Saturday, 30 December 2017

A New And Old Year






There is the question of terrorism, the groups involved and what it means.  We have been here before. One element which spawned others was led by Che Guevara, 1928-1967. The item below was from a long time ago, but the source unknown. Quote:

What Che Guevara Stood For

1. Hatred.

Che wanted to see ‘Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine’. He considered Americans to be ‘hyenas … fit only for extermination’.

2. Mass Murder.

Che wanted to launch a nuclear attack on New York City. He desired ‘atomic extermination’ of the ‘hyenas’ (read civilians) who lived there and in November 1962 he boasted to the London "Daily Worker" of the nuclear weapons, ‘We would have used them against the very heart of the US, including New York City’.

Even Che’s sympathetic interviewer from the then "Daily Worker" considered him to be ‘crackers from the way he went on about the missiles’. It’s only thanks to the intervention of Nikita Khrushchev that Che’s plans came to nothing.

3. Terrorism.

With the nuclear attack plans shelved, Che instead attempted to launch a terrorist campaign in New York City. Had it have worked, Macy’s, Gimbels, Bloomingdales, and Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal would have been hit with a dozen incendiary devices and 500 kilos of TNT. To give some perspective, the 2004 Madrid train bombings used 100 kilos of TNT and killed and maimed almost 2,000 people.

4. Sacrificing the people of Cuba.

At the First Latin American Youth Congress in July 1959, Che proudly claimed: ‘These people [of Cuba] you see today tell you that even if they should disappear from the face of the earth because an atomic war is unleashed in their names … they would feel completely happy and fulfilled’.

5. Executions without trial.

Che delighted in ordering and carrying out executions and considered the need to present a legal case and to give the accused the right to defend him or herself to be ‘archaic bourgeois details’. ‘I don’t need proof to execute a man, I only need proof that it’s necessary to execute him!’, Che declared in 1959.

6. Persecution of gay men.

In Che’s Cuba, ‘effeminate behaviour’ became a crime and gay men were consigned to forced labour camps with the words ‘Work Will Make Men Out of You’ posted over the entry gates.

7. Totalitarianism.

Che demanded that ‘individualism must disappear!’ Perhaps his greatest support for this principle is found in his relationship with the USSR. Indeed, according to KGB official Alexander Alexiev, ‘Che was practically the architect of the Soviet-Cuban relationship’.

Unquote.

There is something uncannily familiar about this.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Moving Pictures






Over a Christmas and New Year holiday period there are many questions. For quite a number of people one will be the films to watch and when and why? Now it is possible to chose to watch only when you want to and there is a wide choice, new, recent, past and almost archive at the click of a remote.

No longer do families gather round to watch what is trumpeted the films that they must or are expected to watch. We can all do our own thing. If I want the Muppets or Shaun The Sheep, and the lady wants the films she missed in the past then we can do just that.

One film that turned up on BBC2 in a late afternoon slot was one from the antique shop, a couple of hours of World War 2 from the mid 1950's and a major intelligence caper. It is difficult to know who would actually want to watch it now but I had my own reason.

The film was "The Man Who Never Was" from 1955-6, 20th Century Fox doing British, about high ups in counter intelligence putting one over on the Nazi's using a dead body and false documents. The purpose was to persuade Hitler etc. that in 1943 the Allies would be going for Greece and not Sicily, the obvious choice.

My reason was that in 1956 I saw this film in a German cinema with German subtitles in a garrison town in north Germany. What the locals made of it I do not know, there were not many of them in the audience. Not many troops went either, despite the garrison having a Royal Signals Regiment.

What I wanted to know was how much of my memory about it was "false" or bad as well as how much stands up to inspection in the light of later knowledge. There is a Wikipedia article on the film with links to the people involved and also a website about the later revelations as to who the person might have been whose remains had been used.

One relief about the older films is that you can hear the speech and the takes are longer. For the speech, did people really talk like that? Did they really behave like that? The film "Patton", made later, also deals with the Sicily question, but the Brit's shown are very much a caricature. In this film they are rather nearer the truth but how near?

As the Wikipedia article says, the film did depart from the truth, notably in the use of Irish Catholic spies working for the German's. Perhaps it was a dig at the time at the republican De Valera's studied politeness to the Germans, perhaps arising from Hitler's support for Franco in Spain. The audience of 1956 would have understood.

The major aspect that was missing was the absence of much at all about signals intelligence and communication. The Irish spy uses a radio to tell Berlin what he is doing using a very crude system. Nowhere is there any hint or knowledge of the extent and nature of the signals intelligence at the time.

But in 1956 this was still a very delicate issue, so the less said the better. Sixty odd years later, it is still a delicate issue. As I am aware because of the way the search engines react to my use and the telephonists know who I am and where I am before I even begin to explain.

In 1956 we believed that we had won the war. What we did not know at the time was that we were losing the peace.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Three Men In A Library






The three men in the picture above, born variously in Dublin, by Paris and in London, were among the leading and best known writers and public figures in the first half of the 20th Century.

They are now forgotten and their books gather dust on the shelves of libraries if they are not already packed into boxes in the cellars or have been disposed of.

They were prolific in their writing and in public meetings and debates. Can you name them and more to the point know what their ideas were and the various beliefs they held?

Which of them now would be hounded out of our universities and public bodies and forbidden to express their opinions and for what reason?

Which of them said "the faith is Europe and Europe is the faith"?


Saturday, 23 December 2017

All Change





When did the modern world begin? This is a question that can provoke many arguments with few answers. There are many events or happenings that contribute to it.

For those travelling, watching TV or listening to radio or engaged with many activities they can trace this back to the early 20th Century.

This article from the "Engineer" of 17 December 1909 is titled "Marconi Wireless Telegraphy" and is written by Mr. G. Marconi. The number of people at the time who read this may not have been many.

How many more knew or understood much from reports is a question but probably it may have seemed to them another toy and something strictly for specialists.

A parlour game over the holiday to suggest everything that followed from this discovery and its application might be fun.

Also, it would be a change from TV, radio, or use of other devices.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Green Grow The Rushes O!





The excitements of the last few days and for that matter before in the Tory party are becoming redolent of the novels of Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh in their nature. Damien Green it seems was chucked into the River Cherwell while at Oxford by fellow students including a present colleague, Dominic Grieve, who rants for the EU.

His father, Percy Grieve, during WW2 spent some time with General Charles de Gaulle, later President of France. De Gaulle did not want the UK in the Common Market. Many in France since have felt that he may have been right and the UK should never have been allowed in. It is all a long time ago.

Well, it is for the rest of us. What is striking about all this and the who's and what's of the current Tory government and members of the House of Commons is how quaint it is. If the Labour Party is seen in the same light it much applies. Between their leaders and their ideas it is like a political antiques roadshow.

The EU is becoming rather like one of those 1970's rock bands who jump about a lot and shout but whose age and incoherence are all too evident being driven by what amounts to the speed equivalent of making rules if only to get the big hit from enforcement.

The UN has more central offices, parts, branches etc. than there are countries. There must be many among them trying to find where they are and who without much success. This is not international government, it is administration without governance.

The lack of real modern government or structures to enable it is one reason for what amounts to the breakup of some states. It can happen in the UK. It seems to be happening in Spain. Around Europe and the world seams are splitting and old empires fading.

If history is any guide the results will be continuing conflicts, wars, attempted takeovers, failed takeovers, collapses, aggression, empires that fail before succeeding and peoples who come to look to their local warlords for protection and guidance.

Call it the multicultural millennia to come.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Checking The Mails




The picture above from an Evening Standard feature on past times is of London Bridge Station, but it could have been almost any railway station at the time. It is the mail bags during the Christmas rush of 1928 waiting to be loaded. This would not have been the only time in the day when this could have been seen.

In the mid 1950's when I was putting in time and overtime on the railways it was the same and by then had been the case for a century or more. This could be a long post telling all about it. There was all the manual labour involved, the coming and going, and the way the mail was routed, often not the obvious ways.

We assumed at the time that this was the most efficient way of doing things and our Royal Mail set the standard for the world. Foreigners would visit and wonder at the complexity of it all and the high standards achieved. I hoped that this practical experience plus education could allow me an office job and after a decade or three a position in management.

I was turned down for having a sense of humour that did not fit the decorum and politeness expected. What none realised that all was about to change. The Royal Mail began to take to the roads which meant extensive restructuring. The railways shrank. Managers came in who were not of The Mail but of "business", whatever that was.

What none of us began to think or even crossed the threshold of our minds was that all this electrical kit and messaging gear could begin to impact on the mails and that in a relatively short time the Royal Mail would be just another delivery firm, one among many, better than some, worse than others.

At least on the railway platforms passengers no long have to put up with sweaty gangs of men making questionable jokes as they heave the bags about.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Everybody Out!





The head ringing with the seasonal specials, carols ad nauseam and the rest, decided to go back to the past and watch one of the Boulting Brother's comedies from the 1950's. In this case it was the satirical film "I'm Alright Jack" about the state of industrial relations at the time.

They were inclined to the Left, so the boss class is very apart from the workers but even they do not come off well. The bosses want loot by whatever, including criminal, means. The workers are a lot of skivers, doing as little as possible to extract as much as possible through their trade unions.

But the workers are led by Fred Kite, played by Peter Sellers, an ultra Marxist Leninist believer in the Soviet Union who lives for the day when the workers will overthrow the boss class and become the bosses themselves. Sellers character was alleged to be too close for comfort for many on the Left at the time.

But seeing the film, just who and what were the actors? We tend to think of actors as being people of the roles they played. If someone was always a toff on screen, then they were upper class, if always something else then that is how we saw them in real life.

Irene Handl who played Mrs. Gladys Kite wife of Fred, is a case in point. Her typecast role was usually that of a working class East End woman or wife. But in fact she was from a family of Austrian migrants who had been in banking.

Margaret Rutherford on the other hand, usually playing upper class roles was of one of the higher classes, notably the Benn family. The idea of the politician Tony Benn being closely related to Margaret Rutherford is intriguing. In the film Margaret was the rich aunt of Stanley Windrush on whom he depended.

Dennis Price, who played the top boss, playing a gentleman with a touch of evil, was of a higher class of family as well, the son of a Brigadier who married a wife from a leading family in the judiciary. Perhaps this gave him that extra touch of polish in many of the film roles he played.

On the other hand his associate in the film called Sydney Devere Cox is a lower class shifty spiv who cannot escape his origins. He is played by Richard Attenborough, a Leicester grammar school boy, whose family were certainly from the lower orders, albeit with a father who had climbed the academic social ladder. Cox in the film is the man to hate and the man most on the make.

Peter Sellers himself, in his acting work something of a chameleon who managed many very different characters, came from a mixed middling background with a colourful history in parts. They might seem to have been ordinary, but not quite, and what their further background might is an interesting question.

Then there is the comedian Terry Thomas, who played over the top posh types equipped with an ignorance and stupidity to match the arrogance. But he once worked as a butcher boy in the family firm of Smithfield butchers in London. Interesting experience it would have been but not upper class by any means.

Last but not least is Ian Carmichael who played the lead role of Stanley Windrush, posh, polished and upper class who lost his way in the turmoil of real life. He was typecast in this kind of role and was the man to have if you wanted an upper class idiot. But this is not at all what Carmichael was.

In a world of war films of the Second World War, we think of all the actors who played heroes of their time. Ian did not play these roles, but in real life he was a war hero. He served with the 22nd Dragoons in one of the most dangerous spheres, the flailing tanks used to clear a path through mine fields.

When the troops went in to Sword Beach on 6 June 1944 he was among the first in. As his division, the 3rd Infantry Division, the Iron Division, fought from Normandy to Bremen it suffered heavy casualties. Carmichael included, luckily minor.

But what of his family? They are not of the upper orders. His paternal grandparents were from the port of Greenock in Scotland, on Clydeside, a bottle's throw from Glasgow. Greenock was a rough old place then, and the man an insurance agent, no doubt kept very busy with the claims. Were they mariners before that and if so where did they sail to?

The maternal ones are English, way back a hatter from an extended family in Oxfordshire from around the boundary with Warwickshire with some being, yes, Ag Lab's. Think of Flora Thompson and "Lark Rise To Candleford".

All the world's a stage.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Ouch I've Been Digitised





The torrent of archive and other material appearing on the web can be a help and a hindrance. The EU's data and privacy laws are now impacting in many ways, unintended consequences running riot. One in the press is apparently that Universities can no longer publish the class lists for their graduates.

At the same time my old place has put its student newspaper on the web. It was a very different world. So what was I doing in October 1958? The edition for the 23rd of that month tells if not all then some of it. I am on the sports page, although my team were losers, could I plead privacy?

But it is who else is in that edition that reminds me that my memory is right and I do not fantasise when I claim to have been at meetings etc. that seem at least improbable and to many impossible. On page 2 there is a report on Lord Beveridge giving a talk about his work and life. Page 3 has a piece on Ralph Miliband and what a fine tutor he was.

There is a large item on Harold Laski adjacent to a forecast promising a Labour win in the coming years election, 1959, by 25 seats, perhaps as Hugh Gaitskell was about to pay a visit. Labour lost in 1959, but these things happen.

A very interesting one is V.H. Vassev, First Secretary to the Russian Embassy, promising that shortly the USSR would surpass the USA in productivity. The future was to be Russia's for a number of reasons. One was the age balance of population. Mr. Vassev omitted to mention that a major reason for this were the holocausts of Stalin in the 1930's.

Oddly, he admitted that among the workers in Britain the average differential in wages between the highest and lowest paid was only 10% whereas in Russia it was 30%, but Russia would soon surpass Britain. Is it any surprise that it never did?

All of them take second place to the man on the front page, the Honorary President Elect, Gerard Hoffnung, the famed wit, writer, cartoonist and man of many talents. He died young in 1959 but will be remembered forever for "The Bricklayers Lament", see Youtube. When he told it at LSE I was there.

In this and other editions there are a great many names. It was supposed then that among the leading lights of our student politics and press would be the masters of our futures. The picture above, The Phillips Machine, was hoped to be the way they could manage the economy.

But none of them did. One I recall, then said to be destined for the highest ranks of government, eventually made it to be transport manager of a chain of sports shops.

But his name was never in the sports pages.

Friday, 15 December 2017

The Flying Sorcerer





What was I doing in 1972 apart from wondering if it was possible to book a weekend on The Moon sometime? Essentially work, family and a very limited range of other things although a holiday by Biarritz was managed. Many people thought that this was an extreme of travel but with men on the moon it did not seem so much.

Now President Trump has signed a document telling the US agencies involved that it is time to go back there with humans and then on to the planet Mars. These trips are unlikely to tell us much more than we already know, in recent years AI plus advanced technology have done wonders.

His action may related to the big cigar shaped thing up there very far away which is causing speculation as to what it is, why and where is it heading for. Will it be crewed by aliens looking for the space equivalent of motorway services? Or will it be run by robots who will emerge crying "exterminate"?

The bean counters and cost mongers of Earth will try to point out that all the expense and trouble of launching man into space are likely to be in vain and can have no economic benefit at all. Nor is there any hope of packing off all our surplus humans off to do something useful.

Transportation may have worked up to a point in the past on Earth for the various empires that existed but to do so into outer space is one of those nice ideas which are just not going to work. In any case the omens are not good.

Germany for long has had the reputation of being a supreme example of how to do railway systems. The Bundesbahn was the envy of the world. But the new Berlin to Munich railway is having real problems. The Stuttgart station project has gone from seven to eight billion euros and will go a lot further.

Us humans seem to have lost the plot. Going out there means not only will we lose the money but what is meant to be a national triumph will all too likely be a major disaster.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Presents In The Past





While the family gather round the TV on Christmas Day evening to watch "Carry On Up The Jungle" on ITV3, the channel that day being devoted to the "Carry On" films; on the other hand you might like to read a book instead that might be less challenging.

If someone near and dear to you has been thoughtful enough in buying gifts you might have been given a book that would be of real interest. The National Archive Shop always has some treasures in the books it has on offer and have mailed me with the latest list.

Here are some I have picked out as potential "musts" for you to enjoy that evening. As it is possible that "Carry On Up The Khyber" in the afternoon might be a family choice as well, so you will need something special.

There is "Lady Fanshawe's Receipt Book" down to £16-99 from £20. On the food front there is "The Greedy Queen. Eating With Queen Victoria" one pound off from £16-99 to £15-99.

Perhaps the tastiest literature could be "Bitten By Witchfever. Wallpaper And Arsenic In The Victorian Home" down to £20 from £28.

It could be the Christmas you will never forget.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Bitcoins For Bankers





Followers of finance will know about the Bitcoin bubble unfolding on the world's markets. Here we go again, and the recent crash was said to be the last one of its kind.

The picture above is one of tulips, a lovely flower, but in the 17th Century Tulip Mania (put that into search for Wiki' and many more items) was the maker and breaker of markets and economies.

The first item on this blog back in 2009 was on the question of how things can go wrong, and so they did.

Quote:

Digging For Victory

The day the bank bailouts broke out, the missus said to me, “So what are you going to do to save the economy?”  “It isn’t up to me!” I said, “What can I do about it in any case?”  “Well,” she said “you can make a start, and my hair needs cutting.”

So after we cut each other’s hair, normally free, gratis, and for nothing, this time we exchanged cheques for £1000 each.  “There,” she said, “that’s a nice boost for the GDP”  “But what do we do next?” I asked, and she had an answer for that, well she always does have an answer.

So we go down to at Thresher and Porbeagle Financial Services, Cookiecutter House and meet a gent’ called Fred Sands.  Nice chap, the sort of Scottish burr in the voice you like to hear on the customer services help lines telling you there is nothing they can do to help, who makes us an offer we could not refuse.  They had only just set up after he had left his old firm to improve his prospects.

Grabbing the cheques from our hands, he told us he could immediately lend us up to £100,000 to spend as we wanted, or to take part in a wonderful investment deal that had only turned up on his laptop that very morning, limited offer, closing in half an hour, so we had to make up our minds quick.

He wrote us a cheque on the spot for the £100,000, gave to us, and then snatched it back, saying it was now an asset and collateral for buying £5 million pounds worth of rented garages in Arizona, Beijing, and Moscow, and these would become the assets for investing in a lot of Hedge Funds, who would do a lot of other lending.

Because all the loans were assets, and not what my father told me, income was guaranteed at fifteen per cent, and the whole value would grow at least thirty per cent a year, so we could soon have our villa, yachts and all the rest, and even get invited to a Paris fashion show.

I tried to tell the missus that I was happy with our caravan at Bognor, but she would not listen, all it would cost us she said was trivial money, small change, for all the administrative fees and bonuses, and I should be grateful for everything.

Then she went into the back room with Fred and came out smiling in a way I hadn’t seen since she was a part time barmaid at “The Dragon’s Head”.

So we have now “kick started” the economy and Fred says with luck I could get a knighthood and the missus will then become a lady, at last.  “It will all be worth it,” she said, “and Fred even gave me a tenner, for the service economy he called it.”

When I told my neighbour, Jim, he gave me a funny look, asked for his lawnmower back, and told me not to bother with Christmas Cards this year as he was a bit short.

Apologies to Rob Wilton and Michael Williams.

Unquote.

We will not be sending Christmas Cards.

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?

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Ring Out The Bells






The nuptials to be for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are giving plenty of scope for coverage. The lady's ancestry has attracted comment with some parts having more attention than others for example, The Daily Mail. The one that caught my eye on the father's side was the name Sykes, in particular the Thomas Sykes born around 1835, which went no further.

Possibly, this may have been because the Sykes/Sikes surname is one of the no go areas for many. Charles Dickens, contemporary with Thomas, in his book "Oliver Twist" has a Bill Sikes, who is not nice at all. Worse however, the surname is one of those local ones that many do not want to see. Yes, it is Yorkshire and could be Barnsley.

On a basic search, the one I picked out as a lead was a Thomas Sykes whose family had braved the metaphorical barbed wire fencing, trenches and armed guards to slip into Lancashire to find work a couple of hundred or more years ago. He had married an Irish girl, as one did in that county. If her birthplace might be found it could be very interesting.

There is a Sikes Sykes Family Association web site that has a great deal of information. Also, some years back there was DNA testing being done on a select number of family names to see if there could be a single ancestor. Sykes was one of the names and possibly originated with a lay monk in the early middle ages.

But all those Sykes and Sikes have intermarried with other Yorkshire families. The names that come to mind are Michael Parkinson, Geoffrey Boycott and Arthur Scargill, all from Sykes/Sikes vicinities. Will they be invited? Instead of Westminster or Windsor why not one of the fine churches up on the Pennines?

Then over to Germany, again family ancestral parts. I would suggest Hannover as a good option for a quiet time. Our monarchs were once the Electors of Hannover, and Prince Harry is a near cousin. In May they could have a night at the Opera, they are doing one by Smetana, "Die Verkaufte Braut" which is a fine comedy with some great tunes.

We call it "The Bartered Bride".

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Puffing Silly






It is now a common cry in the media etc. for more houses to be built almost anywhere and in any numbers. There is little or no mention that along with them might be factories, offices, shops or other facilities, such as hospitals, schools and other community structures.

What does turn up, and as you may imagine, from the relevant construction companies, financial organisations and interest groups stoking the property boom, is a demand for both new railways and rebuilding of lines lost in the 1960's.

It appears that factories are a no go since the UK is on the skids as a manufacturing centre. Some will be retained, but perhaps not much. Offices and retailing are other matters, but those worlds are changing rapidly as well with the extent and nature of new technology.

Once I visited many an office and in the ordinary business of life needed the facilities of shops for my needs. It is now months since I went to any shop and I forget the last time I visited an office or bank. My main issue now is when will the phone go ping to tell me when the delivery person arrives.

So it is very peculiar to read in the claims for the vital need for new railways that the calculation of the amount of time needed by business men to be functioning is critical to government decision making. The business person who regularly visits me is always in contact on a world wide basis for either individual or group response.

But railways are supposed to be for mass movement and not just the bosses and the rich. There is more of a logic when mass movement is needed in heavily urbanised areas. That is ones that have jobs for people to go to and has the ability to tax to pay for provision if profit is unlikely or unprofitable for various reasons.

The visions we are presented with by the lobbyists and policy makers are uncannily like the futuristic plans and films of the 1930's that impacted so much on government urban planning of the later 20th Century. However, it did not work out like that. In the UK we finished up with dreary, inadequately serviced council estates, elsewhere in the world it was shanty towns. Neither of which enabled any profit or surplus from railway building.

The rationalisation of rail in the UK in the mid 20th Century is referred to as the Beeching report from the name of the chairman of the committee that recommended the major changes in the railway system to meet the then present and immediate future. He is alleged to be a big bad man, but he was just one in a long line of people for whom the railways were a problem needing difficult decisions.

Wikipedia has a page on "Railway Mania" about the 1840's crisis. We did not learn much from that nor all the other problems as the system extended rarely on rational grounds, more on hope and forecasts that proved hopelessly wrong. By 1914 the system was having problems, by 1918, the end of the war it was in crisis.

So we had the "Rationalisation" of 1923, a political botch job that cobbled together many into few. As the new HQ's went up they provided for public relations etc. Hence all those films about the wonders of progress on the railways. Actually, not much did change, but a few fast trains on key lines with waiters convinced a gullible public and the politicians were served a decent lunch, along with the busy businessmen.

Then came 1939 to 1945 and a war that left the railways in a dire state. With a Labour Government that meant nationalisation. The end of the war also meant a lot of cheap trucks and vans on the market as well as factories producing them and this meant a new world of delivery and transport.

The 1970's saw a changed system, but still with too many inherited problems. Then in the 1980's we had a Conservative government who rather than see money effectively going to the unions, preferred it to go to the companies etc. supporting them and we had a privatisation which was not really but only partial and it was almost back to a pre 1914 type of organisation and government support.

What is quite clear to me is that the proposals for new lines mean structures with liabilities that will never, ever, yield a surplus but will have to be funded, perhaps substantially either by subsidy derived from tax or year on year additions to government debt.

Also, while one or two may have their advantages, the reinstatement of lines closed will bear the same kind of costs and maintenance and running deficits. Quite what the lines will be like if the urbanisation planning goes wrong can only be imagined.

But perhaps not, the picture above gives a good example. Say West Hampstead in 2050?