Visiting the statue of Noor Inayat Khan in Bloomsbury, London

When I was in London a few weeks ago, I realised I had 20 minutes or so to spend before my engagement so decided to pop along to Gordon Square Gardens, a place a I know very well, to visit a relatively new statue in London to Noor Inayat Khan whom I wrote about in my last post.

The sculpture has been installed in Gordon Square Gardens on land owned by the University of London, close to the Bloomsbury house where Ms Khan lived as a child in 1914 and where she returned while training for the SOE during World War II.

Gordon Square is just one of many beautiful squares in Bloomsbury, this one perhaps one of the lesser visited ones unless you’re a student nearby or a customer of the rather lovely Vegan cafe that sits in precisely the opposite end of the gardens than the statue I was looking for.

Noor Inayat Khan

I say looking for but I knew exactly where it was, I just hadn’t been there before. It was only erected in 2012 and unveiled by Princess Anne. In peak summer it is rather hidden away by the dense foliage of the overhanging trees so if you didn’t know it was there then you could be just a few seconds away and never see it.

Statue of Noor Inayat Khan

I’ve read a lot about Noor and knew of her back in the 1990’s when I studied nearby at SOAS. It was quite a moving moment to come and see her wonderful statue which is a fitting memorial for such an incredible lady.

Inscription on the rear to the statue

For some reason my photo of the fourth side of the plinth didn’t come out but it mentions how Noor Inayat Khan was executed on the morning of September 13th, 1944.

Just a minutes walk or so away is the address where she lived in the months leading to her mission to France at 4 Taviton Street where she stayed with her mother. Last year towards the end of the summer of 2020 a Blue Plaque was unveiled on the front of the house to commemorate her residence here.

Noor may not be well remembered despite her incredible bravery but we visit her statue on our Bloomsbury Literature Walking Tour (fittingly she was a poet and a writer of children’s stories before the way) which stands close by the home of another notable female resident of the square, Virginia Woolf.

Posted in history, London, WW2, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Noor Inayat Khan – Born an Indian Princess, Lived a French writer, Died a British Spy

Every now and then I like to post on great but often overlooked female figures in history. Over the 9 years I have been blogging just some of the notable women I have written about include Khutulun – The Mongolian Wrestling Princess Empress Matilda Edith Cavell – Patriotism Is Not Enough Mary Seacole – The Greatest Black Briton Gertrude Bell – The Ketrun – Desert Queen, Nikbanou as well as The Most Powerful Women in History 10-6 The Most Powerful Women in History 5 – 1 and not forgetting the recent post on Lottie Dod – The Victorian Wimbledon lady tennis star who even beat the men!

Today though I thought I’d write about a very special lady whose life spanned half the world and who more than played her part in saving it. Her name is Noor Inayat Khan and she is almost equally forgotten in India, Russia, France and the U.K.

Noor was born in Moscow to musician father Hazrat Inayat Khan and American mother, Pirani Ameena Begum. From her name you might hazard a guess that she was a Muslim lady and Noor Inayat was a descendant of Tipu Sultan (the Tiger of Mysore) who famously fought the British East India Company, then the most powerful commercial organisation of its era and likely still unsurpassed in that regards.

The onset of World War I in 1914 forced Noor Inayat’s family out of Russia and eventually, they moved to France. There, she grew up to become a writer of children’s stories and poems, and a frequent contributed to French radio programmes.

But Noor Inayat’s peaceful life was rudely interrupted by the onset of the Second World War. With Nazi Germany seemingly unstoppable, her family did as many wealthy Europeans did and fled to London.

Noor was disgusted at how Fascism was destroying Europe and her beloved Paris in particular. She was both a pious Sufi which meant amongst other things she abhorred violence and lying and she believed in the ideals of Gandhi and his near life-time long movement of non-violence to achieve Indian Independence but like many her innate hatred of Fascism along with a belief that Britain was likely to move towards Independence after the war, led her to join up with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

Wanting to take a more active part in the war, by 1943, Noor joined the F (France) Section of the Special Operations Executive, which a British World War II organisation. From here, she was sent to be trained as a special wireless operator in occupied territory.

In WWI and II, a wireless operator’s job basically was to maintain a link between the agents in the field and London. They had to pass secret messages back and forth about, planned sabotage operations or where arms were needed for resistance fighters. Hence, it is safe to say that a wireless operator was very much the nervous system of a resistance.

The role of a wireless operator during WW2 was rigged with danger and threat to life. As long as they were on the mission, the operator had to be quick on their feet, live in disguise, have quick exit routes wherever they were working, which included having aerials hung up disguised as washing lines.

Noor Inayat was sent to France with a new identity: Jeanne-Marie Renier, a professional children’s nurse. But just before leaving, she began having second thoughts about the mission. Perhaps it is because her superiors did not have high opinions about her. In feedback reports, Noor Inayat was called “unstable”, “not overburdened with brains”, “childlike”, “very feminine”, “pretty scared of weapons”, “clumsy”, and “physically unsuited for her job”, among other things. She was going to prove everyone wrong in a big way and to be fair, Vera Atkins, a British intelligence officer at the F section, admitted that Noor Inayat’s (or Nora Baker as was her alias) commitment was unquestioned.

Working for the SOE or Special Operations Executive was amongst the most dangerous jobs in the British military and her job role generally had a life expectancy of only six weeks. Given the code name of Madeleine and assuming the identity of “Jeanne-Marie Renier”, Noor was parachuted into France. Shortly after her arrival however, the Gestapo arrested hundreds of people and her spy network all but collapsed. Her commanders in London urged her to return, but she refused to abandon her French comrades without communications. 

A colourised photo ofNoor Inayat Khan by Russeltarr

For three months, she single-handedly ran a cell of agents across Paris, frequently changing her appearance and name.

Terribly, this all came to a sudden end when she was betrayed for a sum of 100,000 French Francs and after making a failed attempt to escape over the rooftops, she was captured and taken to a series of German prisoner and concentration camps where she was kept mostly in solitary confinement as the Germans considered her so dangerous. One of her few communications to her fellow prisoners was done by her etching her name and address in London on the base of her food bowl.

In the following weeks she was terribly beaten and tortured time and time again but refused to give away any details of her French operatives even though she was told by doing so, her life would be spared.

On 13 September 1944, Noor Inayat Khan was shot dead at Dachau concentration camp. Her last word that she shouted to the guards was “Liberte” which means ‘Freedom’ in English.

Two and a half million Indian soldiers volunteered for the British Empire in WW2, fighting in far-away fields in Africa, Europe and the Far East. It was the largest volunteer army in history and Indian soldiers were awarded 28 Victoria Crosses and 9 George Crosses in World War II.

In April 1949, Noor Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross by King George VI. Her citation reads:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS to:— Assistant Section Officer Nora INAYAT-KHAN (9901), Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
Assistant Section Officer Nora INAYAT-KHAN was the first woman operator to be infiltrated into enemy occupied France, and she was landed by Lysander aircraft on 16th June, 1943. During the weeks immediately following her arrival, the Gestapo made mass arrests in the Paris Resistance groups to which she had been detailed. However, she refused to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France, even though she had been given the opportunity to return to England, because she did not want to leave her French comrades without communications and she also hoped to rebuild her group. Therefore, she remained at her post and did the excellent work which earned her a posthumous Mention in Despatches.
The Gestapo had a full description of her, but it only knew her code name “Madeleine”. It deployed considerable forces in its effort to catch her and break the last remaining link with London. After 3 months, she was betrayed to the Gestapo and taken to its H.Q. in the Avenue Foch. The Gestapo had found her codes and messages and as a result, it was now in a position to work back to London. It asked her to co-operate, but she refused and gave it no information of any kind. She was imprisoned in one of the cells on the 5th floor of the Gestapo H.Q. and she remained there for several weeks during which time she made two unsuccessful attempts to escape. She was asked to sign a declaration which stated that she would make no further escape attempts, but she refused to sign it and the Chief of the Gestapo obtained permission to send her to Germany for “safe custody” from Berlin. She was the first enemy agent to be sent to Germany.
Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN was sent to Karlsruhe in November 1943, and then she was sent to Pforzheim where her cell was apart from the main prison. She was considered a particularly dangerous and unco-operative prisoner. The Director of the prison was also interrogated and confirmed that Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN refused to give any information whatsoever either about her work or her colleagues when she was interrogated by the Karlsruhe Gestapo.
She was taken to the Dachau Concentration Camp with three other female prisoners on 12 September 1944. On her arrival, she was taken to the crematorium and shot.
Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months.

In my next post, I will visit the statue commemorating the life of this brave lady.

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What a rare gold coin from the Black Death can tell us about life in the 1350’s.

One of the things I wanted to do when I was little was to go metal-detecting. I still remember the joy of getting one and going deep into the woods to see what I could find. Sadly for me about 10 minutes into it I was accosted by a local official who told me a licence was needed. Not a very expensive licence but too much for a young teenager in the 1980’s.

My dreams of finding treasure evaporated (unless you include Mudlarking… which also needs a licence). Very annoying especially in the 39 years or so of wandering around those woods, thousands of times, that remains the one and only time I ever met anyone in them, let alone an official.

Fortunately, other people have better luck and recently a “very rare” Edward III gold coin lost in the wake of the Black Death has been found by a teenage metal detectorist.

The 23-carat leopard coin was discovered with another gold coin, called a noble, near Reepham, Norfolk.

Finds liaison officer Helen Geake said the leopard was withdrawn within months of being minted in 1344 and “hardly any have survived”.

She said the coins were equivalent to £12,000 today and would have been owned by someone “at the top of society”.

The leopard – which has never been found with another coin – was discovered with a “rare” 1351-52 Edward III noble.

After the Norman Conquest, the only coins in circulation were silver pennies with the old Anglo-Saxon gold coins taken out of circulation. (To read the history of the penny check out my post)

“The royal treasury might talk in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, but the physical reality was sacks of silver pennies,” said Dr Geake.

“Then Edward III decided to reintroduce the first gold coins in England since the Anglo-Saxon era – and no-one knows why.”

Perhaps it was because with silver, if you had to purchase a large item like a farm animal or property then you’d have to physically carry around large sacks of silver coins with you.

The new gold coins, called a florin, a leopard and a helm, were minted in early 1344, but withdrawn within months. 

Dr Geake said: “For some reason they didn’t catch on, but when one or two pennies were the equivalent of a day’s wages at today’s minimum wage rate, perhaps very few people used them.”

They were replaced with the noble, worth six shillings and eight pence. 

The Reepham find shows the leopard, which was worth three shillings, was in circulation for much longer than previously thought.

Rare Leopard coin

Usually of course discontinued coins would be removed from circulation as quickly as possible but as this coin was found with another coin 6 or 7 years later it suggests perhaps that despite its over-valued rate against silver, the owner still saw much value in it during the terrible times of the Black Death which arrived in 1348.

It also perhaps shows that the government was unable to withdrawn these coins due to the general chaos and cataclysm of having a third of the population dying generally and even more in large cities like London.

The coins were found in October 2019. Their status as treasure is currently being decided by coroners.

For a post on some of the missing buried treasures you might want to read this. I have several other treasure posts including this one in London or indeed you can see my close encounter with a freshly excavated Roman shoe.

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Exploring the private gardens of Buckingham Palace

It was with something of a sense of awe and excitement that I entered the Buckingham Palace estate through the mews and stables and then as the trees and bushes opened up, the expanse of the lawn appeared and beyond that, Buckingham Palace itself.

A good play to learn to ride a horse if you’re a Royal!

It may surprise people from overseas but few have ever claimed that Buckingham Palace to be the most beautiful building, it was really never planned to be the high profile building it is today and the most prominent facade is possibly the least the impressive albeit it, looking more regal since the balcony was added. Otherwise it could be just a standard if large townhouse, its rather plain frontage almost fitting as a tradesman entrance. As such the private rear frontage to the rear wing of the Palace is always said to be the finest looking though it has to be said is far from the finest royal palace building even in London.

Emerging from the stables you can't help but happen upon Buckingham Palace
Emerging from the stables you can’t help but happen upon Buckingham Palace

Even though there was a long queue of people to get in at each allotted time slot due to many brining in picnics through security, the garden felt almost empty and very spacious the entire time.

Only a relatively small proportion of the gardens are open to the public, maybe 30-40% and this may be partly that they are so big, it would be very difficult to safeguard visitors and plants in the more remote areas of the gardens especially as some areas have quite natural and rough terrain. The garden like the Royal Parks nearby play a very important role for wildlife in London.

A very small part of the herbaceous border.

One of the stars of the garden is the 156 metre long (about 420 feet) herbaceous border which has if I remember anywhere near correctly has around 240 different species of plants.

As is the case when in one of the large Royal Parks, you barely realise you’re right in the centre of London at all. Occasionally you can hear the odd police siren in the distance but that’s about it. Also you can barely see any other buildings above the many trees of the garden with the exception of a 50 year old monstrosity of a hotel tower block in Park Lane.

In one corner of the garden, photography is forbidden as it is right underneath the Queens personal apartments in the palace but one can freely wander around there. Towards the edge of the lawn in that area are 5 tall and slender trees, perhaps Poplars. I spoke with one of the very friendly members of staff and asked if they were perhaps planted in memory of King George V. She liked my romantic musings much more than the reality and indeed my second guess, the trees were planted to obscure the view of the distant hotel from the windows that the Queen looks out from!

I had to get permission to take this photo, you can likely guess who lives just behind those trees.

I had a good talk to two or three staff there and it was fascinating, I was particularly interested in how much care and effort modern day planting and maintenance is focussed on the environment and caring for rare species of insects and the like.

One of the smaller trees amongst the 1,000+ you’ll find in the garden of Buckingham Palace.

A footpath winds round through a wooded section of the garden past two Plane trees, Victoria and Albert that were planted by the people the trees are named after and we see a summerhouse with an artistic corgi inside.

Woof!

Some parts of the gardens notably the Rose Garden, summer house and meadow in the south-west corner are off limits accept to those on a special tour but there was more than enough for us to see.

I must admit I felt rather naughty walking over the lawns of Buckingham Palace. Even the grasses are of a Victorian variety than aren’t ordinarily available any more. Lawns in Britain can be almost sacrosanct; even in the 1980’s if anyone strayed more than a few centimetres or inches of the footpath at my school then you’d be in detention and big trouble and you don’t have to go far to see discreet signs in many places to keep off the lawn. So walking across the lawn of the Queen was a little surreal to say the least.

Feeling naughty!

It was a lovely atmosphere though and lots of people were sat out with blankets and some with very fine wicker baskets with silver cutlery and fine bone china cups and saucers though many more were roughing it somewhat. Everyone was so polite and well-behaved and quiet, it reminds me a little of how life used to be when everyone was respectful of each other and their surroundings though it must be said that from what I could tell, only a certain type of visitor was present. If there was any riff-raff around then it was likely myself!

My forever home! – I’m glad I dressed reasonably smart for what I thought was just going to be a regular meet in London.

My friend and I decided to have tea on the terrace of Buckingham Palace (again I was treated) which afforded excellent views out over the garden and we were sat within touching distance of the place itself. A window was open 3 storeys above us, if The Queen had nothing else to do but listen to our conversation then she’d be hearing what a marvellous time we were having. It’s very possible that when life is hopefully back to normal again next year, the experience that we were having simply won’t happen again so given I had no idea I was even coming to the Palace an hour or two earlier, it was definitely a nice surprise.

A very fine spot to have a soya Hot Chocolate

As much as the Palace is gargantuan and the gardens are like heaven on earth, much of our enjoyment was down to the fact of where we were. Actually sat having tea likely where The Queen and Prince Philip had plenty of teas themselves. Perhaps King George VI sat here whilst preparing for the ‘Kings Speech’ in WW2. Did Queen Victoria herself sit here with Prince Albert as the children played out on the lawn? Perhaps none of these things ever happened but be that as it may, it didn’t hinder our enjoyment one bit.

Buckingham Palace – Up Close and Personal

We went to the shop near the mews and stables which was well stocked in all manner of things. I could have bought a lot but sadly being Excluded, my opportunity to contribute to the economy was practically non-existent so I got myself a fridge magnet, a small gardens book and a majestic blue Buckingham Palace bag which one day I will give to a tourist on a Royal London Walking Tour.

We could have stayed in the gardens all day and to be fair to us, we did stay in for nearly 5.5 hours. Every view of the garden was just sumptuous and the only reason not to dwell in a perfect spot was because a few seconds away was the promise of a totally different perfect spot.

The long and beautifully cared for route to the exit.

The walk from the furthest reach of the lawn to the exit is itself 7 or 8 minutes long even for quick walkers and it takes you past the lake from a different point of view and along the foot of some high, rough and tree covered high ground before appearing back in the 21st century not too far away from Hyde Park Corner.

If you enjoyed this post then you might like my book The Secret Gardens of the City of London which is based on my #1 rated tour Sacred Secret Sanctuary Gardens Walk.

Secret Gardens of the City of London Kindle Cover
Secret Gardens of the City of London Kindle Cover

I hope you enjoyed my posts on just a few of the highlights of Buckingham Palace gardens. The gardens are open to the public until early September 2021 but are largely sold out. It’s always worth checking the website however as my friend had been trying to get a ticket for months and two just randomly appeared whilst we were chatting.

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The private gardens of Buckingham Palace

Ever since the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992, the state rooms at Buckingham Palace have been open to visitors each summer but due to the continuing Covid epidemic they are understandably shut again this year.

As a way to no doubt recoup some revenue, it was decided that this summer the private gardens at the back of Buckingham Palace would be opened for a few weeks and of course they quickly sold out.

I wasn’t even planning on being in London last Saturday but by a series of fortuitous events I ended up with a free ticket that was graciously bought for me and do I was able to visit on only the second day in history that the gardens are open.

Buckingham Palace’s 39-acre garden fulfils many roles. It is The Queen’s private London garden, but it also plays a key part in the busy calendar of royal events. The most famous of these events are The Queen’s Garden Parties, which in an average year see around 24,000 guests from all walks of life welcomed into the garden each summer. For over 200 years the garden has been used by the Royal Family for official entertaining and celebratory events and the large lawn can even be used by helicopters to land on.

The garden have been described as ‘a walled oasis in the middle of London’, the garden is the largest private garden in the capital and boasts 325 wild-plant species, 30 species of breeding birds, and over 1,000 trees, including 98 plane trees and 85 different species of oak. 

The central feature of the garden is the lake, created in the 19th century and originally fed from the overflow from the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Today it is a self-regulating eco-system fed from the Buckingham Palace bore hole. A ‘long-grass policy’ has encouraged the natural lakeside environment to flourish, and the area is now a favourite nesting site for a variety of water birds. The garden provides a habitat for native birds rarely seen in London, including the common sandpiper, sedge warbler and lesser whitethroat.

In 1608 James I established a plantation of mulberries for the rearing of silkworms on the site under royal patronage. Unfortunately the wrong type of mulberry bush was chosen and the scheme came to nothing. The garden is now home to 45 different types of mulberry trees, and since 2000 it has held the National Collection of Mulberries.

During the first half of the 18th century, Buckingham House, the London home of the Duke of Buckingham, occupied the position where the Palace now stands. The house with its surrounding land came into royal ownership in 1761, when it was bought by George III as a private residence. During the reign of George III and his consort, Queen Charlotte, the garden was home to a collection of exotic animals, including an elephant and one of the first zebras seen in England.

The design of the garden as seen today dates back to George IV’s conversion of Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace from 1825. The new royal residence needed a suitably private garden, and George IV appointed William Townsend Aiton, who was in charge of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, to oversee the remodelling of the grounds. By this date the taste for very formal gardens had been replaced by a desire for more naturalistic landscaping, inspired by the work of Capability Brown and Humphry Repton. Aiton’s main alterations were the creation of the lake and the construction of the Mound, an artificial high bank on the south side to screen the Palace from the Royal Mews.

Like the Palace itself, the garden has undergone changes over the years. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) chose to clear many of the dense Victorian shrubberies and introduced a wide selection of decorative flowering trees and scented shrubs. 

A number of commemorative specimens planted by members of the Royal Family are identified by plaques recording the occasion, including birthdays, wedding anniversaries and jubilees. The plantings are constantly added to by today’s team of gardeners, to introduce new areas of interest and to enhance the historic landscaping. 

I was going to make this a giant Buckingham Palace gardens post but I’ve not been very well recently so I will write about my experiences with some more photos on Monday!

Posted in Architecture, history, Life, London, Travel | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Interview with Life’s A Show Writer & Director – Harvey Puttock

Last week I posted a short review and link to the comedy short Life’s a Show which I was fortunate enough to be given a preview too.

Afterwards I got to chat to writer and director Harvey Puttock about the film.

If you didn’t get the chance to see the film, you can do so on this link until the 14th July 2021 as part of the Monthly Indies Short Competition. If you read this post after this date, don’t worry as it will be appearing at other festival and be released to the public shortly thereafter.

For now, on with the show!

Life’s A Show

1. Is there some aspect of yourself or indeed in Jon in the character of Matt?

At his very core Matt is just looking for someone to validate and notice him, which is something I think a lot of us can relate to. I think there’s a bit of Matt in all of us. Obviously he takes this to lengths a bit more extreme than most people would!

2.  Do you think that those in the creative arts aside from the income side of things, have generally felt lost and missed out on the feedback and indeed adulation of live audiences these last 18 months?

Yeah for sure, the arts are built on people coming together to be entertained, distracted, educated, provoked and connected, and so without audiences and live interaction there’s been a big part of that process missing. That said, I think artists and creatives have been finding creative ways to adapt to lockdowns and reach audiences by bringing people together in new ways.

3.  Did the Social Distancing rules make it difficult to conceive of the story and indeed produce  LIFE’S A SHOW or did you specifically write LIFE’S A SHOW because you thought it would be a manageable project with all the safety restrictions in place?

Life’s a Show was conceived specifically as a short we could pull off with social distancing and all the Covid-19 guidelines. I wrote it so that the main bulk of it (all the scenes with Matt) could be shot in one day. Then the audience parts were filmed as a mixture of video calls and sending the actors a rough cut which they reacted to whilst filming.

4. LIFE’S A SHOW is generally a very light-hearted and funny story but given the situation, it could have been very easy to write something very dark. Did you consciously set out to make people laugh and get away from their worries?

I definitely set out with the goal of making something fun, there’s already plenty of things that have come out of the pandemic exploring the darker side. I also intentionally never mention coronavirus or lockdown during the film; it’s very clearly a product of it, but I didn’t want to limit the film to being only a response to Covid.

5.  The characters LIFE’S A SHOW are quite resourceful and adaptive to make Matt’s production a success.  Did you and the others involved have to be particularly resourceful and pull strings to get LIFE’S A SHOW made?

I started writing the short about halfway through 2020 with the goal to at least begin shooting it by the end of the year. By the time we got to shooting it, it was December and the tier system was slowly being introduced. This meant we had a very limited window to film in and due to the rule of six everyone on set had to adapt and juggle a few different roles. We didn’t have a lot of budget to play with either so called in favours to borrow equipment and find a location to film at. 

6. Do you think that the Covid pandemic and resulting lockdowns will lead to something of a boom period for Indie films given the complicated logistics & finances involved in making big production and indeed problems with getting large audiences in cinemas to watch them?

I keep seeing people mention that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic/plague so there must be some truth to art booming in difficult times! I think it’s certainly a difficult time for indie films but with the introduction of on-set testing and other protocols we’re hopefully through the worst of it. Most people I know seem to be itching to get back to the cinema so I think once it’s safe to have larger audiences cinemas won’t struggle to find them.

7. I myself am one of the 3 million ExcludedUK group who’ve had no support from the government during the pandemic. Whilst its well known that various theatres and large institutions have received at times quite generous support, do you think more needs to be done to support the individuals involved in making tv shows, films and theatre?

Whilst some larger productions were lucky enough to fit within furlough schemes and be eligible for support, a lot of the film industry relies on freelancers who have slipped through the cracks. There definitely should have been more support for the theatre and tv/film industry but arts and culture often seems like an afterthought for the government.

8. What do you think Matt would have said in his monologue if he hadn’t been cut off?

The monologue is Matt reaching the (somewhat misguided) realisation that the more people paying attention to him, the more his life has a purpose so I think it would have led to him looking for ways to reach more people. A joke I originally wanted to have in the film (but was ultimately cut due to time and resources) was him hiring musicians to also join the video calls to score his life.

9. I hope LIFE’S A SHOW is a big success; do you have any other projects that you’re working on that we can keep an eye open for?

Thank you, I’m mostly focussed on the festival run for Life’s a Show at the moment but have started planning out another comedy short film. It will have to wait until covid restrictions relax however as it’s set at a party!

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Excluded Unity marching on Parliament and remembering the suicides caused by the government towards the 3 million Excluded community

Anyone who reads my blog knows that for the last 18 months, I’ve gone the entire pandemic with absolutely zero support. I’ve been on national and international TV, radio, newspapers. Been debated in Parliament and written a best-selling book and that doesn’t even come close to covering it all.

Apart from the government discrimination and by and large a total lack of interest from the general public at large (mainly as they have all been very well supported), it’s been hard to physically protest given the whole virus situation and the fact gatherings of people have for long periods been illegal…. how convenient! Though we did as ExcludedUK manage to squeeze in a protest 9 or so months ago.

Having been ignored countless times by my MP and indeed man in government responsible for helping my job-industry, a person who I’ve heard described as Chocolate Teapot Oliver Dowden I was happy and proud to be invited to take part in this new event by ExcludedUnity, the first of several planned direct, physical protests across the country.

There were journalists and tv crews around and though I more than did my bit, it was a big team effort in which I am just a tiny if impassioned, eloquent cog.

Here are a few photos from the day. You’ll note the total lack of interest from any government minister, including my own even though I messaged him repeatedly. Another MP told me he probably holds me in total contempt and can’t be bothered to lift a finger to help…. surely not!!!

Obviously if the government was correct that all have been well looked after and life was back to normal then none of us would have the time or motivation to travel across the country to protest. 16 months or so after Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised that no-one will be left behind or without hope, I will leave it for you to decide having read my blog for over a year whether he is a liar or I am though surely a quick look at the photos will show an absolute total lack of tourists. An average person might wonder how I am surviving or maybe a tour guide with no tourists might need help but apparently not Oliver Dowden or the government.

You can click on the photos below for a better view

It was a great event to be a part of and like with survivors of all disasters and traumas, the only people who can really know what it has been like others like yourself who have lived through it too. I can safely say I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t been Excluded who has more than the vaguest idea of what it is like and most don’t even care anyway.

It does seem strange though for a country and government famed across the world for being into small business and individuals to treat 3 million of the hardest working and most talented people like this. We have always been labelled the ;Backbone of Britain’. They wanted adulation, they’ve got enemies. They wanted patriots, they have revolutionaries.

If you’re interested in the plight of people like myself who are now nearing 18 months (in my case at 18 months) without any help whatsoever from the government then do look at my best-selling £xcluded Voices book.

If you clock on the link above you can see the official Press Release from Excluded Unity Alliance or download it to your computer. I’ve also copied below just a few key moments from just some of our guest speakers.

Esther McVey MP, Conservative

“People cannot live on fresh air, people cannot go on not knowing what is happening to them. You have to pay to exist day to day, week to week and the people here for such a prolonged period of time have had no support and it’s not just the financial drain, it is the emotional drain, it is the physical health drain that has affected so many people.”

Ian Blackford MP, SNP

“By god, what a bunch of tyrant people. It is the lack of humanity, it’s the lack of compassion, and I make no apology that a few months ago that I said in Parliament that a number of people had committed suicide. That’s a very emotive thing to say and I knew that elements of the press would come after me but we needed to bring home to the Government the scale of the human cost, what this was doing to people, what this was doing to families, what this was doing to relationships, what this was doing to people’s mental and physical health. And in a time of need, the Government, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor simply walked away from their obligations.

“I am still so angry that the opportunity was right there at the start and has remained all the way through the crisis, that could have dealt with and this has not been taken up”.

“What is a Government if it isn’t there to support people? Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak have an awful lot to learn.”

Jonathan Banks, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesman

“The mantra from the Treasury and Government was that ‘no- one would be left behind’. They were. In large numbers. A complete disaster this Government should, and almost certainly did forsee.”

“3.8 million people deserve proper answers. The time for that is now, 16 months from Mr Sunak’s proclamation. To be incredibly clear the Government have NOT done what they promised to do.”

Paula Barker MP, Labour

“So I joined the APPG, I signed letters, I’ve done social media, I’ve had meetings with my constituents, and this fight and my solidarity will continue until you get the justice that you so rightly deserve. Your fight of being excluded will not be forgotten.”

“Life is so incredibly precious and no one should feel so lost because the system has failed to provide adequate support”.

“I do make this promise to you today, I will continue to ask questions of the Government, I will take whatever action I can to ensure that your voices are heard and this grave injustice is rectified. You have my unwavering support and solidarity.”

Brian Donaldson, Excluded NI

“I don’t see why there is any reasonable reason other than Rishi Sunak cannot admit fault. He seems to be saving face rather than delivering for the people who have elected him. At the end of the day, he is elected by the people to serve the people and he is failing every single one of us”.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Leader, DUP

“The most important thing in our country today is not the economy, it is the people. The first duty of a Prime Minister is the security of the people, their safety, their protection, that’s our first responsibility. We’re elected by the people, it’s supposed to be government of the people, for the people, by the people. We’re your representatives, we’re your delegates, you delegate us to represent you and therefore I think that the Government must invest in the human capital of this nation”.

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Life’s a show – Film Review

One of the nice things about doing my blog for this long is that I often get invited to review films. I can’t accept every offer so pick those which I think might be fun or interesting and recently one such film came up that caught my attention.

We’ve all had times where we feel our life lacks direction, perhaps never more so than during this interminable Covid pandemic but imagine how it feels if you’re a performer and suddenly not only have you got no-one to perform to but no direction with what to do with your life?

Life’s a Show is a distinctly British quirky short from writer and director Harvey Puttock and goes to show what might happen when someone goes from feeling directionless to the other extreme.

It stars Matt who is played by Jon Tarcy who some may know from the popular television show Outlander. Matt is an actor who finds that his upcoming play is cancelled due to lockdown. Matt obviously finds his life more than a little empty and hires an actual director (convincingly played by Dusan Mrden) to direct his everyday life right down to how long she should spend at the toilet!

There’s a feeling that the director is getting a bit power hungry and Matt still feels like something is missing and that is when a new director takes over with that one crucial missing element, some adoring luvvies who devour and applaud his every move through streaming video.

I found Life’s a Show to be an incredibly creative film which takes a quirky look at how many of us have felt living in isolation this last year or more. It has some very clever moments that transpire as a result of living your life on film and had several funny moments. When Matt was told by his director to cross the street and be rather rude to a passerby, the cut back to the director had me laughing out loud.

The mix of traditional filming mixed with Zoom was a great way to bring a new and contemporary look to the film and bring in Matt’s audience in a clever way that also proves vital to the story.

Second Director (Lucy Hilton-Jones) is great and whilst a complete contrast to the first director both of them in their own ways are exactly like some of the people one might meet in and around the West End. While Dusan Mrden plays a director who is an absolute perfectionist who relishes his authority, Lucy’s character is there to massage Matt’s ego and encourage the adulation of the audience which clearly Matt has been missing.

The use of Zoom is very clever and it says a lot about the actors that they managed to come across so well ‘on-screen’ without any face to face interaction with Matt and at all times the gentle comedy is mixed with real-life issues, right down to network connection failures.

Finally how can I not mention the performance of Jon Tarcy as Matt? There is a lot of subtlety going on here and Matt comes over as a very likeable character and he really is the star. Having watched Life’s a Show several times in the last few weeks, I find his portrayal spot on and I find often find myself thinking of Matt. What more can you want from a short Indie film?

If you click on the link below then you can watch Life’s a Show in its entirety as part of a film festival until July 14th 2021 after which it will be taken off line until the summer film festival season is over and then it will be available to the wider public. It’s a fun way to spend 11 minutes so have a watch and either rate the film on the site or leave a comment below.

http://monthlyindieshorts.com/lifes-a-show/

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Lottie Dod – The Victorian Wimbledon lady tennis star who even beat the men!

With the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships in full-swing, we’re often reminded of some of the great players past and present. Whilst the media like to concentrate on current or recently retired players, there is at least one lady player who could even make recent greats like Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova look rather ordinary. What ever happens these two weeks it is unlikely that anyone will make as big a splash as Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Dod who won her first Wimbledon in Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year of 1887 — aged just 15.

The following year she won again and, perhaps fuelled by success, came up with a rather astonishing idea. Eighty-five years before tennis’s most famous battle of the sexes, which saw Billie Jean King defeat ageing U.S. legend Bobby Riggs in 1973, Lottie challenged the three best male players of her era and they accepted the challenge, confident of winning with the minimum of fuss.

As Lottie recalled, this was an era when it was said ‘no lady could understand tennis scoring’, and women had waited until 1884 — seven years after the first men’s Wimbledon contest — for the ladies’ championships to start. One newspaper said their best chances lay in flirting with the umpires so their sporting flaws would be overlooked.

This did not sit well with the ‘Little Wonder’, as Lottie became known. She refused to accept women’s inferiority.

Despite one commentator’s opinion that women’s rallies were usually so tedious spectators could ‘take a country walk after one began and get back in time to see the end of it’, Lottie left her opponents in tatters.

She served underarm, as was customary for ladies, but — a power player decades before it became the norm — she did so with such speed and so low over the net that she changed the pace of the female game for ever.

In August 1888, Lottie faced the first of her three male opponents, 26-year-old Ernest Renshaw.

He had won four Wimbledon doubles titles — he won a fifth the following year — and had just become men’s singles champion for the first time. Yet Lottie appeared self-confident as ever.

Tall and muscular, with blue-grey eyes and chestnut-brown hair bunched under her signature cricket cap, Lottie exuded what one commentator described as ‘a coolness that made it almost impossible for her opponents to unnerve her’.

While Renshaw sported comfortable flannel trousers, Lottie was, as modesty required, dressed in an ankle-length white dress, with sleeves down to her wrists, a high neckline and a constricting corset underneath.

Many years later she reflected that ‘it was difficult to run backward to volley a high ball as one feared treading on one’s skirt,’ and her clunky leather shoes made things no easier.

Wary of appearing ungentlemanly, the men had agreed to play Lottie only if she started each game with a 30-0 advantage.

Accepting this condition, she set to work, crushing Renshaw 6-2 in the first set.

Renshaw swiftly realised ‘he had no ordinary lady opponent and from that moment every stroke was keenly contested, both players doing their utmost to gain the victory’, one newspaper correspondent recalled.

Taking the following two sets 7-5, Renshaw eventually won — but only just. Indeed, the next two hard-fought matches against male star players were to be different. First, Lottie trounced Scottish champion Harry Grove, who was nine years her senior, comfortably beating him 1-6, 6-0, 6-4.

Then four days later, she faced Renshaw’s twin William, a six-time Wimbledon singles champion. And, to the delight and astonishment of the crowd, she demolished him, too (6-2, 6-4).

This was by no means the pinnacle of her career, however.

In her short time on the women’s circuit she won an extraordinary 41 singles tournaments, and 20 more in doubles — as near to perfection as any record in the long annals of lawn tennis.

But in 1893 she made a most unexpected decision.

Just 21 and despite winning her fifth Wimbledon title that year, Lottie quit competitive tennis, slipping away from the sporting world that she had dominated.

Though you wouldn’t have guessed it, she had become increasingly hobbled by sciatica which sometimes put her out of commission for months at a time.

But, setting her eyes on bigger targets, her absence from the public eye didn’t last long.

And, certainly, Lottie was tailor-made for stardom.

She’d learned to play tennis on courts built by her parents, Margaret and Joseph (who had made his fortune in the cotton trade), at their sprawling country estate at Bebington on the Wirral peninsula in Cheshire.

The youngest of four remarkably accomplished children, one of whom won Olympic gold for archery and another who enjoyed playing chess blindfolded, she was only 11 years old when she won her first doubles prize with her third sibling, Ann.

So, aged 21 and having exhausted the world of tennis, she went on to perform at an international level in a dizzying array of other disciplines, confounding critics of female sport and her fans alike.

One vociferous opponent of women in sport was International Olympic Committee chairman Pierre de Coubertin, who believed that women could only ever serve as sources of titillation, while medical experts at the time argued that too much strenuous exercise could ‘turn’ women into lesbians or damage their wombs, leaving them unable to bear children.

But Lottie felt there was no greater bastion of prejudice than Switzerland’s St Moritz Tobogganing Club, which frowned on women racing the incredibly dangerous Cresta Run because of ludicrous worries that their petticoats would get tangled in the equipment.

So, petticoats be damned, Lottie decided, and in the winter of 1896 she was the first woman to complete the run, hurtling downhill at speeds of 70mph — at a time when trains only reached 60mph — to become the fastest woman on earth.

Never content, that same winter Lottie also trained to become a figure skater, holding her own with the best men of the era, before taking up mountaineering the following year.

Lottie Dod taking the skating test at St. Moritz.  Beyond sport, her vigour for new challenges never ceased and after volunteering as a nurse during World War I

Next, she turned to hockey. And after playing forward for England in 1899, she became an expert horsewoman and rower and then — if that wasn’t enough — in 1904, she even triumphed as the British national ladies’ golf champion.

And after playing forward for England in 1899, she became an expert horsewoman and rower and then ¿ if that wasn¿t enough ¿ in 1904, she even triumphed as the British national ladies¿ golf champion+4

Her final sporting hurrah was winning silver in women’s archer at the 1908 Olympics in London, one of only 44 women taking part alongside some 2,000 men — and the same Games where her brother William won his gold in the men’s archery event.

Her final sporting hurrah was winning silver in women¿s archer at the 1908 Olympics in London

Neither ever married, their obsession with sports leaving little time for relationships, even if Lottie’s sciatica meant that, as she approached her 40s, she was increasingly a spectator rather than a participant.

Beyond sport, her vigour for new challenges never ceased and after volunteering as a nurse during World War I she taught music and singing to impoverished children in London’s East End — both skills she had also somehow found time to learn.

And in 1927, as a member of a renowned choir, she serenaded King George V and Queen Mary in a private chapel at Buckingham Palace.

Between all this she kept up her annual visits to Wimbledon — during which she gave trenchant criticism of the new generation of tennis stars. By the late 1920s, she wrote to the editor of The Times bemoaning ‘ill-mannered’ modern players who had the temerity to try ‘taking the umpiring into their own hands’.

O there trends were more welcome, though. In her heyday she had questioned how women players ‘can ever hope to play a sound game when their dresses impede the free movement of every limb’.

By the 1950s, hemlines were rising but these changes came too late for Lottie — then an old lady and, after William’s death in 1954, living alone in the flat they had shared in Earl’s Court, West London.

When she could no longer travel to Wimbledon each June, she still sat alone in her flat religiously following the action on the wireless.

It was a ritual which continued even after she’d moved to a Hampshire nursing home, where she died aged 88 on June 27, 1960, while listening to commentary from that year’s Wimbledon fortnight.

Miss Lottie Dod, tennis player, and winner of the women's singles title in 1887 Lottie Dod – Victorian teenage sporting sensation and Wimbledon Tennis Champion extrodinaire.

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A swan-song moment of glory for Tilbury Fortress

I thought I would finish my little run of Tilbury Fort related posts but recalling its last great moments and some might say greatest of all, the night it shot down a Zeppelin in WW1.

The Zeppelin was invented by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. It was a rigid dirigible and he patented his idea in 1893 following a hot air balloon flight a few years later with the first commercial flight was in 1910.

Zeppelins were first used as a weapon in May 1915. Crossing the North Sea and flying up the River Thames they put fear in the hearts of all. London was bombed for the first time on 31 May 1915. Raids over London killed 557 people and injured 1,358. Whilst coastal towns especially in north-east England had been targeted by the German Navy at the start of the war, the zeppelins brought the war to the home-front in London for the first time.

The British public at this time were under the impression that the Zeppelins were indestructible delivering their bombs and incendiary devices and that aeroplanes could not fly as high as the hydrogen filled dirigibles.

The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Christopher Wakefield, in an effort to bolster morale, offered a reward of £500 for the first person or persons to shoot down a Zeppelin over mainland Britain.

On the night of 31st March 1916 Zeppelin L15 was under the command of Kapitanleutnant Joachim Breithaupt. Zeppelin L15 had been commissioned on 12 September 1915 and was 536 feet 5 inches. long and 61 feet 4 inches in diameter. The hydrogen bag was made up of separate cells.

It was a perfect night for an attack the clear almost cloudless sky and lack of wind over England was ideal. L15, one of a group of five Zeppelins, crossed the North Sea and made its way up the Thames towards London where it was due to unload its cargo of bombs and incendiaries.

As the Zeppelin approached the alarm went up. Factories flashed their internal lights three times going out on the third flash to warn their employees of the impending attack and allow them to move to safety.

Black out regulations were in force. Searchlights came on criss crossing the sky in search of the menace from the air. Kapitanleutnant Breithaupt dropped his bombs at random, over Essex.

Suddenly he became aware of an aeroplane above him. Its machine guns opened fire and explosive darts were dropped onto the Zeppelin. The damaged L15 began to make for the coast.

It was 9.45pm and Captain John Harris was in charge of the guns defending the powder magazines at Tilbury. He was ill and in bed on doctor’s orders but on hearing the alarm he wrapped a blanket round his shoulders and went to his post.

Seeing L15 the gunners opened fire even before it was caught in the cross beams of the searchlights. Caught in the lights L15 was hit. Despite it trying to manoeuvre away the gunners hit the Zeppelin a number of times.

The hits caused several leaks in the hydrogen bag. The gas escaped rendering the airship difficult if not impossible to fly and the metal framework of L15 buckled under the additional strain.

A Zeppelin that has been shot down in WW1

It nosedived into the sea off Margate. All except one crew member survived and were rescued. The only one not to survive was Signaller Albrecht who had stayed behind to try to destroy the remains of L15. The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Vulture tried to tow the remains ashore but they broke up and sank.

Back at Tilbury the gunners knew they had hit the Zeppelin and a huge cheer went up.
For days afterwards anyone who visited the area would be shown with great pride the gun that brought down L15.

Captain Harris wrote to the Lord Mayor asking for the reward of £500 for his men for bringing down the first Zeppelin over mainland Britain.

It was decided, however, that as the gunners were soldiers they were not eligible but it was agreed that the £500 could be used to produce gold medals for each man involved in the shooting down of L15. The gold medal had the name of the recipient on it.


For more related WW1 histories why not check out my WW1 book which was published a few years ago but is happily still totally up to date! Lest We Forget: A Concise History of WW1

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