Still space to be amazed

Praying Mantis and his shadow

Praying Mantis and his shadow

With the world seemingly shrinking as communication and travel becomes easier and faster it’s refreshing to know we can still be amazed by this beautiful blue planet we inhabit. Only last week scientists announced the discovery of a canyon in Greenland that’s 750km long and up to 800m deep making it almost twice as long as the Grand Canyon. It was discovered by bouncing radio waves from planes flying overhead to map the rock underneath the ice.

The canyon is buried by the Greenland ice sheet which in places is 3kms thick; the pressure from this huge mass of ice above it has squashed central Greenland to 200m below sea level whereas before it was 500m above sea level. Loving facts and figures I took out a calculator and a Bic biro to conduct further research. Assuming roughly that the blunt end of a biro is 1cm square and that the biro was buried vertically at the bottom of the canyon it would have the equivalent of 276 kilo bags of sugar precariously balanced on top of it.

Knowing that it would take 10,000 biros pointing straight down to fill a square metre and that the canyon is 6km wide and 750km long that’s a hell of a lot of sugar to buy at the supermarket for the purposes of my virtual experiment. No wonder the Greenland’s crust has been pushed down 700m.

The UK is affected by this ‘springboard’ effect too, after the last glaciers left 20,000 year ago Scotland has been slowly bouncing back with some parts predicted to elevate another 10cms over the next 100 years. This will help counteract any sea level rises from global warming. This is not so good for England and Wales as they are at the other end of this geological See Saw and they will possibly drop 5cm in the same time period. This means any average sea level rises will be felt much more down south.

Nepal in the Himalayas has over 1300 peaks with the two most famous being Everest and Annapurna. About a 1000 have never been climbed by Westerners at least, possibly the odd yeti has had a pop. Amazingly lots of these mountains don’t have names and the Nepalese government has decided to honour Hilary and Tensing who were the first to scale Everest in May 1953 by naming a mountain after each of them. Two French climbers who first climbed Annapurna, Herzog and Lachenal are also being honoured in the same way. In a bid to promote tourism an extra 165 mountains measuring up to 7999 metres high will be opened up to climbers from next Spring.

In the mountainous forests that cover Ecuador and Colombia a new species of mammal has been discovered.  The Olinguito has a teddy bear like face, is the same size as a small cat and the smallest relative in the racoon family. It eats fruit and only comes out at night. Amazingly a female was captured in 1967 and was mistaken for another species called the Olingo. The poor lady was swapped from zoo to zoo for years as she refused to breed with all her potential male suitors as scientists thought she was just being fussy.

In the Maluku archipelago a new species of rat has been discovered and named the Spiny Boki Mekot. This area is where the naturalist Sir Alfred Russel Wallace wrote in 1858 to Charles Darwin about his thoughts on evolution and natural selection. The area is called Wallacea after him. Its likely that the first ever mammals came from here, slowly migrating east or west over the millennia and evolving differently into the Asian or Australasian species we have today.

More scarily a BBC natural history unit whilst filming a programme called Lost land of the Volcano entered the extinct cone of Mount Vosavi in Papua New Guinea. Quite possibly they were the first humans ever to venture there as the animals they encountered were not at all fazed by their presence. I say scarily as they discovered a rat measuring over 80cms from tip to tail so about the size of a cat. All in all the scientists think they have discovered 40 new species of fauna there including a tree climbing kangaroo, a giant caterpillar and a fanged frog. Finally a variation can be made on the the old ‘wide mouth frog joke!’

Not quite so cuddly and considerably smaller at just a millimetre across, a new species of water beetle was recently discovered living right under the scientists’ noses; a river flows through the campus of Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines and the newly named Hydraena Ateneo has always lived there minding its own business amongst the rotting vegetation.

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Guernica by Picasso

Guernica by Picasso

The town of Gernika (Basque spelling) is strategically important as 2 main roads intersect there with links to the port town of Bermeo and the Basque capital Bilbao. The river also becomes deep enough for trading boats to navigate the estuary to the Bay of Biscay.

Across medieval Europe meetings were held and new laws signed under oak trees. In Gernika there’s been an oak on the same spot since the town was founded in 1366. The first lasted 450 years being replaced in 1742. The third tree was planted in 1858 but this was replaced in 2005 after it died from a fungus. The town gardeners have always grown oaks from the acorns and there is a stock of descendants which are given as gifts to towns and organisations friendly with the Basque region.

Gernika is the traditional seat of the Biscay Province Parliament; Basque laws were passed under these oaks up until 1876 with a meeting house built nearby for this purpose. When the Basque region became part of Castille it became customary for new kings to come to Guernica to swear an oath under the tree to uphold the laws of Biscay. The symbol of the oak leaf features on many Basque logos and coats of arms.

So Gernika has always held special significance for the Basque people and it’s regarded as their spiritual heart. During the Civil War most Basque regions voted to side with the ruling republicans which pitted them against the nationalists led by Franco. Northern Spain was hugely important for both sides as it has coal, iron and the subsequent heavy industry in abundance.

The nationalists were aiming to take Bilbao and on March 31st leaflets were dropped from planes across the region bearing a message from General Mola telling people their lives and possessions would be spared if they surrendered. The same day the town of Durango became the first ever defenceless civilian European town to be bombed from the air. Hundreds died and fighter planes straffed people in the streets as they ran. General Queipo Del Llano claimed over the radio that only military targets has been hit and that the priests and nuns that died had been locked by communists in the churches and burnt alive.

Monday is market day in Gernika and was and still is a huge affair taking on a holiday feel. On April 2nd 1936 the town held 10,000 people; locals, market goers and also refugees fleeing the first bombings from a few weeks earlier. At 1630 hours all hell broke loss and for 2 and ¾ hours the German Luftwaffe (Condor Legion) and the Italian air force carpet bombed the defenceless town. Wave upon wave of explosives and incendiaries rained down, with fighter planes shooting people as they ran in fear. The town was all but destroyed.

The supposed military objective was to destroy the river bridge which remained untouched as were the two munitions factories. Journalists arrived quickly to the scene and reported the bombing but the Francoists denied any bombing had taken place instead blaming the republicans for setting fire to the town as they retreated. It’s estimated around 1500 people lost their lives.

A few days later the town was taken unopposed. The oak tree and meeting house were luckily untouched by the bombs and locals held an armed guard around the tree to stop the victors felling it as a symbolic act against the Basques. At the Nuremberg trials Goering confessed that Guernica was used as a testing ground for the ‘total war’ bombing techniques for the war to come!

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Vesuvius as seen from Pompeii

Vesuvius as seen from Pompeii

Pompeii was founded 2700 years ago by the Osci tribe. The next few hundred years saw the Phoenicians, Etruscans and then the Samnites in occupation. Around 400BC the Romans took control fortifying it in the process. The Appian Way passes within 30km of Pompeii, so goods were easily transported to Rome from the bustling port near Pompeii

Pompeii had a cleverly designed piped water system which fed 25 street fountains, private houses, businesses and public baths. In time of drought the water would first be turned off at the baths then the houses and finally businesses leaving the street fountains to supply the populace.

Public water fountain in Pompeii

Public water fountain in Pompeii

Pompeii was a hedonistic tourist resort with as many as 20,000 inhabitants. The surrounding countryside was thronged with villas belonging to Roman elite. In 62AD a powerful earthquake struck the town damaging every building and crippling the water supply. The Emperor Nero was performing in a nearby theatre and as he left the building it collapsed after him. Nero looked upon this as an omen of good luck.

Although the earthquake was a portent of much worse to come perhaps it was Nero’s thinking that swayed most locals to stay on as the Romans were a highly superstitious bunch. Rebuilding work started in earnest and evidence of this can still be seen in what remains there today. The area suffered regular but smaller quakes leading up to the cataclysmic event 17 years later that’s now made Pompeii infamous.

In autumn 79AD Vesuvius erupted, shooting ash, rocks and poisonous gases high into the sky, the eruption was seen from hundreds of kilometres away. A fine cloud of ash rained down from the sky. as much as six inches (15cm) an hour. I remember in my school days being taught that people suffocated on the ash in their sleep. This is now known to be incorrect as their cause of death was altogether more horrid.

The ruins today

The ruins today

As the magma chamber lost its power the huge columns of debris started to fall causing pyroclastic surges of up to 100 km/h of superheated gas and pulverised rock to rush down the mountain sides. Pompeii was in the way of these surges and the 250C gases instantaneously burnt the inhabitant’s lungs and as they died all their muscles contracted so they dropped and lay in foetal positions which are how we see them preserved today. The eruption left Pompeii and the surrounding area buried under up to 80 feet of ash. It was custom to rebuild after a disaster but the damage was so complete that the area was never repopulated.

Only in 1599 when digging a water channel were some remains discovered. Pompeii’s lewd past was revealed as erotic frescos were unearthed which were rapidly reburied as they were deemed too risqué for the times. In 1738 when digging the foundations for a new palace the remains were discovered again and work continued up until a few years ago when the funds dried up. It’s a UNESCO World heritage site but sadly three times in the last 15 years has this certification been called into doubt as currently the place is suffering severe degradation. Three years ago the so called ‘House of the Gladiators’ collapsed and currently less than a third of the buildings that visitors could see in the 1960s are open to the public. It’s estimated that over 300 million Euros are needed to further preserve the site. Mind you with Vesuvius normally erupting every 20 years or so and the last eruption being in 1944 it’s well overdue so perhaps it will soon get covered over again.


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The Zombies of Spain

Desolation and Despair

Desolation and Despair

Believe it or not there are around 40,000 zombies walking the Spanish streets; they are mostly invisible as they hide in their flash cars and behind the high walls of their plush homes. These zombies once feasted off their shareholders, home buyers and lenders.

A zombie in this case is a developer that only has enough income to pay the interest on its loans. These Loans enabled the zombies and another 50,000 construction companies to destroy both the Spanish countryside and the economy. 20,000 of these property businesses have hit the wall since 2007. Domestic renting is not big business in Spain as home ownership stands at a massive 80%. Only those developers with commercial property such as retail units and offices are in a position to carry on paying their debts.

Spain joined the Eurozone in 1999 and immediately took advantage of access to cheap loans. As a result house prices rocketed 55% until the bubble finally burst in 2008. Since then prices have fallen by an average of 45%. Average is the word as more than half of the new properties were built on the Costas and aimed at foreign buyers, where prices have fallen much further. Between 1999 and 2006 Spain built 675,000 new homes a year. That’s more than France, Germany and the UK combined! Construction once accounted for 20% of Spain’s economy a figure now down to about half that.

There are lies, damn lies and statistics, so estimates vary between 2 and 3 million for the number of empty homes in Spain, 700,000 of these are new builds and about half of these are basically unsold apartments by a beach somewhere. It’s estimated it will take up to 13 years to get rid of these properties. Traditionally Spanish don’t commute to work so unless it’s for a holiday home there’s no point in a Spaniard buying a beach view property as their job is more likely to be inland. So that leaves Johnny Foreigner to slowly pick up the slack. 80% less mortgages were granted last year compared to 2006, loans which enabled 275,000 homes to be bought.

Spanish unemployment is over 26% with 56% of the under 25’s out of work. This is a damning figure as 40% of these young people were college educated. What a horrific waste of talent which will have repercussions far into the future. Only Greece as the slightly sicker European man fairs worse with 2 out of 3 of its youth jobless!

The sums involved in the property bubble are mind boggling with apparently about 325,000,000,000€ in outstanding property related loans. One good thing the Rajoy administration has done is to make banks assume 80% are bad loans rather than the 31% the banks were trying to brush under the carpet. 100€bn has been borrowed from the ECB though estimates suggest another 400€bn may be needed to save the Spanish banking system.

Madrid seems to exist on a different level of consciousness as the rest of us mere mortals. On one hand there is the Rajoy administration sabre rattling over Gibraltar potentially alienating British home buyers and over at the Bernabeu; Real Madrid think that paying 100,000,000€ and erecting a stage to show off their new striker Gareth Bale is right and proper in these austere times. To try and explain the offside rule as it were; Spain’s entire toxic loan book amounts to 3250 Bales or just 1300 Lionel Messi’s if ever his mega bucks buyout clause were activated at Barcelona. No wonder UEFA is introducing financial fair play rules next season!

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Watch out watch out

Ernie the fastest milkman in the west

Ernie the fastest milkman in the west

I remember getting my first bike aged 4; a red and blue machine with stabilisers. I grew out of it quickly but money was tight so I had to walk until my 8th birthday. Then I got my next one which was bought second hand for £7. It was really heavy, had no gears and curious brakes that operated with metal bars instead of cables and I painted it bright blue. I remember dad teaching me to ride it in our back garden.

Having a bike meant freedom; my mates and I had a large scale map of Guildford on which we proceeded to draw the boundaries of our imaginary kingdom on each time we returned from a faraway adventure. We could be gone from early morning till dusk, parking our bikes in distant woodlands and playing ‘war’ or Hide N’ Seek. I don’t remember us ever taking sandwiches or drinks as we lived on fresh air and exuberance.

My best friend Paul Cox and I used to earn a decent living helping the local Unigate milkman with his deliveries. Saturdays and holidays we would jump in the cab or perch on the back of the float at the beginning of his round and zoom off. The milkman smoked fags whilst he pootled along giving instructions to his two nimble assistants for what was required at each doorstep. This was in the days of Corona (every bubble’s passed its fizzical) and we would each be rewarded by a litre bottle of whatever we fancied. Cream Soda was my preferred tipple in those days yet now my stomach churns at the thought of all the sugar and goodness knows what else that I glugged down.

The prestige of the milkman reached a nadir in the 70s; Unigate discovered that the Humphreys were stealing people’s milk and came up with the slogan ‘watch out watch out there’s a Humphrey about!’ Telly adverts starring Muhammed Ali, Sid James, Barbara Windsor and Rod Hull warned us kids about the milk snatchers that wanted our milk. We in turn went mad for the free red and white bendy straws, badges, stickers and other Humphrey paraphernalia we could lay our hands on. Being Unigate helpers of course put us first in line for the freebies.

Pencil cases, lunch boxes, exercise books, bedroom doors, bedroom furniture, bikes and of

Humphrey stickers - as worn by discerning pencil cases everywhere

Humphrey stickers – as worn by discerning pencil cases everywhere

course the kitchen fridge. Nowhere was safe from the scourge of the Humphrey sticker. The straws were used to drink anything much to the annoyance of parents across Britain as no child can resist blowing for bubbles.

In 1970 Ernie was the fastest milkman in the west, Benny Hill wrote the song in 1955 as a tribute to his time as a milkman on a horse drawn cart in Eastleigh Hampshire. The lyric ‘he galloped into Market Street’ probably happened as the street does exist. He performed the song on the Benny Hill Show; it was later released as a single becoming the 1971 Christmas number 1 and staying there for 4 weeks. Two Ton Ted the bread delivery man was Ernie’s love rival for the widow Sue and they had a ‘wild west’ style shoot out with Ernie being killed by a combination of a well-aimed rock cake to the heart and stale pork pie in the eye. Ernie the milkman went to heaven where deliveries are made to angels and ferocious dogs are banned. Two Ton Ted married Sue but Ernie came back to haunt them on their honeymoon with the ghostly rattling of his milk bottles.

On Desert Island Discs in 2006, the then Tory Party leader and now Prime Minister David Cameron picked the song as one of his 8 favourite records.

Although I enjoyed delivering the white stuff, I stopped drinking milk at a young age. The dreaded ¼ pint bottle of free school milk did it for me as it was always warm and tasted horrid. I came home from school for lunch one day aged 10 and refused the glass that was offered, telling my mum I didnt like milk anymore. Nesquik however created a whole new ball park as mixing the stuff with water looked and tasted foul. So I could be persuaded sometimes to drink the dreaded cow juice. Banana was my favourite but in emergencies  Strawberry  or Chocolate would do.

Although the Labour Govt stopped free milk for secondary school kids in 1968; it was Margaret Thatcher who gained the nickname the ‘milk snatcher’ for stopping free school milk for 7 to 11 year olds in 1971 For her huge act of kindness I will be forever in her debt!



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The Pot and the Kettle

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Islas Chafarinas are three small islands located just 3.5km off the coast of Morocco, they have been occupied by the Spanish since 1847 with the only residents being a 190 strong military garrison. There used to be a colony of the world’s second rarest seal the Mediterranean Monk Seal living there but by 1990 they had all been murdered by fishermen for ‘stealing’ their fish.

The Alhucemas islands consist of three islands all within hailing distance of Morocco. The Penon de Alhucemas at just 200m off the Moroccan coast is the largest with a Spanish fortress housing a garrison of 30 men on it. The other two islands are Isla la Mar at 207m away and the Isla de Tierra is closer still being just 93m from its African neighbour.

Next we have Penon de Velez de Gomera; this island is so close to Morocco that in 1934 a huge storm washed so much sand between them that it created an 85m beach to connect them. It’s classed as the world’s shortest land border. A Spanish garrison is stationed on the fort that’s built on the 100m high rock. Last summer the Committee for the liberation of Ceuta and Melilla which included the local mayor managed to scale the rock and plant Moroccan flags before getting arrested. 1790 was the last time there was a military attempt to get it back from Spain. It looks like a ‘Mini-Me’ of another place that’s been in the news recently – Gibraltar.

The Isla de Perejil is uninhabited lying 250m off the coast of Morocco, about 13 km from mainland Spain with ownership disputed between the two countries. Morocco placed some Army cadets there in July 2002 to stop illegal immigrants and smugglers using the island. Spain was having none of it and a week later sent a major invasion force consisting of the Air Force, the Navy and their elite commando unit across the Straits of Gibraltar to valiantly retake the island from the terrified teenagers who gave up on the spot without firing a shot. Even the Spanish Legion got involved. The spat was deemed so important that the great warrior Colin Powell brokered a peace deal which still leaves the island disputed by both sides. The island is again empty apart from some goats with Moroccan nationality.

Melilla is part of the European Union and lies in east Morocco. It’s been won and lost by the Spanish many times since they first invaded in 1497. The last conflict ended in 1926. It is twice as large of Gibraltar, with the population of about 75,000 fiercely holding on to their Spanish identity. Melilla was where the Spanish Civil War started with a military revolt against the Republican officers in July 1936. The first concentration camp by the Nationalists was also built here and infamously the town boasts the only statue of Franco still on Spanish soil. King Juan Carlos visited in 2007 causing massive protests in Morocco. I remember Charles and Di’s visit to Gibraltar in 1981 causing a similar stir.

Then there is Ceuta; 18 miles from Gibraltar and three times the size with a population of 85,000. Invaded by the Portuguese in 1415, a treaty signed in 1668 gave it to Spain just a few years before the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 gave Gibraltar to the British. Ten thousand Moroccans cross the border each day to work there; it has a low tax regime, a strong military presence and is notorious for smuggling. Morocco wants it back but Spain ain’t budging. Sound familiar?

King Mohamed VI enjoyed the third anniversary of his reign over Morocco at the weekend and he devoted a significant part of his speech to the territories that Spain hold. A small part is quoted below –

“In this context, Morocco has continued since independence to claim the definitive cessation of Spain’s occupation of Ceuta and Melilla and usurped nearby islands in the north of the kingdom, taking the way of peaceful and civilized thinking, crystallized by the wise proposal of Hassan II of creating a joint Moroccan-Spanish reflection cell, in order to find a solution to the problem of these occupied areas.”
“But unfortunately, the Spanish counterpart has not heeded, until now, to solve the situation of these usurped lands which turned into nests where our national economy bleeds, and bases for illegal immigration and other illegal practices.”

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Hiding behind the shadow of the rock

Runway to somewhere - Gibraltar

Runway to somewhere – Gibraltar

The Spanish government, the Partido Popular is mired in a huge corruption scandal; on Thursday 1st August after months of denials PM Rajoy admitted to Parliament that he was personally guilty, but only of over-trusting the ex-party treasurer Luis Barcenas. Some of the largest construction companies in Spain paid donations/bribes totalling tens of millions of Euros to secure building contracts. Rajoy denies ever receiving any of this money, though there is paperwork that suggests otherwise.

Conveniently for Rajoy whose been salaried and on the PP executive board for 25 years, party leader for 10 of those, he was always on the loo or taking a stroll in the garden whenever the brown envelopes stuffed with 500€ notes were delivered. Barcenas a fastidious record keeper, arrived at court recently with files of paperwork detailing how he came to have €22 million in a Swiss bank account. The total sums involved are alleged to be three times this figure.

Knowing the way power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely Barcenas told the court he has more evidence, a classic insurance policy. No doubt they will be released if ever he meets with an unfortunate accident.

Political donations in Spain are limited to 60,000€ for anonymous donations, donors got around this by illegally paying multiple payments of 50,000€ a time. Not wanting to bite the hands that fed; Barcenas won’t divulge which companies paid him the money and so 9 construction executives have been summoned to testify.

These to date unnamed companies were awarded huge building contracts totalling €6,6bn. Ferrovial the road and rail conglomerate have separately been accused of paying €5.9million to the then Catalan administration. It’s now clear why airports were built like Corvera in Murcia that apart from birds may never see anything else land on them, high speed railways with stations that never have passengers and motorways that are almost empty such as the A7/E15 Cartagena/Vera in Almeria. Then there is the housing bubble that has brought pain and misery to millions of people. By chance the PP locally was in power when the Albox bypass contract was awarded. Locals know this as the road to nowhere and it’s blighted the landscape for years ever since construction stopped three years ago.

In court Barcenas explained how representatives of the companies involved would turn up at the PP headquarters with cash. No receipts were given but the amount was noted both in his private records and on the back of the donating firms’ business card. Barcenas would then phone the local mayor of wherever the contract was that was of interest to the donator, tell them to expect a visit from the company representative, to give him a ‘coffee’ and make him ‘welcome.’ Barcenas regularly updated the PP leadership keeping records of when and how much he paid party officials as so called ‘salary top-ups.’ This is denied by the PP.

Just two days after Rajoys part admission of guilt Madrid started sabre rattling against Britain and Gibraltar. There was already a build-up of tensions as Madrid have been instructing their lackeys the Guardia Civil to make life difficult for anyone crossing the border, all under the pretence that it’s unfair local Spanish fisherman can’t illegally fish anymore in Gibraltarian waters due an artificial reef that was completed recently.

Spain also announced the sale of 20 Mirage jets (that they can’t afford to fly anyway cos they are skint) to Argentina, coincidentally another country with economic woes that has a territorial dispute with the UK. Spain intends to use an upcoming diplomatic visit to Argentina to try and form a ‘gang of two.’ Argentina has an upcoming temporary seat on the UN top table so they will ty their luck there. Nothing like a war (or threat of one) to try and detract voters’ attentions from the real issues!

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Bomber Harris

Dresden 1945 - Copy

The aftermath of Dresden Feb 1945

Arthur Harris was born in 1892; his parents didn’t think him clever enough to go to Eton as his brothers had before, so gave him the choice of joining the army or going to the colonies. He chose the latter and went to Rhodesia, successfully trying his hand at gold mining and tobacco farming.

The small matter of the outbreak of WWI in 1914 was a defining point for Harris and he first joined a Rhodesian regiment. In 1915 he returned to Britain joining the Royal Flying Corps which was then part of the British Army. In his Sopwith Camel he shot down five enemy planes and ended the war a Major. Harris witnessed the futility and slowness of trench warfare and thought that aerial bombing was a more efficient way of doing things.

Harris stayed in the forces after the war making Squadron Leader in the newly formed Royal Air Force. He served in the British Empires troubled hotspots; Mesopotamia, Persia, Palestine and the North West Frontier in India where locals rudely fought against their imperial masters. Exciting new devices were used such as delayed action bombs and poison gas. Delayed action bombs were designed to explode hours or days after being dropped so causing maximum casualties as people would have thought the danger had passed. Some of the top brass resigned in protest at the use of these inhumane weapons but Harris simply stated that ‘the only thing the Arab understands is a heavy hand!’

Stationed in Palestine in 1936 Harris suggested that a 500lb bomb dropped on each of the troublesome villages would satisfactorily solve the problem of any revolting Arabs. He rose through the ranks becoming Air Vice Marshall. For a man thought not clever enough by his parents, Harris set up the RAF’s night training programme and wrote a paper that was submitted to Govt on the role RAF would play in event of a major war.

By the start of WW2 Harris was Deputy Chief of Air Staff. Bombing was not yet part of Britain’s war strategy as navigational skills were not up to long flying missions and less than 1 bomb in 10 landed within 5 miles of the intended targets. Things changed in 1942 when Harris became commander in chief of Bomber Command.  Harris had studied German bombing tactics from the Spanish Civil War and correctly reasoned that mass destruction of civilian targets would hasten the end of the war. Technical advances in radar, communications and navigation made longer bombing missions possible.

A Professor Lindemann thought the same, suggesting to Churchill that ‘area’ or carpet bombing of cities would put a huge strain on enemy resources due to the subsequent repairs needed and also cause a massive drop in morale. Men and machinery would also be diverted from the frontline to defend cities. Basically infrastructure and in the process civilians would be targeted instead of front line troops. Thus the term ‘total war’ came into existence and these ideas were quickly put into use by ‘Bomber’ Harris.

The first ever 1000 bomber raid took place over two nights at the end of May 1942; Cologne was targeted with 1400 tonnes of mostly incendiaries dropped starting 2500 fires and causing massive damage. 18 months previously the Luftwaffe had tried the same in the Blitz but with much less effect. Harris also gained another nickname, ‘butcher’ as he used statistics to estimate potential Allied losses. 43 planes were lost and it was deemed a success. A year later Hamburg was attacked in the same way, nicknamed the Hiroshima of Germany as 10 square miles of the city was obliterated.

These attacks severely weakened Germany and helped end the war however ‘Bomber’ Harris will also be remembered as the man who destroyed the beautiful medieval city of Dresden in February 1945, in the dying days of the war. At the time the death toll was declared by the Germans at 200,000. Nowadays the modern estimated death toll is just 25,000. This smaller figure is disquieting as the city was full of refugees and was bombed unceasingly for 2 days by 2500 planes using 4000 tonnes of explosives that obliterated nearly 40 square kilometres of the city. History however  is always written in the victors favour. Churchill wrote a month later ‘The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing!’

Bomber Harris quit the forces in 1948 and returned to Africa, he retired in 1953 and returned to Britain living in the Ferry House in Goring on Thames until his death in 1984. He said in an interview in 1977 he would have done it all again but had hoped he would never had to.

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The Spirit of Ecstasy

Bonnet ornament from a 2CV

Bonnet ornament from a 2CV

Again the squirrels appeared out of nowhere sending this week’s missive spinning off in a obtuse direction. I was quietly minding my own business looking at a classic car collection when I spotted a figurine of 2 horses heads mounted on the front of a old Citroen 2CV. The CV is short for chevaux- vapeur which in English means two horsepower, hence the figurine.

I wanted to post the photo on my instagram account but I couldn’t for the life of me recall what the proper term is for the thingies that perch on the top of car bonnets. As ever I Googled and Wiki’d with the eureka moment finally; bonnet ornament! Or hood ornament if Canadian or American. That’s when the squirrels pounced as in the course of my research I stumbled upon the story of the  Spirit of Ecstacy; the most iconic bonnet ornament. She’s stood proudly on bonnets of nearly every Rolls-Royce motor car that’s been built since 1911.

Charles Rolls started manufacturing cars in 1904 with Sir Frederick Royce selling them from his showroom in Fulham. Their partnership became the Rolls-Royce Company in 1906. The first cars only sported a badge and customers added their own often tasteless and gaudy ornaments which horrified Rolls-Royce. John Montague was the editor of Car Illustrated magazine; he later became the 2nd Lord Montague of Beaulieu. He was a friend of Rolls and Royce and suggested that they ask John Sykes an artist friend of his to design a bonnet ornament for Rolls-Royce.  Montague had already used Sykes to design an ornament for his own Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.

As a car enthusiast John Montague was one of the first members of the Automobile Club in London (now the RAC) and a young lady worked there called Eleanor Thornton, Montague was instantly attracted to her. He was however married and for a year or so they kept a respectable distance. Then in 1902 Eleanor became his secretary at Car Illustrated and their love affair started. Apart from close friends their relationship stayed secret, as the Edwardian vagaries of class distinction meant they could never marry as Eleanor was simply too ‘common.’ In 1905 Montague inherited the title and she became his personal assistant yet the class distinction was even more pronounced. Eleanor bore his daughter in 1903 but she gave her up for adoption. Lord Beaulieu kept in touch with his illegitimate daughter Joan until his death in 1929, he explained her origins to her and the great love he had for her mother.

Eleanor modelled for Sykes in the designing of Montague’s bonnet ornament. The result is a woman wearing long flowing robes or a nightie according to rumour, pressing a finger to her mouth, a sign of their secret love. It was named The Whisper and it can be seen at the Beaulieu Motor Museum in Hampshire. Rolls-Royce wanted to define their brand, traits such as grace and silent speed. John Sykes said ‘here’s one I made earlier’ and then altered it subtlety. He removed the fingers from the mouth and took her nightie off. The Spirit of Ecstasy or ‘Emily’ came into existence

As is/was often the norm with ‘those upstairs’ Lord Montague’s wife Lady Cecil Kerr knew about and tolerated the relationship between Eleanor and her husband, so when in 1915 he was asked to go to India as the Advisor on Mechanical Transport Services, Eleanor was allowed to accompany him instead of his wife.

On Christmas Day they departed for India on the SS Persia, but tragedy struck five days later when the ship was hit without warning by a German U-Boat torpedo. The ship went down in less than 10 minutes. The attack broke international law as Cruiser rules stated that passenger ships were to be given 30 minutes notice to allow passengers and crew to escape to lifeboats.

The lovers jumped into the water together but a wall of water hit them making him lose his grip on her and he was pulled underwater. When he got to the surface she was gone. Montague was rescued 2 days later from an upturned lifeboat and when he returned to England he had the rare good fortune to read his own obituary in The Times. For years afterwards he searched for his beloved Eleanor, never believing she was dead. Heartbreakingly he later wrote ‘I should have got a stronger grip on her!’

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‘Black is Beautiful’

Biko  Peter Gabriel - 12'' vinyl cover

Biko Peter Gabriel – 12” vinyl cover

As soon as they came to power in 1948 the National Party started the policy of apartheid in South Africa. Two years earlier in 1946 Steven Bantu Biko had been born. His progressive thinking father was studying to be a lawyer and encouraged Steve and his three siblings to also study hard in order to succeed.

Steve’s schooling coincided with the 1953 Bantu Education Act which enforced separate schooling for non-white Africans. It legalised the idea that black Africans were subservient to whites, so the level of schooling only readied them for manual labour. The acts author Verwoerd said at the time ‘There is no place for them (the Bantu) in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?”

Steve Biko attended Lovedale, an exclusive boarding school where Kahya his brother was also studying before Kahya was arrested and jailed for 9 months for belonging to the Pan Africanist Congress, a banned political association. Steve was questioned and although they found no wrong doing he too was expelled. This started his fervour against the authorities.

Biko attended the University of Natal to study as a doctor. Initially he was involved with

One of Steve Biko's many sayings

One of Steve Biko’s many sayings

the National Union of African Students; although supposedly multi-racial the Union was centred around the largest, white only universities so other ethnic groups were mostly ignored. In response Biko helped set up the South African Students Organisation (SASO) in 1968 and was elected its first President. He ignored his studies due his increased political activities and  eventually he was thrown out of University.

SASO’s doctrine was of Black Consciousness, aiming for political and social improvements for the oppressed black people of South Africa. The SASO became the Black Consciousness Movement. Then to include adults Biko set up the Black Peoples Convention, by 1972 both had become formidable political forces. Biko was increasingly more dangerous to the authorities and in February 1983 he was ‘banned.’  Being banned meant he couldn’t talk to more than one person at a time, nor speak to the public or media. It was now an offence to quote anything Biko said or wrote. He was restricted to the Eastern Cape his place of birth having to report to the police weekly.

Defining image of the Soweto massacre

Defining image of the Soweto massacre

The next few years saw increased protests culminating in the events of June 16th 1976 known now as the Soweto Uprising. It was initially a peaceful demonstration by students from schools and colleges protesting at a new law forcing black Africans to be taught in the Afrikaans language. Afrikaans in the words of Desmond Tutu was the ‘language of the oppressor.’ So instead the black majority spoke English. Police set attack dogs loose against the students who stoned the dogs to death in defence. The police started shooting back leaving 23 dead on the first day. Over the next few days at least 150 more protestors were killed. The next six months saw strikes and violent protests across South Africa leaving hundreds dead. The rand devalued, the economy wobbled, Government was worried!

Although not at Soweto, Steve Biko was arrested in August 1977 under the Terrorism act. Peter Gabriel’s song ‘Biko’ recounts how five officers brutally interrogated Biko for 22 hours in police room 619, Port Elizabeth leaving him in a coma. Then they left him chained to a window grille for days. On September 11th 1977 he was bundled naked into a car, dying the next day in a prison hospital. The police claimed Biko had died due to being on hunger strike, yet the autopsy found massive injuries on to his body and head. A good friend of Biko’s, journalist Donald Woods managed to gain access to the morgue and photograph his friends fatal injuries.Woods wrote the book Biko and then fled the country with his family. Richard Attenborough turned this into the film Cry Freedom.

Even with all the physical evidence the police officers who beat him were never convicted,

Inner sleeve of 'melt' with opening words of Biko

Inner sleeve of ‘melt’ with opening words of Biko

as there were apparently ‘no witnesses.’ Though in 1979, the Govt. agreed to pay thousands in damages to Biko’s family. Then in 1985 the hospital doctors were ruled to have behaved disgracefully in their so called treatment of him shortly before he died. The five police officers later admitted the killing and applied for amnesty through the Truth and Justice Commission but this was refused in 1999.

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