Thursday 28 June 2018

Mind Your Bike

One of the unforeseen consequences of having satellite TV is that viewing has changed radically. Instead of watching typical programmes or comedies or films or the endless repeats from past times there are choices.

Sport offers many. I do not mean the violence and bloodshed of the average World Cup game, which sent even Maradona the former famed Argentina player into a severe collapse. There are others and they do not include the flashy screening of cricket or the bump and grind of rugby.

There is golf, very green, scenic and at a predictable pace, in which you begin to understand the skills involved. The players do have clubs but these are for hitting the golf balls and not each other, although a peeved player might throw one into the water or bunker where he or she did not want to be.

There are water sports, equestrian but not cavalry charges, they are a sort of gentile way of jumping about with the ooh aah factor of will they won't they, the lively netball etc., to keep you watching when you understand the rules.

One sport which can be enjoyable is cycling. Admittedly, there is coverage of persons and large groups chasing each other along roads but the presenters realise that this is not enough and with helicopters and a range of other cameras to hand give us the pictures of the country, terrain and towns etc..

I have learned a lot from watching various races from different countries and mostly those from France. What is striking is how much Europe has changed in many places over the last half century. Looking down on towns I knew from decades ago I see the differences from the present.

Places we stayed will have expanded, taking in the nearby hamlets and farms. The roads are very different in layout and extent. But above all is the expansion upwards, so much of the recent development and therefore population growth is in much higher buildings sometimes of several stories and looking like large lumps of concrete.

Decades ago most gardens would have been tended in such a way as to provide vegetables and fruit and not just flowers. This seems to have gone and many are without flowers as well. In the rural parts the people have left the fields either to work in the many large sheds or factory installations  or into the occasional large machine to be seen either churning up the fields or ripping out the plants.

Clearly, whole ways of life are no more, histories have been lost and possibly the people of the past are replaced by others who may not know how to tend the land in the old ways and may not care to in that it means many hours of tedious work and hard labour.

There may still be crops and livestock being produced but they are not the same as in the past. They have to be suited to the needs of the food processing and manufacturing firms who now give us the bulk of our food choices, evidenced by the bulk of so many of our new adults and children of the younger generations.

These are global developments, not confined to Europe. But the EU agricultural policies and payment systems are designed to reinforce it and as our agriculture becomes locked into this because it cannot afford to or is not able to get out this is our future.

We are not longer living off the fat of the land we are the fat of the land.

Tuesday 26 June 2018

State Of The Game

It is hot, the pollen is high, as is the humidity, none of it, especially the World Cup makes much sense so this is brief.

A lot of those who are active are talking about decent public services.

The real problem is that most of the media, notably the popular press and a great deal of TV is more interested in indecent personal services.

Until the weather breaks I shall be following my nose.

Sunday 24 June 2018

Laying It On Thick

Looking through The Mail among the tales of woe, mystery and disasters was an article telling us that in order to build the houses needed for all those property investing Mail readers, news stands being worth £500 a square foot, 15,000 bricklayers will be needed as of now.

But as British bricks are, well, British, it may not be possible to fly in the men, or women, or uncertain persons from far away because they do not use British bricks there. It is only a matter of hours before someone come up with a new type of National Service, requiring our poor much put upon teenagers to do the business.

There are one or two other snags. One is that bricks are made from certain kind of clay. This means stripping out many fields in a limited number of areas. So much for the rural lands and the beauties of country England. Then more fields are wanted for the houses made of bricks.

Why can't some scientist come up with a way of making building materials out of household waste? Instead of looking for more places for all that waste we have and to avoid burning it and frying the planet, could we make a sort of brick that will do for housing all those property owning peasants that now have the vote?

But when I were a lad, the idea of the people shut away in separate housing units in unwelcoming suburbs flat on the ground was thought to be so out of date. It was the age of Le Corbusier and a ravening horde of architects who wanted to build high with walkways and highways in the sky.

It did look pretty on paper, but sadly, as we know with architects, there was a problem with the costs. Those they first thought of were massively less than those we finished up having to pay. So the high rise things not only often had dodgy foundations, they created a great deal of dodgy debt.

Meanwhile we live in a way our ancestors could never have imagined possible. The young are all supposed to have their own rooms and facilities. The old are separated out, because they tend to smell a bit. The ones in between are entitled to their own separate lives as they wish. 

Our government could go in for central planning on this. But given their form they might well forget the mortar as well as having trowels the wrong shape.

And all bricklayers must be the same height and width.

Saturday 23 June 2018

Loose Fitting

In the news is the story that Duke Amstrad The Incompatible, alias Alan Sugar, went all thumbs with his Tweet button and made a racist comment.

Mentioning Marbella, dropping a hint that he is very rich because you have to be to have a property there, he asserted that a World Cup side reminded him of beach vendors from a particular Continent.

We have met many beach vendors in our time, now long ago, and they were a varied lot, having pitched up where we did. Only we were there for a "holiday" of sun, sand, sea and a dose of the runs if you were not careful. Some of the memories are still with us.

There was the English elderly lady who had splurged her savings to be there and needed to augment her pension. So in the morning when in the kitchen doing breakfast she would make cakes and later would be going along the beach with cries of "tout a beurre", "petite gateaux Anglais".

We occasionally bought some with the cry "Eh up, just like Barnsley", which caused people close to us to move giving us more space to spread out in. Then there was the Australian selling ice cream with a strident "Come and get your salmonella".

We passed on that on but asking politely if highway robbery was the crime his ancestor had committed to get to Aus'. Probably, I would get done for that one as an "ism" these days.

There were also Africans selling fabrics which in fact were very good as well as being striking in design and quite cheap. On one occasion the lady took a couple and in the evening ran up a loose frock for her when we were out later round the local bars.

That year the fashion designers from Paris were in town in the summer because Brigitte was having big parties and it was later that the annual fashion shows had African designs as a major feature of some of the collections.

Near fifty years on and in a different century and another world I suppose we would face allegations of cultural appropriation.

Thursday 21 June 2018

Learning Skills

It may seem odd to compare my wandering around the net to the business of universities granting more first class degrees than in the past, but I wonder. I started by looking at the TV schedules to find a reason to skip the sport for a change. One section was the films.

There was the usual collection of films ancient and modern, many of which are on offer for the umpteenth time and which I can almost recite by heart. But one turned up that I recalled from very long ago and wondered if it was an option.

Checking it out, I realised that while it was a "good" film of its period in terms of the drama, acting skills and plot etc. it was not one for me being very much of the past. But the name of the Director caught the eye.

Something went ping back in the memory bank, sixty years ago I had been sharing a flat with some others and one of them had that name, only a different first name. It was unusual and distinctive. A couple of minutes later I had read his obituaries, he had done very well and died a distinguished academic.

Five minutes later I had his relationship to the film director. It explained the memory. He had started his Ph.D studies and had access to some interesting stuff, one item of which he brought back to the flat in a taxi. It was a large black box.

Wire recording was new and very expensive and we had a couple of days to enjoy the march of science and play with it. We omitted to clear the wires with the consequence that when demonstrated later to a senior academic audience they were surprised at the quality of our singing and even more so by the songs.

This point is that I put this bit of history together in a few minutes. The question is how long might it have take to do all that in decades past. There is a lot of history etc. that I can do now in vastly shorter times than what was required.

In short I have become more efficient. As our students of today are almost all net experienced and capable of extensive searching, then they can be learning and understanding a lot more in far less time than the old academic things of lectures, classes, libraries and wading through print to find what you want.

If, on top of that that those providing courses are making it much clearer as to what they want studied, what the parameters are and have refined the content and structure to create a clear basis for the student work, this will have consequences.

One is that a lot more students will be turning in much better work and be more capable of coping with the nature of modern examinations. Had my lot had the advantages of those of today in the running and working of courses of atudy, how many fewer might have failed and how many more would be achieving higher standards?

I realise that suggesting that higher education could now be more efficient than it was may not be popular with many.

So how long does it take you to find out what is on TV these days?

Monday 18 June 2018

Banging Heads

When one of our governments finest thinking, policies for action, wide reforms or plans for the future culminate in an inglorious shambles we are familiar with the way the blame game begins to play out.

It is invariably messy, sometimes vicious or nasty and the one certain thing is that those responsible will be quick to accuse either their critics or anyone who is unlucky enough to be passing by at the time .

The present government is winding up to the next election and seeks to make us all happy, that is if our vote counts. So we are having all the high minded rhetoric about wonders of the future to come. The opposition have to come with schemes that sound better, at least in the media and its connections.

But who are the crucial people in all this? The media want us to believe it is them and their political affiliates and are very persuasive, money no option, 20 billion more for the NHS, the cheque is in the post. What is left of our political parties out there find themselves at pop fests with celeb's and believe this is the way.

The Civil Service, anxious to justify its numbers, vast cost and above all pension schemes lay their claim and inevitably those in Education put up their hands to say it is all down to use, chuck the loot and the money this way, and then add a bit, and then another bit.

Add to this major organisations of one kind of another, pressure groups, trade unions, Women's Institutes and the Society For Restoring Everything and the claims are big, wide and large. Most of the population seems to be in there with their hands out for all the quantitative easing to be had.

But the truth can now be told as this LSE article suggests. It is all, or at least mostly, down to the Knowledge Brokers, the new gang on the block who take the politicians etc. down the yellow brick road of policy making to a better and happier future, at least for them.

But, would you let your daughter/son marry one?

Saturday 16 June 2018

Singing Songs

The lady with the birthday this week, a star of her day is now 101.  Looking back at her career it is something that not many today might understand, a long gone and different world. Vera Lynn's first hit was back in 1936, does anyone remember it?

You may know vaguely of the title, it was "Up The Wooden Hill To Bedfordshire", in that this saying has been used by parents down the generations to urge the kids upstairs to first get a bit of peace and then second to get control of the TV remote and now to go on the net.

Why did she make it to the top and so soon? Because she recorded songs with a very good backing band and when the BBC was being told to be less stuffy and more popular because in the time of 1930's financial stringency The People were mindful of where the tax money was going and why.

A key reason lay in the actual quality of her voice. The timbre, resonance and balance fitted the technology of the period both on the records being sold and in the radio of the time. She sounded well and what is more held the audiences in live performance.

Also, she was an East End girl made good with an open manner and way of putting things over without being too serious. It worked well in the theatre and even better standing near the front line in North Africa or Burma with a thousand and more troops marveling that she was there and ready to take the same risks as they did.

In recent decades she has been retired. To put it simply her market segment is now too small for the numbers needed to gain the advertising revenue that are the stuff of modern TV and radio, or in the case of the BBC to justify its programming to committees.

In performance she sang a range of songs for the wider audience, and these included Ivor Novello songs from her parent's generation as well as those from her own. "Keep The Home Fires Burning" would have been one with a special meaning. Her father was listed in 1939 as a central heating stoker.

Perhaps that is her talent, an ordinary girl who became extraordinary in a world in crisis.

Monday 11 June 2018

Suffering Voters

At the end of World War One my grandfather was serving with the 3rd Infantry Division and was as glad as anyone when the Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918. On 25 November, the Prime Minister of the Coalition Government, Lloyd George, called an election to ensure that the government of the peace was elected to carry out the negotiations.

The General Election was held on December 14th. According to the terms of the Parliament Act of 1911 there were to be five year Parliaments as opposed to seven. This meant an election was due in 1916, but the war had meant an extension of the Coalition. During this period the Representation of the People Act of February 1918 meant that almost all men over 21 could vote and women over 30 as well as key changes to elections.

Whether my grandfather, before not eligible, did get to vote along with his comrades, I do not know. He was stuck in the Hunsruck in the Rhineland as a member of the occupying army until 1919. When he arrived back it was to a much changed Britain. But for the franchise who was crucially responsible for the reforms?

Obviously, Lloyd George and senior men in the Cabinet from his Liberal Party but also Bonar Law, leader of the Conservatives as well as Arthur Balfour, previous Leader and former Prime Minister. All of these were anxious to distance themselves from the Suffragette movement led by the Pankhurst's.

But from a lot of the coverage of 1918, especially the BBC, we are left with the impression it was all down to them and the whole movement for women's votes was about them, their followers and their socialist vision of the future. This is simply not true nor anywhere near it.

It does not take much time or trouble to come up with Millicent  Garrett Fawcett who began her work for that cause thirty years before the Pankhurst's set up shop. She has a statue in Parliament Square, a library at the LSE and a large body of literature  and archives to her credit.

Along with her is Lady Frances Campbell Balfour, cousin to Arthur Balfour although not as close politically. In her time a major figure and of crucial importance to the Suffragists as her societies were called. These did not employ the tactics and illegal schemes of the Pankhurst suffragettes. This was the respectable and responsible part of the movement, the one that appealed to most women and more to the point could persuade the men at Westminster to listen.

It was the women's role in the war and work that meant that Lloyd George and his cabinet could finally make the breakthrough in Parliament and the influence etc. of Fawcett and Balfour that led the way. But why did it not happen before?

One reason was the House of Lords, which by the end of the 19th Century and into the 20th was becoming difficult because of the rate of reform from both Liberal and Conservative Parties. Also, after Lord Salisbury retired, there was a period when the House of Commons had minority governments.

But it was the 1909 People's Budget that upset the apple cart when the Lords refused to pass it and plunged Britain into a constitutional crises until 1911. This was at a time when Britain was dealing with major problems in relation to both the Empire and Europe. There were a good many things that did not get done and sadly this included extending the franchise to lower class working men and to women.

Another reason for that was the fear that by doing so would not just enhance the Labour Party but bring in elements representing the violent elements of the Marxists, Anarchists etc. in a period when London had become notorious for the numbers of extremists of one sort or another. The Pankhurst's, avowed socialists and law breakers, were seen by many to be part of that network of violence in that period.

So why is it now that the BBC and others tell us they are the ones to thank and none of the many others in all ranks of society are mentioned, let alone given credit for their decades of work as opposed to years?

Friday 8 June 2018

Who Do You What?

The latest series of the BBC1 family history show "Who Do You Think You Are" has clanked onto the screens rather like the unexpected special trains of the past to holiday resorts during the August holiday's. A mystery to all except for those in the station master's office who had not got around to announcing it.

It might well be renamed "Where Do You Think You Are" in that while the first has been screened, when the next will be, what or who are the persons featured is another mystery. The BBC is not saying, around the web no hints and the actual production company are all blank.

My box says it is one of eight but no more and the schedule listings say there will be such a programme but those forthcoming are another series. But given the lead time between selecting the people for the show, making it, editing it both for BBC screening and then commercial channel screening a lot can go wrong.

Especially, in that it has become something of a celeb' fest, picking out famous faces from popular TV shows and running the rule over their family histories, up to a point. But in the internet age etc. today's loved and much followed celeb' can be dust within hours or days if they make unwonted remarks on the social media or have their collars felt by the fuzz for their very human weaknesses.

So did Wall To Wall, the show's producers perhaps start with a series of ten or a dozen and get unlucky as time progressed to finish up with eight to go and then very late in the day lose one or more? I think we should be told.

The risks of this have become much higher not just because of the concentration on celeb's but the programmes are now High PC in their content not just in the few facts we are now given but the history in question. We do get some facts, accessible documents in archives, many now online, are what they are.

The history, however, is another matter. The programmes are let us say, flexible in their interpretation of the possibilities and way of life of long ago. One major aspect is that they do individuals. But in the past our ancestors more often functioned as a part of an extended family and its connected networks.

The lady in the programme, Michelle Keegan, was found to have an Italian way back named Parodi, who went from Genoa in Italy, who leaves his home to go to Gibraltar and does very well. This is put down simply as a poor individual making good. But there was a Parodi family in Genoa who were a local clan.

Given Genoa's status as a major trading port and a wealth centre through the middle ages up to the late 18th Century given the trading of that city along with the Portuguese mariners on a world basis anyone pitching up in Gibraltar will have had a long contacts list. Perhaps the programme did not want to get into the detail as to what trades might have been involved.

The other major part of the programme took us to Lancashire where Michelle could do the accent being a local lass. Here we had the suffragettes linked to her Kirwan ancestor, Emmeline Pankhurst's name being on the certificate. It was said she was the Registrar, which implies much of the population would have had the same connection.

But the 1911 Census has Elizabeth Kirwan as a Suffragist, hailed as being a statement of her individuality. But the return was done by her husband, John, who might just have had an Irish sense of humour. It also went against the Suffragettes refusing to be recorded on the Census. But it did not finish there.

There was the lady living in a street of rented houses, who was vital to the community of working class people there in that she knew and was told everything and even held the rent books. How wonderful. But I recall people like that. They were often put in by the property owners as a supervisor and acted as their information source and also the local copper's nark.

The programme ticked all the PC boxes. I suspect we are in for a lot more of this with swathes of real history either ignored or compressed to accord with our modern model of thinking.

If you want to clear your mind go to the Youtube Mitchell and Kenyon archive films of some of the earliest moving pictures in the UK. I knew a few of that generation, they were not what the BBC either like or want.

Thursday 7 June 2018

Give Us This Day

Our popup prelate, Archbishop Justintime Welby, you sing it, I'll analyse it, of Canterbury has preached that we should admire, believe and obey the EU and all its manifestations, well nearly all.

It is easy, given some of his other offerings, to think he is taking the mannekin but this is an instance where we have a clergyman who actually believes in something if not what he is paid for.

Quite what temptations have caused him to stray into the sinful and not saintly world of trade, commerce  and finance I do not know.

Keeping all those ancient piles and also the pension fund of the C of E does entail getting close to sin and investment portfolios. Perhaps he is on a percentage from the money changers.

If a time traveller took him back to Portland Bill in 1588 he would supplant Archbishop John Whitgift to pray and urge for the Armada of King Philip II of Spain to land its troops, rid us of that turbulent woman, Queen Elizabeth, and bring us all the benefits and wonders of the Habsburg Empire.

If it moves burn it, if it doesn't tax it.

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Liberal Views

There is a three part series running on BBC1 about Jeremy Thorpe, once Leader of the former Liberal Party into the 1970's who died recently in 2014 (born 1929). It deals with matters we did not know at the time rather than the complex politics of the period. A man was murdered and the case is still open.

What I did not understand about Thorpe is why he went to the Liberals. Admittedly, in the 1950's there were many who thought that the party was a sleeping giant which potentially could rise again and supplant one of the other two. But which was the question. Theoretically, the Conservatives might have been the one to go but Labour was seriously divided.

Had Thorpe gone to Labour as one of the Westminster elite with the right education and background he could well have made himself one of the intellectual cadre around Hugh Gaitskell. These were men born to rule and often Sons Of The Raj. He could have been a Prime Minister in waiting.

If he had followed his family and lined up with the Tories then given the choices in that party in 1974 when Heath bit the dust again he could have been one of their candidates for Leader. Instead as Liberal Leader in 1974 after a tied election he was made an offer he couldn't refuse by Heath, but did and we finished up with Wilson and his minority government and then Callaghan.

The 1970's was a strange world in our politics reflecting the times and not a good one. Wilson was a number cruncher who could not add up who was forced to spend too much time keeping the Labour party act together as the Stalinists and the social welfare elements fought it out at conferences and in the constituencies.

Heath, a former Brigadier lost to Aldershot, is best thought of as the Lord Cardigan (as in the Charge of the Light Brigade) of British Politics. He would attack the wrong targets at the wrong time in the wrong way. Our fears were that he was capable of starting a nuclear war rather than admit he was wrong about anything, notably British Rail.

It was an age of three channel TV leaned on heavily by the major parties and a Fleet Street whose newspapers were usually far more fiction than fact with stories that were days old and experts with not only limited expertise but opinions based on getting their stuff printed and paid for according to the whims of the owners. Trying to read the press of that period is a grim business and the politicians could be certain of protection rather than publication.

We had lost our Empire, the Commonwealth was becoming an uncommon collection of dictatorships, military appointed leaders and others who were there for the conferences. We were a secondary state in the United Nations and NATO. The USA regarded the Special Relationship as a kind of debt deferred fix.

We did not know where were going or indeed where to go and in the confusion looked for any friends anywhere with Thorpe at the front of the fleeing mob. So we rushed into the arms of Brandt and Schmidt and Pompidou and d'Estaing and Europe sparing the peasants the details.

None of whom liked us or wanted us. But they did sell us cars, like the Fiat 132 in the background of the picture from 1974. The 1800 model was flashy and good for the ton on the motorways.

The teenage toughs seem to be wearing Thorpe style clothing. This might tell us more about Thorpe than about them.

Tuesday 5 June 2018

Big And Little Bangs

We have two volcanoes up, first Kilauea in Hawaii and second Volcan de Fuego in Guatemala.

Both are causing widespread devastation and putting quantities of dust etc. in the air.

Is there a third to come and perhaps a big one? There are a number of possibilities and "might be's".

Given global history in the past it has happened before and could happen again.

If it did it would end the debate on global warming.

And the global economy.

Monday 4 June 2018

Cutting Remarks

According to Keats Autumn may be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness but in our modern world Summer is the season of noise and mega machining of the gardens, forests, fields and frantic road and other works of all kinds.

Economically it is inefficient. Around us we have dozens of houses each with its own lawnmower for a patch of grass at best the size of a football penalty area and often so small a dog could hardly chase its own tail in it. Labour should promise to nationalise the gardens and plan and allocate the cutting of grass according to need and the rest.

More to the point I often see a gardener with a large energy consuming trimmer fiddling away with a bush, taking up to half an hour to trim which I could have done in my prime in five minutes with a pair of shears.

Why have so many people paid so much out for all this big noisy kit when the machinery of old, manual, limited in size did the job just as well? Is it the "man" thing of mine is bigger than yours or the "woman" thing of look at mine and how much it costs to use it?

People put in at the boundaries of their gardens bushes and trees more suited to ancient or tropical forests which grow to vast sizes and take a great deal of time, trouble and expense to manage and a lot more later if they are left to grow on too far.

Cue the Monty Python team and lumberjack song. Perhaps I am too much a man of the past longing for the quiet Sundays when after lunch one would simply rest in a chair and enjoy the silent world of the seventh day.

Unless, of course, the Salvation Army turned up their brass band blasting and with a chorus bellowing that we should march on to glory. My father used to tell them where to go.

But it wasn't glory.