Monday, 11 December 2017

Who Were You With Last Night?

Roaming the channels for something, anything, of interest, came across a programme on Sky Arts which was two hours of David Cornwell, otherwise the author, John le Carre.

He was giving a talk about his life and times and writings to an audience at the Royal Festival Hall following the publication of his latest book, "A Legacy Of Spies".

After an hour of his talk, clips of actors talking about their roles in TV and film work of his books was then followed by an interview with John Snow. He has given interviews in the past and there is a good deal of material about on his life and career there were few surprises.

What interested me was the working conditions of the relevant security HQ's, how they were more or less organised and in particular what went down to the archives, all those reports and comments on reports made up and down the layers of management.

Much of the archive is already history, but not one perhaps that anyone living now will have any access to. It is for any future if there are then any historians or any archive left. It is a feature of the past that there has often been intended or accidental destruction of materials of value from their history.

But what history? When le Carre was doing his own scribbling and note taking at work, he was not the only one writing fiction. But he admits that often in his reports he was imaginative rather than factual and sometimes his analysis or opinion was off the cuff rather than thoroughly researched.

The picture above is of the actor, Alec Guinness, who played the fictional George Smiley created by le Carre. But was he "created"? The other man is John Bingham, 7th Baron Clanmorris, 1908-1988, who worked with le Carre who also wrote fiction, thrillers, detective novels and spy novels alongside his reports and is alleged to be the model for Smiley.

Even where his reports were honest, they might contain material from others which was uncertain, theoretical or guesswork. So how much of it is "real" history and how much just a pile of documents from the last which tell us little more? Yet this was a part of government that was supposed to be critical, albeit small, but with substantial importance for policy and action.

If around the desks of the higher echelons of the civil service there were others writing fiction or making it up as they went along and if the evidence is thin or unconvincing soup it up to get the decision you would like or some friends would want?

From Westminster move around The City of London  and the major corporations where you would expect perhaps tighter control and detailed study, if only because big money is involved. In recent years it seems to be no better. They are not interested in future history. They have very different priorities.

It was Henry Ford, 1863-1947, who said "History is bunk" and now we have John le Carre, or rather David Cornwell, to prove it.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Powering Up Or Down

Among the many things our government is supposed to be doing to provide for our futures and needs, nuclear means of providing electricity is one that slips in and out of the media.

In when something goes wrong, out when it is going right and relatively quietly gives us the energy we need for our modern and demanding lifestyles.

It is an expensive business and the complex engineering etc. of any major work means that what your first estimate and what you then have to pay out can be very different. What starts as an economic dream can become a financial nightmare.

"The Engineer" at theengineer dot co dot uk deals with the Iter project and the progress it is making. It is located in Provence, France, to the north east of Aix en Provence at St. Paul les Durance. It is up country and for the workers there short of the amenities usually associated with that region.

The Iter web site gives a full article on the history and purpose of the project. 35 nations are involved and probably it is the biggest and intended to be the best. If so, then it is possible it provides one of the models for the power generation of the future.

If there is a future, that is. Given all the forecasts of dire doom and destruction of the planet, the soils, the seas and the impact of too many humans contending for too little supplies it is an open question. Or shut according to what you believe.

The Iter project is in a part of the world where we have evidence of the first humans making fire and working together to feed and protect themselves.

Where it began it ends?

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Return Of The Native

Football fans everywhere, especially those crowded into smoky beery bars staring at the TV soccer will know that the ultimate waver of the whistle arm has returned.

Yes, Clattenburg of Arabia is back, boots polished, whistle washed clean of sand, having master minded the refereeing of Saudi Arabia to allow them to create theatre out of the sweat and toil of two footed strife with added fisticuffs.

There was a time when the heroes of the British Empire returning from the lands afar were military men, explorers, scientists, traders or just those who acquired land on a large scale or persuaded local potentates to swear allegiance to the crown.

All long gone both in memory, person and successors, or perhaps not. What is the pre-eminent football league in world soccer? It is our very own Premiership that enriches those that have and is ruthless to those who do not.

As Mark Clattenburg, in Saudi Arabia governing the refereeing there, strides out on the plastic greens of England and marks where the TV cameras are we can now look forward to all those interesting decisions that made us wonder at the workings of the human brain.

If TV and the media rule the masses and football rules TV and radio then who could be the arbiters of our politics if they turned their minds to it? In the USA their system allows them to have a President who is very like a referee in his work. The trouble is that Trump is sending off so many that few will be left to do the job.

But if we had the same, would say Mike Reed or Mark Clattenburg make a good president for the UK? Well, they might well be better than May or Corbyn. If not a referee, perhaps a manager/head coach. Would Sam Allardyce stir the masses to ensure English football ruled OK?

In the good old days, the monarch could have ennobled a person, put them into the House of Lords, appoint them Prime Minister and let them get on with it. Why not now if the electoral system is so far adrift from real democracy?

Back to the future, this time with a whistle?

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Seasonal Gloating

This was sent to me by someone I know.

It says it all about the joyful season of the year.

It does not say what jobs they had.

Taxi drivers perhaps? 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Hunting The Hunters

When and how are fair questions to ask about many things. But when it comes to where humans came from and their history over the millennia we are still finding our way about the remains that are left and the potential interpretations.

These interpretations and the ideas, assumptions and guesses we make in what we call politics, philosophy, economics and history, ancient and modern are not just an academic matter. A good deal of the present thinking is derived from our notions about the past.

The past may be different than that what most of us have been led to believe. This book review by Steven Mithen in the latest London Review of Books, titled "Why Did We Start Farming" summarises the book by James C, Scott titled "Against The Grain; A Deep History of Earliest States". It is literally food for thought.

This is a long read and not something to click, scan and rush off to the football scores or latest media thing. One of the many ideas that are questioned is why ancient cities built high walls. We have always assumed that they were to keep the outsiders out. Possibly, it might be that they were more designed to keep people in.

What interests me is that one factor little considered by historians etc. more interested in Kings, wars and elites, is disease, which perhaps mattered a lot more than we think.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Carrying A Torch

A couple of days back in the post "Ring Out The Bells", I wondered if a forebear of Ms Meghan Markle might be interesting, given the "Ireland" listed as her place of birth in the 1871 Census as the wife of Thomas Sykes.

When the marriage was found, the born name, Campbell, was not encouraging. There are a lot of them and with a regrettable tendency to have a limited choice of first names. But the force was with me. Mary Ann was with her widowed mother in 1851, working as a weaver just like her Sykes husband to be. Both were weavers, the loom of love and all that.

It seems likely that she was the daughter of a John Campbell who married a Bridget Feran. This was very interesting because the location was Kilbroney by Carlingford Lough and is in County Down. It is close to Rostrevor near to Warrenpoint where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

It is not just a scenic and lovely area, it has a major monument to General Robert Ross, the eminent soldier, who led the British expeditionary force to the Chesapeake during the wars in North America around 1814.

Ross was the man who torched Washington DC in 1814 and after going on to the siege of Baltimore, where he died, this was when Francis Scott Keys composed what came to the national anthem of the USA. Ross's deputy was Colonel Arthur Brooke from whom there are connections to Prince Harry.

Were any of Meghan's ancestral Campbell's or related families involved in this? Two hundred years on there are many from that district whose descendants are now in Liverpool. Were she to be given the Freedom of the City, she might even become an honorary Scouser.

What you might call a burning question.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Yanks Go Home

So a Yank whose mum was from the Western Isles of Scotland is having trouble dating a British girl amongst whose family are miners from Clackmannanshire. Well, t'was ever thus. It could be the class issue, she is the daughter of a clergyman, a caste of their own. He is the son of a German rent collector. Need I say more?

There is more to it than that. He is President of the USA and therefore Head of State. She is Prime Minister of the UK but not Head of State, just another hired hand among the many the monarch has appointed and then disappointed. One can imagine Her Maj' at breakfast, "Tell me, who is Prime Minister today?"

Then there is the tech' business. President Trump is a frenetic tweeter, PM May has aides to do this kind of thing, or not as she prefers. Trump prefers a cavalry charge, even at risk of becoming a Mark 2 General Custer. May is more for the "Ils Ne Se Passeront Pas" approach. The trouble is that came from The Battle Of Verdun.

Both however, need a tad of sympathy. Each inherited a room full of files marked urgent, which had been stacked in a corner to await the successor and to avoid adverse poll ratings. In Washington DC, unluckily, some of them were marked up for President Reagan, or even Johnson. In Westminster, some of the dustiest were for the Earl of Home.

In both cases what were the nations then and what they are now and what they are at risk of becoming are different and in some respects the changes are radical. The American Dream has become a bad long night of lying awake dreading the sound of the alarm. The British long sleep of Europe has meant we fell down the stairs.

Whether Trump stays the course of his Presidency, or even is re-elected is an open question. How long May will last is less of a question, the real one is who next? So if they do meet it will be more like ships passing in the night, sending light signals lost in the fog. They will learn little and stand to lose a lot.

Or will they collide and both go down?