That time the Duke of Edinburgh gate-crashed my walking-tour

With the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh last week it reminded me of when I met him.  I remember at least two occassions though saw him in a non-speaking capacity at other times.  One time was when I had to sing Run Rabbit, Run Rabbit in Maori to the Queen on Commonwealth Day (a long story as mine always are) 🙂

 

But just a few years ago I was taking a rather important elderly foreign visitor on some tours who it turned out was a rather important person in the world of security.  

We were walking along Birdcage Walk between Parliament and Buckingham Palace and I was in mid conversation when a black London taxi stopped right next to us and the window went down. The driver was Prince Philip who listened briefly to what I was saying as I ended that section as hastily and with as good grace as I could.  

A black London taxi was a preferred method of transport for the Duke when he wanted to be out without Security and with there being thousands of identical black taxis in London, for all intents and purposes it allowed him  some independence without any undue risk.

After a brief introduction from my tourist who we can call Michael, so as not to get anyone in trouble, Prince Philip said “Michael, are you the man whose ducking up my traffic lights?”

He didn’t actually use the word ducking but something a little ruder and he may well have mentioned ducks more than once!

As it happened, poor Michael was overseeing some new security system and had indeed been doing the upgrade work in front of the Palace, indeed that is likely the main reason he was here in the first place.

I managed not to say anything stupid or indeed get insulted before I promised I’d make sure my tourist got to Buckingham Palace afterwards.  So I think I got his seal of approval.

Prince Philip told me to keep doing a good job before he drove off. And then the tour continued liked it never happened lol.  It was one of those things that so often happens to me when I am out and about though no less surreal for being so.

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The Leake Street Graffiti tunnel

One of the great things about London is that it has so many facets.  History, big-business, entrepreneurs, literature and theatre, shopping and so much much more including modern culture and that includes street art.   A few years ago I blogged before on Whitechapel Street Art itself a perhaps unexpected side to an area known for its famous serial killers and gangs of times gone by and lively restaurant scene today.

Somewhere al together different is the Leake Street Tunnel.  It’s only 5 minutes from the Houses of Parliament and very easy to get to, especially from Waterloo Station as it is actually underneath the platforms.

The entrance to the Leake Street Tunnel

This 300 metre tunnel is the largest legal wall for street art in London and has been a bastion of London’s street art scene since 2008. Before then it was a dark and dingy tunnel until the famous Banksy decided to spend a weekend brightening up the place with his Cans Festival.   

Don’t look back in anger

He invited the biggest and brightest names on the international street art scene to come down and put up a piece of work in the tunnel and within days it was transformed into colourful and rather cool place it is today where artists can showcase their work.

As with other places on London, all work here is only ever temporary which means that your favourite art can vanish at a moments notice but the plus side of this is that no two visits are ever the same and I’ve never been there and seen artists in action creating new pieces.

Lets Dance. How cool is this street art of a lego David Bowie?

Despite it being right in the heart of the action, just 2 minutes walk from the London Eye, for some reason it is all but unvisited which means you can enjoy the art and the vibe without those sometimes annoying Instagrammers trying to strike a pose as can happen at more high profile locations, not naming any names… Shoreditch.

That moment when you want to photograph a trendy venue sign but also want the world what you think of the Prime Minister!

If you don’t like slightly lonely tunnels then you might not want to go there on your own after dark particularly as the end if blocked off but it’s not something I would particularly worry about especially as there are some amazing bars and restaurants built into the railway arches down the sides.

The far end, a dead end just behind the camera

The Leake Street tunnel actually features on my latest London Walking Tour with Ye Olde England Tours.  It takes us from London Bridge to Lambeth Bridge (and a bit across the river back to Big Ben) so I have imaginatively called it The Lambeth Walk.

Posted in Cool Britannia, Life, London, Photography, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Solving the mystery of Captain Henry Every – The Pirate who became the subject of the first world-wide manhunt from India to North America

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog on Colonel Blood and his audacious career that involved stealing the Crown Jewels and in the last few days I’ve been reading about a discovery of some Arabian coins unearthed in an orchard on Rhode Island that might shed new light on an incredibly infamous pirate, Captain Henry Every who was subject to the first global manhunt.

Why did this all happen?  Captain Henry Every and his crew,  plundered an armed trading ship of the Mughal empire. The ship went by the name of  ‘Ganj-i-Sawai’ (‘Exceeding Treasure’) and had been sailing to Surat, India, from Yemen, carrying pilgrims returning from Mecca as well as vast riches.

Captain Every and his crew initially took their ill-gotten gains to Bourbon (now Réunion), before making way to the island of New Providence in the Bahamas.  Nevertheless news of the bounty placed on their heads soon caught up with them which forced them to to keep a low profile leaving what happened to the pirate and many of his crew to be a mystery.

Recent discoveries  include a 17th-century Arabian coin found by amateur historian and metal detectorist Jim Bailey, 53, in Middletown may offer some answers.   It is thought that the coin belongs to the haul from the Ganj-i-Sawai, & so raises the possibility that some of Every’s crew and perhaps even the captain himself found their way to New England.

‘It’s a new history of a nearly perfect crime,’ said Mr Bailey, who coincidentally works as a security professional for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.

In August 1695, Captain Every and his crew of the ship ‘Fancy’ teamed up with five other pirate ships led by their captains; Joseph Faro, William Mayes, Thomas Tew, Thomas Wake and Richard Want in the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb.

With Every in command of the pirate flotilla, they set their sights on a convoy of 25 Mughal empire ships — including the 1,600-ton Ganj-i-sawai, which was armed with 80 cannons, and its 600-ton escort, the ‘Fateh Muhammed’.

For any pirate of the time, the fleet was easily the richest picking in Asia and perhaps even the world.  Captain Every rightfully told his crew that if successful, it would leave them glutted with ‘gold enough to dazzle the eyes’.

Four or five days into the chase, the pirates caught up with and sacked the Fateh Muhammed, and a few days later on September 7th 1695, the Fancy and Mayes’ ‘Pearl’ engaged the Ganj-i-Sawai, which was owned by one of the world’s most-powerful men, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

The Mughal Empire ruled much of the Indian subcontinent during the 16th and 17th centuries and are known for consolidating Islam in South Asia, spreading both the Muslim faith as well art and culture. The empire reached its zenith under the leadership and conquests of Aurangzeb, who is often called the ‘last great Mughal emperor’.

However, the size of the empire along with Aurangzeb’s unpopular intolerant rule and aggressive taxation saw it go into decline.

Aurangzeb was the owner of the armed Ghanjah dhow (trading ship) Ganj-i-Sawai, which was ambushed by pirates led by Henry Every in 1695. On board the Ganj-i-Sawai were not only the worshipers returning from their pilgrimage, but tens of millions of dollars’ worth of gold and silver.

According to some historical accounts, the marauders tortured and killed the men aboard the Mughal vessel and raped the women in a so-called ‘orgy of horror’, seeking to extract information on where in her hold the Ganj-i-Sawai’s treasures had been hidden.

Some versions of the story also suggest, grimly, that Captain Every himself found ‘something more pleasing than jewels’ onboard the vessel — often said to be the daughter, granddaughter or another relative of emperor Aurangzeb.

The battle between the Fancy and Ganj-i-Sawai

The battle between the Fancy and Ganj-i-Sawai

Captain Every left the ransacked Ganj-i-Sawai to limp back to Surat and after compensating the crew of the Pearl for their share of the spoils, the Fancy set sail for Bourbon, today the island of Réunion, arriving two months later.

Here, the pirates divvyed up the treasures — with each man receiving £1,000 (the equivalent of around £128,000 today, and far more than any sailor could typically expect to make across their lifetime) as well as a selection of gemstones.

The attack had significant ramifications for both England and the East India Trading company which was still recovering from the disastrous Anglo-Mughal War if 1686–90 with the very future of English trade in India placed under threat.

Both the attack on the Ganj-i-Sawai’s pilgrim travellers and the raping of the Muslim women were seen as a religious violation. The local Indian governor took the step of arresting all English subjects in Surat, partly as retribution but also to protect them from rioting locals.

Meanwhile, Emperor Aurangzeb closed down four of the East India Company’s factories in India and imprisoned their officers, even threatening to attack the city of Bombay with the goal of expelling the English from India forever.

To appease the Mughal empire, the East India Company promised to pay reparations for Every’s crimes, while Parliament declared the pirates ‘hostis humani generis’ (‘enemies of the human race’).

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This maritime law term placed them outside of legal protections and thereby allowing them to be ‘dealt with’ by any nation that saw fit.

Alongside this, the government placed a £500 bounty on Captain Every’s head — one which the East India Company later doubled to £1,000 — with the Board of Trade coordinating what became the first worldwide manhunt.

‘If you Google “first worldwide manhunt”, it comes up as Every. Everybody was looking for these guys,’ explained Mr Bailey.

Given their wanted status, Captain Every’s crew disagreed on where to sail next. Ultimately, the French and Danes elected to stay on Bourbon, while the rest of the crew set course for Nassau, the capital of New Providence in the Bahamas, which was considered a pirate haven.

Shortly before setting sail, Every is said to have purchased around ninety slaves, an acquisition which served the dual purpose of providing labour on the journey to the other side of the world, as well as serving as a resource that could be traded.  In this way, the pirates were cleverly able to avoid using their foreign currency, an act which would have served as a clue to their identities.

Breaking their voyage at the uninhabited Ascension Island, in the middle of the Atlantic, the crew succeeded in catching 50 sea turtles — enough food to last the rest of the voyage to Nassau — while losing 70 men who decided to remain there.

By the March of 1696, the Fancy had passed through St Thomas in the Virgin Islands where the crew sold off some of their treasure before dropping anchor near Eleuthera, some 50 miles (80 km) northeast of New Providence.

Masquerading as one ‘Captain Henry Bridgeman’, Every presented his crew to the island’s governor, Sir Nicholas Trott, as unlicensed English slave traders who had just arrived from the coast of Africa and were in need of shore leave.

In keeping with this deceit, the crew promised £860 and their ship the Fancy, once her cargo was unloaded, to Sir Trott in return for permission to make port and his keeping secret their claimed violation of the East India Company’s trading monopoly.

The arrangement was an attractive proposition for the governor, who also saw the benefits, with French forces reportedly en route, of having a heavily-armed ship in the harbour along with enough extra men on the island to properly man Nassau’s 28 cannons.

When the Fancy was handed over to his possession, Sir Trott discovered a further bribe had been left on board for him totalling 100 barrels of gunpowder and 50 tons of ivory tusks, as well as firearms, ammunition and ship anchors.

Understandably, Sir Trott initially turned a blind eye to the pirates’ possession of large quantities foreign-minted coins, as well as the patched-up battle damage on the Fancy. However, he was also quick to strip the ship of anything valuable and according to some accounts, deliberately arranged for her to be scuttled in order to dispose of evidence that could have later proved inconvenient for him.

When word finally reached Nassau that both the Royal Navy and the East India Company were hunting for Every/’Bridgeman’, the governor maintained that he and the islanders ‘saw no reason to disbelieve’ the crew of the Fancy’s story.

Nevertheless, to maintain his reputation, he was forced to disclose the location of the pirates to the authorities but not before tipping off Every and his 113-strong crew, who succeeded in escaping the island before they could be apprehended.

Exactly what happened to Captain Every after leaving New Providence in the June of 1696, however, has remained unclear. Conflicting accounts suggest he retired quietly back to Britain or some unidentified tropical island, or squandered his wealth and ended up destitute.

According to one tale, for example, the former crew of the Fancy split up with some remaining in the West Indies, some heading for North America and the rest returning to Britain. After this, Every and twenty of the men supposedly sailed aboard the sloop (a one-masted sailing boat) Sea Flower captained by Joseph Faro  eventually arriving in Ireland.

Unloading their treasure, however, the pirates aroused suspicion, the account goes, with two of the men arrested while Every escaped once again.  According to Mr Bailey, however, the coins he and others have found are evidence that the pirate captain first or at the vary least, a member of his crew, made their way to the American colonies where they spent their plunder on day-to-day expenses.

The first complete coin surfaced in 2014 at Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, a spot that had piqued Mr Bailey’s curiosity two years earlier after he found old colonial coins, an 18th-century shoe buckle and some musket balls at the site.

Waving a metal detector over the soil, he got a signal, dug down and hit his ‘paydirt’ — a darkened, dime-sized silver coin that he initially assumed was either Spanish, or money minted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

However, it was the Arabic text on the coin, he said, that got his pulse racing.

Arabian-silver-coin_178910e5d26_large

Analysis confirmed that the exotic coin was minted in 1693 in Yemen, a fact which immediately raised questions.

As Mr Bailey explained, there’s no evidence that American colonists who would have been struggling just to eke out a living in the New World, travelled to anywhere in the Middle East for trade purposes until decades later.

Since the 2014 find, other detectorists have unearthed 15 additional Arabian coins from the same era — ten in Massachusetts, three in Rhode Island and two in Connecticut (one of which was found in 2018 at a 17th-century farm site.)

Another coin, meanwhile, was found in North Carolina, where records have indicated that some of Every’s men came ashore at the end of their voyage.

‘It seems like some of Captain Every’s crew were able to settle in New England and integrate,’ said Connecticut state archaeologist Sarah Sportman.

‘It was almost like a money laundering scheme,’ she added.

‘There´s extensive primary source documentation to show the American colonies were bases of operation for pirates,’ added Mr Bailey.

In fact, he said, obscure records show that a ship named the ‘Sea Flower’ — the same as the vessel Every supposedly reached Ireland on — sailed up the Eastern seaboard, arriving in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1696 bearing nearly four dozen slaves.

Finding the Arabian coin is not Mr Bailey’s only pirate-themed find — in the late 1980s, he also served as an archaeological assistant during explorations of the wreck of the 18th Century pirate ship the Whydah Gally off of the coast of Cape Cod.

‘It seems like some of [Captain Every’s] crew were able to settle in New England and integrate,’ said Connecticut state archaeologist Sarah Sportman.  ‘It was almost like a money laundering scheme,’ she added.

‘There´s extensive primary source documentation to show the American colonies were bases of operation for pirates,’ added Mr Bailey.

In fact, he said, obscure records show that a ship named the ‘Sea Flower’ — the same as the vessel Every supposedly reached Ireland on — sailed up the Eastern seaboard, arriving in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1696 bearing nearly four dozen slaves.

The exploits of Captain Every and his crew have inspired a variety of modern-day tales of swashbuckling — including the characters of ‘Captain Henry Avery’ who appear in PlayStation’s popular ‘Uncharted’ video game series (left) and the 2011 Doctor Who episode ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’

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While Captain Every may have successfully vanished from recorded history after fleeing from the island of New Providence in June 1696, not all of his crew similarly evaded justice.

At the end of July the same year, Every’s coxswain, John Dann, was arrested in Rochester on suspicion of piracy, after his chambermaid discovered he had sewn £1, 045 of gold sequins and ten English guineas into his waistcoat and reported as much to the local authorities.

Dann ultimately agreed along with another captured crewman, Philip Middleton, to testify against other members of the Fancy’s crew, who had been caught after trying to sell their treasures to jewellers.

Six of the pirates were convicted at trial with five hanged and the sixth, Joseph Dawson, shown leniency for his guilty plea.

What became of Captain Henry Every and his final resting place remains a complete mystery but if you fancy becoming very rich then here is a guide to some of the most valuable missing treasures.

Captain Henry Every

Captain Henry Every

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Roe v. Wade (2021) Movie Review

It’s been a long time since I did a film review, understandably so as with so much of public life, film-going has been all but shut down at least in the old-fashioned going to the cinema sort of way.  Thankfully there are now streaming services available where we can in some way satisfy our craving for new movies.

For those in North America, Roe v. Wade likely needs no introduction and this movie takes a fascinating look at one of America’s most iconic court cases with a cast that lives up to the very contentious events which we see play out and which are still hotly debated to this day.

Roe v. Wade is a film that looks at the events leading up to the  landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion, relatively free from government restrictions.

Jon Voight as Warren E. Burger - the 15th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court

Jon Voight as Warren E. Burger – the 15th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court

It has a fantastic cast featuring the likes of Jon Voight, Corbin Bernsen, Stacey Dash, Jamie Kennedy, Steve Guttenberg, Robert Davi, William Forsythe and many more. Writer/director Nick Loeb plays one of the main protagonists Dr. Bernard Nathanson who helped start the abortion movement and he’s a fascinating character who at first comes across as rather arrogant and unsympathetic but as the film progresses he begins to question himself and when he breaks down at the end it’s the most moving scene of the movie.

Roe v. Wade takes us on a journey that explores how the ‘right to choose’ movement essentially gained traction due to the  lies and manipulation of the media by Nathanson and Larry Lader.  In fact some of the most shocking scenes illustrate how smug and self-satisfied they were with themselves, not due to their progress through the judicial system but by the outright lies they told to gain popular support as they battled  Dr. Mildred Jefferson (Stacey Dash) and the Catholic church.  At times it very much reminded me of tech-films where businessmen and whizz kids can’t believe their luck that they have pulled the wool over the eyes of their customers or regulatory authorities.

There also seemed to be a feeling of not taking things seriously by some of the characters in the Dallas District attorneys office who assumed they had to be very obviously correct in their Right to Life policy and if they less laissez-faire then they might have put up a better fight.

In a film like this there has to be air-time to both sides and thats what happens here.  To be fair, at different points in the film I couldn’t decide which point of view the film was in favour of and I was pleasantly surprised not to be able to put my finger on it.  I hate films where we are meant to sympathise with characters just because we are told to do so.

Plots are hatched in D.C.

Plots are hatched in D.C.

There are discussions from both sides throughout with several key politicians out to help themselves but they have their own issues as members of their families work in Planned Parenthood which complicates their decision making process.  Mention is also made that Dr. Bernard Nathanson is from a Jewish background as indeed is Nick Loeb who plays him.

Of course we all know what the findings of the court will be but their is a twist in the tale which for me is the most emotive part of the film.  ‘Modern’ ultra-sonic equipment appears which clearly shows that the tiny little things in the womb of the mothers are very recognisable as humans and Dr. Bernard Nathanson is overcome with remorse for the tens of thousands of deaths he has caused, including one very close to home we see towards the start of the film.

Nick Loeb as Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the main protagonist in Roe v. Wade.

Nick Loeb as Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the main protagonist in Roe v. Wade.

I would never say Roe v. Wade is a fun-film; it’s serious, engaging and thought provoking.   As someone who lives in the U.K. I was only familiar with the verdict of the court and Abortion is one of those subjects that America seems to get tangled up in whilst many of the rest of us give it next to zero thought as it’s just a given.

That being said however in someways I got to enjoy the ins and outs of this movie even more as I’ve never really given it any consideration at all.  I have to say that my feelings took a pretty similar route as Dr. Bernard Nathanson and indeed Writer, Director and Actor Nick Loeb and I just found it all very thought-provoking.

On a lighter note, I really appreciated the look of Roe v. Wade.  The events of the film took place in the year of my birth, 1973 and the makers have effortlessly captured the look of life in the 70’s.

Roe v. Wade is out on April 2nd on streaming services such as Amazon Prime and iTunes. If you think you know the story of this case, it’s worth watching for the new perspectives offered.  If like myself you know next to nothing about what transpired then it may well be revelatory.  Whatever side of the debate you come down on; there’s a lot to mull over and a lot of great performances to enjoy.

RVW_Poster

Posted in Life, Movies and Films, Opinion, Popular Culture | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Mechanical Turk Chess-Player that shocked the world!

When we think of robots and artificial intelligence, it’s easy to think that it is a modern 21st century obsession or at least of 20th century science fiction such as Star Trek.  This is not entirely the case.  One of my favourite works of art I have ever seen is the The beautiful, magical Silver Swan Automaton at The Bowes Museum in fact I’ve seen it twice and I had to video it the second time. Despite knowing exactly how it works, it still ranks as one of the most beautiful and magical things I have ever seen and it was all basically done by clockwork.

For a decidedly different take at automaton, we can leave London and heard to the Hapsburg Empire in Vienna .  In the 1770’s  an inventor by the name of Wolfgang von Kempelen debuted his latest creation: A chess-playing automaton made for Archduchess Maria Theresa. Known initially as the Automaton Chess Player and later as the Mechanical Turk—or just the Turk—the machine consisted of a mechanical man dressed in robes and a turban who sat at a wooden cabinet that was overlaid with a chessboard. The Turk was designed to play chess against any opponent game enough to challenge him.

The Mechanical Turk giving someone the eye!

The Mechanical Turk giving someone the eye!

At the Viennese court in 1770, Von Kempelen began his demonstration of The Turk’s workings by opening the doors and drawers of the cabinet and shining a candle inside each section. Inside were cogs, gears, and other clockwork. After closing the cabinet doors, von Kempelen invited a volunteer to serve as the Turk’s opponent.

Gameplay began with the Turk moving his head from side to side to survey the board before appearing to decide on the first move.  His left arm then reached forward, his fingers picked up a chess piece, moving it to another square before setting it down.

It wasn’t the most beautiful or realistic automaton like the silver swan or  Digesting Duck which wiggled its beak, quacked, and pooed out pellets it had been fed nor the Flute Player, an automaton that could mimic almost all of the subtleties of a human flute player’s breathing and musical expression.

Before each game of chess the doors were opened to illustrate there was no trickery or no person hidden inside.

Before each game of chess the doors were opened to illustrate there was no trickery or no person hidden inside.

Compared to these beautiful clockwork automatons, the Mechanical Turk, with his expressionless face made of carved wood and jerky arm movements, may have seemed an inferior attraction. But with the Mechanical Turk it wasn’t just about looks, it was all about the chess game and the Turk was good. Really good. And it wasn’t just adept at executing a repetitive task. The Turk responded skillfully to the unpredictable behavior of humans. This machine seemed to be operating autonomously, guided by its own sense of rationality and reason. If the human opponent attempted to cheat, as Napoleon did when facing off against the machine in 1809, the Turk would move the chess piece back to its previous position, and, after repeated cheating attempts, would swipe his arm across the board, scattering pieces to the ground.

Of course, there had to be a trick to all of this. But the nature of the deception was, for many decades, elusive. Following the 1770 demonstration, which astonished Maria Theresa and her attendants, von Kempelen, an engineer rather than an entertainer, was content to let the Turk rest and fall into obscurity. The automaton sat forgotten  until after Maria Theresa’s death, when her son and successor, Joseph II, remembered the Turk and asked von Kempelen to revive it. In 1783, von Kempelen took the Turk on tour to Paris, where he once again astonished onlookers including a certain Benjamin Franklin.

A basic plan of the mechanisms

A basic plan of the mechanisms

Tours of England and Germany followed over the next year. During this time, people began to publish their speculative accounts of the Turk’s workings. Some, such as British author Philip Thicknesse, were indignant at the notion that the Turk was a purely mechanical creation whose gameplay was free from human influence. “That an AUTOMATON can be made to move the Chessmen properly, as a pugnacious player, in consequence of the preceding move of a stranger, who undertakes to play against it, is UTTERLY IMPOSSIBLE,” wrote Thicknesse in a critical pamphlet he passion-published in 1784.  The capitalisation is as the flabbergasted author originally wrote it!

Thicknesse did not believe, as others did, that von Kempelen was directing the Turk’s gameplay from several feet away using strong magnets, stealthy strings, or remote control. His opinion took the Occam’s Razor approach, with a child-labor twist: He wrote in his pamphlet that the cabinet must be concealing “a child of ten, twelve, or fourteen years of age”—presumably one whose chess talents were prodigious.

The idea that someone was hiding in the cabinet was frequently espoused over the decades, with variations on the size of the hypothetical person as well as their positioning. The cabinet measured four feet long, two-and-a-half feet deep, and three feet high—dimensions that encouraged people to speculate that short-statured people and children were the most likely candidates for the role of hidden Turk operator. Some believed that the concealed person stayed in the cabinet the whole time, using strings, pulleys, and magnets to execute the chess moves, while others thought the operator crawled up into the body of the Turk in order to control him.

There was the complication of the pre-demonstration routine in which von Kempelen would open the cabinet doors and drawers and shine a candle inside, seemingly precluding the presence of a human. But this, too, was cited as a mere trick—in 1789, Freiherr zu Racknitz proposed that the concealed operator hid in the back of the cabinet’s bottom drawer during the pre-game display, then moved to the main portion.  Probably similarly to how magicians today hide people in their magic boxes despite showing all tot he audience.

The most outlandish tale of a hidden operator comes from Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, a French magician who encountered the Turk in 1844.  According to Robert-Houdin, von Kempelen was in Russia during the 1790s when he met a doctor named Osloff. The doctor was sheltering a fugitive Polish soldier, Worousky, whose legs had been blasted away by a cannonball. This soldier happened to be a gifted chess player. So von Kempelen did what anyone would do in the situation: spent three months building a fradulent humanoid automaton chess player machine equipped with a cabinet large enough to house Worousky, thereby smuggling him out of Russia to safety by touring the automaton through major cities. A foolproof plan if ever there was one so sadly the entire story was total nonsense!

A basic plan of the mechanisms

A basic plan of the mechanisms

The truth was simple, the Turk did operate via a concealed operator, who controlled each movement from inside the cabinet by candlelight, pulling levers to operate the Turk’s arm and keeping track of the moves on their own board. Von Kempelen, and his Turk-touring successor, Johann Maelzel, picked up new chess players on their travels, gave them a quick how-to orientation, then bundled them into the cabinet.

Though the machine ultimately relied on human behavior and a bit of old-fashioned magic, its convincingly mechanical nature was cause for both wonder and concern. Arriving smack-bang in the middle of the industrial revolution, the Turk raised unsettling questions about the nature of automation and the possibility of creating machines that could think. The fact that the Turk appeared to operate on clockwork mechanisms, complete with whirring sounds, contradicted the idea that chess was, in the words of Robert Willis in 1821, “the province of intellect alone.” If a machine could play a human game at the mercy of the human whims of its opponent, what else could it do?

This was one of the big questions that preoccupied the young mind of Charles Babbage when he first saw the Turk play when it toured England under Maelzel in 1819. Three years later, Babbage began working on the Difference Engine, a machine designed to calculate and tabulate mathematical functions automatically. It was an early step on the path towards computers and artificial intelligence.

Even at the time it made people aware of new possibilities.  Unlike the new machines of the industrial revolution, which replaced human physical activity, this fragment of the Difference Engine, like the Turk, raised the possibility that machines might eventually be capable of replacing mental activity too.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Maelzel took the machine for one last tour this time around the northeast United States, during which Edgar Allan Poe developed a fondness for it and wrote his own treatise on the human-assisted operations he assumed were in place during gameplay. But the magicl of the Turk was fading. By the 1850s, with Maelzel having perished during a Turk tour of Cuba, the machine sat forgotten in the Chinese Museum in Philadelphia where sadly it met its demise in a fire in 1854.

In some very obvious ways the Turk could be called a fraud.  Obviously without any artificial intelligence or components that were capable of any sort of independent thinking.  Even with a human operator so cleverly hidden inside, with its marvellous clockwork mechanisms it brought in an imaginable future of machines that can think for themselves and do so better than humans; something of an ethical conundrum which AI experts and the general public today still struggle with centuries later.

Posted in history, Science and Engineering | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

I just watched the last year of Game of Thrones and loved it!

It’s taken me a Iittle time, well around two years but I finally got round to watching the last year of Game of Thrones.  I actually watched the final two years of Game of Thrones in a week as I couldn’t remember if I had watched the penultimate series until I was around five episodes into it and so decided to watch it right through.

I’ve always been  a huge Game of Thrones fan, I’m just generally too busy to watch television, even when I’m stuck at home Excluded and unable to leave the house for a year.  

Game of Thrones is almost my ideal programme.  It’s historic fiction, largely based on aspects of British history and it’s not really sensationalised.  What elements aren’t drawn on local history and culture include nomadic Steppe warriors which I studied at University.  I feel at home watching it, the bleak moors of the north are pretty much home to me whilst my last two and very distance foreign holidays were to Malta and Dubrovnik which have stood in for Kings Landing…. not to be mistaken for Kings Langley which is about 2 minutes in the car from where I lived for nearly 15 years.

Kings Landing

I often get muddled watching Game of Thrones as I get my  Kings Langleys and Kings Landings muddled up

It’s a little bit controversial to say so but I totally loved the last two years of Game of Thrones, even the divisive and even derided final episode or two.

I always like to have my own opinion and not go with the flow unless I agree with it and I deliberately kept away from knowing how the series would end, which wasn’t easy at the time when not just the internet but social media and mainstream news were discussing the plot points and apparently widespread dissatisfaction.

Probably like most people a few years ago I would have liked to have either Jon Snow or Khaleesi take their place on the Iron Throne, maybe even as a royal couple but Game of Thrones isn’t a fairy-tale and once it became clear in the penultimate year that Khaleesi and Jon were fairly closely related, well I thought right a way that wasn’t going to happen.

Sexy times in Game of Thrones

Pretty much the only complaint I can sympathise with is that elements of the plotting or characterisation seem a little rushed in the final year or two but that’s ok to me. Everything makes sense and I’m glad I wasn’t totally able to work out the ending, though I did get close in the final episodes. Unlike many others I’m glad that the Night King was dealt with early in the last series, I know many expected that to happen in the very last episode but if I was making the show, I’d have done the same and then have the final episodes play out between the contenders for the throne.

I’ve been reading about there was so much outrage that Khaleesi turned out to be an even greater villain the Queen Cersei but that is how life somehow turns out. The warning signs were always there. Sometimes you do get virtuous people who get caught up in their own beliefs and propaganda that they can’t see they have become the very thing they hate. Though I didn’t expect her to go quite so crazy when she destroyed Kings Landing, it was always a possibility to me and in fact I was quite ready for her to be the victorious Queen and be crazy and evil as the end credits rolled.

I liked how Jaime died protecting his sister and Queen and indeed incestuous twin lover after his character was redeemed and after his nobility clearly shone through. Personally I would have had a scene between Cersei and Khaleesi, it reminds of the fantastic Star Trek 2:The Wrath of Khan were as brilliant as it was and as much loved as it is, Kirk and Khan never had a moment together and really they should have.

Khaleesi in more innocent times.

I liked how Jon Snow was deserving of being the King but got something he wanted much more, to be back in the North, regardless of him being exiled there rather than choosing to go there. He never wanted to be King and indeed never sought the throne.

I’m also thrilled that little Tyrion didn’t just survive but prosper. I always really liked him, his cleverness and way with words and his unapologetic attitude to drink and sex which in a way epitomised much of the show. He was still making me laugh in the last episodes; I guess I could empathise a lot with him and whether it is Mr Spock, Sherlock Holmes or medieval Imps, I do like my heroes to have something of a brain.

I’m even happy that Bran got to be the King, in many ways the perfect choice and chosen by in effect a Witenagemot the old Anglo-Saxon tradition of a wise council deciding upon their monarch.

When he was a young man George R. R. Martin was adamantly opposed to the American war in Vietnam, that’s why there was so many bloody deaths and battles that are shown in all their viciousness but not in a glorified way. That’s also why the senseless deaths of so many people in Kings Landing took place, to show how war doesn’t really pay at all.

In fact there were only two bits I wasn’t overly thrilled with and neither really have anything to do what other people have repeatedly found to be contentious. Firstly, I always really hated Grey Worm, the leader of the Unsullied. I never found anything redeeming in his character and though it’s nothing personal, I don’t like the actor and I hated his Estuary Mockney accent. After his better half was beheaded on the walls of Kings Landing, I would have liked him to meet his end too.

I also took an increasing dislike to Sansa Sark; the actress is like all the others, wonderful but her character seemed to progress merely through suffering and in my mind didn’t earn her place as Queen in the North merely by just surviving. That being said I did like how perhaps the most boring and stereotypical female character got to be Queen rather than the kick-ass tomboy Arya or indeed the beautiful and in the end violent Khaleesi which are both in a way modern biases in fiction.

I’m really going to miss seeing new Game of Thrones, it’s only been a day and I already miss it. The characters, the witty dialogue, the fantastic scenery and cinematography. The downright obscene violence and conniving politics and plotting. That’s all I want in a television programme, to treat me like an adult. Game of Thrones has over 600 named characters on screen, I’m not sure I can name 600 people in real life! And around 6,500 onscreen deaths let alone the implied hundreds of thousands more.

So many tremendous scenes such as the birth of dragons, the death of Jon Snow, the terrible Red Wedding, the well-deserved though shocking death of King Joffrey. And all those lines that will forever sum up a big chunk of popular culture in the 2010’s. “Winter is coming”. “A lion does not concern himself with the opinions of a sheep”, “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say,” and my favourite “You know nothing Jon Snow”.

There are surprisingly lots of funny moments in Game of Thrones, though many of them have some rather terse language.

https://www.bustle.com/p/17-genuinely-funny-game-of-thrones-moments-that-will-almost-make-you-forget-about-all-the-death-the-killing-9866990

One scene that always makes me laugh is this one, it also has a few rude words.

Thanks for all the memories, the ups and downs and the fantastically rich and in-depth world of Game of Thrones. I don’t think there will ever be anything to quite match you again.

Posted in Culture, Life, Opinion, television | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Coronavirus Diary 75 – Finding a Holy and Magical Well in St Albans.

I’ve been to a few Holy Wells in my time, some ancient pagan wells and some slightly less ancient but still extremely old Christian ones.  The problem with wells in cities and particularly near to London is that they are either blocked up or entirely built over.  Some times is simply due to the rise of piped water in the last century or two and sometimes to stop disease outbreaks but often it is simply because no-one cares anymore unless you’re like my neighbour who lovingly restored their well.

Whilst hugely bored during lockdown which sort of narrows it down for me between 6th February 2020 and last week, I became aware that there was a well not too far from where I live in St Albans.  The clue is in the name of the district of the city ‘Holywell’ though that of course is no indication that what was once present 1,000 years ago might still be here today.

This well isn’t just Hertfordshire’s most famed well but possible the first well dedicated to a British Christian Martyr, and thus called St. Alban’s Well or Holy Well. Interestingly most people pronounce Holy Well like the plant Holly rather than Holy and in my experience that seems to be the case for most Holywell places in Britain.

Who was St. Alban?

Gildas and Bede accredit his martyrdom to the ruler Diocletian (c305), later authorities attribute Septimus severnus (c209) or Decieus (c254) to the act. His conversion to Christianity occurred when he sheltered a wanted priest (later St. Amphibalus). The priest taught Alban and baptised him as a Christian. The two exchanged clothes and his Roman cloak allowed the priest to more easily escape the city with Alban being captured instead. He was tried and sent to be executed. The journey to his execution, now locally commemorated each weekend close to St Alban’s Feast Day, is when the spring arose!

The legend of the spring

It is said that upon climbing the hill to his martyrdom became tired and thirsty. Falling to his knees he prayed to God to quench this thirst and miraculously a spring of fresh water appeared.

A tall Roman soldier had been walking beside Alban, carrying a great sword with which to cut off his head. But when he saw how gentle and good Alban was and how the people loved him, he began to feel sorry for what he had to do. As Alban knelt upon the grass the soldier threw down his sword, crying out, “This is a holy man. I cannot kill him.”

The captain of the soldiers was very angry at this. “Take up your sword,” he said, “and do your duty.”   “I cannot,” replied the man, “I would rather die.”

“Then you shall die,” replied the captain. And drawing his own sword, with one blow he cut off Alban’s head and with a second the head of the soldier. At the same moment, we are told, the captain lost his sight and remained blind for the rest of his life.

This is the story of how the first martyr in Britain died. He was brave, and wise, and kind and, like Jesus, he gave his life for others.

An old drawing of St Albans being executed. Note how the executioner has lost his eyes!

An old drawing of St Albans being executed. Note how the executioner has lost his eyes!

This is however only one origin for the spring. The other story states that after being taken to the old city of Verulam, he refused to offer pagan sacrifice, and was executed. His severed head rolled down the hill and where it rested a spring burst forth. This is a common holy well motif. After the adoption of the Christian church in the third century the spring gained great notoriety (although it is of course plausible that the spring was a pre-Christian site, gaining greater pilgrimage with Christian doctrine). St. Alban was also adopted, and finally installed in a Shrine in the Abbey. This was restored after the Reformation and is a beautiful example of a Pre-Reformation Shrine.

One might wonder how a holy well with such wondrous origins might have an even more illustrious history but incredibly Holywell in St. Albans has an almost equally incredible piece of ancient history to add to it.

Around the year 495AD Holywell was also visited by Uther Pendragon.  If his name sounds familiar then it may be as you may be more familiar with his legendary son, King Arthur.   It is said that on this year King Uther was a very old man when he came to St Albans to battle Saxon invaders from Kent.  In fact Uther was so unwell it is written that he arrived at the battle pretty much being dragged along on a vehicle even less grand than a cart and his enemies mockingly labelled him “the half-dead King”.

Half-dead or not, Uther inspired his men to a legendary victory over the invaders and an medieval chronicle records ‘Uter Pendragon, a British Prince, had fought the Saxons in a great battle at this place, and received a dangerous wound: and lay a long time confined to his bed: and that he was cured at length by resorting to a well or spring not far distant from the city; at that time salubrious; and for that reason, and for the cures thereby performed, esteemed holy; and blessed in a peculiar manner with the flavour of Heaven’.

So as Holy Wells go, it’s hard to imagine one with much more going for it and as I all ready do tours of St Albans then I thought it would be an interesting addition to the mix.   It does seem that hardly anyone knows about it and I’ve read that even the city council is largely unaware of it.

With 2 million people vaccinated in the U.K. over the weekend alone, I took the plunge and decided to head off on a little journey of discovery to find the well and incredibly I found it exactly where I thought it might be, my not having any sort of smart phones means all my expeditions are done the old fashioned way with a bit of research, intuition and sometimes a bit of luck.

I got on a deserted bus at the end of my street which took 9 minutes to get to a deserted train station.  3 minutes later I got on an empty train and less than half an hour after closing my front door, I was in Roman St Albans, or at least a Victorian part of it and I hadn’t seen another person.

On my way, I got myself a Soya Hot Chocolate from Costa Coffee and had my usual chocolate sprinkles added to the top.  The Polish man who served me told me that he can split up his customers into 3.  Fat people generally have marshmallows and cream on top, they are always so happy apparently.   Skinny people don’t have any topping whilst people in the middle have chocolate sprinkles added.  And that was my first incidental human interaction of 2021… it only took 3 months.

Knowing St Albans fairly well, it does help the  you’re doing tours there, I went down Holywell Hill and knew it was on the other side of the road to the Abbey-Cathedral so followed my hunch and about a minute after leaving the almost deserted main street and taking a short cut down an alleyway, I set my eyes on this innocuous late 1980’s housing estate with some sort of open space in front of the first houses.

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This must surely be the place!

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Sure enough it was and not only was there still water in the admittedly very banal looking well but there was also a picnic table nearby so I could enjoy my hot drink whilst thinking back almost 2 millennia to think of the momentous events that took place here.

Water in the Holy Well of St Albans

Water in the Holy Well of St Albans

Whether you believe in the account of God making the spring appear or not, doesn’t take a way from the fact that Roman soldiers once marched over the very spot I was rest on.   It’s unknown to what degree the legends of King Arthur has a historical basis but it is as a fairly safe assumption that a great battle took place here between a Roman-Celtic army from the west and a Saxon one from the east around 495AD so even if only the dry historical facts are true, it’s probably still one of the most historical wells in the world.

How many plagues and catastrophes must people have witnessed in the intervening years as they went for a refreshing drink here, just as I did.  I thought it was quite funny, everyone else in the world is waiting to go in shops or eat out and here am I, the first tentative trip out was to find a very obscure bit of history.

Posted in history, Life, Religion and Faith, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From bad boys to the hello girls – the origins of the Telephone Operator

As was often the case with Victorian era workplaces, many of the worst and most menial jobs were filled by boys and this was the case with the early Telegraph networks.   As revolutionary as it seems to go from telegrams to spoken calls, it wasn’t immediately apparent to the first telephone network providers that boys would be less good at their jobs than they had been with telegraphs.   Also who could work as cheaply as boys?

Connecting a call in the 19th Century was surprisingly physically laborious; each one required some two to six people to plug switches into tall switch boards. This generally meant days spent standing and stretching and kneeling. It was thought boys would have the energy, dexterity, speedy reflexes, and mechanical know-how to connect hundreds of calls an hour on a switchboard composed of a bewildering maze of thousands of cords and jacks in a similar way to how young boys today have an unnerving obsession with technology.  

Teenage boys operating a 19th century switchboard.

Teenage boys operating a 19th century switchboard.

There was however an unexpected downside to using boys, one that might be obvious to anyone who has been a boy or lived with one.  It was sometimes hard for them to take their job seriously and act professionally.  They regularly played practical jokes on customers. The boys disconnected calls as they were still taking place. They purposely crossed lines so that strangers would suddenly find themselves talking to each other.

The incredible power and seeming anonymity also went to the boys heads and it didn’t help that the fledgling technology was relatively slow and monotonous.  They got bored, wrestled and play-fought each other, drank beer which led to the tendency to swear both amongst themselves and to customers.

Obviously this wasn’t a good luck for a new technology or new companies, imagine if everyone on this new internet thing was just in it for porn!  It would never catch on.

As was summarised back in the 19th Century “Putting teenage boys in charge of the phone system brought swift and consistent disaster.” It seems that nothing could be done to keep the boys in line so they were largely sacked .

The job of a switchboard operator took concentration, good interpersonal skills and quick hands. A touch of civility and professionalism wouldn’t go amiss and so it was decided that it would be a perfect job for a lady?  Handily for the telephone operators, women were almost as cheap to employ as boys.

The Post Office, which ran the telephone service in the U.K. , soon realised that women and girls were much more skilled and reliable than the messenger boys who had first taken on the job.

As the network expanded, suddenly there was a new employment opportunity for women: one that gave them some economic independence and an identity outside the home.

Hundreds of operators worked on each switchboard in towns and cities, and the service was efficient and largely confidential.

Some early lady telephone switchboard operators.

Some early lady telephone switchboard operators.

In smaller neighbourhoods, the switchboard might be operated by a single individual. The village postmistress’s ability to listen in on private conversations (strictly forbidden but difficult to prevent) soon taught phone users to be careful what they said.

It was for reasons like this and the sheer profligacy of telephones and increasing numbers of telephone operating ladies that almost as soon as telephone operators became a profession, work 

Of course we still have telephone operators today but on a reduced scale and hopefully we don’t need to speak to them that often as they are most prominent when calling the emergency services on 999.

Posted in history, Science and Engineering | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Gruntled look at Orphan Negatives.

One of my post popular posts ever was 102 great words that aren’t in English but should be! and I’ve written lots on different aspects of both English language Words we still use from Shakespeare! and Tracing words back through time others Languages with no vowels

I love words and the meaning of words and especially words that have fallen out of favour Words that are becoming extinct and even long-lost letters https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2017/03/03/aedifying-use-of-ae/ in fact I even wrote a book on My New Book – Straight from the Horse’s Mouth : 100 Idioms, their Meanings and Origins so this post is right up my street.

Have you ever noticed there are words with a negative meaning put seemingly without their positive sounding opposite. Everyone knows of the word ‘Disgruntled’ but how often is someone described as ‘Gruntled’?

  • May an intelligent person be described as a becile?
  • Would someone who makes himself obvious be going cognito?
  • If something is in motion, might it be described as ert?
  • If something causes harm, is it nocuous?

All of these are examples of what are called orphan negatives — words that have no positive form. There are more of these than you realise.

A knight may have to handle an unWieldy sword but why do so few of them ever have wieldy weapons? If he was a fantastic fighter he might be described as inVincible but his defeated opponents never seem to be labelled as Vincible. His armour may be imPervious to blows but you never hear about the unfortunate person who is pervious to them. His squire might unFurl his banner but is it ever furled away at the end of the day? Would this be unRuly or just ruly?

This whole blog post may actually not be inNocuous but rather Nocuous. Do you find it inSipid or perhaps for some reason it may come over as Sipid? Maybe I am being inAdvertently inCorrigible but I think I’m more advertently corrigible.

If you’ve made it this far through my maculate but not imMaculate post then maybe your imPeccable taste has left you for some peccable taste. Was it all evitable or inEvitable? Even writing this my demisable spirit could do with a bit of a boost on the inDomitable front. Maybe I’d feel better about things if my lockdown hair was kempt rather than unkempt?

There are a surprising number of orphan negatives and author Jack Winter wrote the following short story in The New Yorker (July 25, 1994). It is bursting with orphan negatives and if you’re anything like me then when you come across one, you will immediately think of what the more well known opposite word meaning is before properly understanding the context of the word and sentence.

How I Met My Wife

It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate.

I was furling my weildy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way. 

I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I’d have to make bones about it, since I was travelling cognito. Beknowst to me, the hostess, whom I could see both hide and hair of, was very proper, so it would be skin off my nose if anything bad happened. And even though I had only swerving loyalty to her, my manners couldn’t be peccable. Only toward and heard-of behaviour would do. 

Fortunately, the embarrassment that my maculate appearance might cause was evitable. There were two ways about it, but the chances that someone as flappable as I would be ept enough to become persona grata or a sung hero were slim. I was, after all, something to sneeze at, someone you could easily hold a candle to, someone who usually aroused bridled passion. 

So I decided not to risk it. But then, all at once, for some apparent reason, she looked in my direction and smiled in a way that I could make head or tails of. 

I was plussed. It was concerting to see that she was communicado, and it nerved me that she was interested in a pareil like me, sight seen. Normally, I had a domitable spirit, but, being corrigible, I felt capacitated—as if this were something I was great shakes at—and forgot that I had succeeded in situations like this only a told number of times. So, after a terminable delay, I acted with mitigated gall and made my way through the ruly crowd with strong givings. 

Nevertheless, since this was all new hat to me and I had not time to prepare a promptu speech, I was petuous. Wanting to make only called-for remarks, I started talking about the hors d’oeuvres, trying to abuse her of the notion that I was sipid, and perhaps even bunk a few myths about myself. 

She responded well, and I was mayed that she considered me a savoury character who was up to some good. She told me who she was. “What a perfect nomer,” I said, advertently. The conversation became more and more choate, and we spoke at length to much avail. But I was defatigable, so I had to leave at a godly hour. I asked if she wanted to come with me. To my delight, she was committal. We left the party together and have been together ever since. I have given her my love, and she has requited it.

If you’re interested do check out my new £xcluded Voices book which went to #1 in its section within hours of release!

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Sarah Everard and making the streets a more friendly place.

The last 2 weeks London has been shocked and looking over its shoulder due to the sad abduction and subsequent murder of 33 year old Sarah Everard as she walked home on the evening of the 3rd March through the Clapham area.

Sadly it seems her body has been discovered and if it could be possibly more shocking, the person arrested on suspicion of the crime is Wayne Couzens, not just a serving Police Office but one in a specialised armed division tasked with the patrolling of diplomatic premises – including Downing Street, the Palace of Westminster, as well as foreign embassies in London.  It seems that he had been on duty at the American Embassy on the 3rd of March and his shift only finished a short time before Sarah was last seen and as can been on the map below, the embassy isn’t that far away from the Clapham district of London.

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I have spent much of the last week feeling afraid for Sarah Everard, and it’s heartbreaking for Sarah’s friends and family. London’s streets are the streets I live my life on every day. It may be rare for women to be abducted in the street but women live with violence, abuse and harassment every day. The responsibility to protect women from male violence should not lie with women.

I’ve been reading comments and opinions all over the place regarding this sad crime though its worth noting that women are far more likely to be killed by people that they know rather than strangers with the majority of such deaths seeing male victims.

A lot of women have come out to say that they rarely go out after dark and when they do, they are scared. I have to say, I don’t think it’s just women. I haven’t been out alone after dark for 10-15 years; I still haven’t seen my street at night and I’ve been here for almost 14 months. I’m actually surprised how many people seem to go out at night at all as I’ve always nightfall brought out the unsavoury types. I’m pretty sure not many older people go out at night either or people with disabilities.

As someone who has both intervened to help a woman being attacked in daylight, assisted a WPC make an arrest in daylight and been relatively recently attacked myself in daylight, I’d never dream of going out at night. I go to watch movies at 10am or so, only eat out around midday and even my Jack The Ripper Walking Tours are (uniquely) in the day-time. I’ve never even considered going out after dark until this week when so many people have said it is or should be normal.

That being said I always try to put others first when I am out and about, it’s just sad that no-one else seems to do that to others or indeed myself. Whenever I am walking around, if I am approaching a lady or older people or indeed children from behind then I always try and either walk in the road or cross over to the other side so they don’t feel unduly threatened and if it seems appropriate I’ll do it when coming towards someone face to face. It’s not really any different than taking precautions with Covid around.

If you’ve never given any thought of how to make anyone but especially women feel safer on the street at any time but especially at night then try and put the following into practice.

  1. Keep your distance: ‘When walking behind a girl or woman at night, remember that the closer you are, the more threatening you seem. So make sure to leave a good amount of distance between yourself and her.’
  2. Don’t run up from behind: ‘Having someone run up behind you at night can give anyone a fright, but for a girl or woman it can be terrifying. Next time you’re out for an evening jog and see a woman walking ahead… cross the road or make sure to leave a good amount of space while passing.’ 
  3. Don’t stare: ‘If you’re by yourself, being stared at is intimidating and unsettling. Taking out your phone and focusing on something else can go a long way to showing you’re not a threat. Look out the window to focus on something else, or call a friend to have a chat.’
  4. Keep comments to yourself: ‘What you might see as just a bit of fun, or even flattering, is actually harassment and can be terrifying to lone women and girls.’ 
  5. Keep your mates in line: ‘You may not harass women, but if you stay quiet while your mates do then you’re part of the problem.’
  6. Be an active bystander: ‘If you notice a woman is uncomfortable with someone’s behaviour, show your support by being an active bystander. It can be as simple as standing between a woman and her harasser to block their line of sight. Ask her if she is OK, and back up anyone else who is intervening.’ 
  7. Share the walk: ‘Keep the conversation going by sharing these tips, and helping girls and women feel safer at night.’
Posted in Life, News, Opinion | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments