Saturday 6 July 2019

The NHS And Independence Day

My absence is because recently I have been concerned with issues policy and not as a light relief to Brexit. It is the National Health Service and I have had a grand tour of our local facilities in several areas of medicine.

It is almost if you name it I've got it and when I ask the busy doctors and others mutter between their teeth, old age. Of course it is not quite as simple as that. There is nothing like watching on screen a device looking round your insides to inform you.

At least now when I consider NHS matters good doses of several realities are at the heart of it (joke) because these days once you are in a hospital and they have run all the tests you become acquainted with staff at all levels.

The cleaner becomes as  necessary as the consultant, except that you see more of the cleaners and often they can be the most reliable sources of essential information.

The upshot of this is the awareness that in Westminster the politicians and senior civil services with the media, the latest report and the mounds of paper and briefing are to them the NHS rather than all those old geezers on the wards costing most of the investment and spending budgets.

I first landed in hospitals in the late '30s and the '40's. One complaint had the local medical officer of health having a panic attack. So, historically am qualified to comment.

The fact is that things have changed and the pace and nature of change in the last two decades has been astonishing. Westminster does not understand this or the implications.

Will it be the NHS where the revolution begins?

Sunday 9 June 2019

Migration Happens

This is from three years ago on the subject of migration, it might allow a repeat. History tells us of the constant movement of peoples and what happens when they do.

It is a complicated story and means that when discussing movements in our own time you are dealing with the past as well as the present and all the ideas, beliefs and views involved and their inherent conflicts.

Your migration can be my invasion. My expulsion of unwanted people will be your refugees. Our claim to land and authority is also our way of saying who will own and benefit from it. But often we will not agree and the disputes will trigger movements of people. Down the centuries it has often been a bloody business.

In the 1940's we knew numbers of refugees of different kinds.  These included the post war displaced persons, there being a number of places for them in the vicinity. In the 1950's, we have forgotten the upheavals in the East of Europe in 1953 that triggered added movement of people to The West, especially from East Germany and again, Poland and this continued.

In 1955 the winter going into 1956 was very bitter in Germany .  The rivers froze, I recall playing football on The Weser. It was possible to walk across The Elbe into West Germany.  Many did and sometimes even the patrols of the East who were supposed to prevent it. In 1956 there were further events and numbers of Hungarians and others arrived notably in London, to add to the displaced persons already with us.  Not long after the war there had been laws and regulations etc. aimed at closing the camps. Some did, but some were still mini-towns into the 1960's.

As well as the larger camps, some local authorities had patches that were used.  There were plenty of WW2 Nissen huts available.  But many then were housed in the cheaper rental areas and to the fury of many had priority for the envied council houses. Those from the East of Europe were followed  by many from places in the former Empire where political freedom had not necessarily meant peace and tolerance of minorities.

There were divided views about this, not least between some people in the urban areas who were adversely affected and which took most of them and those in other places who could be generous to their small numbers and for whom the principles of free and open movement had little local impact.

Fifty years on we are in a different world.  Only now, instead of thousands the figures are in the hundreds of thousands with the potential to be millions.  Moreover, the arrivals do not come to a land in which they will have to adjust to local laws and lifestyles because there are few other options.

Instead of three channels of British TV then, now they can watch their own versions from their homeland. The internet can bring their place of origin into their own living space.  There is little they need to change in terms of eating or the other routines of life. In short they might be living in one place for convenience, income and housing etc. but their culture, lifestyle, etc. are those of another country.

If the new is more advantageous or generous than they could hope for in their homeland, it is not surprising many will want to come. Our problem is that some will have strict beliefs that are not just alien, or beyond our law but are in conflict with it.  Another, inevitably, is if the proportion of loose young men and the crimes and gangs that are often the core of their activities.

England is one of the most intensively populated pieces of land on the planet, the result of many migrations so just about all of us have migrant forebears to a greater or lesser degree. Back a few generations and all those forebears of mine moved around the Atlantic Isles, some by choice, some after having become unwelcome, some by famine and some by clearances.

The open borders and free movement ideals born out of mid 20th Century and later ideals and beliefs has been encouraged by the idea that the State has an unlimited capacity to provide either by taxation or by creating new money at will. It is obvious that if the population increases by millions then the circulation of state money provided plus extra spending required will have the effect of rising GDP.

The figures can be presented to suggest that this will be good.  But they do not take account of the opportunity costs and the many and substantial other real costs that come in train. In particular they do not allow for very many new migrants not seeing themselves as UK citizens but local communities of other jurisdictions.  Which may mean that the tax does not get paid, tax avoidance becomes common and their money goes somewhere else.

So given the costs of increasing world population there are other issues. What might happen with rising food costs? Or if the money tree stops growing or even sickens, or if some local communities or even nations become ruled by gangs of violent men and not either local or central government?

Currently, there are parts of the world with over a billion population.  If events, disruptions or crises trigger greater movement; say 5% of the population affected how many millions of migrants or refugees is that on the move?

And if up to 10%?  And what were the percentage figures for the Irish Famine and Highland Clearances?

Wednesday 5 June 2019

The Sixth Of June 1944

During World War Two at school and sitting alongside a friend, the Head came in to call him to her office. I never saw him again. It was June 1944; his father had been killed in action in France and his mother moved away. In our streets and those around a number of families had men in France.

Who they did not want to knock on their front doors were the Post Office Telegraph Boys, see above, with bad news of one of their men. Also, they did not want the postman to deliver with a returned letter they had sent to someone close. If they were in the armed forces it could mean they had been lost.

We were a "nation at war" as Churchill put it. During one summer holiday I was sent to my grandfather who grew much of his own food and lived in a rural area with clean air and a lot more to offer.

But there was still the war, he had served from 1914 to 1919, a rare survivor of the first intakes and had been at The Somme, Ypres and The Hindenburg Line.

The bad time was when we had a returned letter and learned a few days later of a close and loved uncle who had been lost when his ship was sunk escorting troops to France.

As one of the last generation to have lived then and who later had served in the Army with men who had been in the Normandy Landings too much of what I see on screen or in the media seems to be about a different world from the one I knew.

Perhaps it is too different for the 21st Century to understand.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

London Calls

The media is full of the visit of President Trump of the USA to London with the inevitable overload of anything that did, might or might not happen. Some of us have been here before, notably the visit of President JF Kennedy in June 1961.

This item from Youtube gives a brief video about it. A different man in a different world. One key difference was that Kennedy was one of an Irish American clan who became rich whereas Trump does not have that distinction although in that rich class.

Another one for Kennedy is that he had been a student at the London School of Economics. How far this had been a help in his thinking on policy is a matter of debate. The idea of Trump at LSE simply boggles the mind.

I wonder what are Her Majesty's and Prince Philip's thoughts?

Monday 3 June 2019

Hot And Bothered

It is now June and I am warm, very warm and need to take care having seen too many in the past who did not under hot conditions and not knowing that their DNA's meant they should try to stay cool. Also, keeping out of the sun, those of us who go bright red after only a short exposure need to know it is not just the skin that is off but other bodily functions.

What does whack the system is the high levels of humidity that can be a trouble. But, if it means that careful is being idle then it is not so bad if you can manage it. But you need to have more liquids and that can where the trouble starts. We keep it to water, tea, some coffee and avoid the high sugar, sweetener and alcohols preferred by so many.

But all those are the basic ones which so many go to and in quantity affect them in various ways. It is ironic that in the past so much of the water available was not fit to drink, in fact dangerous, so it was safer and more sensible to drink the others. Many of our ancestors on the ale etc. could have spent a long hot summer bombed out their minds.

It might explain all those riots and revolutions that historians tell us arose from this or that political and economic situation. Things that people put us with when sober and cool they did not when they were hot, bothered and in situations where the temper was put challenged or their dislikes of others, or other social groups erupted into violence and law breaking.

At the moment, it looks as though those in London will be hotter  and more temperamental than others. Given a General Election could happen, incidentally a collapse of the European system and beyond that space of time are football supporters have no match to go and The Left more angry than usual anything can happen.

We like to put the TV off, because that adds heat, and listen to some music on our new expensive digital radio, every note clear, no  interference and have a cold drink, very cold.

Or perhaps I could organise a demonstration.

Saturday 1 June 2019

A Meeting Of Minds

In the villages around Stratford Upon Avon in the 50's and 60's there might be a shop or two or perhaps others if they were larger. But for some things you needed to go into town, for example, the chemists. In the village of my in laws it was neighbourly to collect for the elderly for whom visits to town were difficult. So when staying there it was usual for me to have time on my hands because they were busy places and an hour to two wait was routine.

This routine meant spending waiting time in a pub' having a pint or two. Also, I could call at the theatre to see if there were late returns. As this was the time of Peter Hall directing there were some productions that were must see for many people and it was difficult to get tickets on normal bookings. The logic meant that the pub' for a pint close by was The Black Swan.

The main bars were usually busy but there was an unsigned smaller one then that you had to find your way to, which was the preferred one for the theatricals and regarded as their patch. But the barmaid there lived in our village and I was OK. One day there was a table with only a man and a seat available, so pint in hand I sat and gave him a nod as a courtesy, he gave a nod back and that was going to be the lot while he had his beer and I had mine.

Until he was staring at my tie and asked why I had a kangaroo, was I an Aussie? I told him that it wasn't, it was a jerboa. He wanted to know what that was and I told him it was a species of rat found only in North Africa. He realised that this was The Desert Rat and what was I doing wearing it? I told him National Service in the mid 50's with the 7th Armoured Division. He told me he had been in the RAF and a chat about the services.

During this I had mentioned the 4th Hussars, Churchill's old regiment and playing against them at rugby. From his accent I had realised that there was a touch of Wales about him and it was confirmed with the chat moving to rugger. During this I mentioned that playing against Cefneithin because of a misunderstanding.

They were doing a late tour of the Midlands and on the Saturdays had already booked first class fixtures and wanted a mid week one. They thought that Leicester Thursday was a part of the major Leicester club. It wasn't, it was separate and a team for shop workers in the age of mid week early closing which by the 50's picked anyone from a network of local players who happened to be free.

Cefneithin for this tour had called in all their former players who had moved on to top clubs and included internationals. In the first half they had run up so many points that at half time it was agreed to skip the second and go to the bar. Rugger was informal in those days.

From the stares we were getting from others in the bar it dawned on me that this chap was Richard Burton who was killing time between the long gap of the film "Cleopatra" finishing and then being released. It had all been difficult and a very messy business. He was very glad to have someone who stuck to the armed services and rugger, notably Welsh rugger for a conversation.

It was just an hour or so in the pub' and a casual chat and then I was off to return with the shopping. I did not mention it and the family only knew because the barmaid told them. When I look down the cast lists of the plays that were running in Stratford at this time, I wonder what might have happened had Richard married Margaret Drabble or Judi Dench?

Friday 31 May 2019

A Night Out Long Ago

Going on with the "I was there" theme from memories about how you were somewhere that at the time seemed ordinary or would not have any special meaning or interest that decades later is thought to be something special. When I pitched up in London late in 1956 it was with little money to spare so that when looking for things to go to anything free or cheap might be taken.

As a member of the rugby club with a number of Welsh students who had the same issues this meant sometimes going along with the flow. One evening in the bar one of them turned up with free tickets for the BBC Theatre and it was a  TV play broadcast live on the single channel of the time.

It was "Under Milk Wood" and on the 9th May 1957. The author was Dylan Thomas, a poet and man of his time in Wales a man of words in a new way and moreover one of the post war new age. It was lower class, bold in the sex themes and far removed from the plays and poetry of before. His lifestyle matched this. For some time he was famous, first for his works and then for being famous.

Without putting too much stress on how this broadcast began to change things and stimulated new approaches to poetry and drama in its time that evening was a major TV and media occasion. The play's narrator was Donald Houston and it had an all star cast. It was accepted as a new play in new language for this new age.

For me personally, it was of interest but there were many other things to think about then of immediate concern. But several years later that being there mattered in another encounter I had with one of the leading figures of his time in film and theatre is another story.

A few days later, however, I was at reception given at Westminster Cathedral by Cardinal William Godfrey for Catholic students at the major London colleges. There were not many of us. He and I had something in common, being from Liverpool, but were not related.

However, I did not mention "Under Milk Wood" to him.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

The Return Of Harry Pollitt

When historians look at the complicated and intricate period of the post World War 2 years often what they make of it is the preconceptions of the early 21st Century. These are not so much from the mass of archives now to be seen or the vast amount of information and opinion on the net.

Things are put in "boxes" or taken for granted. It was not quite like that. A few months after my passing chat with Field Marshal Montgomery in a military headquarters, I was having another chat with Harry Pollitt in the Shaw Library at LSE.

It would seem unlikely to historians that could happen. Harry is one of those almost lost to our history but then was the Stalinist leader of the British Communist Party and then the issue was how much or little influence did he have on the ultra Left groups of the Labour Party.

Harry was particularly involved with the London Dockers and their strikes, notably the 1949 one when the Attlee government was struggling to feed the population, already enduring strict rationing of food. Attlee sent in the troops to unload vital cargoes which the Dockers' unions were prepared to allow to rot in the holds. It was one of worst attempts at blackmail in our history if not the worst.

It could be argued that Harry was among those who cost Attlee his premiership which led to 13 years of Conservative government. At the time there was only one channel TV, the BBC, who did not go near him, much of the press avoided him except to characterise him as a menace to us all. But he retired in 1956 and died in 1960 before our new age began and he was forgotten in the next couple of decades. What was he really like?

I met Harry during the time of Nikita Khrushchev's leadership of the Soviet Union so as well as his interest in British political affairs he was in touch with the divisions in the Soviet Union as Nikita was attempting reform and reorganisation. It was a time for the various groups in Britain on the Left to dispute and spilled over into the Labour Party.

It was at LSE and the rugby club had invited him to give a talk. This may be difficult to understand but as the club had a large number of players from Welsh mining districts it meant that if nothing else he would be well protected from any violence. The talk went ahead without trouble and afterwards a few of us met him.

It was a decade later that Robert Conquest went to press with his revelations of the Stalin Terror in the Russia's and the state of affairs at all levels in the Soviet Union. But what I knew, because I was handling top secret files during my Army time, was that the Soviet Army was far from being what it what supposed to be and were told at the height of the Cold War.

Moreover, East Germany was not the socialist paradise that was being suggested by The Left at the time, if anything it was worse than Britain during the Second World War with the shortages and confusion in supplies and organisation. Harry was in his own kind of political dream world and nothing was going to drag him out of it.

He left his legacy however in what was left of the British Communist Party and its affiliates and in the parts of the Labour Party that looked to the East rather than the West being created by the USA. There were a number of groups and organisations, a few of whom survive in the ideas of the present in parts of the Labour Party and beyond.

Are we going back to the future?

Tuesday 28 May 2019

Going To Rome

The question was did the Ashton ballet "The Dream" come before the Stratford Memorial  Theatre Peter Hall production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" or after? The answer was after and the dating as I remembered.

It was much later when we first saw the ballet, but we were at a performance of the Peter Hall production of the play at the Stratford on Avon Royal Memorial theatre production in his 1962 revival of the 1959 one.

This was a time when we often in Stratford and able to go to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre which before 1961 was the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre to see if there were returns or seats available for the plays running.

We saw many and one was "Coriolanus", "thou boy of tears" in a vivid, hard hitting production of a play that dealt with the politics of ancient Rome. It was not for the faint hearted.

It is thought that it was written between 1606 and 1608, a turbulent time in the history of the Atlantic Isles when King James 1st was asserting his authority despite the divisions of ancestry, politics and religion.

A play based on a period in the history of Rome during such a time would have had a great deal of meaning for the London audiences of the period.

Looking about us in 2019 perhaps it is time for the play to return to the theatres of London and Stratford?

Sunday 26 May 2019

Coming And Going

As my 15th Prime Minister leaves office to spend more time with her financial advisers, the choice that has to be made is not a good one. They are a group of "professional" politicians who live in a different world from the rest of us and are as remote as the ancient sky worshippers who used to live up mountains.

My personal experience of them and their predecessors is nil apart from one a long time ago. It was 1967 and we were living in Scarborough when the Labour Party had a conference fronted by Harold Wilson, a man for all seasons. One evening when we were in town at the local history society afterwards we made for the bar of a local hotel. It was not quite full, but there was one table with seats and a couple having a quiet drink, it was as though others were avoiding them.

It was Harold and Mary Wilson. My thirst overcame my reservations and I introduced us warning him that I was a supporter of Liverpool whereas he was an Everton man, by virtue of his local constituency. So we had a pleasant chat about football and things to do with Liverpool past avoiding anything to do with its present which was increasingly difficult.

Then we were about to leave when I wondered if a taxi was possible, given the alcohol limits well passed for driving. He gave one of his security men a nod, who took the keys, drove us home with police cars front and back and sirens going.

It was quite an evening. The following day the our locals were all in a worry about what major crime or something had been committed to bring police to the suburb making a lot of noise at midnight. I said not a word. Their political loyalties were with others than Labour.

It was likely that they would have objected less to having a bank robber in the neighbourhood than anyone to do with Harold.

Tuesday 21 May 2019

The 75th Anniversary Of D Day

In a few days time it will be the 75th anniversary of the D Day Landings in Normandy that were the beginning of the end for the Second World War in Europe. There is likely to be a lot of attention to this in the various media etc., perhaps too much.

As this blog has been here before I do not wish to add to it. As a child at the time there are now too many personal memories in the mind. Especially, as a few years later I was in the Army serving with men who had been there on the day.

Earlier posts were on Saturday 6th June 2009 "Boadicea And D Day" and in 2014 on Thursday 5th June "Remembrance" and on Saturday 7th June "Durham Light Infantry".

There are few of us left from then to remember but we will.

Friday 17 May 2019

How To Rot The Lungs

When the question arises that the world supply of something has “peaked” almost always there are major disagreements between those involved. This is because something has to be in demand for a supply to peak.

The Guardian today had the lead article on Air Pollution and what it meant to most of us. It means a lot to me, we have a major local problem when the movement is air is stilled by weather conditions. It is there because the stink and haze of it tells us. As someone with major health reactions caused long ago it is a nightmare.

When synthetic chemicals were developed in the age of coal and then transformed by the age of oil they were one of the answers to the increase of populations and the depletion of natural sources for crucial parts of the economy of Earth. The popular demand has been for more and more and governments have followed this.

Among the certainties are that finding and extracting oil is becoming more expensive and those costs will rise inexorably as more people demand more goods and services. If extraction of oil shales on a large scale is needed then the costs are likely to be higher still.

This might curtail demand and put something of a cap on what can be afforded. There are experts who point to the potential of natural gas from shales and other sources which may help to bridge the gap and enable humanity to continue using these energy sources for some time to come.

Again, this is all at a price and the location of those shales and sources will change the pattern of world power as they become more important. Geopolitics in the 20th Century was heavily dependent on geophysics and with our current economic systems is likely to remain so.

An aspect of all this is that the calculations of oil reserves are one thing and highly unreliable at present but how much of that assumed oil is either recoverable or usable economically is another matter. There are strong differences of opinion over this.

Then there is demand. If supply estimates and prediction are difficult then trying to work out the pattern and nature of the several features of demand is much harder. One feature in the debate on air pollution is not just on the roads and in the flight paths it is in the homes the chemical load has increased vastly in the last two or three decades.

All the air "refresheners" which do not refresh but simply deliver a fragrance stink to persuade people that it is "nice". All the synthetics and smells and powerful substances in the whole array of consumer goods for the home and person. Walk into an entrance lobby and you are hit by air with more pollutants that can be imagined.

The public were not told, it just happened as part of the production and marketing of household and personal goods for sale at a good profit and backed by media and advertising as part of their incomes. Our machinery of government is doing little or nothing and is unlikely to until the rising figures of illness and implications etc. force their hand.

My question is that what happens if we have both peak supply and peak demand?  That is that in the future there is not going to be more supplies of the necessary energy resources from oil or gas and in any case the world demand, because of price and maybe persistent economic and political problems has peaked as well.

There is no question of going back to the land because the land is being destroyed and will never recover.

Saturday 11 May 2019

Taking Chances

We are told that the world is changing. Yes, it is, and it has always been changing. It is just that in the 21st Century we can see and be told what is going on, where and sometimes why. What we are told because of modern communications etc. often it is possible to check the information and compare sources.

Along with this information there is a mass of material from the past which enable us to find and think about what has happened. We no longer depend on experts, pundits and academics to instruct us and persuade us to their views. The detail of the past might include information on ourselves.

Question. What was I doing on Wednesday 30 April 1958? Is the answer online? It is, I was with Ingrid Bergman, the Swedish actress famed for the number of her lovers. Well, we were at the same place the same evening along with a theatre full of others who were hoping for a good night out.

It was the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane and the London opening night of "My Fair Lady". Tickets were hard to come by, the touts were asking up to £5 each, in those days near a week's wage for some people. The musical, based on the George Bernard Shaw play "Pygmalion", had been a hit in the USA.

There were many British, largely of the upper orders, who thought that turning this play into a musical was too much but the word from New York was that it was something not just different but way ahead of most of what was on offer in the West End at the time. I had my doubts but was open to see what it was all about.

At first the performance seemed good but nothing special. But then Julie Andrews came on as Eliza Doolittle and went into "All I want is a room somewhere...." and I was a gone man along with the rest of the audience and the roar of applause at the end was striking, it was one of those great nights.

Many of us knew exactly what was meant by the room somewhere. We still had memories of the winter of 1947, long and bitter and the coal ran out halfway through it, leaving most of us to freeze. The winters of the 1950's were not as bad, but bad enough if you were in cheap digs in one of the poorer parts of London.

So why was I there? Well, I had been sitting quietly reading the newspapers in the Shaw Library at LSE and the attendant asked if any of us were interested in free standing tickets for the Theatre Royal, a couple of streets away. GBS had asked for some of us to be there, he had been Director of LSE for many years.

My answer was yes, a decision I have never regretted. The next one was being at the FA Cup Final, on the Saturday 3 May when Bolton Wanderers beat Manchester United 2-0. I was tipped off by my local railway ticket inspector that Wembley had some late returns. It is on Pathe and Youtube and I am behind the goal when Lofthouse scored the first.

As a double whammy that we call it these days it wasn't a bad one.

Tuesday 7 May 2019

Far From The Madding TV

Watching programmes from the "Discovering" series on Sky Arts TV, the content on the subjects has run to about 45 minutes in the hour scheduled. So on Julie Christie, the actress, it gave only snatches of her long and varied career. But the clip from the film "Far From The Madding Crowd", a very 1960's production raised questions.

The first was how near or far from the book by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)  was it. Another question is when Hardy wrote it in 1874 how far from the reality of rural England in the counties was it? Today we have access to many sources on the web, so whereas at one time serious research was needed, now we can try our luck on the web.

To keep it simple to begin with I found Hardy as a ten year old scholar on the 1851 Census Return so on the grounds that his childhood memories later would be vivid ones what could be learned in relation to the book? He was at a small hamlet, Higher Bockampton in the Parish of Stinsford close to Chichester. It was rural, part of a small parish, but close to Chichester, County Town of Dorset.

The incumbent of the Parish, from 1837 to 1891 was the Rev. Shirley, from a nearby minor landed family who were a branch of the main Warwickshire family of Shirley of Ettington, about five miles from Stratford upon Avon on the Banbury road. As in Shakespeare who must have been there a time or two. Even into the 1960's there were Hathaway's just along the road.

In Hardy's works are there sometime shadows of Shakespeare within the stories and characterisations? The Rev. Shirley was one of the new men of his time, high church and restoring the past, despite the preferences for Low Church or dissenting in the local area. With Shirley came the choir and back to the 16th Century.

Quote from:

There was scarcely an aspect of the young Thomas Hardys life which this change did not affect. Hardy was the first pupil to enter the new Stinsford and Bockhampton National School which Shirley had set up in collaboration with the occupant of the nearby Kingston Maurward house, Julia Augusta Martin. He also instituted a Sunday school, at which in due course Hardy became an instructor, along with the vicar's sons Sewallis and Robert.


In the book "Far From The Madding Crowd" the return of Sergeant Troy to his home village is a major part of the plot, he was a dragoon, cavalry. When Hardy was seven years old, the 31st Regiment of Foot arrived at Stinsford from India, a major event, and stayed from some time. So the Army was an integral part of village life. Then in the mid 1850's the Crimean War saw Dorset become a central part of both military and naval activity.

One interesting item on the Census return was the surname of the Hardy neighbours, Keats. I have tried to race both the earlier families of this Keats and the poet Keats, who died in 1819, one of a London family. I have not found a connection, but in the 1850's people might well have assumed that there was. But having a Keats next door might have created an interest by Hardy.

In communications and history the railways did not reach the Chichester area until the 1860's and after, so Hardy will have been in an area still dependent on the old roads and the implications for local life and contacts. In economic and farming terms it had become a backwater well away from the London markets or any major area of growing industrial or commercial population.

For many of his readers Hardy will have been writing about a world that had been lost and could never be recovered. For in the 1870's and later Gladstone of the Liberals who wished to end the landed classes of the Shires, Disraeli of the Tories anxious for the UK to be the centre of a mighty empire, both saw the decline and loss of rural England to be a necessary condition.

As the new steamships came from distant places filled with foods and other goods and as men moved to the towns or into the Army and the women to service and factories, what was left became a memory. Or the source for a good story teller who could recall what was left of it.

But we shall never really know or understand it however good the presentation in fiction or in our researches.

Tuesday 30 April 2019

Back To The Peninsular

It was over forty years ago, shortly after the Franco regime had ended that I drove through the centre of Spain heading for the Lines of Torres Vedras in Portugal, also then going through political upheaval. I was visiting places and battlefields of the time of Wellington's campaign during the Napoleonic Wars.

One feature seen on some buildings was stick pictures of a gallows with someone hanging from them with a names or names.  There was always a degree of tension in the air.  There were monetary problems and it was vital to be carrying pounds and dollars.

On a later visit a number of years after it had changed and for a while when the money was flushing in there was a surge of apparent prosperity. Many British moved there confident that the good times would continue to roll.

The question is how bad might it get and what tensions might erupt or re-erupt in a country that has known too much bitterness in the past. But this is Spain which has existed as a nation since the 15th Century and Portugal for longer, until the call of Europe pulled them into the Brussels based Empire of the Meritocrats and Bureaucrats.

If there is to be a major contraction in world trade and all economies are to be affected one way or another then what political entities will last in their present form and which ones could begin to disintegrate? As they do in time when the stresses of size begin to be too much.

We are fixated on Europe, supposing that the EU and Euro can somehow remain intact although damaged.  What is not considered is that not only could the Europe project fall apart but states within it could face separatist movements and others outside could experience severe stresses leading to some form of disintegration.

In Spain the elections have installed a new government with ideas that are new in theory, but little in practice. The divisions from the past still exist but their problems compounded by major inflows of migration from peoples with different histories and beliefs.

Is The Great Game is about to begin again? And whose side will we be on?

Wednesday 24 April 2019

A Voice Once Heard

There are times when things come together which otherwise might have no connection to each other. Heather Harper has left us at the age of 88 having retired twenty five years ago and whose voice and reputation have slipped into history.

One of her major, if not the major, performances was the soprano lead in The War Requiem by Benjamin Britten given on 30 May 1962 at the Consecration of the new Cathedral of St. Michael in Coventry.

It had been built to replace the remains of the former medieval cathedral which had been destroyed during the German blitz on Coventry during World War 2 when this city along with others were targeted because of their extensive engineering and other industry essential to the war effort. There are few people around now with any memory of this, but I am one.

When Coventry was blitzed I was under the flight path of the German bomber squadrons, mercifully far enough up the road to avoid it. Apart one night when the German losses were such that they unloaded their bombs on us. My father, up on the roof of his factory on air raid duty was not pleased.

In the ordinary way of things during and after the war we were often in or around Coventry until the 1980's and knew about the bitter debate as to whether to rebuild the old Cathedral as far as possible. In the 1950's those who saw us in a new age won and a new modern architectural wonder was built.

But the money did not run to much wonder and the architects thought more about the visual effect of the structure as opposed to its religious significance, also seen as out of date. Now, half a century on for many it is a curious relic of a bygone 20th Century age. Also, the Britten Requiem was not well received except by those who understood its severity and his particular style of music, he did not write to order but to his ideals.

Today, Coventry City FC is broke, once in the Premier League, victim of hedge fund trading gone wrong, and might be lost. Coventry RFC once England's best rugby club has slipped down the tables. The town centre is now a grubby suburb of London, less than a hour down the railway line, its major industries etc. gone to The East, and many of the The East have come to Coventry.

We saw Heather perform a number of times and she never failed to put across the meaning, sense and beauty of the music she sang and loved which meant her audiences were taken with her into the understanding of them.

Thursday 18 April 2019

Election Fever A Dose Of History

It will be several days or so before the next post as an Easter break is being taken. In the meantime the media are doing their "will she; won't she" routine as to whether the Prime Minister will call a General Election. We have been here before, in 1959 the downside of a long memory. Could a no hope unelected Prime Minister who ran a government in real trouble come back to win?

In January 1957 after the disastrous venture into Suez, Eden had resigned and Harold Macmillan took over. For the media and the general public it had been assumed that Rab Butler would be PM, but insiders and party placemen ensured that it was Macmillan as the “safe” option, and even he wondered if he might last only six weeks given the mess he had inherited.

Despite the turmoil, Macmillan hung on, and began to establish himself in the media as a bluff, cool headed expert man of the world, who knew his way around; a veteran of The Battle of the Somme with The Grenadier Guards and badly injured. He was quite unlike the busy, worrying modern technocrat determined to change everything that Hugh Gaitskell appeared to be.

Having seen them both at close quarters before gatherings that were knowledgeable and critical, my view was that Hugh was more honest than most in many ways but dogmatic and flawed in his simplicities. Harold was a neurotic shyster.

The economy turned down sharply after the post Suez oil shock.  The nuclear protesters were gaining strength and others were anxious. Some progress had been made since 1945 to increase secondary education, but now it was demanded for all.

Race riots had occurred. Local elections were going Labour’s way, and the media was unsure and uncomfortable with a Tory  government with thirty five Old Etonians, unelected peers, and others who seemed to be appointed for money and not merit. There were suggestions of cronyism and too great a closeness of financial interests.

In the Autumn of 1957 there was a serious flu epidemic, Asian Flu, related to our modern swine flu, or so I am told. Then at the beginning of 1958 three key finance ministers resigned as a consequence of Macmillan’s plans to push money into the economy, which they believed could increase inflation.

Macmillan’s view was that a small annual dose of inflation could not do much harm.  Nor could tobacco smoking, which gave the Treasury a lot of its tax income, despite suggestions otherwise, which Macmillan stamped on good and hard, to the applause of his tobacco baron friends.

During 1958 and 1959 Macmillan flew about, devolving power to colonies, with a few economic strings attached, getting close to President Eisenhower and later President Kennedy and signing nuclear agreements committing the UK long term, for which he was called, satirically, “Supermac” by Vicky the cartoonist.

He was saving the world and restoring our Great Power status, at the same time as running down the conventional forces. There were problems with Iceland, and over in Europe there was a Treaty of Rome, creating a Common Market, which he assured us, would not have implications or consequences for the UK.

The media did not know what to make of it all, and it left Gaitskell and his team scratching for attention. The BBC gave us a relentless diet of Lord Boothby as an ikon of culture and custodian of national identity.

They did not mention his friends, the Kray brothers or any other inconvenient truths, nor the close encounters he had with Mrs. Macmillan. Not a hint of critical comment passed any of their lips. ITV, on the other hand, were anxious to convince us that the Esso sign meant happy leaded motoring, and that consumerism was good.

Macmillan’s government continued to spend their way out of trouble, rock and rolling their way, they said, to a rich future for us all, we would never have it so good. The miseries who looked at the figures and the way the world worked knew it could not and would not last.  But that did not matter.

Because in October 1959, against all the odds of barely a year before; Harold Macmillan romped home in the election, and then the real crisis of Britain’s future began.