As a youngster I read a number of stories which impressed me, stories I’ve always
remembered. One was about a futuristic prison set in a vast,
uninhabited plain. The was no cover on the plain, no hiding place for prisoners should any be
enterprising and lucky enough to escape its massive walls.
Not only was the prison itself secure, but above the plain
robot aircraft patrolled day and night, designed to detect and fire on the slightest
movement. The story concerned an escapee who made it to the plain but I can’t
remember how he avoided those robot aircraft.
What I do remember is how fascinated I was about the notion
of an escape-proof prison, because in my young mind that’s what it was in spite
of the hero presumably escaping. A comparison with modern life is obvious. Even in my
childhood the prison on the plain was not particularly fanciful. Suppose we
stick with the word fanciful.
Imagine a future where there is no cash, nowhere to buy
anything outside monitored electronic transactions. Everyone is known to the
system, anyone can be monitored in any number of ways. Anyone can be
financially deactivated within minutes and located within hours should they
violate any one of an uncountable number of laws and regulations.
This is a piece of eighteenth century porcelain. Made in
Lowestoft round about 1770, the cobalt design has clearly run into the lead glaze but with
Lowestoft that is not particularly unusual. Firing these things was an art and some firings turned out better than others but everything had to be sold if at all
possible. I have included a 50 pence piece to show how small it is. The
capacity is about 50ml.
What is it though? Sometimes such pieces are described as cream
boats, sometimes as butter boats. Georgians were fond of cream and melted butter so perhaps they were used for both or maybe something else entirely.
If they were used for melted butter then the question of
cleaning them afterwards may be worth a thought, especially if we bear in mind
the greasy nature of butter, the lack of modern detergents plus the high cost of porcelain even with that runny design. It was expensive and could not be treated roughly.
In which case a servant would never give a porcelain butter
boat to the kitchen cat to lick off the greasy remains of
congealed butter. That idea would probably work as a cleaning technique but the risk of breakage is probably too high.
How about this possibility? After the nobs have finished
their meal, a servant wipes the butter boat clean with a piece of bread,
eats the bread then finishes off by licking the butter boat clean. A quick wipe
with a kitchen rag and back on the shelf it goes – job done.
A widely reported shoe story is bound to catch the cynical eye.
Clarks has been accused of "everyday sexism" for a calling a girls' school shoe "Dolly Babe", while the boys' equivalent is called "Leader".
The girls' shoes carry a heart-patterned insole, while the boys' insoles are decorated with footballs.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, said the situation was unacceptable and "almost beyond belief" in 2017.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP for North East Somerset, also criticised Clarks. "To call a pair of shoes for a girl Dolly Babe is dreadful. It's wrong in all sorts of ways ... this is just really silly," he told the BBC.
Carolyn Harris, shadow minister for women and equalities, described the situation as "blatant discrimination", while Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat peer and shadow Brexit minister, called the name choices "depressing
So much madness. A blogger could easily post on nothing else
- there is so much of it out there. One might respond more rationally in any number
of ways. The obvious one is to suggest that if boys, girls or parents don’t
want politically incorrect shoes then they can take their custom elsewhere. Clarks sales figures may then lead it to correct the situation because that’s what
This of course is part of the problem, the chattering classes
do not approve of markets, they think they should be policed by people who
think as they do. Of course markets are already policed with respect to
standards, but as ever there are those who think they should be policed
politically too. Hence our increasingly shambolic energy market.
What about the madness itself, the source of so many crazy stories?
It is not the madness of insanity, but the madness of a civilisation that
chooses not to recognise certain realities it cannot change but for political
reasons must pretend to be changing. That is one for the future, one of the chapters
in our ultimate collapse or a problem we learn to deal with in the wider story
of our ultimate survival.
For the present we have a minor skirmish in the war
against diversity which pretends to be promoting diversity. It also seems to my cynical
eye that this battle over kids’ shoes is a reminder of where those stereotyped
shoes came from, a reminder that gender stereotypes are popular, particularly
with the young. They evolved because they work. Yet we are supposed to believe or at least accept relentless public harangues telling us that gender stereotyping is repressive, out
of date, harmful, immoral, itchy or whatever epithet is fashionable, even
though almost everyone knows it is not so.
Gender stereotyping is clearly popular out there in the real
world. It can be observed over and over again, especially among the young. I
recently saw a group of about a dozen young girls and every one of them had
fashionably long hair, at least shoulder-length. That was only one of their ways to stereotype themselves.
To my low mind, one should not avoid the basics. Females tend
to seek alpha males and in doing that they do not usually depend on gender-neutral footwear. This is the way of the world, one of the biological basics we should not
avoid. I don’t know what drives the faux outrage apart from the obvious
Pavlovian explanation, but if we neglect the basics we neglect what we know.
We were walking on Ecton Hill today. A pleasant walk,
part of which took us along a narrow country road which led to a few
farmhouses before petering out into a track winding along a valley. This part of
the walk was very quiet. We were well away from the Manifold Trail, there were no
busy roads nearby, hardly any people and nothing to disturb the sheep from their
It was so quiet that we both noticed how silent it was. Hardly a sound apart from our own footsteps. It
didn’t last but most of us have probably become so accustomed to noise that the lack of it is
noticed, especially in broad daylight.
The picture shows an old millpond with a small derelict stone building
in one corner. Not even a duck ripples the water.
Currently the first four Amazon Prime Trending Movies are
The Mask - a 1994 American superhero fantasy comedy film directed by Charles Russell, produced by Bob Engelman, and written by Mike Werb, loosely based on the comic series of the same name distributed by Dark Horse Comics.
Constantine- a 2005 American occult detective film directed by Francis Lawrence (in his directorial debut) and starring Keanu Reeves as John Constantine. Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and Djimon Hounsou co-star. With a screenplay by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, the film is based on DC Comics' Hellblazer comic book,
Practical Magic - Maria Owens, a young witch, is exiled to Maria's Island in Massachusetts with her unborn child for escaping her execution. When her lover does not come to rescue her, she desperately casts a spell upon herself to stop falling in love due to heartbreak, only to die soon after.
Annabelle - a 2014 American supernatural horror film directed by John R. Leonetti, written by Gary Dauberman and produced by Peter Safran and James Wan.
To summarise - we have a fantasy based on comics, an occult tale also based on a comic, a dose of witchcraft and a tale of the supernatural. Movies are merely entertainment of course. However popular they may be, does their popularity cast doubt on the rational nature of our culture?
"Comrade Lenin Cleanses the Earth of Filth" by Viktor Deni. November 1930 source
Written by Douglas Smith, Former People: The Destruction of the Russian Aristocracy is not a cheery read. It is a very well written and
horribly compelling history of the Bolshevik Revolution. “Former people” is a term applied to the tsarist ruling
class, the class enemies of the revolution. Their story is told primarily through
the grim fate of two noble families, the Sheremetovs and the Golitsyns. As
Smith says -
History, we are told,
is written by the victors. What is less often stated, though no less important,
is that history is usually written about the victors; winners get more
attention in the history books than losers.
The Sheremetovs and the Golitsyns certainly lost, although
many nobles saw, however dimly, the inevitability of a Russian catastrophe. They
knew Tsar Nicholas II was hopeless and they also knew things had to change
and would change sooner or later. What they did not foresee was how ruthless,
how astonishingly rapid and catastrophically devastating that change would
As the historian Evan
Mawdsley commented, “The Civil War unleashed by Lenin’s revolution was the
greatest national catastrophe Europe had yet seen.” Russia descended into
savage anarchy beyond imagination. “War and strife, famine and pestilence—the
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” Mawdsley wrote, “devastated the largest
country in Europe.”
However, there are also a few touches of grim irony to remind
us that human nature is not changed by even the most severe political turmoil.
The famine gripping
Russia in those years spared no one, except for the new elite; the Sheremetevs’
remaining chef left them around this time to cook for Lenin and his comrades in
Inevitably the hypocrisy took many forms.
Bunin reveled in
pointing out the hypocrisy of Red leaders who preached “war on the palaces” and
then moved into them as soon as the owners had been evicted. He was revolted by
this “new aristocracy”: “Sailors with huge revolvers on their belts,
pickpockets, criminal villains, and shaved dandies in service jackets,
depraved-looking riding britches, and dandy-like shoes with the inevitable
spurs. All have gold teeth and big, dark, cocaine-like eyes.”
With equal inevitability, some journalists had allegiances
they were happy enough to share with their readers.
The British reporter
Walter Duranty arrived in Moscow in 1921. Among his earliest impressions of the
Soviet capital was the dreadful condition of the old aristocracy.
To another Western
reporter, Edwin Hullinger, the same scene testified to the revolution’s great
achievement. Having stripped away the institutional foundations upon which
class and caste had been built, the revolution had exposed people’s true
As proof, Hullinger
quoted the words of a former countess. “Yes, many of us can see that the
Revolution was for the best,” she told him. “It made us into living, real
people. Many were only existing before. We have gained confidence in ourselves
because we know we can do things. I like it better. I would not go back to the
old. And there are many young people of our class who think as I do. But we
paid a terrible price. I presume it was necessary, however.”
As a single example of that terrible price, here is the
story of one life briefly told.
Consider the case of
Professor Nikolai Nekrasov, the last governor-general of Finland before the
revolution and a former minister in the Provisional Government. An excellent
engineer, he had been arrested several times, most recently in 1930, when he
was sentenced to ten years. He was brought to Dmitlag as an inmate specialist,
yet was given his own newly constructed house in the “the free sector” along
with a car and driver. He was released in 1935 but chose to stay on and worked
at Dmitlag until the project was finished. In 1940, he was arrested for a final
time and then shot.
The Former People story is well told and well worth reading,
but to my mind the most lasting lesson of Smith’s book is a forceful reminder of
something we already know. Former People sets before us an important political
lesson to be drawn from the Bolshevik Revolution – the eternal role of political
Political parties, factions and movements all need enemies.
Even the effete parties of our floundering democracies need them. There is an absolute
political necessity to have or to invent the Outsider, the one who is
responsible for present woes, the one who must be destroyed in order to set
things right, who must be hated in order to relieve the faithful from any possibility of doubt.
Stalin announced in 1935, “has become better, life has become more cheerful.”
His words became the defining slogan for the mid-1930s, the brief three years
from 1934 to 1937 between the end of the First Five-Year Plan and the Great
The same year Stalin
made his famous remark, the newspaper Komsomolskaia Pravda ran a series of
articles on “Teaching Hatred” by such luminaries as Maxim Gorky and Ilya
Ehrenburg. Hatred, it turns out, was not to be condemned but instilled,
encouraged, and celebrated, for persons “who cannot hate with passion are
unlikely to be able to love with passion.”
One is left with the impression that even our politically
correct laws against hate speech may not be what they seem. By inventing haters
we have surely invented yet another enemy. The person or social group accused
of hating may in turn be hated with impunity. People who used to speak their
mind on subjects now closed for debate perhaps. Former People we might almost say.
August is a rum month. On the one hand it is
still the height of summer but on the other it isn’t as the days become noticeably
shorter and even the trees seem ready to shed their leaves. That delicious
green of spring is long gone, leaves are darker, almost dusty in appearance.
It’s not that I dislike August. A bit more summer is always
welcome, but September seems more honest somehow, more inclined to be what it
is supposed to be. August isn’t like that. So far, here in Derbyshire August is a bit crap. It has
sneaked in too much cloud and rain for a start. Give me honest September any
While we are on the subject of weather, I'm sure the Met Office forecasts are less reliable than they were a few years ago. Maybe it's their ridiculously expensive new computer - perhaps nobody really knows how to work it. Or maybe it relies on wind power.
It was the usual
round-up of rootless intellectuals, and the talk was the kind of thing you
expect—terribly knowing and disillusioned and conscientiously indecent. I
remember my grandfather had a phrase for the smattering of cocksure knowledge
which was common in his day—the “culture of the Mechanics’ Institute.” I don’t
know what the modern equivalent would be—perhaps the “culture of the B.B.C.”
John Buchan - The Island of Sheep (1936)
The quote surprised me when I originally came across it. Surely
in Buchan's day the BBC was stuffy, high-minded and acutely conscious of its social
A casual observation by a character in a work
of fiction does not overthrow that perception, but it certainly chimes with Buchan's general outlook. He disliked the kind of trite intellectual dominant in our public arena today and especially within the BBC. He would have raised an eyebrow at BBC salaries too.
At the time of publication, John Buchan as 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, was Governor General of Canada so he probably looked down on the BBC as a callow upstart in the world of social and political ideas. Perhaps he thought the corporation might mature into something weightier if only the right chaps were involved, a perspective likely to be common enough within his exalted class.
Eighty years later the BBC seems to be much the same apart from the technology and the accents. Its culture survived
and flourished while Buchan’s did not.
We’re all getting old,
of course, but you’re not acquiring the virtues of age. There’s still an
ineradicable daftness about you.
John Buchan - The Island of Sheep (1936)
There is problem with being almost the same age as Jeremy
Corbyn. In my younger days I knew people just like him, faux political radicals
who were never going anywhere but a safe and comfortable niche in the public
Even then it was obvious where they would end up. Even then
it was clear that their talk was merely talk, a kind of futile strutting with
no more substance than a mission statement.
That is the problem with being almost the same age as Corbyn. I find it almost impossible to take the chap seriously - it's the ineradicable daftness of the man. He should have grown out of it long ago.
Saw a number of derelict Little Chefs during the journey to and from our Suffolk holiday destination. Hardly surprising - the last one we visited was so grim that Mrs H left her most negative TripAdvisor comment ever.
For a while they were sometimes convenient coffee stops but those days are long gone. Slow service and a dated Formica ambience are not the way to compete with the likes of Starbucks and Costa. According to Wikipedia
On 1 February 2017 the Little Chef chain was purchased by Euro Garages Ltd. where the chain's future became unclear.
In February 2017 Euro Garages began a programme to close down all Little Chefs, replacing them with other brands available to them such as Starbucks. This is scheduled to be complete before the end of the year.
Stopping off for a coffee on long road journeys is not usually an enriching experience, but the demise of Little Chef could be a welcome improvement.