Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Social Mobility And Immobility

On Sunday watching Everton v Bournemouth I was reminded that Everton was founded in 1878 when a new amusement, Association Football, was coming into fashion. By chance on the same day I was reading the Luton Times And Advertiser for 2nd May 1879 and the report of a society wedding attended by the great and good.

The bride, with a handsome portion, money that is, was the daughter of a local landowner, magistrate and Master of the Oakley Hunt. The first child of the marriage, a daughter, went on to marry a major landowner, magistrate, Master of the Brayton Hunt who became a Member of Parliament in the Conservative Party.

They were close to another of that kind, a William Middleton, nicknamed "Bay", Master of the Pytchley Hunt, who is famed with being close to Elizabeth, (Sisi), Empress of Austria, who turned up at the Grafton Hunt by Daventry with a dozen horses and hunted far and wide in England and Ireland. Bay was alleged to be the natural father of Clementine Hosier, later Churchill.

At that time a cousin of bride's was living close to the Everton ground, working as a watch maker, who died early leaving a penniless widow and child forced to return to her family of skilled workers and become more or less a household servant for the rest of her days. It is all about Social Mobility, as the sociologist said when he was knocked off his bike by a Rolls Royce.

It is fascinating that with a great deal of the local press of the past now available online instead of the weeks and months of travelling and searching, it is possible to see life in the provinces as it was seen to them and not just in the major London press or the prejudiced and limited sources of the academics and theorists of the past.

There are others matters, unmentioned in most history. One is the huge impact the invention and rapid application of wireless telegraph had in communications. I noted that the first indications in the UK that something had gone badly wrong in the British cavalry in the Crimea in late 1854 came from the Russian telegraphs and not from the government.

Quite suddenly there was an immediacy for contact and information sourcing which must have made a radical difference in many fields. One was that shipping intelligence was available saying where the ships had been, where they were and when and where they arrived.

What of the now? Could it be that with this vast store of information to be had on the click of a button we find out that much of what we are told about history and the theorizing of so many of our university and other historians has been based on flimsy and inadequate information and evidence?

It does make me wonder. We are said to have had a long depression in the agricultural industry in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Yet estimating the costs of all the Hunts and hunting and the extent when it was a "must" for the upper landowning classes could this must have impacted on the investment needed for the land. Especially, if you take the horse racing into account.

Instead of money going into improving the land and agricultural production we imported the added food we needed for a growing population while the land became a playground for the equestrian class.

In the media today the trade figures are not looking good and there is all the debate about austerity, budget balancing and the rest. While watching the football I learned that eleven players on the field for one team on Sunday had cost £252 million in fees let alone what they, and their agents were paid.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Piling Down Debt

In the 21st Century we are living in a world of debt and there is nothing in history to guide us because of its scale and nature. In the past there have many examples of large scale debts but nothing on the scale of the present.

Also, we live in a world when the theory is that all should have some kind of education. In the developed world there has been a major shift into education systems that entail study commonly into the early 20's. Which raises the question of how the nature of student debt embroils the older generation as well as the younger students.

When people become involved in credit and debt and it goes wrong then almost inevitably trouble occurs, family or no family. The fact that is might be family and therefore some sort of higher obligation could be assumed may only make it worse.

The potential complications are all bad. Imagine a family where the parents have assumed debt liability for one child only eventually when probate occurs any other children or family losing any possible inheritance. If this includes family who are carers this will add to the trouble.

We are already stumbling into a situation where a lot of younger people are looking at older generations who have done well out of the rampant inflation of the late 20th Century and the easy lending on property, never mind those who have gained decent pensions. 

They are looking at the level of the debts they incurred for study and perhaps being gulled into taking on extra consumer debt as part of the bad boom created by the older generation for their own benefit. On top of that many now have little financial future as the post boom squeeze continues and the jobs market goes sour.

John Mortimer, the late writer, began his career as a barrister specializing in probate and related cases. It was his view that when it came to wills and inheritance and family money this was the boundary where civilization ended and the survival of the fittest began.

There was a time when with my family we used to play the traditional game of “snap”. No more, since they realised I was playing with a pack of marked cards inherited from a thoughtful uncle.

How long will it be before peoples, states or even population groups decide they no long want to play the games of debt, or we have not realised that they are no longer playing according to the old rules?

Friday, 11 January 2019

Who Is Your Friend?

There are things out there from the distant past that we can only wonder at, despair and search for any meaning. What do they tell us ordinary humans of the 21st Century? The Guardian today might tell us.

We have our own in the present world. It is located in a place of mystery and is distant from all of us.

We call it "Parliament" and the effigies are to be found in its deepest depths, The House Of Commons. Many of the members are associated with the LSE and the statue below "Equus" is to be found on the Plaza there.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Marching By The Left

Ten years ago an item was for sale online, said to be an etching made in 1910 of Lenin and Hitler playing chess together in a room. What worried me was the etching. This is skilled, expensive, and takes time and trouble. Anyone recording this event would have been more likely to make a quick sketch of one sort or another.

Also, there must have been many more interesting people in Vienna playing chess or talking together at the time. Hitler was an unsuccessful artist, just turned 20, and going nowhere. Lenin was just another middle aged political thinker and activist on the run from Tsarist Russia, ageing and seemingly with no real future.

The other tale about the travels of Adolf that had attention in the past is the one about his supposed visit to Liverpool between November 1912 and April 1913. Based on a suspect memoir by his sister-in-law, Bridget (born Dowling) known as Cissie, whose husband Alois Hitler; half brother of The Fuhrer, was working as a waiter in Liverpool at the time.

In the 1911 Census they are listed as Anton and Cissie, with their new born child William. The idea of a visit by Adolf became the plot of an imaginative and readable novel by Beryl Bainbridge that was turned into a TV drama. As ever the myth overtook the truth.

Detailed research in Vienna suggests that such a visit was never made, and that Bridget was making up an Irish whimsy later in life to help sell the copies of her life story. It is a great pity, at that time both my parents and their hordes of families were roaming the streets in which Alois and Bridget Hitler lived and worked.

In particular, the local RC Church was Our Lady's of Mount Carmel whose Elementary School headmaster was a grand uncle I once met. He had been a major figure in Liverpool's football circles and one of the founders of the Liverpool team.

I could have come up with all sorts of wild fantasies. A much better prospect for men who might have met and talked is a pairing that many would feel very unlikely. It is Lenin and Hook, one of the 13 men who won the Victoria Cross at Rorke’s Drift in 1879 when just over 100 men held off and defeated a Zulu Impi with a force of up to 4,500. They were certainly in the same place at the same time and for a year, and with interests in common.

In April 1902 Lenin, born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, was in London under the name of Jacob Richter, to avoid the attentions of the Paris agents of the Okhrana, the Tsarist Secret Police of Imperial Russia, and he stayed until May 1903. At the British Museum he was issued with ticket number A72453 to give him access to the Library with its vast resources of books, and he spent a great deal of time there researching and writing.

One minor speculation is where he preferred to sit, perhaps seats G7, H9, R7, R8, but the favourite is L13 because of its nearness to the reference shelves. Of the many attendants around, one would have stood out.

Alfred Henry Hook, who had dropped the Alfred early in life, known as Harry, was by then around 50, and perhaps already affected by the TB that was to end his life in 1905. He had been employed there since the 1880’s.

After earning his VC in 1879, and with permanent injuries he had bought out, and in 1881 was working as a groom to a General Practitioner in Monmouth named George Willis. Not long after he was employed at the British Museum as an attendant, and signed up additionally with the Royal Fusiliers, The London Regiment, 1st Volunteer Battalion as an instructor, rising to be Sergeant. The Volunteers were the predecessors of the Territorial Army, and often functioned as feeder units to the regular Army.

There are reasons for Lenin to check Hook out. One was that as a figure of authority he was more likely than most to be asked his opinion about this “Mr. Richter” if the Special Branch had been alerted by the Okhrana and were seeking information.

The logic would have been to test the possibility. Intellectually, however, would anyone with such an searching mind and intelligence of Lenin, miss the opportunity to have an occasional conversation with a man of this experience?

It would not have been difficult, because Hook was temperance, and as busy men both may well have used one of the cheap tea rooms in the vicinity before going on to meetings, as Lenin  would, or the Drill Hall, as Hook would. Even fifty years later, it was surprising who you could just bump into when going into a Bloomsbury tearoom for a quick cuppa and a sandwich.

Imagine, a foreigner with little income, but with a trained legal mind, high academic qualifications, and a great breadth of knowledge, asking plain reasonable questions to an older man to help him towards an understanding of this or that in the news in Britain. The end of the war in South Africa, a new Prime Minister, the crowning of the new King, the British in Somaliland and West Africa, the troubles of agriculture in the Atlantic Isles and more.

Hook was a countryman by birth, one of the many who joined the Army for employment and training. As for Empire, Hook had experienced the full reality of it at the end of his bayonet, and had been involved with many men since who had seen its further shores. He would have been able to make informed and incisive comments about the South African War of 1899-1902 and the business in Nigeria.

It is speculation, and no more, but what might Lenin have learned from Hook? Lenin at the time was interested in agrarian issues, colonialism, political structures, and the extent of financial interests. In military terms, it would have been organisation, discipline, tactics, the ability of a small well trained group with the motivation and leadership to withstand and overcome what was in theory a vastly superior force.

In 1914 the Old Contemptibles, the  small regular British army, stopped the might of the German Kaiser’s Imperial Army by its rifle skills, discipline, and bayonets. To understand Hook you need to forget the film “Zulu” and totally clear it from your mind. It is “Hollywood History”, not as bad or idiotic as most, but certainly with many adjustments to the facts and in particular the portrayal of personalities.

Hook of the film is a travesty, as are other characters, notably Dalton, but to a lesser extent Chard and Bromhead, both highly professional soldiers who at the end of the battle shared a bottle of beer found in a burned out wagon. Hook was a sober, capable man, probably with a West Country accent, literate and able to communicate well enough.

He would have been a good man to talk to. I believe he always remained a country man, because he returned to his home village, Churcham in Gloucestershire, to die. There is no statue to him anywhere; he has only a simple grave in a country churchyard.

If Lenin and Hook did meet and talk a time or two, it might have been this quality and a direct sense of purpose that may have impressed Lenin most of all.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Merkel Moves In Mysterious Ways

For a few days now I have had an item on file about Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and her various views on Europe, what it is for and whom and all her little whys and wherefore.

Chancellor Merkel is from Mecklenburg Vorpommen, that is the northern part of the former East Germany and the long and complicated history of this patch of ground is too much for a short post. But she will not think of Europe as others might do.

The delay in posting has been because having access to the archives of newspapers of the past there have been other things, notably seeing what the provincial press etc. had to see about major events as opposed to officials, the London press and later historians.

One has been the First Opium War of 1839-1842, see Wikipedia where it was said in the Liverpool Mail of 14 March 1840 that Lord Auckland, Governor General of Bengal, had declared war on China in the name of the British Government. He had already gone to war in Afghanistan if only, quote, "there is much excitement among the natives on account of the conduct of the missionaries".

The Liverpool Mail of 4th November 1854 makes a passing mention that "The private telegraph, however, would seem to reiterate and confirm Russian reports of considerable loss among the English cavalry." It seems that HMG at the time wished to keep quiet about the charge of the Light Brigade.

My thought is that it is wrong to see Merkel as some kind of dictator or media crazed politician other figures come to mind. If anything might she be a monarchist at heart, a sovereign ruler of a great empire who is there to command and protect and all that?

Perhaps she has a hope for past glories. There are two persons featured in this, Wilhelm and Nicholas, take your choice.

But we mustn’t mention The War or what did the Romans ever do for us when bringing in Germans in their Legions and Auxiliaries?

Saturday, 5 January 2019

The House Of Lords Yet Again

The blog, along with umpteen others has been saying for that the House of Lords is a bad business, a danger to the nation, an embarrassment to our Constitution and should have been either radically reformed or abolished a long time ago.

It would have been tempting to use a number of other words than Lords to try to make the point, but this would only detract from the seriousness of the situation.

It was bad enough in Mrs. Thatcher's time. But with Blair, Brown, Cameron and May using it as a make shift solution to a number of personal and personnel problems it has now gone beyond any sensible purpose.

I recall in the 1959 election being at a meeting of Labour M.P.'s who were there to discuss what to say to the voters about matters of policy for the future. They agreed that the Lords would have to go, but as the voters were more interested in other things to leave it out.

The Conservative M.P.'s in the area were in two minds, neither of which made any kind of sense and in any case meant keeping some kind of relic in place to commemorate a happier past before the pleb's got the vote.

What changes?

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Chew Over This

To add to our problems of choosing what to eat, where and how the latest sensation is that one chain for foodies, Greggs, now has a vegan sausage roll.

Quote Kent Online:

Vegans and anyone else curious to try the new pastry, will have to get in their car and drive onto the M2.

Only Medway's Moto services on the motorway's coast bound carriageway, between junction four for Gillingham and five for Maidstone, Sittingbourne and Sheerness, is being stocked with the vegan sausage roll.

Not a single town centre branch in Kent made the cut for Greggs' hotly-discussed new product.


Is, I ask, "made the cut" the best way to comment?