Tuesday, 14 August 2018

My Political Heroes: Clement Attlee

My Political Heroes: Clement Attlee

Of all the Prime Ministers whom I most admire, one is a Tory (before the party was reformed as the Conservative Party), and one is Liberal, and one is Labour. The Tory is Sir Robert Peel, the Liberal is David Lloyd-George, and the Labour Prime Minister is Clement Attlee.

So I have, I suppose, a cross section across the political spectrum, but all three, in their own ways, helped the common people. Of those, the most influential has to be Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister who presided over the government which laid the foundations of the welfare state.

I have been reading “Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee” by John Bew, which was a winner of the Orwell Prize.

It confirms and increases my admiration for a man whom I have always regarded as a political hero of mine. Knowing more about him makes me admire him even more.

One thing that Rachel Reeves notes in an article is that:

“Clement Attlee was a romantic before he was a politician. He spent his years at public school immersed in Tennyson and Browning. At University College, Oxford, he admits to being distracted from his studies by 'poetry and history', becoming especially enchanted by the Pre-Raphaelites. He showed little interest in political or social issues; his default allegiance was Tory but he was too shy to get involved in the debates at the Union.”

In his book “The Social Worker”, 1920, Attlee tells the story of a small boy he met in the street. 'We walked along together', Attlee recounts. 'Where are you off to?' says he. 'I'm going home to tea', said I. 'Oh, I'm going home to see if there is any tea', was his reply.

'It is as well to keep clearly in mind', Attlee observed, 'if you are one of those whom meal-times come with almost monotonous regularity, that to others there is the question always present: Where is tomorrow's dinner to come from?'.

It was this romantic aspect of Attlee – which he called “sentiment”, and what we may perhaps call “fellow feeling” – which he thought was at least as important as statistics, which was where he diverged from some of the drier, more intellectual socialists such as the Fabian Society. This was perhaps something he had in common with J.B. Priestley, another socialist who did not fit the mould.

And nowhere is this more apparent that in this poem by Attlee called “Limehouse”.


In Limehouse, in Limehouse, before the break of day,
I hear the feet of many men who go upon their way,
Who wander through the City,
The grey and cruel City,
Through streets that have no pity
The streets where men decay.

In Limehouse, in Limehouse, by night as well as day,
I hear the feet of children who go to work or play,
Of children born of sorrow,
The workers of tomorrow
How shall they work tomorrow
Who get no bread today?.

In Limehouse, in Limehouse, today and every day
I see the weary mothers who sweat their souls away:
Poor, tired mothers, trying
To hush the feeble crying
Of little babies dying
For want of bread today.

In Limehouse, in Limehouse, I’m dreaming of the day
When evil time shall perish and be driven clean away,
When father, child and mother
Shall live and love each other,
And brother help his brother
In happy work and play.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Motivational Speech of the Wrong Kind

I was appalled to read on Facebook in one of the local politics groups, the above text:

"Farming is in crisis if we can't get people to come and work on he farms. But don't worry. Senator Gorst says the Kenyans want to come with their long history of drunken violence and fighting with machetes and this article states that they can also get people to come from Rwanda with their long history of genocide. All without work permits. What could possibly go wrong"

This is by Mark Baker, the "motivational speaker" who recently had a piece in the JEP. I include the screenshot as proof of the posting.

He was I think rightly taken to task by Rachel:

"What? To characterise 2 nations of 60 million as drunken machete wielders or participants in genocide is disgusting, inappropriate, and plainly wrong. Characterise the Germans or Serbs the same?

How about slurring all Jersey people as Nazi collaborators and child abusers"

His defense:

"I don't use hate speech I just speak the truth. Last I heard it wasnt a crime. I'm entitled to raise issues and question things that I believe will and can hurt our island. And to be quite honest it's a good job someone does because it's not something our government has a habit of doing. It's so sad that some people are prepared to go to such lengths in the absence of being able to hold an intelligent debate about such important issues that will ultimately affect each and every one of us. ..... Even those in denial"

That such a crass generalisation about the people in Kenya and Rwanda should be taken as truth is simply not good enough.

If he is going to brand all Kenyans as drunks with homicidal tendencies and machetes, let's have some evidence.

If he's going to brand all  Rwandans as genocidal maniacs (and doesn't he know that many  Rwandans are people who originally fled in the Rwandan genocixde and not those doing killing?), let's have some proof?

This kind of generalisation is of the juvenile level of the Gem and Magnet, two magazines for boys which were very popular but dealt in stereotypes. Writing in his piece "Boy's Weeklies", Orwell comments that:

Naturally the politics of the Gem and Magnet are Conservative, but in a completely pre-1914 style, with no Fascist tinge. In reality their basic political assumptions are two: nothing ever changes, and foreigners are funny. In the Gem of 1939 Frenchmen are still Froggies and Italians are still Dagoes. Mossoo, the French master at Greyfriars, is the usual comic-paper Frog, with pointed beard, pegtop trousers, etc. Inky, the Indian boy, though a rajah, and therefore possessing snob-appeal, is also the comic babu of the Punch tradition.

The assumption all along is not only that foreigners are comics who are put there for us to laugh at, but that they can be classified in much the same way as insects. That is why in all boys' papers, not only the Gem and Magnet, a Chinese is invariably portrayed with a pigtail. It is the thing you recognize him by, like the Frenchman's beard or the Italian's barrel-organ.

In papers of this kind it occasionally happens that when the setting of a story is in a foreign country some attempt is made to describe the natives as individual human beings, but as a rule it is assumed that foreigners of any one race are all alike and will conform more or less exactly to the following patterns:

Frenchman: Excitable. Wears beard, gesticulates wildly.
Spaniard, Mexican, etc.: Sinister, treacherous.
Arab, Afghan, etc.: Sinister, treacherous.
Chinese: Sinister, treacherous. Wears pigtail.
Italian: Excitable. Grinds barrel-organ or carries stiletto.
Swede, Dane, etc.: Kind-hearted, stupid.
Negro: Comic, very faithful.

When Orwell brands this kind of thinking that "as a rule it is assumed that foreigners of any one race are all alike", he has more or less also summed up Mark Baker's generalisations, except that they are not done for comic effect, while his import demonstrates only what in my opinion is a nasty and unpleasant kind of bigotry. Mr Baker's version of Orwell's summary of the Boys Weeklies would be:

Kenyan: drunken machete wielder, violent
Rwandan: genocidal maniac

Do we really want this kind of "motivational speech"?

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Boris and the Burqa

Part of the problem with Boris Johnson is, and has always been, his style of presentation. It’s as if he forgets he is an MP or former foreign Secretary, and thinks he is still a contestant on “Have I Got News for You”.

And his aim is very blunt, like firing off a cannon, hoping to strike a target, rather than the more careful shot of a telescopic rifle, which would enable him to hit his target with precision.

His target is the burqa, which as we all know, has been used as an instrument of oppression against women in a number of States, not least under the evil regime of the Taliban in Afganistan. And his criticism – it makes women “look like letter boxes”. It would be funny if it wasn’t so atrocious.

One of the most intelligent responses came from Baroness Sayeeda Warsi:

“Johnson’s words have once again validated the view of those that ‘other’ Muslims. They send out a message that Muslim women are fair game. “What starts as useful targets for ‘colourful political language’ and the odd bit of toxic campaigning ends up in attacks on our streets.“Muslim women should not be a useful political battleground for Old Etonians.”

Ironically, the point of his piece which was you shouldn't ban the burka, the niqab or the hijab!

What is worse is not just that the burka, and the hijab, have been used as instruments of oppression, it is that a whole education of women teaches them to accept that wearing it and being submissive before men, and that it inflames men’s desires.

So while it is fine to say “"I believe women should be able to choose how they dress.", that is a luxury which can only be said in a liberal western democracy.

As Mona Eltahawy notes:

“If a woman had a right to wear a miniskirt, surely I had the right to choose my headscarf. My choice was a sign of independence of mind. Surely, to choose to wear what I wanted was an assertion of my feminism. I was a feminist, wasn't I?

But I was to learn that choosing to wear the hijab is much easier than choosing to take it off. And that lesson was an important reminder of how truly "free" choice is.”

Rafia Zakaria, reviewing, “The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran” by Masih Alinejad notes the limits of that freedom in modern Iran:

A plump cleric shakes a fist at her and yells, “Cover your hair, or I’ll punch you out of here,” when he sees a tiny bit of hair escaping from her hijab. We should all know what happens next. Alinejad, ever the reactionary, yells back: “All this fuss about two strands of hair. You should be ashamed of yourself.” The ensuing altercation has to be broken up by others. “I’m going to teach you a lesson,” the cleric says as he walks away.

And she calls for defiance, where defiance can be a dangerous thing:

It is while abroad that she founds the Facebook page “My Stealthy Freedom,” which encourages women to photograph themselves without their hijabs. The page, soon followed by hundreds of thousands of women, ignites a protest against compulsory headscarves.

Rafia coments that:

“The Wind in My Hair” exposes just how vexing it is to disentangle the veil from the context in which it is worn and thus to wage a transnational fight either for its permissibility or its elimination. 

Let us not forget that December 2017, Iranian state media labeled UN ambassador Karen Pierce’s appearance ‘inappropriate’ while women’s rights activists celebrate pictures without compulsory hijab. As the Indepenent notes:

Ms Pierce is seen arriving for a meeting with foreign minister Javid Zarif with a scarf around her shoulders rather than over her head.

Mr Zarif greets the other members of the British party with a handshake, but instead of reaching for Ms Pierce’s hand instead points towards the ceiling with both hands, a gesture state news reported as the diplomat telling the visiting dignitary to pull the scarf up over her hair.

Mahsi Alinejad commented that:

“I was bombarded with comments from ordinary people who was shocked that how humiliating that a high representative of Iran [was] acting like the morality police. One of the women wrote to me that Zarif’s humiliating gesture is familiar to millions of Iranian women who are told every day to improve their [appearance], sometimes with fake smiles, sometimes using violence,”

And the Independent notes that:

“The hjiab has been compulsory in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Women face significant cultural and legal discrimination in the country.”

But in the aftermath of the furore of Boris Johnson, muddling the waters so much, who will take up their fight?

Saturday, 11 August 2018


The poem today looks at disasters through the prism of the Greek gods and Greek mythology, but not to consider the natural disasters as the actions of the gods, but to see reflected in the actions of the gods, how they dealt with hubris, an arrogance that sees the progress of mankind as ever onwards and upwards, and a neglect of the natural world, pillaging it for minerals, polluting it, and acting as the catalyst for climate change, while often in denial.


Earthquakes: the planet groans in pain
Houses fall, people scream in fear
Mankind humbled, not to be so vain
Poseidon reaching out so near

Wildfires: the planet burns in rage
Buildings burn, people flee the flame
Mankind humbled, not so wise and sage
Hephaestus hammer strikes its aim

Drought: the planet bare of rain
Crops fail, people struggle to survive
Mankind humbled: not so great a reign
Demeter’s sorrows come alive

Those who despise the gods, tempt fate
Nemesis is coming, and the hour is late

Friday, 10 August 2018

This is Jersey - 1979 - Part 4

From 1979 comes this holiday guide - "This is Jersey". This is a flat brochure which is larger that the later glossy designs, and it doesn't have nearly as many pages - 16 double sided in all, including front and back covers.

It does provide a very interesting snapshot of the tourism scene in 1979, just as it was more or less at its peak, just before Bergerac launched, and before the package tour market and cheap holiday destinations abroad made Jersey's prices suddenly more expensive and the bottom fell out of the market.

Tourism is today rebuilding a new approach geared to the lifestyle of the modern tourist. It still has plenty to offer, but the old style of tourism probably won't sell today. But here's a chance to capture that flavour.

The guide mentions:

ZOOLOGICAL PARK, Augres - Specializing in animals threatened with extinction in the wild state.

The zoo guide of the time shows cheetah and snow leopards . They look very similar. The photo shows a cheetah.

Being unsure, I cheated! I posted the photo on Facebook, and quite amazingly, I was not only told that it was definitely a cheetah but noted the Zoo connection: "Cheetah. Nothing like a snow leopard! Looks like Jersey zoo some years back."

My research uncovered these notes:

"There were two adjacent cheetah pens adjacent to the road. Their original female was called 'Paula' and was handtame. She may have been kept elsewhere in the zoo originally. I think they later got a male from (probably) Whipsnade but there was no breeding."

"A new and improved exhibit for the bears and the new otters and coatis meant that the cheetahs had to move. The zoo also saw the threat to the species had reduced. They were moved onto another zoo before work on the exhibit started in 1996."

"Conditions for the snow leopard were no longer suitable at Jersey, as the cats required more area and more resources than the trust had to spare. The pair were moved onto another zoo which met the requirements in 1996."

The guide mentions:

GERMAN MILITARY UNDERGROUND HOSPITAL, St. Peter's Valley. Tunnelled out of solid rock by Russian slave labour during the 1940-45 occupation of the Island. Excellent wartime museum.


In July 1946, the States of Jersey opened the tunnels to the public. In 1961, the Royal Court ruled that the subterranean complex belonged to the private owners of the land above it, and Ho8 fell under private ownership. The complex was restored, with a collection of Occupation memorabilia and a museum and memorial to the occupation being set up. In 2001, a permanent exhibit called "Captive Island" was unveiled in the tunnel complex, detailing everyday life for civilians in Jersey before, during and after the occupation of Jersey.

Extensive work was done to the visitor area by 1999, where Jersey attractions list:

The German Underground Hospital and adjacent Sanctuary Visitor Centre and Restaurant are at Meadowbank, Les Charrieres Malorey, St Lawrence, JE3 1FU and are open daily from mid-March until early-November from 9:30 am (with last admission at 4:15 pm) and from mid-November to mid-December on Thursday and Sunday afternoons.

Today, Ho8 is generally referred to as the "Jersey War Tunnels".

Thursday, 9 August 2018

And so to bed...

A collection of my Facebook "and so to bed" quotes which I sign off each night on, largely on the subject of summer and August.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Moonshine Noire: 

It was one of those sweltering summer days in which the air itself seems to decline as a haze suffocates the outside world. It is painfully bright whether you are looking up at that ball of burning hydrogen or down at its vivid reflection on sheer pavement. 

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Christina Rossetti:

In the parching August wind,
Cornfields bow the head,
Sheltered in round valley depths,
On low hills outspread. 

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from John Noble Wilford: 

Mars tugs at the human imagination like no other planet. With a force mightier than gravity, it attracts the eye to the shimmering red presence in the clear night sky. 

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Arinn Dembo:

The whole district lay panting in the heat, the burning sky clapped tight overhead like the lid of a tandoor oven. Lean goats stumbled down the narrow alleyways, udders hanging slack and dry beneath them; beggars cried for water in every village... A single stream crept along the valley floor, shrunken and muddy, and women stood ankle deep in its shallows, beating their laundry against rocks that rippled and danced in the sun. 

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Cecil Day-Lewis: 

In June we picked the clover,
And sea-shells in July:
There was no silence at the door,
No word from the sky.

A hand came out of August
And flicked his life away:
We had not time to bargain, mope,
Moralize, or pray.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Radio Reviews: Master of the Mint and Festival

Radio Review

Drama: Master of the Mint

By David Ashton. The creator of the Victorian detective series, McLevy, returns with a new hero in the unlikely guise of the 17th century scientific genius, Isaac Newton. After 30 years as a Cambridge academic, Newton takes up a new post at the Royal Mint in the Tower of London. Soon he's diving into notorious drinking dens and interrogating prisoners in jail in pursuit of a counterfeiting gang. But can he catch the ringleaders before their criminal plans trigger a huge financial crash that threatens to topple the Government.

After nearly 30 years of academic life at Cambridge, Newton became Warden of the Royal Mint. He was soon in charge of the colossal task of re-casting all of England's currency - almost seven million pounds - and took a hands-on approach to the interrogation of suspected counterfeiters held in Newgate prison.

This was an extremely enjoyable romp through part of Newtons’s fight against the counterfeiters. There’s a large degree of poetic licence – his speech is peppered with allusions to his work in physics, and it fails to mention his tussle with William Challoner.

That was the story told in the book of the week “Newton And The Counterfeiter”, Thomas Levenson's biography of Isaac Newton and his rivalry with one of 17th-century London's most accomplished and daring criminals, William Chaloner.

Chaloner claimed to be able to know about counterfeiting and be able to prevent it iof taken on the Royal Mint. Newton saw through this ruse to get to the heart of the Mint and Chaloner ended up in prison, facing the gallows, writing letters begging Newton for mercy.

While Ashton’s Newton is quite the heroic criminal investigator, Levenson gets closer to the real Newton, always cantankerous, ready to pick fights, and not exactly pleasant company, and age had not mellowed him. This was the Newton who all but erased Thomas Hooke from the history of the Royal Society for an unintended slight.

As historian John Craig wrote in an article for the Royal Society’s Notes and Records: “Newton was disinclined to mercy, except for the receipt of information of value, on the ground that these dogs always returned to their vomit.”

Ashton tells his tale well, even if his Newton is rather too much of an engaging almost heroic figure!

But neither Levenson or Ashton seem to make much of Newton's greatest invention as Master of the Mint.

And that was the fight against clipping. As Robert Lamb explains:

By the late 1600s, England's financial system was in full-blown crisis mode. The country's currency consisted entirely of silver coins, and that silver was often worth more than the value stamped on it. So what did people do? Why, they melted down the coins or "clipped" silver from the edges to sell to France.

By Newton's time, clipping had done a number on the nation's currency. The average bag of English coins was just a hodgepodge of damaged and unrecognizable silver chunks. 

Newton's great but simple invention - which we still have today - are the ridges on the edges of coils, what are called "milled edges", and they prevented clipping coins because any damage to a coil would be instantly seen.

Drama: Festival 
by Sarah Wooley

A comedy drama about festivals and the start of a legendary literary romance.

In 1962, novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard took on the job of running the Cheltenham Literary Festival. It was to be a baptism of fire.

This was a light but very amusing story, well told, with lots of humour as Jane lurches from one crisis to another and her plans look as if they are falling apart, not unlike her marriage – she has taken on the festival (for a small honorarium) largely to avoid facing marital breakdown. As with the Newton story, this is also based on historical fact.

Some plays grab you from the first, while others are a struggle. It’s hard to define that magic ingredient, but in this case it is good acting, and good storytelling. Will she succeed? Will there be fireworks at the end? There will, in more ways than one, and Wooley does a good job of introducing us both to the literary world, and to the problems inherent in organising any event. And is Kingsley Amis going to turn up?

In the end, Howard had an affair with Amis (which begins at this Festival in the play), ended divorcing her husband, and then marrying Amis, but it was in the end a failed marriage too. Listening to the play, you wonder if there is so much flirtatiousness at literary festivals!

Is the Jersey festival of words as chaotic behind the scenes? And are there secret romances and assignations? Having listened to this play, I am inclined to wonder!