Issue 101: 2017 04 20: Images from the past (Chin Chin)

20 April 2017

Images From The Past

And feet.

By Chin Chin

Some take photographs of architectural monuments.  Some prefer to focus more on human interest with shots of their friends and families.  Some use Photoshop to produce modernistic images.  I take photographs of feet.

Framed shot of well clad feet next to blurred photos in frames

Aww… more for the gallery

No, no, that isn’t what I mean.  Those of you who picture a sinister hooded figure creeping along the beach taking photographs of the bare feet of lovely woman to satisfy his weird cravings have got it all wrong.  The feet which I photograph are my own and they are always respectably clad in shoes and socks.  Why do it then?  Is this the latest Islington fad?  A pair of shoes standing as a symbol for something so odd that it cannot bear representation in tangible form.  A Foot political dynasty, perhaps?  No, it is nothing like that.  It is simply that I haven’t quite got the hang of taking pictures with my phone and frequently activate the shutter when I merely wish to admire the contents of the gallery.  How do you look at your previous pictures?  You hold the phone flat.  What happens if you then press the wrong button?  You get a picture of your feet, or possibly, if you happen to be sitting down, of your trousers.

It can be a little irritating to take a picture of your shoes, particularly if you accidentally used the video application and never even moved them.  After all, it isn’t as though you didn’t already have lots of other photographs, all much the same.  Even if you only print off and frame say 1% of your photographic output there are probably a dozen or so pictures of your feet already on your wall.  Still, one shouldn’t get too irritated about it.  It is one of the few errors one can make in the heavily automated science of photography and it is a reminder of happier days.

The first camera I ever had was a small plastic box-like device with no complicated buttons.  It had certainly had a previous owner and I think they must have dropped it.  The design worked on the slightly surprising principle that everything on which you wished to focus would be the same distance away so that there was no need to make any adjustments.  I don’t know what that distance was originally, but the dropping seemed to have moved the lens so that all images were equally indistinct.  However careful the shot, however much you told the chemist to take care in developing the masterwork, the picture was always basically the same: a number of indistinctly fuzzy figures in what appeared to be a thick fog.  You could never quite work out who the people were and, all in all, that was something of an advantage.

“Did you get my photograph?” a friend would ask as he came back from scoring the winning goal.

“Oh, yes,” you would reply, “I’ll get it developed this afternoon.”  A couple of days later you would proudly produce your standard picture of blurred figures in a fog and say: “This is the one.  I’m afraid it is a bit fuzzy but then the camera isn’t really designed for action shots.”  Then your aunt asks if you remembered to take a photograph at the family reunion.  No need to turn red and admit that you forgot.  A copy of the same old photographs will do just fine, especially if she is sensitive about needing glasses.  “It’s just like you, Auntie, don’t you think?”  Need proof that you went on that field trip?  Well it is surprising how like a person a tree can look when seen through a mist.  Had I taken a picture of my foot with that camera, I would not have had to go into explanations about not being a foot fetishist.  I would simply have said “Can’t you see that it’s a man approaching on a misty day?”.

There came a point, of course, where I became dissatisfied with my broken box camera and went on to something more elaborate.  That was a special camera for taking semicircular views.  You pressed a button on top and the lens swivelled round.  Probably it had been originally used for the taking of school photographs.  You remember: the sort where if you ran fast enough round the back you could be in at both ends.  The lens moved quite slowly so I expect that it was quite easy.

The trouble was that the camera had to be held very still since otherwise the image on the negative would not be continuous.  Once I tried to take a picture of the fleet in Portsmouth Harbour, overlooking, in a twelve year old way, the fact that the small boat I was in was going up and down.  When I had the photographs developed the ships were pitching up and down too, with flashes of light all around them.  Perhaps I could have sold it as contemporary photograph of the Battle of Jutland taken from the crow’s nest of the flagship.  With a touch here and there I’m sure it could have been done, but those were the days before Photoshop and a touch-up in a dark room was beyond my young expertise.

But that’s all gone now.  Hold your phone carefully and the picture will be perfectly focussed, the high shutter speed ensuring that there is no smearing.  Those who are sufficiently pedestrian are left with only one way of making a mess of it: by pointing the phone the wrong way.


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Issue 101: 2017 04 20: England Expects J R Thomas

20 April 2017

England Expects

A visit to Cape Trafalgar.

by J.R.Thomas

This time last year we were, as it happens, in the same place.  Except, although it was the same time last year, it wasn’t.  If you read my colleague Neil Tidmarsh’s piece on the timing of Easter in the Shaw Sheet last week you will of course know what this rambling is about – last year Easter was three weeks earlier and your correspondent spent the week before the Easter weekend contemplating faith in Seville.  He was there again this year, but those three weeks later made a lot of difference – many more tourists in Seville this year, seeking perhaps sun, perhaps God.  If it was the former they certainly got it – midday temperatures of 31⁰C in the city centre.

Pigeon perched on the head of the statue of St Peter in the Iglesia de San Pedro, Arcos de la Frontera, Andalusia

A pigeon contemplates St Peter; Inglesia de San Pedro, Arcos de la Frontera, Andalusia

Too hot for northern Europeans, although perfect spring for the Sevillianos, and with the streets not just baking but also crowded with the Easter processions, which seemed even longer and slower this year, a strategic decision was taken to go south, along that part of Spain’s Atlantic coast which runs down from Sanlucar de Barrameda until it turns east to be dramatically punctuated by the Rock of Gibraltar.  It is an area which does not see many British tourists, although beautiful for much of its length, with the sea  lined by long sandy beaches on the one side, divided from mountains a short distance behind by a good road that allows access to either.  The reason for that is not hard to work out after a few minutes reflection.  The Brits might enjoy the liquid production of the region – sherry from the area round Jerez and its posh if drier sister, Manzanilla, from Sanlucar, but apart from that positive contribution the British influence on this coast has not been a wholly benign one.

The trouble started in the sixteenth century; Sanlucar, the satellite of up-river Seville, became the main trans-shipment port for the treasure ships coming in from the West Indies, dripping with gold and other goodies (chocolate we should especially mention at this season).  The endless procession of bulging galleons coming east became a target for all sorts of piratical and semi piratical activities, most famously involving Francis Drake whose activities in grabbing whatever treasure ships he could, were, if not officially approved, certainly not entirely frowned on.  In trying to protect the treasure fleet, Cadiz, a secure and easily protected natural harbour, became the main port for the Spanish Navy.  So, eventually, it was the mustering point for Philip II’s armada of ships which would carry the Spanish army to England and put a stop to both piracy and Protestantism for once and for all.  But Drake famously singed the Kingdom of Spain’s beard in Cadiz by burning much of the first Armada fleet in 1587 and has not been popular in Cadiz since.

Further down the coast the English managed to make themselves even more unpopular by capturing the Rock of Gibraltar in 1704, and “persuading” or “negotiating” (the dealings were not entirely voluntary on the Spanish side) with Spain in 1713 that it should become British in perpetuity.  Gibraltar has indeed remained British ever since and the Spanish still don’t like the idea, periodically creating a fuss in the hope of getting it back.  The Rock was, even in 1704, a vital military point controlling the western Mediterranean and it became increasingly so as the British Empire expanded and the Suez Canal was opened.  Quite what the strategic importance of it is now is more difficult to say – an awkward lump of hot rock with a runway would be the unkindest view, but its inhabitants are profoundly British in their loyalties and it continues to be an intense source of irritation to the Spaniards, in most other ways one of our best friends in Europe and hosts to many retiring Brits.  If it were not for what happened in the Falklands some thirty years ago, it might well have been that by now some accommodation would have been made satisfactory to both sides, perhaps allowing Gib to be self-governing but gradually come under Spanish protection rather than British.  Maybe that will yet happen, but it is a highly sensitive subject, as the recent uproar and sabre rattling by a retired Conservative party leader showed.

So the British traveller might want to avoid both Gibraltar and Cadiz, and make his or her way to Los Canos de Meca, a hippyish seaside town with a long Atlantic beach on one side and great windswept pine forests climbing the hills on the other.  It is a beautiful spot, with a very different air to Spanish resorts on the Mediterranean coast, a favourite retreat for the wealthy and hip types from Seville, but also an easily accessible spot for the not so rich and not so hip types from Cadiz and the towns round about.

But there is a another pull to the traveller from the United Kingdom – not tourist, not here, it is too far out of the way for the tourist trade – any Anglo who gets here is a fairly serious traveller.  The reason they might be here, beginning that long walk through the sand and across the dunes, is only apparent on a map.  There are no signs, no tea bars, no gifte shoppes, not even a stall selling ships-in-a-bottle.  No Nelson Hotel or Collingwood Luxury Holiday Apartments or even Kiss Me Hardy hats.  But walk a mile to the end of the sandy path, and stand beside the lighthouse, the Cabo de Trafalgar lighthouse.  This is the point at which the Straits of Gibraltar begin, where geographers suggest that Atlantic and Mediterranean truly meet.  And where the Battle of Trafalgar was fought on 21st October 1805.

Trafalgar was not only the culmination of a series of sea battles which confirmed that the United Kingdom was truly master of the seas, but also vindication of Britain’s long term policy of having a professional and properly trained navy.  In Nelson it had of course one of the greatest, arguably the greatest, naval commander of all times, a reputation cemented by death at the very hour of victory.  Perhaps it was just as well; Nelson was the people’s Horatio at that point and, in spite of trying quite hard, could do no wrong in the public affections.  But an ageing bored Nelson, all battles won and no brave employment available; endless pain from the stump of the missing arm and the missing eye, with an illegitimate daughter and a mistress who craved the limelight?  It is difficult to imagine that it would have turned out well.

Stand on the rocks beneath the lighthouse, or on the open beach facing west as the Atlantic advances towards your feet, or among the dunes as the sun sets into a bank of clouds. Can you not hear the distant boom of ships cannon, the faint shouts and screams of men injured or falling, the crashing of great masts and spars as the warships collided?  All three admirals died as a result of the battle, Nelson, on deck, Villeneuve of France allegedly by suicide the following spring (a remarkable suicide, he stabbed himself seven times), and Gravina of Spain of his wounds five months later.  Six thousand or so of their men also died, many in the battle, many more in the great storm which followed before the captured French and Spanish ships could be got to a safe port, many driven onto this rocky coast.

Perhaps it is right that there should be no conspicuous memorial to the battle here (there is a small plaque to peace amongst nations erected in 2005, and a brief synopsis on a battered sign by the lighthouse).  It was a great victory out at sea, but what must have occurred and been heard on this remote headland was the pain and cruelty of battle, and an awful aftermath rolling up in the Atlantic breakers.  It ensured Europe’s eventual escape from the Napoleonic hegemony and to stand and watch the sea is enough memory of how that happened.

Issue 100:2017 04 13: The Ski Club of Great Britain (Lynda Goetz)

13 April 2016

The Ski Club of Great Britain

Over 100 years old and going strong

by Lynda Goetz

A few weeks ago I came back from one of the Ski Club’s Freshtracks holidays.  Although, disappointingly, there was not even a hint of fresh powder and we were treated to blue skies, sunshine and spring skiing throughout the week, it was a great holiday.  It is the fourth Ski club holiday I have been on in 10 years and each time it has struck me what a winning formula the Club has created and how it has managed, so far, to adapt to the rapidly changing world of a sport which is less than 200 years old (although travelling on skis is another story altogether and has a history which dates back some eight thousand years in Russia and Scandinavia and possibly ten thousand in China).

The Ski Club was founded in 1903 with the stated aim of encouraging people to learn to ski, helping members to improve and get the most out of their skiing and bringing together people to enjoy the sport.  Until World War I, the Club focused mainly on Nordic or cross-country skiing.  In 1914, the first official British Ski championships were held in Saanenmoser, Switzerland. the results being based on cross-country and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, ski-jumping. However, this was nearly one hundred years after the first recorded ski jumper (Olaf Rye, 1809) and fifty-one years after the first public skiing competition in Tromsø, Norway.  Ski equipment, like so much else, has been transformed since those days.

Sir Alfred Lunn, skier, mountaineer and writer, who was President of the Club between 1928 and 1930 organised the first British National Ski Championship in 1921 in Wengen.  By 1922, when it was held in nearby Murren, Lunn had decided that the slalom needed to be decided on speed, not style.  He pointed out that “The object of a turn is to get round an obstacle losing as little speed as possible. Therefore, a fast ugly turn is better than a slow pretty turn”  (Something we should perhaps ponder if we are ever tempted to criticise a skier’s style whilst sitting in our armchairs watching Ski Sunday). It was through Lunn’s efforts that downhill and slalom races were included in the 1936 winter Olympics – although he was opposed to them being held in Hitler’s Germany. The Ski club remained responsible for British Alpine racing teams until 1964, when the role was taken over by the National Ski Federation of Great Britain (later the British Ski and Snowboard Federation).

Since that time the Club’s focus has been on the ‘reps’ or ‘leaders’ which it has in resorts around the world and on organising holidays where skiers of similar abilities can share their passion for the mountains and the sport.  There are currently 17 resorts with volunteer Ski Club leaders.  Any member of the Club who wishes to ski with one of the leaders in a resort can either arrange this in advance online or, more usually, simply turn up on a first-come first served basis. This is an opportunity to be shown the best runs in resort (depending on conditions) without having constantly to peer at unfamiliar piste maps.  It gives people the chance to concentrate on the skiing rather than route-finding . Rather unfortunately, the complex and ongoing legal cases over ski-hosting in France mean that, even though Ski club leaders are volunteers with only their expenses paid, they are currently not allowed to show members around any resorts in that country. This season the Ski Club have had an arrangement with Evolution 2 Ski School (‘one of ‘les Bleus’ or independents as opposed to ‘les Rouges’, the Ecole du Ski Franҫais (ESF) who have been bringing the court cases) to provide an instructor-led guiding service at reduced prices to replace the Leader service in French resorts.

Apart from the Leader service, appreciated and enjoyed by members, it is possible to book either family holidays, Freshtracks holidays or, for the over-55s, Peak Experience holidays.  Many of these have an emphasis on off-piste skiing and it is a brilliant way of getting experienced and expert guiding with fully-trained local instructors and mountain guides without paying the sums it would cost you as an individual, couple, or even small group.  To ensure that skiers in a group are of similar ability, the Ski Club grades people according to a system they have had in operation for some time.  It can appear a little off-putting to feel you are being ‘assessed’ and the re-grading which goes on at the end of a holiday can be somewhat daunting – especially if your grade goes down rather than up!  However, the system, operated by the Leaders who accompany the holidays in conjunction with the instructors or guides, does have the advantage of ensuring generally that those who wish to ski fast (with or without ‘ugly’ turns) can do so; whilst those who wish to ski more gently or with less experience of varied conditions can do so without feeling that they are holding others up.

In the evening there is the pleasure of a shared meal in the hotel or chalet and these are an opportunity for finding out a little more about your fellow guests, as is lunch in restaurants on the mountain.  In the few holidays I have been on, it has been my experience that, once the initial barriers are broken down and everyone has got over the need to play up or play down their skiing knowledge and experience, most are simply there to enjoy the skiing with others who share that passion.  Many will have come on their own, as I did.  This is not because they are lonely souls looking for companionship, but more usually because their other half is not as interested or competent in the sport as they are.  For some it is one holiday of several, particularly for those who are retired.  One may be with friends, another with family and then there is the irresistible opportunity to go skiing just one more time!

My slight concern for this centenarian club is based on its own statistic. Peak Experience holidays account for 25% of its programme. The holiday I went on was not Peak Experience, but it would be fair to say that the average age was somewhere in the mid to late 50s.  A number had children who ski, not only enthusiastically, but seemingly far better (and certainly faster!) than their parents; largely owing to the fact that they started when very young.  At the moment they all ski with friends of similar standard and generally do not have the time or the funds for 3 weeks skiing a year – unless they are working in a ski resort (which most seem to have done at some juncture).  None of them ski with the Ski Club. Will they do so when skiing friends start having families and are not free to go with them and do the sort of skiing they want to do? Will they simply go on holidays with those same friends and their children?  Will they be Ski Club holidays? Alternatively, will they wait until they are over 55 before contemplating going with the Ski Club?  If the latter, then the brilliant Ski Club formula may not be able to survive the hiatus in its membership; but then who knows what the world may be like in another one hundred years?  At the present rate of progress, it won’t simply be spring skiing in March. The crocuses will already have flowered and the Alps may not have any snow at all.


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Issue 100:2017 04 13: A moveable feast (Neil Tidmarsh)

13 April 2017

A Moveable Feast

The milk chocolate Easter algorithm.

by Neil Tidmarsh

Christmas Day?  December 25.  Saint David’s Day?  March 01.  Saint Patrick’s Day?  March 17.  Easter Day?  Er… um… well…

We laughed at Homer Simpson when he moaned, after missing out on some sort of Christmas offer, “I’ll never get another chance like that until next Christmas – and who knows when that’s going to come along?”  But if he’d been talking about Easter, we might well have nodded our heads in some sort of agreement.

Easter… ok… well, it’s in April, isn’t it?  Unless it’s in March.  Late March.  But it’s usually in April.  Isn’t it?  Early or mid April.  It’s in April this year.  This Sunday, in fact.  (It is a Sunday, isn’t it, Easter Day?  Or is that the Friday?  No, that’s Good Friday.  The Monday?  No, that’s Easter Monday.  So the Sunday is Easter Day?  Yes, Easter Sunday.)  So what date is that, next Sunday?  April 16.  There you go then.

But Easter Day was March 27 last year.  And it was April 05 the year before that.  And April 20 in 2014. Why? What’s going on?

“It’s all to do with the lunar calendar” you say.

Er… what?

“The lunar calendar” you repeat. “Where each month is 28 days, a moon’s full cycle.  Unlike our modern calendar, a solar calendar, where the sun’s annual cycle is split into 12 months of 30 or 31 days.  Hence the variation.”


“The Bible says that Christ’s crucifixion took place on the Jewish Passover” you say.  “And the Council of Nicea, in AD325, defined how you work out when that’s going to be; Easter Day, they announced, is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. (The equinox is a solar event, of course).”

Ok… good… that’s… er… simple enough…

“Well, not really, I’m afraid” you say.  “For instance, how do you find the spring equinox?  We all know it’s March 21 now, it’s marked in our calendars, but centuries ago… And what if the spring equinox itself is on a Sunday?  And what if there’s a full moon at midnight when Saturday becomes Sunday? And syncing the lunar calendars and the solar calendars… It was all a massive problem in the early middle ages. Huge confusion. Easter all over the place.”

Not like today, then, eh?

“In the seventh century, King Oswy of Northumbria celebrated Easter on one date, and his queen, Eanfled, celebrated it on another date, weeks later sometimes.  It didn’t do much for their marriage.”

No, I guess not.  I bet she got really fed up with him eating all the Easter eggs and leaving none for her.

“So the king called together a load of experts at Whitby – priests from the Roman church and the Irish church and the Scottish church and the Frankish church and the Northumbrian church, who all had different ways of working out when Easter was and all celebrated it at different times – to sort it out once and for all, to debate the whole thing and all agree on the single, best way.  It was a right rough intellectual punch up, this Synod of Whitby (AD664). They all had their own ‘computus’, you see, their own complicated calculations for working out when Easter was going to fall in the years ahead, algorithms and mathematical tables and everything.  Some set lunar limits of XIV to XX, for instance, others set lunar limits of XVI to XXI.”


“Some used a 19-year cycle which could be repeated for up to 532 years before dropping a day because the lunar and solar calendars were out of sync by twenty-four hours. Others used a table of five 19-year lunar cycles which could be adjusted and repeated after 95 years.”


“Ok, I’ll just go over that again. Some used a 19-year cycle which could – ”

No! No, just tell me who won.

“Wilfrid, abbot of Ripon.  He argued the Roman method, and clinched the deal by claiming that his mathematical tables had been used by Saint Peter himself, who holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  So that was sorted at last.”

Phew. What a relief.

“However, in the Eastern Orthodox church, their Easter is still different from ours.  They use a different way of working it out. You see, they – ”

No!  Stop!  Stop right there!  That’s quite enough of that!  I’ve got hot-cross buns to eat, and Easter eggs, and I can feel a headache coming on…


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Issue 100: 2017 04 13 Silence in Court, Chin Chin

13 April 2017

Silence in Court?

Better to keep the phone quiet.

by Chin Chin

The High Court is generally a quiet place, the low murmur of voices setting out the legal arguments, the rustle of silk as a QC takes his place.  Bells and whistles are not encouraged; but, last Thursday, a hearing of the Family Division was interrupted by the ringing of a mobile phone belonging to one of the lawyers.

3 elderly lawyers shocked by ringing mobile

Get some bin liners on the way home!

It may of course have been a welcome distraction from a long and tedious address from Counsel.  Perhaps, though, the judge, Mr Justice Holman, is just well mannered. Anyway, rather than calling for the usher or delivering a swift rebuke from the bench, he simply invited the lawyer concerned to answer it, saying that he never minded mobiles going off in his court and that, after all, “it might be somebody important.”

Judicial respect for counsel’s personal problems is by no means unprecedented. Indeed it was recently exhibited in the Court of Appeal where a nervous young advocate asked that his case should be adjourned and that there should be no sitting the next day.

“Why should we do that?” asked the presiding Lord Justice acerbically.  The young man blushed and stammered.

“Well, my Lord, it’s my wife. She is due to conceive tomorrow.”  The judges looked puzzled and conferred for a second.

“We are not quite sure what you mean,” came the ruling “but we are all agreed that you probably ought to be there.”

The reports do not reveal whether the lawyer took up last Thursday’s invitation.  To answer your phone with the whole of the High Court listening would require a certain amount of chutzpah.  Perhaps it is a call from your wife reminding you to buy some bin liners on the way home.  Well, OK, even Marshall Hall probably had to do chores from time to time. Or the call could be from someone who was not your wife suggesting something entirely different.

Better not get drawn into the details if that is the case.  But what if the number is one you do not recognise.  Then you will have to play it by ear.  It could be the Government who, having rather given up on the Attorney General, have decided to ask you for an import

“Yes, Prime Minister”, you reply loudly and your reputation is made.

Or it could be one of those bizarre fraudsters with a Peter Sellers foreign accent who claim to be from BT and to have detected problems with your computer.  The trouble then is that the reply you normally use will not really do.

“A computer, what is that? I don’t have one.” may be a perfectly good riposte when delivered from the safety of your own home but, if you say it in front of clients, they will wonder if they have got the right person to represent them.  Another normal response is to tell the caller to “F*** Off” but most barristers have an inbuilt reluctance to using language of that type in the courtroom and will go to some lengths to avoid it.

They generally work on the basis that judges are slightly unworldly and easily shocked by profanities – though in fact it would require quite an effort to hear a continuous diet of divorce disputes without occasionally coming across coarse language.  Still, as officers of the Court they try to protect the judge from coarseness, rather as if he was himself an impressionable minor.  Sometimes they even do so when the offending words come up in evidence.

On one famous occasion a witness was asked in cross examination whether a particular discovery had come to him as a surprise.

“I thought, well I’m buggered!”, he replied graphically in a strong Yorkshire accident.

The Judge, who came from the south, couldn’t catch what he said.

“What did your client say?” he asked counsel.

“My Lord, he said that he was taken aback.” came the urbane reply

Of course logically, if you are called on to answer your phone in a public place there is no reason why your replies should have any connection with what is being said at the other end.  Still, you have to be careful.

“What an evening you gave me, darling,” the caller might say in a husky voice. “when will I see you again?”

“That will depend on the state of the market” you might reply, your focus on impressing those present with your city connections.

“Market, who else have you been going out with, call girls?”  This jolts your mind to the caller and for a moment you forget where you are.

“No.  You know that I promised to stop using prostitutes.”  Now you have the court’s full attention.

Guidelines issued by the Lord Chief Justice permit the use of mobile devices in court provided that they are switched to silent.  In a courtroom that may make sense but it will not always do as a solution outside.  Can there be anything more annoying than sitting in the theatre next to someone who is sending texts or emails?  They may not be making any noise but you can see the screen out of the corner of your eye and, particularly if it is rather a dull play, it is impossible not to try to read it.  “Gosh, I wish I was somewhere else.” you might read, and find yourself endorsing the sentiment by wishing they were too.

Obviously resort to social media for entertainment means that the individual concerned has long lost any interest in what is happening on stage but it is better that they should make their protest by walking out than creating a perpetual distraction.  Actually, of course, it is better if they do not go to the theatre at all if they are not interested and I once had a relative, a well-known property developer, who used to take a box at the opera for business reasons even though he was not in the slightest musical.  As the curtain went up he would slip out of his box and go down to the bar, returning seconds before the lights came up at the interval to be seen applauding enthusiastically.  Job done, no one distracted.  He didn’t have to lie about it either.  When asked whether he enjoyed the opera, he used to reply quite truthfully “I enjoy every bar of it”.

Still going back to the courtroom, one advantage of modern technology is that it enables you to be physically present but mentally elsewhere.  Quite a good solution if, like most lawyers, you charge by the hour.


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Issue 99: 2017 04 06: “Absolutely ridiculous…frankly” (Lynda Goetz)

06 April 2017

“Absolutely ridiculous… frankly.”

What exactly is the relationship between Jesus and chocolate Easter eggs?

 By Lynda Goetz

The Twittersphere is apparently alive with it; the Church, the Press, descendants of John Cadbury and even the politicians have been wading in on the subject of the National Trust, Cadbury’s Easter Eggs and the Great British Egg Hunt.  Members of the National Trust have been jamming the phone lines threatening to resign their membership.  The Prime Minister, in Amman, en route to an important trade mission to Saudi Arabia, expressed the opinion that it was “absolutely ridiculous… frankly” that there should be no mention of Easter in the advertising for the egg hunts put on at National Trust properties in collaboration with Cadbury’s.  Apart from the fact that most of this seems to be an over-reaction of major proportions by all concerned, what, if any, is the connection between the religious significance of Easter and chocolate eggs?

The Daily Mash, a wonderful satirical online magazine with thousands of followers, yesterday chose the following delicious headline; ‘Cadbury ignoring part of Bible where rabbit gives Jesus a Wispa egg’.  Clearly, this is ‘fake news’, but it certainly makes the point.  Is there anywhere, any connection at all between Jesus and chocolate eggs given at Easter?  The answer must, of course, be ‘no’.  So how has this link arisen in our culture and consciousness?

On Cadbury’s own site they give a brief history of how this has come about, pointing out that although the Christian customs connected with eggs go back a long way, they are ‘to some extent adaptations of ancient pagan practices related to spring rites’.  The egg is in many cultures and religions connected, unsurprisingly, with fertility, rebirth and renewal, so its adoption by the Christians as a symbol of the Resurrection is likewise unsurprising.  Originally these Easter eggs were ordinary hens’ or ducks’ eggs brightly painted at home.  As time went on and it became possible to manufacture egg-shaped toys or gifts, these were given, frequently filled with sweetmeats or other ‘goodies’.  By the 19th century, chocolate Easter eggs were being produced in Europe.  Initially these were solid, as it wasn’t until later that the method for producing hollow chocolate eggs was perfected – the forerunners of the ubiquitous, commercialised offerings which appear in our supermarkets almost as soon as Christmas is over.

The tradition of the Easter Bunny is also related to pre-Christian spring fertility rites.  The origins seem to be connected to the Teutonic deity Eostra, goddess of spring and fertility, whose symbol was the rabbit, because of its high reproductive rate.  So, it appears that the precursor of the English Easter bunny may well have been the ‘Osterhase’ or Easter hare (although ‘hase’ can also translate as bunny or rabbit) the first stories of which appeared in the late 17th century in Germany.  German immigrants took these legends of egg-laying rabbits hiding eggs in gardens to Pennsylvania with them and before long the whole nest, basket, egg-hunt rituals had become part of Easter, not only in Europe but in the New World too.

Should our Prime Minister be concerning herself with this?  She may well, in her own words be ‘not only a vicar’s daughter – a member of the National Trust as well’, but in all honesty she would probably be better advised to keep out of such a ridiculous media furore, especially whilst visiting a country whose own religion not only persecutes Christians but certain other Muslims too.  According to David Tollerton, a lecturer in theology and religion at Exeter University, quoted in The Guardian on Tuesday, “the supposed secularisation of chocolate egg hunts” is a minor issue for the Church of England at the present time.  That must surely be true for the rest of the country as well, whether they be Christian, Muslim, atheist or agnostic.


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Issue 99: 2017 04 06: Bustgate (Chin Chin)

06 April 2017


Such things as dreams are made of.

By Chin Chin

Cristiano Ronaldo clearly has very good manners.  He has declared himself honoured by the new bust of him at Madeira airport, even though it does not really look like him at all.  Critics have suggested that there is more of a resemblance to Darren Gough or possibly to one of the talking heads.  Actually a quick glance at the photograph and you realise that the critics are wrong.  The model was clearly Geoffrey Boycott, once the Yorkshire and England opening batsman, and that gives rise to a mystery.  Why should the sculptor have chosen Boycott for his model rather than Ronaldo himself?  Was it just a mixup, like the Oscars presentation?  Did the sculptor ask for a photograph of Ronaldo and receive one of Boycott instead?  Did someone set him up by sending him a photograph of Boycott as a joke?

It is certainly an odd substitution.  Beyond the fact that they both reached the top of the tree in sporting terms, Ronaldo and Boycott appear to have little in common.  Ronaldo, captain of the Portuguese national football team, is one of the most prolific goalscorers of all time, bursting with the mercurial flair and opportunism of a great forward.  Boycott is, well, slightly different.  Dour, meticulous and careful, he was steady as a rock when playing for England.  But mercurial?  No, of course not.  He was a Yorkshireman.  It is odd then that people should look at the statue “of Ronaldo” and see a man of such a very different character.

There is of course nothing new in people being reproduced as other than they are.  For example, a friend of mine has a statue of Pitt the Younger wearing a toga.  Now Pitt was a fine classicist and a great politician to boot, but it is unlikely that he ever wore a toga in real life unless he happened to be going to a fancy dress party.  The Prince Regent possibly, or even at a pinch his supporter Charles James Fox, but Pitt, no, not his sort of thing at all.  It is odd, then, that he should have been represented like that, and what is more it could easily become a source of confusion.  Suppose that one of the statues of him is lost and dug up in a battered and unlabelled state by a future generation of archaeologists.  They will spend hours debating whether they have gazed upon the true face of Julius Caesar or whether this is merely a statue of some relatively unimportant patrician.

When the subject of a painting is fictional, the artist has little choice but to use a model.  Paintings of Shakespearean characters, therefore, are typically pictures of actors who were familiar in that particular role.  Of course they are dressed for the part, as they would be on stage, but nonetheless a portrait of “Olivier playing Hamlet” is a picture of Laurence Olivier and not a picture of a Danish prince.

Again when the subject is dead, either the artist has to work from a previous representation or, where these are inadequate, a model has to be used.  After all, there are many portraits of Christ, but none of the painters actually knew what he looked like.  If you go to the City Art Museum of St Louis, Missouri, and look at the Philippe de Champagne portrait of the French King of that name, the features that you will see are not those of the great crusading king at all but rather those of Vincent de Voiture, a poet protégé of Cardinal Richelieu and the son of a wine merchant.  There is no reason to think that he looked in the slightest like St Louis but the art of photography had not really caught on in the 13th century, so we shall never know.

It is less obvious why you would use a model of a living subject but I suppose that it is merely a demonstration of human vanity.  Much-photographed models are said to have their best side and to take care that that is the side which is turned to the camera.  It is easy to sneer at that but in truth those of us who know that we are about to be photographed will sit up and put on a suitable expression in preparation.  In fact we will go a little further than that.  If photography is on the agenda, perhaps the hair gets an extra brush and the spectacles are replaced by contact lenses; perhaps too the orange shirt which came free with the dog food is replaced with the one which mother said suits us.  Generally we all like to look our best for posterity

It is only a small step further to bring in props.  You have bandy legs?  Better then to be pictured on horseback.  Rather a weak chin?  Would a suit of armour toughen up the image?  Need to give an impression of distinguished gravity?  Perhaps the robes of a senator will fit the bill.

Once you have gone this far, the portrait is hardly of you at all.  It is of your face in another’s body, rather like those cutouts you look through at a fairground.  It is only a small step further to start changing the face itself, to begin with some airbrushing but ultimately to use a model.  Now there is nothing physical left at all.  It is thus that we pass down to our descendants an image not of ourselves but of our dreams.  That is natural enough and entirely comprehensible in human terms.  What I can’t get my mind round is why Cristiano Ronaldo’s dream should be of batting like Geoffrey Boycott.


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Issue 99:2017 03 06:Lack of energy

06 April 2017

Lack of Energy

Enough to be getting on with.

by J.R.Thomas

No power required – the Geo-domes at the Eden Centre in Cornwall

If there is a staple subject for the Business Pages of the Shaw Sheet, it is energy.  That fabled visitor from another planet might well conclude that the earth is about to run out of power, so much concern is endlessly expressed on the subject, so much worry expressed in print, so much analysis performed on sources and uses.  But appearances to humans as well as aliens are deceptive.  The truth is that the world is awash with sources of power, we have never had it so good, so available, or so various.

Of course, we have never used as much power as we do in the second decade of this century, and all the signs are that the world’s need for power will continue to grow at – probably – ever more rapid rates.  The only reason for that weasely qualifying “probably” is that we do have to exclude such unlikely items as war, economic collapse, natural disaster, and (most unlikely of all) a desire for a spiritual and simple life on the part of much of the world population.  Those of us at school in the 1970’s will recall the learned experts who explained, with the aid of impressive research and with graphs of lines intersecting at awkward points, that the world’s oil supply would be exhausted by the year 2000 unless we dramatically cut back on consumption.  For one brief moment that seemed true – during the three day week, electricity rationing, and power cuts of 1974, but after that short setback we stepped our consumption up dramatically and now we have 200 years of oil supply at current rates of usage.  Though European coal, which we were told was vital for our heat and light, has almost run out…with barely anybody noticing.

The French also got the memo on the imminent emptying of the oil wells and plunged in to construction of nuclear power stations.  The result of that was enormous capital expenditure on the part of the French state, and a country that at one stage had over 80% of its power coming from nuclear fission.  Even now, with much of the kit between thirty and forty years old, three quarters of French electricity comes from nuclear sources.  Not only that, France is an exporter of power to neighbouring countries, with the UK one of the largest through two cables under Le Manche, and has ownership of a significant chunk of Britain’s electricity retail network.  And for why, this hegemony in the electricty business?  Because France has one of the lowest power production costs in the EU, free from OPEC, coal miners, and grossly expensive sources of carbon free production.  All that capital expenditure has paid off, the old plant continues to produce reliable non- polluting electrical impulses (we will take remarks on non-polluting later).

Well, now; France has had no significant accidents of any sort with nuclear power stations since they began building them – we should maybe add the rider “so far as we know”.  Nor is there any evidence of unusual cancer clusters or detriments to the public health (so far as we know); and in spite of the English jokes that the stations were mostly built on the Channel coast so that if they blew up it would be the English who were radiated, that is not true (so far as we know).  They are in fact relatively evenly spread across France, fifty eight reactors in nineteen operating locations, all run by EDF, and the cheap jibes about age are not fair either; France has continued to invest in keeping them up to date and efficient.  But if somebody says at a dinner party “It is amazing how the French can break all the rules of economics and still be reasonably prosperous”, you know the answer – cheap nuclear power.

As you might perhaps cynically expect, this strategy has gone a bit wrong under President Hollande.  He has retained the support of the left in a few policies – one is to reduce the proportion of electricty from nuclear sources to under 50%.  At the same time France has continued to build new nuclear power stations, and to develop the corresonding technology – with results which have led to the much publicised failure by EDF to start building Britain’s first new atomic power station for thirty years at Hinkley Point.  It is not just in the UK that the technical side is causing problems – two fission stations being built in France are running late and very over budget.  But they will soon be complete and in production – which will lead to the very odd position – though not if you are as student of atomic fission power production in the UK – that France will have to close several perfectly good stations with further life in them to achieve the 50% target – and replace them with more expensive less efficient sustainable sources.

Power turbines are what we tend to think of when we discuss sustainable energy.  There are some in France, a lot in the UK, and a  huge number in California which loves green energy.  They are expensive to build, very prone to not operating when needed, especially in high winds and none, and do not mix well with birds, or indeed with beautiful landscapes.  But at least in the UK it is realised that whilst unsightly and not very efficient on land, the climate at sea is much better for the new generation of turbines, and that is where many are likely to go.  On land the future is in a field not far from you – solar panels, massive horizontal rural power stations hidden behind hedges, much more efficient than turbines and almost invisible.  And panels are handily rather complementary to turbines – the former being good in the sun, and the latter in windy conditions with cloud cover.  The reliably (climatically rather than politically) sunny countries of the world, espcially those who have money to invest from oil under the sands, are looking to move into solar production on top of the sands in a very big way, if they can get round the problem of transporting the power to where it is most valuable.  One way is of course is to bring the user to the power – hence Dubai’s otherwise apparantly eccentric move to develop a steel industry.

Also on the way are lots more river turbines, old technology (1950’s anyway) but very good for local supplies – small factories in rural areas and villages from the Alps to the Himalaya.  And, on suitable coasts, tidal barrages with power loops in them – very new techology, not quite there yet but very close.  Britain ought to be a leader in this but all sorts of special interest groups from salmon fishermen to tourist boards, by way of surfing recreationists, don’t much like the idea.  Neighbourhood power and light, taking surplus heat from industrial processes or such things as data centres, and turning it back into power for local use at least is generally uncontroversial.  Mr Trump is not done with coal yet and wants to revive that big employer in some of his voter heartlands. There is a lot of coal still under America, and truly massive reserves in the Powder River Basin, though the environmentalists would prefer to leave it there.  And then shale oil and gas also underly much of America and, so it seems, much of northern England, though that also gives environmentalists the shakes.  Even burning woodchips, a sustainable solution to reusing old coal power stations, is becoming strongly opposed by green activists, who wonder where the wood is actually coming from and the carbon footprint of moving the stuff about.

So our visiting alien, reading about the spread and resources of power around might think that Planet Earth is well blessed, so many sources all about the place.  Though he or she might wonder that almost every single one of them has a range of opponents determined to oppose its exploitation.  Let us hope that having listened to the debates the alien decides to leave us to squabble and not just tow us into deep space for use as a disposable intergalatic power station.


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Issue 98: 2017 03 30: Full Circle (Robert Kilconner)

30 March 2017

Full Circle

Should the EU go for a fighting retreat?

By Robert Kilconner

Just occasionally absentmindedness can be a good thing, particularly if the result is that you forget to go to the bookshop.  “No thriller this week” you think glumly.  None of those Booker shortlisters will be gracing your bedside table.  The only answer is to go on a foraging expedition around the house and see what you can find on the shelves.  That often means reading something way out of your normal range.

That is how I came to be reading Full Circle, the autobiography of the post-war prime minister Sir Anthony Eden.  It is a long and detailed account of his involvement in the politics of the 1950s, first as Churchill’s foreign secretary and then, following the retirement of the great man, as prime minister himself.  It ends with the disaster of Suez, ill health and resignation.

As is often the case in self-justificatory accounts, he gives a little too much detail and too little of an overview.  All tactics and not enough strategy, the military might say.  Still, he was a decent man who, faced with the collapse of the Imperial world order, tried to make sure that withdrawal was properly carried through and left robust structures in place.  To him and his American, French and German colleagues must go credit for the recovery of Germany and laying the foundations on which that now flourishing democracy has been so successfully built.  A huge achievement, surely, but elsewhere the picture is less rosy, and reading his account of imperial withdrawal, not a lot turned out as he would have hoped, many of the compromises which he helped to broker ultimately collapsing.  Indochina, Cyprus, Iraq, Malta, all these were to go wrong in due course.

Reading Eden’s account one cannot help but feel that this was a man working hard at yesterday’s game. The European powers were withdrawing from Empire.  That was a given, but his assumption that he would receive the support of a coalition of the willing headed by the US turned out to be naive.  The reality was that British power was ebbing so fast that we would not be able to command American support in the face of anti-colonial sentiments among their electorate.  He didn’t see this and that is why he was surprised by the hostility of the US during Suez.  That is why, in the end, he needed to be replaced by the far more modern and realistic McMillan.

When you get to the decision to halt the invasion of Suez with the job half done, the clarity of Eden’s narrative disappears.  He lists the various pressures to which we were subject, in particular the financial pressure exerted by the US, but he does not put his decision to halt operations down to the need to give way to them.  Instead he talks about the objects of the expedition being partly met in that fighting between the Egyptians and the Israelis had stopped and feeling that enough had been achieved.  It comes across as a huge loss of nerve but you wouldn’t expect him to say that in his autobiography, would you?

When I picked the book up I thought that I was in for a history lesson on the end of Empire.  That turned out to be true but there is plenty in Sir Anthony’s experiences that is relevant today.  In particular, two things stood out.  The first arose in the context of a proposal to create a European army, the idea being that a separate German military force might be used in the wrong way.  In the event it came to nothing but it is interesting to note that, although the UK was in favour of the proposal, we always refused to take part.  Why was that?  Well, Eden argued, and it seems to have been generally accepted, that the European army would be a step on the path to a united Europe and that, because the UK was a pragmatic country, it would not fit in with the more theoretically inclined continentals.  Plus ca change some 60 years on.

The second thing is more subtle.  Withdrawal from Empire was a retreat, and retreats are harder to handle than advances.  It is so in the military theatre where a successful fighting retreat is regarded as one of the highest achievements (remember the lines: “Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note…”, composed as a tribute to Sir John Moore who died in conducting the successful retreat to Corunna).  It is so in politics too.  Now apply that principle to what is happening in the EU at present.  Britain, of course, is leaving but that probably has about equal elements of the advance and retreat about it.  From the EU’s point of view, though, there is much more of a choice.  They can batten down the hatches and, if the French and German electorates allow them to do so, ignore their current pressures and push on as before.  That might look like an advance but in reality the drive towards centralism has lost momentum and it would be putting up barriers to protect the status quo.  Alternatively, they could move to the front foot with a plan for reforms designed to remove the financial tensions between Germany and the south, to tackle the discontent among the Eastern members and to allow those who do not want to lose political independence to participate on a more à la carte basis.  Which way should they go?  Retreat into old ideas or advance into new?  The first may sound safer but I am not sure about that.  Unless you have leadership of the highest quality and a good measure of unity to boot, fighting retreats are very very difficult.


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Issue 98: 2017 03 30: Going With The Flow (Chin Chin)

30 March 2017

Going With The Flow

Dealing with rivers.

By Chin Chin

And about time too, if I may say so.  At long last the principle that a river is a person is beginning to be officially recognised.  The Whanganui River in New Zealand has been made a person by Act of Parliament so that a board can make decisions for its protection.  Much more significantly, however, the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India have been recognised by the Uttarakhand High Court as individuals, albeit as minors.  As courts declare rather than make the law, that means that they have always been individuals but that now a lot of money has been spent on lawyers in proving it.   What an absurd waste.  I could have told them for free if only they had asked me.

The clue of course is in the Latin.  “Flumen” meaning “river” is a neuter noun of the third declension and if you paid any attention at all in your Latin lessons you will have learned that the vocative singular is also “flumen”.  That’s right, the vocative.  “Flumen” is the word you use when you address a river and there would have been precious little point in including it in the Latin language if it was never going to be used.  There you are.  The Romans knew.  Paul Robeson knew or he would not have sung “Old Man River”.  Everyone who is worth listening to knew.  It has just taken the authorities a very long time to catch up.

Now one of the difficulties with rivers is that they are not very good at writing letters.  You can stand on the bank throwing in bottles with messages for as long as you like but most rivers will never send you a reply.  They are children in matters of correspondence and that is how the Indian judge spotted that they are in fact minors (what adolescent ever willingly wrote a ‘thank you’ letter?) and require parents to act on their behalf.  Still, there is nothing odd about that.  There are lots of legal persons who only act through human representatives.  Companies, for example, can do nothing unless it is done by their directors or employees.  Bishops have an even more complicated problem.

We all have our own image of what a bishop should be.  For some it is a godly man, spare and ascetic.  For others a prince of the Church, living a comfortable life in style, at least if you like purple.  But some things are accepted by all.  A bishop wears a mitre and is a figure of substance.  The latter point is hardly surprising when you bear in mind that a bishop isn’t just one person but two.

In his private dealings a bishop is a man or woman much like you or me; however, in his official life he is also a one-man corporation – known as a corporation sole (there seems to be something fishy afoot here, surely it should be “corporation soul”, but anyway it isn’t).  This duality means that when he signs a document, its effect will depend on which capacity he is acting in.  Presumably it also means that from time to time he will write letters to himself in his other capacity and, like Pooh Bah in the Mikado, may have to reject his own proposals.  As man he might ask for a holiday, but as Bishop it could be his duty to refuse the request.

One of the interesting questions is how he addresses himself when he writes a letter.  “Dear I” does not sound right at all and “dear me” sounds as if he has just dropped the milk.  Crockfords will tell you that a bishop is formally addressed as “My Lord” but, whether that or the more colloquial “Bishop” is used, any lengthy correspondence is going to become confusing.

The Romans with their fine collection of vocatives would have known just how to address a river or any other inanimate person for the matter of that.  Every schoolboy learned that “mensa” can mean “O table”, but somehow addressing tables has become less common over the years.  The last time I saw it was a few years ago when there was a fashion for genteel refined people to use writing-paper headed “From the desk of….”  A distinguished lawyer of my acquaintance received something in this vein and began his reply “Unaccustomed as I am to corresponding with pieces of furniture…”  As far as I recall he preceded it with “Dear Sir”.

Well, we’re going to have to brush up on modes of address when in New Zealand or in India if we are to address their rivers correctly.

Unfortunately, however, etiquette does not end there.  There is the question of how you should seat a river if you ask it to dinner.  It is unlikely to come in person, of course, but will send its parents or representatives.  Still, they have to be seated and although the books of form will tell you whether an earl outranks an ambassador, you will look in vain for guidance on whether a river takes precedence over a member of the Privy Council.  Perhaps then the best thing is to avoid formal invitations for the time being and just to ask rivers to more casual affairs.  That will be easy enough in New Zealand with its emphasis on informal dining.  In India, it may mean a relaxation of etiquette.  But, after all, these things change from time to time in any event and the best rule is probably just to go with the flow.


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