Sunday, 15 October 2017

What has socialism ever done for us.

The season of Party Conferences is coming to an end and, as usual, they generated more noise than light. I'll admit to being partisan but I must say that the Tories won the 'play the man, rather than the ball' competition by a mile. Their attacks on Jezza took the place of any clear exposition of their policies. When they blindly attack socialism or ‘Comrade Corbyn’ and parrot the claim that Britain under him would be akin to living in Venezuela, perhaps it's time to remind ourselves that Britain has embraced socialism over the last century. What people don’t consider, or care to admit, is that many of the Great British Institutions that we take for granted are actually socialist principles - and I do mean socialist principles and not Tory political expediency. For example, consider the following:

  • Being able to send your child to a state school and access to education for everyone is socialist.
  • Paying for the NHS via National Insurance, and having free healthcare at the point of use is socialist.
  • Having equal or free access to the legal system is socialist.
  • Helping the disabled, weak or vulnerable in society is socialist.
  • Gender and sexual equality are socialist.
  • Good public transport and utilities are socialist.
  • Intervening in monopolies to stop the consumer being held to ransom or exploited is socialist.
  • A fair deal for workers is socialist.
  • And there are more of these, based on principle and not vote-seeking expediency. But be wary; t
    he socialist elements of our life are being slowly eroded away from under our noses. Think about it a little. Think about how much you value them. Think about how much you'd miss them. You never know, you may realise that a little part of you is…. a socialist (eeek!).

    Wednesday, 11 October 2017

    Who looks after those who support lost causes?

    Through years of swimming against the prevailing tide, I've often been in the position of supporting what many would regard as a lost cause. In preparation for writing something about this, I thought I'd find out a little more about St Jude, traditionally, in the UK at least, the patron saint of lost causes. I was surprised (actually, not surprised, interested is more accurate) to find that he is just one of four that the Catholic church recognises as patron saints of lost or impossible causes. And no, St Jezza isn't on the list, neither, for that matter, is St Theresa. The quartet are St. Rita of Cascia, St. Jude Thaddeus (the man himself), St. Philomena and St. Gregory of Neocaesarea. Admit it, you want to know more as you are thinking "What did they do to earn the patronage of lost causes? I bet there's a story behind each one? Where did it all go wrong for them?". Read on and be educated.
    St Rita was born in 1381 in Roccaporena, Italy. Although she had a deep wish to enter a religious life, her parents arranged her marriage at a young age to a cruel and unfaithful husband. However, because of his wife's prayers, he experienced a conversion after almost 20 years of unhappy marriage. It's a shame that he was murdered soon after. But that wasn't the end to Rita's troubles as her two sons became ill and died following their father’s death, leaving Rita without any family. She tried again to enter the religious life, but was denied entrance to the Augustinian convent many times before finally being accepted. Once there, Rita, poor thing, was asked to tend to a dead piece of vine as an act of obedience. She watered the stick diligently and, quelle surorise, it inexplicably yielded grapes. Apparently, the plant still grows at the convent and its leaves are distributed to those seeking miraculous healing. For the rest of her life until her death in 1457, Rita experienced illness and an ugly, open wound on her forehead that repulsed those around her. Like all the other calamities in her life, she accepted this situation with grace. Although her life was filled with seemingly impossible circumstances and many reasons for despair, St. Rita never lost her faith and for this she has been adopted as a champion of lost causes.
    Although he is the most popular patron of lost causes, not much is known of St. Jude‘s life. He was one of the Twelve Apostles and preached the Gospel with great passion, often in the most difficult circumstances. He is believed to have been martyred for his faith while preaching to pagans in Persia.
    Saint Philomena must have been very busy as, as well as being connected with lost causes, she is also the patron of youth (especially babies and children), students and test-takers, afflicted mothers, young married couples and the sick and suffering. Although she was martyred under the reign of Diocletian in the third century, she was entirely unknown until her tomb was uncovered in 1802. She is the only person to be recognized as a saint solely on the basis of miraculous intercession. Of noble birth with Christian convert parents, Philomena dedicated her virginity to Christ.  When she refused to marry the Emperor Diocletian, she was cruelly tortured in many ways for over a month. She was scourged, thrown into a river with an anchor around her neck, and shot through with arrows. A short but harrowing life, she died when she was around 13 or 14.

    St. Gregory Neocaesarea, also known as St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (the Wonderworker) was born in Asia Minor around the year 213. Although raised as a pagan, at age 14 he was converted to Christianity with his brother. At the age of 40 he became a bishop in Caesarea, and served the Church in this role until his death 30 years later. According to ancient records, there were only 17 Christians in Caesarea when he first became a bishop. Many people were converted by his words and by his miracles and when he died, there were only 17 pagans left  in all of Caesarea.

    Friday, 22 September 2017

    The difference a week makes....


    It's hard to believe that, just a week ago, I was walking up a parched Spanish mountain with temperatures hovering around 35C. Things couldn't have been more different today.
    Not so much a walk, more a slosh.
    And it was a slosh starting and ending in the car park in Camelford, once far more important and bustling than it is nowadays. Its most notable claim to recent fame is the accidental poisoning of many of its residents by someone dropping a load of aluminium sulphate into the local water supply. Look it up if you want more details. Just to be on the safe side, we didn't drink the water.
    Our walk, which was just over 6 miles, started along a stretch of the River Camel and then headed south-ish in the direction of Advent and Bodmin Moor. A few ups and downs and a very pleasant mixture of fields and quiet country lanes. Autumn is definitely in the air and the leaves are turning brown and starting to drop.
    Sedum with slug. Sedum with very large slug. Despite their predations on my vegetables, I can still admire their gelatinous form. Not that this stops me despatching them when I find them munching my Brassicas.
    St Adwenna's church at Advent. There is actually no village of Advent and the parish comprises of a number of dispersed farms and hamlets. The 2011 census tells us that there were just under 200 people living in Advent Parish. The church dates from the 15th century and it lies in splendid rural isolation. I think it's a little gem.
    The interior is simple rather than plain and is clearly well looked after. Services are still held there but not every Sunday. There's no reason to assume that the congregation of Advent is not, as is typical, declining. Jump forward 5, 10, 15 years and where will Advent be then? Who will look after it?
    I don't think this ceiling boss in the church porch is an actual Green Man but it is green due to the lichen growing on it.
    There were two WW1 war graves in the graveyard and, as ever, they piqued my curiosity enough for me to do a little research when we got back home. The first of these was G.J.Norris, who served in the New Zealand, Field Artillery. That he was buried here suggests that he must have died in the UK but where and why? Mr Google shed some light on the sad story of George Jonathon Norris in the form of the press clipping below.
    Soldier’s Grave Mystery Solved A plea for help has been sounded in helping piece together the final story of a New Zealand soldier who is buried at Advent Church. Camelford’s Royal British Legion secretary Cameron Valentine has been researching the background to 14310 Private George Norris, who joined the B company of the 14th reinforcements New Zealand Army. After spotting the grave at Advent, Mr Valentine became curious as to why a New Zealand soldier should be buried locally. He found out that the soldier had family connections with the area and that part of his family had emigrated to New Zealand. But there are still one or two pieces of the jigsaw that Mr Valentine would like to piece together. Private Norris embarked on June 26 1916 at Wellington on the troop carrier Maunganu, arriving at Devonport on August 22. Mr Valentine said that Private Norris was sent to Sling Camp, Balford, Wiltshire, on his arrival in England, the main camp for the New Zealand forces. In September he left Sling Camp for France, arriving at Bau Depot at Ktaples where he joined D Coy 1st battalion of the 14 Reinforcements on October 21, During the next few months Private Norris undertook various courses and finally rejoined his unit on April 6 1917. Within a week he was sent to the New Zealand Working battalion and after a couple of other postings returned to his unit in August. In September he was transferred to the 1st Brigade of the New Zealand Field Artillery and his Brigade took part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres, better known as the Battle of Passchendale. On March 30 1918 he became sick and was diagnosed with appendicitis. He eventually went to Southwark Military Hospital where he had his appendix removed. He was transferred to the New Zealand Convalescence Hospital at Hornchurch on May 29 and was eventually sent to convalesce at the home of Mrs Northey, of King Arthur’s Villas, Tintagel and died on October 20 1918 from a gastric ulcer, haemorrhage perforation and shock following the operation.

    The second headstone of interest was this one for H. Sandercock. Again, what was his service history that lead to his death in the UK and subsequent burial at Advent?
    A brief conversation with Mr Google produces this extract from the Cornish and Devon Post of the 23rd November 1918.
    ' After much suffering, Lance Corporal Harry Sandercock has died at the home of his parents, John and Elizabeth Sandercock, at Treclego, Camelford. Prior to enlistment in 1913, he was a claymaker and was discharged from the army in October 1917 as being no longer fit for war service. Many sympathisers attended the funeral at Advent Church on Sunday afternoon'.

    What caused his suffering is not documented although the details are probably on his death certificate, should someone want to get a copy of it.
    Looking south-ish to Roughtor and in the background, Brown Willy, the two highest points on Bodmin Moor and Cornwall.
    Looking north-ish to the coast around Polzeath.
    This is the 'Long Stone' at Moorgate. Not much is known about it but it is one of many such standing stones on or near Bodmin Moor. They are assumed to be ceremonial monuments dating from the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age (c.2400-700 BC). I always run my hands over these in a futile attempt to feel a connection with the past. I can't say that this is what I get but it's certainly a  relaxing moment of focus.
    Not many butterflies around at this time of year. In fact, this Red Admiral was the only one that I saw relatively close up and even this was near the top of a bush.
    Just a lane leading to a farm but I liked the well maintained stone walls. How old? Our best guess was in the early 1800s. Coincidentally, the farm in question is Treclego, where Harry Sandercock, mentioned above, died.

    Wednesday, 20 September 2017

    On this day in 1917, Private Sydney John Smith was killed.

    Private 204545
    5th Platoon, B Company
    15th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment
    20th September 1917
    Sydney John Smith was the only son of John and Jane Smith. His father was a miller at Manaton Mill and it was there that Sydney was privately baptised at home, a rather unusual occurrence and possibly related to some perinatal problems, on 5th February 1884. By the time of the 1901 census, taken on 31st March of that year, the Smith family was living in Kelly Bray and Sydney, aged 18, was working as a general labourer, while his father was a corn miller. In the 1911 census (2nd April 1911), the family is still in Kelly Bray and Sydney’s occupation is given as a sawyer.

    At some point, Sydney enlisted in the army at Launceston and seemed to have moved regiments several times, from the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry to the Devonshire Regiment and, finally, to the Hampshire Regiment. It may be that these moves were in response to the need to make up regimental numbers in the field. We don’t know when he entered the France and Flanders Theatre of War but, from the War Diary of his battalion, we do know that just before the 20th September 1917, the 15th Hampshires were in Trench Street Tunnels, just outside of Zillebeke, to the south of Ypres. They were preparing for engagement on the 20th for what became known as The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, the third British general attack of the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in the First World War. The battle took place from 20th to 25th September 1917 and heralded a change in some infantry tactics, by adopting the "leap-frog" method of advance, when waves of infantry stopped once they reached their objective, then consolidated the ground, while other waves passed through the objective to attack the next one and the earlier waves became the tactical reserve. The Battalion War Diary gives a graphic description of the fighting Sydney John Smith and his comrades were engaged in and, at the end of the battle, the battalion casualties were enormous: 55 killed, 255 wounded and 34 missing believed killed. Sydney was one of the latter. His body was never recovered and he is one of the many commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

    Sydney John Smith's Medal Card.
    The Tyne Cot Memorial.
    Sydney’s mother clung on to the fact that he was originally listed as ‘missing believed dead’ and correspondence archived with the Red Cross, and shown below, contains a record of the poignant letter Jane Smith wrote to the authorities trying to track down her son. All to no avail and Sydney was eventually listed as ‘killed’. Sydney is remembered on his parents’ headstone in Stoke Climsland graveyard.

    All of Sydney Smith's possessions were left to his widowed mother.
    Both Sydney's parents are buried in the graveyard in Stoke Climsland. Sydney is mentioned on the headstone.


    Sunday, 17 September 2017

    Andalucian pot pourri: Part 2: Only mad dogs.....

    What to do? The temperature is hovering in the mid-30's Centigrade and there's barely a breeze. I know, I'll go for a walk up the nearest mountain. What do Noel Coward say about Mad Dogs and the noon day sun?

    Above where we staying is the Sierra de Mijas and this is criss-crossed by a well developed network of footpaths of varying lengths and difficulties. I didn't have the time to explore the highest track and contented myself with a few miles of the green and blue routes. For anyone interested, my starting point was the Puerto Colorado.
    Each route was ostensibly well marked but, as seems to be typical for many places, the signs going out seem to be better than the signs in the opposite direction. In foreign parts, I always take the precaution of discretely marking (with a 3 foot Union Jack) the way I've come from so there's no ambiguity on my way back.  

    Just missed it. Something was lurking in the middle of these grasses and took off when it realised I was there. Not a rabbit, about the same size but darker and with a definite long tail. Thinking about it, it might even have been a cat.  I don't often wear shorts as I've got too much consideration for other people to expose them to my legs and this was a time when I wish I'd stuck to my customary long trousers. Just about every plant and bush out there is sharp and wants to hurt you. 
    The mountains are mostly comprised of marble and limestone and are extremely dry and almost desert-like in parts as there is little shade or water. The terrain is tough, with lots of rocks and sand and is slippery underfoot. It's not a place to venture without proper walking boots and plenty of water.
    The views were spectacular and almost 360ยบ. There were views across to North Africa and the whole of Malaga’s coastline. Looking northwards there are the mountains of Sierra de las Nieves. The sights are well worth the effort of getting up there to see them. 
    I like walking when it's hot as the heat really brings out the scents of the various plants. Here there are some pine trees which gave the air a resinous aroma which, when intermingled with the aroma of rosemary, was heady stuff. All that, with the continuous ratchet of cicadas, makes the effort worthwhile. I can recommend it.
    This part of the walk was a bit of a slog up to the trees at the top. The terrain reminded me of the garrigues of Provence in France.
    Lots of these wasps around but, as far as I could tell, they seemed to be solitary, with only one hovering around each burrow.
    Not too many butterflies around and I spent a good ten minutes trying to get a half decent shot of this one. It's not a species that we see in the UK and my guidebook tells me that it's probably a Great Banded Grayling.
    There were very few birds around and this was the only one I got a shot of. I think it's a Pied Flycatcher but am open to being corrected.

    Saturday, 16 September 2017

    On this day in 1917, Gunner John Jordan was killed

    Gunner 107471
    238th Siege Battery
    yal Garrison Artillery
    Died age 40
    16th September 1917
    John Jordan was born in Lezant in 1876, the son of Elias and Elizabeth Jordan. He was baptised as John Tredinnick Jordan in Lezant church on 5th November 1876. In 1881 he was living in Launceston with his parents and in 1891 he was working and living as a farm servant in Lake, Lifton. By 1901 he had changed occupations and was working as a storeman in Wheal Russell mine, on Morwell Down above Morwellham. John married Edith Friend at Tavistock Registry Office on 5th October 1901 and they went on to have two sons, William John and Charles Herbert, who were both born in Stoke Climsland parish. At the time of the 1911 census, the family was living at Winsor in Kelly Bray and John Snr was working as a storeman/millhand, presumably in one of the local mines.

    John’s Service Record has survived and this tells us that he enlisted at Callington on 9th December 1915 and was assigned to the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA), based at the Citadel in Plymouth. He remained in reserve until 22nd July 1916 when he was mobilised and posted to a base in Bexhill. He subsequently embarked in France on 19th March 1917 and went into action on 18th May 1917.

    The Siege Batteries of the RGA were equipped with heavy howitzers, sending large calibre high explosive shells in high trajectory, plummeting fire. They were most often employed in destroying or neutralising the enemy artillery, as well as putting destructive fire down on strong points, trenches, dumps, stores, roads and railways behind enemy lines. In the case of the 238th, its weapon was a 6 inch howitzer.

    Unit Diaries were not maintained by individual Siege Batteries and that for the 238th covers only August and October 1917, tantalisingly not the month during which John Jordan was killed. What is clear, however, from those two months is that the Battery was in continuous active service around Ypres as part of the Battle of Passchendaele, firing many rounds and, in return, coming under heavy enemy fire. It was in one of these barrages that he was killed. His body was recovered and was buried in the Klein-Vierstraat British Cemetery (Grave reference: III.C.3), which is a few miles south west of Ypres. At 40 years of age when he died, he has the dubious position of being the oldest of those listed on the Stoke Climsland memorial.

    John Jordan's headstone.
    View of Klein-Vierstraat British Cemetery.
    Formal record of John Jordan's effects, which were passed on to his widow.

    Monday, 11 September 2017

    Andalucian pot pourri: Part 1

    We are in Andalucia for a week in a villa in Mijas, just outside of Malaga. As ever, just a few photographs to give a flavour of what we're up to. No theme to link them, just the wanderings of a febrile mind.
    The blurb for our villa claims that, on a clear day, the coast of Africa can be seen. Well, it's a clear day and I can't see Africa. #cheatedofmijas
    Who is this peeping out from behind an hibiscus flower?
    Why, it's Mr Spanish Cicada. And look what a messy eater he is: pollen all over his legs and antennae. I bet his mother won't be pleased to see this.
    And here's Mr Humming Bird Hawk moth heading off after a feed. Look how clean his proboscis is, Mr Spanish Cicada. If he can do it, so can you.
    It's a long way to come for a Cornish Cream Tea, even if it is served with Rodda's Clotted Cream. Around the corner they were serving Ginster's pasties - possibly.
    It's a shame to see the mundane 'pedestrian crossing' sign replacing the rather splendid 'officer crossing' one.
    Colegiata Santa Maria la Mayor - Saint Mary the Major Collegiate Church. For we jubilados, a reduced entrance fee of 3 euros. Almost makes it worth being an OAP.
    My composite of the many altars we saw in the churches in Ronda. Too many, too elaborate and not to our taste. But colourful.
    I liked the glow of the sun behind this bell tower. Can't remember which church it was but it was in Ronda and it was closed.
    Puento Nuevo at Ronda, possibly one of the most photographed bridges in Spain, but none-the-less impressive for that. Tip for travellers to Ronda: the new town is a rather unattractive urban sprawl so keep to the old town and just wander around the streets. It's an interesting place to potter.
    This tower was once the tower of  a Moorish minaret but was appropriated in the 14th Century and modified for use as a tower for a Catholic church. This is all that survives nowadays and, if you look closely, you might be able to make out the typical horse-shoe shaped Moorish doorway on the bottom right.
    The bells in the tower of the Iglesia del Espiritu Santo. The photograph was taken about 10 seconds before they started chiming the quarter hour. And, yes, they were very loud close up. Nowadays they are operated electrically rather than by the traditional clappers. Note added 24 hours later: my ears are still ringing.
    I know all about the good they do but I still have problems with the impact they make on the landscape. Why can't they be smaller and out of the way. And why are there no solar panels to be seen in this part of Spain? Look at the sky - blue and full of sun. And not a hint of wind.
    If you have a gender identity problem, this could be just the place for you.