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It was certainly hot here in Cheltenham for the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, on 21st June. I think it was sweltering in most parts of England: looking at pictures of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, the enthusiasts who go there every year to witness the sun rising over the ancient stones, certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves. I hope the heat wasn’t too much for the white-robed druids and that they were still able to do whatever druids do. As I have previously celebrated the other seasons of the year with a few favourite poems and quotations, I thought I’d do the same for summer.

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There are certain events that characterise and capture the spirit of the British summer. Some have a history going back hundreds of years whereas others are rather more recent additions to the seasonal calendar. Many of them focus upon sporting endeavours at such hallowed places as Wimbledon, Ascot, Henley and Lord’s; while others, most notably Trooping the Colour, are an exceptional display of pageantry and a celebration of our monarchical heritage.

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Anybody who has written anything, whether it be a novel, an article or a letter, will have experienced a moment when choosing the correct word to convey exactly what you want to say in the most accurate way can be quite a challenge. It happened to me the other day while writing a piece for the autumn issue of This England. All was going well, my fingers were tapping away on the keyboard, my lips were humming the tune of “We’re riding along on the crest of a wave” and the page grid on my computer screen was filling up most satisfactorily with words, when suddenly, as if I’d encountered a barrier in the road while out for a drive, my progress was abruptly stopped (Or would “halted” be better there? I’m not sure.)

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Throughout the centuries Britain has been a cradle of invention, enterprise and discovery. Whether inspired by the desire to cure disease, improve safety, reduce domestic drudgery or enhance our everyday lives, there are countless examples of individuals who have applied their expertise and ingenuity to ways of improving our existence and enabling our progress. From gadgets to ground-breaking discoveries, technological marvels to time-saving devices and industrial achievements to enterprising innovations, these visionary men and women have made their mark on British history.

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I found the bravery displayed by members of the emergency services during the recent terrorist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market quite astonishing. Many ambulances and their medical crews arrived on the scene while the murderers were still at large, but with no concern for their own safety the doctors, nurses and paramedics did not hesitate to attend to the injured wherever they lay. Many passers-by did the same, either offering first-aid and comfort to those caught up in the carnage, calmly leading people to safety through a confused landscape of wailing sirens and flashing lights, or securing the entrances to bars and restaurants until the threat had passed. As always whenever they are faced with life-threatening situations, the men and women of our magnificent police force acted with incredible courage, selflessness and professionalism: running towards danger just as scores of terrified, screaming people were fleeing in the opposite direction. All of those people, for their actions on that terrible night as well as during the days that followed - whether tending the injured in hospitals, trying to give solace to the cruelly bereaved or investigating the crime on the streets - deserve our heartfelt gratitude and admiration.

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Are you ready to dip your toes into summer yet? Well, I can appreciate that the good old British weather might not be doing its best to summon up the spirit of the season, but I promise that the sun is most definitely shining within the pages of the summer issue of Evergreen, which is now on sale (click here for subscriptions).

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In the current, summer issue of This England, we have included an article about Angel Radio (www.angelradio.co.uk), a wonderful station based at Havant in Hampshire which is run by volunteers from the older generation playing music that will appeal to listeners of a similar age group (none of the records on the programmes dates from after 1969!). Just over a week ago, I was delighted to be invited to appear on a show hosted by Angel’s founder, the young-at-heart Tony Smith, and spent an enjoyable half-hour talking about the magazine and swapping anecdotes. He also held a competition on air (with prizes of annual subscriptions to This England - and what could be better than that?!) in which he played a piece of music and then asked a question linked to each song.

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Growing up in the 1970s one of my favourite films was the 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic crime novel “Murder on the Orient Express”. Have you seen it? Starring Albert Finney as the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot – he of the sharply sculpted moustache and equally sharp “little grey cells” – it also featured Ingrid Bergman, Wendy Hiller, Lauren Bacall, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery, Sir John Gielgud, Rachel Roberts and Richard Widmark. It was an impressive cast merging Hollywood legends and renowned British talent in an ingeniously plotted whodunnit set on this most glamorous of trains in the 1930s. Added to the superb setting and storyline was the marvellous theme tune, composed by Richard Rodney Bennett, which evokes the thrill of travelling on a steam train, echoing the rhythm of the rails, as it rapidly gathers pace.

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The nights of 22nd and 23rd December 1940. The city of Manchester suffers its heaviest bombing of the Second World War as 450 German aircraft drop 500 tons of high-explosive bombs and 2,000 incendiaries. Known as the Christmas Blitz, it results in the deaths of 684 men, women and children with a further 2,300 wounded. Fires rage, with many buildings destroyed or seriously damaged. Thousands of homes are uninhabitable. The flames flare up to illuminate countless acts of heroism. As bombs are falling, ARP Wardens and Special Constables lead people to safety; many regular firemen are in Liverpool dealing with a raid a few days earlier so volunteers tackle the inferno; workers climb to the top of huge gas tanks to throw incendiaries away before they can cause massive explosions; women of the WVS minister to the injured and the homeless. Morale remains high. Manchester United. Winston Churchill says: “Hitler did his worst, and Mancunians did their best.” It will take many years but the city will be rebuilt.

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In the days since Monday night's despicable terror attack in Manchester, I am sure that, like me, your thoughts and prayers have been for the innocent victims, their bereaved families and friends, as well as the many casualties who remain in hospital. As the first reports and details emerged, everyone - regardless of whether we had a connection with those at the concert - was left shocked and stunned. We were all affected by the tragedy.

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