Terra Nullius, enclaves & the strange case of Bir Tawil – The land that nobody wants.

When European nations were looking at empire building there were a number of sham reasons used to justify it.  Either religious edicts from Rome, pure Ethnocentrism from France (the belief of one race being superior to all others) or in the case of Great Britain Terra Nullius.  It was the Romans who first came up with the law of Terra Nullius which often translates to being land that is either empty or occupied by only uncivilised tribes.  Such Terra Nullius could be occupied, incorporated into the Roman Empire and civilised.  Britain which largely saw itself as the inheritors of the Roman ideas of law, civilisation and trade used Terra Nullius to claim vast areas of the world from Canada to New Zealand.   It didn’t matter if the areas was inhabited, if the local people had no written laws or obvious political and legal systems to negotiate with then they were deemed not civilised and the land was ripe for development and civilising. Of course others used similar laws or sham ideas but mostly for carving out their own lands and empires and not so much on a global scale.  It may be a surprise that in the 21st century there is still some Terra Nullius today especially with all the quirks of global borders.  There are places where two nations claim the same bit of land and fight over it such as recently in Eritrea or currently in eastern Ukraine.  There are others where nations occupy land they don’t even claim themselves whilst others who live there are denied their own state such as with Israel and the West Bank. Being in possession of land doesn’t necessarily make it yours on a legal level.  Few believe Tibet should belong to China outside China, Crimea to Russia and no-one recognises the vast lands under occupation by Islamic State as belonging to anyone other than Syria, Iraq and to various degrees, Kurdistan. Borders change all the time, even the American border with Mexico was not fully resolved until 1977 due to illicit works that diverted the course of the Rio Grande river.  If Scotland had voted for independence from the rest of the United Kingdom, one of the many disputes would have been the route of the border going into the sea and the rich oil fields there.

Sea Sovereignty

Map showing future sea ownership from maximum England ownership to maximum Scotland ownership. In reality the border would likely turn east around where 1999 is written which is where the sea finally is closer to the Scottish east coast than the nearest part of England.

Normally the maritime border follows the route of the land border but in the case with England and Scotland, a few miles before the sea the border sharply changes direction resulting in hugely varying possible areas of national maritime claims. Some disputes seemingly never seem to settle and continue for decades or even centuries whilst other borders are settled amicably but with little sense to the outsider and exclaves and enclaves are created.  These are small areas of land that belong to one country that are entirely surrounded by other countries. Most enclaves are now found in Europe or Asia.

Dahala Khagrabari

Dahala Khagrabari, a part of India in an enclave of Bangladesh, inside an enclave of India, inside Bangladesh.

Possibly the most complicated is that of Dahala Khagrabari in India or to be precise it is a tiny bit of land in India which is in Bangladesh which is in India which is in Bangladesh.  Obviously this makes life difficult for the locals whichever side of the border they are in and both countries have said they are looking to resolve the situation with a land-swap although that was several years ago and nothing much has happened since.  If nothing happens then they will end up like those in Europe such as Campione D’Italia, a part of Italy in Switzerland or Llivia, a part of Spain in France.


In 1659 The Treaty of the Pyrenees ceded many local villages from Spain to France. Llivia was not transferred as it was once the capital of Cerdanya and above the lowly village status.

It’s ok when the countries involved settle things peacefully such as the many German/Belgian enclaves or Belgium and the Netherlands but they can also be the cause of much war such as the enclaves of Armenia and Azerbaijan.   There are lots of enclaves in South America and Central Asia too with much fewer in Africa and the Middle-East.  Britain is involved in some enclaves too with quite a lot of land around large airbases in Cyprus. It’s important to remember that real enclaves are parts of other countries and although there are several nations that due to quirks of history are entirely independent but surrounded by another nation such as Lesotho in Southern Africa or Vatican City in Rome, they are not technically enclaves.

Map of Antartica

Map of the territorial claims of Antarctica and Marie Byrd Land remains Terra Nullius or unclaimed land.

Given all this it is perhaps surprising that there are still some cases of Terra Nullius in the 21st Century though not as much as there was just a few decades ago.  The biggest chunk of unclaimed Earth is at Antarctica, large areas began to be claimed since the beginning of the 20th Century first by Britain and then by Norway, France, Nazi Germany.  Britain split up its claims amongst Australia and New Zealand though still claims a large area which has since also been claimed by Argentina and Chile.  However as the map shows, a significant area is not claimed by anyone at all though the United States and Russia reserve the right to claim territory in the future. There is also some unclaimed land on the banks of the River Danube between Croatia and Serbia but perhaps the most interesting is that of Bir Tawil.  I first came across Bir Tawil as a child looking through my granddads ‘Times Atlas of the World’.  It is a parcel of land between Egypt and Sudan which is unclaimed by either country and at 800 square miles I would be more than happy to claim it myself but it seems unlikely that either neighbouring state would allow that and besides having now been very close to Bir Tawil, I can safely say there probably isn’t much there for me at least. It all comes about from the British administration over 100 years ago when in 1899 a border was set in place separating Egypt and Sudan along the 22nd Parallel.  In 1902 a separate administrative boundary was put into place that was intended to take account of the situation on the ground.  The smaller Bir Tawil triangle under the 22nd parallel was used bas grazing land by farmers from the Ababda tribe near Aswan whilst in the northeast the larger Hala’ib triangle had better access and communication with Khartoum and so given to Sudan.

Hala'ib Triangle claimed by both nations, Bir Tawil claimed by neither.

Hala’ib Triangle claimed by both nations, Bir Tawil claimed by neither. Map by Nordnordwest.

Egypt claims that Hala’Ib triangle from the 1899 treaty which is much greater in area and north of the 22nd parallel which governs the rest of its southern border.  Sudan though also claims the area due to the 1902 treaty.  If either side accepted control of Bir Tawil then it would imply that they accepted the relevant treaty which neither wants to do and so both claim the Hala’Ib triangle and neither claim poor unwanted Bir Tawil. Enclaves can also include the open seas, there are international waters near New Zealand, Japan and Russia that are entirely surrounded by nationally claimed seas.  New artificial islands are being created from underwater sandbanks in China to illegally extend their ownership whilst the relatively local island of Rockall west of Great Britain was not claimed by the British until 1955 due to worries that it could be used as a Soviet spy base and its status was not agreed with the Republic of Ireland until 2014.

Rockall Island

Rockall Island – the final territory claimed by the United Kingdom

Perhaps rather than having all these irregularities we should just consider moving enclaves or abolishing them.  If there are really people in Ukraine who want to be Russian, why not just hop across the border to the worlds largest and highly unpopulated country in Russia instead of creating new enclaves for nothing more than geo-political future opportunism.  If a country has something that really is valued more by its neighbours then maybe common sense should prevail.  Pity poor Armenia, not only did their people get massacred in WW1, their lands stolen by taken by Russia and Turkey and their national symbol of Mount Ararat now in foreign Turkey. Maybe there is some hope for the future, last weekend Turkey sent a small invasion force to its enclave in Syria where Suleyman Shah, the founder of the Ottoman Empire is presumed to be buried.  Rather than see his tomb desecrated by Isis, he has now been removed closer to Turkey, albeit it still in Syria. Of course whether the bones are of Salesman Shah are highly disputable and when the shrine most recently came to importance in the late 19th century, it was no doubt partly due to an attempt to create an enclave there should the Ottoman Empire collapse as it later did.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Captain Bligh, Fletcher Christian and The Mutiny on The Bounty

HMS Bounty was a small and rather unremarkable ship that was bought and re-fitted for the Royal Navy for a not particularly exciting mission but little did anyone onboard realise their names would go down in maritime history.

It started off as an experiment, to carry Breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies in the Caribbean to see if they could be grown there to provide food for slaves.  The entire ship was re-designed for this mission with Captain Bligh losing his comfortable quarters for more cramped accommodation next to his fellow officers and crew.

On 23rd December 1787, Her Majesty’s Ship Bounty set sail from Spithead to Tahiti carrying 46 officers and men.  Her attempts to round Cape Horn were confounded by bad weather for over a month and so Captain Bligh ordered they turn around and go round the Cape of Good Hope and across the entire Indian Ocean instead.  It was a long a voyage that saw Fletcher Christian promoted to the position of Sailing Master.

Once in Tahiti, the ship and her crew stayed anchored there for over 5 months, collecting and preparing 1,015 Breadfruit plants.  Kindly, Captain Bligh permitted the men to stay on Tahiti itself where they took up the practice of native tattoo’s and imitating relationships with the locals.

In his official logbook Captain Bligh wrote of the locals…

The women are handsome … and have sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved – The chiefs have taken such a liking to our people that they have rather encouraged their stay among them than otherwise, and even made promises of large possessions. Under these and many other attendant circumstances equally desirable it is therefore now not to be wondered at … that a set of sailors led by officers and void of connections … should be governed by such powerful inducement … to fix themselves in the midst of plenty in the finest island in the world where they need not labour, and where the allurements of dissipation are more than equal to anything that can be conceived.

— A Narrative of the Mutiny, etc., by Lieut. W. Bligh, 1790, p. 9.

Despite these heavenly surroundings, tensions arose between Bligh and his men, particularly Fletcher Christian who was often tormented and disciplined by the Captain infant of the men and the locals for offences both real and imagined.  Punishments such as floggings which had been rare became commonplace to the degree that three men deserted.  However they were soon recaptured and interrogation soon led the Captain to Fletcher Christian and being one of the plotters of the break-out.  However there was not enough evidence for the Captain to act and so the relationship continued to fester.

Captain Bligh was an experienced Navy man who had served with the legendary Captain Cook on this Third Voyage of Discovery through the Pacific but he failed to take into account how reluctant the men would be to return to the confinements of a small wooden sailing vessel and a journey through uncharted waters after months of sensory overload in Tahiti.  The men were treated harshly for their slackness and Fletcher Christian in particular was blamed for just about everything.

On the 5th April 1788 HMS Bounty finally departed Tahiti but soon things came to a head. Fletcher Christian had been contemplating making a wooden raft and jumping overboard to head to a tropical island when on 28th April at over 1,300 miles west of Tahiti, he led a mutiny and he took a number of men into the Captains cabin and dragged the captain in his night-clothes to the deck.

Captain Bligh pleaded for the men to come to their senses but Fletcher Christian wouldn’t listen pleading that “I am in hell, I am in hell”. The ship was taken without any loss of life with 22 of the 46 opting to remain loyal to the Captain.   Bligh and his men were ordered down into the ocean on a small wooden rowing boat with others volunteering to join their deposed Captain as otherwise they could later be judged to have committed mutiny as well.

Mutiny on the Bounty

Red shows the route of HMS Bounty to Tahiti. Green shows the journey of Captain Bligh when he was set adrift and the yellow shows where Fletcher Christian took HMS Bounty.

After briefly stopping off at the nearby island of Tofua for supplies and seeing one of their number stoned to death by the local inhabitants, Captain Bligh set off on one of the most remarkable journeys of all time.  With no map or compass but just a pock watch, quadrant and his knowledge of navigating with the sun and the stars, Captain Bligh took their tiny 23 foot (7 metre) rowing boat on a 47 day voyage which Bligh calculated as being 4,164 miles / 6,701 km in length.    It was a journey of the most unimaginable hardships with no guarantees at all of arriving in one piece even assuming that the winds and seas were favourable and the Captain could make precise calculations in his head.  There were instances of unexpected terror such as being attacked by cannibals at Fiji  but on the 14th June 1788, they made it to Kupang in Timur.  Promptly two men died and three others followed very shortly afterwards.  On the 15th March 1790, 2 years and 11 months after leaving England, Captain Bligh managed to return to the Admiralty in London and report the mutiny.

Meanwhile Fletcher Christian and the mutineers had tried to make a home for themselves on the island of Tubuai but after being attacked by the natives for three months they decided to return to the infinitely more friendly island of Tahiti where they weighed up the advantages of living in paradise and the risk that if against all the odds Captain Bligh had made it home then the Royal Navy might come looking for them.  Some of them stayed in Tahiti whilst Fletcher Christian and others sailed on.

It was Captain Edwards of HMS Pandora who was tasked with visiting Tahiti where four of the crew of HMS Bounty immediately handed themselves in and a further ten soon being tracked down.  Two others had died when Matthew Thompson shot Charles Churchill with Thompson then being stoned to death by Churchill’s adopted Tahitian family.   Both loyal Bounty crew and the mutineers alike were imprisoned in a make-shift cell on the deck of HMS Pandora, they bitterly labelled it Pandora’s Box.

HMS Pandora spent three months searching nearby islands looking for suspects when on 29th August 1791, the vessel ran a ground upon The Great Barrier Reef near Australia.  Several of the crew drowned as did four of the mutineers who were only released at the very last-minute.   The 99 survivors then set off in four tiny boats and had to make the near identical journey all the back to Timor just as Captain Bligh had, they all made it.

Captain Bligh's list of mutineers

Captain Bligh’s list of mutineers with Fletcher Christian top of the list.

Back in Great Britain, the ten prisoners were put on trial.  Great attention was given to which men were armed and which did nothing to resist the mutineers as not resisting was seen as passively accepting and taking part in the mutiny.  The four loyal crew of Captain Bligh were acquitted.  Two others were found guilty but pardoned and one of these later went on to become a Captain himself.  Another was freed on a legal technicality leaving three other men to be hanged on 29th October 1792 on the deck of HMS Brunswick.

Captain Bligh resumed his naval career and eventually managed to sail a new ship of Breadfruit to the West Indies but the mission was a failure as the slaves refused to eat the fruit.  Bligh eventually rose to the rank of Vice-Admiral and governor of New South Wales in Australia where his rule faced yet another insurrection.

Fletcher Christian, eight other mutineers, six Tahitian men and 18 women plus one baby ad sailed from Tahiti.  A mutineer by the name of Edward Young wrote in his journal that all but 3 of the women had been kidnapped and taken unwilling and by force!  They forewent the Cook Islands and Fiji as they were too often visited by the Royal Navy but had a stroke of luck when they re-discovered Pitcairn Island in the middle of the Pacific.  It was a known island but it was mis-chartered by the navy and so ‘missing’.    All food, supplies and livestock were brought onshore and HMS Bounty itself was set ablaze and destroyed by fire to stop it being spotted by any lost ships and to stop anyone escaping the island.  Elements of the ship can still be seen at Bounty Bay.

Despite the Tahitians being homesick and the British knowing they were in effect imprisoned on Pitcairn, the community quickly began to thrive and many children were born.  It was not until well into the next century that the island was next visited by an American ship and only one of the original mutineers was still alive.  It is reported that Fletcher Christian was killed just four years after landing on the island as disagreements arose between the British and Tahitian men. Fletcher Christian and four other British were killed by the six Tahitian men who themselves were all killed during the battle or soon afterwards by aggrieved widows.

Without Fletcher Christian, the mutineers began to treat their women folk badly, particularly so after they learnt how to make an alcoholic drink from a local plant.   The women frequently rebelled and once fled the island on a raft only for it to sink in the bay.  Things went on like this for about 7 or 8 years until one of the mutineers died in a drunken fall and another was killed by John Adams and Ned Young after he threatened to kill everyone!

Eventually John Adams took command and he stopped the alcoholic binges, improved the place of and relationships with the women and started educated the island inhabitants as well as teaching them Christianity.   His tolerance and innate gentleness allowed the community to finally flourish and he was the sole surviving mutineer when the island was finally contacted by the outside world due to the landing of the American ship Topaz in 1808.

Mutiny on the Bounty

Mutiny on the Bounty

When the British finally found out about all this, John Adams was either unable or unwilling to illustrate where exactly Fletcher Christian was buried. Rumours persisted that somehow Fletcher Christian had managed to escape the island and returned to England.  In fact one person who served with Fletcher Christian onboard the Bounty testified that he saw him in Plymouth many years later but his testimony was ignored.

In 1825 John Adams was pardoned and the only settlement on the Pitcairn Islands, Adamstown is named in his honour with the island of mutineers and murderers being formally incorporated into the British Empire on 30th November 1838 where its now reduced population (following emigration) of approximately 48 people remain as a British Overseas Territory.

The Mutiny on the Bounty is remembered as one of the most dramatic events of Naval history and the role of Bligh and his strict regime played in fostering hostility is still debated whilst the descendants of Fletcher Christian still bear the shame of their ancestor who led the most famous ship-borne mutiny of all time.  Every year on the 23rd January, the Pitcairn Islanders celebrate Bounty Day and remember the day HMS Bounty was set ablaze.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Was it something I said? – Accents and dialects of the world and Great Britain

Over the weekend it was a revealed in a Time Magazine survey that we British apparently have the most sexy accent in the world.  Whilst not sure how many from Tanzania or Mongolia were surveyed, we sure are grateful to all our English speaking and European friends.

I must say though that I find it a little puzzling.  Perhaps in the same way that no-one finds their sister or brother to be attractive no matter how good they look, it works similarly with our voices and all us Brits are going about our lives genetically inhibited from seeing just how amazing our voices are?

Graphic from Metro Newspaper

Graphic from Metro Newspaper

The thing is, there are hundreds if not thousands of accents in Britain.  Apparently we have the most unique and distinct accents in the world and more than the entire continent of North America and Carribean islands put together.  It is said that police have specialists that can identify where a suspect lives within around 2 streets just by their accent alone.  How can this be?  Well we were invaded plenty of times by Romans, Norwegians, Danes, Germans, Normans and Irish and in the millennia since all that finished most of our ancestors didn’t ever leave their village.  It was rare indeed to go more than one days walk away from home and one of the main reasons people would go on pilgrimages to Rome or Jerusalem was because it offered them a rare chance of travel.

So much like how an animal species trapped on an isolated island begins to evolve its own unique features, so the people in our villages had their languages develop in splendid isolation.  I can certainly remember visiting my Grandparents village and having them tell me time and again how no-one could understand the people at the next village, no more than 2 or 3 miles away.

Accents and Dialects of the UK  (clickable map of UK accents with sound clips)

In more recent centuries we were the destination for many from the Low Countries, East Europe and in the last 50 years from Asia, Africa and the West Indies.  So much so that many of the youth of London speak in an accent with distinctly Indian and Jamaican characteristics.

So when we are told that we British have the sexiest accents we can only presume it isn’t the residents of Broughton Moor who make the world go weak at the knees.  We’d guess that people are swooning over accents from the London area.  Broadly speaking these fall into cockney, the working class stereotypical accents of cheeky chappy Londoners in movies from the 60’s or Oliver Twist type stories.  This accent itself is dying out to be replaced not just by Jafiacan (Black British / London Jamaican / Creole / working class white), by Estuary English which is a blend of Cockney and Essex whilst lots of other parts of London have their own take on things.  This can be typified by the great Ray Winstone in one of his many great London gangster film roles.  Many others in London speak much posher and no doubt includes the typical British accent at least to foreign ears.  It’s called Received Pronunciation or RP for short.  RP is spoken by the Queen, the Prime Minister David Cameron, most people who attend Oxford, Cambridge or on the BBC news or TV shows such as Benedict Cumberbatch on Sherlock.  They also tend to become Hollywood villains in big movies as the fact that they can speak so precisely and cleverly obviously means we can’t just accept that they are better educated than us, they must actually also be evil.  Alan Rickman in Die Hard is one of countless examples. Speakers of RP number perhaps 4-5% of the population.

Despite this being the 21st century, many people admit to changing their accents depending on their job or social situation. Some people with perfectly good working class accents try to appear more well-spoken to get on in life whilst others with RP accents sometimes modify their speaking patterns to appear less rich and less educated than they really are with former Prime Minister Tony Blair doing this coming across with an increasingly Mockney accent from the London area despite being Scottish born and spending all his time in the NorthEast of England where generally people would never dream of speaking that way.

Geordie Accent

The Newcastle – Geordie Accent is the sexiest. You blog for 2.5 years and never have a photo of Cheryl Cole and then it’s two in one post.

It’s interesting how much people take note of voices and how much of our appreciation for accents is media-led.  Most British people if they have to pick an attractive foreign voice will go for French or Italian and there is something in the idea that the voices we find attractive are similar to our own but just different enough to be a little exotic.  Is it the French life-style and culture we adore that makes us like their voices in comparison to German or Russian voices which isn’t very fair as there are plenty of attractive people from those countries.

I was lucky enough to go to Uni in a very multicultural college where I was often the only English person present and from time to time accents came up in conversation.  Some French people didn’t actually like strong French accents and thought they made the speakers sound slow or stupid so maybe it is true that we can’t find our own voices attractive.  Guy De Maupassant wrote a short story of a character who met an English lady and it was her accent that made him love her the most but interestingly it was also her accent that he tired of first when things took a turn for the worst.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8mzWkuOxz8  (Video of different accents)

Most British people if they hear an American or indeed Canadian accent, will if they don’t see that persons face assume they are highly attractive but this is largely due to Hollywood films feature actors with model looks from California or New York.  If they hear an accent from elsewhere in North America, less positive stereotypes might lead them to think less glamorous ideas of what that person may look like.

If then we have preconceptions based on foreign voices then it is re-assuring to know that in this island of so many accents, we do at least make judgements of other accents on these shores.  Happily coming from the city of Newcastle in N.E. England, I can proudly say that this city is most frequently thought to have the speakers with the most attractive, honest and happy-sounding voice.  Speakers from Edinburgh, Northern Ireland, parts of Wales and the West Country also continually rate highly.    However West Country voices also rate badly amongst some for making their speakers come over as slow and backwards as do those in parts of East Anglia.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyyT2jmVPAk  (Funny video of different accents giving examples of media personalities)

Personally I like the voices of those from Liverpool but apparently they too get perceived badly, their voices somehow reflecting the negative image of crime and poverty the city endured in recent decades.    Nearby Manchester rates more positively, I wonder if because the city now has a trendy and booming reputation.  If you really can judge people by their accents then I think the Yorkshire accents are hard to beat.  A little bit blunt, tough but friendly and exactly what most people would say about Yorkshire inhabitants themselves.

Graphic from Metro Newspaper

Graphic from Metro Newspaper

Towards the bottom are the Essex/Mockney/ Estuary accents which seemingly everyone else who doesn’t speak that way, hates.  Pity though the poor people of Birmingham in the West Midlands, they and their near neighbours with Black Country accents are almost always derided for the way they speak.  I don’t mind it myself but I know what people mean about it.  I always remember Nigel Mansell who won the Formula 1 World Championship on more than occasion and when ever he was interviewed on television he came over as very, very bored and unexcited by his achievements.  However it’s worth bearing in mind that William Shakespeare would have had a broad Black Country accent so remember that when you next hear Sir Patrick Stewart or Sir Ian Mckellen spouting their RP accents.

As for me well I just don’t know.  I never had a strong Newcastle accent and I always made sure that I never ended up with a cockney or Mockney accent. Moving as a child when I was 8, I spent much of my childhood getting bullied for my accent but I made absolutely no effort to conceal it.  These day often people can’t really place it at all which suits me fine. Very middle of the road I guess and as someone who never uses slang and takes care to pronounce properly, probably a slight mix of North Eastern Geordie, Middle-England and the preciseness of RP. I totally hate my voice which I guess is normal but often get told by foreign visitors how great it is.

My wife who is foreign born like many others expects everyone in England to speak something like Cary Grant or Benedict Cumberbatch and was rather surprised or even disappointed to find this is just the style of a few people.  However, she has often told me that one of the things she likes best is my old fashioned way of speaking so if the only thing I share with Benedict Cumberbatch is a vocal style well then I will happily take that!

One thing that did happen to me more than once last year when I was giving tours in London and waiting for my group to come off the London Eye, groups of passing tourists told me that I was the only person they had encountered in their week in London that had what they thought to be the perfect English accent.  One group of Chinese female students even asked to have their photo taken with me but I’m not sure how that helped with the whole accent thing.

Certainly I love hearing voices from all round the world and all around my country.  Nothing beats a nice Geordie voice  but I really do like Edinburgh, Welsh, Manchester and West Country accents.  Whilst I love Ray Winstone I’m afraid I’m not a fan generally of others who speak like him.  My wife and I often do impressions at home and amongst others I like to think I do a great Australian, Texan and South African impression as well as various European accents with nowhere in the UK safe whilst my wife does the best Russian gangster voice this side of the Urals.

Graphic from Metro newspaper

Graphic from Metro newspaper

Accents are always changing and some local accents are becoming extinct as television encourages the adoption of Estuary English to many within the London area but all it needs is one celebrity with a nice voice from elsewhere to totally change pre-conceptions such as Cheryl Cole, Ant and Dec from Newcastle who have almost single-handedly taken the Geordie accent to prominence.  Of course it is far from the sexy British voice that foreigners imagine, Cheryl Cole recently appeared on an American reality music show and left after just a few shows as the audience weren’t able to understand her!

There isn’t anyone really who I like just because of their voice but I suppose there are worse than Lady Mary on Downton Abbey who I think has wonderful diction and Received Pronunciation. I really don’t mind any accent so long as the actors speak clearly but these days with background music and the idea that the actors have to sound ordinary means she really stands out these days.

A vaguely accurate map of the main British accents.

A vaguely accurate map of the main British accents.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Grace Darling – A Victorian Heroine

Not many people know about Grace Darling today but 175 years ago her fame hadn’t just spread around the land but around the world and with good reason.

Grace Darling

Portrait of Grace Darling by Thomas Musgrave Joy

Grace was the daughter of William and Thomasin Darling, just one of nine children born into the family in the early 19th century.  Aged just a few weeks old, they left their tiny cottage in the Northumbrian village of Bamburgh to the remote and desolate Brownsman Island and then the nearby Longstone island, one of the Farne Islands off the east coast of England near the Scottish border.

The Farne Islands lie off the  coast of Northumberland in the North Sea.

The Farne Islands lie off the coast of Northumberland in the North Sea. Map is Crown Copyright

Her father had been running a lighthouse and was paid £70 plus a £10 bonus each year but for that the family had to spend their time in a lonely isolation with William having to row back to the main land to purchase even the most basic of commodities.  The family would all live in the main room on the ground floor and then sleep in the three bedrooms up the winding staircase.

The Farne Islands are in the North Sea, a treacherous and cold sea even in the summer time and the conditions are well-known to switch from a calm to mountainous waves in just a few hours.  In the early hours of 7th September 1838 Grace looked out of the window to see a ship that had been wrecked upon the nearby rocky Big Harcar island. It was the Forfarshire, a large paddle-ship, and a terrible storm had blown it against the rocks and broken the ship in half with half of it having already sank during the night joining the many hundreds of ships that had met their end on the islands.

Longstone Lighthouse

Grace looked out of the upper window in the white band of the lighthouse

Knowing the seas as they did, Grace and her father William determined that it was far too perilous for the local life boat to put out from Seahouses, the nearest mainland rescue centre and so instead endeavoured to row out over a mile in the stormy conditions amongst islands and jagged rocks in a small 21 foot 4-person wooden Northumbrian boat known as a Coble.

Farne Islands Map

Farne Islands Map

Finally they reached the site of the wreck and William Darling clambered onto the low-lying rocky island leaving Grace to single-handedly keep the tiny wooden boat near the island whilst ensuring it didn’t smash against the rocks.  It should be remembered that her boat was designed for 4 burly men on a relatively calm sea and not one young lady barely out of her teenage years battling one of the biggest storms of the year just after daybreak.

The pair had already risked their lives just by venturing out in the first place and one wrong move would have seen the boat rip apart and no doubt costing all their lives.  Somehow though, Grace held it together and her father William managed to shove 4 men and the only lady survivor of the ruined Paddleship, a Mrs Dawson whose two young children had died in the accident.

William and three of the male survivors rowed back to the lighthouse and dropped off Grace, Mrs Dawson and another survivor before William and the three others rowed back and rescued 4 more survivors.    By now an attempt was made by the Lifeboat at Seahouses on the mainland to effect a rescue but all they found were the bodies of Mrs Dawson’s children and that of a vicar.

The bad weather became worse still and the Seahouses Lifeboat was forced to seek safety at the lighthouse and the storm was so great that all were trapped inside for 3 days until the seas calmed sufficiently for a trip to the mainland to be attempted.

The Forfarshire had been carrying 62 passengers, all those that had been rescued were from the bow section of the ship which had been held above water by the rocks for some time.  9 others managed to get away on a ships lifeboat but that little craft sank in the storm but thankfully rescued by the crew of a passing Montrose Sloop and taken to South Shields that same night.

News of the rescue and Grace’s pivotal part in it hit the news almost overnight.  Her bravery and yet simple virtuous life-style made her an exemplary heroine.  She received donations of £725 including £50 from Queen Victoria herself (and £175 for her father), artists from all over came to paint her likeness and she received letters, gifts and marriage proposals from around the world.

Cadburys commemorated Grace's heroism on their chocolate wrapping.

Cadburys commemorated Grace’s heroism on their chocolate wrapping.

Her fame and wealth were so great and so unexpected that the Duke of Northumberland offered to managed her funds and investments though in truth Grace remained a quiet and unassuming young lady.

In 1842 the young Grace was visiting her cousins in the nearby market town of Alnwick on the mainland when she fell ill.  The Duchess of Northumberland arranged for her to be given the best accommodation in the town and the best medical attention money could buy. Sadly though Grace only got steadily worse and when it became clear that she was not going to recover, she returned to her family cottage by the sea in Bamburgh.  In October 1842, just a few years after she saved so many lives, she died of Tuberculosis aged just 26.

The grave of Grace Darling

The grave of Grace Darling

Grace is buried in a plain grave with her parents in St Aidan’s churchyard in Bamburgh.  There is also a fine Victorian memorial to her in the cemetery as well as a memorial to her in St Cuthbert’s Chapel on Great Farne Island.  Grace is immortalised in a number of fine paintings and songs with William Wordsworth also writing a poem about her and Cadburys even featured her on the covers of their chocolates.  Bamburgh has the Grace Darling museum and the local RNLI Lifeboat at Seahouses sports the name Grace Darling.

The memorial in the graveyard of the ancient St Aidan's church

The memorial in the graveyard of the ancient St Aidan’s church

It’s well worth the visit to see the Grace Darling memorials though a long, long way off the beaten track for most international visitors.  The whole of Northumbria is covered in the most ancient churches, magnificent castles, roman and viking ruins.  I remember visiting this churchyard just a few years ago and there were tombs of crusaders and even at least one pirate

It is sad to think that poor Grace died at such a young age and so soon after her brave heroics but her modesty, bravery, memory and inspiration was an example to women everywhere and whose spirit lives on in the unpaid volunteer lifeboat staff of the RNLI who risk their lives for those in peril on the sea.

Grace Darling memorial in St Cuthberts Chapel on the Farne Islands

Grace Darling memorial in St Cuthberts Chapel on the Farne Islands




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Making Book Promo Videos

The more observant of you may have noticed this blog post is a day or two later than normal.  Partly this is because I’ve been a bit unwell and partly it is because I have been very busy making some book promotional videos.

Book promotional videos are a relatively new tool in the authors ever lasting campaign to bring their books some publicity and hopefully even a few purchases too.  These days Amazon lets you host up to eight videos on Author pages though sadly it costs upwards of $1,000 to have the video actually listed next to the book on search listings which to me seems a bit short-sighted of Amazon really.

Some authors go down the route of hiring marketing campaigns on Twitter or other professionally paid for promotions but to me, the general concept of paying someone else to make your book sell well doesn’t really sit easy.  Sometimes it is necessary to hire a cover artist and editors whether professional or willing friends are always a good idea if you can.

Recently some authors have started their own YouTube  channels.  I wonder how much of this is due to the recent publicity of Video bloggers who seem to make an awful lot of money for not very much effort or dare I say talent?  Yes I’ll say talent… it’s my blog and my fever is making me unusually feisty!    More realistically, I like most other authors would never dream of talking to a camera or bigging myself up that way.  If I was comfortable with that then I would have become a V-Logger too.  As it is I likely couldn’t string a sentence together and besides, the camera wouldn’t pick up much in my darkened writers lair where the only light is that of the WordPress notifications on my iPad of someone liking my blog!

Of course having a blog or writers website means that as well as Amazon you can have a second bite of the proverbial cherry and display your book promo videos on that as well or on Facebook or other online profile you might have.

Whilst there are some very talented people who can make professionally animated videos and the like or at least there are authors with such talented friends, I think that pretty much anyone can make themselves a good book promo video.  I did my first book promo video in the summer of 2014.  I wasn’t even sure I could produce one on my decrepit old PC but even I or rather it managed to produce something eye-catching.

It’s very tempting when producing a book promo video to try to make the next blockbuster epic but unless you can do it well so that your product lives up to your imagination then it may be best to limit your scope at first.

I've been to holiday hell so you don't have to!

I’ve been to holiday hell so you don’t have to!

The above video is for my book Planes Trains and Sinking boats which is a funny travelogue detailing my adventures in the Sahara, the Middle-East, Eastern Europe and a few other places.  It is simply a collection of the photos that I took from my travels with a few title cards interspersed here and there.  I hope it gives the impression of what one can expect from the book as well as being slightly amusing or entertaining in its own right… with all due respect to the people in the sea or on that plane of course.  I could have tried using some home-video footage or even something from the internet but for my first project I thought that may be complicating things a bit much, my PC may have outright died from the effort and I wasn’t too sure if I could do it or if the whole video thing was worth it to begin with.

As it happened I think the low-budget style actually fits the book well and makes the video stand out in its own way from the crowds.

An important thing to bear in mind is that of copyright both for the video footage and of the background music.  Having said that, there is a wealth of free or nearly free resources on the internet and you’d be surprised what an offer of publicity might do for a musician or film maker who is as equally struggling to make it big as you are as a writer.

Last weekend I decided to make a book video promo for my book In The Footsteps of Heroes which is a photo tour guide to the highlights of the WW1 Western Front.  Obviously I have hundreds if not thousands of photos to choose from and I am sure that I could have made a great video using them.  However I got diverted on YouTube and found some fellow WW1 enthusiasts and historians had used drones to fly over various battlefields and memorials that typified what was in my book.  What’s more they looked fantastically professional and provided the sort of footage until the last 18 months that would only have been possible with a big budget BBC drama or Hollywood blockbuster.

As luck would have it, many of these videos were available for use free of charge though I took care to get permission too which was very quickly given.  I guess we historians are all good honest hardworking type people!  One thing that sold the videos to me were the music.  Some of which was free to use upon proper credit and I found others on the inbuilt features of the iMovie video creator my new iMac.   I really wanted to use a piece by the Regimental Band of the Coldstream Guards but I know that someone using the backing for a YouTube video is something different that using it for a book promo which has a commercial sense.  Yes, I probably could have got away with it but I thought I would ask to be sure.

I sent the regiment a message on Facebook at around 7.30am and within seconds got an instant reply.   Most public material by state bodies whether in the U.K. or U.S.A is in some way public domain so I hoped that the Army would be the same… somehow.  In fact the very helpful Sergeant told me that the regimental band did not copyright their music…. Hurrah!  Unfortunately he thought that as it was taken from a iTunes release then it may be copyright somewhere and I knew it would be.

I must take a moment here to say what great customer service the Coldstream Guards gave on Facebook at an unGodly hour of the morning.  So many big corporate companies spend millions on PR only to give awful customer service let alone respond to off-message inquiries.  Nice to see the underfunded British Army is light years ahead of the commercial sector with the old-fashioned ideals of service.

Anyway I by using sections of two or three drone footage videos and by including one or two shots of my own I think I created a great book promo video.  The music is quite atmospheric too and though I could maybe have spent a little more time making fancy screen swipes between scenes I think does its job well.

In The Footsteps of Heroes on Kindle and paperback.

In The Footsteps of Heroes on Kindle and paperback.

Seeing as I was on a roll and I needed a little break from writing I decided to also make a book promo for my WW1 history book, Lest We Forget – A Concise Companion to the First World War.  Doing a promo video for this book had its own set of challenges and though again I could have used a selection of personal or public domain photos, I wanted to make a dynamic video.  The challenge was making something big enough in scope to cover a world war.  The problems were many but they were in no way insurmountable.  I decided that I wonder some moving footage of two or three different areas of the war and would then include several stock and personal photos to flesh it out.

Obviously there is rather limited footage of WW1 and you would be surprised how much of it is copyrighted.  In fact even writing the book was a bit of a mine-field as it is very difficult to ascertain what photo is owned and by whom.  Many items are so old they are now public domain but some are not either due to their creator surviving the war and living many decades more or by what I call accursed image libraries who charge a fat fee for a black and white photo.  I don’t mind the image libraries generally speaking but I do think it is a bit unfair to charge people to use footage which may even feature their family in it and which they only have because some rich corporation bought the rights from museums or government agencies.

Anyway rant over, I managed to find two or three clips of footage that as far as I can tell are public domain and freely available or at least are low profile footage.  I’m not sure I could ever tell for certain but they marked up as freely available by the people I got them from.     To do the best I could, I removed the pre-existing soundtracks of the footage and then put in some more freely available music.  At first I didn’t like the longest track of background music but the more I watch it, the more I think it suits the aggressive and scary nature of war.  It certainly sets a more tense tone than the other war book video which is entirely in the spirit of respectful remembrance.

Lest We Forget

My easy to understand but comprehensive history of WW1 in Kindle and Paperback.

Though we say that no-one ever buys a book by its cover, it’s safe to say that if there are two books that we haven’t heard of and are neutral about going into it, most of us will pick the book with the most enticing cover and I think book promo videos are another tool to help authors.

Like everything else to do with writing and publishing, it doesn’t have to cost a penny.  All my videos were created using free software and with a bit of research and investigation, free footage and music with only minimal skill involved on my part.  Once I got into it, I really enjoyed making them, and crafting them into an end product rather like writing and creating a book.  Each one took just a few hours from start to finish and are now uploaded in various areas of cyber-space.

At a time when it is so hard to garner positive attention and affordable advertising, I think producing a promo for your book is a great way to help stand out of the crowd.  Do take a look at my book promo videos and let me know what you think.  You can find more info on all  my books on my books page and of course amongst other places iTunes/Ibooks, Amazon UK and Amazon USA.

When I get a bit of time I think I will create another video for one of my tours!











Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#Mugabe Falls

It’s always nice to see politicians make an idiot of themselves.  Whether it former President George W. Bush or current London Mayor Boris Johnson, if we have to put up with characters then at least we can laugh at them.

Of course that is because in democracies we pretty much get to see everything, warts and all about our leaders.  Some countries aren’t so lucky and when tyrannical leaders do something bad or stupid, their people rarely get to see the true story before it is airbrushed out of history.  When it comes to tyrants, there are few who are as long-lasting or more despicable than Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe who started off in the 1970’s as a freedom fighter and then democratic president before deciding to make himself a life-time ruler, holding sham elections, ruining his country and torturing and killing countless of his opponents.

Mugabe is now 91 years old and though he dyes his hair jet black, sometimes old-age pokes through like recently when he stumbled down some steps.  Not wanting to look weak, old or undignified, Mugabe set about trying to keep the resulting photos hidden but sadly for him they got out.  Whilst he can claim to his people he never fell over, the rest of us can happily prod fun at this thoroughly nasty man which is really the one thing tyrants like least of all.

Within hours, the internet was seeing the creation of #MugabeFalls.  No, not his latest PR fad to change the name of Victoria Falls but rather the talented international community who used the photos of him falling over to good comedic effect.

Mugabe Falls

Mugabe realises he has to escape from his own ruined country.

Mugabe Falls

Mugabe is seen being chased by his own security forces before demonstrating that despite being 91, he can still do the limbo.

Mugabe Falls

Our venerable leader tries his hand at Quidditch

Mugabe Falls

Clearly his talents are wasted being a murdering dictator. Here he is skiing in the Alps before the European Arrest Warrant went out.


Mugabe Falls

Wrestling Star Randy Orton takes down Mugabe with his RKO signature move

Mugabe Falls

Political dissent. Ouch!

Mugabe Falls

One fall he deserves to take.

Mugabe Falls

Here is Mugabe making a nice pass through the Liverpool defences setting Chelsea on their way for a chance at goal.  Anyone reckon he fouled the Liverpool player… I’d expect so.


How's that!

How’s that! – Mugabe makes it to the crease but the fielding team are sure he is out. Mugabe is still 36 years in though!

Mugabe Falls

The esteemed ahem President diving down Victoria Falls

Mugabe Falls

Mugabe jives down like Ariel the Little Mermaid

Mugabe Falls

Faster than a speeding bullet. This makes even Putin look effeminate.


Mugabe Falls

Mugabe chilling in his stolen national resources whilst a dispossessed farmer wonders how many people will starve due to the ill-thought out land reforms.

Mugabe Falls

I don’t rightly know what he’s up to here but he doesn’t have to explain himself to us. He is MUGABE, the glorious one.

Mugabe Falls

Is there no beginning… I mean end to this mans talents?

Mugabe Falls

Mugabe strutting his stuff like a surfer dude

Mugabe Falls

You should see his 720’s. Mugabe is the man!

Mugabe Falls

What’s the betting Mugabe will get 99.97% of the vote?

Mugabe Falls

It’s not just his economy that’s a car crash

Mugabe Falls

Mugabe on the run from his people and his animals

Mugabe Falls

Mugabe has fallen

Mugabe Falls

Proof that Mugabe did fall. Look how all his personnel are just standing watching, obviously not wanting to get themselves shot.

I’m sure you’ll agree that the Zimbabwe President is really missing a trick here by banning the photos of him falling down when really with a little effort he could show everyone that he has talents in abundance and is not just a murderous, corrupt and very old dictator.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Charity begins at home but is it now big business?

Every now and then comes a heartening good news story whether it is one of those homeless people who help a passerby only to end up the centre of a massive fundraising operation or the story I wrote about last year about a man who was about to commit suicide only to be talked out of it by a passer-by and who after a long search managed to find the person who saved his life to say thank-you.  In Detroit, James Robertson has hit the headlines for walking a return journey of 21 miles each day to work with a fund set up for him currently around £80,000 or $129,000.

Last Sunday night at around 6.30pm in the district of Low Fell in my beloved former home-city of Newcastle, 67-year-old Alan Barnes was pushed to the ground and brutally attacked.  His assailant only running off when it became clear that Alan had no money or valuables on him whatsoever.

Obviously this a heinous crime to inflict on anyone, even more so on a 67-year-old just pushing his bins out for collection outside his home.  What made this worse though is that Alan suffers from a number of afflictions caused by his mother contracting German Measles during pregnancy.  As a result Alan is partially slighted, a very light build at 6 stone and only 4’6″ feet tall.

Alan Barnes

Alan Barnes

The attack left Alan with bad bruising, a broken collar bone and a fear of ever returning to his house and neighbourhood where he has spent much of his life.  Due to his condition Alan has never been able to work despite being a talented mathematician and has devoted his life to voluntary work with his local church.

The dreadful attack was soon reported on the local media where 23 year old Katie Cutler was so horrified when she learned of the attack that she set up the appeal on the website Go Fund Me.

As I read the local papers I was aware of the story from the beginning and watched in amazement at what happened with her initial small target surpassed in hours. Within a day or so, the total was up to £2,000 and then £20,000 and a day or so later the story broke on national television before it spread around the world on the internet.  Today the total stands at around £300,000 ($500,000) with the vast majority paid for my local and probably elderly people.

Over the weekend Katie and Alan got to meet at the house of Mr Barnes’ sister where he has been staying since the attack.

‘It doesn’t feel real, to be honest,’ she said, after presenting Mr Barnes with chocolates and a Get Well card at his sister’s home in Newcastle. ‘When I read that he was scared and didn’t want to go back to his home, I knew I had to do something to help. I never thought it would take off in this way. I am thrilled that it has done.’

Mr Barnes says the money will enable him to buy a home for the first time and make a fresh start.  Seeing him on television you can just tell what a modest and unassuming man he is.

‘I am totally overwhelmed and incredibly grateful to Katie for what she has done for me. The youth of today don’t always get portrayed in the best light, but I won’t ever forget what this young woman has done.

‘This is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I can tell you one thing: it won’t be wasted. I am always very careful with money. I just want to feel safe again.’

Alan and Katie

Alan and Katie

Knowing Newcastle as I do, it is safe to say with £325,000 Alan will be able to live in a fabulous home.  Lets hope he can recover his health and enjoy the rest of his life in peace and that something wonderful happens to Katie for starting such a worthwhile collection.

It’s worth noting that all of this happened without any advertising budget or state assistance at all and is simply the result of genuine concern and kindness of normal people at home and around the world.

I don’t know about where you live but over here our television is constantly plagued by charities wanting money.  It runs the risk of creating what is known as compassion fatigue.   These huge and often very rich charities run slick marketing campaigns almost as national and global institutions and spend countless millions on their PR.  In just 20 minutes watching television on a Sunday afternoon it is very easy to see adverts of children being beaten up by abusive parents, people dying or not dying from cancer, victims of wars in Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, starving people in Africa, Ebola campaigns and my long time favourite of water-aid featuring villagers in Africa drinking contaminated water but apparently not being bright enough to stop their donkey urinating in the shallow pool of water that we are led to believe is where they drink from.

I take giving to charity very seriously and amongst various projects support the RSPB and RSPCA (birds and animals), a donkey charity overseas, a Christian schooling project in Palestine and the Salvation Army for helping homeless people in the winter and various cancer and heart charities.  Alongside that is the various inevitable disasters that happen each year from floods in Bangladesh, earthquakes in Pakistan or China and famines and diseases in Africa and various worthy social causes closer to home.  None of which I’ve given to due to advertising and I can’t think I have ever given any money because of slick television campaigns.  I list all these causes not to shout out how much I give to charity as in truth it is not a great amount of money but because of what I’m going to say next, I wanted to show that I am a big believer in charity.

In fact I do rather resent these depressing charity adverts filling up the few hours a week I get to spend with my wife in our own time.  My wife hates these adverts as it always puts her off what she is doing.  I on the other hand can quite happily ignore them and eat my food or drink my drink while watching the deliberately heart-breaking adverts.  It’s not because I don’t care but like many others, I’m more than aware of the awful things in the world and they and many other things are always on my mind. If I want to give money and I can give money then I shall but there is only so much money and I’d rather give it to causes I know will fully utilise it and not siphon it off on tv campaigns or highly paid executives in plush offices with personal assistants and all expenses paid travel.  I simply don’t believe that a household in sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t realise that having their donkey urinate in a 2 inch deep puddle isn’t a good idea or that they wouldn’t try to stop it… in fact why aren’t the camera crew chasing the donkey off rather than just filming it and letting the poor family poison themselves?

It’s easy to see why Alan Barnes in the U.K. or James Robertson in the USA become the centre of charitable attention, theirs is an organic story with neither one asking for help and our emotions aren’t being toyed with and we know we can make a real difference.  Our money isn’t being diverted to advertising campaigns, expensive management or siphoned off by corrupt officials.

Despite record giving by the British public, apparently many charities are seeing their incomes fall.  My suggestion to them would be to get back to the basics instead of running bloated organisations.  The case of Alan Barnes shows that people aren’t tired of giving to charity at all and need no urging to help those in need, they just are sick of being treated like idiots and told what to think and give money to.  Let’s face it we are all told what to do and think by government, jobs and even family and friends.  Being charitable comes from the heart and you’ve either got it or you haven’t but it seems most of us do and its great to see that in this media age, a young lady from an age group that is frequently derided has more than done her bit.

Here is the link if you’d like to donate to Alan Barnes

If you’d like to help James Robertson buy a car then click here.

If not and I don’t blame you at all, then think about helping a charity local to you.  Sometimes I think giving money is the easy way out so prefer to help out with my time, skills or giving away my clothes and belongings but everyone has to find a way to help that is best for them.

Either way, if there is one person who deserves to drink donkey urine for the rest of his life then it is the man who attacked frail old Alan Barnes.




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments