Out Now!

Friday, 28 March 2014

From tiny acorns great oak trees grow

 I doubt William Jones ever realized what the started when on the 26th December 1614 he made his final will and testament. In it he left:

“…nyne thousand pounds to the Company of Haberdashers of London to ordain a Preacher, a Free School and Alms houses for twenty poor and distressed people, as blind and lame as it shall seem best to them, of the Town of Monmouth, where it shall be bestowed.”

Though nothing now remains of the original school house, its replacement continues to be part of and administered by the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers of London.

William Jones began his career as an apprentice in Monmouth but moved to London when he was twenty. According to one source it was to avoid paying a fine for some misdeed or other. In London he became a porter, then a factor in the cloth industry. He set up business in Hamburg, trading in ‘Welsh Cottons’ and ended up as a very wealthy member of the  Worshipful Company of Haberdashers

Jones was a philanthropist, approaching death and no doubt with an eye on his personal salvation. Whatever the case he determined to give something back to the town he had left as a youth. He was also a committed protestant who placed great emphasis on ‘the preacher’ that came with his new free school. The Welsh borderlands were still strongly Catholic, a creed he found pernicious. Jones wanted Monmouth to be a beacon of Protestantism.  In that he failed. In Monmouthshire Catholicism went underground but remained relatively strong. A small town like Monmouth must have known about the regular but 'secret' masses being conducted in the Robin Hood pub. And the execution of the eighty year old Father John Kemble in 1679 was greeted with more shame than acclaim.

In the mean time Monmouth school prospered, its children behaving in much the same way as today

As for being a beacon of Protestantism, William Jones might well have mixed feelings about  Catholic Protestant cooperation in present day Monmouth. He would though be proud - perhaps disbelieving - of  what has been achieved from his gift of £9000. As to whether he envisaged fees of just under £14000 p.a. in 2014, well that is a different story.

 The original school building was replace in the mid C19th. The plaque above commemorates William Jones. Below is an early post card view of the school

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Sebastapol and the Alamo

Sometimes I think we live in a ‘Looking Glass World’ where things mean what you want them to mean. Or is that Wonderland? At the Treaty of Versailles America championed ‘Self Determination,’ and President, Woodrow Wilson  lectured ‘Old Europe’ for not seeing things as he did – i.e. - that people had the right to choose their own government. The result was a bit of a dog’s dinner. Statesmen motivated by idealism and revenge crawled over large maps of Europe with thick fountain pens and carved out entirely new countries. Old empires were dismembered for many reasons, but a key factor was self determination.

Now, it seems self determination means what unelected elites will allow.

Yanukovych’s government was corrupt. It was also elected and so constitutional. Constitutional is a very important word. It’s bandied around by all manner of people and it means, basically, ‘Our side is Constitutional. Your side is not.’ 

So, our side sees Herman Van Rumpuy, the unelected President of the European Union, José Manuel Durão Barroso, the unelected President of the European Commission, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new unelected Prime Minister of the Ukraine  - along with Baroness Ashton, the unelected Head of Foreign affairs for Europe declaring the referendum in Crimean to be unconstitutional. They are at least consistent. They don’t believe in self determination for anyone as Italy and Greece have recently witnessed. 

President Obama, though - heir to the proud tradition of self determination - also damns the Crimean referendum as unconstitutional. No doubt he’d like to close down the Alamo and return Texas to Mexico. If Texas broke free from Mexico on the principle of ‘self determination,’ it seems a bit rich to deny the citizens of the Crimean the same right. 

William Hague, who’d fight to the last man (as long as it wasn’t him,) champions the rights of the Falklands to stay British – you’ve guessed it - on the principle of self determination. He can’t have it both ways. I also believe the people of the Falklands should determine their own future, even though in terms of geography it perhaps makes less sense than the Crimea returning to Russia on a free vote. 

Rumour has it that Khrushchev was drunk when, in an administrative move, he moved the Crimea to the Ukraine. In 1954 it probably didn’t seem very important. The Ukraine was an integral part of the Soviet Union. The Russian populations of the Crimean and Eastern Ukraine would have noticed no difference. 

The jubilation following the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, created and masked new problems. Why should millions of Russians suddenly find themselves in a new, artificially created country? And that is the point. There has never been one historically recognized border for the Ukraine. It’s had several – and now it suits NATO and the EEC to say this is the correct border and all previous borders have been wrong. They have their motives. 

The Russians saw which way the wind was blowing when the new Ukrainian government tried to suppress the Russian language. It was forced to backtrack but the general trajectory was clear. As early as 1995 a pro Russian separatist won the regional post of President of Crimea. The post was immediately abolished, its occupant replaced by an appointee named in Kiev. As Dylan said 'You don't need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.' It seems our statesmen are 'weather blind.' There will be no sensible peace until boundaries more accurately reflect realities.

Rather than waste billions of American and British taxpayers money on propping up a country where corruption is a bottomless sink it makes more sense for borders to be redrawn. Kiev is the historic birthplace of the Russian nation and it lies on a natural border, the river Dnieper. The resultant Ukraine will still be bigger than many European countries.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Argument and Belief

The causes of World War I will always be argued over. Whether anything substantial will ever be learned is more debatable.

The historian Niall Ferguson argues that all countries share the blame – that if Serbia hadn’t encouraged terrorist attacks against the Austrian empire the Austrians wouldn’t have been so determined to punish Serbia; that Russia shouldn’t have been so set on protecting Serbia right or wrong; Russia’s ally the French shouldn’t have alarmed the Germans by believing attack was the best form of defence; that Britain’s intervention to protect Belgian neutrality masked our real aim of protecting British imperial interests against a resurgent Germany.

In all of this Ferguson doesn’t mention the elephant in the room – the Kaiser’s blank cheque to Austria, stating in effect, screw the Serbs and we’ll back you come what may. It was this that encouraged the Austrians and set the dominos falling.

Ferguson also argues that it just didn’t make sense to go to war against Germany in 1914. He dismisses concerns that Germany planned to dominate Europe and argues instead that Germany’s main aim:
‘…was to defeat Russia. A breakup of the Tsarist empire would have been a boon for ‘freedom, justice and democracy’ especially from the point of view of the many ethnic minorities oppressed by Russian Rule.’ The dispiriting thing is that these words are presently being trotted out in defence of NATO and  EEC interference in present day Ukraine. If Germany had won the First World War it is difficult to believe it wouldn’t have controlled the Ukraine it had wrested from Russia in the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. – for much the same reasons Hitler attempted it again in 1941 and, dare I say, the EEC is attempting it now – through ‘soft power’ rather than overt aggression.

These are not mere abstractions discussed by port-sipping historians. Real people went to war and real people died whilst the port improved quietly in cellars. The article below comes from the Rossendale Free Press. Innocence and naivety breathes through every syllable, along with the melancholy that comes from hindsight.

AUGUST 1914 - "ROSSENDALE has stirred … and the Kaiser must be quaking in his boots as thousands of Rossendalians saw their brave husbands, boyfriends and sons off to war.
"Thousands of cheering witnesses thronged the streets as smiling servicemen marched along Bank Street and along Bury Road to muster points at Hollingworth Lake, Bury and Turton. Brussels has already fallen to Germany and Liege and Namur are in their sights. The French are preparing for what looks like an inevitable Belgian collapse.
"But Rossendale is determined that the Empire will deliver a bloody nose to Germany and sent its men off to war with cheers ringing in their ears … and full breakfasts cooked by church people.
"First to go this week were the East Lancashire Territorial Forces. Nearly 20,000 men headed for Turton and many passed through Rawtenstall. Woman and children were among the most enthusiastic witnesses and church women and boy scouts have already started making calico nightshirts for the soldiers expected to be wounded.
"The day after the Territorial Forces went, there were more stirring scenes as the Rawtenstall Company of the 5th East Lancashire Territorial Arm Service Company left its Cloughfold HQ. Large crowds waved flags and cheered as Captain Kenyon, of Brynbella, mounted his horse and led other horse officers, 14 wagons and a large detachment of men on foot through Rawtenstall and along Bury Road.
"Crowds were even larger when the 5th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, complete with regimental band, passed along Bank Street and Bury Road. Their splendid marching precision won the heartiest enthusiasm from the crowds. Of 1,020 men, 923 have volunteered for foreign service and thousands lined the streets. Crowds even cheered when they stopped at Townsendfold for breakfasts that had been prepared three miles away at Woodtop Mission Church.
"The campaign is bound to be over quickly when the British Expeditionary Force teams up with a promised 100,000 Canadian volunteers to make an early landing in France. Experts say casualties will be light but a larger-than-expected congregation gathered this week at St Mary's Church, Rawtenstall, for a special service of intercession. Even former heroes of the Boer War want to do their bit - the Rawtenstall Detachment of the National Reserve have announced a shooting contest at their Laund Hey rifle range."
      Today our media tells us what to think. It's insidious and subtle. During the First World War propaganda was simple and direct.
    This is an American poster. It shows the Atlantic - a thin strip of water protecting America from the mad beast about to ravish American womanhood. It's pure Hollywood and anticipates King Kong.
    The British poster is far more cheery. Peer pressure but one for a sea-side outing.
    And if that doesn't work, there's always quiet guilt.


    Friday, 7 March 2014

    Truth is what you believe it to be

    Some stories are so good they have to be true, even when the evidence shows otherwise. I love the story of the Beatles ‘All you need is love’ being played to wind down an international conference. Some one obviously thought it was a cracking idea. Unfortunately the diplomats immediately stood to attention as the opening bars of the Marseilles played, then, realising their mistake and realising they would look even more foolish sitting down again, they remained standing, sheepishly holding hands and swinging them limply to the sound of the music. Now this was on Television. I saw it. But can I find it on youtube or any online reference to this? Afraid not. It mightn’t have happened. All visual evidence may have been erased. Our rulers may be lizards. Thus are urban myths born. 

    The bottom line is you have to believe me – or choose not to unless I have evidence. Then again some kind soul might find what I couldn’t: international politicians swinging hands to All You Need Is Love.

    Here I have evidence of Bob Dylan posing with some Liverpool street kids in the early to mid sixties.

    Here too I have evidence of Paul McCartney caught in conversation with Long JohnBaldry at Lime Street Station in Liverpool. Railway stations are a rich source of gossip and myth. So too are Rock legends, even minor ones. Long John Baldry dared to be gay when the industry demanded otherwise.

     He had a brief relationship with Dave Davies, lead guitarist in the Kinks, and helped Elton John come to terms with his own sexuality. It's obliquely recorded in Elton John's song Someone Saved My Life Tonight. Here, though I have only a black and white picture recording a moment in time.

    The things a gay man had to do - though that is probably more true of the women in this picture

    My favourite story is on that quantum cusp of : it must be true / it probably isn’t.

    Twenty or so years ago Bob Dylan collaborated with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, and in the process the two became good friends. Dave Stewart urged Bob to call round any time - and one day he did. Unfortunately the taxi drive took him to 145 Crouch End Hill, instead of 145 Crouch Hill where Stewart's studio was.

    Bob knocked on the door and when a woman opened it, said he'd come to see Dave. She invited him in because her husband, a plumber, happened to be called Dave and was also a huge Dylan fan. God knows what was going on in her mind. She offered him cup of tea, and when her husband returned whispered 'Bob Dylan's here. He's drinking tea in the kitchen.'

    Unfortunately this story was deconstructed in this very interesting blog 

    But I still hold out. If a Japanese soldier can hold out in jungle for twenty years, refusing to believe World War II had ended, I can believe that some where, some time, Bob Dylan had tea with a plumber named Dave.