Saturday 30 September 2017

Plough The Fields And Scatter

The great majority of our population now know little of the history of the Atlantic Isles. They are not going to learn much in schools, that being devoted to issues of the present and what we are supposed to think. The TV documentaries, mostly old programmes are largely about a very limited range of histories and of recent times.

The picture above by George Robert Lewis is unusual, in that we know the date, 1815, and the location. From past art there are many rural scenes but often more to do with the skills of the artist rather than the depiction of real moment in time. This one shows what was a critical point in the year. The harvest had been gathered blessed by a spell of fine weather.

Far across the world just a few weeks earlier a massive volcanic eruption had occurred, Mount Tambora, and over the coming months a veil of ash high above would affect weather conditions around the globe. 1816 would be the "Year Without Summer" and followed by other bad years.

The 1815 harvest came to be a golden moment and the content it gave would not be repeated for years to come. The economic effects and others led to major disruptions, revolts and political changes over the next decades which changed our societies, class structures and ways of life.

Agriculture then was the major economic activity by far. In 1815 Wellington's troops at the Battle of Waterloo were drawn largely from agricultural workers and the officers from landed families. Land was the real wealth, industry becoming larger and in the decades to come then the greater. There was always the money men, but then there always have been.

So the picture in it's quiet way shows the end of an era and of men unaware of what was to come and what might be for their families. The location is the boundary area between Herefordshire and Worcestershire close to The Malverns.  But who are the men?

One of them might be a John Britten, one of an extended family of Britten's in the area. His son, Thomas, left the land becoming a draper in Birkenhead, across the river from Liverpool. One of his sons, Robert Victor, became a dentist moving to Aldeburgh in Suffolk by the sea. A younger son, of his was Benjamin Britten, the composer.

We associate Benjamin with the sea and its life. Yet a hundred and more years before his Britten's were about as far away from the sea as you could get in the UK and Ireland.

It was not just the Britten family that left, over that century most of them did and with them went their agriculture, ways of life, beliefs and their history.

Thursday 28 September 2017

Clean Sweeps Can Make A Pile Of Dirt

At the Labour Party Conference in his speech Jeremy Corbyn claimed that Labour were on the brink of power and if they achieved it there would be nationalisation on a wide scale and major interventions in many sectors. Was the ghost of Clement Attlee hovering over him?

The Wikipedia article, "Attlee ministry" if you scroll down to the end has a list of the major legislation passed during his first period of office. It is long and widely encompassing. It is the basis of this that his government is claimed to have created the Welfare State, the NHS, and had grown a forest where there had been a wasteland.

If that is the case, one might ask how did we finish up on the winning side in World War 2? Or get through the 1930's? We are told that the needs of the war, the problems it created and the challenges had been met by major community efforts and radical changes in organisation and methods. Also people were made to feel all part of the effort and ceaseless propaganda urged us to be as one.

But there is a crucial difference between a national service more or less locally administered and common services of the nation locally provided. Before the Attlee government and the imposition of the Trade Union/Sons of the Raj/Centralist doctrines of organisation and planning the UK had not been a wasteland of nothingness.

There had been extensive, varied, local, commercial and charitable etc. forms of provision which in many districts was better than those of the Attlee visions. The trouble was where for one reason or another there were major deficiencies or the war had had a more severe effect. Some of the worst were Labour local government districts in the hands of local Labour "kings".

 In industry the problems arose from WW2, the lack of capital and the uncertainty created by the way in which the government was making laws and key economic decisions more or less off the cuff and meddling and attempting what we now call micro management. When the ability to make and implement these decisions was removed to Whitehall it added seriously to the problems.

The list of legislation for the Attlee period may look impressive until you consider the effects within each sector of transferring all that management to central units under Cabinet control on that scale in that time frame. I was working on the railways at times in the 1950's and the management seemed to be up there with the Sputnik.

One result was the detachment of ordinary people at first from government and then increasingly from each other as the media and entertainment and other consumer sectors began to divide us into marketing sectors and on a generation basis. They were quickly followed by the political operators and the pundits.

Locally, councils increasingly could not exercise discretion, make particular arrangements and had to do what they were told. The ability to do a job for the people was replaced by the ability to work out what on earth the latest government statutory instrument was about and implement it regardless of cost or sense.

British Railways became almost a Department of Bright Ideas as the top management tried to cajole the lower ranks and the regions into modernisations and functions that suited the politicians but often bore little relation to a transport system converting to motors.

Around all these industries the question "why" loomed large and to which there was too rarely a sensible answer only something convenient in the short term to Whitehall and Westminster. "Planning" became monster documents made from recipe's of old data, new prejudices, old rivalries and new squabbles.

As for the now in the 21st Century it will be interesting to see how this vision of the late 1940's works out in a client state of the EU in which a great deal is owned by foreign interests, what people want is impossible for them to have or get and the basics of control and management are now in big boxes.

Many of those big boxes used to be in the Virgin Islands.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Your Anthem Is My Anathema

National anthems are recently in the news. From being something in the line of "a duty's to be done" whether or not your lot was a happy one, they lurched into expressions of national identity, regardless of the words or the origins. Inevitably in our age of instant media, complaint and looking for an argument they are a soft target.

One reason is that so many of them were first installed, if that is the right word, a long time ago in a different world and when the peoples of the relevant states were not the same as today never mind social structures, ways of governing and belief systems.

Another is the words had to be written by somebody and that person, who may have been once admired, can often be fingered for ideas or life style that now are regarded as wrong and unacceptable.

In the USA Francis Scott Keys is now under the cosh for the "Star Spangled Banner". So I will add my complaint to the chorus. First, it was written as Anti-British, our gallant troops besieging Washington DC and Baltimore to defend our interests.

Secondly, the commander Major-General Ross was killed and last but not least the target for Keys was his Deputy, who took over for a few months, Colonel Arthur Brooke of the 44th East Essex Regiment and brother-in-law of one of my forebears.

The UK has one going back to the mid 18th Century when things were different and how we saw the monarch then is not how we see that institution now. There are real questions about the future. One might suggest "Charlie Is My Darling" for Scottish reasons, but there may be a problem or two there.

Trying to find an anthem which was jolly, happy and written by a person who is not vulnerable to criticism or rather too strident about the rightness or might of the country in question is far from easy. After not many minutes of dismal sound and voice on the web I gave up trying.

But I am in no doubt about one that has a good whack to it and avoids most of the usual problems. On 17 January 1959 I was at Cardiff Arms Park for a Wales versus England game which had two closely matched sides on a wet day and was a grim struggle. The good thing was the singing by the crowd which kept us all warm.

The big one of course was not so much the Welsh anthem, "Land of my Fathers" which is one of the better ones, it was when "Cwm Rhondda" was sung. It does not get better than that. If the UK national anthem was to be replaced, it would do very well.

None of this will help President Trump whose haste to be loyal to his oath of office, again has landed him in argument he can do without as the world enters a difficult period. The irony is that for the USA, a nation that has produced so much music in so many forms it is difficult to think of what might be a new anthem.

"Hold That Tiger". perhaps?

Monday 25 September 2017

Paying Up Or Down

If you are concerned about the talk of interest rates being on the rise again as a result of the way the world is and the scale of debt of many kinds including your own you are not alone.

Perhaps that extra or new mortgage or way of funding the car expenses or those several holidays of a lifetime or ensuring that your kids could compete with the neighbours have had their implications.

All is not lost. There is someone around to help. The thesis is we are being tracked, evaluated and sold by reason of digital inequalities.


We are thrilled to announce that Beverley Skeggs is to join the LSE as Academic Director of the III’s Atlantic Fellows programme from 1 September. She will be working closely with the III’s co-directors John Hills and Mike Savage, as well as the LSE’s wider academic community, to build the Atlantic Fellows programme and position the III as one of the world’s premier centres for the critical analysis of inequality.

Beverley is one of the foremost feminist sociologists in the world, and will bring to the post a wealth of experience addressing the multi-dimensional nature of inequality. Her book Formations of Class and Gender (1997) has been profoundly significant in drawing attention to the intersections between class and gender inequality, as experienced by working class young women dealing with the vulnerabilities of daily life in harsh conditions.

Her more recent work has shown how contemporary ideas of the ‘self’ implicitly discriminate against many groups – women, ethnic minorities, migrants and the economically deprived – who are seen to fall short of the assumed values of control and autonomy.

In recent years, supported by numerous grants and fellowships, she has explored the source of these values through pioneering studies of traditional and social media: reality television and Facebook. She sees digital tracking and trading as one of the major ways in which inequality is being forged, as some groups are targeted for debt trade.

Alongside her world leading intellectual contributions, Beverley has been a major change maker and transformative leader. She has been Head of two of the UK’s leading Sociology Department, at Manchester and Goldsmiths, and transformed Britain’s oldest sociology journal, the Sociological Review, into an independent foundation devoted to opening up critical social science.

Beverley’s record as mentor is unsurpassed. She has supervised over 30 doctoral students, worked with numerous early career researchers, and nurtured legions of colleagues. Her dedication to issues of care and respect will infuse the work of our Atlantic Fellows programme.

As she notes: “I've spent my life trying to change the world so I relish the opportunity to "go global" in the challenge to Inequality. The Atlantic Fellows Programme is an incredible initiative that will enable activists and academics to work together to make a stand against injustice. In these tough times it is exactly what we need”.

Prof Julia Black, interim Director of LSE, added “I am thrilled to welcome Beverley as Academic Director of our major Atlantic Fellows programme. Drawing on her great experience and track record as a transformational leader, Bev will bring huge passion and excitement to this flagship position at the LSE. She will further consolidate the position of our International Inequalities Institute as the major global centre research about, and campaigning against, economic and social inequality.”


Quick, hide, the bailiffs are back again.

Saturday 23 September 2017

Demographics For The Workers

It is being said that the demographics of the electorate as defined by age suggest that as the Conservatives number many of the older ones in their supporters, the younger favour Labour and The Left, irrespective of the fact that these are devoted to more antique ideas than the Right. Time will mean the demise of The Tories as well as their voters.

But the world has moved on and it still changing, if anything more rapidly. As the UK government takes the philosophy of “muddling through” to new extremes  those old fashioned enough to try to exercise rational thinking probably would be best giving up, going away and hiding and watching DVD’s of the saner and happier world of the 1970’s.

The general idea then was that we ought to be functioning on the basis of the idea of democracy, after all women had now been voting for almost fifty years and were beginning to get the hang of it.  Also, there was the happy thought that with the right arrangements we could all look forward to being better off.

This is what we were promised and what we were assured would be the result of electing one party or another.  Whilst they disagreed about many things, Labour had several versions, the BBC liked the East German model and the Tories had almost as many versions as they had M.P.’s.  Somehow somewhere over the rainbow would be prosperity for all and a happier more secure life.

Our democracy now looks badly flawed.  Many people do not vote, very few are active in any of the major parties, only a minority take much interest in politics and our Houses of Parliament only represent themselves and a narrow self appointed elite, with few exceptions.

But it the government soon will have to tell us the bad news.  If it does not and continues with the happy slappy versions of policy of the last thirty years then it will soon be apparent to even the least thinking or discerning members of the public.  Even those who read the Murdoch press.

Firstly, we are not all going to be better off, the great majority of us are going to be ever shorter of the readies and realising what marginal attrition of spending power means.
Secondly, we are no longer going to be secure, in fact personal and national security is one of those fantasies politicians talk about in the same way that film makers tell you the next mish mash of violent idiocy is the best ever.

Thirdly, we are not going to be living in a world community where all the people will work as one for a happier future.  His happy future is my misery my happy future is his disaster.

Fourthly, the time for flinging around predictions of “growth”, “development”, “progress” has now gone.  It is all guesswork done by people whose analysis of past data is no better than the chemical hyped up Oracles of Delphi.

Fifthly, “democracy” is dream world with a media under the control of the money barons and the money barons in control of the politicians and with most of the working populations of the world on the payrolls of public sector activities.

Greece may have given us the notion of “democracy” but the “democracies” of the world will look ever like the present Greece and the authoritarian states more like Ancient Rome if we are lucky, Ancient Egypt if we aren’t.

And space travel is not an option.  We cannot afford it.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Give Us A Tune

Is it only a matter of time before the present Conservative Government either collapses or disappears into the fog? If so, what will it be? Some major event? A decision to go to the country that goes badly wrong, even worse than the last time?

What is most likely given the people we have in Parliament, their media associates and the assorted lobbyists, corporations, financial services operators and secret backers, is that it will begin and nobody will realise what it is.

Given the international situation, the rapid change in the shape of the economy, the stress in financial systems and that the government are now involved in almost every aspect of life, if not by its own choice then by international or Euro organisations, it could start anywhere and anyhow.

While we are all looking at the Foreign Secretary doing his raging bull act on his bicycle and other senior ministers chipping and fiddling with policy, legislation and a tsunami of statutory instruments we might try to look at what else there is.

We will not see it, because it will be something that is beyond us, in which we are not interested and its handling may be restricted to a handful of people who may not want to be involved, do not understand the implications and just want to be shot of a nuisance item in the in tray.

Something trivial, some minor spat between cabinet ministers, one of yet another civil service blunders or misreading of a situation that do not seem important are the obvious ones. Perhaps a leading figure makes a call and then realises his cards are not good enough and so in their haste to avoid trouble crashes in the whole circus.

Cue "Send in the clowns", the song from Sondheim's "A Little Night Music", see Youtube and Judy Dench, is perhaps the right song to sing. We were there for that one and saw a performance at The National as well. It seems right.

How does it go about the clowns, "they are already here"?

Tuesday 19 September 2017

The Scots Fencibles

In the many forgotten parts of history are the various military organisations  and formations of the past. When there was little or no policing in many parts of Britain this entailed military units to contain any revolutionary movements who might use force.

The plan of raising Fencible Corps in the Highlands was first proposed and carried into effect by Mr Pitt (afterwards the Earl of Chatham), in the year 1759. During the three preceding years both the fleets and armies of Great Britain had suffered reverses, and to retrieve the situation great efforts were necessary.

In England county militia regiments were raised for internal defence in the absence of the regular army; but it was not deemed prudent to extend the system to Scotland, the inhabitants of which, it was supposed, could not yet be safely entrusted with arms.

Groundless as the reasons for this caution undoubtedly were in regard to the Lowlands, it would certainly have been hazardous at a time when the Stuarts and their adherents were still plotting a restoration to have armed the clans.

An exception, however, was made in favour of the people of Argyll and Sutherland, and accordingly letters of service were issued to the Duke of Argyll, then the most influential and powerful nobleman in Scotland, and the Earl of Sutherland to raise, each of them, a Fencible regiment within his district.

Unlike the militia regiments which were raised by ballot, the Fencibles were to be raised by the ordinary mode of recruiting, and like the regiments of the line, the officers were to be appointed and their commissions signed by the king.

The same system was followed at different periods down to the year 1799, the last of the Fencible regiments having been raised in that year.

The following is a list of the Highland Fencible regiments according to the chronological order of the commissions, with the date of their embodiment and reduction:-

The Argyll Fencibles (No. 1), 1759 - 1763
The Sutherland Fencibles (No. 1) 1759 - 1763
The Argyll or Western Fencibles (No. 2), 1778 - 1783
The Gordon Fencibles, 1773 - 1783
The Sutherland Fencibles (No. 2) 1779 - 1783

The Grant or Strathspey Fencibles (three battalions), 1793 - 1799
The Breadalane Fencibles (three battalions),1793, 1794-1799 and 1802
The Sutherland Fencibles (No. 3) 1793- 1797
The Gordon Fencibles (No. 2), 1793 - 1799
The Argyll Fencibles (No. 1), 1793 - 1797

The Rothesay and Caithness Fencibles (two battalions), 1794 and 1795 - 1802
The Dumbarton Fencibles, 1794 - 1802
The Reay Fencibles, 1794 - 1802
The Inverness-shire Fencibles, 1794 - 1802
The Fraser Fencibles, 1794 - 1802

The Glengarry Fencibles, 1794 - 1802
The Caithness Legion, 1794 - 1802
The Perthshire Fencibles (No. 4), 1794 - 1802
Argyll Fencibles (No. 4), 1794 - 1802
Lochaber Fencibles, 1799 - 1802

The Clan-Alpine Fencibles, 1796 - 1802
The Ross-shire Fencibles, 1796-1802
Regiment of the Isles, or Macdonald Fencibles, 1799.
Argyll Fencibles (No. 5) 1796 - 1802.
The Ross and Cromarty Rangers, 1799 - 1802
The Macleod Fencibles, 1799 - 1802

This was drawn from The Military History Index a few years ago. When you add the numbers of men in such regiments to those in the regular Army and Royal Navy it can bring you up to proportions of the male population in service equivalent to those of the two recent World Wars.

Moreover, the units were not located in their home areas but sent elsewhere. Who better than Scots to police the Irish and the English?

Sunday 17 September 2017

Labour In Vain

The balance in UK politics appears to mean that there are changes occurring for many reasons. How we see the world, how it sees us, what a government is for and how it goes about its business are some. Who we relate to why and how and what we think the future is going to be we are not certain about and prediction is difficult.

For many in politics what they bring to all or any of this is the theoretical ideas of political and other philosophies and their view of history. As the demographics of the electorate have changed, necessarily with time, this adds to the confusion.

The trouble with the history is so much that is lost and forgotten and more so those bits of history that our leaders and would be leaders cling onto. In the Labour party we are being told that its future lies in the hands of the believers in the cults of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

Marx lived 1818-1883, a Richard Gatling was born in 1818 and one of the inventors of machine guns. It is arguable that the European empires were won by the use of these in their conquests and then the European powers turned them on themselves in the two world wars that cost them their empires.

Lenin lived 1870-1923, Helena Rubinstein was born in 1870 and it is argued that how the peoples of the world might look and smell today owes more to her than philosophical theories. She was a pioneer entrepreneur in the world of cosmetics and fragrances. Lenin gave rise to Stalin.

Trotsky lived 1879-1940, Albert Einstein was born in 1879, my view is that Einstein has a lot more to do with the present and the future than Trotsky ever did, a political opportunist who lost his battle but still has followers of his theories on the Left.

Looking back at the history of the Labour Party, I have already pointed to the role of the Temperance Movement at an early stage. In the 19th and earlier 20th Centuries there were many groups and others with ideas on social reform, betterment, education and provision etc. which ranged across religions and society.

One document which might explain the role of many Roman Catholics in the Labour Party over the 20th Century is the Encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 "Rerum Novarum" and added to by Pope John XXIII in the Encyclical "Mater et Magistra" of 1961. There is an interesting conflict of purpose here.

It states that Socialism is not enough because it relies on production and distribution and has neither faith nor moral content. But looking at the ideas of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and their antique view from a long gone past, their adherents seem to rely more on their particular faith than any reality of the present.

Recently, I have been looking at the life of George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950, who became one of the major guru's, pundits, media operators and experts of his time and whose Irish voice was heard loud in discussions on the politics of his day. His judgement was not entirely sound, for example he thought that on a brief acquaintance Stalin was a fine sort of chap to be relied to do good.

Also he had a hankering for dictators and authoritarian government if they were doing what was assumed to be some social improving impact. But as he was a workaholic who lived by his writing and was expected to come up with ideas and arguments that caused debate he needed to grab attention. Often he was wrong, but he was also right in some matters.

He was an important influence on the left. He was a founder of the LSE and continued to have a close interest in it until his death. One young lecturer he thought highly of was Clement Attlee. How much he might have owed to Shaw is one of those questions to which we will never have an answer.

When he wrote "Pygmalion" in 1912 there is an authoritarian character, Henry Higgins with strong views on speech and education and shaping to poor and lowly. At the time Shaw's gardener was a Harry Higgs and the Higgins views were very much those of his wife Charlotte born Payne-Townshend. And if Shaw wanted to know about the poor and deprived he had only to talk to his servants about their family histories.

Now we have a Labour Party of second hand academics and media people who have done little and know less, have lost sight of their history but have wedded themselves to fixed ideas taken from long gone German and Russian writers.

There is still one question. Were Lenin and Shaw ever in the library of the British Museum at the same time? If they were which one did Henry Hook VC, of Rorkes Drift, the attendant, help most?

Saturday 16 September 2017

2010 And All That

This first appeared at "Teaching Young Dogs Old Tricks" in May 2010, which was a long time ago almost in the pre-digital age. I wonder how it stands up to present inspection, right, wrong or maybe.


The present uncertainties arise for a number of reasons.  Our new crop of youthful members of parliament has grown up since the late 1980’s.  There are some remnant old stagers around as well as those on the Left who burble incessantly about Mrs. Thatcher.

This seems to be their modern fetish in line with the worship of antique pop groups.  Back in the 1950’s I do not recall us wittering on about Ramsay Macdonald or paying good money for 1920’s ballroom dancing melodies.  As for dancing the Charleston, I mean my Dad did that and well who wants to do that kind of thing?

For all of her media dominance and thrust of her personality, Mrs. Thatcher still presided over a party of many parts.  It was a coalition of one kind, unluckily because of the electoral system with some bits missing that should have been there.

Old Labour always was a coalition where the Methodists traded uneasily with the Marxists, never mind the rivalries of the many trade unions. Nowadays, but not then, you will find the boilermakers in with the collective of sex workers and a bundle of local government personnel and shop workers as in the GMB.

Under John Major the old Tory party began to disintegrate and despite the efforts of its publicity people is still fragmented.  The difficulty now is that under the Great Leader concept of party management the old checks and balances have gone and it is all very messy.

New Labour has abandoned its traditional base to build up a client base by huge spending in the public sector.  It has created a new middle class who are not so much consulted as directed by media and modern management techniques and whipped along by bonus payments and target setting.  The BBC is a case in point.  The dictatorial nature of Old Labour originates amongst the extreme Left groups that so many of them belonged to whose intellectual inspiration was East Germany.

The Liberal Democrat’s began as a coalition of sorts, essentially the dissatisfied meeting the disorientated.  Bits that might have remained have dropped off, as Greens and such, but they have become a raggle taggle bunch of camp followers who can see only Europe as the future and Britain as an off shore base for good intentions for the world who will take no notice.

In office New Labour has taken advantage of its position by a process of “creative destruction” which has been very effective on the destructive side but very bad on the creative.  They have certainly created unsustainable debt and expenditure levels but not much else.

The only people they have compromised with are the money men and the big spenders.  For the rest of it they have steam rollered Parliament, dismantled the old civil service, the Foreign Office cannot even be civil to The Pope, and have created a web of entities and activities too big either to control or to co-ordinate.

In short none of the three major parties has any real experience of the nature of discussion, manner or management of a real coalition situation and of their members few have either grown up or been obliged to conduct any serious business or work in negotiation to achieve the results needed.  It is quite literally like putting not so much the lunatics in charge of the asylum as the predatory animal packs in charge of the zoo.

Historically, at different times and in different places similar situations have arisen before and the results are not happy ones.  In some cases the political entities just disintegrate as a whole, in others one form or another of absolute government occurs, perhaps after a period of bloodshed and misery.

Occasionally, the state concerned just staggers on from one disaster to another.  Lastly and all too often the state goes off the map as it is taken over by outsiders in one form or another.

Is anyone taking bets?


Did I lose or win, and if winning was impossible, how big a loser was I?

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Thank You Sir Peter Hall

The passing of Sir Peter Hall is sad news. Over the last sixty years his work has given us a great deal of pleasure and memories of the theatre which are among the happier occasions. We recall the production of "Coriolanus" at Stratford of 1959 with its insights into the worlds of Shakespeare and of Rome.

The Spectator did not like it much concluding "It all makes a jolly evening, as most of the critics have confirmed. Personally, I think even the best is only good enough for Shakespeare. I found this production far too slapdash and self-assured to be acceptable." In short this new kid on the block is brash and short on tradition.

My in-laws had moved down to Stratford upon Avon in the late 1950's and over the next decades during our many visits going to the RSC was something to do. Rarely planned and often relying on returned tickets it was a hit and miss business with very few misses.

If my memory is correct the opening of "King Richard III" of his production was radically different from the one of the film. It was pensive, hesitant and has Richard more or less steered by forces that he could not control in his own mind and in the world about him. It would not have come over well on film, but on stage it was a striking and enthralling piece.

I could say a lot more, there was not only Stratford where we saw his productions but The National Theatre and the Royal Opera House. It was not that we sought them out, he happened to be the director of works we wanted to see and managed to get to. In most if not all he tried to give food for thought as well as putting on a production which would satisfy the audience as well as putting over a message.

One work I would mark out particularly is the 1974 film "Akenfield", see Wikipedia and picture above, dealing with three generations of life in East Anglia for the ordinary villager and largely derived from the book "Akenfield: Portrait Of An English Village" written by Ronald Blythe in 1969 which meant that it had a solid base in history.

It was this world that was the family history of Sir Peter. His father may have been the Station Master of a very small station, but his grandparents were ordinary villagers among the rural workers and labourers. Uncles, cousins and connections had been among the men who went to France in 1914-1918 many of whom had never returned. Further back in time it seems that as for many of that class in East Anglia, the Army was the only way out.

His life at the railway station, albeit as a child, will have taught him the need to take great care with the detail, how to deal with different classes and types of people, that timetables mattered and were crucial but at the same time applied common sense was often the best answer to a problem.

Sir Peter did his time on National Service with the RAF Brylcreem Boys and at Buckeburg by Minden in Germany, then an area with a major military presence at a very sensitive period of The Cold War. I have a sneaking suspicion that his impatience with authority and the ruling classes may in part derive from his conscript military period.

It may have revealed to him the closeness of farce and tragedy. I doubt if he wanted to do it and may not have enjoyed it, but decided to get it out of the way before going up to university as did many others. It was tempting to be a conscientious objector but the penalty was severe and it could be very damaging to later careers.

He was Left leaning politically, as so many in the theatre etc. are and have been. He was knighted in 1977 during the period of James Callaghan's government, youngish then at 47, was it Shirley Williams who put the honour forward? It was deserved for all that he had done for theatre and the arts.

The irony here is that there is one other person I have looked at who had a similar background and not far away. She was a Margaret Roberts who married a Denis Thatcher. Did they ever make eye contact with Peter wondering what role she might play had she taken to the stage?

Again, thank you Sir Peter for the many occasions we have enjoyed in the theatre and elsewhere.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Victoria Rules OK

It is sometimes the case that a grandparent has a closer and better relationship with a grandchild than with one or other of their own children. Then it might happen that someone close becomes what might be seen as a surrogate grandchild, particularly if they are always near, willing to listen and unencumbered by the family of the past.

The TV and media and those watching the programme on Queen Victoria as well as in the recent past have had Abdul Karim, "The Munshi" the Indian servant of QV in her last years, see Wikipedia, as some sort of boy friend with the usual inferences as to their closeness.

When you consider that Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany was a grandchild along with other choice persons it is easy to understand why Abdul's company may have been preferred. It was when I saw that he was given lands by Agra when packed off back to India and that his father served with the Central Indian Horse that the twitch came in.

The Wikipedia article gives the names etc. of those most closely involved but there are others in the background. One is a person already mentioned here, Auckland Colvin, Treasurer of India in the period, whose father, John Russell Colvin, has a magnificent tomb in Agra and was a hero of The Mutiny. They were cousins to the Antrim's who were at Court down the generations along with members of the Grey families.

In the early years of Victoria's reign she relied on the Duke of Wellington for sound advice rather than the Whig/Liberals with their fetishes about giving the franchise to lower class men reforming Parliament and social reform along with other things.

You will find across the fields from his house in Hampshire another old India hand, Ralph Henry Sneyd, 1784-1840, whose daughter Emma Catherine Julia "Kate", was one of the beauties at Court in the early 1850's, see J Hayter's, Court Album.

She had other family in London then, who may well have shopped in Piccadilly, a short distance away from Dean Street, where a Prussian, Karl Marx was taking lessons from Morgan Kavanagh in philosophy.

Kate married George Glynn Petre a leading diplomat of his age. At one stage with some intricate negotiations concerning Latin America, what to do about Argentina etc., he acted as the Crown, a rare trust and honour.

This entailed direct contact with The Queen. It does not quite end there. The granddaughter of one of the Antrim's married John Herbert Bowes-Lyon, second son of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. John had a younger sister Elizabeth, born in 1900.

She became the last Empress of India.

Friday 8 September 2017

Class Acts

A Conservative bank bencher who is in the news is Jacob Rees Mogg said to be interested in running to be the next leader of the party. His chances are widely discounted. Not only does he hold to traditional beliefs on family and like matters but he is regarded as a posh Tory far from the common herd.

The doubts run not only to what he is offering but that if he were by some strange twist of fate the Leader, he might have trouble forming a cabinet. Beyond that in an electorate drawn from the demographics of the 21st Century it is difficult to see how he could appeal to ordinary people.

The family history programme "Who Do You Think You Are" this week featured Lisa Hammond, an actress who plays a major character in the series "East Enders" but herself has a sense of identity as an East Ender and one of common people. Not only that and all it implies but she has a dislike of the country, gardens and such.

Tracking back down the generations to those where the increasing numbers of ancestors become many, inevitably, the researchers were lucky enough to find a "gateway" ancestor for her who had money, a lot of it. Also, they may have been City people but the wealth came from the land.

So Lisa was taken up to the County of Denbigh, shown the verdant rolling acres and beauty of the landscape and informed that once a large chunk of them were owned by an ancestor of the 17th Century who was Gentry, knew it and rejoiced in it. No doubt he was one of those who ground the lower orders down, if only to make his pile.

For Jacob we did not have to go quite so far, indeed only to the early years of the 20th Century. Then of all things I found that his great grandfather was a cabinet maker, one of a line in that trade going back generations. More to the point they were in London and East Enders.

One married a milliner. So if Jacob ever meets Lisa he must remember to touch the peak of his cap.

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Blowing In The Wind

After a few years with a limited number of hurricanes there was talk among some experts that perhaps the future would see fewer of them. Now, suddenly, we have four close together. Harvey did major damage to Texas including devastating one of the USA's major economic locations, Houston.

Irma is on track to cause extreme damage to parts of the Caribbean and Florida, where The Keys are being evacuated. Jose follows Irma but is estimated to turn north to the area of Bermuda but could do further damage on its flanks to areas hit by Irma. And now Katia has formed in the Gulf of Mexico and estimated to follow Harvey.

A few years back, we visited the Caribbean and Miami having family out there timing it for after the end of the hurricane season. So it was not long after a big bad one had been through and we saw the scale of the damage it did, let alone the misery it had caused for the poorer populations.

Clearly the first consideration was the immediate rescue and repair needs and how to help the many and various people badly affected. For some it was ironic, notably those who had been persuaded by a property boom to buy into this sector to make their fortunes.

But more to the point was the overall economic effects and other matters. There is little doubt that the hurricanes had caused major economic problems that would take years to grasp and sort out. A side effect coupled with population movements was that criminal gangs increased their power and authority in many districts.

If the present series of hurricanes present anything like these challenges in the USA and other parts of the Caribbean it will be not simply matters of governance but a good many sectors of the economies will suffer setbacks, perhaps permanent and in some cases catastrophic.

That these events come at a time when governance, economic management and international finance are under major stress in a world where the great powers are no longer great, unions are not unified and the trade and finance impossible to control means we could be facing more crises than dealing with weather damage.

None of our present political leaders, nor their governments and nor the international organisations are capable of dealing with any of it.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Thought For The Day

Looking for something else among the cartoons in the sadly lost "Punch" magazine came across the above.

The idea that President Trump might in many ways be a modern Lord Cardigan, who led the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, had an appeal.

But there is more to it than that, on the maternal side President Trump is a Macleod, a proud and ancient Clan. They have been present, one way or another in just about all the famous battles and wars.

One, Pipe Major John Macleod, was with the 93rd Highlanders, one of the finest regiments in our history. He was present at the Battle of Balaklava in The Crimean War when the 93rd formed The Thin Red Line to turn away the Russian cavalry.

Also, a little later,  he became famous for his role during The Indian Mutiny at the Relief of Lucknow when the pipers were in the thick of it at the most critical stage of the battle steeling the 93rd at the breach in the wall.

However, it must be admitted that neither The Crimean War nor The Indian Mutiny can be ranked among the successes. Some historians in fact view them as disasters.

It seems possible that when President Trump leaves office there will not be many singing "Will Ye 'No Come Back Again".