Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Hooray for Citizen Smith

 OK, call me a naïve political dinosaur if you must but..

Let’s all of us who profess to be on the left be nice. Let’s all be beacons of tolerance, understanding, and empathy. Let’s bend over backwards to appreciate the points of view of others. Let’s receive anger but send out love. Let’s preach peace and civic responsibility. Let’s never utter a harsh word. Let’s not slag off Philip Hammond for being the most grey and boring individual on the face of the planet since former Prime Minister John Major pulled his Y-fronts over his head. Let’s gaze upon the xenophobic and plain nastiness of Theresa May, Liam Fox, Boorish Johnson, and David Davis and resist the urge to hurl abuse, however well justified it might be.

Yes, we could all do that. We Labourites could behave like paragons of virtue and show such good behaviour that would make a Buddhist monastery look like a drunken brawl in a city centre on a Saturday night, and there would still be headlines in the Daily Express and the Daily Mail about vile cybercoms and how repugnant supporters of Jezza are.

Despite that, what being nice means is that we refrain from attacking one another, we concentrate on making the case for more socialism. We don’t allow our opponents to portray us as divided. What it means is that we put into action the aspirations that we have for a socialist UK, that we demonstrate the tolerance and acceptance and good grace that characterises our vision for this country. What it means is that we don’t provide the right-wing media with ammunition to use against us, because then, when they do attempt to demonise and delegitimise the Labour movement and its supporters, it will be easier to unmask them as the kind of divisive, manipulative fantastists who populate the likes of the Daily Mail and the Express. It means we can occupy the moral high ground. And that it turn makes it easier for us to discredit them. And then we will win.

OK, call me a naïve political dinosaur if you must but I still believe in...

Friday, 7 October 2016

A walk with a bit of everything that makes for a good walk

A great day for a walk and a great walk for the day. This one, just myself and my IWC, had a bit of everything: views, history, moorland, fields, ancient trackways, hidden hamlets, streams and stone rows. We'll be doing this route again in the very near future with a couple of our walking groups and I'm sure they'll enjoy it as much as we did.

Our route, starting and ending at Bennett's Cross right in the middle of the moor. It was an anticipated 8 miles but, although not shown on the above track, we had a few deviations due to navigator's error. This probably added at least a mile to the total.
The view due west from the start. The photograph does not do justice to the shafts of light shining down through the clouds.
Lots of Highland cattle were to be seen grazing the sparse grass that the moor offers. And that's the reason they are there: they can feed on the poorest pasture.
Our descent from the moor was quite steep and this view looks back from whence we came. To the left and right of this track were the remains of the old East Vitifer mine, which was active in the mid 1800s but was never a tremendous success. Tread carefully in the woods as some of the original shafts are still uncapped.
It's a little strange to come across signs on Dartmoor showing the way for mariners but it's true (allegedly). In days of yore, mariners would walk from the North Devon coast (Bideford) to the South Devon coast (Dartmouth) to take up positions on the sailing ships. It was easier to do this than sail around Lands' End. The Mariners' Way is now a recognised long distance foot path (90 miles or so) linking the two coasts of Devon. In actual fact, at the time it was being actively used, there probably never was a single end-to-end path. It is more likely that the travellers used a network of paths and tracks to get them to where they wanted to be.
West Combe farm on the edge of the moor is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, the Mariners' Way actually went through the cross passage of the farm (It has since been diverted around the dwelling. The situation arose because the farm was build over an existing ancient right of way.) and secondly, it was the first Devon longhouse we encountered on our walk.
Speaking of Devon longhouses, we soon came across the hamlet of Lettaford and Sanders Longhouse, reputed to be one of the oldest on Dartmoor. It has been very well preserved by the Landmark Trust and is available for holiday rental. What is a long house? Traditionally, a dwelling with living accommodation and animal housing under one roof, separated by a cross passage.
This shows the component parts of the Sanders Longhouse and, as with all similar buildings, the animal housing (shippon or byre) was built down the slope. Sanders dates from 1500, although there was a building on the site from around 1230.
Another depiction of the Sanders Longhouse. The work done by the Landmark Trust has maintained the original functional layout.
Granite, granite everywhere. There is a bit of serious granite dressing in this wall, and there were plenty of others like it.
And talking of granite ... this old gatepost caused me to think of what it's original function was. The 'L' shaped slots threw me for a while but...
..when I came across this one nearby, it was obvious (?) that they were slots to house bars forming a gate. The 'L' shaped slots provided a sort-of locking mechanism to keep the bars in place.
Up on Hurston Common is what some say is the best preserved double stone row on Dartmoor. It's about 1/2 mile long with 49 pairs of stones. I walked up between the stones towards the end stone at the top of the hill and it was a strange feeling. It seemed as if the stones form a barrier with the outside world. There's no question in my mind that they had a processional significance, rather than a guide to orientation. 
Regular readers of this blog will recognise immediately what this depression is. Yes, it's a leat. There were many on this part of the moor, all taking water down to the Vitifer mining complex. The leats seem to have been fed by water from marshes and bogs rather than from streams.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

On this day, 4th October, in 1916, Private Edwin Serpell was killed.

Private 100143
49th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Alberta Regiment)
Died age 29
4th October1916
Edwin Charles Serpell was born in Venterdon on March 8th, 1887, the son of Samuel and Mary. He had three brothers and four sisters, was baptised in Stoke Climsland church and attended the primary school. At the time of the 1911 census (2nd April 1911), he was living with his parents and working as a ‘Steam Roller Assistant’, presumably at nearby Dingles. Like so many other young men from Cornwall, Edwin decided to seek his fortunes overseas and, on 3rd June 1913, he sailed from Bristol, on the Royal Line steamship Royal Edward, bound for Quebec and Montreal. His ultimate destination was Edmonton, Alberta. There he seems to have found work as a gardener as this was the occupation he gave when he enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in Edmonton on 1st July 1915. Interestingly, most of the 1,000 initial recruits were originally from Britain: only 208 were Canadian-born. The battalion subsequently landed in France on 9th October 1915, where it fought as part of the 7th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division in France and Flanders. It entered the fighting line on October 16th 1915 and remained on active service until the end of the war.
The action in which Edwin Serpell lost his life was during one of several conflicts that became part of the larger Battle of the Somme. It was a desperate fight for the strategically important high ground along the Pozieres Ridge, an area that was heavily defended by the Germans. The Battle of Flers-Courcelette was a large-scale general renewal of the offensive after the weeks of attritional fighting for the third German system at Pozieres, High Wood, Delville Wood, Guillemont and Ginchy. It is historically noteworthy for being the first time that tanks were used in battle and the first time that the Canadian Corps entered the Somme. The 49th suffered 63 casualties, 14 killed and 49 wounded. Edwin was one of those who died, his body was recovered and buried in the Courcelette British Cemetery, just north of Pozieres in Picardy.
As well as on our local war memorials, Edwin Serpell is commemorated on the Canadian Maple Leaf virtual war memorial. A newspaper clipping at the time mentions that he was a life-long member of the Sunday School in Venterdon. He had an ‘even temper and transparent goodness which remain as lessons in life for all the young people of his acquaintance’.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A trip to Looe Island

Some photographs taken on a day trip over the waves to Looe Island.
West Looe to the right and East Looe to the left. Our nearest 'traditional' Cornish fishing village. Better out of season when there are fewer people around but always a pleasant place to wander around. It doesn't have a big fishing fleet now but has a number of day boats who supply local restaurants and who are probably the best 'wet' fish merchants for miles, Pengelly and Daughters.
To a tea-drinker like me, having Barista trained staff is not a recommendation. Trained in what, exactly? Being superior and surly to customers? Poncing around for 10 minutes to produce one of a myriad of variants on coffee in water and milk? Trying to convince the gullible that your job is really important and what you are giving them is an earth-shattering experience? It's not. It's a cup of coffee. Get real, baristas and take a leaf from the tea-wallahs. They dunk a teabag in a mug of hot water, remove it, slop in a drop of milk: job done in 30 seconds with no pretensions and no faux-dramatics.
I agree. Every time I see a barista, I want to poo on his head. And sometimes I do because I'm the nastiest seaside bird you can find. Terrorising the unwary is my game. I'm the Herring Gull from hell.
But we weren't visiting Looe so I could rant about baristas, we were there to visit Looe Island or St George's Island. Apparently it's the only place in the UK with two names officially sanctioned by the Ordnance Survey. It's been occupied since at least Roman times and was until recently owned by two elderly sisters. When they died, they left the island to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, who now run it as a nature reserve. Hence our visit on this fine September afternoon. The boat trip out took only 15 minutes and gives good views of the neighbouring coastline.
The rather fancifully names Smugglers' Cottage. Destined to become a holiday let at some point. A let with no electricity and limited water supplies but there is 4G available.
Take one garden bench, add a little Cornish weather and this is what you get.
A fine collection of old garden machinery. In fact, there were many fine collections of old bits and pieces scattered everywhere. It's easier getting new stuff onto the island than getting rid of it when it's old and passed its useful life.
An adult Greater Black Backed Gull. Looe Island has one of the largest breeding colonies of this gull in Cornwall.
An Oystercatcher. We've seen lots of them elsewhere in the UK but they are still a joy to watch as they scurry over the rocks, prodding nokes and crannies with their long orange beaks.
A Red Admiral on some blackberries.
And a Peacock Butterfly on an ivy flower.
What's that bloke over there looking at?
Who? Me?
A Grey Seal called Duchess. I kid you not. Apparently all the seals that visit the waters around the island are given names and can be identified by their unique markings.
A cormorant amongst some young Greater Black Backed Gulls. They, the gulls, don't fully develop their eponymous markings until they are 2-3 years old.
And we finished off our day with fish and chips overlooking the island from Millandreath beach. Hooray for the Coddy Shack (it's just occurred to me what the play on words is. Duh!).

Saturday, 24 September 2016

On this day, 25th September 1916, Guardsman Ernest Finnamore died.

Guardsman 25386

1st Battalion Grenadier Guards
Died age 24
25th September 1916
Ernest Finnamore was born on 31st May 1891 at Church Town, St Johns near Torpoint, one of the sons of John, an agricultural labourer, and Emma Finnamore. His parents seemed to have died when he was young and at the time of the 1901 census (taken on 31st March) he was living with his uncle and aunt, William and Ann Finnamore, in Venterdon.

Luckily and very unusually, Ernest’s Service Record has survived the WW2 Blitz and, from this, we are able to get a good picture of his army service. He joined the 5th Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry (DCLI) Territorial Force in Callington on 14th January 1910 but moved shortly after that to Falmouth where the 1911 census (taken on 2nd April 1911) shows him boarding at 4 Kohinoor Place and working as a ship breaker.

Pre 1914 there were two DCLI Territorial battalions of the DCLI – the 4th and 5th DCLI. The former recruited in the west of the County (including Truro) and the latter in the east of the County. Territorial Force soldiers had no liability to serve outside the United Kingdom unless they had signed an agreement to do so. When war was declared on 4th August 1914, all those who had signed such an agreement were formed into two battalions, regardless of whether they were originally from the 4th or 5th . These battalions were known as the 1/4th and 2/4th DCLI (TF). They were to be employed in India to relieve regular battalions for service on the Western Front.

Ernest remained with the 4th Battalion DCLI as a territorial taking part in its regular training activities and had the rank of Lance Corporal at the time of the outbreak of WW1. In early 1915 he became a Temporary Acting Corporal in the 1st/4th Battalion, by which time he is serving in India. He was based there until December 1915 when he returned to the UK to serve out the remainder of his 6 year engagement with the DCLI. On the very day this expired, he enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in Truro on 13th January 1916. He then travelled to the Grenadier Guards barracks at Caterham in Surrey and, after a period of training, he entered the French Theatre of War on 28th August 1916. In less than one month on French soil he was killed at the Battle for Lesboeufs on the Somme on 25th September. The village of Lesboeufs was attacked by the Guards Division on 15th September 1916 and captured by them on the 25th. During this action, which was successful in meeting its objectives, the total casualties for the 1st Battalion from the trench warfare were: 4 officers killed, 12 wounded. 80 other ranks killed and 431 wounded. 84 missing. Ernest Finnamore was one of the missing and his body was never recovered. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. As well as the Stoke Climsland War Memorial, Ernest is remembered on memorials in Torpoint, St John by Anthony and Falmouth, representing places associated with his early years and where he worked.
Details from the commemorative plaque on the cross just outside of Anthony. It lists the names of those lost in Sheviock, Torpoint, St Johns and Anthony.
Detail from the St Johns cross.
Falmouth War Memorial.
Ernest Finnamore's medal roll showing his entitlement to decorations is interesting. As might be expected he had the War and Victory medals from his time in the Grenardier Guards but from his time in the DCLI, he was also entitled to the Territorial Force War Medal. Given the novelty of this, a little information is appropriate.
Ernest Finnamore's medal roll cards.
Territorial Force War Medal.

The Territorial Force War Medal was a campaign medal awarded to members of the British Territorial Force and Territorial Force Nursing Services who served overseas in World War I; it is the rarest of the five British Great War medals. The medal was established in April 1920 for award to members of the Territorial Force and Territorial Force Nursing Services who volunteered for service overseas on or before 30th September 1914, and served overseas. They had to:
◾ have been serving with the force on 4th August 1914 or
◾ have completed four years service with the force before 4th August 1914 and rejoined the force on or before 30th September 1914. In addition provided they:
◾ Undertook, either verbally or by written agreement on or before 30th September 1914 to serve outside the United Kingdom, such agreement being operative after 4th August 1914, and
◾ Have served outside the United Kingdom between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918 (both dates inclusive; note that the last date was in 1918 though the years on the reverse of the medal say 1914-19) and
◾ Did not qualify for the 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star.

Friday, 16 September 2016

An idiots guide to the Middle East

Am I alone in finding the situation in the Middle East very, very confusing? There are legions of Middle East experts advising us on how to act in this area but most of them can't seem to agree on anything other than it is very, very messy. It is clear that we need and want the oil that comes from this area. And let's be honest, other than the oil and not having planes fly into our buildings or our citizen’s blown up or their appendages chopped off, most of us really don’t care about the Middle East. We just see it as a hell-hole of conflict. But we can't admit that because we really, really need the oil. One thing is certain, however, and that is whatever actions we have taken in the Middle East in the past have done little to improve the lives of the people who live there. In fact our intervention over the years has resulted in political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations and the growth of ISIS/ISIL or what have you.

I'm not an expert and, for what it's worth (well, it kept me amused for a while) the following is a summary of my understanding of the current situation in the Middle East. Call it an 'Partially Informed Idiot's Guide to the Middle East' if you like.

* ISIS is a group of fundamentalist fanatics that want to convert everyone in the world to their fanatical religious beliefs. They are brutal and ruthless.  Al Qaida is another group pretty much the same as ISIS except they don’t like each other. The Taliban are like ISIS and Al Qaida and they will work with anyone that helps them defeat the Afghanistan government.
* There is a revolution in Syria. The rebels want to defeat the government and ISIS, ISIS wants to defeat the rebels and the government. The Syrian government hates ISIS and the rebels

* Iran hates ISIS and Iraq and Syrian rebels

* Russia likes Syria and hates ISIS and the Syrian rebels.

* Russia likes Iran and sells them weapons

* Libya hates ISIS and is a mess in general
* Iraq hates Iran, except they both hate ISIS and are fighting together against ISIS

* The UK does not like Iran and Iran isn't too keen on the UK. But they hate the US

* Saudi Arabia hates Yemen and Iran.

* Egypt is a mess internally and hates Israel

* Israel just wants to be left alone
* Pakistan and India hate each other

* Sunni Muslims hate Shia Muslims and Shia Muslims hate Sunni Muslims

* Afghanistan is fighting ISIS and the Taliban and Al Qaida

* The USA and UK are fighting ISIS, Taliban, Al Qaida and are siding with the Syrian rebels but working with Russia in fighting ISIS who we sometimes call IS, ISIL, the so-called Islamic State or Daesh
* All of the Middle East loves Palestine, except they don’t seem to do anything to help them besides using them to hurt Israel

* Israel likes the US but everyone else hates the US

* Everyone hates Israel except the US, and sometimes the US wobbles on this a bit

* Turkey hates the Kurds and ISIS

* The Kurds hate ISIS and some of Turkey

* The West likes Turkey, but Turkey doesn’t always like the West and the West likes the Kurds but won’t help them because we don’t want to antagonise Turkey.

* Jordan hates ISIS and we like Jordan. They were British once (as were most of the territories under question, come to think of it. Help! It's all our fault)

* There are a bunch of other little countries that have oil and are nice to the West so we help them keep their oil from bigger countries.

* Then some of the countries have tribes that seem to act separately from their country and lots of these tribes don’t like each other.

I am sure I've got a lot of this wrong, but the self-evident point is that it is very, very complicated. Whatever we do is going to irritate a whole bunch of countries, tribes and people. As I said at the beginning of this post, whatever we have done in the past has only made things worse.

So extreme measures are called for. My position (slightly tongue-in-cheek) would be to put whatever it takes into making us so energy independent that we don’t need to give a toss about what happens in the Middle East. Then we should just step back and do nothing. Let everyone sort it out on their own. It might take a few centuries, but let's just butt out. Has anyone got a better idea? Pretty please.
I probably shouldn’t be Prime Minister, should I?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Read all about it - in 1902.

The last few weeks I have been too preoccupied with various family matters to post anything to my blog and maybe things will settle down from here on. Be that as it may, it was in relation to one of these events that I had occasion to look at the archives of a newspaper from Morpeth in Northumberland. After I'd found what I was looking for, just as a distraction I picked an issue at random from the index and that is how I came across The Morpeth Herald, dated 30th August 1902. Fascinating material to browse through if you are interested in social history and an antidote to the doom and gloom that seems to be the daily fare in my copy of the Guardian.

The Morpeth Herald which, as well as serving the towns of Morpeth, Blyth and Bedlington, seems to be the "local organ" for every town and village north of the Tyne. It is the end of August 1902 and the news is dominated by the coronation of King Edward VII which took place earlier in the month after being postponed from earlier in the year due to the King being ill. Edison had just invented the battery, Renault had just won the first Paris to Vienna motor car race and the United States Government bought the Panama Canal. But closer to its northern home, other items dominated the news reported in this issue of the Herald. Here are a few that caught my eye:.

The second annual general meeting of the Broomhill Collieries Ltd was held at the offices of the company, 10 Dean Street, Newcastle, on Friday. Sir Christopher Furness M.P. (chairman) presided, and those present included Mr Davison Dalziel and Mr Montague Maclean (members of the Board)...... The Chairman (reported a worrying trend, telling the meeting that ......) he might tell them that the output of their coal last year was 616,819 tons. It was quite true that was between 30,000 and 40,000 tons less than the previous year, but that reduction was caused by two circumstances. First, they had too many holidays during the past year, and as one engaged with large commercial and industrial concerns, employing thousands of workmen, and knowing the disturbing influence of these stoppages, he trusted that they might not continue to encourage, as had been the case during the past two or three years, the frequency of holidays. It added to their cost, and placed them at a disadvantage as a nation with the countries with whom they had to compete.

How lucky we are to have the likes of Baron Furness and Baron Dalziel, not to mention the Hon Montague Maclean, to remind us that providing workers with too many holidays can be bad for trade - and bad for profits. How unlucky it is that those eighty-four miners who were killed whilst trying to earn a living digging coal from Broomhill Colliery over the seventy or so years of its existence were not on holiday on that dreadful day when they descended into the earth never to see the light of day again.

Although false teeth had been available in Britain since the end of the eighteenth century, being made out of gold and porcelain they were an expensive luxury available only to the rich. By the latter part of the nineteenth century artificial teeth made from porcelain and Vulcanite were becoming widely available at a price that made them an option for a far broader spectrum of society. At a time when dental hygiene was poor and dental treatment expensive, the idea of having all of your natural teeth removed and replaced with a full artificial set for a guinea or two was attractive. This trend continued for the first half of the 20th century and a survey conducted in 1968 revealed that 80% of those aged over 65 had no natural teeth at all. This doesn't surprise me as it was still not an uncommon thing to happen in my childhood village when I was growing up. 

A large gathering of the friends of Mr. Marlow of Barrington, met at Mr. G. A. Scott's, Choppington Inn, Scotland Gate, on Saturday evening to wish him god-speed and good luck on the occasion of his leaving for South Africa. Mr. Jas. Cox, under manager, Choppington Colliery, occupied the chair and said they were all sorry to part with their friend, Mr Marlow, but as the step he was about to take was made for the best he could assure him he took with him the heartiest and sincerest wishes of his numerous friends for his future success and well being. The war was now happily over, and England had obtained another very rich colony which she would undoubtedly develop and make it possible for the industrious settler to become highly prosperous. They all knew Mr. Marlow to be an industrious, steady, sober young man fitted to make his way in a new country, and although they parted with their friend with regret they confidently looked for early news of his success. (Applause). Mr. Geo. Atkinson gave the health of Mr. Marlow and spoke in eulogistic terms of him. The following programme was gone through;— Song,"Home, Sweet Home" Mr. T. Phillips; hornpipe. Mr. James Thomas Atkinson; song, “Goodbye, Sweetheart" Mr. James Thomson; song, "Sweet Silver Light Bonny Moon" Mr. James Cox; song, "Kiss Me Mother in my Dreams" Mr. Jas. Jordan; song, " “Sentenced to Death" Mr. C. Teasdale; song, "Annie Dear" Mr. W. Marlow; violin solo, "Robin Gray" Mr. S. Tait; song, "Far Away" Mr. Edward Carr; song, "Under Her Apron" Mr. R. Donald; song, "The Blackbird" Mr. G. F. Barnfather; song, "Queen of the Earth" Mr. J. Marlow; song, "Break the News to Mother" Mr. R. Robson. Messrs. M. Lackie and S. Tait accompanied on the violins. A vote of thanks to the Chairman and the singing of "Auld Lang Syne" brought a pleasant evening to a close.

Can you imagine the scene? It's Mr Marlow's leaving party and friends and family are gathered together at the Choppington Inn to give him a good send-off before he leaves to start a new life in South Africa. The South African war is over and the new colony is now seen as a land of opportunity where a young man can make his fortune. But South Africa was a long way away and in those days emigration was for life. Picture his old mother, sat in a corner listening to the eulogies about her son. Drinks are drunk, tunes are played and songs are sung. And then Mr R Robson starts to sing that well known ballad, "Break The News To Mother". Her tears must have flowed as freely as the beer that was on offer.
"Just break the news to mother, 
she knows how dear I love her
And tell her not to wait for me 
For, I'm not coming home;
Just say there is no other 
can take the place of mother
Then kiss her dear, 
sweet lips for me, 
and break the news to her." 

The coronation of King Edward VII coincided with the birth of popular photography. By the early years of the twentieth century, cameras and photography were leaving the confines of the specialist in his or her studio and becoming a practical possibility for the enthusiastic amateur. In today's prices, the cost of the cameras advertised by Marshall's varies between £48 and £280. Darkroom equipment was not as easily available and therefore photographic suppliers would often make darkrooms available for customers to use. Is this another sign of my age? I can remember Evans the Chemist in Bedwas doing just this.

Two women jumped from a train as it was passing through Pelaw Station, near Newcastle on Tuesday, and fell full length on the platform. When they picked themselves up they explained to the astonished railway officials that as the train had not stopped where they lived they decided to jump out at the next station, which happened to be Pelaw. Neither of the two women appeared to be hurt, and they seemed quite pleased that they managed to escape being carried further from their homes.

I wouldn't fancy the chances of someone trying this trick today. If they weren't killed by the jump from a high speed train, they would no doubt be arrested by the transport police. Perhaps the women would have been better off with a horse and cart, if they only hadn't sold the horse to John Gibson in the first place.