Alexander Chancellor's Week

The Good Prince
March 1 2002 1:30 PM

Alexander Chancellor's Week

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Well, the weekend has arrived, and I'm off to the country. My wife and daughter await me there. I must bring them supplies of organic food, for this is difficult to find in the country. Country people love genetic modification and despise any food that sacrifices profit to purity. My wife has also asked me to bring her a supply of Gitanes tipped cigarettes, for these are not popular in the English countryside either and not easily available there. Not only are they French, but they have a worryingly organic feel to them. The tobacco is rough and black and doesn't like to stay alight, unlike the wonderful, golden, chemical-saturated tobacco from Virginia that is used in English cigarettes. One thing that puzzles me about organically grown vegetables is that they are always so dirty. GM vegetables also come out of the ground, where soil must stick to them as it does to their organic cousins, but they are normally very clean. Organic vegetables, on the other hand, and especially potatoes, are always coated with dirt. They cost a lot more than GM vegetables, so why doesn't somebody clean them before putting them on sale? Perhaps dirt is one of their principal selling points. The local farmer runs a gun club in the wood next to my house in the country where they shoot clay pigeons every other Sunday morning, creating such a din that it is like living in the middle of the Battle of the Somme. He says that the fact I don't like this shows I am not a proper countryman. OK, I live mainly in London. But it doesn't feel like a country pursuit to rattle lead shot on my roof and fill my field with broken clay pigeons. Curiously, the farmer is against shooting birds, which really is a country pursuit. You couldn't call him a conservationist. He is totally opposed to anything (like trees) that stand in the way of efficient, chemical-based farming. But he seems to have a soft spot for pheasants, which are not native British birds at all, but Asian immigrants that survive in Britain only because of artificial breeding for sport. He doesn't like human Asian immigrants, of course. He regards them as chiefly responsible for this country's decline. But it's nice to know that he has a humane side.

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The Queen's Golden Jubilee tour of Australia has been running into problems. It is no fault of hers that the Governor-General, a former Episcopal bishop of Brisbane, is mired in a national scandal about him once having protected paedophile priests in his diocese. It is not even the Queen who chose him for her representative in Australia, he is appointed on the recommendation of her Australian government. But the scandal has generated a nasty smell around the royal tour and made the survival of the monarchy in Australia seem even more unlikely in the long term than it did before. It has to be said that her husband, Prince Philip, hasn't helped the monarchist cause by asking an aboriginal leader: "Do you still throw spears at each other?" The Prince, bored by more than half a century in the passive role of royal consort, specialises in this kind of remark. On a visit to China, he once referred to the Chinese as "slitty-eyed". The Australian tribal leader, William Brin, to whom he addressed the enquiry, said he wasn't offended but "surprised". "I just told him: 'No, we don't do that any more'," he said. There has been the predictable outcry, but it doesn't seem an altogether unreasonable question, given the tendency of some Australian aboriginals to emphasise their tribal roots by dancing semi-naked, painting their bodies, and doing other old-fashioned things. Who knows? They might easily still throw spears at each other. But obviously it was unwise of the Prince to ask the question. It may be that he suffers from the newly identified Irritable Male Syndrome. Sir Clement Freud, grandson of Sigmund, brother of Lucian, and a former Liberal member of Parliament, defended such irritability in the Daily Mail this morning. "Good men, in my view, are gruff and grumpy, quick to take offence, sullen, cranky, crabbed and cross," he wrote. By this definition, Prince Philip is certainly a good man.

Alexander Chancellor is a co-editor of Slate UK.

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