30 November 2008

So now we know

Sir Michael Caine has finally resolved one of the greatest unresolved questions of British cinema – how the (anti?) heroes of the Italian Job escape the literal cliff-hanger at the end of the film. Remember we are talking about the BRITISH original and not the American film of the same name.

The film ends with a gang of gold thieves hanging over a ravine in a bus. Every step they take towards the loot threatens to tip them into the abyss. "Hang on lads, I've got a great idea," says Charlie Croker... and then the credits roll.

Caine said that he would have saved them by "switching on the engine", burning off petrol until it righted itself. "I crawl up, switch on the engine and stay there for four hours until all the petrol runs out," he said. "The van bounces back up so we can all get out, but then the gold goes over. There are a load of Corsican Mafia at the bottom watching the whole thing with binoculars. They grab the gold, and then the sequel is us chasing it."

Sir Michael gave his solution at the 2008 Visit London Awards where he was named London's favourite Londoner. Okay so he also said this in 2003 but I didn’t know that and this blog wasn’t in existence then!

As it happens the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has a competition to find the most original, and plausible ending to the film. Dr Richard Pike, chief executive of the RSC, stated that Sir Michael's explanation was just "one of those many plausible routes to securing all that gold.

Dr Pike added that almost 1,000 entries had been received for the competition, despite the stipulation that "the judges will not accept any solutions that involve the employment of a helicopter". "A number of people have put in, others have suggested jumping out of the bus and going down and getting the gold," he said. "Others have suggested superconductivity and the use of magnetism - although some people have pointed out, quite rightly, that gold is not magnetic. “

The competition winner will be revealed on 8 January 2009. I can’t wait to find out the winner but I had hoped that Sir Michael’s solution involved blowing the doors off and just that!

Sili but not Silly: some Iranian humour!

Sili means Slap. The link was sent to me by the talented expatriate Iranian photographer (and doctor) Azadeh Tahaei. I thought it was funny. I hope others agree!

28 November 2008

Photo Hunt - Metal

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is metal. Once again I'm not stretching the theme to show some photos's of the UK's last fully airworthy Lancaster bomber. The photos were taken at the 2006 and 2001 or perhaps 2002 Pathfinder Sunday at RAF Wyton, an annual day when the RAF salutes veterans of Bomber Command's Pathfinder Force. As I have stated in several previous posts I often take dad to the event so that he can have a few drinks with surviving comrades.

As it happened Dad did not fly many ops in Lancasters: before he was recruited to the Pathfinders he flew Wellingtons (canvas over a metal frame) and for most of his active service he flew Mostquitos (plywood). It would be a stretch to put up photos of either of these planes now!

Robyn and ....

This week's entry for Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats.

27 November 2008

Last French WWI veteran dies

Pierre Picault, the last French veteran of WWI, died on 20 November, At the time of his death he was France's oldest man. Picault was called up on 15 April 1918 as 2nd class gunner in the 83rd Artillery.

Like Fernand Goux who died on 9 November Picault was not recognised as veterans by the French government as he fought less than the requisite three months. The last official veteran was Lazare Ponticelli who died in March.

Picault's death leaves just eight WWI veterans alive in the UK (4), Australia (2) and the USA (2)

China enforces segregation of gay penguins

This story comes via the Fortean Times Breaking News section.

A pair of gay penguins are being segregated from their straight sphenisciform brothers fellow after trying to steal eggs to become surrogate dads. Keepers caught them trying to trick straight birds into parting with their offspring by placing round stones at their feet and then running off with an egg.

Experts at the Polarland Park in Harbin, north east China, say that despite being gay the three year old male birds are still driven by an urge to be dads.

"One of the responsibilities of being a male adult is looking after the eggs. Despite this being a biological impossibility for this couple, the natural desire is still there," explained a keeper.
"It's not discrimination. We have to fence them separately, otherwise the whole group will be disturbed during hatching time," they added.

Although I do not condone egg stealing I’m sure that these penguins would be attentive fathers...

26 November 2008

Urgent appeal to save the life of Farzad Kamangar

This alert came from Labourstart today.

Education International (EI) has been informed that Farzad Kamangar, the Iranian Kurdish teacher and social worker sentenced to death on "absolutely zero evidence" according to his lawyer, could be hanged on Wednesday 26 November 2008.

According to several reliable sources, he has been taken from his cell 121 in ward 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison in preparation for execution. Jail security officers are said to have told him he is about to be executed and they are making fun of him, calling him a martyr.

The Revolutionary Court issued the death sentence against Kamangar on 25 February 2008. His lawyer has said: "Nothing in Kamangar’s judicial files and records demonstrates any links to the charges brought against him." Kamangar was cleared of all charges during the investigation process. The last time Kamangar was seen, he was at the health clinic of Evin prison and his physical condition was poor. Witnesses testify that he has been beaten again. Kamangar has not been allowed to see his lawyer or family members for the past two months.

EI has been appealing to the Iranian authorities to commute Kamangar's death sentence and ensure his case is reviewed fairly.

Now, EI is once again appealing to Iranian judicial authorities to halt the execution. EI is also asking members of the international community urgently to intervene.

Click here to send a message of protest to President Ahmadinejad

Forensic tests on General Sikorski – 65 years after death

Yesterday, according to the Times, Krakow’s Royal cathedral looked a crime scene investigation as gloved and masked forensic scientists lifted the fragile skeleton of General Wladyslaw Sikorski , Poland’s wartime leader, out of his marble tomb and subjected the body to the latest tests available to modern science – tomography scans, DNA samples, a search for trace elements of poisons.

The aim of the investigation was to shed light on one of an enduring question of WWII - was General Sikorski murdered?

The investigation into Sikorski’s death was supposed to put an end to more than half a century of conspiracy theories. “The exhumation may bring a breakthrough in the investigation,” said Andrzej Drogon, of the National Remembrance Institute, which formally opened the case after a book presented fresh information suggesting that Moscow was behind the death.

In April 1943 the general, who was head of the Polish government-in-exile, had demanded an explanation for thousands of Polish officers found murdered in the Katyn forest, near Smolensk in western Russia. The Kremlin, meanwhile, was making moves towards creating a communist-sponsored Polish government for the postwar period. Sikorski had become a serious problem for Moscow. On July 4, 1943, Sikorski, his daughter Zofia and a group of officers took off from Gibraltar. Within 16 seconds they had crashed into the rocks below.

One theory was that the pilot, the only survivor, had brought down the aircraft deliberately. Sikorski was found in a lifejacket, even though he was famed for not wearing one for superstitious reasons. Researchers yesterday were trying to determine whether there was any trace of poison left in the skeleton, whether there was any sign of a bullet wound and, indeed, whether the body really was that of the general (DNA swabs have been taken from the grandchildren of the general’s sister).

Many historians believe that even the elaborate exhumation will not give a decisive verdict on the cause of death. At the very least it will pile up pressure on the British Government to declassify secret documents on the affair.

Interesting stuff but I doubt it will shed new light on what was certainly was a suspicious wartime death.

24 November 2008

Minor royal given due deference and new heels

On an official engagement to open the first phase of Timpson’s (a chain of shoe repairers) refurbished training centre in Greater Manchester, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex remarked on the sorry state of her Laura B high heels. Stopping onlyto touch their forelocks (LOCKS!) the cobblers did not tarry to fix them on the spot. According to the Times the Countess was even provided with a carrier bag to stand on while a cheery proletarian repaired the heel on each shoe.

Ah it’s good to see that even in these days of chavs and ASBOs that people know their place and don’t hesitate to ensure the comfort of their betters.... I don’t think anything else newsworthy happened today.....

I never knew the KFA had hymn

Apparently this is the hymn of the Korean Fuc...., sorry, Friendship Association. I suppose an anthem like this stirs the idiots to be soldiers of juche and warriors of Songum.. Sell at least bus spotters will never feel inadquate while the KFA exists!

23 November 2008

Burning Questions of History reconsidered – One Nut or Two?

Hitler hides an assymetrical bulge in his trousers by hiding behind comrade?

Following the shock revelation of an account that seemed to confirm that Hitler had but a single knacker, historian Andrew Roberts wrote an article in the Mail asserting that he had the full complement of C.O. Jones in his Hugo Bosses.

Much as we would all love the story to be true wrote Roberts sadly it is merely the latest in a very long line of unfounded rumours about the most evil tyrant of the 20th century. The allegation that Hitler lost his testicle at the battle of the Somme has, in fact, been around for decades.... Hitler's conscientious physician Dr Theodor Morell, who knew every inch of the Fuhrer intimately and had the trust and affection of his patient, certainly made no mention of it, and neither do any contemporaneous or subsequent medical records.

So the claim that Hitler was monorchic (the medical term for having one testicle) must join the many other weird assertions that have been made about him over the 119 years since his birth in 1889. There were tales, for example, of the infant Hitler having his penis bitten off by a goat into whose mouth he was attempting to urinate. ...

And so on and so forth I won’t go further than the goat/penis incident. Perhaps it proves that a lot of things said about Hitler’s genitals, are merely a phallusy..

I couldn’t resist that extremely lame pun, sorry!

The Sea Eagle to return to England?

Yesterday’s Times reported that conservationists have embarked on a campaign to get landowners to support the reintroduction of sea eagles to England. Plans for a rolling programme of releases - with at least 15 young birds taken from the wild in Poland and set free in Norfolk each year - have been drawn up by Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Anglian Water.

In an attempt to avert potentially damaging opposition to the scheme, conservationists said yesterday that they intended to meet landowners to address their concerns. Compensation will be offered to farmers who can show that they have lost livestock and there will be an effort to explain how little threat the eagles pose. Unusually, some conservation groups are among those opposed to the idea of bringing the birds back to East Anglia because they fear the eagles will prey on bitterns, a shy wetland species that they are anxious to establish as a successful breeding bird.

Sea eagles are thought to have disappeared from Norfolk 500 years ago. Persecution by farmers, hunters and taxidermists meant they were eradicated from all of England by the 1830s and from Scotland by 1916. They were reintroduced to Scotland in 1975 and by last year the programme had been so successful that there were 42 breeding territories.

I really hopes this goes ahead. It would be wonderful to see these magnificent birds back in England again

22 November 2008

Ofra Haza - Galbi-

High time I posted a bit more from the late, great Ofra Haza

Photo Hunt - reflection

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is reflection. Here is a photo of two unknown people on a bridge at Doneraille Park in Mallow, Ireland. Wow two weeks in a row where I haven't stretched the theme! Is this a record for me?

21 November 2008

Six things meme

I was tagged by Stu Savory at Eunoia with this meme.

The rules are:

  • Link to the person who tagged you;
  • Post the rules on your blog;
  • Write six random things about yourself;
  • Tag six people at the end of the post;
  • Let each person know they've been tagged;
  • Let the tagger know when your entry is up;
  • Link to the tagees , when their entries are up; ....so here goes....
  1. I have broken or dislocated every one of my fingers, but not my thumbs
  2. I met my childhood hero, Neil Armstrong, at Prestwick Airport, Scotland
  3. I was born and raised a Roman Catholic but the Vatican and I parted company in 1980 when I was 17. I now consider myself an agnostic. I am too lazy to be an atheist.
  4. I have been a member of the Labour Party since I was 21.
  5. I once peed through the railings of Buckingham Palace (I was 18 at the time.. the follies of youth!)
  6. I used to have pet rats – Rancid and Cuddles – I would love to have rats but with four cats in the house they may not last long....

I won’t pass this on but if you want to have a go then feel free!


Robyn's predecessor as alpha cat at Hope Cottages. He died in 2002 aged about 16 or 17

20 November 2008

Burning questions of history – Did Hitler have just a meat and one veg?

The Telegraph(and a fair few other papers) reported that the song about Hitler having only a single testicle may have had some grounding in truth (well truth of a sort!). Apparently a doctor who treated him claimed that Hitler actually lost one of his love spuds during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the doctor claimed.

A document noting a conversation in the 1960s between German war doctor Johan Jambor and his priest, Franciszek Pawlar, according to The Sun (well it must be true then!) . The priest's document has come to light 23 years after Jambor's death. Although it was known Hitler suffered a groin injury in the Somme, evidence that he was a nut down has evaded historians.

Blassius Hanczuch, a friend of Jambor, said the doctor later blamed himself for saving Hitler's life. He said: "In 1916 they had their hardest fight in the Battle of the Somme. For several hours, Johan and his friends picked up injured soldiers. He remembers Hitler. They called him the 'Screamer'. He was very noisy. Hitler was screaming 'help, help'. "His abdomen and legs were all in blood. Hitler was injured in the abdomen and lost one testicle. His first question to the doctor was: 'Will I be able to have children?'."

Believe this if you will. Now I want to see evidence that Himmler and Goering had petit pois sized testicles and Goebbels had none at all...

An Athenian, a Spartan and a Macedonian walk into a pub...

I meant to blog this last week but, hey, better late than never. The BBC website had an item about An ancestor of Monty Python's famous Dead Parrot comedy sketch has been found in a joke book dating back to Greece in the 4th Century.

Philogelos: The Laugh Addict, which has been translated from Greek manuscripts, contains 265 jokes are attributed to a pair of jokers called Hierocles and Philagrius. The book has been translated by William Berg, an American professor of Classics. "The text of Philogelos comes to us from several manuscripts ranging from the 11th to the 15th Centuries," Berg said. All of them trace back to an earlier original, probably - judging from the content and language - from the 4th Century,” he said

Their manuscripts have been published into a multimedia online e-book, which features video of veteran comic Jim Bowen bringing the old jokes back to life in front of a 21st Century audience. Some of the jokes are strikingly similar to modern ones, with subjects including farts, sex, ugly wives and a dimwit referred to as "a student dunce".

"One or two of them are jokes I've seen in people's acts nowadays, slightly updated," said Bowen. "They put in a motor car instead of a chariot - some of them are Tommy Cooper-esque,"

Jokes in the book include:

Someone needled a well-known wit: "I had your wife, without paying a penny". He replied: "It's my duty as a husband to couple with such a monstrosity. What made you do it?"

An Abderite sees a eunuch talking with a woman and asks him if she's his wife. The guy responds that a eunuch is unable to have a wife. "Ah, so she's your daughter? "

A misogynist is attending to the burial of his wife, who has just died, when someone asks: "Who is it who rests in peace here?". He answers: "Me, now that I'm rid of her!"

Hmm, well there you have it.... Click here to see Jim Bowen telling the jokes

19 November 2008

Ziba Shirazi - Ouj

French WWI veteran dies

Fernand Goux, who died on 9 November at the age of 108, was the penultimate French veteran of WWI. Goux was called up for service in April, 1918 and was deployed behind the front lines with the 85th Infantry Regiment, supplying front line troops and burying the dead. On 3 November he was sent to the front with the 82nd Infantry Regiment for the last week of the war.

Neither Goux nor Pierre Picault (the last Frenchman to fight in WWI) are recognised as veterans by the French government as they fought less than the requisite three months. The last official veteran was Lazare Ponticelli who died in March.

There are now just 9 WWI veterans left alive

17 November 2008

Essential Christmas Telly

Wallace and Gromit are back on tv at Christmas with their new adventure A Matter of Loaf and Death in which the two heroes open a bakery and hunt a ceral killer

The film - originally entitled Trouble At' Mill - marks Wallace and Gromit's first appearance since their 2005 film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Peter Sallis will again provide the voice of Wallace.

"I love making films for the cinema but the production of Chicken Run and Curse of the Were-Rabbit were virtually back to back," said Park. "Each film took five years to complete," he continued, saying A Matter of Loaf and Death had been "so much quicker to make."

The film is described as "a classic 'who-doughnut' mystery... in the tradition of master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock".

Wallace and Gromit are wasted on kids. I can't wait!

2,000th Post

Mimi remains astonished that the drivel keeps on coming!

The Beehive Buddha

I must admit that I am a sucker for religious simulacra be it Allah in an aubergine or the Virgin Mary on a cheese toastie. Examples or pareidolia are common in Islam and Christianity, but I had not come across a Buddhist example before.

According to the Rochester (Minnesota) Post Bulletin the local Cambodian Buddhist community is abuzz over what they believe is a miracle at their temple in southeast Rochester: A wasp nest in the shape of a seated Buddha.

The nest, which is nestled in the eaves high above the entry to the Buddhists' hall, was spotted during a celebration in which community members give monks new robes. "Instead of the celebration we were having, we were paying attention to the beehive," said 35-year-old monk Sokunthea Thun.

Elder members of the Cambodian Buddhist community said they have never seen an apparition of the Buddha in their lifetimes. "The Buddha is trying to tell everybody to seek peace in their lives," said 70-year-old Voeun Sor.

The location of the nest is typical for paper wasps, said Kirk Payne, a naturalist at Quarry Hill Nature Centre in Rochester. "They'll make a comb that can be kind of be wave-like," he said. "I can imagine how they could make a shape like an undulating, Buddha-like figure."

The Buddha wasn't trying to send a message with the nests, but the insects were trying to communicate a Buddhist message, Thun said. "Bees can do this kind of miracle, so humans can also do miracles," he said. "Everywhere in this world, we humans need to follow in the bees' path to make peace and serenity."

Sometimes it’s a shame to be a sceptic. This is certainly one of those time even if the message would fall mainly on deaf ears.

14 November 2008

PhotoHunt - Ruin

Kilmeady Castle, Milstreet Ireland

Hadleigh Castle, Essex UK

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is ruin(ed). There's no stretching the theme this week as I have some ruined castle shots that fit the bill. Actually I'm not sure I will actually sign up at tnchick's this week as I am indisposed until Sunday evening. If I get the chance then I will.

The first pictures of exoplanets

HR8799 and its consorts

This is one of the first picture taken of planets outside our solar system. It shows an exoplanetary system comprising three planets, has been directly imaged, circling a star called HR8799 in the constellation Pegasus. What may look like a few fuzzy blobs is something truly amazing in my view.

In addition the http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7725584.stm BBC reports that both visible and infrared images have been snapped of a planet orbiting a star 25 light-years away. The planet is believed to be the coolest, lowest-mass object ever seen outside our own solar neighbourhood. Being able to directly detect the light from these planets will allow astronomers to study their composition and atmospheres in detail. Advances in optics and image processing have allowed astronomers to effectively subtract the bright light from stars, leaving behind light from the planets. That light can either come in the infrared, caused by the planets' heat, or be reflected starlight.

Fomalhaut and Farmalhaut b

Paul Kalas of the University of California led an international group that used the Hubble Space Telescope to image the region around a star called Fomalhaut. The star has a massive ring of dust surrounding it that appears to have a cleanly groomed inner edge. That is in keeping with what is known as accretion theory - that young planets gather up dust and matter as they orbit - and prompted the team to begin looking for the suspected planet in 2005.

The team estimates that the planet, dubbed Fomalhaut b, is 11bn miles away from its star, about as massive as Jupiter and completes an orbit in about 870 years. It may also have a ring around it. "I nearly had a heart attack at the end of May when I confirmed that Fomalhaut b orbits its parent star," Dr Kalas said. "It's a profound and overwhelming experience to lay eyes on a planet never before seen."

Christian Marois of the Herzberg Institute for Astrophysics and his team used the Keck and Gemini telescopes in Hawaii to look near HR 8799. The team looked for light in the infrared part of the spectrum, hoping to spot planets that were still hot from their formation. What they found in 2004, and confirmed again this year, are three planets circling the star.

According to a theoretical model that accounts for the light coming from the planets, they range in size from five to 13 times the mass of Jupiter and are probably only about 60 million years old. The trio have similarities with our own solar system. Their orbits are comparable in size to those of the outer planets, and the smaller planets are those closest to the sun - again suggesting a system that formed through accretion.

Dr Marois pointed out that the current methods used in the exoplanet hunt are sensitive primarily to Jupiter-sized planets and larger. "We thus do not have a full picture. The detection of the three planets around HR 8799 does not mean that no planets are orbiting at smaller separations. Other gas giant or even rocky planets could reside there."

The study of the light directly from the planets will yield information about their atmospheres and surfaces that is impossible to collect from planets discovered indirectly.

13 November 2008

Mimi at rest

Holy Litigation. Batman

According to Variety, the mayor of the Turkish city of Batman is suing producer/director Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. for royalties from the film The Dark Knight.

Huseyin Kalkan, the mayor of Batman, has accused "The Dark Knight" producers of using the city's name without permission."There is only one Batman in the world," Kalkan said. "The American producers used the name of our city without informing us."

Needless to say there was no litigation in 1939 when Batman first appeared as a comic, none when the campy tv show started in 1966 and none when the first film version came out in 1989. (Could the litigation be related to the fact that The Dark Knight is about to pass the $1 billion mark at the box office?

The mayor is prepping a series of charges against Nolan and Warner Bros., which owns the right to the Batman character, including placing the blame for a number of unsolved murders and a high female suicide rate on the psychological impact that the film's success has had on the city's inhabitants. The mayor is working on gathering evidence he claims will show that the city of Batman predates the 1939 debut of Batman in DC Comics.(!!!)

"We are only aware of this claim via press reports and have not seen any actual legal action," according to a Warner Bros statement...

I have no idea if this is a spoof or not but I do love a bit of frivolous litigation!

12 November 2008

Lambent Spires

Mask: Martin Ayres and Sonja Kristina

The weight of Atomes.

The weight of Atomes.

If Atomes are as small, as small can bee,
They must in quantity of Matter all agree:
And if consisting Matter of the same (be right,)
Then every Atome must weigh just alike.
Thus Quantity, Quality and Weight, all
Together meets in every Atome small.

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle 1623-1673 - aka Mad Madge (predating Ms Ciccone's similar title by 350 years...)

11 November 2008

WW - Armistice Day

Today is teh 90th anniversary of the end of WWI. This photo is another taken at the Field of Remembrance, Westminster Abbey on Friday. This week's entry for the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of Wordless Wednesday.

A post for Armistice Day

Wordless Wednesday follows

This is taken from an article by John Lichfield in Saturday’s Independent. It seems so appropriate that the first and last British casualties of WWI are buried close together.

In a beautiful, wooded cemetery at the end of a suburban lane in Belgium, the body of John Parr, from Finchley, North London, rests a few paces from the body of George Edwin Ellison from Leeds. Between their graves there lies seven yards of lawn and, chronologically and metaphorically, the bodies of all the other British soldiers who died in the Great War.

Private Parr, 16, a bicycle scout, and Pte George Ellison, 40, of the Royal Irish Lancers, were, respectively, the first and the last British soldiers to die in combat in the First World War. Pte Parr was killed on 21 August, 1914, the day before the first rearguard action fought by the British Expeditionary Force near Mons on the Belgian-French border. Pte Ellison was killed on the morning of 11 November, 1918, 90 minutes before the armistice which brought the industrial-strength slaughter of the first modern war to a close, 90 years ago next Tuesday. Both died within a couple of miles of the spot where they are buried. Their memorial stones face each other across a narrow strip of grass in a cemetery which contains more than 500 British, Irish, Canadian and German graves.

When you visit the Saint Symphorien cemetery (check out teh photos. It is such a beautiful cemetery), just east of it seems obvious that the placing of the two graves was deliberate. It is a wry and moving tribute to the fact that, for the British Army, the Great War, "the war to end all wars", began and ended in the same place. The fact that John Parr and George Ellison lie facing one other, overlooked by pine trees and surrounded by rose bushes and cotoneasters, is a poignant and macabre accident of fate.

"It is a pure coincidence," said Peter Francis, spokesman for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. "John Parr's body was placed where it is now by the Germans in 1914. George Ellison's body was brought to the Saint Symphorien cemetery from a temporary burial place after the war. Our records suggest that Pte Ellison was simply buried in the next available space. It was not then realised that he was the last British soldier to die in combat. Nor was the fact that Pte Parr was the first British soldier to die established until later."

Both men were regular soldiers and part of the original British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of 120,000 men – a "contemptible little army," according to Kaiser Wilhelm II – which was shipped to France in August 1914. John Parr is listed in the cemetery register as 20 years old. Recently unearthed evidence suggests that he was just 16. He had lied about his age when he gave up his job as a golf caddy at the North Middlesex Golf Course in Friern Barnet Lane and joined the Middlesex Regiment a year earlier. The caddy's war lasted less than a day. Pte Parr never fought in the Great War. He never knew the First World War of trenches, of barbed wire, of mud, of poison gas or aircraft and of tanks. He never knew the kind of fighting in which 29,000 British soldiers could be killed in one day (the first day of the Somme). He never even wore a tin helmet (first issued to British troops in September 1915). He was shot by advancing German troops as he scouted, on his bicycle, ahead of the deploying British Army on 21 August 1914. No picture of him has ever been found.

George Ellison, a former miner, married with a small son, was old enough to have been Parr's father. He was already 36, and had probably been a regular soldier for more than a decade, when he was posted to France with the BEF in 1914. He survived the retreat to the Marne, where the French and British finally blocked the German advance. He was among the first British troops to fight in trenches in late 1914. He may have witnessed the first use of poisoned gas by the Germans near Ypres in April 1915 and fought in the battle of the Somme, in which the first tanks were used, in July to November 1916. He is believed to have been wounded at least once but survived to take part in the collapse of trench fighting and the Allied advance to the Belgian border in the summer and autumn of 1918. Very few of the original foot-soldiers of the BEF were still alive and fit to fight by the time the Armistice was signed at 5am on 11 November 1918. Pte Ellison was one of them.

Pte Ellison, who had survived so much, was one of them. He was shot by sniper while part of a patrol scouting on the edge of Mons – about two miles from where he is now buried – at about 9.30am on 11 November. Did he know that the war was just about to end? Did the sniper know? Almost certainly, both did. Word of the approaching armistice had gone around the fighting troops like wildfire. They, nonetheless, carried on fighting, in some places ferociously, to the end.

In Mons, the shooting and shelling had almost finished by the time that Pte Ellison died. There were, however, further casualties among the Canadians who were fighting a little to the west. Pte George Lawrence Price, 25, of the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade, was shot through the head at 10.57am, the last British Empire soldier to die. He is also buried at the Saint Symphorien cemetery, only 20 yards from privates Parr and Ellison.

The cemetery is deeply moving for other reasons. It was begun by the Germans after the fighting of August 1914. They buried German and British soldiers in groups, side by side, in a maze-like spiral, with a stone memorial to both the armies on top. (Nothing so magnanimous would have been possible later in the war.) Saint Symphorien is rare in having almost equal numbers of German and British Empire troops buried there (284 German and 229 "British", including many Irish and Canadian soldiers.) They include one of the first British VCs of the war and the first German soldier to win an Iron Cross. Pte Parr, according to the commission records, was buried by the Germans where he now lies, close to the cemetery boundary, in August 1914.

For many months, the British Army failed to report that he was dead or even missing. His mother, Alice Parr finally wrote a letter complaining that she had not heard from her son for months. The War Office replied gruffly saying that it could not help. It was not until after the war that a soldier who had been on the same bicycle scouting mission confirmed the time and place of John Parr's death.

Pte Ellison was originally buried in a small battlefield cemetery near the spot where he died. During the 1920s, many of these small cemeteries were converted to permanent memorials and their wooden crosses were replaced by the now-familiar, engraved tablets of white Portland stone. Other bodies were, however, moved to larger cemeteries nearby.Thus, Pte Ellison, "the last casualty", was placed, opposite Pte Parr, "the first casualty", some time in the early 1920s.

And so it is that John Parr and George Ellison, the first and last of so many, have lain together ever since. Purely by coincidence.

10 November 2008


"Down through the ages, time after time,
The flower of youth cutdown in their prime,
Each century - death or glory. "

Death or Glory - Paul Roland

Pitch n Putt with Joyce and Beckett

A wonderful (but very, very sweary - you have been warned!) short film featuring Joyce and Beckett playing Pitch and Putt in Zurich in 1922.

Hat tip to fellow Flannophile Sean at Omnium

More photos from the Field of Remembrance

09 November 2008

Gratuitous Smartarsery

There Are 0 Gaps in Your Knowledge

Where you have gaps in your knowledge:

No Gaps!

Where you don't have gaps in your knowledge:








Remembrance Sunday

08 November 2008

The Bowmen - Arthur Machen

Photo Hunt follows this post

It was during the Retreat of the Eighty Thousand, and the authority of the Censorship is sufficient excuse for not being more explicit. But it was on the most awful day of that awful time, on the day when ruin and disaster came so near that their shadow fell over London far away; and, without any certain news, the hearts of men failed within them and grew faint; as if the agony of the army in the battlefield had entered into their souls.

On this dreadful day, then, when three hundred thousand men in arms with all their artillery swelled like a flood against the little English company, there was one point above all other points in our battle line that was for a time in awful danger, not merely of defeat, but of utter annihilation. With the permission of the Censorship and of the military expert, this corner may, perhaps, be described as a salient, and if this angle were crushed and broken, then the English force as a whole would be shattered, the Allied left would be turned, and Sedan would inevitably follow.

All the morning the German guns had thundered and shrieked against this corner, and against the thousand or so of men who held it. The men joked at the shells, and found funny names for them, and had bets about them, and greeted them with scraps of music-hall songs. But the shells came on and burst, and tore good Englishmen limb from limb, and tore brother from brother, and as the heat of the day increased so did the fury of that terrific cannonade. There was no help, it seemed. The English artillery was good, but there was not nearly enough of it; it was being steadily battered into scrap iron.

There comes a moment in a storm at sea when people say to one another, "It is at its worst; it can blow no harder," and then there is a blast ten times more fierce than any before it. So it was in these British trenches.

There were no stouter hearts in the whole world than the hearts of these men; but even they were appalled as this seven-times-heated hell of the German cannonade fell upon them and overwhelmed them and destroyed them. And at this very moment they saw from their trenches that a tremendous host was moving against their lines. Five hundred of the thousand remained, and as far as they could see the German infantry was pressing on against them, column upon column, a grey world of men, ten thousand of them, as it appeared afterwards.

There was no hope at all. They shook hands, some of them. One man improvised a new version of the battlesong, "Good-bye, good-bye to Tipperary," ending with "And we shan't get there". And they all went on firing steadily. The officers pointed out that such an opportunity for high-class, fancy shooting might never occur again; the Germans dropped line after line; the Tipperary humorist asked, "What price Sidney Street?" And the few machine guns did their best. But everybody knew it was of no use. The dead grey bodies lay in companies and battalions, as others came on and on and on, and they swarmed and stirred and advanced from beyond and beyond.

"World without end. Amen," said one of the British soldiers with some irrelevance as he took aim and fired. And then he remembered-he says he cannot think why or wherefore - a queer vegetarian restaurant in London where he had once or twice eaten eccentric dishes of cutlets made of lentils and nuts that pretended to be steak. On all the plates in this restaurant there was printed a figure of St. George in blue, with the motto, Adsit Anglis Sanctus Geogius - May St. George be a present help to the English. This soldier happened to know Latin and other useless things, and now, as he fired at his man in the grey advancing mass - 300 yards away - he uttered the pious vegetarian motto. He went on firing to the end, and at last Bill on his right had to clout him cheerfully over the head to make him stop, pointing out as he did so that the King's ammunition cost money and was not lightly to be wasted in drilling funny patterns into dead Germans.

For as the Latin scholar uttered his invocation he felt something between a shudder and an electric shock pass through his body. The roar of the battle died down in his ears to a gentle murmur; instead of it, he says, he heard a great voice and a shout louder than a thunder-peal crying, "Array, array, array!"

His heart grew hot as a burning coal, it grew cold as ice within him, as it seemed to him that a tumult of voices answered to his summons. He heard, or seemed to hear, thousands shouting: "St. George! St. George!"

"Ha! messire; ha! sweet Saint, grant us good deliverance!"

"St. George for merry England!"

"Harow! Harow! Monseigneur St. George, succour us."

"Ha! St. George! Ha! St. George! a long bow and a strong bow."

"Heaven's Knight, aid us!"

And as the soldier heard these voices he saw before him, beyond the trench, a long line of shapes, with a shining about them. They were like men who drew the bow, and with another shout their cloud of arrows flew singing and tingling through the air towards the German hosts.

The other men in the trench were firing all the while.They had no hope; but they aimed just as if they had been shooting at Bisley. Suddenly one of them lifted up his voice in the plainest English, "Gawd help us!" he bellowed to the man next to him, "but we're blooming marvels! Look at those grey ... gentlemen, look at them! D'ye see them? They're not going down in dozens, nor in 'undreds; it's thousands, it is. Look! look! there's a regiment gone while I'm talking to ye."

"Shut it!" the other soldier bellowed, taking aim, "what are ye gassing about!"

But he gulped with astonishment even as he spoke, for, indeed, the grey men were falling by the thousands. The English could hear the guttural scream of the German officers, the crackle of their revolvers as they shot the reluctant; and still line after line crashed to the earth.

All the while the Latin-bred soldier heard the cry: "Harow! Harow! Monseigneur, dear saint, quick to our aid! St. George help us!"

"High Chevalier, defend us!"

The singing arrows fled so swift and thick that they darkened the air; the heathen horde melted from before them.

"More machine guns!" Bill yelled to Tom.

"Don't hear them," Tom yelled back. "But, thank God, anyway; they've got it in the neck."

In fact, there were ten thousand dead German soldiers left before that salient of the English army, and consequently there was no Sedan. In Germany, a country ruled by scientific principles, the Great General Staff decided that the contemptible English must have employed shells containing an unknown gas of a poisonous nature, as no wounds were discernible on the bodies of the dead German soldiers. But the man who knew what nuts tasted like when they called themselves steak knew also that St. George had brought his Agincourt Bowmen to help the English.

07 November 2008

Photo Hunt - Together

The theme for this week's Photo Hunt is together. This Sunday the the people of UK come together to commemorate our war dead. These photos were taken at the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey today

Intruder cat cocks snook

A local cat rudley indicates that the neighbour's big shed is in his manor now

06 November 2008

British WWI veteran dies

Yesterday’s Telegraph reported the death of Sydney Lucas, one of the last British veterans of WWI. Lucas, who joined the Sherwood Foresters just before the end of the war, died at the age of 108 in Rosebud, near Melbourne, Australia.

Born in Leicester in 1900, he was conscripted into the army in August 1918 and was still in training when the war ended in November. He emigrated to Australia in 1928 and went on to serve in the Second World War with the Australian Army

In a 2005 interview he spoke about his experiences in the First World War."We trained with a mix of fear and excitement, so when the war ended before we'd completed our training it almost felt like an anticlimax. We wanted to fight for our country, but I think that was more to do with boyish immaturity. My enduring memories are of being constantly cold, dirty, exhausted, homesick and lonely."

His death leaves the number of known British veterans of the Great War at five, including one veteran, Ned Hughes, who only recently came to light. The three surviving veterans still living in Britain - Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110 and Bill Stone, 108, - are expected to lead a two minute silence at the Cenotaph on London at 11am on Tuesday, Nov 11, the 90th anniversary of the end of that terrible conflict. The other surviving British veteran is Claude Choules, 107, who also lives in Australia.

Mr Lucas’ death leaves just 12 known WWI veterans worldwide.

Bird bath or fun?

05 November 2008

Four Things Meme

I was tagged by Ordovicus with this mem. It's been a whils since I've done one so here goes

Four jobs I've had

1. Leaflet deliverer
2. Boring civil servant
3. Fat boring civil servant
4. Balding fat botring civil servant

Four films I can watch over and over

1. This is Spinal Tap
2. The Life of Brian
3. The Usual Suspects
4. Paths of Glory

Four places I've lived

1. Hornchurch
2. Southampton
3. Dover
4. Slough(!)

Four TV shows I love

1. Baltlestar Galactica
2. Dexter
3. Deadwood
4. The League of Gentlemen

Four places Ive been on holiday

1. Eindhoven
2. Brest (Belarus, not France)
3. Leningrad (Not St Petersburg!)
4. Millstreet, County Cork (Many times)

Four of my favourite meals

1. Tagliatelle with pesto sauce
2. Marinated tofu satay and noodles
3. Spaghetti and olive sauce
4. Mushroom risotto

Four websites I visit daily

Excluding blogs:

1. Fortean Times
2. eBay
3. The Grauniad
4. Korean Central News Agency (honest!)

Four places I'd like to be right now

1. Pere Lachaise Cemetery
2. The Malpaso Bar, Millstreet
3. Looking at an illuminated Cologne Cathedral
4. On a pub crawl in Cork

Four bloggers I tag

I'll come back on this one

He shoots! he scores!


Scroll down for WW

03 November 2008

The Poor Mouth supports Obama

I know that political posts are getting rarer and rarer on this blog but I could not help but register my support for Barrack Obama in Tuesday's election.

Although either a McCain or an Obama win will represent a victory for the sinister minority (both are fellow lefties - in the sense of their being ciotogs and cack-handers rather than any political orientation) the voters of America have a golden opportunity to send a West Ham fan to the Oval Office.

As posted earlier this year Obama has supported West Ham fan ever since his sister married an Englishman whose family are ardent Hammers fans several years ago. (okay the above picture is a bit out of date given that XL have gone the way of the dodo)

What better reason do you need to vote for Obama? McCain on the other hand pretends to be a Tranmere fan but he's fooling nobody...

02 November 2008

Girl Anachronism

Dresden Dolls

The last Italian WWI veteran dies

Delfino Borroni,110, who died on 26 October, was the last Italian veteran of WWI

Borroni was called up in January 1917 and saw action on the Alpine Front. He was wounded and taken prisoner by the Austro-Hungarian Army during the battle of Caporetto.

There are now just 11 known veterans of WWI still alive.

01 November 2008

The oldest cornea?


Bernt Aune is the proud possessor of what is almost certainly the oldest cornea in the world. The 80-year-old Norwegian and former ambulance driver’s cornea is 123 years old, “This is the oldest eye in Norway — I don’t know if it’s the oldest in the world,” he said “But my vision’s not great any longer.”

Aune had a cornea transplanted into his right eye in 1958 from the body of an elderly man who was born in June 1885. The operation was carried out at Namsos Hospital, mid-Norway. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the oldest living organ in the world,” eye doctor Hasan Hasanain at Namsos hospital told the Norwegian daily Verdens Gang.

In the 1950s, doctors expected it to work for just five years, Hasanain said. Such cornea operations date back to the early 20th century and were among the first successful transplants. (the first successful hunan corneal transplant took place in 1906)

The cornea is therefore older than either of Jeanne Calment’s. She was 122 old when she died.

This is one tough cornea... good news for me given that it is very possible that I may require a corneal transplant imyself at some stage