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Monday, January 11, 2010

Razor-Wire Fencing Surrounding George Harrison's Mansion, Friar Park, Is Taking a Heavy Toll on Cats from the Neighborhood


"...Give me love
Give me peace on earth
Give me light
Give me life
Keep me free from birth
Give me hope
Help me cope with this heavy load
Trying to, touch and reach you with,
heart and soul."
-- George Harrison


With the notable exception of his illustrious bandmate, John Lennon, George Harrison was arguably the most influential songwriter and musician that this world has produced in the past fifty years. (See 1974 photo of him above.)

On his 1973 album, Living in the Material World, he captured the Zeitgeist of the rollicking, frolicking 1960s when he penned the following memorable lyrics:

"... Give me love
Give me peace on earth
Give me light
Give me life
Keep me free from birth
Give me hope
Help me cope, with this heavy load
Trying to, touch and reach you with,
heart and soul."


Now, all these years later, Harrison's widow, Olivia Trinidad Arias, stands accused of being cruel to cats. (See photo of her below.)

The reason behind this allegation is the one-thousand-yards of six to eight-foot razor-wire fencing that surrounds the ex-Beatle's thirty-eight-acre estate known as Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Although accurate statistics are in short supply, at least four cats from the neighborhood have been impaled on the deadly razor blades in recent years.

Appraised at in excess of $32 million, the one-hundred-twenty-room Victorian neo-Gothic mansion already had a rather checkered past even before this controversy erupted. For instance, it served as a nunnery for the Salesians of Don Bosco before it was purchased by Harrison 1970 just prior to the breakup of the Beatles.

The Salesians, it might be recalled, aided and abetted the English ruling elites in a thoroughly shameful scheme that saw one-hundred-fifty-thousand poor and economically disadvantaged boys and girls rounded up and shipped to Canada, Australia, colonial America, and elsewhere between 1618 and 1967.

Upon arrival in their new homes, these unfortunate children were routinely beaten, sexually abused, and made to work as slave laborers. (See Guardian, November 15, 2009, "Child Migrant Scheme: Files Reveal Whitehall Unease.")

In more recent times they have been accused of shielding priests accused of sexual misconduct. (See Dallas Morning News, February 1, 2006, "Salesians Dispute Report That They Moved Suspects in Abuse.")

Before being acquired by the nuns, Friar Park was owned by a lawyer and horticulturalist named Frank Crisp between 1875 to 1919. Harrison later paid tribute to him by writing and recording The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp which is also known as Let It Roll. A CD by the latter title containing nineteen of Harrison's best known recordings was released to the public on June 16th of last year.

Although the video that accompanies Harrison's melodic Crackerbox Palace from his 1976 album, Thirty-Three and One-Third, was filmed at Friar Park, the song actually was written about comedian Lord Richard Buckley's house by that same name in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles. (See an aerial view of Friar Park below.)

The estate, which used to be open to the public, was closed after Lennon's murder in Manhattan in 1980 and Olivia had the razor wire installed in 1999. Because the wooden portion of the fence is now rotting and the razor wire aging, Harrison has petitioned local authorities to replace them with more of the same.

Faced with vociferous opposition from the community, members of the Henley Town Council unanimously vetoed her proposal only to have the South Oxfordshire District Council overrule them and decide in her favor. So far the only concession that Harrison has been willing to make to her opponents is a pledge to bore small holes in the bottom of the boards so as to allow cats and other animals to safely go and come as they please. (See photo below of the razor-wire fencing.)

Opposition to the fence is being led by seventy-two-year-old actor and comedian Rodney Bewes who is best known for his role as Bob Ferris in the BBC sitcom The Likely Lads, which aired between 1964-1966, and its revival as Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads between 1972-1974.

He most certainly has just cause for his concerns in that his six-year-old cat, Maurice, has become entangled in the razor wire on several occasions. Moreover, patching up Maurice has cost him several thousand pounds in veterinary bills and forced him on some occasions to alter his travel plans in order to remain at home and nurse his beloved companion back to health. (See bottom photo of him and Maurice.)

"Is the razor wire really necessary?" he asked the Henley Town Council in a letter quoted by the Daily Telegraph on September 25th of last year. (See "George Harrison's Widow Wins Razor Wire Planning Battle.") "Our cat has been caught three times, once severing an artery (and nearly losing his tail on another occasion), and we know of three other cats who have been injured."

As the rich widow of a former Beatle, Harrison's security concerns cannot be dismissed lightly. After all, back on December 30, 1999 thirty-three-year-old Michael Abram broke into Friar Park and stabbed her late husband seven times.

While Harrison futilely chanted "Hare Krishna" at his relentless attacker, it was left up to the Mexican-born Arias to beat him off with a poker and table lamp. Already suffering from throat cancer, the attack sans doute hastened his death in Los Angeles twenty-three months later.

For this murderous assault, Abram served only nineteen months in jail before being turned loose in 2002 by the Simple Simons who mete out their own watered-down version of justice in Old Blighty. (See Cat Defender posts of December 18, 2009 and November 24, 2008 entitled, respectively, "Teenage Wino Who Gunned Down Her Neighbor's Cat, Trouble, with a Crossbow from Her Bedroom Window Cheats Justice" and "Kilo's Killer Walks in a Lark but the Joke Is on the Disgraceful English Judicial System.")

Despite their obvious shortcomings, jurists in America so far have shown the bon sens to keep Lennon's murderer, Mark David Chapman, behind bars where he belongs.

Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that the fence is not necessarily the best way of protecting Olivia and her family. "It doesn't make it any more secure," Bewes protested to the Daily Mail on September 5, 2009. (See "Unlikely Spat: Rodney Bewes Goes to War with Beatles Widow over Razor-Wire Fence That 'Nearly Killed' His Cat.") "The bottom half is wood and with a good crowbar you could get through it no problem."

A far better alternative for Harrison, since she obviously has money to burn, would be to hire security guards and perhaps purchase an Alsatian. The estate already has surveillance cameras in situ.

Of course, it is conceivable that she would consider the presence of a security detail to be too intrusive. That is what Lennon thought and it ultimately cost him his life.

The presence of the razor wire also constitutes an unwelcome eyesore in the upscale neighborhood. "Lots of people have nice houses around here and none of us wants to be burgled but we don't all go around and put razor wire up," Bewes's wife, Daphne, told the Daily Telegraph in the article cited supra. "The new wire is going to be latticed which will probably take Maurice's eye out. You can't tell a cat not to be stupid and climb over it."

Other neighbors, such as John and Anna Rayner, object to the razor wire because of its association with despotic regimes. It is "just downright unneighborly to impose Stalag Luft 17 on the residents around Friar Park," they told the Daily Telegraph.

Fortress Friar Park is additionally an inappropriate monument for a man who preached the gospel of love and peace for thirty-five years. Much more to the point, the pain and needless suffering that the razor wire inflicts upon cats and other animals is anathema to Harrison's Hare Krishna faith.

Olivia's lack of concern for the well-being of her neighbors' cats also highlights another stark difference between her and Lennon. (See Cat Defender post of December 5, 2005 entitled "Remembering John Lennon: A Great Songwriter and a Brave Political Activist Who Also Loved Cats.")

Unfortunately, Harrison is no longer in any position to come to the cats' defense but the same cannot be said for Olivia. By dismantling the deadly razor wire she would not only spare the lives of numerous cats but also enhance her standing within the community. Such an act of compassion also would be a fitting tribute to George's life and work.

Photos: David Hume Kennerly of the White House via Wikipedia and the Gerald R. Ford Library (Harrison), Getty Images (Olivia), INS News Agency (Friar Park), Daily Mail (razor-wire fencing and Bewes and Maurice).