Out Now!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Flags of Convenience

'Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,' Samuel Johnson wrote. He might have added and 'the flag is his weapon.'

So how do we judge the Confederate Flag in relation to others?

Under the Cross of St George Anglo-Norman Crusaders waded in blood following the fall of Acre. They waded in blood at every opportunity

Under the same cross and the Royal pennant, English armies devastated France during the Hundred Years War. English armies fanned across the countryside, raping, pillaging and killing all those who had no monetary value. It was total war, depriving French armies of manpower and food. After Agincourt, Henry V ordered the massacre of French prisoners because he feared they might regroup and launch a counter attack. Many were burnt alive.

Righteous murder continued in different guises and all under a flag. In 1649 the  massacre of Drogheda saw three hundred women and children burned alive in a church, Oliver Cromwell informed Parliament that: "That I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches."

And after Ireland, the world. Shaken by the Boer revolt in South Africa, the British invented the concentration camp where 10% of the Boer population died in one year. 
In Amritsar, 1919 British troops opened fire on a dense crowd of peaceful protestors and kept firing until they ran out of ammunition. In ten minutes they killed between 379 to 1000 protestors and injured many others. Though the officer in charge was censured, the British public labelled Reginald Dyer a hero and raised £26,000 for "The man who saved India."

The French and their flag are also associated with oppression and atrocity.Napoleon has many admirers but perhaps not in the Middle East and among Haitians. In 1800 Haiti, producing two thirds of the world's coffee and almost half of its sugar was one of the world's richest colonies. It belonged to France and was dependent on slave labour. Black slaves were lashed, and beaten to work and forced to wear tin muzzle to stop them eating the sugar cane. There were instances of rebellious slaves roasted over slow fires or filled with gunpowder and blown to pieces. And when they eventually rebelled under the brilliant and charismatic Toussaint L'Ouverture, Napoleon savagely crushed them and restored slavery.

The list goes on. Choose a flag. Where do we start?
Mao's great leap forward caused 45 million deaths in four years

Leopold II of Belgium was responsible for 8 million deaths in the Belgian Congo
between 1886 - 1908

And then we come to the big boys, and surprisingly Hitler comes out quite modest in comparison with Soviet Russia and Mao's China. Admittedly Stalin killed only 7million people between 1932 - 39, but Russian Governments between 1917 to 1987 murdered nearly 62 million in all.

Hitler murdered a mere 20 million.In this respect Mao wins the cigar

Though not on the same scale as Mao successive American governents did a pretty good job in depriving Native Americans of their land. That was done under the stars and stripes not the flag of the Confederacy, and so, too, were the massacres. Even today, rightly or wrongly, there are many places in the world with much the same feelings towards the American flag as Liberals have for the Confederate flag.

Historians quibble over figures and context so that it's matter of ideology and choice when it comes to disentangling 'heritage' from crimes committed under any particular flag. We forget some things and remember others. Every nation has its massacres - as well as its heroes. Scoundrels exploited flags and the na├»ve followed their spell, whether the so called 'White Trash' that fought for the Confederacy, or the 'Scum of the Earth that fought with Wellington at Waterloo. 

And over time flags lose their potency. The Union Jack that once flew over large parts of this planet is now largely tourist kitsch and this, I feel, was the way the flag of the Confederacy was heading, whether in terms of Southern Rock albums or TV programmes like The Dukes of Hazard. Its more negative connotations being lost in the anodyne wash of commercialism. 

Now however, and perhaps unwittingly, the flag has become potent again. In the early 1960's it achieved brief potency because of how racists used it to justify segregation. It was a dark rebellion. It has become potent again but for the opposite reasons. Driven from the mainstream it will achieve a dark glamour it hasn't seen for years and become a focal point for the aggrieved. There are parallels in Britain, where the Flag of St George was very nearly appropriated by by the far right. Might that have been commercially banned too?

Finally, and with every respect, I'd argue that the whole Confederate flag controversy is pretty convenient 'Displacement Activity.' It has proved an easier target in terms of 'doing something' than the powerful and organised gun lobby. It's an easier target than the big drug companies. The number of lone wolf killers who have been on various medications, legal or illegal should be provoking more thought than focusing on a flag.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Everything Goes!

It's a salutary thought when you realize you know more people who are  dead than those living and breathing. (Though FB friends may skew the figures a little). But what also marks the passage of time are familiar buildings demolished almost as quick as you pass them. Time is totalitarian, erasing history in dust. 

Below is Father Hill Junior boys. (I'm the extra from Woodstock) I was there a year, and then Pow, it was gone!

 An earlier blog post marked the demolition of my next school, St. Josephs. No sooner had I left it, then pow it was gone. I like to think it was some superhuman quality on my part, but I fear not.

Now another landmark has gone. St.Bonaventure's Secondary Modern School. Fair enough, it had undergone a name change some years after I'd gone, but knocking it down…I'm sorry, but that was a step too far. The pictures below show some of my old school friends when I was there.
They are holding my project on Greece and Rome. My first book, you might say. I enjoyed drawing the bronzed and heroic figures - everything I wasn't. 
Above is the school uniform. Below is the reality

 Everything else, in melancholy colour, gives a blow by blow account of its demise. I shall raise a glass to St. Bonnies, tonight: the school that made me the man I am today….hmm, maybe first I'll assess the man I am today...and toast that too :)
Nothing if not thorough - the Demolition Plan.

The school awaiting its fate.

Munching away

Corridors we once ran along when teachers weren't watching.

If you look carefully below you can just see the remaining flight of stairs. A snack for the 'Muncher'

Almost Gone


Just goes to show, you should never take things too seriously

Friday, 19 June 2015

Sugar Butty

When we were very young we played in gangs, each seeking their place like young planets finding their orbit. Occasionally we'd find someone who didn't fit in. Looking back I think this was what William Golding had in mind when he wrote Lord of the Flies. 

In our case it was a young boy who earned the name of 'Sugar Butty' because he made the mistake of confiding that bread, butter and sugar was his favourite sandwich. His other mistake was to have been born a bit simple-minded and tragically trustful. 

It brings tears to my eyes now, along with a deep sense of shame, when I recall how we treated him. We'd circle the house, cat-calling 'Sugar Butty,' and renounced every overture from him or his mum. Only as a parent can you appreciate the full horror of what we were doing. 

You'd be right in saying that we were only eight or nine year olds, and though our acts were ugly, the damage hideous, we had a lifetime to mature and understand what we'd done.

Which is why I found interesting an article claiming that left-wing people are on the whole more intelligent than right-wing people. Though my politics are somewhere between Bakunin and Atilla the Hun, I'd argue the article misses the point. As a keen reader of both left and right wing blogs, the real contenders for the lower IQ stakes are to be found in the comments that follow an opinion piece of either wing.

Reading them, it becomes clear that being leftwing or rightwing is neither here or there. It's more a case of  'tribal' politics the 'mature' equivalent of eight year olds seeking security in gangs and damning outsiders. If I was to offer a leftwing opinion in a rightwing blog, or a rightwing opinion in a leftwing blog there'd be howls of 'Sugar Butty' or something equally mature. And that is how Twitter-mobs, and political blogs increasingly work, ie  self-selecting gangs for the insecure. At least we were eight year olds and knew no better.

Friday, 12 June 2015

By Royal Appointment


Last night I discovered that if you ate roasted vegetables with feta, followed by a lump of dark chocolate and hot milk you dream of the Royal Family, better, you become intimate friends with them. I'm chopping the vegetables now because the dream was so good and I want to go back there. Prince Phillip himself escorted me through brightly lit woods up a hill to a palace never shown on TV. 


Princess Margaret was a hoot, and the Queen enquired as to what books I enjoyed reading. We became such good friends. I felt almost part of the family, and best of all a royal equerry in a green tweed jacket enquired after Clay Cross. He dropped heavy hints. Did I have a spare copy of the book? I told him I did. He took it from me with a promise I couldn't refuse: 'Clay Cross by Royal Appointment.' He whispered it earnestly and I woke up with the determination to roast some more vegetables. The only problem is I have no Feta. Might Wenslydale do?

Saturday, 6 June 2015

I slept on the train

I still remember fondly past twenty-mile hikes, walking down and, more importantly, up the Grand Canyon, but age is catching up on me, I fear. We recently returned from a visit to my beautiful daughter in London, who has inherited my passion for walking. (Be very careful what you wish for) And the point of this rambling start is that we averaged a mere seven miles a day across the metropolis - and I was exhausted. 

The excuses tripped readily to mind, and yes, I'm a master of the self-exculpatory excuse, or so I'm told: I was breathing stale air and exhaust fumes, the overwhelming and ceaseless noise, the sheer pressure of people. Whatever. At the end of the day I was tired. And I hated it.

On that first day we walked from South Kensington to Fulham, across Putney Bridge, and almost as far as Wimbledeon Common. 
Below is the Gatehouse to Fulham Palace and Gardens. Past Bishops of London used to live in the far grander house beyond, but it hit me again how in such a vast city  little gems like this cling on. The gardens once extended to 136 acres. Now a mere 13 acres survive.

The 'Bishop's Tree' Peering from the top is Bishop Beilby Porteus. He was a man of strong moral principle,  concerned with what he saw as the moral decay of the nation during the 18th century. He campaigned against the wickedness, immorality and licentious behaviour at such venues as pleasure gardens and theatres.When the Thames froze over in 1789, the Bishop and his wife walked over the river to Putney. If we are to believe legends he also liked to climb trees, and is the supposed prototype of Mr Collins in Jane Eyre's Pride and Prejudice.

 Looks more like Friar Tuck

                                                               Into the knot garden

 Putney Bridge taking you from Fulham to Putney and Wimbledon Common. It's also the place where Lady Gwyneth Morgan in my novel 'The Gift' confronts her demons. My demons were minor - an overwhelming desire for a stiff drink and a couch

Another day we walked to Holland Park and then on to Kensington Palace,  down Millionaire's Row, collapsing at last on Kensington Roof Garden over a very large Tankeray Gimlet. There I considered how green are large swathes of London...and how many more I had to walk through.

The view from Kensington Roof Gardens. In the distance you can see the Shard, Albert Hall and various other landmarks

 Don't ask

It was a short respite before the final walk to Notting Hill. This involved walking through
the very weird 'Millionaire's Row'. As soon as you pass through the gates, and the warning that no photographs are allowed, you enter a different world. It's like Diagonal Alley for the very rich. You are aware of the silence, the large white mansions to either side. Many but not all are Embassies. I imagine in time these will be replaced by some of the richer Charities.  There is no life or joy here, instead a sense of oppressive wealth and all the silence money can buy.

 On the other side we walked as far as Notting Hill then retraced our steps to Moscow Street and the fabulous Santorini Restaurant, where we were served by a waiter who spoke seven languages but English less so.

Our final day saw us walking through Brompton Cemetery where we were caught up amongst thousands of celebratory Chelsea fans. We struggled through to Brompton Oratory, which was wonderful because I could sit down there, eyes closed, pretending to pray. A drink at the wonderful 'Wine Sampler' revived me. This is a very neat idea. You put x amount of money on a card, and then sample as much wine as the card allows. I sampled stuff I'd never be able to afford in normal circumstances - and realised what I was missing. Then it was the final tramp through Hyde Park, Paddington Station, and home. 

I slept on the train, dreaming of a man blowing fire from a tuba

Friday, 29 May 2015

Well, that's Summer sorted

The bizzare, the wonderful, and the mundane; it all happens in Monmouth and surrounding area. In June, should the fancy take me, (and if I had or acquired a dog) I could participate in an attempt to break the current Guinness World Record for 'Most dogs in one place wearing a bandana. The current world record, and this I truly didn't want to know, is 764.

Think. That's 764 people or more who decided to dress their dog in a bandana in order to break a world record. It's harmless but decidedly eccentric, even if done for charity. Why not extend it? Parakeets in tuxedos, cats in pyjamas, snakes wearing condoms....perhaps not in Monmouth.

For those without dogs, parakeets, snakes or cats there is always an alternative. Also in June WWF Cymru is calling on people of all ages to make a stand for Nature and 'Wear it Wild.' The nations is being challenged to dress as wild as 'they dare.' Helpfully they make suggestions: wear animal print socks at work, leopard leotards on the school run, or go out in a Wild Onsie. It's a worthy cause and comes with a worthy caveat. Only fake fur please.

But this Sunday - be still my beating heart - is the Tintern Duck Race. This involves Ducks floating down the river Wye from Brockweir Bridge. Cash prizes for the three winning ducks. Their owners I presume. When all is said and done it beats 'Poo sticks'. There are more variables with ducks.

And finally for the more timid, and those wanting to get fit, there is of course 'The Big Welsh Walk'--> WITH ACTIVITY SHEETS. Oh Joy.

All this in the Monmouthshire Beacon. A snip at 45p.

I shall keep you posted if we break the world record in dogs wearing Bandanas

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Milksops and Wetties

I love obituaries. I love contrarians more, irrespective of class. The Dowager Marchioness of Reading who recently died at the good age of 96 is a case in point. She was a reputed beauty in the 1930s and 1940s,  for a brief time the face of Pond's Beauty Cream. She also possessed a fierce and independent spirit, being one of the first British women to get a pilot's license, compete on the stock car racing circuit and later indulge in rally driving in the 1950s. In old age, she became an outspoken English nationalist and campaigner for animal rights.

Not everyone admired her. Harold Brookes Baker, the former publishing director of Burke's Peerage, once noted that Margot Reading 'had views diametrically opposed to most sane people.' This is rich coming from one who once assured the Queen that she would be safe from Islamic fundamentalism because she was related to the Prophet Mohammed, and later  proposed that she be created Empress of Europe. 

Harold Brookes Baker, I suspect was more sycophantic than feisty. I can't imagine him ever writing, as The Dowager Marchioness of Reading did when defending football hooliganism:
"We are a nation of yobs. Now that we have no war, what's wrong with a good punch up?" In a later interview she elaborated further:
"I love England so much and I just feel that the so called 'hooligans' are just sort of over enthusiastic. How is it we conquered the world and that our armies went over the top? It is because we are a nation of fighters. What an English tough guy does is to fight with his fists, which is a good clean fight…with so many milksops and left wing liberals and wetties around, I just rejoice in the fact that there are people who keep up our historic spirit.'
She did her bit for the 'English Spirit' by fiddling with the controls of a carousal to make it go faster. It nearly flew off from the ground, along with everyone on it.
She also wrote (an unpublished letter to the Telegraph) proclaiming that 'the only answer to paedophiles is to cut their balls off.' In the 1960s she considered being a Conservative candidate until her husband dissuaded her, fearing what she might say. We live in a duller world