The mixed blessing of reviews

Are you the sort of person who likes to know the truth of what someone thinks of you?  Most people do, some people don’t.  I’m firmly in the latter and would entirely rather not know anyone, at any time, anywhere thinks of me unless it is 100% positive.

I know it is said that it is better to know what people think of you but really, I’d rather not know at all.  Similarly, I’d never tell anyone what I thought of them whether I like them or despise them and if I do very rarely give an opinion then I must really love them.

It can be hard living this way in the 21st century, we’re always told that everyone has a right to have an opinion on everything and that they should voice it.  I’m not sure it’s such a good thing myself.  For example on television when something really important is happening, I’m not too bothered on the opinion of the average person, especially those who think they know it all.  I’d much rather listen to the expert in their field with decades of experience and years of study rather than some chap stopped on the street coming out of McDonald’s.  I’ve already got either my own better informed opinion and if I don’t then I’d rather someone who knew better than myself was giving their advice or opinion.

Normally almost everything I do is based on the assumption that I am going to enjoy it.  It does mean I might miss out on some experiences or people but it also means I tend to really enjoy the people I meet or the places I go.  In that regards I’ve always been a bit of a Black or White sort of person.  I make instant judgements on people and places and am often mystified as to why others later complain that they were let down by such and such or surprised that someone or something turned out so bad.  Some people might think this is a bit of a bad attitude but I don’t ever remember taking a liking to someone either a friend, colleague or acquaintance and then ending up disliking them.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t be nasty to someone I didn’t like, I’d just ignore them and keep out of their way.

I act the same sort of way about leaving reviews.  I’ve never given anything a bad review.  Who knows the real reason why a product, restaurant or hotel turned out so bad on that one day you had reason to use it?  Maybe the hotel got robbed the night before, perhaps the waiter’s best friend got run over by a car last week and is entitled to be grumpy on a personal level if not professionally.   I’m certainly not going to publicly badmouth someone for that.

That’s not to say I don’t complain, well actually I don’t really but have done once or twice at the sort of things most people would already have killed someone for… and all of their living descendants.  If I don’t like something, I just don’t go there again.  I don’t buy their product any more.  Complaining can be more constructive than giving a bad review.

With that in mind, it can be a little unnerving being in my position as virtually my entire life is up for review on-line.  With Airbnb, our home is open to paying guests who obviously want to have a good time and have some sort of value for money.  The whole system is based upon hosts reviewing guests and guests reviewing hosts.  We’ve now had over 100 people stay with us, some for months on end.  Happily, we have over 65 Five Star reviews, well actually only 5 star reviews. I guess people either love us or are polite enough to not mention it if they don’t like us… actually a certain percentage of people don’t leave reviews at all which isn’t so nice when we give them good reviews.

When I started my Ye Olde England Tours, I was very anxious that if I were to get reviews they would be good ones.  Almost everyone these days consults with TripAdvisor or similar sites. I know I sometimes use them, not so much to check out bad places but to make sure the ones I am visiting are good ones.   There is one bad hotel I still enjoy reading the reviews of, The Step Hotel in Prague.  By far the worst place I have ever stayed in, surrounded by dozens of train lines, busy traffic, surly staff, broken rooms, awful food and alcoholics going to the toilet just yards from the entrance. Best summarised by the question “Who would you recommend this hotel for?  Insomniacs and train-spotters”.

Trip Advisor 5 star rated

Trip Advisor 5 star rated and recommended!

Every time I got a review I would be genuinely surprised, delighted and just a bit relieved.  After all with a whole world of tour companies to choose from, why would anyone chose mine with no reviews let alone with bad reviews.  Happily I now have about 13 Five Star reviews on Trip Advisor and several others elsewhere.

I genuinely love receiving good reviews.  Someone has taken the time to give me a recommendation days or weeks after they last saw me.  I’d liken a positive review as to a tip for a waiter.  Of course, I like tips too after my tours if guests are so minded but a review is non-monetary and so in some ways seem more genuine and meaningful.  I’ve also been told in person that I’ve made dreams come true and given people not just the best day of their holiday but the best day of their life.  To me, that makes much more sense telling someone that, rather than a simple ‘You suck’.

The other part of my life that is open to reviews are my books.  I have plenty of 5 star reviews that I treasure and I have some 3 and 4 star reviews which suit me just fine.  I don’t expect everyone to like everything and it’s not a personal insult if someone has a different opinion than myself or anyone else and it’s not a personal judgement on myself.  The fact I wouldn’t leave a review for anything less than 5 stars, if it wasn’t brilliant then I’m not highly motivated to tell anyone, doesn’t mean I judge them.  Probably, as is the case with myself, there are plenty of people who love things and never leave a review for anything.

Of course the thing about reviews is that not everyone is fair.  Some have bizarre personal viewpoints, particularly bad experiences or maybe just are written by horrid or even vindictive people.  I recently suffered from that, someone recently gave my WW1 history book a 2 star rating and gave it a scathing review.  At first sight, this could have been horrifying to me.  Why would anyone do that?   Who were they?

I thought to myself how typical it was, that my book must have been read by a leading academic at Oxford or Harvard but know.  I can find only one person with that name and they seem to be a very ordinary individual indeed.

Then I read their review through a few times and realised that almost everything in their review was simply wrong.  They even highlighted a spelling mistake for a military word which can be spelt in more than one way which obviously the reviewer was totally unaware of and spent a great deal of effort generally trashing by writing style.

Beware all those who publish here.

Beware all those who publish here.

Fair enough thought I, I’d been reviewed by the last living Victorian English professor but if you do leave a review and write something that isn’t just opinion but claiming to be factual like a spelling, then surely you should at the very least get your facts straight.  Interestingly given her overwhelmingly hostile nature, she didn’t find fault with any of the actual history, quite an achievement when dealing with something as large and complex as WW1.

Just when I put it behind me, a week or two later this same person left an even more vindictive review on a foreign Amazon site.  Who would do that? How much must you hate someone to try and sabotage their income and livelihood?  Why would you take the time to register for a foreign website just for the purpose of a character assassination and further incorrect opinions dressed up as facts?  Especially if they got the book on one of the Publishers Freebie-Kindle days as I am 99% sure they did.

My only guess is that they are a writer less down the path of publishing success than myself or possibly a fellow WW1 historian doing their best to get rid of new competition or just plain jealous.  Either way it seems this person has gone out of their way to unpleasant and deliberately misleading but that is always the risk if something you do is in the public eye.

It isn’t just the subject that at risk of judgement from the review.  If the majority of reviews are negative then perhaps they have a point but such a negative as this one risks turning the tables on the reviewer.  The reviewer can easily appear an idiot or their review can be seen for the over the top lies that this one seems to be.  Many websites now allow for the rating of the review when over the time the writer of the bad review becomes noted as the sad person they really are.

Lots of people do pay attention to reviews, most writers know that the more reviews they get, the more sales are produced.  That’s certainly the way with my tours though by far my best-selling book only has 1 review which I guess means it does the job as well as it could for 99 pence.

I could ask for Amazon to remove the offending review as it certainly merits that under their policy and it may indeed effect a small proportion of sales.  If I were particularly bored or insecure I could comment on their review but I think what I’ll continue to do is to do to this person on-line, what I would do in the real world and ignore her and having nothing to do with her.

As Theodore Roosevelt put it much better than I ever could:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

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The Recording Angels

I was going to write today about the situation in Syria and Iraq and torment put upon the ancient local Christians there but then I thought I would write something a little more positive and what I am going to write about are the Recording Angels.


Showing solidarity for Iraqi Christians, The Arabic letter ‘N’ short for Nasrani or Christian also looks like a figure in prayer.

Recording Angels feature in several world religions and have a place in Judaism and Christianity but Islam has two Recording Angels and though not Muslim myself, I have long found their tale to be a touching one.  Whilst the horrors of modern-day Islamic terrorists and fundamentalists give the impression of Islam being a strict and oppressive religion, in truth this is only sect propagated by a few nations, most notably Saudi Arabia.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī or Rumi for short was 13thC Sufi and one of the greatest poets of all time.

Historically Islam has had a much softer, almost romantic side particularly with Sufi’s whose outlook on the world has much in common with the shamanistic traditions of central Asia or the native Americans replete with angels, spirits and Djinn or genies as we would call them.


Persian is one of the greatest romantic languages in the world with some of the most beautiful poems and verses.

The Recording Angels in Islam are known as Raqib and Atid and they sit on the shoulders of people recording their every deed and thought. The Angel on the right notes down all of the good needs the person does whilst on the left, the Angel records all the bad deeds.  At the Day of Judgement the Angels present their records to God and the big decision is made as to where that person will spend their eternity.

Rumi wrote on mysticism, theology, law and love.

Rumi wrote on mysticism, theology, law and love.

However, the Recording Angels want you to succeed the Angel on the left that records the bad deeds is reluctant to do so and gives 6 or 7 hours for that person to ask forgiveness or his bad deed or even undo it whilst the Angel on the right that records the good deeds will write down each good deed 10 times.

If someone sees the error of their ways it is not too late to change and if they ask forgiveness then the Recording Angel will erase that particular sin from your record.

Will you meet with Rumi one day?

Will you meet with Rumi one day?

The Recording Angels are mentioned in the Quran and just by being aware of their existence it is hoped that the behaviour of people will be good knowing they are being monitored in this way.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little about a different side of Islam and just a small selection of Sufi Persian wisdom.  It is hard to reconcile these peaceful and ideals and words of wisdom with the actions today in Syria and Iraq but at the great Rumi himself put it ‘Silence is the language of God, all else is a poor translation‘.


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Better Together – Scottish Separatist Referendum

For everyone living in the U.K., we’ve all been aware that the big day has been approaching for years (indeed some have been waiting for it for 300 years) whilst for everyone overseas, if you didn’t know there was going to be a referendum in Scotland on thursday then you will soon.

As someone born just a few miles from the England-Scotland border and with as many Scottish relations as English relations, I thought I may as well alienate half of them by writing what I think about the situation.

I think it is all total nonsense and to be blunt, so do all the Scottish relations I have spoken too.  At a time when most countries are joining together, it seems crazy that some Scottish separatists are trying to break up probably the most successful union of all time.

The vote on thursday is widely known as the Independence Referendum though in truth that word is emotionally charged.  Scotland is an equal part of the United Kingdom.  It cannot gain independence as the U.K. is already independent and has probably been the most successful nation in the last millennia, even more so for its relatively small size and population.

Listening to Scottish Nationalist Party propaganda it would be easy to believe that Scotland is a hugely depressed place and that all their problems are due to being oppressed by those awful English.  The fact of the matter is that both England and Scotland came into a voluntary union with the King of Scotland becoming the King of England as well.  It was a union of two equal nations, an almost bankrupt Scotland with a king and a rich but leaderless England. (That actually sounds a little familiar today).

Union Flag

The deep blue of the Union Flag indicate how integral Scotland is to the U.K.

In recent days we have heard Scottish Nationalists compare their position to being in Apartheid South Africa which must be why so many British Prime Ministers have been Scottish… just like all those famous Black Presidents before Nelson Mandela.  Tony Blair may sound English but he is Scottish.  His successor Gordon Brown is very Scottish indeed and the current Prime Minister David Cameron if English born has a very Scottish surname.

The nationalists have also been claiming that the NHS will soon be privatised or broken up which overlooks the facts that no-one has even thought of that or the fact the NHS as it is was a British invention and runs as well as it does due to the economy of scale that being in a country of 63 million people gives as opposed to just 5 million.

The TV news has shown for weeks that No supporters have been harassed and berated wherever they have gone.  A term often used for those opposing Scottish separation is that of Quisling which in fact originates from a Norwegian term for Nazi collaborators.  Imagine such a hateful word being used against any other ethnic group than English or Scots who want to stay in the U.K.   There would be outrage.

People who have expressed an opinion that Scotland should vote no have been attacked on-line and their posters of support ripped off their own private property.  Just a hint of the nasty part of nationalism the world over, something which the U.K. has always traditionally kept away from.

My university professor told me in my first week in International Politics that if a region can leave a country voluntarily without a war then it is probably not the sort of country you’d want to leave anyway.  It is those nations such as Russia and China that kill their own citizens because they want a better life that are the ones people should really want to leave.

Personally I don’t know anyone who favours Scotland leaving the U.K. except for a few English who are fed up of having Scotland always moaning.   Lots of other people seem to agree including President Obama, Hilary Clinton, the leaders of China, Australia and even The Pope.   In any rational debate if such a broad range of people were all of the same opinion then you’d have to think they are onto something.  Currently the only President supporting the break-up of the U.K. is that of North Korea which probably says a lot.

I’d feel rather sad if Scotland did vote to leave as I don’t see any difference between England and Scotland.  The culture, countryside, the language, the people are almost identical.  To be declared a foreigner in 30% of my homeland isn’t something anyone would particularly be happy about.

No Thanks

Of course there are big differences between the islands of Scotland and the middle of London but the remote parts of England have much more in common with the remote parts of Scotland than they do with London too.  Likewise, the average person in a city like Glasgow probably has more in common with a city like Newcastle than they do with someone in the Scottish highlands. The real divide is between the poor and the rich, the haves and the have-nots, not a fictional racial difference based on artificial borders and thousands of years of petty wars and conflict.

The whole campaign seems to be about creating divisions where really there aren’t any.   King James who unified the two nations himself put it that it would be crazy to have two separate nations on this one island and anyone who thought differently must be stupid.  After over 300 years of unification, this must surely be more true than ever before.  In fact the border between England and Scotland has changed by hundreds of miles both north and south over the millennia, what it is now is just a quirk of history with many Scots descendants living in England and many patriotic Scots in Scotland actually living in what at various times has been not at all Scottish territory.

No to Separatism

No to Separatism

It seems that with nearly 50% of the Scottish population on the brink of voting Yes that they are falling for some quasi emotional argument as there can be no sensible reason to leave the U.K.  Scotland already has a devolved government with powers to remove the hated Bedroom tax that it has chosen not to do.  Many recent years have seen funding of the NHS increase in England whilst the Scottish government declined to do so.

Scotland like England and the rest of the U.K. has a wealth of natural resources but particularly oil. Separatists claim around 90% of the UK oil which is Scottish will finance their economy and make them a small but wealthy nation, this despite the fact that oil is forecast to run out in most oilfields in the North Sea by 2050 and even the present revenues have been going down in the last few years.

A large number of small business have claimed they have been unable to support the No campaign due to behind the scenes pressure from the Scottish government and their being told that speaking out would mean they would never win any contracts again.  This week many of the largest and most respectable supermarkets and chain stores have said that Independence would mean markedly higher prices for Scottish consumers.  Oil experts have said the SNP claims on oil wealth are nonsensical and major banks have said they are all in the process of planning on moving their headquarters from Scotland to London and yet in every case the SNP leader Alex Salmond disputes there very respected opinions.  Most of which to me with a slightly more than basic knowledge of economics seem to be very much common-sense.

Much talk has been made of which currency Scotland will use if it becomes independent.  Originally the separatists wanted to use the Euro but then that currency collapsed at the same time as Scottish banks did… in fact Scotland would have become bankrupt if it were independent just a few years ago.

So now they want to use the British Pound but of course the government in London won’t let them do so with any say on economic policy.  Why would any English government do so, certainly the 3 main parties agree they wouldn’t and it is doubtful that having put up with hateful abuse for years that English voters would want to help out Scotland in any way.

No Plan B

Alex Salmond still refuses to say what Plan B is when the U.K. refuses his request to be in a currency union.

Not to fear say the Nationalists, the English will change their mind and if they don’t then they will use the Pound anyway like Panama uses the American Dollar.  Obviously Panama is famous for its economic power in Wall Street!   With all due respects to Panama, do you want to be Panama or the United States?   Or in this case Scotland or the United Kingdom.

There are huge gaps in the proposed incomes and social expenditures which the SNP proclaim.  To most neutral people that study them, they just don’t make sense and are little more than lies and wishful thinking.

There is nothing wrong at all with being an independent country and being poorer in almost every way but at least the nationalists should say this.

The SNP say not to worry as they will almost immediately join the European Union, this despite the fact that many leading figures in the EU have said this is unlikely or even impossible given their entry would have to be approved by the other member nations including the U.K. and nations such as Spain with their own separatists which have already said they would veto such a move.

Of course sometimes people in parts of Scotland end up with a government that is not their preferred choice, it’s called Democracy.  Their are plenty in Scotland who didn’t vote for the SNP either but that is what they got.  And yes, your population of 5 million is dwarfed by the other 58 million in the U.K. so sometimes you might not get what you want but then who does?  If Scotland did become independent then inevitably those in the countryside and remote towns and villages would have grievances against the big cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.  I bet somewhere like Nebraska doesn’t have as much power as California or New York.  At least being in the U.K. does give influence, a country with the population of a small East-European nation doesn’t really have any.  That’s not to say Scotland isn’t important, it is vital to the U.K and losing it would be like losing a brother or even like a body losing an arm.  Everything from Dr Who to the British Olympics teams to the military, culture and our many inventions (estimated at 44% of all inventions ever) are all intertwined because unity brings strength.  Much of the world is jealous of institutions like the BBC, NHS, Royal Mail and millions every year risk their lives to cross the world to enter the U.K.

The United Kingdom is one of the very most stable, safe, prosperous and important nations in the world despite being quite tiny.  We are the only land in the world not have been invaded for almost 1,000 years.  Scotland together with England, Wales and (Northern) Ireland gave more to the world than perhaps any other, many good and a few bad but together as the United Kingdom.  It would be a shame after all the adversaries we faced and on this the 100th anniversary of WW1 that the country we all know and love ends not from the many foreign threats we have faced through time but from a lying and disingenuous opportunist named Alex Salmond.

Better Together

Better Together

Like all the best politicians, he is a great orator but he is selling a pack of lines.  At his recent press conference on Thursday it fell into shambles with 2 or 3 journalists asking him to actually answer the question put to him, something he resolutely fails to do in Parliament and on television but this was the most blatant example I have seen any politician do on any subject.

There have always been an element of anti-English in a small section of the Scottish population and a similar though usually smaller  less viscous anti Scottish feeling in England… though obviously not enough to stop all those from Scotland living and working in England, particularly the London area.  I’m not someone who doesn’t like Scotland, I love Scotland.  Much of my family is Scottish, I love Scotland as much as I love England.  I always support Scottish sports teams, I have even supported some above England on occasion. To me breaking up the Union makes absolutely no sense at all and I find it hard to believe that your almost genetically identical country folk south of the border are so bad that despite all the above, you have to leave us.

You can be Scottish and British, with all the advantages it gives just as you can be Texan and American or a Queenslander and Australian.  There are some good reasons for Scotland to be independent but there are countless more to remain in the U.K..

Just this morning Deutsche Bank issued a statement that reads “INDEPENDENCE would threaten a major economic crisis for Scotland and be regarded in history as being as great a mistake as the decisions that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s.  It is  incomprehensible why anyone would want to exit a successful economic and political union with a G5 country – a union which another part of Europe so desperately seeks to emulate – to go it alone for the benefit of what exactly?”

It is always easier to vote Yes and get carried along in the mood of romantic change and harder to stand out and say No, actually things are actually pretty good as they are. For those Scottish readers who disagree then that is fine.  I’m truly happy if you are voting Yes for the right reasons (I haven’t heard any yet) but as someone who loves their country, warts and all, be it England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in one United Kingdom then  I can only say Vote No, we’re Better Together.

Vote No on September 18th

Vote No on September 18th



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Jack The Ripper Breakthrough: Identified as Aaron Kosminski

It seems slightly unreal to be updating a historical blog post I wrote just a week ago on Jack The Ripper.  Jack being the legendary serial killer in Victorian London for whom police identified over 100 suspects.

However, several British newspapers have printed a story that his identity has finally been proven, again.  This time if true happens to have convincing scientific evidence and just as luck would have it, I have a local connection to him.  His name is Aaron Kosminski, a Jewish, Polish immigrant.

The breakthrough comes from a shawl found with the body of Catherine Eddowes.  It had been in unwashed for 126 years  and in the private possession of a family whose ancestor was one of the police officers who found her body.

The shawl had previously been DNA tested nearly 10 years ago but the results were inconclusive. However technology has moved on and a private investigator purchased the shawl and contacted world renowned Finnish DNA specialist, Dr Jari Louhelainen.

A long and intensive study was made of the shawl and a cell of Catherine’s kidney was discovered, you may remember from last weeks blog that Jack removed her kidney, fried half of it for his dinner and posted the remains to the authorities with a letter.

The DNA matched perfectly with that of the three times great-Granddaughter of the victim, Karen Miller.   This alone was a startling breakthrough as previously though the police thought it was related to the murders, they had no firm evidence that it was.

Next up was to see if they could find any DNA from Jack himself.   At this point it is interesting to note that the shawl itself is an expensive item of clothing and that Catherine was so poor she had been forced to sell her shoes the day before her murder.

Jack The Ripper Suspects

Jack The Ripper Suspects – graphic from Daily Mail newspaper.

The shawl though contains a pattern related to the old saints day of Michaelmass which whilst rather forgotten about today was in Victorian times as important as Christmas or Easter.  Interestingly the Church of England celebrates Michaelmass on 29th September whilst the eastern Orthodox church remembers it on the 8th of November.  Anyone interested in Jack will find these dates familiar as they were the final murder dates of the canonical five victims.

Was it possible that Jack was using this expensive and still beautiful piece of clothing to lure his impoverished but religiously aware victims?

Next, the investigation found the cells of bodily fluid from a man.  It was immediately identified as belonging to haplogroup T1a1 which is broadly speaking, dark haired Russian descended Jews.  The team tracked down a descendant of Aaron Kosminski and the DNA matched perfectly though understandably that person isn’t yet ready to inform the world they are descended from Jack.

Aaron Kosminski was always a police suspect and he later fell under 24 hour police surveillance before being put into an asylum for the insane.  Kosminski has always been one of the three most credible suspects. He is often described as having been a hairdresser in Whitechapel, the occupation written on his admission papers to the workhouse in 1890. What is certain is he was seriously mentally ill, probably a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered auditory hallucinations and described as a misogynist.

Aaron Kosminski was 23 when the murders took place, and living with his two brothers and a sister in Greenfield Street, just 200 yards from where the third victim, Elizabeth Stride, was killed.

Kosminski features prominently in police records and memoirs of senior investigators and some thought him highly likely to be the Ripper and one remarked that he “had a great hatred of women … with strong homicidal tendencies”but there was never enough evidence and there were rumours that due to his ethnicity, an important witness was unwilling to formally identify him as Jack.

Far from being a surgeon or a member of the Royal Family, Kosminski was rather sad and scrawny individual and just a year or so after the murders was sent to Leavesden Asylum where he lived until his death aged just 54 in  March 1919. He is buried in East Ham Jewish cemetery.

I walk through the old Leavesden Asylum several times a week, now I am more sure than ever that I am walking in the footsteps of Jack The Ripper.




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My life is too short for long scroll-bar selections

Do any of you remember the old fashioned telephones.  I don’t mean just the ones that have a cable that connects into the wall but those with a dial on the front rather than push-buttons.

I always liked those phones for some reason.  Maybe it was the noises the analogue lines would make when it was making a connection.  What I really liked though was operating the dial.  I did and still do think they are so cool.

Retro Telephone

Dial 999 for emergencies or die trying.

Of course, even as a child I had a major problem with them though.  Living in the U.K., our emergency number is 999.  I’m sure there was a good technical reason why this number was decided upon decades ago but in an emergency was it the best idea?  More than that, could there be a worse number to have in the era of old dial analogue phones.  To dial 111 on an old phone would be little slower than on a modern phone.  Dialling 999 though would take an eternity.  Five or six seconds for the dial to return to its starting point.  I wonder how many people died as a result of the wait.

I guess in the USA the powers that be decided to filter out the very ill after the first 9 but anyone left dialling was obviously worth saving so they opted for 911.

These days hardly anyone uses a dial phone.  Personally I like the very old candlestick phones.  Who cares that you can’t wonder round the house with an old house phone.  You just need a really long cable and a servant to find where you’re sat!

I guess the modern equivalent of dial phones are scrolling internet menus.  You know the type, January –  December with January ALWAYS at the top and often already highlighted whilst December needs to be scrolled all the way down.

Sometimes I wonder how much time I waste over a year or even over a life.  All my options are always at the bottom.  Whether I am on-line ordering, completing a survey or government form or just finding out what’s on at the cinema.

Let’s take my birth-date.  December, well we know where that is on the internet scrolls.  December is treated like the dirt on your shoes.  If you’re not born between January and April then you have to scroll.  December people have to scroll a lot.

Never-mind I hear you cry, it’s not fair but it’s not the end of the world.  Actually it is the end of the world but I’ll come to that later.

No-one likes me and I don't care.

Even registering on websites is a pain when they are all biased against December and end of month people.

Next up is the days of the month.  All the days start off at the 1st.  Why not the 15th or the 31st or the number that every month has, the 28th?  Why do they have to start at 1?  Are single figure date people not bright enough to scroll backwards.  I’m born on the 28th so in my opinion with my month and date it is just give, give, give with those January 1st sort of people.  They make me sick!

To make it worse, the birth year is requiring ever more scrolling.  Why not set the year as the average date of the country you are in rather than the year 16 or 18 years ago?

I can’t even catch a break if I want to go and watch a movie.  I’m sure that someone somewhere thinks that listing towns in alphabetical order is a good idea.  Maybe it is, maybe I’d be agreeable to it if I lived in Aberdeen or Alnwick or even Aberystwyth but noooo, the nearest big town to me is a place called Watford.  Every time I want to see what’s on any my cinema, book a pizza delivery from my local branch it’s the same old story.  Again with the scrolling.    Why can’t someone start their town/city scroll in the M position.  It would be fair and it would cut some slack to Manchester.

5 or 6 clicks down is Watford

Watford, always at or near the bottom of every list on UK websites.

The Internet was set up by really smart people so there is no real excuse for such a lack of vision and given that the Web was invented by Sir Tim Berners Lee there really is no excuse for the final part of this unfortunate story.

Whenever you place an order for anything on the internet, you have to find your country on a scroll bar.  I mentioned the end of the world and when it comes to scroll bars that is pretty much where I live.  The United Kingdom.  Well yes there is Zambia and Zimbabwe I suppose but they probably don’t live in town beginning with ‘W’ so aren’t so touchy about it in the first place.

I know what people in the USA are thinking,  we have it worse. Yes, yes the United States is always ranked one position under the U.K. but 99% of the time it is also listed as the first country on the list.  Sometimes Canada is number 2 but apparently web-designers think they will get a lot more business from Albania and Angola than the U.K. or maybe it is just the British patience with queuing and standing in line.

It doesn’t end there though does it?  No it doesn’t Stephen.  You see we aren’t always listed under the U.K.  and for people who don’t understand the name of our country we can be listed as Britain.  Hurrah, a rare event but it elevates us to the likes of Burundi and Botswana.  If not, then maybe we are under Great Britain.  More scrolling…. we must be here sometimes…. do they want my order or not.  Hmmm, no Britain, no GB, no UK.  I know we must be under England.  Yes, I have found my self, technically totally wrong but maybe people in Alabama and Alaska might want to do the same for their websites and save some valuable scrolling time.

So there you have it.  Internet ordering doesn’t like me.  I am born in the last month, in the last 3 days of the month (technically all part of the same scroll display), my home town is literally at the bottom of everything and I count myself lucky if I can find the name of my country near the bottom of that long list without having to scroll up and check numerous different options.

U.K. at the bottom of the lists

More scrolling….. apart from its place in the Alphabet does Afghanistan really warrant always being the top of any internet menu or ordering system?

It’s enough to make me want to dial 999 on one of those old phones, it would still be quicker than entering my basic details onto a website.  I suppose, maybe, just maybe it could be worse.  For those times those country lists don’t have the U.K. but instead have the 4 component nations of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  I suppose that just maybe, I should just be thankful I don’t live in Wales.

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From Hell: Yours truly, Jack The Ripper

At the end of August 1888, the district of Whitechapel in the impoverished east end of London was plunged into terror when a series of killings were perpetrated by a man that would forever be known as Jack The Ripper.  ***Please Note that this post does not contain any photos of murder victims but does give an account of actual of distasteful events albeit very much sanitised***

Then as now London was perhaps the greatest city on earth, the centre of trade, finance and empire. Just as in every large city today there are places that aren’t exactly tourist hotspots, back in 1888 Whitechapel was the sort of place even locals wouldn’t go out at night.

The area suffered the worst poverty imaginable with dozens of people residing in each building, even in each room.  The east end of London was full of sailors and soldiers, the hustle and bustle of the empire with ships coming and going all around the world.  Its notoriety was well deserved as only the most desperately poor would live there.

Many of the women there had no husbands or family and to meet their measly rent for their doss houses and often their drug and drink addictions too, they would be forced to sell themselves to all manner of dodgy punters.  The area was amaze of no go alleyways and narrow lanes which though bustled at night were silent and shady by night.

Whitechapel like much of east London at the time was rife with petty and much more serious crime.  It was almost a lost cause and the sort of place where one would go to disappear.  Many of the population were just passing through, others were newly landed migrants from eastern europe looking for a better life as so many still do today.

Despite attempts by the Victorians to improve the welfare of the poor across the country, such moves hadn’t yet reached Whitechapel.  Some of the streets were said to be the most dangerous and murderous streets not just in London but the western world.  No wonder then that in August 1888 one of the earliest and to this day the most infamous serial killer appeared in this most crowded of cities to commit the most horrible crimes.

29 Hanbury Street

Another of Jacks victims was killed by the doorway in the yard against the fence where a neighbour ignored noises thinking it was just a domestic argument.

There are 5 canonical murder victims which are generally agreed upon as being the victims of Jack.  The viciousness of the murders though mean it is unlikely that they were his first or indeed only victims and that other killings labelled as the Whitechapel Murders were his work too, most likely Mary Tabram who was stabbed dozens of times in the dark cobbled streets of Whitechapel just a few weeks earlier.

Things really got going on August 31st when the body of Mary Ann Nichol was found at 3.40am in Bucks Row.  Her throat had been cut and there were numerous incisions on her abdomen.

Dorset Street

Dorset Street in the time of Jack. The most crime-infested and dangerous street in London

Just a week later poor Annie Chapman met her end early one morning.  She was spotted with a genteel looking though hairy dark man at 5.30am in Hanbury Street.  15 minutes later a neighbour heard a commotion and if he had bothered looking over the fence he might have seen something.  As it was Annie Chapman was discovered dead at 6am, her throat had been slit, her body slashed and internal organs removed.

Murder Most Foul

Photo taken just a few years after Jack. One of the murders took place by the archway leading off to the right.

Whitechapel fell into hysteria and understandably so.  Who was the man who could murder women so brutally, dismember them and escape the hundreds of police in just minutes.  Ironically most of the citizens kept themselves locked safely indoors once dusk fell.  It was the very women who Jack was targeting who remained out.  They may have thought they knew better by only seeing familiar clients and faces.  Each night they desperately needed to earn a few pennies to avoid being thrown on the street which would have been the end of them even  in the best of times in Whitechapel.  Police estimated there were 60 brothels and 1200 women working as prostitutes in the radius of just a few streets.

Commercial Street

How many times did Jack the Ripper walk down one of the main streets of Whitechapel

Sunday 30th September 1888 was a night that took things to new, despicable heights.  Elizabeth Stride was killed with one cut to her artery to her neck but was not mutilated. She had been seen shortly earlier with a man.  It seems the killer was interrupted as when the man who discovered the body was riding his horses into the old yard, there was a noise in the far corner and the horses became highly disturbed.  It is likely that they sensed Jack hiding in the shadows as he made his escape.

Incensed that his killing had been interrupted Jack fled through the maze of alleyways until he met with Catherine Eddowes who shortly before her death was spotted with a man.  The police patrols were widespread and intensive and a PC had patrolled Mitre Square as part of his route.  Just 14 minutes after he had walked there, he found Catherine Eddowes dead.  She had been horribly murdered and mutilated with her intestines flung over her shoulder and other organs removed. In fact she had only been released from a prison cell after collapsing drunk in the street less than an hour earlier.

Apart from the obvious shock value and unspeakable actions which elevated the crimes from mere murders, it was mused by many that Jack may be a doctor or butcher?  How else could someone commit such crimes so quickly?

The final canonical killing was that of Mary Kelly.  She was discovered at 10.45am on Friday 9th November.  She had been killed in her room.  The way she was lying in bed already naked indicated she was already with her killer.  She had been horribly mutilated and the extra time Jack had in the private room allowed him to extrapolate his frenzy.  The walls were covered in blood and it was said to be the most horrific sight imaginable, more the work of the devil than even a serial killer.  Understandably the house was demolished a few decades later.

And then the killings stopped as suddenly as they had started, or did they?  There were certainly plenty of other murders in Whitechapel over the next few years.  Opinion amongst the investigative police was divided over which were the works of Jack.  Eventually it seems likely that Jack either fled the area, went overseas, was imprisoned for unrelated crimes or put nto an insane asylum.

Even today, new discoveries and insights are being made but whether the identity of Jack The Ripper will ever be agreed upon is unlikely.  Many of the original police records were destroyed in The Blitz and decades before that records were literally thrown out on the street when storage became an issue.  Some records and testimonies do exist and there was until recently even a piece of clothing belonging to Catherine Eddowes which Jack had dropped whilst fleeing the scene and about to write a message on a wall.  The clothing was DNA tested but at the time technology was such that it was unable to identify the killer after a century of contamination by investigators.

Modern detectives believe that with just a bit better technology and a better handling of the case that Jack would have been caught.  Nevertheless the police interviewed hundreds of suspects and conducted countless door to door inquiries.  They had witnesses but not all of their testimonies matched up and there was a societal pressure that led police to believe the killer had to be clearly insane.  People of a high social standing were deemed to be above such murders and on one such instance a murder victim being escorted by a well attired gentleman with scarcely concealed bladed instrument was ignored by a police patrol.

The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing

The police also wilfully destroyed a graffiti message most likely left by Jack on a brick wall immediately after a murder.  It was decided that waiting for daylight for a full investigation to be made and the arrival of the new fangled science of photography would risk causing race-riots due to the anti-Semitic nature of the writing and so the whole wall was washed down and all evidence eradicated with it.  There are disagreements over its meaning but as it was found with a piece of Catherine Eddowes apron it had adds an interesting twist.  Was Jack claiming himself to be Jewish or was he trying to throw the police off his scent?  A few months earlier a Jewish suspect of a murder in a nearby street had pushed race-relations on edge so it is understandable why the police felt they had to remove the writing before uninformed rumours spread like wild-fire.

Whitechapel map

Charles Booth’s Map of London Poverty, 1889 from the Casebook website. Notice how close the murders canonical murders are and how they are in the poorest areas.

It is likely that Jack The Ripper lived in Flower and Dean street which is located right in the centre of the killings and within just 200 yards of the homes of the women and not much further from the murder locations.  The street itself was destroyed in WW2 bombing and many but not all of the surrounding slums were too or were otherwise torn down by either Victorian reformers or the later developments of the 1960s-90s.

Jack The Ripper is about the first serial killer with his own nom de plume which appeared when Jack wrote a bloody letter or possibly it was the work of an ambitious newspaper reporter.

This letter was originally thought to be a hoax but it mentions how Jack will cut off part of his next victims ear.  Soon after Catherine Eddowes was found with her ear lobe removed.

This letter was originally thought to be a hoax but it mentions how Jack will cut off part of his next victims ear. Soon after Catherine Eddowes was found with her ear lobe removed.

Dear Boss Page 2

Page 2 of the dear boss letter posted on 27th September 1888.

Dear Boss,

I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck. Yours truly
Jack the Ripper

Dont mind me giving the trade name

PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now. ha ha

There were several other letters such as the one known as “saucy Jack” but the most famous has to be the From Hell Letter.  This was sent in a wooden box to the George Lusk, the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.  Inside was a letter and half a human kidney.  Police thought it was a hoax but experts later tested the kidney and they determined it belonged to a 45 year old woman with health problems caused by over consumption of alcohol.  Catherine Eddowes had had her kidney removed, she was 46 and was known to suffer from a severe drinking problem.

From Hell Letter

The work of a sick and twisted mind.

From hell

Mr Lusk
I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer.

Catch me when you Can
Mishter Lusk.


Despite the biggest manhunt in history and the fact that London lived in sheer terror for months if not indeed for a year or two, without any statements from victims, no photographs of the suspect and modern investigative sciences in their infancy Jack The Ripper was never caught and his identity remains a mystery.

A few more viscous murders continued carrying many if not all of his hallmarks.  Francis Cole was killed (see one of the photos below) but when found by a policeman was still able to open her eyes.  Police procedures meant the officer was duty bound to stay with a living victim and had to ignore the fleeing heavy footsteps of Jack running away as quickly as he could.

The list of possible suspects is impressive and includes locals, passing sailors, doctors, the criminally. insane and even a member of the Royal Family   One of the more likely suspects is that of the American, H.H. Holmes.  He was in London at the time of the killings and his defence lawyer believed him to be Jack before he was executed in New York a decade later on the count of 27 other murders.  One or two people have said to have confessed to be Jack whilst others have fraudulently claimed to be Jack or know his real identity.

Flower and Dean St

Modern detectives believe that Flower and Dean Street is the most likely place for Jack to have lived. It is central to the area, murderers tend to kill near to home and he clearly knew the dark maze of alleyways in Whitechapel.

Whitechapel has changed beyond all recognition in the last 135 years though parts of it would never be described as affluent.  Many of the pubs and churches remain as do even some of the buildings from the time along with some of the narrow passage ways and cobble-stoned squares that Jack and his unfortunate victims lived and died on.  Whilst it is in no way comparable to how it used to be, there are still several areas related to the Whitechapel murders that no one would want to go at night.

Chamber Street by John Bennett

Photo of Chamber Stree by John Bennett. Imagine walking down here at 1am with only oil or gas lighting… perhaps none at all knowing that Jack could be lurking in the shadows.

Swallow Gardens from Chamber Street by Rob Clack

Frances Cole met a grisly end here on 13th February 1891. I think we would all be looking over our shoulders in broad day light even in 2014.

Mitre Square

Atmospheric photo from Jonno on Catherine was murdered on the pavement to the left of the flower box, under the tree.

As horrific as the 11 Whitechapel killings were they did at least help bring recognition to the terrible conditions of the poor in east London and Whitechapel in particular and provided momentum for change.  Police began to develop much more modern ways of dealing with murders, they even developed the first trainers/sneakers as it was thought their boots made too much noise on the London cobble-stones at night.  The famous British press sold millions of papers off the crimes which went some way to creating the modern “cut-throat” tabloid culture in Britain.

London Daily Post

Jack The Ripper makes headline news around the world.

Police News

Tabloid papers did much to hype up the all ready hysterical and helpless poor of London.

The Penny Illustrated News

Revolutions in printing cheap papers helped created the tabloid paper. Drawings were used to increase sales to the poor with low levels of literacy.

Though there have been a few British serial killers who have killed more, most were not so gruesome and they were all identified in the end.  Jack The Ripper remains a mystery who kept London on edge over a century ago and whose presence along with that of his poor victims can still raise the hairs on the back of your neck in certain parts of Whitechapel.  Whoever he is, he thoroughly deserves the much voted title of the worst Briton of all time.

I will shortly start offering day-time walking tours on Jack The Ripper through my Ye Olde England Tours company.  Join me, if you dare!



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The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Before I get started, I really must thank James for nominating my blog for the Inspiring Blogger Award.  I’ve only just met James on-line recently and it is always a genuine pleasure when anyone likes, comments and follows my blog.  Being nominated for an award is most appreciated.  James works on the fabulous ‘Weave My Tale‘ website which is dedicated to helping not just authors who are just starting but also those who are a bit further down the writing road.  I wish had found him years ago, I can tell you.

Here are the guidelines for the award:

  • Thank and link the amazing person who nominated you.
    List the rules and display the award.
    Share seven facts about yourself.
    Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
    Optional: Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

So here are seven facts about this blog:

1. I started writing whilst still at Uni, I attended a creative writers class at a Star Trek convention led by Ron Moore of TNG, DS9 and Battlestar Galatica fame and Brannon Braga who did Voyager and Enterprise.  Within weeks I won my first creative writers competition!  Just as importantly, I found a way to get invited to the various Star Trek and other hit movie premiers in London.  Good times!

2. I wanted to write a blog for many years but didn’t think I had much to say that would interest anyone.  I’m not saying that I do now but I did think it would help my writing skills and assist me in authoring more books and maybe do some freelance writing.

3. Despite some posts being linked to by professional news and features websites, I’ve never been Freshly Pressed.  Do I care? No way!  Really?  Of course not, both know I would be screen-grabbing that big moment as if my life depended on it!

4. It was always my goal to write a mix of subjects on my blog.  I know most people favour writing a blog revolving around one speciality but I always found that too limiting.  How can I write just about one thing when there is a whole world out there.  Besides which I think writing about anything and everything makes for a better writer.  The problem is finding a good mix and having something worth reading.   My blog majors in history, travel and culture and minors in opinion and ‘stuff”.   Despite all that I do get days when I wonder what to write and have a little voice in my head that say “You see, I told you that you should have dedicated your blog to 1001 Mongol torture techniques.  You’d either have no followers or millions of them but at least you wouldn’t be stuck with what to write”.   Someone once said to me that my blog was like Wikipedia except more accurate and a lot funnier.  That’s really what I am going for.  Here are my top posts ever (except for the Home Page).

My top Top Posts ever

My Top Posts Ever. Most of these are from the last year or so. Either no-one liked my first year or I got more followers in the second. Maybe both!

5. Through writing this blog I have made 2 or 3 really excellent friends and lots of other friends and interesting people.  I’ve been contacted to write for publications, sold books and even changed my career into something I enjoy i.e. writing and tours.  I always wonder who is reading my blog so everyone do feel perfectly free to just drop me a line and say ‘hi’.    I’m always amazed at how many people come from around the world.  What do I write that is of interest to people in Lesotho in southern Africa or French Guiana in South America? I love France and Germany but am still surprised so many readers come from there.

Blog views around the world

Thanks to everyone who either follows me or just pops by.

From the map above it looks like I have readers from all but about 10 countries in the world and several of these are dictatorships.  Central Africa looks like a hard to crack area for me.  If no one visits me from there soon don’t be surprised if I do a big feature on best restaurants in the Central African republic.  Maybe another on the leader of North Korea.  Aside from creating an international incident, it would do wonders for the hit count.  Does anyone else remember the WWF wrestler Mr. Perfect?  Sadly he is no longer with us but in the 1990’s he used to do all these little video vignettes where he was the perfect footballer or the perfect basket baller.  I reckon doing something like that for The Supreme leader has potential and I’m sure he would just love it too.

6. I spent days reading the hundreds of comments about the four posts I wrote when my mother unexpectedly died.  It remains one of the most incredible moments of my life knowing that people I never met took time out to write to me.  Thank-you to everyone whether you are still reading me or not.

7. I compare my time blogging rather like the film Ghostbusters.  The receptionist would sit bored with no calls and then after a while, all hell would break loose.  For a long time I waited for any likes at all, then there were a few and after a while my second hand iPod Touch (now iPad Wahoo) would never stop beeping at me.  These days it seems the like Mr Stay Puff is just rampaging over my life and I’m liking that.


The Marshmallow man has taken over my life

Now I have to nominate 15 other blogs for the award.  This is very hard to do as though I don’t comment on many I do follow a lot.  Here are my 15 nominations:

1. Echoes of The Past   This is a lovely little blog about old buildings, usually churches in rural parts of Britain.

2. Gnome Lover   Jenni runs this often hilarious blog about the trials of life whilst producing excellent recipes and lots of other things.  She also loves sci-fi.  If you ever meet Jenni, do tell her how much I want that painting of the peacock on her wall.

3.Amy Reese Writes  Amy writes a blog that is a mix for mine and Jenni’s  Always interesting and fun to read.  One of my first blogging buddies.

4. Ekaterina Botziou  It’s easy to imagine that Ekaterina lives out her life in some kind of My Big Fat Greek Wedding mixed with a touch of Groundhog Day.  A really talented writer, very amusing and the nicest person you can imagine.  I won’t mention that she has been in Downton Abbey and John Carter of Mars.  She is going places and nominating her is my little way of holding on to her coat tails!

5. Stretching Into Infinity – The first blog I ever followed and one that I still enjoy.  If looking at amazing street photography from around the world is your thing then you should check this one out.

6. Save The Royal Navy – Everyone knows I like my history and all things military.  This blog is great for anyone who is interested in the current Royal Navy and its name comes from the fact that our government keeps cutting back its military budget whilst forever sending it out to do its work whilst giving extra money to things like bankers or even £120 Billion (£4,500 for each family) on waste.

7. A. H. Gray – Author and historian who specialises in my family region in North East England.  If you like Vikings and really old Anglo-Saxon stories then it’s well worth a read.

8.Oh the Things We Shall See     Skye works on several blogs, this one is a photographic blog that mixes great imagery with inspiring verses.

9. Boyer Writes  Nancy really writes a great blog, kind of like mine on a good day when all the pigs are flying and fingers are crossed and I have a vague idea of what I’m writing.  Except that Nancy is like that day in and day out.  Great subjects and very professionally written.

10.A Map Of Time – Jenga keeps A Map of Time all ship-state and Bristol fashion as this beautiful blog primarily covers maritime history in North America but also other places too.  I’ve spent many a time nosing around here and always learn lots of new things.

11. Look Left - This is a political blog which I have long followed and occasionally contributed to.  Written by Jack, a very talented writer with a left-leaning persuasion in UK Politics.

11.View From Saris world This is a bit of a literary and history geek sort of blog which I always enjoy reading as the posts are always well written.  My favourite recently was about “Saying Goodbye to books”, something I’m sure all us bookworms can relate to.

12.The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife –  I like this blog a lot, its written with quite a lot of tongue in cheek humour and yet you get the feeling it is all based on fact.  I’ve been dabbling with the idea of buying a totally ramshackle old farm house in Sicily which is how I found this great blog.  Plus it reminds me of the funny characters I enjoy meeting on the Sicilian TV show, Inspector Montalbano.  Don’t end up like Caterella, pull up a chair and enjoy. Avanti!

14.History Kicks Ass – Let Nadine take you through some wonderful bite size moments of history.

15. Docommawrite Alex or Alexandra as I no doubt infuriatingly insisted on calling her for over a year has a wonderful little blog.  Each time you visit it’s like opening a present of untold delights.  She does great writing, is very inspirational and recently started her own Yoga company in and around Boston.  If you want to laugh or just feel happy then go see what she does. She is my little blogging sis!


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