Out Now!

Friday, 25 March 2016

swimming on empty

Today was a melancholy day. Built in 1973, Monmouth Leisure Centre—after several false alarms—has at last closed its doors to be demolished and rebuilt in two years time.
No more 5.14 a.m starts, the early morning walk to the pool for an uncrowded swim and diving into sometimes quite warm water at 6.47.  We brave few silently sneered at the Johnny-come-latelies, drifting in as we left.

Around 7.15 a.m I would invariably think of my wife, warm and tucked up in bed. No sneer there, but occasional envy—replaced very quickly by an ineffable air of superiority. I was achieving, ploughing through water with no definable aim other than a hot shower on passing my fortieth, sometimes forty-fifth length.

The hot shower—the definable aim—was not without problems. Sometimes it was a very cold shower, and there was nothing you could do about it but dance to keep warm and flee to a fierce towel. And sometimes the drainage played up—a small grilled hole in the ground shared between showers.

The offending showers, far left

When that happened soapy water would swirl over ankles and calves and remorselessly rise.  At that point you left for fear of the obituary—drowned in a shower.

But now all this is gone, along with my sad, almost anal routine. All right, totally anal.

There is of course an alternative—apart from long country walks, which unfortunately involves a long country hill.  Monmouth Boys School have their own private pool and well equipped gym—open to all who are willing to pay over £300 pa.


The thought makes me shrivel. A long line of Henrys, Tobins, Parrys and Keytons scream out ‘Nooooooo!!’

£300, that’s over a pound a day, £7 a week, £28+ a month. The mind whirls in denial as siren voices edge to persuade. I spend more than that on drink.
Yes, but I like drink.
And I don’t have to get up early to drink
You spend as much on books.
Again. I repeat. I don’t get up at 5.15 a.m to read books, and no book has ever kept me up so late.
You have more books on your kindle than you’ll ever have time to read.
Yes, but I’ll have more time now.
And... And. . . And

The jury remains out. In the meantime I enjoy my lie in.

Friday, 18 March 2016

A different breed

Mansfield Smith Cummings was born Mansfield Smith, on April Fool’s Day 1859 and two years before the U S Civil War. He became a naval officer and  was decorated in 1882 for his role in the Anglo-Egyptian war. Shortly afterwards he retired on the grounds of  ill-health.

So far—so unremarkable

Things look up for him when he marries a very rich woman, May Cumming, and as part of the marriage settlement he changed his name to Smith-Cumming; an interesting twist, showing money trumps patriarchy. In fact money trumps everything, possibly even Trump.

Then, in 1898 his life and the lives of many others changed. He was recruited by the embryonic British Secret Service. In time the Service  expanded and was subsequently reorganised.

 In 1907 Sir Vernon Kell, headed the Home Secret Service, (MI5)and Mansfield Cumming was placed in the Foreign Secret Service, (MI6) Both were highly able, but Cumming was forever on his guard against further reorganisation that might see him subordinate to one overpowering Head ie Sir Vernon Kell. Cumming believed it crucial that MI5 and MI6 remained separate entities. 

Mansfield Smith Cumming, the man invalided from the Navy on the grounds of ill health, worked a nonstop twelve hour day, a schedule that would wear out the healthiest of men, but his mettle was to be tested still further.

In the Summer of 1914, on a driving holiday in France, his car overturned. His only son, Alistair was flung from the car and suffered fatal injuries to his head. Cumming was trapped by a crushed leg, and was forced to listen to his son's dying groans.

It was an unsatisfactory situation. Mansfield Cumming thought so. He took out his penknife and began sawing through his mangled leg. As soon as he freed himself he crawled to his son and placed his coat over him. The two of them were found nine hours later.

Six weeks after that he was back in his office with a new, wooden leg and a child’s scooter with which he propelled himself down long corridors.

He he also made good use of his wooden prosthetic.

When interviewing prospective recruits he would fix them with a stare and plunge a knife into a pinstriped leg. Should the candidate flinch Cumming would assume the man was not up to it and call the next candidate in. It must have cost a fortune in trousers, but at least ensured unflinching recruits.

With his gold-rimmed monocle, swordstick, and strong chin, he cut a fine figure. He was even more impressive to those children he gave rides to on his privately owned tank.

Mansfield Cumming was, in many respects the original Q of James Bond fame, experimenting with miniature cameras, rocketry, mysterious telescopes and bombs. He also had a passion for code breaking and invisible inks, encouraging countless experiments, involving various chemicals: potassium permanganate, antipyrine and Sodium nitrate.

No stone was left unturned in the search for the perfect invisible ink, though some stones should, perhaps, have lain undisturbed. Spies were told they might make invisible ink from semen, an interesting example of mixing business with pleasure. The practise was put into cold storage after complaints from those who had to open them. They found the smell off putting.

Maxwell Smith Cumming died in June 1923 just before he was due to retire—for a second time. This time there was no Cumming back. (My apologies)

Friday, 11 March 2016

Twelve Angry Men and a thirteen-inch knife.

 One of the funniest versions of a British Trial is Tony Hancock's Twelve Angry Men, (1959) a parody of the better known film released in 1957. It's worth watching. The parody, less so the film. 

Ever since, I have wanted to serve on a jury, later as a fine excuse for a paid holiday from work. There were other reasons. It seems to be that to be on a jury  constitutes one of the great significant events of life, deciding on the guilt or innocence of another human being. Then there is the ritual, the pageantry, and wigs.

I admit though  a weakness. I’m easily swayed. The Defence and Prosecution would have be swaying like a palm tree in a stiff breeze, and when they came to their closing arguments, my mind would be flickering this way and that like strobe lighting at a badly run disco.

This wouldn’t have been the case had I been on a Jury in Chorley over recent months. Despite the tragic context, it would have been fun watching the Defence trying to make a go of it, the Prosecution salivating over their good luck, even holding back a little. It would have been fun wondering how the woman on trial—Sharon Edwards— had managed to find a Defence Lawyer in the first place, considering what happened to the last one she had come into contact with.
She married him.
Two months later he was dead.
The poor man would regularly come into work bruised and covered in bite marks. Once she threw a coffee table at him. It’s hardly surprising that he turned to alcohol and subsequently lost his job in ‘rationalisation.’This however made things worse, the bullying becoming, if possible, more intense.

The day before he was murdered, she was seen in a pub, slapping her husband across the head and calling him a ‘Dickhead.’ On the way home they were cautioned by a policeman, wearing a body camera, which picked up the following exchange: she turning to her husband and screeching, “I’m going to F……g kill you!” Her screeching continued, culminating in ‘I swear, David, when I wake up tomorrow, I don’t know what mood I’ll be in.” The following day her husband’s body was found in bed stabbed through the heart. He had 60 external injuries of which 30 were incised or prod wounds. These included stab wounds to his thigh, finger and a shallow wound to his scalp. A thirteen inch knife was found close to the body.

Her lawyer, David Fish, tried—God Bless him. Amongst items dredged up for the defence was their wedding video from Las Vegas, where she had called him her 'soul-mate,' and he had worn makeup to cover a bruise. She also claimed that on the night in question he had spiked her drink with Diazepam, and that as a result she could not remember a thing.

Anne Whyte, QC for the prosecution went in for the kill, in a manner of speaking:
 Anne Whyte:    “Your husband dies in your bed from a fatal stab wound to his heart that has happened accidentally?”
Sharon Edwards:   “Yes.”
Miss Whyte:    “It is a wound caused by a knife that has gone three inches into his chest,   and you hadn’t realised what had happened?”
Sharon Edwards:   “I hadn’t realised.”
Miss Whyte:    “Although there was an enormous amount of blood on his chest?”
Sharon Edwards:  “I didn’t.’

The jury listened intently as Mrs Edwards claimed that her husband had picked up the knife and held it to his own neck before walking towards her. She had taken the knife from him and he ‘walked into to it.’

And why hadn’t she phoned 999 right away? Her husband had told her not to. 

David Edwards had been a popular lawyer in the Chorley area, and respected by the legal profession in which he served. I imagine for those involved in the trial,  it must have been analogous to having a cop-killer brought into the station. She was found guilty and given twenty years.