Archive for ‘journalism’

Aug 20, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 22

During week 22 of Covid isolation not a lot happened – other than chaos erupting over exam grades across each of the four nations of the UK.

Ruth Davidson in place as the Scottish (sic) Tories interim leader because their last one, some car dealer bloke, was so peeing bad at the job even the Tories couldn’t stomach him. Talking of stomachs they seem to think Ms Davidson would be somewhat better. She sure can pull a sulky face better than the guy unceremoniously shoved aside in a move Stalin would have been proud to pull off. This week the queen of stunts regal procession shuddered to an inglorious halt when confronting the queen of put-downs. She was given her erse to play with, as we say in Scotland, following an attack on the Education Minister,

“They deserved new leadership in education and John Swinney cannot deliver it, why won’t the First Minister see that?” said Ms Davidson.

To which Nicola Sturgeon retorted, “I’m not sure loyalty to colleagues is a strong suit for Ruth Davidson.”

Davidson who has an unfortunate habit of opening and shutting her mouth throughout replies to her questions giving a misleading impression she is saying anything of consequence while impersonating a drowning fish continued to goad the FM who responded that on the day everyone’s thoughts were on a terrible and tragic train accident (everyone’s except the queen of stunts) she was on her own in pushing constitutional differences.

And Sturgeon continued,

“Just in a few months I will submit myself and my government to the verdict of the Scottish people in an election. That is the ultimate accountability for our record and our leadership. And as we do that, Ruth Davidson will be pulling on her ermine and going to the unelected House of Lords. Can I gently suggest to Ruth Davidson that if it comes to holding to account and scrutinising politicians, she’s really not coming at this from a position of strength. It is not me that is running away from democratic responsibility.”

As put-downs go it was brutal although oddly, that organ of honest journalism, the Daily Express interpreted the gutting and barbecuing of Davidson as her ridiculing the FM.

Badger battles continue with one stand of nuts and seeds having to be taken inside overnight because the badger makes off with the lot. One evening we put on the outside light at the back of the house and were able to watch a huge, and I mean huge, badger attempt to scale the heights of a wooden pole with its bounty of fat balls. The pole was too narrow for Brock and she/he returned to the stand that normally contains nuts and seeds, ignored the tray that sits below to catch seeds dropped by birds during the day and scuttled off to try out other feeding stations in the garden. The sheer bulk of the badger is what you get when you guzzle whole containers of peanuts. Mind you, watching the beastie search in vain for the peanuts tugged at our heart-strings and next evening when taking in the feeders we left some peanuts for her or him. And they were gone by morning. Nice compromise.

New kettle bought this week. We have an unfortunate history with kettles in this house. For some reason they break down far too frequently. A few years back we bought a whistling kettle for the top of the stove. It is a work of art but takes 6- 7 minutes to boil which is fine except when there are visitors and coffee and tea need topping up fast. Anyway, when our last electric kettle left this mortal coil – a pity as it was the exact colour of our painted cupboards – we reverted to smart stove kettle. There’s hardly been a soul crossing the threshold since March so what difference did it make? Not much. The whistle was rarely attached because if I thought the nagging sound of the tumble drier having completed its cycle was annoying (it is) it is nothing on the shrill whistle of a steaming kettle. So the whistle tends to get set aside. All well and good until forgetful me went off on my daily jaunt one day and straight into the garden for a spot of weeding and pruning, eventually wandering into the kitchen to put the kettle on for a cup of tea to discover there was just enough water left in it to stop it melting all over the stove. Straight online and a spanking new electric kettle arrived within days. It isn’t as bonny as the whistling kettle but it’s a helluva lot quieter and does that remarkable thing of switching itself off – safer for forgetful dopes like moi. Oh, it takes 2 minutes to boil. Not that that’s here nor there but maybe one day.

House martins and swallows and swifts appeared in their vast numbers this week like flying dervishes across our evening skies. Usually they pop in and out whenever we walk past the side of the house where their nest is but over the last few days they’ve been visibly absent. What did those great numbers – between 30 and 50 I’d say but it’s impossible to count martins and their cousins while flying – signify? They couldn’t all be ours despite their semi-detached houses and obviously having had a very successful breeding season but then to be no sign of them at all. Had they flown south already? Didn’t seem likely but where had they gone? Nowhere it turns out. Unless some have flown off and left a late brood there are martins still in residence it transpires. And for all you folk stopping martins from sharing your home – there still is no mess after months living with us. And that is always our experience despite having neighbours insisting they make a real mess – neighbours who don’t have any birds. Isn’t it always the way with folk who are so certain in their opinions who have no experience of what they’re talking about?

A powerful thunder storm one morning resulted in a tragic rail accident that has shocked the majority of folk in the northeast. Also shocking has been the irresponsible and hugely offensive sensationalising of it and disgraceful treatment of affected families by The Sun newspaper. It’s hard to understand why anyone would want to work for such a disreputable and offensive organ. But it takes all sorts and they must think it’s perfectly alright or else they would go off and take up alternative jobs.

Aberdeen experienced very dramatic flooding but oddly our son who stays in one of the worst affected areas was oblivious to the drama unfolding outside his window.

The young buzzard has been back out practising her/his call and showing off his/her flying abilities again. A small bird compared with fully grown buzzards and the voice hasn’t yet broken. Unless it’s a soprano.

Another week another virtual quiz controversy. Which pasta means little worms? Well, of course, it’s vermicelli and I had that smug feeling of being assured of one point, at last. Then our beautiful quizzer announced the answer to be linguine. Linguine? What alternative universe do our young people inhabit? Always best to create a fuss in such circumstances and vermicelli was accepted as correct. Didn’t make any difference to the final score. I still lost. Oh, and how many times must I be asked the collective noun for giraffes before remembering it is a tower? Quite a number, I suspect.

My snail banishment scheme appears to be paying off. Numbers definitely down in the garden but too late for the variegated hosta at the front. A poor specimen now riddled with holes and only the energy to send up one pathetic flower head. The angel’s fishing rods in a pot are looking splendid. Love the way they grow into the shape of a 1970s fiber optic lamp. The little pot acer is also looking healthy. The label says it grows about 8 feet by 13 feet. And that, folks, is why we are growing it in a pot.

For years we filled our medium-sized garden with BIG dramatic-looking plants. Off to the plant nursery. Oh look, a big and dramatic looking plant. And so it (they) would come home with us and now we live inside a forest. I once counted our trees and the total came to a staggering forty plus and that excludes tall rhododendrons, azaleas and other large shrubs. This year the gunnera has decided to take off like a rocket. That’ll be down to the mild winters we’ve been having. On the veg front gherkins have been brilliant. Eating them fresh and not pickling so struggling to keep up with their output. They tend to weigh down the fragile plants if not picked early hence supporting them against the greenhouse where we can. Remember the snails ate most of our runner bean flowers? Well today I’m harvesting the single bean from one of the plants! To be shared between two. There are a few more plants but I’m not raising my hopes too high – as this year’s school pupils have been saying. Our fig was really hacked back a few months ago so removing most of the summer crop. Today I picked a little ripe one that escaped the purge. A few more have outwitted the secateurs and wood saw and there’s time for them to ripen.

Finished watching Ozark on Netflix. Brats will be brats. Criminals will be criminals and lawyers will get their just deserts. Or do they? I’d have written it differently.

What to watch now? We checked newspaper and website suggestions. A German Netflix series Dark was thrown up. It requires total concentration. No time to check out twitter with having to read super-quick subtitles and try to keep up with generations of characters. Science fiction is not really my thing and the first episode bored me. By the end of episode two I thought I’d stay with it for one more. By episode 4 I was hooked.

What’s the first thing you do when returning to your house after dark? You open the door and switch on a light. It’s not difficult. So why oh why do authors and film directors present us with that trope of about-to-be victim walking into her house and wandering through it in the dark? Not since the 1930s, folks. Not since the 1930s. Or earlier has it been a thing to enter your house in the dark. The same applies to scary forests. If you lived in a village with a reputation for young residents going missing in the local forest the last thing you’d think of doing is walking in the said forest – alone – in the dark. It’s a relatively simple to equate being alone in a spooky dark forest where folk disappear with it being perilous. But wait! Not only walking the forest, alone, in the dark but entering the caves in the forest.  Oh no! Not the caves! You’d think it but there they go time and time again. Winden ought to have a signpost signalling WINDEN – SLOW – LEARNERS.

Didn’t have a novel I could decide on for bedtime reading so pored over a couple of thin volumes of poetry by Apollinaire and Hans Enzenberger. I don’t know. Some of the arrangements of words by Apollinaire were novel but my sensitivity to some poetry has been irreversibly damaged by reading too many crime novels. Got a flea in my ear from husband for my flippancy over Enzenberger especially – and to be honest I didn’t give his poetry more than a passing glance so I looked him up and he’s still alive – in his nineties. And he comes from my favourite part of Germany, Bavaria, and was born in little town also the birthplace of Hans Liebherr. Hans was a mason who invented the mobile tower crane. That’s impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree, and they can be seen tootling about the country all the time. But even more exciting for me is that Liebherr make fridges and we have one – it’s huge and fabulous.

A verse from Enzenberger’s poem, Portrait of a House Detective

He’s twenty-nine,
Idealistic,
Sleeps badly and alone
with pamphlets and blackheads,
hates the boss and the supermarket,
communists, women,
landlords, himself
and his bitten fingernails
full of margarine (because
it’s so delicious), under
his arty hairstyle mutters
to himself like a pensioner.

Decided to try an e-book from the local library via the internet. Didn’t like the library’s website which tends to throw up a lot of rubbish and abandoned the first one I borrowed but this one which I won’t name because although I began liking it, have gone off it. It’s a first novel and a bit over-written, too lush with the adjectives. Ordered something recommended to me on how we think from Amazon, It’s an actual book. Hopefully that’ll be more engaging.

Stay safe.

Jul 17, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 17

The door has been wedged open for lockdowners in week 17. Some of us have peered out and aren’t sure we like what we see and have shut that door again. Some of us have raced out over the doorstep and were last seen driving to a campsite, our cars packed with trashy camping gear designed to be left behind as litter in some of Scotland’s most beautiful settings thereby destroying the beauty of those settings that attracted us in the first place. Some of us have hot-footed it down to our local bar or non-food shops to purchase stuff because we can’t ever get enough of stuff. Some of us are off to see our mates – although some of us have never stopped seeing our mates, if we’re being honest – certainly not the two driving very noisy motorbikes with lawn mower engines around these parts.

week 17 collage 2

Our granddaughter who lost her job recently received a not unexpected double blow when her partner heard he is also likely to lose his job. Working for oil and gas related companies is proving hazardous for many folk in the northeast nowadays with petroleum production seen as yesterday’s technology. Things are already tough but surely they are about to get far tougher.

When granddaughter and partner visited us this week it was intended to be a garden call but the afternoon was overcast and not too warm so we had a socially-distanced catch-up indoors instead with a thorough clean once they left. Good to see them but there’s an edge to visits in these Covid 19 times.

Took ourselves up to the nearby recumbent stone circle at Old Keig. Doesn’t matter how many times we visit the partial remains of this stone circle – Aberdeenshire’s recumbents are unique – we are in awe of the sheer size of this slab of stone. How on earth did people move such immense rocks – uphill, as many are positioned? Several stones from the circle have been removed and scattered but the recumbent and its flankers remain. Hardly surprising.

week 17 collage 1

The emergency-grow-our-own salads have been proving their worth for ages now. All sorts of leafy things, some decidedly peppery, and in rainbow colours (kind of.) Gherkins coming thick and fast. Courgettes doing well and peas swelling up. I still have to do rigorous slug/snail searches of the sacks we are growing our runner beans in as they’ve reduced the bottom growth to lacy doilies. They get thrown to their new life across our burn, usually, but I have witnessed ancestors of these snails determinedly working their way back over the bridge to our garden before now.

It is also getting to that time we’ll have to pick the blackcurrants. And we’re only finishing last years such was the size of the crop then. Raspberries offer a change of flavour for grazing gardeners but the cherries are well out of reach in the wild French cherry tree my husband grew from seed a number of years ago. Every year we think it’s stopped growing. But it hasn’t. As it is disappearing into the vast blue yonder of sky we’re contemplating getting someone in to cut down to size.

 Dreams have become more memorable recently. Is this a pandemic thing? Usually my dreams evaporate into the morning light but one that has stuck with me involved a quiz, much like the family quizzes we’ve been doing except it was taking place in a bar/café/room. A large dark-haired woman who spoke a combination of English and Welsh was asking the questions in a language I couldn’t decipher. Despite not knowing what she was saying I attempted answering but couldn’t keep up – although there were only three questions by the time I woke. Apart from the language things I couldn’t get my pencil to write my answers on the inside of a chunky grey woolly man’s jumper – which I suspect was a reference to Nordic drama.

 The Nordic drama causing me so much angst was Deadwind from Finland. Now we are partial to all things Nordic but this should have been entitled Deadloss. Why we watched two series I don’t know. It was formulaic and derivative of the excellent The Bridge, down to its main protagonist, Sofia, a dead ringer for Saga, also clad in a coat. Like Saga she lives for her work with family coming a long way back in her priorities. While The Bridge was well-scripted and directed Deadwind is full of ridiculous howlers such as her referring to photographs she hadn’t previously seen and while investigating a deserted house gets out of her car and goes straight to a flower border, lifts up a plant and discovers the concealed whatever it was. Plain silly. Evidence turns up at the drop of a hat. Where Sofia wins over Saga is in her ability to shine a torch in the invariably dark buildings she forever enters. Seems there’s a lightbulb shortage in Finland. And, the grey woolly jumper in my dream was presumably related to Alex in Series 1 of Deadwind. He ay wore chunky knits. Finland has also produced Bordertown which is pretty good and way above Deadloss in terms of production values.

Alternative viewing came in the form of Netflix’s Midnight Diner – Tokyo Stories … for any who have nostalgia for 1970s comedy – this is up your street. Plus you get some food ideas.

Coming to the end of the journey with Ethel Mannin around Germany. Still enjoying it. She was greatly affected by the appalling condition of children in Germany post-war – many were orphans or abandoned and living like ‘stray animals, pale faced, elf-like,’ ‘living in holes in the ground beneath ruined buildings’ and some very tiny ones didn’t even know their own names. Russian occupying forces organised an event to encourage adoption of these kids called the Lost Baby Show.

 Going back to living in rubble. Mannin tells how some landlords continued to charge people rents for living in bombed remains of flats and cellars where people were reduced to sleeping on the ground or on tables.  The United Nations Refugee Relief Agency (UNRRA) was known in Germany as You Never Really Relieved Anyone. There are some terrible accounts of suffering – few of which ever found their way into the British press.

Mannin reserves her greatest criticism for a Brian Connell of the Daily Mail for distorting the truth about conditions in Germany at the time such as claiming food supplies there were greater than back in Britain. Mannin never tires of saying – some in Germany did live the high life with never ending supplies of champagne and cognac for Britain’s top military brass and journalists who were treated as officers. But for the German people food was virtually impossible to obtain. Cigarettes became currency. Folk were paid for services in fags – virtually never smoked because they were the only means of bartering for something to eat, usually through the black market. A joke in Germany ran – “anyone found alive after 1947 would be prosecuted for black market activities.”

 Stay safe.

 

 

Jun 28, 2020

9 Out of 10 BBC Journos Prefer Tories

If you go down to Wood Lane* today

You’d better go in disguise

If you go down to Wood Lane today

You’ll never believe your eyes

For every Tory that ever there was is gathering there for certain because

the BBC is having them on their programmes.

The World at One BBC Radio 4

13/05 Rishi Sunak, Tory, recording; Ken Clarke former Tory MP

15/5 Damian Hinds, Tory; additional Tory requested but government refused to send one for BAME discussion

19/5 Gordon Brown; Labour.

20/5 Conservative leader Derby council

21/5 Bob Seely, Tory

22/5 Brandon Lewis recording from BBC R 4 Today; David Davis, Tory; Tom Tugendhat, Tory

25/5 Peter Aldous, Tory; Gavin Williamson, Tory recording played from earlier broadcast; Michael Gove, Tory, recording played; Raoul Ruperal, former advisor to Theresa May, Tory; Fianna Gael spokesperson; Robbie Gibb former aid to Theresa May, Tory

26/5 Douglas Ross, Tory, statement read out; Harriet Baldwin, Tory; Robert Jenrick, Tory

27/5 Robert Jenrick, Tory, recording from BBC R4 Today;

28/5 Jeremy Hunt, Tory

29/5 George Eustace, Tory , recording from Sky; Tory leader of an English council

2/6 Lucy Powel, Labour; Michael Fabricant, Tory

3/6 Lord Patten, Tory; Graeme Brady, Tory

8/6 Justine Greening, former Tory MP

9/6 David Blunkett, Labour peer; Diane Abbot, Labour

10/6 Tobias Elwood, Tory

11/6 Greg Clark, Tory; Tim Montgomerie, Tory

12/6 Lord O’Neill, Crossbencher in the Lords

15/6 Baroness Macgregor-Smith, Tory; John Swinney, SNP

16/6 Ruth Davidson, Tory

17/6 }

Non-party contributors

18/6 }

19/6 Boris Johnson, Tory, recording played extensively; Ed Balls, Labour

22/6 Lord Hennessy, crossbench peer; Ken Clarke, Tory; Lord Darling, Labour; Andy Burnham, Labour

Tories who’ve been good or bad are sure of a treat today

There’s lots of marvellous things to say and political games to play

For BBC news will carefully choose their guests to promote and air

For that’s the way the Tories and Beeb consider political output fair.

PM BBC Radio 4

4/6 Caroline Noakes, Tory

6/6 Priti Patel, Tory, recording played; Lord Rickets, Tory-nominated crossbencher peer; Lord P Dannatt, former Tory advisor

8/6 Priti Patel, Tory, recording played; Bim Afolami, Tory

9/6 Gavin Williamson, Tory, recording played; Mark Drakeford, Labour; Alok Sharma, Tory, recording played.

10/6 Tim Loughton, Tory; Danny Kruger, Tory

11/6 Tobias Elwood, Tory; David Gawk, Tory; Vicky Slade, Libdem

12/6 Ken Clarke, Tory

13/6 Shaun Bailey, Tory

15/6 David Lammy, Labour; Boris Johnson, Tory, recordings

16/6 Gavin Williamson, Tory, recording; Tim Loughton, Tory; Boris Johnson, Tory, substantial recordings

17/6 various No 10’s daily briefing recordings

18/6 Andrew Bridgen, Tory; Greg Clark, Tory; Ros Altman, Tory peer

19/6 Gavin Williamson, Tory, recording played

20/6 —

22/6 David Liddington, Tory; Charlie Faulkner, Labour peer

23/6 Boris Johnson, Tory, recordings played

24/6 Jeremy Hunt, Tory; Hew Merriman, Tory

25/6 Vikki Slade, Libdem, Bournemouth Council Leader; Neil Coyle, Labour

Agitprop for Tories

The Tories are having a lovely time today

Listen to their cozy chat

And how their rightwing message plays

Oh, how close and chummy they are

Joshing and jousting – all just harmless fun

And they never have any cares or stress

For irrespective of the government’s mess

The BBC always falls

On the side of their Oxbridge pals

Throw in a first name or two

A word of grateful thanks that sums

Up their trust, and home at last, tomorrow the same

Because they’re very good Tory chums.

The Westminster Hour BBC Radio 4 (weekly)

21/6 Florence Eshalomi, Labour; Tim Loughton, Tory; Jo Tanner former PR for Boris Johnson, Tory

14/6 Gillian Keegan Tory; Darren Jones, Labour

7/6 Chi Onwurah, Labour; Bim Afolami, Tory

31/5 Theresa Villers, Tory; Meg Hillier, Labour; Chris Wilkins former advisor to Theresa May, Tory

24/5 Huw Merrimen, Tory; Angela Smith, Labour

17/5 Kit Malthouse, Tory; Alison McGovern, Labour

If you go down to Wood Lane today

You’d better not go alone

It’s lovely at Wood Lane today but safer to stay at home

For every Tory that ever there was is gathering there for certain

Because today (and every day) the Tories are having their free lunch.

*Wood Lane is a BBC address in London. Contributors to programmes not directly affiliated or members of political parties are not included in the lists of contributors to BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programmes. BBC Radio 4’s Today programme has not been included because it was hard enough listening to the above. Some other party political representation might have been missed by me. Listening was a chore, believe me. Also not included are spokespeople from pressure groups and think tanks, most of which lean to the right and extended recordings from No 10’s daily briefings.

Should be sung to The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

Jan 5, 2020

The Rampant Kelt

Pall Mall Gazette 30 May 1896

A familiar sight to Aberdonians Rob Roy MacGregor at the Culter burn

Those pesky Scots (Welsh and Irish), complained a writer in a London newspaper called the Pall Mall Gazette on 30 May 1896. Pesky, uppity Scots – just when Britain thought the ‘Kelt’ was dead and a stone added to ‘his cairn’ the pesky Scot – that nuisance who has ruined the English language ‘by mis-spelling’ blah, blah, blah refuses to go away.

Speaking for England Pall Mall insists they are heartily sick of these pesky, ‘scant kilt’ wearing Scots reeking of Glenlivet and the rest of their ‘eccentricities.’

Just as well kilts are water-resistant the amount of abuse hurled at their wearers. Tongue-in-cheek, of course, that relentless racist ranting – and yet and yet.

Their language – not the racist’s you dope – is deplorable. Deplorable! Like Welsh. As for Gaelic with all those consonants! How is an Englishman supposed to be able to understand that! I bet the same was said of just about every other language on the planet apart from God’s own tongue, English. But don’t mention the origins of English … German, Italian and Scandinavian from migrants landing their boats on proud England’s xenophobic shores.

Steer clear of Scotland Pall Mall warns its readers or you’ll have to speak English adulterated by Scots and the local lingo – go to Blairgowrie and you’ll have to be proficient in Scot-English and Blairgowrie babbling. Ach, that rich vein of bigotry and intolerance has always been the mark of the Union.

Determined the reader is left in no doubt to his views the green-ink contributor goes from ridicule of the contamination of the English language by the Welsh and Scots into full-throttle racism explaining the chances of any quality Welsh and Scots literature is as likely as the ability of ni***rs to develop sophisticated society.

Picts –  the race whose stone-built heritage amazes, impresses and confounds us – he dismisses as fairies. His inkwell of green ink is fathomless. Abdy frae Scotland is by definition contemptible. Keep the Scots out of England, behind Antonine’s Wall; banish the Irish from ‘the sacred precincts of Westminster’ and ‘shut up’ the Welsh in Wales – or best of all – shouldn’t England be able to ‘abolish’ these pesky Celts?

The House of Commons a year or two earlier was facetiously referred to as having become a “Scotch Assembly” in which too much was heard from Scots members. They were boring, these Scots, their debates “duller than an Irish” debate. And then, as now, Scots opinions scarcely tolerated were irrelevant at the end of the day because on every occasion they could be outvoted by English MPs whose interests lay in what benefited England not Scotland.

Abuse and prejudice tarted up as journalism drew a response from a Donald MacGregor writing from London. Clearly a Scot, he refused to rise to the bait over the use of the term ‘Kelt’ but agreed that, yes indeed, the ‘Celt is Rampant’ and a good thing, too. He was stirred to write because Celts have for too long been too passive, forbearing, and forgiving of attacks from south of the border. He guessed the frothy-mouthed green-inker was English, but wrote he might have been one of those Lowland Scots who revels in belittling fellow-Scots. Finally he decided the writer was, in fact, a Sassenach with a grudge. As for green-ink wanting to ‘abolish’ Celts – MacGregor wrote that this had been attempted – by the most successful empire builders of all time, the Romans and some pushy Anglo-Saxons but they couldn’t hack it though a ‘goodly number of them’ (Anglo-Saxons) were ‘lodged’ around Bannockburn.

The essence of his letter was that Celtic culture can match anything produced by Anglo-Saxons; that Scots heroes and champions are demonised as degenerates and outlaws by English commentators e.g. Rob Roy (a MacGregor like him) driven off his land is dismissed as a cattle thief while the perpetrators of land clearance – nobility who having acquired lands through nefarious means trade them as they would any speculative venture. A practice evident throughout the British Empire when Johnnie Foreigner’s lands were there for the taking by rogues such as Cecil Rhodes who had he been a poor native in what became Rhodesia would have been shot for his audacity.

What is Pall Mall, I hear you ask. A place, aye, but what was it originally? A game, readers, a game. Can you think where that game started? Go on – take a punt. England? Nah. England? Nah. England? Nah. Pall-mall, palle-malle or pelemele was a Scottish and French pastime. It was the Scottish King James VI aka James I in England – a man too lazy to get off his horse to pee (allegedly) who encouraged the English to play it. And they loved it so much they named a street after it. The Duke of York was very keen on pelemele – but you probably don’t need me to tell you that.

Pall-mall, palle-malle, pelemele are reminders that Scotland’s thousand-year-old Auld Alliance with France is way longer than an embittered, xenophobic, corrupt Union. Lady Violet Greville wrote that, or words to that effect. French and Scottish Celts – we are all Celts. And in a Celt union we’d like to stay.

Sep 17, 2018

Women’s football: More than a game

‘It goes without saying that the play was of the most amateurish description.’

women 11.jpgThe rest of the report of an international football match between Scotland and England was written in the same sneering vein. It went on to draw a picture of the hilarity of the event as spectators cheered, laughed, hooted and shouted vulgar insults at the players. The cause of so much derision was the match was being played by women.

It was on the evening of Monday 16th May 1881 that the international game got underway on Shawfield Grounds near Rutherglen Bridge. The fixture wasn’t ideal but it was the only one the organisers were able to secure as the men’s clubs refused permission for their pitches to be used – on grounds that female football could ‘only be regarded as an unseemly exhibition, and sent those getting up the match to seek for a field elsewhere.’

Women’s (the word was never used as far as I could see, instead ladies, girls or female) football matches in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries were often arranged to raise funds for charities. This international was no different and around 400 persons paid to watch the game with hundreds of others sneaking in without paying.

‘It goes without saying that the play was of the most amateurish description’ which may have been true but you just know the report was partly written before a ball was kicked. So it continued in this sneering tone confirming how women were ill-equipped to play the sport along the lines of what do women know or understand about such manly activities? 

About 55 minutes into play and part of the crowd, ‘the rougher elements’ cut through the ropes separating spectators from the players and the pitch was invaded by a gleeful mob of some 4000 men surrounding the women. The police in attendance charged into the crowd hitting out with their batons and though greatly outnumbered eventually managed to get the women off the park and onto their bus. It must have been terrifying for them and no details were given in the report but some of the players were said to have been ‘badly treated by the mob.’ As the women players were driven away they were hissed at by the pack of men.

The report ended with the view it ‘was hoped such an exhibition would not be repeated.’ Whether it was the male mob mentality or women’s football was unclear.

‘We do not know whether these Amazons had shocked the delicacy of the multitude, but the fact remains that they would not allow the game to proceed.’

There we have it that old ploy – blame the victim. The 4-5,000 men gathered to laugh and abuse women playing a game don’t sound like they were encumbered by delicate sensibilities.

What was it that made these men feel it was acceptable behaviour to go out of their way to sneer and jeer at women participating in a harmless game to raise money for charity? Why could they not just ignore the women if they thought their game would be so ridiculously poor quality? Because it was never about the women’s football prowess it was all about harassment and ridicule of a group they learnt through their lives were inferior to them and deserved their scorn. That sort of attitude can take people far- you can build empires on the back of denigrating whole populations – deny they are your equals so easing your conscience over controlling, manipulating and exploiting them.

Women from all classes in society were active in the 1890s to improve their rights in law, education, employment, politics and in society in general. Women, irrespective of their position, excluding a certain queen, were regarded as weak and vulnerable children and incapable of logical thought and whose function was solely biological – producing children (the BMJ warned that women’s organs would suffer if they played football.) And yet, working class women were working their fingers to the bone. Poor women had always worked and contributed to family incomes. Many single middle class women also worked. At the same time women were being outrageously exploited as cheap labour and were undermined in every way possible.

Women can’t …because they are women.

The more women fought for the same rights  as men to votes, to education, to careers, to handle their own affairs, to be taken seriously the more strident the opposition to these demands became because it was against – nature? Christian values?

This is all very confusing for during earlier periods of Scottish history football was not so clearly regarded as male. Wasn’t Mary Queen of Scots supposed to have enjoyed a bit of kick-about on the royal lawn? Weren’t football matches between single and married woman in Scottish villages accepted as part of the culture as for example Musselburgh’s annual Shrove Tuesday match between married and single fish women?

Fast-forward to the 19th and 20th centuries and antagonism towards women appears to have hardened in some quarters. When the Chartists turned round and dropped women’s enfranchisement as one of their demands because it was argued working class men could achieve the vote faster and then give their sisters a hike up the political rights ladder they began a trend which side-lined women.

There was no simple journey to achieve a level of political representation for working class men (from political rights others follow) for the middle classes had dropped them at the Great Reform Act 1832 in much the same way as women were sold-out by their men a few years later but women not only had to fight the political establishment they had to fight their own men folk as well.

Chartism gave way to Trades Unions and right up to the 1970s (and beyond) this male dominated institution has put up barriers to women’s equality. They were never for the many but always for the few. They were about skills and preserving status within skill groups. They were about preserving the status and privileges won by men at the expense of the non-skilled and women. They were about ensuring those with particular skills received higher pay than others in jobs designated less skilled  – which always included women’s work. Trades Unions fought and fought hard to prevent equal pay for women. They were still doing it recently in Glasgow where the council has to find cash to reimburse women who were sold out by the Labour Party and Unions.

So what’s this got to do with women’s football? you ask. Everything.

It does not matter what activities are being discussed women’s participation was, until recently, ridiculed. Even in those occupations regarded as female – nursing, primary school teaching – it was the pattern up until the last couple of decades that most promoted posts were held by men. Different battle. Similar tactics.

Football was not played by ‘self-respecting females’ it was said. When matches ended in violence it was seen as possibly a good thing, likely to put an end to silly girls thinking they could do everything men could and put an end to such nonsense.

The report in  The Greenock Advertiser in 1881 whose headline ran –‘The Glasgow Roughs and the Female Football Teams’ – when ‘ruffians’ cut the ropes at a ‘So-called female football match’ there was condemnation of a dangerous situation but antagonism towards women for creating the problem. Just who did these women think they were?

‘ladies in knickerbocker suits was a women’s right too far. It is indecent and ought to be suppressed by the police.’

England, Preston, 1920 - Copy

England, Preston 1920

Women didn’t slink away to lick their wounds. They carried on playing football. Four years later when a British Ladies Football Club toured Scotland a London sport journal employed predictably robust language to describe it: a ‘farce’, they (ladies) were ‘ignorant of the simple rudiments of the Association rules’ ‘painful to look at’ – which all smacked of that familiar anger  over women being so uppity  as to think they were entitled to indulge in sport – they might have been asking for something equally ridiculous such as representation in parliament.  The reporter applauded leading Glasgow clubs approached by the ‘girls’ for coaching who would have nothing to do with them.

And still the women played on. A month after the outrageous scenes at Rutherglen the international was resumed, this time at Windmill in Yorkshire, when Scotland came out on top beating England 3-2.

When in March 1895 a gate of 10,000 turned up for a women’s match in London the teams were greeted by a

‘roar of laughter. Hundreds fell off the fence … Tears rolled down cheeks of men never known to weep in public. They fell upon each other’s necks and shoulders. Small boys fell into paroxysms. Women smiled and blushed. The referee, a small man but brave, grinned and made desperate but ineffectual efforts to cover his face as well as his head with his cap.’

More sexist abuse came thick and fast.  

‘One of the Blues was built on Dutch lines, and was at once dubbed “Fatty”. The reporter on the Gloucester Citizen made special reference to the women’s hairstyles and it went to town on the appearance of one player.

‘ One of the Red side’s appearance caused shrieks of laughter – on account of her size and boyish appearance. She looked ridiculously, even insanely, diminutive for a football game. Then she was built like a boy, ran like a boy, and like a boy who could run very fast at the age of ten, and she seemed to know too much about the game for a girl of any size, her height being about three feet.’

And so it went on in this offensive and hysterical tone, commenting on how the women ran, not waddling like most girls and how few seemed familiar with the rules of the game. At the end of the match the women departed to shouts of ‘Chuck on another scuttle of coals.’

Of course women persevered. It’s what women do. Their football matches across England attracted huge crowds – sometimes a gate of 40,000. 

There were few such hang-ups over women being able to step into men’s boots at the outbreak of World War I. Then they were essential to the war effort- not only continuing to operate Britain’s infrastructure but manufacturing munitions. Women from across the British Isles were drafted in to work making explosives, shells, tanks, bullets, gas masks. This was dangerous work and munitions women used to let off steam through playing football in their dinner breaks with the best taking part in inter-factory competitions.

After the war women resumed their roles of being feeble and incapable and their abilities diminished – even in something as simple and straightforward as a game of football. Good God! they were exposing their legs. Football associations did their level best to prevent the women’s game emerging in any meaningful way. At the millennium men were still wading through the merde of their prejudices – Joe Royal, an English football club manager insisted, ‘I’m not sexist but I don’t approve of female officials in professional football.’ Yes, Mr Royal that is being sexist.

In 2004 FIFA President Sepp Blatter advocated women should ‘wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts…to create a more female aesthetic.’ He is currently under a ban by FIFA but not for such sexist claptrap.

Brit ladies football club - Copy

132 years and a distance of 13 miles after women footballers were abused on the park at Rutherglen Motherwell and BBC Scotland sport pundit Tam Cowan demonstrated a century plus was a mere blink in terms of male hostility towards the game. He might have been writing the report on the game in May 1881 but it was 2003 when he was quoted in the Daily Record saying –

‘Fir Park should have been torched after it hosted women’s football’ Why do they still persevere with this turgid spectacle? And why was it allowed anywhere near Motherwell’s hallowed turf?

‘Just the other week, I bumped into a couple of women footballers (I’ve still got the bruises to prove it) and they were honestly two of the nicest blokes I’ve ever met. But no amount of politically correct claptrap could force me to say I enjoyed a single second of that guff at Fir Park on Thursday night. BBC Alba must be scraping the bottom of the barrel if they’re now broadcasting this tosh live.

‘Aye, give me an hour of some dreary Highlander reciting poems about the fishing industry – in Gaelic – any day of the week. Incredibly, the game was live on telly AND radio!’

His tedious prejudices where he dismisses the lives and culture of my grannies in a sentence provide a fine example of not just one but several sets of ascribed status – placing groups into categories redolent with shared characteristics which makes them easy targets for humiliation and denigration. This bloke from a town in the central belt demonstrates his dislike of Highlanders whose lives are different from Cowan’s and so to be disparaged through the placing the adjective ‘dreary’ in front Highlander. He shows up his intolerance with a jibe at the fishing industry – perhaps not seen as manly as steel men? How do I know what goes through this guy’s minced head. He’s definitely one of those types who maligns Gaelic, preferring the glottal stop type of speech more familiar to him. And behind all this fume and fury? Women. Bloody uppity women.

1895 scotland team - Copy

Scotland team 1895

Ascribed status is discrimination and with discrimination comes humiliation, mockery and a touch of outraged anger at the group’s activities. Cowan went on –

‘This was a Group 4 game and the Bosnian team looked as if they’d just arrived in one of their vans. Did you see their goalie? She put the baws into Bosnia (although on the off-chance she reads this, I hasten to add I’m only kidding). 

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/tam-cowan-fir-park-should-2314034

It was 1972 when the first official women’s international took place, in Greenock when England beat Scotland 3-2.

On 4 September 2018 Scotland’s women qualified for the 2019 Women’s World Cup Finals. Well done them.

May 18, 2018

Press Freedom, Fake News, the Herald and me

Press Freedom and propaganda

ipso herald breach
Press freedom is an interesting concept. Does it mean freedom for newspapers to write what they choose knowing there will be few or no repercussions even when downright lies are told? We are encouraged to think of press freedom as the ability to investigate and shine a light on corruption at the heart of the establishment – isn’t that worth defending? Of course it is.

In the week a dramatised account of the seamy episode in the ‘illustrious’ career of Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe is to be televised nothing could be a better reminder than the cosy alliance that too often exists between the press and powerful individuals who make bargains to keep their murkier activities between friends.

Once again press freedom is high up on the political agenda – some demanding more regulation while others demand less. Whatever the outcome surely nothing will stop the steady drift away from people buying a daily newspaper when there are alternative sources of news available. But! but! scream the journos we are the guardians of the truth in a social media world drowning in fake news.

“I fabricated stories about drug dealers, neo-Nazis, people who were selling guns, people who were selling fake documents.” Graham Johnson (New of the World journalist) May 2012

The Mail, the Telegraph, the Express in 2016 were reported to IPSO for publishing fake stories over Brexit – well, there were plenty of those around. Most of these were scare stories about immigrants, threat of Isil, invasion by terrorists if UK stays in the EU, crime soaring because of foreigners. You get the picture. We got the picture. The slim vote for Brexit proved it.

This was not fake news. The traditional press doesn’t do fake news. It makes mistakes and corrects them in small print, never headlines, always a corner of an inside page that is forever where corrections are buried. And smirks.

Defamation scream journos called out for their absurd prejudices packaged as the sword of truth. The print medium is never nasty, never petty, never offensive – “Up Yours Delors” and a two-fingered gesture to the “French fool” (1990, the Sun) was made in the best possible taste.

There’s nothing like the whiff of xenophobia to accompany your toast and coffee in the morning and there’s always been plenty of that in Britain’s dailies. Germany turning the Europe into a “Fourth Reich” snarled the Daily Mail, measured as always in 2011. Back in 1914 the same newspaper (propaganda weapon) produced hysterical references to the despised Germans to drum up support for war. None of it fake. Oh, no. Means to an end.

The notorious Zinoviev letter – way too far back for today’s journos to know about – was a fiction – a letter said to have been written by Grigory Zinoviev, part of the Soviet Union government, to Britain’s communist party, implicating the Labour Party in dangerous revolutionary politics fair alarmed voters and led to a huge Conservative victory in the impending general election. 

Scare tactics work. Newspapers and TV and radio know that. We saw how scare tactics were used with great success during the Scottish independence referendum and again in the Brexit referendum. Tell a lie, make sure it’s a big ‘un and keep on telling it. People will swallow it hook, line and sinker. Big lies, fake news – same difference – one of the successful methods used by the Nazis. It works.

Hysteria over fake news in social media is simply a case of the pot calling the kettle black and déjà vu all over again, and again.

Despite the dramatic fall in readership the printed press is everywhere on our high streets and in our village shops – headlines provide a narrative of events and issues we are expected to care about. Headlines define the scandal/problem/celebration/disaster. Headlines and the sub-heading that lots of readers won’t get past explain the story in a nutshell. The reader who cares to read further into an article will often discover, however, that the headline and sub-heading have been misleading at best and downright lies at worst.

In times of yore (years of reader exploitation) newspapers could print any nonsense then field a few letters to the editor from irate of Gairloch or whoever, pick and choose whose letters would get published and close down the correspondence when it got too boring/ too close to home. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook changed that. What’s the point of writing to a newspaper editor in the slim hope she/he will print it so the world can gain from your unique insights when you can editorialise in your own head and instantly post your opinions to an eager/indifferent readership right around the world, not just in Gairloch, on your favourite social media site?

You can also report dodgy newspaper articles to the press standards bodies: IMPRESS and IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation.) That involves dedication, time and persistence because any complaint against an editor of a newspaper is likely to be met with a quick denial of the wot me gov’? variety followed by a steady shake of the head that they made any mistake/told lies/hacked phones/covered up establishment scandals/covered up thalidomide/ manipulated information – you know – the kind of stuff they say goes on in other parts of the world – always Russia – but never, ever in the UK.

And Leveson ? Leveson peveson. Who cares? Another day. Another little tweek here a snip there – aahh, we wouldn’t have our news stories any other way  – trimmed to fit our own agenda.

Mischief in the art of headline creation is weaponisation of the press to push an ideology close to the editor’s heart. Think of the power of an unscrupulous editor/journo able to churn out articles aimed to discredit/ promote a government/council/issue. I’m sure many of you will have lots of examples springing to mind. And beware of under-educated narcissists who see news in terms of themselves.

With so much trash presented as news in Britain’s newspapers it’s little wonder the press is in the state it is. A dearth of talent, an explosion of one-sided comment from people distinguished only by their mediocrity. Who is the press there for –journalist or readers?

“Power without responsibility” was Stanley Baldwin’s description of the press in 1931. This week the UK government batted away the promised continuation of the Leveson inquiry – a decision immediately challenged in the Lords. Something is rotten in the state of British journalism.

herald - Copy

Earlier this year The Herald gave huge prominence to a story ostensibly about a report from Oxfam, Reward Wealth Not Work on the same day it was published, 22 January. Its headline:
SCOTLAND’S WIDENING INEQUALITY GAP IS ‘OUT OF CONTROL

and beneath

Oxfam report finds nation’s richest 1% has more wealth than the bottom 50%.

The Oxfam report published the day of the Herald article drew on its survey of 70,000 people in ten countries. One of the countries listed was the United Kingdom – nowhere in the Oxfam report was Scotland mentioned. When I challenged the Herald on its coverage of this report the paper claimed the piece and its figures were not a reference to that day’s report Reward Work, Not Wealth which I considered disingenuous to say the least.

The headline was bold – ‘out of control.’ A major claim in itself and a subjective point of view. Readers were led to believe this was a conclusion of that day’s report not least because the piece went on to make reference to that day’s Oxfam report – its international report – but note the subdeck included the term ‘nation’s’ i.e. singular which is odd since this report covered ten nations. The reader was led to assume Oxfam’s findings in the report referred to research done in Scotland since Scotland was mentioned in the Herald piece, however, there was not one mention of Scotland in the Oxfam report itself. I know I’ve read it.

The Herald insisted this headline did not breach the Editor’s Code for accuracy and the quote was from an Oxfam spokesperson in Glasgow; we are not told if this person was involved in the report (her name is not included in it.) In any case this was irrelevant. Whether or not she worked for Oxfam had no bearing on the findings of the Reward Work, Not Wealth report – the one alluded to in the piece.

Lest we should doubt which Oxfam report the Herald article had in mind it continued:

“A new report from Oxfam reveals that in Scotland…”

which was a downright misrepresentation of the report and significantly misleading.

I complained to IPSO of the misleading nature of the Herald’s high-profile article. In response the Herald responded, “I accept that the figures in the second paragraph of the story do not come from the Reward Work, Not Wealth report, as the general reader might infer.”

I suppose I am general reader, as will be the majority of Herald readers. Who is the paper written for if not the general reader?

The Herald accepted figures quoted in the second paragraph did not come from that day’s international report – meaning others did, just not those, conceding that the article conflated two reports – that day’s and the reason for running the story on 22 January 2018, not the 21st or the 23rd with an old report. 

Sandra Dick’s article continued : “It is now urging governments around the world, including Holyrood, to rethink economic and tax policies to help tighten the gap Oxfam’s report, Reward Not, Not Wealth, is published today …” The ‘It’ in question is Oxfam – the reference is its report. And, readers, remember there was no mention to Holyrood in the Oxfam report. It was as if desperate to make a political point the Herald included a direct reference to the Scottish parliament and not only that but emphasised Holyrood to make sure we all got the message.

And in the same careless or deliberately misleading fashion the next paragraph also began with ‘It’ – again quoting from the new report. The effect was at the very least sloppy but given the pointed headline surely there was more intention than accident in its construction.

The Herald fought my complaint throughout the IPSO process – threw up all kinds of distractions both bemusing and irrelevant and left me questioning the quality of those at its helm.

The Herald tried to argue the story was presented through a Scottish prism which would be fair enough had this been made clear but the Herald’s handling of the Oxfam report on the 22nd was more like the usual ploy of taking any issue and hanging a kilt on it.

• The report that led to the story being published on the 22 January this year was an Oxfam Report, Reward Work, Not Wealth released that day.
• The story run by the Herald was not run on the 21st nor the 23rd but the 22nd; the day the report came out. To dismiss the charge that it was that day’s report and not another from an earlier period, previously covered by the Herald, stretches credibility.
• The Herald chose to run this story because of the new report and placed it on its front page with a headline suggesting its findings in Scotland revealed Scotland’s inequality gap was ‘out of control.’
• Beneath the headline the paper published “Oxfam report” figures but some of these were from a report that was produced for Scotland in 2015.
• Conflating one report with another in this way the Herald led readers to conclude that day’s report had investigated Scotland and made specific references to Scotland which was not true and to pass this off, as the editor did, of a failure in editing was disingenuous.
• The whole inference in the article, because of the Herald’s construction of the story and its use of quotes and highlighting of certain words, led the reader to believe that day’s published report included data from Scotland (separate from findings across the UK.)
• The Oxfam report, Reward Work, Not Wealth, drew on international data including the UK but did not specifically refer to Scotland. Yet this is not what we are led to believe in the Herald coverage of it.
• That the Herald referred to “A new report from Oxfam reveals that in Scotland…” meaning Reward Work, Not Wealth, is patently untrue and significantly misleading.
• That the Herald made direct reference to Holyrood (the Scottish parliament) in the sentence beginning “It” – a reference to that day’s released report, Reward Work, Not Wealth is again grossly misleading and deceitful – “It is now urging governments around the world, including Holyrood, to rethink economic and tax policies to help tighten the gap Oxfam’s report, Reward Work Not, Not Wealth, is published today …” I reiterate nowhere in that report is there any mention of Holyrood
• The editor’s insistence that its references to Oxfam were to a researcher in Glasgow were not relevant to my complaint. The Herald already covered the information supplied by this researcher in previous editions of the paper.
• That Oxfam in Glasgow was happy with the coverage is again a red herring and this had no bearing on the complaint.
• The editor was happy to run a misleading story on his paper’s front page but coy about putting a link to an apology on this same page to the full correction on page 2.
• The wording for the correction on page 2 can never obviate the misleading impression left by this front page article.

ipso 1

ipso 2 and 3

Fake news comes in many forms – complete fabrications, omission of information, manipulation of facts, figures and context. It has always been a feature of our press. Fake news wasn’t the invention of social media. It has always been a feature of our press. It always will be. That’s why I don’t buy newspapers anymore. I can get my fake news free on social media I don’t have to pay to read it. That must be progress of some kind.

Thanks for reading my blog and take care y’all.

https://www.ipso.co.uk/rulings-and-resolution-statements/ruling/?id=00855-18

Dec 19, 2017

The Whip Hand

dsc02672

Prison warder with a cat-o-nine-tails from Peterhead Prison Museum

On January 2, 1891 it was reported in an Aberdeen newspaper that the town’s whipper had resigned after his home was besieged by angry protesters.  

It was New Year and it may have been the occasion with all that involves that emboldened Aberdeen’s citizens to vent their disapproval not-so-much of the man but his chosen occupation. Whatever the stimulus that attracted a crowd to his door that particular night their actions unnerved him sufficiently that the town’s whipper got to thinking about his job and when he had done thinking he decided to quit it.

His appointment a year earlier attracted the attention of the London Echo which described his role as more akin to barbarous practices of earlier and ruder times. In response a Glasgow newspaper ridiculed the London Echo‘s reporter for getting, well – the wrong end of the stick – and imagining Aberdeen loons (boys) were being strapped to grills to be lashed to within “an inch of their lives by some brawny and brutal giant wielding the cat-o-nine-tails.”

The Echo was quoted in the piece –

“If the hardened burglar sinks into deeper degradation through the lash, what effect,” this tearful Echo exclaims, “will it not have upon the delicate and impressionable mind of a lad?”

The Glasgow reporter reassured the London Echo its imagination went far beyond the truth. It was pointed out that schools used corporal punishment through caning and there was no intention to treat Scottish youth to immeasurable agony and disgrace but only to extend the type of punishment commonly applied in schools to municipal whipping rooms. The alternative of a fine, the reporter argued, only punished parents not the lad.

Many will remember more recent controversies over the birching of youths, notably on the Isle of Man, for misdemeanours too inconsequential for custodial sentence. Edinburgh’s whipper was busy as late as 1927 birching around six boys aged between ten to fourteen accused of stealing money from gas meters and other articles. One lad was given twelve strokes while the rest got up to six.

At the Borders town of Hawick a public whipper was sought in 1889 when 17 boys were brought before the police court on charges which included the theft of turnips, handkerchiefs, a hammer, a tea-cup and maliciously breaking a ladder. Casting an eye towards parents and teachers Hawick’s magistrates insisted that if they could not restrain the laddies then the police and magistrates would have to take them in hand.

Whipping is the act of using an instrument to strike a person or animal to cause pain as punishment or instil fear to teach a lesson or encourage compliance. If I might divert a little – who would be a whipper? A bully or inadequate type of person surely and there’s a fine line between legally sanctioned whipping and violent assault against a person.

In 1868 in Milwaukee Wisconsin a man called Downer charged his neighbours with assault and intent to kill after he was attacked by them. He claimed he had been sitting peaceably at home when a group of women broke in and without a word set about him; striking him with clubs, sticks and guns. He was left soaked to the skin, his clothes torn, his face and neck badly scratched and missing clumps of head hair and whiskers and he angrily demanded the women be arrested and punished. In the subsequent court hearing a witness told how that evening Downer was indulging in his ‘usual amusement’ of whipping his wife when neighbours were alerted by her desperate cries and responded armed with a mop, a broom, fire shovel and pair of tongs. They struck out at Downer mopping his face with dirty water and beating him. He fought back punching at least one woman which only enraged the rest to thrash him more soundly till he was the one crying out and begging not to be killed.

Back in the UK there were references to the distinctive coats or robes worn by town whippers but I haven’t come across actual descriptions of any which is a pity as I would like to have an accurate picture of the men whose task it was to lash 18th century scallywags who cared so little for their passengers they carelessly let go when carrying sedan chairs propelling the unfortunate traveller inside tumbling out and meriting, according to the custom of the time, a sound thrashing.

dsc02671

Tripod to hold prisoner receiving a flogging from Peterhead Prison Museum

The 1880s appears to have been pivotal to changing attitudes towards whipping. At Peterhead’s fine prison museum there is a contraption that was used in the 19th century to flog prisoners with the cat-o-nine-tails. A designated prison warder took on this role until public pressure ended the practice and in Aberdeen the last whipper was engaged in September 1885. The following year magistrates tried to have all whipping or birching carried out in prisons because of the reluctance of the public to take on the role but the prison authorities resisted and the law was changed to allow the police birch youths in police cells or court rooms.

 

In August of 1886 Exeter was the last cathedral in England to take on a dog whipper and so mercifully vanished another ancient occupation used to keep dogs from wandering into open churches and devouring communion wafers, or whatever. It was in the 1880s that the British Navy notorious for its floggings largely gave up the punishment although it wasn’t formally removed from the statute books until 1949. I suppose schools were the last stronghold of the whipper in a physical sense with the term whipping giving way to birching or belting and punishment confined to particular institutions.

43-Scotlands-tawse

The Lochgelly, belt, strap, skud, tawse

In Scottish schools the 2-foot long piece of coiled leather known as the tawse, strap, belt, skud or Lochgelly (the town where they were made) continued whipping by another name and on another part of the body, except perhaps in public schools. The strap was banned in state schools in 1987 while public schools hung onto it, or a cane, for a further ten years. The ban came after years of campaigning against corporal punishment in schools. In 1961 Aberdeen’s redoubtable Trades Council secretary James Milne, in response to a council plan to permit only headmasters administer the strap, said corporal punishment in schools was no business of the Trades Council but that of teachers alone. Headteachers complained they were to be made into public whippers – turned into ogres who would be feared instead of regarded with affection and trust by their pupils. The Trades Council called on the education committee to impose a headmaster only rule as first step towards abolition of the strap in city schools and suggested parents should be forewarned when their child was due to be strapped – a view rejected as daft by at least one headteacher for drawing out the punishment.

For those of us who don’t saddle up to terrorise our native fauna whipping now conjures up its symbolic form – in the Westminster parliament. There MPs are frequently ‘whipped’ to vote along party lines although there is no physical assault involved, as far as I’m aware, more the application of something akin to strong persuasion and even blackmail. The parliamentary whipper-in was initially appointed to make sure enough recalcitrant members of parliament would abandon their appointments with horse racing, women and bottles of claret to ensure sufficient were available to carry on the duties of government. Without the whipper-in it was doubted parliament would meet one day in seven during the earlier 19th century. Whippers-in made it their business to know what was happening in London’s social scene – gatherings and parties; and who was invited where. London clubs around Westminster were often the first port of call when bodies were required to back a vote.

“The whipper had to get to know new members and flatter and cajole them if they were gastronomic he dines him, operatic then attends opera with him, the sport lover, foxhunter, literati, Soyer with the epicure, John and Jesus men of Exeter Hall with the devout member, admirer of women with others, informed on cotton twist with the manufacturer, of guano with top boots and breeches… he lures radicals with a ticket for the Speaker’s dinner, introduces him to Court in a bobwig, sword and ruffles and makes him a member of some safe committee, like that upon petitions – after a session or two he is no longer a flaming radical but a mere whig, a ministerial driveller and a safer voter than even Lord Tom Noddy.”

The parliamentary whipper had learnt the art of subtle people-handling at the smooth and oily school. And for their great service to the state the whipper-in might expect fine reward – a plum job in a position quiet, well paid and respectable or a sturdy pension. 

Whipper-in was first applied in parliament when in May 1769 that giant of 18th century politics Edmund Burke referred to Treasury officials ‘whipping in’ members for the final parliament of the session. The term caught on and was soon abbreviated to whips.

ed ramsden hunt whipper

Captain Edward Ramsden convicted of animal cruelty

The whipper-in title came from fox hunting as I hinted above – but you probably knew that and to Westminster’s shame it still hasn’t loosened its attachment to that particular appalling pursuit. One whipper-in who caught my attention when researching this piece was one Captain Edward Ramsden, master of the South Durham hunt, who in 1935 was found guilty of cruelty to animals after he entered a house in pursuit of a terrified fox that had sought shelter there. The conquering hero emerged dragging the fox by a leash wrapped around its neck and tally-ho’d to the hounds who set upon the distraught animal tearing it to pieces. He was fined £10. Personally I would have had him publicly whipped.

 

 

Apr 1, 2017

News in Scotland 100 years ago today

Some of the stories making the news around Scotland on 1 April 1917 (outwith the Great War with over a year to run.)

dundee

Daughters of some of Dundee’s men at the Front

  • Aberdeen to get women police patrols.
  • Proposal to start a co-operative jute factory in Dundee.
  • Edinburgh grocers are in favour of a card system for sugar distribution.
  • Some Glasgow grocers are selling sugar in pennysworths.
  • Holidays in munition areas are to be deferred until after the end of July.
  • It is reported that 11,000 teachers in Scotland are getting less than £100 a year.
  • Protests in Lochgilphead against Sunday labour in the woods and fields.
  • Net profits of £270,432 reported by the Bank of Scotland for the past year.
  • There is a credit balance of £150 from the British Industries Fair recently held in Glasgow.
  • Crookston Combination Poorhouse is to be taken over for the reception of mentally afflicted soldiers.
  • A ban on the sale of spirits in parts of Argyllshire and Buteshire has come into force.
  • Some conscientious objectors from England are to be employed in forestry work at Ford in Argyllshire.
  • The Marchioness of Graham has undertaken to provide Lamlash with a convalescent home for the wounded.
  • The Dunoon and District Merchants’ Association have agreed to hold the Fast Days.
  • The fishing village of Whitehills near Banff has lost in one week four men who were on Admiralty service.
  • Tillycoultry Parish Council has decided to proceed with an extension of the cemetery at a cost of £2000.
Feb 20, 2017

British-American Project – grooming leaders

You will all be familiar with the British-American Project. No? Here’s a clue – it is a British/American networking organisation sponsored by several well-known businesses including Monsanto, Philip Morris (tobacco), Apple, British Airways, BP Coca-Cola, Unilever.

In the words of BAP:

“The British-American Project is a transatlantic fellowship of over 1,200 leaders, rising stars and opinion formers from a broad spectrum of occupations, backgrounds and political views. It is an extraordinarily diverse network of high-achievers on rising career paths in public, professional and business life.

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BAP operates on a not-for-profit basis, funded through its membership and a small amount of support from corporate partners. We also receive support in kind from a number of bodies [see above] who share our values and objectives.”

 In 2007 the journalist John Pilger wrote that:

‘The BAP rarely gets publicity, which may have something to do with the high proportion of journalists who are alumni. Prominent BAP journalists are David LipseyYasmin Alibhai-Brown and assorted Murdochites. The BBC is well represented. On the Today programmeJames Naughtie, whose broadcasting has long reflected his own transatlantic interests, has been an alumnus since 1989. Today’s newest voice, Evan Davis, formerly the BBC’s zealous economics editor, is a member. And at the top of the BAP website home page is a photograph of Jeremy Paxman and his endorsement. “A marvellous way of meeting a varied cross-section of transatlantic friends,” says he’[21].

BAP has been described as a Trojan horse for American foreign policy/business/influence in the world – the Special Relationship grown large. I’ve read it has folded yet its website is still up and BAP’s annual conference is advertised for Newcastle later this year so it looks as though it is alive and kicking.

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The Labour Party features largely, New Labour’s usual suspects, along with several Conservatives and assorted others. Tony Blair, not a member, described BAP as a wide-ranging pro-active organisation for “young leaders.”

Wendy Alexander, remember her? was one of those expected to take on a leadership role. Blink and you would have missed her leadership of Labour in Scotland but get there she did.

“BAP network …committed to “grooming leaders”

“Casual freemasonry” was Pilger’s description – and “by far the most influential transatlantic network of politicians, journalists and academics.”

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It appears this self-selective organisation of like-minded people who saw themselves as movers and shakers able to influence all of our lives and mould attitudes relating to politics, culture, trade, defence, war and so on grew out of an idea of the late US president Ronald Reagan to develop a network of co-operation between the UK and America then developed by Sir Charles Villiers (Etonian banker and former member of Special Operations Executive) and Lewis Van Dusen. This was no peace organisation, very anti-CND.

“In the summer of 1997, a few weeks after New Labour won power, a striking article about the election appeared in a privately circulated newsletter. Under the cryptic headline Big Swing To BAP, the article began, “No less than four British-American Project fellows and one advisory board member have been appointed to ministerial posts in the new Labour government.” A list of the names of these five people and of other New Labour appointees who were members of BAP followed: “Mo Mowlam … Chris Smith … Peter Mandelson … Baroness Symons … George Robertson … Jonathan Powell … Geoff Mulgan … Matthew Taylor …” The article ended with a self-congratulatory flourish and the names of two more notable BAP members: “James Naughtie and Jeremy Paxman gave them all a hard time on BBC radio and television. Other fellows, too numerous to list, popped up throughout the national media commenting, criticising and celebrating.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/06/usa.politics1

In 2003 John Pilger noted that “Five members of Blair’s first cabinet, along with his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, were members of the British American Project for a Successor Generation, a masonry of chosen politicians and journalists, conceived by the far-right oil baron J. Howard Pew and launched by Ronald Reagan and Rupert Murdoch.” 

In the beginning advisory boards were established in the US and Britain through the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC in the US and in Britain the rightwing Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London currently headed by Eliz Manningham-Buller, former DG of the Security Services. Former presidents include Douglas Hurd, George Robertson and Paddy Ashdown.  It describes itself as ‘independent’ and not funded by government-

“The institute receives no subsidy from the UK government or any other source.” although, curiously, among its funders, those who do not wish to remain anonymous, is the British Army, Ministry of Defence and the BBC.

The BBC? Explains why it uses is so much in its news reports. Isn’t there a question over BBC’s independence when it pays into this think tank? How many others does it help fund?

See more at:

https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/Fundingbands15-16A.pdf

Let’s cut to the chase – who are/were some of these anointed if not by predestination then something not dissimilar?

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Apart from Wendy Alexander, sister of former Labour foreign and trade minister, Douglas Alexander, other alumni include – well, Douglas Alexander, Labour Party Foreign and Trade minister; Stephen Dorrell, former Conservative minister; Alan Sked founder of Ukip, David Miliband, Labour Party; Baron Mandelson, Labour Party, EU trade commissioner; Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, ex-Labour Party Minister, Adviser to BP, on Board of Equilibrium Gulf Ltd; Baroness Symons, Labour Party former Foreign Office minister; Jonathan Powell, Labour Party former chief of staff to Blair;  Baroness Scotland, Labour Home Office minister; Geoff Mulgan, former head of Downing Street’s policy and strategy unit; Sadiq Khan, Labour Party, Mayor of London; Matthew Taylor, Downing Street head of policy; David Willetts, Conservative minister; journalists Jeremy Paxman, BBC; Evan Davis, BBC; James Naughtie, BBC; William Crawley, BBC; Jane Hill, BBC; Ben Hammersley, BBC; Trevor Phillips, BBC; Isabel Hilton, BBC, the Independent, the Guardian; Margaret Hill, BBC producer of current affairs; Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent, London Evening Standard; Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, The Spectator; Rowan Pelling, Daily Telegraph and many, many more.

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BAP was designed to be an active professional networking medium for young professionals so many in the list above will have dropped out to be replaced by the future. And on the subject of the future at a time when there is great concern at the erosion of the NHS and the prospect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership aka TTIP I think there are reasons to be very worried indeed over this close and cagey liaison.

 http://powerbase.info/index.php/British_American_Project

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/06/usa.politics1

 http://www.britishamericanproject.org/

Feb 20, 2017

STOP PRESS: Russian Revolution 1917

It was almost incredible that it could be true. We stood together in the darkened street, half delirious with joy, while tears mingled with our laughter.

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Guest post by Textor

Emotionally charged, with an echo of Wordsworth’s response to news of the French Revolution, these are the words Aberdonian John Paton on hearing that the Tsar had been overthrown. It was March 1917. It was the Russian Revolution. The thirty one year old socialist was leaving an election meeting where he’d supported the anti-war stance of Ramsay MacDonald. Since 1914 millions had been sucked into the bloody maelstrom of world war. For small bands of socialists across Europe the war was final proof of the bankruptcy of capitalism and as such had to be opposed despite lies in the press, willingly if not happily accepting threats of violence and imprisonment.

Anti-war socialists saw glimmers of hope in working class militancy which continued through these desperate years. Rent strikes, demands for 40 hour working week, the emergence of an unofficial shop steward movement all implicitly challenged political authority so much so that by 1917 “Red Clydesiders” were being harassed, sent to internal exile and gaoled. Socialists were buoyed but faced the fact that in Britain and across Europe, particularly in Germany, social democratic parties had taken up their respective national flags and helped drum men to the battle-fronts.

When John Paton left the election meeting on that fateful evening he met with a comrade who was almost choking with excitement at the news of the fall of the Tsar. Hardly surprising that local election politics were for the moment put into the shade. For John Paton events in Russia spurred him to greater political activity which eventually resulted in him becoming a leading figure in the Independent Labour Party.

In a similar fashion the cub reporter James Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon) was inspired by the later Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia so much so that he and a colleague could not sleep o’nights. We prowled Aberdeen . . . talking the moon into morning about jolly and heart-some and splendid things: life, death, the Revolution. Young Mitchell was then working for The Aberdeen Journal; the city’s most important newspaper. Since the 1740s the Journal had served Aberdeen with a generally conservative view of the world. In its time it had wagged a political and moral finger at the excessive demands of Chartists and seen off more radical newspaper rivals by accepting some of the liberal policies of the 19th century. Basically the Journal wanted men to be politically sensible. Political militancy, whether it was votes for women or re-division of land, was unacceptable, at least in the parliamentary “democracy” that was Britain.

James Leslie Mitchell’s enthusiasm was not shared by the Journal nor by its stable-mate The Evening Express.   However, this is not to say that the earlier phase of the Russian Revolution which had so captivated John Paton was denounced by the Aberdeen newspapers. We must remember that the British state and its mouthpieces were concerned with the prosecution of the war. Where John had seen universal hope for an end to the slaughter and the building of a more just world the Aberdeen papers believed that far from doing this the fall of the Tsarist autocracy would mean a more rational organisation of Russia’s military forces, taking power from the hands of an incompetent regime, with what they called dark and mysterious forces behind the throne, and placing it with men in the Russian parliament, the Duma; in other words a new regime with some sort of political legitimacy, consequently better able to work with Britain and her allies by marshalling workers and peasants to fight the German enemy.     

In March 1917 Aberdeen Daily Journal welcomed the “Revolution” and confidently predicted that a more democratic empire could be built with the help of Grand Duke Michael and on this solid foundation the energetic prosecution of the war [would be] their first consideration. And at the same time that it praised Russia for holding fast to the European battlefields where millions were dying the newspaper congratulated Russia for not taking the bloody path of the 1905 revolution or that mapped out in France in 1789. As the Evening Express put it the simple-hearted, generous, hospitable Russians were following a course of common sense in showing a willingness to keep the slaughter going.

On the other hand there was an enemy in Britain, conspiring to defeat the just ends being pursued by the state, personified in the person of Ramsay MacDonald: Aberdeen wants no peace bargainers, no mischief makers, in a time of national crisis. Russia, said the Journal must also beware Socialists and fanatical Revolutionaries. Ramsay MacDonald is now one of the great villains of Labour history; the man who sold out to the National Government and Conservatism. But this is to forget he and others had the courage and we might say the decency to stand against the bloodletting of 1914-18 even if this was from a pacifist stance rather than, as the young John Paton would have demanded, a revolutionary overthrow of the property owning class. 

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It just so happened that Aberdeen played its own small part in ensuring the pacifist MacDonald with his M.P. colleague Fred Jowett of Bradford were prevented in June 1917 from attending an anti-war socialist meeting in Petrograd. Aberdeen was the “certain port” from which these two men attempted to sail only to be stopped by organised labour under the leadership of Captain Edward Tupper of the seamen’s union. Pickets at the harbour threw their luggage ashore and followed them to their lodgings to keep them from sailing. Needless to say the local press was enchanted by this show of militancy, displaying a support for picketing which tended to be conspicuous by its absence in earlier industrial strikes.

When the Bolshevik Lenin was given safe passage by the Germans to the Finland Station in April unsurprisingly he was said to be an agent of the Kaiser, the editor of the Evening Express advised the Russian state now is the time for a supreme effort to trample down the internal enemy before hurling back the invader. Equally unsurprising the newspapers also saw MacDonald and his ILP comrades as doing the Kaiser’s work not to mention men and women going on strike threatening to disrupt munitions production.

Regardless of all the political guidance being given and the moral exhortations made it still looked as if the events in Russia had a dynamic beyond the control of any of the states involved in mutual destruction. The “moderate”, pro-war, Russian leader Kerensky seemed unable to guide things to the desired end. In Aberdeen’s Mither Kirk (Parish Church) on the third anniversary of the outbreak of war Colonel the Rev. James Smith preached asking God to intercede on the side of Britain: he prayed to God that a better day might speedily dawn upon distracted Russia and that the men of patriotic spirit and invincible courage be forthcoming to lead one of the greatest and most ancient of Empires to the destiny that awaited her. That destiny turned out to be not the one desired by the Rev. Smith or the local editors. Perhaps the call for God to intercede had not been heard or God (some Hegelian might say History) had set course for a future beyond their imaginations.

Come October-November 1917 and pro-war elements had their worst fear was realised: in Petrograd and beyond workers and peasants organised in councils sought peace and began to imagine a world which might be other than the one they now lived in. This was, however, more than a mental act. The councils, packed with voices from all parts of the political spectrum, were organised around degrees of holding power, making decisions which carried force and when necessary using armed militias to achieve their ends. This is what the British and other voices of “reason and common sense” could neither comprehend nor accept.   The Bolsheviks were wiser, their political programme, as much as it might have been made on the hoof at times, recognised the dynamics of class action and were able to place themselves at the head of this deeply revolutionary situation. Where revolutionaries saw liberation and new found freedoms the status-quo perceived only anarchy, an upsetting of the natural order and more immediately the loss of privilege and power. 

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One of the local editors wrote: It is incredible that the Russian people would long tolerate a system which aims at undermining the foundations of the whole fabric of society . . . But undermine it they did. The exploited across Russia and many beyond its frontiers recognised that the “foundations of the whole fabric of society” included systematic exploitation of workers and peasants, imperial adventures and colonisation which had given the world the blood drenched trenches across Europe. Who held power, and to what ends, this was one of the keys to explaining 1917 and indeed equally important to understanding the future of what became Soviet Russia and the emergence of a regime which eventually needed no lessons in how to repress and control civil society.

But this was in the future. Socialists might at times be star-gazers but they are not clairvoyants. The emergence of workers and peasant councils pointed to new social forms around which a new world might be built. One hundred years on John Paton’s words hint at how it must have been:

 Every day brought its fresh excitements and new hopes that even now something of lasting good for Socialists in Britain was to come out of the war.