‘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 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.

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* 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.

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