Tuesday, 31 May 2011

My Village, My Home, My Life - part eight

Wrexham Lager Company
Having left school the previous month, I began work on the 5th August 1963 at Arthur Cudworth & Sons Engineering Works, Union Street, Wrexham. It stood beside the large Wrexham Lager brewery, which had been there since 1882. Cudworth's has long gone, and the Brewery closed in 2000, and all that remains is the Grade 11 listed building seen on the right of the photograph. Many years ago, Wrexham Lager used to sponsor Wrexham Football Club, and I believe to this day fans still sing, to an old Welsh hymn tune,

"Wrexham lager, Wrexham lager
Feed me 'til I want no more". - I think you've got to be there to appreciate it.

1963 was an interesting year. In March, the Beatles released their first album, 'Please Please Me'. In August, the Great Train Robbery occurred. In November, the first episode of Dr Who was broadcast, and in the same month, President John F Kennedy was assassinated (I'll return to this later).

Belt driven centre lathe
I joined Cudworth's as an apprentice centre lathe turner, but as it was a small general engineering works, you had to turn your hand to anything. I earned two pounds, ten shillings a week, of which one pound was given to Mother.

The owner was what you might affectionately call 'eccentric'. He had one eye, and drove a Triumph sports car. Unfortunately, his one eye was his left one, and being driven by him was an experience to forget. Because he didn't have a right eye, he had to pull out further than other drivers to see any approaching traffic, and he did like to overtake. The car had a turbo boost button, which he pressed when overtaking. It was a nightmare.

The engineering works had an office, staff eating room, machine shop and a large area with a blacksmiths shop to erect large structures. My area was the machine shop, with a couple of different size lathes, drilling machines and sawing machines. Even at the time, the machines would not have been out of place in an Industrial Heritage Museum. Being belt driven, the belts stretch with use, and I seemed to spend more time shortening them, than I did using the machines. However, I did produce some nifty work, even if I say so myself.

Between my machine shop and the office, was the eating area. A small room with one large wooden table, and benches down either side. I'm starting to have horrendous flashbacks at the thought of this, so give me a moment to compose myself. [Imagine period of quiet contemplation]. Thank you, I feel better. Before entering the room, I would make a lot of noise and give the door a few kicks. Why? So that the mice would scurry away. Droppings would then be brushed from the table, and we would make a drink and sit down to lunch. Mine was often beetroot sandwiches. Have you had beetroot sandwiches, made at 6.30 in the morning and eaten six hours later? No? Well don't bother. I don't believe that I've eaten beetroot to this day.

Blacksmith at work
Cudworth's had one Blacksmith who occupied his own area of the works. He mostly made wrought iron gates and railings to order. He was an old fashioned skilled artisan, who mostly did everything by eye, rather than using templates. Believe me that is one skill to have. He also rarely used welding or bolts, preferring to hold every piece of wrought iron together with strips that he would heat and then cool to hold things in place.

He was also old fashioned in the sense that he reluctantly shared his skills with others, for fear that someone would take his job. He was kind to me though as a young man, and though he wouldn't directly teach me anything, he allowed me to watch, so I learnt by observation.

I put this to use in my lunch break (I couldn't wait to get out of that eating room). I was allowed to gather waste metal that was no good for anything else, or to purchase some metal at cost price. My task was to make wrought iron furniture for home. My pride and joy was a coffee table with wrought iron legs curled into lovely shapes, and held together by bars of wrought iron turned into a spiral shape. Unlike the Blacksmith, I cheated and welded the parts together. The top of the table was as nice a piece of wood that I could find or afford. This was taken home with pride (though as I'm writing this, I wonder how I got it home), and sat uncommented upon in our living room. I never did know whether my Mother liked it, but I did notice that it disappeared from view as soon as I moved out of the home. Ah well, every artist has suffered some disappointments in their life.

Denbighshire Technical College, Wrexham

During my time at Cudworth's, I studied for, and gained a City & Guilds in Mechanical Engineering. This was a five year course, one day a week, plus two evenings. It was held at a satellite building of the Denbighshire Technical College, next door to where I worked.

I enjoyed those times, and I studied with a great group of lads. I remember coffee time during the day release. We all bought a milky coffee and two wagon wheels each. Without fail, every week. The tutor on one of the evening courses was an interesting man. He'd spent many years working in Argentina, and it was no problem getting him to talk about that time. Also, we would spend the first 15 or 20 minutes of every session talking about the Magic Roundabout that had been on the previous evening. Come to think about it, when did we ever do any work? We all got our C&G's though. On leaving college, one friend and I played one game of postal chess for the next two years, until we eventually called it a day. The excitement of one move a week was just too much to cope with.


Portmadog, North Wales
A couple of months after joining the company we won a contract to install a heating system in a new factory in Portmadog, North Wales. See what I mean about having to turn your hand to anything? Three of us were to spend the next few months in Portmadog during the week.

If I remember correctly, we would travel down very early on a Monday morning, and return on a Friday evening. This was all so new to me, and I think quite exciting.

I did learn a lot (which I forgot years later) about industrial heating systems. One thing that fascinated me was the use of a 40 - 50 foot length of clear hose pipe, filled with blue coloured water and used to find a level mark over a long distance - water always finding its own level of course. My job was to ensure that there were no air bubbles in the pipe, so ensuring that the system would work. You're fascinated by this aren't you? Riveting is the word. But to me, poor sod that I was, it was one of the most responsible jobs I'd ever done. I've been similarly deluded on many occasions since. Our intrepid band of three completed the contract on time, and to budget, which pleased Arthur Cudworth no end. I do not remember us getting a bonus.

Life in Portmadog settled into a comfortable routine. We would breakfast at a local cafe, and have an evening meal at a local restaurant. Showers were taken at a local swimming complex, and clothes were washed when we got home for the weekend.

The other two members of the team slept in a caravan that we brought with us from Wrexham, and I slept on a camp bed in a 6 foot by 4 foot garden shed. I was on my own, and very comfortable. Both caravan and shed were placed within the empty factory unit, so rain, wind and troublesome residents were no problem to us.

You know how years ago you were asked where you were when President John F Kennedy was assassinated? Well, I knew exactly where I was, for on the 22nd November 1963, I awoke in my garden shed to the news of his assassination in Dallas, Texas. Unless you were around at that time, it's hard to imagine the impact this had. He was seen as the vibrant, charismatic leader of the free world, and somebody had gunned him down. Without exaggeration, there was little else talked about in Portmadog for the next few days. My subsequent garden sheds, have all been reminders of where I was when that dreadful deed occurred.

So, finishing in Portmadog, we returned to work in Union Street, and the daily travel from Penycae to Wrexham (about six miles).  I would catch the 7.25am Crosville bus to work, and hopefully finish by about 6.00pm to catch the bus home - anything much after 6.00 would only go as far as the Rhos, which meant a two mile walk home. As a slight aside (you do like your asides don't you Evans?), I would often leave the house about 15 minutes early and go into the Chapel, which was next door to home and the bus stop (they were never locked in those days). Ascending the pulpit I would read out loud from the Bible; this was to experience projecting my voice, which I took seriously for one so young. Actually, it was worse than that, for I would often on nice, long summer evenings, cycle up to the mountains, park myself in a suitable spot, and preach a sermon to numerous confused sheep. Again, this was about voice projection. Do you think that I needed counselling at that time?

Honda 49 CC Moped
In may 1967 I had my six month provisional licence, and passed my driving test during that period. I also bought myself a motorbike to go to and fro work. Actually, that's not true. I bought myself a Honda 49 CC Moped (like the one opposite). You know the one with the pedals to help you get up the hills.

I had a classy helmet (!), and all the wet weather gear. I really looked the part, that is until I wheeled out the moped from the back of the house, then I just looked a prat. But hey, I got 150 miles to the gallon, so was saving me money, what did I care. The problem was that whichever way I left the village, and whichever way I wanted to return, there were steep hills. One stretch in particular between Penycae and Rhos was not to be looked forward to.

Either way, there was a steep hill down, and then a steep hill up. My plan always was to race down the hill as fast as I could (maximum moped speed 35 mph), and with full throttle race up the other side. I never got more than two-thirds up before losing engine speed and having to start peddling. With no one about, this was no more than a minor inconvenience (par for the course you may say), but with the inevitable groups of school children or young people about, it was an embarrassment, as they fell about laughing, and shouting out all manner of unsavoury things. You can imagine what added delight I brought to their day, when in my flustered state, my foot would slip off the pedal just as I was about to climb the rise, and be away to safety. But did this put me off? No it didn't. We Evans are made of sterner stuff.

I just changed my route.  It was a bit longer; full of narrow country lanes and some hills, but at least there was hardly anyone about to see the frantic pedalling which was an inevitable part of the journey. The country route it was to be. It all went well until one day, a moron in a car took a sharp corner on my side of the road and drove me into a ditch. I still have the scar on my knee. Granted you need a fairly strong magnifying glass to see it, but I know it's there - a legacy of being a 'biker'. That was enough for me. The bike was sold, I hung up my helmet for the last time, and it was back to the 7.25am Crosville bus, Penycae to Wrexham.

The following year, my wife to be and I moved to Birmingham, got married, and settled down. I'd left my village, my home and started a new life. But that's another story altogether.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Cost v's Investment

Inspired by my son's blogs on higher education, I decided to re-visit a subject that I spent many years pursuing with Local Authorities, Government Departments and Funding Bodies. It was the question of do we see things as costs, or as investments?

In a list updated on the 25th May 2011, more than 90 universities in England have revealed their plans for undergraduate tuition fees for 2012 (more than three quarters of the total). More than two-thirds of these want to charge the £9,000 maximum fees for some or all courses. The rise in fees has come about because of the cuts in teaching grants. The University and College Union (UCU) is opposed to these cuts, and at its Annual Congress last weekend warned that the UK could become "yesterday's country equipped with yesterday's skills". The UCU leader said that "it is ignorance that is the expensive option, not education". They see the present Coalition Government as a "fundamental threat to everything we stand for as educators".

Cambridge University Library
Now, I always like to set out my stall before proceeding, so that there's no confusion as to where I'm coming from. I believe in free education for all - from the nursery to the university.

I applauded the Scottish Parliament when on the 28th February 2008, they approved the Graduate Endowment Abolition (Scotland) Bill, which restored free higher education in Scotland. I agreed with the Scottish Education Secretary, Fiona Hyslop when she said, "We believe access to education should be based on ability to learn, not ability to pay".

With the Government's determination to provide ever more places for ever more students, cost is going to be seen as a worrying factor. Perhaps this is at the heart of the problem - the emphasis is on quantity, where it should be on quality. Too many universities and too many students, with too many second-rate degrees that major employers are not looking for, and don't want. Perhaps more people would be better off taking advantage of the proposed 250,000 vocational apprenticeships over the next four to five years, rather than thinking of university.

Having less universities, but ending up with 'smarter' ones is hardly new thinking I know, and probably is opening a can of worms, but it will begin to address the subject of cost. Wales is placing a cap on student places at Welsh universities, which is being met with some concern by the NUS Wales, who's President has said, "Thousands of able and qualified applicants will miss out on university places this summer, and the introduction of a cap on students numbers will do nothing to alleviate the anxieties that so many learners and their families have about this issue". They also feel that the cap will be hardest on those from less affluent backgrounds. Now, normally I'd be the first to jump to the defence of those from poorer backgrounds having the same opportunity that others have, but this could be a red herring. As in Scotland, we're talking about the "ability to learn" as meriting a place. To give the impression that there's no quality outside of the 'affluent society', is an affront to thousands of people.

More quality (not elitism) rather than quantity makes it easier to consider the value of free education for all. "But it can't be afforded", I hear the cry ringing around the corridors of power. Nonsense. It's a question of Government priorities. Quality education should be seen as an investment in our future - this means spending now for future advantage or benefit. It should not be just seen as a present day cost, without any thought for the future. All major businesses have succeeded because they have invested now, for future gain. I've said that Government priorities dictate where money is made available. Take war. Iraq cost £9.24 billion. Afghanistan up to last year (and remember we're still there) has cost £11.1 billion, with the Ministry of Defence stating that last year in Afghanistan the bill was around £4.2 billion. This means that nearly £12 million is being spent every day in that country. The former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone has said that the cost of the war in Afghanistan "would have funded free tuition in English universities for ten years".

Don't tell me that it can't be afforded. It's ideology and short-termism that is preventing it from happening. It's a myopic view of cost rather than the panoramic view of investment that's the problem. Remember the words of the UCU President Sally Hunt, "It is ignorance that is the expensive option, not education".

"An investment in knowledge pays the best interest". - Benjamin Franklin

Prison Yard
It's not just education where there is the battle between cost and investment. It covers many fields, not least in the criminal justice system.

Let me give a simple example from work that I was previously engaged in. My organisation had a contract with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), to work with local Probation Service offices with around 200 offenders a year being released from prison.

Because Probation Services do not tend to work with anyone sentenced to under twelve months, our clients being released had served a great deal of time in prison for their crimes. The value of our service contract was say £40,000 per year, which I constantly had to justify in terms of value for money to the local Probation Service, rather than as investment which brings benefit as a whole to the criminal justice system.

Look at figures and costs to show what I mean. Take the number of 200 clients in a year. Let's take a small number of 10% (i.e. 20 clients) of the most difficult, damaged people, who have a recidivist history for violent crimes, and who as a result get 'sent down' for years at a time. Because of the nature of their crimes, when caught, they have to be tried at Crown Court before a Judge and jury. These trial can cost around £30,000 each time. Magistrates Courts can be 10 times cheaper, but this is largely due to the fact that Magistrates are volunteers and only receive out of pocket expenses. Crown Court is the only option for a large number of cases. A successful prosecution takes place, and the defendent is sent to prison. Each prison place costs upwards of £45,000 per year.

Now, each person being tried at Crown Court (cost £30,000) and been sent to prison (cost £45,000 per year) has cost £75,000. Let's say that our work with 50% of the 20 clients (i.e. 10 clients) has successfully kept them out of Court, and out of prison [and our success rates were higher than that], the total saving to the Criminal Justice System is £750,000 in the first year. All this from an outlay of £40,000. This is a net benefit of £710,000.

If you focus on cost, you'll look at the £40,000 and ask can we afford it. If you focus on investment, you'll look at the £750,000 and say that this is worth it. Cost v's Investment? It's a no-brainer!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Health and Social Care Botch-Up

Friends or Foes?
The much heralded reform of the NHS was published on the 27th January 2011, and I made my views known in a blog on the 29th March. But the reforms have not taken place; instead the Coalition Government have decided to "pause for reflection", and engage in a "listening exercise". If they had done this at the start, they perhaps would not be in the embarrassing position they are in today. For instead of "reflection" and "listening", we seem to be witnessing a full-blown, carefully orchestrated retreat. We are being presented with the message that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems are now unhappy with the Reform Bill, and that theirs is the moderating voice safeguarding this great institution. However, it was the Lib Dem's who proposed the wholesale abolition of primary care, and not a single Lib Dem MP voted against the legislation at the second reading of the Bill.

The cynic in me comes to the fore when I wonder why this change of heart within Lib Dem ranks within the space of a few months. Could it have anything to do with the electoral mauling that they took at the start of last month, and the defeat of the AV proposal?

This new assertiveness by the Lib Dems is seen by some Tories as "cynical sabotage", and comes at a time when some Lib Dems are fearing that their identity is vanishing altogether. They are threatening to withhold support for the plans set out by Andrew Lansley unless drastic changes are made.

I'm questioning the sincerity of the Lib Dems current approach, as why not advocate this position months ago when there was an opportunity to do so? Whatever, the mess we are now in is due in part to badly prepared and presented legislation. Cameron, Clegg and Lansley failed to recognise what Francis Fukuyama in his book, 'The Origins of Political Order' says about institutional reconstruction, that it "is not like building a hydroelectric dam or a road network. It requires a great deal of hard work to persuade people that institutional change is needed in the first place". It seems to me that no such strategy for the NHS reforms was put in place, or at least not in time.

Nick Clegg has said that "arbitrary deadlines are no good to anyone", which is effectively saying that the plan to abolish Primary Care Trusts, and introduce GP Consortia by 2013 has been scrapped. In fact his view is that GP consortia should be introduced when GP's are ready for it, rather than to be imposed upon them. He also confirmed that the Bill would go back to the Commons for scrutiny. Oliver Wright, in the Independent on Sunday says, "The decision (to go back to the Commons) means the reforms are likely to be delayed by at least six months as the Health Committee will be unable to complete its consideration of the altered Bill until after the long summer recess".

Re-opening the Bill will enable some important safeguards to be put in place, but slowing it down poses problems to. David Cameron faces a painful choice, as the Editorial in today's Observer says, "To abandon the Bill would be a humiliating U-turn. The right wing of his party would be outraged and seek bloody vengeance against the Lib Dems. But if he presses on, the likely result will be a mangled, incoherent Bill, unrecognisable to its author, disliked by doctors and barely understood by voters. The health service will face years of instability with little prospect of immediate improvements in service".

Andrew Lansley
In all of this, where does it leave the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley? Friends are reported as saying that he is ready to resign if too many concessions are made to the Lib Dems.

In a long and detailed article about "Why Cameron is giving Clegg the high ground on the NHS", Matthew d'Ancona says, "As for Lansley, he has good reason to feel aggrieved and betrayed. His life's work is being dismantled before his very eyes. Support that was promised is being withdrawn. He is being deserted in the most ruthless fashion. Number 10 accepts that he may well resign. Whether or not he does so, the final insult is the unambiguous signal he has already been sent by his most senior colleagues: that his departure, however regrettable, is a price worth paying. Anything - anything - to make this political horror-show go away".

Now, let's be honest here. I was implacably opposed to the introduction of the Health and Social Care Bill 2011, so I am happy that it is going to be looked at again, and probably will bring about some major changes. However, this current botch-up has lost sight of one thing, and problematically caused another.

What has been lost sight of in all this mayhem, and I hardly hear mentioned, is the report by David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS, who has made it clear that, because of rising demand for health care, the NHS must find efficiency savings of £20 billion by 2015 merely to provide the same level of care as it does at present. That's an average of £5 billion a year for the next four years. No wonder that the Independent on Sunday says that "A great deal of energy is being expended on an institutional overhaul when the real challenge is a simple one: cut costs". Whatever the political persuasion, or ideological outlook, this has to be addressed.

The fluffed presentation of the Bill, and its current hiatus has caused major problems. For a start, the running down of Primary Care Trusts has already begun, but GP consortia that is supposed to replace them has been put on hold. If Primary Care Trusts have been dismantled by 2013, and GP consortia are not in place, who will commission care for patients? What will happen to these patients not covered by PCT's or GP's needs to be answered - and soon, after all, it's only just over two years away.

The current situation has brought loss of jobs to highly skilled and experienced health professionals; PCT's are finding it difficult to recruit, because who wants to join an organisation that may soon be abolished; there has developed a climate of uncertainty and unrest, with morale being, understandably affected. There is no doubt that a lot of political in-fighting will be going on at the moment, but in respect to NHS reform, I hope that the words of Nick Clegg will not be forgotten (particularly by him),

"The right kind of reform starts from the patients' point of view. Not bureaucrats, not unions, not ministers, not political parties - patients".

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Beside and on the River

Trent Bridge Inn re-opened 24th May 2011
The Trent Bridge Inn, just south of the Trent Bridge in West Bridgford has just had a £1 million plus make-over by J.D.Wetherspoon, and re-opened a few days ago. Some friends and I decided that when it was open again, we would 'test it out' by having a meal there. This we did at lunch time today. Yes, I know that this is another blog about 'a day in the life of', but some people have said (they really have) that they enjoy the rambling descriptions of fairly uneventful days in Nottingham and beyond. There really is no accounting for taste.

Wall Plaque
There's a new plaque on the wall outside The Trent Bridge Inn with information that I was not aware of. Seemingly, there is a map from 1838 showing an Inn on the site which was called The Three Horse Shoes and Crown. This was demolished in 1890, when the present pub was built behind the original site. I can't seem to find any information about the previous pub.

There is an interesting connection between The Trent Bridge Inn, The Bell Inn in Angel Row, Nottingham, and the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground.

The Bell Inn was owned by William Clarke, who was Captain of the All England Cricket Team. He married the owner of what is now The Trent Bridge Inn, and behind this pub was a large meadow. William developed the meadow into what is now known throughout the world as Trent Bridge Cricket Ground; home of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, and venue for many international cricket matches.


Trent Bridge Cricket Ground around 1890
Some history accounts say that the ground was opened in 1841, but I prefer to go with the West Bridgford History Society who say that the ground was opened by William Clarke in 1838.

It was in 1838 on this ground that the first recorded cricket match was held and the first Test Match took place in 1899 - England verses Australia.

In 1990, a new stand was opened at the cricket ground called the William Clarke Stand to commemorate his achievements, and place in Nottinghamshire cricket life. This Stand backs on to the Bridgford Road.

This is all very well I hear you say; interesting and all that, but what about The Trent Bridge Inn now? Was the wait for it to be re-opened, and the meal worth it? In my opinion the refurbishment is excellent. Lots of dark wood panelling, but there's plenty of light. It has a library room, one large eating area, plus a number of smaller eating areas. There were plenty of staff on duty, who were most attentive, and I hope that continues beyond the opening weeks. I chose Chili con Carni (£4.95 I think). It was excellent. There's a good range of beers, and the cheapest coffee I've seen for a long time. Both of which are important to some of us. Altogether, a very pleasant experience, made all the more so when you're in good company. I will be back. (That's a promise by the way, not a threat, even though it does sound a bit Terminatorish).

The Boating Association Annual Rally
What to do after leaving the pub. I thought of going into town, but the unmistakable sound of a tannoy system caught my attention.

Walking the very short distance to the River Trent, I came across The Boating Association Annual Rally.

I decided to see things from a distance to begin with, so I walked over Trent Bridge, along the north bank, over the suspension bridge and down the south bank to where the rally was taking place.

Trying not to look like a boating nerd (though to avoid offence, there's nothing wrong with that), I casually looked at the many boats moored by the steps. I didn't count them, but there must have been upwards of 50 there. Some were absolutely magnificent, and looked more suited to ocean travel, than sailing up the restricted waters of the Trent.

Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and no doubt there was a lot of renewing of friendships from the last rally. A rowing competition was taking place when I arrived. It seemed to consist of people, either on their own or in pairs, rowing a dingy around two bollards (is that right nautically speaking?) against the clock. I confess to taking great delight in seeing how inept many people were. This was no Olympic sport, and everyone joined in the obvious relaxed atmosphere. People fell backwards off the seat while rowing, and others lost their oars. The MC kept everything lighthearted, and everyone received a round of applause, no matter how terrible they had been.

I'm not a person who easily joins things, so I miss out on collective social contact. But I had fun at The Boating Association Annual Rally, and if you can't do it yourself, enjoy it by proxy. So not a bad day beside, and on the river.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Nottingham Castle - Exploration and Inspiration

Nottingham Castle
I've just had a two night visit from my youngest son James and his friend Michael, who both came over from Belfast by motorbike. It was a wonderful time, and who doesn't cherish visits from their children? As Michael had his own business to attend to yesterday, James and I had the day to ourselves; the question was, what to do?

James & 1000cc Suzuki
Whatever it was, it wouldn't be as a pillion passenger on a 1000cc motorbike that does 0 - 60 in 2.5 seconds. I am a wuss after all, so we would do something that was sedate and non-threatening (see what I mean by wuss?).

Let's go and have a look around Nottingham Castle, at least we'll be out of the rain. Though being thoroughly soaked getting to the Castle, a coffee and cake helped us to warm up and dry out (I so do hate the rain).

I love Nottingham Castle, and for those who don't know its history, here's a brief timeline. The original Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068; demolished in 1615; bought by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle in 1663 who then built the current Ducal mansion; leased by Nottingham City Council in 1875, and opened as the first provincial Museum of Fine Art in 1878.

Entrance
The 17th Century mansion still looks magnificent today, with spectacular views over the City, and still having a maze of original caves hidden beneath its imposing walls, which can be seen through organised tours.

The Castle today is still a vibrant museum and art gallery, with a vast collection of silver, glass, decorative items, visual arts, paintings and Nottinghamshire Archeology and History. I think that James and I saw everything that was on display - some areas I didn't even know existed, even though I've visited before. Two spaces were of particular interest. The first was the Long Gallery, which is a beautiful and impressive room. For the current exhibition, they had chosen to follow the French Salon style, which is so different from the usual art galleries where a few pictures take up a whole room. Here, all of the walls were crammed with paintings of all sizes; it took a moment to adjust to it, but I loved it and the catalogue easily identified the paintings for you. However, it will take more than one visit to do it justice. Still, I've got until the end of October.

The second space was an absolute delight to find. It is a new interactive gallery celebrating the story of Robin Hood. Called 'Hood in the Wood', it is a Robin Hood themed gallery where families can bring the legend alive. As the blurb says, "The whole room is a stylised sensory wood with interactive features ideal for visitors and families". Families can enjoy dressing up together in costumes from the era, and explore the world of Robin Hood with puppets and books, and even build a den similar to Robin's or the Sheriff of Nottingham. James and I took a break to sit and watch one of ten videos available. The room is a Robin Hood fantasist's dream world. Oh dear, is that our tummies rumbling? Time to find something to eat.

Captain Albert Ball VC
On leaving the Castle building, we walked down the steep path through the Castle grounds to the main gate. On doing so, you can't fail to see an impressive monument on your right hand side. Eating can wait a bit longer, let's see who is being remembered here.

The monument is to one Albert Ball, a World War One fighter pilot. I try not to glory in war, and I'm not doing that now, but Albert's story is I think an incredible one; a story of honour, determination, success and unbelievable courage.

I'm grateful to the website dedicated to Albert Ball for the following information and pictures.

Aeroplane SE A8907
Albert was born in Lenton Boulevard, Nottingham on the 16th August 1896. After being educated at Trent College, he enlisted in 1914 with the 2/7th Battalion (Robin Hoods) of the Sherwood Foresters. He rose rapidly in the ranks, but was desperate to get to the front and fight, even transferring to the North Midland Divisional Cyclist Company, but he couldn't get transferred out of England.

In June 1915 he paid for private tuition and trained as a pilot, and gained his wish in joining the Royal Flying Corps, where he gained the pilot's brevet on the 22nd January 1916. The following month he was posted to France flying reconnaissance aircraft, but he really wanted to fly fighters. His wish was granted on the 7th May 1916.

His hut with greenhouse
Now he was where he wanted to be; now let's get at the enemy. His dedication and determination can be seen in that he built himself a hut (with an attached greenhouse) next to the aircraft hanger, in which he lived, ate and slept 'over the shop' so that he could be airborne almost immediately and into combat.

Albert preferred to fight alone, and during the next twelve months, he is credited with shooting down 43 enemy aircraft and one enemy balloon. The stories of his fights read like something out of a boys own magazine, but they were all true. You can read more of these at http://albertball.homestead.com/ . Captain Albert Ball was killed in action on the 7th May 1917. He was remarkably 20 years of age.


Granted Freedom of Nottingham 17th February 1917
During his short life, Albert Ball received many honours. In July 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross; in September 1916 the Distinguished Service Order; in the same month he received the DSO with bar; in November 1916 he received the DSO with bar number 2, the first person ever to get this; in February 1917 he received the Russian Order of St George. He was given the Honorary Freedom of the City of Nottingham on the 19th February 1917.

One month before he died
On the 8th June 1917, King George V awarded posthumously the Victoria Cross to Albert, and this was presented to his parents. The citation is worth repeating.

"For most conspicuous and consistent bravery from the 25th April to the 6th May 1917, during which period Captain Ball took part in twenty six combats in the air and destroyed eleven hostile aeroplanes, drove down two out of control, and forced several others to land. In these combats, Captain Ball, flying alone, on one occasion, fought six hostile machines, twice he fought five and once four. When leading two other British aeroplanes he attacked an enemy formation of eight. On each of these occasions be brought down at least one enemy. Several times his aeroplane was badly damaged, once so seriously that but for the most delicate handling his machine would have collapsed, as nearly all the control wires had been shot away. On returning with a damaged machine he had always to be restrained from immediately going out on another. In all, Captain Ball has destroyed forty-three German aeroplanes and one balloon, and has always displayed most exceptional courage, determination and skill". - extract taken from the London Gazette of the 8th June 1917.

Little wonder that such a magnificent monument was erected in the grounds of Nottingham Castle. Standing 21 feet tall, it is a bronze sculpture standing on a base and pedestal of granite and Portland stone. It depicts Albert gazing upwards and tightening his belt before flight. Above is an allegorical robed figure of a woman representing the air, one hand pointing skywards, the other resting on Albert's shoulders.

On the front and back of the monument, underneath the inscriptions are the words

PER ARDUA AD ASTRA

which is the RAF motto meaning, "Through Struggle to the Stars". Surely no one epitomises that more than Captain Albert Ball VC.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Seaside Towns and Deprivation

Hastings, East Sussex
In March of this year the Government produced the latest Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) which is based on 2010 statistics. Previous Indices were produced in 2007 and 2004. Having worked over half my adult life with charities in the field of poverty and deprivation, I am always interested in the latest IMD's. As over twenty years was spent in a seaside town, I wanted to see how it, and other seaside towns were faring in the area of deprivation. I have looked at the figures and reports from Blackpool (North West), Hastings (East Sussex) and Margate (Kent). It could well have been any number of other medium to large seaside towns in England, as a common picture unfolds.

The Indices of Multiple Deprivation measures deprivation across seven areas:
  • Income
  • Employment
  • Health & Disability
  • Housing & Access to Services
  • Education
  • Crime
  • Living Environment
Looking at the Indices from 2004, 2007 and 2010, there is no doubt that Seaside towns are becoming more deprived. The 11 most deprived seaside towns have all got worse from 2004 - 2010. Blackpool is the most deprived seaside town, and 6th most deprived area in England, while Hastings is the 2nd most deprived seaside town, and 19th most deprived area in England.

A study done in Margate on why some seaside towns are struggling, could have been written for most seaside towns in England. Of some importance are structural barriers to growth.
  1. The 180 degree factor - Their position by the sea imposes limits on growth as they can only expand in one direction. In some places, the surrounding topography, such as steep hills, imposes further limitations. Most inland towns have 360 degrees to work with.
  2. Isolation - Smaller coastal towns are peripheral outposts on main transport routes, limiting access to the jobs and services located in towns and cities within the surrounding sub-region. This makes it difficult to attract new-comers who can bring economic benefit to the area.
  3. Vulnerability to climate change - The predictions for rising sea levels, and erosion rates that go along with it, can be a problematic factor in public and private investment decisions about growth and development in some seaside towns.
The growth of seaside resorts from the late 1800's was driven by the expansion of the domestic tourism industry, but for the last 30 - 40 years there has been decline as people wanted something more from their holidays, and low-cost European package holidays provided this. Too many seaside towns have failed to come to grips with these changes, with the result being significant economic under-achievement, or what one report says of a North Wales resort as "economic inertia".

Blackpool
There are some key reasons why many seaside towns are struggling, and continue to be spotlighted in the Indices of Multiple Deprivation.
  • Failure to diversify economically -  The fundamental driver of deprivation in many struggling seaside towns is the failure to move on from a reliance on the traditional seaside economy and create a new economic purpose. Successful seaside towns have updated and re-marketed their traditional offer. To stand still means to die.
  • Low-wage, low-skill job markets - A consequence of the failure to diversify is the dominance of low-wage, low-skill job in the declining tourism industry. In Blackpool, 31% of working-age adults have no formal qualifications. Some places also rely heavily on public sector jobs, which are under threat from Government cuts, and in Margate, 47% of jobs are in public administration.
  • High levels of incapacity - Research by the Department for Trade and Industry suggest that 9.3% of working-age adults in seaside towns claim Incapacity Benefit. This figure is 18% in Margate.
  • Unfit housing stock - Many seaside towns are full of hotels and guest houses which served the tourism trade but are now not fit for other uses such as family accommodation, and have been turned into hostels or houses of multiple occupation.
  • Low demand and low prices - The amount of cheap rental accommodation has served to attract in vulnerable individuals. Hastings has suffered from this. The poor quality of the stock and the out-migration of younger households has created a cycle of low demand and low prices. This in turn has encouraged more affluent families to look elsewhere.
  • In-migration of vulnerable households - The availability of cheap rented accommodation has created concentrations of vulnerable households, including statutorily homeless families, care-leavers and ex-offenders. In addition, the practices of local authorities in placing many of their 'unwanted' in seaside towns has contributed to a demographic imbalance. The British Urban Regeneration Association has described coastal towns as "dumping grounds for people facing problems such as unemployment, social exclusion and substance dependency". I have first hand knowledge of this in Hastings and Eastbourne.
  • Some areas have been stigmatised as a result, and struggle to successfully re-brand and market what they have to offer.
The Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) help to focus the mind on deprived areas. Some ask do these Indices matter? They most certainly do for at least four reasons.
  1. The Government uses them to target where regeneration programmes are to take place.
  2. Sure Start and Children's Centres were based on the most deprived areas according to the IMD.
  3. Many of the National Lottery grants are targeted at the most deprived areas based on the IMD.
  4. Stamp duty on property and land transactions were reduced in deprived areas, based on the IMD.
There are well researched reasons for decline in many seaside towns, and complicated factors that hinder the approach to change, but there are also lessons that can be copied from those who have made a transition from the old to the new. Among many initiatives that have been, and will be tried, undoubtedly the key driver is economic diversity. The Margate report says, "There is no magic bullet for struggling seaside towns, but local initiatives suggest that there are practical approaches and models of intervention which can be adapted".

The coastline of Great Britain runs for just over 11,000 miles, and around 3 million people live on the coast. Seaside towns are an important part of our heritage, and I very much hope that they will be an important part of our future.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Irish Socialism and Royal Visits


Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, President, Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth


"Some men, faint-hearted, ever seek
Our programme to retouch,
And will insist, whene'er they speak
That we demand too much.
'Tis passing strange, yet I declare
Such statements give me mirth,
For our demands most moderate are,
We only want the earth".

James Connolly


Last week Queen Elizabeth made an 'iconic', 'extraordinary', 'hugely symbolic' four day visit to Ireland. The Irish Times described her visit to Croke Park as a "watershed moment in Anglo-Irish relations". It said of the wreath-laying ceremony at the Garden of Rememberance, that it was "the moment many thought they would never see". Martina Devlin, writing in the Irish Independent said, "I don't know if the men and women who struggled for Irish freedom would have been moved by her salute or surprised by it. But I can't imagine that they would have been indifferent".

It's hard to gage the mood of the people of Ireland concerning the visit. There were protests on a small scale which seemed to have been quelled very rapidly by the Garda. But of the population as a whole, little is known. Dublin's Evening Herald said, "There were no flags, no banners and few cheers as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were whisked past by a fleet of outriders and a long motorcade of black cars". Though the columnist Eamonn Carr said that the Queen "played a blinder" during her visit. As to the lasting legacy of this visit we'll have to wait and see. It was certainly an opportunity for the 'great and the good' of Ireland to dust down those suits, join in the specially invited occasions and pay fawning homage to a foreign Monarch.

Much has been made of the fact that it has been nearly 100 years since the last Royal visit. This was in July 1911, when George V came to an Ireland that was part of the British Empire, and would remain so until Independence was gained in 1922.

King George V in Ireland, July 1911
Royalty stands for all that is unequal in society, and nothing sees this more clearly than socialism. I don't think that enough people remember that the fight for independence from British rule, was also a fight for social equality. No one could doubt that particularly in the early 1900's, Ireland was largely bereft of social justice, and the plight of the workers was not being addressed. The war for independence came to a head in 1916 (though it would be another six years before independence was gained), with the Easter Uprising, where Irishmen took over the main Post Office in Dublin. This was short lived however, as the rebellion was quickly dealt with by the British Army, resulting in over 400 deaths, and the execution of the leaders. The fight for social justice and Irish feedom had been long and hard, and one man who was prominent in both was the Socialist, James Connolly.

James Connolly
He was born in Edinburgh on the 5th June 1868 to Irish parents, and became active in the Socialist movement in that city in the early 1890's. He came to Ireland in 1896 and founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party. In 1902 he lectured on socialism in Britain and the US. He emigrated to America in 1903, and became a member of the Socialist Labour Party (US) and the Industrial Workers of the World, founding the Irish Socialist Federation in New York in 1907.

He returned to Ireland in 1910 as organiser for The Socialist Party of Ireland, and became Belfast organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in the same year.

In 1914 he was Commandant of the Irish Citizen Army, and Commandant General of Dublin Division of the Army of the Republic in 1916. He was executed by the British on the 12th May 1916 for his part in the Easter Uprising earlier that year. The manner of his execution outraged many (he was carried on a stretcher from hospital, tied to a chair and shot, then with others put in a mass grave without a coffin), and it was said that this gained the movement more followers than his life.

James Connolly Statue in Dublin
I cannot identify with his militant fight for freedom, as I haven't been in that position, and honestly don't know what I would do if I was. I can however identify with his fight for social justice.

I have no doubt that his social conscience was first aroused as a result of his mother dying at an early age due to the deprivation they faced in the slums of Edinburgh. This was in an area known as "Little Ireland".

Prior to the visit of King George V to Ireland in July 1911, he addressed the workers of Ireland on that visit, and though now 100 years old, the message still resonates with me as being at the heart of true socialism.

Though it has been reproduced many times before, I make no apology for reproducing it again.




"Fellow Workers, as you are aware from reading the daily and weekly newspapers, we are about to be blessed with a visit from King George V. Knowing from previous experience of Royal Visits, as well as from the Coronation orgies of the past few weeks, that the occasion will be utilised to make propaganda on behalf of royalty and aristocracy against the oncoming forces of democracy and National freedom, we desire to place before you some few reasons why you should unanimously refuse to countenance this visit, or to recognise it by your presence at the attendant processions or demonstrations. We appeal to you as workers, speaking to workers, whether your work be that of the brain or of the hand - manual or mental toil - it is of you and your children we are thinking; it is your cause we wish to safeguard and foster.

The future of the working class requires that all political and social positions should be open to all men and women; that all privileges of birth or wealth be abolished, and that every man or woman born into this land should have an equal opportunity to attain to the proudest position in the land. The Socialist demands that the only birthright necessary to qualify for public office should be the birthright of our common humanity.

Believing as we do that there is nothing on earth more sacred than humanity, we deny all allegience to this institution of royalty, and hence we can only regard the visit of the King as adding fresh fuel to the fire of hatred with which we regards the plundering institutions of which he is the representative. Let the capitalist and landlord class flock to exalt him; he is theirs; in him they see embodied the idea of caste and class; they glorify him and exalt his importance that they might familiarise the public mind with the conception of political inequality, knowing well that a people mentally poisoned by the adulation of royalty can never attain to that spirit of self-reliant democracy necessary for the attainment of social freedom. The mind accustomed to political kings can easily be reconciled to social kings - capitalist kings of the workshop, the mill, the railway, the ships and the docks. Thus coronation and king's visits are by our astute neversleeping masters made into huge imperialist propagandist campaigns in favour of political and social schemes against democracy. But if our masters and rulers are sleepless in their schemes against us, so we, rebels against their rule, must never sleep in our appeal to our fellows to maintain as publicly our belief in the dignity of our class - in the ultimate sovereignty of those who labour.

What is monarchy? From whence does it derive its sanction? What has been its gift to humanity? Monarchy is a survival of the tyranny imposed by the hand of greed and treachery upon the human race in the darkest and most ignorant days of our history. It derives its only sanction from the sword of the marauder, and the helplessness of the producer, and its gifts to humanity are unknown, save as they can be measured in the pernicious examples of triumphant and shameless iniquities.

Every class in society, save royalty, and especially British royalty, has through some of its members contributed something to the elevation of the race. But neither in science, nor in art, nor in literature, nor in exploration, nor in mechanical invention, nor in humanising of laws, nor in any sphere of human activity has a representative of British royalty helped forward the moral, intellectual or material improvement of mankind. But that royal family has opposed every forward move, fought every reform, persecuted every patriot, and intrigued against every good cause. Slandering every friend of the people, it has befriended every oppressor. Eulogised today by misguided clerics, it has been notorious in history for the revolting nature of its crimes. Murder, treachery, adultery, incest, theft, perjury - every crime known to man has been committed by some one or other of the race of monarchs from whom King George is proud to trace his descent.

"His blood
Has crept through scoundrels since the flood".

We will not blame him for the crimes of his ancestors if he relinquishes the royal rights of his ancestors; but as long as he claims their rights, by virtue of descent, then, by virtue of descent, he must shoulder the responsibility for their crimes.

Fellow workers, stand by the dignity of your class. All these parading royalties, all this insolent aristocracy, all these grovelling, dirt-eating capitalist traitors, all these are but signs of disease in any social state - diseases which a royal visit brings to a head and spews in all its nastiness before our horrified eyes. But as the recognition of the disease is the first stage towards the cure, so that we may rid our social state of its political and social diseases, we must recognise the elements of corruption. Hence, in bringing them all together and exposing their unity, even a royal visit may help us to understand, and understanding, help us to know how to destroy the royal, aristocratic and capitalist classes who live upon our labour. Their workshops, their lands, their mills, their factories, their ships, their railways must be voted into our hands who alone use them. Public ownership must take the place of capitalist ownership, social democracy replace political and social inequality, the sovereignty of labour must supercede and destroy the sovereignty of birth and the monarchy of capitalism.

Ours be the task to enlighten the ignorant among our class, to dissipate and destroy the political and social superstitions of the enslaved masses and to hasten the coming day when, in the words of Joseph Brenan, the fearless patriot of 1948, all the world will maintain

'The Right Divine of Labour
To be first of earthly things;
That the Thinker and the Worker
Are Manhood's only Kings'".

James Connolly, like many before and after him (myself included at times) was told to moderate his demands - they are too extreme. His response was a revolutionary song written in 1907, "We only want the earth". This blog started with the first stanza, and the final stanza says,

"For labour long, with sighs and tears,
To its oppressors knelt.
But never yet, to aught save fears,
Did the heart of tyrant melt.
We need not kneel, our cause no dearth
Of loyal soldiers' needs
And our victorious rallying cry
Shall be we want the earth".

Click this link to see the whole song. http://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1907/xx/wewnerth.htm

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Nottingham Green Festival 2011

22nd May 2011
I attended the Nottingham Green Festival at The Arboretum today. It is described in the Organiser's website, "Nottingham's only green event now running annually for over two decades, is the event that brings everything that is wholesome and healthy for you and the planet to the people of Nottingham and beyond. Representing to many health and happiness, and lots of family fun, and the start of the summer season.

With our environment and changing weather on everyone's lips, our own green festival is the place for the whole family to learn, explore and try the latest in everything environmentally friendly and ethical, whilst also having lots of fun in the beautiful setting of the Arboretum Park.

This event has over 100 product, information and food stalls, kids rides, workshops, alternative therapies and technologies, live performers, entertainments throughout the park, live music bands performing from the bandstand, and Veggies Catering nearby".

Arboretum 22nd May 2011
How did the Festival live up to its billing? Though windy, it was a beautiful sunny day, and thousands were out in the park, viewing the stalls, and with families and groups enjoying picnics.

The range of stalls certainly catered for everything that was "wholesome and healthy". There was the all embracing Greenpeace, to the small and local protection of the hedgehog. Animal welfare was side by side with human welfare. Plants and food sourced locally were being sold at fairly reasonable prices. A small book stall, with profits going to charity, was asking you to give more than the small asking price. Not a bad marketing ploy that.

Alternative sources of energy were on display, particularly solar panels. Alternative therapies also had a stall, providing Massage and Reiki. Some strange (to me) massage techniques were taking place on tables outside of the tent, in full view of everyone. Now, I like a massage, but not in full view of thousands of people passing by. (I must have had a sheltered upbringing).

The juxtaposition of two stalls really interested me. The Socialist Workers Party were calling on the TUC to organise a national strike against the cuts, and for us all to engage in a "Day of Rage". Directly opposite this stall was one being run by the Buddhist Community, who advocate anything but rage. I guess that you could get angry in one, and be calmed down by the other. Or perhaps you could visit the one to be calmed before a visit to the other, and there would be less inclination to rage. However, neither stall seemed to be doing much business. Please don't think that I'm mocking here, because I'm not; it just made me smile. (I have been told that occasionally my smile looks like a sneer, and makes me appear a bit sinister. I don't believe that of course, but just in case it's true, I don't mean it, as sinister is not part of my makeup, and I've just realised that I'm finding it difficult to get out of this parenthesis, now where is that door?).


Arboretum Bandstand 22nd May 2011
 There were a number of food outlets designed for healthy eating, though I'm not totally sure that chips fits in to that bracket, although in moderation of course they can be very nice.

There was lots of things for children to do which was great. There was a very large blown up slide, tug of war and exercise fun with parachute canvas.

One display had me a bit confused, as there were about 20 people in identical tee shirts standing around in a circle, clapping their hands, with some of them doing a kind of chant. Two of the number were in the centre of the circle doing what looked like dance to martial arts moves. I have to say, that though I was slightly confused, the performance was very beautiful, and the dance extremely graceful.

There was also music performed all afternoon from the bandstand. Five groups seemed to be allowed 45 minute sets, and I was thrilled to see that the first set was being performed by a jazz group. I sat in the sunshine enthralled by their performance (sorry, but I couldn't see their name). The following groups seemed to be a mixture of Reggae and Hip hop, but thankfully it was time for me to go. After all you can only have so much fun in an afternoon.

In all, it was a great day, and a great event, held in a fabulous setting, and I expect that we were all very glad of the sunshine.

Arboretum 22nd May 2011


Arboretum 22nd May 2011

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Carthusian Martyrs

Beauvale Priory (Monastery), Nottinghamshire
During the reign of Henry VIII in the 1530's, we have a story of power struggle, machiavellian politics, lust, greed, intimidation and death. The central players are Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and 18 Carthusian Monks. The Carthusian Order near Grenoble in France was eventually filmed by the German film director, Philip Groning in 2005, a total of 21 years after his first request to the Order. The film was called "Into Great Silence" and clips can be found on You Tube. The Nottinghamshire producers, Hanby and Barrett wrote a play in 2010 about the Nottinghamshire Monastery standing up to Henry VIII. They called it, "The Cries of Silent Men". Hilary Mantel's book, "Wolf Hall" is the story of Thomas Cromwell, and though a novel, depicts much of the story behind Henry and the Carthusian Order. What is the story behind these men?

Carthusian Monk
It's worth noting who the Carthusians were. There have of course been many religious orders through the centuries, but the Carthusians are pretty unique by any standards. They are a Roman Catholic religious order, founded by St Bruno in 1084 and set up their first Monastery near Grenoble in France.

A Carthusian Monastery was established in Nottinghamshire in 1343 by Nicholas de Cantelupe in a valley about 10 miles north-west of Nottingham, and called Beauvale Monastery (Priory). This was the third such Monastery to be established in England, with six more to follow.

It was built to hold 12 monks, and a Carthusian Monastery can best be described as a community of hermits. Each Monk had his own living space, called a cell. Each cell had a high walled garden, where the Monk may meditate as well as grow flowers or vegetables as a form of physical exercise. There were also others called 'lay brothers' whose job was to meet the needs of the Monks. Meals were provided through a revolving compartment usually twice a day, with the Monk not having contact with the bearer. These are then eaten in solitude. Theirs is a life of solitude except for community mass, community meal on a Sunday, community walks, and even these are all conducted in silence.

The Carthusian Monks did not engage in work of a pastoral or missionary nature, and as far as possible had no contact with the outside world. They had no concern with anything outside of their monastery; the intention of all Carthusian discipline was to make possible for the Monk contemplation in the fullest sense of that mystic, spiritual beholding of God, called the Beatific Vision. They were gentle people, who simply wanted to be left alone with their beliefs and their lives. But this was not to happen.

Thomas Cromwell
Thomas Cromwell was instrumental in making sure that it did not happen. Born the son of an alehouse keeper, he rose to become, as C.J. Sansom says, "One of the most ruthless and powerful operators ever to dominate the politics of this country. His mastery of the black arts of spin and propaganda, of flattery, patronage and sudden betrayal, make the most ruthless modern politicians seem mild by comparison. He ran a spy network that was the nearest thing a 16th century regime could get to the Stasi, saw off his foes with trumped up charges of adultery and revelled in the torture of his enemies".

He fought as a mercenary in the Italian wars of the early 16th century, and would have undoubtedly come across the works of Niccolo Machiavelli, particularly his book, 'The Prince', which some have described as "one of the most notorious works of all time". This was distributed in 1513, and published in 1532; banned by the Catholic Church, (they accused him of being Satan) but circulated widely. The book is about how power is actually seized and held on to in the world of men. Machiavelli observed that, "A man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good". He also comments that while it is important for a successful ruler to appear honest, merciful and humane, in reality he should eschew these qualities as they will only make him weak. Cromwell seems to have taken the lessons of Machiavelli to heart.

King Henry VIII
Henry became king in 1509, and much of his life and marriages are fairly well known. By his side was Thomas Cromwell, who was always looking for ways to increase power and wealth. He came up with a 'brilliant' plan - destroy the monasteries and seize their vast assets. In a reign of unadulterated terror, he masterminded the dissolution of the monasteries and what one historian called, "The biggest land grab since the Norman invasion of 1066" - seizing one-sixth of the nation's wealth and turning it over to the King.

This reign of unadulterated terror is seen in the story of the Carthusian Monks. This comes about largely as a result of the 1534 Act of Supremacy, where Henry was declared to be the supreme head of the Church of England. Anyone who refused to take an oath recognising him as the head, was considered to have committed an act of high treason.

In 1535, Robert Lawrence, Prior of Beauvale, John Houghton a previous Prior at Beauvale, and Augustine Webster, Prior of Axholme, asked for a personal interview with Cromwell to try and resolve the difficulties. Cromwell refused to listen to them, and sent them to the Tower of London as 'rebellious traitors'. Over the next week they were interrogated by Cromwell, and consistently, and together, refused to take the oath. On the 28th April, they were indicted before a jury on the charge of 'verbal treason'. They pleaded not guilty.

The jury were unable to condemn the accused, on the ground that they did not act maliciously. The Judges instructed them, saying that to deny the supremacy was to act maliciously. The jury still refused to condemn the monks; Cromwell used violent threats against them, until they at last voted guilty. It was reported that afterwards, "they were ashamed to show their faces". So the Monks were condemned to death and taken back to the Tower of London.

On the 4th May the three Priors were executed in the most ghastly of ways. While still living, they were ripped up in each others presence, their bodies obscenely mutilated, their hearts cut out and rubbed into their mouths and faces, and all this before the process of quartering had begun. Six weeks later, three other Carthusians suffered the same fate, and in 1537, a further eleven were convicted, and between May and September, they were tied to a post at Newgate Prison and left to die of starvation. The last to die was in 1540, where at Tyburn he was hanged, disembowelled and quartered. A total of 18 members of the Carthusian Order were tortured and killed for refusing to place their allegiance to the King before their allegiance to the Pope. The Carthusian Order was the only Order that as one, stood against the King and Cromwell. In 1536 the dissolution of the monasteries begins under Cromwell, and was completed in 1539.

Thomas Cromwell fell out of favour with the King, prompted by the jealousy of the Duke of Norfolk, and on the 28th July 1540, he was beheaded at the Tower of London. It is hard to find forgiveness for this 'Prince of Darkness'.

Though more Carthusian Monks were killed who belonged to the London Monastery, I am convinced of the central role played by the Beauvale Monastery in Nottinghamshire, in the incredible confrontation between Church and State, between Monasteries and King, and though they lost the battle, they deserve the recognition, and the promise that their story will never be lost.

Houses of Parliament
It's nearly 500 years since the events surrounding the Carthusian Martyrdom. Cromwell's machiavellian tactics were about the dark arts (the Prince of Darkness); smearing people's names and reputations; greasing people's hands; rewarding people for keeping quiet; encouraging greed in the desire for power; not letting facts get in the way of the truth; in public appear honest and humane, but be quite different in reality; ruthlessly deal with real or perceived enemies. I can't help thinking that this sounds a bit familiar today?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

My Village, My Home, My Life - part seven

1947 was a year of contrasts, and of beginnings. We had BUPA founded; the first tubeless car tyre; first transistor produced; a record football transfer fee of £15,000; Llangollen International Eisteddfod began; harsh winter; hot summer, and I was born.

Digging out a car, 30th January 1947
According to Met Office records, from the 22nd January to the 17th March 1947, snow fell every day, somewhere in the UK. In my County of Denbighshire, snow fell to a depth of about 5 feet, with drifts in exposed places reaching over 15 feet. There was inevitable chaos for a number of weeks. Men couldn't get to work in the area, and the mines had to close, with the looming threat of coal shortages. There was still rationing after the war, and the snow caused additional food shortages.

Hill farmers faced the threat of losing their flock of sheep due to the depth of snow on the mountains. And this is where I love stories of communities coming together in the face of adversity. Many miners and others who could not get to work because of the closures, went out on the mountains to help farmers find and recover their sheep. It seemed a daunting task, but experience had told farmers to look for dark brown patches in the snow. Sheep would lift their nostrils as high as possible to sniff the air, and the brown patches would indicate that sheep were near the surface of the snow. Many sheep died, but many were saved because of this collective community action.

You can't get to Penycae without either walking over the mountains, or going up steep hills, so the village was cut off for a considerable time.

I was born in September 1947, which means that unless I came about as the result of an immaculate conception, I was conceived around January 1947. This set me thinking; was I conceived because there was nothing else to do in a snow bound village? Oh, do tell me that there was more to my conception than that. Unfortunately, we'll now never know.

In March the snow began to melt, but because of the hardness of the ground, there was nowhere for the water to go, so inevitable widespread flooding occurred. Of interest to Nottingham readers is the fact that on the 18th March 1947, the banks of the River Trent burst, and hundreds of homes were flooded, many to first floor level.

After coping with deep snow in the early period of carrying me, my Mother had to endure the latter stages of pregnancy in a heatwave. The Summer of 1947 is the 6th warmest since records began in 1659. (You're dying to know the other five, aren't you? Well, 1826, 1846, 1976, 1983 and 1995). September 1947 was the 20th warmest month since 1659. I can imagine that after the snow of Winter, and the heat of Summer, my Mother would be relieved to see me pop out into the world.

LLangollen North Wales
Another significant event in 1947 was the first Llangollen International Eisteddfod, held in the magically beautiful town of Llangollen in the Dee Valley, just a short hop over the mountains from Penycae. The picture shows the centre of the town with its white water rapids at high level, and you follow the road to the right of the river, which takes you past the Eisteddfod ground, and on up to the ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey and the Horseshoe Pass.

Eisteddfod Pavilion
The Eisteddfod Executive Director says, "One of the joys of Llangollen is that it brings together in friendly competition some of the finest musical talent the world has to offer".

For one week in July each year, between 2000 and 5000 musicians, singers and dancers compete in over 20 high quality competitions during the day.

Every evening, the best and most colourful competitors share the stage in renowned concerts given by professional artists, many of whom started their careers in Llangollen.

It amazingly did not take many years to get established. Argentina and China participated in 1948; USA and Germany in 1949 (remember this was just four years after the end of the 2nd World War, but they were welcomed to the Eisteddfod with open arms); Brazil, Sri Lanka and Turkey in 1950; India and Indonesia in 1951. By 1953 - just six years after it started, 50 countries had competed in Llangollen. 2011 marks the 65th anniversary of this truly international festival.

Luciano Pavarotti (circled) Llangollen 1955
If you don't know the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, don't ever think of it as some mickey mouse event, held in the back waters of Wales. There is a seemingly endless list of now household names who have performed on the famous stage.

Placido Domingo acknowledges that his first professional experience in the United Kingdom was at the 1968 International Eisteddfod, and in 1955 Luciano Pavarotti (see picture), at the age of 17 competed with his father in the male voice choir competition with others from their home town of Modena. They won, and Pavarotti returned for a spectacular concert in 1995. Other stars who have appeared in the Gala Concerts are, Kiri Te Kanawa, Jose Carreras, Lesley Garrett, Bryn Tyrfel, Katherine Jenkins, Dennis O'Neil, James Galway, Nigel Kennedy, Elaine Page, Michael Ball and Montserrat Caballe. A truly glittering array of musical stars.

South Korean Dance Group
For this years Eisteddfod, 103 choirs and dance groups have been selected to participate from 35 different nations around the world. If you can get there, go and enjoy the spectacle of dance and song.

With so many people coming for a week to compete, where are they all to stay? The answer has always been in finding host families in the towns and villages around Llangollen. Penycae was one of those villages for many years, though for some reason, we were never a host family ourselves. Each nationality was allocated to a village, and as children, we waited with great excitement and anticipation which nationality of choir or dance group was allocated to the village.

Whichever group it was, at the end of their stay they would put on a concert for the village as a way of saying thank you. Weather permitting, the concert would be held on the green in the estate opposite my house in Cristionydd, called Groesfan. There would also be some gifts for the children, and I remember the Americans being my favourite, as they gave out loads of sweets and chocolates (like in the war with nylons, cigarettes and chocolates). Children can be so selfish can't they? I don't think that I can have changed that much, as I can still be easily bought with coffee, ice cream and chocolate.

I don't have first hand accounts from host families in Penycae, but in trawling through websites for memories of the Llangollen Eisteddfod, I came across a memory from someone in a neighbouring village, which could well be duplicated in ours. I love this recollection from 1977 as it shows how different nations lived at the time, and how Llangollen brought people together. The writer says,

"Another memorable year in the Eisteddfod calendar was when the Zulus, from Durban in South Africa arrived. My aunt hosted two young female competitors. My cousin recalls calling at the parish hall in their car to collect them. On reaching home it became obvious that the two young ladies were not at ease, with the situation becoming even more tense when they were asked if they would like something to eat.

Finally, when they were shown to their room, they broke down and confessed that they had never been treated so courteously, especially to be waiting on. The final straw came when they realised that they would be sleeping in the same house as a white person. It turned out that this was not an isolated case in the village, as other Zulu members asked shopkeepers if they could enter the premises to be served".

Remember, this was 1977, and at the time, apartheid was the official government policy of racial segregation in South Africa. Llangollen International Eisteddfod was there to embrace the world. Colour, creed and nationality were of no importance, the only thing that mattered was talent, and the world was brought together in healthy competition. For one week in July every year, Penycae embraced that vision, and while I can't speak for anyone else from the village, that vision has remained with me until this day.


Sorry, but couldn't resist ending with a shot of a Male Voice Choir.