Saturday, 28 March 2020

Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie is always called Shepherd’s Pie in my mother’s house, even though it was always made with beef and never with lamb.  In fact, I find Shepherd’s Pie a bit too rich for my taste, and lamb mince is certainly quite unaffordable.  Cottage Pie is real comfort food – it is comparatively inexpensive, easy to make, and a great supper.  I like it with baked beans, or with peas, or cabbage, or sweetcorn.  It is great the next day and freezes well.  I even sometimes just put it in the frying pan to heat through – which makes a great warm mush that calls for a fried egg on top.
Even today, if I am going home to the Shires, mother will call and say “Shall I put a Shepherd’s Pie on?”

As ever, I never really follow recipes, so this is a bit of a rough guide, and it is no recipe for purists. 

1kg of potatoes
500-750g of beef mince (not the really lean mince – this recipe is best with the standard 15% fat mince)
2 onions
2 big carrots
A splash of Worcestershire Sauce
A squirt of tomato puree
Beef stock cubes – I suggest four Oxo, or two Knorr Rich Beef Stockpots[1]

1. Peel about a kilogram of potatoes, cut up a bit, and put on to boil.

2. Chop two onions – quite roughly – we want a bit of texture, and soften in a saucepan with a little oil.

3. Dice two big carrots and add.

4. Add the mince.  Keep stirring until brown.

5. Add the Worcestershire Sauce, tomato puree, and stock.  Add a glog of water.  Simmer for 20 minutes at least.

6. Drain and mash the potatoes.  You can add butter and salt, but go easy on both.

7. Tumble the meat into an oven-proof deep dish.  If there is too much juice (you should not be able to set it from the top), strain it off a bit and keep by to serve with the pie.

8. Top with the mashed potatoes.  This is harder than it looks – if you pile on the potatoes, they will just sink in the mash.  Instead, using a dessert spoon, drop bits of mash on the mince in various parts of the dish, until it is all there, and use a fork to even it, taking care not to press it down, and smooth to the edges, so no meat is showing.

9. Put it in a 180° oven for about 30-40 minutes, until it is nice and brown on top.

Enjoy it!  It is also good made with left over bolognaise, left over beef chilli (top the potatoes with cheese) and left over ratatouille.

[1] I have got into these lately.  They are quite lovely, and the vegetable ones are vegan and gluten free and ideal for soup.

Monday, 27 January 2020

Holocaust Remembrance Day - Auschwitz, 75 Years On

Auschwitz Birkenau II, the most notorious of the death camps of the Holocaust, where over a million Jews were murdered, and Poles, political prisoners, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals, was liberated 75 years ago today.

"Ah, but everyone keeps on about the Holocaust, and exaggerates everything"

"Israel uses the Holocaust to extract concessions from the international community"

"There is no antisemitism in the Labour Party.  This is put about by the media which has been infiltrated by Mossad agents"

"But I know a Jew who doesn't believe antisemitism is a problem"

Because of all these statements, made to me on social media, I remain firmly of the opinion that we must continue to remember the horrors of the Holocaust, and heed its warning from history.  More than ever the lessons are needed.

The BBC has some excellent testimony and resources at this time:

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Books I Read in 2019

I read the following 45 books in 2019, shown here in reverse order (latest first).  Many are very short, and 12 I had already read.  Have you ready any of them?

  1. Here Be Dragons, Sharon Penman
  2. Marrying off Mother and Other Stories, Gerald Durrell
  3. Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth
  4. Meaning in the Miracles, Jeffrey John
  5. Tess of the Durbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  6. Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
  7. Joanna, the Notorious Queen of Naples, Nancy Goldstone
  8. The Stranger in the Wood, Michael Finkel
  9. Dominion, C J Sansom
  10. Mary Poppins, P L Travers
  11. The Grand Babylon Hotel, Arnold Bennett
  12. The First Iron Lady: A Life of Caroline of Ansbach, Matthew Dennison
  13. Dethoning Mammon, Justin Welby
  14. The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, George Smeaton
  15. Daughters of the Winter Queen, Nancy Goldstone
  16. Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara Pym
  17. Whose Body?, Dorothy L Sayers
  18. London Belongs to Me, Norman Collins
  19. The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting
  20. Rome: A History in Seven Sackings, Matthew Kneal
  21. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  22. Murder in Mesopotamia, Agatha Christie
  23. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by himself
  24. The Sweet Dove Died, Barbara Pym
  25. Royal Vendetta: The Crown of Spain 1829-1965, Theo Aronson
  26. Daughters of Spain, Jean Plaidy
  27. Spain for the Sovereigns, Jean Plaidy,
  28. Castile for Isabella, Jean Plaidy,
  29. The Plague Dogs, Richard Afams,
  30. The Reluctant Empress, Brigitte Hamann,
  31. A Start in Life, Anita Brookner,
  32. A Scandalous Life: Jane Digby, Mary Lovell
  33. Impressions that Remained, the memoirs of Ethel Smyth
  34. The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas
  35. The Once and Future King, T H White
  36. The Hobbit, J R R Tolkien
  37. Appointment with Death, Agatha Christie
  38. Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones
  39. Wicked, Gregory Maguire
  40. The Silk Roads, Peter Frankopan
  41. So Much Life Left Over, Louis de Bernieres
  42. Gimson’s Prime Ministers, Andrew Gimson
  43. France, a History, John Julius Norwich
  44. Phantoms on the Bookshelves, Jacques Bonnet
  45. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

Saturday, 30 November 2019

2019 General Election Prediction

Every general election, I make a prediction.  I don't have a very good record.

In 2010, I predicted on my blog a Labour majority of 3.  In fact, the Conservatives were the largest party, being 20 short of a majority, forming a coalition with the Lib Dems.

In 2015 I predicted a Labour minority.  This prediction was in line with polls, and the result, a majority of 12 for the Conservatives, took everyone by surprise.

In 2017 I predicted a majority of 144 for the Conservatives.  As polls moved significantly during the campaign, I took the opportunity to revise this down to 56.  In the event, there was another surprising result, and the Conservatives lost their majority, falling nine short of a majority, and forming a supply and confidence with the DUP.

In 2019, it is harder than ever to predict.  I did have a prediction ready (for a Labour minority, mainly on the basis I expected the Lib Dems to take seats from Conservatives in remain areas), but the withdrawal of Brexit Party Candidates in Conservative held seats has caused to me reconsider.  I drew up my prediction on 23rd November, but have been delayed by Nanowrimo (another successful year).  

I predict a Conservative majority of 32.  But I am concerned that this could move a lot.  I think Boris Johnson could make missteps - he is quite capable of making costly mistakes, and a car crash interview with Andrew Neil could be his undoing.  Jeremy Corbyn is clearly problematic with his pro-Brexit position but posturing as neutral - a position soundly rejected in the European elections in May.  The Lib Dems have their Revoke Article 50 policy which is controversial, even among Remainers, and they will not profit from the Brexit Party stealing Conservative votes in targets in southern England.  

More than any election in my lifetime, this election is 650 battles.  There are more marginals than ever, and in every constituency, the way it voted in the EU Referendum, the way it's MP voted, the subsequent stance of its MP in Parliamentary vicissitudes, how many Muslims or Jews are in the constituency.

For my old constituencies, I expect, of course, Banbury to remain Conservative with the Lib Dems in second place.
Finchley and Golders Green is properly a Conservative/Labour marginal.  However, the large Jewish population are not happy with Corbyn's tolerance of antisemitism, and the large Remain population are not happy with Labour's equivocation on Brexit.  Luciana Berger is standing as a Lib Dem candidate, and  think will push Labour into third (a pity, as the candidate, Ross Houston, was my local councillor, a fine man, and sound on antisemitism), but will ultimately fail to take the seat from the Conservatives.

My new constituency, Holborn and St Pancras, is a very safe Labour seat with Keir Starmer as the MP.  He got 70% of the vote last time.  I admire him very much, as a sensible compassionate man on the left, a strong Remainer, and who (unlike his leader) apologised for Labour's failure to tackle antisemitism.  I am somewhat relieved it is a safe seat, and that my vote is not required for tactical reasons, as I still don't think I should support Labour this time, with such a tainted and incapable leader, and an unforgiveable pledge of neutrality on Brexit.  I still have not read all the manifestos, and therefore am undecided.  I had better hurry up! 

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Vegan Pancakes

Yes, it sounds terrible.  Yes, I heard of them with suspicion when they were being prepared for a gathering I was attending.  No, they actually taste ok.  In fact, they were good.  Very good.

160g self raising flour
2 tablespoons of caster sugar (I will try reducing this)
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
300ml non-dairy milk or water (I think water would be awful.  The ones I had were made with almond milk).
1 tablespoon of oil.

1. Mix.
2. Cook.
3. Eat.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Quite Interesting

A few years ago, a little chart explaining British nuance did the rounds.  You can find it here:

The reason this went so viral was due to its accuracy.  I agree with it.  And, over the years, I have found people are baffled when they take things literally.  I got into trouble the other day when I told someone that something was "rather interesting" which they misunderstood to mean very interesting.  So, here is my little chart on interesting.  I hope you find it really quite interesting.

What it actually means
I need to think about this.  I think it is wrong.
That is interesting!
That is brave!
What an interesting idea!
You must be insane!
Hmmm, interesting…
I can use this against you.
Oh, now that is interesting.
That genuinely is interesting.
This is rather interesting.
It interests me a little.
This really is rather interesting.
It interests me moderately.
That might be interesting.
I am completely captivated by it.
This is quite interesting.
I want to consider it.
This is very interesting indeed.
This is irrelevant.  But I am now armed with knowledge to destroy you.
How very interesting!
I am bored.
That is so interesting!
I am really bored.
You might be interested in this.
Be captivated by it or pay the consequences.
I am not interested.
I don’t want you to know I am interested.
I really am not interested.
I don’t want you to know I am captivated.
How very interesting!
Thank you for this piece of gossip.
Super interesting!
I am American
Uber interesting!
I am young.
This is really quite interesting!
I am fascinated.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Living Former Party Leaders

The death of Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, got me thinking that they probably don't have many former leaders left - Charles Kennedy died a few years ago.  So I looked them up, and list them backwards by dates of leadership:

Tim Farron 2015-17
Nick Clegg 2007-15
Menzies Campbell 2006-7
David Steel 1988
Bob McLennan 1988

That gives five living leaders.  The last two were leaders of the Liberals, and SDP respectively who became joint leaders at the formation of the Liberal Democrats in 1988.

This got me wondering how many other leaders of the national parties are alive.  So I checked.  I have only included major national parties - so not the nationalists, or Irish parties, nor the Greens, who have separate parties in each of the home nations, and I include acting leaders (except where they currently lead the party, like Vince Cable).  Here we go:

Conservatives - five living leaders:

David Cameron 2005-16
Michael Howard 2003-5
Iain Duncan Smith 2001-3
William Hague 1997-2001
John Major 1990-1997

Labour - six living leaders:

Ed Milliband 2010-15
Harriett Harman 2010, 2015
Gordon Brown 2007-10
Tony Blair 1994-2007
Margaret Becket 1994
Neil Kinnock 1983-92

But the main booby prize for a national party with the most leaders is UKIP:

Henry Bolton 2017-18
Steve Crowther 2017
Paul Nuttall 2016-17
Nigel Farage 2006-9, 2010-16, 2016
Diane James 2016
Malcolm Pearson 2009-10
Roger Knapman 2002-6
Jeffery Titford 200-02
Michael Holmes 1997-2000
Craig McKinlay 1997 (interestingly, now a Tory MP for Thanet South, who defeated Nigel Farage in the 2015 General Election)
Alan Sked 1993-97 (who set up UKIP).

That is eleven living former leaders!  I suspect they will have another leader before the year is out, as they continue to battle and divide.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Sunday 1st December 1918

On this day a hundred years ago...

The Kingdom of Serbia, the Kingdom of Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, and Croatia-Serbia joined together, and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was proclaimed, under the leadership of the King of Serbia.

Iceland became independent from Denmark, remaining in personal union with the Kingdom of Denmark.

The Union of Alba Julia was established, as several provinces voted to join the Kingdom of Romania.

Pope Benedict XV issued an encyclical, Quod Iam Diu, urging all Catholics to make peace with one another.

The Kars Republic was established in Turkey.

The 2nd Pullitzer Prizes were awared.

The Hungarian poetess Kaffka died aged 38.

Saturday 30th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

It was enacted that Lithuania Major and Lithuania Minor be joined together in one nation.

King Wilhelm II abdicated the throne of Wurttemberg.  The Free State of Wurttemberg was established.

Friday 29th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

The Battle of Perm commenced in the Russian Civil War.

An Estonian state was established as a puppet state of Russia.

Thursday 28th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

Kaiser Wilhelm II formally abdicated as German Emperor and King of Prussia.

The Kingdom of Montenegro was absorbed into the Kingdom of Serbia.

Russia invaded Estonia.

The Duchy of Bukovina voted to dissolve, and join the Kingdom of Romania.

Margaret Cruickshank, the first woman to practise medicine in New Zealand, died aged 45.

Wednesday 27th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

The German Fleet arrived at Scapa Flow.

It was a quieter day.

Tuesday 26th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago...

Queen Takipo of Tonga died of the Spanish Flu.  8-10% of Tongans died in the epidemic.

King Nikola I of Montenegro was deposed.  The Kingdom of Montenegro declared a union with the King of Serbia.

Monday 25th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

The final hostilities of Germany ended, with a ceasefire in German East Africa and Rhodesia.

A new constitution was established in Uruguay.

The Crimea Frontier government was established in the Crimea.

Sunday 24th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

An assembly was established in the Kingdom of Montenegro, to investigate joining with the Kingdom of Serbia.

The Hungarian Communist Party was founded.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Saturday 23rd November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago...

In the German Revolution, Georg Viktor, Prince of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, abdicated, the last German monarch to do so.

The Free State of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt was established in Germany.

Violence against Jews in Lviv finally ended.  150 Jews had been murdered in two days of violence.

Fritz von Below, Commander of the German forces at the Battle of the Somme, died aged 65.

Friday 22nd November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

King Albert I of Belgium and the Royal Family returned to Brussels, following the German occupation.

The murder of Jews in Lviv continued, with the government delaying acting against it.

French forces occupied Alsace-Lorraine, recently a German territory.

The German National People's Party, the major conservative party of the Weimar Republic, was established.

Thursday 21st November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

Polish soldiers and vigilantes began to loot and murder Jews in Lviv, accusing them of bring on the side of the Germans in the war. (Anti-Semitism is nothing new :(  )

Royal Assent was given to the Act of the Qualification of Women, which allowed women to stand for the UK Parliament.

The Estonian Navy and Airforce were established.

Wednesday 20th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago...

Elections were held to the National Assembly that would unite the Kingdom of Romania with Transylvania.

German U-Boats began to gather in Harwich, under the terms of the surrender.

The steamer ship Per Brahe sank in Sweden, drowning 24 people.

Tuesday 19th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago...

Author Naomi Frankel was born.

Monday 18th November 1918

On this day 100 years ago....

Latvia declared independence from Russia.

Sunday 17th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

The Communist Party of Greece was established.

The first stop-motion film, The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, was released.

Saturday 16th November 1918

On this day 100 years ago....

The Democratic Republic of Hungary was established.

Carter Manny, who designed Chicago O'Hare Airport, and the J Edgar Hoover Building, was born.  He died in 2017.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Friday 15th November 1918

One hundred years ago today.....

The Brazilian President-elect, suffering from Spanish 'flu, resigned, and the Vice-President-elect, Delfim Moreira, took power.  President-elect Alvez died in January 1919.

Serbian forces invaded Timisoara, and dissolved the Banat Republic.

Adolf II, Prince of Schaumburg-Lippe, abdicated, and the Free State of Schaumburg-Lippe was established.

Thursday 14th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

Czechoslovakia gained full independence.

The Free State of Baden was established.

Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse was deposed, and the Free State of Hesse was established.

Grand Duke Friedrich Franz IV of Mecklenburg-Schwerin abdicated, and the Free State of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was established.

Duke Carl Eduard of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha relinquished his powers (although he did not abdicate) and the Free State of Gotha was established.

Emperor Karl relinquished power in Hungary.

The war ended in East Africa, as news of the Armistice reached German troops.

The Coalition Government of Great Britain was dissolved, with Labour members leaving the coalition.  Prime Minister Lloyd George called an election for December.

Wednesday 13th November 1918

One hundred years ago today....

Grand Duke Friedrich II of Baden abdicated.

King Friedrich August III of Saxony abdicated his throne.

Allied forces reached and occupied Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire.

Germany forces invaded British Zambia, unaware that the war had ended.

Tuesday 12th November 1918

One hundred years ago today......

The Austrian Empire dissolved, and the Republic of Austria was established. 

King Ludwig III of Bavaria formerly abdicated, and the Free State of Bavaria was established.

Duke Bernhard III of Saxe-Meiningen was deposed, and the Free State of Saxe-Meiningen was established.

Duke Joachim Ernst of Anhalt abdicated, and the Free State of Anhalt was established.

Ukraine retreated from the Battle of Przemysl, giving victory to Poland.

Revolutionary unrest continued in the Netherlands, and the Dutch Prime Minister increased bread rations.

Monday 11th November 1918

One hundred years ago today....

5.20am - Germany signed an Armistice with the Allies in a train carriage in France, effective at 11am.

10.59am - an American soldier was killed in battle in France.  He was the last soldier to die in World War One.

11am - at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the Armistice came into affect.  Guns silenced, ending World War One, which cost 40,000,000 lives.

Poland regained independence for the first time since 1795.

Karl I, Emperor of Austria-Hungary declared he would give up absolute power in Austria, but did not abdicate.

The Red Week revolutionary activity continued in the Netherlands.  The Orange Movement was establised by left-wing and centre moderates in support of the Royal Family, and to oppose the socialist revolutionaries.

A General Election was held in Norway, with the Liberal Party winning.

Sunday 10th November 1918

A hundred years ago today...

The Council of the People's Deputies was established as the government of Germany, and declared its aims to effect an armistice with the Allies, and to prepare for democratic elections.

Kaiser Wilhelm II fled to the neutral Netherlands.  He lived there in exile until 1941.

The Allies invaded Bulgaria, to recover land taken earlier in the war.  Romania re-entered the war and joined the invasion.

The Republic of Ostrow was established in Poland.

HMS Ascot was sunk by a German submarine, with the loss of 51 lives.

Saturday 9th November 1918

On this day one hundred years ago:

The German Empire collapsed in the wake of the German Revolution.  The German Republic was proclaimed by Scheidemann, leader of the Social Democratic Party.

Kaiser Wilhelm II handed over command of the German army, and relinquished power, and also stepped down as King of Prussia, without formally abdicating.  Hindenburg, later President of the Weimar Republic, took command of the army.

The Free State of Prussia was established, following the end of Wilhelm's rule.

Max of Baden stepped down as Chancellor of Germany, and was replaced by Friedrich Ebert.

Violent clashes took place in Split, Croatia, between Croatians and Italians, who wished to annex the port.

Revolutionary unrest broke out in the neutral Netherlands.  The Dutch government immediately sent an armed guard to protect Queen Wilhelmina, and to protect major cities.

In the last naval battle of World War One, HMS Britannia was sunk by a German submarine near Cape Trafalgar.  50 crew were lost.

Spiro Agnew, Vice-President for Richard Nixon, was born.  He was the most recent Vice-President to resign.  He died in 1995.

Friday 8th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

The German Revolution continued as parts of the German Empire began to split up into separate free states.  Kaiser Wilhelm II refused to abdicate, despite the advice of his generals and ministers.

The People's State of Bavaria was established in Germany.

Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick (former Duke of Cumberland) abdicated, and the Free State of Brunswick was established.

Polish political prisoners were released by the German Empire.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Thursday 7th November 1918

On this day a hundred years ago....

The Anglo-French Declaration was signed, with Britain and France agreeing to liberate all the nations of the Ottoman Empire.  This Declaration has had a profound affect on the Middle East to this day, and is at the root of much of the current wars and rivalries.

The German Revolution began to spread through the empire, advancing to Brunswick, Hanover, Frankfurt, and Munich.  King Ludwig III of Bavaria (husband of the Jacobite Queen of England and Scotland), abdicated and fled to Salzburg with his family.

The noted evangelist Billy Graham was born on this day.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Wednesday 6th November 1918

A hundred years ago today....

In the German Revolution, the leader of the German Parliament called upon the Kaiser to abdicate, so a different ruler could be selected.

The People's Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland was established in Lublin, appointing Ignacy Daszynski as Prime Minister.

The Polish Republic of Tarnobrzeg was established following an uprising in Galicia.

French and American forces captured Sedan, pushing the Germans back further.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Tuesday 5th November 1918

A hundred years ago today....

The first Polish Soviet met, to discuss the Republics that should be set up in Poland after the war.  This was a time of great stability for Poland, which had been divided between Austria, Russia, and Prussia since 1795.  As it emerged, competing regions called for small independent states to be established.

State elections were held in the USA, with gains for Republicans, although the Democrats unexpected won South Carolina.

HMS Campania sank in a storm in the Firth of Forth.  The ship had lost its moorings in a sudden storm and hit several other ships, puncturing her hull, and sinking slowly.  There was no loss of life.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Monday 4th November 1918

Allied forces advanced into Austria, occupying Tirol under the terms of the Austrian armistice.

Austrian forces withdrew from Montenegro, ending four years of occupation.

The Komancza Republic was established in the Ukraine.

In the German Revolution, 40,000 revolutionaries now occupied Kiel, repelling forces sent to dispel them.

The poet Wilfred Owen was killed in action in the Battle of Sambre.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Sunday 3rd November 1918

A hundred years ago today...

Austria-Hungary signed an armistice with Italy, ending hostilities with immediate effect.  The Battle of Vittorio Veneto ended: 67,000 soldiers died in this battle, and 300,000 Austrians had been taken prisoner.

The German Revolution began with the Mutiny of Kiel: hundreds of sailors mutinied and thousands of supporters came to the harbour to demonstrate.  The authorities fired and killed seven, injuring more.

Ukraine began to prevail against Poland in the Battle of Przemysl.

A provisional government was set up in Russia in opposition to the Bolshevik government.

The German Navy successfully sank several allied detroyers of the Belgian coast.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Saturday 2nd November 1918

A hundred years ago today, the Allies took control of Bosnia from Austria as the ceasefire took effect.

British and Canadian forces captured Valenciennes from the Germans.  This was one of the last major battles of the First World War.

In the Polish-Ukrainian War, the Battle of Przemysl started.

The Norwegian Mathematical Society was founded.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Friday 1st November 1918

On this day 100 years ago, war broke out between Poland the Ukraine, with ethnic Poles in the new West Ukrainian Republic uprising against the new state.

Serbian forces recaptured Belgrade, capital of Serbia, from Austrian forces.

The Banat Republic was declared in Timisoara, an ethnically Roumanian part of Austria-Hungary.

Continued unrest in the naval ports was preventing the German Navy from offensive manouvres against the British Navy.

The world's worst rapid transit accident occured in New York.  A Brighton Beach line train took a curve too fast and derailed, killing 93 and injuring 100.

The Scout and Guiding movement was founded in Poland.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Thursday 31st October 1918

On this date 100 years ago....

A coup in Budapest, Hungary, forced the Hungarian Prime Minister Wekerle to resign.  A former prime minister was assassinated in the unrest.  Emperor Karl I of Austria-Hungary appointed Mihaly Karolyi as Prime Minister.  Karolyi immediately dissolved the Kingdom of Hungary, and declared the new Hungarian Republic.  This ended the union with Austria which had been in place since 1527.

Allied forces continued to fight in Italy and France, making substantial gains against the Germans who were now in retreat.

Serbia, Albania, and Montenegro were liberated further by Serbian, French, and British troops.

The Armistice between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire was applied fully, with the battle forces at Homs, in Syria (scene of many battles in the current war there), laying down their arms.

The artist, Egon Schiele, died of Spanish Influenza, ages 28.  In his short life, he produced many influential and provocative works.  His pregnant wife had died of the 'flu a few weeks before.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Wednesday 30th October 1918

On my recent visit to Vienna, I came across events detailing the daily events of October and November 1918 - significant days as the Austrian-Hungarian Empire crumbled, and a whole bunch of nations came into being, including, of course, the Republic of Austria.  I thought I might countdown these important days at the end of 1918, a year from a decade when half of humanity overthrew their governments.

On 30th October, the Ottoman Empire and the Allied forces ended hostilities with the Armistice of Mudril.  This important treaty signified a great decline in the fortunes of the Ottoman Empire, which, a century before, had held huge swathes of Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.  The Armistice aso granted independence to Yemen.  Hostilities between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies were mainly concentrated near Mosul in Iraq, where the forces of the British Empire were victorious.

There was a widespread mutiny in the German Navy, which caused such internal turmoil that a planned attack on British naval forces was called off.

The Martin Declaration joined the region of Slovakia to the Czech Republic, which had broken off from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire a few days before.  This declaration set the scene for the establishment of Czechoslovakia.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The acceptable type of racism

“I am not against black people at all, but I do want retain my right to freely criticise all African states and their practices.”

“I am not against black people but I question the right of African nations to exist.”

“Well, we cannot believe anything the main stream media says at is completely controlled by the blacks.”

“I know there are a few racists on the left, but what about the Islamophobes in the Tory party?”

“Black people, with their desire to maintain their black identity, are not really British.”

“No, it is not a racist picture.  It is a satirical comment on the powers that control society, and just shows black gangs as an artistic medium.”

“I am not a racist but it is sometimes important to share a platform with racists, in order to move the discussion on.”

“I am going to boycott all black countries because they defy United Nation guidelines.  I am ok with Russia, the USA, the UK, China, and most Arab countries doing this though.  I don’t think boycotting will make a difference with them.”

“Have you ever noticed that Africans have no sense of humour or irony?”

I hope you are rather outraged by these statements.  They are outrageous.  But take out “black”, “African” and “racist”, and substitute “Jew” “Israeli” and “anti-Semite” and suddenly it seems to be acceptable to most people.  I think this is a problem.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Boris Johnson - carefully chosen offence

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the difficulties of whether or not to ban the burqa, and the conflicts such bans cause.  This week, following a court case in Denmark, Boris Johnson, former Foreign Secretary, wrote an article for the Telegraph in which he said women in burqas looked like "letter-boxes" or "bank-robbers" while still arguing against a ban. 

Naturally, these words have caused offence, and, indeed they are offensive.  But Johnson has been clever here.  They are in an article which attacks the ban, so he cannot be accused of outright hostility to Muslims.  They are offensive, but worded in such a way that, when criticised, he can play the "I meant it light-heartedly, and should not be shut down when I have said what most people agree with" card.  Johnson is a talented write and chose his words carefully.

Everything about Johnson is his career.  When Mayor of London, he acted as a nicer kind of Tory, being soft on social issues, pro-multiculturalism and friendly to Europe.  When a career enhancing chance came up with the EU Referendum, he abandoned this, and started sounding much more right wing, and headed up the Brexit camp.  Now he moves further to the right and portrays himself as the buffoonish champion of the ordinary man, a victim of metropolitan outrage.  He is the man standing by to rush in and rescue the country from a poorly executed Brexit, and ready to make Britain again.

These are clever tactics, and have a Bannonesque whiff about them.  If he is expelled from the Tory party, he will be a martyr, and might head off to set up a new populist party on the right, or revitalise UKIP.  Either way, his remarks were not ill-chosen words, but carefully judged.  Whatever happens in the next few days, this man will play a large part in UK politics for some time to come - and whether the nation profits from that or not, he certainly will.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Five Handshakes Away from Beethoven

A colleague at work retired recently, so yesterday we had the usual lunch out to bid him farewell.  As he left, he shook my hand (I then horrified him by hugging him, even though we are both English) and informed me I was five handshakes away from Beethoven.

My colleague was good friends with Felix Aprahamian (1914-2005) a music critic who lived up the road from him.  He often used to take Felix to concerts.

Felix Aprahamian travelled to Paris as a young man, and met Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937), the well-known organist and composer (his Toccata is very well-known and is often played at weddings).

Widor knew Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), the famous composer, and Rossini met Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) in 1822.

So, next time you see me, shake hands, and you will be six handshakes from Beethoven.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The best five (or 6) Eurovision songs

Here are my top five Eurovision songs:

5.  J'aime la vie - the 13 year old Sandra Kim sang this song for Belgium in 1983 and it won.  

4.  Making your mind up - Bucks Fizz sang this winner for the UK in 1981.  

3.  Rise like a Phoenix - Conchita Wurst with the winner for Austria in 2014.  This bearded lady sings a song that should be the theme for a James Bond film.  

2.  Amor Pelos Dios - Salvador Sobral wins for Portugal in 2017.  A Fado song, very different from the usual Eurovision fare.  

1.  Waterloo - Abba win for Sweden in 1974.  Probably the most famous winner, and the winners to have gone on to the greatest fame.  

Special mention must be made of Love, Love, Peace, Peace, a song that sums perfectly the Eurovision spirit:  

Monday, 2 April 2018

Dear Herod - Thursday 29th March

Dear Herod,

What a tiresome day!  I spent the day on high tension about the benchmarking report due at work.  I always feel the burden of such things very keenly.  I think the courses at work are largely taught well, with good teachers, are well planned, and that students get a good deal.  But the deal with these inspections is always in the admin.  Again, I think the administration at work is run fairly well, but that is not what inspectors are looking at.  What they want to see is that you can produce documents to show you understand what they are looking for.  And if I can't, I am at fault, and my careless interpretation of inspectionese could endanger my workplace.

The promised report was due today.  I sent an email checking all was in progress, and was promised it by the close of play (a hated term).  I was planning to finish at 3am, as I had worked quite early during the week, and was quite a bit over my hours.  It would be nice to go home early before the long break, and rest before setting off to a Maundy Thursday Supper.

It was not to be.  The report came at 17.45pm.  I was tired and hungry, and needed to click through the document (51 pages) before sending it on.  I arrived home feeling tired and frustrated.  Plus I had to cook an unexpected meal, being too late to go to the planned supper.  A little Bach soothed me, but the trials of the day, with having to deal with the social media battle for the left, the reports on the Brexit Calamity due one year on today, and I felt quite off-sorts.  Not a good start to a difficult weekend.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Book Review 2062 - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

2013 English
Purchased: Kindle 2017
Read: 14th February to 1st March 2018

I loved this book, as I have loved Tartt's other novels.  Like them, it was long (I think the print edition has nearly 800 pages).  It took me a long time to read as I have not read so much in the last weeks.

The Goldfinch is a picture by an old Dutch Master, on display in a New York gallery.  Theo Decker visits the gallery with his mother, and a bomb goes off.  For some reason he decided to save the picture, keeping it in his rucksack, and then not knowing what to do with it.  He lives with a family that take him in until his indifferent father turns up and takes him off to a housing development on the edge of Las Vegas, where he befriends Boris.  Later, he moves back to New York, living with a friendly auction dealer.

There is enormous human detail here.  Tartt meticulously researches for writing, yet does not parade her knowledge.  There is time to get into the characters which makes them more human.  Theo is drawn with a sympathetic pen, and I found he thinks like I do in many situations.  The plot unhatches slowly and does not dominate the book.  It would make a splendid serial for Netflix, with a slow burn style.

I won't reveal the ending - it was mainly satisfactory.  I cared very much about Theo and what happened to him.  Boris is an unsympathetic but likeable hero.  Hobie is a wonderfully English character from an earlier period.  It is worth reading this - it is a long read, but not a difficult one.

Dear Herod - Wednesday 28th March

Dear Herod,

I finished off an important article today which is good.  I can now concentrate on some other things, and getting some genealogy stuff done.  I spoke to Mother who is improving greatly, which I am relieved about.  She even claimed she is eating more, although I will believe that when I see it.  I reminded her that I had cooked several meals for the freezer, and she declared her intention to take a macaroni cheese out for dinner.

I finally wrote my book review for the Goldfinch.  I am nearly ready to write another review.  I am reading too purposefully lately, and need to read more fiction.  I am very much enjoying Pope Hadrian VII, and then next up is Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which I dread.  I must try to get through it, but feel not in the least disposed to read it, especially after a recent dramatisation on Radio 4.  I will read a quarter of it, and then assess if I should carry on.

The guy from Flat 4 is enraged because a local transmitter is down meaning there is no BBC4.  He asked me if I had had any problems, and was incredulous when I confessed I only watch TV via the fire stick, so had not noticed it.  He would have been even more incredulous if I had told him that I don't think I have seen anything at all from BBC4 this year.  That said, I have been devouring Civilisations but that is a BBC2 programme.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Dear Herod - Tuesday 27th March

Dear Herod,

A peculiar coincidence happened on the way home today. I had visited Tesco for the purpose of garnering victuals, and, having crossed the main road, was proceeding homewards, when I thought I heard my name being called out. Immediately embarrassed, I put my head down to continue, and listen out for another call, which I would respond to. After all, I might have misheard, it might have been for another Nigel, it would be embarrassing to turn around and have everyone look at me and know my name.

But no, the call came again, and it was someone on the other side of the road. I peered across, and recognised Tenor Rep from the Chorus I used to sign with. I signalled to her that I would cross the road to speak to her, and hurried to the crossing just ahead. It turns out she moved in just around the corner (quite literally) in October. The marvvel is that we have not bumped into one another before. It was nice to see her; she is a friendly character. She has not sung with the Chorus for a few months, as she had fallen over and hurt her leg (and, indeed was still using a stick). I do miss singing with them - they have rebranded and seem to be back on track, but the fees are very expensive now (£324 a year) and I was put off by the prospect of doing drama which happened last time I was there. I do miss singing very much, and it was a friendly bunch. I might give it some thought, and give some thought to finding a classical choir to sing with, as it has been a while since I sang some classical items, and I miss it much. We don't get to sing that often at church any more, as we are too few.

I started watching a Netflix series called Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl), a Turkish series about Suleyman the Magnificent. My knowledge of Turkish history is limited to its interactions with European History, notably Mehmet II and the capture of Constantinople, and the decline of the nineteenth century. It is good to learn something more, and it is a gripping drama, and, being produced in Turkey which is a little more conservative, it is not a flesh-fest, focussing on the drama, rather than perked up sex scene, or gore.  I need to find a good book about the Ottoman Empire.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Dear Herod - Monday 26th March

Dear Herod,

Monday was the first day of the vacation at work, but there is a three day conference for an outside group.  This meant there were a lot of people milling around, and this would normally vex me as I like the quietness of the vacation after a busy term, and I am always busy at the end of term.  However, the visitors were a particularly agreeable bunch, and were little trouble.  It made the day go quickly too.

After work, I headed off to church, to meet Church Manager and talk about the storage of music.  There is a LOT of music in a lot of different places.  But I love to organise (despite my own lack of organisation) and a bit of consultation and moving things around, and things are definitely on the go.  As an award for coming in and doing it, I was treated to a pint at the pub opposite.  Two pub trips in one week, shocking! - still it is Holy Week.after all, and I am a non-conformist.  It was a most agreeable time - the first time we had really spoken and it was good to connect and muse on things over beer.  Perhaps I need to make sure more pub trips happen.

I was rather pensive in the evening.  After the conversation with Sister 3 last night, I was thinking about all my books at mum's.  They are going to have to go - I had hoped I would be able to bring them down to London, but I will never be able to live somewhere with a room for books.  I will have to sort them out - I am thinking of taking one box to fill with special treasures, but it is going to be really hard.  My beloved Penguin Classics, all my uni books, childhood books.  It will help me not to be attached to possessions I guess, so I shall try to be all noble and sacrificial about it.  I think I find harder the fact that I just afford to get by.  I shall never live in a house, or even a one bed flat.  I am content with what I have, but it is a pity there is no room for books.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Dear Herod - Sunday 25th March

Dear Herod,

I had a bad night last night.  I always do when I drink beer, and I always forget this.  If I drink wine, I sleep well, but beer might as well be packed with caffeine.  I therefore felt tired and rather sombre this morning.  It is Palm Sunday, so joy would be required at church, together with joyful songs.  I was not in the mood, so stayed in and read a sermon and thought a lot.  Being sombre is good for me, as I always feel like writing, so I sat down in the afternoon and got on with some more writing.  The research I banked up has proved useful, so I got quite a lot done, and have nearly reached my April deadline.  I shall then be able to spend all the lovely spring days at my leisure, and go for lots of walks, and get lots of vitamin D and lose weight.

I read a very interesting paper this afternoon on the Thirty Years War.  I need to get to grips with this period a bit more, and I now have some useful pointers.  It took the approach that religious fervour was the cloak for good old-fashioned land greed and jostling for influence.  I need to think about that a bit more, but I like the conclusion.

I cooked orzo tonight and made salad.  It was very good.  I was supposed to cook enough to take some to work for lunch tomorrow, but forgot, and then was hungry anyway.  This is tiresome.  I need to be more organised on the domestic front, and need to purge my place a bit.  I have not used the Instant Pot in ages, and wonder if I should pass it on.  Sigh.

Distressed email received today.  Not in the mood to reply.  Perhaps on Tuesday evening.