Clarence House, London
The Royal Engagement at Last!
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THE OFFICIAL announcement came from Clarence House: “The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton.” According to Buckingham Palace, both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh “are absolutely delighted for them both.” The news was broken to PM David Cameron during a morning Cabinet meeting, where the announcement was greeted with a “great cheer and a banging of tables.”
William and Kate’s courtship extends back to their student days together at St. Andrews University. After eight years, the Prince proffered Kate his mother’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring. Their much-anticipated engagement represents the first time an heir to the throne has wedded a commoner since the marriage of the Duke of York, later King James II, in 1660. The couple’s royal wedding in April will be the biggest royal event in Britain since the wedding of William’s parents 30 years ago.
And Just in Passing
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Wind Farm Opens on Isle of Thanet Coast
The largest offshore wind farm in the world has begun producing energy seven miles off Foreness Point, Kent. The 100 turbines are projected to generate enough electricity to power 240,000 homes. Over the next several years up to 341 of the 380-foot tall turbines will be installed.
Record Fish in British Rivers
The Environment Agency has announced that the number of sea trout and salmon in English rivers hit record highs this year. Heretofore unseen levels of migrating fish in the Thames and Tyne confirm the agency’s assessment that river water quality has improved again for the 20th consecutive year.
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And Just in Passing
Blair’s Book Breaks British Sales Records
The release of former prime minister Tony Blair’s memoirs, The Journey, became the fastest selling autobiography in Waterstone’s history and shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list—poised to become Amazon UK’s biggest selling memoir of all time. The Royal British Legion will receive all the profits from Blair’s book.
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Death of the Dictionary
The venerable Oxford English Dictionary is almost a thing of the past—another victim of our electronic age. Oxford University Press has announced that the third edition of the historic dictionary, now some 30 percent complete, will never appear in print. The new edition, which a team of 80 lexicographers has been working on for 21 years, is still not due for completion for several decades. It will exist solely online.
The Mystery of the Exmoor Emperor
A GIANT RED STAG, known as the Exmoor Emperor, has reportedly been shot on the moors of southern Exmoor. Standing 9 feet tall, the Emperor is thought to have been the largest wild land animal in Britain. While wildlife enthusiasts have been, eh, up in arms over the kill, conservationists and wildlife management experts are more divided on the subject. Deer populations are at their highest level in centuries. Despite huge coverage in the British media, it is still not known whether the giant 12-year-old stag was taken by legal stalking or by a poacher—although hunters do have permission to stalk on the Exmoor land. As the animal has not been thus far produced, rumors continue to persist that reports of its death have been, in fact, fabricated to protect the stag through its mating season. It is believed that the Emperor’s mounted head could be sold for several thousand pounds.
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Pope Benedict Wows the British Crowd
IT HAD BEEN 28 years since a Roman pontiff visited Great Britain. If Pope Benedict did not arrive in Britain with the same sort of celebrity that greeted Pope John Paul II in 1982, his reception proved far warmer than many critics predicted. Enthusiastic crowds greeted the Holy Father along the streets of Edinburgh and in public masses celebrated in Glasgow, London and Birmingham. In a historic first, the Pope’s visit to Britain was actually a state visit, in that he was invited by the Queen. In addition to the spate of services and public appearances, Pope Benedict was given full honors accorded a head of state. His repeated message to Great Britain was to urge the country not to marginalize its Christian heritage and faith.
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Lost Vivaldi Concerto Discovered
ITS EXISTENCE was only known from a mention in an 18th-century bookseller’s catalog. Lost for 250 years, the flute concerto titled “Il Gran Mogol” by the great Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi was uncovered by a researcher at the National Archives of Scotland. The manuscript was discovered among the papers of the flute-playing Lord Robert Kerr, son of the third Marquess of Lothian, who was killed in the 1746 Battle of Culloden. It is believed the Scottish nobleman acquired the manuscript on a Grand Tour in the early 1700s. The concerto will be performed for the first time at Perth Concert Hall in January.
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Baroness Thatcher at Home
AFTER A two-week stay in Cromwell Hospital, Margaret Thatcher appeared frail as she was released in early November to return to her Belgravia home. The 85-year-old former prime minister had been hospitalized for an infection after suffering from the flu. Her son, Sir Mark Thatcher, reports that the Iron Lady was “in very good spirits” and following closely the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
Meanwhile, on the same weekend, an online survey conducted by YouGov saw Lady Thatcher voted the most influential woman in the world—despite being out of power for almost 20 years. Thatcher picked up 32 percent of the votes, far outpolling such figures as Oprah Winfrey and Florence Nightingale.
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And Just in Passing
Hastings Pier Destroyed in Blaze
Arson is suspected in the October fire that destroyed 95 percent of historic Hastings Pier, first opened in 1872. The pier had been abandoned and derelict since 2006, but a local “Save Hastings Pier” campaign was attempting to raise funds for its refurbishment.
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Can You Dig It?
Long-range forecasts predict that again this winter Britain will be hit by uncommonly cold temperatures and blizzards. Camden Council in north London proposes a “self-help” campaign whereby people can ring up and request a shovel. The local authority plans to give out more than 2,000 shovels to help people clear clogged roads and sidewalks. The reactions of local residents range from bewilderment to outrage, such as: “I think it’s a daft idea. All the shovels will be stolen.”
And Just in Passing
Millions Squandered by Careless Local Councils
Following sundry local audits, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has claimed that councils could actually save almost £150 million a year if they just made sure they didn’t pay the same bills twice. As Pickles notes, the overpayments represent a “lack of respect towards public money.”
P.G. Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle on the Market
The Shropshire stately home believed by many to be the inspiration for Blandings Castle is for sale at £1.75 million.Wodehouse never revealed the identity of Blandings, but experts aver that it was most likely to be Apley Hall, a six-bedroom stately home overlooking the River Severn that Wodehouse visited often as a teen—now available with 10 acres of grounds and a state-of-the-art home theater.
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Only Brits Welcome Here
Foreign tourists are no longer allowed to visit the tower of Big Ben due to mounting security concerns. The 75-minute tour of the iconic London landmark includes a trip to the top of the Great Clock. UK residents can still arrange a tour through their MP.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Submarine Aground in Shallow Water
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THE NUCLEAR powered sub HMS Astute ran aground last month in shallow water off the west coast of Scotland. During sea trials, the vessel’s rudder became stuck on a shingle bank near Skye. Efforts were finally successful in dislodging the submarine, of course, though the vessel took damage in the attempt. The understandable flap over the incident left many commentators pointing out the irony attached to the sub’s name. Indeed.
Long Clawson, Leicestershire
Badgers Wreck Havoc in Churchyard
THE VICAR and parish council of Long Clawson’s 12th-century St. Remigius Church have been left scratching their heads. Badgers have been digging up the remains of corpses that have heretofore lain undisturbed for centuries. It is illegal to kill the protected species or to destroy a sett, and Natural England has blocked the council’s attempts to have the badgers moved. The Rev. Simon Shouler has been patroling the old graveyard to pick up stray bones and inter them together in a new grave.
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A First for Air-Sea Rescue
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WEATHER conditions were “squally” and moderately turbulent as Flight Lieutenant William Wales, known more popularly as Prince William, took part in his first air-sea rescue. The Prince co-piloted a Sea King helicopter scrambled from RAF Valley, Anglesey, to rescue a man who had suffered a heart attack aboard a gas production rig in Morecombe Bay off the Cumbrian coast.
A spokesman for the Prince said, “He is proud, after two years of intense training, to be able to serve in one of Britain’s foremost emergency services.” William will spend three years on the North Wales island as a Search and Rescue pilot with 22 Squadron, C Flight, covering western England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
John Lennon Peace Monument Unveiled
JULIAN LENNON and his mother Cynthia were present in Liverpool to unveil a monument in Chavasse Park titled “Peace and Harmony” dedicated to the memory of the late Beatle John Lennon. The 18-foot monument was dedicated on October 9, on what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday. The occasion was marked by celebrations not only in the Beatles’ hometown, but also in New York’s Central Park and Reyjavik, Iceland.
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And Just in Passing
Fake German Sub Startles Canal Users
Narrowboat cruisers on the Leeds to Liverpool Canal have been alarmed by the appearance of a German U-boat in the shallow British waterway. They needn’t be concerned. The vessel is the project of a retired trawlerman who has spent £50,000 converting a narrowboat into a U-8047 look alike.
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Paving Over the Cobbles
For centuries visitors and residents have trod the cobbled pavements of ancient villages and market towns. Alas, health and safety folk have concluded that they are just not safe. Business owners and local officials concerned over potential injuries and resultant litigation are campaigning to have a smooth surface laid over the cobbles in such places as medieval Dunster in Somerset.
Aristocracy Still Owns Land
A small group of individuals and families still own together more than a third of Britain’s land. Among the largest landowners is the Duke of Buccleuch, who holds 240,000 acres, and the Duke of Westminster, whose 133,100 acres include much of Mayfair, Belgravia and Pimlico.