Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Mayflower Pilgrims: Behind the Myth

The Mayflower Pilgrims: Behind the Myth

“All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”
― William Bradford

There was a fascinating drama documentary on BBC2 last night, “The Mayflower Pilgrims: Behind the Myth” which looked at the foundation story of Thanksgiving Day, the settlement at Plymouth plantation.

It began with William Bradford who born in 1590 in Austerfield, Yorkshire. This was a small farming community, and the young William was orphaned by the time he was seven, and raised thereafter by his uncle Robert Bradford. A sickly boy, he spent much time reading the Bible, and then as he became older, found the ministry of Richard Clyfton and John Smith.

Separatist churches were not popular, but under Elizabeth I, the penalties began with fines, and were permitted a certain latitude. This meagre toleration vanished under James I, who wanted a unified kingdom, in which there would be no dissent. As titular head of the Church of England, as well as King of England, any dissent would not just be considered religious but political, so that by 1607 the Anglican Church was applying far more pressure to stamp out dissent.

Ages 18, William Bradford and his fellow separatists looked to find toleration in the Netherlands, and they arrived in 1608 and settled in Amsterdam. A year later the small religious community moved to the town of Leiden, Holland, where they remained for eleven years. There, he took up the trade of a silk weaver. As immigrants, they found work not on farms and small holdings but had to turn to factory work, which left little spare time, but they did enjoy freedom from persecution.

He describes this in his journal:

"For these & some other reasons they removed to Leyden, a fair & bewtifull citie, and of a sweete situation, but made more famous by ye universitie wherwith it is adorned, in which of late had been so many learned man. But wanting that traffike by sea which Amerstdam injoyes, it was not so beneficiall for their outward means of living & estats. But being now hear pitchet they fell to such trads & imployments as they best could; valewing peace & their spirituall comforte above any other riches whatsoever. And at lenght they came to raise a competente & comforteable living, but with hard and continuall labor”

It should be noted that in this predictionary world, the spellings of words were very fluid, and in part more phonetical than became the case later. An individual might spell the same word several different ways.

Despite freedom from persecution, the 30 years war broke out across Europe, and they looked for a place more secure and safe . The Thirty Years' War was a series of wars in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. It was one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history. It was the deadliest European religious war, resulting in eight million casualties.

With the help of a London trading consortium, looking for the chance to establish a trading colony, they secured a ship, the Mayflower, and decided to emigrate to the “New World” of America.

The Pilgrims decide to emigrate to America despite the perils and dangers:

Bradford describes these decisions in his history:

"all great & honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages. It was granted ye dangers were great, but not desperate; the difficulties were many, but not invincible. For though their were many of them likely, yet they were not cartaine; it might be sundrie of ye things feared might never befale; others by providente care & ye use of good means, might in a great measure be prevented; and all of them, through ye help of God, by fortitude and patience, might either be borne, or overcome.” “

“True it was, that such attempts were not to be made and undertaken without good ground & reason; not rashly or lightly as many have done for curiositie or hope of gaine.  But their condition was not ordinarie; their ends were good & honourable; their calling lawfull, & urgente; and therfore they might expecte ye blessing of god in their proceding. Yea, though they should loose their lives in this action, yet might they have comforte in the same, and their endeavors would be honourable. They lived hear but as men in exile, & in a poore condition; and as great miseries might possibly befale them in this place, for ye 12. Years of truce [the truce between Holland and Spain] were now out, & ther was nothing but beating of drumes, and preparing for warr, the events wherof are allway uncertaine.”

Bradford (30 years old) and his wife left on the Mayflower to get to America, but it was journey fraught with hazards. The departure was the wrong time of the year, in September, so they would face the worst of the winter seas, and arrive in winter, a poor time for planting.

Aboard the Mayflower were many stores that supplied the pilgrims with the essentials needed for their journey and future lives. It is assumed that they carried tools and weapons, including cannon, shot, and gunpowder, as well as some live animals, including dogs, sheep, goats, and poultry. Horses and cattle came later

The passage was a miserable one, with huge waves constantly crashing against the ship's topside deck until a key structural support timber fractured. The passengers had already suffered agonizing delays, shortages of food, and other shortages, and were now called upon to provide assistance to the ship's carpenter in repairing the fractured main support beam

On November 9, 1620, they sighted present-day Cape Cod. They spent several days trying to sail south to their planned destination of the Colony of Virginia, where they had obtained permission to settle from the Company of Merchant Adventurers. However, strong winter seas forced them to return to the harbour at Cape Cod hook, well north of the intended area, where they anchored on November 11.

The passengers were both Bradford’s religious community, and others who were seeking an opportunity as economic migrants, and who did not share the original communities values. While they were anchored the future settlers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact in order to winter establish legal order and to quell increasing strife within the ranks

While the Mayflower was anchored off Provincetown Harbor at the tip of Cape Cod, and while many of the Pilgrim men were out exploring and looking for a place to settle, Dorothy Bradford accidentally fell overboard and drowned. This appears as a marginal note in Bradford’s history, because his history is not plain history: it is also a record of God’s providential goodness.

Because of its size, the ship had to anchor out at sea, and it took time to ferry passengers and supplies to the land. Inclement winter weather led to numbers dying of disease on what had become in some ways a ship of death.

"In these hard & difficulte beginings they found some discontents & murmurings arise amongst some, and mutinous speeches & carriags in other; but they were soone quelled & overcome by ye wisdome, patience, and just & equall carrage of things by ye Govr and better part, wch clave faithfully together in ye maine. But that which was most sadd & lamentable was, that in 2. or 3. moneths time halfe of their company dyed, espetialy in Jan: & February, being ye depth of winter, and wanting houses & other comforts; being infected with ye scurvie & other diseases, which this long vioage & their inacomodate condition had brought upon them; so as ther dyed some times 2. or 3. of a day, in ye foresaid time; that of 100. & odd persons, scarce 50. remained.”

But they did manage to survive, and to build a settlement, strike a political agreement with an Indian tribe that each would come to the others aid, and gradually prosper, but not fast enough for the London merchants, who complained that they were not getting any return for their investment.

John Carver was elected governor of Plymouth, and remained governor until his death a year later in April 1621. Bradford was then elected governor, and was re-elected nearly every year thereafter.

In 1623, he married to the newly arrived widow Alice Southworth, and had a marriage feast very reminiscent of the "First Thanksgiving," with Massasoit and a large number of Indians joining, and bringing turkeys and deer.

“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports."

Bradford was the head of the government of Plymouth, oversaw the courts, the colony's finances, corresponded with investors and neighbors, formulated policy with regards to foreigners, Indians, and law, and so had a very active role in the running of the entire Colony. With his second wife, he had three more children, all of whom survived to adulthood and married.

The colony was on the verge of bankruptcy when the war in Europe pushed up the price of beaver fur which was in great demand in London. The war had meant that fur from Europe was costly, and the plentiful supply from the colony led to the merchants founding other larger colonies.

Bradford mourned the passing of the small close knit community in his history:

And thus was this poore church left, like an anciente mother, growne olde, and forsaken of her children, (though not in their affections), yett in regarde of their bodily presence and personall helpfullnes. Her anciente members being most of them worne away by death; and these of later time being like children translated into other families, and she like a widow left only to trust in God. Thus she that had made many rich became her selfe poore.”

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

What Breed is that Doggie in the Window?

Deputy Tracy Valois is quizzing the Home Affairs minister in the States on Tuesday to find out if Customs officers have the skills and resources to identify and detain certain breeds of dogs." This comes after the dog – named Mr Bronx -was impounded at the animal shelter after the family returned from a holiday France with the pet (who had already been in Jersey since last year). Customs said it was a “pit bull”, a dangerous breed. And yet they had allowed its importation in the first place!

Mr Bronx

One site has some interesting facts.

DNA tests of pit bull-looking dogs often come up with some surprising results. One dog, which looked to all intents and purposes like a pit bull, turned out to be 40 percent poodle! That's a funny thought, but for the dogs it's a real problem. Many cities and counties – even whole countries – have laws that ban pit bulls. Law enforcement officers can go into people's homes and take away any dog who has "the appearance of a pit bull." Even if they're 40 percent poodle. They can be taken to the pound and then killed. (1)

How can this be? Another site gives me details, and shows how hard it is, given experimental conditions for identifications of the type to be made on physical aspects of the dig themselves:

“Pit bull” is not a breed but a type that describes several breeds. The American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, and American pit bull terrier are all pit bulls

An experiment showed how poor even experts are at identification:

At each shelter, the researchers picked out 30 dogs of all different sizes, shapes, and colours, and noted how each dog had been identified. They brought shelter workers from cage to cage and asked them to name each dog’s breed based on its appearance. If the assessor felt strongly that the dog had a secondary breed, they could note that. “Mixed breed” was also an option when they had no idea.

A vet on the research team examined all of the dogs, noting their height, weight, age, colour, and other characteristics. The vet also drew a small amount of blood from the dogs and sent it to a lab that could test their DNA.

The researchers’ hypothesis was correct. “We found that different shelter staffers who evaluated the same dogs at the same time had only a moderate level of agreement among themselves,” Levy said in the press release. And they fared even worse against the DNA analysis.

Shelter workers were able to spot real pit bulls and pit bull mixes 33 to 75 percent of the time, depending on the worker. But they labelled non-pit-bull dogs as pit bulls up to 48 percent of the time. That’s almost a 1 in 2 chance that a dog with no pit bull DNA could be lumped in with the unfortunate pit bulls. (2)

This is very worrying, In the case of Mr Bronx, as there is no indicator that DNA testing has been used at all and it is clear that visual and physical assessments are highly suspect when it comes to false negatives – that is, incorrectly assessing that a dog is a pit bull when it is not.

In February Customs contacted the family again and told them Mr Bronx was being impounded and would have to stay at the Animals’ Shelter until he could be assessed. Although an independent expert, paid for by the family determined the dog was not a pit bull, a Customs’ expert disagreed, a decision that was recently upheld in court.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the dangers of misidentification mean that there is a tendency to label a dog as a pit bull purely on superficial characteristics and behaviour. A report notes:

A dog that bit a woman in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and was labelled a pit bull is not actually a pit bull, a DNA test by the SPCA shows.

As more municipalities mull bans on pit bulls and other dogs considered dangerous, the animal welfare group wants to show that identifying breeds is trickier than it looks. "It is virtually impossible — every expert, every report you will read, every peer review study explains that you cannot visually identify a dog's breed simply by looking at them," says Alanna Devine, director of animal advocacy for the Montreal SPCA.

In June, a man in NDG was charged with assault for ordering his dog to attack his wife. At the time the dog was identified by police as a pit bull, but the DNA test showed it was a mix of Rottweiler, mastiff and golden retriever. The SPCA says less than one percent of a dog's genes determines its appearance, and that there's no link between specific breeds and aggressiveness. (3)

But in America, DNA testing was used in a similar case to that of Mr Bronx

“Mindy is a canine victim of profiling. She was labelled a pitbull and that made it hard to find someone to adopt her, so shelter volunteers turned to science.”

After being abandoned, Mindy spent 6 months at the Trumbull, Connecticut Shelter. Because she looked like a pitbull, no one wanted to adopt her, so shelter workers looking for a way to help the sweet-natured dog find a home decided to solicit donations to test Mindy’s DNA to find out what she really was.

“Mindy is about 70-percent boxer and also bull terrier. She has some bulldog further down the line and a little bit of English cocker. So much for pit bull. What Mindy also has is a great personality and a bouncing, prancing way of getting around.”

Chalk up another victory for DNA in Kansas City where a man recently won an eight month legal battle with the city to keep his dog after a DNA test showed the dog wasn’t a pit bull.

Niko spent eight months at KCK Animal Control Kennels during his owners fight with the city. Animal Control Staff said the dog was a pitbull (a breed banned in the city), despite his owner’s assertion that Niko is a boxer mix. (4)

The American pit bull terrier is a term which can apply to any of the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and a newer breed called the American bully. But there are no exact defining characteristics, because they share a lot of common characteristics with at least 25 other breeds of dogs, such as smooth coats or blocky heads.

In fact, a 2010 research article entitled “A Simple Genetic Architecture Underlies Morphological Variation in Dogs” demonstrated that “the dog, in contrast to some other species studied to date, appears to have a simple genetic basis dominated by genes of major effect”

Where there are genes of modest or small effect, most of the phenotypes – or traits - including body size, body mass index (BMI), etc appear to be under the control of hundreds of genes, each contributing a very modest amount to the overall heritability of the trait.

“The alternative model is that mutations of large phenotypic effect underlie most of these traits in dogs and that the same variants have been transferred to a wide diversity of dog breeds leading to phenotypic diversity from a narrow genetic base” (5)

This means that domestic dogs exhibit tremendous phenotypic diversity, including a greater variation in body size than any other terrestrial mammal, and moreover, much of the range comes from human intervention in the breeding process.

But this also means that...

“visual dog breed identification is accurate less than 25% of the time—even by professionals. According to Dr. Angela Hughes, a Canine Geneticist for Mars Veterinary, there’s a good explanation for that. “There are about 20,000 genes that go into making up a dog,” she explains. “For example, yellow colour is one gene; short legs is one gene. Of those 20,000 genes, only a couple hundred of them have anything to do with what your dog looks like.”

Dr. Hughes stresses that this is why a dog’s behaviour cannot be predicted by how he looks. “The genes that create a dog’s appearance are not the same genes that are influencing his behaviour,” she says. “That’s why it is important that we don’t pigeon-hole a dog based on how he looks.”

This can be particularly important in cases of breed-specific legislation (BSL), such as when any dogs that appear to be “pit bull type dogs” are banned from cities or automatically euthanized at shelters. Says Dr. Hughes, “It is incredibly difficult to say with any certainty that ‘this is a pit bull’ based on the fact that a dog has a blocky head shape, wide jaw and muscular build. Those same physical characteristics can be achieved from a variety of breeds, such as Boxers, Mastiffs, Bulldogs and many others. What’s more, those physical traits do not influence how that individual dog will behave, as his behaviour may be coming from genes of breeds that he looks nothing like.”(6)

Let us hope that more robust means of identification like DNA are used. Estimating breed on characteristics seems to be more akin to determining human personalities by phrenology, the study of the shape of the skull; it is not scientific, and a Magistrate's Court should not be allowed to determine a breed on that when science is available to provide far more certainty.


Monday, 28 November 2016

The Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds

“In these democratic days, any investigation into the trustworthiness and peculiarities of popular judgments is of interest.” (Francis Galton)


Above are the guesses for the number of sweets in the jar for our office Children in Need fund raising competition.

The winning entry to 127 – the correct number – was 125, which was just 2 out.

But the rounded average was 129, also just 2 out.

This is a good illustration of “The Wisdom of Crowds”, a phenomena described in the book of that name by James Surowiecki.

The notion that a group’s judgement can be surprisingly good was most compellingly justified in James Surowiecki’s 2005 book The Wisdom of Crowds, and is generally traced back to an observation by Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton in 1907.

“A weight-judging competition was carried on at the annual show of the West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition recently held at Plymouth, A fat ox having been selected, competitors bought stamped and numbered cards, for 6d. each, on which to inscribe their respective names, addresses, and estimates of what the ox would weigh after it had been slaughtered and " dressed." Those who guessed most successfully received prizes. About 8oo tickets were issued, which were kindly lent me for examination after they had fulfilled their immediate purpose. These afforded excellent material.”

“The judgments were unbiased by passion and uninfluenced by oratory and the like. The sixpenny fee deterred practical joking, and the hope of a prize and the joy of competition prompted each competitor to do his best. The competitors included butchers and farmers, some of whom were highly expert in judging the weight of cattle; others were probably guided by such information as they might pick up, and by their own fancies.”

“The average competitor was probably as well fitted for making a just estimate of the dressed weight of the ox, as an average voter is of judging the merits of most political issues on which he votes, and the variety among the voters to judge justly was probably much the same in either case. After weeding thirteen cards out of the collection, as being defective or illegible, there remained 787 for discussion. I arrayed them in order of the magnitudes of the estimates, and converted the cwt., quarters, and lbs, in which they were made, into lbs., under which form they will be treated.”

Galton pointed out that the average of all the entries in a ‘guess the weight of the ox’ competition at a country fair was amazingly accurate – beating not only most of the individual guesses but also those of alleged cattle experts. The arithmetic mean of the 787 guesses came to 1,197lb. The true dressed weight of the ox was 1,197lb!

This is the essence of the wisdom of crowds: their average judgement converges on the right solution.

James Surowiecki takes this up, and argues, with examples, that a diverse collection of independently deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts.

It is important that the individuals are diverse and independent. In our office, there is quite a diversity in people’s likes and dislikes, hobbies, families or being single, etc. And the slips were placed in an box so no one could be influenced by them. Both are important.

If everyone let themselves be influenced by each other’s guesses, there’s more chance that the guesses will drift towards a misplaced bias. What you can end up with instead is herding towards a relatively arbitrary position.

Diversity is also important. A study in 2011 by a team led by Joseph Simmons of the Yale School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut found that group predictions about American football results were skewed away from the real outcomes by the over-confidence of the fans’ decisions, which biased them towards alleged 'favourites' in the outcomes of games.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Auld Mortality

Auld Mortality

Just when we are safest, there's a sunset-touch,
A fancy from a flower-bell, some one's death,
A chorus-ending from Euripides--
And that's enough for fifty hopes and fears
As old and new at once as nature's self,
To rap and knock and enter in our soul,
-- Robert Browning, Bishop Blougram's Apology

On Wednesday last, I visited the doctor and was prescribed penicillin, which I have never had problems with before. I took a tablet with a cup of tea at work.

Within half an hour, it felt as if someone had turned the heating up. I’d been to another office to talk to a colleague and it seemed as if their heating was on full blast. It felt so hot, and then I realised it was me – my face was bright red, and felt like a furnace. At the same time, my hands started to itch, and were starting to appear mottled, and my chest didn’t feel very good either.

A quick Google revealed these were classic symptoms for a penicillin allergy, which usually occurs in this form within an hour of taking the drug. Apart from some cereal and a cup of tea, I’d had nothing else to digest, and taken no other drugs.

So time to leave work, because by now I was looking rather like Colonel Finch. Finch was a teacher of French at Victoria College, and I actually found him quite a pleasant man, but when he lost his temper in a class, his face and head (he was bald) would turn an extreme red colour.

It was off to see the doctor who decided after looking at me, to give me an epinephrine injection in my leg, and showed me how to self-administer it if I needed another dose.

What is scary about a nasty adverse drug reaction is that it is still inside your system and there is no quick way to flush it out as it takes effect.

There was a tragic case in 2006, where six healthy young men were treated for organ failure within hours of taking part in the early stages of a trial for a drug. The eight men in the test were injected at two-minute intervals, leaving very little time to assess its impact on one person before moving on to the next.

Mine wasn’t as bad, and quick action by the doctor prevented it from getting worse. Meantime I’d checked and found that the half life of the antibiotic meant that it would be almost completely out of my system within 7 hours.

But it makes you stop and think. It is the “sunset touch” that Browning mentions, that suddenly blows all certainty away. Suddenly you are on top of the precipice, looking down, and all the plans for days ahead are put aside.

Job’s lament comes to mind, where the future seems very bleak.

"Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me. If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave! Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment's joy before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and utter darkness, to the land of deepest night, of utter darkness and disorder, where even the light is like darkness."

And then there is that great hymn to nihilism, the book of Ecclesiastes:

“Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun. However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all. But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many. Everything to come is meaningless. You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.”

“Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigour are meaningless.”

“Anyone who is among the living has hope--even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.”

It is very bleak, and reflects a world which doesn’t have any idea of pleasant Pagan Summerland, or Heaven after death. All that remains is the grave.

The same bleak but beautiful ending comes at the end of T.F. Powys “Darkness and Nathaniel”, where Nathaniel who had loved the light, is on the point of despair.

It is one of Powys “Fables”, one of the most pagan, and while set in the same country village settings of so many of his tales, this is also a mythical tale, exploring deeply how we come to terms in the end with our own mortality, something which we will all have to do at some time or another.

Nathaniel rose up, meaning to fetch a piece of rope wherewith to hang himself, when a voice, that was bold, gentle and loving, addressed him thus— "Nathaniel," said the voice, that was most pleasant to hear, "Nathaniel, do not despair. You make me unhappy by allowing yourself to be so sad, only because you have no candle. It is not I, Darkness, but rather Light, who has done you all the harm. He is ever a busybody, a crier of hope when there is no hope, a liar and a meddler. What, by the Almighty Powers, has all your fine adoration of Light done for you? Your hopes fall about you like the broken rafters from a burning roof, young children cry out against you, your flowing tears moisten your beard, and all because you worship the wrong colour."

A peace, such as Nathaniel had never experienced in his life, now gladdened his mind, he looked lovingly into the mild eyes of Darkness.

"Darkness," he said, "tell me why I have always been afraid of you?"

"You have never understood how I love you," replied Darkness, "or else we should long ago have been friends, for as you know now, I am able to give you the loveliest thoughts that ever man had."

Nathaniel placed his hand upon the table, he felt a box of matches and a candle that he had placed there but forgotten. He went to the cottage door and threw the candle and the matches out into the rain.

"Speak yet again, Darkness," said Nathaniel, "for your remarks interest me."

"Dear Nathaniel," said Darkness, "the friend whom you have served so faithfully has been your ruin. Your God-like understanding, your simple and yet wise way of life, has been scoffed at by the Ignorant, and what are they—the fools—but only the feeble and cowardly reflections of proud, garish Light?"

Nathaniel held out his arms and Darkness embraced him.

'"You will be the happier," observed Darkness. "Once in the darkness one learns to love what is profound, lasting and sublime. 'Let your light shine' should rather be, 'Let your darkness deepen.' "

"Light, when he was my friend, was always promising me pleasure," said Nathaniel, holding Darkness yet nearer to his bosom. "Every morning he would say to me, in his light and airy manner, 'Run out now, Nathaniel, on the moor or in the lanes you will meet a maid who will call to you to come to her.' Dear Darkness, have you anything to give""

"I give eternal longings," replied Darkness, "and after that true happiness."

"And what is true happiness?" asked Nathaniel.

"Death," replied Darkness.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Canopy of Night

An allergic reaction to penicillin prompted this reflection on mortality.

The Canopy of Night

The darkness was over the great deep:
Night falls, and with it slumbers keep;
A hand outstretched, the dark comes,
And in the darkness, beating drums;
A thick darkness felt, all across the land,
And escape into night, and desert sand;
On the mountain peak, a blazing fire,
The heavens awake, and do inspire;
Deep darkness, black clouds, ascend,
And approach of all desire the end;
Darkness a canopy around the light,
For mortal eyes, so searing, bright;
So bright the vision, and then it fades,
All that remains are ghosts and shades;
A place of no return, the land of gloom,
The mirror shattered, reflected doom;
I go to that final land of deepest night,
And the darkness enfolds my tiny light;
Those processions going down the nave,
To final resting place, damp earth, a grave;
Yet I am not silenced by the darkness now,
And in the blackest night,  I make a vow;
Shrouds adorning, the dark covers my face:
But I know that I will know truth, this grace
Takes me though that dark valley of death,
Even as I breath my last, my dying breath.

Friday, 25 November 2016

RIP: Peter Turley

Memories of Peter Turley, who died this week

Back in 2013, it was suggested that I go to interview Peter Turley, who was residing at Maison St Brelade, for the Parish Magazine's "Parishioners Remember" spot. I knew he'd been a rear gunner on a Lancaster during the last war, and he showed me his medals, and told me a lot about his war time experiences which i wrote down. I'm "old school" in my reporting, so I make notes with pen in a notebook!  Peter was a delightful man to interview, very charming, and also very proud of those years, justifiably so.

He was only a young man of 18 at the time when he was flying, and it still amazes me and humbles me to think that himself, and other very young men, younger than my sons are now, showed such bravery, even though they knew that many of their comrades and perhaps themselves would not survive. It was a world in which ideals of self-sacrifice for others, for the greater good, still counted for a very great deal; it was very much a heroic generation, although those taking part just saw it as "doing their bit".

Parishioners Remember
Peter Turley remembers his time in Bomber Command

THE Bomber Command Memorial was unveiled in London in June this year by the Queen, a belated recognition of the significant part that bombers played in World War II with their raids on Germany's industrial heartland.

Peter Turley, who is now resident at Maison St Brelade, was a young man of 21 when he was rear gunner on a Lancaster on those flights. He made 34 operational flights over Germany, and bailed out once over Belgium. He said.

"I will be thinking about those times today. The memorial is a bit late in coming, but it's great that we now have the memorial to remember the bomber crews." He enjoyed the visit to London, and said 'it was very well organised, and spoke to HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla.'

The night flights were long, sometimes lasting 8 or 9 hours. "I was scared most of the time as we all were," said Peter, "but I kept alert." Once they had passed through particularly intense of flak, and then one single flak burse hit the aircraft just 100 yards behind them. He saw a big black explosion, and the plane began a spiral descent while he watched, hoping the crew would bail out. The spiral grew faster, but no one left the stricken craft, which broke into two as it plunged down.

The memorial in London was both to those who survived, and those who lost their lives. The crew that Peter was with made it through the war. They were all volunteers, making dangerous flights to attack German armament factories. It is often forgotten how young these men were, mostly around 18 to 22, with an older skipper of 31. It is right and proper that they should be remembered with a memorial today.

Parishioners Remember Peter Turley recounts more memories of his time as an Avro Lancaster Rear Gunner.

PETER Turley, who is now resident at Maison St Brelade, was a young man of 21 when he was rear gunner on a Lancaster on those flights. He made 34 operational flights over Germany, and bailed out once over Belgium. One flight he remembers in particular from 1944, after the Normandy landings.

"The Lancaster was flying back home after an electrical storm knocked out one of the four engines. Another engine failed, and the aeroplane was losing height badly. The Skipper thought that it probably would not have enough power to get bank to England, so near the Belgian border, he told 5 of the crew to leave by parachute in case he had to ditch in the sea. The Skipper and the navigator struggled on with the plane, and one of the engines regained power, so they managed to limp back to Kent after all."

Meanwhile Peter Turley landed alongside a fellow crew member in the dark, in what he described as 'the muddiest field in Belgium', losing a boot on the way down. They had no idea where the rest of the crew had landed, or whether they were behind Allied or German lines. Swiftly they stashed their parachutes out of sight in a hedgerow, and set off to find habitation, and hopefully a friendly face. At the first house, the Flemish did not understand English, and others would not open doors, but eventually, they found a house where they were given shelter and welcome. They were given food, had a much needed wash and a good nights sleep. The following day, young men from a resistance group, wearing grey and white berets, came to the house, asked them questions in English. Once satisfied that their story was genuine, they took them to another house, to be reunited with flight engineer Nobby.

Fortunately, they were behind Allied lines not German ones. So they were taken to an RAF unit who took them to an airfield just outside Brussels, then onward to England. All the crew that jumped had made it back, unscratched apart from the odd graze and bruise, back to their squadron.

Peter still remembers the debriefing, when the chief concern of the officer concerned was the loss of the very expensive parachutes. Could they tell him where they were? Obviously, they had no idea, part from the fact that it was in a hedge bordering a field in Belgium, and it was very muddy. And for all Peter knows, they may still be there!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Yes Chief Minister

Best Political Home Made Fudge

Deputy Kevin Lewis asked: "Do you, Chief Minister, believe you have a realistic population policy in place? Following a recent statistics unit report, the population of Jersey will grow to 160,000 by 2065 if current migration levels from the last three years carry on."

The Chief Minister said: "We are looking at how we can be even more robust in the delivery of that population policy because we recognise that for a number of members of our community, population is an important factor and we are always trying to balance the value of immigrants, be they economic or social, coming to the Island.”

"We will look again at the balance of delivering economic growth and protecting and preserving our scarce resources, in particular what we need and what we enjoy about Jersey. They are difficult equations, but we have to bring these two together with as much up to date information as we can."

In other words, business as usual. Empty words! I can’t think of a more vacuous answer to a question that this. Ticks all the right boxes – “robust”, “important factor”, “balance”. This could be a script from Yes Minister with the hapless Jim Hacker blathering on.

Here is Jim Hacker in full flow, and it sounds remarkably similar to Ian Gorst in the same way it rambles on with generalities:

“The plain fact of the matter is, that, at the end of the day, it is the right - nay, the duty, of the elected government, in the House of Commons, to ensure that government policy, the policies on which we were elected and for which we have a mandate, the policies, after all, for which the people voted, are the policies which, finally, when the national cake has been divided up - and, may I remind you, we as a nation don't have unlimited wealth, you know, we can't pay ourselves more than we've earned - are the policies ... I'm sorry, what was the question again?”

As the “Yes Minister Diaries” say:

“Years of political training and experience had taught Hacker to use twenty words where one would do, to dictate millions of words where mere thousands would suffice, and to use language to blur and fudge issues and events so that they became incomprehensible to others.”

Senator Gorst is fast catching up!

Money Given to Logfiller Flushed Away

"No one likes to admit that they made a mistake. We have an ingrained reticence to do so, a near-primal response that little kids learn probably before they can speak. Admit your mistake, get punished. Don't, and maybe you can wiggle your way out of it." (Philip Bump)

Government funding for new business ideas is set to continue despite the loss of over £600,000 of Jersey tax payers money by a failed software company. The States auditor is reviewing how the Jersey Innovation Fund was run following the collapse of a company called Logfiller which received a loan worth half a million pounds in 2014. The fund is currently being managed by a local firm of accountants while the review is carried out

Meanwhile OctoInsight is doing remarkably well in the USA, as I reported in my blog, with an identical product and what appears like the same principals:

PR Newswire even made this connection:

"A happier day is dawning for PC users and IT managers as the universal divide between the two is being spanned by a versatile new technology, Layer8, from OctoInsight Inc. (formerly Logfiller)."

But we have been told by Philip Ozouf that some businesses must fail, and that’s the risk with giving money away. When other companies are so similar to defunct local ones that a news agency confuses the two, one has to wonder where the paper trail from the money led, and if the software, as an intellectual property of Logfiller cannot be claimed as an asset of the now defunct company. Certainly the product has not failed, and is selling well!

I hear that Advocate Tim Herbert has apparently resigned as Chairman of what appears to also be a now defunct States Innovation Board.

Ben Shenton, in the JEP, meanwhile, is blaming Mike King, but perhaps he should look more towards politicians who were perhaps over eager to make a name for themselves and encouraged lax due diligence to get a product off the ground, and a Board which also failed to ensure proper guarantees were in place.

And meanwhile, no one is actually admitting they made a mistake and messed it all up.

Maybe they should take a lesson from Ronald Reagan. As David Keene noted:

"What is becoming increasingly clear is that neither the president nor his Republican counterparts have learned the lesson that served Ronald Reagan so well during his career. Like every candidate and elected official, Reagan made mistakes. He sometimes got his facts wrong or headed down a road that could lead to political disaster."

"However, Reagan seemed always able to backtrack, admit his mistake and even apologize. The American people found this admirable trait human and endearing. Most politicians seem incapable of admitting mistakes and fail not because of some bone-headed decision, but because they continue to defend their actions when everyone else has concluded they were wrong."

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Guernsey Watch

Guernsey Watch

An occasional look at our sister Island...

A New Meaning for "Air Mail!"

An extraordinary piece of blue sky thinking emerged at the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce Lunch, where the Chief Executive of Guernsey Post declared that: “One day the Bailiwick’s post might be delivered by drone”.

He was not, however, looking at services for Guernsey, but to the other islands in the Bailiwick. He said: “I sincerely doubt we will see drones delivering all over the island, but I do think it presents an interesting opportunity for connecting the islands”

Comments in the Guernsey press generally took this with a pinch of salt, and the best was probably this one:

Let’s prefix this with "I hate people talking rubbish about trendy tech topics that they try to apply to xyz when it's actually nonsense."

For a start, the research and development, programming, people employed to manage said drone, legislation currently being against it, testing, before you've delivered your first package you've spent 100's of thousands.

Ok, so we've got a drone, it's useful payload is about 5kg let's say, that's going to be a big drone, it could probably do all the letters to say Alderney in maybe ten trips, maybe 1 or 2 parcels at a time, say it's travelling at 50mph (very optimistic) and going as the crow flies, time to get up to speed, course, say it's about 15-20 minutes in the air, say 15 trips, that's about 4.5 hours to get everything over at the very best ignoring unloading, swapping batteries, reloading etc, so maybe 6 hours to account for all the maintenance and ground time, so you start at 7am, you don't get the last item on the ground by till 1pm.

You could have just loaded this all up on a single plane that's flying to Alderney anyway (swap plane for boat and Alderney to any other island) and it will all have been there in a half hour or less, for no overheads of additional staffing, no research, no expensive equipment, no maintenance, larger airframe can fly in all weathers...

This is all assuming we get no losses of aircraft, drones are light and prone to failure, can't fly in high winds (we get a lot of that)

Plight of the Condor

The review from Condor revealed that “services meet critical needs” This is the first comprehensive service review, and it identified two critical needs: These are to provide a safe, compliant and sustainable lifeline ferry service for both freight and passengers and a reliable year-round freight service.

Comments, as might be expected, were critical:

“But the Liberation still can't dock when there is the slightest hint of a breeze.”

“Do you really need 156 pages to say that? People don't like, they don't want it, and it’s putting people off coming to the Islands.”

“Out of our last 5 trips, 3 were disrupted or cancelled -not good eh Mr Luxton? I don't expect the remains of our tourist industry will agree with this piece of whitewash! I can’t comment on the freight services, my concerns are with our failing passenger services.”

And this was a rather tongue in cheek look at how the review might have been conducted:

Is it a boat? Yes - tick
Does it float? Yes - tick
Does it sink? No - tick
Does it sail in bad weather? - come back to that one
Does the timetable encourage more tourists? - come back to that one too.
Back to...............Does it provide Costa Coffee? Yes -tick..........

But at the heart is the fact that the persistent failure of the service means it may provide a reliable year round freight service, as the review says, but not a reliable passenger service. This comment gets to the heart of the issue:

“I organise short sporting breaks over here. I was filling about 200 bed nights per year and rising, this year it has been 8 bed nights. The reduction is purely because of the Liberation, some will not return because they found the crossing too unpleasant but the main reason is the unreliability.”

“Most of the visitors come for a long weekend and drive down from the Midlands or the North and are not willing to gamble the time and fuel costs on a boat that may not sail.”

The Falling Tower

The tower and spire of Torteval church is leaking and crumbling, and may need the Parish to take out a £300,000 loan to pay for half a million pounds-worth of work which is desperately needed.

Guernsey Press explains the problem:

“A leaflet explaining the choices is being sent out to more than 500 parish electors and ratepayers, detailing how steel supports have rusted through, lintels are crumbling and steps are falling out of the walls. Around £2,000-worth of scaffolding is currently holding up the inside of the tower and spire.”

“The problems were caused by years of water ingress, but the seriousness of the issue was not realised until a full structural report was produced in 2015. The letter sent to parishioners said that while the attractive option might be to do nothing or allow the structure to fall down, the building was 200 years old and protected, which means the planners can intervene if urgent work is required.”

So why does the Parish have to pay?

One commentator made this plain:

“Churches/Rectories apart from Vale are owned by ratepayers and parishioners. Under the 1928 parochial law the church can ask for a remede for the said R/P to decide whether they want to approve. At the parish meeting when all electors and ratepayers vote yes or no on all the individual items. If approved the constable goes to the Royal for Jurats to levy this rate. If at the parish meeting some items are not approved, as they own the properties, I believe they may be forced to pay. The vote on the remedes is the most democratic system you can have, as each individual has the right to attend voice his opinion and vote how he wishes.”

“The guidelines as there is no law was the church pay the ordinary repairs (inside of both church and rectory) and parishioners extraordinary repairs (outside) but this had changed because of the term now used ‘ingress of water’."

It is a cruel irony because the church replaces an ancient Parish church from around 1,000 AD which fell down, and was demolished.

As heritage goes, Torteval church is a fairly recent addition, being only about 200 years old. John McCormach, in his book on Channel Island Churches, only looked at the Medieval one, considering the replacement not of historical significance to look at in detail.

Perhaps they should do what the congregation of St Columba’s church in Jersey did, and remove the tower and spire. The rest of the church building would remain for the use of the congregation.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

St Aubin: Changing Hydrodynamics and Land Reclamation

A study which surveyed San Francisco Bay and tributaries in California noted that:

“About 95 percent of the "reclaimed" land used for recreation is in Suisun Bay. This land, reclaimed in the late 1800's for agricultural use was reflooded due to subsidence and failure of levees during the period between 1914 and 1943. “

“The Corps of Engineers in the ‘Technical Report on Barriers,’ (1963) called attention to the problems and dangers of continued filling of the bay and marshlands to reclaim land. Two of the pertinent paragraphs from the report are quoted below:”

"Basic conflicts between issues of grave technical consequences and explosive public concern characterize Bay Area reclamation. To a greater degree than in any other groupings of problems facing the area, high level decisions will have to be made on policy formulation that once by physical implementation will become irrevocable." 

"Reclamation by reducing the tidal prism will increasingly alter the natural functioning of the Bay System - changing tidal ranges, tidal currents, tidal phasing. There will result new sedimentation and shoaling patterns in all the bays...  Imperceptible though the change may be resulting from a single project of small size, slow encroachment through the years, ends in irremediable physical effects."

Now St Aubin’s Bay is not an estuary as such. An estuary is a partially enclosed, coastal water body where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean. But as the land reclamation has been increasingly moving out into the bay, the basic of St Aubin has become more enclosed, and more like a tidal inlet.

A tidal prism is the volume of water in an estuary or inlet between mean high tide and mean low tide, or the volume of water leaving an estuary or inlet at ebb tide. Since tidal prism is largely a function of area of open water and tidal range, it can be changed by alterations of the basin area.

Land reclamations influence the cross-shore distribution of hydrodynamic energy because the tidal prism is reduced and the cross-shore profile generally becomes steeper. A reduction of the tidal prism leads to smaller tidal flow velocities in the tidal channels.

The key factor here is that any kind of land reclamation directly changes the coastline and topography. It can strongly disturb the whole natural system and induce an imbalance, for example reducing tidal volume, the water flushing rates and the capacity of flow carrying sediments.

Large-scale reclamation projects can cause the changes of topography and water exchange, which can affect the hydrodynamic directly and significantly.

With St Aubin’s Bay, the reclamation blocks off the water passing through to Havre des Pas, which results in a tidal chocking. Significantly, this would lead us to expect that the high water levels are driven up.

As one of my correspondents noted:

“The creation of the reclaimed land at the eastern end of St. Aubin's Bay effectively blocked the Small Roads channel between the Harbour and Elizabeth Castle, which previously allowed water to 'escape' on the outgoing tide. The situation now is that an eddy current is created in the bay so that nutrient-rich water is trapped and circulates over a series of tides, rather than being washed away. I believe this was all predicted in various studies prior to the land reclamation.”

As the reclaimed land cuts off parts of water exchange, the current directions in the Bay would be expected to move parallel to the coastal line. In such a situation, the maximum flood and ebb current velocities. In other words, the La Collette reclamation which reduces tidal flows and tidal flushing.

One of the surveys to look at this indirectly was the “Review of the current ecological status of the SE
coast Jersey Ramsar site” (2009). While this looked mostly at land east of La Collette, it also considered the impact of the land reclamation on tidal flows.

“The port area at St Helier has already been subject to major changes as a result of reclamation, and our visit in July allowed us to assess the ecological status of the Ramsar site east of La Collette during the summer and compare with the results of observations made in 1998. 

This area is not only less biodiverse than the remainder of the Ramsar site, but also the quality of the biotopes has declined over the past decade... This has almost certainly resulted from a combination of factors including, exposure to poorer water quality (combined outfalls / urban storm water), the high intensity of beach usage near to St Helier and reduced tidal flushing resulting from successive reclamations. “

And they also note that:

“The main changes in the area as a whole were the accumulation of fine sediment (muddy sand to sandy mud) along the boulders placed around the reclamation area and on the lower shore – which would normally result from reductions in speed of tidal flows.”

What we expect from reduced flows? Studies suggest that seawater purification declines, and the frequency and intensity of algal bloom increases.”

Sea hydrodynamic conditions are closely related to coastline shape.

Reclamation in St Aubin’s Bay has changed the shape, and changing the marine environment.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, there is only one study which has looked at this, and that before much reclamation took place. However, it may prove interesting. It is now available online because I asked for it to be made available via an FOI request - it was delivered to the States, after all.

Falconer, R.A. and Kolahdoozan, M., “Mathematical Model Study of Tidal Currents, Flushing and Water Quality Indicators Around St. Aubin’s Bay, Jersey”, Report for the States of Jersey, April 1998

As I recognise from my hydrodynamics course, what they are doing or appear to be doing, is testing a model using numerical methods (the coarse grid and the fine grid) and comparing the parameters in their equations with some actual data to check how accurate the model is. If it fits mostly the grid points, it should be able to predict the movements outside of the grid points.

“A mathematical model study has been undertaken to predict the hydrodynamic conditions around the coast of Jersey at a coarse grid scale and, in particular, around St. Aubin’s Bay at a fine grid scale (ie. 100 m). In addition, the concentration distributions of bacterial and nutrient level indicators have been predicted in St. Aubin’s Bay and the surrounding waters, including: total and faecal colifonns, faecal streptococci, dissolved available inorganic nitrogen (DAIN) and phosphorus (DAIP).”

And it confirms what we know to be the case:

“The bounded nutrient level predictions confirmed that the Bellozanne STW was the main source of DAIN and DAIP concentration levels in St. Aubin’s Bay. “

Although it is interesting that the “Weighbridge catchment area” also plays a part.

And this is interesting:

“This suggests that the basin exchanges well with the adjacent offshore waters and the enclosed fluid is extensively flushed out by the tide and the alongshore current during each tide. However, on being flushed out of the Bay, much of the efflux fluid mass is advected eastwards on leaving the Bay.” 

But that was 1998! There is now a large “arm” of reclaimed land going right out to sea from the power station outwards, which may well be blocking the eastward flow or at least curtailing it.

It would be useful, I think, for an updated study to be conducted along those lines.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Don’t believe everything you read.

Don’t believe everything you read.

This story appeared in The Sun, the Independent, the Daily Mail, and all over the place. Part of it is genuine, the customer was notified, and had problems with his refund:

A CUSTOMER named Hussain who applied for a refund on an iPhone was refused by Apple — unless he proved he wasn’t hanged tyrant Saddam Hussein. Sharakat Hussain bought the £799 mobile for his sister last month. But he took it back to his local Apple store when she said she didn’t want it.

The 26-year-old, from Birmingham, was allegedly told that because of the large amount, he’d receive the money through a bank transfer. But after waiting weeks, he still hadn’t received the money.

Eventually, he received an email from the tech giant and was stunned when they allegedly asked him to prove he was not the deceased Iraqi dictator.

He was then told by an admin worker that due to his surname, he could be on a Government’s Denied Parties list, which meant he wasn’t allowed to be sold an iPhone.

Saddam Hussein was hanged in Iraq in 2006, but for some reason, staff at Apple still managed to mix the two up.
The process was triggered by a requirement to check large refunds against the international sanctions list but a human error resulted in Mr Hussain being mistaken for the former president of Iraq.

Now let’s examine the story in more depth. International sanction checklists have hundreds of names on them, and most companies in finance as part of anti-money laundering procedures, have to check them against their clients.

To check, fuzzy logic is often used so sound-likes or near misses can be picked up. But let us supposed the clerk mistook “Sharakat” for “Saddam”. Here are just four instances – there are more, on the “Consolidated United Nations Security Council Sanctions List” of October 2015.

Name (original script): حلا صدام حسين التكريتي
Title: na Designation: na DOB: 1972 POB: Iraq Good quality a.k.a.: na Low quality a.k.a.: na Nationality: Iraq Passport no.: na National identification no.: na Address: Listed on: 7 Apr. 2004 Other information:

Name (original script): رغد صدام حسين التكريتي
Title: na Designation: na DOB: 1967 POB: Iraq Good quality a.k.a.: na Low quality a.k.a.: na Nationality: Iraq Passport no.: na National identification no.: na Address: Amman, Jordan Listed on: 7 Apr. 2004

Name (original script): رنا صدام حسين التكريتي
Title: na Designation: na DOB: 1969 POB: Iraq Good quality a.k.a.: na Low quality a.k.a.: na Nationality: Iraq Passport no.: na National identification no.: na Address: Amman, Jordan Listed on: 7 Apr. 2004

IQi.001 Name: 1: SADDAM 2: HUSSEIN 3: AL-TIKRITI 4:
Name (original script): صدام حسين التكريتي
Title: na Designation: na DOB: 28 Apr. 1937 POB: al-Awja, near Tikrit, Iraq Good quality a.k.a.: na Low quality a.k.a.: Abu Ali Nationality: Iraq Passport no.: na National identification no.: na Address: Listed on: 27 Jun. 2003

Name (original script): علي صدام حسين التكريتي
Title: na Designation: na DOB: a) 1980 b) 1983 POB: Iraq Good quality a.k.a.: na Low quality a.k.a.: Hassan Nationality: Iraq Passport no.: na National identification no.: na Address: Listed on: 7 Apr. 2004

It can be seen that there is not just the late dictator who is on this list and therefore could be on a “a Government’s Denied Parties”, but at least half a dozen of other people with both the names Saddam and Hussein in common with him on sanctions checklists.

Value Walk, commenting on this, says that this is how the story first appears:

“I thought the email was spam, I was stunned to learn it was real. I was furious to be linked to Saddam,” Sharakat told British newspaper The Sun.

The Sun, thinking like Sharakat that there could only be one Saddam Hussein, ran with a preposterous story. And Value Walk buys into this when they commented:

“However you have to wonder how often the list is updated, seeing as the former dictator has been dead for a decade. Perhaps the strangest part of the whole story is that the email Hussain received from Apple contained a box which read: “I am not Saddam Hussein.””

But as we have seen, the name is common to several individuals still living who might have been seen as a near match using soundex type fuzzy logic to make identifications.

So it is doubtful whether it had anything to do with the Dictator of Iran, Saddam Hussein, who is not on the current list at all, but everything to do with the Sun’s inability to check how the process of identification in the checklist actually worked.

LinkedIn tells me that there are 11 top profiles on its database for someone called.... Rupert Murdoch, ranging from the news media magnate to a janitor and a florist! There are people in the world with the same or similar names to most of us.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

How the Great Wind Came to Beacon House

I’ve read many descriptions of stormy weather, but the one I share here is from G.K. Chesterton. Rather like gales themselves, this is a relentless stream of description, and will strike a chord for those of us who felt the wind buffering the windows and houses yesterday.

The wind is wild and chaotic, and reminds us that however much we may plan, however much politicians may pontificate, the wind can always sweep all those plans away. We may know when a wind is coming, and that it will be a sever gale, but it is beyond calculation in its actual effects, as trees are brought down, boats torn from moorings, fencing falls, and roofs tear away from houses. Sometimes it does us good to be humbled by that knowledge that we cannot control the world, as in our hubris, we so often think we can.

How the Great Wind Came to Beacon House
by G.K. Chesterton

A wind sprang high in the west, like a wave of unreasonable happiness, and tore eastward across England, trailing with it the frosty scent of forests and the cold intoxication of the sea. In a million holes and corners it refreshed a man like a flagon, and astonished him like a blow. In the inmost chambers of intricate and embowered houses it woke like a domestic explosion, littering the floor with some professor's papers till they seemed as precious as fugitive, or blowing out the candle by which a boy read Treasure Island and wrapping him in roaring dark. But everywhere it bore drama into undramatic lives, and carried the trump of crisis across the world. Many a harassed mother in a mean backyard had looked at five dwarfish shirts on the clothes-line as at some small, sick tragedy; it was as if she had hanged her five children.

The wind came, and they were full and kicking as if five fat imps had sprung into them; and far down in her oppressed subconscious she half-remembered those coarse comedies of her fathers when the elves still dwelt in the homes of men. Many an unnoticed girl in a dank walled garden had tossed herself into the hammock with the same intolerant gesture with which she might have tossed herself into the Thames; and that wind rent the waving wall of woods and lifted the hammock like a balloon, and showed her shapes of quaint clouds far beyond, and pictures of bright villages far below, as if she rode heaven in a fairy boat.

Many a dusty clerk or cleric, plodding a telescopic road of poplars, thought for the hundredth time that they were like the plumes of a hearse; when this invisible energy caught and swung and clashed them round his head like a wreath or salutation of seraphic wings. There was in it something more inspired and authoritative even than the old wind of the proverb; for this was the good wind that blows nobody harm.

The flying blast struck London just where it scales the northern heights, terrace above terrace, as precipitous as Edinburgh. It was round about this place that some poet, probably drunk, looked up astonished at all those streets gone skywards, and (thinking vaguely of glaciers and roped mountaineers) gave it the name of Swiss Cottage, which it has never been able to shake off.

At some stage of those heights a terrace of tall gray houses, mostly empty and almost as desolate as the Grampians, curved round at the western end, so that the last building, a boarding establishment called "Beacon House," offered abruptly to the sunset its high, narrow and towering termination, like the prow of some deserted ship.

The ship, however, was not wholly deserted. The proprietor of the boarding-house, a Mrs. Duke, was one of those helpless persons against whom fate wars in vain; she smiled vaguely both before and after all her calamities; she was too soft to be hurt. But by the aid (or rather under the orders) of a strenuous niece she always kept the remains of a clientele, mostly of young but listless folks. And there were actually five inmates standing disconsolately about the garden when the great gale broke at the base of the terminal tower behind them, as the sea bursts against the base of an outstanding cliff.

All day that hill of houses over London had been domed and sealed up with cold cloud. Yet three men and two girls had at last found even the gray and chilly garden more tolerable than the black and cheerless interior. When the wind came it split the sky and shouldered the cloudland left and right, unbarring great clear furnaces of evening gold. The burst of light released and the burst of air blowing seemed to come almost simultaneously; and the wind especially caught everything in a throttling violence.

The bright short grass lay all one way like brushed hair. Every shrub in the garden tugged at its roots like a dog at the collar, and strained every leaping leaf after the hunting and exterminating element. Now and again a twig would snap and fly like a bolt from an arbalist... Grass and garden trees seemed glittering with something at once good and unnatural, like a fire from fairyland. It seemed like a strange sunrise at the wrong end of the day.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Last Day on the Somme

This poem was going to be very different, a house, a candle burning, midnight, and snow. But only the shell remains; the rest has been bombed out, and it changed into the end of a battle. Perhaps listening to a dramatisation of Michael Morpurgo's extraordinary story "Private Peaceful" last night had more of an effect that I knew at the time. The snow remained, symbol of a world of ice and death, even though I had no idea that there was in fact snow present in the last days of that battle.

19th November 1916 - Battle of the Somme ends in snow and heavy rain after 142 days of fighting

Last Day on the Somme

While snow around the trench did lay
Twas midnight! That hour very late
And I watch the darkness, pray
And watch is ticking as I wait

The mud, the bullets, longest day
Dead staring eyes, my dearest mate
While snow around the trench did lay
Twas midnight! That hour very late

We face the blazing bullet spray
Over the top, to end with hate
Not providence but cruellest fate
And how many died along the way
While snow around the trench did lay

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Parson's Freehold

Today’s piece comes from “The Pilot”, January 1970.  John Dodd was Vicar of Gouray Church in the late 1970s. There is an irony in this article. In 1977, he needed somewhere to live, and the Reverend Terry Hampton pointed out that there were a number of empty vicarages, any one of which would be suitable. The Dean of Jersey, the Reverend Tom Goss, said that there were plans afoot for those houses, although he declined to give further details: the propensity to dissemble by a Dean of Jersey is nothing new!

On February 15, 2005, the General Synod of the Church of England decided to abolish the system of parson's freehold, gradually replacing it with a system entitled common tenure, which would apply to all clerics equally, removing the present distinction between those with freehold and those without. Under common tenure, the present proposal is that parsonages would pass to the diocese.

Furthermore, such clergy would undergo assessment procedures to ensure that they are performing their function adequately, and parishioners would have further rights to those enjoyed under the Clergy Discipline Measure to complain about their parish priests. If found unsatisfactory, it would be possible to remove such priests with greater ease. However, priests will be entitled to some modest compensation for loss of office, and gain the right of appeal to secular employment tribunals.

The Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009 (No. 1), giving effect to these changes, is now in force in the UK. But in Jersey....

As common tenure does not affect the Channel Islands, the original Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975 stands as the point of reference, as adopted in each deanery. Deans and incumbents in the deaneries of Guernsey and Jersey have to retire on reaching the age of 70 years.

Their appointments may be extended for up to two years , and the relevant island dean should be copied into any correspondence. It is not possible to appoint anyone over the age of seventy as an incumbent.

It is also possible to appoint clergy over the age of seventy as priest in charge and as assistant curate and for them to hold the Bishop’s Licence at the Bishop’s pleasure

The Parson's Freehold
by John D. Dodd

The title to this article is peculiar to our Anglican Church and although often quoted is  not always understood. When an Anglican priest is inducted and instituted into a parish as its Vicar or Rector, he is free to hold that office continually for as long as he wishes – for life, if he so desires. Except for some crime, immoral behaviour, non-performance of duties or complete physical breakdown, he cannot be removed from his post against his will. It is his living and only he can decide when he wishes to resign from it.

The clergy, of course are not unique in this respect; other professional men and women such as lawyers, doctors and teachers enjoy a similar position. From time to time however, the parson's security of tenure is questioned and recently in some quarters the opinion has been expressed that this system is open to abuse and should be modified. Cases of unsuitable parsons staying too long in their parishes have been quoted - examples cited of “square pegs in round holes" where a move on the part of the clergyman would improve the situation for all concerned. There is a feeling that this system should be modified in some way or another.

What are the alternatives? Our Roman Catholic and Free Church brethren have quite different methods of appointment. The Bishop has supreme in the Roman Catholic Church in the appointment of the parochial or secular clergy. It is he who decides where priests shall be stationed, when they shall be transferred and it is incumbent on the part of the priest to obey his bishop. Inherent in this system is the practice of celibacy - a priest who has no family ties can he moved about without much domestic upheaval.

On the face of it this would seem to be a most efficient system; and on the Mission Field it is adopted by many branches of the Christian Church. There is much to be said for missionaries to be celibate      for a short time, at any rate and so be available to be sent anywhere there is an emergency.

But in the Anglican Church we have for centuries believed in a married parochial clergy; and to disrupt family life by continual and frequent removals is not a good thing. Moreover, to many the system snacks for dictatorship. Whilst every care is to elect as Bishops, men of understanding, sympathy and integrity, yet they are only human, liable. as we all are to prejudice, preference, complexes and and other failings: and to concentrate such power into the hands of one man seems to be a dangerous thing. It could lay the clergy open to victimisation from above.

Our Free Church brethren have gone to the other extreme, for in their church it is the congregations who select their minister and who dismiss him. In the Methodist Church, the largest of the Free Churches, ministers are appointed to a group of churches called a Circuit and in that circuit have pastoral care of one or more churches. The legal authority of the Circuit is the Quarterly Meeting. Each minister is invited annually, and at each March Quarterly Meeting, ministers are invited for the following year. After three years ministers can only remain if they obtain 75%, majority of the votes, and after a seventh can only stay with a special permission from the Methodist Conference.

At first sight this may seem a completely democratic procedure. But, to many, it has grave defects. For one thing many of those voting, in the meeting have only it very superficial knowledge of' tile ministers concerned: they may have only seen and heard them on the few occasions they have visited their particular church. Yet they decide whether or not they shall stay in the Circuit - this is rather like the parishioners of St. Ouen voting for the Constable of Grouville.

Moreover by what yardstick do you judge a priest's efficiency in his work? By law an Anglican rector or vicar must perform certain duties preaching, once per Sunday, celebrating Holy Communion on certain days. baptizing children from his parish, and so on. I have never met an Anglican priest who only performed the bare legal requirements and I hope my readers never have. But what are the other duties of the clergy? Define them in one view, and. ipso facto, you charge others with neglect. One man sees his duty to visit house by house through his parish as his daily duty, even if it takes him five years to do so. Another sees this as a waste of time and concentrates on attending all local organisations, starting clubs, fellowships, etc.

But an outsider very often only judges from the outside. No parson seeks the limelight but inevitably, some by their work will make headlines and catch the vote to the detriment of others.

Insecurity of tenure can also vitiate a parson's plans for the future. He may feel with his leaders that certain steps should be taken for the wellbeing of the church - steps that will take some time to complete. But if he should he moved the following year what then? His successor may have entirely different ideas. The temptation of laissez-faire is often irresistable.

But the strongest argument in favour of the Parson's Freehold is his duty to speak out fearlessly for what he believes, to follow the dictates of his conscience and to denounce evil wherever and whenever he sees it, without fear or favour. This is a prophetic task which sometimes involves rebuking and even disciplining some of his own people. An awful dilemma can present itself here; he can keep silent because he believes that by God's help he can serve his church and people by staying with them. Or he can follow his conscience and speak out knowing full well that he may be moved the following year. No man ought to be faced with this, if it can be avoided; it leaves him a prey to victimisation from below.

In the united Church of the future, each branch of the Christian Church will bring its own contribution: each branch will have to give up some of its own special practices and sink some of the differences in order to obtain unity. There must be some measure of' "give and take". But many feel that the Parson's Freehold is something we Anglicans can give to the Universal Church. No system is perfect, but with safeguards already provided for, this system seems the least open to abuse and the most conducive to spiritual wellbeing. This conviction is strengthened by the expressed wish of many of our Roman Catholic and Free Church brethren that this system was incorporated into their branch of Christendom. 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Sark – Part 1

My post today is a selection from "The Channel Islands" by David Thomas Ansted and Robert Gordon Latham, published in 1865. Most travel guides look at the population, the sights to visit, something of the history, but this is an exception. It begins by looking at the geography of the Islands, and then considers how it his has shaped their subsequent history, so it is a bit different from the general guidebook.

Sark – Part 1

With the exception of the two dangerous rocks just alluded to, Sark is separated from the Herm group of islands and rocks by a tolerably wide and open passage, with from twenty-five to thirty fathoms of water, called the Great Russell. Although, however, it is usual to speak of Sark as one island, it is like the others, a group of islands, islets, and rocks, of which the number is very considerable. In describing it here, we allude first to the group, and afterwards to the largest and most important member of it.

Great Sark and Little Sark form one connected island, the connecting link being a natural causeway, at an elevation of nearly 300 feet above the sea. Beyond Great Sark to the north, and Little Sark to the south, are a number of islets, which we may regard as recently detached, and several islets and rocks, separated at a more ancient date, and much lower and smaller.

On both the cast and west sides are other and much more important pieces of land; one, the island of Brechou (Brechou, or Brek'hou: the islet of the gap or breach (Ircche, Swiss French, or breke, old Dutch)., looking towards Guernsey; the other, the " Burons," a number of islets on the east side.

Rocks appear at intervals nearly three miles beyond the Sark coast on the east, after which there is a clear space, the depth being at first thirty fathoms, and then gradually shoaling to the French coast. The distance of Sark from France is about twenty-four miles.

Great Sark is rather more than two miles (4,100 yards) in length, from north to south, and Little Sark rather less than a mile. Including both islands, and the rocks beyond, the total length of the group is about five miles. The greatest width of land in the principal island is about 3,000 yards; but, including Brechou and the Burons, it amounts to fully three miles.

From St. Martin's Point in Guernsey, the distance to Little Sark is about seven miles, and from Belgrave Bay to the detached rock at the northern extremity of Great Sark, is about eight miles. The whole island somewhat resembles the figure 8; but the upper part of the figure should be much larger than the lower part. Its outline is, in fact, a double loop; the two loops of different sizes, connected by a short line.

Both Great and Little Sark are table lands, and their elevation above the sea is upwards of 350 feet..* The ground sinks towards the south, but is everywhere surrounded by lofty perpendicular cliffs.

The island of Brechou is about 1,200 yards in length from east to west, and about 250 yards wide. It rises at least 150 feet above the sea. The Burons are much smaller, and lower.

The coasts of Sark, both Great and Little, and of the island of Brechou, are broken into numerous small coves, with sandy, shingly, or rocky beaches. Not one of these, however, in either island, communicates naturally and conveniently with the table land above, and not one is approachable by boats, except when the weather is favourable. No boat can put off from any part of either island during the severe gales that are so frequent in these seas.

By recent measurements the highest point of Sark is determined to be 305 feet above mean tide.

The wild scenery of the vertical wall of rock which surrounds Sark, is wonderfully enhanced in beauty and picturesque effect by the caverns with which it is everywhere penetrated, and the huge isolated masses of rock, often pierced with large natural vaults or tunnels, that form a kind of advanced guard in every direction, appearing to repel for a time the action of the waves, but really only serving as proofs of the destruction thus caused. Nowhere can the destroying power of the sea be better studied than in the grand scenes presented at every point round this remarkable island.

Detached portions of the main island, others nearly detached, and only connected by natural bridges or narrow necks of land, huge vaults through which the sea dashes at all times, or into which it penetrates only at high water, fragments of rock of all dimensions, some jagged and recently broken, some—and these the hardest and toughest— rounded and smooth, vast piles of smaller rocks heaped around: all these offer abundant illustrations of nature's course when the elements meet on the battle field of an exposed coast, the tidal wave undermining and tearing asunder even the hardest porphyries and granites, however they may seem to present a bold front, and bear the reputation of being indestructible.

The small bays, detached rocks, and pierced rocks and caverns, are the chief objects of interest in Sark; and they are so not only to the lover of the picturesque, and to the artist who dares undertake to represent what many will deem unnatural, but also to the naturalist in all departments. The geologist will here find many interesting studies in the alternation of almost stratified granite with masses of greenstone, serpentine and actynolite, traversed by numerous veins and fissures, filled with soft clay, coloured by iron and manganese, or occupied by some of the infinite varieties of the rock once called trap.

Many beautiful and interesting minerals may also be obtained, and much may be learnt as to the way in which these minerals were formed. The botanist will not, perhaps, discover many new plants; but there are known kinds under peculiar conditions of growth, for the climate is singularly favourable to certain kinds of vegetation, owing to its average temperature and constant moisture, without much cold.

But chiefly will the lover of marine zoology be rewarded for the trouble of visiting this spot. Nowhere in Europe, under the most favourable circumstances, can so great a wealth of animal life be found within a small space as in some of the Sark caverns. These are as remarkable for their extraordinary grandeur and beauty, as for the singular multitude and variety of the zoophytes they contain. A detailed account of the animal productions belongs to another chapter, and the exact spot of their occurrence will presently be described; but no account of Sark could be in any way complete without a reference to this source of interesting investigation.

The ordinary and best landing-place in Sark is called the Creux; but before attempting a description of it, let us first attempt to give the reader a general idea of the coast scenery of the whole island. Approaching the island from the south, we first reach and pass a small island called Le Tas, near which are some fine detached rocks on the shore, and a large cave. The name alludes to the form of the rock, viz.:—Tas, a heap, such as is made with hay or corn.

Beyond this, to the east, small recesses are seen in the vertical cliff; one of them clothed with green to the water's edge, at a point where a narrow opening conducts to a kind of large open funnel, called the Pot. With some little difficulty this can be descended from the top, and the fringe of ferns and other plants around it, with the curious appearance of the opening seen from below, render it well worthy of a visit.

Past the Pot is another smaller bay, with caverns, to which there is no land access; and then comes a third bay, with a pebble beach, immediately below the eastern and most perpendicular side of the celebrated Coupee, the narrow neck connecting Great and Little Sark. After this is an exceedingly broken and wild larger bay, in which are many caverns and large rocks, entirely pierced through. The shore here, as indeed everywhere, is covered with large, angular and rolled rocks. This is Dixcart Bay, and towards it a very pretty valley comes down from the interior of the island. The valley, however, terminates at a steep cliff.

There then succeed two singular points of land, the Point du Chateau, connecting which with the interior is a curious ridge called the Hog's Back, and the Point du Derrible. The latter headland is separated from the cliffs by a nearly vertical gap, but not by a sea passage.

This headland and the Creux are generally spoken of and described as Point Terrible and the Creux Terrible. There is, however, no doubt that the word Terrible is a corruption of Derrible, an old French word, signifying a fallen mass of rock.

A comparatively narrow inlet, enclosed by these two headlands, terminates in a fine rocky bay, within which are many caverns, and also the entries to one of those curious funnel shaped openings called creux, of which the Pot in Little Sark, and several others round the coast, are less perfect examples.

The "Creux du Derrible," as this is called, is a large, natural shaft or chimney, communicating below with the sea, and opening above into a field. It resembles the shaft of a mine, and a wild growth of brambles and furze surrounds the opening, one side of which is much lower than the other. To look down requires a steady head, for the walls are absolutely vertical, and only overgrown with vegetation round the outer rim, where a small earthen wall has been built to keep off stragglers. There is, however, little real danger.

At high water the sea rushes in below by two large entrances; one wave following another with a rapidity and force only possible where the water has but a few hours to rise thirty or forty feet into a funnel-shaped landlocked bay. The white foam of the angry water rises high in the cave, and is said in former times, when the entrance was narrower, to have splashed up nearly to the top during severe storms. The roar of the waves, and the disturbance caused by the rolling of the pebbles and boulders over the floor, reverberates in the shaft. Such is the Creux du Derrible at high water, and then a nearer view is impossible.

But it may be visited under other circumstances. It is possible, though not very easy, to make a descent by a narrow winding path, overgrown with ivy, to the brink of a cliff, down which, by the help of some iron rings fastened in the rock, one can reach the bay, into which, at the further extremity, the Creux opens. A wild rocky beach, covered with boulders, being crossed, we reach a yawning cavern, having a somewhat regular entry. It is one of two natural tunnels, about 100 feet long, that lead to an amphitheatre, having an oval floor, covered with pebbles, about 100 feet in length by fifty feet across.

Within the amphitheatre the walls of naked rock rise 150 feet or more in height, and are quite perpendicular. The colour of the rock varies. At the furthest extremity from the sea is a vein of rich, reddish brown, clayey material; but around, and on the floor, are several kinds of granite, and much hard stratified schistose rock is seen.

The variety of colour, arising partly from the different weathering of the rock, and partly from lichens, is very striking. The stillness, broken only by the waves as they break over the pebbles; the blue sky or fleecy clouds seen through the opening above; the bright, sharply-defined rocks of the Point du Derrible visible through one of the entrances, and a part of Jersey through the other; a little overhanging vegetation at the top, and the rolled pebbles of the floor: these form together a scene rarely approached in majesty and picturesque beauty.

Beyond the entrances to the Creux, the wet rocks, covered with sea-weed, may safely be crossed during a receding tide, and another small bay is then entered, in which is a vast detached rock, pierced with a natural arch, while beyond this again is another detached mass—a group of pinnacles, somewhat resembling one of the Autelets,* which is, however, in so insecure a state, that it may perhaps be washed away, or at any rate greatly modified, before another season arrives. Woe to the unhappy tourist who is found here after the tide begins to rise. Without climbing over a mass of steep, jagged rock, he will be cut off from the open bay of the Creux; and should he succeed in reaching this, he may still miss the approach to the ascent and be kept on the beach for some hours.

Between d'lxcart Bay and the Creux harbour, one can find rough paths along the cliffs, which afford many admirable points of view.

[The Autelets, or small altars, are detached pinnacles on the other side of the island, well known to all visitors to Sark. They will be described further on, and a view of them is given in Chapter XI., in the account of the modern geology of the islands. Like Jerbourg and other places in Guernsey, these promontories were, no doubt, rendered defensible against the chance attacks of pirates.]

From the Hog's back, a long, narrow ridge of hard rock, formerly a place of refuge, and now marked by a tower, one is enabled to see not only d'lxcart Bay, but Little Sark and the outline of the peculiar jagged depression over which the Coupee road passes, revealing the true nature of that curious isthmus, and justifying the name given to it. The castellated rocks of the Point du Derrible, and the noble form of the extremity of that jutting, rocky mass, are also here seen to great advantage.

From one part of the cliffs, beyond the Point du Derrible, a descent conducts us to a fisherman's cove, just opposite the Creux harbour, sheltered by a small, rocky island, but not connected with any bay. The singular form and picturesque outline of the Burons is here well seen, although their number cannot be made out; and they rather resemble a few large islands than a group of rocks entirely detached at high water.

The Creux harbour is one of the most curious of the Sark wonders. It is very small, and sheltered with a little breakwater, leaving an entry only just wide enough for a small boat.

Even within the breakwater, however, the boats are not secure in rough weather, without being drawn up to the highest point and made fast by ropes and chains. From the breakwater there is no appearance of a practicable road into the island, and no apparent path up the steep and lofty cliff. We must enter before seeing the gloomy tunnel that alone gives access to the road.

So singularly concealed, however, is the approach, that the Lords of the Admiralty, on a very recent occasion, arriving at Sark on their tour of inspection, and intending to land, actually did land on this breakwater; and there being no human being in sight, and no one knowing the state of the case, or seeing the tunnel, their lordships gave up the task as hopeless, and returned on hoard in search of less difficult landing-places, and better known, if less picturesque, spots.

The following account of this curious harbour is from an old brochure, published in London in 1673, entitled, "News from the Channel; or the discovery and perfect Description of the Island of Serke, by a Gentleman now inhabiting there, to his friend and kinsman in London."

"Two only ascents or passages there are into it: the first, where all goods and commodities are received, called La Soguien (the Creux harbour), where, for a large space through a solid rock, there is a cartway cut by art down to the sea, with two strong gates for its defence, wherein most of the storeage for navigation, as masts, sails, anchors, &c., belonging to the island, are kept, and two pieces of ordnance above, always ready planted to prevent any surprise.

The other is La Frickeree (no doubt the Havre Gossclin), where only passengers can land, climbing up a rock by certain steps or stairs, cut therein to a vast height and somewhat dangerously. Nor is it possible then for above one person to come up at once."

A pretty valley, wider than' Baker's valley, but not quite so picturesque or well wooded, opens to the back of the tunnel, and so communicates with the harbour. A road also passes through this valley to the table land above.

It is curious that neither this nor Baker's valley open quite down to the sea, both terminating in a precipitous, though not lofty cliff. Until the tunnel was bored, and made the direct road, the Epercherie * was the chief landing-place.

From the Creux harbour, and from the hill above, very beautiful views of the Burons arc obtained, altogether different from those before described. All the rocks are now perceived, with the passages between them, and they look small and almost grotesque. To the left is another corresponding group of rocks, projecting beyond the southern arm of the bay, called the Greve de la Ville; and as there is a small intermediate inlet, the view is symmetrical and exceedingly picturesque.

* Esperquerie—the harvest of dried fish, from perques, the perches or poles on which tho fish was hung up to dry. The name thus derived is now applied to the place where the drying was carried on.