31 May 2007

Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara, Heroes

Yesterday’s Independent carried an article about the visit of Emperor Akihito of Japan and the Empress Michiko to a monument in Lithuania to one Chiune Sugihara. Sugihara is not a household name in Japan and television stations back in Japan had to run stories to explain who he was and why there is a monument to him in Lithuania.

Quite simply Sugihara saved about 6,000 Jews from the Nazis despite working for an ally of Germany.

Sugihara was the acting consul in Lithuania's capital. One night in late July 1940, Consul he was woken by a crowd of Polish Jewish refugees gathered outside the consulate, desperate to flee the approaching Nazis. Thy refugees knew that their only path to safety lay to the east and if Sugihara would grant them Japanese transit visas, they could obtain Soviet visas.

Sugihara was moved by their plight and despite repeatedly receiving negative responses from Tokyo; he decided to risk disgrace, financial hardship and the end of his career. He and his wife Yukiko sat for almost a month from 31 July to 28 August 1940 writing out transit visas by hand. By the time they left for Berlin in August 1940 they had saved about 6,000 people. His last act was to hand his consular stamp to a refugee, who went on issuing passes.

Sugihara was dismissed from the Foreign Ministry. Disgraced in Japan, he eked out a living as a part-time translator and ended his life working for a trading company with connections to Russia. He died in 1986 and his family had to wait until 14 years later for the then Foreign Minister Yohei Kono to formally apologise.

A year before he died he was recognised as "Righteous Among the Nations" by the Yad Vashem Martyrs Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. The Emperor's visit and thus his seal of approval is for many of his family the highest honour that Japan can bestow for Sugihara's bravery. "The visit by the imperial couple makes me feel as though his actions have again been rewarded," one of his surviving family members told the Asahi newspaper.

Heroes are ordinary men and women showing extraordinary bravery in adversity. Through his selflessness, 6,000 people lived who would probably have been slaughtered in the Holocaust. The Visas for Life Foundation, which commemorates Sugihara, estimates that there are over 100,000 descendants alive on this planet thanks to them. The Sugiharas are true heroes and deserve the fullest recognition.

Laughing rats?

Is this rat really laughing? or is it an unrelated reaction and we are anthropomorhising? I like to think it's the former

30 May 2007

A little more schadenfreude

The next one to oppose my grammar school policy get's punched

David Cameron is facing a potential split following the resignation of a Tory frontbencher who resigned after being disciplined for defending 11-plus selection. Senior Tory MPs have rallied behind Graham Brady after he quit as Europe spokesman over the Conservative policy on grammar schools..

In addition a poll in today's Independent indicates that the row over grammar schools has made the Tories look more divided and their lead over Labour has been reduced from nine to four points. The poll puts Labour on 31 per cent, up by four points from 27 last month, and the Conservatives down one point to 35 per cent.

Asked which leader would be able to keep his party united, 40 per cent said Mr Brown and only 37 per cent said Mr Cameron. A similar poll a month ago showed that 64 per cent thought Labour was divided, compared with only 36 per cent who thought the Tories were disunited.

The poll shows that Mr Cameron's hopes of gaining a commanding lead over Labour before Tony Blair hands over to Mr Brown have been dented by the dispute. The "Brown bounce" has also raised questions about the leadership of Sir Menzies Campbell with the Liberal Democrats down three points to 19.

But the personal rating of the two main leaders will come as the most worrying blow for Mr Cameron. Asked who would make the best Prime Minister, 40 per cent said Mr Brown and 32 per cent said Mr Cameron.

The stupidity of youth

The number of young motorists involved in accidents while under the influence of alcohol is increasing despite anti-drink-drive campaigns.

According to the Metroplitan Police Almost a quarter of all drink drive offenders and casualties in London were aged between 17 and 24. The picture across the rest of the country is similar. Sgt Ivan Stafford, of Leicestershire police, said: "They're the majority of the casualties, they're the majority of the offenders. And the numbers of people being killed in a drink-related accident have increased dramatically.

Figures from the Department for Transport support the police warnings: there were 1,050 17 to 19-year-olds involved in drink-drive accidents in England and Wales in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, compared with 810 in 1995. For 20 to 25-year-olds, the figure increased from 2,170 to 2,280 in the same period.

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, called for an urgent reduction in the drink-drive limit. He said police should be given powers to breath test motorists anywhere and at any time. "Studies have shown that cutting the drink-drive limit from 80mg to 50mg would save 65 lives and 230 serious injuries on Britain's roads each year," he said.

Okay so the incidence of drink driving is much lower than it was 30 years go, it sems that the message is not getting through anymore to young drivers. If they were just killing themselves, then it would be a stupid wasted of life. Sadly they kill their friends and kill other road users.

Perhaps it is high time that the drink drive limit was dropped to a level where one drink would put you over the limit. Even one drink can impair judgement, whatever we would like to think. At least would cut out some of the ambiguity about how much one can drink before being over the limit.

In bud and in decline - A garden Wordless Wednesday

In Bud




In decline

The last photinia blossom

This week's Wordless Wednesday entry

29 May 2007

When I was 17, err 18

I was tagged a little while ago by Letha over at A Stitch in Time. Sorry for not doing this sooner Letha!

In this meme you should:-

1. Go to www.popculturemadness.com
2.Pick the year you turned 18 (look to the side bar and there are tabs for Billboard number 1 hits for each decade)
3. Get yourself nostalgic over the songs of the year
4. Write something about how the song affected you
5. Pass it on to 5 more friends

Popculturemadness is a US site so some of the songs that went to number 1 may not have been huge hits here in the UK (I don’t think Eddie Rabbit’s I Love a Rainy Night was a hit here). I turned 18 on 29 March 1981. The US number 1 was Rapture by Blondie. I loved Blondie and they had been huge here in the UK. Sadly their 1981 album Autoamerican was a clinker and Rapture had a silent C in my view!

Number 1 in the UK when I turned 18!

It could have been worse though the UK number 1 was Shakin’ Stevens’s This Ole House, (a cover of a Rosemary Clooney song) so I can’t be that smug!

I was a mixture of gloom and exuberance as an 18 year old, with a predilection for alcohol and angst in equal measure. I was a lot more political in those days (although I wasn’t dour and humourless about my politics) so the Specials second chart topper Ghost Town was one of the songs of the year for me:

Ghost Town

The summer of 1981 was a gloomy time: there were riots in several UK cities, the recession was biting – unemployment was rising, there was massive disaffection with the Tories. At the time it seemed that the Thatcher would be consigned to the dustbin of history, certainly not that she would dominate the political scene in the 80s. Ghost Town felt like the soundtrack to that time.

While I loved punk and new wave, I was also a bit of a grob. One of the concert highlights of the year was seeing Motorhead and Ozzy at Port Vale FC (I know, I know but I am glad to be a saddo!). It was a great day and I got my hearing back within 5 days. Motorhead was noise, noise, noise but for me it reminds me of laughs with old school mates (one of the poor sods ended up working for me a few years back!) and too much beer and rock bands at the Ruskin Arms

Ace of Spades featuring Lemmy with "Fast Eddie" Clarke and "Philthy Phil" Taylor

Despite my predilection for noise in more reflective moments I would like something far more melodic. The Garden by John Foxx was one of the best albums of 1981. Europe after the Rain was a minor hit. Foxx had a break from music from the mid 80s to the later 90s. He is still going strong and the not-wife and I had a great night last July seeing him live at the Scala in London.

Europe after the Rain as performed on TOTP

So who gets this next?

1. Elasticwaistbandlady
2. Alison over at Eleanor and I
3. Shaz at Us Danes
4. Tyger
5. Roland at But I am a liberal

The Rising Cost of Drivel

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My blog is worth $123,634.26.
How much is your blog worth?

I last tried out this little piece of self indulgence in August when the blog was only four and a bit months old. At the time the blog was worth a bit over $11k, now it is worth over $123k. I am still a little puzzled how one can attribute a financial value to a blog. I can't see it having any commercial value - unless I was to try some semi professional photography and I'm certainly not good enough with a camera to do that! I suppose it's a financial measure of Technorati authority. Currently the Poor Mouth has an authority of 219 which puts it in the top 20,000 blogs monitored by Technorati.. What the hell I'm doing with that sort of authority is anyone's guess!

So what is the point of this post? not much. A bit of vanity perhaps but a fair bit of puzzlement too!

Roky Erickson - White Faces and Two Headed Dog

White Faces - from 1980

Two Headed Dog - performed live 2007

Roger Kynard (Roky) Erickson is another unsung musician I love. He made his name with the 13th Floor Elevators in the 60s but disappeared for several years - a misguided plea of insanity to avoid a jail sentence for possession of a single joint landed him in a psychiatric hospital. Released in 1973 he formed a new band, the aliens releasing horror film influenced records (the two videos above reflect this period) which found him a cult following but little success.

Roky's life has been a tale of instability and exploitation. Happily, since 2001, his brother Sumner Erickson (a classical musician) has had custody of of him and has set up a trust to help finance his care. Lawyers are now trying to sort out the legal red tape that prevented Roky from being paid paid royalties in the past. Even better, he has started to perform live again and will be playing London shortly. I will have to see if there are tickets for this concert.

Roky's official site

28 May 2007

Lucky to be alive, part II

The Pathfinder Force was formed in response to the gross inaccuracy of the RAF's early night bombing campaigns (an RAF bomber would be lucky to drop its load within 5 miles of its target). Although initially resisted by the chief of Bomber Command, Sir Arthur Harris, 8 Group was finally formed in 1942 under the command of Australian Donald Bennett. The purpose of the force was to locate and mark targets for the main bomber force. This meant that they were the first to arrive at a target and often, because targets needed to be re-marked, the last to leave.

It was a volunteer force (but there were accusations that the best airmen for other squadrons were poached - the officer that interviewed my father, Hamish Mahaddie was known as "the poacher!"), crews were granted a step up in rank and higher pay (my father was a Warrant Officer by 17, although the RAF thought he was 20!) increase in pay. They had to complete a 45 operation tour as opposed to the 30 ops required of other bomber crews.

The Pathfinders brought improved bombing accuracy from miles to about 200 yards. 3,727 pathfinders lost their lives.

"primi hastati", the 109 sqn badge

My father served in 109 Squadron based at Wyton in Cambridgeshire and then in other (non Pathfinder) squadrons in North Africa, Italy and finally in Burma. About 120,000 men served as aircrew in Bomber Command.55,573 lost their lives.

To illustrate this loss, the 460 RAAF Squadron, which would have had an establishment of 200 aircrew, experienced 1018 combat deaths. The squadron was wiped out five times over.

My father's service medals

1939-45 star, the War Medal and Defence Medal

Aircrew Europe Star, Africa Star

Italy Star, Burma Star

Lucky to be alive!

It is Memorial Day in the United States. Here it is the late spring bank holiday. It's cold and it has been pissing down. I have been planning to write a some historical posts on the Munster Fusiliers, my grandfather's regiment in WWI and the RAF Pathfinder Force (my father served in 109 squadron). I will get around to them over the spring and summer.

What does strike me is that I am bloody lucky to have been born! My grandfather was captured during the Etreux rearguard action on 27 August 1914. Had he not been taken prisoner he would have had plenty of chance to spill blood between then and 11 November 1918:

Cap badge, Munster Fusiliers

  • In 1914 in the Ypres Salient offensive and the Festubert battle.
  • In May 1915 at the Rue du Bois battle where the 2nd Munster's suffered many losses to friendly artillery fire. Before engaging in battle, absolution was administered to the battalion by their Chaplain Francis Gleeson and is subject of the famous (well famous to me) painting by Fortunate Matania. 22 officers and 520 men went in to battle, 3 officers and 200 men returned.

    The last Absolution by Matania
  • In september during Loos sector battles.
  • In June 1916 during raids on German lines at Lievin
  • In July in the attack on the village of Contalmaison.
  • In September to December in the defence of Martinpuich and the Somme offensive.
  • July 1917 in the Nieuport defence.
  • In November at Passchendale
  • In March 1918 in action at Epehy, Tincourt, Doingt, Chuignolles and Mericourt sectors.
  • In October at Le Catelet, Foret de Mormal and River Selle sectors.
The second Munsters was wiped out several times over during WWI. A POW camp in Limburg in Germany was probably the safest place for him!

I am grateful to Jams O'Sullivan and his superb Munster Fusiliers site for this infiormation

Hobson’s choice, Damascus

High above the streets of Damascus Bashar al-Assad gazed benignly down from giant hoardings on his people. Banners praised "our Bashar", defender of sovereignty and stability. Nightly street parties, concerts, dabke dancing and rallies created a festive, jubilee-like atmosphere in the run-up to yesterday's presidential referendum.

No one was surprised that celebrations were taking place before a vote was cast; Assad was, the only candidate nominated by the ruling Ba'ath party, a party which greets opposition with a smile and a castration. The event is described in Arabic as "renewing the pledge of allegiance" (perhaps the ballot paper had a big “Ja” on it).

"We have our own style of democracy and we are proud of it," the information minister, Mohsen Bilal (isn’t it called dictatorship?) In 2000 President Assad created a dynasty by succeeding his father, Hafez. The referendum produced a comfortable 97.3% vote in favour. The official result this time is unlikely to stray far from that.

President Assad appears popular particularly with younger people, but there is no opinion and fear of the Mukhabarat secret police is pervasive. There is a joke in circulation about the man who once dared to tick the no box and was dragged back by his terrified mother to beg to be allowed to vote again. "Don't worry," the officials reply. "We've changed it for you - but just this once."

Talk of change, though, is met with warnings about Islamist extremism. There have been Islamist uprisings in Syria in the 60s and the 80s. Islamism is a threat to the Assad regime (there have been armed Islamist uprisings in Syria before) - Syrian jihadis who have returned from Iraq are a threat but perhaps Assad could show a little consistency by not supporting Hamas and Hezbollah (but then “my enemy’s enemy” and all that. ...).

26 May 2007

Robyn Hitchcock does Games for May

I actually hadn't planned to go originally but a friend has a spare ticket to Robyn's 40th anniversary recreation of Pink Floyd's Games for May concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall tonight.

Games for May took place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 12 May 1967. the set list was:

  • Dawn (tape recording)
  • Matilda Mother
  • Flaming
  • Scarecrow
  • Jugband Blues
  • See Emily Play
  • Bike
  • Arnold Layne
  • Candy and a Currant Bun
  • PowR TocH
  • Interstellar Overdrive
  • Bubbles (tape recording)
  • Ending (tape recording)

The encore was Lucifer Sam. I'm really not sure why I didn't getr a ticket for this before. It should be a good night. I will be meeting a couple of fellow Robyn fans for some grub and a beer beforehand.

Utterly gratuitously, here's Floyd doing Arnold Layne:

On a related matter there 1967 is the 40th anniversary of Piper at the Gates of Dawn (and the Pretty Thing's SF Sorrow too for that matter - both knock the spots off Sgt Pepper but I am a heretic when it comes to the Beatles!). The Robyn/Syd Barrett Yahoo group, Vegetable Friends, has a petition asking EMI to issue a special edition to mark the anniversary. It may fall on deaf ears but you never know!

Fading flower

A Nigella past its best. Oooh I love my new toy!

Mister Methane - the Blue Danube

Keeping up the Petomania theme my heart swells with pride as I am able to demonstrate that we British have our very own Petomane to be proud of. Mister Methane certainly has a talented bottom as can be demonstrated in this rendition of the Blue Danube. Enjoy!

New Toy for my camera

Nigella (Love in a mist)

I treated myself to a new lens yesterday - a macro lens. This means I can take better close up shots, no need to crop either. Now to spend the several hundred pounds for a ring flash.

Geranium versicolor

Fuchsia magellanica

Spirea blossom

24 May 2007

Refused entry: Tulbahadur Pun VC

On 7 November 1944 the London Gazette carried the Victoria Cross citation for a 21 year old Gurkha Tulbahadur Pun. The citation is set out at the bottom of this post but in short he attacked and destroyed two Japanese machine gun emplacements despite being seriously wounded. Needless to say my précis does not go close to describing his bravery.

One would have thought that such bravery would stand him in good stead when applying as an ill old man for permission to live in the UK. However, his application has been refused by Entry Clearance officials in Nepal. One of the grounds cited for refusal was that he failed to demonstrate strong ties with the UK. Lawyers acting for Mr Pun will appeal his case before the immigration courts in London in August.

Pun suffers from a range of serious health problems, must hope he can survive the intervening months in his ramshackle home in Nepal 4,000 feet up a mountain. He has a heart condition, poor eyesight, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and he requires daily medication - which is not always available where he lives - to survive.

He receives a £132 a month British Army pension and wants to move to Britain for the sake of his failing health. Among the reasons given for the refusal to let him ender the UK was that he had "not produced satisfactory evidence" that he had a "chronic or long term medical condition" and that treatment here would significantly improve his quality of life.

Explaining his reasons for the application, he said: "I take a substantial amount of medication daily, without which I would die. There is not always a constant supply. When it runs out I feel vulnerable. There are no doctors or nurses, no medical outposts. I wish to settle in the UK to have better access to medication, care and support from doctors and nurses."

Pun has to travel from his remote home once a month to collect his pension - which pays for his medication. It involves a day's walk - and as he is unable to walk that far, he has to be carried in a basket by several men.

His Ealing-based solicitor Martin Howe said former Gurkhas like Mr Pun have to show "strong reasons", which can include medical needs and family ties, why they should be allowed into the UK. He criticised Government officials in Nepal for being "too formulaic" in their approach to applications from brave old soldiers. "They don't take into account the dignity and valour of these people. This man's conduct has been exemplary and he was prepared to lay down his life in defence of Britain."

This post is based on an article in the Mail and it is not often I agree with that ugly little rag. In this case I agree wholeheartedly. Tulbahadur Pun was an astonishingly brave man who fought in defence of the UK and its interests during WWII, gaining the highest award for bravery that this country can award. If there ever was a man who should be given carte blanche to become a drain on the public purse then it is Mr Pun. The decision of the Entry Clearance Officer is not surprising but is still utterly crass. Mr Pun should be admitted forthwith on compassionate grounds.

The Citation

"The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to :- No. 10119 Rifleman Tullbahadur Pun, 6th Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army. In Burma on June 23rd, 1944, a Battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles was ordered to attack the Railway Bridge at Mogaung. Immediately the attack developed the enemy opened concentrated and sustained cross fire at close range from a position known as the Red House and from a strong bunker position two hundred yards to the left of it. So intense was this cross fire that both the leading platoons of 'B' Company, one of which was Rifleman Tul Bahadur Pun's, were pinned to the ground and the whole of his Section was wiped out with the exception of himself, the Section commander and one other man. The Section commander immediately led the remaining two men in a charge on the Red House but was at once badly wounded. Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun and his remaining companion continued the charge, but the latter too was immediately wounded. Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun then seized the Bren Gun, and firing from the hip as he went, continued the charge on this heavily bunkered position alone, in the face of the most shattering concentration of automatic fire, directed straight at him. With the dawn coming up behind him, he presented a perfect target to the Japanese. He had to move for thirty yards over open ground, ankle deep in mud, through shell holes and over fallen trees. Despite these overwhelming odds, he reached the Red House and closed with the Japanese occupations. He killed three and put five more to flight and captured two light machine guns and much ammunition. He then gave accurate supporting fire from the bunker to the remainder of his platoon which enabled them to reach their objective. His outstanding courage and superb gallantry in the face of odds which meant almost certain death were most inspiring to all ranks and beyond praise."

This time give up and let the Chagos Islanders go home

Thousands of Chagos Islanders. In a landmark legal judgment, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Chagos islanders could rebuild a life that they lost in the late 1960s.

The court overturned an order made by the Government in 2004 banning islanders from returning. About 2,000 islanders were forced to leave their homes on the tiny chain of 65 coral islands in the Indian Ocean in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for the US base at Diego Garcia after the British Government leased it to the United States in 1966.

In 2000 the islanders won a High Court ruling that their expulsion was unlawful but three years ago an order passed by the British Government banned them from returning. The Court of Appeal ruled that the order, which was made under the Royal Prerogative without approval by Parliament, was unlawful and an abuse of power.

The Foreign Office said it was considering an appeal to the House of Lords. A spokesman said: "We are disappointed that our leave to appeal today's decision has been declined. We now have one month to lodge an appeal with the House of Lords. "The Foreign Secretary will consider the judgment carefully and decide if an appeal to the House of Lords will be made. Until this, the matter remains sub judice."

The original expulsion was a cynical and needless move on behalf of the British government. It has now lost three court cases in the last seven years. It is time to let the islanders back to their homes (okay Diego Garcia may remain out of bounds). The Government should not waste more time and public money defending an ugly position.

Previous posts on this subject can be found below:

here , here, here, here, and here

23 May 2007

Heroes of entertainment: Joseph Pujol, Le Petomane

In the final decade of the 19th Century Sarah Bernhardt was a star of the Parisian stage. She as well as actor Lucien Guitry and actress Gabrielle Rejane were sure fire attractions that would ensure enormous box office takings. One artiste, however, eclipsed them all. That artiste was Joseph Pujol.

One day Pujol walked into the Moulin Rouge and demanded to see Zidler, the director. He did so with such confidence that the secretary showed him into see him immediately. "I am Le Petomane” he said “and I want an engagement in your establishment." When Zidler asked for an explanation, he calmly replied, "You see, sir, my anus is of such elasticity that I can open and shut it at will. . . . I can absorb any quantity of liquid I may be given. . . I can expel an almost infinite quantity of odourless gas.” Pujol was hired and a star was born.

Pujol discovered his talent not long after leaving school. He had a strange experience while swimming in the sea – putting his head under water and holding his breath he felt an icy cold penetrating his rear. Running ashore, he found there was water pouring from his anus.
When he joined the army he performed for his fellow soldiers sucking water up from a pan and then projecting several yards. He also found that he could suck in air as well. After leaving the army Pujol decided to try his talent on the stage, and debuted in Marseille in 1887. His act was successful and in 1892 he went to Paris where he was hired....

Pujol could play a flute through a rubber tube in his anus, farting the sound of cannon fire (Gunners, Stand by your guns... Ready! Aim! Fire!) a dressmaker tearing two yards of calico as well as farting La Marseillaise. Pujol left the Moulin Rouge after two years (they had sued him after he gave an impromptu exhibition to help a friend in economic trouble), and set up his own show called the Theatre Pompadour
Pujol retired from the stage at the start of World War I, horrified at its inhumanity, and returned to his original trade as a baker. He died in 1945, aged 88.

A feature film, il petomano was made in the 80s but the screen version I remember and love was a British comedy short starring Leonard Rossiter. Although never released on video or DVD it is now available on You Tube (but not embeddable) courtesy of the official Leonard Rossiter website It is well worth watching.

The Complete Le Petomane Film

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Joseph Pujol, the fartiste a reprint of an article that originally appeared in RE/Search in 1994 is well worth reading

I daresay I will come back to Pujol: I am awaiting a biography by Jean Nohain and D Caradec to land on my door mat.

22 May 2007

Grandfather (another wordy wordless wednesday)

A wordy wordless wednesday this week but here goes:-

This is my paternal grandfather who served in the Second Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers (2nd Munsters) and we believe was taken prisoner at the battle of Mons in 1914. That he survived that terrible conflict is probably down to his spending over four years in a POW camp in Limburg in Germany as a “guest” of the Kaiser! This photograph was taken in 1914.

We have little information n him now. A while ago I searched the WWI service medal database at the UK National Archives website and I was delighted to find a medal record for a private in the Munster Fusiliers bearing the exact same name as my grandfather who arrived in France on 13 August 1914.

This piece of information would place him in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at the start of WWI. It is a matter of record that on 23 August 1914 the BEF engaged the German First Army around Mons but the 2nd Munsters were held in reserve and did not participate in that battle.

The 2nd Munsters’ contribution to the Mons Campaign took place on 27 August at Etreux. At the time the BEF was in retreat and in extreme danger of being surrounded and destroyed by advancing German forces. Three companies of the 2nd Munsters under Major Charrier along with a troop of the 15th Hussars, and two guns of the 118th Battery, R.F.A., held off a full German Corps for a day taking appalling casualties in the process. This action allowed General Haig’s I Corps to put twelve miles between itself and the front almost certainly ensuring its survival as a fighting force.

The Action is a tiny footnote in a conflict that took millions of lives but it is a textbook example of the function of a rear guard force. I cannot demonstrate absolutely that my grandfather was actually taken prisoner there and I may never be able to but this must be a prime candidate.

A peak call (lousy pun number 3,679)

Ten days ago I posted a short piece about Rod Baber who was planning to be the first person to make a mobile phone call from the top of Mount Everest. Every Englishman will puff his chest out in pride at the news that in the early hours of 21 May, he made not one, but two calls from the mountain's north ridge. If that was not achievement enough, Mr Baber also entered the annals of history by sending the highest text message ever.

To be fair making a call at that altitude is dangerous as he had to remove his oxygen mask to talk into the handset. But still, it just doesn’t quite stir the imagination as Magellan’s circumnavigation (okay, partial circumnavigation) or Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole.

Clair de Lune as you've never heard it before

A clip from a 1979 short film of the life of Joseph Pujol, Le Petomane. Starring the late Leonard Rossiter (of Reggie Perrin and Rising Damp fame) it is a criminal shame that it has never been released on Video or DVD.

More on Pujol later...

21 May 2007

Matthiola arborescens

The Matthiola Arborescens is a member of the Brassicaceae family. It's related to cabbages and cauliflowers but its closer relatives include the Night scented stock. Also known as the Tree Stock, it is a hardy perennial that produces a beautifully scented white flowers in spring (this is var. alba, the species plant has purple flowers).

It's dead simple to grow and and provides a heavenly scent at night time. I don't understand why its not more popular

Matthiola with Phygelius (cape fuchsia) to the right, cerinthe to the left and hypericum behind

Cutty Sark - update

It looks like the fire aboard the Cutty Sark may have been started deliberately, police say. Police have been examining CCTV images which are thought to show people in the area shortly before the fire started.

The damage does not seem to have been quite as bad as originally feared: also much of the ship had been removed for restoration - half the planking and the masts are in storage at the Chatham dockyard

The chief executive of the Cutty Sark Trust, Richard Doughty, said: "Buckling of the hull remains a big fear but until we do the measurements we are not going to know. With my naked eye, as far as I have been able to see, the structure of the ship seems to be intact."

Dr Eric Kentley, curatorial consultant to the Cutty Sark Trust, said of the ship: "It can be saved. It's certainly not completely devastated. We will put her back together - but it's going to take much, much longer and a lot more money than we originally thought."

I hope the fire was not as devastating as originally feared. The not-wife has a family link to the vessel – her great-great grandfather served aboard the ship in the 19th century

Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark, one of Britain's best loved maritime treasures, has been seriously damaged in an fire. The the last surviving tea clipper, it is preserved in a dry dock in Greenwich in south-east London. It has been undergoing a substantial renovation because sea salt had speeded up the corrosion of her iron framework.

Richard Doughty, chief executive of the Cutty Sark Trust, said "The chief fire officer on the site has told me the ship is 100% alight in the hold. They are treating it as suspicious at moment” With regard to the state of the ship he said "When you lose the original fabric, you lose the touch of the craftsmen. You lose history itself. What is special about Cutty Sark is the timber, the iron frames that went to the South China Sea. To think that is threatened in any way is unbelievable. It is an unimaginable shock."

The full extent of the damage to the ship’s structure remains to be seen. It certainly does not look good and if it is destroyed then it will be a severe loss to our maritime history.

The Cutty Sark is 137 years old, making it the world's sole surviving tea clipper. Built in 1869 it was originally used to deliver tea from China in the 1870s. She was one of the last tea clippers built, but as this trade was taken over by the steamers using the Suez Canal, she turned to general trading including transporting wool from Australia.

Captain Dowman of Falmouth decided she should be preserved. In 1922 bought the ship and made her part of a floating nautical school. In 1938, his widow presented the ship to the Thames Nautical Training School at Greenhithe. They maintained the ship until 1952 when the Cutty Sark Preservation Society was formed. The ship was permanently installed in a stone dry-dock at Greenwich on the Thames, and fully restored to her appearance as an active sailing vessel.

20 May 2007


From St Mary Magdalene's Nortth Ockendon

Poppy bud

Papaver orientalis

The Real IRA finally to see sense and give up violence

The Omagh bombing 1998 perpetrated by the Real IRA

The real IRA, (who were responsible for the Omagh bombing) are expected to say this week that that it is to renounce violence. Apparently it has agreed on a peaceful strategy with the Irish National Liberation Army and the Continuity IRA as a result from finally realising the mass of opposition to terrorism.

One dissident republican source said ‘While the violence goes on the Provos can paint those opposed to their strategy as mad bombers and killers. There must be an alternative republican strategy to Sinn Fein and the sell-out at Stormont, but it must be political and peaceful.'

Dissident organisations have been under severe pressure ever since the Omagh bomb nine years ago. Twenty-nine people and two unborn babies died when a Real IRA bomb ripped apart the centre of the Co Tyrone market town in August 1998. To date no one has yet been jailed in relation to the massacre. The Real IRA stood condemned across the world for what was the single biggest atrocity of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Its leader Michael McKevitt, the Provisional IRA's former 'quarter master general' was later arrested and jailed for directing terrorism.

A recent meeting in Derry brought together ex-prisoners and republicans opposed to Sinn Fein sitting in what they see as a 'partitionist' government at Stormont. Ex-IRA prisoner Danny McBrearty organised the conference that was attended by 200 delegates. He confirmed that the gathering formulated a way for an alternative republican strategy.

A republican veteran who attended said recent sporadic attacks in Newry and Belfast were only 'having a nuisance value. 'It's clear from our own people that the appetite for a war has long gone. An INLA source also confirmed this weekend that the three terror groups were united in acknowledging that there was no support for armed struggle. 'It's time we listened to the people and gave them a real political alternative,' the source said.

It’s time we listened to the people.... Well duh! The Real IRA is another of those dinosaur organisations running around not realising it died a while before! It is a marginal group that stood even less chance of success through terrorism than the Provisional IRA (and that was no chance itself). The organisation (presumably in the form of the 32 county sovereignty movement) will be pipsqueak organisation at the fringes of Northern Ireland politics but better that than violence.

19 May 2007

The mutt’s nuts

BBC2 is currently showing a programme called Balderdash and Piffle. The basic idea of the show is to look at expressions and try and find examples of usage before the earliest date stated in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It sounds dull but it is actually very watchable.

Last night the programme looked at dog related expressions like “mucky pup” and shaggy dog story”. It also looked at the origin of the expression “Dog’s Bollocks”. For those not familiar with the term, Dog’s Bollocks means much the same as the cat’s whiskers or bee’s knees - the acme of excellence, so to speak

According to the OED the first hard evidence (i.e. used in print or song) of the expression was in 1989 when it appeared in the “comic” Viz. The programme did not come up with earlier had evidence of its usage but it did show that the expression had been used in a different meaning before 1989. Apparently it is printer’s slang for colon dash


Being someone who laughs at fart jokes I won’t ever look at that combination of punctuation marks again without sniggering!

Or perhaps this is just a shaggy dog story....

Oh dear, Benedict

I must admit that I don’t take a huge amount of notice of papal peregrinations so a speech made by the Pontiff last Sunday at the end of a visit to Brazil passed me by. Speaking at a conference of Latin American bishops in the shrine city of Aparecida Pope Benedict, unsurprisingly, denounced Marxism and unfettered capitalism.

What was surprising, perhaps, was his assertion that the Indians of Latin America had welcomed the arrival of arrival of European priests at the time of the conquest as they were "silently longing" for Christianity... "In effect, the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture," he told the bishops.

Needless to say
Brazilian Indians were less than impressed by the pontiff’s comments: "The state used the Church to do the dirty work in colonizing the Indians but they already asked forgiveness for that ... so is the Pope taking back the Church's word?" said Dionito Jose de Souza a leader of the Makuxi tribe in northern Roraima state. (Pope John Paul II had spoken in 1992 of mistakes in the evangelization of native peoples of the Americas).

Even Cimi, the Church's Indian advocacy group in Brazil distanced itself from the Pope. "The Pope doesn't understand the reality of the Indians here, his statement was wrong and indefensible," Cimi
advisor Father Paulo Suess said. "I too was upset."

To be honest, I’m not sure why I should be surprised by such comments – popes tend to be just a little authoritarian in their world view and will generally wish to promote the positive aspects of Catholicism (I’m sure line one of the Pope’s job description is “promote Catholicism”... ). If I hadn’t parted company with the Church as a teen I would be shaking my head in embarrassment and disbelief. Now I look at such comments and just shake my head

18 May 2007

Photinia blossoms in decline


Remaking the Long Good Friday

Having seen some of my favourite British films butchered, I was dismayed to see that there are plans for an American remake of The Long Good Friday, which will transplant the action from the London Docklands to Miami. The news was greeted with dismay yesterday by film writers and historians and comes amid a growing trend to remake British classics in modern US settings.

The Long Good Friday, was originally made by John Mackenzie in 1980, with a cast including Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren in the lead roles. The new version will be directed by Paul WS Anderson, who made Alien v Predator, Resident Evil and Event Horizon, is currently making Death Race, itself a remake.

"The original was a highly praised classic and one of Handmade's most prized films, but its reach was limited primarily to the UK," said Handmade chairman Patrick Meehan yesterday. "Following continued interest from the US, we realised this remake could attract audiences worldwide with an updated setting and contemporary overtones. When Paul presented his creative vision for this project, we were instantly convinced that this is a story that could be successfully refreshed, yet leave the integrity of the original intact."

Anderson said that he was looking forward to working on the new version. "I am delighted to have the opportunity to put a new spin on this classic film, which promises to reveal today's gritty underworld in an equally shocking fashion," he said.

Clyde Jeavons, former curator of the National Film and Television Archive, said of the remake: "It's definitely a mistake. These films are ingrained with that peculiar cultural quality which the Americans don't understand and can't reproduce” He thought the remakes were being commissioned because British films were popular on the US art house and college circuit: "There seems to be some kind of zeitgeist for them."

To be fair remakes sometimes do work (as the Maltese Falcon we know and love was) but in the main they are pointless exercises. Last year’s remake of the Wicker Man was utterly abysmal as was Get Carter, the Italian Job and and Point of No Return (originally Nikita) all spring immediately to mind as exercises in futility. Given that bad remake seems to outnumber the good ones, I would put money on the new Long Good Friday being a turkey...


This week's entry For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and at Yet to be named.

16 May 2007

Brown unopposed

Gordon Brown seems to have secured the backing of enough MPs to ensure he will not face a contest to become the next Labour leader and prime minister. Mr Brown has 308 nominations, John McDonnell has only secured 29 nominations, and cannot now obtain enough nominations to force a ballot. Dr Tony Wright, MP for Cannock Chase, made the nomination that ruled out an election.

No big surprise about the leadership election. Even if John McDonnell secured enough nominations he would have been trounced I fear

Elahe Heidari - new drawing (a wordy Wordless Wednesday)

I was delighted to receive just recently a gift of this drawing from from Elahe Heidari, an artist and dear friend who lives in Tehran.

Ever since I first saw her work a few years ago I have been taken by its sheer power of her work, particularly her portrayal of women. It is heartening that most who see examples of her work are deeply impressed and more than a few feel as strongly about it as I do.

More examples of her work can be found at Kargah, a major Iranian art website (click on her name above and at Gallery Etemad.

This is a painting she gave me two years ago. It takes pride of place on my wall. I know this is rather a wordy entry for what should is a wordless meme but what the hey - call it a wordless Wednesday with commentary!

15 May 2007

The Highways Agency does its bit to save the Black Poplar

I will freely admit that I am an ignoramus when it comes to identifying trees (okay I can tell an oak...) One of the few I can definitely identify is the Black Poplar and that is because of a whopping great sign at a local nature reserve providing a wealth of information about the tree, including the fact that it is one of the rarest trees in Britain.. I have put up posts on the trees at the Chase nature reserve here, also here and here.

It is good to see that the Highways Agency is doing its bit to prevent this tree from extinction. 24 of them have been planted along the A421 Great Barford Bypass, near Bedford recently. In 1993, environmental scientists predicted the species would be extinct in Britain within 20 years because land development was lowering the water table in many places and this was destroying the trees' natural habitat.

The Highways Agency has now started a planting programme for the Black Poplar on its road schemes. They will be used in landscaping to bring back a traditional look to the countryside, the Highways Agency said.