Monday, 31 October 2011

Speaking In Tongues

Yesterday we found ourselves with a group of people again who we first knew around a decade or go and after. It was good to see them and enjoy chatting about matters of common interest, largely music and performance. But this time there was a key difference to the nature of discussion.

Then we might disagree or wonder about matters of simple fact in the way that people do. There was also the question of how to find information, where, when and at what cost. On top of that who to contact to find things out and what advice they might give from their knowledge or books. “If she was here she would know….” Etc.

This time there was none of that. A small device held in the palm of the hand linked to a myriad of sources and with immediate contact to any number of people could give a stream of information and guidance. Later, on the train home, we noticed very many of the other passengers clicking away.

This time I had my own back on the technology. The train was diverted for scheduled works. The passengers suddenly did not know where exactly they were and the details of the changed route were not there. Only I knew, for the simple reason of long experience and the knowledge acquired over many years.

But this is no reason for smugness because the use of all this is now routine and often necessary to the way of my life. A couple of days before someone we knew had been in deepest Surrey and did not know the rail system. So sitting at home and looking at the screen I was able to tell them on their old mobile phone where they were going and what to do next at the London Terminal.

It was going to be a couple of hours before they were due so in that time other things needed attention. Another person was badly strapped for time and with a web site to care for and a post due. So I spent half an hour scratching round the relevant expert web sites, set up a few links and passed them on to be redone as the item needed.

Quite how much library time and photocopying once would have been required and then later reading and editing in hard copy for documents to be despatched is not easy to calculate. But it would have been a lot of time and work.

Then to something of my own, looking into the family history of someone who asked for help and seeing what gave and if there was anything of interest. This one was a lucky run, much of the information needed was there for the taking and not only that there was one reliable source to enable confirmation.

There was just one issue, a twenty year gap for great great grandfather, so what was he up to? After a little work the National Archive delivered the goods in the shape of his complete naval records and then other sites gave pictures and the histories of all the vessels on which he had served.

About round an hour or so it took to research, give or take a cup of tea. Also, the cost was tiny. Not so long ago this work would have taken days or weeks, long sessions in libraries and a good deal of travel, the cost would not have been small.

Not just that, the number of intermediaries was nil, it was all between me and the machine. Clearly, the effort was in putting the information and advice on the web by someone somewhere but this cost had been carried in other ways and at my end was really minimal. The way the world works has utterly changed.

Beyond that there is much more. We are no longer confined to what the main media decide to tell us or the many and various fictions our politicians or the material sitting in one place or another, often distant. Also, we do not have the business of access it is all there for the taking.

Within hours or even minutes of an official statement or story or the rest there can be a flood of comment, information and often genuine expertise and knowledge to draw on to balance and examine this for those inclined to look.

Add to that the way we can now communicate immediately and extensively, if not always effectively. The world has changed but there is little sign that government, the main media, security forces or others have even begun to catch up with it.

So where will I be pitching my tent tomorrow?

Friday, 28 October 2011

Boris Island A Penal Settlement For Taxpayers

Around the South East numbers of high maintenance executives, public and private sector, together with a large array of consultants, financial experts and all the others will be spending quality time (and our money) talking about Boris Island. The cry is that because this is “infrastructure” it has to be good no matter how much it costs.

This is not to be a penal settlement for people who cycle on pavements, more the pity, it is a plan for a vast new hub airport for the south east on an island in the Thames Estuary created out of the surplus of mud and garbage there. It is the brain child (or storm) of the Mayor of London.

At precisely the same time a bitter debate is going on about allowing Manston Airport, 25 miles away, with a long runway and facilities, 8 night flights. Also, in that general area there has been debate about the improvements to Southend Airport, about 15 miles away. Biggin Hill has given up trying to attract airlines because of local issues and will stick to executive and other air traffic.

In the farm shop we go to we adjourned to the fields where lettuce is being grown to decide which to have and they were duly pulled. Most of the other produce had been pulled earlier that morning. There was a discussion on the local chicken farms.

The reason why we have to go the farm is that the former infrastructure for taking such produce to the local towns has been wiped out by the supermarkets and their operations. With it has gone the flexibility, the responsiveness to local needs and also the outlets for the local farmers.

So at the supermarkets we can buy chickens from Thailand, lettuce from Spain or Africa, other produce from anywhere in the globe you can think of, but not anything from a farm just down the road. Nor can we check its provenance or try to calculate just how fresh it is. They have ways of calling it fresh.

These wonders have been delivered to us by the vast amounts spent on what is called “infrastructure” which by air and road allow networks of trucks working out of a limited number of national depots to cart the stuff about. The reason it costs so little is that the virtual slave labour out there coupled with huge taxpayer subsidies enable this to happen.

The UK at present is littered with runways all over the place of one sort or another. The reasons why we need “hubs” is because the potential for linking a variety of locations has never been explored properly. Worse still, the existing rail links are not made use of and there are no plans for other rail links.

Could someone somewhere in the vastness of Whitehall sit down and try to look at just what the possibilities might be and the advantages of having a large number of runways with a flexible network of links are? Given the amount of time people have to spend both travelling to and from and at major hubs it might even be quicker.

Boris Island has all the makings of a huge prestige project financial disaster if it were to happen. It is still a disaster if it were not to happen because of all the time and effort wasted on a dubious project which could have been better directed.

Last week a snail emerged from a cabbage so we took out into the garden. I asked the farmer if it had arrived home yet. He said not, but would keep a look out for it.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Merkel's Battle Of Kursk

The way the mind slips around and mixes things up is a curious thing. Perhaps I should take more water with it. There I was watching the BBC TV documentary on Bletchley Park out of interest and up on the screen comes information about the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943.

Battles of the past do not come bigger than this one when in 1943 the Soviet’s turned the tide against The Third Reich although there might have been some battles of ancient times where relatively the numbers could have been comparable.

Meanwhile the discussions in Brussels had reached a similar crunch point as the bureaucrats and the bankers battled for the hearts and minds of politicians. The question of who won will not be known for a little time but most of us are already aware of who will be the losers.

In the summer of 1943 the Third Reich had major forces on its Eastern Front having taken control of the states to the east of Russia. The Greek campaign had meant a major military commitment in that territory.

It had lost the North African war and this meant it had to make up its mind between whether Italy or Greece was most at risk. Europe was substantially under its control, those countries that were not had to pay close heed to what The Third Reich wanted.

But from the Battle of Kursk onward the Third Reich was in retreat. By the end of 1944 the Allies were poised to conquer Germany and reduce it to dependency status in thrall to states who had the resources to dictate to it what its political structure would be and how it would be organised.

Moving on to 2011 and the Battle of Brussels in which issues arising from Greece, Italy, Eastern Europe and the rest have come together to bring about the end of an EU dominated by German money and French treachery as a world force.

So who now will be calling The Great Game? Brazil, Russia, India and China it appears may be bankrolling the bail outs with added help from North Africa and the Middle East.

Brussels 2011 may be our financial equivalent of 1943 Kursk and again it is Italy, Greece that are the liabilities.

How long will it be before the BRICS occupying forces and their associates are camped out in the centres of Europe more or less telling us all what we can do and what we cannot?

In London, this is less of a problem, they are already here.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Shakespeare, Family And Friends

It is Agincourt Day, so perhaps the right time to comment on William Shakespeare. The debate on his authorship has been restarted by the film “Anonymous”. This is one of many attempts to deny his claim. The prime difficulty of nearly all of these is that they concentrate on a limited circle of poets and aristocrats who are reckoned to be superior in many ways.

There are few attempts to place Shakespeare in the real world of Warwickshire and London at the time and even fewer to search around the sources on the many and various families who had some sort of connection to him. These are largely omitted from or footnotes to the general and even literary histories.

For the most part they are minor gentry, merchants and similar who are there to be found. This post is almost entirely factual. There is very little theory or debate and less speculation other than one or two common sense observations in this item.

Yet this is a bare outline concentrating on the main strands only. If one took account of all the others known, connected by marriage or contact and their lives, which relate to the main strands we would be looking at a major piece of work.

It is very complicated but there is a simple proposition. At the time of Shakespeare there were just too many people who knew him or of him for the authorship to be much of a secret. It is possible to give a sketch of those people to put it all in place.

Down the later generations taking the known and direct links, some of which do reach into the higher aristocracy and monarchy there is a growing number of people in each generation who connect and into the 18th Century they lead directly into the literary and theatrical life of London and The Midlands in that period.

If they accepted Shakespeare it is difficult to see how, with their background, it could be any other person. We begin with the Somerville family who are known to be close to Shakespeare, notably in his later life on retirement to New Place at Stratford.

In the 15th Century in the Guild of St. Anne at Balsall, near Coventry there were displayed the Arms of the Aylesbury family. Also in membership were some named Shakespeare. Where John Shakespeare, father of William or his family came from is not known. What is known is that his mother was Mary Arden understood to be related to a collateral branch of the major Arden family of Warwickshire.

They were based at Park Hall, now enclosed in Birmingham. The Aylesbury’s were based in Eastcote in the 16th Century between Birmingham and Coventry and not far from Balsall with holdings elsewhere. Late in the 15th Century the senior member of the Aylesbury died leaving only an heiress, Joan, who took with her on marriage the estate of Edstone, in Wootton Wawen just north of Stratford upon Avon.

She married a Somerville, so their estate in the immediate later generations was owed to the Aylesbury inheritance. Meanwhile the next male Aylesbury heir remained at Eastcote. At some time the Aylesbury’s acquired a property in London, Holborn in the Parish of St. Andrews, now overlooked by Mirror newspapers.

So in the time of Shakespeare William Aylesbury and his first wife, Anne Poole of Sapperton in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds were in and around Holborn, London and Warwickshire. At the same time the Somerville family had made a Corbett marriage.

The Poole’s were a major family at that time in Gloucestershire with as neighbours the Whittington’s who had moved down from their original estate at Pauntley. There had been a marriage. Also amongst the marriages are another major family, the Bridges, later Dukes of Chandos and rather further back a Rawley of Devon.

A short distance from Sapperton were the Marsh’s of Edgeworth, probably originally rich wool merchants from Cirencester who became minor landed gentry. Their story is a little later on. As well as those mentioned there were a whole clutch of families intermarried and in activities that inevitably must have transacted with those of the burghers of the major trading town of Stratford on Avon.

To return to Stratford, who was close in location and connections? At Alcester, there was the Willoughby family with a lineage in the maternal line derived from the great magnates of the 14th and 15th Centuries through a marriage to a Welles.

At Coughton there were the Throckmorton’s a family at the very centre of Elizabethan politics and The Court of Queen Elizabeth I. Across the river at Charlecote were the Lucy family, notable, if not at the highest levels.

Look at Edward Arden*, c1542-1583, who married Mary Throckmorton* and whose son-in-law was John Somerville*...Amongst the many Throckmorton marriages was a Bridges. One major branch of this family were located in Northant’s of which Sir Nicholas Throckmorton*, a major figure was the head.

Sir Nicholas married Ann Carew*, the daughter of Sir Nicholas Carew* and their daughter, Elizabeth (Bess) Throckmorton* was Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth I* before Sir Walter Raleigh* closed in married in haste and they both finished in The Tower of London where their first child was born.

Sir Nicholas Carew was related to Queen Elizabeth I by virtue of their shared ancestry from Sir Thomas of Hoo*. Lord of Hoo and Hastings. His father, also Sir Thomas of Hoo was at Agincourt as Knight of the Pennant to Thomas, Lord Camoys who commanded the Left Wing of the army. The younger Sir Thomas married twice, firstly to Elizabeth Witchingham and secondly to Eleanor of Welles.

Queen Elizabeth I descended from Geoffrey Boleyn and Ann of Hoo, daughter of the first marriage, whilst the Carew’s descended from the second marriage to Eleanor.

In 1578 the Queen visited Norwich and worshipped in the Cathedral. Her throne was directly opposite the tomb of Geoffrey and Ann and with the arms of Boleyn, Hoo, Witchingham, St. Leger and St. Omer emblazoned above it.

Lionel Lord Welles* died in 1461 at the Battle of Towton*. . His second marriage had been to the widow of John Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, Margaret Beaufort born a Beauchamp and mother of the Margaret Beaufort* who became Countess of Richmond and mother of King Henry VII.

Sir Nicholas Carew was one of the Companions and also Master of the Horse to King Henry VIII and Knight of the Garter until his beheading in 1539. He was of Plantagenet descent which if the Beaufort descent were disallowed on the basis of the births outside marriage of their ancestor meant he had a better claim to the throne than King Henry VIII.

One of the plays that Shakespeare is said to have had difficulty with is “King Richard II” dealing as it did with the overthrow of a rightful King. In this play there is the merest of hint of wider knowledge in the passing mention of Sir Robert Waterton.

Waterton was one of close followers of Bolingbroke, later King Henry IV* who may well have ridden with him in the Lithuanian Crusades. He was Constable of Pontefract Castle when King Richard II died there. Also, Waterton was the grandfather of Cecilia Waterton, the first wife of Lionel, Lord Welles and they are all buried together at Methley Church in the same tomb.

I did say it was complicated.

Back to Holborn in the time of William Shakespeare and to look at someone who was around, Sir Thomas Aylesbury 1st Baronet* (picture above), son of William and Anne Aylesbury of Eastcote and Holborn above and also brother to Anne (later).

His daughter, Frances married an up and coming lawyer, Edward Hyde* later Earl of Clarendon. Their daughter Anne Hyde* married James, Duke of York, later King James II* and was mother of Queen Mary II* and Queen Anne*.

Sir Thomas, in his poetic youth, apparently knew Richard Corbet or Corbett*, later Bishop of Oxford who frequented the Mermaid Tavern. Corbet was another poet whose works are largely forgotten.

Meanwhile, his sister Anne Aylesbury had married Francis Marsh of Edgeworth. His parents were Henry Marsh and Mary Leigh, daughter of Sir Nicholas Leigh of Addington*, in Surrey.

Sir Nicholas Leigh had married Anne Carew, sister of the Sir Nicholas Carew above and therefore Aunt to the Ann Carew who had married Sir Nicholas Throckmorton.

Another member of this Leigh family was Charles Leigh (died 1605)* a voyager of the later Elizabethan age who experiences seem to be close to those of the travellers in “The Tempest”.

The grandson of Francis Marsh and Mary was another Francis Marsh, Archbishop of Dublin* appointed by King Charles II* who was godfather to one of his sons, Charles Francis Marsh, in that he was close cousin to the Kings nieces, Mary and Anne by James and Ann Hyde. Charles Francis Marsh had a daughter Barbara Marsh. Queen Mary II was patroness to Henry Purcell, the composer who made use of Shakespeare.

The Archbishop’s wife was Mary Taylor, daughter of Bishop Jeremy Taylor* one of the leading Anglican clergy of his time and formerly Chaplain in Ordinary to King Charles I* having joined him at Nottingham in 1642 when he raised his standard against Parliament. Her mother was Phoebe Langsdale or Landisdale which brings us back to Holborn.

Phoebe’s father was Gervase (or Jarvis) Langsdale or Landisdale a leading Merchant who resided in Holborn and was buried at St. Andrews. In his will of the late 1620’s as well as money and property was £100 worth of tobacco. To be holding that amount of tobacco at that time suggests a range of business contacts that are interesting. Also, he was in Holborn and busy at the same time as the Aylesbury family.
In 1715 Barbara Marsh went on to marry the Very Reverend Wettenhall Sneyd and have 21 surviving children. This Sneyd family was wealthy gentry in Staffordshire; the University of Keele is based on the Keele Hall which was their major estate. In the 18th Century there were other branches in Staffordshire by Lichfield and in Ireland. Their lives were interwoven.

Also, close to Lichfield at this time were the Somerville family, having removed from Wootton Wawen and the senior Arden family removed to Yoxall, an early example of flight from an expanding Birmingham. It was at Lichfield that both Dr. Samuel Johnson* and David Garrick* enjoyed being mentored by Dr. Gilbert Walmisley*. There was quite a literary circle visiting.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth* was there from time to time, he married four times, twice to Sneyd girls. Anna Seward*, The Swan of Lichfield was in the area. A little further afield a Mrs. Ralph Sneyd became the lady on the Wedgwood pottery. For a time Richard Brinsley Sheridan” was MP for Stafford.

Which takes us to the Irish branch of the Sneyd’s and the family of Archdeacon Wettenhall Sneyd and Barbara Marsh based at Kilmore in Co. Cavan. This family were close to the Sheridan’s for several generations at one time being linked by marriage. Also in the area were Oliver Goldsmith before he went to London and the Nesbitt’s, of whom Arnold with others also went to London.

Arnold married Susannah Thrale, sister to the Henry Thrale whose wife, Hester was patroness of Dr. Samuel Johnson. Arnold, having no issue by marriage, and an MP made up for it by his affairs with actresses. To say that they were all intimately connected to the theatre of the time is no exaggeration.

Another complicated strand to all this is the Herveys, Earls of Bristol, the same Hervey’s whose Isabel had married Sir John Leigh of Addington, father of Nicholas. There are a number of other family possibilities and this is just a prime one.

To return to William Shakespeare and where he lived in London or who he spent time with other than the theatricals. There is very little known about this. But he had a wife and family in Stratford and possibly did not want much in the way of being responsible for a household in London.

So who did he lodge with and with whom did he eat and take his time? Moreover, who might have the room to give him space? If it was not one of the great lords it might well have been someone he knew and trusted from the wide circle of contacts from his home and district some of whom were wealthy enough to take in a non-paying guest with useful contacts.

More to the point, there were very many people close enough and knowing enough in both the London at that time and Warwickshire to know what he did write and what he was involved in. It is unlikely to have been much of a secret because so little was kept confidential in those times.

And that is not including the servants, the gossips and all those people unable to keep quiet about anything.

O for a muse of fire…………………

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Retreat From Sanity

For those with a passing interest in old military matters what is often more instructive is what can be learned from defeats and great retreats than victories and conquests. The difficulty is that the latter tend to receive more attention than the former in national histories.

In the discussions on the EU, the financial crisis and the world economy it may be that we are all on the brink of a great retreat. How well or how badly it is handled will determine what will happen to us all.

It was in October 1812 that the Emperor Napoleon began The Retreat From Moscow after discussions with the Russian had failed and it had become clear that the French position was untenable.

The figures are a subject of debate but the French may have started out with over 600,000 assorted troops, not just French but many Germans and ended the campaign with less than 70,000, few of whom were fit for further service.

The diagram above prepared by Minard in 1860/1, illustrates the scale of the disaster and was one of the early examples of effective graphical illustrations of statistics that conveyed meaning and information.

In 1810, in the Peninsula of Spain and Portugal, Arthur Wellesley later the Duke of Wellington had conducted a fighting retreat to the Lines of Torres Vedras from which a revived Army emerged in 1811 to drive the French back to France by 1812. There were losses but not enough for his Army to lose its structure and integrity.

We are now in the middle of an increasingly bitter European financial and political war over the future of Europe as the internal structures of some states appear to be at risk of collapse and the loss of any coherence. The efforts in Europe at the moment seem to be those of a Napoleonic strategy.

In London there is a great deal of clatter and debate over whether we might have a vote on Europe with evidently a majority of the voters wanting to have their say. Our political leaders do not like this and want to prevent it.

The idea of the UK detaching itself from Europe and its directives and rules does not suit those in the villages of Westminster and The City.

There was a time when I took part in the gentle art of issuing the orders to move an Armoured Division around the countryside. The lessons learned were that you had to make the decisions when they needed to be made, put them into effect with direct instructions and accept the difficulties and the uncertainties you faced. There was little time and little scope for complications.

It is possible that a Europe led by French and Germans are in for the economic equivalent of a Retreat From Moscow. So what should the UK do?

The equivalent of The Lines of Torres Vedras would be a far better option.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Oh Ye Of Little Faith

As it is Sunday, for a change some attention to religion is paid, or rather the catechisms of capitalism. The unholy business outside St. Pauls Cathedral and the closing of the doors of sanctuary has excited a lot of attention.

According to Mathew 21:12 in the King James version “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves”.

This suggests that those on the outside are more Jesus people given the nature of their protests than those inside. St. Paul’s costs a lot of money to keep going and it is important that people enter in large numbers and leave with less money than they had on entry.

Doves may not be on sale but a wide range of knick knacks and souvenirs are as well as some religious tracts and books. Indulgences are not available and nor are much in the way of holy relics, other than the Duke of Wellington down below. But there is a decent café with a reasonable choice of goodies, cake as opposed to communion.

The present St. Paul’s is a creation of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the previous medieval church being lost to the flames in the Great Fire of 1666. It was a Stuart period enterprise embodying the Stuart love of expense with the inability to find the money to fund it.

Quite what it cost the economy to put it up during a period of serious economic difficulties is a question. It must certainly have diverted a lot of capital that might have been used for other purposes. Figures I have seen suggest it must have put a strain on whatever the GDP was then. Since then it has been a high maintenance item.

Its present iconic status is owed a great deal to its survival during World II and especially the striking photographs of it standing proudly whilst around it flames engulfed the ruins of much of The City. It did symbolize the idea that Britain could take it and survive.

Now it struggles to keep its dome seen between all the buildings that are going up both close and near. There is a deep irony that The City now dwarves St. Paul’s. Mammon is winning and is triumphant.

Meanwhile the Chapter of St. Paul’s produces it accounts according to the litany of modern accounting management and its annual reports speak the language of the MBA faithful and not those holding the inferior Doctorates of Divinity. The Chapter orates the familiar financial gospels with faith in the figures rather than the word.

It has yet to work out how to make its prayers and services an income stream. In earlier times this was not difficult because they provided leverage for the faithful to put their trust in eternity. Today in The City the overriding need is create credits to enable an eternally rising money flow.

This is not the cause of the closure of its doors. Nor is it the doubts or heresies of the Clergy, the Metropolitan Police, nor the Health and Safety people, although all are castigated as the sinners.

The ones who are responsible are the mysterious anchorites of the security services who from their walled up cells have uttered prophesies that the faithful must give heed to.

It is that St. Paul’s is a soft target and if you allow a large mob composed of fervent sects of other faiths, secular or religious, to camp out at an open entrance then within them will be not just the creatures of Satan but of other trouble makers from around the world. This time the bombers are on the ground and not up in the air.

And it might not just be the incense burning that you could smell.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Greek Myths

When I was young amongst the many forms of preaching endured was politicians telling me to live an austere and frugal life the reason being that “Whitehall knows best”. It didn’t. Now Emperor Barroso, taking on the mantle of Charlemagne is telling me that Brussels knows best, it doesn’t.

A blogger on Friday, Raedwald, reminded us that in the 1970’s Greece was a very different place, very much poorer and with simple life styles. After it was given a great deal of money to play with by Brussels it has changed radically as have the expectations of its younger generations.

Greece has persistently manipulated its figures to justify its appeals for that money and more recently in order to keep the game going recruited Goldman Sachs to help it. Rather like going to the public executioner for a close shave. This has created a problem.

But because its affairs are so interwoven with other members of the Eurozone, so may of Brussels activities and so many of the major European banks it is now all our problems and because it is so big and difficult to control we are not sure of what to do except throw more money at Greece.

In Greece itself we have the unhappy situation of a major budget deficit in a country where almost all the wealthy and higher income groups evade tax and make use of tax havens whereas most of the lower income groups are dependent either wholly or in part on state benefits and public sector spending.

So the money sent to Greece will substantially leak out to where nobody knows because as well as its real economy, there seems to be an illegal economy almost on the scale of the UK’s. The hope is that in transmitting this money around various accounts sufficient fictions can be maintained to keep people happy.

Until the next time and historically with Greece there will always be a next time. This is because in Greece the last two millennia have been consistently turbulent and its location, geography and strategic importance will always make it so.

Before then it had been turbulent, put “Alexander The Great” into Wikipedia for a small part of the story in terms of time but not of the nature of Greek ambitions and activity effecting other parts of the world.

Our problems of perception arise from the magnificent legacy the Greeks left in terms of written learning, philosophy, science, literature and the arts. At the same time it was an Imperial power under Athens and continually engaged in conflict. It’s “demos” was not a democracy as we understand it.

When the Greeks entered the Common Market it was rather like King Leonidas welcoming the Persians and ensuring them safe passage at Thermopylae instead of fighting them to the death. There was a second Battle of Thermopylae in 1941, this time the New Zealanders and the Australians taking on the Germans.

Perhaps the UK might have been a lot better off sticking with the Dominions and other world connections instead of joining an EU that is going to fall under German domination arising from events in Greece.

The destruction of the Agora, the central meeting place of ancient Athens took a long time under various Persian, Roman and Slavic intruders and the Ottoman Empire.

This time round it may be accomplished much more quickly.

Friday, 21 October 2011

History Ancient And Modern

As our media tends to deal with only one or two main stories at a time, to avoid confusing the viewers and having them switch channels to the detriment of the viewing indexes, it is an interesting question of whether there is anything in common with the current stories of Dale Farm and Libya.

The recent residents at Dale Farm are largely persons who do not share the same ideas about civil society as their neighbours and have also not bothered too much about the issues of local democracy and governance.

As for Libya, given the history of that territory over the centuries it is a debatable question of whether it is has ever been a “nation” in terms of most of our modern ideas about nationality are and will function on a different basis, perhaps mainly according to the religious beliefs of the locals.

Just what sort of “nation” it might turn out to be is something I think will tax the resources of the local population and possibly all those who have made it their business to intervene and involve themselves.

To add to that there is the issue of whether or not we should have a referendum on the subject of EU membership, if only on the grounds that we now have two generations of citizens whose opinion has never been sought.

For those who were old enough to vote there are many of us who resent finding out that out the time we were fed a diet of lies about what was intended and what the future of a large European trade area might be. Now more of the truth is out we might want to change our opinion.

In all the debates and conflict there is something in common and probably few understand the mindsets and basis of thinking involved. What is a “nation”, how it is made up, what sort of civil society it is and how it relates to other parts of the world and other societies are fully realized.

For example, the link below is about a young man who lived many thousands of years ago in the far north. Just what did he and others like him around the world think about how his immediate and wider population grouping was organized. It is unlikely to be anything remotely the same as our modern thinking.

Then in western Scotland we have the Ardnamurchan Viking burial. In some reports he is described as an “invader”. It looks to me more like someone who was well settled there so where was the boat built? What kind of family/group/wider system of polity did he think he belonged to?

Despite all our recent myth making and imposition of modern ideas on the past I think it might have been substantially removed from our ideas of nationhood.

Staying with long ago history one question that has always fascinated me is why didn’t the Roman’s with all their technology, capability and command of man power ever get round to making use of coal as a major energy source?

The reason may have been that as they were already committed to other forms of energy source with a major social and financial investment in it when that society and its financial resources came under severe strain they were unable to put into place the new economic and government systems that would have enabled it.

Which is why an article like this one below, taken from an Oil Drum link should have us all worried. If the Romans could not make the changes because they could not summon up the political will or financial power, can we do any better in making the changes that we need to make?

Our current political structures and world business are based on present and very recent energy sources. This means all our so-called “nations” and various entities that have arisen either as world wide bodies or continent wide, such as the EU.

Moreover all our thinking is underpinned by this as well as our myths and forms of propaganda.

So will we revert to the social organizations more familiar to the Viking or more radically to those of Stone Age Man?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Evicting The Aged

Hot on the heels of the attempt to deal with Dale Farm residents, property speculators in a small way, comes the suggestion that older retired people living either alone or as couples in family sized properties might be encouraged to shove off somewhere else.

It is alleged that this would release a lot of homes for people with greater needs. These are not specified but we can imagine. Some are supposed to be families who cannot at present afford the costs of buying houses.

The delicate issue that a sudden flush of selling might drive the property prices down when the financial authorities are frantically try to prop them up for the sake of their investment returns and all the dodgy mortgages given out in the last decade has not been mentioned.

Additionally, there are all those older people who have been enticed into equity release schemes which effectively can trap them where they are.

The other issue is where all these aged might go to. “Down sizing” is the theme but this is a lot more complicated than it seems. We have already had one major shift in recent years, those who have already cashed in on London area homes to go somewhere else, leading to rocketing prices in rural and seaside locations and putting the locals out of the market.

Some of the older people in turn have been able to borrow money to go in for the “second home” or the “holiday home” capers. There are a lot of these. In how many places at present there are once working class cottages, which are now used for these purposes and often left empty for half the year or more. Many have benefited from tax breaks for one reason or another.

Can you see any of our politicians leading the charge against not just the aged but the connected ownership of second and holiday homes? Just how many homes vacated by the ancients in desirable areas might become only second (or third) or holiday homes for those with access to credit?

You will see where this is leading to. If the market is going to be directed into ensuring the “right” people are buying the homes then this means control over sales, credit and financing. Inevitably, price control might be in the offing with the other matter of the nature of property taxes becoming a major factor.

There could be unforeseen consequences. “Down sizing” means going from larger detached and bigger “semi’s” into smaller homes. The very size of home needed by first time buyers and all those “singles” who are now around struggling to get into the market.

In order to sell those larger places then people with smaller places must have to want them and the higher running costs and mortgages involved. Given the way the economy is going just how many families with middling and lower incomes want to take all that on?

Then there is the element of speculation. If you are trading up you increase the element of risk. In the last three decades increasing the risk has been funded and encouraged on the basis that investment in property is better than saving for income or pensions. We know where all that has led to.

In looking at the aged there are increasing numbers of those of greater age and in need of continuing care and support. These are often people especially reluctant to have to move despite all the difficulties. In any case where do they go to?

At one time the retirement flat sector was an option but this is in serious disarray at present thanks to their property management falling into the hands of big finance intent on maximising income streams, securitising them and engaged in major leverage of all the assets. This has gone badly wrong.

Instead of reducing their worries, work and liabilities people in their 80’s and more are having to watch, calculate and administer in ways far beyond those had they stayed back in their own homes. For some it has become a nightmare.

With both pension incomes and savings income of the old being squeezed giving very many problems at the margins the outgoings now arising from this kind of “down sizing” now make it a much less attractive option in the later years of life.

The same financial and speculative drives have had major impacts on the care home provision and other residential facilities for the old. There has been a surge of scandals and disasters in this sector.

Add to this the major reduction in the number places at a as a consequence of increased regulation and the nature of the property market at the same time of increasing numbers of the old there are further strains. Care in the community means a lot of little trained ladies rushing about in cars to do their best, if they can.

On feature of both care homes and hospitals is the changed culture of “care”. One community nurse of the old school told me that she was tearing her hair trying to tell many care home providers that hydration and nutrition mattered not just feeding the residents on anti-depressants prescribed by “flying doctors”. It is a lesson now being relearned the hard way.

What will our politicians come up with to deal with all this? Holidays in Switzerland with one way tickets?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Travelling In Hope But Not To Arrive

In her first time out as Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening has encountered the attentions of Boris Johnson the big bully of the politician’s playground. The Mayor of London demands that she take action to give him a hub.

This time he means a big brand new airport for London, replete with runways, services and all the shopping opportunities that his sponsors and favourite lobbyists could wish for. Heathrow is such a mean little place, Gatwick fit only for tourists and the others around London not worthy of attention.

My theory on this is that if all of Central London between Liverpool Street Station and Kensington Palace, north of the Thames and reaching up to Marylebone Road were to be flattened and used as the site of such an airport there would be many advantages.

Especially if other areas in London were put to a better use. Kensington and Chelsea would make a good sized trucking depot and Hampstead turned into the world’s biggest shopping mall. There would be other bonuses.

If no compensation was paid this would stop the property bubble in London at a stroke. Also, it would be a major correction to the imbalances in our national finances that could pay down a great deal of debt. Add to that it would redress the contrasts between the poorer parts of the UK and the richer South.

In the meantime, train buffs will have noticed the news item about a first ever, allegedly, rail journey starting at Euston and ending at Swanage. It was a steam special and done purely for fun. During WW1 and certainly in my memory in WW2 there were many train movements that had never been made before arising from the demands of war and disruptions from bombing.

No matter, in order to make this journey, if I am correct, the train will have crossed the Great Western Main Line, which has links, on which the Heathrow Express runs and then gone on to join a Southern line which allows routing to Gatwick and Manston.

This blog has already mentioned, more than once, the existing opportunities for links between major airports as well as a number of minor ones. The south east has many runways already in civil use with a number of former or other military ones. Around the rest of the country there are quite a number of others.

Has anyone in government, notably at the Transport department, set out to consider seriously all the possibilities and just how quick the trains could be on the basis of existing or available technology, without spending squillions on the fantasies of lobbyists acting for commercial interests anxious to raid the coffers of government?

Why is there so little interest in at least trying to work out a flexible dispersed and more responsive airport network fully linked? Boris wants to put all our eggs as well as his into one big basket regardless of cost as the ultimate political stunt of his career. Perhaps he should be offered the choice of either flatten London or forget it.

For Ms. Greening, all I will say is that Sir Edward Elgar’s mum was a Greening, so could she come up with a different tune?

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Sporting Frenzy

On Friday in Wales a number of poor children were dragooned out into the freezing wind by the BBC and their Headteacher to shriek, jump, yell and wave their hands at the camera. The reason was that some years ago, the Captain of Wales Rugby XV, Sam Warburton, had attended the school and he was urged to great deeds in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup against France.

He lasted 18 minutes and was then sent off by the referee for a type of crash tackle, once conventional but now banned as dangerous, that he was alleged to have committed. There is dispute about this, fanned by the revelations that the referee had a French father. There has been only passing mention that Wales missed some kicks that might have won them the match.

In the meantime in soccer, Rooney, currently England’s Great Blotchy Red Hope is being questioned as being suitable for the squad for the national European soccer contests next year. He is banned for three games. He will be joined very likely by a groin strain or two, the odd metatarsal or cruciate ligament case with maybe one or two others not quite on top form because of treatment for something confidential.

There are other things in other sports. The common feature is that the greater the hype, hoopla and frenzy the more chance of it going very badly. The trouble is the sponsors who demand it, the media who feed on it and the money involved. In a saner world those in charge of the squads would keep clear of any of it and go gently and quietly.

In our preparation for the Olympics and the European soccer contest nobody has yet worked out what might happen if we have a bad winter. This is not a prediction, just mentioning the possibility. In soccer a serious fixture backlog could cause many problems next spring. In other sports a long and difficult period of disruption will have all sorts of unpredictable effects.

Moreover, Earth is twitchy again. For those who look at these things there are some worrying signs. I hope against hope that nothing will happen because we will all suffer one way or another. There is a volcano in the Canaries rumbling. In Iceland Katla, a large one, is having a noisy stretch, will it wake up?

But on the listing of those showing activity there is both Tambora and Krakatoa and at the same time. One or other would be bad news, both together catastrophic. There is a theory, amongst others, that the sudden end of the Medieval Warm Period and the coming of the Little Ice Age were caused by volcanoes erupting in series. What was all that about Global Warming?

Also, the Sun (that thing in the sky now and again, not the Murdoch rag) is said to be in a funny mood. For those who have a firm belief in deities it is a commonplace that they look on human pride and arrogance with disdain and at their leisure may wreak whatever punishment they think suitable. Watching our media at present anyone with basic human superstitions should be very anxious.

At least if all the satellites do go off I have plenty of reading to catch up on. If the power supplies become erratic there are the old woollies in the cupboard. But how will the rest of us fare if it is back to the past and no sport on the telly?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Taking The Wheel

On the garage forecourt yesterday to top up the petrol tank at vast expense I saw next to my car a 1973 Morris Marina. Once in a fit of unwise patriotic fervour I decided to buy British and chose one of those. The outward design may have been decent for the period but the build quality and performance were shockers.

The revelations that major meetings between the Prime Minister and key staff of the Civil Service who taking crucial decisions during the period of the last Labour government were neither minuted nor recorded are being cited as a prime example of the breakdown of UK government and the collapse of the Civil Service as a reliable and effective body of administration.

In the debate on this and how government should be conducted we are being given the old tale about how the Civil Service was once a “Rolls Royce” service in comparison. This notion is a polite fiction.

During the 1970’s sharing a teapot and plate of biscuits with Roy Mason and others when he was under the cosh as Defence Secretary someone remarked about our Civil Service being a “Rolls Royce” to which Mason muttered “More like a Morris Marina”. He had good cause at the time having realised that the UK was by now unable to defend itself without American support.

At this I was grinning and nodding having had my own run-ins with high level civil servants. Their documents, the prose, the command of language, the structure and the sense of authority may have first class but the essential thinking behind it was often total rubbish.

One issue was a medical matter and the related support that might be given. It was a condition that was thought to be rare and few cases had been identified. We were being told exactly how many cases we should have on the basis of calculations made by a handful of civil servants and medical men.

The difficulty was that none of them knew anything about statistics and especially the problems when dealing with small numbers in a field that was clearly complex and little known or understood at the time.

But they had come up with some figures and they were “the experts” and could not accept the many questions that arose, let along the impossibility of calculating what the exact figure was likely to be anywhere.

The idea peddled in the mid 20th Century that “Whitehall knows best” is one of the major reasons for the disastrous course of policy in this period from economic to foreign policy to financial management to social reform.

The Civil Service was running a machine that existed as a beautiful concept of self but largely out of touch with either reality or the changes that were in train.

It is a commonplace of the history books that the central administration of state in the early 19th Century was antique weak and unreliable. The reforms that were put in place took decades not years to take effect.

For the first part of the 20th Century the Civil Service struggled to make sense of anything in a world in turmoil. During World War 2 it was forced to become more effective but its wartime role made it unready for peacetime.

What it did do within the Service was to make the procedures and structure reliable and to maintain records and keep itself organised properly with a role in relation to politicians that was fairly clear.

When all that was dumped at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st Centuries at the very same time that “big” central government was being inflicted on us by both Whitehall and Brussels then chaos and uncertainty were bound to follow.

One of the central functions of government should be to retain the integrity of the currency. When I recall what my Morris Marina cost in the 1970’s and the price of a gallon of petrol then and look at the prices now for equivalent motoring it is clear that there has been a conspicuous failure of government in the last forty years.

And it is getting worse by the year.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Counting By Numbers

If a link is long or complicated it is better that the post be short. The link below is not long but does require careful reading.

Given that so many of our troubles arise from issues related to accounting and the presentation of financial data that is assumed to be reliable but all too often is not it is a thought provoking article.

The article was sent to me by someone who can handle the mathematics and knows how figures can be worked through systems and computers.

If the writer of the article has established that much of the data and information we have available to make crucial decisions essentially is rubbish then the decisions will be rubbish.

Perhaps we already know that.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Amazing Grace

Slumped in front of the goggle box having wondered what was going on in the world the Army arrived, or rather a programme about the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards once the Royal Scots Greys and the 3rd Carabiniers. There was instant recognition, firstly the barracks at Fallingbostel and then the Desert Rat flash on the uniform.

It was a long time ago. A phrase that was common then when describing a major foul up or series of errors was “The biggest shambles since Mons.” Since I have learned that whilst a very difficult retreat in 1914 the Army did manage to stop the Germans and prevent their Master Plan succeeding.

The Kaiser may have called them “a contemptible little army” but his soldiers did not as the casualties mounted and it became clear that their firepower and discipline was remarkable. The consequence, however, was years of trench warfare and at the end of it the Kaiser had gone and the map of Europe was utterly changed.

The Royal Scots Greys were there as they had been at Waterloo seeing off the Emperor Napoleon and French pretensions to be the masters of Europe. It put the posturing of President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel into perspective.

It seems they have a Master Plan and they jointly plan to dictate to Europe what it should be doing in the great war against global finance. Except it is not a war more of an abject surrender where we give up the prosperity of future generations to pay the bills that are falling due.

Like the Emperor and the Kaiser they think they know the answer. It is the one being peddled this time not by ambitious generals but by implacable traders and bankers. The answer they think is to fling more money at the problem rather as the generals of the past flung more men into the front line.

Some of us do not agree and have thought for a time now that the problem is debt and not money. In yesterday’s “Guardian”, George Monbiot, claims at last to have seen the light on this. He joins an embattled minority trying to stop the tide of money overwhelming what is left of our defences.

We have little to offer unluckily, perhaps only a long period of financial entrenchment in what may become an increasingly embittered and impoverished world. But if this is not done then everything might be lost by the sheer destructive power of inflation and the quickening pace of the collapse of governments and civil society.

Even more unlucky it will take a lot more than a cavalry charge by the Greys to stop it. Put “Amazing Grace Royal Scots Greys” into Youtube for some soothing music.

A miracle might happen.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Fox Has Left Its Lair

We have heard a great deal about Mr. Fox and his friends in the last few days.

It is difficult to know what to say about how our government functions or not.

Perhaps this says it all:

But which one is Cameron?

Monday, 10 October 2011

Kicking Things Around

One of the given’s in the way global finance and media has affected the UK in the last decade or two is in the promotion of the English soccer Premiership to the status of one of the major financial and commercial operations in the sports industry, or should that be sector?

Like many other global operations of this kind it has its odd features. In soccer it is that player pay and benefits are mopping up a very high proportion of the total spend. Theoretically, this is unsustainable but is kept going by the desire of magnate backers to be part of the big time whatever the cost.

It can go wrong. The major chicken and egg suppliers of India (or egg and chicken), the owners of the Venky Company, you name it we stuff it, who took on Blackburn Rovers may have made an acquisition that has a nasty dose of the football equivalent of salmonella.

The cure is likely to be an expensive one and not guaranteed to succeed. Blackburn, one of the original Football League clubs has spent most of its history in the second or third levels before Jack Walker bankrolled them around 1990.

It could end in tears. A number of other clubs s in recent years have gone down fast. Looking at the Conference Premier, not in the old main Football Leagues there are no less than fourteen clubs out of the 24 that have come down from the League of whom two once had a spell in the top division.

In general for betting men, one interesting punt is which club will be the next to go into administration or face bankruptcy. There is no shortage of possibilities and the odds are often short. But betting itself has lurched into the mainstream of football provision.

Sky Sports has a very irritating main advertiser for its screened games urging viewers to phone now for the latest special betting offer. The advertising bill boards at the games have a rich choice of betting sponsors and many clubs are also funded by them. Gambling, which was once a side shoot to the game has become central.

There have been a number of major scandals recently involving betting in sport to the effect of players acting to do things that matter to the gamblers rather than to the game. There is nothing essentially new about this, it has just gone global.

If anything the Premiership has been a central plank in world gambling with across the globe the nations come together to wager on which player will score first or when or be sent off. In this context the stories relating to the Rooney family over the last few days have almost an old fashioned look to them.

Wayne is sent off playing for England with a straight red card for a silly reaction that is owed entirely to his bad temper whilst his father has been charged with alleged fixing of matches in company with others. The one will affect the odds on future England games; the other will add interest to the advertising.

As father does not look to be the cleverest cabbage on the patch I suspect he is the sort of inveterate gambler who given a tip in the pub or overhearing some chat on the train between Moorfields and Bootle Oriel Road is on the mobile in seconds without a thought for the reliability or accuracy of the sources.

The trouble is that footballers down the years as well as being unusually prone to some human failings are often gamblers operating at a high level of stupidity. When one of my relations in the 1920’s was offered a professional contract to play for Liverpool his fiancĂ© told him flatly that it was either football or her but not both.

He had a job with a decent wage for the day and promise for the future. He would have been no better off. Also, she was much attached to her family and did not want to risk her husband arriving home one day to announce that he had been transferred to some far distant place, Alloa, Accrington or Aldershot and they were to leave tomorrow.

Her major fear though was the gambling and drinking were part of the culture in football then and when his career ended there would be nothing and the chances were that he might be left as a casual labourer.

These days with the rewards at the very top footballers should have enough invested despite the celebrity lifestyles to eek out the decades after football. Unless, of course we have a big crash that takes the present structure of English football with it.

As for Wayne, my guess is that he is of a build and an athletic type to have knee problems sooner rather than later so he may not have long to go at the top.

It might be worth having a quiet flutter on that one.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Helping Hands

One of the imperatives of history is that if you call in a bunch of the heavy mob to help you then they are likely to help themselves. All too often it is a lesson that is learned only once and by the time you have realised the consequences it is too late.

When certain tribal leaders at the south eastern end of the Atlantic Isles thought that those Romans with their desirable lifestyle might help them to discourage their neighbours from being aggressive they did not know what it would lead to.

Rather later all those princes and rulers in the Indian sub-continent who saw a temporary advantage in availing themselves of the services of those rough people from the west who seemed happy only to go back home with pots of bullion made a similar error.

More recently we have had an unlucky conjunction of our supposed leaders from around the world when faced with complex issues calling in help from an assortment of all too willing people. Blair, Brown and Balls gave the keys to the City of London to a group of financiers assisted by Rupert and his friends. There is no sign of them going away. They are still in charge despite all the hand wringing.

On the continent, no longer isolated since the early 1970’s the EU sought help from a select group of political interests who told it that the economics could be made to fit if one currency could be installed. It didn’t and not only is the EU itself out of both financial and political control the currency system supposed to be basic to the economics has tanked.

The same political and other interests propose another set of arrangements to deal with the situation, if only to retain their powers of extracting whatever money can be had to shore up their position. Now the EU is at their mercy.

In America the leaders of the major corporations and financial houses have such a grip on Washington DC that they are never likely to lose it short of the collapse of the Union which theoretically should not happen. Just like the collapse of many past empires theoretically should not have happened.

There is a debate on what sort of economic principles are now the key to US policy and what their effect might be. The reality is that there are few principles to be found and the politicians could not apply them because of their backers. To others the model seems to be that of the former Enron company. Certainly Enronomics seems to be abiding working model at present.

Russia has its billionaire magnates wreaking havoc not only at home but in many other places including London. The Chinese seem to be willing to help anyone and once installed will stay. The Indian magnates are very willing to help any politicians anywhere, at a price.

Then there are the people whose assets are from energy sources and who have their own ideas, notably in the Middle East. Some of these ideas are religious, some “economic” but all intent on bolstering their own positions and supporting those of their followers and hirelings wherever they are.

In the meantime our child politicians are playing their games of charades. The US is already in the throes of a Presidential campaign that is meaningless in terms of the administration having any real control. The UK Party Conferences have been stand up comedy routines, “Clap hands here comes whoever.” The EU leaders are a travelling circus and the other world leaders are like a tribe of groupies following the latest financial hit band.

In the past it was easy to know who really ruled because of all the flummery and ceremony attached to Kingdoms, Empires or political centres and their workings. In the 21st Century it is hard to tell because you cannot see where the money is.

Quite simply, it goes and where it is kept is secret. The means by which it is moved are secret and the inner workings of the relevant corporations and agencies for the most part are also secret. And now nobody can do much about it except protest.

Eventually all the economic and political systems of the recent and more distant pasts have collapsed for one reason or another. For our present way of living and doing things it may be only a matter of time.

It might only need one more very big bad one, whatever it might be.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Travellers Guide

This is a short post because there is travelling to be done on family affairs over the next few days.

In the meantime there could be some difficulties in world or other finance.

Here is a brief guide to the nature of the problem:

The Euro

A monetary system without the system.

The Pound

Once based on a home owned working economy but now on a foreign owned financial service.

The Dollar

Once a world currency based on a world economy now without the world power or much of its economy.

The Renminby

Once based on a closed economy now on a trading economy that does not want to trade in its currency.

The Yen

Once based on a trading economy that is losing its trade.

The Rouble

Once based on a planned economy that is no longer planned or anything else.

The Rupee

Once based on a peasant economy but now without the peasants.

Given my past record while I am away something will happen.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Heading For The Buffers Again

So the Conservative Party Conference is at Manchester again. It was there in 2009. What has poor Manchester done to deserve this?

They stopped voting for the real Liberals years ago.

On Monday 5 October 2009, I posted an item, link below, about it and I wonder how much will be really changed?

The picture above should be compared to the other one for a reflection of my views.

Other than that there is nothing to add.