Thursday 30 July 2015

France - A Failed State

With all the noise about the continuing crisis at Calais, there is one matter that should concern all.  The Calais Dover rail and sea links are one of the crucial trade and communications junctions in both European and World trade.

Yet the French authorities, they cannot be called government, have failed to cope with a small number of disorganised but determined individuals either each alone or in groups.  They have been given literally the run around by them.  Their answer is to blame anybody and everybody else.

This is the standard response of the incompetent and foolish who have either made major blunders or who lack the capability and intellect to deal with even relatively simple problems.  One possible reason is that the French pay too much attention to intellectuals and too little to the practical application of mind over matter.

To all intents and purposes and looking over the full range of activity France has become a failed state that cannot see its own failure or begin to understand why it has happened.  So its leaders puff and posture and engage in the sorry dirty and corrupt politics that has been its downfall.

To fully examine this would take a big book covering many fields that might begin with the time of King Louis XIV and take in three centuries of history.  In journal or blog form it could run to one of those very long items that you might just put off reading.  So this is short and blunt.

There was a time when France could claim to exercise leadership in both Europe and the World in many respects and it was common for many in America, Britain and many other places to see Paris as the place to go to inform the mind and see the future.  Now it is just another tourist dump with low grade government and financial facilities located there as a legacy of the past.

In 1789 the French revolted against an entrenched monarchy and elite that was European in scope and connections.  The French saw themselves as prisoners in their own country and serfs to rulers who were unaccountable and held them in contempt.

In 2015 France has allowed itself to be governed by an entrenched political and administrative class and controlled by a European intellectual elite that is unaccountable and dictates the rules and styles of life.

It is a pensioner of the EU, its agriculture depends on vast subsidies, its industry on state contracts and its investment on state spending fuelled by debt that is out of control.

In many ranges of human thought and activity at one time France was among the leaders of the world in science, the arts, literature and other fields.  This is no longer the case.  There are still a number of able and notable people but the French are now rarely leaders they are mostly followers and in some cases are a long way behind.

It is not that France is trapped in its longer past.  That is long since gone and is history.  It has allowed itself to be taken over by a creature of its own creation, the EU.  It assumed that because of history and its central role it could always be the final authority in the EU.

But then the EU expanded and in doing so distributed power to others who looked elsewhere for leadership.  The Euro was introduced and the Germans put the War behind them and took over the reins of power having the money and political direction to do so.

By promoting the expansion of the EU and the Euro and the rest of the control systems as well France has fallen into the trap of its own making.  Intended to curb other major states and notably Britain, France is now subsidiary to others and paying the price.

It's internal politics have long been corrupt and a severe hindrance to good government.  If anything Europe has worsened this to the point where it is so extensive and necessary for function that France's major decisions depend on it.

So there is employment protection that almost guarantees unemployment.  A benefits system for the least deserving.  And administration that does not administer and a legal system that protects crime and criminals.  Then there is all the debt and to whom it is owed.

It has long been a joke about France that how can you govern a country with 400 Cheeses and 1000 variations of these, all distinctive and with strict rules of production.

But the EU now rules that powdered milk can be used.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

The Games A' Foot

There is no shortage of "news" of all kinds and for the average world watcher it seems that the rate of earth spin is increasing rapidly.  In the USA, President Obama has reverted to every politicians last hope, doing personal tours to other places to boost the image.  But he is a lucky man, the Republican opposition seems to be doing all it can to help the Democrats.

But which Democrat?  Many have assumed that as it was Mrs. Clinton who ran the shop when Bill was on his travels and following his own interests she might as well have a shot at the President job herself.  Now there is talk of Obama going for a third term.

This sorry tale of Washington DC will not be enough to put them off because by the time it happens they will be home and dry and draining off the proceeds into all those personal accounts that people of this kind keep these days.  In any case there are other things to occupy the voters.

Gawping at the TV tells us that leading soccer teams from Europe are abroad, some in the USA and some in China.  For once I was actually sorry for the players.  At Zangchou (there are many spellings but this was the one at the side of the pitch) where Real Madrid played Inter Milan not only was the heat hitting 40 C but it was very humid and the air quality bad.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, PSG St. Germaine, a French side with few Frenchmen met Chelsea, an English side with few English, for another dogfight which had much snapping at heels and fouls galore.  The conditions were not as bad as the other but it was still a hot and bothered game.

Yet in a few days these teams will be launching on busy seasons with many demands.  The media and TV coverage will be as great as ever and about as informative as much of our political.  There will be big story after big story but all lacking in key information and all short of any certainty as to success and failure.

In football necessarily many more will fail than succeed.  This is the way the money goes.  In politics once the idea was that those engaged would enable many more winners than losers, if only to get the votes.  But the tangle they are in because of the incessant political versions of fouling and malpractice means we are in a world where there are far more losers than winners.

This is bad news for the stability of states and nations which will find their populations becoming more wayward and intractable.  When you add to that what is happening in the banking and financial systems these are about as reliable and sensible, if not less, than what goes on in football transfers and money flows.

As many of the newly wealthy players and those who pay for them and finance them are at present up to the hilt in the many property booms around the world there is a delicate balance between success and failure as on the pitch which is mirrored in our politics.

In China the markets have just taken a big tumble and whether the government can pump enough back into them to restore them is a real question.  In America the question is when are rates of interest going to approach reality again and become a necessary condition of the markets.

For both easy money and pump priming and all the rest has gone on for seven years now to keep all the games going, in politics as well as soccer.  China is said to have played a form of football centuries age, see picture above, and then lost the art much as they are losing the arts of finance.

Someone once had a theory about seven year cycles, that also was a long time ago so we have forgotten.

We may soon remember and the real games will begin.

Monday 27 July 2015

The House Of Leers

Peering at newspaper reports on screen tells me that a Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords has been caught if not red handed then red bra' wearing exploring the outer reaches of the permissive society; and at his age too.

He holds a number of responsible posts and by the rich irony that always occurs in these matters he has been Chairman of the Parliamentary Privileges and Conduct Committee.  His name is Sewel which inevitably means an "r" replacing the "l".

Because of technical complexities he remains a member of the House, entitled to what they are allowed and how long this will be the case is something that few if any know.

What is shocking to me is that I am not surprised.  The scale of dirty doings and fiddling revealed in both Houses of Parliament has been a rich source of media material despite their frantic attempts if not to stop it then at least to stop any information going public.

One of the many reasons why the "Great" has been lost to Britain is that our attachment to an unwritten constitution, once our pride, has meant an unwillingness to tackle major problems.  One is the way we deal with legislation and part of that is the House of Lords.

It was in 1909, the year of the Liberal "People's Budget", that Lloyd George complained about 500 unelected persons selected by birth having the final and crucial say in many matters.  The budget was turned down by a vote of 350 to 75, meaning 425 voting.

Since then and after 1911 there have been Acts of Parliament making adjustments, but the essence of the old Lords lives on.  This is for the simple reason that many earlier peerages were given on grounds of convenience, political needs, perks for a job and favouritism.

Our present Life Peerages, with us in the last half century are no different in many cases.  They are still appointed and it was very soon after their inception that Harold Wilson was handing them out, one might say almost willy-nilly.

The Attlee government that might have done the job of major reform in the late 1940's was shackled by the weight of work from their social and economic policies at home and the large scale efforts abroad.  They managed a minor reform but could not find the time that a major one involved.

Moreover, there were disputes about whether a Second Chamber was needed, what it would actually do and how it might be elected. These crucial matters are still at the heart of the debate as to what is to be done with The Lords.

Meanwhile the size and the cost of all this goes up and up as the numbers increase.  When a party comes to power it needs to up its followers in The Lords to get business done.  So when there is a change of party another draft of Doolittles is ennobled.

There is a point at which all this can become a joke and given where The Lords is and who are appointed the risk of bad jokes and accumulating worse jokes increases exponentially as the numbers people say.

This is just a part of the serial collapse of effective government at the centre.  Blair and Brown messed about the constitution by a series of one off decisions.  They were not the first.

We have foreign bodies invading our legal and regulatory systems at will.  We have large numbers of people in both Houses who do not know what they are doing.

And we have a House of Lords who can only warrant media coverage by doing what comes unnaturally.

Sunday 26 July 2015

It's All In The Mind

On the web there are sites that should be avoided at all costs because they lead you on to others that persons of a nervous disposition will find raise terrors in the mind and memory.

I ought to have known better which is why I woke in the night shaking, clammy and in terror. Yes, the ghost of Edward Heath, some time Tory Prime Minister, was walking and he was there because I had been reading online speeches of Margaret Thatcher from the period 1970 to 1974.

The darkest fear that entered the mind was the idea that David Cameron is Edward Heath returned cackling and wringing his hands as he leads us to another 1970's doom.

This decade is now being freely mentioned because the contest for Leader of the Labour Party has the lefties scrapping with the neo-libs with old Soc Dem's wondering where to go and new brands of sundry ideas floating around the mix.

But the troubles of the 1970's were not just our home grown Left.  Heath, Barber and Maudling left such a mess behind them in 1974 that the Tories went for their equivalent of Mother Teresa, another tough cookie.

But for Margaret Hilda Thatcher charity began at Grantham.  In order to win votes she had to bash The Left and in order to stay Leader she also had to bash the Heath Men.  They were as bad if not worse when it came to economics and discipline.  She left problems behind her in turn.

All this is ancient history.  Because we are beguiled by all the archive screen footage we are prone to think it is an era close to us.  Our ancestors over a hundred years ago did not have this, they could not avoid the reality of rapid change.  But even they could not imagine where it might or would lead.

A very great deal has changed in many ways since then, not just in our small scattered set of islands off the coast of Europe but almost everywhere so any ideas from the past are tested against what is the present and seem to be failing.

When testing the ideas of the now against what we think might be they seem likely to fail and against the what will be probably are bound to.  We don't know where we are going, who goes with us is open to question and where we finish up is anybody's guess.

We have political parties that tell us what they intend to do not mentioning that apparently we now have in the order of 14,000 obligations to international organisations to take into account.  The conflicts between some of them never mind our intentions can be impossible to resolve.

The fiasco this month over the crucial route from Dover to Calais is a vivid illustration of both the idiocy and incapacity of our rulers.  There are two issues here.  One is the rights of trade unions, in this case French, the other is the migration issue.

That they have collided in Calais and that the French cannot deal with either without it conflicting with one absolute obligation against another is at the root of the problems.  But this is relatively small scale and immediate.

It is also happening on a larger scale and unfolding over a period of time in a way that escapes media notice.  No set of ideas from either the present or the past can deal with them.  So when we try to apply those ideas it is making matters worse.

The idea that those expensive people in their offices and institutions are essentially dreamers and demagogues hell bent on a future that will not happen as they wish or hope is not one that is comforting in a dangerous world.

Friday 24 July 2015

Der Fliegende Shyster

Much is made in the media of the pragmatic, careful and well organised, honest Germans having to support the profligate, corrupt and evasive Greeks and being criticised for their wish to keep the accounts right.

This long read from Bloomberg sent to me by one of the family might disabuse you of these ideas.

You might just have the impression that the Greeks are being made to pay for the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport which perhaps tells the real story of German financial management.

In the grand opera "Der Fliegende Hollander", Saturday night on RTE Lyric FM Sky 0165 radio, the soprano and the tenor get to heaven.

Sadly, Ms. Merkel and Mr. Tsipras could be going the other way.

Thursday 23 July 2015

2020 Could Jeremy Corbyn Be Prime Minister?

By all those who know about these things and inform and advise us of what is to be and might be, it is said that if Jeremy Corbyn were to be voted into Leadership of the Labour Party it could be decades before they next gain office.

Let me see now.

1921, David Lloyd George is the man for the future in the new age of the Liberal Party, the Tories will never see office again.

1938, the Conservatives ought to get rid of that back bencher Churchill, he really is a liability, you can rely on Neville Chamberlain, a safe pair of hands.

1944, it is impossible to see Clement Attlee as a Prime Minister, he should be replaced as soon as possible by Herbert Morrison.

1958, Harold Macmillan will never win an election, the age of the old grouse moor aristocrat is dead, he is no match for the intellect and power of Hugh Gaitskell.

1963, Harold Wilson? Couldn't win a game of snap, Labour should have voted in George Brown.

1978, Good grief, what are the Tories doing!  Does anybody think that Thatcher the handbag snatcher could beat steady reliable Jim Callaghan?

1991, John Major, couldn't manage a grocer's shop.  Neil Kinnock will run rings round him.

2006, the Tories will never win another election, Labour holds all the cards and now has all the men.

Anyone taking bets?

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Send A Bumboat

There was a time when it was popular and common for Britain to send a gunboat to places where the locals were up to no good or adopting policies not welcome in London, the two are not the same.

The message was "watch it sunshine there's more where that came from".  Because if the locals insisted on opposing Britain there was a large navy on hand and always several battalions of troops in barracks ready to be sent with them.

Often it was persuasion that worked, they would come to heel or a deal reached.  Sometimes the heavy hint was not taken and surely enough an expedition would be sent.  Many places in the world have in their histories a British military visitation to remember.

When our government proudly claims it is "doing something" we ought to be very wary.  It might be popular with some, it might get the press excited and on side, it might look decisive, brave and  determined but in the early 21st century it is a loser poker player trying to make good his debts with a busted flush.

We have a legacy nuclear capability dependent on the USA, a Royal Navy probably now unable to police our own coastline fully and an Army also dependent on foreign supply and too small and too little equipped to engage in any large or lasting campaign.

That ministers can suggest "putting forces on the ground" to deal with ISIS or ISIL and the threats from the Middle East without realising that it can be only a short hit and run raid at best.  Others claim we should be tackling opposition spread over wide areas of land and in serious numbers which is basically idiocy.

It is what I like to call a Fort Zanderneuf policy if you recall the story of "Beau Geste" if not see Wikipedia.  It is all very well to have a disaster as a matter of honour and style and to be able to blame others but when applied to dealing with a large, complicated and determined enemy it is inviting losses and reactions in scale.

In that story the fight was taken to the enemy territory, today the enemy may not be there but somewhere else.  Notably, it is in Europe and in our own back yard where they have been made welcome.  In order to make them concede our politicians invite them to tea on the House of Commons terrace, a fete worse than death so to say.

So David Cameron doing a Sergeant Major Lejaune after a bad night on the cheap plonk routine and urging his handful of men onward to greater efforts is asking to lose the next general election to the Labour Party.

Given the present state of our politics it would be an astonishing achievement and history would mark him down as the UK's last and biggest loser.

Monday 20 July 2015

Facing The Future

The matter of whose face should appear on the next edition of our £20 banknotes has been under discussion for a while and this comment may be a bit late in the day.

But if HMG wish to take a positive approach they might consider taking the decision into their own hands.  What criteria might be adopted to do so?

There has been the view that it ought to be a woman and some say not Britannia who is an image of the past.  So perhaps it might be a person who can represent both the past and the future.

Also, it should not be elitist and this means no authors who have written books regarded as "classics" as well as others who are top draw in something or other.  This would never do.

It would have to be someone liked and admired in her time and gave towards the greater happiness of the toiling masses.  Yet there would have to be some reference to people as they are now.

Which brings me to the once famous and much loved Two Ton Tessie O'Shea, otherwise Teresa Mary, see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography via Google sign in rather than Wikipedia for the fuller story.

I did see her in live performance once and she was certainly value for money in the old variety halls.  But I would not have liked her in the back of my 1934 Austin 7 with its dodgy suspension.

Weighing in at 17 stone plus she was unusual then but would be normal now.  She was a "pop" star and entertainer of her time and of the people.

More to the point she was very good at the great cause and lost art of simply cheering people up.

Sunday 19 July 2015

What Did I Just Say?

While the media is throwing a hissy fit over the Royal family, purely incidentally our Heads of State, there is the question of Prince Philip.

Quite why a 94 year old, not in good shape and prone to lapses of the mind into an earlier life like so many aged persons, is not allowed to live quietly and gently I do not understand.

He has done 63 years before the mast, using a seafaring analogy, with time before that on Royal duties and before that was a junior naval officer who saw active service against Hitler's forces.

I have already said that you might take the junior naval officer out of the Navy, but you cannot take the Navy out of the junior naval officer.

My personal experience of seeing him in action in a couple of major conferences is of a man who turned up in a hurry, read the script in a direct manner and then left in a hurry to his next diary entry.  It is not much go on.

But my feeling is that I would not have liked to work with or for him and he certainly would not have wanted me to after probably a very short period.  I would have asked too many questions, am prone to flippancy and he is not very good, I suspect, of meaningful in depth  analysis and discussion.

It is the age factor, however, we should remember.  When my father was going on and around 90, when taking him out we were always in holy terror of his making remarks which might have been amusing in the 1920's but which did not suit at all modern feelings.  His time on the docks and in prize fighting gave, let us say, an edge to his humour.

At least I was used to this.  My grandfather whose thinking derived from the 1890's also had ideas, views and a sense of humour that was distinctly different from that of the etiquette of the 1920's and later.

His was honed by four years in the trenches.  There were also family members from the decades before with ideas not of their time by the 1940's.

But now I am old and trying very hard to button my lips at the moments when my young or teenage self attempts to escape from the back of the brain.

If it is very busy around me, or there is some stress or if I have lost track of the moment or am just tired and fed up, the embarrassing mistake is very easy to make, the words just pop out.

It is much easier and better if the occasion is one where there is not much to be said and then as little as possible, preferably in a clearly structured form where you only have to stick to the script.  It may be the formality that is out of fashion these days but it is a lot safer.

Better still, is to stay away from any sort of modern media event or public situation where with today's kit any moment, trip or slip or error is out there for all the world to see and to complain about.

Above all, do not ask me to sing after a stiff jug or two, it will have not just the family but everyone running for the exits.

Saturday 18 July 2015

Taking The Salute

The pictures from 1933 of Her Majesty, along with her mother, sister Margaret Rose and Edward, Prince of Wales, doing the Fuhrer's salute have been splashed all over the media.  My childhood was camera free for which I am very grateful.

It was the year when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and imposed one party rule of an extreme form.  So he was all over the press and media.  He was seen a copy cat Benito Mussolini whose extravagant attitudes and gestures had already become regarded as something of a comic turn in Britain.

In that year the British Government were facing the question of defence spending.  The turmoil in the world then posed threats, not least in the East.  But the public wanted peace and in the East Fulham bye-election in October the pacifist Labour Candidate won on a 29% swing from the Conservatives.
It is one of the essential rules of life that one should be most careful in one's choice of uncles.  Errors of judgement can lead not only to advice better avoided but embarrassments of many kinds.  At the age of seven, like Her Majesty at that age, an uncle of my father's caused all sorts of fraught ructions.

He was strongly Presbyterian of Scottish origin and my error was to visit him shortly before Christmas out of politeness and in the hope of a shilling or two in the pocket.  I did not get the money.  What I did get was a firm, polite and convincing explanation of why Christmas was a charade and falsity.

In particular Santa Claus aka Father Christmas was a sinful and demeaning fraud that led to greed, vanity, envy and sundry other sins.  On leaving he pressed a religious tract in my hand and told me go forth and tell truths.  Which inspired by his nobility of manner and indeed sense of pawky humour I did to my cousins on the other side of the family.

This group had been building up to a big family Christmas with as much as they could afford and at the centre for my many cousins was the whole Santa caper, which in my sincerity of purpose I ruined.  The wrath of the aunts and other uncles fell upon me.

One indeed telephoned a leading member of the local clergy to come to heap fire and brimstone on my head and tell me to believe in Santa Claus.  He demurred on the grounds that Christmas was a busy time and that there were technical difficulties.

As uncles go, Her Majesty is certainly to be criticised for having Edward. Prince of Wales as an uncle.  A man both given to be excited easily and of indifferent judgement he was better avoided.  Why, for example, did she not choose Lord Reith or Lord Hardinge as uncles or even Stanley Baldwin?

In 1933, her uncle was the heir to the throne.  This should have been enough to warn her.  Heirs to the throne are notoriously unreliable in matters involving the media and latest fashions of one sort or another.  Her Majesty herself made that mistake when pictured in overalls attending to a three ton truck.  She was holding the spanner the wrong way round.

One of my uncles was acquainted with Mrs. Wallis Simpson from his work on ocean liners.  He advised her on the advanced techniques of shooting craps with dice, notably the skill of detecting loaded dice and the knack of using them against the suppliers.

She never managed to get Prince Edward to understand them.  If he had he might have been King for a lot longer.

Friday 17 July 2015

Spinning From The Top

We live in a world where the media means spin and where it is the spin that matters in order to make people believe your particular line or dogma.  A choice example this week was on the subject of wind turbines and their impact on the neurology and function of the brain.

This brief article in the Telegraph is about a Dr. Koch and his thoughts on whether the low frequency sound generated by them is more complex that we thought with possible effects on the brain.

The wind turbine industry was quick to respond, there is a lot of money and profit to be had to be gained from persuading governments to put as many of them up as possible.


RenewableUK’s Director of Onshore Renewables, Gemma Grimes: “The wind industry takes all health and safety issues very seriously. This piece of work was, by the author’s own admission, just him thinking aloud and raising a number of possible issues relating to all types of infrastructure that could be researched further - he undertook no research at wind farms.

The author himself stated that it would be scaremongering to make any a connection between wind farms and public health issues. There is an existing body of peer-reviewed scientific research, which clearly shows that living near a wind farm has no adverse effect on anyone’s health, and to suggest otherwise is inaccurate and irresponsible”.


In short, put up and shut up.  All the science is done and no more is needed or wanted.  If you do not the Congregation Of The Climate Change Faith will get you.   However, there is the delicate question of was this science to any degree sponsored and funded by the industry or bodies sympathetic to wind turbines for energy.

Also, there has been the unravelling of the BBC spin on the Cabinet's plans for its reform and reorganisation.  Rather than the posse of the famous on their payroll riding to the rescue it seems that the BBC top managers provided the horses and forage and gave the directions.

For the ordinary watcher and listener to all this all we seem to have is a barrage of endless and confusing spin.  Smoke, mirrors, sleight of hand and words, facts that are not facts, science that is not science, data that is not reliable data, statistics where the only connection to real statistics is the use of numerals and worse dogmas or beliefs removed from reality are all we are getting.

For those of us with the time, experience and interest at least the web offers some hope of finding other views and information.  But there is far too little time to chase and analyse all that is needed to so we are all left wondering what we can believe or understand.

You cannot have a real democracy where the media, politics and major sources of information are essentially the spin put out by those with the facilities, money and economic interest.  Now it is all at least tarnished if not useless because of the lies and falsities.

But we seem to be already in a world where democracy is dead.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

A posse of film stars are said to be riding to the rescue of the BBC which is said be at risk of being on the wrong end of a "massacree" being planned by the backwoods tribes of the Tory Party led by Chief Getridofem.

Because of what the BBC is, what it has been and what people of wildly differing views say it ought to be there is no shortage of opinions as to the future, if any.  From my own view what it is now is not what it was intended to be and cannot be sustained for the future in its present form.

In effect it is a state sponsored body that has shape shifted in the near century since its origins, see Wikipedia for a brief outline.  It is now a Statutory Corporation under a Royal Charter.  The charter is now up for grabs raising the question of what corporate status might be coming next.

There is also the said to be the four billion pound budget and how it is paid for, the licence fee, in effect a state media tax, is a major part but it earns money in other ways.  Inevitably, being a state body it attracts close attention to the salaries etc. it pays and how it decides on this or that and what it seems to be saying.  This is not always clear.

Personally, my first hearing of the radio was in the late 1930's and from the 1950's onwards I have been at umpteen live and recorded events and performances in a number of venues including ones at Broadcasting House and Maida Vale.  Doing screen tests for a couple of stints on TV was an intriguing caper.

In its work in the past there is a good deal to thank the BBC for and to recognise as both valuable and necessary in broadcasting.  But just as they cannot be 100% wrong they cannot be 100% right.  My view is that in the last decade or two it has been slipping slowly but surely from more right to more wrong and it is getting worse.

Bluntly, the structure of services does not meet needs.  What it is doing within those services often is out of key with the present day.  It has an overblown management and administration which has now become an obstacle to progressive change.  It is too often using hundreds for work that could be done by tens.

Also, because it at times has had to be in some respects a propaganda element in the media, it is becoming clear that this is not so much something in the system, it has now become one of the major management objectives.  It is trying to force the making of opinion as opposed to recording and discussing it.

In the 1920's it might have been entering a Brave New World but in the 2020's it will be a terrified and chaotic new world in which if anything it could be adding to the disruption and problems on its present form.  Just what it might become and in what form we cannot know.

Some say it should be left to the market, but it is not a free and open market, it could fall into the hands of one group of oligarchs or another.  Some say it might be a scaled down basic state service picking up the disregarded bits and pieces, like the Arts and local services.

Some say get rid of it altogether, but there is a lot to lose.  What is ironic is that the BBC has been so cavalier and thoughtless of its archive what might have been its greatest treasure is to all intents and purposes lost.

What is most likely is major cuts leaving a lopsided leaderless quango cum cut down collection of services that will gradually fade away into history.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Memory Line

One of the quirks of my personal history is in a period when I was running with the foxes I had the experience of grappling with a sturgeon.

So the story of the SNP rising in righteous anger to stop the English chasing foxes when at the same time they haven't quite got round to it themselves opens a dusty file in the archive of the mind.

The foxes I was with were not of the species vulpine, one or another, but a breed of humans who may well have had a dash of neanderthal, that is a rugby football touring team derived from regular clubs which took the name foxes and awarded ties accordingly.

The sturgeons in question were large slippery beasts that took some dealing with and could give you endless trouble.  This is not a reference to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, perish the thought.  It was the big fish that arrived frozen in railway vans that had to be moved onto the platform and into the vans of fishmongers.

The Grimsby Fish was one of the two major trains that arrived on the night shift and meant real work.  The other was the paper train when all the news and journals for the day had to be off the train and into the vans well inside the hour for a major city and district.  But there were a lot of men from the wholesalers to work with us.

There was less urgency with the fish, and no help from the fishmongers,  but on a cold night you did not want to be long in the vans and to be back by the stove in the Parcels Office with a stiff brew of tea on the go.  If the foreman could be distracted for a few minutes, Old Charlie would add a good shot of rum.

It was in the week after Christmas when one night brought us more fish vans than we liked to see.  Each of us had a van.  The ordinary fish was in boxes, iced and not difficult to move but long and tiring.  I had the bad luck to have the van in which there was a sturgeon.

It was a big one and worse it's box had failed because it was heavy.  The detail will be spared of my groping and handling in the struggle against the inevitable.  Also, it was a bitter night with ice on the surfaces of the dock.  So when the box fell apart and the sturgeon escaped my clutches it skated along the platform and onto the lines.

As this was the age of steam the lines at that point did not just have ordinary day to day muck, but cinders ash and other detritus of trains at that period, notably from the lavatories.  So the sturgeon had to be got off the lines and cleaned.  The water came from puddles and old coal sacks were used.

A couple of nights later we asked the fishmonger who the sturgeon was for.  It seemed that it was a prize dish as one of the courses in the Lord Mayor's New Year Banquet at the Town Hall at which there were eminent guests, people who had appeared on TV.

Being Scottish in origin, at least he claimed to be, he was piped in the feast, according to the local newspaper reports which made much of the Hogmanay business and the dishes on offer.

As for the foxes the old Denny Willis, a Scot popular in Glasgow, routine is the nearest I have got to foxhunting, it must be near fifty years ago that I saw this in Scarborough.  You need a particular sense of humour to fully enjoy this one as well as being live in an audience.

As for sturgeons, it is a fish I have never eaten, for some reason.

Monday 13 July 2015

Greece, A Very Brief Comment

What did Lord Byron say?


Ancient of days! august Athena! where, Where are thy men of might? thy grand in soul? Gone--glimmering through the dream of things that were; First in the race that led to glory's goal, They won, and pass'd away--Is this the whole?


Try this song for effect.  and perhaps sing it for the Greeks.

Sunday 12 July 2015

A Slave To The Past

The Mail on Sunday had an article relating to the University College data base on the 1833 compensation payments to the owners of freed slaves following the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.  Some 46,000 are named who had a total of in the order of 800,000 slaves, many of who were the descendants of slaves.

The story fastened onto a handful of famous people who have an ancestor owner at the time.  It is a pity they did not also mention those on the staff of the Mail and in management and ownership who will have the same connections.

Given the way the number of ancestors increases as you step back from generation to generation while total population reduces in most cases so the possibilities rise sharply.  Essentially, this will mean given total population figures as you go back decrease, the chances of having an ancestor whose life and living is disliked, unwelcome, surprising or obnoxious increases.

Even if we know who they were and are familiar with history we simply have to accept this, it happened.  The chances of having a close relation the same becomes quite high as there are more relations than ancestors.

One reason why we know a good deal about the British slave  interests is because the record keeping and archiving has been so much better than in other places.  As historians like to work from written records inevitably there is a bias to more being known about the British rather than all the many, various and very large numbers of others.

Then, what do you mean by slavery?  The African Slave Trade to the America's was not exclusively British, but part of a wider whole.  Also, the people bought were often already slaves, notably those from central and east Africa taken and marched to the coast by others, sometimes their own people and others non European.

This was Institutional Slavery, part and parcel of the economy and culture of the areas concerned.   Then there is Quasi Slavery, contract or indentured labour and such, transportation and others which mean those used do not have work or living choices.  Workhouse children sent down the coal mines had no choice and no money.

Also, there is Effective Slavery, the complicated other means of tying people to land or service with no hope of release.  Debt slavery is one as well as tenancy systems, such as the Hanging Gale permanent arrears of rent common in Ireland at one time.

While in theory, Britain had ended slavery, some of use and movement of labour later in the 19th Century and early 20th was little different.  Other powers were active in this field, contract labour, and large numbers of Indian and Chinese were used in conditions that compared with slavery as such.

To turn to the past, 18th Century slavery in all its various forms and locations was simply the extension of previous activity made more possible by the migration of populations and the means of maritime transport.  Quite when humans took to enslaving each other can only be guessed at but seems to have been evident in the world as a whole in The Bronze Age.

One effect is that given the ancestry statistics etc. again, it is difficult for anyone to avoid having slave or serf ancestry at some stage.  It is likely that long ago HM The Queen had someone, given some lines of her mother's although I suspect rather fewer than you or I.  King William the Conqueror was born of a tanner's daughter.

For many centuries the Atlantic Isles along with other coastal areas were vulnerable to attacks and piracy where not only loot was taken but able bodied males and young women.  One reason for the creation and expansion of the British Navy from 1400 onwards was to curb this and protect our coasts.

From there the fight was carried on into the Mediterranean  One might think that the diversity and lack of racial discrimination of the pirates and corsairs in who they took and from where and to whom they were sold might tick the right modern boxes.  Alas, our ancestors had their prejudices.

But to return to 1833 and the issue of compensation.  When I looked at some of the figures in terms of the valuation of slave estates on probate before then they do not make economic sense. The value of the slaves declared was far higher than the value of work that might be obtained using ordinary hired labour.

In particular if the slave value represented real price, which would apply to those bought and it is likely that the capital for this was borrowed at stiff interest rates, what we have is a financial system in place that depends on high prices and high interest loan funding.

So the simple abolition of slavery could trigger a financial debacle in the West Indies and therefore problems in The City of London.  In addition, there were already serious problems with the specie available for the economy as a whole as a result of the gross inefficiency of The Royal Mint.

In other words the only safe way of abolishing slavery and avoiding some serious side effects in the Empire's financial system was to buy out the slave owners.  In the background to this were the needs of the HEICS which was heavily engaged in sundry wars in India.  This reduced the flow of bullion and silver to London in that period.

Whether defined in narrow or broad terms we still have many slaves in the world and the numbers may be increasing.  Given the power that is now with non elected bodies and their notions about how, what and why people might do, it is possible that modern slavery may be just returning the world to a past norm.

In the Atlantic Isles we had slavery for most of our history and it is only recently that it seemed to be ended but now it is returning slowly but surely.