Tuesday 30 April 2013

Britain Is Open For Business

Pick of the day today is rowans-blog telling us how it is and who will be deciding all our futures.  It explains also the apparent disconnect between London and the rest of us.

Below the link is an extract to whet the appetite.  This device is not used simply by dastardly foreigners taking advantage of our British ideals of decency. 

It is all too commonly used by too many fly by night traders and sundry others after our money and indeed wealth.

Tuesday 30 April 2013


The architects of these schemes make use of a little-known phenomenon which is that where a UK company is not carrying on any business or if the Registrar of Companies has reason to believe that a company is not carrying on business or is not in operation, its name may be struck off the register and dissolved without going through liquidation or any other kind of investigation.

This is a fantastic facility of which much use is made by professional launderers, and it works like this.

The person creating the laundering chain, does not want to leave behind any unnecessary avenues for further investigation. So, he will create a UK limited company as part of the process, the aim being to obtain a UK bank account.

It is widely recognised and believed among foreign investigatory agencies that the UK has an enviable anti-money laundering investigative process, so it is a widely-held fiction that if there is a UK company involved in a financial transaction, little additional work needs to be done because the very existence of a UK company, gives the whole scheme credibility. 

Once the bank account has been acquired, the dubious transaction is carried out, the money paid through the account of the UK company and then moved on again as part of the laundering process.

It is highly unlikely that the UK bank will have done anything about the payment, indeed, it is unlikely that they will have picked it up as there is usually only one transaction, and most banks' compliance monitoring software is not calibrated to understand this feature.

Then, all the launderer needs to do is to wait, because if the UK company submits no annual returns to the Registrar of Companies, the Registrar will later assume that the company is not trading or carrying out any business, and conveniently wind it up, and remove its name from the Register of Companies.

This trick has been used countless times by criminals to create structures to commit fraud and money laundering, indeed HMRC have in the past uncovered evidence of literally thousands of such companies lying idly around waiting to be struck off.


Kindly check your wallets before leaving.

Strike Up The Band

There is so little that makes sense today, so something that does not.

These days multi-tasking is alleged to be the norm; whatever that is.  This was sent by one of the family to put it into context.

It is three minutes long and involves a brass band.


They really ought to put these guys in charge of The Treasury.

Monday 29 April 2013

Richard Wagner Goes To Scotland

At first sight this one may seem to be for lovers (or haters) of Opera, but there are distinct possibilities here.  The item is by Jessica Duchen, who is a writer and correspondent for The Independent; sometimes on TV; and who writes an informative blog on classical music.

It is about “The Flying Dutchman”, based on a legend about a Master Mariner condemned to sail the seas until he can find true love and sacrifice.  He is allowed to put into to shore once every seven years to try his luck.

Richard Wagner, looking for a lighter subject than usual, wrote an opera with that title and the version known today is the one based on the Dutchman’s coming ashore in Norway.  It seems that the original version, long lost until recently, has him visiting Scotland.

Jessica’s piece is longish but well enough written to be skip read, but my interest what can be made of all this.

What occurs to me is whether this gives the opportunity to create a 21st Century version of Bayreuth in The Highlands and a rival to Glyndebourne in Sussex, Salzburg in Austria or Tanglewood in the USA

With many and various estates to choose from in Scotland to take over the obvious one to me for the Scottish Government to requisition as being fundamentally surplus to requirements for its existing purposes is Balmoral.

No doubt if they tried hard enough in the archive records they could find some ownership or feuars rights or some such to justify a quick grab with minimum compensation.  It has had enough practice at it on behalf of certain golf club entrepreneurs.

A state of the digital art and the rest theatre could be constructed linked to the Castle by imaginative high line walkways.  The Castle itself could be turned into a combination of luxury suites with top grade conference facilities for the travelling focus groups of world leaders.  Who needs Davos?

The grounds could allow the building of a series of contrasting style modernist hotels to “make a statement” designed by the usual favourites of the City of London.  Aligned to that might be a couple of golf courses, the space could be made by the usual clearances of local populations.

Last but not least a magnificent theme park could be created dedicated to perhaps the many Prime Ministers with connections or direct origins to Scotland.  The Brown Roller Coaster, the Blair Dodgem Alley, the Macmillan Family Silver Arcade, the Earl of Bute American Experience and many others

Last but not least might be a modern production of The Ring Cycle based on Rab C. Nesbitt.  I can’t wait…..

Sunday 28 April 2013

Vote For What?

On Friday 26 April, EU Referendum, under “UK Politics, Running Out Of Laws” says that MP’s are not being lazy in spending less time at Westminster, having other things to do which are part of the job and are properly occupied. 

He points out that as far as the trade of law making goes our rulers, elected or unelected have never been busier.  A veritable tsunami of laws has been coming in swamping both understanding and the capability to govern effectively.


Meanwhile, the European Parliament has rarely been busier, listing on its database 1,301 "legislative acts" so far, for its 2009-2014 session. That is where the action is, demonstrating how far the power has drained from Westminster.

This, of course, was precisely what Hugh Gaitskell predicted in his "thousand years of history" speech of 1962, with the Westminster parliament being reduced to the status of a county council.

And so it has come to pass yet, when it happens, not one journalist reports on the reason why Parliament has so little to do.


What I disagree with is the suggestion that the Westminster Parliament is reduced to the status of a County Council. 

If only, one thing this blog has been fond of saying that the onetime Counties of Clackmannan, Rutland, Radnor and Fermanagh had more real authority and power over the provision of services in the past than does the Westminster Parliament at present.

The equals of the County Councils in this respect were the old County Boroughs, which were the larger cities and some of those of middling size with a small number of ancient Cities.  Under the County Councils were the councils of the Municipal Boroughs, Urban Districts and Rural Districts, with in the latter two another level of Parish Council.

All alas swept away by Heath’s mad urge to centralize and consolidate in 1973-1974.  This was the very man who took us into Europe.  Quite where the Westminster Parliament now stands in relation to any of those would make an interesting parlour game.

My own view, as someone around and working back at the time Gaitskell made his prescient speech, is that the comparison is patchy.  There are some things where our Parliament is little better than a Parish Council, but the bulk look to me to be more like a badly run Rural District Council.

There is now a minority of small responsibilities which might rate County or County Borough Council level, but Europe is well on course to take those away as well.

We have local elections next week.  One of the grimmer ironies of all this is that our people at Parliament and on the local councils are pocketing personally payments and expenses that could have been only dreamed of in 1962.

So pay up, shut up, and don’t complain or you could get arrested.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Hello Sailor!

In a comment on the post below by Subrosa relating to the Australians and Gallipoli in 1915, Edward Spalton reminds us of the youth of some of those involved in the Navy, notably the Midshipmen.  Not only were they teenagers, some had only just attained that status.

Again we often need when we look at the past we often need the detail to remind us that the way it is written up today may not be accurate in that often the comment or interpretation depends on assumptions and limited sources. 

Clearly, the Navy was a hard taskmaster, but it may not have been regarded as badly by those at the time as we tend to do today.  One question is how many “pressed” men were in fact volunteers?  Given the conditions in some merchant vessels the Navy may have seemed desirable to the hungry and badly paid.

The photograph above was something found in the Morning Chronicle of Friday 30th July 1852, as usual when looking for something else, it states that its source was the Dundee Advertiser.  It is about recruiting boys and seems to present a different picture to that which we might expect.

Also, it relates to Dundee, which is of interest not only to Subrosa.  One of my forebears was a Master Mariner whose vessel was registered there.  Given his voyages and the work that had to be done, any of the boys may well have preferred the Royal Navy.

Also, when you look at the other options for employment in the factories and the mines in this period (1852) for youngsters of this age and their prospects, despite all the hardships and discipline of the Royal Navy, to those at the time it may have seemed a reasonable choice.

On Youtube, the group “Fishermans Friends” are South Australia bound:

So what is it to be?  Crawling around and under filthy machines in a factory for twelve or more hours a day?  Working all the hours as the lowest farm labourer for a pittance?  Going down the pit until your lungs give out in your mid 30’s to 40’s if your survive?

Or would you choose to weigh anchor and see the world?

Thursday 25 April 2013

Murder Will Out

One of the joys of the web is that it is possible to pick up on something and then go on the chase using a wide variety of sources.  You can do some things in minutes that once might have taken days, if not weeks and involve traipsing and tracking round libraries to find the information.

Last night rather than the football on vision with music on sound there was time to look at the Channel 4 documentary on King Edward VIII in the period before he met Wallis Simpson and especially his liaison with the major Parisian courtesan, Marquerite Meller; purely out of historical interest, of course.

She, also called Maggie, was a Triple A Plus gold digger who enticed some of the richest and best connected men around at the time.  When, aged 22, Edward was introduced to her he was smitten.  She became his mistress and showed him the way around Paris, if you know what I mean.

The programme concerned itself with, let us say, the basics.  But what struck me was the date when the affaire began.  It was April 1917.  As it happens I know exactly what my grandfather was doing in France at the time.  While Edward was wining, dining and squiring her around town there was a major battle going on that was crucial to the British strategy on the Western Front. 

It was the British storming of the Hindenburg Line outside Arras, see Wikipedia “Battle of Arras 1917”.  It was one of the many major battles now dwarfed by other bigger ones in the histories but it was a long, bloody and horrific business with very many casualties.   It lasted from 9 April to 16 May.  In his then battalion, the 13th Kings Liverpool, my grandfather was one of the fifty left standing.

When Edward returned from his leave he was writing long letters to her and others whinging about the “bloody war” and sniping at others in his family and around him.  But he was supposed to be a staff officer.  Admittedly, it seems that he was used much more as a public relations and media celebrity to be trotted out now and again but why wasn’t he doing any real work?

It was understandable that he was kept out of harms way, perhaps against his own wishes.  But there was still a great deal of hard relentless work to be done.  It was the junior staff officers who carried the brunt of the immense amount to be done in managing the movements of troops and supplies.  Was it that he was disinclined to do it or that he could not be trusted to do a decent job? 

His whole record does suggest that when it came to the basic grind of any task he was neither interested nor up to it or to taking responsibility.  When he became King in 1936 he simply took off to the French Riviera for the summer regardless of all the business to be done.

Eventually, after the War, Edward and Maggie drifted apart, she married a rich Prince who was not quite a Prince and during a stay at the Savoy Hotel in 1923 murdered him but managed to get off at the trial.  The TV programme takes the line that because of Edward’s letters, her blackmail and the huge problems it might cause the trial was “fixed”.

By the 1930’s when Wallis Simpson had turned up and taken Edward over he was taking a good deal of trouble to stay out of the limelight.  His Private Secretary, Lord Brownlow had his seat at Belton Hall just north of Grantham, close to good hunting country but otherwise out of the way.  Edward and Wallis were often there together.

As well as being a courtier, Brownlow was also a country squire and important in the County.  In 1934 to 1935 at the height of the relationship between Edward and Wallis he was Mayor of Grantham.  It is likely his appearances were restricted to the formal occasions and he was not involved in town politics.

Quite what he did and when might only be quarried from the archives of the borough.  It may not be very much because I cannot see him chairing committees or attending many council meetings.  He may have been an Alderman, if only for honorary reasons.

Another Alderman of Grantham, and later Mayor himself in 1945 to 1946 was Alfred Roberts, shopkeeper and “Independent”.  He had two daughters, one a nice girl called Muriel and later another with a bit of a temper, called Margaret.  Her married name was Thatcher and we now recall her from the distant past as Prime Minister.

When King Edward VIII abdicated in December 1936 to keep up with Wallis and dumping the job on his younger brother who deserved better than that one effect was that at court there was a brutal clear out of all those who had been close to Edward. 

Brownlow read in the Court Circular that he had lost his job.  When telephoning to suggest that there might have been a mistake he was told he had resigned.  He did not recall writing any letter to that effect but took the heavy hint.  It was almost as if an Iron Curtain, to borrow a phrase, had come down between the Georgians and the Edwardians.

So when in 1979, Her Majesty received Margaret Thatcher to give her the seals of office as Prime Minister and the Golden Girl of Grantham, it was almost as though a ghost of the past had come back to haunt the monarchy to remind it of unsuitable marriages of the past. 

In the meantime the National Trust, who had taken over Belton House were doing their best to airbrush history.  One thing was the outbuildings many of which had the initials and names of First War soldiers etched into the walls.  They were sanded over and almost fully erased.

In the house itself it has become almost a shrine to Edward and Wallis.  Its First World War history is not mentioned apart from a passing reference to the Machine Gun Corps, there in 1917 and 1918.  There is not a trace of any or anything of the men of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, there from 1914 to 1916 in training.

Marguerite Meller lived to a good age and died rich on the fortune she had acquired.

A lesson for our times?

Wednesday 24 April 2013

The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring

A long day; having been marched off to take my annual identify the spring flowers test.  Yet another fail.  Ragwort, Deadly Nightshade and Poison Ivy can be managed but alas the others always escape me.  The lesson is that what people see may not be what they think it is.

Much the same might be said of the world’s money markets.  With so many, if not all, of the worlds largest currency blocks, all showing serious or even potentially catastrophic signs of weakness they are all “sell” options.

The trouble is that the currency units which remain strong enough to be a “buy” are nowhere near enough to cope.  Moreover, as small elements it does not take much of a move to send them rocketing beyond any real value.  This is not investment as we know it.

So how are the existing major currencies being propped up?  This is hellishly complex in its operation and working but essentially quite simple.  The major blocks of currency are being bought by the same people that sell them.  In a roundabout way, that is.

It involves all that “quantatitive easing”, that is creating money by imaginative use of figures by central banks, the issue of stock in the form of borrowing by governments, and the raiding of savings, public sector and other pensions funds and the rest to provide the borrowing plus allowing the money men to do their bit in pushing the dodgems about.

For Keynesians, they are reminded that his major work is called “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”.  It may retain its validity if what is going on bears some relationship to reality.

But when a lot of the “employment” is essentially in non or non-productive jobs that is one problem.  When the money is out of control that is another.  But the linchpin is Interest and this is the compass by which a course is plotted. 

If the depredations to savings and other financial methods effectively destroy the function of Interest and replace it by trying to play velocity games around the financial gambling tables then the risks are very high.

All this might work for a short time with a brutal application of discipline.  But there are all the signs that it is not working and not going to.  The other ancillary problem is who the governments have trusted to make the thing work.  In the USA and the UK this is bad news.

If you employ numbers of people who are basically crooks or incapable then lots of money is going to disappear out of the system into the pockets of a few never to be seen again.  So all your policies are never going to work.

As Grannie used to say, you do not ask the chimney sweep to clean the windows and you do not ask the window cleaner to hose down the chimney.  The link below is a long read but not difficult and is by someone who has been there as a police officer hunting frauds only to have his foxes given protection. 

If these are the people who the governments entrust to be securing our futures then the prediction is quite a simple one.

There isn’t going to be a future worth living in.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Dogs Dinner

Down the millennia the human race has chewed its way through many a living creature of one sort or another.  At times they have eaten each other.  It is claimed that the disappearance of many species owes more to the human molars and less to other causes.

In more recent millennia we have become far more fussy.  One reason is faiths who instruct their followers to avoid certain foods, because for long past reasons that were good at the time or because of some instruction. 

Another is that as we have studied our diet and food intakes more and have far more choice in many parts of the world we have reasons not to eat this or that.  In more modern times some peoples have been overcome with sentimentality about possible food sources.

In the West at the moment we are all supposed to love dogs.  In our mass media the picture of a dog is now conventionally titled “Adorable” if the mutt can be taken in a moment of soppy or non aggressive attitude.  This is not the case in other places.

According to web sources, I think this one is MSN but don’t bank on it:


Thailand’s Illegal Dog Meat Trade

On a minimal budget and with a heavy reliance on volunteers, Thai-based charity The Soi Dog Foundation and London-based Environment Films have demonstrated that a little bit of money and a lot of passion can go a long way.

They collaborated to produce ‘Shadow Trade: the Price of Loyalty’, a feature-length undercover film that documents the atrocious and illegal practices involved in Thailand’s horrific dog meat trade.

It is hoped that this documentary will be shown on TV channels around the world, including in Thailand, to alert viewers to the reality and give these canine victims a voice.


What is the voice?  If it is that hound whose owners turf it out at 11.00 p.m. to spend the night the barking its right to be let back in then we would be happy to put it in the slow cooker to quiet it down and let us have a good night’s sleep.

But it is possible to remember a time when we were not so fussy and our neighbours in Europe would have been glad to put their hands on any dog or cat that was going to put through the mincer or finely chopped and used as meat filler.  It did as well as anything if it was the only choice.

Which raises the interesting question of where the Thai dog meat could go?  With a good many foods now being processed in and imported from the East after the fuss about horsemeat from Europe, can we sure that we are not getting other meats from the East?

The answer is that we cannot without extensive testing and the monitoring of sources.  One reason is our insane demand that foods should always taste exactly the same and have the same texture regardless of season or place of origin.  What this means is that the food is processed or “doctored” to achieve this.

It is common now for foods even those deemed “fresh”, never mind in packages or manufactured products to be coloured, given various preservatives and also either a battery of taste enhancers or actual flavourings to achieve the ends of sameness and certainty.

The chemicals and related industries can now respond almost immediately to any demand and in any quantity to assist in achieving these goals.  What you get will be what you get and very often not what you think you get.

The upshot, or downside, take your pick, is that it is now possible to shove almost anything into any kind of mix and come up with a product that is promoted and marketed according to demand.  In turn the demand itself can be created by the advertising and media industry.

According to the web Ludwig Andreas Fueurbach said, in translation, “Man is what he eats”.

We must be barking.

Monday 22 April 2013

For Richer For Poorer

The Sunday Times has published its latest “rich list”, namely the people said to have the largest loot in their money bags among UK residents, who may not be entirely resident for tax purposes, and nationals, whose tax affairs may not be entirely national.  Sadly, we failed to make the cut yet again.  As the hay fever season is here, if only I had a million for every time I have sneezed.

A couple of days ago a BBC documentary dealt with one man who made it to the 18th Century Rich List by virtue of his own skills and related abilities.  He was Josiah Wedgewood of Burslem, now part of Stoke on Trent.  In the 18th Century he began as an ordinary potter and became an industrial magnate in the pottery business dealing with the elites of Europe.

The documentary was fronted by A.N. Wilson, different from the usual yelping or instructive presenter types and not perhaps an obvious choice as more of a philosopher than a commercial type.  But he had been there and done that because his father was Production Director for the Wedgewood Company when he was a boy and an active and expert in the pottery trade beyond figures and paperwork.  So Wilson was familiar in his time with both the works and their operations.

What he did bring out was the religious aspect to Josiah Wedgewood and his friends and contemporaries.  Josiah was a strong Unitarian, along with his family and closely associated with members of other Dissenting Congregations.  The documentary made clear the extent and nature of their influence in promoting both social reform and scientific progress as well as industrial and structural change. 

The Dissenters were not simply those of the owning and managing classes.  In that period they were excluded from politics or office and were becoming strong among the skilled and commercial ordinary classes, especially in the urban areas which had little or no parliamentary representation.

Keir Hardie, born 1856, a founder of the Labour Movement was also an active member of the Dissenting congregations.  By one of those twists of history his work took him to Cumnock in Ayrshire for a time, spiritual home to those who followed the faith of Richard Cameron and The Cameronians of the late 17th Century.

His father, David Hardie, was a ship’s carpenter but who needed to work at other things from time to time.  Having already researched a ship’s carpenter who worked out of The Clyde who was parallel to him the background is clear.  It was a hard and uncertain life in a dangerous trade.

Additionally, Keir Hardie was Temperance and a member of the Good Templars Lodge, an organisation set up to rival the Freemasons but on a non alcoholic and more democratic basis.  Again, this is a subject already researched in the person of Peter Turner Winskill, prominent nationally and one of the first to be recruited to these Templars on their introduction from America.

With the takeover of socialist and related thinking by the followers of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao etc. it is usual in many histories to force those from a pre-Marxist socialism into that mould.  So we now hear very little about these older traditions in social reform and its intellectual origins.  The Labour grandees of the present with family origins in these classes take care not to mention them.

There are also inconvenient truths.  Dissenting congregations in the 18th Century were among those who wished to abolish slavery and also gave moral support to the Americans seeking representative government for the colonies.  As the Dissenters were excluded from politics or office in Britain this was their cause as well as the Americans.  In the histories the emphasis is usually on the individuals rather than on the larger congregations that they represented.

Later when Keir Hardie’s own predictions of 1895 about the way the British monarchy might go in the next generation this may have struck a chord with many reformers at the time but brought down on his head a good deal of antagonism and perhaps cost him his seat in West Ham. 

Hardie had come into prominence just at the time when the then Gladstone Liberal government of the early 1880’s had extended the ballot to large numbers of men of the middling and skilled classes.  It was also a time when many of these in the Dissenting congregations began to question both the adverse effects of unregulated free trade in the urban areas for the working class and the hectic imperialism of the time.

The consequence was the growth of the Labour movement and the formation of a distinct political party to that effect.  At first sight Hardie may seem to be of a very different stamp from the Wedgewood’s of the 18th, but they started off in much the same strata of life that he did and with the same theological motivations.

If we look at all the proposals for what history is to be studied in schools and for that matter elsewhere these are largely determined by modern secular and other notions about what is convenient and popular in terms of modern fixations and fantasies. 

It seems that there is a determination to obliterate large swathes of the reality and complexity of our history across the recent centuries.  It is this that causes modern governments to be blind to our full history as well.  And it is not just other people in another age it is a part of the communal DNA of many, if not most of us.

Let us now praise famous men?

Friday 19 April 2013

Words And Music

Are the full effects of Leveson and the new laws already taking effect?  A couple of days ago on John Redwood’s blog, senior Conservative Member with former government positions, he dealt with aspects of the gold market, reminding us that once it was a basic of money supply that seemed to do its job.

My comment was to the effect that in the past when Gold was King there was still manipulation of the gold markets and pricing together with high levels of speculative trading.  Those of us who have read up financial crises of the past know this all too well.

One example I cited was the attempt to corner the gold market by a family of bankers around the time of the Battle of Waterloo and referring to later what was known as The Battle of Peterloo.  The first was in 1815 and the latter 1819. 

The name of the family was struck out of the comment on the grounds that it created a risk of legal action for John Redwood and his blog.  Now, if he does not know what the Leveson actions are intended to do then nobody does. 

So does this now mean if I question Prince Rupert’s strategy in the Civil War of the 1640’s and 1650’s there is a serious risk of Murdoch’s legal lads coming after me with the writs? 

Also, there is the problem of all those history books and journals discussing the past.  Should they all now be removed from the shelves and any kind of circulation if not burned in Trafalgar Square should they contain any word that might refer to a living individual?

On another tack 2013 is the bicentenary of the birth of Richard Wagner so it was to be expected that The BBC Proms season this summer would be doing a fair chunk of his repertoire.  The Proms Guide this year has between July 22 and July 28 no less than five big ones in seven days.

The total running times of these is 19 hours and 34 minutes to which should be added four hours of intervals, not counting applause, if any.  If you are not a Wagner fan this is bad news.  If you are it is even worse, especially if you are one of the Proms Plebs in the standing Arena. 

The Proms these days is governed as much by managerial targets and the rest as any other activity but this infliction on that section of the potential audience is mad, even madder in some respects that Wagner himself.  But one of the intriguing things is who the BBC leaves out as much as who is in.

In 2006 in the year of the Mozart 250th anniversary of his birth there was not a hint never mind the performance of any of the works of Thomas Linley, born the same year.  Admittedly he died tragically young leaving a limited repertoire but he both knew Mozart and was admired by him.

It is a commonplace that some composers get the full treatment but others who might well be given at least some recognition and some works performed around the main or supported schedules are wholly ignored, but we never know why.

As already pointed out, this is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Leslie Stuart, born Thomas Augustine Barrett in Southport to a Co. Mayo family, see this blog before and Wikipedia ,who could well be used.  

He could be given the John Wilson orchestral treatment even if only as a couple of items in one of his Broadway or Film programmes that are unashamedly “popular” in presentation and content.

We are certainly given Gershwin, Hammerstein and Hollywood etc. but Stuart was both close to them, a respected predecessor and a major figure on Broadway and in California for a time as well as being a major figure in the West End.

I can understand him not being given the kind of overdrive that is awarded to some composers, but like Linley the absence of even a mention or putting in an item here or there in all the programming is puzzling.

One of his well known works is “The Soldiers Of The Queen”, is it this that gives the BBC a fit of the vapours?  In the circumstances they might do well to use it to replace the listed Arlen “Over The Rainbow” on The Last Night.

The picture above is The Last Night of 2005, see if you can spot us.

Thursday 18 April 2013

A Dance To The Music Of Time

One of the family sent a fascinating item from the BBC News today about how certain men who made their mark on the 20th Century all came to be in Vienna at the same time in 1913.  The link to the story which is short is:

This is the kind of thing to enjoy for those of a certain turn (or warp) of mind.  Having already located Lenin and Henry Hook VC, a hero of the Battle of Rorkes Drift in the Zulu Wars at the same place at the same time in London (find in my search) there have been many other examples to enjoy.

The BBC article names five people, Adolf Hitler, Leon Trotsky, Josip Tito, Sigmund Freud and Josef Stalin.  To these might be added Nikolai Bukharin to make up the six needed for the comment below.

What is of interest is what they did in their spare time when not planning world domination or the overthrow of Empires and Capitalism or playing mind games.  Might they all have attended a performance at the Vienna Opera at the same time?  Perhaps huddled together up in “the gods” on the cheap benches.

Perhaps Wagners “Gotterdamerung”, the obvious one about the collapse of a civilisation into ruins?  Perhaps, “Boris Gudunov” by Mussorgsky, about the usurpation of power and ruin of a Tsar?  Perhaps “Don Carlos”, a complicated business of lust, power and disaster in Spain by Verdi?  Perhaps “Elektra” by Richard Strauss, which is ancient Greek incest, murder and the overthrow of power?

If so, it would explain a great deal.  But what if they had all joined the same local operetta and drama company for companionship, developing their presentation skills and learning how to put the plot and the tune across?

A famous work at the time was “Florodora” by Leslie Stuart (see Wikipedia) in which one of the favourite scenes is where six men in dress suits dance with six lovely ladies of the chorus in flowing gowns singing “Come tell me pretty maiden do, are there any more at home like you?”, both charming and a major hit of the day.

I like to think that if this had been the case Leslie Stuart himself might have been in the audience, possibly bringing a message from Alois in Liverpool to Adolf in Vienna in his travels.  Might he have seen this team of chorus boys and girls and put them under contract for his next big production on Broadway in New York?

What if they had been a hit and gone on to the big time?  Imagine the six of them bestriding the world of Vaudeville, Broadway and Hollywood.  They might have gone on to change the world of entertainment instead of the real world, although the one these days does seem to have taken over the other.

What could they have called themselves?

The Marxist Brothers?

Wednesday 17 April 2013

A Prism Into The Past

The trouble with the past is often how little evidence there is of much of it, the implications of what we do know and what we don’t, and the inevitable attempts to make judgements or theories on the basis of current notions and prejudices.

On of the fascinating items recently is about the discovery of the Alderney Sunstone in a recently discovered wreck which underwent underwater archaeology.  It has had intensive scientific examination at the University of Rennes and is a block of Icelandic spar crystal. 

It can be used by someone with the skill and expertise to work out the position of the sun even when the sky is clouded or at twilight.  There are only scanty references to the existence of such stones in the records and none have been found before.  Even these did not describe how they were used or how they worked.

In the film “The Vikings” from the mid 1950’s which attempted to use some of the known sources on Viking life and times, it was supposed that the stone must have been purely one with magnetic properties on the basis of the theory at that time. 

But the issue with pure magnetism was its variability and margin of error, notably in vessels with any amounts of iron in the structure, nails and fittings, or on board, especially later when cannon came into use.

If the Vikings, one of whose fiefs was Iceland, did come to have access to sunstones and knew how to use them effectively it is one of those times when, to borrow from all those documentaries “the course of history changed” or “history has been re-written”.  Suddenly, we know just why their navigation was so good.

It is also possible.  In my possession there is an original document written and illustrated by a mariner who went to sea at twelve years and went on to be a Master by thirty.  It is quite astonishing in its detail, mathematical capability and the ability to draw accurate maps. 

It is concerned directly with the science of navigation in the 1840’s, according to what was known at the time.  Allowing for him to be exceptional in his calculating and design skills it still means that in both the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine there were many men able to work to these standards never having been near either school or university etc. from an early age.

So why do we know so little about the sunstones of the past?  Why to all intents and purposes did their use become something secret and private to be handed down perhaps in families and seemingly almost hidden away.  Perhaps there were problems.

The is the obvious one that if God is light etc. then things like sunstones, especially if they derive from Pagan origins are something magical and if they confer the ability to do something that is within the discretion of God their use could be heretical. 

Moreover when the first scraps of ancient knowledge were rediscovered what they had to say on the properties of light may well simply not have fitted what sunstones did.  In short their use indicated magicians or necromancers etc. because it went against the received thought and learning at the time. 

If the researchers at Rennes are right and around the museums there is now some searching to be done around the stores of bits and pieces of ancient artefacts previously put to one side as scraps more may be learned.

But it might tell us more about how good the Viking navigators were, how their ships operated and how or why voyages of which knowledge has been lost from the past could have happened.  If they did and they depended on the sunstones there might be all the more reason to say little about them on arrival back.

It is beginning to dawn on me that our ancient ancestors were much brighter and better than we think and we really do stand on the shoulders of giants.

Tuesday 16 April 2013


On Sunday we had family in Boston for a public event. 

So the news from yesterday, Monday, about the bomb attack was a shock more than a natural reaction to such a horrific occurrence. 

The Boston Marathon was not simply an American event, it was international and among the crowd and competitors would have been representatives of many nations and many beliefs. 

Nor was it an attack on the “authorities” or the armed forces.  It was an attack on ordinary people from around the world whose only ambition was to have a happy day.

One of those lost is an eight year old boy there to see his father run.  Others killed and seriously injured are all ordinary people doing ordinary things.

It is possible only to mourn those lost and think of the many others who have been injured.

What kind of mind or person can do these things in this way and why?

What kind of group can plan, support and rejoice in such a merciless assault?

Monday 15 April 2013

The Leaving Of Liverpool

The moment of truth about Liverpool, my city of birth,  came to me in the late 1970’s.  That year we were booked to go from Felixstowe to Zeebrugge on our camping holiday because although less convenient going it was more convenient on the planned return.  Arriving at the port in good time we parked and decided to look around and find victuals.

The only place open was the transport cafĂ©.  It was clearly popular with the drivers, which was a good sign.  What took my eye were a couple of trucks from the Liverpool area and one of the drivers was on the next table and happy to chat for a bit of company.

My assumption that the freight containers they were carrying were for Europe was wrong.  They were for the East to places for which that Liverpool had long been a major port.  It did not take long for me to realise that the logistics and reality of road freight traffic had changed radically in a short time.

It was clear that a lot else had changed as well as it finally dawned on me at Felixstowe that I was looking at a new age of sea transport.  Already we had been through the large Europoort at Rotterdam a couple of times and had seen the containers stacking up. 

There was the awareness already that the Liverpool international passenger trade had almost all gone and never to return.  What I learned was that the freight trade was being lost as well and very rapidly.  The driver told me in direct language that Liverpool as a port was dying.

In 1966 we went through Liverpool to Belfast for a holiday in Ulster.  The car had to be loaded onto a freighter to follow the passenger ferry and then off loaded at the other end.  Getting in and out of the docks was complicated and took a long time even for what was then an “express” service.

The Liverpool Docks of 1966 were much the same as in the left hand picture above of around 1950.  This is a highly idealised picture with the emphasis on passenger ships and there is not much dirt and fewer cargo ships about with dock labour.  Despite some of the docks known to be freight ones they are not for the picture.

This kind of latitude with the image became characteristic of Liverpool in later years.  What the picture does not show is the number of freighters out in Liverpool Bay waiting and hoping for an available dock soon.  Some of them had to wait days and if an industrial dispute was going on many days.

The picture on the right is from 1909 and the railway network serving the docks then was much the same as in the 1960’s before The Beeching Report took effect.  This was extensive and from my own and many of my families direct knowledge always busy up until the 1960’s.

Up until the early 1950’s we were often in Liverpool and there were generations of the family who had known it back to the mid 19th Century.  Two of my four great grandfathers were in the engine rooms of ships and my grandfather did the occasional stint when his trade was slack in the winter.

Like them and many of my family and others up to the 1950’s we all just assumed that it would more or less go on forever.  There would be some changes but Liverpool would always be a thriving city and a major location for trade, finance and with the accompanying infrastructure and associated industries.  We could not imagine what was going to happen

There were other factors.  In WW1 Britain lost 6000 ships, a lot of them the older and slower ones.  This was repeated in WW2.  The old ships were replaced by much larger ships increasingly powered by oil turbine engines.  So even if more freight was being carried it needed fewer and fewer ships to carry it.  Also these ships did not need the manpower on board that the older ones had. 

In the 1840’s a sailing ship with a tonnage of up to 4000 might well need a crew of up to 30.  Today a major oil tanker of hundreds of thousands tonnage can work with less than that.  Down the decades the gradual need for fewer and fewer crew to deal with larger and larger ships has been absent from the thinking.

Moreover during WW2 the Americans brought in for their purposes a good many features of mechanised handling.  So by the 1960’s the handling of freight could be very different in terms of rail transit alone.  When the motorways came and with low loaders (including many second hand from the Army) and a variety of other trucks the system requirements were very different.

In the late 1940’s in an attempt to deal with the endless problems of industrial disputes and disruptions to trade and incidentally food supplies during times of real scarcity, the Attlee government introduced the Dock Labour Scheme.  This was intended to establish fair and reliable arrangements in the docks.

The trouble was it assumed, like my family, that the existing system was here to stay for all time.  Also, it was a bureaucratic system inevitably with anomalies and points for disagreement.  So the dock strikes went on, and on and on. 

As soon as alternatives became available, notably with container traffic Liverpool became a place to be avoided, sometimes at all costs.  When it became normal for freighters to find spare docking space available on arrival instead of queuing for days it meant that the old world had gone for good.

The government could not and did not understand what was happening in reality.  There were many fine words and grand, expensive, media friendly and cosmetic schemes and the rest.  But with the passenger traffic gone to the skies and the freight to the roads and to other ports then all the related infrastructure and economic activity went into free fall.

For the docks the mantra of the trade unions was that for the container trade firstly the containers should be loaded and unloaded by dock labour.  Also where containers were going through non Dock Labour Scheme ports they should be forced to join. 

In addition inland container depots and facilities were to be designated as Port outlets and again forced to use Dock Labour.  Had Labour won the 1979 election this might have happened with a major impact on the whole of UK trade. 

The local Labour council in Liverpool became not an agent for reform or progress but actively complicit in the collapse because of its internal politics.  Also, a large proportion of the population came to be in council housing.  As inflation gathered pace the rents were kept low and therefore the subsidies high.

Given the rating system at the time and controls on borrowing there was only one source for added spending.  This was business; and while the big boys with clout in Westminster managed to get favourable deals and hidden subsidies the brunt of this was borne by the remaining local firms and retailers.

In the past the vast network of these and small firms engaged in a variety of trades and manufacturing had been a little recognised staple of the Liverpool economy.  When they contracted rapidly the wealth of the city had gone and so had its status as a world trading city and even a major British city.

It is only a handful of years since I last drove down the Dock Road having been to a funeral.  There was almost nothing left of the Liverpool I knew and it was eerily quiet. 

Even quieter than when the dock workers were striking.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Ineluctable Modality Of The Visible

The major financial news of the day is a “buy” opportunity for collectors; up to a point.  The Central Bank of Ireland has issued ten thousand 10 Euro coins for a price of 46 Euro’s each.  Well, it is one way of dealing with the deficit.

But, and an interesting one, is that the coin celebrates James Joyce, one of Ireland’s literary giants, depending on how you look at giants and the quote comes from “Ulysses”, reckoned to be a major work in the English Language but not alas on the English curriculum.

Perhaps because it uses more words than most books in the sense of the variety plucked from either the language or the dictionaries, whichever might be the preferred linguistic source? 

It is argued that Joyce sometimes chose words of own making.  If a word which did not exist then comes into existence does it matter who made it?  If the word was a variant or an ancient one revived what then?

The answers to any of these questions are not available from the Central Bank despite its mission statements and management documents sometimes being more Joycean than Joyce. 

They often seem to be conversations with nobody in particular in that people are not intended to assume that they bear on the present, past or future, only with the words themselves.

The problem is a “that” put into the quote in a way that tidies up what is intended to be slightly untidy and on the whole directly oblique.  The coin has a pretty design but may not have attracted much attention.  So is the error an act of purpose?

Joyce was in Bray for a time as a youngster.  At the time the Treasurer of India, Auckland Colvin was the grandson of a former Curate of Bray.  It was Colvin who presided over the Fall Of The Rupee owed to international changes in money values.

The Joyce coin story is in “The Mail” which may be a warning in itself about accuracy and the use of language:

It is alleged that the coins were minted in Germany.  Perhaps the Central Bank in Dublin felt safer with a German maker especially as The Republic's monetary and economic policies are determined there.

There are many manufacturers of coins around the world.  One place which has a goodly number of them is China, where the demand for coins is high and the cost of making them low.  There, however, they may have been diligent enough to use Joyce’s own words.

In that case, possibly, nobody in Dublin or Berlin would have been able to understand a word of them.