Little me!

Whilst recovering from nearly being killed under a train and whilst unpacking the seemingly endless number of boxes having just moved house I came across this old photo of me.

It’s not quite the oldest photo but definitely up there when I was around 2.5-3 years old in the mid-late 1970’s. Back then I had very blonde hair and was even cuter than I am now!

For some reason I have a good memory of lots of little events just 2-3 years after I was born and this is one of them.  I remember everyone trying to repeatedly catch my eye to get a particular reaction out of me.

I’m wearing a brightly coloured knitted cardigan which my Grandma would have made as she was a prolific knitter.

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I thought a few people might be interested to see who I am or was seeing as I rarely post images of myself.

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War-Time Panic And The British Pet Massacre Of 1939.

There are many things that Britons have been labelled.  Napoleon said we were a nation of shopkeepers, he likely meant it as an insult.  We’re also famously a nation of gardeners and compared to most others, animal lovers.  Perhaps it is that other trait of supporting the underdog as there aren’t many things that are more of an underdog than animals, or more dog than err dog.

One of the things that the U.K. brought to the European Union was an improvement in animal welfare standards and it has been in the news recently that being no longer bound by EU regulations we will be able to ban the export of live animals, something that would be illegal until now.

Things weren’t quite as rosy in 1939 and in the early day of World War II a government pamphlet led to a massive cull of British pets. As many as 750,000 British pets were killed in just one week as the result of a public information campaign that caused an extraordinary reaction among anxious Britons.

In the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of war, the National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) was formed. It drafted a notice – Advice to Animal Owners.The pamphlet said: “If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency.” It concluded: “If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed.”

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The advice was printed in almost every newspaper and announced on the BBC. It was “a national tragedy in the making”.

Author Clare Campbell who wrote a great book by the title  Bonzo’s War: Animals Under Fire 1939 -1945 recalls a story about her uncle. “Shortly after the invasion of Poland, it was announced on the radio that there might be a shortage of food. My uncle announced that the family pet Paddy would have to be destroyed the next day.”

After war was declared on 3 September 1939, pet owners thronged to vets’ surgeries and animal homes.  Animal charities, the PDSA, the RSPCA and vets were all opposed to the killing of pets and very concerned about people just dumping animals on their doorsteps at the start of the war.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home opened its doors in 1860 and survived both wars. “Many people contacted us after the outbreak of war to ask us to euthanise their pets – either because they were going off to war, they were bombed, or they could no longer afford to keep them during rationing,” a spokesman says.

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“Battersea actually advised against taking such drastic measures and our then manager Edward Healey-Tutt wrote to people asking them not to be too hasty.”

In the first few days of war, PDSA hospitals and dispensaries were overwhelmed by owners bringing their pets for destruction. PDSA founder Maria Dickin reported: “Our technical officers called upon to perform this unhappy duty will never forget the tragedy of those days.”

In Memoriam notices started to appear in the press. “Happy memories of Iola, sweet faithful friend, given sleep September 4th 1939, to be saved suffering during the war. A short but happy life – 2 years, 12 weeks. Forgive us little pal,” said one in Tail-Wagger Magazine.

The first bombing of London in September 1940 prompted more pet owners to rush to have their pets destroyed. Many people panicked, but others tried to restore calm. “Putting your pets to sleep is a very tragic decision. Do not take it before it is absolutely necessary,” urged Susan Day in the Daily Mirror.

Sadly perhaps,  the government pamphlet had sowed a powerful seed. People were basically told to kill their pets and they did. They killed 750,000 of them in the space of a week – it was a real tragedy, a complete disaster.

It was just another way of signifying that war had begun. Society became almost entirely militarised and devoted to the war-effort and Britain in WW2 remains the society that devoted more of its people and resources than any other nation in any war before or since.  It was one of things people had to do when the news came; evacuate the children, put up the blackout curtains, kill the pet.

It was the lack of food, not bombs, that posed the biggest threat to wartime pets. There was no food ration for cats and dogs.  As war approached, families increasingly worried about feeding their animals and its understandable given how little food there was for humans.

Of course many owners refused to slaughter their beloved family pet and were able to make do. Pauline Caton was just five years old at the time and lived in Dagenham. She remembers “queuing up with the family at Blacks Market in Barking to buy horsemeat to feed the family cat”.

There are many wonderful though copyrighted photos of rescuers going through the rubble of buildings to find dogs when logically speaking it wouldn’t have been the best use of resources. There were just four staff at Battersea, the home managed to feed and care for 145,000 dogs during the course of the war which must have taken extraordinary levels of dedication.

In the middle of the pet-culling mayhem, some people tried desperately to intervene. The Duchess of Hamilton – both wealthy and a cat lover – rushed from Scotland to London with her own statement to be broadcast on the BBC.

“Homes in the country urgently required for those dogs and cats which must otherwise be left behind to starve to death or be shot.” Being a duchess she had a bit of money and established an animal sanctuary.  The “sanctuary” was a heated aerodrome in Ferne. The Duchess sent her staff out to rescue pets from the East End of London. Hundreds and hundreds of animals were taken back initially to her home in St John’s Wood. She apologised to the neighbours who complained about the barking.

But at a time of imminent invasion and the nightly coming raids brought such uncertainty, many pet owners were swayed by the worst-case scenario.  People were worried about the threat of bombing and food shortages, and felt it inappropriate to have the ‘luxury’ of a pet during wartime.

The Royal Army Veterinary Corps and the RSPCA tried to stop this, particularly as dogs were needed for the war effort.

Given the unimaginable human suffering that followed over the six years of the war, it is perhaps understandable that the extraordinary cull of pets is not better known but the episode was just another unwanted sadness to people panicked and fearful at the start of hostilities.

It’s a story that is almost unknown because it’s one that is both so sad and also in some ways understandable.  No-one wants to think that so many people did this, even if they thought it was for the best.   Few heroic war-time tales would sound so good if the first chapter was about killing your beloved pet.

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I’ve moved house!

Finally after 5 months of waiting, packing, terrible fake buyers and much more efficient serious buyers, I moved house on the 31st January.

It all went incredibly well and I was ever so glad to move out as I was beginning to think I never would.   I moved with 104 packing boxes and am now down to about 30 though perhaps the final 30 will be harder the first 74 given that I have no more obvious places to put belongings until some new furniture arrives.

My new house dates from around 1840-1850 I would think and is very solidly built and very cute and quaint I am sure to people from overseas; almost exactly what one might expect of a modest old house except perhaps for a smaller front garden and maybe a little smaller than many old houses.  This of course adds to the cuteness factor.

Not too much needs to be done to the house; I am having a new bathroom put in and I’m going to reverse what previous owners did and unblock the fireplace so I can have a real burning fire.  I never understand why with all the types of homes you can get in Britain, one would choose an old house and then block up the fireplace!  Aside from working on the garden and staircase and some minor decorating and electrics work, there isn’t too much work to be done.  With the exception of electricity, running water and things of that nature, the house retains its original features and quirks.

I currently don’t have a sofa or armchair but have ordered some; they won’t be arriving until April however. I’ve opted for an electrically reclining arm chair just incase Joey from Friends happens to be popping by.

The back garden is large and I can’t see any other houses from it.  The street is quiet and peaceful along with the neighbours and there are lots of woods and common land nearby and just as much history to explore from before Roman times up to the modern day.  I’m just over the border from London by a few hundred metres/yards and this spot is the highest in London, my home standing around 505 feet /154 metres above sea level.

Whilst out last week I took a photo of this border stone which marks the traditional border between the county of Hertfordshire and that of Middlesex which for all intents and purposes is now Greater London.

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There is a nice village atmosphere with local pubs, restaurants, bakers, butchers and everything else one needs.  I can hear church bells from inside my house and just today had a quick drink in The Three Crowns where in the 1980’s George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley founded the mega-successful band Wham and in centuries past was a reputed haunt of the legendary highwayman Dick Turpin.

 

 

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Mind The Gap – Someone pushed me under a London Underground Train!

If not your worst nightmare, it’s probably one that ranks near the very top of the worst nightmare list but on Friday morning, I got pushed and fell down the gap between a London Underground tube train and the platform.

I’d picked up my lovely tourists at the Grosvenor in Victoria and was on a packed out tube train (though barely worse than any other) sand I had my behind against the back doors. It was cosy but the doors closed first time and I’ve certainly been in more uncomfortable positions and in more crowded train carriages.

The first stop was St James, which is probably the quietest underground station in central London and certainly in the poshest area with you might think to be amongst the most civilised transport users.

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A fast moving London Underground train

The doors were just opening, and as usual, no one was on the platform wanting to get on the train and no-one wanting to get off except for one particular idiot man who was in the seating area and who either left it too late or was just an idiot started shouting that people should get off the train before others get on…. he was so far away he didn’t see there was no one getting on and he had a surly attitude that immediately had everyone looking at him.

He just ploughed his way through the people as if they were inanimate objects and possibly even whilst wearing a satchel over his shoulder which is another definite commuter no-no.

I made sure my tourists were safe and out of the way in the corner and was about to step off onto the platform to give the lout some space when he pushed the people in front of me/me and my right leg fell straight down the gap between the platform and train and as I was facing backwards-sideways, most of the rest of me fell onto the platform and my right leg was caught between the stone platform and the undercarriage of the train and got wedged or stuck at exactly an angle that a leg isn’t meant to bend.

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MIND THE GAP

The idiot pushed a number of other people off onto the platform too, over me. I was right at the very back carriage away from the driver and it being St James and so quiet, there were no platform staff. Fortunately two or three men grabbed both my arms and hauled me onto the platform and I helped myself too being aware in about 15 seconds I was about to be cut in half or at least three quarters and was hugely lucky not to have fallen totally out of view and onto the super high voltage rail.

The helpers asked if I was ok as I lay on my side and I said I was (I was alive) and I said I’d like to see the idiot who barged through. He being the one person not to help simply said he hadn’t barged through and made off down the platform as all the commuters off and on the train seemed to think it was entirely his fault and were badmouthing him in a polite English sort of way.

Given that I was working, it didn’t seem appropriate to call the police at the time so I hobbled back into the carriage to the astonishment of my tourists with the doors closing right behind me.  A rather nice lady chatted to me for 10 minutes and was kind enough to help me as I checked to see how badly my leg was bleeding.   Surprisingly there were just slight abrasions though it hurt incredibly.

I then had a 5 hour walking tour to give and even by the time we got off the tube my leg was swollen and bruised.   To be fair my tourists said to quit at any time but as they were a referral so I didn’t want to let them down or the original tourist from 3 years ago,  Though understanding, I now I would be a bit unhappy if my only day in London was sabotaged by a random stranger trying to kill my guide.

My lovely tourists thoroughly enjoyed their tour and we all joked about how next time they would push me harder and how this photo would be the last where Stephen had both his legs.    It hurt a lot all the way round though honestly, I’ve had worst and would recommend it over a chest infection any day of the week. It hurt more going up and down stairs and if they weren’t such nice people I would have probably sneaked off after a few hours.

By mutual consent though I think mostly by their possibly not 100% truthful assertion that they needed to end and find someplace to eat we finish 4.5 hours later.  Maybe they thought if they didn’t stop then I never would.  So then I hobbled over to St Barts Hospital,  which we’d actually walked right by about 2.5 hours earlier!

I was seen very promptly by a nurse who got in a doctor to double check things. I went back into the waiting room to wait for the results and just at the moment, I got dizzy, hot, and began not to see anything at all.  Apparently I was falling into shock which as exasperated by the pain though I actually thought it was possibly the end as several high profile incidents have been publicised in recent years where an apparently innocuous bump on the head has left to bleeding on the brain and an unavoidable death a few hours later.  In fact I even sent 2 or 3  emergency goodbye texts before staggering back into the medical room and slumped onto a chair.

They took my blood pressure which was very low and I heard them saying I was in shock.  I was in the hospital for over 2 hours being treated and observed and when I was feeling better I even gave one doctor a guided historical tour of his hospital from the treatment room.

Brock Lesnar wins!

Brock Lesnar who carried on wrestling with a broken neck without even realising it.

I have a variety of relatively minor injuries, massive swellings, bruises and I felt a weak comparison to Brock Lesnar who carried on wrestling with a broken leg… there can’t be many guides who would carry on walking for 5 hours with a minor fracture, bruised bones and who knows what else.

My tourists texted me late that night and they had hugely enjoyed their tour and thought I should be knighted!   As one of my most famous tour subjects once said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat“.

I have reported the incident to the police and as every train and platform has many security cameras hopefully the culprit will be apprehended.

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Crop Circles, Tornados and Aliens oh my!

Last week I was looking for a neolithic burial tomb and some ancient stones on Googlemaps.  There are thousands of such places but most people only seem to know of Stonehenge.

Whilst I was looking for my tomb and amongst various other prehistoric works, I saw something that screamed to get my attention from space.  A crop-circle but not just any crop-circle.

Reports of the circular designs date back centuries but the recent wave of them go back to Wiltshire started in the 1970s,  It should be remembered and it is likely no coincidence that Wiltshire also houses Stonehenge and the more extensive Avebury Stone Circle along with burial mounds, barrows, ancient roads and lay-lines and all sorts of other things going on in this quiet and rural county.

Crop-Circles were originally relatively simple circles in the middle of fields of wheat and barley though some of them have got ever more ornate over time.   How some are formed is something of a mystery. Some believe they are made by UFOs or formed when spaceships land, or assume they are the handiwork of inexplicable forces. Others passionately insist the designs are all man-made.

It seems that many of the complex designs are done by ‘artists’ or trespassers who destroy farmers crops in the dead of night but that doesn’t explain all of them and it seems unlikely that decades and centuries ago, people would risk their lives to go out in the dark without good lighting to just make a circle in crops.

As well as aliens, there may be another answer. It may be known as a green and pleasant land but southern England is also a hotspot for tornadoes.  There are more twisters per square mile in England than in any other country.

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They are most common between Reading and London, with the Thames Valley our very own Tornado Alley.   On average England is hit by about 34 tornadoes a year – which works out at 2.2 per 10,000km sq.

The fastest twisters in Britain had recorded speeds of up to 157mph, while the US’s can see winds topping 300mph. Whilst tornadoes may be more commonly associated with the USA, in films such as Twister or sweeping Dorothy from Kansas in The Wizard Of Oz, the larger size of America means that its average number of tornadoes is just 1.3 per 10,000km sq each year and even then they don’t generally affect the whole country.

It seems that most tornadoes in the UK are created along long, narrow storms that form along cold fronts, whereas most tornadoes in the United States are created by isolated storms.

Some of our tornadoes do cause quite bad damage, I remember driving through one in north London and not quite believing my eyes thought to myself that if I didn’t know better then I was in a tornado and it was only a few hours later that reports came in to verify this.

Most of our tornados are very small and localised, many just twist around in our undulating gentle hills and plains and blow themselves out as quickly as they appeared; where they contact the ground they can easily flatten crops.

Back to what caught my eye on google maps; a fantastical jellyfish like being.  It’s hard to quite take in the scale but it is massive and of course totally invisible on the ground.  At the bottom left of the photo you can just make out the narrow path the creators trod to go in and out of their design.  Apart from that it is magical!

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Intricate Crop Circle

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I’m moving house!

Normally I try and have my blog posts pre-written.  In the winter this can be five or six ahead and in the summer just one or two if I’m lucky.   I’m always working 18 hour days and time is precious but I like to keep on top of my blog and have missed less than a handful of posts in 7 years.

if my posts go quiet for a little while it is because I am moving house.  I’ve been enduring the house moving process since July 2019; it is long, drawn out and infuriating for all and doubly so when you have disingenuous buyers.  Like everything else in England, the legal process for moving house is extremely antiquated and whilst everyone would like to change it, the change never happens.

I’m moving from a large 1970’s former social housing home on the very outskirts of London, though officially not in London at all to a modest 200 year old cottage five miles closer to the centre of London and in a nicer and safer area.

I worked out I spent 37.7 working weeks just commuting last year and even on Monday my trip to London took 2 hours and 45 minutes on a journey that when things work should be an hour or so.   The wonders of the terrible local bus service is often to blame but from my new home it will take me just 35-45 minutes to get to Baker Street.

So Friday I hope to be moving into a 200 year old cottage in a village on the outskirts of London.  On a hill 500 feet tall and surrounded by fields and woods and yet just a mile or two from the London Underground network.

I’m not sure if it is because the house is so old or the previous owners were total recluses (my sort of people!) but there is no internet connections there and so it may take me a week or three to get back on line.   As I’ve been pre-occupied with tours and packing and this move has been delayed repeatedly since the end of last summer, I don’t have a long line of posts scheduled so if it goes quite one week you will know what happened.

Until then 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Safety For The Dead

On the 29th December I arrived in London a little early for my tour that day so spent an hour or two exploring and sight-seeing myself , at least what passes for sight-seeing if you are a bit of a history nerd.

Whilst deep beneath the beautiful St Bride’s Church, I came across one of these intriguing devices that I had read about but never seen before,

 

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Protecting the dead from body-snatchers

The photo shows an actual iron coffin with a special device installed to help protect the body of the person interred from body-snatchers.  Given that medicine and science was soaring ahead of religious laws in the early 19th century and that the only bodies that could be legally used for direction and the like were those who were hanged, there was a dire shortage of bodies.

Those bodies there were could be sold for £8 which was a fortune back in those days and so the best brains in the land were amongst those to come up with devices to deter thefts.  My post Dancing On The Dead  is just one that highlights the often murky underworld of death in Victorian London.  These particular coffins weren’t just made of iron but had a type of spring loaded clips which made it more secure.

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19th Century funeral advert with patented coffin!

Of course as with everything in life and death, when a solution appears, it normally opens up another can of worms and that is exactly what happened here.

in 1820 at nearby St. Andrews of Holborn, a body was removed from its iron coffin and buried straight into the ground.  This sparked off a legal protest and the judgement decided that burial in any coffin could not be refused but because the coffin was made of iron, it would take much much longer to degrade and so it was liable for much greater burial fees!   How typically capitalist London!

No doubt these exorbitant fees combined with the soon to be revised laws about medical research on bodies meant that iron coffins didn’t become established for very long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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