Mad dogs and Englishmen

You might not realise it if you live elsewhere but for today at least London is about the hottest city on planet earth, not including Paris and err New Delhi.  It’s easy for everyone to scoff at the idea that we aren’t living in the hottest place on earth, especially if you happen to live in one of the many hotter places on earth but for today at least London is claiming to be the epicentre of all things summer.

There is a saying that when two Englishmen meet, their talk is of the weather and that is true.  It is an easy subject to discuss with strangers, is always variable and everyone has recently had a weather incident happen to them no matter how mundane.

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, even our media is always talking about the weather.  Not a day goes by without some year, month or day is recorded as being the hottest, coldest, wettest, driest, stormiest moment in our long recorded history of unpredictable if rarely extreme weather.

Hotter than Spain

One of the headlines from Spring when we were briefly hotter than Spain and other places… except Spain didn’t go on to have a freezing 2 weeks in June did they?

Summer is never any guarantee of heat or sunshine, winter is never any guarantee of rain, snow or low temperatures and each spring or autumn is always compared with how early or late it is with both the preceding years and the best or worst in history.  In fact just last thursday it was officially the most mundane weather ever recorded whilst wearing my brown suede shoes and that my friends is totally official.

Last winter was very mild, no snow in the London area (though quite a bit elsewhere), spring was mild and foreign guests on my tours were asking for the car air-con to go on in  April!   Then just when you might reasonably expect Spring to turn into Summer and things to really heat up, we go into deep-freeze and with a week of June left to go we were all told we were heading into on of the coldest June’s in history.  I can confirm this as I was wearing exactly the same clothes on mid-summers day and mid-winters day which says a lot about last winter as much as this summer.

Then though things began to change for the better and warmer and a week on here we find ourselves with 35C/95F heat and the nation split between sheer delight and apparent terror.

It should be said that London is in no way shape or form suitable for extreme heat just as it isn’t suitable for extreme cold.  In the summer the crowds of people, cars and bad humidity make the situation stickier than Sticky the stick insect stuck on a sticky bun.  We don’t have air-conditioning, our foods are heavily weighted to the winter temperatures and most of us still have to wear suits, ties and everything else that we would do in the winter.

Around .3% of people in the UK have any form of air-conditioning, we all spend too much on our heating to keep us warm in the winter,autumn, spring and this year mid-summers day.  Normally my wife and I debate about getting it and then decide it isn’t worth the money until we can’t sleep for a few nights and then decide the investment isn’t going to happen for at least another year before the heat appears again seemingly unexpectedly!

I remember when I worked in an office how annoying the heat could be, not because it was hot because colleagues would immediately put on the air-conditioning units meaning feet, fingers and most places in between were frozen reducing a colleague and myself to wearing fleece jackets to work whenever it got above 30C/90F.  Not any more, bring on the heatwave.

For the same reasons that we often laughingly mock our southern neighbours for taking it easy in the sun, having siestas and walking around barefoot in sandals, we can’t bring ourselves to make any compromises in our usual work and life routines.  Just yesterday I was in London and saw some judges not just in several layers of clothing but also their wool hair wigs on too, how marvellous!  The tube that I was sat on around 150 feet underground was 118 degrees fahrenheit (around 43Celsius) and people were complaining and melting… some of these being the very tourists I was showing around asking just a few hours earlier whether we ever get a summer.

Of course we get summers, its just that sometimes our summers are broken up by storms and cold fronts, sometimes several times a week or throughout the summer and other times they seem to last all summer long only relenting for us to have the mildest winter in history.  Having it 18C (56F) in December is all well and good but most of us would prefer to have 28C every day in the summer as we did for around 2 months last year.  Last night at Wimbledon, Martina Navratilova proclaimed it felt like Australia and not London but really this is what summer should be like and until about 2006 used to be like.

Whilst most of us lap up the sun and the weather in general, it also gives the opportunity for others to scare people into obvious safety precautions whilst we’re treated to horror stories of train lines buckling and cars getting stuck on melted tarmac but that’s London traffic for you.  I sometimes think my car might get covered in slow growing ivy at Staples Corner even in January.

Our newspapers of course love it.  Today we are told that we are enjoying hotter weather than everywhere from Hawaii to Miami to Rio (not forgetting its technically winter there) to the Middle-East.  And so we very well might be but it would be more notable if we weren’t colder than Athens for about 360 days of the year.

Hottest Day For A Decade

Hottest Day For A Decade! We’re doomed!

Yes we are not just hotter than Beyonce dancing on lava but even hotter than the Sahara!

Hotter than the Sahara

Hotter than the Sahara

Headlines moaning about the few bad aspects of summer

Headlines moaning about the few bad aspects of summer

100F Heat

100F Heat – notice how the weather takes precedence over serious news in nearly all papers as being hot is more important than a massacre just a few days earlier.

Our newspapers also have the tendency to change their temperature formats.  In the summer they use Fahrenheit as 95 or 101 degrees sound much better than 37 or 40 degrees.  Whilst in the summer they like to use Celsius to make those frozen cold spells seem that much colder.  Minus 20C in the Scottish highlands is cold but not as cold as 5 degrees F.

Running hot and cold

Running hot and cold, newspaper temperature formats change as often as our weather.

Whatever your thoughts on the heatwave don’t fret as in a few short months we will soon have headlines like this!  Sometimes we’re colder than Alaska or Canada or Siberia but of course the equal to being hotter than the Sahara has to be….

Colder than the Northpole

Colder than the Northpole

Now I do sympathise with the people who find hot and humid London difficult and given a choice I would have it less muggy though not cooler.  Asthma and a lack of air-con can make night times uncomfortable for between a few nights to a month or so in the summer but it is also the once time of the year I don’t have to plan what to wear, don’t have to worry about the rain as even if it falls it will be cooling.

I’ve been to some hot places and remember being in the Sinai desert at 57 degrees C/ 137F in the shade and most sensible locals were either hidden from sight or taken ill in hospital.  It was hot and yet not as uncomfortable as London can be at 27 degrees C and as such I loved every minute of it.    I am loving every moment of it now too, even the nights when I can barely breathe and sleep even less.

Killer Heat!

Killer Heat!

This afternoon I could be sitting in the garden taking a cold drink and watching Wimbledon but like many others I am sitting in the hottest room of house doing work which probably could wait, feeling a bit guilty if I really did enjoy the weather or heaven forbid relax.    I did though forgo the usual health warnings which we see and hear everywhere so what did I do in this heat, I went for my 7 mile (11.5k) walk with a small bottle of water and didn’t even drink half of it.  No it wasn’t a logical thing to do but I do that walk dozens of times a year in the snow, in the rain, freezing cold, or too warm in a rain coat but just this once I can get to feel really too hot and it reminds me of how I like it.  As the Noel Coward song went… only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Many readers will remember by recent blog on Sir Nicholas Winton, the British Schindler  sadly it has been announced today that Sir Nicholas died today at the age of 106.  My thoughts are with the family and all those who knew this truly great man.

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The British Schindler Sir Nicholas Winton and the Kindertransport

Not many people have heard of Sir Nicholas Winton even in his own country but his actions undoubtedly mean that thousands of people are alive today that would not have been without him. The Kindertransport has its origins on 15th November 1938, just five nights after the terrible events of Kristalnacht and a series of violent and systematic attacks against Jewish shops and businesses in Germany.  A delegation of mostly Jewish and Quaker community leaders appealed for help from Neville Chamberlain the British Prime Minister of the day.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

The Cabinet put together a Bill and the very next day it was debated in Parliament with the decision made to house up 15,000 mostly Jewish children from Germany and Austria to Britain on the provision that the newly created organisation The Movement for the Care of Children from Germany could find homes for them and that each child had £50 to their eventual allocation (something which generally did not happen). An appeal on BBC Home Service (now BBC Radio 4) led to 500 offers from British civilians ready and willing to immediately house German-Jewish children and a team of inspectors was sent to check that the homes were clean and the people of good character though no effort was made to question their motives and participants were not generally Jewish.

A network of volunteers was set up in Germany to arrange for the transport of the most vulnerable children, many teenagers, who were either already interned or destined to be sent to concentration camps, Jewish orphans or those from destitute families.  The children could only bring a small bag of belongings with them and many had nothing at all when less than 3 weeks later the first boat of 200 children arrived at Harwich Port. In the next nine months around 10,000 Jewish children were transported to Great Britain, similar Kindertransports were set up by volunteers in some other European nations but of course sadly they were quickly overrun by Nazi armies which rather negated their brave efforts.   A smaller but less organised system was set up by volunteers in the USA but due to the tight regulations placed on them by the government, most of the 1,000 children in the scheme were not permitted into the country even temporarily. Most children travelled by train from cities such as Berlin and Vienna though a few escaped by plane.  The last group fled Germany on 1st September 1939, the very day that Germany attacked Poland.  Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany and Germany closed its borders and escape routes to the U.K.

Sir Nicholas Winton

Sir Nicholas Winton with a Jewish child refugee who he helped escape from the Nazis.

The 10th May 1940 saw the Netherlands under attack from 750,000 German forces and with chaos all round, the organiser Geertruida Wijsmuller took it upon herself to arrange the escape of children without even consulting their parents, something which incredibly (yet understandably) many were not happy with and on the 14th May 1940, the very last transport escaped from the Netherlands when 74 children were placed on the freighter Bodegraven at Ijmuiden.   The ship and its precious cargo made it to Liverpool a few days later.    Mrs Wijsmuller was scheduled to also join the ship but opted to stay behind to help with aid distribution.  She was briefly arrested by the Gestapo on the suspicion of plotting to help a dozen children flee to Switzerland but they could not find even the minimal proof that they required and as Geetruida kept her nerve and silence, was released and went on to live a full life into the 1970’s. The 15th of May saw Germany complete its occupation of the Netherlands and its borders were closed until its liberation many years later. After the war many children were able to re-unite with their families either in Europe or indeed for others around the world.  Many opted to stay in Britain and others looked for their family only to find their parents had been murdered by the Nazis. One of the many great unsung heroes of the Kindertransport is Sir Nicholas Winton.  I very nearly wrote ‘was’ but happily Sir Nicholas is still with us at the age of 106!

A Christian, born to German Jewish parents in 1909 in London, he became both a banker and a socialist who came to know many senior figures in the Labour Party and at an early stage became a critic of the Appeasement policy and just before Christmas 1938, rather than go skiing in the Swiss Alps instead travelled to Prague and single-handedly created an organisation to to arrange and oversee the transport of Jewish children.  Working from his hotel room he arranged the escape of 669 children from Prague by train across Europe to England. Ironically one of the biggest obstacles was the German border with the Netherlands as the Dutch were turning away any Jewish refugees even as a Synagogue could be seen burning just a few miles over the German border.

Sir Nicholas though put his influence and friendship with senior British officials to good use and somehow got his children through.  Winton and his mother spent months looking for homes for these children whose parents were largely destined to die at Auschwitz.  Sadly a further transport of 250 children were intercepted by the Germans on the 1st September as war erupted. Back home in the U.K. Sir Nicholas initially became a Conscientious Objector but later joined the RAF where he would have a successful career both in WW2 and afterwards as well as working for refugee and reconstruction organisations through which he met his wife, Greta.

Sir Nicholas kept his traditional stiff upper lip and told no-one of his role in saving so many lives until in 1988 his wife found documentation up in the loft which included the names and addresses of the children and their families he had helped.  Unknown to him, he attended the BBC show ‘That’s Life’ and his notes were shown live on television.  When the host asked if anyone present had been helped by Sir Nicholas to his surprise dozens of people stood up.

Winton Train Route

Map showing the route of the Winton Trains

Sir Nicholas freely acknowledges that others include Trevor Chadwick did some of the more dangerous aspects mission and that he never set foot in Prague train station despite the statue there which was recently unveiled with him and a young Jewish child. On his 100th birthday, he flew in a microlight aircraft piloted by the daughter of one those whose lives he had saved.

Despite his low profile, Sir Nicholas has been widely honoured. In the 1983 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Winton was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his work in establishing the Abbeyfield homes for the elderly in Britain, and in the 2002 New Year Honours, he was knighted in recognition of his work on the Czech Kindertransport. He met the Queen again during her state visit to Bratislava, Slovakia, in October 2008.

In 2003, Winton received the Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime Achievement.Winton was awarded Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Fourth Class, by the Czech President in 1998. In 2008, he was honoured by the Czech government in several ways. An elementary school in Kunžak is named after him, and he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence, Grade I.[36] The Czech government nominated him for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize. The minor planet 19384 Winton was named in his honour by Czech astronomers Jana Tichá and Miloš Tichý. A statue of Winton is on Platform 1 of the Praha hlavní nádraží railway station. It depicts Winton holding a child and standing next to another one. Created by Flor Kent, it was unveiled on 1 September 2009 as part of a larger commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the last Kindertransport train

Winton Memorial at Prague station

Winton Memorial at Prague station

There are also three memorials at Liverpool Street Station in London, where the Kindertransports arrived as well as several other statues elsewhere. Winton was baptised as a Christian by his parents, but his Jewish ancestry disqualified him from being declared a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel.

In 2010, Winton was named a British Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government. On 1 September 2009 a special “Winton Train” set off from Prague. The train, comprising an original locomotive and carriages used in the 1930s, headed to London via the original Kindertransport route. On board were several surviving “Winton children” and their descendants, who were welcomed by Winton in London along with other survivors who were too frail to travel on the train itself. It is estimated that the descendants of those saved by Sir Nicholas now number over 5,000 people.  As Sir Nicholas has said, you don’t have to be a hero to make a difference in life but simply an ordinary person who gets stuck in.

 ‘Anything that is not actually impossible, can be done, as long as one is determined that it shall be done.’

Amongst his most recent honours, Sir Nicholas Winton was awarded the Freedom of the City of London on 23 February 2015.

Sir Nicholas Winton MBE

Sir Nicholas Winton MBE

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My tribute to James Horner – Movie composer extraordinaire

I was sad to hear last night about the death of composer and musician James Horner who died as a result of the crash of solo plane he was flying.  Despite being only 61 years of age, James Horner has a grand back catalogue of music to his name.  It’s fair to say that he is likely my second favourite film composer after the legendary John Barry.  Whilst to me nothing quite compares to the soaring and majestic tunes of John Barry, James Horner comes close, albeit with a markedly different musical style.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
48 Hrs. (1982)
Cocoon (1985)
Aliens (1986)
Captain EO (1986)
An American Tale (1986)
Willow (1988)
The Land Before Time (1988)
Field of Dreams (1989)
Glory (1989)
The Rocketeer (1991)
Sneakers (1992)
Searching for Bobby Fisher (1993)
Legends of the Fall (1994)
Braveheart (1995)
Casper (1995)
Apollo 13 (1995)
Jumanji (1995)
Titanic (1997)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
The Perfect Storm (2000)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Avatar (2009)
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

It can’t be a co-incidence that some of his scores are to the soundtracks of some of my very favourite films.  Like his father, James Horner won two Oscars for his soundtracks though he was nominated for 10 in total.  He also won six Grammy awards.

I first learned of James Horner for his stand-out soundtrack to Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan which went on to influence not just the Star Trek franchise but a lot of Sci-fi in general.    You can hear one of the highlights of Star Trek 2 here  The Battle in the Mutara Nebula perfectly encapsulates the cat and mouse battle between Kirk’s Enterprise and the Reliant under the command of the genius superhuman tyrant, Khan.  I love the way the music increases the natural feeling of the action on the screen.  My favourite moment is the panic like blaring tones of the brass instruments when the Reliant emerges out of the gas cloud right in front of the Enterprise and then the Genesis countdown a few minutes later.  Surely the individual best space battle of all time and one of the most tactical set-pieces of any movie.  If you want to see the action as well as listen to the music then you can watch this sequence and listen to the awesome music below and watch out for a great performance from Ricardo Montalbano in particular.

Of course James Horner went on to score soundtracks for many other great films including Field of Dreams, Apollo 13 and The Perfect Storm, not forgetting the blockbusting Avatar.   Of those The Perfect Storm is by far my personal favourite, telling the true story of a fishing crew who all in a days work battle through a terrible storm and make it through the night only to be confronted by a Rogue Wave that stands between them and survival.

Aside from Star Trek however it was probably his work on Braveheart which gave his work a wider audience.  A hauntingly Celtic themed piece following the life and death of William Wallace and this just have certainly inspired the composer when he wrote the soundtrack to not just to what was the biggest blockbusting film of all time in Titanic but also a soundtrack that sold over 27 million copies around the world.

If you listen to the Titanic score you’ll no doubt pick up on a few repeated themes from Braveheart and it fuses more mainstream film music with some achingly beautiful Scottish inspired score.  Of course to Star Trek fans like myself you may also pick up on elements in Titanic from Star Trek 2.  From when the look-out shouts “Iceberg right ahead” to when RMS Titanic disappears under the icy cold waters of the Atlantic as well as being a great pice of music in its own right, it always reminds be of the battle in the nebula and Spock sacrificing his life to shave his friends which if you think of it the Enterprise is the majestic Titanic, the iceberg an the Reliant both come out of nowhere to pretty much destroy the ships and both Spock and Jack sacrifice themselves to save the people they love.

Every time I watch this bit of the movie I always marvel at how disciplined and ordered the officers and crew were and cross my fingers that they will miss the iceberg.  Two minutes minutes of agonising when you see how close they were to making it.  Incidentally when I worked at Marconi I knew the grandson of the chap on the crows nest of Titanic who spotted the iceberg.

My favourite piece from Titanic is “Rose” which is hinted at throughout the film but is best heard and seen from the famous and beautiful to look at “I’m Flying scene”.    Incidentally I must say, Kate Winslet looked amazing in this film and definitely deserved an Oscar above the eventual winner who  had a much less demanding and physically challenging role

Aside from music, James Horner was also a keen aviator and a licence pilot.  Sadly on Monday morning local time, his plane crashed and he died doing what he loved.  As incredible as all of the above movies are, I think they wouldn’t be the same without his wonderful and often beautiful scores.  They are probably the soundtrack to my 90’s life and I hope this post encourages to go back and re-listen to some of his works or maybe even introduce some new fans to his music and incredible body of film-work.

James Horner

James Horner who died aged 61 this week. Photo from FilmScoresMonthly.com

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200 years after Waterloo… the Napoleon small man syndrome!

Two hundred years today the Battle of Waterloo was fought in Belgium which saw Napoleon defeated in battle by the Duke of Wellington and other allies from across Europe.  It gave Europe almost a century of peace, incidentally 99 years and just a few miles separated the last British death in the Napoleonic wars and the first in WW1.  Waterloo didn’t just give Britain the chance to eclipse France in the race to empire but as Henry Kissinger commented the security provided by the Royal Navy gave the United States the cover and security to acquire its territories towards the Pacific Ocean.

Despite all that and more, one thing that comes up time and again is the habit of describing men of short stature as being in some way Napoleonic.  It’s a wide spread cultural phenomenon especially in the U.K. but also in North America.  It can be most clearly seen in the 1970’s sitcom Dads Army where Captain Mainwaring of the Home Guard is in charge.  He is short, pretentious and in many ways inferior to his laid back, educated, more capable and of course taller Sgt Wilson and frequently labelled a ‘Napoleon’.

Dad's Army

Captain Mainwaring pompously leading from the front. You can almost hear Warden Hodges shouting “Now look here Napoleon!”

Is there any truth though in this cultural perception?   To take the wind out of the sails before we even get going, Napoleon himself was about 5 feet 6 inches (169 cm) tall and by no means short by the standards of the day.  He is often thought of and depicted as being short because he was often painted next to his Imperial Guard who were towering figures in any century.

His Nemesis the Duke of Wellington is often portrayed as a towering man and indeed his 5’10” frame would mark him out as being relatively tall even today let alone 200 years ago. In his older age though his height reduced to 5’8″ so not quite as imposing as he is portrayed.  Incidentally this is quite a common habit, when I was in Egypt I saw many carvings of Ramses The Great.  He is depicted at being 6 foot tall and with a chest full of muscles that would make Brock Lesnar look puny but on seeing his body in the Egyptian Museum I was quite shocked at how frail and short he looked at little more than 5 feet 2 inches or so.  I guess that is what a good publicist does for you and what being dead for 4000 years or so does to you too!

Heights of famous historical figures

Heights of famous historical figures (from traceyloveshistory)

Another great opponent of Napoleonic France was Lord Nelson who stood only 5’4″ but his lack of height clearly didn’t stop him becoming perhaps the worlds greatest naval sailor and whilst some of his smaller stature may be due to the century he was born in, Captain Hardy was 6’4″ and HMS Victory’s chief surgeon, William Beaty, was of a similar or possibly even greater height which if you’ve ever banged your head on the ceilings of that great wooden ship as I have then you can imagine how hard life must have been for him!

Jacques_Louis_David_-_Bonaparte

Iconic painting of Napoleon Bonaparte. Conquerer of Europe and inspiration for middle managers and public officials everywhere.

Napoleon of course only really has one rival in the West who shared both his appetite for war and conquest and that is Adolf Hitler.  Not without good reason, public officials and workplace bullies are often called “little Hitlers”.   Whilst they are no doubt being compared to his authoritarian tendencies we still think of Hitler as being short but in fact he was around 5’8″ which is about average for today and not in anyway short for the early 20th century.

One tyrant who was obviously short is Tom Cruise… I mean Stalin.  Both about 5 feet 4 inches tall and one uses Hollywood magic to appear much taller whilst making millions from making bad movies.  The other used one of the worlds biggest propaganda machines to appear much taller in movies as he killed millions.  Mussolini was shorter than Stalin and one man definitely worthy of being labelled a Napoleon.

How tall were the greatest composers?

How tall were the greatest composers?

Two of our recent greatest historic figures of short stature were Gandhi and Mother Theresa who despite their lack of height at 5’4″ (164cm) and 5 feet (152cm) respectively filled the world with peace and healing.  One of the tallest and perhaps greatest statesman of the 21st century in Nelson Mandela was 6’4″ (184cm) was also one of the most peaceful in modern times, but in his youth was a terrorist.  Whereas King Henry VIII is one of the most infamous monarchs of all time yet he couldn’t blame his short stature on this as he was a towering 6’3″ (182cm) which must have made him a monster for his time especially as his waist was nearly as long as is height!  His bad behaviour however only started after he fell into a coma following a jousting accident with modern day historians and scientists believing he suffered some sort of brain damage.

Whilst genetically people from China and other east Asian countries are shorter than those of Western Europe, N. America and Eastern Africa, Chairman Mao may have killed millions but he was 5’11” (180cm).  Perhaps the greatest tyrant of all times, Genghis Khan who killed millions more was an impressive 5’8″ (173cm) all the way back in the early 13th century.  Call him a shortie and it would likely be the last thing you did.

Average European Male Heights

Average European Male Heights

As someone who is 5’9″ (175cm) tall I can probably comfortably sit this debate out, neither with any to prove by my shortness or instantly standing out with my height.  The height of the average Britain has increased by 11 cm during the 20th century though one country increased by even more, the Netherlands.  If you get the feeling that the Dutch are all tall, generally many of them are.  Historically they were of a very average height but during the 20th they soared, scientists believe this isn’t just due to increased wealth and health but due to the women of the Netherlands repeatedly marrying taller men.

World Leaders Height

Freedom loving politicians to the right (generally) and little Hitlers and Napoleons to the left!

Whilst it seems obvious that taller people though not excessively tall people, have it easier in terms of standing out and being more confident and many of us have come against very determined and quite frankly obnoxious shorter people who are super determined to make an impact on the world, it doesn’t seem that height is a particularly good determinant for either being a world leader or being a particularly kind or tyrannical ruler.  Still for as long as we see distorted depictions of Hitler and Napoleon it seems the reputation of a particular type of short man is secure.

Interestingly despite all his macho posturing, Vladimir Putin is only 5’7 is distinctly shorter than average both for Russia and the wider world and that other much maligned dictator Kim Jong-un is only 5’3″ and so embarrassed about his height that it isn’t on any medical record and is classified as a state secret.  If I were him, I’d be more embarrassed by his hair-cut and I’m sure Napoleon himself would quite literally look down on him in more ways than one.

Bad Hair Day

Kim Jong-un might not care about killing people but he got upset about this London barbers making fun of his hair cut with embassy officials making official complaints about mocking the glorious leader. Sensitive about his height, orders his people to wear the same stupid hair cut… sounds like a real Napoleon! He could also do with cutting down on his pork pies going by his age and the look of that double chin.

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The full text of The Magna Carta

The Ancient Greeks were amongst the first to enjoy very limited freedoms and some found themselves to live without a master.    Their great rivals the Persians similarly had equal rights for men and women and all races were free to practice their religion as also occurred in the Maurya Empire of Ancient India.  Roman citizens were later also accorded certain freedoms but these only applied to a tiny minority.

Google celebrates The Magna Carta

Google celebrates The Magna Carta

All of the above examples were in historical terms fleeting and only covered aspects of life but starting with Plato there were all ready thinkers who dedicated their works to working on the idea of freedom.  They would reach their apogee in with the British standard bearers of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and John Stuart Mill, not forgetting of course the Genevan born philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau and his seminal work Du Social Contract.

However it wasn’t pioneering philosphers that were responsible for the most famous declaration of freedom and human rights but instead from the tyrannical world of the Vikings.  When not busy killing and pillaging each other, the extremely violent Viking and Danish societies in England were a highly litigious bunch who perhaps understandably in a world where violence was so prevalent found a need to discuss disagreements and crimes in a peaceful setting.   In fact the word ‘law’  comes from these times and much of England came under the rule of Danelaw.

Whilst there were no lawyers or solicitors, older people who were experts in traditions and customs would resolve disagreements and ascertain the rights of individuals.  This combined with the Anglo-Saxon natural inclination for a well run administration meant that despite being ruled by a King, the English were always amongst those most likely to stand up for their idea of freedom and FairPlay.

800 years ago today some of our more powerful forebears, the Great Barons of England had succeeded in capturing London and were well placed to follow through with their threats of dethroning bad King John.  The King was in a very sticky situation and needed to come to some sort of far-reaching agreement with his people and so on the banks of the Thames at Runnymede just west of London, the King put his seal on The Magna Carta.

As with tyrants everywhere, once the pressure was off, King John almost immediately tried to renege on his agreement and civil war ensured.  However the genie was out of the bottle and the Magna Carta went on to inspire the Parliamentary movement in the U.K. revolutions in France and the United States as well as the United Nations Bill of Human Rights and the European Human Rights nearly 750 years later.

It’s sad to think that 800 years later, much of the world still doesn’t enjoy even the most basic freedoms that we have enjoyed for so long.  In Russia for example trial by jury was removed in the 1990’s as jury’s tended to reach an acquittal verdict in 20% of trials compared to just 1% by the state appointed judges something which obviously didn’t go down well.

Map of World Freedom 2014

Map of World Freedom 2014, green is free, yellow is partly free and purple is not free at all.

The full-text  1215 edition of Magna Carta translated from Latin to English is below.  To see the best preserved original Magna Carta, consider a trip to Salisbury Cathedral with Ye Olde England Tours!

Clauses marked (+) are still valid under the charter of 1225, but with a few minor amendments. Clauses marked (*) were omitted in all later reissues of the charter. In the charter itself the clauses are not numbered, and the text reads continuously. The translation sets out to convey the sense rather than the precise wording of the original Latin.

JOHN, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects, Greeting.

KNOW THAT BEFORE GOD, for the health of our soul and those of our ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God, the exaltation of the holy Church, and the better ordering of our kingdom, at the advice of our reverend fathers Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, and cardinal of the holy Roman Church, Henry archbishop of Dublin, William bishop of London, Peter bishop of Winchester, Jocelin bishop of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh bishop of Lincoln, Walter bishop of Worcester, William bishop of Coventry, Benedict bishop of Rochester, Master Pandulf subdeacon and member of the papal household, Brother Aymeric master of the knighthood of the Temple in England, William Marshal earl of Pembroke, William earl of Salisbury, William earl of Warren, William earl of Arundel, Alan of Galloway constable of Scotland, Warin fitz Gerald, Peter fitz Herbert, Hubert de Burgh seneschal of Poitou, Hugh de Neville, Matthew fitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip Daubeny, Robert de Roppeley, John Marshal, John fitz Hugh, and other loyal subjects:

+ (1) FIRST, THAT WE HAVE GRANTED TO GOD, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed, appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by charter the freedom of the Church’s elections – a right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to it – and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III. This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity.

TO ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM we have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs:

(2) If any earl, baron, or other person that holds lands directly of the Crown, for military service, shall die, and at his death his heir shall be of full age and owe a ‘relief’, the heir shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient scale of ‘relief’. That is to say, the heir or heirs of an earl shall pay £100 for the entire earl’s barony, the heir or heirs of a knight 100s. at most for the entire knight’s ‘fee’, and any man that owes less shall pay less, in accordance with the ancient usage of ‘fees’.

(3) But if the heir of such a person is under age and a ward, when he comes of age he shall have his inheritance without ‘relief’ or fine.

(4) The guardian of the land of an heir who is under age shall take from it only reasonable revenues, customary dues, and feudal services. He shall do this without destruction or damage to men or property. If we have given the guardianship of the land to a sheriff, or to any person answerable to us for the revenues, and he commits destruction or damage, we will exact compensation from him, and the land shall be entrusted to two worthy and prudent men of the same ‘fee’, who shall be answerable to us for the revenues, or to the person to whom we have assigned them. If we have given or sold to anyone the guardianship of such land, and he causes destruction or damage, he shall lose the guardianship of it, and it shall be handed over to two worthy and prudent men of the same ‘fee’, who shall be similarly answerable to us.

(5) For so long as a guardian has guardianship of such land, he shall maintain the houses, parks, fish preserves, ponds, mills, and everything else pertaining to it, from the revenues of the land itself. When the heir comes of age, he shall restore the whole land to him, stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the season demands and the revenues from the land can reasonably bear.

(6) Heirs may be given in marriage, but not to someone of lower social standing. Before a marriage takes place, it shall be made known to the heir’s next-of-kin.

(7) At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.

(8) No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband. But she must give security that she will not marry without royal consent, if she holds her lands of the Crown, or without the consent of whatever other lord she may hold them of.

(9) Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods sufficient to discharge the debt. A debtor’s sureties shall not be distrained upon so long as the debtor himself can discharge his debt. If, for lack of means, the debtor is unable to discharge his debt, his sureties shall be answerable for it. If they so desire, they may have the debtor’s lands and rents until they have received satisfaction for the debt that they paid for him, unless the debtor can show that he has settled his obligations to them.

* (10) If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.

* (11) If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands. The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly.

* (12) No ‘scutage’ or ‘aid’ may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter. For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied. ‘Aids’ from the city of London are to be treated similarly.

+ (13) The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy all their liberties and free customs.

* (14) To obtain the general consent of the realm for the assessment of an ‘aid’ – except in the three cases specified above – or a ‘scutage’, we will cause the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons to be summoned individually by letter. To those who hold lands directly of us we will cause a general summons to be issued, through the sheriffs and other officials, to come together on a fixed day (of which at least forty days notice shall be given) and at a fixed place. In all letters of summons, the cause of the summons will be stated. When a summons has been issued, the business appointed for the day shall go forward in accordance with the resolution of those present, even if not all those who were summoned have appeared.

* (15) In future we will allow no one to levy an ‘aid’ from his free men, except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry his eldest daughter. For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied.

(16) No man shall be forced to perform more service for a knight’s ‘fee’, or other free holding of land, than is due from it.

(17) Ordinary lawsuits shall not follow the royal court around, but shall be held in a fixed place.

(18) Inquests of novel disseisin, mort d’ancestor, and darrein presentment shall be taken only in their proper county court. We ourselves, or in our absence abroad our chief justice, will send two justices to each county four times a year, and these justices, with four knights of the county elected by the county itself, shall hold the assizes in the county court, on the day and in the place where the court meets.

(19) If any assizes cannot be taken on the day of the county court, as many knights and freeholders shall afterwards remain behind, of those who have attended the court, as will suffice for the administration of justice, having regard to the volume of business to be done.

(20) For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a villein the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

(21) Earls and barons shall be fined only by their equals, and in proportion to the gravity of their offence.

(22) A fine imposed upon the lay property of a clerk in holy orders shall be assessed upon the same principles, without reference to the value of his ecclesiastical benefice.

(23) No town or person shall be forced to build bridges over rivers except those with an ancient obligation to do so.

(24) No sheriff, constable, coroners, or other royal officials are to hold lawsuits that should be held by the royal justices.

* (25) Every county, hundred, wapentake, and tithing shall remain at its ancient rent, without increase, except the royal demesne manors.

(26) If at the death of a man who holds a lay ‘fee’ of the Crown, a sheriff or royal official produces royal letters patent of summons for a debt due to the Crown, it shall be lawful for them to seize and list movable goods found in the lay ‘fee’ of the dead man to the value of the debt, as assessed by worthy men. Nothing shall be removed until the whole debt is paid, when the residue shall be given over to the executors to carry out the dead man’s will. If no debt is due to the Crown, all the movable goods shall be regarded as the property of the dead man, except the reasonable shares of his wife and children.

* (27) If a free man dies intestate, his movable goods are to be distributed by his next-of-kin and friends, under the supervision of the Church. The rights of his debtors are to be preserved.

(28) No constable or other royal official shall take corn or other movable goods from any man without immediate payment, unless the seller voluntarily offers postponement of this.

(29) No constable may compel a knight to pay money for castle-guard if the knight is willing to undertake the guard in person, or with reasonable excuse to supply some other fit man to do it. A knight taken or sent on military service shall be excused from castle-guard for the period of this service.

(30) No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from any free man, without his consent.

(31) Neither we nor any royal official will take wood for our castle, or for any other purpose, without the consent of the owner.

(32) We will not keep the lands of people convicted of felony in our hand for longer than a year and a day, after which they shall be returned to the lords of the ‘fees’ concerned.

(33) All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.

(34) The writ called precipe shall not in future be issued to anyone in respect of any holding of land, if a free man could thereby be deprived of the right of trial in his own lord’s court.

(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russet, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly.

(36) In future nothing shall be paid or accepted for the issue of a writ of inquisition of life or limbs. It shall be given gratis, and not refused.

(37) If a man holds land of the Crown by ‘fee-farm’, ‘socage’, or ‘burgage’, and also holds land of someone else for knight’s service, we will not have guardianship of his heir, nor of the land that belongs to the other person’s ‘fee’, by virtue of the ‘fee-farm’, ‘socage’, or ‘burgage’, unless the ‘fee-farm’ owes knight’s service. We will not have the guardianship of a man’s heir, or of land that he holds of someone else, by reason of any small property that he may hold of the Crown for a service of knives, arrows, or the like.

(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

+ (39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

+ (40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

(41) All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade, free from all illegal exactions, in accordance with ancient and lawful customs. This, however, does not apply in time of war to merchants from a country that is at war with us. Any such merchants found in our country at the outbreak of war shall be detained without injury to their persons or property, until we or our chief justice have discovered how our own merchants are being treated in the country at war with us. If our own merchants are safe they shall be safe too.

* (42) In future it shall be lawful for any man to leave and return to our kingdom unharmed and without fear, by land or water, preserving his allegiance to us, except in time of war, for some short period, for the common benefit of the realm. People that have been imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the land, people from a country that is at war with us, and merchants – who shall be dealt with as stated above – are excepted from this provision.

(43) If a man holds lands of any ‘escheat’ such as the ‘honour’ of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other ‘escheats’ in our hand that are baronies, at his death his heir shall give us only the ‘relief’ and service that he would have made to the baron, had the barony been in the baron’s hand. We will hold the ‘escheat’ in the same manner as the baron held it.

(44) People who live outside the forest need not in future appear before the royal justices of the forest in answer to general summonses, unless they are actually involved in proceedings or are sureties for someone who has been seized for a forest offence.

* (45) We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well.

(46) All barons who have founded abbeys, and have charters of English kings or ancient tenure as evidence of this, may have guardianship of them when there is no abbot, as is their due.

(47) All forests that have been created in our reign shall at once be disafforested. River-banks that have been enclosed in our reign shall be treated similarly.

*(48) All evil customs relating to forests and warrens, foresters, warreners, sheriffs and their servants, or river-banks and their wardens, are at once to be investigated in every county by twelve sworn knights of the county, and within forty days of their enquiry the evil customs are to be abolished completely and irrevocably. But we, or our chief justice if we are not in England, are first to be informed.

* (49) We will at once return all hostages and charters delivered up to us by Englishmen as security for peace or for loyal service.

* (50) We will remove completely from their offices the kinsmen of Gerard de Athée, and in future they shall hold no offices in England. The people in question are Engelard de Cigogné, Peter, Guy, and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers, with Geoffrey his nephew, and all their followers.

* (51) As soon as peace is restored, we will remove from the kingdom all the foreign knights, bowmen, their attendants, and the mercenaries that have come to it, to its harm, with horses and arms.

* (52) To any man whom we have deprived or dispossessed of lands, castles, liberties, or rights, without the lawful judgment of his equals, we will at once restore these. In cases of dispute the matter shall be resolved by the judgment of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause for securing the peace (§61). In cases, however, where a man was deprived or dispossessed of something without the lawful judgment of his equals by our father King Henry or our brother King Richard, and it remains in our hands or is held by others under our warranty, we shall have respite for the period commonly allowed to Crusaders, unless a lawsuit had been begun, or an enquiry had been made at our order, before we took the Cross as a Crusader. On our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once render justice in full.

* (53) We shall have similar respite in rendering justice in connexion with forests that are to be disafforested, or to remain forests, when these were first afforested by our father Henry or our brother Richard; with the guardianship of lands in another person’s ‘fee’, when we have hitherto had this by virtue of a ‘fee’ held of us for knight’s service by a third party; and with abbeys founded in another person’s ‘fee’, in which the lord of the ‘fee’ claims to own a right. On our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once do full justice to complaints about these matters.

(54) No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.

* (55) All fines that have been given to us unjustly and against the law of the land, and all fines that we have exacted unjustly, shall be entirely remitted or the matter decided by a majority judgment of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause for securing the peace (§61) together with Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, if he can be present, and such others as he wishes to bring with him. If the archbishop cannot be present, proceedings shall continue without him, provided that if any of the twenty-five barons has been involved in a similar suit himself, his judgment shall be set aside, and someone else chosen and sworn in his place, as a substitute for the single occasion, by the rest of the twenty-five.

(56) If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of land, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgment of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them. A dispute on this point shall be determined in the Marches by the judgment of equals. English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. The Welsh shall treat us and ours in the same way.

* (57) In cases where a Welshman was deprived or dispossessed of anything, without the lawful judgment of his equals, by our father King Henry or our brother King Richard, and it remains in our hands or is held by others under our warranty, we shall have respite for the period commonly allowed to Crusaders, unless a lawsuit had been begun, or an enquiry had been made at our order, before we took the Cross as a Crusader. But on our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once do full justice according to the laws of Wales and the said regions.

* (58) We will at once return the son of Llywelyn, all Welsh hostages, and the charters delivered to us as security for the peace.

* (59) With regard to the return of the sisters and hostages of Alexander, king of Scotland, his liberties and his rights, we will treat him in the same way as our other barons of England, unless it appears from the charters that we hold from his father William, formerly king of Scotland, that he should be treated otherwise. This matter shall be resolved by the judgment of his equals in our court.

(60) All these customs and liberties that we have granted shall be observed in our kingdom in so far as concerns our own relations with our subjects. Let all men of our kingdom, whether clergy or laymen, observe them similarly in their relations with their own men.

* (61) SINCE WE HAVE GRANTED ALL THESE THINGS for God, for the better ordering of our kingdom, and to allay the discord that has arisen between us and our barons, and since we desire that they shall be enjoyed in their entirety, with lasting strength, for ever, we give and grant to the barons the following security:

The barons shall elect twenty-five of their number to keep, and cause to be observed with all their might, the peace and liberties granted and confirmed to them by this charter.

If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us – or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice – to declare it and claim immediate redress. If we, or in our absence abroad the chief justice, make no redress within forty days, reckoning from the day on which the offence was declared to us or to him, the four barons shall refer the matter to the rest of the twenty-five barons, who may distrain upon and assail us in every way possible, with the support of the whole community of the land, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, or anything else saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children, until they have secured such redress as they have determined upon. Having secured the redress, they may then resume their normal obedience to us.

Any man who so desires may take an oath to obey the commands of the twenty-five barons for the achievement of these ends, and to join with them in assailing us to the utmost of his power. We give public and free permission to take this oath to any man who so desires, and at no time will we prohibit any man from taking it. Indeed, we will compel any of our subjects who are unwilling to take it to swear it at our command.

If one of the twenty-five barons dies or leaves the country, or is prevented in any other way from discharging his duties, the rest of them shall choose another baron in his place, at their discretion, who shall be duly sworn in as they were.

In the event of disagreement among the twenty-five barons on any matter referred to them for decision, the verdict of the majority present shall have the same validity as a unanimous verdict of the whole twenty-five, whether these were all present or some of those summoned were unwilling or unable to appear.

The twenty-five barons shall swear to obey all the above articles faithfully, and shall cause them to be obeyed by others to the best of their power.

We will not seek to procure from anyone, either by our own efforts or those of a third party, anything by which any part of these concessions or liberties might be revoked or diminished. Should such a thing be procured, it shall be null and void and we will at no time make use of it, either ourselves or through a third party.

* (62) We have remitted and pardoned fully to all men any ill-will, hurt, or grudges that have arisen between us and our subjects, whether clergy or laymen, since the beginning of the dispute. We have in addition remitted fully, and for our own part have also pardoned, to all clergy and laymen any offences committed as a result of the said dispute between Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign (i.e. 1215) and the restoration of peace.

In addition we have caused letters patent to be made for the barons, bearing witness to this security and to the concessions set out above, over the seals of Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, Henry archbishop of Dublin, the other bishops named above, and Master Pandulf.

* (63) IT IS ACCORDINGLY OUR WISH AND COMMAND that the English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fullness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever.

Both we and the barons have sworn that all this shall be observed in good faith and without deceit. Witness the abovementioned people and many others.

Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign (i.e. 1215: the new regnal year began on 28 May).

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Yours sincerely – The Story of Valedictions

Like myself, you might not have been sure what exactly a Valediction is but you probably use them almost every day.   Valedictions are those sign-offs that we use at the bottom of emails and even letters, should anyone remember what one of those are and whilst they may appear innocuous enough, they actually have a long history and strict rules as to their usage which are sadly ignored or unknown by many of us.

The word Valediction is an Old English translation of the Latin phrase ‘Vale Dicere‘ which means to say farewell.  Originally a Valediction was the name given to the final prayers or thoughts at the graveside during a funeral.

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Most people these days use Valedictions without really knowing the true meanings behind what they are writing and many may be unaware of the unwritten rules as to which form of Valediction is appropriate in each given situation.  Most include the word “Yours” which harks back to the time when such messages were written my servants of those they were writing to; this could be a literal servant as well as a person in junior standing to their superior in the Army or government.

Not many of us would sign off our emails with:

 “I am, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant,   Stephen”

or

“I beg to remain, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant,  Stephen”

or

“I remain, Sir, your faithful and obedient servant,   Stephen”

or even the modern formal Valediction of

“Sincerely, I am,  Stephen”

These days we are more likely to use the term “Yours sincerely” which is short for “I am yours sincerely”.  Those of us who were taught such things learned that we should only use the term “Yours Sincerely” when the letter begins with a name i.e. Dear Stephen.   Usually we only put the name of the person at the beginning of the correspondence if we in some ways are familiar with them.

If we don’t know the individual we are writing to then the letter should be started with the traditional “Dear Sir/Madam” introduction and end with “Yours faithfully” which is short for the older “I remain, Sir, your faithful and obedient servant”.   If you have heard of the person you are writing to but do no know them then traditionally it is thought to be more prudent to use the “Yours faithfully” to avoid causing offence.

It is surprising just how many people don’t seem to know the basics of writing a letter or email.  Having been involved in the hiring of staff in previous roles, I can safely say that anyone who couldn’t write their letter or email of application correctly was sadly not even close to being considered.     The reasons being obvious for those of us who have ever received a letter or email from someone working for a company and it has been so bad that it has put one off ever having anything to do not just with that individual but the company who employs them.

Though I wouldn’t use the term “Yours truly”, for many it is acceptable to sign off letters this way when writing correspondence to someone by name but signing off on behalf of an organisation i.e.   Dear Fred,   yours truly Ye Olde England Tours.   This method of Valediction is more common in American English than British English and ‘Yours truly’ or the grander sounding ‘Yours very truly’ is again a shortened form of the old term “I am very truly yours” with “yours” again denoting being a servant and used when addressing someone of higher social standing.

For those like myself who pay attention to old-fashioned manners, “Sincerely yours” was regarded as appropriate only for social correspondence, and not business correspondence, while such closings as “Cordially” or “Best regards”  are always inappropriate for business letters to strangers, and their use may be considered silly and uninformed by the recipient.

These days it is becoming increasingly common in business usage to forgo the old Valedictions in favour of semi-formal sign-offs on the pretence of appearing friendly if only to improve business relations.   A common error is to say “Best regards” or “Kind regards” in formal letters which perhaps shows a misunderstanding of the term. In informal usage, “Best regards” and “Kind regards” are often abbreviated to “BR” or “KR”. The use of “Kind regards” is most likely derived from the more formal, “Kindest regards,” which is itself a phrase derived from the even more formal combination of “Kindest regards, I remain,” “yours” or “truly yours” or any one of a number of valedictions in common usage.  A less common variation is “Warm regards” which is often used to purposely avoid the aforementioned more common valedictions whereas “Respectfully yours” is hardly ever used, perhaps a sign of the times.

“Regards,” is often used as a semi-formal valediction in emails. “Kind regards” and especially “Best regards” is meant as a way of addressing close friends or loved ones or a close working relationship.

Valedictions have become more informal in other languages than English.  In French whilst once you might have received a letter ending with

“Veuillez agréer, Madame, Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués.”

These days it is much more likely to receive the decidedly less grand sounding “Cordialement”.

Germans have seen a similar fall from grace with the old fashioned “Hochachtungsvoll” (Highly Respectfully) of letters now largely replaced by “Mit freundlichen Grüßen” (With Friendly Greetingswhich though longer to write sounds much more informal.

Of course these days most of us spend a large amount of time writing to our loved ones and most of us put a number of X’s under our name.  X came to prominence as it is the opening letter of the Greek word for Christ “ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ” . Whilst these days a ‘X’ is an expression of a kiss, it does again have its origins in Medieval Christianity when a X was placed on envelopes or the bottom of documents  to demonstrate their faith, honesty and sincerity.  The writer would then kiss the cross as a display of their oath.

These days we may not sign off our emails and text messages with a declaration of following in Christ but the idea of putting a ‘X’ to illustrate our love and sincerity remains.

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Kindle vs iBooks or making waves in publishing

I’ve never been very good at promoting my books.  Like many authors, it is not something that interests me or excites me.  I like writing, I like making sales and I love receiving reviews but I’m not so keen on that section in between called self-promotion.  I feel much like those famous actors or musicians who perform in public for their art but have no desire to work with the media or live a public life, except of course I don’t have to worry about fame… at least for the moment.

It’s always been hard to discern fact from fiction when it comes to self-published authors.  The world of twitter and other social media is full of authors who do nothing but self-promote their works in a very hard working and dedicated manner I must say but one that instantly drives me off having much to do with them.

Yes we all know that a certain amount of promotion is beneficial but if they spend all their time tweeting and posting on their books then they can’t be writing much and if they are, it could be they are using freelancers to churn out some of their books.  Maybe they really should have got into media work rather than authorship?  I on the other hand probably take it too far the other way by thinking talking about my books is rude!

Recently I came across a rather interesting software tool entitled KDSpy which helps authors to make sense of Amazon sales figures and work out possible niche categories which are ripe for a possible best-seller.  It is very clever but I’m not sure it fits my philosophy as writing for me is not a conveyor belt process.  I’m not inspired to write about a certain subject just because there is a gap in the market, I do though like to write and find that what I have written doesn’t have much competition!   However a quick use of this tool enabled me to quickly find out that not one of the authors who I’ve been so overpowered from their marketing seem to be as successful as I am with my near lack of self-hype.   Some even have more Amazon reviews than confirmed sales, oops how did that happen!

However I’m not alone, it seems many other authors who don’t seem to over-promote seem generally to be doing better than the over-promoters too.  Perhaps a deserved case of all talk and no action for once being found out or should that be all hype and no substance?  Either way I felt surprised and validated all at once.

It’s been a good few months for me with my books.  My sales are rising, year on year and month on month.  Partly this is due to having more books out obviously but also possibly from word of mouth and other vagaries which are hard to put your finger on.

At this point I should state that I don’t read any electronic books.  As old fashioned as it sounds and as wonderful as my iPad is, I wouldn’t even consider it either.  Yes I buy my own books electronically for completeness sake as well as many of my blogging and author friends but to actually read books I always go for the paper copy.  I’m aware though that I am now in the minority for reading their books the old fashioned way and as a writer I have to do what is best for my books rather than what I’m interested in and so like many people I make all my books available on Amazon Kindle.

Amazon make it easy for authors to publish themselves and theoretically giving immense exposure whilst avoiding the traditional publishing industry and all of its constraints.  However Amazon aren’t a charity and they do milk authors of transmission fees and other payments whilst also pressuring authors for exclusive content and giving their work away for free.  Their royalty payments when they come are months after the date a book is purchased and until very recently, it was almost practically impossible for non-American authors to avoid paying the IRS taxes on their royalties which they absolutely had no right to steal.

I never wanted to be limited to Amazon as good as it can be.  It takes a bit more effort but it is a wonderful feeling to see your books for sale in book stores and it is increasingly profitable to ensure your electronic books aren’t tied to Amazon alone.   There are various other electronic formats you can sell on and make your works available directly to people who use iBooks, Nooks and crannys (oh there aren’t crannys apparently).  I’ve long used Smashwords having ditched Lulu as being far too expensive.  Smash words can be trying to say the least to get to work properly but one is rewarded with their books becoming available in all sorts of formats and most importantly on the Apple iBooks store.

There is a general consensus that the Amazon Kindle is an unstoppable and totally dominant force in ebook sales.  While it is true that they make up the majority of sales largely down to the way Amazon has successfully marketed itself and Kindle devices to middle-class, middle-aged and above readers.  However recent research by Publishing Technology indicates that in the key under 25 age group, Kindle sales outnumber iBook sales by just 2%.    Even for the entire market in the UK the gap is closing with Kindle making up 50% and iBooks 31%.

Even though I don’t read books electronically, if I did then it would have to be on an iPad or desktop computer and not a phone or a small Kindle type device. Apple are also increasing the visibility on their iBooks to help build readership.  They pay their authors well and promptly too I might add!

This morning I did a very informal search and was surprised at how many self-published authors don’t seem to have a presence on iBooks or iTunes and it seems to me they are missing out, perhaps trapped in the exclusivity clauses of the Kindle KDP Select. I’d really like to encourage my fellow author bloggers to try out other formats too.

Not including Lest We Forget on Kindle which is published by a publishing house and sells  much better than my other books, though I only find out the figures every 6 months, in the last month I have sold:

20 Kindle books, 11 Paperbacks, 8 iBooks with a handful in other formats.

Not a JK Rowling amount of books but about 40 more a month than the over-hyping mass published pulp I see being shoved down my throat on Twitter.   Over the course of a year 550 books or so isn’t the worst thing in the world especially without really promoting anything and hopefully that figure will only grow.

So what’s the point of all this, well I’m not sure I have one!  Except of course we should never put all our eggs in one Kindle basket.  Perhaps not everyone is in a position to write non-fiction but if you can then it’s well worth trying instead of just writing a novel as it helps you stand out from the crowd and unless you are convinced you’re going to have a best-seller on your hands you can probably sell more copies and make more royalties per day of writing such a book than a novel.

If there really is a point then it backs up what I have always thought about people who always talk about themselves (their jobs, money, books or whatever), that if something seems too good or successful to be true then it probably is.  For all those authors who hate self-publicity as much as I do, don’t worry from what I can tell you’re probably selling more than the others are without all hype.  Instead continue to read and write thoughtfully and produce work that is worth reading and the sales will come and increase, if slowly.

I have the flu and a rabid chest infection this week so if my ramblings above were more rambling than usual then that is why.

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