Last night, I walked around the black etched shape of the Castle and onto the south lawns. The dogs immediately bustled off, busy exploring amidst the faint sound of birds settling high in the boughs well above. There was the smell of new leaves, the faint scent of philadelphus and lime trees and I walked with a certain degree of care, remembering the varying levels of the path as well as letting my eyes settle into the low levels of light. The dogs’ sight is far better adapted and they had no such qualms.

Looking up at the sky at night is a momentary glimpse of extraordinary peace. The scale and beauty must make us all feel rather humble – it is a place of wonder and dreams and fantastical tales with, of course, not a black hole in sight. But my distant school days reminds me they are there. Stephen Hawking said “Black holes are stranger than anything dreamt up by science fiction writers.”  I have a faint understanding of them, but in some ways think they are part of the balance to the gravitational pull of stars, it is never just one sided.


Back here on earth, black holes have a strong association with money which, particularly round here, has a habit of disappearing into black holes without trace. Money comes in and, instead of following the mathematical rule of “multiply”, it seems to be subject to the other rule, the one of “subtraction”.

Of course, every government makes the first pass at the subtraction routine.  Sales taxes, income taxes, car taxes, business taxes, capital taxes (assuming you ever catch enough income to keep some), fuel taxes, insurance taxes, climate change taxes, flight taxes, TV license, stamp duty. The list is endless. You are taxed from cradle to grave and I don’t think it much matters whether you live in the UK, the USA or anywhere else.


It is a black hole because it is all paid in by us and then disappears into some sort of witch’s brew whereby, by the time it is distributed to where we voted for it to go, there seems to be not much left to be distributed.

The Bible stories are much more optimistic. Jesus multiplied fish, loaves and wine: a much better system. A further bonus is offered because, if we do our best here, then heaven is an option and everything will get even better. Governments, of course, take a dim view of death and tax us on exit as well.

There are still records from medieval times of the taxes or tithes that were collected here at Highclere. One tenth of the agricultural income went to the church each year.  Then there were further land taxes and extra levies in time of war as well as fines. In the 14th century even the sheep were taxed.

Three Follies : Jackdaws, Heavens Gate and Etruscan Temple

Furthermore, Highclere has plenty of black holes – the follies and ancient buildings have a tremendous gravitational pull on any revenue. The good news is that they add visibly to the beauty of the landscape and give moments of relaxation. Any project to do with the repair of buildings usually has a large hidden bill attached to it via such less visible “drains”,  downpipes, damp, ditches and drives.

The Temple of Diana

As an aside to this, it has to be said that the staff photograph collections here at Highclere are odd to say the least. In order to find things again in times of need, Duncan, who is in charge of our computer network, is always photographing the ditches and cable runs on his phone. John, our Castle Manager, photographs drains, springs and puddles in case of flooding or car park issues whilst Scottish Robert, in charge of security, has a splendid collection of broken gates and fences.  It is all marvelous viewing for spare time.

John Gundill’s fascinating photos of water coming up one molehill and down another …

I suspect I can’t talk as my photo collection is parts of WW2 planes we have found on the Estate but these are much more exciting!

Noel Coward wrote: “I have always paid income tax. I object only when it reaches a stage when I am threatened with having nothing left for my old age – which is due to start next Tuesday or Wednesday”.