Sunday 30 September 2018

Getting Into Training

In telling history to those of the present we have to be selective and it is usually what might be most interesting and critically what might have had most attention from the media at that period. That period media in turn would be drawing on limited sources and reflect its ideas and prejudices.

This article in "The Engineer" refers to 1935 and the introduction of the A4 Locomotive Class in the LNER, designed to pull high speed trains to and from London Kings Cross, the North East and Scotland, in addition to ordinary services. It was advanced steam technology and it captured the attention of the public.

This was when we had an Empire and liked to think that Britain ruled the rails. We had led the world into the age of steam and once there hoped to command it for generations to come. It did not last even my generation and now we tell ourselves how good it was when the new A4 "Mallard" left the Doncaster works in 1938 to become the fastest steam locomotive in the world. 

A decade later I was on a special train pulled by this locomotive and it was was to be a great day out. Sadly, it broke down and had to be replaced by a lesser one, the standby one in steam at a local engine shed and designed for slow freights.

There were only 35 of the A4 class built and few streamlined on other railways, the LMS had a parallel class; the Coronation, of which some were streamlined. But these locomotives were not all that they seemed. For one, the external cladding to the boiler of the streamlining may have added a few miles per hour running, but when any work needed to be done it was a bigger and longer job.

Another was that it added cost per locomotive as well as weight, which meant more firing was needed, my source for this was the firemen. It may have allowed the public relation teams to wax eloquent, but my experience was that the drivers and firemen had a more cynical view in that the actual number of miles on which higher speeds might be attempted was limited.

Long distance trains with limited stops meant that water had to be taken in to the tenders, the coal and water supply part from troughs between the lines. It was no easy business to get the collecting spout down and up again exactly as needed. Moreover, the speed at which this could be done was much less than that for normal running. So the fast stretches were matched by slow ones for water, as well as complex junctions and going through some of the local stations.

Not least in a railway system which had over 25,000 steam locomotives dating back to the 1870's three dozen or so with streamlining may have looked good in the media but didn't do much for the overall budgets.

The mass of the population were on stopping trains both long and short distance. Also you did not need expensive high technology etc. for the freights and shunters. The reality of the railways was long clanking coal trains and other heavy freight bringing in the revenue, parcels and newspapers, stopping trains, workmen's specials, commuter and connections to more isolated places.

Yes, we did like the A4's, I recall making journey's in the hope of having one of those or a Coronation on the front. I can say I knew them, but the trains took just as long, they were just as crowded making going to the toilets difficult and the other passengers were just as sweaty and ill tempered as track works here, delays there, being held up at stations and breakdowns made for the inevitable late running.

It is no surprise that among the realities during the 1930's and after my parents generation and my own longed for the time when they could just buy a car and go when and where they liked.

Friday 28 September 2018

Bright Sparks

During the Party conference season we are treated to people bounding up to the rostrum to say they are going to make extensive changes to make everybody, if not rich, then a lot better off and happy. The buzz word is "transforming".

History tells us that when politicians go in for major changes the one certain thing is that while some people will gain, notably politicians and their affiliates, banks, money men, bureaucrats and those of that ilk down among the workers and peasantry necessarily there are many who will be worse off.

It is arguable that one of the things that did make ordinary people a lot better off was the invention of electricity which owed little or nothing to politicians who, if anything, largely delayed many of its applications and insisted on organising in a way that slowed the rate of progress as well as adding to the costs.

If we go back to 1885 and 1886 in the UK we had a major political shambles when Gladstone's Liberals fell apart after the 1885 General Election despite being the winners only to lose the 1886 one which let in the Conservatives led by Lord Salisbury. There was a lot of change in all this and in Ireland and India certainly transforming was to be had.

Meanwhile in 1885 three Hungarian engineers and in 1886 William Stanley of Westinghouse Electrical on sick leave came up with devices called Constant Electrical Transformer's. This major advance in technology allowed the supply of electricity we have in the modern world to be available on a large scale and for everyone.

The populations of the world and especially those in the UK have a lot more to thank these men for than we have for either Gladstone or Salisbury or any later ruling powers of all nations, including the so-called "democratic" ones. During all the wars, internal disruptions, strikes etc. all too often the lights were turned off.

So when you turn on the TV for the news and get a lecture from a politician about transforming, make sure you have the oil you will need for the lamps and heaters for when the transformers needed for your electrical supply are turned off.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Snow Joke

In the press there have been lurid stories about how we are all going to freeze and it is imminent, at least this winter. The reason cited is an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean. This is climatic conditions that have a world wide impact as the great movements of sea water affect temperatures, humidity etc..

To go to source this is what the NOAA weather centre of the USA has to say on the subject. For this Autumn it is suggesting around half and for later in the winter perhaps up to two thirds of risk. But this is an estimate based on figures which are variable.

The NOAA is obliged to say that there is a risk and to suggest the level of it. They but not the media are careful to state that it might or might not occur because there are so many complex variables.

Besides the El Nino there are other factors which bear on the UK and differ from others because Earth is a big round thing which is constantly on the move causing stresses of weather, clouds, rain, temperatures, humidity and all the rest. The people who study this are very good and first rate scientists.

But they cannot stop or start an El Nino, or even state precisely what or where will be any consequences. They are obliged to tell the public via the media about what the possibilities are given all the various considerations in play.

We do have very bad winters from time to time and perhaps are due for another one. At the moment I am waiting before mending the holes in the socks.

Allergy And Risk

The story of teenage Natasha Ednan Laperouse, who died on a holiday flight from Heathrow to Nice, from Anaphylactic shock was two things. It was a personal reminder that you cannot be too careful if you are known to be at risk and it will tell many people what Anaphylaxis means.

This BBC item  featured on the main news arising from the Coroner's Inquest. The cause of death was not in doubt. The question was where did responsibility lie? The product, a ready take away of food, did not list all the ingredients and it was an unlisted one that triggered the reaction.

At present with the extent and nature of manufactured and processed foods and their availability, the makers and sellers now assume that consumers prefer strong tastes as well as being attractive to look at. So there are items or chemicals designed to appeal to the eyes and the taste buds and very many of them.

One factor little considered is that while Anaphylaxis is the extreme problem for an unlucky few there are likely to be rather more with either limited or greater reactions with one effect or another. We do not know the extent or numbers of these.

When they have their ten minutes with the family doctor it is likely he will not be thinking of allergy but one of the several other potential features of the problems, such as brain fog. Among the elderly there is the risk of being labelled with dementia onset. There are others.

We have still a lot to learn.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Talking Heads And Tales

It is the Labour Party Conference this week. Two days in and it is already two days far too long.

The media are supposed to be interested so we have to put up with all the usual clatter and nonsense that this conference shares with the others which are no better.

What gives this one an edge is the boredom stakes it that it comes from Liverpool. Well, it is and has been a Labour Party stronghold but we have been here before many times. The conference centre is a new build in what used to be working docks.

Generations of my family were there and this Liverpool is not the Liverpool we knew and have been given by the media.

I wonder how many of the Labour chiefs are staying at The Titanic Hotel?

Monday 24 September 2018

Another Centenary Another World

In September 1918 the Middle East was changed forever in the critical battle between the Turks and the British, that of Megiddo.

It could be argued that this was the beginning of the long period of conflict and strife which has occurred after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

This article in the National Archive blog tells the story. It is not long but complicated and clear. It is something that few people today know about and is absent from many of the histories of the First World War and later.

But this campaign helped to create the new states and systems that followed and became the Middle East of today.

The regiment pictured above is the 9th Hodson's Horse, Bengal Lancers, a key regiment in the battle.

In Hebrew, the name is Armageddon.

Friday 21 September 2018

Europe Go Home

You may or may not have noticed that the debate on the who's and what's of Europe has become a feature of present politics and debate. Were I to suggest that you could not really understand what is going on unless you were familiar with the detail of the 16th Century Council of Trent (see Wikipedia) it would not be helpful. I first came across this in the late 1940's and have yet to come to terms with it.

This is despite being in Paris at Easter in 1951 changing stations at the time of the first great meeting to conjoin economies by dint of bringing together control of the major industries. Worse came in 1955 when in Germany we were instructed to stop behaving like lords and masters and start being polite because we were now guests. I knew then it would end in trouble.

Down the millennia the Atlantic Isles has not been able to retain a separation from mainland Europe because people do move around. Especially people with weaponry, a thirst for land and control and often a wish to want others to believe in the same god or collection of gods as they do. Many have come, but never gone; they are here in our genes, which might explain our confusions.

What we have in Brussels at the present is yet another imperial construct, a collection of power and status seekers who have come together to play off the rivalries and political and economic weaknesses of a Europe that having lost world control or status is now scrambling to stay as more or less nation states.

History tells us, however, that once a central mighty power achieves wide and effective control it never lasts. The ambitions of power seekers and others lead to disputes and failures of decision and those who actually administer the territories lose sight of their purpose, then it all begins to fall apart.

When this begins to happen, as it might be so now, then the central ruler or administration becomes more and more frantic in proclaiming new laws and rules. Because of the problems of application and management Europe wide, it only makes matters worse.

Provinces and sub divisions breaking away from existing states may apply to the centre for recognition. But that does not last and degenerates into decades of wars, conflicts etc.. These will be worsened by one ruling group or another importing people and especially fighting men or persons of other faiths to act in their support. Often, too often, these inevitably become new controllers in time and less interested in Europe and wanting to create a new entity.

Once begun these changes cannot be stopped because where the remnants of control still exist at the centre they are incapable of either securing agreements or organising and using force to maintain their control.

For the UK in the late 60's and early 70's Heath and Wilson and others saw Europe as the way out of our then mess. Half a century later we are on course for a time when there is no UK and no Europe.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Tanks And Warfare

Recently BBC TV ran a two part documentary on the 5th Royal Tank Regiment as an example of one of the very many units during World War 2. The striking figure below on the rate of loss in an active unit, that of a battalion of the Queen's Regiment matches those I have seen I have seen in other wars and other regiments. The quote from Mark Urban below tells the tale.

5th Royal Tank Regiment; the perfect choice by Mark Urban, Diplomatic and Defence Editor for Newsnight, Author, and presenter of Tankies: Tank Heroes of World War II.

The Second World War was such a uniquely destructive episode in human history, that entire divisions - thousands of men - were often written off in a few days fighting, with the broken remnants sent to other units. It might seem inconceivable that a formation could have gone all the way through six years of it, with a cadre of people who served in combat throughout that time, but a handful of British formations did.

So what did involvement in prolonged involvement in such intense fighting do to those who survived it and how did they rationalise their experience? The survivors are now disappearing at an alarming rate, so I couple of years ago, having found a British tank battalion that had been in combat dozens of times between the abortive 1940 campaign in France and VE Day in Germany in May 1945 I was anxious to trace former members and interview them as quickly as possible.The choice of a tank battalion was important for a number of reasons.

The issue of armoured warfare, and how the Allies managed to recoup ground lost to the Germans when they unveiled their ‘Blitzkreig’ (or ‘Lightning War’ tactics, with panzers as their centre piece) is in itself of major interest. But the other reality, sadly, is that men in infantry formations simply didn’t last long enough for a study of their role in the war as a whole to be viable.

‘Band of Brothers’ the classic work about Easy Company, one of those in the US 101st Airborne Division shows how quickly men churned through due to the casualties and stress of combat - and really it just focuses on eleven months from D-Day to the end of the war.
When I looked at the record of one of the battalions of the Queen’s Regiment that was part of the famous 7th Armoured Division or Desert Rats, I found that just ten out of 1,200 who landed in Egypt with the battalion in the summer of 1942, had survived until VE Day just under three years later - half the war in other words.
So I was happy to settle on the choice of the 5th Royal Tank Regiment, or 5 RTR, another element of the Desert Rats, of which something like three dozen men in its ranks in 1945 had been with it or sister battalions at the outbreak of war. To the best of my knowledge none of them survive to this day - but I did find old soldiers who had served in its ranks for most of the war, and one of 96 who was serving with 5th Tanks in 1939 and spent four years as a prisoner of war!
My research about 5 RTR was conducted for a book that will be published in March 2013. But early on it struck me that the veterans who agreed to talk should be recorded on camera too, and soon after putting this idea to the BBC, the Tankies documentary was born, growing into its own distinctive thing.
The films feature: Harry Finlayson, that one time prisoner of war who had been captured at the battle of Sidi Rezegh in November 1941 (how many tank commanders from that bloody, and seminal, 8th Army action are still around to tell the tale ?); Gerry Solomon, a volunteer who joined soon after the outbreak of war and fought up to the battle of Normandy in 1944 when his Firefly was knocked out by SS Panzergrenadiers and he was badly wounded; Bob Lay, another desert veteran who made it all the way to the finishing line in Hamburg in 1945; and Roy Dixon who joined 5 RTR as a fresh faced subaltern in 1944 and soon rose to be the battalion’s adjutant.
Of course the work I have been doing - films and book - features much more than the testimony of veterans. It gleans dozens of written accounts, unpublished memoirs, letters and diaries. In many ways the 5th Tanks is just a typical unit of the Royal Armoured Corps - we wouldn’t pretend that it did its duty any better than some of the other regular army Royal Tank Regiment and cavalry outfits that were around in 1939.
It did however, in my view, produce a very rich seam of testimony from the other ranks - the non-commissioned soldiers who commanded most of its tanks and were its backbone. The diary of Jake Wardrop, a 5 RTR sergeant killed just weeks from the end of the war, is remarkable for its honesty and has already appeared in book form - but during this project his family made available to me extraordinary new material that was edited out of the original published text.
The battalion contained many other wise chroniclers too, from hardened regular army NCOs to smart grammar school boys like Bob Lay who brought their sharp civilian sensibilities to the bloody business they were collectively engaged in.
Although usually numbering between 500 and 600, 5 RTR churned through nearly 2,500 men during the six years of war. Of these about 10% were killed in action, something like 40% were wounded and around 90 became prisoners of war like Harry Finlayson. Of the remaining difference between those who served at some time in 5th Tanks and were still there at the end of the war, hundreds were posted to other units to help train them, and others who were sometimes posted away because their nerves couldn’t take any more fighting.
What did those who remained at the centre of this battalion, the corporals and sergeants commanding tanks or the trucks of the transport echelon make of this experience? That’s the story that we will start to tell on BBC2.
I think in the picture above from 1953 the big man doing the inspecting is the Duke of Gloucester, uncle to HM The Queen and a military man to the core. There is a Wikipedia item on the unit and others. Also, in Youtube putting in "My Boy Willie" should bring up an item from the RTR.

Sunday 16 September 2018

Music Memory And Michael Foot

Things sometimes come together. We have had the finals of the Leeds Piano Competition at Leeds Town Hall, above, and the media being in a flurry over whether or not Michael Mackintosh Foot, once Leader of the Labour Party was a "bookies runner" for the Soviet KGB. Foot, who loved music, left us in 2010 but it was great to see that Fanny Waterman, founder of the Competition in 1963 is still active.

Leeds Town Hall is a place where I have been several hundred times, the great majority for musical occasions but at others for conferences, big meetings for this and that and at a couple Foot was on stage telling us how he saw it and what should be. This grated on the ears a lot more than the most modern bang bong music.

Wikipedia has a long item on Foot so I do not need to go into all his history, background and career. Born in 1913 he was into politics from day one given his family and their connections. Then when a journalist and political scribbling he became a party "intellectual", stop laughing at the back.

His formative years were those of the 1930's. Eighty years on despite all the sources, now visual as well as written, it is difficult to describe and explain the complexity of the various schools of politics and political thought of that era. Personally, I think for those of the mid 21st Century it is impossible.

It is enough to say that all the various groups, interests, agencies and representative bodies overlapped and connected not only in many ways and in relation to many issues. They were in and out of each other's meetings, demo's, libraries, favoured eating and watering holes, Hyde Park corner etc. etc.. In the London of the 50's it was still like this, despite the Cold War.

Which brings us to Stalin, inevitably, and to a contemporary of Foot, Robert Conquest, born in 1917 at Malvern, with Edward Elgar up the street. See the Wikipedia on Conquest, it was not until the 1960's with his works that the realisation of the terror and vileness of the Stalin regime became wider known. It was known to the UK and USA intelligence services but how much was known to all the political activists at the time?

My opinion of the Left wing groups of the mid 20th Century is that they were a mixed bunch with very different ideals. The workers wanted to keep their jobs, retain the existing industrial economy and have decent pay and conditions, hence the power of the trade unions. Then you have the moderate Labour element, many of them lost Liberals. Along with them were posse's of intellectuals who violently disagreed more than they ever agreed.

Foot was one of these, in an airy fairy land of his own, looking at the Soviet Union as the model for the UK to follow and to ally with. They did not need to attract him or to pay him, He would have done most of it for free and often would pay up some from his own pocket. When and if a Soviet agent now and again came up with a gift who could ever refuse a gesture of generosity?

Especially, if they were a couple free tickets for the Wigmore Hall or the Royal Festival Hall for something very special. I recall the rare visits of orchestras or performers from the East at Leeds, drawing audiences from afar. Much earlier, I was at the performance in 1958 when Van Cliburn, US winner of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition was at the Festival Hall.

So was Michael Foot, MI5, MI6 and more or less the entire Soviet embassy senior staff. It was an interesting interval.

Friday 14 September 2018

Vanity Is Catching

Watching the new production of "Vanity Fair" and hoping the screening is enjoyable, so far so good. I am not too worried about how precisely it is taken from the book, this itself was something from Thackeray's imagination. Or was it?

The dating of the original is 1847 and 1848. We will have some idea of the history of the times and the society and politics. What is striking is that the book is apparently so detached from all this. But it was not a "popular" one in terms of our own times.

It is a book written to sell well, Thackeray needed the money as much as any scribbler of his times did. Also, it had to appeal to a readership. But this was an age when very many were not able to read and some of those who could might not afford the cost of buying much in print.

This limited him to the upper and middle classes and this was a book about those who were not at the top, but the many strivers and hopefuls among those who sought status and wanted to join them, or at least enjoy their same living standards.

They, the later generations and we could only guess at how far his characters are imaginary or if not, who might be the people that his takes for them, give or take changes of names, the reality or ensuring that they could not be identified too easily, up to a point.

This was a period when changes of surnames could and did happen to a greater extent than we could imagine. A practice that has become the dread and curse of family historians and genealogists of the present. It was either to get a step up in social recognition or required of a family settlement, or will, or marriage.

One feature of the book is that Rebecca Sharp, "Becky", who has fluent French is anxious to remind people that while she may be of lower class he mother had Montmorency forebears. The Dukes of such had been at the peak of society in royalist France. But trawling about the web I found the item below.

Major Hervey Randall Saville Pratt de Montmorency was born in September 1782. He was the son of Reverend Joseph Pratt and the Hon. Sarah Morres and died on 20 September 1859. He was born a Pratt but on 27 September 1831 added the de Montmorency by Royal License on succeeding to the estates of his mother's family. He held the office of Deputy Lieutenant and lived at Castle Morres, Aghaviller, County Kilkenny, Ireland.

Another of the surnames can be considered. There is the George Osborn son of the grasping financier John Osborn. In the late 1840's there was an M.P. in Parliament for Tipperary named Ralph Bernal Osborn, see Wikipedia, a Merchant Banker, who during the Irish Famine firmly believed it was right and proper to evict tenants.

The surnames of Dobbin, Crawley and others can be found among the lesser Irish Gentry who had a reputation for seeking moneyed marriage to preserve or improve their status. Sedley is difficult but there is a solicitors clerk in The City and Thackeray was a barrister.

This could become complicated as you wander into the forest of connections and who knew who etc. and try to find The One. All I can suggest is that Thackeray picked out names from here and there with no particular plot or meaning as so many writers would do.

For example from the world of Thackeray you might start with the Duke of Wellington, who was closely acquainted with Queen Victoria who held him in high respect. The daughter of an clergyman and sister to one of the old hands from his days in India was placed at Court and become one of the beauties of her time.

The clergyman had a large family from his two marriages the eldest of whom married a Liverpool merchant. Another married well and a daughter became Countess of Antrim, a McDonnell of McDonnell whose granddaughter married John Bowes Lyon who had a sister, Elizabeth, later Queen.

In the present day I wonder if some of the Liverpool McDonnell's are either related to or connected to people whose names appear in Vanity Fair?

Monday 10 September 2018

Parliament Time For Real Change

Today, 10 September 2018, we have the news that the reports of the Boundary Commissions have been published. Long overdue, they are looking at a previous age in terms of politics, economics etc. and are only doing the job they were asked to do, more or less putting lipstick on a gorilla.

They proposed a marginal reduction in the total number of Members of Parliament, coupled with readjustments which changes the balance of seats in many places and seeks to, more or less, even out the number of the electorate instead of having some with very large numbers of electors and some small.

Predictably, there have been screams of anguish and of rage and cries of doom and destruction. Democracy is said to be put in mortal peril, as if the old system was democratic, which it wasn't. Special interests want their cut, if only to prevent others from having it and the endemic problems of representation in the UK, made worse by the system, will not be solved by this.

There are times when I wish for the services of a couple of armoured divisions with supporting infantry to isolate Westminster and do something about it. But the Army is too busy washing nappies and reading up about equality to do anything and do not have the numbers to control a back street in Soho, let alone anything else.

We have been here before and more than once. This from September 2016.

Below is in part a repeat of one of my first posts, back in 2009, on the subject of what to do with Parliament when the Palace of Westminster has to close for repairs etc. or preferably demolition, if my money is involved.

There are times when I think that King Charles First had the right idea, the trouble however was Charles and his advisers.  How history can repeat itself.  In 2009 I said that the problem with the UK is London, and it has always been London.  If there has been anything damaging, and destructive in the Atlantic Isles and the reach of its activities, too often it has had its roots in London one way or another.

Although London has now lost most of its industrial base, it has remained the central location (black hole?) for Government, Parliament, Finance both national and international, Media and Press, Sport, Arts, Culture, and a good many other things.

In recent years a number of commentators have warned about the creation of a class of professional politicians and associates too closely enmeshed a web of greed and deceit so easily created and sustained in a small geographical area that is also the centre of communications.

They have now given us a system of government where the legislative powers have been largely off shored to their remittance men in Brussels and the money has been off shored to tax havens. The executive does its strategic planning day by day with its eye on the headlines and the civil service is a revolving door to lobby's and major corporations.

As for the economy, London has been taking in its own financial washing for some decades now, and has comprehensively wrecked the basic structure to the cost of every man, woman and child in future generations.

The quickest and best way to administer a radical cure would be to move Parliament and Government out as soon as possible.  Some time in the 1960’s a journal, was it “The Economist”, did a think piece about moving it all up to a new town to be built on the North York Moors called Elizabetha.  Perhaps, but it would be a pity to disturb the insect life there with a lesser form of species.

Before London, there had been other capitals in England.  One was Winchester, where King Alfred the Great held court, probably the option that would most appeal to the inhabitants of the Westminster Village.  To the north there might be York, the old Viking City, which has excellent communications.  Further north, there is Bamburgh, now a small village, once the seat of the Kings of Northumbria.

My favourite would be Tamworth however, the seat of the Kings of Mercia, now a modest late industrial Midlands town.  It is famous for its two stations one on top of the other, Low Level on the old LNWR West Coast Main Line, the High Level on the old Midland Railway main line from Bristol to York through Birmingham, Sheffield. Also, it was one of the seats of the Stanley family whose decision to ride for King Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth helped to put the Tudors on the throne.

As for the present row about updating the electoral boundaries and total membership of the House of Commons, if you keep delaying difficult decisions, they do not become easier, they become much harder as more boundaries are more affected and more members threatened with loss of seats.

In 2012 the Liberal Democrat members of the Coalition asserted their vision of democracy by preventing the government from amending the constituency boundaries to meet population changes.  It was a spectacular lack of foresight culminating in their debacle in the 2015 Elections.

In the meantime the House of Lords, as undemocratic an institution as it is possible to get has become stuffed with redundant and surplus Lib Dem's among its thousand and more expenses claimers who do little and understand less.

When the roof falls in at the Palace of Westminster, either in structural or political terms, it should be off to Tamworth, 500 members of the House of Commons at most, preferably fewer and a second chamber of no more than 300 elected on a basis of strict proportional representation. In our new digital age many fewer could do much more work, as elsewhere in the economy.

It may be that to force a decision something drastic has to happen.  Say around the beginning of November a big bang of one kind or another?

Give Us A Grin

Why do Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell remind me of these statues from Easter Island; all that remain of a long forgotten people?

Is it their form of Antique Socialism is also from a past that can now be only imagined?

Friday 7 September 2018

Listen To The Smell

Air pollution has been of interest for a long while now, not only the mists of less than mellow fruitfulness of the '40's and the stink of December 1952 but ever since I clambered behind the wheel of a car. It was an old one with little or no exhaust and didn't half smell.

This article in FE News reminds us of how much has changed recently. But it comes with a cost. It refers to the major works that will be needed for classrooms and education facilities. It will also apply elsewhere.

One concern is that the bigger and more work that machines have to do is that they often are noisier. The noise in turn is another health issue. So do you turn off the air con' in which case the lungs get it. Or do you turn it up and give the brain a big bang?

Decisions, decisions..........

Thursday 6 September 2018

Bad Days At The Offices Of State

The headlines and the media tell us that issues of Anti-Semitism have returned to be a part in our politics of the present. They have been with us a long time. Whether they were here when the Romans ruled is a question. What is certain is that in 1290 the King banished Jews from England.

In the years following very few came and went depending on the monetary needs of the Kings and Queens and The City, but it was Cromwell in 1657 who allowed their return, subject to terms and conditions.

Our modern problems arose in the 19th Century when the theories of politics, race and religions of the time triggered mass expulsions of Jews who arrived in the West and America in numbers. The 1930's and later added more. In the 21st Century we are back not where we started but into the kind of political mess that can occur.

On 31 July 2014, I posted the below, quote:

In the Embankment Gardens in London, below the gaze of the statue of Robert Burns, is a small First World War memorial to the officers and men of The Camel Corps.  Inscribed on it are the familiar names of current locations of war and conflict in parts of the Middle East.

In all the attention given to WW1 it is likely that little or less will be given to the triumphs and disasters of the British Army there and how or why this followed the collapse of the ancient Ottoman Empire. Our perspective is largely derived from the film Lawrence of Arabia; colourful, if inaccurate near fiction.

Britain and France had been in contention in this part of the world for a long time before 1914, almost coming to war in 1898 with The Fashoda Incident.  But then Germany arrived on the scene making an ally of Turkey and seeking to drive a railway from Berlin to Baghdad and to establish itself as a major power in the region.

In the later part of the 19th Century Russia had sought to drive out its Jewish population leading to mass migrations to western Europe and beyond.  This in turn provoked Anti-Semitism there on the one part and Zionism on the other, the belief that the Jews should return to Palestine as a warrior race.

A result of this was the Anglo-French Sykes Picot agreement during the War with the object of assisting Jews to migrate to Palestine.  In the Versailles Peace Treaty, Lloyd George to please the Bible readers in Wales and others, was proud to emerge with the British Mandate for Palestine.

But the Empire had bitten off more than it could chew.  There was no necessary agreement in Britain to all this in that there was a strong pro-Arab school of thought and it was not long before the influx of Jews, the new Israelites began to cause first tensions and then serious problems.  Not least for Britain for whom the traditional balancing and compromise was never going to work.

It took a major military presence in Palestine and some firm and unpopular government to keep any kind of peace and there was always one problem after another.  While for the officers it might be one thing but for the other ranks it was a grim posting.  It is not too much to say that a good deal of certain ethnic prejudices among the ordinary British was learned by conscripts cooped in sweaty barracks engaged on risky policing duties.

At the end of WW2 the situation became dire and a costly impossible one to resolve so the British simply decamped and left them to it in the late 1940's.  As a result of WW2 the flow of Jewish refugees became a flood and the British authorities had to contend with active terrorism when they tried to curtail it.

In 1956 in a mad bid to reassert British authority in the area and especially over the Suez Canal, Anthony Eden provoked a conflict which added to the damage and the collapse of this project is generally taken to be the point at which it came evident that Britain was no longer a major power.

We have being playing pretend games ever since this as the conflicts have rumbled on producing harsh dictatorships, various forms of terrorism, armed conflicts and all that we see now.  In the early 1970's one result was the oil price shock which happened when the Heath government had decided to spend its way out of financial difficulties.

Inflation, that had been building up for some time, took off and wreaked havoc with both the economy and politics after Wilson had replaced Heath in the 1974 election.  After two years Wilson was a spent man and replaced by Callaghan.  His government was wrecked by the inflation and in 1979 defeated by Mrs. Thatcher.

Now we are all back, more or less, where we started.  We have learned little not least because our politicians and associates do not do much history and because the media stick to stereotypes and simplicities in a highly complex part of the world.

A hundred years ago just after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the West tried to take over.  Now our power and influence has also collapsed there is no sign of any way that the problems can be resolved short of a series of bloodbaths and disasters.

The economic and political effects of this, the consequences of history will be felt by all and whether the fall out in our own urban areas with its varied populations from among the warring groups will become violent we do not know.  Nor will we know what to do or why.

Are we at the beginning of not just a new phase but a new and different Hundred Years War?


We have a General Election impending, if Anti-Semitism etc. becomes one of its features it will be absolute proof that we have politicians who learn nothing and know nothing.

Monday 3 September 2018

Jeremy Gets The Noddy

The lessons of 1914-1918, the war to end wars and 1939 were that a nation or nations should not be caught out short of troops, equipment and above all general staffs with plans and intelligence.  For that reason the western powers created the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, in 1949. In the event of war with the Soviet Union the West needed to be ready and able to operate from Day One.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, claims that NATO when founded was for war, aggression and attack on the East. In 1949 he was born to add to a family whose parents were posh Lefties of their time. Their pad, in one of the nicer and more traditional parts of England, had been bought from the Duke of Sutherland's estate. They were the Leveson-Gowers related to absolutely everybody who was anybody.

In the mid 1950's the government gave me a uniform and kit and sent me to do my bit for NATO.  Luck put me in an office with high security files which helped me pretend I had work to do in between NAAFI breaks and meal times. So I was very familiar with NATO.

In the USSR there had been a major change, Joseph Stalin in 1953 had gone to join Lenin in the great committee in the sky and there was a lot to worry about. Stalin had been a threat and meant to be, his tactic was to hold the West in a thrall of fear by means of troops stationed on the borders of its subject states ready to go.

We had to be out and off inside 24 hours. I knew the move orders, in fact for our formation I typed the things, and it had to be right in every detail and particular, especially all the map references and routeings. What I am crystal clear about was ours was a defensive strategy, up and run back faster than the Soviets could move forward for us to then assemble and dig in the defences.

We were one of the lead and first crack divisions who were to take on the Soviet Shock Army that would be our opponents. We spent a lot of time on exercises to see how and if it could work and in particular to stimulate Soviet radio clatter to help our intelligence.

What was happening in Europe in 1949? France was divided, the Communists and the Gaullists rivaling each other with a group of Republicans in the middle whose basic appeal that they were neither. Major strikes in France and other disruptions were common in this period. Germany was still an occupied territory and would be for a few years more.

Holland was losing its Empire with the creation of Indonesia and other changes. Belgium was divided between its parts and parties, resulting in the return of the monarchy. Spain was still in basic recovery from the Civil War and Italy was trying to come together again. Italy had lost its empire and had a large communist party.

The UK had a Labour government, ostensibly moderate Socialism but out there in the constituencies and certain major urban areas there was a hard Left, allied to communism, entity that were always a potential threat had they decided to try their luck. the UK was in full retreat from Empire and also strike prone in major industries.

In short there were a collection of governments, already hard pressed and uncertain in many areas. Had Soviet Russia decided to move forward or launch a full scale attack if the European nations were not prepared and without a command and organisation system they could not have done it in the time available, let alone finding the troops.

NATO was the answer and one based on the need for defence. After Stalin died in 1953 it was all the more important because there was then an era of uncertainties as to what the Soviet Union might do and who might really be in charge. What did altar military planning later was the creation of battlefield nuclear weapons in the 1960's.

It was between 1949 and 1963 that Enid Blyton published the Noddy books, so Jeremy might well be a Noddy man. His teenage years were those of the 60's, perhaps his mind was on other things at the time?