November 2, 2014

QotD: The town of Reading

Filed under: Britain, History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

We came in sight of Reading about eleven. The river is dirty and dismal here. One does not linger in the neighbourhood of Reading. The town itself is a famous old place, dating from the dim days of King Ethelred, when the Danes anchored their warships in the Kennet, and started from Reading to ravage all the land of Wessex; and here Ethelred and his brother Alfred fought and defeated them, Ethelred doing the praying and Alfred the fighting.

In later years, Reading seems to have been regarded as a handy place to run down to, when matters were becoming unpleasant in London. Parliament generally rushed off to Reading whenever there was a plague on at Westminster; and, in 1625, the Law followed suit, and all the courts were held at Reading. It must have been worth while having a mere ordinary plague now and then in London to get rid of both the lawyers and the Parliament.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.

October 4, 2014

The “Herod Clause” to get free Wi-Fi

Filed under: Britain, Business, Humour, Law, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:48

I missed this earlier in the week (and it smells “hoax-y”, but it’s too good to check):

A handful of Londoners in some of the capital’s busiest districts unwittingly agreed to give up their eldest child, during an experiment exploring the dangers of public Wi-Fi use.

The experiment, which was backed by European law enforcement agency Europol, involved a group of security researchers setting up a Wi-Fi hotspot in June.

When people connected to the hotspot, the terms and conditions they were asked to sign up to included a “Herod clause” promising free Wi-Fi but only if “the recipient agreed to assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity”. Six people signed up.

F-Secure, the security firm that sponsored the experiment, has confirmed that it won’t be enforcing the clause.

“We have yet to enforce our rights under the terms and conditions but, as this is an experiment, we will be returning the children to their parents,” wrote the Finnish company in its report.

“Our legal advisor Mark Deem points out that — while terms and conditions are legally binding — it is contrary to public policy to sell children in return for free services, so the clause would not be enforceable in a court of law.”

Ultimately, the research, organised by the Cyber Security Research Institute, sought to highlight public unawareness of serious security issues concomitant with Wi-Fi usage.

August 27, 2014

35 years later, Kate Bush returns to live performances

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:24

BBC News reports on the first live performance by Kate Bush since 1979:

Kate Bush has made her stage comeback to an ecstatic response from fans at her first live concert for 35 years.

Bush received a standing ovation as she closed the show with Cloudbusting, from her 1985 hit album The Hounds of Love.

The 56-year-old British star was appearing at London’s Hammersmith Apollo — the scene of her last live show in 1979.

Tuesday’s three-hour set kicked off a run of 22 shows, titled Before the Dawn, which sold out in minutes.

Afterwards, she thanked fans for their “warm and positive response”.

Backed by seven musicians, Bush opened the show with Lily, from the 1993 album Red Shoes.

There was a huge roar from the crowd as Bush appeared on stage — barefoot and dressed in black — leading her five backing singers.

“It’s so good to be here — thank you so much,” she told the cheering crowd.

She later introduced one of the backing chorus as her teenage son Bertie who, the star said, had given her the “courage” to return to the stage.

The first half of the show included the 1985 single Running Up That Hill and, from the same Hounds of Love album, the song suite The Ninth Wave — which combined video, theatre and dance to tell the story of a woman lost at sea.

After an interval, the second act was dominated by songs from Bush’s 2005 album Aerial.

Kate Bush BBC ad

July 26, 2014

QotD: French “ultra-liberalism”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The French press, media and intellectuals castigate ad nauseam what they call the ‘ultra-liberalism’ of the present-day western world: and their characterization, as intellectually lazy as it is inaccurate, now goes virtually by default. Very few are the commentators who see through its inaccuracy. That a country whose public sector accounts for more than half of economic activity, and which is as highly-administered as France (and, it must be said, often well-administered, for who would not rather go on the Paris Metro than the New York Subway?), cannot plausibly be described as ‘ultra-liberal,’ ought to be perfectly obvious even on the most casual reflection, but alas it is not. If France is ultra-anything it is ultra-corporatist, but even that would be an exaggeration. And so present discontents are laid at the door of ultra-liberalism, though in fact a considerable proportion of the resentments and discontents of the young who approve of M’Bala M’Bala are attributable to the rigidity of the French labor market, which is caused precisely by an illiberal nexus of protections and restrictions.

The problem, then, is not ultra-liberalism but insufficient liberalism. The difference between France and other western countries, incidentally, is one of degree and not of type, though even degree can be important: illiberalism in the French labor market has in a matter of a few years turned London into one of the largest French-speaking cities in the world.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Illusions of Control in the Omnicompetent French State”, Library of Law and Liberty, 2014-01-07

April 16, 2014

Handel’s Messiah – the Live Aid of 1750

Filed under: Britain, History, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:08

In the Telegraph, Michael White explains why Handel’s Messiah really was the 18th century equivalent of Live Aid:

Every year, his masterpiece reliably comes round, filling musicians’ diaries with unending renditions of the Hallelujah Chorus and “Surely he hath borne our griefs” (or “worn our briefs” as choirboys have it), like a tonic for the flagging bank balance. And it will be the same this week, with a performance of some kind or other guaranteed to come your way, unless you’re living in the Outer Hebrides without a choir in sight or sound.

But for good measure, there’s also a BBC TV programme on Saturday in which the historian Amanda Vickery is looking at Messiah’s back story. And it seems her interest isn’t in the piece as a gift to musicians but as a gift to the poor — focusing on a London performance in 1750 that was, as she says, an 18th-century precedent for Live Aid.

This performance took place at the Foundling Hospital in London, which these days is a museum but was then a children’s home attracting the support of celebrated figures in the arts world. Painters including Hogarth gave it canvases to exhibit; composers such as Handel gave it music to perform. And the funds raised helped keep it going — in something like the manner of that other famous children’s home, the Ospedale della Pietà, Venice, where Vivaldi gave his services.


The only problem was that Handel depended for commercial success on operatic ventures that proved disastrously expensive and went sour when public tastes changed (as they always do). Hence his interest in writing English oratorios: they were cheaper to produce than opera, avoided over-priced Italian singers and attracted decent audiences.

Hence Messiah, which was written not for London but for Dublin, where it was premiered in April 1742. A large crowd was clearly expected because notices published in advance begged gentlemen to leave their swords at home and ladies to attend “without Hoops”. The critical information on those notices, though, was that making room for more people would “greatly increase the Charity”; because even this initial Dublin try-out was a fundraiser, designed for the relief of prisoners and an infirmary.

So it was good causes that helped swell the turnout. And from what we know of how it went, the audience was high-minded, entering into the spirit of an entertainment that was happening in a concert hall but none the less used sacred texts.

Jonathan Swift, the Dean of Dublin’s Anglican Cathedral, had initially tried to stop his choir being involved, on the grounds that a concert hall wasn’t the right place for such things, and that one of the soloists, Susannah Cibber, was a woman of loose morals. But when she sang “He was despised” she did so with such beauty that another clergyman in the audience stood up and shouted “Woman, thy sins be forgiven”: the kind of engagement you might wish of modern audiences, if only they could be distracted from their iPhones.

March 21, 2014

Kate Bush announces series of concerts in London

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 14:23

The Daily Mail describes it as a residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in London:

Kate Bush is to return to the stage in London — 35 years after she retired from touring after just six weeks on the road.

She will play a 15-date residency at the Hammersmith Apollo which was the venue for a celebrated concert film she made in 1979.

The 55-year-old made a surprise announcement about the shows — to be called Before The Dawn — on Friday morning, with the first taking place on August 26.

Bush talked about a desire to return to playing live in an interview three years ago, saying she would love to play again before she became ‘too ancient’.

She was just 20 when she completed The Tour Of Life after topping the charts with Wuthering Heights the previous year.

Over the years, theories about her absence from the stage have included her perfectionism, a fear of flying and the death of one of the tour crew, lighting director Bill Duffield, during a show.

But in a rare interview with Mojo magazine in 2011 to mark her comeback, she explained that her years of silence on the touring circuit were simply down to the sheer exertion of the ordeal.

‘It was enormously enjoyable. But physically it was absolutely exhausting,’ she said.

LONDON – 12th MAY: English singer Kate Bush performs live on stage at Hammersmith Odeon in London on the penultimate date of her European tour on 12th May 1979. (Photo by Peter Still/Redferns)

January 28, 2014

The last Frost Fair on the Thames

Filed under: Britain, Environment, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:29

The famous river doesn’t freeze as it did during the Little Ice Age, so the very last Frost Fair was held in 1814:

Painting by Luke Clenell, entitled The Fair on the Thames, Feb'y 4th 1814

Painting by Luke Clenell, entitled The Fair on the Thames, Feb’y 4th 1814

It is 200 years ago since the last “frost fair” — an impromptu festival on a frozen Thames, complete with dancing, skittles and temporary pubs. Could such hedonism be repeated today?

Londoners stood on the Thames eating gingerbread and sipping gin. The party on the frozen river had begun on 1 February and would carry on for another four days.

The ice was thick enough to support printing presses churning out souvenirs. Oxen were roasted in front of roaring fires, drink was liberally taken and dances were held. An elephant was marched across the river alongside Blackfriars Bridge.

It was February 1814. George III was on the throne, Lord Liverpool was prime minister and the Napoleonic wars would soon be won.

People didn’t know it then but this “frost fair” — a cross between a Christmas market, circus and illegal rave — would be the last. In the 200 years that have elapsed since, the Thames has never frozen solid enough for such hedonism to be repeated.

But between 1309 and 1814, the Thames froze at least 23 times and on five of these occasions — 1683-4, 1716, 1739-40, 1789 and 1814 — the ice was thick enough to hold a fair.

Update: Over lunch, I was reading Correlli Barnett’s Marlborough and came across this description of the onset of winter in 1708-09 (and a frost fair that the BBC didn’t list):

And for Europe too the coming of a Whig administration in England was a fateful event. The Whig leaders were hot for the exaction from Louis XIV of ‘no peace without Spain – entire’, without any compromise whatsoever. Yet in the winter and spring of 1709 even such inflated war aims began to look practicable. Before the Duke at last closed down the Oudenarde campaign in January 1709, long after the normal time for going into winter quarters, he had retaken Bruges and Ghent. And the siege of Ghent witnessed the onset of an enemy even more terrible to France than Marlborough. In the last days of 1708 cold of unimagined bitterness closed on Europe like a trap. At Ghent the sentinels of besieged and besieging forces alike were frozen to death at their posts. And this was only a beginning: after a short and deceptive thaw in January, the cold set in like another ice age, the people of Europe cringing month after month under a bruise-coloured sky heavy with snow. On the frozen Thames at London Bridge there was an ice fair; a little city of booths and stalls stretching from bank to bank, and bonfires twinkling across the ice in the polar gloom. From Brussels Marlborough was reporting to Heinsius in February:

    The continuall snow as well as hard frost will, if it continues, kill al the cattel of this country and bee very inconvenient for our garrisons, for even in this town we have no forage but what we bring dayly by carts …

The port of Harwich was ice bound; so were the Dutch ports. There were ice floes in the Channel. Even the mouth of the Tagus at Lisbon was frozen. It was fortunate indeed that the Duke had not carried out his post-Oudenarde plan to invade France, or his army might now have been lying somewhere between Abbeville and Paris, with seaborne supplies cut off by ice, and dependent for subsistence on what it could find in the French countryside.

And in France, already impoverished by war as she was, famine had come in the wake of frost. The cattle died; the vines split. In the towns and the country the starving wandered in search of food in ragged, despairing packs. The very fabric of French society seemed in peril from the effects of the cold.

December 2, 2013

London’s Underground system

Filed under: Britain, History, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:07

H/T to Eric Kirkland for the link.

October 30, 2013

QotD: The career of Karl Marx

Filed under: Britain, Economics, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

[Karl Marx] was also an unemployed professor, a scholar in the German tradition with a first-rate brain, a vast depth of learning and considerable obscurity of thought. Of his intellect and scholarship there can be no doubt at all. He knew many languages and had read widely in many subjects. A very learned man indeed, he was admirably fitted for the life of a German university. Marx’s complete absorption in his philosophy, history and economics was quite typical of the sort of professor he should by right have become. That mixture of scholarship, vagueness, poverty and practical inexperience would have graced a chair at Heidelberg or Bonn. But for the death in 1840 of Frederick William IV, a man of strictly orthodox views on religion, Marx might have had an academic career. Barred from this, however, as an atheist, he had no class to teach, no pupils from whom he might have learned. There is a sense, of course, in which a professor lives apart from the world. But his duties, even in the mid-nineteenth century, involved some contact with other people. The most professorial of German professors would have examinations to set and appointments to keep. Sessions of Senate and Faculty might give him scope for eloquence or intrigue, and he would find for himself the need to compromise, concede and persuade. Howbeit painfully and slowly, the professor comes to know something of administration and finance. But this was the practical knowledge which Marx was denied. All the experience he had was in his own home, where his failure was catastrophic for his wife and family. Of his children some died of slow starvation and two committed suicide. Retaining and increasing all his professional learning, he became more purely theoretical than even professors are allowed to be. Of the difficulties of organizing human society he knew practically nothing. There was in fact no human society — no province or city, no school or club — of which he could be said to have been a member. His whole life was bounded by the printed page.

C. Northcote Parkinson, “Internal Contradiction”, Left Luggage, 1967.

September 27, 2013

Matt Cassel to start London game against the Steelers

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:58

The Vikings announced earlier today that quarterback Christian Ponder’s rib injury is severe enough that he won’t be playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend. In his place, backup Matt Cassel will get the start:

Cassel, who is replacing an injured Christian Ponder (ribs), will try to steer the Vikings towards their first win of the season, and comes into a situation that few expected a month ago. The Vikings are 0-3 and on the verge of their season imploding, if it already hasn’t. With issues at QB, offensive line, and all over the defense, the Vikings have stumbled badly out of the gate, and they really need a spark.

Will Cassel provide that? It remains to be seen. This is the reason Cassel was signed in the off season. Last year, the Vikings had serious deficiencies at the backup position, as was evidenced by the tire fire that was Joe Webb in the Wild Card playoff game against Green Bay. As a starter, Cassel 29-33. In his career, he has a completion percentage of just over 58%, with 82 TD passes and 57 interceptions.

There’s already fan speculation that this is a “designed” play:

Update: The cynics are already hard at work:

September 22, 2013

QotD: The personal alienation of Karl Marx

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Almost any Jew can be stateless, but Marx was particularly so — born of alien parents in a frontier region between Germany and France, educated in the Rhineland and in Prussia, a student at Berlin but a graduate of Jena, exiled by the age of thirty-two. Nor was this domicile chosen from any love of England or of anything but safety. He knew next to nothing of the English when he died, preferring to live among German exiles, talking German, thinking in German, and for preference writing in German. He knew of the toiling masses only from blue books and parliamentary reports. We hear nothing of his travels among the Lancashire cotton mills and as little of his talks with the London poor. There is no record of his visiting the coal mines, the docks, or even a public house. He was essentially homeless, offering no loyalty and expecting no aid. And with his scorn went hatred. He despised and loathed his rivals, quarreled with this allies and condemned all sympathizers who deviated even by a little from the doctrine he held to be sacred. Karl Marx had no country.

C. Northcote Parkinson, “Internal Contradiction”, Left Luggage, 1967.

August 5, 2013

A morbid bit of railway history

Filed under: Britain, History, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:13

I read about the London Necropolis Railway in The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross. I foolishly assumed he’d made it up for the purposes of the story. Not at all:

London Necropolis Railway

[Sir Richard] Broun was fascinated by the recently-emerged technology of steam trains. In 1848, Waterloo Station had only just been opened, and the railways themselves were still considered something of a novelty. Broun, along with his partner Richard Sprye, concocted a plan to ease the overcrowding issue with the help of this new invention. Buying up a 1,500 acre site outside Woking, they proposed the creation of a dedicated railway of the dead: a line (serviced by London & Southwest Rail) used for the sole purpose of transporting the deceased from London to ‘Brookwood Cemetery’ for burial.


The railway was inaugurated on 13th November 1854, with its own dedicated platform at Waterloo Station. A timetabled service would transport coffins down at night and mourners by day, delivering them to one of two stations: the Conformist station on Brookwood’s sunny side; or the non-conformist station on its dark north face. To prevent upsetting any delicate Victorian sensibilities, each ‘coffin train’ was divided into classes to separate the dead from their poorer neighbours. Even in death, it seemed, the idea of sharing a carriage with a pauper was anathema.


Until the 1940s it remained a weird London institution, a ghoulish Victorian hangover that resisted time, social change and falling demand. Ultimately, it took the Luftwaffe to close it down: during the heavy bombing raid of 16th April 1941 the Waterloo terminus was obliterated. The LNR had shipped its last cadaver.

H/T to Dave Slater for the link.

May 26, 2013

Reporting (and omitting to report) certain news items

Filed under: Britain, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:59

Mark Steyn on what was top of the issue-sheet for journalists discussing the Woolwich murder and the Swedish “youth” riots:

For the last week Stockholm has been ablaze every night with hundreds of burning cars set alight by “youths.” Any particular kind of “youth”? The Swedish prime minister declined to identify them any more precisely than as “hooligans.” But don’t worry: The “hooligans” and “youths” and men of no Muslim appearance whatsoever can never win because, as David Cameron ringingly declared, “they can never beat the values we hold dear, the belief in freedom, in democracy, in free speech, in our British values, Western values.” Actually, they’ve already gone quite a way toward eroding free speech, as both prime ministers demonstrate. The short version of what happened in Woolwich is that two Muslims butchered a British soldier in the name of Islam and helpfully explained, “The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day.” But what do they know? They’re only Muslims, not Diversity Outreach Coordinators. So the BBC, in its so-called “Key Points,” declined to mention the “Allahu akbar” bit or the “I”-word at all: Allah who?

Not a lot of Muslims want to go to the trouble of chopping your head off, but when so many Western leaders have so little rattling around up there, they don’t have to. And, as we know from the sob-sister Tsarnaev profiles, most of these excitable lads are perfectly affable, or at least no more than mildly alienated, until the day they set a hundred cars alight, or blow up a school boy, or decapitate some guy. And, if you’re lucky, it’s not you they behead, or your kid they kill, or even your Honda Civic they light up. And so life goes on, and it’s all so “mundane,” in Simon Jenkins’s word, that you barely notice when the Jewish school shuts up, and the gay bar, and the uncovered women no longer take a stroll too late in the day, and the publishing house that gets sent the manuscript for the next Satanic Verses decides it’s not worth the trouble … But don’t worry, they’ll never defeat our “free speech” and our “way of life.”

One in ten Britons under 25 is now Muslim. That number will increase, through immigration, disparate birth rates, and conversions like those of the Woolwich killers, British-born and -bred. Metternich liked to say the Balkans began in the Landstrasse, in southeast Vienna. Today, the Dar al-Islam begins in Wellington Street, in southeast London. That’s a “betrayal” all right, but not of Islam.

May 25, 2013

James Delingpole, that intellectual lightweight

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:16

Here he is again, banging on about his failings, particularly over the Woolwich murder:

On occasions like this I really do feel a bit of an intellectual lightweight, I must say. There am I, stuck in the fuddy-duddy mindset where you see a 25-year old father of a one year old boy being hacked to death with meat cleavers on a busy London street and all you can do is respond with the gut feeling that “This is wrong. This is totally wrong!”

Whereas if I were a bit younger, less reactionary and I’d had a proper educational grounding somewhere serious like the LSE, what I would have realised is that you just can’t judge things like this at face value. Sure, there’s a temptation to dwell on what a terrible way to go it must have been for that poor young man; to think about what his family must be going through — his wife and mother especially, who will surely be re-living his imagined death every day from now on till they die; to get quite angry, even, about the perverted political values and warped mindset that led to this barbaric act — and also about the cultural relativism that helped make it possible. But succumbing to this temptation would, of course, be a serious mistake.

No, if you’re a truly enlightened citizen of the modern world, the correct way to respond is the way all those sophisticated intellectual types on Twitter did. You recognise straightaway that the horror of the murder is just a distraction from the real issue. The real issue being, of course, that this regrettable event was the sadly inevitable consequence of Britain’s racism, intolerance and Islamophobia — as demonstrated by Nick Robinson’s bigoted, ignorant and inflammatory use of that reprehensible “of Muslim appearance” comment on BBC news for which he has since, quite correctly, apologised.

Until, as a society, we learn to face up to our collective responsibility for Drummer Lee Rigby’s death, young men like Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale ought to have every right to go on drawing attention to this rampant injustice in whatever way they deem fit. It is frankly outrageous that in order to make their point they had to resort to the blunt instrument of execution by motor vehicle and butcher’s knife. A truly considerate society would have made public funds available for them to afford some properly functioning automatic weaponry. That way these gallant, oppressed freedom fighters could have made their vibrant and refreshingly direct contribution to our national debate with a lot less fuss and a lot less mess — perhaps preventing the disgraceful public overreaction we have witnessed over the last couple of days, everywhere from the hateful, violent racist English Defence League to the hardcore, fascist right-wing BBC.

May 23, 2013

Identity politics and the Woolwich murderers

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:26

Brendan O’Neill on yesterday’s brutal murder in Woolwich:

One of the most shocking things about the brutal attack in Woolwich yesterday was the arrogance with which one of the bloodied knifemen claimed to be acting on behalf of all Muslims. In what sounded like a South London accent, this British-seeming, casually dressed young man bizarrely spoke as if he were a representative of the ummah. He talked about “our lands” and what “our people” have to go through every day. He presumably meant Iraqis and Afghanis, or perhaps the broader global “Muslim family”.

How can a couple of men so thoroughly convince themselves that they speak for all Muslims, to the extent that they seriously believe their savage and psychotic attack on a man in the street is some kind of glorious act of Islamic resistance? Perhaps because they live in a country in which claiming to speak “on behalf of” a community, even if you’ve never been elected by or even seriously talked to that community, is taken seriously. A country where one’s identity, one’s racial or religious or cultural make-up, now counts for everything, certainly for more than what one does or what one believes. A country in which the politics of identity, the narrow and deeply divisive communal politics of shared cultural traits, has been privileged over all other kinds of politics.

The Woolwich murderer’s impromptu claim to be acting on behalf of the grievances of Muslims everywhere echoes the statements made by the 7/7 bombers. “Your democratically elected governments continue to perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world”, said chief bomber Mohammad Siddique Khan. “My people” — what extraordinary arrogance and self-righteousness. Did Khan ever talk to “his people” or win a mandate from them? Of course not, no more than the knife-wielding nutter in Woolwich engaged with the inhabitants of what he thinks of as “his lands”. Rather, in this era in which any old fool can claim to be a “community spokesperson”, and can be treated seriously as such, these murderous loners seem to be trying a psychotic version of the same trick — claiming that by dint of shared skin colour or common religious sentiment they have the authority to speak on behalf of millions of people they have never met or whose lands they have never visited.

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