THIS WEEKEND, London's Olympia will host the annual International Show Jumping Championships and the audience, at the end of each performance, will be invited to join in Christmas carols led by the choir of St Michael's Abbey, at Farnborough in Hampshire. This is one of the finest choirs in the country and the Abbey itself, as I mentioned in September, will celebrate its centenary next year. The centenary is being anticipated by the launching of an appeal for repair of the Abbey. It is an eminently worthy cause.
Farnborough Abbey has been called a "bit of France in England" and the present Prince Napoleon has sent a message of congratulation on its centenary and of support for its appeal.
The monastery owes its origins to the generosity of Prince Napoleon's collateral ancestress, the Empress Eugenie, widow of the exiled Emperor of France, Napoleon HI. The abbey (then priory) church was built in "gothiqueflamboyant" style and contains an organ unlike any other in this country. It is the only organ made by the celebrated Aristide Cavaille-Coll to have been preserved in its original condition.
The choir consists of about 16 boy choristers and 12 men, under professional direction. It has given recitals in abbeys and cathedrals all over Britain and made many notable recordings.
THE ORIGINAL monastery can be said to have been born of dynastic and personal tragedy. The fall of France's Second Empire was followed by revolution and the brave Empress Eugenie fled in disguise to England. Her son, the Prince Imperial, who had been away with his father, escaped to England by way of Belgium.
Shortly afterwards the family were reunited at Chislehurst. But Napoleon died there three years later, followed to the grave in 1879 by their only son who was killed when serving with the Royal Artillery in the Zulu expedition.
This double tragedy, following on the loss of the Imperial throne, impelled the Empress Eugenie to build a worthy memorial over the tombs of her son and husband. It was for this purpose that she acquired the property at Farnborough where the Abbey now stands and in whose crypt are the final resting places of herself and the Emperor and Prince imperial.
HOW DIFFERENT might history have been had the Prince Imperial lived to marry Queen Victoria's eldest daughter, Princess Beatrice, who married instead Prince Henry of Battenberg.
The Empress lived on until 1920 when her funeral at the Abbey was attended by many heads of state including King George V and Queen Mary. It was the first occasion of its kind, as far as I know, to be attended by the British sovereign.
The tomb of Napoleon III, moreover, was presented by none other than the Empress's close friend, Queen Victoria "as a mark of affectionate sympathy." All of this is on public view at fabulous Farnborough which, apart from its other considerable and varied work, maintains a unique collection of fascinating memorabilia in a small museum within the monastery.
LAST weekend was one of President Reagan's most uncomfortable, if not his worst ever. He probably had little time to note that Nicaragua's troubles, which are now part of his own in a different way, started no less than 50 years ago.
For it was on December 8, 1936, that Anastasio Somoza became president of Nicaragua in a rigged election. Somoza had already been head of Nicaragua's army, the National Guard, since 1933. In June of 1936 he led what was a thinly disguised revolt by the National Guard and got himself nominated for the Presidency.
He resigned his post as chief of the army, but resumed this in December after duly being elected president. He then moved quickly to consolidate his hold over the country and remained dictator until 1956, when he was assassinated.
His son took over, inheriting and perpetuating terror rule. In 1978, despite extreme unpopularity even among the business community, he refused to step down and permit a peaceful transition to a new government. It was only in July, 1979, that the Sandinistas finally took over the capital of Managua after a seven week civil war.
When condemning the Sandinistas, few recall those long years of far more repressive government. But the current fear is that if the Reagan-aided Contras should succeed a reaction could follow which would be even worse than anything that has yet happened.
This is far from saying that the Sandinistas are saints but the sobering fact that the Somozas father and son, started working their evil as much as 50 years ago helps to put the picture into some sort of perspective.
I FIRST met Fred Lawton many years ago when he was an amusing and highly promising member of the Bar. Now he has just retired as Lord Justice Lawton and at the end of last month an unusual and remarkable tribute was paid to him when he presided for the last time over the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.
His "brother" (as fellow members of the Bench call each other) Mr Justice Michael Davies recalled that Fred Lawton had sat in the court, and its predecessor, for more than 25 years.
His contributions to the growing body of criminal law and to the delicate art of sentencing were mostly preserved for all time in various Law Reports. They were, Davies added, "second to none."
Unlike some judges of the High Court who, like Lawton, were Catholics, he had never allowed religious feelings to affect, except in the best and most and general way, his judicial decisions. (Years ago a certain judge, and rabid convert to Catholicism, had wreaked havoc in the Divorce Division now the Family Division — of the High Court.) In replying to his brother Davies, Lord Justice Lawton said that the occasion brought to an end "a full time life in crime — in crime if not of crime."
It had, he added, been a great experience "being so long in crime." He was too modest to touch on the humanity which invariably characterised even his most seemingly harsh judgments. He was and is a most balanced, witty and urbane senior citizen, who, unlike many other judges, has long graced, rather than tried to dominate the members' table of the Garrick Club.
WHO SAYS women know nothing about huntin', shootin' and fishin'? Nobody — if they've got any sense. Jenny Greene knows all about such things and much else besides,
Have you seen the latest numbers of that venerable and most distinguished magazine Country Life? Notice any differences? They are there but they are subtle and unobtrusive. For Jenny Greene has just taken over the editorship from the redoubtable Marcus Binney, and to follow such a prodigal has been no easy task.
Watch future editions to see how the further plot unfolds. Jenny Greene is the tenth editor in the magazine's 90-year old history. All of her predecessors have been men.
THIS WEEK'S 50th anniversary of the abdication of King Edward VIII seems to have passed — at the time of going to press — without any comments in mauvais gout. Thank goodness!
As last week's leader pointed out that dramatic and traumatic moment in British history was disfigured, almost more than anything, by the sickening rapidity with which the King's erstwhile "friends" deseted his cause as soon as they knew it was lost.
It spoke badly for a certain section of the so-called social elite. Scarcely less contemptible were those who had long prejudged the issue and delighted in "a true king's fall." All in all, not a good day for the British aristocracy.
A notable exception was Sir Walter Monckton, later first Lord Monckton of Brenchley. As Attorney General for the Duchy of Cornwall he had gone on to be a confidant and true friend of the King. He went overboard in no direction and, perhaps more than any other single individual, helped to save as much honour all round as it was possible to save. A great man.
IT seems that very few people look carefully at special commemoration stamps. Take those chosen for this Christmas. Have you actually examined them in detail?
The 13p stamp commemorates the Glastonbury Thorn legendarily associated with the alleged visit of Joseph of Arimathea to preach the gospel in Britain.
Slightly more obscure is the theme of the 18p stamp, namely the Tenad Valley Plygain. In Wales, the custom of the early Christmas morning Plygain carol service, illuminated by candlelight, has survived even into this century in a few places.
Best of all perhaps is the 34p stamp, all the more pity being that it will be less widely used than the rest.
If commemorates the "Boy Bishop" of Hereford Saint Nicholas who took part, dressed in minature robes and mitre, in church services which did not require an ordained priest.
This harmless celebration of childhood innocence was suppressed by Henry VIII, revived by Queen Mary but abolished again by Queen Elizabeth I.
Let's hope that, in future more publicity will accompany the issuing of Christmas stamps. Or do people just not bother to read "hand-outs" in the worldly Christmas rush?