibal than it is to celebrate my good fortune, because when I eventually returned home on the Saturday in question, I discovered that my daughter Tanith had bought another book, pictured in the photo at the top of this post, that was a paperback version of the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.

My joy was unbounded when I saw this book, because as far back as the 1970s, I came to view Leonardo da Vinci as possibly the most gifted human being who has ever existed. There was a time, early on, when I thought that we admired Leonardo on account of his surviving sculptures, paintings and sketches, but this was before I became aware that this astonishing man had also committed a great many of his thoughts and observations to print, and that we are fortunate enough that they have survived, for us to wonder at.

So, having gone back in time to the late 3rd century BC to witness a titanic power struggle between Rome and Carthage, a military conflict that devastated northern Italy, I will now be immersing myself in the mind of a man who brought lasting renown to the same region by virtue of his unparalleled genius in so many fields of human endeavour.

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Manchester Attack

For weeks, I’ve been growing more and more angry and exasperated when I’ve been watching television, on account of all the lying, bickering politicians, reporters and supporters. Today, I’ve been hearing stories of little girls with plastic bags burned into their skin and hair, with nails blown into their faces by a bomb, along with most other horrors you’d care to imagine, so I’d give anything for this not to have happened and to be back instead to simply complaining about grown men and women slagging each other off.

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Theresa May, Fox Hunting and the Decline of Christianity

Last week, Theresa May revealed that she has always been in favour of fox hunting, then a few days ago, her party’s published manifesto included a commitment to allow Conservative members of Parliament a free vote on the issue, should the Tories win the forthcoming election. This decision caused outrage and revulsion in many quarters, but I can’t help seeing this apparently self-serving decision in a slightly different light, as I shall describe after I’ve briefly run through some of the more obvious conclusions that can be reasonably drawn from what we now know.

As others have pointed out, there is perhaps an unprecedented degree of hypocrisy at work here, but such a thing is hardly unusual or remarkable in our modern era, when the approval ratings for politics and for all politicians have never been lower. With this woeful track record in mind, it breaks new ground in sheer gall for the prime minister to rule out a second vote on Brexit or on another Scottish referendum on independence, especially when both these votes were so close, yet to allow another vote on whether or not to legalise fox hunting once more, when all the polls I’ve seen show that something in the region of 85% of British voters are firmly against blood sports.

Perhaps there was a time when I would have been outraged by these things, but now, I cannot help but be amused when I see that the Conservative party are vociferously accusing their bemused Labour counterparts of wanting to take Britain back to the 1970s. After all, in 2017, nothing says that you’re a modern, progressive party more than announcing to an incredulous world that you want to reintroduce the barbaric practise of setting a pack of dogs on a wild animal for the pleasure of a few onlookers, but as I’m not the one seeking re-election, I will assume that Conservative party strategists are confident they know what they’re doing and are not going to make fools of themselves.

There are many political issues worth exploring in far greater depth, but I am far more interested in one aspect of Theresa May’s enthusiasm for fox hunting that no one has yet described and delved into, at least not as far as I’m aware. The prime minister is famously the daughter of a vicar, so before I’m accused of unfairly singling out an aspect of her character or history, I would simply say that this matter was covered and indeed highlighted as a positive virtue on page 17 of Friday’s Daily Mail, a newspaper that has shown itself to be Theresa May’s single greatest champion among our media thus far.

If being the daughter of a vicar somehow brings Theresa May qualities that prove useful to her and to the country, then she deserves all the credit going, while any success she achieves in the political arena should reflect well on her faith. On the other hand, I surely cannot be the only person who has more than a passing interest in Christianity, primarily on account of the extensive research I did for my 2009 book, who finds the practise of setting dogs on wild animals for the pleasure of a few onlookers to be completely at odds with the teachings of the central figure in Christianity.

Christianity is in sharp decline in Britain and this 2016 article from the Spectator is as good a summary of the matter as any that I’ve seen recently. I am no analyst, but it seems to me that if Christians are now a minority in Britain, as the figures tell us, and if a small minority of something like 15 or 20% of the population are in favour of blood sports, then a leading Christian figure such as Theresa May is notably going against the tide of history by publicly aligning herself with a pastime that the overwhelming majority of people in Britain view with revulsion.

Most of the indications that I’ve seen suggest that Theresa May and her Conservative party will win at the next election, although I personally doubt that her backing of fox hunting will have made much difference either way if this proves to be the case. However, while the Conservative party may turn out to be in power for the next five years or so, hunting foxes with packs of dogs and with terriers for the depraved practise of digging out continues to wane in popularity, especially among young people.

Unless some kind of miracle occurs, it seems to me that Christianity in Britain is on the way out as well, so when the history of this apparently doomed religion comes to be written, then I strongly suspect that Theresa May will be judged to have played a significant part in the emptying of Britain’s churches and in failing to inspire a new generation to fill these houses of worship, an odd legacy indeed for a churchgoing vicar’s daughter.

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