Farewell To Fiesta

'Ghost Bull' by Chloe Drakari-Phillips. A herd of Spanish fighting bulls is herded through the dawn forests to Cuéllar by hundeds of horsemen at the beginning of the most ancient 'encierro' - bull-run - in Spain

‘Ghost Bull’. A herd of Spanish fighting bulls is herded through the dawn forests to Cuéllar by hundeds of horsemen at the beginning of the most ancient ‘encierro’ – bull-run – in Spain. (Photo: Chloe Drakari-Phillips)

 

This year was my fifth at the Feria de Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Cuéllar in Castile y León, Spain, running with bulls in the oldest encierros in all Spain. When I first arrived in 2012 the town opened its arms to me and so when I left I wrote an article in the regional newspaper, El Norte de Castilla titled ‘Thank you, Cuéllar, from London‘. The following year the headline was ‘And again thank you, Cuéllar, from London‘. Then in 2014 it was ‘See you soon Cuéllar‘.

Cuellar El Norte coverHowever, the following year I broke my ribs running with the cattle there and forgot to write, so this year I made sure my article came out early, on the opening Sunday of the fair, the day I arrived. It is reprinted in English below (the original Spanish is online here.)

There is Fiesta and Feria in Cuéllar

In 1923 Ernest Hemingway arrived in Pamplona and witnessed the great explosion of life that is the Fiesta of San Fermin, through the heart of which a path was carved from the corrals to the plaza by the Feria del Toro.

By the time he returned in 1959 the city was so changed he almost didn’t recognise it. He wrote that “40,000 tourists have been added. There were not 20 tourists when I first went there nearly four decades ago.”

The article as it appeared. The photo is of me in my days as a bullfighter in 2010 by Nicolás Haro.

The article as it appeared. The photo is of AFH in my days as a bullfighter in 2010 by Nicolás Haro.

When I arrived sixty years later – to the day – there were over a million tourists. And although sanfermines has been like a father to my afición – with the southern elegance of April in Seville as its mother – Cuéllar is a far older and more personal thing than those spectacular parents. Which is why I have come here every year since I met the sculptor Dyango Velasco on the opening Saturday of the feria in 2012.

Since then I have never come alone. Over the years I have come with a strange and wondrous mix of people to your town. In 2013 I brought to your town of the horse the Earl of Westmorland, whose father was Master of Horse to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and along with him the greatest jockey my country ever produced, Richard Dunwoody, who won the most dangerous horserace in England, the Grand National, not once but twice.

Nicolás Osorio & I in 2013

Nicolás Osorio & AFH (jacket) in 2013 (Photo: Graeme Galloway)

The following year I brought Nicolás Osorio, eldest son of the Duke of Alburquerque, whose ancestral castle embraces your town in its arms. His grandfather did not win the British Grand National, despite riding in it twenty or so times as an amateur. He did, however, become famous for breaking more bones in it than any other jockey and was nicknamed the “Iron Duke”, not, like Wellington, for his political resolve, but for all the metal pins and plates that kept his skeleton together.

This year I come with more foreigners than ever, some of whom Cuéllar knows, and some of whom are new. There is that great photographer of wars and bulls, Jim Hollander of European Pressphoto Agency, who returns having been awarded the EHToro prize for writing about the encierros – ‘bull-runs’ – of Cuéllar last year and having just been named “guirri del año” by Mikel Urmeneta in Pamplona this year.

Jim Hollander in the forests of Cuéllar (Photo: Chloe Drakari-Phillips)

Jim Hollander in the forests of Cuéllar (Photo: Chloe Drakari-Phillips)

To celebrate the publication of his book Pizarra To Pamplona: Across Spain On Horseback (available to purchase here), about his childhood travels with his father, Gino Hollander – a great taurine painter whose work covers the walls of the Casa Misericordia in Pamplona – Jim will be photographing the encierro of Cuéllar for the world’s press from the back of one of its horses with me providing the words from the horse next door.

In the streets we will have the great Texan rodeo champion who moved and married to become your neighbour and a university professor in Valladolid. Larry Belcher, who is already familiar to readers of these pages following his 40th anniversary in the encierros of Spain (as is his wife Dr Ana Cerón of the hospital there.)

Noel Chandler and Alexander Fiske-Harrison, Pamplona, July 2013 (Photo: David Penton)

Noel Chandler and Alexander Fiske-Harrison, Pamplona, July 2013 (Photo: David Penton)

AFH with Juan José Padilla at his home (Photo: Nicolás Haro)

AFH with Juan José Padilla at his home (Photo: Nicolás Haro)

Alongside these veteran taurinos, there will be younger faces too (having turned 40 this year I do not include mine.) There is Jordan Tipples from Wales, who has the heart of a lion, and follows in the tradition of that great Welsh runner of bulls and aficionado, Noel Chandler, whose death last year we mourn still.

It is Noel who taught me the philosophy of the first foreign runner to be accepted by locals, a veteran of the Marine Corps in the Second World War, Matt Carney, whose children Allen and Deirdre I run with in Pamplona. This is that one must not run for glory, but for the joy of it. (This lesson is too often forgotten today, as is the lesson I was given by my first teacher in the plaza, Juan José Padilla, who said to me after he had lost his eye in Zaragoza in 2011: “scars are not medals of honour, but the marks of our mistakes.” This sort of pride has no place in the plaza or the street.)

AFH running with the bulls in the last encierro of Cuéllar 2016 (Photo courtesy of Castilla y León Televisión)

AFH running with the bulls in the last encierro of Cuéllar 2016 (Photo courtesy of Castilla y León Televisión)

Joe Distler, Larry Belcher and AFH (Photo: Ana Cerón)

Joe Distler, Larry Belcher and me (Photo: Ana Cerón)

And then there is Chloe Drakari-Phillips. Chloe first went to Pamplona twenty-five years ago, although she is only twenty-four years old. (Her first San Fermín was when her mother was pregnant.) This adopted child of the Fiesta of San Fermín is the soul of that side of Pamplona, in all its passion and its vibrancy, who has shown me a less serious side to the taurine life of Spain, adopted child of the Feria del Toro that I am.

As part of this spirit of cooperation between local and foreigner, I have asked the principal pastor, Enrique Bayón Brandi, to join with me in arranging a “breakfast of runners” following a tradition begun in Pamplona by the great runners, and our good friends, Julen Madina and Joe Distler thirty years ago. We hope to bring a new international tradition to the oldest encierro in Spain. As a mark of respect to the bulls and those who work with them, this first will be held in honour of the memory of Victor Barrio and attended by David Mora the morning before he faces the same risks himself with the bulls with which we have just run.

The Pamplona Runner's Breakfast 2015. Joe Distler is in sunglasses next to me at the back behind the matador David Mora (white polo shirt) with Julen Madina kneeling front (white t-shirt) (Photo by John Kimmich on Jim Hollander's camera - Jim is front row holding John's camera)

The Pamplona Runner’s Breakfast 2015. Joe Distler is in sunglasses next to AFH at the back behind the matador David Mora – white polo shirt – with Julen Madina kneeling front – white t-shirt – (Photo by John Kimmich on Jim Hollander’s camera – Jim is front row holding John’s camera)

It is nice to be able to bring a tradition from Pamplona back to Cuéllar since Cuéllar is most likely the parent of Pamplona’ most famous. The 3rd and 4th Dukes of Alburquerque – Nicolás Osorio’s father is the 19th Duke – were viceroys of Navarre from 1452 to 1464 about the time when encierros began to be written about in that region of Spain.

So, as I pack my old school athletics blazer with its distinctive red and white stripes in honour of the marriage of Spain’s traditions and my own, I can barely contain my excitement to once again check into the Hotel San Francisco and attend the ferias of Nuestra Señora del Rosario and the grandfather of all encierros that runs through it.

The begining of the bull-run of Cuéllar, Spain's oldest (Photo by Jim Hollander - EPA)

The beginning of the bull-run of Cuéllar, Spain’s oldest (Photo: Jim Hollander/EPA)

Postscript

Me, the late 'Bomber', the late Julen Madina and Stephen Ibarra who was with us in Spain this year, in better days. (Photo by Deanna Ally)

Me, the late ‘Bomber’, the late Julen Madina and Stephen Ibarra who was with me in Spain last week, in 2012. (Photo by Deanna Ally)

On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 30th, Julen Madina died in hospital following an accident while swimming, itself following an incident in which he was badly injured in an encierro in Tudela. And so ended the life one of the most prolific and skilled runners of bulls in the history of the encierro. Although I did not get to know him as well as I might have liked, I counted him as a friend, we spent a little time together and he kindly contributed to the book I compiled, edited and co-authored along with mutual friends of ours such as Joe Distler, Miguel Ángel Eguiluz, Jokin Zuasti and photographs by Jim Hollander.

On my flight back from Madrid last week, I scribbled a few lines on a napkin to describe the simple but profound thing that is fiesta. It is not much, but I thought I would put it up here.

Farewell To Fiesta

(For N.)

Farewell to fiesta, farewell to the sun,
The candles are burned down and the bulls are all done.

But though the shrine’s empty and altars are bare,
We know the way back now and will return there.

As we grow older and some of us fall,
We’ll still lift our glasses and toast to us all.

For fiesta is in us, and those who we love,
Those still among us, and those up above.

 

Last night of the feria (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Last night of the feria (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

The Sun Also Rises


Today my first ever article came out in The Sunonline here. Before I have always written for ‘broadsheet’ British newspapers like its News International sister paper The Times. However, after reading endless false stories about the tragic death of the Spanish matador Victor Barrio, I could not turn down the offer of a voice in Britain’s biggest selling national newspaper. 

Inevitably there are ‘casualties of truth’ in a situation like this. I was commissioned to write at 3pm to complete the piece by 6pm. In Pamplona. Having run with the bulls that morning. And drunk all day. After four identical days. 

I am not a matador, which is a professional title, which was explained in my writing, if not in the printed ‘copy’, I was a torero, a ‘bullfighter’. However, it is a churlish complaint when describing the arcane and esoteric to expect the sub-editor doing the headline on the edited copy – which has lost these nuances – to know the differences.

What is more, at least I did not lie. 

The article attached to my article from the League Against Cruel Sports – for balance, which I respect – has no such compunctions nor attachments to research and truth. 

I’ve been on every major ranch and in every major bullring and fought myself. When was a bull’s eyes ever smeared with Vaseline? Where is their evidence for this claim? A half blind bull would charge a blur of man and cape, rather than the specific part of the cape the matador dictates, and many, many more would be dead. The same goes for starving – nonsense, I have photos of them eating in the corrals of the bullring itself… guys, the blood is in the ring, you don’t need to make it up. 

If anyone really wants to read about the morality of bullfighting, read my speech at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as a blog post here

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Method Authors: A New Literary Movement – from The Independent

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Note: For details on the classes, go to our website http://www.theactofwriting.co.uk

I’ve been meaning to write a post on author Thomas W. Hodgkinson’s mooting of the “new literary movement” (ahem) of ‘method writing’ since he first spoke about it on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme a week or so ago. (You can listen to it excerpted on the BBC here.)

However, ironically, I was too busy practising what he was preaching, as I was living in the Montparnasse apartment of one of the real-life protagonists of a short historical fiction I was writing to enter in the Prix d’Hemingway in France.

So it wasn’t until I returned to London late last night that I discovered he had launched the intended project in this morning’s The Independent (online here.)

author-photo-alexaner-fiske-harrison (2)

My Research

Thomas tells an abridged version of the story of why I am one of his three “method authors” in the piece.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison… trained as a matador in Spain as research for his book about bullfighting, Into the Arena. He is also an actor who, like Dustin Hoffman, has honed his technique at the Actors Studio. So for him, nothing was more natural, when he sat down to write, than to don the same black “country suit” and short jacket he’d worn in the arena. Between bursts of typing, he would move about the room, performing what is known as toreo de salon.

[Read more…]

In Memoriam: Antonia Raissi, née Francis, 4 February 1976 – 14 September 2015

Antonia Programme I

I have come to hold the belief that one of the most powerful and definitively human compulsions is that of being remembered: that when the physical reality of self has perished, that echo of appearance, the memory of self in other minds, should be confirmed in defiance of death. Hence the funeral, the oration, the headstone, the monument, the memorial service, the obituary and this, the personal memoire. That, and an expiation.

So I am not writing claiming I knew Antonia better than others – her mother and stepfather, her husband and her sons, her other family and many of her other friends had that privilege – but we had our moments over twenty or so years. I want to write down those I remember, and those I can repeat, before my recollections of them change and mutate any more than they already have. To ‘re-member’ to, as the word suggests, is to piece back together the members, the parts, of a dismembered whole. At best this is a jerry-rigged fiction that just about passes muster and at worst an outright lie, fuelled by want, and perspective, and sorrow.

AFH

*                    *                    *

Oxford

It was in her room in the top floor of Matthews Building I first met her, second on the right. A single bed, a desk, armchair and a basin in cupboard, divided by no more space than you could lie down in, loo and shower down the corridor. St. Peter’s College, Oxford, wasn’t exactly as glamorous as Brideshead Revisited, but Antonia was. Tall, lithe, exquisite faced which she fought against – admiring the strong more than the pretty – speaking with clipped St. Mary’s (Calne) tones and Eton-cropped black hair, which I would later cut to make her look more like Irène Jacob in Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs : Rouge the film we all fell in love with that year. Just as we all fell in love with her.

RedIn that tiny room we were all packed, a group, almost exclusively male at its core, and regarded as deeply, almost hilariously pretentious even by the standards of Oxford undergraduates. However, looking back one can see it was just curiosity and fascination and youthful gaucheness.

There was Hugh Dancy, George Pendle and Paul Curran, all studying English under Dr Francis Warner, Dominic Elliot studying Archaeology and Anthropology, and Steven France studying Philosophy under Dr John Kenyon. Antonia would within her first year abandon Geography for English, and I would only make it to the end of my second before switching from Biology to Philosophy under Kenyon.

Me, matriculation day, October 1994

Me, matriculation day, October 1994

One of her first stories to me, a story which would have perhaps annoyed the more sophisticated and subtle person she became, was of her summer holiday, just prior to coming up to Oxford, in Kenya. I remember still the image she conjured so well of her sitting, dressed in white, smoking Cartier cigarettes, the only non-male, and indeed only non-Masai sitting around a camp fire in The Mara. She would have been eighteen years old.

I wonder if she viewed us like Masai too. She certainly preferred the company of us men, and although she was not a tomboy in the sense of climbing trees, her way of speaking was… well, like anti-aircraft fire – not always deadly accurate, but incessant and intimidating to fly amongst, the dark crumping bursts of her conversational shells peppering the night sky. And it was usually night sky – we sat up late into the night talking and talking, me smoking Marlboro, her Lights, me Coke, her Diet. She wasn’t much of a drinker, disliking the silliness, the loss of control, or so she claimed. When I did see her tipsy for the first time I was surprised at how girly she became. I think that was what she feared most.

Antonia's 19th Birthday Party, L-R, George Pendle, Dave ? & gf, Steven France, Hugh Dancy, Dr. Genevieve Connors, ?, John Mühlemann, ?, David Collard, David Budds, Biranda Ford, Lucy, Antonia, Caroline Early, Cat Bagshawe, Joshua Steckel (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Antonia’s 19th Birthday Party, Gloucester Green pizza restaurant, clockwise from bottom left: George Pendle, Dave – & ?, Steven France, Hugh Dancy, Genevieve Connors, ?, John Mühlemann, ?, David Collard, David Budds, Biranda Ford, Lucy -, Antonia Francis, Caroline Early, Catherine Bagshaw, Joshua Steckel (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Detail from above (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Detail from above (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

It was inevitable that I would fall head over heels for her – I mean I was only a few months out of an all boys boarding school, grew up without sisters and had never had a girlfriend. And here was this stunning and exotic creature, fitting no standard feminine norm that I knew of – never a skirt or dress, but black boots and jeans on those very long legs, and almost invariably a black polo neck, channelling Juliette Greco with a hint of Audrey Hepburn. Of course, now in retrospect I can see that Antonia wasn’t oblivious to the effect she had on us boys – and we were just boys – wrangling us to some extent with those quirks honed to charms, equalising the gender imbalance using that weapon among all the others at her disposal. [Read more…]

By The Sword: My Latest Column for Taki’s Magazine

Untitled

My latest contribution to my column, ‘By The Sword’, for Taki’s Magazine is out now. It concerns the current refugee crisis in Europe, but goes as far back as the Viking invasions of Britain, with reference to the epic Old English poem the Battle of Maldon, and beyond that to the Christianisation, decline and fall of the Roman Empire. It is also a paean to realpolitik and how to actually save lives, rather than make public displays of one own virtuous emotions while decrying the viciousness of others. To promote feeling above thought and then parade it in public is infantile narcissism, pure and simple.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

From Spain, the Centre of the World, to Africa, the Heart of Darkness

Estoy en mi chaqueta de rayas en la plaza de toros de Pamplona, 13 de julio de 2015. A mi derecha es Lore Monig, Presidenta del New York City Club Taurino, a mi derecha, el chef celebridad y torero práctico de México, Carlos Manríquez (Foto : Jim Hollander)

In my striped jacket in the plaza de toros of Pamplona, 13 of July 2015. To my right, Lore Monig, President of the New York City Club Taurino, to my left, the celebrity chef and amateur bullfighter from Mexico, Carlos Manríquez, beyond him Peter Remington, publisher of Modern Luxury Houston magazine and his brother (Photo: Jim Hollander)

 

Having come out of the delights and dangers of Pamplona’s feria de San Fermín running with bulls – already described in the abstract on ‘The Pamplona Post‘, also detailed with a more purist slant on the blog, ‘The Last Arena‘ – I was particularly pleased to see my more cerebral, less visceral side represented in my review of Dr Robert Goodwin’s magnum opus, Spain: The Centre Of The World, 1519-1682 (Bloomsbury Press) in The Spectator. In summary, my view of the book is:

What distinguishes Goodwin from other historians of the period is the sheer multiplicity of his perspectives. He is erudite and concise in covering familiar ground, while full of original insight when it comes to the motives and actions of the key players…

…it is [his] passion that removes Goodwin’s learned book from the shelves of academia, giving it breadth and breath. The most notable effect on this reader was an urge to return to Spain, especially to Goodwin’s beloved Seville, that ‘deeply religious and very beautiful provincial backwater’, with ‘its quiet lanes and courtyards’, its ‘grand monuments’ and its ‘ghosts’. After all, it is not enough to bring truth to history. One must also bring life — and this book has it in golden abundance.

(The review is available in full online here.)

Now I must turn myself to the contentious issue of Big Game hunting for the same magazine in the light of the death of the aged male lion some Oxford biologists rather tastelessly and unprofessionally anthropomorphised with the name Cecil. (Cecil Rhodes was the colonial overlord of Zimbabwe, hence its colonial name of Rhodesia.)

This is an event my own former zoology tutor at Oxford – who has worked hand-in-glove with both the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments on conservation over the decades – referred to in his email as “murder”. He also ended the email, “suffice it to say that I am on the side of the large mammals of Africa excluding the destructive Homo sapiens.”

I do find his response a little ironic, as I remember in my interview with him in ’93 he asked me which of the Pleistocene megafauna had most caught my interest. (It was my time in the Kruger Park in South Africa that inspired me to go and study under him.) I answered unequivocally “lion”, to which his response was how boring they were to study as they spend most of their time asleep. Later I would end up in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, from where Cecil came, following what would have been his grandparents and great uncles and aunts.

 

Following the pride in Hwange National Park (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Following the pride in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in 1996 (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

 

Sub-adult lion, Hwange National Park

Sub-adult lion, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in 1996 (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

 

Anyway, given that I can count among my friends both professional hunters and conservation biologists, and have myself no immensely strong views about the death of animals lower on the cognitive ‘chain of being’ than elephants – a notion of moral status outlined for Prospect magazine, and derivative from my time with Great Apes described in the Financial Times – I hope I’m in a good position to write the piece in a way that lives up to my description in today’s Daily Telegraph magazine: “he is a stone-cold pragmatist with a poet’s soul.”

However, as a child, my best friend was this cat, so in the end, I’ll be on the side of the predators. The question is: which ones?

 

The author and his first cat

Alexander Fiske-Harrison and Shantallah Millionaire, a name rather more fitting to the beast than Cecil (Photo: Barbara Gail Horne)

 

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

 

James Rhodes and Arnold House School: A question of journalistic ethics

Since the rest of the journalistic world has not said a balanced word on this, I thought I would before I set off for Pamplona and my annual “running of the bulls” (henceforth you’ll find me over at The Pamplona Post.)

Xander

Arnold House School Photo 1982

Arnold House School Photo 1982 – as blurred as the author’of this post’s memories of the time

James Rhodes and Arnold House School

‘Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were,” said Marcel Proust in 1913. “Many people believe that memory works like a recording device, but decades of research has shown that’s not the case. Memory is constructed and reconstructed. It’s more like a Wikipedia page — you can go change it, but so can other people,” said Professor Elizabeth Loftus of UCI in 2013, with notably less elegance but quite a lot more research.

These statements ring particularly true to me since one of my earliest memories is of having another, even older, memory proved false by my brother Jules. The memory he challenged was that I had been able to fly but had subsequently lost the ability. He managed to convince me that what I had actually done was miscategorise the memory of a dream of flying as a memory of the reality of doing it. The very verb itself, ‘to re-member’, to put back together, is the strongest clue of all to its fallibility.

We live, at this moment in time, in the midst of a deluge of dark memories erupting on to the pages of our newspapers, with accusations of sexual abuse coming thick and fast against public figures, and inevitably, some of them are true and some of them are false, and the ratio of true to false is perhaps the greatest battle ground of all.

This, of course, is a cyclical thing. The last time the wheel turned to this point, the scandal was concerning ‘repressed’ memories, a witch-hunt which surpassed Salem with claims of satanic abuse circles in the 1980s. I was a philosophy of science postgraduate when that one finally died the death and remember studying that piece of pseudoscience being brilliantly taken apart by Professor Richard McNally of Harvard in his seminal 2003 book Remembering Trauma. As he pointed out, how many Auschwitz survivors forgot about the Holocaust, even when it wasn’t being discussed (as it wasn’t, for some time after)? And with that rather obvious realisation the whole structural underpinning of things like Dissociative Identity Disorder (commonly called Multiple Personality Disorder) comes into question.

My own childhood was thankfully free from such darknesses, or so my memory had me believe. Until, that is, I came across an article in The Times in May with the headline ‘James Rhodes thanks Cumberbatch and Fry for support over abuse memoir’. Something stirred in my recollective recesses at that, and so I read on.

Apparently Rhodes, something of a Nigel Kennedy-figure in the world of classical piano, had just won a court case against his ex-wife, and was as a result free to publish his memoirs containing detailed memories of his serious sexual abuse as a child. There was something terribly familiar about the name, although I didn’t know him as a pianist.

Then I read that the “memoirs detail how Peter Lee, his boxing coach at Arnold House preparatory school in north London, began raping him when he was six.”

And it suddenly came to me: I knew James Rhodes because I was at Arnold House school with him in those boxing classes with Peter Lee. The of us are in the photo above taken in the summer of 1982 when I was almost six and he had just turned seven. In the detail below you can see us both, while standing in line above me is my brother Jules and somewhere in the photo is Rhodes’s own older brother Matthew.

Detail of 1982 photo - author bottom left

Detail of 1982 photo – author of this post bottom left

I first met Peter Lee at about that time and trained with him consistently for years, as the medals in the other photo attest, and my memories of him are jarringly different to those of Rhodes. My brother Jules was one of his pupils, but he is now sadly dead so I could not ask him, but our oldest brother Byron had been one of Lee’s star boxers in the 1970s. So I asked him what he thought about these ‘revelations’, and his reply was frankly, unprintable. Let’s just say that his memories of “Mr Lee” are more like mine. As are our parents, who employed the man on an out of school basis for a decade and a half.

However, as I’ve noted, memory is a false friend and the darkness and inscrutability of the human soul is something of which I am all too aware. Is it possible he was a predatory paedophile, I asked myself, and the answer came back: yes, humans are animal, and in some the bestial comes out only intermittently, only when the environment allows it. So then I asked myself about that environment: how, logistically, could this have happened?

By which I mean, how could someone rape a six year old child and get away with it? After all, Arnold House was and is a preparatory day school, not a care home, nor some great sprawling country boarding school where boys seldom see their parents and there are plenty of dark corners for dark things to occur in. Arnold House is made up of three small buildings on just over half acre of north-west London, containing fourteen classrooms in constant use, a gym, a dining room and a small, tarmac playground. In that tiny space dwell two hundred pupils under the scrutiny of twenty teachers, not including catering, cleaning, maintenance and secretarial staff. It was a hothouse, in both the disciplinary and academic senses, being a feeder school for Westminster.

I can best illustrate how ‘clean’ that atmosphere was with an anecdote: I was a rebel as a child, constantly in trouble, but when I arrived at Eton aged thirteen, I had never smoked a cigarette. So when, in my first week, a friend from the 70-acre boarding school Summer Fields took me for my first cigarette somewhere in Eton’s 400 acre grounds, I was taken aback at the sheer quantity of ungoverned space available for misbehaviour. (I went on to hold the record for misbehaviour at that school.)

What was more, this was, as mentioned, a day school, and the Rhodes family lived on the same street as the school, about 50 doors, or 500 yards, further down. He was dropped at the school in the morning, and collected in the afternoon by his mother. To put it bluntly, brutally even, how did no one notice the injuries caused by an adult male raping a three foot tall, forty pound child? Was he allowed to bathe entirely autonomously aged six? I am not denying it happened, certainly not – I was there and I don’t know – but how did it happen? [Read more…]

Announcement

I am both  very proud and very happy to announce my engagement to Miss Sarah Pozner in The Times today.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

 

Announcement

¡HOLA! Spain

Hola cover This week’s edition of ¡Hola! magazine (13 May 2015) Spanish parent of Hello! magazine (which runs through Latin America as well), opens with a long feature with the headline “Alexander Fiske-Harrison, the English ‘gentleman’ who one day became an expert on bullfighting” (pp.4-12.)

I enclose the text of my interview in the original English below. Interview, introductory preamble and captions are by Mamen Sánchez, director of ¡Hola!

With thanks to the Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville and my family tailors, Gieves & Hawkes, No.1 Savile Row, for my suit and Ralph Lauren for providing Sarah and I with clothes in the Feria de Abril in Seville this year.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Cover

Descended from one of the most ancient and aristocratic families of the United Kingdom, ancestored by King Edward III

ALEXANDER FISKE-HARRISON

The English Gentleman who one day became an expert of bullfighting

We open the gates of his historic ancestral home Otley Hall, built in the 16th Century, alongside his girlfriend, the beautiful lawyer Sarah Pozner
Hola page 5 detail(Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison. We open the gates of the familial home, a historic building of the 16th Century, the manorial estate of Otley Hall, in the county of Suffolk. The Fiske-Harrisons are descended from Margaret Plantagenet, daughter of the Duke of Clarence. On the right he receives us together with the girlfriend, the beautiful Sarah Pozner)

INTERVIEW:

Alexander Fiske-Harrison comes from one of the oldest and most illustrious families in England. The Fiske-Harrisons are the descendants of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter of the Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV and Richard III, Kings of England.

Me at Otley Hall, in front of a painting of my ancestor Robert Gosnold III, by Andrea Savini, suit by Gieves & Hawkes of Savile Row

Alexander Fiske-Harrison (photo by Andrea Savini, suit by Gieves & Hawkes)

Educated at Eton, he holds Masters in Arts and Sciences thanks to his studies in Philosophy and Biology at the Universities of Oxford and London. Son of a prosperous investment banker in ‘The City’, Alexander can presume to be the genuine “gentleman”. Elegant, humanist, lover of nature and man of letters, he is the author of numerous books and essays, a playwright and a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines including The Times, Financial Times and The Spectator.

Following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, there awakened in him an interest in bullfighting which brought him to Spain, first as a researcher and later as an authentic lover of the ‘fiesta de los toros’. From the hand of great Maestros such as Juan José Padilla, Eduardo Dávila Miura and Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez and through his friendship with Adolfo Suárez Illana [son of Spain’s first democratic president, the Duke of Suárez], who first introduced him to the world of bullfighting, Alexander has become a valiant bullfighter. He killed a bull of Saltillo and participated in various festivals, he has run for six years in the bull-runs of Pamplona and has written one of the most referenced books on the world of bullfighting: Into The Arena.

Hola page 6-7 detail

“The Fiskes arrived to this part of England as Vikings, at the Battle of Maldon, in 991A.D.”

A complete discovery, Alexander, greets us with his fascinating girlfriend, Sarah – Senior Legal Advisor to BUPA Global and captain of the polo team “Legal Beagles” -, in Otley Hall, a historic Tudor Manor in the county of Suffolk. This building, dating from the 16th Century, connects the Fiske-Harrison family and the Kings of England, and a great-granddaughter of Margaret Plantagenet here contracted marriage with the then Lord of the Manor of Otley Hall, John Gosnold.

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King Richard III: A savage blank canvas…

As I was on holiday in France this piece was filed too late for publication in The Spectator, so I’ve posted it here – AFH

King Richard III, Duke of Gloucester, in portrait and remains...

King Richard III, Duke of Gloucester, in portrait and remains…

The only remarkable thing about Richard III is how unremarkable he was…

Watching the reburial of King Richard III, this writer was struck by how the unearthing of his bones was being sold to those who would buy it as the unearthing of the ‘truth’ about a much maligned monarch. Conversely, Shakespeare’s play of the same name was being touted as the very zenith of propaganda and the Bard of Avon himself as a sort of Goebbels with the tongue of Goethe; history’s most gifted author prostituting his talents to defame the last and most discrete of its true kings, the Plantagenets, to justify the brash and barbaric usurpers who followed, the Tudors.

Frontispage from the First Quarto

Frontispage from the First Quarto

I myself, attempting to judge events in the context of the time, take the view that the Duke of Gloucester – the name by which he was most commonly known, having held the title from age 9 – was nothing more than a minor product of those crude times whose only notability lay in providing inspiration for one of our greatest artist’s first decent works and through that stabilising a nation that had suffered two generations of civil war. In death and dramatic ignominy Gloucester achieved more for his country than his rather prosaic savagery did in life.

The first point to be made is that there isn’t a historian worth the name who doesn’t hold Gloucester responsible for the death of his nephews – the 12-year-old King Edward V and his younger brother Richard, 4th Duke of York – the ‘Princes in the Tower’.

On the death of Gloucester’s eldest brother, King Edward IV, Gloucester became Lord Protector and had the princes sent to the Tower of London “for their own safety”. He then announced that young Edward V’s coronation would be delayed, and not long afterwards the children were proclaimed illegitimate due to their father’s alleged bigamy. Two weeks later – 6th July 1483 – Gloucester was crowned King of England and France (and Lord of Ireland.) The princes were neither seen nor heard from again. [Read more…]