Saturday, March 29, 2008

Laban - Global Leader

Excellent news. Only a couple of months back, I was a sinister right-wing extremist, illuminating targets like a laser spotter for my fanatical followers to burn down.

Now, according to my mailbox, I'm one of the global opinion-formers who the World Security Network need to help build a new vision of tolerance and respect as the common spiritual core of our global village. This enticing prospect is followed by a number of anecdotes about the Prophet, showing him to be such an enlightened soul that he shared his mosque with Christians. Jews, too, as fellow sons and daughters of Abraham, were welcome to worship in the new mosque at Medina.

If the good people of Saudi Arabia take these messages and the Prophet's example to heart, and open up their mosques to Christian and Jewish worship, I can indeed see a new era of peace and co-operation. Muslims on Fridays, the sons of Levi on Saturdays, Christians on Sundays - all trying different routes to the One God. And no-one is more aware than I of the things we hold in common - what the mail calls "the Golden Nuggets of Humanity" (isn't that a casino in Vegas ?), the Golden Rules that are common to almost all religion - almost to all humanity.

In fact, I was (admittedly from a seat in the downstairs loo) pondering the wisdom of Old Egypt this very morning - the Instructions To Merikare, a sort of manual for a king's son :

Copy your forefathers, for [work] is carried out through knowledge; see, their words endure in writing. Open, that you may read and copy knowledge; (even) the expert will become one who is instructed. Do not be evil, for patience is good; make your lasting monument in the love of you.

Do justice, that you may live long upon earth. Calm the weeper, do not oppress the widow, do not oust a man from his father's property, do not degrade magnates from their seats. Beware of punishing wrongfully ..

The Instruction of Amenemope - a civil service manual which our rulers could profitably read :

Do not lead a man astray reed pen or papyrus document:
It is the abomination of God.
Do not witness a false statement,
Nor remove a man (from the list) by your order;
Do not enroll someone who has nothing,
Nor make your pen be false.
If you find a large debt against a poor man,
Make it into three parts;
Release two of them and let one remain:
You will find it a path of life;
You will pass the night in sound sleep; in the morning
You will find it like good news.

Better it is to be praised as one loved by men
Than wealth in the storehouse;
Better is bread when the mind is at ease
Than riches with troubles.

Poor gloomy, Job-like Ptah-Hetep :

Old age has occured, and Age has arrived
Feebleness has come and weakness is renewed
One sleeps in discomfort(?) every day
The eyes are dim and the ears deaf
Strength perishes, weary-hearted
The mouth has become silent, and cannot speak.
The heart is finished, not (even) remembering yesterday
The Bones have been ill a long time
and Good has turned into Evil
All taste is gone
What age does to people is evil in everything
The nose is stopped up and does not smell
Sitting and standing are difficult.

But I digress. Who on earth are the World Security Network, whose Wikipedia entry is suspiciously sparse, and what sort of chap is head honcho Hubertus Hoffmann ?

"A Series of Unfortunate Events"

It's not just on Dewsbury council estates that you get stories like this :

Last year's breeding season at Loch Garten was brought to an abrupt end following a series of unfortunate events.

A male called Henry kicked the eggs fathered by a rival from a nest before his own clutch failed. It was thought that he then accidentally trampled on one of his own three offspring while trying to free himself from a piece of fishing line.

Days later the two remaining chicks also died.

Richard Thaxton, RSPB Scotland site manager at Loch Garten, said staff were delighted by EJ's return. He said: "I'm sure everyone remembers the saga last year, where she laid two different clutches to two different fathers, although sadly not one chick survived. She has successfully reared young at Loch Garten in two of her five previous seasons with us and we are really hoping that she can get back to form this year."

Help ! RealVideo Capture ?

Anybody know how to capture BBC RealVideo ? The suggestions in the comments boxes alas don't work.

It's an rtsp stream wot looks like this :

rtsp:// (continued)

But if you try to 'Save Target As', a popup tells you that you can either open RealPlayer or cancel.

Another Liberal Myth Bites The Dust

The action moved fast, with precision. A sedan drove up and stopped under the tree. A man climbed on to the top quickly. Another. They stood black against the sky. From beneath, a group of men, shoving and pushing, got Hyacinth's limp thin body up to them. Hyacinth half lay, half squatted on the roof. From the ground a length of rope sailed up, hung in the air, curved and fell. A man tried again and the rope caught and hung down from a limb. The noosed end was thrown to one of the men standing on the car-roof.

The noosed end was thrown to one of the men standing on the car-roof. He held it and shook Hyacinth. There were no words now, only vague instructions, half-spoken. The crowd stood still; you could hear the mosquitoes whining. The other man held something in his hand it; looked like a great jug. He held it over Hyacinth, who shivered suddenly, and came to life. His voice rose out of him like something apart, and it hurt one's ears to listen to it; it was higher than a voice can be, not human.

"Boss," he said, "Boss I didn't do nuthin, don't burn me, Boss, Boss . . ." The crowd had trembled now, stirred by his voice, and there were orders to hurry, to kill the bastard, what the hell were they waiting for. The two men held him up and put the noose around his neck, and now he was making a terrible sound, like a dog whimpering. The minute they let go, he slacked into a kneeling position and his whole body seemed to shrink and dwindle and there was this noise he made. The two men jumped down from the roof; the rope was taut now. The car started and the silly sound of the starter failing to work, then the hesitant acceleration of the motor were so important that nothing else was heard; there were no other sounds anywhere; just these, and a moment's waiting.

The car moved forward, fast. Hyacinth skidded and fought an instant - less than an instant - to keep his footing or some hold, some safety. He snapped from the back of the car, hung suspended, twirling a little on the rope, with his head fallen sideways. I did not know whether he was dead. There was a choked sound beside me and it was Joe, crying, sitting there crying, with fury, with helplessness, and I kept looking at Hyacinth and thinking: 'It can't have happened.' There had been a noise, a sudden gutteral sound as of people breathing out a deep breath, when the rope carried Hyacinth twisting into the air.

Now a man came forward with a torch made of newspaper, burning. He reached up and the flames licked at Hyacinth's feet.

Even knowing what I know now, it's difficult stuff to read. Martha Gellhorn's description of a lynching in the southern United States, "Justice At Night", first published in the (London) Spectator in August 1936, was in Reader's Digest by March 1937 - and that meant it was in millions of American homes.

It's considered (admittedly by the cheap'n'cheerful "Mammoth Book of ..." series) to be one of the Top 100 pieces of journalism.

You can buy a (bloody awful - cheating students should pinch Camilla Wright's excellent Normblog piece) student essay on it - which means that it's still being taught in schools and colleges, like the poor innocents Sacco and Vanzetti, as fact.

Camilla Wright's fine Normblog essay, while a tad over-influenced by more modern cinematic echoes (the whole Deliverance/Texas Chainsaw narrative didn't exist in 1936) sums up the impact perfectly.

Originally published in The Spectator in 1936, 'Justice At Night' is perhaps the most perfect piece of eyewitness journalism. History, politics, human interest and gut-wrenching emotion are all mixed in together. It's unashamedly biased - there's no disengaged, disinterested reporter here. It's straight from the heart. But these short paragraphs tell so much more than a personal anecdote. In this micro-story, the macro-narrative of 20th Century American history is imparted: north v south, urban v country, black v white, the civil war and the civil rights movement.

It's not only true, it illustrates a wider truth ! And it's brilliantly written.

Every time I read this I feel the same shock as reading it the first time. Like I've been a first-hand witness to a truly inhuman event. I don't think there is better praise a writer could get.

It's still a perfect piece of writing. But eyewitness journalism ?

Gellhorn was writing a novel herself ... the book caught the attention of Harry Hopkins in the Roosevelt administration, who was assembling a team of young reporters to fan out across the Depression-ravaged country and document the lives of ordinary people ... two episodes stand out from Gellhorn's modest contribution to this worthy effort: she made up a story about a lynching in the South and published it as fact, and she encouraged laborers in North Carolina to break factory windows to protest their working conditions.

Eleanor Roosevelt, a college friend of Gellhorn's mother, admired the lynching article, and Martha explained, giddily and lamely, that she was "getting a little mixed-up around now and apparently I am a very realistic writer (or liar), because everyone assumed I'd been an eye-witness to a lynching whereas I just made it up." Her fake story dogged her for the rest of her life. And her incitement to riot got her fired by Hopkins.

Did the fakeness "dog her" ? Eleanor Roosevelt may have known about it, but it was still presented as fact when I read it as a teenager. No-one told Camilla Wright, either.

Caroline Moorehead, Gellhorn's biographer and editrix of her letters, to whom this revelation is due, doesn't seem like a member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy to me. Indeed her Wikipedia entry is stamped 'paid-up liberal'. And she's the daughter of the great Alan Moorehead, so I believe everything she writes.

Only one thing bothers me, as I post in haste. Could Christopher Benfey, author of the book review from which I've taken the 'I just made it up' quote and professor of English at "a liberal arts womens college" in Massachusetts, be a secret member of the VRWC ? Is the quote real ? Time for Laban to find the library website and read both books for himself.

(I shouldn't have to write this, but the fact that this writing turns out to be fiction doesn't mean that nobody ever got lynched in America. Hell, it's still happening now.)


"How long it'll be up there is anyone's guess"

Hmmm. a few million hits later, the answer is "less than 24 hours".

"Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers. This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else."

As Mark Steyn puts it :

To reprise Douglas Murray's point below, a film such as Fitna might not even be necessary were the western news organizations not so absurdly deferential toward Muslim sensibilities that they go out of their way to avoid showing us anything that might cause us to link violence with Islam. Even that footage of those depraved West Bankers jumping up and down in the street and passing out candy to celebrate 9/11 appears to have been walled up in the most impenetrable vault of the archives these last six years. Both CNN and the BBC could only bring themselves to show the Danish cartoons by pixelating Mohammed's face - the first time this technique has ever been applied to a drawing, as if the Prophet had entered the witness protection program. At one level, they make Wilders' point for him, but, at another, they make it less likely anyone else will step forward to try to make the point next time.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Way We Were - Scally Edition

Panorama investigates the Anfield Kop in 1964. Check out the number of ties (many), and the number of women (few). A different world.

Ski Thomson In Zell Am See

Get beaten half to death by a gang of Bosnian immigrants.

Grooming (on a Sunday afternoon)

I put together a few posts a year or so back on the 'grooming' of under-age girls, often leading to prostitution, by young Asian (mostly Muslim) men in Northern cities.

It was the subject of last night's Panorama. It'll be up for a week - does anyone know how to capture BBC video ?

One Muslim from Lancashire is speaking out. Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, said "I think the police are overcautious on dealing with this issue openly because they fear being branded racist and I think that is wrong".

We're seeing the effects of thirty years of well-meant, middle-class anti-racism here. Put that together with a culture where the school nurse is handing out contraception to children while the parent (often) or parents remain in blissful ignorance and you get our old friend unforeseen consequence.

Mind, it's not little Phillippa from Boltburn Girls Grammar, with her magistrate mum, who's being enticed by a pimped-up Corsa, a trip to McDonalds and a tasteful selection of Elizabeth Duke jewellery. It'll be poor Chavaunne from Retchworth Community College who gets the come-on in the shopping mall. But for most white liberals race trumps class in the hierarchy of victimhood, hence the pulling of the Channel Four film on the same subject four years back. If the predators were wealthy, privately educated white boys who just got a kick out of conning and abusing barely-pubescent chavettes, you wouldn't be able to pick up a paper or turn on the radio without tripping over it.

In feminista Julie Bindel's hierarchy, fortunately, gender trumps race.

The pimps are adept at trading on teenage rebellion and use similar methods, according to Crop, of convincing the girls all white people are racist. This is part of the controlling process, to instil guilt in the girls. “Like most teenagers, I was going through a phase of arguing with my mum,” says Gemma. “Amir told me they didn’t understand me and were racist and ignorant. I believed him.” Gemma was given an Asian name by Amir, and told she had to read the Koran, a story support workers tell me is not uncommon. “They erode the girls’ identities,” says Kosaraju, “to make them more compliant and needy.

Few of the girls know, or are willing to acknowledge, they are being pimped. Because they claim to love the men, and think of them as their boyfriends, police often see that as an admission from the girls of consent. “As far as I was concerned, Amir was my boyfriend,” says Gemma. “When he told me I had to sleep with his friends, I had no idea he was being paid for it. I was on a lot of drugs and he said I had to pay for them.”

"convincing the girls all whites are racist" - well, they've had a lot of help over the last thirty years in that laudable aim.

The stories didn't get told (and are pretty low-key now) because people are more worried about increasing the level of white racism than they are about girls being abused. And they have a point - a wrong one, but a point nonetheless.

Nightjack is a newish police blog, one of a few good-uns that have a raised profile since the Copper gave up on the UK and emigrated.

Take a look at this - the story of a guy who tried to cut a few corners to speed up the grooming process.

Four days after the event, “Melissa” (14yrs) is admitted to A&E with an overdose. It is one of those real I want to end it all overdoses. The sort involving tubes and beeps and lights and readouts. We only find out about it when she recovers. She speaks to Mum, and alleges that her boyfriend got her very drunk, took her to a seaside hotel and raped her whilst she was passed out.

So on day six, the Police are called. Day seven Melissa is sensitively and appropriately interviewed to find out what happened to her. She is not sure of her boyfriends’ name, it might be Bilal (we will learn that this is not the truth) . She is not sure what sort of car he has, just that is “well wicked” and customised. She thinks he is 21 (we will learn in the end that he is well over 30). She does know that she went with her friend “Cara” and her boyfriend Qasim. Melissa thinks hearts and romance. Bilal thinks just another goray.

If you've read the post to the end, you may feel that if a BNP activist wanted to invent a fantasy of the predatory "Other" he couldn't do better than that. Trouble is, the odds are heavily on it being the (suitably anonymised - the guy has a job) truth.

How come ? you may ask. Doesn't Islam prohibit such things ? How does this fit with Laban's generally favourable disposition towards those who are tough on crime, have strong families, value respectability ("honour" in the Muslim context) and fear God ?

There seem to be some conflicting (but probably ultimately reconcilable) currents here. As the Bradford Race Relations Review said :

The third issue relates to the apparent collapse of parental control over their young men. There are significant groups of young men who are heavily involved in drug dealing and abuse, gang activities and crime. They are often abusive and threatening to white people in their areas and appear in significant and intimidating groups in the town centre area. No-one within their own communities seem prepared to challenge them or call them to order. However, these same young men, for the most part, profess their belief in Islam, do not drink alcohol and the vast majority will accept the arranged marriage. Their parents claim to have no control over them yet these young men do not kick against certain fundamentals.

I believe that the parents do have some control, that they have a tacit agreement with their young men which basically requires them to accept the strictures on drinking and the arranged marriage in return for no interference in other aspects of their young men’s lives. This simply reflects their priorities:- the commitment to Islam, the prohibition on drink and the arranged marriage are more important than other aspects. There is a parental fear, no doubt well-founded, that if they exert pressure in other areas then they will lose their sons’ commitments in those three vital areas. It works for them but is a recipe for chaos in the rest of the community.

Or as Dalrymple puts it, speaking of young Muslim prisoners in Winson Green :

"The young Muslim men want wives at home to cook and clean for them, concubines elsewhere, and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll."

While I'm plonking my trainers where angels fear to tread, another not-in-front-of-the-children subject - Tottenham Lad's long and copiously referenced post on gang rape in the UK and elsewhere, which, would you believe, has an ethnic dimension.

Why isn't it all over the media, as it would be if rich white boys were the culprits - or even the (innocent) suspects ?

Because the media have been brought up well. They've listened to Billie Holliday sing "Strange Fruit". In the history curriculum at school my children have been taught about the lynch mobs of Alabama and Mississippi, killing without trial black men, often accused of sexual crime or misdemeanour. Martha Gellhorn's gut-wrenching account of a lynching is still with me thirty years after I've read it - poor Hyacinth pleading "don't let them burn me" - and I'm not the only one. (Alas, like Sacco and Vanzetti, Gellhorn's piece seems to have been a tremendously influential liberal myth - according to Gellhorn's biographer she made the whole thing up. Still, I'm pleased Hyacinth didn't get lynched because of his non-existence).

Comments will be heavily moderated. I just want to know how to download the BBC video.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Evil Dutch rightie Geert Wilders' controversial short film on Islam and terror has been released on Liveleak. No idea what it's like, but according to Wikipedia initial Dutch (Muslim) reaction is "not as bad as we feared". Presumably no Korans were mistreated during the making of this film.

How long it'll be up there is anyone's guess. Vixy doesn't seem to work with Liveleak, but there's a download link to an avi version at Wikipedia, or you can right-click and 'save as' on an flv version (decoders do exist) here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Few Primroses From The Curate's Coppice

In one postcode area of Bradford, nearly 60% of vehicles are uninsured.

The Motor Insurers' Bureau, which compiled the figures, estimates there are 30,500 uninsured vehicles across the Bradford district.The BD3 area, comprising Barkerend, Bradford Moor and Thornbury, tops West York-shire's league of shame, with 4,403 uninsured vehicles, which equates to 57.3 per cent of all vehicles in that postcode area.The BD8 area, which covers Girlington, Manningham and Lower Grange, is the second worst in West Yorkshire, with 42.7 per cent of vehicles uninsured.The BD5 area, which takes in Little Horton and West Bowling, and BD7, including Great Horton and Lidget Green, are the third and fourth worst.

Not all vehicles in that fair city are uninsured though, or Bradford wouldn't also be near the top of the table for the 'cash-for-crash' insurance scam.

Almost 2,000 immigrants are being granted the right to live and work in Britain every day, official figures have disclosed. More than 710,000 foreigners received National Insurance numbers last year, an increase of eight per cent from 2005-06, according to figures published yesterday.

Some useful and illuminating figures at the National Literacy Trust on literacy and education levels by ethnic group.

The increasing influence of Islam on British culture is disclosed in research today that shows the number of Muslims worshipping at mosques in England and Wales will outstrip the numbers of Roman Catholics going to church in little more than a decade.

Projections to be published next month estimate that, if trends continue, the number of Catholic worshippers at Sunday Mass will fall to 679,000 by 2020. By that time, statisticians predict, the number of Muslims praying in mosques on Fridays will have increased to 683,000.

Children with English as their first language are now in the minority in more than 1,300 schools, according to official figures. The Daily Telegraph (19/12/07)has obtained data from the Department for Children, Schools and Families illustrating the impact of high levels of immigration on the education system.

The figures show that in a total of 1,338 primary and secondary schools - more than one in 20 of all schools in England - children with English as their first language are in the minority. In 600 of these schools, fewer than a third of pupils speak English as their first language.

Top 30 councils, percentage of schools where English speaking children are in the minority :

Newham - 87.65432
Tower Hamlets - 76.19048
Westminster - 72.34043
Brent - 68.05556
Ealing - 61.84211
Hackney - 61.29032
Haringey - 60.27397
Kensington and Chelsea - 60
Harrow - 54.6875
Camden - 52
Waltham Forest - 43.83562
Redbridge - 43.28358
Lambeth - 42.85714
Hounslow - 41.89189
Hammersmith and Fulham - 39.53488
Slough - 36.84211
Enfield - 31.3253
Leicester - 31
Blackburn with Darwen - 30.30303
Barnet - 30.18868
Bradford - 30.10753
Islington - 29.62963
Southwark - 29.62963
Birmingham - 26.66667
Luton - 25.75758
Wandsworth - 22.72727
Oldham - 21.10092
Manchester - 18.70968
Greenwich - 18.18182
Rochdale - 17.64706

Interesting to compare this with the top 10 local authorities for births.

A possible Scottish back-door immigration route :

Sir Trevor Phillips said the Government's new points-based immigration system should be weighted to encourage skilled foreigners to move north of the Border rather than settle in London or the south-east. Critics warned last night that less strict rules north of the Border would lead to Scotland becoming the "back door" for migrants to enter the rest of the United Kingdom.

The number of migrant workers entering Britain annually to find skilled employment will reach a record 212,000 this year, business experts have predicted. An in-depth study found the influx of people seeking well-paid jobs in 2008 will be more than double that of 1997, the year Labour came to power. The report, by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, forecast there will be a total of 812,000 skilled migrants living here by 2012. A decade ago there were 400,000.

A whole slew of Telegraph links on the economy. Commentators seem to think either

a) we're reaping what Alan Greenspan sowed - by pumping in money every time a market crisis threatened he introduced moral hazard and dodgy practices of all kinds.

b) given the magnitude of the market crisis, his successor is quite right to do it again.

Some of them, like Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, seem to think both.

Across the water in what was once ould, Catholic Ireland, Ulsterman Seamus Heaney bemoans the cultural collapse which enables the Irish Government to whack a motorway through the Hill of Tara.

Mr Heaney, who is a fixture of the national secondary school curriculum, said that Tara represented “an ideal of the spirit” that was fundamental to what Ireland meant. “Tara means something equivalent to what Delphi means to the Greeks, or maybe Stonehenge to an English person, or Nara in Japan, which is one of the most famous sites in the world,” he said.

“It’s a word that conjures an aura — it conjures up what they call in Irish dĂșchas, a sense of belonging, a sense of patrimony, a sense of an ideal, an ideal of the spirit if you like, that belongs in the place. And if anywhere in Ireland conjures that up, it’s Tara."

The 1995 Nobel prizewinner, who is believed to account for two thirds of poetry volumes sold in Britain, said that Tara appeared to have enjoyed more protection while under British rule. He said: “I discovered that W. B. Yeats and George Moore, two writers at the turn of the century, and Arthur Griffith [the founder of Sinn Fein], wrote a letter to The Irish Times some time at the beginning of the last century because a society called the British Israelites had thought that the Ark of the Covenant was buried in Tara, and they had started to dig on Tara Hill.

“They talked about the desecration of a consecrated landscape. So I thought to myself, ‘If a few holes in the ground made by amateur archaeologists was a desecration, what is happening to that whole countryside being ripped up is certainly a much more ruthless piece of work’.”

Mr Heaney said that the country’s present rulers had made “a savage choice, they have made a secular choice. The Government is acting under pressure from secular motives”.

And finally - Matthew Parris has a funny kind of feeling :

When weather, wind and currents are on the turn, say yachtsmen, a curious, choppy and deceptive water (they call it “an uncertain sea”) can be the result. Such a sight is troublesome not only to the sailor's calculations, but to his spirit.

I think we in Britain are on such a sea in March 2008. The economic wind seems to be gusting one way, while the optimistic language of politicians gusts another. Most of my countrymen, in the backs of their minds, harbour doubts and worries about the future; yet few are sure enough to let it spoil their Bank Holiday plans.

Just as some animals can detect the approach of a storm, a tsunami, or even an earthquake, Mr Parris' sensitive antennae tell him something's amiss. He doesn't quite ask, like Churchill, 'who is in charge of the clattering train ?', but you get the idea :

Who knows what's happening? Perhaps nothing, after all. Perhaps this will all blow over. But what unsettles me goes deeper than a sense of mystery about the future. At most junctures in history there arises the feeling of a lull before a possible storm. Heck, we were in a worse state in 1945, or 1979. Danger was more imminent in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 posited bigger unknowns for the future. But at these crossroads the air was full of ideas: strong ideas, competing ideas, confident philosophies, angry dissent. People had policies. Ideologies clashed. Politicians and thinkers jostled to present their plans. Leaders led.

But what distinguishes this hiatus in 2008 from those earlier forks in the road is the impassivity of our politics, and the idleness of political debate, as we wait. There is a sense of vacuum.

There was not in 1979, as there is now, this curious hollowness in the air. Where today is the bold advocacy, the impatience to persuade, the urgency of argument? Where are the shouts of “Here's how!”? It is as though the stage were set for some kind of theatrical climax, but peopled only with stage hands and the rattle and murmur of the scene-shift. Where are the leading actors, the big voices, the great thoughts?

I have a feeling that before he's an old man, some answers to his questions will present themselves. I'm not at all sure he'll like them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Incredible Hulks

Going north up the A38 from Bristol, just before you get to the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust turn left, down a long lane through a village, carry on then a right over the Sharpness Canal to a wonderful old pub almost on the Severn, the Berkeley Arms at Purton. And on the riverbank the remains of dozens of abandoned ships ...

A dinosaurs’ graveyard of Britain’s maritime past emerges eerily from a mile and a half of bank along the River Severn.

Bleached blond ribs of once proud schooners, lighters, barges and Severn trows poke from the silt, still stained with pitch and the carmine of rusting iron nails. Above them loom abandoned concrete grain barges built during wartime when steel was in short supply.

The Purton hulks have become a magnet for naval historians, marine archaeologists and photographers enraptured by the weatherworn timbers and the tales they hold. But this unique repository of marine history is disappearing quickly, prompting the launch of a campaign to protect it.

The main problem is not the tidal waters of the Severn that take their toll at every high tide but human scavengers who, for more than 100 years, have been picking over the hulks for timber or valuable metals.

The vessels were abandoned along the Severn between Purton and Sharpness between 1909 and 1963.

In 1906 the bank had been damaged during storms and the Gloucester Sharpness ship canal, which runs parallel to the river, ran dry. The canal was rebuilt and an appeal was started for the owners of unwanted vessels to beach them to prevent the tides from eroding the bank again.

Over the next half-century, more than 80 vessels were run aground at high tide, creating what experts claim to be the world’s largest conglomeration of historic wooden vessels.

Paul Barnett, who first visited the site as a teenager in 1976, has watched the remains disappear as remorselessly as he has researched every vessel, its owners, crews and history. Albums of photographs record the transition from working boat, to stripped-out hulk, to little more than an outline in the grass. All that remains of the Katherine Ellen, seized by the Royal Navy after running guns to the IRA in 1921, is the rusty tube of her bilge pump. Others, such as the Harriett, a Kennet barge built in Pewsey in 1894, are intact, her name just visible on the stern.

You can see a few of the remains on Google Maps. The photo, taken in the 1960s and showing the damaged, and now-demolished, Severn Railway Bridge in the background is taken from Paul Barnett's excellent site. There are more photos at this site.

Paul does guided tours of the hulks - next ones on Sun 6 and 20 April at 2pm. If you're within driving distance and don't know the beautiful Severn Estuary, come and take a look before it all gets drowned.

Scientists Dismiss "Human-Animal Hybrid" Scaremongering

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, head of the genetics division at the Medical Research Council's National Institute For Medical Research, said: "Maybe there's an awful lot in the bill that goes against the strict Roman Catholic view and it's not just these mixtures of animal and human they object to. Perhaps they've decided that they're going to focus on this one particular issue because they can use scary language like 'creating monsters' and make ground on this particular battle, when [other parts of the bill], like IVF treatment, are well accepted in the UK."

The humpbacked deep-sea angler fish.

Ms Jade Goody. I rest my case.

Oh Dear

"Music is an essential part of Western culture and British music dates back centuries. Pop music in particular has played an important role in British culture and the success of ‘Britpop’, which includes influences from several cultures, is an indicator of the multi-cultural nature of Britain today."

Sport also plays an important role in White British culture with many sports enjoying a rich history in the country. Football is the national sport and immensely popular with all ages. Tennis is also considered a national sport with the oldest and most prestigious competition in the World being held in Wimbledon."

Bury Metropolitan District Council explain "White British Culture" to ... who exactly ?

The British also enjoy home-made desserts such as apple pie, rhubarb crumble and bread and butter pudding. Britain is famous for fish and chips which dominate the take-away food sector with a ‘chippy’ on every corner. British cuisine has also been influenced by multi-cultural diversity and curry has become an integral part of British cuisine, so much so that, since the late 1990s, Chicken Tikka Masala has been commonly referred to as the “British national dish”

I try to avoid using four-letter Anglo-Saxon words. In this case, it's a pity. While I deprecate those commenters whose first reaction is to call for a rope and a lamp post every time they read something they don't like, for the perpetrator of this - probably not the actual writer, some poor ex-local paper journalist now doing council media relations - but the guy who commissioned this - not hanging, not quartering, not even drawing will suffice. Perhaps the treatment handed out by William the Bastard to the leading citizens of Alencon, after they shouted the 11th century equivalent of 'yer Mum!' will do.

"You all remember," said the Controller, in his strong deep voice, "you all remember, I suppose, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford's: History is bunk. History," he repeated slowly, "is bunk."
He waved his hand; and it was as though, with an invisible feather wisk, he had brushed away a little dust, and the dust was Wessex, was Londinium, was Halidon Hill, was Agincourt and Crecy; some spider-webs, and they were Lincoln and Hastings and York and Worcester and Flanders and Alamein. Whisk. Whisk–and where was Matilda, where was Harold, where were Edwin and Morcar and Cromwell, Kitchener and Montgomery? Whisk–and those specks of antique dirt called Dalriada and Powys, Iona and the Heptarchy–all were gone. Whisk–the place where Ireland had been was empty. Whisk, the cathedrals; whisk, motte and bailey, cruck-frame and shieling, broch and pele tower, whisk, whisk, Beowulf and the Mabinogion. Whisk, Passion; whisk, Requiem; whisk, Symphony; whisk …

Flaying would be an acceptable fallback.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Signs Of The Times

Women's Studies as a distinct undergraduate discipline will disappear this October, when the last institution offering first degrees, London Metropolitan University (formerly Hoxton Working Men's Club) stops taking undergrads. According to this Today report (RealAudio, 15 mins in) it's down to lack of demand.

The number of British teenagers having breast enlargement operations has increased by more than 150% in the past year. Doctors believe girls undergoing the procedure are aping celebrities who have surgically enhanced their figures.

We shouldn't panic too much. The number of teenage girls involved is 600 a year. But I'll bet that's larger than any year's undergraduate intake of Women's Studies undergrads. Straws in the wind and all that.

"Anti-War" Anti-Catholics Attack Easter Mass

Hot Air has the details.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Empty Shops of Bromsgrove - A Field Guide

Some twenty-five years back the council of Bromsgrove took the decision to close the old High Street to traffic and to pedestrianise it. It was a new, modern, forward-looking, progressive thing to do - and the council liked to think of themselves as new, modern progressive etc. At the same time they put a ring road through Crown Close, the old, quiet lane and associated green space at the back of the High Street, and sold off half the adjoining meadow (on which the Town Fair had been held since King John granted the charter in 1199) for car parking and a large supermarket.

When I retire I think I'll research who the councillors involved were, then start a new career vandalising their graves. I'll knock down the stones, put plain brick up and cover all with gobbets of chewing gum. Any grass will be paved.

Now a statue of A.E. Housman looks out upon gum-spattered pavements and a lot of empty frontage. I dread to think what the sensitive aesthete and classical scholar would make of it all.

I think this one was Scotts the Jewellers (used to have a fine clock) before it became Halfords and then McDonalds. Jack Scott was a stalwart of Bromsgrove Cricket Club. A fine old building with hideous modern frontage. The charity shop to the right is on the market as well.

Not sure what this was - greengrocers ?

Note the modern maisonette style of building in what was a long Georgian/Victorian street.

A nice old place, but the cheap'n'cheerful eaterie next door makes it unlikely that Beatrice von Tresckow will be snapping it up for her next store. The legendary Beau Brummell Coffee House, den of iniquity for a generation of High School students, was up the stairs somewhere round here.

No redeeming features whatsoever. This section of High Street (the top right), from Lloyds Bank up to the Stratford Road (or Alcester Road for you real oldies) was extensively redeveloped in the early Seventies. Crowning vandalism was the destruction of two beautiful old Georgian coaching inns, the Roebuck and the Coach and Horses. The site is now an Argos.

You've seen the top right - this is what they did to the top left.

The very end of the top left. Just round the corner, the Queen's Head was a real old fashioned place, which had extended opening hours on cattle market days and served a decent pint of Ansells Mild. It isn't very old fashioned now, but at least they haven't knocked it down.

They haven't knocked down this beautiful building either - Rainscourts Delicatessen, a Bromsgrove institution for as long as I can remember. Great place for cheese and a pleasure to shop at.

Easter Day, 17 April 1870

The happiest, brightest, most beautiful Easter I have ever spent. I woke early and looked out. As I had hoped the day was cloudless, a glorious morning. My first thought was 'Christ is Risen'. It is not well to lie in bed on Easter morning, indeed it is thought very unlucky. I got up between five and six and was out soon after six. There had been a frost and the air was rimy with a-heavy thick white dew on hedge, bank and turf, but the morning was not cold. There was a heavy white dew with a touch of hoar frost on the meadows, and as I leaned over the wicket gate by the mill pond looking to see if there were any primroses in the banks but not liking to venture into the dripping grass suddenly I heard the cuckoo for the first time this year. He was near Peter's Pool and he called three times quickly one after another. It is very well to hear the cuckoo for the first time on Easter Sunday morning. I loitered up the lane again gathering primroses.

The village lay quiet and peaceful in the morning sunshine, but by the time I came back from primrosing there was some little stir and people were beginning to open their doors and look out into the fresh fragrant splendid morning.

There was a very large congregation at morning church, the largest I have seen for some time, attracted by Easter and the splendour of the day, for they have here an immense reverence for Easter Sunday. The anthem went very well and Mr. Baskerville complimented Mr. Evans after church about it, saying that it was sung in good tune and time and had been a great treat. There were more communicants than usual: 29. This is the fifth time I have received the Sacrament within four days.

After morning service I took Mr. V. round the churchyard and showed him the crosses on his mother's, wife's, and brother's graves. He was quite taken by surprise and very much gratified. I am glad to see that our primrose crosses seem to be having some effect for I think I notice this Easter some attempt to copy them and an advance towards the form of the cross in some of the decorations of the graves. I wish we could get the people to adopt some little design in the disposition of the flowers upon the graves instead of sticking sprigs into the turf aimlessly anywhere, anyhow and with no meaning at all. But one does not like to interfere too much with their artless, natural way of showing their respect and love for the dead. I am thankful to find this beautiful custom on the increase, and observed more and more every year. Some years ago it was on the decline and nearly discontinued. On Easter Day all the young people come out in something new and bright like butterflies. It is almost part of their religion to wear something new on this day. It was an old saying that if you don't wear something new on Easter Day, the crows will spoil everything you have on.

Between the services a great many people were in the churchyard looking at the graves. I went to Bettws Chapel in the afternoon. It was burning hot and as I climbed the hill the perspiration rolled off my forehead from under my hat and fell in drops on the dusty road. Lucretia Wall was in chapel looking pale and pretty after her illness. Coming down the hill it was delightful, cool and pleasant. The sweet suspicion of spring strengthens, deepens, and grows more sweet every day. Mrs. Pring gave us lamb and asparagus at dinner.

(Francis Kilvert, Diary)