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Saturday, April 17, 2021

THE WEEKENDER: Mighty Meaty Matey, by Wiggia

I came across whilst rummaging through the detritus one carries with one when you move house - why we do this is a subject for another day - but anyway, looking for some papers I came across an old menu from the Seventies from Berni Inns. Easy to laugh at such places now, yet going by the menu it offered better fare than many fast food outlets today, and you could get an alcoholic drink - no skinny lattes then, thank God.

So as one does I started delving into archives of old menus, from the cafe restaurants of our youth and before to those early fine dining establishments that we went to if we had the cash for a special occasion.

We soon forget, yet some things are very obvious in those periods, how the posh restaurants insisted in printing menus in French which hardly anyone understood and resulted in calling the waiter over and stabbing a finger at what one thought was a dessert to be snootily told it was a vegetable and then having to cringingly ask for advice on what was available in that section, only then for the waiter to, still snootily, repeat the offerings in French with an English translation for the proles.

When they started to put English translations underneath the French version it was the last throw of the dice in pretentiousness.

I remember well the first time I took my to be wife for our first proper meal, lunch at Rules, London's oldest (1794) restaurant:                                                                                                                                                                        

Having done my ‘homework’ I ordered the Châteaubriand and settled back on the banquette to peruse the wine list. I knew very little about wine in those days apart from my initiation into the intricacies of German wine labels, so when the wine waiter came calling I ordered the Rudersheimer Rosengarten and the wine waiter said ‘good choice’; a kindly man under the circumstances because it was anything but.

In those days fine dining was for the other people. We had the first signs of chain restaurants in the likes of Bernie Inns and others, it made a change from the plastic cheese roll under a glass dome cooking quietly on the pub counter.

I remember Woolworth had a rather good cafe, it was only when researching this I discovered just how comprehensive their pre-war menu was:

Apart from an early attempt at the bottom of the menu to garner feedback, the other item of note is the amount of meat products on the menu and ‘lobster salad’, in Woolworths!

Higher up the scale, this menu from Wheelers The Ivy gives another insight into how the other half ate in the Fifties, still clinging to the French language and a preponderance of meat and fish dishes. Good to see the old favourites up there, the potted shrimps and prawn cocktail, so derided since but making a comeback now:                                                                                                                                                                             

Menus from other posh eateries abound and none are posher than Buck House. A Queen's menu from 1906 shows nine courses and again plenty of protein; naturally at this moment in time the menu is again in French. Magnums, quite rightly, of champagne for Derby Day: they must have had a tip.

The great ocean liners that dominated transatlantic travel and vied for national pride with elegance and speed for those first class passengers and made sure they never went without during their voyage.
Eight courses at the Captain's table, I bet that went down well - I’ll get my coat...

All things are relative to the age but sometimes there are surprises on these menus in that what are considered delicacies today and have a price to match, were not so in days gone by. Oysters and foie gras were cheap and plentiful, as two examples; lobster as on the Woolworth's menu was available almost everywhere as were ortolans; today you struggle to find decent whelks.

The one below I actually remember. Although the fare is similar to the others a couple of items stand out: tripe and onions, and marrow bones; long time since I saw those two on a menu.

Today we are used to buying products that are cheaper than in the past because of modern big farming techniques and international trade, but not everything works that way. This wine list from a Cunard liner in 1927 shows the price for a bottle of Chateau Latour at 12/6; £1 then equates roughly to £44 today, making that bottle in today's money around £27 and that is a restaurant price; today a bottle of Latour retail would set you back in the region (depending on vintage) of £400-600 a bottle. You really could drink yourself to death in style for very little money then.

With all of the menus you can see there is an awful lot of meat, fish and game on offer. In today's world full of fatties and those same fatties being urged to do away with meat as are the rest of us, you do wonder why so few in those days were fat and yet today fatties are everywhere, and I don’t care if using that word offends, it should because there is absolutely no need to get in that state. 

Maybe McDonalds have to share some guilt in today's fattism: ‘buy them by the sackful’ is not very helpful when wanting to lose weight!

And when did you last see a seafood menu like this one? - and while you are perusing the menu, do not play with the candelabres:

But today those whole plates of steak have disappeared, we are presented with artistically arranged plates of very little for very much. At least the Argentinians know how to cook and present a steak - all vegans look away now…

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm !

Friday, April 16, 2021

FRIDAY MUSIC: Josquin des Prez, by JD

 Josquin des Prez (French: c. 1450/1455 – 27 August 1521), often referred to simply as Josquin, was a French composer of the Renaissance. His original name is sometimes given as Josquin Lebloitte and his later name is given under a wide variety of spellings in French, Italian, and Latin, including Iosquinus Pratensis and Iodocus a Prato. His motet Illibata Dei Virgo Nutrix includes an acrostic of his name, where he spelled it "Josquin des Prez". 

He was the most famous European composer between Guillaume Dufay and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and is usually considered to be the central figure of the Franco-Flemish School. Josquin is widely considered by music scholars to be the first master of the high Renaissance style of polyphonic vocal music that was emerging during his lifetime.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Like a hot knife through PLO jibberjabber

Following Sunday's piece about disinformation re Israel, here's a stunning (literally - see the faces!) speech to the UN by the son of a Hamas founder, dynamiting the 'PLO good, Israel bad' narrative:

'Who the h*ll let this b*st*rd off the reservation?'

'If Israel did not exist, you would have no-one to blame,' says Musab Hassan Yousef.

Monday, April 12, 2021

GREEN ENERGY: It's a chill wind, by Wiggia

During the Covid crisis (?) there has been an undercurrent of activity around Boris’s ‘green deal’, not surprising really as without the distraction of the virus more of this would have made it into the news, in what form is another matter.

The Telegraph has put together a decent summary of all the snippets that have been leaked in the last twelve months, though it still leaves out other extra costs should this push to be carbon neutral by 2050 goes ahead as the Climate Change Committee insists it does.
Whether any of this is feasible is doubtful even if all the requirements could be met.
The DT had an article that for once was not blind to the pitfalls and obstacles in the way of achievement. It doesn’t go nearly far enough though, the costings of full implementation for the average household are enormous, and it's not clear how many of those people who are all for saving the planet realise how much they will have to pay; not many I would bet, and for what exactly? As with Covid we are only told what they want us to hear.
A good example of that is the news that we have today on the BBC website seen below.
Great Britain's electricity system was the greenest it had ever been at lunchtime on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, its operator has said.

Sunny and windy weather, coupled with low demand for power, led to a surge in renewable sources of energy, National Grid Electricity System Operator said.

It meant low-carbon energy sources made up almost 80% of Britain's power.

There was no coal generation on the grid and just 10% of power was from gas plants, the operator added.

The caveat is in there: sunny and windy weather. Without those there is no renewable energy produced; as on earlier days this month when Gridwatch showed wind producing just 0.5% on one day, that is a statistic you never see in a headline from those pushing the agenda.

Roger Harrabin the BBCs resident envoy for CC then says….”That will need much more energy storage than is currently available”. There is no storage available and no sign again of any means to capture energy that amounts to anything meaningful now or in the future as it stands.

I am not going to say any more about the failure to ensure sufficient base load for the future predicted needs, it has been well trailed with the National Grid predicting if all the proposals come into being there will be a need for a 60% hike in the base load available to fulfil the demand.

And there is no sign of anything that will make that possible on the horizon. Doubling the number of windmills doubles the amount of energy needed from elsewhere when the wind doesn’t blow, it is that simple.
Among the items in the DT article that have been aired are many of the obvious ones, this is the third article in the DT since October last year that has an air of disbelief that any of this can be achieved and still it is far too kind, but at least a querying voice is being raised along with doubts from the CC commmittee.

The image below shows what is being asked of the average householder; maybe not everything but the heat pumps are central to the Government's thinking.

What you can add to that is any property that needs these extensive works will also have to pay for all the usual home comforts that will be destroyed putting all this in: decoration, carpets, new electric instead of gas hobs, and the bigger radiatorss that are not included here as the heat pumps work at a lower temperature and to maintain today's comfort zone bigger rads will be needed.

Needless to say the official answer to lower temperatures is that it is good for our health and the air quality will improve. The next step will be living in a tent where the air quality will be even better, but you will have nowhere to hang a radiator; perhaps that is the end goal and all this is just flim flam, who knows any more.

Heat pumps have a big drawback: they work at lower temperatures, they can work at higher ones but become very expensive. With the high cost of electricity against that of gas it is going to make heat pumps a luxury, many will not switch and many will not be able to stand the cost of switching. Electricity is four times the cost of gas because of the costs passed on to the consumer from environmental programmes and social measures such as the Warm Homes Discount which gives some households cheaper energy bills. These extra costs are not added to gas bills.

Naturally some in government would like to see gas loaded with extra costs to ‘incentivise’ switching, which shows how much they live in a bubble: charge extra to get people to switch to something they will have to pay even more for!

The government's published plan to tackle climate change wants 600,000 heat pumps a year installed every year by 2028, but who wants them? Certainly no one who has thought it through; some eco zealots with deep pockets - remember, the government has withdrawn its grant scheme.

Ah, they say, the real costs as production of heat pumps increases will come down; by how much? They are so much dearer than gas boilers so they are never going to compete on price, and in that case who would be mug enough to pay for one now? Average gas boilers including fitting currently run in the £1000 bracket, depending on size and make.

Are the government's friends and backers in the building industry behind all this? Are they installing heat pumps, underfloor heating, triple glazing in the shoe boxes they call homes these days. Of course not: the building industry is there to make as much money as possible while spending as little as it can.

For decades, we have lagged behind many in Europe with our building regulations as to insulation, glazing etc. which means a large majority of the housing stock is below par in energy efficiency because successive governments have allowed it to be. Now the same government wants the general public to pay for that lack of foresight, though with the building industry the big builders have been quite happy to go along with sub-par regs as it means more for less.

In effect, the public are being asked to pay substantially more for housing. The government's response to that fact is that we should take out longer mortgages or extend current ones to pay for the upgrades; if I was in the last couple of years of a 35 year mortgage I know what my answer would be, and with average wages 20% down in real terms from 2008 who has the extra cash anyway?

People who can claim up to £240k in expenses from the public purse have no right to expect the public to pay for their fantasies, the same tax-paying public in the private sector that will also be paying for the billions required to upgrade social housing; or are the printing presses just going to keep on running?

I find it extraordinary that people like Bill Gates can lecture the world on how it should behave so as to save the planet when they themselves live a high maintenance lifestyle and don’t even justify why there should be a difference for them.

Bill Gates is not alone in being a total hypocrite but for the record he owns four private jets, a seaplane and a ‘collection’ of helicopters; he also collects Porsche cars and has the usual Mercedes and BMWs plus limousines. Recently he ordered the building of a yacht, the one omission he had in the billionaire class.

His various very large homes are supplemented by being the biggest private land owner in the USA. He currently owns 242,000 acres of prime farmland, why? He has never shown any interest in farming. It has all to do with power: land owners on that scale have always had power; it is also suggested that it is a tax avoidance scheme and probably is. Also, he was recently involved in the bid to be the largest private jet base operator; this comes as commercial jet operation slumps in the wake of the Corona virus and private jets take up the slack, for some, flying to destinations no longer being used by commercial airlines. Has any of this got anything to do with saving the planet. No, of course it hasn’t, yet, and I use Gates as a prime example, governments are in league with him and others of a similar ilk. It is nothing to do with climate change, it is about money.

Many of the big institutions and oil companies have seen the light: they are taking the easy way out of their’ dirty’ business. They see that governments and people of influence want to follow the climate change agenda, they see drilling licenses being withheld, oil exploration becoming uneconomic, so they diversify into sustainable energy. Why not? There are big subsidies awaiting them there and they spread out into energy supply and anything else that sees a government grant.

With banks and financial institutions now going green and refusing to support fossil fuel extraction the circle is almost complete.

All that is needed is enough celebs to tell us what is good for us, and we got it, a hundred signed a pledge, including Jude Law, Mel B, Cumberbatch et al and stated…

‘Like you...we are stuck in this fossil-fuel economy and, without systemic change, our lifestyles will keep on causing climate and ecological harm.’

‘Our lifestyles’: shurely shome mishtake!

There are hundreds of examples of double standards, this one by Elizabeth Warrenwho also has a problem with her ancestry takes some beating….

The one thing that comes out of all this is the fact that no one has voted for future impoverishment, no one has been asked their views as to the way forward or not on anything to do with climate change. It is all driven by vested interests, green lobbyists who only represent a small section of the population and front persons such as Gates and the doom goblin; all chant the same 'we are doomed, at the tipping point, we have only x years' and so on, it has all been heard before and nothing has come to pass, yet still billions are poured into something that we almost certainly cannot change if it does happen.

The predictions are all based on projections from the same sort of sources that projected the world was about to die from Covid, and like Professor Ferguson for reasons unexplained the same people, wrong before, are still getting a platform to spout the same garbage.

We are not getting the truth. Any dissenting views are from ‘deniers’ who are cancelled, sidelined or ridiculed for having a different view, for there can only be one way forward.

Unless some common sense is brought into the climate change debate we are all doomed, to a life of restrictions and deteriorating living standards, all at great cost. Our current economic situation says no to all this as it is not affordable even if it was necessary or desirable. Like many I am not holding my breath on this, there is something amiss and we are not getting the truth, and no one is demanding it.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

BUNG EYE: Fake News Is Real, In Palestine

Bung Eye is an occasional series focusing on
unconscious-to-deliberate misrepresentation
by the news media and other influencers.

Today we look at an extraordinary book alleging systematic antisemitism among news media, 'information centres', NGOs etc dealing with Israel and the surrounding occupied territories.

Tuvia Tenenbom, a USA-based writer who was brought up in an ultra-Orthodox (religious study only) family in Israel but rebelled, has written a number of books exploring hidden antisemitism in different countries (including, most recently, the UK.)

He is either the biggest liar and best fiction writer I have ever read, or he is telling the truth, in 'Catch the Jew!' (2015), his exploration of issues in Israel and the 'occupied territories.' If it's the truth the charivari of characters he meets is almost surreal; read and see for yourself. 

He is able to go where few other Jews can, because he happens to be a chubby Western-looking blond and can masquerade as 'Toby the German' when among the Palestinians and Bedouin - they love Germans and some tell him that the latter showed how to deal with Jews.

This attitude is hardly new. According to Mark Steyn, when mass-murderer Adolf Eichmann was captured in 1960 and brought to trial in Israel, a Saudi newspaper headline read 'Arrest of Eichmann, Who Had the Honour of Killing Six Million Jews.'

The most disturbing aspect of Tenenbom's forays is that they reveal not only merely the continuing vehement hostility towards Israel of her neighbours, but the foreign support for the latter that includes bias, misrepresentation and fakery by supposedly impartial observers.


Here is an example of the British Press at work, when interviewing a Druze villager in the Golan Heights at a time when it is feared a conflict with Syria may lead to the use of chemical weapons:

Do you have gas masks? - No.
Did the Israeli authorities supply you with gas masks? - No.
But in general, Israeli authorities supply Israeli citizens with gas masks, right? - Yes, I think so.
They give masks to their citizens but not to you. Right? - I think that they do.
The Jews get it but you don't. Interesting. - I don't know.
They didn't offer you any mask, did they? - No. I think they distribute masks only in the big cities, like Tel Aviv or Jersualem.
But do they or don't they distribute them to the locals here, the other people, the Jews? - Maybe. I don't know.
Is it possible that they distribute masks to 'them' but not to you? - Could be.
So they offer the masks to Jews but not the Druze. Really interesting!

At this point [says Tenenbom] the villager is totally confused. lights up a cigarette, and talks to another villager sitting by him. As for the journalist, he watches me looking at him and his face turns angry. He gives me a spiteful look and moves away. (pp. 233-4)


It seems they are not above pulling stunts, either. In September 2013,  a French diplomat called Marion Fesneau-Castaing was in a party delivering aid including tents to Bedouin in Khirbet al-Makhoul in the West Bank. Supposedly this is an example of Israelis brutally demolishing Arab homes, though Tenenbom sees no facilities there and the remains of the building look ramshackle and temporary; when he asks them where they live they indicate the surrounding hills. Fesneau-Castaing alleges that she was forced to the ground from her vehicle and says, 'This is how international law is being respected here.'

This followed an attempt at assistance earlier that week by the Red Cross. A spokesperson for the ICRC, Nadia Dibsy, says she was there at the Frenchwoman's incident and 'saw her being beaten with her own eyes.' When pressed, Dibsy changes her story and says 'I was not there on Friday.' 

An Israeli military officer tells Tenenbom that there is 'an "old custom" of European diplomats who join up with leftist actvists of all kinds on a regular basis and that they plan and plot their next moves together.' Tenenbom calls the French Embassy for official comment; they promise to call back within the hour; they never do. (The diplomat, filmed pushing an Israeli soldier in the incident, is later expelled 'without harming Franco-Israeli ties.')

Local officials?

On a later occasion Tenenbom asks a Palestinian official who oversees such matters about the incident. He is told that the soldiers punched Fesneau-Castaing first, she fell down and then punched them back when she got up. Pointing at his computer, the official says 'he can show me all this right now, since he has it all on video.' Unlike other journalists, Tenenbom goes further and asks to see the evidence; the Palestinian replies, 'We are out of time' and that he must leave right now.

Tenenbom finds an Iranian news site on his iPad and checks their edited version of the video:

'In it I see Marion in the driver's seat, cut to Marion on the ground, and then cut to Marion punching a soldier. How Marion got to the ground is not shown, which suggests that she might have gotten there on her own for the purposes of picture taking. In the image provide by the Iranian news site even the soldiers around her seem to be surprised to see her on the ground. Interestingly, in the BBC photo the face of the soldiers were cut from the frame. Great work of journalism.'

Eye witnesses and victims?

The writer goes to the village of Burin, where allegedly the Israeli army comes 'every second day' to burn houses and throw bombs. There is one smoke-blackened room in the house he visits, but when he asks to see other burnt houses the answer is no. Tenenbom asks for evidence rather than stories; the lady of the house says she took pictures of the event on her cellphone. It can all be proven! He asks to see the pictures; she comes back with the phone. Can he see the pictures? Well not exactly, reports the writer: 'The pix are gone. The phone, how sad, has broken.'

Film and documentary makers?

The theme of image-making leads Tenenbom to meet someone from the Israel Film Fund. In the previous ten years, the man tells him, there have been at least 25 movie co-productions between Germany and Israel, 60 per cent of which have to do with politics; none right-leaning.

Tenenbom goes to the New Fund for Cinema and TV to check funding for non-fiction documentaries. In their spokesman's estimation, '80 per cent of Israeli-made documentary films that are political are co-produced with Europeans, and when I say "European" I mean mainly the Germans, who on average fund 40 per cent of the cost per film.'

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)?

We've already seen a shifty assertion by a local ICRC spokesperson in the diplomat-punching episode above. There is also some question of being selective in their targets: the International Committee of the Red Cross - exclusively Swiss board members - has declared Gaza (from which the Israelis withdrew their forces in 2005) still to be an 'occupied territory,' but when Tenenbom asks them whether this is also their position on Cyprus and Tibet, they promise to reply later; in follow-up correspondence, they tell him that their legal reading is communicated confidentially to the conflicting parties but 'the ICRC could later communicate its classification publicly.'

Similar suspicions of bias arise, Tenenbom reports, with The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). One estimate of the number of Arab refugees from Israeli-occupied territory in 1948 is 700,000, but UNRWA appears to have turned to including in the numbers descendants not born there, bringing the total up to five or even eleven million; however, UNWRA say they don't have the figure for 1948.

There are swarms of NGOs involving themselves in the region. An Israeli army officer tells Tuvia that there are 300 organisations in the West Bank, excluding Gaza where there are a further 100. Israeli NGOs - mostly foreign-financed - number merely about a dozen. Money is pouring in from abroad, the main sources being first, the USA and second, Germany [as at the time of Tenenbom's writing this book.] The undercover visits Tenenbom makes to Palestinians and Bedouin do not suppport the narrative of miserable slum living - the houses he sees are generally very nice, inside if not always outside, and there seem to be many communal facilities being built and paid for by foreigners.

Now one may say that you find what you look for, and clearly Tenenbom's mission is to uncover the disinformation and foreign interference within and without Israel. I don't think he tells any untruths, but he's not concerned to go into details about the ways in which Israel defends itself from its neighbours.

Nevertheless one could argue that the outside world is being bamboozled by pro-Arab (if not anti-Jewish) PR, and the sums of money thrown into the area in this way are in effect providing aid and comfort to the anti-Zionists, possibly including terrorist organizations (as, it is said by some, Noraid for the IRA.) Also, has Israel been targeted for this pot-stirring because it is a small country and easier to subvert than Turkey or China?

US foreign policy is highly important in all this. Several previous US Presidents had promised to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and not done so; in 2017, Trump actually did it, and what a fuss that caused at the United Nations! Now, apparently determined to undo everything President Trump did, whether good or bad, the new incumbent (or his administration) is proposing to resume funding Palestinians directly and indirectly to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Tenenbom does not show to us a dislike for the Arabs he meets -  his disapproval is reserved for the 'self-hating' elements among the Jewish/Israeli left and their supporters. He concludes his book by saying that since Israel is divided internally on political issues, whereas her enemies are of one mind towards her and have powerful Western friends, then the country is unlikely to survive for much longer. Perhaps Trump's actions since this book was written have bought some time; whether that changes the final result remains to be seen.

One wonders what would happen if, magically, all the Israelis were suddenly transported to some other territory thousands of miles away. Would this actually be the answer to Arab prayers? If their foreign aid then dried up completely, and the American military-industrial establishment could refrain from bombing and subversion in the region, would this usher in an era of permanent peace and brotherly love on the Arab Street? Between Iran and Iraq, between Sunni and Shi'a?

Or is Israel not rather a convenient enemy?

Would there be more chance of a stable peace, albeit an uncomfortable one, if outsiders could stop building public perception and influencing international policy on a foundation of lies?

Saturday, April 10, 2021


John Hartford, Tony Rice Vassar Clements "Steam Powered Aereoplane" ( sorry about the poor quality but it is the only live performance I can find):

When I first heard this I thought it was another typical piece of whimsy from John Hartford.

Steam trains, steam rollers, steam ships I knew about. Even a few steam cars in the early days of motoring and, more recently, I’ve heard of steam bicycles but a steam plane? It seemed highly unlikely; how would it carry enough water for example? Water is rather heavy and it would need a very powerful aircraft to lift such a weight off the ground but then I came across these two stories:

"On 20th April 1933 William Besler took off from Oakland Airport, California in a steam driven aircraft which he and his brother George had designed andbuilt. It was the result of three years of work and secret experimentation in a machine shop in Emeryville, California.

“This blue machine, with William Besler at the controls, sped down the runway and climbed into the air without a sound except the low whine of the propeller and the hum of wind through the wires. Swinging back over the field at 200 feet, the pilot shouted ‘Hello!’ and heard the answering calls from spectators below.”

I had never heard of a steam plane before I came across that page on the web So I wondered if there might be film of it somewhere and I found some here (no sound):

There is also this promotional film made by the Besler Corporation which features the steam driven vehicles made by the company. I had heard of the Stanley Steamer motor car but as far as I know it could not reach the 85mph claimed for Besler's car!


* An earlier version of this post originally appeared at Nourishing Obscurity on 27/9/2011; that original post has been lost in NO's technical problems.

Friday, April 09, 2021

FRIDAY MUSIC: Lonnie Donegan, by JD

Lonnie Donegan was known as 'the king of skiffle' The name 'skiffle' was suggested by trumpeter Ken Colyer's brother Bill after the Dan Burley Skiffle Group of the 1930s. Donegan played, along with Chris barber, in Ken Colyer's Jazzmen during the early 1950s.

Colyer left the band in 1954 after which then became the Chris Barber Jazz band. During the intervals of their shows Donegan with Barber on double bass and Beryl Brydon playing a washboard, the trio would play American folk and blues songs by the likes of Woody Guthrie or Leadbelly, as they had done previously with Colyer's jazzmen.

Barber's first recording included the skiffle trio's version of Leadbelly's Rock Island Line which was later released as a single and became a huge success eventuall selling three million copies!

The rest, as they say, is history and Donegan was a major influence on virtually all of the rock or blues musicians who came to prominence in the 1960s.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Holey knickers: Portugal's answer to Covid

 A friend living in central Portugal tells us how coronavirus restrictions are operating there.

Cafes are closed except for take-out, so the workmen in the nearby town buy their coffees and sit with their mates on the wall like swallows on a telephone wire, gassing happily at each other. Unlike in the UK, there seem to be no police swooping down on them in supercharged Vauxhall Astras; this is Europe, where the authorities make crazy rules and private individuals cheerfully ignore them.

Shops are sitting ducks for officialdom, though, so they have to comply. Our friend was asked for donations for a children's charity and tried to buy supplies in the supermarket. 'Non-essential' items are screened off - you can buy food there, and disposable nappies, but baby clothes: no.

Same for women's lingerie, and adult clothes generally. Our friend is now ashamed to hang her pyjamas on the line because of the holes in them. 

Speaking of washing, she ordered a supply of eco washing powder by post from abroad; the cost was c.€35 but the import duty €48.The Portuguese have form when it comes to rapacious imposts. Back in 2018 someone there showed me a second-hand Triumph Stag that he imported; the Government wanted €58,000 to let him register the vehicle. It's illegal under EU rules, but my acquaintance explained that Portugal is happy to pay the fine every year, because the swindle is so lucrative.

So, naked babies, holes in your underwear and robbery by post: good going, Senhores.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Compare and contrast: how coppers take on God

So it's not only the Germans who let power go to their heads.

Balham, UK, on Good Friday, part of the most important festival in the Christian calendar:

Standing at the altar was a nice touch, don't you think? The cherry on top of the cupcake. What next - occupying the aron hakodesh in a synagogue, or the mihrab of a mosque? 

I think we've come a long way from Dixon of Dock Green. Btw who snitched on these worshippers?

A representative of Polish Catholic Mission Balham, which runs the church, added worshippers "obeyed" the police "without objection".

"We believe, however, that the police have brutally exceeded their powers by issuing their warrant for no good reason," the spokesman added.

"We regret that the rights of the faithful have been wronged on such an important day for every believer, and that our worship has been profaned."

... 'Profaned': the precise term.

And here, in Canada, SIX police are needed to barge into a church - this time, without a warrant (see how the overreach begins so quickly?)

Even more astonishing is their slowness to leave, when they know exactly that they have no leg to stand on, legally. The pastor is driven to ask them if they are capable of understanding English. Should he have called the police?

What an irony, that a faith for which many have been prepared to accept martyrdom should be crimped by uniformed bullies 'saving' them from a tiny risk to their health.

There's a good piece here on legal protections for freedom to worship:

Monday, April 05, 2021

Sir Alan Duncan talks pants, by Sackerson

Sir Alan Duncan has been serialising parts of his political memoirs in the Daily Mail .

Apparently he thinks the PM is a ‘buffoon’ – now that Sir Alan is no longer an MP he can indulge in such un-Parliamentary language – and many of Sir Alan’s former colleagues are also the targets of his insults. Perhaps he might have spoken differently - at least in public - had he succeeded in his bid for the Party leadership in 2005, or in his attempt in 2019 to invalidate Boris Johnson’s new government .

However I seem to detect a certain lack of logic in his diary reference (18 April 2017) to ‘extreme Brexiteer nutters’, presumably meaning much of the general public rather than merely some of his colleagues.

Sir Alan served as an MP for nearly three decades, and also as a Minister in Her Majesty’s Government. What did he think he was doing? What did he imagine Brexit was about?

Brexit was not about restoring power to ‘the people’. We do not usually govern ourselves by plebiscite – the Referendum was one such, but only needed because Parliament had forgotten its duty and PM Cameron, together with the media establishment, had been so completely out of touch with the people.

Brexit was the reassertion, not of the public’s, but of Parliament’s sovereignty. Lord Justice Laws, in his 2002 ruling on the appeal re ‘Thoburn v Sunderland City Council’, said (para. 59):

‘… there is nothing in the ECA which allows the Court of Justice, or any other institutions of the EU, to touch or qualify the conditions of Parliament's legislative supremacy in the United Kingdom. Not because the legislature chose not to allow it; because by our law it could not allow it. That being so, the legislative and judicial institutions of the EU cannot intrude upon those conditions. The British Parliament has not the authority to authorise any such thing. Being sovereign, it cannot abandon its sovereignty.’ (my emphasis)

It took 30 years from our first entering the EEC to get this clarification, and there can be little doubt that the Continental intention was always to destroy national sovereignty by degrees; but with a great effort, Gulliver broke the threads and sat up. We’re still picking off the fluff.

Now it may be that Sir Alan believes we should be a uni-people governed remotely by a committee whom we do not elect and cannot reject, but I do not see how this squares with his espousal of libertarianism. Indeed, as we have now fallen under the control of a watered-down and so far largely well-intentioned healthcare version of revolutionary France’s Committee Of Public Safety, I should have been pleased to see Sir Alan’s strictures on our sudden and almost complete loss of liberty, enforced by gendarmes keen to overreach their already broadened powers.

Especially, I fail to understand why his roles as an MP, and sometime British Government Minister, are consistent with a Remainer’s implicit commitment to vitiate and ultimately abolish the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament.

So if he asks why I do not take him as seriously as he does, I am tempted to give him the advice he gave to Boris Johnson: ‘Look in the ****ing mirror!’

Sunday, April 04, 2021

SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND: Velodromes, by Wiggia

                                    OLD VELODROMES NEVER DIE, THEY JUST FADE AWAY

I wrote a piece on velodromes many years ago; this is not an update as the original has been lost in space or somewhere similar. Many today of those engaged in or interested in track cycling have never seen a velodrome that doesn’t look like the ones in Manchester and the Olympic Park in London: all are indoors and have a standardised size of 250 metres in length, despite there not being an official laid down length; all now conform, partly because records can be more uniformly set on a standardized track, as in athletics.

Whilst that makes sense it is on the assumption that all velodromes are indoors. Nothing could be further from the truth. Before the indoor velodrome became the ‘norm’ for Olympic and World Championships, indoor tracks were of varying lengths as explained below. There was a period when they tried to make outdoor tracks conform for the same events and they made them 333 metres long, i.e. three laps to a kilometre, but the indoor 250 metre tracks took over before many were established,

Early velodromes had no such constraints and that showed when I was riding, as many of the tracks in the UK and abroad had all sorts of strange quirks in surfaces, track length and degree of banking. There was also the matter of the actual shape: in today's homogenised world that doesn’t make sense, but when cycling first became a big spectator sport it was track cycling that brought in the spectators and tracks were put up where they could be fitted in, no one worried about any conformity, and it was one of those items no one really gave much thought to when I was riding; if anything it added to the experience.

Those ‘odd’ tracks were just part of the circuit and were treated as such,.I never heard anyone castigating the fact that they didn’t all conform; the only complaint was that some had a surface, like Fallowfield (1892) in Manchester (the long gone home track of Reg Harris, probably still our greatest track sprinter) where if you fell off it would tear your skin away, such was the abrasive nature of it, until later it was resurfaced.

Fallowfield also had that rare distinction of hosting an FA cup final in 1893 when Wolves beat Everton 1-0 and somehow 45,000 spectators got into a venue that held a maximum of 15,000! and two Rugby League Challenge Cup finals during the same period.

Most of those old outdoor tracks were multi-sports arenas, with cycling, athletics and even football on the infield being held at the same meeting in the same arena, something that cannot be done any more with the small tracks.

A version that is used on the Continent is the multi-use 'sportshalle', with cycle tracks in sections that can be put away when not needed and other sports or activities take over the space; we don’t really have one in this country.
In this photo from 1985 the slow erosion of the Fallowfield track means that where the surface has eroded it reveals the abrasive shale-based earlier surface.

Brighton may not seem an obvious choice for such an iconic and important velodrome, yet within the boundaries of the same town is the oldest working velodrome in the world. Preston Park is a track I only raced on once; in many ways it has only a faint resemblance to a velodrome as we know it today, but one has to remember the times when it was built when anything went regards design and layout. It is in effect four straights with banked corners, almost a road circuit, but it survives and so it should; to have survived when nearly all the old tracks have gone is an achievement in itself - it should have a preservation order on it! This not very exciting video, the only one I could find, shows exactly what it is, 577 metres long and built in 1877.

Because of its shape and size it is often used as a road circuit for short events, no self respecting trackie would ride on a track with a geared road bike and it would not normally be allowed; but Preston Park is not a normal velodrome and anything that keeps it in use is to be applauded.

After a campaign against threats to close the track because of ‘elf and safety’ concerns, funds were made available in 2015 to upgrade the track and resume normal service, and quite right too.

The south coast is home to other oddities in the world of velodromes. Just along the coast in Portsmouth, what used to be known as Alexandra Park and is now the Mountbatten centre, only has one straight and the rest is a continual curve, unique I believe in the world's velodromes; another long 537 metres. Somehow I never got to ride there.

There was also another that appears to have been erased from history in a park in Southampton. It too was a long, quite flat track with an athletic track inside it. My records on this one have also gone, though I had a success there.

An amazing-for-the-time cycle track was built on the roof of the Landmark Hotel London in 1899. This was not for competition use but for clients to use for exercise. This is one of those projects one would have loved to have a picture of, but despite endless Googling nothing has come up.

Many would believe that the computer-designed marvels that now are in all major cities worldwide were the first of their type. Not so: indoor wooden tracked velodromes were there almost from the start. The early six-day races that started in the USA were all on wooden tracks; many were able to be dismantled and used elsewhere as and when needed. Many were shoehorned into very small spaces: there was a wooden outdoor track in the beer garden of a Danish pub back in the Sixties.

When the six day races returned to London in the late Sixties a demountable track of 143 metres was used and a slightly large one a couple of years later; one of them now resides in Chalshot in Southampton.

The six day races were an enormous success both in the USA and back in Europe. Here in the UK there were six day races in Aberdeen, Bristol, Dublin, Dundee, Glasgow Leeds, York and many more venues all on wooden indoor tracks long gone. Many were never intended to be used again and were simply taken apart and the wood sold.

Six day racing spread even to Australia and some of them were held on outdoor tracks. Again, the tracks were often temporary affairs and in order to save money many had the boards across the track and lengthwise; this restricted the design as there was no curvature built into the bankings or lead-ins, making them hard work to ride.

An even earlier version of that type of track is shown in this remarkable photo of a women’s race from 1897, one of the earliest photos of cycle racing taken. Although very degraded, it shows the ladies on a track with the boards laid across the track. The picture and words come from an article in Six Day Racing; Laura Trott eat your heart out, these ladies were almost certainly at that time professional, competing for money.

The problem with wooden tracks outdoors is the obvious one of weather resistance. Even the best materials need maintenance and many simply succumbed to the elements and were dismantled never to reappear. The most obvious example I used in my original piece, the beautiful velodrome built for the 1960 Rome Olympics, died because it was not maintained, was underused and had a building defect that emerged right from the start, so it went from this:

To this:

The velodrome was eventually put out of its misery and the track sold as firewood.

As with the Rome track the velodrome built for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh also suffered from neglect and lack of use. The difference here was they threw money at it and it hosted another Commonwealth games in’86, only for the cycle to be repeated. Outdoor wooden tracks are a luxury, they need constant maintenance which is expensive and requires specialists.

These vain glorious projects look good on paper but for the long term are not good value and fail to serve the cyclists of all levels that use them or want to use them. It is noticeable that a new tarmac velodrome with softer bankings is proposed to replace it. Assuming there is the demand for it, it will serve the area in a much more practical way and last a lot longer at a much reduced cost.

If built properly concrete makes almost as fast a track as wood anyway. When I attended the ‘83 World Championships as a spectator in Zurich, the old outdoor 333 metre Oerlikon velodrome built in 1912 had such a good surface that world records were set on it, at a time when the thinking was you had to have a wooden track for the fastest times.

The track that held the ‘72 Worlds in Leicester was tarmac, they then changed to a wood surface and again being outdoors it fell into disrepair and was finally demolished; it seems they never learn.

This 50s photo shows one of the many board tracks put up in Australia that I mentioned earlier; oh for that weather! The cheap to build tracks rarely lasted for any prolonged period and were never intended to; the cross track boards can clearly be seen in this picture.

Examples of these old oddities abound in the UK. Palmer Park in Reading had until recently a shale surface that meant you slid on the bankings if you were not careful. Even more strange was Roundhay Park in Leeds that was/is a banked grass track created in 1897; grass tracks were prevalent post war as a cheap way of track racing given the cost of hard surface velodromes and they had the advantage of being part of athletic meetings on the same surface; they were also instrumental in improving bike riding skills - racing on a flat bend on grass is not easy as it goes against the laws of physics.

And here's another Yorkshire banked grass track built in 1897 in Richmond during the cycling boom. It is very difficult to find any images or reference to these old tracks but the Richmond one features in this short video from around 1.40 and shows an important part to the golden age of cycling popularity. Incredible that something like this, just banked earth and grass, has survived for so long.

Many old tracks refuse to die. There was a little known one at Slough on what was the industrial estate, it surrounded a football pitch and was of concrete construction. I knew it well and won the season-long junior competition there in ‘58 ? I believe. Now bulldozed away it refuses to disappear as seen from this aerial photo. The curved ends of where the bankings were is still visible.

The same can be seen of the old Paddington Recreation ground track in Maida Vale;very popular, well used, it suffered from indignant residents who complained when there was a plan to upgrade the old place; from its 19th century origins, all that time, all that enjoyment to thousands who competed and watched, wiped out by NIMBYs! It was near where I worked at the time and was the first cycle track that I rode on and the one I used the most. For the big meetings illegal betting was carried on in the stand areas. The picture below is from 1940 before tiered concrete standing areas were built in the home straight. It was another of the very early tracks in this country and one that should have survived. In the photo you can see the athletics track on the inside: this was common with many of the outdoor velodromes, and meetings combining the two sports were not uncommon; one at Paddington after the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, with many of the competitors from that event, drew a huge crowd - I know, because I was there.

Slough Track still haunts:

 Paddington Recreation Ground track, 1940

Yet another unusual track that looked perfectly normal was the Butts Stadium in Coventry. This had a misshapen exit from the first bend that threw you out from the inside; you soon got used to it but using it for the first time gave a weird sensation.

It was built in 1881 by local business men who saw a profit in promoting pro races with prize money, attracting riders from far afield; it even boasted a world championship. Originally this was another banked grass track, the riders in those days were not so fussy about the surface they rode on if the money was good! Later it became a shale surface and when the council took it over in 1939 it was tarmacked, as I remember it; another that was demolished in the Eighties.

Another sad sight, yet I had good memories of this place as I won my first senior race while still a junior there - I was sixteen and you were a junior then until eighteen; there were none of the other age grades in those days, e.g. schoolboy classes, under 21s etc. And it took only two events to become a national champion as a junior: the track sprint and the road race, equivalent to the 100 metres and marathon in athletics.

The same meeting saw for one of the most spectacular accidents seen in cycling: during a distance race a rider swung out too close to the outside barriers that consisted of horizontal boards nailed to posts, but there was a gap between the boards and the rider actually got his pedal between them and was catapulted what looked like twenty feet straight up in the air still holding his handlebars which had been wrenched from the bike. He landed on his back with such a bang I thought he was dead, the noise could be heard across the stadium, yet after everyone rushed to his aid he got up and walked away; just sometimes, someone smiles on you.

London had many cycle tracks during that golden age, but by the post war period they were reduced to just two, and two of the oldest at that: Paddington as above, and Herne Hill in Dulwich South London - like Paddington it was well used and its Good Friday meet attracted riders from all over the world. Herne Hill was threatened with closure when its lease ran out but petitions, fund raising and a lot of work by activists saved the old girl and she is now refurbished and serving the track cycling community again.

One other track survived for decades: the White City velodrome used for the 1908 Olympics. Herne Hill was used for the 1948 games, fell into disuse but remained under the stands built for the greyhound track that followed and was still there when the place was bulldozed and built on.

The 1908 games suffered from appalling weather and whereas today events on a track in inclement weather would be halted for safety reasons, in 1908 they went ahead. The photo below shows the finish of a distance race in pouring rain, something today you just would not see.

It is often thought that cycling racing was started on the European mainland; that is not true and the first official bicycle race that was held in France was won by a Brit. There was a long drought in success until more recent times though we have always had world champions, just a bit thinner on the ground until present times.

Abroad, I did visit when it still was a velodrome the specialist track at Wuppertal in Germany when riding over there in a representative competition. It was built for motor paced racing, very popular in Germany in earlier days: this was racing behind what are known as the big motors - not the Derny/moped affairs still going today, they were normally 1000cc Jap-engined specialist motorbikes with belt drive for smoothness and a roller behind the rear wheel so the rider could close up in the slipstream.

The speed these riders got up to dictated the design of the track and Wuppertal as can just be seen in this old photo had in effect two tracks; the banking had a steeper upper level for the motor paced events. If there were any other tracks built this way I never heard of them but during the early days when motor paced racing was popular I expect somewhere there was something similar.

Part of the old Wuppertal track survived as a terrace for the local football club for many years and then even that went when they rebuilt the stadium.

In Scotland Celtic Park, home to the eponymous football club, had a cycle track round the outside of the football pitch when the new ground was built in 1892. Even in Scotland the popularity of track racing during that period could not be ignored.

Another famous or infamous velodrome was the Vel D’Hiv in Paris. Its illustrious history was stained forever when Jacques Goddet, director of the ASO, Amaury Sports Association which also ran the TDF, from 1936 to 1986, was responsible for the Paris velodrome into which 8,000 Jews were herded by French police acting on Nazi orders. Goddet handed over the keys of the velodrome, the Vel D’Hiv, to the French police, although the exact circumstances under which he did so are unknown. The French Police only revealed papers showing the extent of their collaboration in 2012! The track was demolished in 1959; the track itself could not obviously be blamed for anything to do with what happened but its association lived long after the event.

We don’t have many velodromes even today in this country. Those old reminders that still exist from that golden age should be cherished, they are a reminder of our Victorian position in the world when anything was possible and the early cycle tracks were part of that.

In an age when everything has to conform it is refreshing to see nonconformity enduring. The day when everything is exactly the same will mean we have lost something never likely to return.

Saturday, April 03, 2021


I am still reading Tuvia Tenenbom, who describes himself as a 'recovering intellectual,' and would like to share this with you. The clever people here in Tel Aviv seem to be a universal type: one who cannot see past the end of his nose but confidently looks down it at you.


I sit down with a number of leftist intellectuals, university professors and such, for dinner in quite an exensive restaurant, and talk with the nicest-looking of the bunch who holds the title of 'political psychologist.' The first thing she says to me is this: 'I am a liberal, super liberal, and I'm an atheist.' When the waiter comes she orders café latte, but being an intellectual that she is, she can't just order latte without making it tasteless. Her latte, she tells the waiter, should contain coffee without caffeine and milk without fat, and be served in a clear glass.

Her speciality, she informs me, is religious extremists, mainly settlers. The settlers, she declares with authority and certainty, are idiots. And when I ask her if she read any of their literature, just to make sure that they are 'certified nuts,' she tells me that she doesn't have to do so since she has read many of their detractors who quote them, and this is more than enough.

In addition to her settler expertise, she tells me that she's also an expert on Judaism, which she classifies as a 'pagan religion.' I ask her if she has ever studied Judaism, a question that makes her raise her voice in anger. For years and years and years, she yells at this offender of her high stature, she has been studying Judaism over and over and over. I light up a cigarette, inhale and exhale, look at her and ask her: Could you tell me, please, what the 'Vision of Isaiah' is? That's the most basic question one could ask and any student of Bible 101 could have answered this question in his sleep, but this learned lady has no clue. What vision? What Isaiah?

I am befuddled by her lack of knowledge but everybody at this table asserts beyond doubt that I lack the mental capacity to understand higher concepts. They pound me with super brainy words of no meaning, and I sip my Chivas Regal I reminisce about one of my favorite rabbis from the day of old, a genius by any standards: 'He who cannot explain his thesis in simple words is he who has no thesis.'

Friday, April 02, 2021

(GOOD) FRIDAY MUSIC: Easter medley, by JD

The existentialist, Albert Camus, argues that if there is no faith, there can be no hope for us, and if there is no hope for us, then we are all doomed to despair: 

"Up till now everyone derived their coherence from their Creator. But from the moment that (we) consecrate (our) rapture with God, (we) find (our)selves delivered over to the fleeting moment, to the passing day, and the wasted sensibility."

Fritz Schumacher summed up our contemporary sense of “wasted sensibility” by saying, simply, that it showed that “the modern experiment to live without religion has failed”. Schumacher believes that our only chance of any success in developing the communities we need for survival, is by getting back into religion, and reconnecting with others, through the Other, once again.

Thursday, April 01, 2021


 Social media teach us that facts and logic make very little difference in argument.

The Israeli-born (now US-based) writer Tuvia Tenenbom has written a series of books recounting his experiences in the assumed guise of a non-Jew (he is blond and Western-looking), to get people to divulge their real feelings.

Arriving in Jerusalem, he encounters a Palestinian professor who is looking forward to an interview with a German journalist, so he can tell him the truth of issues in Israel:

'What is the truth? He shares it with me: the Israelis make sure that he, being a Palestinian, can't own a house [...] he proudly shares with me, he is not a man only of the mind but also a man of means: he owns a house in east Jerusalem, and he also owns another one in a place called Shuaffat.

'There are people who are alcoholics and there are people who are recovering alcoholics, meaning they've stopped drinking. I happen to be a recovering intellectual [Tenenbom was raised in an ultra-Orthodox family] and I draw from my former self to understand this intellectual. Logically it's impossible for a man who owns nothing also to own two houses. But "intellectually," you can explain away everything.'

Shortly after, the writer meets a couple of German girls who have volunteered to work with the Palestinians. He asks one, why:

"Three years ago I volunteered for Israel and I fell in love wth the Jewish people."

"And that's why you decided to come again?"


Three years ago you fell in love with the Jews and that's why you are now helping the Palestinians?

She looks at me in disbelief, very upset: "What are you trying to say?"

In the late 1970s, one of my Birmingham housemates was a young Yemeni who had escaped north through Saudi to Europe. He invited some Libyan students over one evening, and we got talking. They were full of praise for what Gaddafi was doing for the people.

They were also convinced of the Irish Republican cause. They thought they knew all about it, though they had never been there, seemed unaware that the IRA was a decided minority within the Catholic minority, and so on and on. I thought it best not to tell them of my father's several tours of military duty in Northern Ireland. But they were like so many people: on subjects that mattered to them, they 'just knew.'

Cartoonist and writer Scott Adams said recently on his podcast that you should abandon facts and logic and use psychological trickery instead. For example, with someone stolidly repeating the untruth that Trump advocated drinking bleach to kill Covid-19, you could ask their position on the Loch Ness Monster etc, saying that you were testing just how gullible they were.

Bad news, if Adams is right and most debates are bullsh*t contests.

Still, I recall overhearing two Asian lads talking in a secondary school, and one quoted what was obviously an old saying: 'When two people speak, one of them is lying.'