Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Pigs 2016: Part 3 - More oinks from our porcine philosophers

Hello, you back for another chat?
Actually, yes. I really enjoyed our last discourse and I've come back for more. So much has gone on recently and a piggy perspective would be useful. After all, your opinions seem to be as well thought through as those of our friends in Westminster.

What do you think of Boris Johnson being challenged about his never-ending ability to tell porkies?

I agree. He does talk a load of hogwash and, after all, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, can you?

He's certainly got a skin as thick as, errr, a pig's.

We've got another female PM since we last spoke. Good news or bad news?

Thatcher on steroids?

Let's hope she's able to bring back the bacon when she starts her Brexit talks.

And what about Michael Gove committing hami kami?
Oink, oink.

Do you really think that having Trident will prevent you ending up as pork crackling?

Have you heard that Donald Trump has got the Republican nomination? Of course, there may yet be a twist in the tale that we can't forsee.

And does the prospect of a contest between Jezza and Owen Smith get your trotters twitching in eager anticipation?

One of them could be our next PM...and pigs might fly.

Incisive though your comments are and they are a great pig-me-up, that's enough of the politics. Time to top up your pellets and give you some fresh bedding?
Oink, oink, oink.

Yum, yum. Pig's Bum. Wrap it up in chewing gum.
A childhood rhyme from South Wales. There were other lines but I can't remember them (and neither can members of my family 'back home'). Do children in South Wales today chant this in the playgrounds?
The Mugford Ten. All fattening up very nicely. And now, 'The Mugford Ten - the movie'.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The great Trident debate

Yesterday the House of Commons debated the renewal of Trident. It was entirely predictable that the House would vote to renew the weapons of mass destruction. And it was entirely predictable that most Labour MPs would use the occasion as an opportunity for attacking their own party leader instead of opposing the Tories.
(Here's a gem from Pro-Trident Labour MP Jamie Reed describing Corbyn as "reckless, juvenile and narcissic").
It wasn’t really a debate of course. Debates imply that some participants are open to changing their minds. But then the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent is neither independent nor a deterrent, so a pretend debate on a pretend independent deterrent was perfectly appropriate.

Westminster politicians talked a lot about certainty. Well, we can be certain that the second rate politicians who lead the Tory party will happily spend £200 billion as an ego boost so they don’t have to come to terms with the fact that the UK is a second rate power. We can be certain that the Labour party is as effective in protecting the nation as the uselessly expensive Trident missiles that they’re so fond of. And we can be certain that the rest of us are going to get screwed over.

Our caring sharing new Prime Minister, the one who wants to represent the human and humane face of Conservatism, didn’t hesitate to say Yes when asked whether she’d press the nuclear button and condemn millions of civilians to evaporation, and millions more to long painful lingering deaths. No caveats, no nuances, no qualifiers - just "yes". Hooray, Thatcher's spirit arises from the grave to save us.
The impression beloved of Westminster politicians that the UK is a world power is as laughable as the idea that Boris Johnson is a serious Foreign Secretary. Labour MPs took it in turn to stand up and interrupt their own leader’s speech against Trident renewal to side with the Tories. What about the jobs? They cried. As though a ruinously expensive weapon of mass destruction was really a job creation scheme. Because the most effective and useful way of spending over £200 billion of taxpayers’ money on creating employment is to spend it on missiles that can blow up half the planet and render the other half as much of a desolate wasteland as a Michael Gove reinstatement supporters’ rally.  Yes, Trident is a job creation scheme, it’s just that it’s a job creation scheme for former defence secretaries, directors of defence companies and the boards of the banks who loan the money and profit from the weapons’ construction.

Labour’s Vernon Coaker told the House that threats like ISIS are a reason why the UK needs its nuclear deterrent. Because if some madman decides to drive a lorry into a crowd of people the best way to stop him is with a nuclear missile fired from a submarine. Vernon thinks that renewing Trident is so important that it’s worth any cuts to public services it might cause. One after another Labour’s discredited MPs stood up to mouth their nonsense, supporting the Tories instead of supporting their constituents.

The independent nuclear deterrent of the United Kingdom is a ruinous fantasy. The UK keeps paying through the nose for its expensive nuclear medicine to stave off the harsh reality that it is going nowhere and has no future except one of decay and irrelevance. Trident is a 20th century weapons system designed to counter a 20th century threat. The world has moved on, but the British state hasn’t. It’s still desperately clinging on to the glory days of the early and mid 20th century when the UK was still a player on the world stage and not an embarrassing and xenophobic little island perched off the north west coast of Europe: a would-be USA without the weather, the resources or the clout. A country that can’t afford to be in Europe. A country that can’t afford to cooperate with our neighbours. But a country which can afford the weaponry to blow them off the face of the Earth.

If you want to know why so many of us hold Westminster in such utter contempt you don’t need to look further than yesterday's Trident debate. Cobblers substituted for fact. Idiocy took the place of reason. Simple minded platitudes were proffered as profundities. One after another Tories and Labour politicians got up and spoke of the need to spend hundreds of billions on a useless weapons system and whose sole purpose is to make those self-same politicians feel important. As SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie put it "Trident is about status and not about safety. There is no genuine security argument for the UK to spend this vast money on weapons that can never be used." Yet another thing about which I say "not in my name".

Friday, 15 July 2016

A circular walk from Polkerris

The weather was good, the fields were full of flowers and the sea was blue - all the makings of a great day out with our U3A Thursday walking group. Is there a better way of spending a few hours?

Our route, starting in Polkerris, cutting across the Gribbin Peninsular to Readymoney Cove and then back along the coast to our starting point. About 7 miles and, as the elevation profile shows, as up and downy as you would expect.
A few minutes into our walk and we were crossing a cornfield with a host of flowers at its margins. I don't think the yellow is Common Ragwort because of their size. I'm more inclined towards them being Arnica.
We've done parts of this walk before but then the fields adjacent to the coast were full of grazing sheep and cattle. This time around the fields were full of wild flowers. An obvious change in land management policy by the National Trust, who are the landowners. From one resting place, I could make out 15 different flower species, most of which I could identify. Lots of grasses as well but sorting these out is a skill I lost just after I quit my Agricultural Botany course in 1967. These pastures are a haven for all sorts of flying insects. I lingered behind to let our group go off so that I could sit down and listen the insect buzz. I made the video below and you might just, if you listen carefully, make out the buzzing chorus. Of course, if you can't, just enjoy the silence. It's fun walking with a group but there are times when solitude is appropriate.

Just a few Chicory flowers around, its blue really standing out.
Hypericum calycinum - Rose of Sharon, St John's Wort. Very common as a garden escapee but it still has an attractive multi-stamened flower. Common it may be but when was the last time I really looked closely at the structure of the flower?
Looking up the Fowey Estuary with Polruan on the right and Fowey on the left. From this viewpoint, just by St Catherine's Castle, the sheltered harbour can really be appreciated. Many years ago, circa 1880, my great grandfather was here in the Royal Yacht Albert and Victoria II.
Looking westwards towards Gribbin Head, with Polridmouth Cove in the mid ground.
The navigational daymark, dating from the 1840s, on Gribbin Head. It guided ships into the harbour at Fowey.
Looking back towards the daymark and Gribbin Head.
I like the pattern these roots make. Nature never ceases to amaze.
Cormorants. I've come across two collective nouns for these birds: the prosaic 'flight of cormorants' and, my favourite 'gulp of cormorants'. Gulp captures nicely the way they swallow their prey whole. I presume this rock, amongst many similar ones, is closest to a good source of gulpable material.
Lots and lots of Red Soldier Beetles were out and about enjoying foraging for nectar on Cow Parsley and Hogweed flowers. Hello, what's this one of the left after?
The obvious. And this gives you a clue to another name it's known under: the Hogweed Bonking Beetle. I kid you not. Look it up.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Family at War: Part 5: Florence Victoria Batt

Queen Mary's
Army Auxiliary Corps
Cap badge
As far as I can tell from my family history researches to date this could be the last posting in my Family at War series and its subject is the only one of the five who I actually knew. My maternal grandmother, 'Nan Bowyer', christened Florence Victoria Batt and the wife of Norman James Bowyer, who was mentioned in Part 4. I was born in the front room of nan's house in Trethomas, lived with her for three years and, when I was growing up, she was ever and comfortably present. She died in 1984 and, as is so often the case with close relatives, I never once asked her about her time in service. In fact, I don't think I knew about her WW1 experiences until comparatively recently. The little I do know comes from my mother and, I have to say, most of this is anecdotal. But that's infinitely better than nothing.
As nan's Medal Roll, shown above, confirms, she was a worker in Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) engaged in Home Service. She probably enlisted in Caerphilly or Cardiff but we don't know exactly when. My mother says that she advanced her age because she "wanted to do her bit for King  and Country" and joined up when she was 14. I don't think that this can be the case because the QMAAC, or rather its predecessor, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was not formed until 1917. Nan was born in 1901 and I'm happy believing that, when she was 16 or 17, she said she was 18 (the minimum age of enlistment) so that she would be accepted ahead of reaching the prescribed minimum.

A little information about the QMAAC would give some context. By 1917, the third year of the war, the British Army was running short of men because so many had been injured or killed on the front line. The War Office had also identified that a number of jobs which did not involve fighting were being carried out by men who could have been in battle. It was decided that women could do many of these jobs instead and that they could replace male soldiers in offices, canteens, transport roles, stores and army bases. Many women volunteered to join the new Women's Army Auxiliary Corps which became known as the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps in 1918.

The only fact we know about nan's spell in the QMAAC is that she spent time at Bettisfield Park Royal Field Artillery training camp which was constructed in the Deer Park of a mansion called Bettisfield Park in Flintshire, North Wales. Here she seems to have acted as a servant to the officers. Apparently she 'had a crush' on one of them and decked his room with flowers. After the war and her demob, so that she could be near the officer in question, she went to work for his mother at their house, also in North Wales. His mother was not very nice and my nan described her as a 'right bitch'. And that's the way we'll all remember her. The officer's mother, that is, not nan.

We don't have a photograph of Florrie B in her QMAAC uniform, but here's one of her in her nan's uniform. It was taken in February 1948 and I'm the pudding on the left. The other baby is my cousin Philip, a couple of months younger than me.


Saturday, 9 July 2016

Family at War: Part 4: Norman James Bowyer

Cap badge of the
Welsh Regiment
It's taken me a while to get around to writing about my maternal grandfather's army service during WW1. The main reason being that we knew very little about what he did. All my mother could remember was that he was in the Welsh Guards, was based in Pirbright and that he did not go abroad. Where and when did he enlist? When was he discharged? Where did he serve?

I had assumed that his service record went up in flames like the majority of them in the Blitz of WW2. But I was wrong. As he was in the Welsh Guards, their records were kept elsewhere and survived intact. Hooray. A couple of phone calls later, and sending off a cheque for £30 to Wellington Barracks in London, his service record came in the post.  I'm not sure what I was expecting to find but it answered some of the questions we had and left us with a few more.

Private Norman James Bowyer (I've got my middle name from his first name), Service Number 1915, enlisted in the Welsh Guards at Caerphilly on 10th August 1915. He was 18 years 6 months old, a miner and was living with his parents at Tynywern Farm in Trethomas (We didn't know this. The farm was demolished to make way for Bedwas Pit in the early 1920s and I used to play in its ruins when I was a child). For the record, he was 5 feet 9 3/4 inches tall, weighed 145 pounds, his chest measurement when fully expanded was 36 1/2 inches, with a range of expansion of 3 inches. His complexion was fair and his hair and eyes were brown.

Grandad enlisted on 10th August and joined the regiment at its barracks in Caterham, Surrey, the next day on the 11th August 1915.  He was placed in the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion and spent all of his subsequent service in the UK. I can't find out what he did but I would presume it was something in support of the frontline 1st Battalion which was serving in France. On 9th January 1917 he was transferred to the Class W Army Reserve and, apart from a short period in early 1918 when he was 'recalled' to active service, he remained Class W until he was transferred to Class P on 16th October 1918. What were Class W and Class P? They were:

Class W was introduced in June 1916 by Army Order 203/16. and was ‘for all those soldiers whose services are deemed to be more valuable to the country in civil rather than military employment’. Men in this class were to receive no emoluments from Army Funds and were not to wear uniform. They were liable at any time to be recalled to the Colours. From the time a man was transferred to Class W, until being recalled to the Colours, he was not subject to military discipline.

Class P was introduced by the same Army Order and consisted of men
- ‘whose services are deemed to be temporarily of more value to the country in civil life rather than in the Army’
- and who were not lower than C iii medically
- and as a result of having served in the Army would, if discharged, be eligible for a pension on the grounds of disability or length of service.
Men in Class P were, for the purposes of pay, allowances, gratuity and pension treated as if they been discharged on the date of their transfer to Class P i.e. they did receive money from the Army. Other terms and conditions were as for Class W.

I've got absolutely no idea why grandad was assessed as Class W. Why did he fall into the category of a soldier ‘whose services was deemed to be more valuable to the country in civil rather than military employment’? Was it anything to do with his occupation as a miner? Strange, as his record does not suggest that he moved anywhere other than the barracks at Caterham. His move from Class W to Class P is explained by a medical discharge note indicating that he was being discharged as disabled due to an 'impediment in speech aggravated by military service'. This note is dated 17th October 1918 and he was finally 'discharged - surplus to military requirements, having suffered impairment since entry into the Service' on 14th December 1918. He left with a pension of 5s 6p per week for 52 weeks.

Grandad did have a stutter but, according to my mother, he had this before he went into the army. Apparently it was caused by the shock of being chased as a young lad by a butcher with a cleaver after he had sprinkled sand on some meat. A nice family story, if true. Who knows? It just sounds like the sort of yarn my grandmother would spin to keep the children quiet.

And that's all we know about the military service of Norman James Bowyer. He did his duty for King and Country and it's a shame that we'll never know the details of how he spent his time at Caterham. I like to think he was involved in something clandestine and Top Secret. Who's prepared to prove me wrong?

Friday, 8 July 2016

Circular walk taking in Gibbet Hill and North Brentor

A very pleasant walk recently with our U3A Thursday walking group. Just over 6 miles taking in Gibbet Hill (yes, there was a gibbet on the top of it), some of the West Devon Way and a meander along country lanes. And the weather was kind as well.

Apologies for the somewhat random order of the photographs. For some reason, the blogging software is playing up.
Lots of Bell Heather around. Sometimes as a single plant, other times as a clump but never masses of it.
Blue wild flowers are not that common and the Meadow Cranes-Bill stands out whenever its around. We saw these along the old railway line at Lydford.
If you look at the seed pods, you can see why it's called a Cranes Bill. The seed pods are explosive and, when they are ripe, they can 'throw' the seeds a metre or so from the plant.
Cow Parsley is very common at this time of year and the lane side verges are white with their fluffy flowers. What I've never noticed before is that the flower buds are tinged with pink making for a very attractive contrast with the white open 5 petalled flowers.
Lots of Honeysuckle around, maybe passed their best but still retaining their characteristic fragrance.

In the distance is Brentor church (St Michael de Rupe or St Michael of the Rock).
At the moment it is having some significant repairs to its roof, hence the plastic shroud. Here's a useless fact, St Michael's is the fourth smallest parish church in the UK.
Our route, starting and ending at SX48812 80070, which has a height of 725 feet above sea level. The highest point of the walk was 1149 feet at the top of Gibbet Hill.

Not a lot can be said about this photograph except that it's very green.
A very complicated way of fastening a gate.
The green, white and black flag of Devon, dedicated to St Petroc. Here's what Wikipedia says about it: "The subject of a Devonian flag was raised by the county's contingent of scouts to the 20th World Scout Jamboree in an interview on BBC Radio Devon in 2002. The scouts were unaware of a Devon flag and wondered if any of the listeners knew of a flag for the county. BBC Radio Devon took up the search for a flag for Devon and asked the public to send in designs. The flag was created in 2003 after a vote in two polls run by the BBC Devon website, the winning design taking 49% of the votes cast. The design was created by student Ryan Sealey and was adopted as the county flag in 2006".
Lurking in the long grass, a wicker stag. Very realistic from a distance.
Look through a wooden door in a high stone wall and what do we see - a secret walled garden. This was attached to Burnville Farm, an Edwardian house which is currently an upmarket B & B.
Assuming that this stone carving is as old as it looks, it has obviously been relocated (pinched) from somewhere else. Is the lintel an old granite gatepost?
I think it looks better with the plastic downpipe taken out.
Large stone wheel? Must be a grindstone for a mill. Wrong. This one does not have the characteristic grooves of a grain mill and was, or so the notice in the nearby window told us, a wheelwright's template for iron wheel rims - for wooden wheels, that is. The rim is formed around the stone and then heated before dropping around the wooden wheel.. I've never seen one this big before.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

50 years later and both still going strong.

A couple of days ago my son and daughter-in-law went to the Eden Project to see Tom Jones in concert. They raved about his performance and thought that his voice was still amazingly strong after all those years of singing. I found it weird that they were enthusing about someone I first saw at least 52 years ago.

Back then (circa 1964), Tom Jones was the lead singer with Tommy Scott and the Senators and they were a regular fixture at the Friday Night Dance at Bedwas Comprehensive School. They were good and Tom was clearly a cut above the normal calibre of singers who usually fronted groups (we had groups not bands) at that time. He could really belt it out and it's good to hear that he's still going strong. If nothing else, we boys from the valleys have longevity. And that's where any similarity between Tom and me ends. I'm not a multi-millionaire, I haven't had Botox, I don't come from Pontypridd and no-one has ever thrown their knickers at me. But that's not unusual (boom, boom!)**.
** For those puzzled by 'boom, boom', I suggest you Google 'Basil Brush'.

Pigs 2016: Part 2 - Oink Philosophy

Out to the pigs for our weekly stint of husbandry and, unfortunately for them, they got me in a garrulous mood. Luckily, pigs are good listeners and, in return for me bending their floppy ears, they passed on some snippets of porcine wisdom.

What do you think about the EU Referendum result?

When do you think we'll know what the plan is?

What do you think of rats who leave a sinking ship?

Do you think that Theresa May is the least worse of a pretty bad bunch?

And what about Angela Eagle? Would she get your vote over Jezza?

How many red faces do you think there'll be over the Chilcot Report later on today?

Do you want some more pellets?
Oink, oink, oink.

Well, that's all sorted then. Glad to hear that you've got your priorities right and can keep everything in perspective. I wish I could.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

On this day, 3rd July, in 1916, Private George Hoskin Brock died

George was born on 2nd September 1895 at Tregrove in Linkinhorne, the only son of George and Beatrice Mary Brock. He was baptised on 15th September 1895 at Calstock church. By the time of the 1901 census (31st March 1901) the Brock family was living in Stoke Village, presumably in Lower Town where his parents ran a small sweetshop/grocery shop. They were at the same place when the 1911 census was taken (3rd April 1911) and George, at age 16, is listed as being an apprentice blacksmith. George’s parents later moved to 3, Moss Side, Callington.

Sometime after this George moved to Dursley in Gloucestershire where he was employed in the Zone Works of Mawdsley’s, a large manufacturer of electrical machinery. He may have been one of the many people attracted to the area to work at either Mawdsley’s or R.A. Lister’s. He lodged in Woodmancote, a part of Dursley, and was a regular member of the congregation of St. George’s Church in Upper Cam (a village adjoining Dursley). He was described as a “splendid, willing worker and a nice young fellow with many local friends".

George enlisted into the Gloucestershire Regiment in Dursley at a recruiting meeting held in the R.A. Lister Mess Room on 3rd September 1914. The Regiment was raised from men in the Bristol area as part of Kitchener's Second New Army and joined the 57th Brigade in the 19th (Western) Division. They trained at Perham Down on the edge of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire and in March 1915 moved to Tidworth for final training. The battalion embarked for France and Flanders on 18th July 1915, the date appearing on George’s Medal Roll Card as the date he entered the France and Flanders Theatre of War. The Division concentrated near St Omer. Their first action was at Moulin du Pietre on 25th September, which was a diversionary action supporting the Battle of Loos. It was designed purely to pin down German reserves and serve as a diversion from the main engagement at Loos. But it was perhaps on the smallest scale of any of the holding actions. All that was hoped from it at best was the capture of the German front-line trench upon a front of about 1,200 yards, after which it was intended to join it up to the existing British line. In order to allow the consolidation of the front line, when taken, the second line was also to be captured, and the troops withdrawn as soon as the front had been put into a state of defence.

In the summer of 1916 they were involved in the Battle of the Somme. Although held in reserve for the first day – 1st July – they, as part of the 19th Division, were put into the attack on 2nd July. They attacked south of La Boisselle, using a ruse of bombarding Ovillers in order to confuse the Germans. By 15.30 some of the men had bombed their way into the village; this led to some severe house-to-house fighting with the German defenders, and the village was eventually taken the following day. Counter-attacks from the Germans had to be fought off and only by 5th July could the village be said to be safely in Allied hands.

An extract from the War Diary of the 8th Gloucesters reads:
July 3rd 1915: Location Tara-Usna Line
1.30 am: Moved forward to attack via St Andrews Trench
3.15 am: Attacked La Boiselle and consolidated position. Remained there all day and night. Officers killed: Capt. H.Cox, Capt, E.H.Crooke, Capt. W.J.Mason, 2nd Lt. E.J.Evans, 2nd Lt. F.J.Gadney, 2nd Lt. G.E.H.Ross.
Elsewhere in the diary are given the official casualty figures for the action: Officers killed: 6; Officers wounded: 14; Other ranks killed, missing or wounded: 282.
George Hoskin Brock was one of the men missing and his body was never recovered. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. Pier and Face 5 A and 5 B. As well as the Stoke Climsland War Memorial, George is also remembered on memorials in Callington, where his parents subsequently lived, and Dursley in Gloucestershire, where he enlisted into the army.

A notice about his death appeared in the Cornish and Devon Post on 22nd July 1916. It reads “Private George Brock, who has been reported killed in action, was another old boy of Stoke Climsland Council School. The teachers and scholars of his time as well as the villagers will ever remember George with affectionate regard as a boy of remarkable integrity and sweet disposition. Sympathy is felt for his parents and it is hoped that his splendid character and soldierly bearing will be an example for many a youth in the parish to emulate”.

Another notice appeared on the anniversary of his death (July 3rd 1922) in the Western Morning News. It read “BROCK. In fond and ever-loving memory of Pte. George Hoskin Brock, Sig. Batt. 8th Gloucester Regt., who gave his life for King and country in France, July 3rd, 1916, aged 21 years, the only darling son of George and Beatrice M Brock, 3, Moss Side, Callington”.