Saturday, 3 December 2016

Another Vote Another Surprise




I was thinking of doing a post about the bye-election on Thursday which resulted in a shock slight shiver win for the Liberal Democrats. It was to be titled "The Loss Of Richmond Hill" with a link to the old folk song about a Lass.

But on checking it I was reminded of something I ought to have remembered. The Richmond in question of song is in North Yorkshire up by The Dales and is a delightful town which at one time had an excellent choice of public houses.

Not the same at all as the grubby suburb of Richmond in South West London that was a Tory seat in the House of Commons until the local party either lost its wits or fell subject to Central Office and put in Zac Goldsmith, scion of one of our plutocrats. Zac resigned as MP in a fit of pique, perhaps assuming he would win the bye-election.

Probably, somewhere in the media are comments about it being a dark reminder of the past. In 1962 the Liberal no hope man in Orpington, a grubby suburb in South East London, Eric Lubbock, see Wikipedia, took the seat against the Tory, Peter Goldman, (cue joke about Gold Standards) who upset voters by taking them for granted. An austerity budget from Selwyn Lloyd did not help.

In 1963 the Tory Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan went. In 1964 the Tories went having lost the election to Harold Wilson's Labour Party. Whatever we may think of him now, in the early 60's Wilson was regarded by many as a political adventurer and hard line socialist, rightly or wrongly.

Can and does history repeat itself?

Friday, 2 December 2016

Are You Listening?





A major issue in the debate on the deep history of mankind is what came first?  Was it tones of sound; a paleolithic form of music? Was it what passed for language as a means of communication rather than arm waving and shouting like that of our new age leaders?

A link takes us to what is claimed to be the first known tune from recorded music from a clay tablet found in Syria. It takes a little time to load but then scroll down to the video Ancient Lyre to hear what it sounds like, it takes two minutes.

This is the first known tune, and does not sound too far away from many of our present forms of music, it seems familiar to several pieces. Did I hear a hint of "Danny Boy"? But who liked what music and what might it have done for their thinking, work or influences?

This longer in depth article by Mark Lindley on Marx and Engels in Music in the Monthly Review of 18 August 2010 is an attempt to work out what music they listened to, liked and how it may have fitted in with their ideas.

Reading it made me wonder if these thinkers of our futures and explainers of the past might have benefited from a few nights in the popular music halls with the workers, brass band concerts, hymns ancient and modern, military bands, ballroom dancing and for history all the many and various folk tunes and songs to hand.

Here is my two minutes from Fisherman's Friends and given the number and nature of the mariners in the DNA it is no surprise. Mrs. Thatcher was a great fan of Giacomo Puccini's, especially "Turandot", see the picture above from Covent Garden. She was still clapping when we made for the exits.

Marx seeing Wagner as the music of the future gives pause for thought.

Who else was a great fan of Wagner's?

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

What Really Happened?





When we are considering History how should we regard it? Cue many thousands of words citing learned historians, philosophers, theologians, scientists and others down the ages. Their aim will have been to make it explicable, perhaps logical and often related to some form of coherent human activity.

On the other hand, some have suggested the conspiracy and cock-up basis for much of it. But I would enlarge this by the BEAMS approach. B is for botch, bungle; E is for error; A is for accident; M is for mistakes and misunderstandings; and S for stupidity.

Cock-ups and conspiracies are intertwined, the one breeds the other. But they both have elements of BEAMS at their heart. This is not a "what if" approach, that is another matter. It is about taking a good hard look something and the detail to find just what really happened.

Again, I have pointed to the difference between what we do know and what we don't. We do have written records, up to a point. They may not be reliable or truthful.   But there are many written records lost. We do have calendars that are a help.

What we do not know because they are unrecorded are the conversations, discussions and rest between this person and that. We will have many reports of these at second or third hand but the further you get from time and place and original the more doubt there is.

One factor in history are the relevant records, where they are, how they might be accessed and how easy or difficult they are to read. For me the newly digitised records that are indexed of so many sources means that all that time and expense of travel etc. can be avoided for many records.

Also, gone are all those scribbled notes in boxes or files that are piled up that are easy to forget or rather later find. Also gone is the heaving, getting and ploughing through hefty volumes with a good chance of missing or not registering significant detail.

Rewriting the course of history or changing history has become so much easier. There could soon be a lot of it about. The great house of history might well be found to have a lot more "beams" than expected.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Can You Have Equal Equality?




The web site "Conservative Women" had an item "You won't find many feminists at the coal face" as a comment on the limited ambitions of Equality campaigners. In fact, much of our dirty heavy manual work now is left to others.

The picture above is of female coal miners in Wales in the 1890's. In the past it was normal for females to be employed in heavy and dirty jobs on a level with men, if for lower wages whether or not they were the breadwinner. The fish trade ashore was one. I remember on the railways it was unwise to upset the ladies in the carriage sheds.

During the two world wars women and anyone available would be doing the work usually done by adult men. After these wars the losses and the readjustments of men meant a good many remained in such jobs especially as conscription and large armed forces removed large numbers from the labour force.

This was compounded by a much lower expectation of life for men in the heavy manual work with a higher accident rate than at the present. So the past is more complicated than it seems and the nature and extent of women's work more varied. In the last half century the labour force has been affected by rather longer education imposed on the young.

In the first quarter of the 21st Century we intend to correct the occupational and career imbalances of the previous three generations. One effect is to remove from the labour force a high proportion of the older and less educated and qualified. Another is to reduce the amount of heavy work and factories etc. and other places reliant on manual labour.

At the same time new recruitment and promotions etc. means that past imbalances are to be eliminated and hiring policies will enable a different balance to be achieved soon. However this is being done within one generation at a time of rapid economic and structural change. This will create other distortions that will be troublesome to correct.

What could be the political and social consequences?

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Who Do You Think You Were?





There are times when watching the TV when I sigh a deep sigh. Often it is to mutter, why do they not go into the detail of demographic statistics, variability and analysis? Possibly, because they have a storyline to tell that they want people to watch.

The papers have covered the story of the first episode of the latest run of "Who Do You Think You Are?" on BBC1. It dealt with Danny Dyer, the actor prominent in the series "East Enders" who is an East Ender playing an alpha ultra East Ender who turns out to have Royal ancestry.

It began with the personal story emphasising his working class London background. The first part went back several generations in London and was said to have a hint of French ancestry, aha, the Huguenots and religious persecution and migration, but that was not chosen.

There was a marriage to an ordinary lady of East Anglian ancestry, who was the "gateway". A few generations earlier in the 17th Century her forebear had been a Royalist landowner busted by the Puritans. Further back there was a marriage, another marriage and then a Seymour, the same ones that King Henry VIII married into.

Then before there was Lionel of Antwerp, a younger son of King Edward III and away you go. Who would have thought it, how could it have been possible, how unique is Danny? The answer to that is that he is far from unique. Out there is a huge number of people, who are among his distant cousins.

Good for Danny and his family, he was lucky enough to have a team of experts and historians do the job for him. It made up for the sad case of a convicted lady who had suffered serious poverty.

But I bet I have more convicts that he has.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Fidel Castro





When Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba at the beginning of 1959 I was just finishing a spell of manual labour, one that involved night shifts, on British Railways. I had more on my mind than Latin American politics. It was another coup, another dictator and probably another team of looters who were now in power in Cuba.

What I knew about Cuba was hazy recollections of scenes from Hollywood movies, such as "Guys And Dolls" which had put a fun time easy going gloss on the way of life. That Castro and Co. were socialists claiming to be Marxist Leninist told me what their screen play and script was but perhaps they wouldn't last long. A few wrong moves and Washington DC would make other arrangements.

The surprise was that they had not done so already. But in 1958 President Eisenhower had a lot on his desk. Moreover, his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles was a very sick man at the turn of the year and did not recover dying shortly after. Meanwhile, Neil McElroy, Secretary for Defense was playing out time before returning to Proctor and Gamble. There were too many great matters to deal with and a scuffle in the USA's back yard was a very low priority.

By the time Washington DC realised what was up in Cuba the Castro team had been able to establish themselves and to begin to wipe out the opposition and any disaffected elements. Not only did they have the weapons they had a creed. That the creed was intended to persuade the masses of poor gave them the advantage. That they soon controlled the military ensured their power.

Over in Europe, the ideas of nationalising companies and of central control over economic planning and development was common currency. Those of us employed on British Railways just accepted it and that the idea of returning rail travel and goods to the private sector seemed impossible given all that needed to be done. We were lucky that we had done this by voting and not by the need to overthrow dictators by violence.

For those on the further Left, Castro became something of a folk hero, achieving change by a Leninist type of power, we thought, of revolution and creating The New Age by a combination of force and unquestioned authority. Later in 1959 when offered a choice between You Have Never Had It So Good Conservatism under Macmillan and a divided Labour Party, part Gaitskell the Leader and most of their voters and part of the hard Left, the activists the electorate plumped for Macmillan and Butler with policies nicknamed "Butskellism".

Perhaps that is how we saw Castro. What nobody could have predicted was that Castro would hold on, and on, and on. In effect Cuba became a Communist Monarchy with a Castro Royal Family, but without a religious creed. They had a modern creed, or their own variant, of Marxist-Leninist or what was said to be Marx and Lenin's thinking. This creed can be very elastic in its applications. What does send a shiver through the mind is Corbyn and friends howling their grief, all hail the power of Castro's name.

They began as a vicious group of terrorists, achieved power by force, held on to power by ruthless authoritarian means and created a poor nation without hope or a future.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Back To 1975 With Helen And Parky





Those watching the sport may have missed the revival of one of our ancient customs; the debate between Ms. Helen Mirren, actress, and Mr. Michael Parkinson, a tame Yorkshireman, camera friendly and bossy who was picked out to be a major BBC interviewer one of whose "guests" was Helen.

Parky comes from Cudworth, a mining village by Barnsley town and close to the brewery which made the Barnsley Bitter, one of the old vintage bitter beers. As you entered Cudworth on the main road you would see a large advert' painted on the side of a factory for Parkinson's Boiled Sweets. This was a Doncaster firm which may or may not be connected.

Mirren is a southerner with a rich mixture of Eastern Europe and Londoner and working class as well as impoverished aristocrats. She too was a grammar school girl made good. During the 60's I saw her perform at the RSC Stratford a couple of times and she could act. Quite why Parky should do a "take down" interview is a puzzle. Perhaps he was only obeying orders.

The row is the allegation of 1975 MCP prejudice by Parkinson against Ms. Mirren, who is concerned with Feminism and the way women were treated and regarded by TV and the media in the past. The 1975 interview with her concentrated on her physicality rather than her stage work with the RSC and the extent of TV appearances.

She is an attractive lady and I suspect that some producers and directors were not shy of demanding that this quality might add to performances and filling the house. The Parkinson interviews, late night Saturdays commonly dealt with celebrity 1970's life and times and his plebian Yorkshireman routine was supposed to engage us.

The reality was that it was about audience figures in the three channel days when the BBC was in bitter rivalry with ITV. The commercial channel needed the viewers to up the advertising income and the BBC needed them to persuade the politicians to carry on up the licence fee.

Something  crucial is missing from the debate is that on 9 May 1975 the BBC screened a film it had made starring Robert Hardy and Helen Mirren called "Caesar And Claretta" lasting only fifty minutes. It was a fictional and arty piece about the last night that Benito Mussolini, the defeated dictator Duce of Italy, and Claretta Petacci, his mistress, spent together before the Italian Partisans who had captured them carried out the executions.

The storyline was that stress had affected Benito so much that all he wanted to do was sleep whereas Claretta wanted to have a last fling and on top. It was very ripe and naked and afterwards the BBC had a lot of publicity about how raw it was, which suited their suits as it put the BBC among the forward thinking of the time.

Was the Parkinson interview with Mirren before or after the film was screened? If it was before was the BBC telling Parkinson to wind it up to boost viewing numbers later for what might have seemed to viewers to be low level WW2 history? If it was after then it would have been the BBC trading off a juicy bit of TV with the publicity that it attracted in the 1970's.

It is odd in context given the deferential treatment others were often given. But with only three TV channels and limited drama prospects a thespian doing an interview show had to put up with what the presenter and his hirers wanted in that they could be made or broken in the space of a few minutes.

What mattered was the ratings first, second and third and nobody knew that better than Parky. Helen did not matter.