Feb 28th

Movies I've recently watched - warning, a few spoilers included.

By stephenterry

Today I read that the UK was going to be colder than Russia this week, with snow and ice right down the country. Here in Chiang Mai it's been another warm day, with cloudless skies - just the weather for sun-bathing by the pool, or sitting on the balcony imbibing a cold beer.

So Tip decided it was a good day to see a movie. John Wick 2 was showing, and it had received great reviews - more body count than its predecessor, which meant a lot of bad-men being killed. The movie has a great soundtrack and is best seen on a large cinema screen, not a TV to appreciate the full effect.

There are many plus points for an action thriller:-

- the storyline was cleverly constructed (within its limitations)

- good acting throughout - even the dog

- black humour - some really laughable

- met the expectations of being fast and furious, with hardly a dull scene

- modern, without the need for futuristic weaponry - JW killed a couple using a pencil.

- exemplary fight stunts, absolutely first-rate. 

All in all, streets ahead of Bond movies, and well deserved. My reflections - escapism, entertaining, and an ending that opens up for a JW 3. Tip's reflections, apart from finger shooting everyone in the cinema - if I was John Wick's wife I'd be sitting by the phone waiting for someone to call me to say he's dead. And Keanu Reeves got a stunt double or three? - don't like him anymore.


And moving on to an evening movie watching on large-screen Smart TV. This one, Hacksaw Ridge, based on a true story. A few embellishments regarding the hero, Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who was drafted into the US army in 1942. His words - "I felt like it was an honor to serve God and country," Desmond said. "We were fightin' for our religious liberty and freedom." 


The movie relates to the allied invasion of Okinawa (an island off Japan)  which was the third tour DD undertook. As a preamble, the movie begins slowly (for those seeking bloodthirsty action) of DD growing up to be the man he was, and some dramatic liberty was taken to depict his character/behaviour - and even his wife to be. Not all true, but hey, good movie entertainment.

The battle scenes are horrific, not for those with sensitivities at seeing heads and limbs blown off throughout. Blood, guts and rats. There was no give and take in this invasion - the Japanese were ready to die to the last man, and the US did just that.

DD was a medic, unwilling to carry a gun, and not to work on a Sabbath but caring for victims was his Christian rationale for his deployment (saving lives). After a lull in the battle, DD lowered down from the top of the ridge between 50 (his estimate) and one hundred (US army estimate) of injured soldiers to the medi-vacs below before he got injured and had to end his tour. Later, President Truman awarded him America's highest award, the medal of honour for his bravery.

My reflections, despite some fiction mixed with true facts even with invasion embellishments, were a whole lot different than mine of JW2, as were Tip's, who said he was a good man. I had to agree, he was a very brave man who deserves his place in history.

And today, I'm looking out of the window at the beautiful blue cloudless sky and writing this blog...




Feb 27th

Norton Fitzwarren: the Human Element

By RichardB

The official report on the 1913 Ais Gill accident, in which a driver ran past a series of adverse signals, raised the desirability of some kind of system that would warn a driver if he passed a signal at danger. The Great Western Railway already had such a system and it was mentioned in the report, but it was still experimental, and the reporting officer expressed some reservations about its suitability for main line operations. But as the years went by and the GWR perfected its system and installed it throughout its network, those reservations vanished, and the need for an in-cab warning of adverse signals became as recurrent a theme in accident reports as better brakes and block signalling had been in the nineteenth century. And with as little effect.

The GWR gave its system the grand name of Automatic Train Control, but it was rather less than that. It was applied only to the distant signals (the yellow ones that tell you to slow down because the next signal is at danger). About a quarter of a mile before each distant signal there was a ramp between the rails which pushed up a plunger beneath the engine as the train passed over it. If the signal was at caution, the movement of the plunger sounded a hooter in the cab and automatically applied the brakes if the driver failed to react. But if the signal was at clear, the ramp was electrified, and the current cancelled the hooter and the brake application and rang a bell in the cab instead. It was therefore fail-safe: no current, no bell. No possibility of a false clear signal.

The system was primitive by modern standards, but it helped to give the GWR a safety record second to none on any British railway in the inter-war years. Since the 1890 accident at Norton Fitzwarren in Somerset there had been no major accident to a Great Western train. Between 1916 and 1928 not a single passenger was killed on the GWR.

That proud record was finally broken on a stormy night in November 1940, and by a macabre coincidence this accident also happened at Norton Fitzwarren, only a couple of hundred yards from the site of the crash of fifty years earlier. The ATC was in full working order and gave the driver the correct alerts, yet the train ran through signals at danger and was derailed. How did this happen?

Let us join Driver Percy Stacey in the cab of No 6028 King George VI at Taunton station.

It has not been a good night for Driver Stacey. The Blitz is at its height, and only last night he was bombed out of his house. It is a foul night, with heavy rain and strong winds. Heavy wartime traffic has caused delays and disruptions that have resulted in his train, the 9.50pm sleeper from Paddington to Penzance, arriving at Taunton over an hour late, at 3.30am.

The main line here is quadruple-tracked, with the same layout as a four-lane dual carriageway: the slow lines are on the outside, the fast lines in the middle. The train stops at the slow line platform.  It is usual for it to do this, and on departure to take the crossover just west of the station to continue its journey on the fast line. As the train stands at the platform Driver Stacey has a clear view of all the signals at the west end of the station – for the slow line, the crossover, and the fast line – from his position on the right-hand side of the cab. 

The Great Western is now the only British railway to drive from the right of the cab. In the early days of railways there was no consensus on which side of the cab the driver should be on. Right up until the Grouping of 1923, when all the independent railways were combined into four large groups, some railways put the driver on the right and some on the left, but since then three of the four groups have standardised on the left-hand position. On a railway with left-side running this makes a lot of sense. Station platforms, and more importantly signals, are usually to the left of the track.

Apart from its traditional fondness for doing things its own way, there is actually some logic in the GWR's retention of right-hand drive. Most of its main line mileage was originally built to Brunel's broad gauge, and so its tracks are spaced more widely apart than on other railways. This leaves room to put the signals between the tracks, where they are more easily seen from the right-hand side of the cab.

Both these factors – the positioning of the driver, and the placing of the signals – will play a part in what is about to happen.

At 3.44am Stacey gets the right-away, and the train pulls out of Taunton station. There are thirteen coaches behind Stacey's engine, and they are all packed, but the 'Kings' are the most powerful locomotives on the GWR, and it is not long before the train is gaining speed. The rain has eased off, but the storm clouds and the war-time blackout combine to make the night pitch dark, and Stacey can see hardly anything but the lamps of the signals, which are, as usual on the GWR, in the middle of the tracks, between the westbound and eastbound lines, to his right. One after the other, they are all showing green.

About three minutes after leaving Taunton the train is approaching Norton Fitzwarren station at about 40mph, when Stacey hears a noise to his right. He looks round and is astounded to see another 'King' class engine overtaking him at about 60 mph. This can't be possible. He's on the fast line, and any train to his right would be going the other way.

As the trains race side by side through Norton Fitzwarren station he realises the awful truth. He's not on the fast line at all: he has been rerouted, and is running on the slow line. And just after the station the four tracks become two. There is a set of points to protect the fast line, and after that only a very short stretch of track before the slow line ends.

Stacey closes the regulator and slams on the brakes, but it's too late. His engine runs over the points and off the end of the line onto the soft earth beyond, slewing round and falling onto its left side. The coaches pile up against it, and 27 people are killed, including Stacey's fireman.

On the other train the guard has heard something hitting the side of his van, and the train stops at the next signal box for investigation. The side of the last coach, the guard's van, has been scored by stones from the track ballast, thrown up by the crashing train. Later on a piece of metal will be found behind a broken window in the second-to-last coach. It turns out to be a rivet-head from the frame of the engine of the Penzance sleeper. The back of the train must have been right alongside King George VI as it derailed, and can have been no more than a very few feet clear before the crash spread wreckage over all the lines. It must have been about the narrowest escape from disaster in British railway history.

But the Penzance sleeper wasn't so lucky. Why was it routed onto the slow line, how did Driver Stacey not realise what had happened until the other train overtook him, and how did the ATC fail to prevent the accident?

While the Penzance train was standing in Taunton station the signalman at Taunton West box decided to give priority to a newspaper train that was coming up fast behind, and indeed gaining on its schedule. The Penzance train would have held it up, and was already so late that a further short delay at the signals at Norton Fitzwarren would have made little difference. He accordingly set his points and signals for the newspaper train to proceed along the fast line and the Penzance sleeper along the slow.

Driver Stacey was convinced he'd been signalled onto the fast line, and maintained as much at the enquiry, but the signalman was quite clear about what he'd done, and the fact that Stacey's train did indeed depart along the slow line bore him out. The interlocking between points and signals made the signal display Stacey thought he'd seen impossible. Expecting to be routed onto the fast line as usual, and perhaps distracted by worries about his bombed house, he must have misread the signals.

The train would have been going at little more than walking speed when it reached the crossover, and at such a slow speed in the darkness Stacey didn't notice that he was going straight on instead of crossing to the fast line. Once on the slow line, and with no reference points in the intense darkness, he was unaware that he was sighting the fast line signals across an intervening track. He was expecting to see signals to his right, and that was where he saw them. No problem, except that they were the wrong signals.

But what of the signals he should have been looking for, those for the slow line? He never saw them at all, because they were sited to the left of the tracks, and he had no reason, as he thought, to look to the left. For the first couple of signals after Taunton, that made no difference, for they were also showing green, but the last signal before Norton Fitzwarren was at red, and the distant signal before it was showing yellow for caution. If Stacey had seen those signals he would have been able to stop in time.

He didn't see them, but the train should still have stopped. This was exactly the sort of situation the Great Western's ATC system was designed for. Even if Stacey hadn't put his brakes on, the ATC at that distant signal should have put them on for him. Why didn't it?

It was not a failure as such, but a combination of human error and a feature designed into the system.

While the ATC system was designed to eliminate the possibility of a false clear indication, a false caution was quite possible if there was an electrical breakdown, so that the ramp remained dead even when the signal was at clear. Furthermore, it was considered that the driver should always have full control of the train. For both of these reasons an override feature was provided, a cancelling lever by which the driver could forestall the brake application and brake in his own time, or not brake at all if he was certain that a false caution indication was being received in the cab.

Great Western drivers got so used to using that lever that it became almost second nature to do so every time the hooter sounded. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this was perfectly safe, as the GWR's safety record proved. Driver Stacey was badly shaken by the accident, and he told the enquiry that he didn't remember hearing the hooter as he approached Norton Fitzwarren, but he must have heard it and, seeing nothing but green signals, assumed that there was a fault in the ATC electrics and used the cancelling lever. Very possibly he wasn't even consciously aware that he was doing it. And so his train ran past the red signal and off the track.

The enquiry could find nothing wrong with the signals or the ATC. The actions of the signalman at Taunton West had been perfectly correct. The entire blame for the accident had to be laid on Driver Stacey, in misreading the signals at Taunton and then proceeding under a false assumption.

Percy Stacey received a lot of sympathy both at the enquiry and from the public, for his personal life had been disrupted, the circumstances were stressful and difficult, and the accident was caused by a lapse of concentration rather than the sort of cavalier attitude displayed by Driver Caudle at Ais Gill. But possibly the saddest part of this story is that he never forgave himself. In his own mind he was a murderer, and he referred to himself as such. A year after the accident he died, from no apparent cause.

Feb 27th

Which Line Is It Anyway?

By Woolleybeans

Just a quick blog.

As a teacher, especially of the newest run of Literature papers, I am spending a lot of time telling students they will find their own favourite quotations from each text we study, and that they will find they are using them again and again and again and againg and...well. You get the idea.

I can make 'fire and blood and anguish' from An Inspector Calls fit a LOT of questions. The sharply ringing doorbell is also very useful. And as for Romeo and Juliet, 'fire-eyes fury be my conduct now' has a lot of mileage in it.

But more than the ones used in essays, it also makes me aware of when a quotation has stuck itself, barnacle like, to the inside of my brain and made it into general use.

I use 'so it goes' from Slaughterhouse Five on an almost daily basis. It is so very useful. 'Milk and apples, comrades' from Animal Farm may seem less so, but that doesn't stop me. An ex-colleague was contantly quoting 'Heigh-Ho for a Husband', which was always fun when he randomly shouted it down corridors at school.

So, any you find yourselves using? Do you use them in context that makes sense, or have they become some kind of verbal tic that insists on insinuating itself into discussions that have nothing to do with it?

Feb 25th

Public Dealing APATHY n Lackadaisical ATTITUDE

By Babli

Friday 24th February, Two Thousand Seventeen, 12:12 hrs IST

Cordial Invite to COME, One n ALL: An OPEN Debate [8]

Public Dealing APATHY n Lackadaisical ATTITUDE


There is no gainsaying the fact that in India, public dealing is largely apathetic, lackadaisical and devoid of any human values whatsoever! It is just ‘going thru the motions’ with no real intent of helping the public at large, who on their part, also try to gain, at times, undue advantage of any vantage feelings shown to them.


But, largely, it’s our bankrupt bureaucracy and official machinery at fault. They almost behave as if they are not carrying on with their “bounden duty” but doing a ‘huge favour’ to the general public. May be, the tradition has carried on from the British times. But, it’s now time to change it for the better!



It must be made accountable for its actions with some penalty imposed on the erring official along with speedy justice being meted out to the concerned person related to whom the action was carried out. Else, this buck will run amok eating everything n everyone with such instances beginning to find their way even into the private sector, albeit, not to that extent, as of now. But, if unchecked, this menace will outgrow each n every one!!         

Feb 25th

An Enemy of the people.

By mike

      I am a bit housebound and stay  physically immobile. I wrote a short piece this morning to keep my brain occupied.  It is a problem of the Cretan Paradox staying in my mind.  I am off to see ‘’La Boheme this evening and I hope the paradox will disappear.  Trump is mentioned - so beware,  If you not like the use of the word,  read no  further

 I have no objection to words that people might write or say;  I support the freedom of speech. 

     David Irving instituted a libel case and lost.  I am not sure, but there might be similarities similarities between this trial and that of Oscar Wilde.   But I am no lawyer.  

    If Irving had not lost his case, he might well have more  support.  But if he contravenes English  law, he will be liable to prosecution.  

     But recent events have shown that suppression of speech is more to be feared from the far right than the left - if one assumes a left/right political spectrum.

    The press secretary of Trump  has said  that the press is ‘The Enemy of the People‘      

    He must know that this is the title of a play by Ibsen and the play promotes the opposite point of view. I do not understand this?.  Why was the play mentioned?   Trump used the phrase himself in a meeting of the multitude.. Surely the play’s theme is the opposite of what he said too?  Even to the extent of an environmental issue,  His disciples roared with enthusiasm.  But they roared in a similar fashion when he mentioned the word ‘Sweden’  I will not go into this, but it was explained in some detail by a BBC correspondent.

    To come back to the Cretan Paradox which, in my opinion, would be a theme for a play.  Not by me, alas.  It is far do difficult.

       ‘Today’ is now edited by a woman and is unfortunate that she has begun her patch  with an intractable problem  She is faced with the Cretan Paradox - or something very close.

   All Cretans are liars, But suppose a Cretan tells the truth?  But all Cretans are liars! Isn’t this, in computer terms, a  continuous loop?  I do not know?  The BBC is banned from a press conference because the BBC  tell lies and spreads false news.  All the BBC  did was to report what  Trump said.   When his  press secretary is confronted by the press - on an issue in which Trump has not old the truth - they are informed that it is they - the press -  not Trump, who are the liars. ‘We have alternative facts”

    History is re-written by the victor,  Trump tells the truth.

     But considering other facts, the problem might be otherwise.  Trump had said that the press  did not consider him a nice man.  Whereas the facts are completely different,  Trump informs us that is an absolute sweetie, and everybody who has met him will confirm this.  Of course, he is telling the truth.  If anybody wished to say he was not a sweetie, and had alternative facts,  they should say so to his face. (His words)  Hence the ban of certain members of the press corps.  Not the BBC of course, who are neutral in this affair.

    I am in the Ibsen camp.  I wonder why nothing has been made of Trump’s use of the lwords ‘Enemy of the People?  Could the enemy be Trump?


    There is an American film of the “Enemy of the People’  It is available at a cost  of £20.  It stars Steve Mcqueen. Perhaps there is no car chase, so it will not be restored?  The script is by Arthur Miller from his own play translation.  It is all so sad -   how quickly America has become a pariah state. 

Feb 23rd

Dr Hairy and the QCQ, Part 2

By Edward Picot

Mrs Underslider
The second in a new series of puppet-animations about the life and misadventures of an ordinary (but rather hirsute) GP.

Dr Hairy has to visit first his own mother, then Grabber's mother - plus Grabber's two sisters Pongo and Krups - with hilarious results!  
YouTube - https://youtu.be/JOdVB3IzxGE
Vimeo - https://vimeo.com/205105659
- Edward Picot
http://edwardpicot.com - personal website

Feb 23rd

On Pinter - beware!

By mike

    I  had made notes for a short piece as a reply to Skylark’s blog on tone. What is not said is relevant. This is for Daedalus who might well know more about Pinter than I do.  I have only seen two Harold Pinter plays;  though I do recall seeing some on TV many years ago.  I must have been too young for the plays to make much sense.  I do recall a couple eating breakfast and reading newspapers and the scene going on forever.  But these extracts might have turned up in literary programmes - like lost episodes of Dr Who.  The live screening might be repeated.  I don’t know? The London run had been a complete sell out, but the play had toured around the country.  I might be completely wrong in my view of .No Man’s Land; and found little about the play on the internet.  I do prefer lighter comedy.


     The law has apologised to citizens who have been prosecuted for having a homosexual orientation.  It is too late for Turing, but I applaud  a state in which citizens who have a different sexual orientation to myself, have the same legal rights.

.   I do not see how this restricts freedom of speech. It seems rather fitting that those who make a public objection to such a sea change, might  face a prison sentence themselves.

    On Sunday ‘Something Understood’   (February 12. 1916.radio 4 - England) Mark Tully discussed ‘reading between the lines.’

   Clare Asquith outlined a hidden Catholic sub- text in ‘As You Like it. Allusions and even visual images  were apparent to an audience of the Tudor period, but these hidden signs and symbols are rather lost to us. Shakespeare had, allegedly, been a Catholic which was not a wise option in the Tudor Court.  Is there such a hidden text in Harold Pinter’s ‘No Man’s Land?‘    

  On 15 Dec 2016,  ’No Man’s land’ had been a live feed to cinemas.  After the live screening,  the cast  and directors assembled on the stage for a discussion.  They also replied to questions from the audience.  I will try to outline what they said, but I might have misremembered myself.  There were four actors in the play. Sir Ian Mckellen, Patrick Stewart, Owen Teale, Damien Molony and the director had been Sean Mathais.  If I have misremembered, I  do apologize but, for the sake of simplicity, I will use the actors’ names rather than those of the characters in the play. 

     I will deal with the important issue first.

     The cast were asked what liquid was in the whisky bottle and the reply seemed to be along the lines of ‘No Comment.”

        Stewart and Mckellan played characters  who drink alcohol for the duration o the play.  Sir Ian  had, I think, the edge over Patrick Stewart.  At  times, he cradled a whisky bottle in his arms -  as though it were  a baby in swaddling clothes.  He might, on occasion, have kissed the bottle.  Patrick Stewart seemed far more angry about the whole thing.  He gulped up glasses in one go, while Sir Ian rather lovingly sipped at his glass,

   It is rare to watch a play in which all the characters seem  totally unsympathetic.  

   Harold Pinter is known for writing inscrutable plays but the theme of ‘No Man’s Land’ might be in the title.  Pinter has taken the reverse of ‘No Man is an Island”   Men are separated by ‘No Man’s Land’ and they occasionally take shots at each other from behind the barricades  - or so it seemed to me.  But, I must admit, there seemed to be no clear plot or resolution.  The first act finished because one of the actors turned off a light switch, and the ending of the play was hardly more illuminating.

    The cast expressed the view that the play is one of the first in which homosexuality is considered. (The actors must have meant after  1967 when homosexual acts were no longer considered a criminal offense. )   The play was staged as a period piece. It was first performed in 1974.

     A pub called ‘Jack Straws Castle’ is mentioned.  The set is a flat near Hampstead Heath in London. (I would guess Primrose Hill.) A meeting of strangers  had occurred in the pub, and the stranger is invited home. 

    A review by Michael Billington is included on a Harold Pinter website  This review is of the original production and no homosexual theme is indicated.    The events are in living memory.   Although the act had been passed - homosexuality might still have  been a taboo subject?  Who outside London would be aware that Hampstead Heath had been a place of assignations  for those of a homosexual orientation.  Nothing more  is said in the play.  There might have been suggestions but I could have missed these.  I have seen Sir Ian on the stage In Ibsen, playing a very male character, The play could just as well have been about homophobia which would make the same point. But I did find his character a bit creepy rather than a portrayal of someone with a homosexual bent,  He seemed intent on luring Stewart to literary meetings at the pub. But I cannot remember now.

       I think the director mentioned that he had been in  car with Harold Pinter and had asked if the play  had been been  based his  own experiences? In my opinion,  the director had been lucky that  Harold Pinter had not opened the passenger door, and thrust him into the oncoming traffic.   There are no ‘lovies’ in this play.- the reverse.  This is very unfair and probably misremembered  I recently read Lady Antonia Fraser’s book on the passing of the second reform act.  I  cannot think that Pinter is like any of the characters in the  play.  I think he is an actor in a Jane Austen film which gave the slave trade prominence, But I cannot remember the film. I vaguely  recall he played in a Samuel Beckett play which was shown on  TV.  ‘Krapp’s last tape.’

    Patrick Stewart plays a successful literary figure and  Ian Mckellan an unsuccessful hanger-on.  Stewart has two servants or house keepers.  Their exact function is not made clear.  Mckellan finds himself locked in the room.  The elder housekeeper is played by  Owen Teale and the younger one by Damien Malony  Malony seems to have literary aspirations too.  Perhaps Pinter wrote the play as a warning to those thinking of a literary career?

      ‘You cunt’ are two words from Pinter’s ‘No Man’s Land.’  

   Patrick Stewart said that when they played at Sheffield, the audience roared with laughter at the words.    The words  are used twice in the play, and the Sheffield audience roared with laughter the second time too. Patrick did not inform us if the Sheffield audience laughed at the rest of the play, and I would suggest he keeps a low profile if he wishes to return there.

    Patrick Stewart said ‘No Man’s Land’ was the first play to use these words after the relaxation of the censorship laws   But why are the words used in an all male cast?  I cannot recall that the words got a laugh in the production I saw?   I recall the words were used in a rather aggressive way - by Owen to Damien, who wore Cuban heels but this was because Cuban heels were popular in the seventies.

   It transpires that Stewart and Mckellan had known each other in the distant past - an Oxbridge past.  This is all very unclear.  It was suggested- in the  ensuing discussion, that the play might have been about dementia.  I think this unlikely.  It could  just as well have been about the ‘false memory syndrome.’  The characters seem to be making things up about their past and trying to score social points off each other.  Another interpretation could be that they invented - or lied about their pasts - to disguise their true sexual orientation.  This is my view.  But this was not mentioned in the discussion.   The  director said these scenes were due to Harold Pinter having written comic sketches for comic reviews. (These  sort of reviews are no longer staged)

   Who knows?  The play is inscrutable.  Everything is  left unsaid, That is the tone.  Perhaps, if things had been said at that time,  a prison sentence might have ensued?  Which was certainly no laughing matter.  The play is described as a black comedy. If the play has a homosexual undercurrent , then Pinter has avoided sexual stereo typing.  But I am a bear with a little brain and this was all a couple of months ago,

 I would have loved to have worked in the theatre.  A theatrical person once 

informed  me that I would never have succeeded because I am not Jewish or or a homosexual.  tI would have given  me greater joy if she has said that I had the personality of a brick wall and would have been lucky to get a minor role in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” 

Feb 22nd

August 1990

By Gerry

For me there were two crucial events back in August 1990, one personal, the other international. The personal one is I didn’t die, which had its merits, although it was no great treat as I lay there in the Intensive Care Unit of the Age Khan Hospital, Nairobi, desperate for the next shot of pethidine.


Later, I transferred to a private room and could hire a night helper for personal needs and also, crucially, to switch on the T.V. The only English language channel available right then was CNN, so I had a front-bed view of the crucial international event of the time. The First Gulf War – preparation phase.


By this stage I was beginning to assemble something like a brain and became curious as to which countries might be involved. Some part of me knew there was more than just America, but CNN didn’t seem to realise. I had no way of knowing if the BBC attained a comparable level of bias, but, as it was, I only knew that the uniformed combatants with their mighty, bulging kitbags came from New Jersey, Montana, Illinois, Rhode Island, Missouri and suchlike. And I saw them boarding transports away from their proud but anxious relatives, whilst simultaneously, I guessed, filing past phalanxes of TV crews and reporters. All of this in a different continent from where the action would take place.


About the Iraqis, nothing. About the Kuwaitis, nothing. About other Arab states, nothing.


Gradually, I managed to eat, although my first attempt at the longed-for bangers and mash lasted but a few mouthfuls before the effort of digestion sent me asleep. Some nutrients must have reached the brain, though, because two thoughts occurred to me. Firstly, I hoped those much-filmed soldiers wouldn’t suffer bullets or other damage because I suspected it might hurt rather a lot. (Oh gosh, that night of stomach cramps as I tried watching ‘A Bridge Too Far’ – waves of cramp rolling my eyes up, and the picture rolling up in sync, so sometimes the Bridge was on the ceiling, sometimes the floor.)


My second thought was this: giving consideration to the enemy is a good idea.


General ‘Storming Norman’ Schwartzkopf presumably gave sufficient consideration to Saddam’s Imperial Guard to opt for his ‘Hail Mary’ manoeuvre: move the play to the flank and pray it works. It did, and the war was won. But the peace wasn’t. President Bush, the first, called off the advance when it turned into a massacre (or Turkey Shoot, as the saying went) and decent liberals like me – out of hospital a few months by now – considered it a good and compassionate decision.


It wasn’t. It was a postponement. An invitation to resume the war at a later date. If my newly restored brain had worked well enough, I might have remembered Churchill’s insistence on Unconditional Surrender at the end of World War Two. He’d seen the indecisive end to World War One and how it made Round Two inevitable. He understood the wise choice was being nice to your enemy AFTER the surrender. Not before.


And it worked very nicely. Generous amounts of Marshall Aid ensured the Germans felt too comfortable to consider any more insanities. What a smart idea. Should be the blueprint for every post-war settlement – that and proper attention to politics, security, education, health and suchlike. Germany became arguably the most decent liberal country on Earth, but there was no such luck for Iraq. It was left with Saddam in 1991, and with chaos in 2004. In the meantime, a war in Afghanistan was won, and the peace was lost.


I remember in 2004 thinking Tony Blair mightn’t exactly walk on water – but hang on, there’d been the Good Friday Agreement, and Kosovo, and Sierra Leone – so maybe he did. There’s nothing like disappointed belief to whip up the anger, and yes, many of us did believe. Suckers like me. It just never occurred to me the intelligence they were working on was so bad. Naïve. Crass.


But the worst thing was the failure to make post-invasion plans.


Here comes a rule of history. Evolution is preferable to revolution because revolutions create power vacuums, into which step the butchers. Think the French Revolution. Think the Russian Revolution. Think the aftermath of Saddam’s fall. Think what was brewing in Camp Bucca. Think Isil.


And now I look back again to 1990 with me propped up in bed at the Aga Khan Hospital, so feeble I was down to seven and a half stone – which at a height of six foot two isn’t a lot. It means there’s no extra oomph for moving your muscles – ah, those gasping, tottering attempts to walk a few steps. And it means there’s no extra oomph for moving your brain – ah, how I stared at the walls, the bananas I had to eat (“for potash”), the TV showing CNN.



And yet, even then I realised – in a dumb and dazed sort of way – that you really do need to think about your enemy. How do you disarm not just his weapons but his desire to use them any more? How do you ensure there’s a Marshall Plan for every aftermath of war? How do you turn every opponent into decent liberal Germany? Maybe I didn’t put it to myself quite like that, not at the time. But it did seem scary, this oblivion to what the other person might be thinking. Or feeling. Or potentially planning.

Feb 22nd

A club? The literary establishment

By mike

      I imagine literary agents prowl these clubs and I am not a member.  I don’t really wish to join, though I had rather fancied living  somewhere around Regent’s Park.(*)


   A few years ago, I had been researching some Victorian journalists and came across a little scrap of information on the internet.  The journalists were part of a group that met  regularly in a London pub. This group became the ‘Savage Club’ 

    I looked into things.

    If you know London, this  pub/eating house, had been close to the ‘Fortune Theatre’ where the ‘Woman in Black’ is staged.  In Victorian times, the location had been a place for the literati.  The Royal Opera House is at the centre of what is still a theatrical area - Drury Lane/Convent Garden.

   The ‘Savage Club’ still exists.  It meets at 1 Whitehall Place.  I Whitehall Place is that huge Gothic structure by Hungerford Bridge - the railway bridge to Charing Cross Railway Station. When I was a lad,  I thought this extraordinary building was Scotland Yard.  At one time, Bernard Shaw lived there.  I think a lot of 1 Whitehall place is still ‘The National Liberal Club’  But most of it might be a hotel.

    The Savage Club is a private club and you must have two sponsors to join and, one 

suspects, loads of dosh.  I don’t even want to join, but I e.mailed my interest and got no reply, so that line of research reached a dead end and I followed a different lead.  Two of the journalists were great-grandparents and knew many of the original members of this club.  I think they were members themselves,

       I am what I am. Just ordinary middle-class and my parents were not rich. I went to the local grammar school -  failed  -and got A Levels at the local College.  As my mother had been Dutch, I had not been aware of a class system and only came across it when I began researching.

      But, if I want to join the ‘Savage Club  the entry requirement must be that I am savagely witty.  Anyway, I suffer from panic attacks and would become comatose in such an environment.   I think the modern equivalent is the Groucho Club. I wonder if the members of this club view the Savage Club with disdain.  Has the Savage Club  morphed into the Groucho Club?  The Savage Club has thus returned to its bohemian origins.


     (*) It is surprising what information can be found in local studies libraries. A great, great grandfather lived at North Bank, Regent’s Park -where George Elliott later lived.  He also lived at  Grove End Lane, not to far from the zebra crossing traversed by the Beatles,  He died at Regent’s Park Terrace, due to shock caused by the explosion of a barge, and the destruction of the bridge across the Regent’s Canal.

    This is not snobbery.  During the Regency and early Victorian period, the area had been colonised by the literati and the emerging middle-classes.  It was the suburbia of its time and most of the houses were newly built.   Regent’s Park Terrace had been occupied by tradesmen.  I am not sure, but it might be one of the few Regency terraces left in the area,

     I remember the staff at Keat’s house in Hampstead were quite friendly, but I think this was because I worked in a library service and not that a great grandfather had written the first life of Shelley!



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