Timur the lame. The tyrant and his curse

If I ever get round to writing a history book on the great and often bloody names in nomadic history, Timur will have to feature quite prominently in them. Timur was born in the late 1320’s, his precise birthdate uncertain due to the lack of written records.  Some officials in the Timur regime would put his birthdate as being in 1336 in an attempt to give him legitimacy to the Mongol world. Timur went on to become one of the most successful men in history, if history as taken to be conquering and killing.

His name means ‘Iron’ in Transoxania, the ancient term for that part of Central Asia that now comprises countries such as Uzbekistan from the Roman    term of the Lands beyond the Oxus River. Timur immediately suffered from a problem of legitimacy and one that he suffers from to this very day.  He wasn’t born into the direct line of succession from Chinggis (Genghis) Khan of the Mongols whose horseman conquered everywhere from Poland down to Syria and all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Timur Reconstruction

A reconstruction of what Timur may have looked liked based on research taken after his 20th century exhumation.

He was also a physically weak person as in his youth he was shot in the leg and hand by two arrows whilst raiding farm animals and he never recovered his strength on that side as well as losing two fingers.  He is often remembered as Timurlane or Timur the lame, the name his subjected Persian subjects would give as they mocked him and this at a time when every leader had to be supremely fit and imposing even in the Western World, let alone in the rough and tumble of life on the nomadic Steppe.

He was possibly born a Muslim but it cannot be certain, later throughout his life though he wrapped himself in Islam as another way to gather support for himself.  He wanted to resurrect the Mongol Empire and with many of his potential subjects were Muslim, it made good sense.

He was very careful to keep his personal beliefs private and he was known to hold many of the prominent Muslim scholars of the time in contempt. This showed his political cunning however and he was able to wear many identities to achieve his goals.  Standing as a protector to the line of Genghis Khan, he gained their prestige, by following in his Turkic roots he gained the support of the Turkic peoples in the west and when he all but destroyed the Eastern Christian Church he was able to take on a Ghazi persona which gained him the support of Muslims.

Timur was an extremely clever man and could speak Persian, Turkic and Mongolian languages and this combined with his military and political genius and a sense of opportunity was vital.  If one imagines how hard it is for a tribal leader or indeed warlord to stay in charge in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria today in just a small area with dozens of rival groups, imagine doing so for half of Asia.

The Timurid Empire around 1405 AD

The Timurid Empire around 1405 AD

Many early Islamic leaders had misused the idea of their power being sanctioned by Allah and given his early successes, who could disagree with the fact that he was ordained by God?   However despite all this Timur is remembered mostly with contempt by historians, at least outside his homeland.

He plunged the world into 35 years of war and conquest killing around 17 million people or 5% of the entire population of humanity and obviously a much bigger percentage of those in the Middle-East, Central Asia and China.  He had no grand plan and he would take advantage of local power vacuums in Persia, Anatolia, and Asia to wage war and increase his power, something he did very successfully.

After securing his power base he swept through the Georgia an Azaibaijan and was headed to Moscow until he got diverted by a rival who he trounced in battle and then destroyed the capital of the Golden Horde. In 1398 he went where even Genghis Khan never dared and attacked India.  Genghis Khan was apparently told by a talking white Unicorn that he should not enter India and of course we know that there are no such things as talking white unicorns so it must have been a talking white Rhino instead.

Timur captured and destroyed Delhi, killing 100,000 people in the process. Like his Mongol predecessors, he could be terribly cruel with one of many massacres taking place in the beautiful city of Esfahan in Iran where up to 200,000 people were slaughtered with 1,500 severed heads attached to each of 28 special towers he had constructed.  He believed in brutality and squashing resistance before it began though he did spare those who could be useful to him such as engineers or artisans.  However unlike other great leaders, his Timurid dynasty didn’t really contribute anything to world history except for death and destruction.

For a while he was thought of as a hero in Europe by defeating the upcoming and culturally and historically much more sophisticated Ottoman Empire in Anatolia (Turkey), the only set back the Ottomans would have to their own large and very long lasting empire.

Timur  died at Farab on February 17th 1405 enroute to conquer to China.  As he had created no state apparatus, there was immediate in-fighting amongst the Timurids and his bloody empire quickly fell apart with perhaps his only real legacy being one of his grandchildren Babur who went on to establish the Mughal Empire in India.

Timur was buried in the Guri-Amir mausoleum in Samarkand where he remained undisturbed for centuries.  No doubt any sensible person paid heed to the warning on his tomb which stated  “When I rise from the dead, the world will tremble”.  However Stalin much like Hitler was intrigued by religious figures and relics and had his anthropologist Mikhail M. Gerasimov exhume him where a second inscription was found “Who ever opens my tomb, shall unleash an invader more terrible than I.” This obviously didn’t deter the Soviets who foolishly brought his body back to Moscow for examinations.

It seemed that the famous curse of Timurlane came true that very instant as the same day an event occurred that would very nearly destroy Russia, the Nazi invasion of WW2.  Other or not Stalin or the others took much note of the curse is hard to say but he was returned to his resting place and as soon as he was re-interred, the Soviets turned the war in the east from around at the Battle of Stalingrad.

These days statues of Timurlane can be found throughout Uzbekistan and have largely replaced the statues of more recent Communist tyrants.  He may have killed 5% of the population but at least he was a local lad!

If you’d like to read about some of the things Timur and other similar people did to their victims then do check out my new book below which is available in paperback, Kindle, Kobo and iBooks/iTunes format.

101 Most Horrible Tortures in History

101 Most Horrible Tortures in History

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A love-letter to Grandma

Everyone loves their Grandma don’t they?  They’re possibly the most special person anyone lucky enough to ever have one has ever had, along with Granddads of course!  Grandparents have all the joys of having young children but don’t have the responsibility of discipline.

Today one of my Grandma’s would have been 86 years old which I suppose would have been a good age.  Sadly like her mother and my own mother, she died very young at the age of just 62.  Still in those 15 odd years that I had the pleasure to share my life with, I fitted in so many good times and probably many of the best times of my life.

My Grandma was a very simple and caring lady.  Never did she start an argument with anyone and never she did cause anyone harm.  She was always loving and kind and friendly.  She was probably the nicest person I ever met and I’m glad she lived so that I could see her almost as an adult as well as a child.

Lots of people have said that out of all her descendants, I’m the most like her and many have also said that our of all my relations, she is the one who I most take after.  In fact aside from all her positive attributes above which I like to think i share, we both had dietary problems and issues related to our eyes which no-one else has.  So it seems I share not just her temperament but obviously many genetics too.

Grandma always had her apron on or pinny as she would call it and I would spend all my time in the kitchen with her and Granddad watching them cook and bake which Grandma did a lot.  She made the most exquisite Rock Buns and I have found no-one else who can make anything close.  Cherry pies and trifle were some of her other specialities.

45 Hunters Drive, Seaton Workington Cumbria

Grandma and Granddads house, now looking much more 21st century. Happy times!

From when I was 5 – 8 years old I would spend my school summer holidays with them which was around 6 weeks.   It was heaven.  Many people say that school or university was the best time of their life but for me it was definitely the 21st July to 3rd September of those summers.

My Grandma was such a nice person and I loved spending time with her.   I would cross over the road to the little shop and do her errands.  Often she would give me 10 or 20 pence to buy some polo mints or the like and always she would give me an apple whenever I went out or went away.

Several times a week we would go on day trips, I think they would get heavily discounted train tickets and we would go everywhere in a 150 mile radius, up to Glasgow in Scotland, all around the Lake District and Yorkshire and to places like Blackpool, Southport and Preston in Lancashire.

It was all very exciting and train travel is still by far my very favourite method of travel.  They would always like to play games with me when the journeys were long and I don’t think she ever had to tell me off.

Grandma had quite a sweet tooth and would always pester Granddad to take her to a cafe for a cup of tea or if possible a scone or sausage roll.  Granddad would often squirm out of them stating they were a waste of money as he could make her tea at home for free.  35 years on I sympathise with both Grandma and Granddad!!   I’m not at all one for paying to eat out, especially not for tea in a cafe and if Granddad though 40 pence for a cup of tea was a bit steep then £4 for a coffee today would no doubt see his hair turn whiter than what it eventually did.

I would get to know their routine and was given my own bedroom for the 6 weeks.  Always the early bird, I would often be up at 5am to see my Uncle go off to work and wait excitedly for his return at 5pm despite the fact that he would often put on the news when Grandma and I would have preferred to watch Fame, Bewitched or Dallas!

Grandma, in fact both my Grandma’s, really enjoyed doing jigsaw puzzles and in the evenings, mornings and very wet days in we would work on difficult jigsaw puzzles, 500-2000 pieces in size and often it would take us anything from a few days to several weeks to solve.  I still like jigsaw puzzles now even though I haven’t played one since I no longer had a Grandma.   If someone wants to buy me one, please go ahead!

I think also spending so many summers with them when little gave me lots of patience.  Aside from the fact that there were only 3 TV channels back then and they only started at 9.30am and 11am, they lived in quite a small village, didn’t have a car or a telephone or central heating it helped me learn patience and even today I never ever get bored… something the dozens of 6 hour car journeys to see them must also have helped with. They lived in a rather antiquated house in a rather poor and deprived council (social housing) estate so there were times of boredom though I didn’t mind it too much.

I liked the rhythm of the day, getting up early.  Having some brown bread an butter sandwiches about 7am or maybe some toast.  Grandma also made the best toast possible.  Then I would help Granddad clean out and light the coal fire, we’d have a cup of tea and listen to BBC Radio Cumbria or Carlisle until the music of Border TV started about 9.20am.

If you want to relive the halcyon days before TV was 24 hours a day just feast your eyes and ears on this.  The music is Chi Chi/The Bingola/Keltic Prelude March, Keith Papworth/Vivian Ellis/L.E. de Francesco (Border Television).

By far the most iconic was the Keltic Prelude March.   Just watch/listen to the link below at 2 minutes 14 seconds.  How rousing and how special it made it seem that television was about to start!   I love that tune and no doubt heard it thousands of times.

Border TV Startup Music

Then we’d watch a bit of a likely innane TV show and maybe go for a walk or get the bus to the nearest town, Workington, for some shopping.  Other days we would just hang out together.  Many of Grandma and Granddads relations lived in the village and nearby area and there were so many people around.  It was a lot of fun meeting everyone.

Granddad always loved going for walks and I would go with him for hours on end.  I guess we would walk 6 or 7 miles at least which wasn’t bad for a 5-8 year old or a man in his high 60’s.  When we’d get back, Grandma always had something yummy waiting for us.

Grandma always gave the nicest cuddles and hugs too.  There aren’t many people who were even softer than my Mama but Grandma and maybe myself were/are.  Many a time I sat on her lap on her rocking chair as she knitted.   We would also spend a lot of time making pom-poms by wrapping wool through cardboard hoops.  It was always sop exciting to see how it would turn out.  I really feel the need to make a pom-pom again.  I need to do a lot of things that I haven’t done since Grandma.

I still remember everything about her and have nothing but good memories of her.  I remember her 50’s era hoover and fridge.  The noise of the strip lighting in the kitchen ceiling.  The smell in the kitchen, and the coldness and sound of the plastic flooring there and the funny water tap which Uncle Harold could play music on.

The smell of toast or chips, beans and sausages.  The sound of absolute silence except for the tick-tock of the clock or on occasion the cuckoo when I was allowed to switch it on and I’d wait eagerly for 15 or 30 minutes and wait for it to pop out.

Theirs was always a very cold house and I remember the cold and the smell of coal dust and lighting bricks.  Only once do I ever remember it being too hot there.  I remember watching the starlings and other birds feeding on the front garden as Grandma and Granddad would always throw out scraps for them.  In fact one time Granddad got a knock on the door from the police as he had thrown out some of the seed that they gave to their talkative beautiful red canary.   Apparently some of the seed had hemp or cannabis in which we all found surprising.  No wonder little canary sang his heart out all day long, I still remember his whistle too.

Royal Doulton

A Royal Doulton figurine called Sophie. Not particularly my thing but aren’t they beautiful.

Grandma also loved Royal Doulton Lady China, she had many many of them.  Two or three of them were musical.  I remember the tunes, one of them was “I could have danced all day, I could have danced all night”.  She also had some figurines of mice, they were cute and I still have one or two of them myself.

Grandma had the most wonderful singing voice.  She sounded just like an opera singer and countless times she would be singing and people elsewhere assumed it was a singer on BBC Radio 3.  Looking at Grandma it would have been as shocking as hearing Susan Boyle sing for the first time though honestly I think Grandma had more classical operatic talent. It’s fair to say Grandma was a lot more refined than her appearance and education would have you think though sometimes we thought she was trying to be a bit posh as she pronounced some words like “Scone” in a rather upper-class way and she always wanted to change her name to Sylvia as she thought her given name of Sheila was very common.  If you could sing opera, liked Royal Doulton chinaware and bake the most beautiful cakes then good for her!

I miss Grandma a lot and still think of her often.  So many of the best childhood memories revolve around her.  She was the best and I love her with all my heart.  She would be thrilled no doubt to have seen my accomplishments and she and Granddad would have loved my wife.  Granddad in particular loved meeting people from abroad and Grandma loved tea-parties cakes and sweets.  How could anyone not love her too?

Sadly I don’t even think I even have a photo of Grandma, she lives on only in my heart and memories.   Happy Birthday Grandma xxx

Rock Buns

Almost as good looking as Grandma used to make – Rock buns!

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Oh no! I’ve been diagnosed as being Gluten, Dairy and Wheat intolerant.

Firstly I like to think myself as a very tolerant person.  I never get angry or argue, I don’t think I have ever hit anyone even at school.  As long as people leave me alone then I don’t really care what they identify themselves with.  If I don’t like something or someone I just have nothing to do with them until it or them change.  However it seems I’m not as tolerant as I always thought I was.  This week after some blood tests I have been diagnosed  as being Gluten, Dairy and Wheat intolerant.

At this point I should point out that 3 days later, I still think this post title should have had a swear word where the ‘no’ is but I kept that omitted for reasons of taste.   Lots of people have been giving up gluten recently, mostly because it is a little trendy to do so, not for any real medical reason.   So in a way I’ve been consoling myself that once again I am a trend-setter.    I remember another time I was a trend-setter and I had a David Beckham haircut over a year before he copied me.  Maybe I wasn’t that trendy or maybe David Beckham could take the pace as 4 months later he found a new trend hairstyle unaware that it would still be trendy with me for several years more!

I’ve written several years ago about how I successfully and actually very easily cut out sugary foods from my diet when I went through my pantry and realised my supposedly healthy breakfast of Orange Juice and cardboard…. I mean bran flakes had me breaking the health limits of sugar before 6am each day and that was before the healthy yoghurt etc in the afternoon.  I may as well have been eating sweets all morning for they would have had less sugar in them.


I’ve always had dietary problems.  Food just doesn’t really agree with me.  I remember when I was about 3 years old and my concerned mother took me to the doctors clinic as my early days potty routines weren’t as good as they should have been.  The doctors gave some medicine for a week which for a time tackled the symptoms but not the cause.  It wasn’t their fault, no-one knew about food intolerance then and most people like my father   assumed it was my fault for being “stupid”.   It was also my fault apparently that I frequently needed new pairs of shoes as I didn’t walk properly.   As an adult I asked a doctor about this and he just told me I had flat feet and told me what to do to mostly resolve the issue.  Flat feet were something that was known about over a hundred years ago.  Walking as I did was and is the only way I can and entirely natural to me and millions of others, I certainly heard of it at school so why no older people in my household had asked the basic question is beyond me.

With all that and Asthma which breaks the trend and which I was diagnosed with when young, I’ve got used to living a rather inhibited life, just living with conditions that were my fault but which I couldn’t do anything about except get by as best as I could.

Since I was about 25 I always tried to eat the best I could and lost lots of weight which barring the odd blip has by and large been kept off.  However even at my most active and eating a diet reminiscent of a medieval monk, I never got to be anything other than just within the healthy normal weight of the U.K. medical guidelines.

In fact though I like food in its own way, food always for some reason never really agreed with me.  More often than not it would make me ill.  Not after every meal but after most meals and if I went more than 1-2 days of feeling properly well then it would be the highlight of the year.  I’d often say to my wife how I don’t really want to eat as I like feeling well.  I’d rather be hungry and feel a bit better than being full and unwell though I admit that I like eating as much as anyone.

Several people would say I had about the healthiest diet of people I knew.  I never liked fast food, or cakes or sugary snacks.  I like salads, lean meats, root vegetables, soups and wholesome food like milk, wholemeal bread and cheese. Despite all this and in part because of all this, for most of my life have always felt ill.  Either headachy, tired eyes, exhausted, bloated face and stomach, feeling unwell or very unwell.  One minute I was fine and then minutes after eating I would feel unwell, whether unwell generally or a specific super level of unwellness and I could determine the difference between them easily and quickly.

Of course I went to the doctors regularly and would ask them about it when I’m visiting about Asthma or the bad and multi-month chest infections I tend to get in winters but 99% of them just fobbed me off as one of those things.   It seemed the older I got, the healthier I was eating and the more unwell I often became.

I did put a few things together in my head though.  I realised that often when I was on holiday I would feel a bit better, I thought though it was from cleaner air or lack of work worries like any normal person might.  I knew that sometimes if ate Indian foods I might be unwell the same day or Italian foods the same night or English baguettes the following day after consuming them.

To all intents and purposes I had learnt to cut out the very worst things that made me feel unwell and just have them very occasionally and being aware that I might be a bit unwell from eating some of my favourite foods.    I got the hint that I might be gluten intolerant, I read a lot about it on the internet over the years but most sources of information proclaimed that very very few people have a serious problem so when a friend who works at a local pharmacy told me she recognised the symptoms that I should have a blood test and see if it will help me.


My friend is a Vegan, largely for health but also for religious grounds and I often felt sorry when I would see the foods she was restricted to and the huge problems she had in shopping for food or eating out.  So last week I went in to have my blood test, wondering and indeed expecting to have some sort of wheat intolerance. I had my blood taken and went to a café whilst the results were analysed in the lab for an hour.

I’m not a café sort of person, to go to cafe’s you have to go to busy places and spend money on things I can often get cheaper at home. In fact it’s so unusual that I treated myself to a hot chocolate, a cheese scone and a chocolate chip cookie.  It sounds bad but I hadn’t had either for a month or two amongst the countless salads, vegetables, soups and stews.  I joked with the person who served me that wouldn’t it be bad to be found allergic to these things, all of which are amongst my favourite foods.  The server agreed and said it wouldn’t be worth living.

1 hour later, life was officially not worth living.   The nutritionist confirmed that I was actually eating a very healthy diet for the normal person but unfortunately I am not normal.  I had an extremely strong intolerance for milk and dairy products, a very strong intolerance for gluten and an intolerance for wheat which may be a big deal for others but for me is insignificant compared to the how intolerant I am to milk and gluten.

In the worlds of BlackAdder, my feelings rhymed with Clucking Bell.  I love milk, it is my favourite drink of all.  I have milky cereals at breakfast, sometimes a glass of milk in the day and rare indeed is the day when I don’t have a low-fat milky hot chocolate or a nibble on some cheese.  The nutritionist explained how in effect for the last 40 years my body has been in a state of allergic shock.   I would sometimes say to my wife that I felt poisoned, no reflection on her cooking as it is not her wonderful home-cooked meals that made me ill, at least not intentionally.  That’s not to mention milk in tea.


I was put on a strict 3 month plan to avoid the offending food groups to give my body a chance to recover although it could take much longer for my stomach which has spent decades in a poisoned intolerant frenzy.  At the end of the year we can revisit the situation and see if any foods can be re-introduced as sometimes some intolerances are temporary.  The nutritionist also said that these particular tests have only been around for 2 or 3 years so I had pretty much done everything possible for myself.

I’m not sure whether it is worse to be dairy intolerant or gluten intolerant.  There is no way around it though that to be both plus with wheat too, that it severely changes what you can eat.  At least there are some gluten-free alternatives these days, perhaps two varieties of bread loaves which cost three times more and are just a quarter of the size than the hundreds of gluten filled breads.  For dairy, though it must surely be scientifically possible,  the options seem to be even fewer.

If you take a large supermarket, there is a lot there I can still eat from.  All the meats, the fruits and vegetables, the fish and all the tins and frozen foods right?   Surely losing milk, butter, cheese and bread still leaves you with a good choice.   Well I don’t like fish except Salmon and that isn’t something that can change just because I’ve lost many of my favourite foods.  If you don’t like fish you don’t like fish, its like not liking eating snails or garlic.  I’m also not a huge fan of most fruits.  I like apples and soft fruits, grapes, Kiwis, dried apricots, raisins, dates but I’m much more a vegetable person.  I love potato, sweet potato, carrots, parsnips ( I LOVE PARSNIPS), peas, tomato, beans, lentils… everything but sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower really.

However modern food production means that 75% of the supermarket is a no go area… that’s a big supermarket, not the smaller ones near to me that stock zero gluten or dairy free products.

Heinz Lentil Soup

I can eat lentils, I can eat soup but I can’t eat Heinz Lentil Soup.

I like Lentils, I really quite like Heinz Lentil soup as I do most other Heinz soups.  I prefer my wife’s soups but Heinz will do nicely on a cold winter day when I’m being good and healthy.  Except Heinz soup contains wheat and flour.  I guess for binding the products together and making them suitably gloopy. Everything is like that, gluten is everyday.  Milk or milk components are in almost everything.  Some expectedly and some you would never believe.

Yesterday it took me two hours to spend £35 / $55 on Gluten Free and Dairy free products.  They are few and far between.  If you find one item then its a big deal and you forget that everyone else can choose from dozens of similar, better tasting and cheaper brands.  I shopped at Asda yesterday and they have a Free From Shelving area.  4 shelves high and a good 10 feet long and that is it amongst probably miles of produce.  At one point 5 people were helping me look for their advertised fairy free cheese.  It’s understandable as their dairy cheese selection is on around 4 shelves that go 100 feet into the distance.  I felt like an idiot until they too couldn’t find it.  Some insisted there was no such thing, others thought it would be around here somewhere.

In 3 huge aisle of crisps (potato chips) I found two or three brands where I could eat one plain flavour.  Only Seabrooks didn’t fill their potato with gluten, wheat or milk and so allowing me a tiny Salt and Vinegar flavoured refuge to last me the rest of my crisps eating life.


On my adventures I found a shop worker who also suffered from the same affliction and she was equally flabbergasted.  She gave me a few tips including some Swedish ice-cream which I can eat.  It only comes in Vanilla but it tastes like real ice-cream and if you go to 2 other major supermarket stores they do it in Chocolate too.  Which in a way sums up a big part of the problem I’m going to have.  Most of it doesn’t taste like the foods I remember, you have to look all over to find them and if you are lucky to get one, its in a very limited variety.

Oh well, that’s looking on things a bit negatively.  Someone told me it wasn’t a big deal but I haven’t met anyone who suffers from it dismissing it that way.  Around 20% of people in the world have lactose intolerance.  Lactose is a component part in milk that if your body doesn’t produce enough of it then can’t be digested easily and makes you ill.  Only 1% of people in the U.K. suffer from it as it is largely a problem for people from Asia and Africa whose ancestors didn’t have to adapt to drinking cows milk as we in Europe and North America have done for thousands of years.  I guess my Viking ancestors lived in too snowy an area for them to have cows and the same explanation goes for the gluten and wheat issues too except that now these ingredients are everywhere and not just in bread or cakes.

I’m sure after a few months I might get used to Soy milk and get to know which foods I can eat and get all excited when i find a new brand of something which shouldn’t contain gluten and then happily actually doesn’t.  It is going to make things difficult though and probably less tasty.  Take my comfort treat at the café I took whilst waiting for my tests.  Hot chocolate out due to milk in the drink and milk in the powder, possibly gluten too in some brands.  Likely the cookie is full of milk, gluten rich flour and wheat and the chocolate chips too are full of milk.  Then the cheese scone, well cheese is full of milk and the rest of the scone is likely composed of milky, glutenous products as well.

Going to a restaurant is going to be fraught with difficulties.  If you can’t eat gluten, you might get by, likewise if you can’t have dairy but both presents real problems (that goes for supermarket food generally).   It takes any chance of spontaneity of buying a sandwich, snack or drink away from you unless you’ve found yourself a cosy network of individual outlets that do sell particular items.  Whilst society is slowly coming to terms with being gluten-free, dairy free just seems to be a step to far.

For instance my favourite fast food is pizza from pizza hut.  It says a lot that I’ve only been there twice this year.  They have hundreds of combinations of pizza and recently they have started to have gluten-free pizza bases though only in one size and with none of the other fancy crusts or edges that are in the regular varieties.  That’s great but they don’t have dairy free or lactose free cheese.  Similarly 99% of the side orders, desserts and starters are now going to be no-go areas for me.


Some slight relief is that I have been giving what I call a Lactose antidote.  If I am unavoidably going to consume dairy products then I take one of these and it will temporarily boost my lactose levels so that I will suffer minimum effects afterwards.  Except of course these for one-off occasions and not a basis for continuing with a dairy rich life-style.

What will happen with eating at friends houses, travelling abroad, I don’t know.  I accept I will be reduced to an even more basic diet as apparently once you go gluten-free, if your body doesn’t recover properly, it does at least get used not to having gluten and so the merest crumb from a toaster or apparently a handshake with someone whose eaten the wrong food can lead to several days of illness, depending on the severity of your intolerance.


Despite all this I am a little bit excited.  The prospect of feeling well is exciting and probably not one I have ever really known.  When these intolerances are resolved, according to the nutritionist I will feel like a new person.   Not feeling ill, much more energy, better sleep, better asthma, not bloated or swollen or headachy and a better immune system just for starters.

Getting there might be a problem as many people are reported to suffer side-effects as it recovers and begins to accept the lack of dairy or gluten.  It’s quite incredible really to think that some people don’t have any intolerances or allergies, other suffer from maybe hay fever for a few weeks that can make them ill for several hours or days but I’ve in effect been suffering similar for the first 41 years of my life and didn’t know about it and for about 38 of those years, no-one on the planet really believed in such things anyway or could easily detect them.

I’m just starting my third full day.  I’d like to say I am already feeling much better but I’m not.  That’s largely due to a horrendous cold I’m suffering from which again could be a side-effect of going gluten-free as many people suffer from very runny noses amongst other things.  However already, I am having a few hours here and there where I am feeling very well in my body so hopefully in a couple of weeks or months I will see a real change.

Gluten and dairy free sausage rolls

Gluten and dairy free sausage rolls. I’m not sure if they are meaty sausages though but if they are I will have to order them rather than buy them from any bakers like normal people.

Whilst many foods are now out of reach for me, more and more alternatives are appearing on the market with sales increasing exponentially and its likely that one day I might be able to have a cheesy garlic bread or a Cadbury’s chocolate bar just as today there are countless low-fat or low sugar foods and drinks.

What will be nice though is to eat some of the foods I used to avoid because I can have gluten-free alternative.  Wow a ham or chicken salad sandwich and not risk getting ill afterwards?  That will be amazing.  Not being ill will be life-changing. I’m not sure it will work but I’m excited that it might!

** Since writing this post I’ve been contacted by the Nutritionist Resource website which specialises in providing easy to access nutritional advise for the general public.  They have a section on Food Intolerance and Food Allergy here as well as great articles and links to local nutritionalists for more detailed assistance, **

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U and Non-U

U, or should I say you, might think I am off my trolley with this blog title or maybe my carefully worded prose has finally given way to text-speak.  However U and Non-U is actually a book title from the 1950’s written by a legendary aristocrat Nancy Mitford that was all the rage amongst certain people for many years after wards.  U is for Upper Class whilst Non-U is for Middle-Class which in the USA is more akin to Working Class.  It was something I wrote about in passing over two years ago in a blog post about the history of social classes.

Most of us would agree that good manners are something that everyone regardless of their income or background can and should have.  What is more complicated are the rule of etiquette.  In the U.K. since the 19th Century the aspiring middle-classes have always wanted to emulate and fit in with the real upper class folk.

It was argued that as the upper-classes were no longer better educated or in some cases richer than anyone else, that the best way to differentiate themselves from the New Money types was with the language that they employed.

It’s still just about the case in Britain that being rich is not the same as being well-bred or coming from the right back ground with an easy example of this being the hugely ostentatious and yet very tacky wedding of David and Victoria “posh” Beckham.

Whereas middle-class and even upper middle class people might strive to show off their credentials and re-assure themselves that they have made it, the real rich aristocrats have no such need or desire.  They are comfortable with their position and have nothing to prove with a good example of this being Prince Charles and his much repaired, gnarly old coat.

Prince Charles

Prince Charles doing a good impression of a country bumpkin

This extends to use of language too and did so to an even greater degree in the 1950’s.  Whereas the upper class didn’t have to look pretentious and the working class don’t have any aspiration to try and pretend they are upper class, incredibly the two ends of the social spectrum tend to use the same words.  The middle-classes can appear that they are trying just a bit too hard to be something they’re not by using words that sound a little pretentious.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 10.23.01

U and Non-U taken from Wikipedia with the words I used highlighted in bold.

Going by the list above, I seem to be mostly working class at least in the words I use which is fine by me as one thing that irritates me is people pretending to be better than they actually are when in reality with the exception of having a better income, they often are not.  This in itself is a typically British attitude to have where it takes more than money to impress people… at least the right sort of people!

Things are more complicated these days by inverse snobbery, this is with rich people speaking with a very working class accent which doesn’t come naturally to them.  Tony Blair was a great one for that, his voice got more and more East-London as the years went by despite being of Scottish blood, living most of his life in NE England and latterly getting paid millions to do public speaking.

Even the Queen has downplayed her cut-glass accent over recent decades whereas some sectors of the BBC have presenters who by my not very ambitious secondary school standards can hardly speak English at all, at least not with any annunciation.

It’s quite interesting though that whilst we all support underdogs and people generally see the real working class as hard working underdogs, is growing up a little poor or disadvantaged that bad a thing when you realise how many of the greatest names in history started off severely disadvantaged.  What makes being poor “cool”?  Why don’t we feel equally sorry for those a little shorter, fatter or even less whiter than the typical middle-class person?   Will the next up and coming political leader take a few inches off the bones in the leg, put on a bit of weight, go bald, get a fake tan and perhaps accidentally on purpose inflict a disability on themselves?

Of course not but even today with the leadership election to the Labour Party you have 3 or 4 middle-class people talking up their working class heritage whilst sneering at the one legitimate working class candidate who isn’t portraying an image and is said to be winning the race quite comfortably.

Even if you pick the right words, the pronunciation of them may give your background away.  Which is why in the U.K. people often look down on those with a West Country or Birmingham accent or indeed all those who don’t speak with a Mockney accent rather as people in the USA from North Dakota or the Deep South might be thought of in other parts of that country.

Things are only going to get messier as people from the top and bottom of society seem to want to fit in more and more.  With mass immigration there are large sections of white youth in London and other big cities that speak a bizarre mixture of English mixed with Caribbean, Indian and Somalian slang for example which renders them almost unintelligible to everyone outside their own age group which sadly for them includes most employers.   One the bus to work sometimes I see children from all sorts of backgrounds and countries and they have to repeat themselves half a dozen times just to make a simple comment be understood which surely shows that in some ways it is more important than ever that people are taught how to speak properly whether they be U or Non-U!

I’m a bit of an old fudge, I really like listening to clear and distinct regional accents both he good and bad ones and really can’t stand the fake poshness spoken by some working class or the fake monkey by the pseudo-poor.  Call me old fashioned, if someone is on television I do think they should be able to speak more precisely and in better English than I can.  By all means speak with a very strong accent but speak clearly and correctly.  I never make any effort to change my voice or accent but I do make every accent to speak as correctly as possible.

If you’re wanting to know more about etiquette you can visit the Debrett’s website who are masters of etiquette, good manners, style and speaking.   My man Carson, recommends it!

It’s debatable if the whole U and Non-U debate is as important as it once was and to most people it doesn’t matter most of the time but it does matter to some people a lot of the time and to many of us, some of the times if only to impress at job interviews or social gatherings.

In fact that last paragraph reminds be a little of Donald Rumsfeld and his known unknowns.  “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

As someone who likes precise English, I actually didn’t see the fuss about what he said above as it made perfect sense to me (which is more than some of his policies did).  As to whether known unknowns is Non-U, I’ll leave it up to U.  And yes, I am the only person under the age of 107 who still uses the word ‘wireless’ for radio, though I do like the old word term for it of ‘Cat’s whiskers’.


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Visiting places from the movies or Shaken, not stirred – My new James Bond tour of London

Many of you know that when not writing my little heart out, I run and guide private guided tours with my company, Ye Olde England Tours.  One of my most popular tours I run is one dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and particularly the BBC series Sherlock where I take fans of the super sleuth and Benedict Cumberbatch to various places related to the famous detective.

I must admit I was surprised just how popular this tour has been.  In the last year, I must have given over a dozen Sherlock tours.  Several of them to American tourists but for some reasons which I’m not quite sure of, it is most popular with people from Germany.  I’m not sure whether it is the logical mind of Sherlock that appeals, the quick-paced way it is filmed or the impeccable English that is used.  There has to be easier shows to watch in a second language, in fact Sherlock is one of the few shows that even English speakers have to pay full attention too.  Spend two minutes checking your Facebook updates whilst watching Sherlock and you won’t know what is going on back in 221B Baker Street.

I guess it just depends on what you’re a fan of.  Personally as a Star Trek fan if I ever go to the USA then amongst the sights I’d be wanting to see would be Vasquez Rocks to see the spot where Captain Kirk fights the Gorn or maybe the playground in Manhattan that my Grandma wanted to visit where West Side Story took place.

There must be something comforting as well as exciting about following in the footsteps of of places we see on television or at the cinema.  Why, with all the cultural attractions in Denmark and Sweden, would I really like to visit the Øresund Bridge?  Like-wise there are so many things to see in Sicily, yet why do so many British visit to go on tours like this one http://www.montalbanotour.com/Montalbano_Sicily_tour.html

It’s not a new phenomenon, people having been going to Austria for decades, ignoring much of the traditional arts and architecture of the beautiful country and instead visiting places from The Sound of Music.

Sometimes going to such places surpasses your expectation.  Being a big Lawrence of Arabia fan, I still remember going to the Suez Canal and seeing a huge ship apparently passing through sand dunes as well confirming that there really was no gold in ‘Aqaba, just lots of 5 star hotels though Wadi Rum is even better than on film.

How many people visit Petra in Jordan not to explore this beautiful lost city but to see the most iconic location from Indiana Jones?  Petra is much more beautiful and infinitely more massive than the tiny glimpse that Indy sees and if you ride your horse out of the narrow ravine hoping to see desert, you’re likely to be hugely disappointed and most likely hit my a car in the bustling little town that sits just outside it.

Last year I had the chance to take two lovely American tourists from Georgia to Highclere Castle to see Downton Abbey.  I’m sure I gave some relief to the room guide when we chatted for 10 minutes about some Venetian paintings by Canaletto, something which not one other person who passed by in that time even seemed to know what we were talking about.  I couldn’t blame them that much because as great as the paintings were, I too half expected Lord Grantham to pop his head through the door.

No matter how times I visit Paris, and no matter what wonders I see, bits of me remember scenes from French TV and movies or maybe Vincent and the Dr https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQg6FvMJSPU

Who can look at the Eiffel Tower and not think back to that amazing James Bond sequence with Duran Duran raging in the background?  Speaking of 007, seeing as Sherlock is so popular as are The Beatles and Dr Who, I’ve decided to create my own James Bond tour.  If you or you’re friends are coming to London do send them my way.

London James Bond Tour – Shaken Not Stirred

Now pay attention 007 and don’t touch anything.  Your mission should choose to accept it is to follow in the footsteps of the world’s most famous spy and visit some of the actual locations used in some of the biggest James Bond films of all times.

The Old War Office

Not only will we visit some of the places seen in the movies but we will also see some of the most famous buildings in London if not the world.  As well experiencing some of the glamorous and not so glamorous 007 locations, we can also visit some sites that were important to Ian Fleming, the legendary creator of 007 including is home and the hotel bar where he came up with one of the most famous catchphrases in cinematic history and where actors such as Pierce Brosnan celebrated winning the part with a Martini.

On the trail of Blofeld

Whether you want to see the house where James Bond lives in the upcoming Spectre film, see places from recent movies such as SkyfallQuantum of SolaceGoldeneyeThe World is Not Enough or from classics such as Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this tour is for you.

The home of 007 in Spectre

If that isn’t enough we will explore parts of Whitehall and the other areas relating to the Security services where behind closed doors decisions are being taken to combat terrorists whether real or fictional.   James Bond may be a glamorous vision of a spy but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and we will also stand on the spot of the most famous Cold War spy murder in history.

MI6 Building, London.

Depending on the time available and your suitability for this mission, the James Bond Tours are available in two varieties.   Try not to get into any trouble 007 with The Shaken Not Stirred tour which lasts approximately 3 hours.    More experienced spies might like the Access All Areas tour lasts around 5 hours.

Whichever tour you choose is private and personalised so do try not to damage anything 007.

Departure Time:10 am
City Location: London
Duration of Tour: 3 – 5 hours
(Approximate times as all tours are bespoke)

Adult Prices per person excluding tube tickets (child prices available upon request).

Shaken Not Stirred                                  Access All Areas

1 Adult = £60                                             £110

2 Adults = £50                                          £100

3 Adults = £40                                          £90

4 Adults = £35                                          £80

5 – 10 Adults = £30                                 £60

For more information or to make a booking please email yeoldeenglandtours@gmail.com or visit http://yeoldeenglandtours.co.uk/our-tours-2/london-tours/london-james-bond-tour-shaken-not-stirred/

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Prince Philip – Consort, sailor, charity patron, buffoon and god! 100 Prince Philip gaffes.

Everyone knows that HRH Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Less well known is her husband HRH the Duke of Edinburgh or simply Prince Philip as he is known to most people.  Having recently celebrated his 94th birthday, he is the oldest ever male in the British royal family and still a very active one too.

He was born into both the Danish and Greek royal families on 10th June 1921 but his family were soon forced to flee his Greek homeland and by 1939 he found himself serving in the Royal Navy where he saw repeated action in the Mediterranean and later Pacific fleets.

It was in 1939 that he began corresponding with the young Princess Elizabeth who was destined to become Queen and after the war when Philip was given permission to marry her, he was forced to renounce all claims to both the Danish and Greek thrones though like many other European royals, he was descended from Queen Victoria and is currently her oldest surviving Great-Great Grandchild.

The Royal Wedding of Elizabeth and Philip

The Royal Wedding of Elizabeth and Philip

Prince Philip is a keen proponent of environmental affairs and is the patron of over 800 worthy charitable organisations as well as heading the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme which now runs in over 150 skills and aims to instil the virtues of volunteering to individuals or the community, improving physical and sporting prowess, developing practical and social skills as well as the famous planning, training for and completing an expedition.

One of the many roles of the Queen is to be head of the Church of England, a link back to times when the king or queen was assumed to be ruling on earth on behalf of God.  Prince Philip however has gone one better, he is officially a god.  As strange as it may be, the Kastom people of Yaohnanen on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu consider him a divine being.

According to ancient tales, the son of a mountain spirit travelled over the seas to a distant land. There he married a powerful lady and in time would return to them.  When Queen Elizabeth visited the island and the locals saw the respect and honours that were bestowed upon her, they realised that her husband, Prince Philip, must in fact be the fulfilment of the ancient prophecy.

It’s origins are thought to have started back in the 1950’s or 60’s but really took off in 1974 when the royal couple visited the island and the bemused Prince was observed from a distance by some of the villagers.  Later the local British High Commissioner suggested to the prince that he should send an autographed photo to the villagers which apparently went down very well so they sent him one of their traditional pig killing clubs with Prince Philip happily sending them a photo back of him posing with their gift.

Two Yaohnanen Tribesmane proudly show off their photo of the 2007 royal visit with their god, Prince Philip. Photo by Christopher Thompson.

Two Yaohnanen Tribesmane proudly show off their photo of the 2007 royal visit with their god, Prince Philip. Photo by Christopher Thompson.

Of course no-one is perfect, not even a god and despite everything else and performing his constitutional role of consort to the monarch for decades and no doubt opening thens of thousands of hospitals, bridges, schools and the like, it is probably safe to say that he is mostly thought of forces ability to put his foot in his mouth and say the wrong thing which even he acknowledges to have gained him a reputation.

He would say that he is jokey to make people feel at ease and no doubt for him after a life-time of ceremonial duties, make things a bit interesting.  Some of the things he says could be considered rude and even offensive and sometimes it is hard to tell whether it is the mutterings of someone from almost a life-time ago or whether he is forgetful or just mischievous.  Even this morning Prince Philip is in the news for accompanying the Queen to open a Asian Womans Community Centre in east London where he asked them “who they sponged off” and whether they came here just to gossip.

Personally, I and many others find it all quite hilarious and I like it that someone so important just speaks his mind and doesn’t worry about voters or share-holders.  A fine example of this occurred last week at a photo-session with surviving pilots from the Battle of Britain when he told a photographer to get on with taking the photo.  It’s true that no-one else complained of the delays but how long should a 94 year old wait for his photo to be taken as every around him chatters and after no doubt being burdened by his uniform in the summer sun for hours.  We’ve all probably seen relations much younger the Prince Philip get fed up waiting for a photo to be taken.

It’s not hard to find a list of some of the finest pearls of wisdom from Prince Philip.  Whatever the embarrassing situation, Prince Philip has probably been there and done that.  Whether it was leaving his limo in Liverpool and asking whether the wheels will still be on it when he returns, telling President Obama he is too fat to fit in an astronauts suit, admonishing Cambridge professors who corrected him on a technical theory”I didn’t come here to be bloody well lectured by the likes of you.

The following list is mostly taken from the Daily Mirror newspaper.

1 To a tourist in Budapest in 1993: “You can’t have been here long, you haven’t got a pot belly.”

2 To multi-ethnic Britain’s Got Talent 2009 winners Diversity: “Are you all one family?”

3 To President of Nigeria, who was in national dress, 2003: “You look like you’re ready for bed!”

4 To female sea cadet last year: “Do you work in a strip club?”

5 To expats in Abu Dhabi last year: “Are you running away from something?”

6 After accepting a conservation award in Thailand in 1991: “Your country is one of the most notorious centres of trading in endangered species.”

7 At a project to protect turtle doves in Anguilla in 1965, he said: “Cats kill far more birds than men. Why don’t you have a slogan: ‘Kill a cat and save a bird?’”

8 To a car park attendant who didn’t recognise him in 1997, he snapped: “You bloody silly fool!”

9 To Simon Kelner, republican editor of The Independent, at Windsor Castle reception: “What are you doing here?” “I was invited, sir.” Philip: “Well, you didn’t have to come.”

10 His description of Beijing, during a visit there in 1986: “Ghastly.”

11 At Hertfordshire University, 2003: “During the Blitz, a lot of shops had their windows blown in and put up notices saying, ‘More open than usual’. I now declare this place more open than usual.”

12 To deaf children by steel band, 2000: “Deaf? If you’re near there, no wonder you are deaf.”

13 After being told that Madonna was singing the Die Another Day theme in 2002: “Are we going to need ear plugs?”

14 To a British trekker in Papua New Guinea, 1998: “You managed not to get eaten then?”

15 His verdict on Stoke-on-Trent, during a visit in 1997: “Ghastly.”

16 To Atul Patel at reception for influential Indians, 2009: “There’s a lot of your family in tonight.”

17 Peering at a fuse box in a Scottish factory, he said: “It looks as though it was put in by an Indian.” He later backtracked: “I meant to say cowboys.”

18 To Lockerbie residents after plane bombing, 1993: “People say after a fire it’s water damage that’s the worst. We’re still drying out Windsor Castle.”

19 In Canada in 1976: “We don’t come here for our health.”

20 “I never see any home cooking – all I get is fancy stuff.” 1987

21 On the Duke of York’s house, 1986: “It looks like a tart’s bedroom.”

22 Using Hitler’s title to address German chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1997, he called him: “Reichskanzler.”

23 “We go into the red next year… I shall have to give up polo.” 1969.

24 At party in 2004: “Bugger the table plan, give me my dinner!”

25 To a woman solicitor, 1987: “I thought it was against the law for a woman to solicit.”

26 To a civil servant, 1970: “You’re just a silly little Whitehall twit: you don’t trust me and I don’t trust you.”

27 On the 1981 recession: “A few years ago, everybody was saying we must have more leisure, everyone’s working too much. Now everybody’s got more leisure time they’re complaining they’re unemployed. People don’t seem to make up their minds what they want.”

28 On the new £18million British Embassy in Berlin in 2000: “It’s a vast waste of space.”

29 After Dunblane massacre, 1996: “If a cricketer suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, are you going to ban cricket bats?”

30 To the Aircraft Research Association in 2002: “If you travel as much as we do, you appreciate the improvements in aircraft design of less noise and more comfort – provided you don’t travel in something called economy class, which sounds ghastly.”

31 On stress counselling for servicemen in 1995: “We didn’t have counsellors rushing around every time somebody let off a gun. You just got on with it!”

32 On Tom Jones, 1969: “It’s difficult to see how it’s possible to become immensely valuable by singing what are the most hideous songs.”

33 To the Scottish WI in 1961: “British women can’t cook.”

34 To then Paraguay dictator General Stroessner: “It’s a pleasure to be in a country that isn’t ruled by its people.”

35 To Cayman Islanders: “Aren’t most of you descended from pirates?”

36 To Scottish driving instructor, 1995: “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?”

37 At a WF meeting in 1986: “If it has four legs and it’s not a chair, if it’s got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane and if it swims and it’s not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.”

38 “You ARE a woman, aren’t you?” Kenya, 1984.

39 A VIP at a local airport asked HRH: “What was your flight, like, Your Royal Highness? Philip: “Have you ever flown in a plane?” VIP: “Oh yes, sir, many times.” “Well,” said Philip, “it was just like that.”

40 On Ethiopian art, 1965: “It looks like the kind of thing my daughter would bring back from school art lessons.”

41 To a fashion writer in 1993: “You’re not wearing mink knickers, are you?”

42 To Susan Edwards and her guide dog in 2002: “They have eating dogs for the anorexic now.”

43 When offered wine in Rome in 2000, he snapped: “I don’t care what kind it is, just get me a beer!”

44 “I’d like to go to Russia very much – although the bastards murdered half my family.” 1967.

45 At City Hall in 2002: “If we could just stop the tourism, we could stop the congestion.”

46 On seeing a piezo-meter water gauge in Australia: “A pissometer?”

47“You have mosquitoes. I have the Press.” To matron of Caribbean hospital, 1966.

48 At a Bangladeshi youth club in 2002:“So who’s on drugs here?… HE looks as if he’s on drugs.”

49 To a children’s band in Australia in 2002: “You were playing your instruments? Or do you have tape recorders under your seats?”

50 At Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme, 2006. “Young people are the same as they always were. Just as ignorant.”

51 On how difficult it is in Britain to get rich: “What about Tom Jones? He’s made a million and he’s a bloody awful singer.”

52 To Elton John on his gold Aston Martin in 2001: “Oh, it’s you that owns that ghastly car, is it?”

53 At an engineering school closed so he could officially open it, 2005: “It doesn’t look like much work goes on at this university.”

54 To Aboriginal leader William Brin, Queensland, 2002: “Do you still throw spears at each other?”

55 At a Scottish fish farm: “Oh! You’re the people ruining the rivers.”

56 After a breakfast of bacon, eggs, smoked salmon, kedgeree, croissants and pain au chocolat – from Gallic chef Regis Crépy, 2002: “The French don’t know how to cook breakfast.”

57 To schoolboy who invited the Queen to Romford, Essex, 2003: “Ah, you’re the one who wrote the letter. So you can write then?”

58 To black politician Lord Taylor of Warwick, 1999: “And what exotic part of the world do you come from?”

59 To parents at a previously struggling Sheffield school, 2003: “Were you here in the bad old days? … That’s why you can’t read and write then!”

60 To Andrew Adams, 13, in 1998: “You could do with losing a little bit of weight.”

61 “Where’s the Southern Comfort?” When presented with a hamper of goods by US ambassador, 1999.

62 To editor of downmarket tabloid: “Where are you from?” “The S*n, sir.” Philip: “Oh, no . . . one can’t tell from the outside.”

63 Turning down food, 2000: “No, I’d probably end up spitting it out over everybody.”

64 Asking Cate Blanchett to fix his DVD player because she worked “in the film industry”, 2008: “There’s a cord sticking out of the back. Might you tell me where it goes?”

65 “People think there’s a rigid class system here, but dukes have even been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans.” 2000.

66 After hearing President Obama had had breakfast with leaders of the UK, China and Russia, 2010: “Can you tell the difference between them?”

67 On students from Brunei, 1998: “I don’t know how they’re going to integrate in places like Glasgow and Sheffield.”

68 On Princess Anne, 1970: “If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she isn’t interested.”

69 To wheelchair-bound nursing-home resident, 2002: “Do people trip over you?”

70 Discussing tartan with then-Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie last year: “That’s a nice tie… Do you have any knickers in that material?”

71 To a group of industrialists in 1961: “I’ve never been noticeably reticent about talking on subjects about which I know nothing.”

72 On a crocodile he shot in Gambia in 1957: “It’s not a very big one, but at least it’s dead and it took an awful lot of killing!”

73 On being made Chancellor of Edinburgh University in 1953: “Only a Scotsman can really survive a Scottish education.”

74 “I must be the only person in Britain glad to see the back of that plane.” He hated the noise Concorde made flying over Buckingham Palace, 2002.

75 To a fashion designer, 2009: “Well, you didn’t design your beard too well, did you?”

76 To the General Dental Council in 1960: “Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, which I’ve practised for many years.”

77 On stroking a koala in 1992: “Oh no, I might catch some ghastly disease.”

78 On marriage in 1997: “You can take it from me the Queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance.”

79 To schoolchildren in blood-red uniforms, 1998: “It makes you all look like Dracula’s daughters!”

80 “I don’t think a prostitute is more moral than a wife, but they are doing the same thing.” 1988.

81 To female Labour MPs in 2000: “So this is feminist corner then.”

82 On Nottingham Forest trophies in 1999: “I suppose I’d get in trouble if I were to melt them down.”

83 “It’s my custom to say something flattering to begin with so I shall be excused if I put my foot in it later on.” 1956.

84 To a penniless student in 1998: “Why don’t you go and live in a hostel to save cash?”

85 On robots colliding, Science Museum, 2000: “They’re not mating are they?”

86 While stuck in a Heriot Watt University lift in 1958: “This could only happen in a technical college.”

87 To newsreader Michael Buerk, when told he knew about the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Awards, 2004: “That’s more than you know about anything else then.”

88 To a British student in China, 1986: “If you stay here much longer, you’ll go home with slitty eyes.”

89 To journalist Caroline Wyatt, who asked if the Queen was enjoying a Paris trip, 2006: “Damn fool question!”

90 On smoke alarms to a woman who lost two sons in a fire, 1998: “They’re a damn nuisance – I’ve got one in my bathroom and every time I run my bath the steam sets it off.”

91 To an attractive blonde well-wisher during a Diamond Jubilee visit with the Queen to Bromley, South London: “I would be arrested if I unzipped that dress.”

92 To a Filipino nurse as he unveiled a new cardiac centre at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital in February: “The Philippines must be half empty, you’re all here running the NHS.”

93 Prince Philip jokingly told a double amputee he should put wheels on his prosthetic limbs to move around quicker. Trooper Cayle Royce, who lost both legs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan, said Philip was “my hero” and “really comedy.”

94 To a group of women at a community centre in Chadwell Heath, east London “who do you sponge off?”

95 During the same visit to the East End, asked a professional fundraiser “do you have any friends left?”

96 To a professional photographer at the RAF club “just take the f****** picture”

97. If it has four legs and is not a chair, has wings and is not an aeroplane, or swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.

I wonder whether anyone else since 1851 has managed to use the word ‘buffoon’ in their blog title?   Have a nice weekend everyone!

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The Idiots guide to Greece, Euro problems and defaulting on debt.

Granted this might not be the most exciting titled blog I’ve ever written but it is probably the one that makes most sense.  I’ve decided to write my easy to understand guide to Greece and the Euro based on common-sense and my memories of international economics classes.

Greece has given the world much.  Ideals of democracy, political theories, sporting events and many fine foods.  It was also the first country to default on its debts back in 377BC. For much of the last 5 years though it seems to have also given the wider world Grimbo or never ending financial Greek limbo.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Greek economy must be one of the leading economies in the world for all the fuss that is made of it but the reality is that its entire population is around 11 million, perhaps a little smaller than metropolitan London and dwarfed by the 500 million strong European population as a whole.  It’s economy is in fact just 2% of the European whole which in statistical terms is pretty much just a margin of error.

In any normal circumstance what happens to Greece and the Euro would be irrelevant on continental terms, let alone global terms and yet whilst other nations have gone into and come out of economic problems in just a few years, Greece is stumbling along with a deeply impoverished and justifiably unhappy population.

The problem lies from Greece being in such huge debt, primarily to its European allies and particularly so to German and French banks who were greedy and stupid enough to over-lend to it in the first place.

Euro defaults

This graphic was created before the recent Greek default in the summer of 2015.

When the Euro was set-up all the member countries had to meet certain economic standards and it was noted by many at a time that Greece didn’t meet them but policy chiefs looked the other way in Berlin, Brussels and Athens in order to get things off the ground.

The Euro effectively makes most of continental Europe one country, financially… at least in parts.  The European Central Bank controls the Euro and all financial policies relating to it but it doesn’t have any control over the politics of each country, in fact in many ways the European institutions are very undemocratic.

For the purposes of this argument though it means that Brussels sets economic policy within its remit for all of Europe.  It is primarily aimed at the the strong economies of northern Europe which means it can be harmful and distant from those on the periphery.  This can be equated to economic policy being set in London or Washington to suit the majority and it might do this quite well for most but there are always relatively deprived cities or states that don’t really fit the mould.  Central policies imposed here can actually do more harm than good.

The big problem with Greece is that is has been borrowing more money than it can afford. It buys lots of goods and products from northern Europe and likes to have the same standards as for example Germany but is either not as productive, its state system not so effective at taxing and collecting the taxes and or simply prefers a different work-life balance culture.

As some economics have said, there is nothing wrong with wanting to retire early or have more holidays or shorter working weeks for example but you can’t also have the same standard of living as Denmark for example.

It’s not a one way street, you only have to look at London to see how many people from Mediterranean countries come here for work or to start a new life and likewise the numbers of British and Germans going to retire in the south is quite staggering.  There is no right or wrong approach but the differences are almost as clear now as when the European project started decades ago.

World Debt Levels

World Debt Levels above may be slightly out of date but though Japan has huge debts it can set its own financial policy to manage it much more than Greece can,

If Greece still had its own currency then it would be free to set its own interest rates and currency exchange rates to meet its own needs rather than those increasingly suited to its creditor nations.    It can’t do so as the currency levels of the Euro are set in Brussels.

This very obvious problem predicted particularly by the British; that you can’t have a successful economic union without a political one.  Unless Brussels controls the spending levels and social policies in Greece as well as the Euro then it can never properly work as between the local Greek government and the Greek people, they will always be tempted to veer from the central economic policy set for Europe as a whole but there is no such thing as a free lunch.

The situation is doubly bad because as much as Greece and other nations have accrued debts due to the Euro, northern states such as Germany, the Netherlands and Finland have boomed.  Their economies are so strong that they are too efficient for their own good, at least by Greek or Spanish standards.  These currencies would have soared making Nokia phones or BMW cars unaffordable in Greece if each nation had their own currency but as all are in the Euro, Germany has managed to become richer by selling its admittedly superb products to countries that couldn’t really afford to pay for them.

As such in some ways Germany and others have almost a bigger blame for the situation as Greece does.  Bizarrely, we’ve reached the situation where most of Europe is now at the economic whim of Germany, the Euro having succeeded where less peaceful German policies of times past had failed.

The blame doesn’t really start with Germany though, the Euro was foisted on it by France and Italy as “compensation” for the unification of Germany with the many other smaller countries rushing in to join if only to not be left out.  However in many ways, France and Italy are just bigger versions of Greece as are Spain and Portugal and this too has compounded the problem.

The Euro when created was set up to be almost impossible for any country to leave.  There are big concerns that if Greece were to leave the Euro then so too would several other southern nations.   This would be doubly so if Greece were to leave and make a success of it.

So Greece is mired in a huge debt that it can never repay and a generation or more of young people have had their aspirations almost permanently ruined.  Even beyond the initial debt problems, some of it is of Greece’s own makings.  Ireland and Iceland have both faced similar problems and buckled down and overcome the re-structuring and now have a much healthier future ahead of them.  The people there and in the financially more prudent northern countries are understandably worried and unhappy about giving their money to Greece.

This brings up another point which is how Greece sometimes forgets the whole process is a two-way street.  In order for them to receive money, it is others who ultimately have to pay for them and even in a socialist EU, there are limits of goodwill if recipients are seen not to be helping themselves.

It also highlights how self-serving the European project is.  Britain has always been sceptical of anything beyond a trading block but at least is open about it.  In the EU there is France who is the driving force behind the EU but wholly unwilling to tackle situations such as the millions spent every year on paying French farmers subsidies to be inefficient. The likelihood of anything similar happening here is about as great as the early retirement age!  In fact most of the countries nearly always oppose anything that hurts their own interests and why wouldn’t they, they are French, Greek, German first and European second.

Graphic from Thomson Reuters

Graphic from Thomson Reuters

Similarly many southern European states joined the EU purely for economic benefits, in effect being subsidised by northern states to improve their infrastructure and yet there is very little solidarity between them let alone for the northern states.  Even the newly joined Eastern European states seem to be in it only for themselves rather than any European ideal.  The Baltic states are amongst the strictest critics of Greece but mention limiting their population movements to Britain or Germany then you should hear the complaints.

So the Greek situation has rumbled on year after year with no-one on either side being brave enough to say the obvious thing and despite many in Europe thinking Greece and the Euro should part ways, this has not happened for fear that others indebted nations might get ideas of their own.  Greece itself has repeatedly rejected the increasingly tough austerity measures and despite the results of last weeks referendum, the Greek PM has performed a huge U-turn and signed up to further measures to save the economy.  Though it is unlikely it will do anything that push the problem down the road for a few months more.  Either way his idea of blackmailing the whole of Europe was never really the brightest move.

What any other country might be tempted to do with all this unplayable debt is to default on it.  This is the equivalent of a person or business being declared bankrupt.  Greece has been talked of defaulting for years and indeed to the IMF, it did so just a few weeks ago though this would be nothing compared to defaulting to the European Central Bank.

What does defaulting mean?  Well the country holds up it hands and admits it is broke and no-one is going to get their money whether they like it or not.  Alternatively creditors, in this case usually nations, agree that they will only get a tenth or quarter of funds owned.  The headlines would have you believe that defaulting would be the end of the world for Greece (it is just one of a number of admittedly difficult choices facing the country) however it is not the end of the world and actually countries default all the time.  Very few have never defaulted on their debt though almost all are indebted and there is much to be said for a world-wide cancellation of debt and releasing ourselves of this theoretical financial misery.

Sadly for Greece,it has spent almost half of its modern existence this last 180 years defaulting on its payments or being in otherwise very serious financial problems.  Spain however beats Greece’s six times with a record 13 modern defaults.  Russia defaulted in the 1990’s and most of Europe has done so since France defaulted in 1812.  In fact one of the worst and biggest offenders is Germany.  It defaulted three times in the 20th century alone and received debt cancellation from dozens of nations, including Greece. Most of Europe was bankrupt after WW2 and enjoyed generous aid from the United States in the form of the Marshall Plan of which Germany came out of it very well.

In Europe, only the U.K. has technically never defaulted which is an impressive record over such a long history but thats financial prudence and stability for you.   The U.K. only completed its WW2 debt to the United States in 2006, ironic after the German default 40 years earlier.  In fact we’re still paying off WW1 debts so it isn’t just Greece who might have to have a century of financial hardship but this reliability and belief in honouring debts does in some ways pay off if you’ll excuse the pun.

The closest the U.K. came to defaulting on its debt was in the early 1930’s when it “agreed” terms with the United States regarding debts from WW1.  In fact the U.K didn’t have real debts itself, but had given France money and France had given money to Germany.

The U.S.A has also never technically defaulted though some individual states have and instead has used financial policies to avoid defaulting… exactly what Greece should have done but was unable to do so several years ago.

This history also goes against Greece what happens as they will always be charged higher interest as there can be no real guarantee that future debt will ever be repaid and this just makes things tougher for Greeks whilst nations like the U.K. or U.S.A will always get good deals as the government will never renege on debts even from world wars whereas in Africa a quick coup or in Argentina a few riots means the country seems ready to default.

China and Japan have both defaulted several times on their debt and most countries in Africa have done many, many times.  It is hard to find countries in South and Central America that have never defaulted, in fact I’d take a quick guess and say no Spanish or Portuguese speaking nation there has never defaulted (I could be wrong).  Argentina is currently defaulting its way through life having agreed a way forward with debtors having been terribly and incompetently run by a series of governments.

If a country defaults, invariably there will be lots of complaints, for a few years it might be a financial pariah and some nations may later insist on compensation before investing with them again but sooner or later the very fact that there is profit to be made is generally too much to stop countries and organisations forgetting the past for long.

The days have probably gone when countries invaded those who owed it money as France did to Mexico and Britain did to Egypt in the 19th century.

In fact there is one other option that has been muted for Greece and in the end is surely the only possible end-goal for the whole Euro project and that is for it and other countries to be politically run from a central location as well as economically run.   In effect this is what happened to Scotland, whilst it might be assumed that at some point England conquered Scotland in a war in reality Scotland attempted to imitate England with regards to creating overseas colonies.  Unfortunately for Scotland, it didn’t work out very well and it all went very wrong leaving Scotland bankrupt and unable to pay its debts.  As already friendly though theoretically different and competing nations, the culture was close enough for England to offer to pay off the Scottish debts in return to the Scottish parliament joining England in the Act of Union.

Whatever happens to Greece and to the Euro isn’t going to be pretty and not many today would claim the Euro to be anything other but a disaster.  The refusal of the U.K. 15 odd years ago not to give up the Pound has never looked a better idea and whilst the ideals of a pan-European super-state may appeal to tiny and relatively weak nations like Latvia or Slovenia on a certain level, everything seems to be a me-me-me approach rather than genuinely helping other states as for much of the time the richer nations of Germany, Netherlands, Britain and a few others did (with the prospect of stability and larger “internal market” in return).

It also seems that increasingly, the peoples of Europe themselves might rather fancy going for a British style than a German one.  The problem for them is that the governments in Berlin and Paris don’t seem to want to give them a choice which goes against the very ideas that started things off after WW2 and no-one wants to go there.

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