Politics has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I studied the subject at A-Level and as an undergraduate back in the 1990s, and participation in the democratic process has always been and still is of great importance to my family. I have voted in every single election (both local and national) since I was of an age to be included on the electoral register.
I am old enough to remember the viciousness of the Thatcher years, and the dramatic change of government in 1997 (with all that later entailed). But I cannot recall any political campaign as ugly, bigoted and as downright unpleasant as this one. The decision whether or not to leave the EU has brought out the absolute worst in a large number of British people, particularly those supporting Brexit. And I’m sick of it.
The horrible murder last week of the MP Jo Cox (by a man with the kind of disturbing far-right views that have basically hijacked the issue) is the latest – and worst – event in a campaign where racism, lies, bullying and aggression have been rife, becoming part of the political discourse of the UK in a way that has brought it all home to us in a terrifying fashion.
This violence has to stop. This racism has to stop. This lying for political gain has to stop (yeah, I know. It won’t). If many of those who are campaigning for Brexit get their way and we leave the EU, these issues will only get worse. I don’t want to see that. Most British people don’t want to see that, it’s not what this country is all about. We need to dial back the fiery rhetoric and start looking at the real questions that affect real people, because that’s what matters. People matter, wherever they’re from and wherever they’re going.
So yes, I will be voting tomorrow.
And I will be voting REMAIN.
Considering I don’t actually like Christmas pudding, it may seem a little strange that this is actually the fourth post I’ve written concerning the stuff in as many years (you can find the previous three here, here and here) – but I keep finding interesting and unusual historical recipes for this most seasonal of desserts! And this recipe is a particularly interesting one, which dates from sometime during the interwar period.
I often talk about the fact that there are places where history exists in layers, where you can physically feel the weight of the past on the present. Battle Abbey in East Sussex is one such place. The importance of what happened here in October 1066 is still palpable nearly one thousand years later, for this is the site of what we now know as the Battle of Hastings – one of the most crucial moments in all of English history.
It all began (and ended) with the death of a king, as these things so often do. And, as is also so often the case with medieval history, that’s where it all gets a bit complicated. On 4th January 1066, King Edward (‘the Confessor’) died. He had no children and thus no direct heir. As a result, his death was likely to leave something of a power vacuum in England.
This was a problem in the making, since the English throne was among the most desirable in all of Europe due to its significant economic and military strength at the time. Unsurprisingly, amongst all the interested parties there were a number of claimants sniffing round the throne (although who claimed or promised what to whom will never be known with any accuracy now), with three in particular having perhaps the most legitimate claims to the English crown at the time.
There’s nothing I like more on a hot and boring Tuesday morning than a good old-fashioned random ‘news’ story. And, in that context, my long-time readers will know that I particularly like hearing about weird lost property (like the full-size replica Dalek left behind in a hotel room a few years ago. One hopes it didn’t exterminate the cleaning staff). Honestly, this stuff is fascinating. Keep with me here, you’ll like this.
Train company First TransPennine Express has this week released a list of things that have been handed in to its lost property department. Alongside the usual phones, wallets, umbrellas, sets of keys and pairs of specs, there are some distinctly strange items that people have left on trains. Here are a few:
1 bag of haggis
1 6ft inflatable dinosaur
1 framed photo of Mary Berry
1 Barry Manilow CD
1 bottle of champagne
1 wooden casket (of ashes)
Personally, I think these items speak volumes about the general oddness of the British psyche. I’m still puzzling over the picture of Mary Berry. She may be a baking legend, a national treasure and a bit of a fashion icon, but why would anyone want a framed photo of her (outside of her family, obviously)? And who loses a bottle of champagne? I’d be very careful to get that home in one piece so I could drink it. I mean, really. Then there’s the six foot inflatable dinosaur. Did it need its own ticket?
I have my suspicions about the Barry Manilow CD though. If that traveller was anything like me, they left that appalling object on the train deliberately….
Today’s newsreel footage comes from the General Election of December 1923 and features a remarkable FIVE politicans who had been or were to become prime minister in the first half of the 20th century: Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, Herbert Asquith, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill (again! He randomly popped up yesterday too…) – plus Austen Chamberlain, senior politician and half-brother of the late 1930s prime minister Neville Chamberlain.
This election was a hugely momentous one in that the result gave Labour their first ever stab at forming a government (with the support of the Liberals, for whom it was the last time they would win over a hundred seats and more than 25% of the vote – although they came close with the Liberal Democrats’ controversial result in 2010 with 22.1%). This minority government only lasted until the following year, but it was the first time that the traditional two-party system had genuinely been threatened in an electoral context.
If you’d like to find out more about the BFI’s National Archive, you can visit their website here.
Some of you might remember that in the run-up to Christmas I posted some seasonal film snippets from the wonderful BFI archive YouTube channel. Since it is now election week, I was pleased to discover they’ve uploaded some bits and pieces of newsreel footage relating to various 20th century General Elections – so I’ll be posting a particularly interesting example every day until Thursday’s crucial ballot…
Today’s choice is very brief snapshot of one of the two elections held in 1910 (January and December – this film is probably from the January one), showing footage of the Labour MP Will Crooks and his Tory opponent Major William Augustus Adams on the hustings at Woolwich in London, plus a glimpse of the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill.
The results of both of the 1910 elections had been ridiculously close and very tense, with Asquith’s Liberals being separated from Balfour’s Conservatives by a matter of only two seats in January and a mere one in December. These deadlocked elections were particularly significant for being the last elections to be held until after the First World War. They were also significant for being the last elections to be held over a period of days, unlike the single polling day we are used to now – this, in many ways, was the beginning of the modern electoral system.
If you’d like to find out more about the BFI’s National Archive, you can visit their website here.
This is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. From the photographs, you can clearly see that it’s a pretty spectacular construction. Indeed, it looks like the kind of castle immortalised in books and films as the type of defensive military stronghold we all associate with knights and soldiers, sieges and battles – “everyone’s idea of what a medieval stronghold should look like”, as the guidebook puts it.
It certainly has all the outward trappings of a classic medieval defensive building, although now ruined inside: thick stone walls and tall towers with battlements, a wide surrounding moat, a rare 14th century wooden portcullis, arrow slit windows, murder holes in the ceiling of the gatehouse (and even a much later piece of defensive kit in the shape of a World War Two-era pill-box) – all the things you’d expect to see in such a castle. Ostensibly, it is such a castle, and it has the kind of history you might expect from that too.
Less than a month ago, I posted a picture of the snowy view from my front door. During this last week, conversely, it appears that Spring has decided to put in an early appearance instead.
This photo was taken last weekend at Syon Lane Community Allotment, which is already beginning to look a lot greener than it did the last time I was there back in January, with blossom starting to appear everywhere.
Despite what the weather forecast is saying, I’m hoping this really is the beginning of a new Spring…
What with all the vicious media ranting and disapproving government pronouncements recently, you might be forgiven for thinking that almost every single person claiming state benefits of any kind in this country is actually on the fiddle – and thus getting away with ripping off the Treasury and the tax-paying public to the tune of billions and billions of pounds.
Let me repeat that: Not. True.
I’ve written before about how those on benefits, especially the sick and disabled, become an easy scapegoat for a government who are more concerned with feathering their own nests and protecting the interests of big business than looking after the most vulnerable in our society – and that the levels of fraudulent benefit claims are much, much lower than most people think they are.
This afternoon, I’ve been looking at the official Department for Work and Pensions report Fraud and Error in the Benefit System: 2010/11 Estimates (Great Britain), which was released last week and contains some very interesting statistics indeed; statistics that clearly demonstrate that the current spate of media and political poor-bashing and the demonisation of benefits claimants is based on a tissue of lies.
You might remember that some time ago I blogged about the weird things people leave behind in hotel rooms. So naturally I was fascinated to discover that a large hotel chain has recently released data on the equally random things light-fingered guests liberate from their establishments across the country.
It seems that people indulge in a serious amount of hotel thievery at this time of year – and I’m not just talking about bottles of shampoo or those fluffy bathrobes either. Everything from tinsel, fairy lights and baubles to a Christmas tree and an entire Nativity scene have been pinched by guests from various Best Western hotels in the run-up to Christmas!
And that’s not all. People must check out and bring a Transit van round to the back of the car park. How else would they get a leather two piece suite home? Or a suit of armour? Or a twelve foot model Concorde? Or a papier mache full-size model of a man? Or even the entire movable contents and furniture from a hotel room (except the bed)?