That most paradoxical of things

Another coincidence… 

… they should never happen, but they always do.

The day after I posted a limerick that looked back at a canal cruise last year aboard the narrowboat Rachel, I played late-night-catch-up for a TV programme that I’d recorded but had yet to watch. It was about the building of the Grand Union canal.

And guess what? Of the 38,000 currently licensed narrowboats in the UK, the programme featured the presenter aboard the very same boat that we had hired. It’s a small world.

Our narrowboat “Rachel” moored in the centre of Stratford.


… and on the Lapworth Link, a short branch that connects the Grand Union and South Stratford canals where they ‘kiss’ at Kingswood Junction.


… and now it’s on the tele!


Worth another look…


I was apalled to see Nigel Farage wearing an over-sized poppy in the run-up to Rememberance Day. His were not the values that so many lost their lives for.

So, why not click on the headlines, below, for a reminder of the life of a man who served in two world wars, a peace-loving, true gentleman and internationalist; a man that was the polar opposite of those whom the Scottish actor Brian Cox has described as “The opportunistic clowns of Brexit, Gove, Johnson and the little Englander Farage and the feudalist Rees-Mogg”.

The eleventh of the eleventh

The eleventh of the eleventh plus one

A limerick a week #119

“A Chancellor who will be judged harshly by history”[1]

It’s a serious one this week, I’m afraid, and it was Osborne wot made me do it…

Anyone that read ALAW #116 will have been left with the advice that “sometimes the first thing you have to do is to suspend belief and the second thing you do is to suspend disbelief”.

I had to do that just a couple of days before Christmas when listening to George Osborne on the radio. He had the brass-neck to deny that his blueprint for austerity after the Tories’ election victory in 2010 had any rôle to play in the UK’s current homelessness crisis. Instead, he blamed ‘bad policy’.

Er, that would be policy related to housing, benefits and council services then? Policies that he and his chums in the Conservative Party have imposed on the UK over the last eight years!

And what was Osborne’s great contribution to housing policy? Well, from the Independent newspaper’s analysis it was this: In the end, aggressive monetary loosening from the Bank of England came to the economy’s rescue, along with one the Chancellor’s very worst policies, a “Help To Buy” scheme that stimulated consumer confidence in 2013 but only at the terrible price of perpetuating the country’s housing disaster. (See this, from the Guardian, to understand why.)

Homelessness not enough? Then how about the prison crisis, a crisis led by “budget cuts, poor political decisions and frequent changes of political direction” according to a former  Director-General of HM Prison Service. Or the crisis in special educational needs provision that is directly attributable to cuts in local government funding? Or the crisis in social care for vulnerable adults? Or the crisis in support for young people presenting with mental health issues? Or the wider NHS crisis with the lowest per capita number of doctors, nurses or beds in the western world?

Osborne’s political manoeuvre was to masquerade his ideological cuts to public services as austerity. “Money doesn’t grow on trees” was the ideologues’ battle cry! Except it did if you were a banker, with £435 billion ‘spent’ up to August 2016 on ‘aggressive monetary loosening’, so-called ‘quantitative easing’ (‘printing money’ in old parlance), to bail out the banks after their affair with the sort of casino capitalism engendered by Thatcher’s deregulation of the 1980s.

And it is Thatcher’s ideological experiment in neo-liberalism that has since been fostered by the likes of Osborne and his Bullingdon Club cronies.

“Trickle-down”, they said when “flood up” was what they meant and the great British public swallowed it hook, line and sinker; its 30 pieces of silver transformed during the 1980s into a few measly shares in British Gas or a short-lived and quickly spent windfall from building society de-mutualisations to be followed by a global financial collapse sponsored by sub-prime free-market think-tanks.

An austere political trope
Left the homeless with nary a hope,
So let no-one deny
That censure must lie
On the shoulders of Osborne the Dope!


A limerick a week #100

The most pathetic cycling event ever!

Cyclists in and around Aberdeen got rather excited when it was first revealed they would have the opportunity to ride the pristine tarmac of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route before its opening to vehicular traffic (after which bikes will be banned from it).

But to demonstrate that the road’s sponsor, Transport Scotland, comprises a bunch of pillocks, they have turned a terrific PR opportunity into an absolute shambles. How? By banning bikes, or at least the riders’ own bikes.

Yup, in another “I don’t believe it” moment, the imbeciles in charge of the event have decided that cyclists will be bussed to the road and then loaned a bike so that “cyclists of all levels can (sic) wiz, wobble or weave on the closed road, promoting active travel and greener transport”. Frankly, I’d rather ‘wiz’ on Transport Scotland!

“Before you say anything nasty about someone, just pause for a second and browse through some really good adjectives in your head” (Ian Martin).

The move led to the online road cyclists’ website and forum,, to question “Is this the worst cycling event EVER?”. I  pretty much think so…

Sadly, it won’t happen, but…

It’s a thing that we should not let pass
So, perhaps, we should set off en masse
Like at Kinder Scout
When the walkers strode out
And took part in a large-scale trespass!

Quotes that made me laugh #51

That bright and fierce and fickle is the South, 

And dark and true and tender is the North*

Despite being a Graun-reading, socially liberal ‘bit-of-a-leftie’ I chuckled at Management’s recent despairing exhortation:

Do you always have to be an unreconstructed 1970s northern male?”

Me? A wannabe Gene Hunt?

Gene Hunt: I think you’ve forgotten who you’re talking to.
Sam Tyler: An overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding?
Gene Hunt: You make that sound like a bad thing.

Really? I think not! But not quite renaissance man either, although I have had a bit of a soft spot for Longfella’s poetry ever since he performed his 2013 poem ‘This is the Place‘ at last year’s vigil in remembrance of the Manchester Arena bombing.

In fact, Longfella (aka Tony Walsh and now surely the de facto northern laureate having gently nudged Roger McGough aside) has written more generally in praise of the north in his poem ‘Up ‘ere‘ and there is nothing of the unreconstructed northern male about it (actually, the poem is explicitly about the north-west). In it, he writes in a rather overblown way: 

… and some things run right through us just like sticks of Blackpool rock;
Courage, kindness, humour, hope.
Sometimes … it’s all we’ve got.

I suppose that’s the price of his declamatory style and can be forgiven, but now, be honest, does an unreconstructed 1970s northern male quote Tennyson and Tony Walsh in his blog posts? Nay, missus! Nay, nay and thrice nay! So, now that’s out of the way, any chance of a brew, luv?

The Princess: O Swallow, Tennyson

Whether the weather be fine …

or whether the weather be not …

It’s astonishing that with most of the UK covered by weather warnings for snow and ice over the last couple of days, we in Aberdeen and the northeast of Scotland have yet to see sight of it (well, maybe on the far-distant Grampian mountains).

Clear, sunny day at Park Bridge, Deeside, yesterday

We’ve had two cold but beautifully sunny days with a third forecast for tomorrow. The Met Office weather warning infographic shows how much of the UK has been affected, with Aberdeen and its environs warning free.

Impressive, huh?

A limerick a week #64

Innocent but Profumed guilty

The early 1960s sex and spy scandal, the so-called Profumo Affair, led to the downfall of John Profumo, the UK Secretary of State for War, and, it is believed, both Harold Macmillan as the British Prime Minister and his successor’s Conservative government.

Christine Keeler, a central character in the drama that unfolded has just died at the age of 75. She was not a paragon of virtue by any means but should be remembered now as a victim and not a culprit.

Profumo successfully redeemed himself off-grid by quietly volunteering for decades at an east-end charity in London, but the reaction of the day was for the establishment to look after its own without any concern for the price paid by others.

One of those others was Stephen Ward, an osteopath and socialite who killed himself in the midst of later court proceedings that related to trumped-up charges of living off immoral earnings; a case now believed to be both a miscarriage of justice and an act of revenge in behalf of the establishment. Another was Keeler who, in the 1970s, defined her later life as surviving not living.

Growing up through the 1970s, my generation was fully aware of the scandal, where it was posited in terms of good-time girls on the make corrupting a highly thought of politician. In fact history shows it to have been down to the self-perceived entitlement of powerful men within the establishment to do as they please.

Keeler’s early life had been one of poverty, abandonment and sexual abuse. She arrived in London, vulnerable, in her teens at a time when the 1960s free-love revolution was about to take off. Her participation in that revolution, which she freely acknowledged, led to the subsequent condemnation of her as a cheap tart whereas it now bears all the hallmarks of the abuse of a woman by men in powerful positions. The recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein et al simply revisit that behavioural paradigm.

Keeler’s son put it well in a comment that he made to the political correspondent Lewis Goodall soon after her death, “I hope we now live in a time where we stop blaming women for the urges of men”, a view reinforced with clarity by the journalist Josh Lowe, “Apt time I guess for us to remember a young woman mistreated by powerful men then painted as the architect of their downfall.

The veteran writer and political commentator Harry Leslie Smith also opined tellingly: “I hope Christine Keeler found some measure of happiness in later life because she was horribly abused by men, the press and a system that favoured the entitled. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

So, it’s a serious limerick this week …

The Minister that tried to conceal a
Licentious and lewd misdemeanour
Paid for his vice
At a fraction the price
That was paid by the ill-starred Ms Keeler.

In contrast to the advantage taken of her by others, when faced with an obligation for a nude shot that Keeler didn’t really want to do, the photographer, Lewis Morley, cleared the studio of others and had her sit against the back of a chair (a copy of the classic Arne Jacobsen design). Thus was she fully naked as contractually obliged, but without any onlookers and with all the naughty bits concealed (at least that is one account – according to Keeler herself she was still partly clothed, either way Morley respected her in a way that few others in her life had).

I don’t think it is gratuitous to show it here. It is, after all, a photograph in the realm of fine art and not voyeurism and it is certainly one of the most iconic photographs of the 1960s

An image that defines the word ‘iconic’.

Captured on medium format 120 film rather than 36mm stock, ‘that’ picture was the last shot taken during a studio session to promote a film that, ironically, was never made.

Here’s the contact print from Morley’s photographic negatives:

Morley’s contact sheet of prints. Interesting isn’t it, that the iconic shot just stands out a mile from the others?


The eleventh of the eleventh plus one

The time of his life (addendum)

Following on from the previous post, I was intrigued by HWS’ Soldier’s Pay Book for use on Active Service. The details of his daily pay on commencement of active service are illustrated below:

The pay book also includes a couple of pages that allowed the soldier to record a short form of will, presumably for individuals that had not drawn up a traditional last will and testament. HWS had completed the relevant page, but in writing that was so small that it was difficult to decipher (hence the delay in posting it here).

In fact, HWS had not written a will in his pay book. The text he had included comprised a poem: The Steel of the D.L.I   A Tale of the White Gurkhas (author unknown to me) that had appeared in the Westminster Gazette in tribute to another of the DLI Battalions, the 2nd. Here it is in HWS’ hand writing:

A record of the poem can be found online in the Durham County Record Office:

(This image comprises one from a slide show Life and Death as a Soldier in the First World War (slide 22 of 27) produced by the Durham Records Office.)

HWS was not a warmonger, in fact I knew him as a peaceable, good-humoured gentleman who, like many, simply served his country in two world wars. I suspect he copied the poem into his pay book not in any glorification of the victory at Hooge, but to pay tribute to the courage of his colleagues in the DLI (and their fallen) in battles throughout the war.

I have transcribed the slide show image below (anyone paying close attention will see that HWS chose the spelling ‘enquire’ over the archived document’s spelling of ‘inquire’ – that’s my kind of pedantry – and, as in the Records Office version, the last verse appears to be the intentional concatenation of what otherwise appears to be two verses).

How the D.L.I. Fight
Magnificent Endurance and Spirit at Hooge

A tribute to the fighting qualities of the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry is paid by a poem published in last night’s Westminster Gazette under the title “The Steel of the D.L.I.: A Tale of the White Gurkhas”. The following summary of the exploit prefaces the verses, which we take the liberty of reproducing. The 2nd Battalion Durham L.I. are known at the front as the White Gurkhas. At Hooge in the early part of August, as part of the Sixth Division, the D.L.I. had to attack a part of the German trenches. At dawn they lay in front of our trenches when the artillery lifted on to the German third line. One of our mines was exploded. The D.L.I.s were in and at them. Some sixty men held the crater for three days. They went in to section as a battalion and came out under 200 strong when relieved. When they marched out their bugle band met them in the communications trench and played them out under shell fire. As they went to the huts at Poperinge the troops lined the road and cheered them.

The Steel of the D.L.I.     A Tale of the White Gurkhas

Just ask them down at Armentieres,
At Arras, at Neuve Chapelle,
Inquire of the Germans at Ypres and Hooge
Inquire down below in Hell,
And ask where the shrapnel bursts and screams
And the whiz-bangs crack and fly –
You’ll find the Germans don’t forget
The steel of the D.L.I.;
Yes, especially well you’ll find in hell,
They remember the D.L.I.

But Hooge was the show where we got to grips,
And they didn’t have all the laugh,
We taught them some tricks in bayonet play,
And we showed them that two can strafe;
And we went all out and we went right thro;
And we hustled some off the map,
And we got us back just a bit cut-up
From out of that blood-red scrap,
Yet we mustered then barely seven-score men
At the end of that bloody scrap.

The night that followed we got relieved,
God knows we had earned a spell;
But we swore to show them just what we thought
Of their perishing shot and shell.
So we marched right out from before their lines,
What was left of us, grimed and sore,
And we swung away with our bugle band,
Playing us out before
Let them blaze and slam, not a farthing damn
Cared we more than we cared before.

We marched right out for them all to see,
To strafe if they thought they could;
To show them they never could get us beat,
That we’d come again strong and good,
And the band in front played us right away,
Like a pukka band we went.
And we marched away to the huts and sleep,
The sleep of the well-nigh spent.
So ask them down at Armentieres,
At Arras and Neuve Chapelle,
Inquire of those left of the men we met,
At Hooge, where we gave them hell,
Inquire of the dead that our bayonets left
To rot neath the August sky;
You’ll find that the foe has not forgot,
The steel of the D.L.I.,
And especially well you’ll find in hell,
They remember the D.L.I.

Postscript: More can be read about HWS’ battalion on the Durham at War website.