Category Archives: history

Thought I’d ask the world

imageThe weather in the heart of London has been weird today. I noticed as I took a stroll at lunchtime in Westminster, the seat of government for the UK from eons past where I work. I don’t work for the Government; just located within the immediate audio radius of the chimes of Big Ben.

There was a glowering, shifting, heavily overcast sky, the distinct ‘ting’ of water droplets in the air on my face yet no sense of impending deluge, a restless breeze at the same time slightly chill and slightly humid but all the time unpredictable and uneasy. A typical British Summer in some ways or my day oddly reflecting my inner turmoil at a time of great need in my country?

Tomorrow the UK votes on whether or not to remain in the EU and I am required to fulfill my duty to vote. At this point in time just hours before the polls open I remain torn and undecided. I have devoured miles of column inches in press reporting, analysis, opinion. I have listened to hours upon hours of high brow radio and watched TV reporting from across the globe. I remain undecided as I write.

On the train home tonight, some teenagers in school uniform walked through our walk through train. “I’m voting to stay in the EU”, said the first, an Asian young guy. “I’m for the EU”, said the next Asian guy. “I don’t give a fuck if I’m in the EU or not”, said the black girl who tailed them.

People are talking about what we are about to decide on both at home and abroad so I decided to reach out to the world as far as I can by the means I have – in his case social media – and find out via Periscope what people around the world were thinking about it all.

If you aren’t familiar with Periscope, it’s a video interactive, live broadcast social media where you can engage with hundreds of thousands of ordinary people broadcasting in real-time from their devices either scenes or events they are witnessing or turning the camera on themselves and inviting you to interact with them through texts which they read and respond to live verbally. Here are just five of those who gave me their thoughts.

FitBusinessman: New York, USA

This guy never reveals his real name but he is a Forex stock market trader on Wall Street. He has a large and regular following on Periscope and Twitter and he ‘scopes’ (ie broadcasts) regularly on his take on the financial markets. He normally interacts with other financial peeps but will take questions from all comers. I asked him if he thought the UK would Brexit. His emphatic answer was yes. At the time I talked to him it was a Sunday. He said his entire bank of colleagues were in work that day purely and only to discuss and prepare for the possibility of a UK exit from the EU. I’d say he was resigned to the fact but unimpressed and nonplussed.

Kristian: Copenhagen, Denmark

Not sure what Kristian does for a living. An ordinary Danish bloke living in Copenhagen who loves to show people around his lovely city, which I have had the pleasure to visit for real, via his live scopes on a daily basis. Kristian’s view was one of goodwill to the UK but that he thought we would be making a big mistake to leave and he sees only bad this ahead for us.

Stephanie: Nice, France

Stephanie is a teacher of French as a foreign language and regularly scopes at several points of the day from her beloved Nice, one of my favourite cities of all. You’ll catch her at sunrise on the Cote d’Azur as she shows you her city and teaches you French along the way. Stephanie is charming and polite and won’t express a political opinion in her scopes but she fully supports the right of the British people to make their choice.

Liora: Netanya, Israel

Not sure what Liora does for a living but she loves to sing and show you her country and she will actually sing to you live in Hebrew and English in her scopes and she’s not bad…at least kind of in tune. Brexit is not such a high news topic in Israel but Liora is aware of it. She believes the UK should stay as part of the EU because many are stronger together than one alone.

CrazyRussian: Sunderland, UK

True name unknown or what he does for a living and why he is here. He’s a fitness freak who swears he found the secret to weight loss by eating omelettes cooked Russian style between 0900 and Noon and after 1800 hours with nothing outside those times. Even watched a whole live scope of him cooking this magic omelette, which looked a complete disaster and nothing the French and Spanish haven’t already discovered. Crazy thinks the whole EU vote is irrelevant because the next world war will be a cyber war and first one on the trigger wins.

Karen: Boston, USA

Finally to sweet and lovely Karen who has a very large Periscope following and who, like Liora and Kristian, just loves to show you around her native city and in her case Boston, MA, which I love and have visited, via her live roaming scopes. Karen has heard of the U.K. but not Brexit but she hopes we can find a way to all be one nation again. Not as ignorant as that may sound.

So it looks like from my asking of just five random fellow Periscopers, the overwhelming majority are in favour of the status quo that Britain should remain in the EU.

As I write, storm clouds are gathering overhead and I’ve just seen the first lightning flash. They warned us that the storms would arrive this evening coming in from the Continent to the south and how fittingly they reflect my inner thoughts. Uncertainty, turmoil and unknowing as to how or if I will do my duty and the simplest of things in placing my ‘X’ as my answer to just one of two straight questions: do we stay or do we go?

Could there ever be a Christian suicide bomber? Done already.

imageJRR Tolkien once wrote about the dangers of adventures that potentially lie ahead when you dare to step outside your front door and follow the road…any road…to see where it goes. So here’s an unexpected road my fingers took me on as I opened my digital front door to Googleland this week.

I have no idea why the old 1960s ‘Supermarionation’ TV puppet series sprung back to mind this week. Along with Joe 90 it was the lesser known of the genre after the still highly popular Thunderbirds, which has seen a modern revival. Personally, I think Scarlet would do very well if brought into the 21st Century and there’s some irony in that considering it was set in a century yet to come.

While I’ve never forgotten the classic theme tune sung by The Spectrum, I had forgotten how Captain Scarlet had become the ‘indestructible Man’ the Mysterons couldn’t kill. So I set off into Googleland to find out and came back with more than I bargained for.

imageI found the very first episode on YouTube via Google and watched it through and now recall how Scarlet gained his secret powers which again make sense of the opening credits. The episode was first broadcast in 1967. I never saw it then but like Thunderbirds, the series was repeated many times in later years. So I watched it again and found myself entertained but then shocked to see a suicide bombing and attempted assassination as the plot unfolded. A suicide bombing as we know it today back in 1967? How far sighted were the show producers? I had to find out.

imageBack out into Googleland I soon discovered to my horror that suicide bombings are not a 21st Century phenomena. It is centuries old and one of its most infamous occurrences was in the name of Christianity. I uncovered a number of references to an incident during the Tenth Crusade as Christianity and Islam fought bloodily over the Holy City of Jerusalem. In a sea battle the Knights Templar, a mysterious Sect which historians attribute to Christianity, but which no Christian denomination would own today, sacrificed 140 of their number by blowing up one of their own ships in the midst of enemy ships to take many more of them out.

I also discovered an interesting article in the Sky News archives which claims suicide bombing is recorded in and therefore seemingly sanctioned by the Bible. Well not quite. They refer to the death of Samson as recorded in the Book of Judges 16:30 who took his own life while inflicting death on many more as he destroyed a pagan temple.

imageWe ought to know from living history that suicide bombings are not a 21st Century phenomenon, even if they are far more common place than ever before. The Japanese military inflicted the first 9/11 with Kamikaze pilots ploughing into the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour in 1941. The first modern day suicide bombing was recorded in the 1980s in Lebanon and they became most frequently used to kill and maim in Israel but also Sri Lanka by Tamil rebels.

I don’t believe Christians invoked the first suicide bomb. I know of the Knights Templar from a while back as I delved into their links with the Illuminati (go Google) who were most certainly nothing to do with my faith. I have, however, long held the fear that sooner or later an atrocity will be committed in the name of Christianity whether by a deluded individual or by others wishing to ignite inter-communal strife with a deliberate act to tar all Christians but then that reality is being experienced by the majority of moderate Muslims today.

Dawsons Field: Part 1

EL ALThe Pilot suddenly plunged the airliner into a steep nosedive throwing the two hijackers off their feet. Back in the passenger cabin, Flight Attendants grappled with the female on the floor. Also thrown, the male in desperation hurled his hand grenade down the aisle. By some miracle it failed to explode. As he pulled his gun and shot and wounded a Cabin Steward, he was hit over the head with a whisky bottle by a passenger. The last thing he heard was the bullet from the gun of the Sky Marshall that brought the heist to and end. With all passengers shaken but safe, the airliner made an emergency landing at London Heathrow and the hijack was over.

No, not snippet from a thriller novel or my first attempt at a short story but what really happened on EL AL Israel Airlines flight 219 from Tel Aviv to New York via Amsterdam with 148 on board in September 1970. If you have forgotten or are too young to know, 9/11 was not the world’s first spectacular multiple hijacking. Why September seems to be the optimum month for such events I do not know and how much a part the events of 1970 had to play on the timing and style of 9/11 can only be guessed at. As events unfolded, they threw the world at the time into chaos causing acrimony between the UK and the USA, leading an Arab state to implore Israel to strike other Arab states on its behalf, almost bringing the entire Middle East to war, superpowers to loggerheads and shaping the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it stands today.

imageEL AL 219 was one of three international flights originally targeted for hijack along with TWA 741 from Frankfurt to New York with 155 on and Swissair 100 also with 155 on heading from Zürich to New York. What is it about New York and hijacks? The Israeli plane was seized shortly after leaving Amsterdam and due the swift actions of the Flight and Cabin crews the male hijacker was killed in the air and the female, a Leila Khaled, was overcome and handed to the UK authorities where she was interned. What no-one knew, and again in a chilling similarity with 9/11, was that not all the hijackers had made it on board. Two were left at the gate in Amsterdam. Not to be thwarted, these two bought tickets to board Pan American 93 heading from Amsterdam to New York with 162 on board. Seems like hijacking planes was as easy as stealing cars in those days.

Dawsons field

Dawsons Field

With the EL AL jet safe on the ground in London, the TWA and Swissair flights headed to a little known former Royal Air Force Base in Jordan known then as Dawsons Field (Zarka today). The Pan American flight, a Boeing 747 and the largest of the 3 airliners captured, needed a longer runway to land on than Dawsons Field offered. The flight touched down in Beirut to pick up additional hijackers and explosives, and then headed for Cairo. All in a 1970’s hijackerman’s normal working day really.

The last and unexpected piece of the puzzle was the taking of British flight BOAC 775 heading to London from Bahrain with 114 on board. 775 joined the party with the Swiss and American flights at Dawsons Field while Pan Am 93 sat on its lonesome in Cairo.

And so the eyes of the world focused on the remote and little known former RAF base in the deserts of Jordan known as Dawsons Field from where ripples would spiral bringing superpowers and global allies to logger heads and the armies of the Middle East mobilising for war.

(to be continued…)

You can’t move history.

imageIf you have ever taken a walk along the South Bank of the River Thames in London strolling eastward from Westminster Bridge opposite the Houses of Parliament, you will come across some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and cultural centres. The London Eye, London Dungeon, London Aquarium, Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre. The place is totally buzzing with atmosphere both inside and outside, day and night.

The South Bank has long been a hotbed for creativity, innovation and the Arts. It is a Mecca for street performers and tourists love to gather around these guys and girls and be entertained or bemused for free. Just as your walk takes you near the National Theatre, you will come across the birthplace of some British creative history that is sadly, so I recently discovered, under threat.

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It’s called the ‘South Bank Undercroft Skatepark’ and it sits under the belly of the upper walkways between the theatres complex and the Royal Festival Hall. It’s open on one side but is otherwise a concrete alcove of no commercial value. To some, it’s an ugly, graffiti-daubed eyesore and hangout for London’s delinquent youth. To others, it’s a work of Art in itself created over decades at the hands and expressions of the city’s young people. Over time, virtually every spare inch of the otherwise depressingly drab cement walls and columns of the alcove have been covered in some of the most colourful and vibrant graffiti I have seen anywhere in any of my travels. Now I actually hate graffiti and the wanton defacing of property by people who don’t own it, but I’ve come to really like and admire the Undercroft, which I see as an organic work of art – an art that is both inanimate and animated. People walking the South Bank will stop at the Undercroft not only to photograph the muralled walls, but to watch the skills or attempts at skills of the young people who practice their skateboarding there and not just skates but bikes, scooters and rollerblades too.

The Undercroft is recognised as the birthplace of British Skateboarding back in the 1970’s when the craze took off here after (like many before and since) being imported from America. The youth of the time took  unofficial ownership of the drab concrete alcove with sloping floors to bounce off walls, cement slabs…anything they could use to create a new manouver and in doing so became themselves a visitor attraction. Today, new generations of skaters still practice their skills there, drawing gasps from small kids and parents alike as they fly by. Sadly, the kids of today may be the last generation to paint their mark on the piece of national history. That’s right; the property developers are moving in.

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A £multi-million redevelopment of the South Bank is waiting planning permission from Lambeth Council who run the borough of London the Undercroft sits in. The redevelopment promises to give a complete make-over to an area that let’s face it has looked pretty shabby and in need on modernisation for many years now. The developers promise to increase the amount of creative space given over to the Arts and for the development of young talent and in an era of austerity the fact that anything at all wants to be spent on supporting the Arts surely should be welcomed. Needless, to say that once details of the plan were revealed, which did not make any provision for the Undercroft in its present form, the Skateboarders of the UK united and took to the campaign trail to save the place. A petition is currently being canvassed to save the Undercroft that has so far raised over 50,000 signatures of support. Lobbying of politicians, celebrities and sportsmen and women is also taking place.

As the arguments for and against the South Bank redevelopment are aired in public, it was made known that there is no intention to rob the young skaters of today of their fun. There is a plan to create a brand new purpose-built skate park under the Hungerford Bridge further down the Thames. Billy+Bragg+1A surprising campaigner for the redevelopment is iconic musician, songwriter and broadcaster Billy Bragg, himself a symbol of youthful rebellion when I was growing up. He makes his case for the plans very well claiming that the creative interests of young people are at the heart of the new plans and you can read his own words here.   Interestingly, the next article I Googled while researching this reads “Billy Bragg is a knob. Ignore him and help save the Southbank Undercroft” and you also read all about that here.
Having spent some thought on the arguments both ways over this piece of London I really like, my feeling is that Mr Bragg and the supporters of the South Bank redevelopment are missing the point. The issue here is not just about a makeover that will hopefully better hone the skills and talents of the young (not to mention also increasing the commercial revenues generated in this highly popular stretch of London real estate). It’s about Art and History, both inextricably linked at the Undercroft. To simply do away with history in the name of progress and modernisation is never to have learned anything from history at all. It also reveals a fascinating irony that the (presumably) older people who have drawn up the new plans to boost South Bank’s famed creativity show very little creative talent themselves: surely there is a way of achieving the commendable new goals and still preserve the History too? I reckon if this debate were taking place in, say, Paris, Berlin or New York…a way would be found.

 

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There has been some final intense lobbying now in the last few days before Lambeth Council make their decision to grant planning permission or not and just very recently the skaters received the backing of two powerful an unexpected allies – their neighbours in the Royal Festival Hall and English Heritage. Both have joined forces with the skaters’ campaign to have the Undercroft listed as a heritage site, something that would severely damage the redevelopment bid though not scupper it.

Time will tell, I guess, but while the skaters were still campaigning as I walked past them last week I added my name and support beneath their campaign slogan. After all they’re bloody well right. You can’t move history.

Online petition here.

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So you think you know St.George?

st_georges_crossToday is the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England. You know..that knight on his horsie, duffing up the dragon to save the pretty blonde tottie just in time for a cool glass of Pimms.  Not that you would know it, mind.   You see we English are not as demonstrative about our nationalism and saints as our Welsh, Scottish and Irish cousins.   Everyone knows when it’s St. Paddy’s day as all Ireland and the Irish diaspora paint the town green, white and orange, get absolutely wasted and start warbling about pixies before bursting into Riverdance.  The Scots celebrate their patron saint, Andrew, in the depths of winter and their men enjoy one of the few legitimate excuses to dress up in a skirt (though nothing really prevents them from doing so any other time they fancy) and bar-b-que the first Englishman they can find.  Even the Welsh are known to commemorate their St. David with a frenzy of Daffodil waving, sheep sh…earing and death by male voice choir.  You see England is a mongrel nation made up of wave upon wave of immigrants all mashed together from ancient times. Celts, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Italians, Germans… good Lord even the bloody French…have all crashed onto these island shores, stayed and mulched together. Today’s immigrant waves hail from much further afield from the 4 corners of the old British Empire – Asia, Africa, Australasia, the Americas and Caribbean. England is a melting pot like no other country in Europe of races and cultures reflected in the 300 or  so languages spoken in our capital city; London. So long has the English melting pot been on the boil that we no longer have the clear defined sense of national identity that the Celtic nations conjoined with us do. I guess hardly surprising to find, then, that even our patron saint George (or Georgiou as we ought to call him)…is also an immigrant.

Gorgeous St. Georgiou was in fact of Greek descent but born in the Roman province of 170px-Icon8Judaea, what we know today as Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  Now I did not know that and given that I have an acute interest in all that goes on there you would think  I might have come across this before.  The ancient Greek civilisation extended beyond the shores and islands of Greece proper to all the eastern Mediterranean coasts, North Africa, Egypt, Spain, up into Turkey and the Caucasus and thanks to Alexander The Great…across to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

George was born into a Christian noble family. His father was from Cappodocia (in modern-day Turkey) and served as an officer in the Roman army. His mother was born into a Christian noble family in the town of Lydda (modern-day Lod in Israel).   Barely 300 years after Christ’s death, Christianity was then regarded as a dangerous sect that had stemmed out of Judaism and was regarded with suspicion by both traditional Jews and Romans.   Georgiou lost both his parents at a young age and so decided to make his way from Lod to Nicomedia near what is now Istanbul to enlist as his father had done in the Roman army.   The Emperor at the time was Diocletian who knew and had great respect for Georgiou’s father, one of his finest officers. The young George excelled in his military training and by the time he was 20 had risen to the high rank of Tribune of the Imperial Guard stationed at close quarters to protect the Emperor.

aaThe exponential rise of the Christian ‘sect’ continued to raise alarm bells in Rome and in AD 302, Diocletian issued an edict to root out and arrest all Christians serving in the army and force them to renounce their faith and worship the gods of Rome or face a terrible death. George, in an attempt to save his fellow believers, used his favoured status to approach Diocletian but to no avail.  Then in public before the Emperor and his fellow Tribunes, George renounced the edict of the Emperor, declared himself to be a Christian and his faith in Jesus Christ.   Horrified at this turn of events and for the sake of his friendship with George’s father, Diocletian did all he could to persuade and even bribe George away from his stand, offering wealth, slaves and land but George would not relent. Defeated, Diocletian pronounced the death sentence over his erstwhile friend and Georgiou from Lydda in Judaea was brutally tortured and then beheaded in front of the city gates of Nicomedia and is body was returned to Lydda where it was buried and later became a destination for pilgrimage after his sainthood in 494AD.

The veneration of St. George started in the eastern Mediterranean in Judaea/Palestine and gradually spread out into north and west into eastern Europe and Turkey and then up into Georgia but it was the Crusades and the clash between Christianity and Islam that accelerated the saint’s profile in western Europe and in particular in England where eventually in 1222, the Synod of Oxford declared an official Feast Day for St. George. England is one of many countries that claim the patronage of the saint from Lydda in Israel.

No mention of the Dragon then after my very short and non-exhaustive look into who England’s patron saint was but glad I read the story nonetheless.   I never did get on with the story of St. George and the Dragon (which is in any case shrouded in myth and mystery) and I fancy that it probably started in medieval urban folklore after the first time England mashed the Welsh at playing Rugby…something we are sadly less prone to do nowadays.

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