Thursday, 4 February 2016

Modern journalism

A bit silly but it reminded me of modern journalism even though the train enthusiast is supposed to be talking to a minister - I like to see the woman as a journalist.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Future World Populations (2050)

Demographic projections tend to be worth making because to a significant degree, future populations have already been determined by today's births and birth rates tend not to be subject to sudden change. Immigration may be a complex and divisive issue, but at some point small developed countries such the UK may need to adopt much more selective immigration policies as a defence against population pressures.

It is easy enough to be sanguine about global population growth because the Earth probably is able to support the numbers whatever Malthusians may say. However, the risks are political rather than technical. Extreme situations tend to engender extreme reactions and global population growth is an extreme situation. Humans did not evolve within such massively dense populations.

However, on a lighter note it may not matter anyway because prominent climate expert Vivienne Westwood expects a population crash by the end of this century.

"[Fashion] just gives me an excuse to open my mouth. I have credibility from it, and I do use it," she added. "I don’t even talk about the fashion. Mass extinction, only one billion people left by the end of this century — how can you talk about fashion? You’ve got to talk about what we’re going to do."

Not helpful, but that's the perverse standard of debate we have to contend with. Back in the real world it may already be too late to be constructive about global population growth anyway. Unfortunately, the public domain is dominated by a highly active cult of cultural guilt. The cultural ideals and achievements of our collective past have become difficult to defend in a way which isn't isolating.

One is left with the view that too many prominent people in the UK either do not understand or do not care about the harsh realities of life, the need to value and defend what one has against those who would take or undermine it. It is a crude way to look at things, but stripped to its fundamentals life is crude.

In the long run wimps and incompetents do what they always do - they lose.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Men and women

We visited our local branch of M&S recently. I’m sure the floor area devoted to men’s clothing has shrunk while women’s wear has expanded. Not an enormous change, but my visual estimate suggests the floor area ratio is at least two to one and possibly more.

I don't know if there's a connection but I've also noticed a pronounced difference in the way young parents dress in situations where casual is okay. At Granddaughter’s soft play area, fathers usually dress in what to me is casual verging on scruffy. It is a play area so casual is to be expected but mothers manage to dress casually without ever looking scruffy. 

The last time we were there a couple sat nearby and dad looked as if he'd salvaged his clothes from a skip. Mum seemed to be wearing brand new everything. It’s much the same in Grandson’s school playground. Scruffy dads, smarter mums.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Cameron's EU breakthrough

Our Prime Minister continues to crawl around the corridors of power in search of a bone. To the surprise of nobody he claims to have found one.

David Cameron wins breakthrough EU offer on migrant benefits
June referendum on cards as PM forces concession from Donald Tusk for Britain to apply brakes immediately after poll.

The whole business is too tedious. A genuine Prime Minister of a genuine democracy would tell Tusk and the EU to piss off and devise immigration rules to suit the national interest. Maybe he'd do it by fax too, just to rub it in.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

100 years ago - Zeppelin raid on Derby


My mother once persuaded my aunt to write down her childhood experience of a Zeppelin raid on Derby in 1916. I originally posted the story some years ago, but more details are available in this Maxwell Craven article plus a BBC item

These articles fix the raid as occurring during the early hours of February 1st 1916. Decades later my aunt's memory put it a few weeks later, but as the raid took place one hundred years ago tonight, perhaps her story is worth another post. She was eight years old at the time of the raid and this is what she wrote...

There were no air raid sirens as such in the First World War. When there was an alert, a local factory’s maroon sounded. In Derby they were called ‘Bulls’. I don’t know why unless the sound was similar to that of a bull roaring! We quite often heard them but nothing happened until one night in February 1916.  I think it was the sixteenth but am not quite certain of the exact date. [see above note on exact date] Oddly enough, we hadn’t ourselves heard it that night. The sole form of heating in our three bedroom terraced house was the fire in the living room, so it was here we congregated and children playing noisy games perhaps drowned out the noise from outside.

We were always early in bed, half past seven in the winter. The maroons usually blasted out their warning at around seven o’clock. Dark green blinds covered every window, curtains were drawn over them to stop any chink of light from showing outside. We weren’t allowed to have the gas mantle in our bedroom lighted, went to bed by candlelight. My mother would come upstairs, see we were all tucked up in bed and when she went back downstairs, the candlestick went with her.

Our bedrooms, extending over the entry, was large, ample room for two double beds as well as other furniture. Two girls in one bed, two in the other. It must have been around eleven o’clock that we were awakened by our mother shaking us by the shoulder.

‘Come on,’ her request not loud but urgent. ‘Get up, the Germans have come.’ Her words and anxious face, lighted candle in one hand, the other shielding the flame, roused us quickly enough.

I dragged some blankets from the bed. My burden, flip flopping round my ankles almost tripped me on my descent of the steep narrow stairs. My eldest sister stood at the top of the cellar steps, shepherded us down. My mother carried the youngest. Swathed in blankets, for a time I became stuck behind the door, but my eldest sister hauled me out, took possession of my wrappings. I negotiated the steps down the cellar much more easily than I had those from the bedroom to the ground floor.

My dad, in peace time an accountant with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, was home on leave. Like so many others, he’d enlisted on the outbreak of war. After only a short training, was in France in the trenches, up to his waist in water. A far cry from a warm, dry office. He developed enteric fever, was ill in Boulogne hospital for weeks. The upshot was that he spent the remainder of the war in the Treasury Department in Whitehall. Still on a soldier’s pay of course! It did mean though that he got home a bit more often and was safer though there were some bad air raids on London. I never heard him speak of them – in those days the horrors were kept away from young ears.

He was a handsome man, tall and broad and we were in awe of him. That night he’d pulled on trousers over his nightshirt and in the cellar directed operations. We’d all settled down when to my surprise a further influx! With much shuffling and whispering, muted telling off and some pushing and pulling the big family from next door trooped down the cellar steps and arranged themselves judiciously in our underground shelter.

Our street, a cul-de-sac ended in a high brick wall. On the other side lay the main railway line. Our neighbours lived in the very end house, in extremely close proximity to the line. The railways were a lifeline then, not only for troops, goods and coal, but also communications. Derby an important junction, might be the target of an enemy bomb. Our neighbours would be safer with us. It did make a crowd but being so close together we were warmer. And so we sat, the adults talking in low voices for maybe an hour when Dad held up his hand.

‘Quiet, I think I hear something.’

‘It’s a Zep,’ came an excited whisper – one of the boys from next door.

To me the menacing drone sounded like an irregular drumbeat. Everyone froze except for my dad who stole up the cellar steps. We could hear through the cellar grate, his footsteps on the blue brick pavement of the street. Rejoining us, he made no comment. Catching the eye of my mother, he nodded. Then he bowed his head, uttered the words of the Lord’s Prayer and as he came to the end we quietly chorused ‘Amen’.

We stayed where we were, the sound of the Zeppelin faded. Perhaps half an hour later it came back again. An almighty crash, the ground trembled beneath our feet. Broken glass tinkled somewhere at hand.

We were all frightened. Birds, bees and butterflies we naturally were used to but not flying monsters intent on our destruction. For several minutes we were all too shaken to say anything and then everyone seemed to talk at once, making vague suggestions.

I don’t know if the factory did sound an all clear. I have a faint memory of a long clear whistle and all of us trailing up the cellar steps and into the living room. A strange time to be up, at half past three in the morning we should have been asleep in our beds. Dad poked the remnants of the fire into a bit of a blaze, added a few pieces of coal and we young ones sat on the pegged hearthrug, glad of the warmth. My mother set about making her panacea for all ills, large jugs of cocoa sweetened with treacle and soon everyone was sipping the reviving drink.

The neighbours returned home. Dad, feeling a draught went out into the passage to investigate and found a gaping hole in the fanlight over the front door. On the floor lay an ugly piece of shrapnel – six inches long, about one inch thick and two inches wide with a jagged edge. Yet another unprecedented episode of that never to be forgotten night. We went to bed and despite the trials and tribulations we’d undergone, slept soundly – due to Mam’s cocoa perhaps?

The next day we learned that every window in every house in the street running parallel with ours had been broken and some damage had been done to roofs. There were tramlines in that street, two trams on their way to the tram sheds when the alarm sounded. The drivers stopped, the conductors with their long poles pulled the trolley poles away from the overhead lines to put the lights out.

Drivers and conductors heard the Zeppelin, heard it move away and decided to attach the trolley poles again to the overhead lines as they were anxious to get back to the tram sheds. However, apparently the Zep, after flying as far as Burton-on-Trent decided to return. The supposition was that the target had been the railway station and the two trams resembled from the air a lighted train.

Many stories were bandied about, one being that the Zep had picked up the trail of a train. The fire box had to be opened to keep the fire stoked up which must have made a steam engine not difficult to find from the air.

The driver of one late train was supposed to stop at Derby station, but aware that a Zep was in the area and afraid of the damage that could be done should he become the target for a bomb, the houses close together, many accommodating big families, he drove straight through open country. Actually to Chaddesden sidings about two miles the other side of Derby. We were told later that the driver’s nerves were so shaken by the terrors of that night he never drove another train again. I can’t verify the truth of that though – it was hearsay. Months later my oldest sister told me that some men, six I believe, had been killed. They’d been engaged in repair work at the sidings. Mam never mentioned these fatalities. As I said before, horrors were kept away from young ears.

We were told innumerable tales of personal experiences such as that of a spinster lady who lived across the street with her father and two nieces. The lady took her nieces down the cellar but her father refused to join them.

‘Clara,’ he said, ‘no German is driving me into the cellar.’

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a huge piece of shrapnel, shattering the window pane, cannoned into the wall above his head. Unhurt, he was covered in plaster and dust. Chortling, he still wouldn’t take refuge down the cellar.

The field at the bottom of our garden ran at the back of most of the houses on our side of the street and along the backs of the houses on the main road at right angles to us. Mr Scott the grocer who kept the corner shop, stabled his horse in this field. I don’t know whether the horse would be outside in February, certainly neither horse nor stable were damaged.

Only my older sister and I went to school on the morning following the air raid. Our younger sister still asleep, my mother wouldn’t disturb her. We saw the pavements in Bateman Street covered in glass and slates, broken windows, holes in roofs. Pupils seemed thin on the ground when we went into the hall for assembly. Miss Johnson the headmistress said as usual ‘good morning girls’ and we replied ‘good morning Miss Johnson’.

‘Some of us have had a disturbed night,’ she said, ‘but I notice that two girls from the worst hit area have come to school. Others with less excuse have stayed away.’ Making this observation, her eyes rested on my sister and I. Nudging each other we blushed, thrilled that our presence had been both noticed and commented on.

Our hymn that morning was of course ‘Fight the Good Fight’. I don’t believe the Zeppelins ever got so far inland again. At any rate I don’t recall spending another night in the cellar. Once was enough.

Friday, 29 January 2016

To dream extravagant dreams

But he had always been a man of imagination, seeing things on too grand a scale, transforming his shady dealings as an adventurer into poems; and this time, with this really colossal and prosperous enterprise, he had been carried off into extravagant dreams of conquest, to so crazy, so vast an idea, that he did not even clearly formulate it to himself.
Emile Zola - L’Argent (1890)

If anyone is incautious or dishonest enough to become enmeshed in a false position they commonly do as Zola’s anti-hero did – they do not clearly formulate the position to themselves. Middle class folk seem to do it all the time.

The middle classes have a tendency to enmeshed themselves in worthless abstractions, extravagant dreams where they cannot afford to clearly formulate the dream to themselves. Ordinary working people and the elite classes seem to be far more likely to focus on concrete realities such as family, friends, money, land, possessions and so on. They are essentially pragmatic. Devious perhaps, but pragmatic.

It seems to be the middle of the social sandwich where pragmatism becomes more scarce, where insecurity seems to rock the mental boat. Middle class people seem more likely to enmesh themselves in abstractions such as the environment, equality, gender politics, racism and the latest fashionable finger-pointing meme.

As journalists, pundits and ‘experts’ their voices dominate the public domain promoting the malign, harming the benign. What has made a large slice of the middle classes so profoundly stupid, so culturally destructive, so gullible and unaware of their longer term interests?

Which longer term interests? The possible demise of the middle class would be a good starting point. 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Horrible thought

I've had this horiible thought before and maybe you have too, but as these two are the guys who lead our main political parties then why do so many of us think the EU is bound to be worse?

Just look at them. 

The cream of British political life, the pinnacle of our democracy, the two statesmen we should look to for wisdom, guidance and at least a smidgen of genuine patriotism. Yet one could almost believe they were selected to drive us into the arms of the faceless bureaucrats.

I'm resolutely opposed to the EU, but sometimes it's hard road.