‘The big education for me is that civilisation is fragile and can be destroyed in a heartbeat' - Jeremy Brade, former peacekeeper in Sarajevo.

Monday, May 17, 2021

START THE WEEK: Green, Broke and Cold - by Wiggia

                        or... TO 2030 AND BEYOND: THE ROAD TO NOWHERE

 

The nudge unit is going to have to work overtime on the Green Deal as more and more facts are released or found on the total impracticality of it, all the ridiculous costs involved and the restrictions that will by necessity be imposed on citizens to even begin to make it all work.

I had an example today of the other side of the argument. We have just had a new gas boiler installed in our new house; I spoke to the engineer and asked why, if gas boilers are to be banned from being fitted in new homes from 2025 and phased out in the early thirties, are the likes of British Gas advertising deals on new ‘efficient’ gas boilers.

He said: it is simply not going to happen. The new boilers in the pipeline will be made to be able to change to hydrogen when and if that occurs, otherwise gas boilers will simply carry on being used.

Once again heat pumps were explained as being only useful in new efficient houses and with underfloor heating; it is simply not practical to upgrade older houses enough to make heat pumps viable - radiator sizes alone would have to be increased by 50% because the heat pumps work at a lower temperature.

We have spoken of all this before. The costs to change for the average householder are ridiculously expensive and I agree it is not going to happen and why would anyone sane change with all that expense to a system that is going to cost you a lot lot more to run? 

With more and more fact-based opposition to the Green Deal emerging from reliable sources, I cannot believe  that Boris is ploughing on with all this and the whole CC emissions carbon zero nonsense. There can never be carbon zero; they are just words, an unachievable goal for the eco loons who never explain how it can be achieved other than by impoverishing the population.

The video in the link below shows the rank stupidity of much of the ban everything argument. It starts with the news that seals are losing their young because of lack of ice and then shows a large broken away iceberg; this is enough for those who believe to shut down all things fossil fuelled.

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/gas-boilers-banned-sale-2033-003600419.html

The headline for this video is ‘Gas boilers should be banned’; it takes a big leap to connect dead seal pups and a broken-off large piece of ice with gas boilers.

And that is the part I do not get. The cyclical nature of weather of the millennia has resulted in cold areas becoming hot, hot areas returning to the ice age and everything in between. Not once have I heard an explanation for how all these events that happened long before Man could be because of us, and even now the ‘science’ has difficulty separating the two.

We have come a long way from the industrial revolution and those dark satanic mills; it is now history, the virtual slave labour of those days is gone, yet is replicated in countries that supply the minerals for the clean new world that is to be founded on battery power; the hypocrisy was never more evident, 'battery power means less of a carbon footprint', that myth is being unpicked on a weekly basis, yet even that is not enough, we now have reports that the eco fascists are not really satisfied with EVs as apparently their tyres give off far too much toxic dust and so do the brake pads. It really is never enough for these b******s, and why do they gain traction? No one votes for them and the background to nearly all of these organisations is always a lot more than just a quest for clean air: it is about changing the way we are governed and making us live how they consider we should.

Naturally none of this will cost them anything. They rarely work unless it is for the same organisations, they are an army of protesting eco mercenaries who have far too much time on their hands; governments listen to their tosh, but they are banging at an already open door - it can only be for the advantage of big business, it is certainly not for the general population, who will be paying for all this for decades.

In our local paper the Eastern Daily Press, there was this week what could be only be called a puff piece by a Swedish company building the latest windmill farm off the coast here. A Dr Catrin Ellis Jones from Vattenfall, a Swedish firm that is building 300 windmills of the coast near here, is asking the people of Norfolk how a multi-million pound fund should be spent in the area supporting our transition over the next three decades to low carbon living.

The company has appointed several ‘ambassadors’ to connect with the local population, ie propagandists.

Two things: first, no one has been asked if we want to go this route in the first place, for all the obvious reasons laid out multiple times; and secondly, where has this money come from? Certainly not from any philanthropic arm of Vattenfall; it almost certainly comes from the huge subsidies given to the wind farm industry - our money!

The UEA professor in sustainable energy chips in: ‘This is an exciting opportunity for all of us in the Norfolk community to say what we love about living here ( what has that got to do with windmills?) and start thinking about the energy and climate future we want for our area.’ What we want has already been decided by the powers that be and it’s more windmills. It sounds as though the old nudge unit has been wheeled out again; we have no say in any of this, it has all been decided that this is the way forward.

Once again in this long drawn out winter we have had more than a few days when energy from wind has been at abysmal levels. Only the interlockers keep the lights on; there is never any mention of this from the pushers of the green movement or anyone else, about this fact that when we need power on cold, dark and often windless days it is not going to come from windmills, yet in mid-summer with low demand and adequate wind the whole industry jumps up and makes headlines about how over 50% of our energy was supplied by the same sustainable? source - even that is not strictly true as they include imported nuclear power not our nuclear power.

It is very difficult, even if you wanted to believe in what is laid out for the future of this country in the climate change debate. This committee, headed up by the industry subsidised Lord Deben (aka Gummer of the beef roll incident), gives a road map of what is required to reach net zero, a figure that means very little but will cost billions over many years to even attempt to achieve.

https://www.theccc.org.uk/2019/02/21/uk-homes-unfit-for-the-challenges-of-climate-change-ccc-says/

The whole thing should be dumped. We are quite capable of improving living conditions without this nonsense and without adding to our enormous current debt. It could be of course that it will never happen as the money simply isn’t there on this scale; hobbling the country with energy costs is already hurting Germany which is building, yes it really is, new coal-fired power stations after the disaster of closing down all their nuclear ones. Does Boris actually believe he knows better than all the failed green energy schemes around the world? If he does, we have a big problem. 

Worldwide the West is suffering from leftie governments, and that includes our current one who would have us consume what they believe and want us to consume, whereas we buy what we want to consume. The only way they can change that is to ban or make what we consume too expensive and then replace it with an equally or more expensive poor substitute; that is happening now in many areas under the guise of health, climate change, and the altering of thought processes with duress as in so called hate crime or the pronoun wars; all cobblers but still making progress. 

None of this is good and yet 'bread and circuses' is winning at the moment.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

COLOUR SUPPLEMENT: Persian Carpets, by JD


Mashad, as well as being one of the holiest cities in Iran, is one of the main centres of carpet production. Situated in the north east of Iran, in the province of Khorasan, the carpet manufacturing is extensive and produces mostly large carpets which are also sold under the name Meshed. The wool from Khorasan is recognized by its softness

An oriental (Persian) carpet, when it first comes off the loom, has a very raw and rough appearance and before it can be sold it needs to be washed so as to remove the fragments and small pieces of wool which have remained amidst the weft and warp of the carpet after it has been clipped. This operation gives lustre and shine to the fibres of the wool, and causes the pile to take its natural smooth direction.

Washing brings additional colours out of the skeins of wool giving a pleasant shade to the carpet. Many techniques are used in different countries, from simply dipping the carpet in a Persian brook and hanging it in the sun to dry, to complex chemical processing carried out in modern factories in Europe or the USA.

Alternatively, twenty or thirty years of use in an Eastern home will do the trick: there, all the loose hairs in the wool will gradually come out and the gentle traffic of feet without shoes in a room with little or no furniture will cause the fibres to begin to glow with a natural lustre.


I have a couple of the smaller carpets at home and they seem to be unwearoutable. As well as being silky smooth after all these years they have retained their colours very well.

-------
* An earlier version of this post originally appeared at Nourishing Obscurity on 24/3/2011; that original post has been lost in Nourishing Obscurity's technical problems.

Friday, May 14, 2021

FRIDAY MUSIC: Angels of Venice, by JD

Harpist Carol Tatum, cellist Irena Chirkova and vocalist Christina Limhardt are, or were, Angels of Venice. There have been several changes of personnel over the years but the music revolves around Tatum as de facto leader of the ensemble.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_of_Venice
https://www.angelsofvenice.com/














Monday, May 10, 2021

Parliamentary democracy: belling(ham) the cat, by Sackerson

When two honest men met in Parliament, one was shot and the other hanged. Though two centuries old, the story sheds light on current issues of democracy and government.

The date was May 11, 1812 and Prime Minister Spencer Perceval had arrived to take part in a debate. In the lobby, John Bellingham stepped forward and shot him at close range with a half-inch pistol ball; Perceval staggered back, took a couple of steps forward and died immediately.

Rather than run, Bellingham identified himself as the ‘unfortunate’ perpetrator and sat down quietly, awaiting a trial that he expected to exonerate him, for, as he later explained to the court, he had spent five years as a victim of injustice in Russian jails while British officials had done nothing to assist him; and on his return to England his subsequent petitions for redress had been refused or ignored. Latterly, Perceval himself had told Bellingham (incorrectly, it seems) that the time limit for petitions had passed. Perhaps the fatal moment of decision came when a civil servant at the Treasury had said ‘that I had nothing to expect, and that I was at liberty to take such steps as I thought fit,’ which he interpreted as ‘a carte blanche from the British government to right myself in any way I might be able to discover.’

It wasn’t even a personal grudge against Perceval. Bellingham said that as a gentleman he had the right to exact satisfaction from any member of the Government, as sharing collective responsibility, and would have preferred shooting the Ambassador to Russia who had been the first to deny him help. However, the murder was seen by others as a wider political act – there was rejoicing in Nottingham, Leicester and Sheffield where many people saw Perceval as a reactionary fighting against radical demands for reform. Also, a Frenchman who witnessed Bellingham’s inevitable execution wrote four years later that the crowd’s mindset was ‘Farewell poor man, you owe satisfaction to the offended laws of your country, but God bless you! you have rendered an important service to your country, you have taught ministers that they should do justice, and grant audience when it is asked of them,’ and noted that the public subscribed handsomely to support the financially ruined man’s widow and children.

 For their part, Parliament voted a large sum to provide for Perceval’s family; unlike so many holders of public office past and present, the Prime Minister had neglected to monetise his position and influence and had barely more than £100 at the bank when he died. He seems to have been a principled man in public life and a loving husband and father. In person, he could hardly have made a more unsuitable target for Bellingham’s revenge.

Yet the question remains, whom should the Government serve, and how?

The long British struggle with the autocratic power of the Crown, leading to the rebellious barons’ Magna Carta in several versions in the thirteenth century, then bursting out in civil war in the sixteenth as absolutist Scots monarchy overstepped the mark, and again in the seventeenth in fear of pan-European Catholic authoritarianism, ended with the current model of the ‘Crown in Parliament’; but although that cat had finally been belled, its power passed down to the office of the Prime Minister and the other Cabinet Ministers past and present, all automatically members of the monarch’s Privy Council. We have seen how fast the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Council can override the customary liberties of the subject – the late Tony Benn warned that it could abolish our civil rights in an afternoon, and so it has proved.

Ironically, the instrument used was not the terrifying Civil Contingencies Act 2004 that as Lord Sumption has noted is hedged about by stringent and frequent Parliamentary reviews (despite which, we must be thankful that the Constitutionally inventive Mr Blair had no opportunity to use it), but an older health Act whose provisions have been so generously reinterpreted as to accommodate every whim of the Minister for Health. When he issues an ukase, we must obey, and the police who used to be our local guardians of the law have become almost a national militia to enforce (and even gold-plate) his centralised directives.

The ease with which this happened sets a dangerous precedent for some possible future administration with a much more radical and potentially oppressive agenda - let us look across the Atlantic for an example of Constitutional tinkering seemingly aimed at enabling a power-grab by the Executive. Here, now, we have another cat that needs a bell, and it is a matter for the deepest regret that the Opposition has failed to act adequately in probing and challenging the wielders of power. So many in Parliament, including the present Labour leader himself, are lawyers; have they forgotten how to cross-examine?

For whom do our MPs work?

Edmund Burke told his constituents that he represented their interests rather than their opinions, and we see from the bitter squabbling on social media and elsewhere how divisive an Athenian-style direct democracy could be.  The representative model suited a time when much of the economy was local and regional and it took days to ride to Westminster; other forms of communication were similarly slow and piecemeal.

Now, we have mass media yet are better able to judge and vote the winner of a television talent contest than who is to be our Mayor or Police and Crime Commissioner. In the latest elections I read the statements by the local PCC candidates and while they all seemed to be against crime (rather than for releasing all prisoners and sacking the entire police force) there was precious little to convince me as to who would do the job most effectively; TV seemed little interested in informing me about them, rather than about singers and dancers.

There is also the issue of voter numbers. Before the 1832 Reform Act few people had the franchise: on average, about 1,200 per constituency - famously, the pocket borough of Old Sarum had only seven electors, themselves nominated by the landowner since the houses where people had once lived no longer existed. It was therefore likely that a voter would recognise the Member of Parliament and be able to speak to him.

The average modern British constituency has over 73,000 voters (as at the 2019 General Election.) If the Parliamentary candidate wished to address (and listen to) them all at the same time, he/she would have to book a football stadium; and if we reduced Parliamentary seats by 50 to 600 (as Mr Cameron and others wished) that average would rise to over 79,000 – only Twickenham or Wembley could cope. Even now, 16 English constituencies have more than the 90,000 voters that Wembley might accommodate (headed by the Isle of Wight at over 110,000.) How could we make our individual voice heard in that size of crowd?

The answer is that we can’t. Rather than standing for us in Parliament, some MPs seem to think it is their duty to represent their Party to us. Once voted in, the successful MP need not do very much (although, to be fair, many try) to keep us contented. Disciplinary feedback is via the Party leader’s office, unless the MP is a Minister https://www.ombudsman.org.uk/making-complaint/if-we-cant-help/members-parliament . A 2009 court ruling http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8025255.stm said that there is no legal remedy if your MP ignores you. There are of course various Codes of Conduct and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards https://www.parliament.uk/pcs/ can help to bring pressure, but strictly speaking Statute law will not stand with you when you have a complaint. https://medium.com/from-mysociety/are-representatives-legally-obliged-to-reply-to-constituents-1ce79034e007 . Worse still, the Party system has become so strong that even an excellent, very hard-working and independent-minded MP can lose his seat if he/she loses the Party’s support, as we saw with Frank (now, deservedly, Lord) Field https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Field,_Baron_Field_of_Birkenhead#Resignation_of_the_Labour_whip .

The new wine of integrated economics and modern communications threatens to burst the old skin of the political system. There is much work to do, to make the Mother of Parliaments fit for use.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

COLOUR SUPPLEMENT: From my sketchbook, by JD

The first of the two horses below was copied from Leonardo da Vinci but his is better than mine, of course. The other horse is copied from a Rennaisance guide to drawing, the idea being that a figure can be built up with a series of small squares and rectangles approximating to the shape/outline of the figure. That second horse sketch was further developed into a painting to show something similar to the white horses etched into the English landscape.

The second picture of a lady at the bus stop came out of my head; the bus stop sign is of the old Tyne & Wear transport logo before they were all privatised.

The gentleman sitting at the table was one of a series of quick sketches from life during one of my art classes.






Saturday, May 08, 2021

THE WEEKENDER: Decorating the money pit... by Wiggia

... or, The Colour Of Money:

The gap between house moves often shows up changes in taste, layout etc., that have occurred during that period. Till now the worst aspect of the recent move was the process about which I gave vent earlier; the physical aspect of the house you move into is not always apparent till a bit later, however much you delve, and the content of the surveyor's notes are found to be largely padding, I honestly believe that going round a prospective home with a builder you can trust is a better option, at least you are there and can direct him to items that may or may not be faulty and more importantly relevant.

So much of a surveyor's notes are protected by the words 'could not,' as in see under the carpet, behind whatever or was inaccessible; and virtually nothing relates to the grounds or boundaries unless you specify that he look at them.

If you need a mortgage you have no choice other than to employ a surveyor but otherwise I would take the other route now. In my last home the surveyor noted the shed, a large one, was leaking at one corner badly; fine, but it was a nothing job to put right; but the insect damage in the garage roof went unnoticed. I noticed it months later when the little piles of dust started to arrive on the car bonnet; luckily despite its being widespread a spray of insect and wood rot treatment did the job, so no harm done, for a surveyor - though I'd have thought the bore holes would have been hard to miss!

I think this decorator has been on an inclusivity and diversity course; where to start?
                                               
But back to the present. Again, in our last house the whole place needed redecorating, a big job and a lot of paint and elbow grease needed. We decided as there was an offer on Dulux trade to get all the rooms sorted as to colours straight away and purchased all the paint in two visits to B&Q, spending in the region of £650+ for the lot. The 5 litre cans of Dulux trade, priced at something in the order of £33 each, came in for the 'three cans for the price of two' offer, so cost around £22 a can; and we used it all, plus a little bit more from a couple of other producers - it was a big house and a big job. That was seven years ago. Luckily this place is smaller, a bungalow and only a couple of rooms need painting at the moment and the outside front which was painted in a trendy battleship grey - only they don’t call it that, Wishing Well? said the half empty can left in the garage; still battleship grey; so our paint outlay for the time being is modest.

Nonetheless, off we go to the usual suspects to get what we need, firstly to the Dulux Decorator Centre, which only sells Dulux and affiliated paints; very helpful got exactly what I wanted and then came the bill... 'Is that right?' I queried, as I realised the price per 2½ litres was a 5 litre can cost seven years ago, and then some!

We then went to B&Q to get something completely different but I was intrigued with the paint thing so had a stroll round. They no longer stock Dulux Trade but have replaced it with Valspar: never used it, so no knowledge, but it was a bit cheaper. Then onto the Farrow and Ball section; I have used Farrow and Ball in the past with very mixed results, the high pigment content paints are dry before you get them on and drag terribly and one in particular faded badly in a couple of years in what was a dark room in a barn conversion; so not happy with them, but there they were in all their trendy colours with the top price £73 for a 2½ litre can - that is bonkers.

Can anyone explain the huge rises in paint prices? Even Dulux have jumped on the bandwagon with their own trendy paint range Heritage which matches F&Bs standard prices, yet before now you could  - and still - can get any colour you want with Trade. Yet it appears off-the-shelf trendy colours are big business and big profit; I find it difficult to believe that adding colour to the basic trade quality white at a fraction of the price justifies these sky-high prices.

Looking through one of the wife's ‘lifestyle’ magazines (I know, I know) there were the latest paint hues - everything black, dark blue, dark green, dark red, truffle! And others making everything look like the local funeral parlour unless you have a big room and a lot of light coming in, but there was even more madness: small specialist paint firms with Chelsea type names (it’s never Smith and Co.) actually had trendy coloured emulsion in 1 litre cans for £68! That’s getting into Dom Perignon territory and I know what I would rather spend the money on.

The same can be said of Crittall-style windows. No home is complete without them these days, despite anyone who had any contact with them in those days before when they were popular knowing how they became rust traps; of course, with modern materials that no longer applies but the memory lingers.

Or the obligatory rear extension with bi-fold doors, most of which look like U Boat pens such is the lack of design in adding them. A neighbour from the old house is having one built against the backdrop of an old Edwardian village shop (it was the grocer's); it is so out of scale with the house it is obscene, the height is such the the upstairs bedroom window above it is having to be rotated to landscape view so as not to be covered by the height of the extension. Still again, it's their money, and they talk about the house having integrity; they are both doctors - is that an excuse?

On the serious side, it is worth doing a little research into what is the best paint for the job. As in so many areas we are spoilt for choice, the different types of paint, the make up of them and their suitability is simply mind boggling. One thing I have found that is really an advance for all those filling and making good jobs is Easyfill, by Gyproc: I used the 60-minute setting version in 1kg bags so as not to waste too much but there is a ready mix version called Lite which is apparently even better for the DIY-er - but only the Lite version, the other one is not so good.

I also took the advice of a decorator's forum for ceiling emulsion and purchased Johnson's Covaplus Vinyl Matt; it is very good, better than the Dulux trade equivalent that I first used which gives a good finish but cannot be touched up (‘ooh matron!’) so if anything's been missed you have to do the whole ceiling again.

So there you have it, free DIY tips from an erstwhile Barry Bucknell.

Though it appears that most of us should leave well alone:


That didn’t stop hundreds invading the local enormous timber yard after the first lockdown ended; the place, really a trade outlet, had to stop private buyers clogging up the place to buy one fence post. They sold out of decking and most fencing products which meant the price went up due to demand, but nowhere near as much as paint!

Nice, if you are a Morlock...

That doesn’t mean that dark colours cannot be successful in the right place, but this current fad is creating a land where people will have to have lights on all day, and we all know that won't continue; or live in another room.

Naturally I was assailed by Number One when I started groaning that nothing ever goes down: 'you live in the dark ages, want everything for nothing' and on and on; true, but unless I am missing something, the price rises in that period are extortionate. Is there a rational explanation as to why paint has risen by over 125% in seven years and no discounts of substance to ameliorate the pain?

On the other hand 'Nut Nuts' (aka Carrie Symonds) is putting up gold wallpaper at over £200 a roll, but of course that is allegedly not her money; if it is, more fool her or Boris.

Still, Lulu ‘banquettes to the stars’ Lytle (Chelsea) will be pleased. Out of curiosity I had a look at her website Soane: how on earth designs that look like poor knock-offs of Louis X1V sell is beyond me. If the Sun King could see this stuff he would wince and order them to the Bastille. Needless to say no prices are given, if you have to ask you can’t afford it. Everyone to their own; Boris of course has no taste so he wouldn’t know he was being ripped off until the bill landed.

Now with Louis of course it was a different matter: no Lulu Lytle for him!

Back to reality...

He’s got to go! He refuses to move or get a job, and I refuse to paint round him;
and now he says the sofa doesn’t match the curtains! Ingrate.
                                                                                                                                                          


Friday, May 07, 2021

FRIDAY MUSIC: Northern Soul, by JD

 What is Northern Soul?

The Wiki page explains its origins, ironically enough, in London:

The term "Northern Soul" emanated from the record shop Soul City in Covent Garden, London, which was run by famous soul music collector Dave Godin.[3] It was first publicly used in Godin's weekly column in Blues & Soul magazine in June 1970.[4] In a 2002 interview with Chris Hunt of Mojo magazine, Godin said he had first come up with the term in 1968, to help employees at Soul City differentiate the more modern funkier sounds from the smoother. Godin referred to the latter's requests as "Northern Soul":


"I had started to notice that northern football fans who were in London to follow their team were coming into the store to buy records, but they weren't interested in the latest developments in the black American chart. I devised the name as a shorthand sales term. It was just to say "if you've got customers from the north, don't waste time playing them records currently in the U.S. black chart, just play them what they like – 'Northern Soul'".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_soul









Thursday, May 06, 2021

Voting Day

In my constituency we have to vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner and Mayor. I did have a look at all the candidates' statements for both roles.

It seems all the PCC candidates are agin crime; no-one is running on a platform of releasing all prisoners and sacking all the police. How to choose?

The Mayoral incumbent had a top role in business but I've heard nothing I can remember about what he's done since donning the gold chain four years ago.

I don't know what others have done. I excluded LibDems who as far as I can see are all things to all people; and an axe-grinder or two. Other than that, I clutched at straws: this one is ex-military; one in each race wears the Reform rosette (formerly Brexit Party) - good or bad? - certainly we need political reform, nationally.

Oh dear.

At least the system is using an Alternative Vote in both contests - first and second preference.

I suppose I'll just have to take a mild interest in the result.

Monday, May 03, 2021

"Build Back Better" - really? by JD

I'm sure you will all be familiar with this phrase, the latest in a never-ending river of political slogans. It has become very popular among our political leaders in the western world.


The local (un)Conservative Mayoral candidate has included the phrase in his 'manifesto' and when I saw it I stopped reading and groaned inwardly. He obviously has no thoughts of his own and thinks the electorate will accept a second-hand and meaningless slogan and think him wise. The evidence of the past year is that a large percentage of the electorate is gullible enough to believe it. I shall refrain from naming the candidate to spare his embarrassment, not that politicians are ever embarrassed!

But we have been here before; Alan Hull of Lindisfarne wrote this song about T Dan Smith, 'Mr Newcastle' who wanted to 'build back better' by demolishing half of the City of Newcastle and rebuilding it as 'the Brasilia of the North'. Oscar Niemayer's plans for Brasilia didn't turn out too well either.



The results of Dan's 'plan' were the uglification of the city centre. Just one example of this was the elegant Royal Arcade, designed by John Dobson, which was demolished to make way for a huge roundabout serving the new central motorway. The Arcade was carefully 'unbuilt' and the stones were numbered and stored to be rebuilt in another location at a later date. Under the supervision of the usual crop of 'wise' civic leaders, the stones were numbered in chalk which quickly disappeared in the rain. Dan Smith subsequently ended up in jail after his involvement with John Poulson and a huge financial scandal which led to the resignation of Reginald Maudling who was Home Secretary at the time.

Smith was not the only political 'visionary' who thought he could improve our lives with grand civic projects and brand new housing, which at that time meant flattening terraced housing and replacing them with 'streets in the sky' tower blocks which were universally hated by everyone except architects and planners. I have previously posted on the subject here https://theylaughedatnoah.blogspot.com/2019/06/home-economics-by-wiggiaatlarge.html

It is possibly unfair to single out Dan Smith but his story is the one with which I am most familiar. However I know that planning disasters including the hated tower blocks were widespread in the 60s and 70s. I have also known and worked with many architects and every single one I have known was enthusiastic, almost evangelical about the ideas of the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and all of the other modernist vandals. Nobody bothered to ask the people who were rehoused in those tower blocks. It is no coincidence that most of these blocks have been demolished.

So the current claim that this latest slogan of 'build back better' will give us a bright shiny new future is just more of the same; in other words it is a lie because we know that politicians are not capable of building anything.

And then there will be the unintended consequences of the latest 'build back better' fad just as there were the unintended consequences of the earlier utopian plans to create cities of the future with their skyscrapers (have you noticed it is always skyscrapers?)

In the following video clip, Roger Scruton is in conversation with Hamza Yusuf about the impact of modern ugly architecture on Islamic culture and why beauty matters. He describes the modern city as looking like a mouth full of broken teeth. One of the many people who hated the destruction of human scale cities was an architectural student named Mohammed Atta who had been an architecture student in Hamburg and he hated the inhumanity of high rise buildings of the type his parents were moved into in Cairo. Scruton implies that when Atta flew an aeroplane into the World Trade Centre in New York, it was for him not only a political/religious act against the USA/unbelievers but also a symbolic blow against soulless, oppressive architecture.

Scruton talks about Mohammed Atta flying into the Twin Towers at 1:30 onwards:

Sunday, May 02, 2021

COLOUR SUPPLEMENT: Fencing By The Book Of Arithmetic, by JD


Romeo and Juliet | Act III, Scene I:

Mercutio and Tybalt engage in a sword fight which results in the death of the former. As is the way in drama, he has to make a little speech before he dies and he addresses Romeo thus:

"No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’ both your houses.

"Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm."

That is a very curious phrase “fights by the book of arithmetic”

What can it mean? Tybalt is a minor character (a cousin of Juliet) in the play and it looks like one of Shakespeare’s throwaway lines but closer examination reveals a whole story.

According to a book by Adolph L. Soens “Tybalt fights by a Spanish book of fence.”

Tybalt seems to be an anglicised version of the name Thibault and the character could be based on Gérard Thibault who was a Dutch fencing master.

Around 1605 Thibault was living in Sevilla and studied the style of swordsmanship of Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza and Luis Pacheco de Narváez, two renowned masters of the art. Returning to the Netherlands, Thibault built on what he had learned in Spain and developed a new system, possibly after studying mathematics at Leiden university.

The result was the publication of his only book 'Academie de l’Espée' which was lavishly illustrated to show the style and system.


The book was published in 1630 after his death and also after the death of Shakespeare. Somehow the man from Stratford knew about Thibault’s style of fencing. At that time there would have been news pamphlets and manuscripts in circulation possibly with information on new ideas from around Europe. And it appears that Shakespeare understood Thibault’s style, or system.

Soens also suggests that there is enough information in the text to indicate how the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt should be staged. This probably had a great dramatic effect on the Elizabethan audience as they watched two contrasting styles in action with the unfamiliar one being the winner.
One wonders if Romeo also adopted Tybalt’s new style in their subsequent meeting, turning it to his advantage.

Four hundred years on and the Bard and his works continue to be a source of endless fascination.

Further thoughts on Tybalt/Thibault and his invention/adaptation of a new style of fencing can be found here and also here  - the entries at this latter link are in Spanish but it included this video which shows what appears to be a very slow and leisurely style of fencing: 



We are used to seeing in 'action' films frantic and fast moving sword fights so one wonders if the real thing four hundred years ago really was as dramatic as the film industry would like us to believe or it was as depicted in the video.

You will notice on the back wall the name Luis Pacheco de Narváez, one of the fencing masters referred to by Thibault in his book.

-------
* An earlier version of this post originally appeared at Nourishing Obscurity on 18/11/2010; that original post has been lost in NO's technical problems.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

THE WEEKENDER: Sweet Charity... For Whom? by Wiggia

If there is a reset in the offing, let it be charities !


Advancing years mean different things to different people; items like wills need making or need re-writing according to circumstances.

Like many I would guess, I put off the inevitable because it brings home the prospect of the Grim Reaper hovering somewhere ever nearer. For most couples the family figures highest on the list of recipients of any wordly goods that might be left on departure, it makes a will relatively easy to configure; for us with no children it is a very different matter.

Ideally we would depart with nothing left in the kitty, a scenario that would give us much pleasure and deny the taxman and others grabbing what is left, but while simple on paper that is not as easy as it first appears; not knowing when the call will come makes that route nigh on impossible to plan, though one can have a good shot at it.

So apart from more distant relatives, nieces and nephews, all of whom seem well catered for by their own parents and therefore don’t need our help, and whom I don’t feel inclined to include anyway, to whom or what do we leave the remnants of our time on earth?

By coincidence the Times recently (26 April) had a very good article on the subject in which it explained how the richer parents keep their children at a higher level and those naturally further down the food chain get less by degrees from their parents, which keeps inequality as is or worse depending on earnings which for most have plateaued for the last 12 years. The winners are poor children with rich parents.

On the other hand those who make their own destiny stay the same. In our case we had only minimal bequests from both sets of parents for a variety of reasons, i.e. they had bugger-all to leave in real terms and we have made all we have on our own backs; that is not a virtuous boast, just a fact of life, but it does make you appreciate what you have and also more suspicious of where you intend to donate what you have left.

As Machiavelli said, 'A son can bear with equanimity the loss of his father, but the loss of his inheritance may drive him to despair,' which judging from the words I have heard from family members is not far from the truth.

- and anything else I can get my hands on...

Those items that you have no intention of gracing the spaces of the Sally Army furniture emporium with can be left to people who will appreciate them: art works, designer pieces etc, jewellery of any value can be turned into cash and spent; but after that it becomes more difficult.

The reason this matter has surfaced is because since we have just moved, some items have become surplus to requirements and it has made us review our wills as they too have come to light in going through all the paperwork we have transferred with everything else to the new abode and needs to be sorted and filed away.

The last will was decent enough in where and what we wanted to leave the bulk of possessions and property, but not any more, and this is where things have started to get bogged down. After much searching the last time we found some local charities, in particular a local hospice that did sterling work outside the usual business model of so many others, a genuine charity in a much-needed sector.

But - that word again - upon looking at their site recently and reading the FAQs it appears that within the last few years they have succumbed to the acceptance of government through council monies and now have a CEO  on an enhanced salary, so joining the bulk of charities where a business model and jobs in the revolving door public/private sector have become the norm. So, sadly, they will not be getting anything from me as through taxes I/we are already supporting the place and its enhanced salaries.

Obviously after we have gone any changes that a recipient makes is no longer any concern; all we want to do is to try and make sure any decisions are the right ones at this moment in time.


It is very difficult not to be a cynic when one is bombarded with television requests for £3 a month for everything from clean water to medicines to saving an endangered species. Sponsoring a snow leopard has to be one of the biggest cons in charity advertising, what with so few of them left, though at the moment I feel we are the endangered species; and all these requests come from international charities with huge reserves and CEOs on six figure salaries. I don’t need to go into the minutiae of how they operate and spend money; it has all been revealed many times in recent years and it paints a portrait of greed not charity.

Charities that work on the assumption that every pound given means they keep 90p to run the thing and pay employees are not charities, except for those that work for them.

The same outfits now regularly beseech one to include a legacy in a will and have employees trawling through estates to find legacies they have not been informed about. Have no doubt that they will find anything left to them and will often come knocking long before the estate is settled, as we experienced in a recent family legacy; as with certain family members, they have profiles matching vultures.

None of this helps us. We can’t even take advantage of the tax inheritance laws as we have no heirs; all we can do is try to make sure we spend as much as we can and leave the rest to carefully-vetted charities, local if possible; at least if you spread the residue over several charities, presuming you can find any, you at least have a fair chance of it doing some good.

It is sad it has come to this. Even some of the charities we took for granted as doing worthy things have become woke shadows of their former selves as they all make a beeline for the high salary business model. That old Victorian philanthropy has long gone, as with politics the 'putting back into society something for the general good’ and doing it for free has disappeared, along with most of the goodwill.

Of course current events - our government and the massive debt we have been put in - might well save me the trouble of where to put my money, it must just disappear to save the world.

Something will come up I am sure, but I never thought it would be so difficult to give away money, well in the way we want to, that is.

____________________________________________________________________

Sackerson adds: this article from 2015 underscores the problem...

Friday, April 30, 2021

FRIDAY MUSIC: Jazz-ish, by JD

A musical miscellany which might or might not be jazz. Does it matter if it doesn't fit neatly and tidily into a particular genre?








Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Six-monthly reviews of our loss of freedom are not enough

Following my 21 April article on unacceptably long intervals between Parliamentary reviews of anti-Covid strategy, I have taken my own advice and written to my Member of Parliament as follows - the text below is taken from my post yesterday in The Conservative Woman
_________________________________________________

Dear Xxx

Request for urgent questions in Parliament re HMG’s coronavirus strategy

As one of your constituents I request that you ask questions in Parliament – and encourage colleagues to do so – about the frequency of Parliamentary reviews of arrangements to deal with the Covid outbreak.

As you know, the country has suffered the most enormous and costly disruption to normal life for over a year and yet reviews are scheduled at six-monthly intervals, the last having taken place on March 25. I hope you will agree that the Opposition needs to do much more to challenge the Government, since information is changing all the time about the virus, measures to combat it and most especially the associated human and financial costs.

This may be of particular interest to yourself because of the long and hard work you have done promoting the interests of less-advantaged women and their families, both as an MP and prior to that as a local councillor. People like these have been among the hardest hit by school closures, restrictions on movement and association with others etc.

In case you have not seen it, I enclose an excellent article by Professor Simon Wood of the University of Edinburgh, on the cost per life saved of governmental measures against Covid. His rough estimate is that these work out at some six to nine times the ceiling cost per Quality-Adjusted Life Year (QALY) set by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Relevant to your political priorities is his point that poorer people have much less life expectancy and quality of health than richer people, and the cost of governmental Covid strategy would be repaid far more by addressing these inequalities.

This is why I urge you to press the Government to much more frequent and thorough reviews – in Parliament, skilfully challenged – of its coronavirus strategy. Had, for example, the Government chosen to use its powers under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, these reviews would be held at 30-day intervals (at the longest), with Parliament empowered to modify or cancel measures at any time.

I hope that this might be raised in Questions to the Prime Minister and the issues also aired by your Party wherever possible in the media.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

COLOUR SUPPLEMENT: Ginger biscuits, by JD

As we pass into a second year of lockdown, JD has an alternative to banana bread.


These ginger biscuits are better than anything I have found in any shop - they are softer than the concrete hard shop bought ones and if you dunk them for too long they are laible to dissolve into a gingery flavoured tea which is not necessarily a design fault!

I grew up in a household where my mother was an expert cook who would produce a seemingly endless supply of scones, cakes, biscuits, sundry pastries etc.

Cookery programmes on TV have been popular for a long time so why are ready meals and home delivered fast foods so prevalent? Is it laziness or is cookery now a spectator sport with TV having turned it into a competitive activity. No matter, Richard Ingrams was right all those years ago with his quip that fast food was called that because it was not worth waiting for.

My natural curiosity and desire to have a go at various activities led me naturally to try biscuit making and not only was I rather good at it but there is something very satisfying about conjuring up tasty biscuits and then dunking them in a cuppa char!

So herewith my mother's recipe for ginger biscuits. Cheap and cheerful and easy to make!

Ingredients

4 oz. margarine (you can use butter if you wish for a richer taste)
3 oz. sugar
2 generous tablespoons syrup (usually Tate&Lyle golden syrup)
6 oz. self-raising flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
a pinch of bicarbonate

Directions
  • Melt margarine and sugar in a saucepan over a low heat; add the syrup.
  • Sieve the flour, ginger and bicarb in a bowl, then add the melted mix of syrup etc.
  • Mix well until stiff (the mixture stiffens as it cools) then form into small balls, about 1" or so in diameter. Place these on a greased baking tray and leave a good space between them.
  • Bake at gas mark 5 for 12-15 mins., or until the required shade of ginger.
- Eat and enjoy!

__________________________________________________________________

Ed.: for those who prefer French Revolutionary units here are the ingredients in metric:

113 grammes margarine/butter
85 grammes sugar
c. 30 millilitres syrup
170 grammes self-raising flour
7.5 millilitres ground ginger
un pinch de bicarbonate

Saturday, April 24, 2021

THE WEEKENDER: Old English Sheepdog, by Wiggia

A Disappearing Breed


Away from Covid, Climate Change and the ridiculous state of affairs in the USA, life goes on as normal, well not normal but other matters still come to light. This one was of interest to me as I was an owner of three of these fabulous dogs and the article came out of the blue, though it is not something that was unexpected.
                                                                                                                              
I read in the Times an article stating that the Old English Sheepdog (OES) is in serious decline as a breed: only 226 puppies were registered with the Kennel Club last year, the lowest number since 1960.
I am not surprised, I cannot remember when I last saw one in a park or street, they were never numerous but you did come across them.

As with all pedigree dogs fashion has a stake in how popular they are. The current league leaders were in most cases themselves a rarity a few decades ago, but the quest for smaller dogs was not something I thought I would see in this country. The French had cornered the market in what I called restaurant dogs, dogs that would appear at the table with their owners, horrible habit but I could always pass that off as a French idiosyncrasy.

No, we always had proper dogs, Not any more it seems, it's now a toss up between Pit Bulls for the chavs and something you can carry in a handbag; neither can be called proper dogs, both are at extreme ends of the canine spectrum and serve two very different needs of their owners.

The current trend to be different shows with celebs talking about their cross bred dogs such as cockerpoos or such, and the silly prices they fetch; why a mongrel should fetch the ridiculous sums they do is beyond me though it isn’t my money so I have no skin in the game as they say. It is as though there is a race to have the most stupid cross as a badge of honour  - Great Dane x Dachshund, the mind boggles but I am sure they are working on it!

My first OES was purchased soon after my marriage. We had always had dogs in the family as had my wife's parents so owning one was not the problem, but what to go for? We both wanted a decent size dog with firstly a good temperament, and would have gone for a German Shepherd, but in the early Seventies the breed was suffering from some bad breeding resulting in hip problems and temperament issues, so that was out. Other larger breeds were either what I called, unfairly, draught excluders - Labs or mad such as Red Setters; Golden Retrievers were also going through a time of bad hips and entropion when an eyelid turns in against the eye itself so another crossed off the list. There were other breeds but unlike today in this fashion-driven world you rarely saw them, so we had little knowledge of their ways.

Knowing we were putting a lot on our plate with looking after one we decided on an OES. Again, the only problem I had was that although you did see them around they were not in big numbers and my knowledge of breeders unlike later was scarce (and the truth about the one we used only came to light later.) Anyway, home he came and soon settled in, but as he matured a problem arose: when taking him out to socialise him, it became apparent he was frightened of his own shadow. Walking along a street he would leap across in front of me at the sound of a gate opening and a lot of similar things spooked him, something as a puppy had happened which made him this way but I never discovered what.

Talking to a fellow dog walker one day in the park we spoke of my problems and he said why don’t you go to the local Dog Training Club. Little did I realise what it would lead to further down the line.  
Nearly all dog training clubs have a beginners' class or a course for dogs to make them more socially acceptable. The truth is - and I doubt it has changed - these courses pay the hall hire and the rest of the more advanced handlers and dogs benefit from the facilities; that may be an over generalisation but it certainly applied in those days.

As an aside for a pet dog you only need certain basic rules, and all can be imprinted and taught at quite an early age: to learn that no means no, to walk by your side without pulling you all over the place, to come when called (the most difficult to instil in a dog), to stay and to drop on command. The rest is not needed for a pet dog but many dog clubs insist on trying to train pet dogs before they can even get acclimatised to the new surroundings. The only thing a dog club is really good for in puppy training is socialising with other dogs, the rest is common sense.

Oh and sending a dog away to be trained is pointless if you are not trained yourself; the owner/handler needs training first.

As I soon learned with a dog that that is easily distracted, towing him around a hall full of dogs that have no idea why they are there nor the handlers is not the way forward. All initial puppy training should be in a quiet situation and kept as simple as possible for those first steps in obedience training, something I soon learned and acted upon, but progress was slow and he was still spooked by all manner of things and it wasn’t getting any better.

A talk by a very good trainer got me to buy a book that I followed through on. It was an American publication that had a method of training that would be frowned upon, even banned today: it basically made the dog more afraid of you than any outside influences and though I look back in and say never again, all else had failed totally and this was the last resort and it worked, he came on leaps and bounds and the initial hard approach was slowly dropped as he responded.

That old adage ‘you have to be cruel to be kind’ was never more apt, though the experience was not a pleasant one,  but it was a different time, not as enlightened as today, nevertheless all else had had absolutely no effect and I had nowhere to go other than forget it all and put up with a dog I could never take off a lead.

So much work had gone into getting to that stage I could walk him down the road without events happening that I took it further. People must have thought I was mad as I tied him to zebra crossing posts and made him stay so as to get him to accept traffic; I would take him to Romford station and wait for trains to come in etc. etc. He was not put in harm's way but it all paid off as he went everywhere with me and after all that was never other than the dog I would want to own.

The training went on and I entered him for a competition at an open show of obedience more out of curiosity than anything else. You start in a beginners' class; much to my amazement he won, beating forty other dogs first time out. That started a journey that ended with him being the first of his breed ever to get a place in a Championship class against the usual suspects of Border Collies and German Shepherds. For a dog with his background it was a hell of an achievement, and he was genuinely unlucky not to win a Championship (the judge harshly marked him out of a win for a minor infringement, bit like a disputed off side decision that goes the wrong way) in the biggest class ever held in a Championship - 97 dogs in total ran that day, and the rules were changed soon afterwards so that no judge would have to oversee more than fifty in a class.

My second OES did even better and with a better handler would have won championships I am sure. I suffered from nerves at those vital moments and dogs sense that and it got through to him when it mattered, but he got two reserve tickets, second places and was chosen to represent the South of England in the first team competition at Crufts.

But that is enough of the training side. The breed attracts attention and the Dulux advert was a God send for breeders, but not quite so good for the breed: I would be asked where to go to buy one, and there were plenty of poor breed kennels in this breed as there are in all the others, but my initial response was to put people off buying one: unless they have actually owned one, no one can contemplate the work involved to keep them in good condition. The weekly grooming alone is not something to be taken lightly: the muddy paws that have to be washed every time out in rainy weather, the washing of the nether regions which get caked if you don't wash and the cutting away of the hair round the privates for the same reason and the same with hair between the toes that would go solid with mud if you fail to do that. Many owners tie the facial hair up away from the eyes because they have obviously difficulty seeing through that thick fringe, but we cut it away, neater and easier and the dog doesn’t look like a big girl's blouse, and as they weren’t show dogs it didn’t matter. These are all tasks that cannot be neglected, for if you do the task is a chore and a long one plus it is not comfortable for the dog; hairy ears also have to plucked and cleaned weekly.

Much of all this is because as with so many breeds the original reason for their existence is long gone.The OES was a droving dog, it was smaller than today's version and had much less of a coat, the current coats are not exactly what a shepherd would want to have to bother with; the old photo below gives an idea of what they originally looked like.


And this one from 1899. Already, showing them was beginning to make changes to the breed that became ever more pronounced over the years.


When I started looking for my second dog I had heard that there were actually a few still working on farms, but tracking them down turned out be a dead end. In desperation I turned to Florence Tilley, then the owner of the most famous OES kennels in the world down in Shepton Mallett. Shepton was her Kennel Club prefix and the history of her kennel went back to around the early 1900s with her father, but I knew she had an encyclopedic mind as regards the breed, so we went down and visited her.
At first she wanted to sell me a show dog; it was only when I explained about my first OES and wanted if possible one with some working background she changed her tack and said leave it with her and she would ring.

I expected nothing and carried on looking, fruitlessly, myself, and then nearly six months later I got a call: she had three, and was I interested? We went down that weekend and the story was told. These dogs were not bred by her but came from an old friend, a farmer, this was the last litter he'd bred as he was 90 and he brought the pups over in his Rolls Royce which he had had from new in 1937 I believe, but what was important was he still had a couple working on his farm and these were from that stock; one stood out and he came home with us the same day.

And the rest is history. He romped through the lower qualifying classes and qualified for the Championship class; as I said, no other OES has got anywhere near the heights he did; plus his film with Bernard Cribbins and a stellar cast - he played Bernard's dog in the original Dangerous Davies film about a hapless detective played by Cribbins. He was a special dog and a wonderful friend to us as all were.

The Kennel Club and others have a lot to be ashamed of in the way that breeds have become distorted in looks, size etc. To conform with the winning trends in show dogs many are so far removed from what was originally intended it has become a joke. Most breeds were bred to to have a useful working life, the working group; today's OES would look ridiculous on a farm and would be totally impractical.
Even the KC breed standards by which all breeds are judged have become elastic to accommodate what becomes a winning fashion, and in so doing does not ‘improve’ the breed but in many cases creates long-term physical problems. 

A good example of how dogs change for the show ring as opposed to a working strain can be seen in Springer Spaniels. Springers as gun dogs are selected for working traits, not how they look; the two side by side are totally different breeds but only one is true to type, whatever the breeders say. Even breeds like the German Sheperd is having fashion thrust upon it, the breed is a guard dog but many of the fashion changes that are now required for winning in the show arena are against the standard set in its homeland; only one can be right and that is the German version. Many other breeds have suffered the same fate - the Bull breeds have become so accentuated in their looks they have trouble breathing as have other pug faced dogs, but still fashion prevails.

I should imagine today anyone looking for an OES like my second one with a working background would be laughed at. He must have been almost the last of a type though even he resembled the modern version as can be seen in the header photo. He is the one on the left, the other was my last OES; he came from show stock, and did remarkably well in obedience up to a point, he simply could not take the pressure of training after a certain point and I retired him and myself from competition.

I had done my bit. The competition at the top level was becoming a one breed event for Border Collies, quite natural that people would want the most intelligent and biddable breed to train and they are without peer, but a lot of the fun had gone out of it and for me it had run its course.


I don’t think the breed will die out. It may have had its zenith in the days when celebrities owned one like Kevin Keegan and Paul McCartney with his ‘Martha.’ It is almost a national symbol after the Bulldog and no doubt fashion will swing back towards real dogs again, in time.

Friday, April 23, 2021

FRIDAY MUSIC: Sun Ra, by JD

Another musician who defies categorisation is Sun Ra with his fabulous Arkestra(sic), who claimed to have been born on the planet Saturn and took his inspiration from Ancient Egypt! 

He was a jazz composer and keyboard player who led a free jazz big band known for its innovative instrumentation and the theatricality of its performances. Listening to his music it is hard to believe he was hired by Fletcher Henderson as pianist and arranger in the late 1940s! Whether you love or hate his music, it is impossible to ignore him or his influence on American music.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Ra
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/283238.Space_is_the_Place
https://www.discogs.com/artist/35328-Sun-Ra