Monday, 24 February 2014
When you've been married for almost half a century, and if you both love music, then there's always going to be something from those early, exciting and utterly romantic days of your first meetings which will always tickle the tear ducts and smother you in warm nostalgia. For Wendy and I it's the Zombies' 1966 album, Odyssey & Oracle. When they re-formed after 40 years we were first in line for their concerts at Shepherd's Bus in London and at Bridgwater Hall in Manchester. Now they're no longer thrusting young pop Gods; just little old men with wrinkles and receding hair. Yet their art remains timeless, and Colin Blunstone's sweet voice still has the power to make me lean across my seat to my wife and kiss her. This, Mr. Simon Cowell, is what pop music is meant to be: eternal, romantic, poignant. But I suppose that would mean a 'no' from you and the judges, eh?
Tuesday, 18 February 2014
BEEN RIPPED OFF? HELP IS AT HAND!
It must be very confusing for anyone working at the IMF (International Monetary Fund) because there are two women working there with very similar names. One is, of course, the big boss, Christine Lagarde, and the other is her 'Admin Chairman' Christine LARGADE! Never the less, I was delighted to receive this e-mail from Ms. Largade this morning, because having a cash card to milk the IMF with is just the ticket when you're short of a few bob. But there's an even bigger revelation of the IMF's powers of resuscitation - Ms. Largade is working alongside the revived cadaver of the Walrus of Love, Barry White, who sadly passed on a couple of years ago. Therefore it's with some gratitude that I responded to the IMF's e-mail with suitable footnotes as follows:
From: Ms. Christine Largade (email@example.com)
Microsoft SmartScreen classified this message as junk.
Sent: 17 February 2014 23:44:52
To: Recipients (firstname.lastname@example.org)
International Reconciliation and Logistics Vault
International Monetary Fund (IMF)
COMPENSATIONAL SETTLEMENT OF ESCROW ACCOUNTS.
It is a pleasure to write you that we have reconciled with our logistic department on the reimbursement of some fund spent by you during the cause of your inadequate dealings with some impostors who claim to be staff in banks and other regional payment centers. Our reconciliation teams with the prospectus instrument of the United Nations after freezing suspected impostors account. This support was fully effective with the help of World Bank after a summit meeting in London, on the financial analysis on financial stability issues fluctuating their economy with the international global standard.
After gathering of this sum, our logistic department gave us a list of customers to be paid who fell victims to these imposters due to unawareness. And mode of payment was as well specified for proper conducts and financial regulations to kick against criminality during process of payment. We have arranged your payment through our swift card centers, with the latest instruction from International Monetary Fund Reconciliation Office.
The card center will send you an ATM Debit card which you will use to withdraw your money in any ATM Center, Banks and Union Pay Credit outlets in the world, You are hereby selected as an honor for this payment approval, which you are to acknowledge the receipt of this mail in returning the required below to the Logistic Department by email listed below.
Office of Reconciliation and Logistics Vaults,
International Monetary Fund (IMF),
Contact Manager: Mr. Barry White
1. Full Name: ELIJAH RIPMEOFF
2. Phone and Fax Number: Star Date 009.4237
3. Your age and Current Occupation: 87 Bouncer in Mothercare shop
4. Contact Address where you want your ATM Card to be delivered to (P.O Box Not Acceptable): c/o Darth Vader, the Death Star, Ursa Major.
For your information, you have to stop any further communication with any other person (s) or office (s) to avoid any hitches in receiving your payment. Because of Impostors, we hereby issued you our code of conduct, which is (ATM-7750) so you have to indicate this code when contacting the Card Center by using it as your subject. Kindly be informed that recipients shall be liable to all cost arising for the delivery of the donation parcel. This is due to Legal law protecting all donation funds misappropriation.
Yours in Service,
Ms. Christine Largade
International Reconciliation and Logistics Vaults
International Monetary Fund (IMF)
 What, you mean people who write bogus e-mails like this? I’m horrified!
 Could this be a banjo, by any chance, or a Ukelele? The Memphis Horns?
 Meeting at the Burkino All Day Breakfast Café, Peckham.
 We had a whip-round. It paid for this e-mail.
 Ah, the old ‘unawareness ploy’ thank heavens you know about this. Saves time.
 What - you mean we can kick you whilst we’re being paid? Bring it on!
 Which you’ll find next door to the Pound Shop in Bethnal Green.
 ATM: Absurd Tragic Mugs
 Address: Skip No. 3, rear of Netto Store, Lagos.
 You can’t fool me. The Walrus of Love died. So did Isaac Hayes. I prefer to deal with Smokey Robinson, if that’s OK with you. I know he works for you, Christine.
Sunday, 16 February 2014
When we look back over the decades of thrills and inspiration music has provided, it can be difficult to pick out the true high points which stand the test of time and still caress our emotions. This beautifully measured performance by Ry Cooder and his band has that ambiance of eternity about it. The vocals, the togetherness of the musicians, and Ry Cooder's impeccable slide guitar playing are all something Simon Cowell and co. could never comprehend. This is real music, doing what real music does: lifting our spirits.
Saturday, 8 February 2014
An Embittered Meditation: Old Age
Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you
Paul Simon, Old Friends.
|Father and daughter, 1966.|
I thought I'd live forever, and Sarah
knew she wouldn't.
When you’re pushing at age 71, you realise just how much the world has changed since you came into it. You also reach a mental plateau which every septuagenarian throughout history must have reached; an illogical incomprehension with those younger folk around you. This is further exacerbated by the rapid growth of technology which, rather than strengthening the bonds between human beings, seems to dissolve them, to be replaced with a myopic fixation on no longer communicating vocally and face to face, but by the blurred, rapid movement of texting thumbs.
We all, and even you, twenty and thirty-somethings, long after this 70-year old has shuffled off, eventually face that internal query “why didn’t everything stay the same as it was?” Yet the rhythms of life and death fluctuate wildly in every era. We are in an age of discovery, where being human becomes less and less important as our biology becomes absorbed by the unstoppable, creeping moss of robotic science.
What my generation knew as ‘traditions’ have evaporated. These may be silly examples to a younger mind, but take November 5, Guy Fawkes night. The anticipation of Bonfire Night when I was at school held almost the same frisson as that of Christmas Day. We stealthily bought up fireworks with our pocket money, storing them ready for the glorious night. We spent a month collecting anything combustible for our bonfires. Tree branches, old timber, rubber tyres. And then came the night itself, just one night, and if it rained, tough. But it HAD to be November 5th. It was a 3-hour riot of flame, of thunder-flashes, Roman candles, jumping jacks and rockets. On the morning after we would sadly skirt around the smouldering embers, and pick up expended fireworks, morosely remembering the night before. Then we’d shut down our glumness and start looking forward to Yuletide. Yet what happens now? As soon as the somewhat alien importation of America’s insistence on Halloween is over, fireworks start exploding everywhere from the end of October, almost up to December. If the ‘traditional’ November 5th isn’t on a ‘convenient’ day, then it will be ‘staged’ on a Friday or a Saturday. Nothing must interfere with business.
But Guy Fawkes night is nothing. Capitalism dictates that every previously folk-based point on the calendar has nothing to do with heritage, but with profit. Hot Cross buns and Easter Eggs rapidly fill the shelves now in January, four months ahead of their festive time-slot. Mince pies make their appearance now as early as September. We’re flagging up Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and even Remembrance Sunday so far ahead of their time that when they arrive we’ve all but forgotten what they are. So what were once elements of tradition are now the background white noise of commercial prodding devices; buy, buy, buy.
As for technology, you are almost exiled from humanity without it. The PC and e-mail are fine; over the past two decades we’ve absorbed their benefits. But they are not enough for the corporate world. Everything is a ‘must-have’; a basic mobile phone isn’t worth looking at - only the I-phone will do. But then you need an I-Pad or some kind of tablet, and why buy a clunky printed book made of paper when yu can read literature on your Kindle. (Until, of course, you accidentally drop it, or someone steals it). The I-phone has had the effect of cutting off the outside world. Walk down any major street and note how many people are shambling along, both hands clutching their phone, thumbs a-blur texting, oblivious to the flight of birds, the wind in trees, the joy of actually strolling.
How terribly strange to be seventy
All this griping is what you’d expect from a curmudgeonly old crust like me. When I was younger you’d find people past pension age sitting on park benches smoking pipes, chuntering away about ‘the state of the world’ and it was hard to imagine that you’d ever become one of them. But be warned - it happens. Being ‘old’ seems an alien concept when you’re 25. Simon and Garfunkel said it best on their Bookends album in the mid-1960s:
Old friends, old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes of the old friends
Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust on the shoulders of the old friends
Can you imagine us years from today?Sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
Old friends, memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears
As I write this Paul Simon has reached the age of 72. There seems to be a cosmic unfairness about human biology. Yet if we were immortal, the world would be so crammed full of greatness, massive giants of intellect and totally insane megalomaniacs that it would explode. We need to die, but before that, we need to marry, we need to love, we need to have children, we need to do as much as we can in our allotted span to make sense of it all. This week I attended the wedding of my Niece, Cassandra. It too had none of the ‘traditions’ of most marriages. It was something new, something different, but none the less understandable, because it was original and, above all, creative.
|A Goth Wedding: Cassandra Bainton Marries Neil Codd, February 6, 2014, Cottingham, Hull.|
Next week we shall attend the funeral of our departed friend, Dorothy, who made it to her late 70s before that same evil which took our beloved daughter Sarah 14 months ago hit her; cancer. Joy and death, all in the space of a week. So perhaps all the progress I rail about, all the demolition of what I hold to be tradition, can stretch beyond the I-pad and the I-phone and Kindle and come up with a cure for Cancer. Perhaps then, we shall all be ‘old friends’ for a few decades more.
I shall now return to what my decreasingly agile brain still allows me to do; creative writing. And there’s a thought. When they scatter the ashes, something of us remains after all; these words.
Wednesday, 22 January 2014
BOLSHEVIKS IN THE BALTIC:
The forgotten story of World War 1.
So, here we go then, into what looks like 4 years of centenary commemoration for ‘the war to end all wars’. All the major TV historians will be working flat out on commissions for programmes which will tell us all about the horrors Tommy Atkins had to face, and expand in detail on such disasters as the Somme and Passchendaele. No doubt they’ll be looking at Gallipoli and Scapa Flow.
|Russian Navy Sailors re-name their ship Pamyat Azova during the revolution in Reval (Tallin) in 1917.|
And in the midst of all this, will we be looking at the biggest social upheaval during this tragic conflict - the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which saw a battered, disintegrating Russia pull out of the war, opting for a challenging peace, thus leaving the rest of us with no ally in the east? I hope so. Then again, some will ask if this had anything to do with Britain’s part in the war. The answer is yes.
For 200 Royal Navy Sailors who served in the Baltic Submarine Flotilla between 1914-1918, life may not have been as excessively grim as it was for those poor souls in the trenches. Yet the combination of submarine warfare, the vicious frozen Baltic winters and, in 1917, the outbreak of the Revolution, which saw their Russian allies suddenly turn on their Tsarist officers in a murderous mass mutiny, all contributed to a complex, hidden chapter of the Great War which has always been overlooked.
|Cromie's sub HMS E19 in the frozen Baltic ... would you like ice with that?|
The central figure in this story is Captain Francis Newton Allen Cromie, CB DSO RN, who took over command of the Baltic Flotilla from Commander Max Horton in 1915. Cromie remains a true British hero, yet today he is largely forgotten. The next four years may offer a chance for this situation to be rectified. Teetotal, fluent in Russian, he had been in command of a submarine at the age of 24. He’d fought with the Naval Brigades as an 18 year old Midshipman in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, and received the China Medal. He also received the Royal Humane Society’s Bronze Medal for risking his own life to save a drowning sailor in the Channel. He was a skilled watercolour artist, a great orator and raconteur, and his skills as a mediator earned him the sobriquet among some sailors and diplomats as ‘the Navy Blue Pimpernel’.
He stepped in on various occasions and, by power of persuasive argument, saved the lives of numerous Russian sailors who fell under the threat of the commissars of the new, fledgling Soviet Navy. He was decorated by Tsar Nicholas II with the equivalent of the Russian VC, the Order of St. George, received the Legion of Honour from the French, and is the only man to receive a posthumous CB from George V. On one day in October 1915, in charge of his submarine, HMS E19, he sank five enemy vessels. He also sank the German cruiser, the Undine. Cromie was respected by Trotsky and Lenin, but when the Russians pulled out of the war and succumbed to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, one of the conditions was that Cromie’s subs were to be surrendered to the Germans. Yet although Cromie was offered massive personal sums by the White Finns for his 7 submarines, he remained loyal to the Admiralty, took the boats out into the Gulf of Finland and scuppered them all.
Cromie could have come home with his men, but he opted to stay behind in Russia, ostensibly to carry on his war. The upper-class staff at the British Embassy had fled back to the UK in the face of the revolution, so Cromie, designated ‘Naval Attaché’ took over the Petrograd embassy building as de-facto representative of the crown. Yet his real reason for remaining in Petrograd was his love affair with Sonia Gagarin, a beautiful Petrograd socialite. Once Cromie had becomed entangled with an allied plot in 1918 to ferment counter-revolution against the Bolshevik government, he found himself out of his depth, dealing with the cream of British Military Intelligence, such as Ian Fleming’s original inspiration for James Bond, the so-called ‘Ace of Spies’ Sidney Reilly, and the British envoy Robert Bruce-Lockhart. Tricked into a compromising situation by wily Bolshevik agents, who knew of the allied plans to land troops in Murmansk in an attempt to unseat Lenin, Red Guards invaded the British Embassy in Petrograd on August 31st 1918. Cromie, a hero to the end, died from a bullet to the head, fighting on the embassy’s grand staircase, pistol in hand. He is buried in an un-marked grave in St. Petersburg’s Lutheran cemetery.
When his cortege passed along the banks of the Neva, the somewhat slovenly revolutionary sailors of the fledgling Soviet Navy, lounging on moored destroyers along the embankment, spontaneously formed disciplined ranks and gave him a final salute. Above all else, he had been a fellow sailor, a fair man, respected by all, no matter what their politics.
Back in England Cromie’s wife, probably unaware of his romantic dalliance in Russia, collected his posthumous CB from King George. Churchill referred to him as ‘a man of great ability’. And then, he became little more than a footnote in British history. Hopefully, this will change.
Tuesday, 7 January 2014
In April this year my biography of Captain Francis Newton Allen Cromie, CB DSO RN (1882-1918) will be re-issued by Constable & Robinson as an e-book for the WW1 Commemorations. But Cromie's story (see the above link to Photographer Graham Harrison's superb blog) really comes to a head in August 2018, when it will be 100 years since his murder on the staircase of the British Embassy in St. Petersburg. With all the hundreds of TV documentaries already commissioned, we're determined that this man, described by Churchill as ' a man of extraordinary gifts') should not be overlooked. He is a true, forgotten hero. More to come in the weeks ahead on this amazing story!