Predicting the weather with Old Wives Tales

Most of us are familiar with Old Wives Tales, traditional pearls of wisdom from sources lost through the ages but seemingly tapping into an eternal truth that is only revealed to older married women whose only qualification is a lifetime of experience.  They cover all areas of life but not least the weather.

Despite being bombarded daily by weather forecasts that use the latest computer technology and models,  three in four of us in the U.K. are still more likely to rely on old wives’ tales to predict the weather.

We retain a belief – often misguided – that cows lie down when it’s about to rain or that a red sky at night means it will be fine tomorrow, according to a survey for the Met Office.


It found 58 per cent of UK adults believe weather proverbs are accurate to some degree – and two-thirds of these say they can be more reliable than official forecasts.

However, nearly half of those who have relied on old wives’ tales to predict the weather admit they have been caught out.

Not all those who believe the proverbs make use of them. While 83 per cent accept ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’ as true, only 70 per cent rely on it as a guide to the next day’s weather.

The Met Office looked at several of the best-known pieces of folklore to see which are scientifically accurate and which are myths.

Some of them have are decidedly more reliable than others. A quarter of us believe that if it is wet on St Swithin’s Day – July 15 – there will be rain on each of the next 40 days though there is no real evidence to back this up.

Met Office forecaster Charlie Powell said: ‘Some of these weather sayings are backed up by science, others are nothing more than old wives’ tales.

Probably the most famous one is ‘Red Sky At Night, Shepherd’s Delight.  Red Sky In The Morning, Shepherd’s Warning’.  Happily this statement is generally accurate.  This is because our prevailing weather comes from the west.  Stable, High Pressure systems trap dust in the air which diffuses the blue light which can leave the sunset spectacularly vivid and red.

Similarly, ‘Rain Bedore Seven, Fine By Eleven’ also stands up to scrutiny.  This is because often when we have rain, we also have very strong winds and this usually means that if you wake up to rain, it will clear away by lunch time.

Sadly, the Old Wives weren’t wholly accurate and the belief that cows lie down when it is going to rain has been demonstrated to be largely untrue.   Cows may well lie down before it rains but they also lie down for many other reasons.

If you are interested in wordplay and origins of old sayings and Idioms then why not check out my new book, Straight From The Horse’s Mouth.  Click on the book below for more details (Available in Kindle, iBooks, Nook and Paperback formats and many more too).


Posted in Heritage, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My new tour – Sacred, Secret, Gardens of London

One of the joys of doing walking tours around London is that I often come across new areas, secret oasis almost, in the midst of one the largest and busiest cities in the world.  I find that my tourists often prefer the hidden gems even over some of the big tourist sites or indeed big gems as is the case with the Crown Jewels.

I spent this afternoon writing up and preparing a new tour which is dedicated to some of the ancient ruined churches that though destroyed in The Blitz, live on in some form as tranquil, magical and slightly ephemeral green spots in the concrete jungle.

The link to the tour is here  but I thought I might share it below too.

If you ever come to London and want a truly special and unique tour with your ever so friendly blogger and guide, then be sure to let me know 🙂

For centuries the City of London was the most densely populated place on Earth.  Even today countless millions live in Greater London but only a handful of people live in the original City of London, outnumbered by their long dead predecessors that rest in ancient graveyards,

Christopher Wren rebuilt most of the City churches after the Great Fire of London and whilst many survive, several were all but destroyed in The Blitz during WW2 leaving nothing but picturesque ruins and tranquil, hidden oasis in the middle of the financial capital of the world

This very special walking tour will take you to secretive green spots not known even by most Londoners and all with a special story to tell and with a quiet and peaceful beauty.

We will visit St Olave’s in Mincing Lane, a rare survivor of the Great Fire and rather reminiscent of a country church.  Samuel Pepys lived here and is buried here too.  Charles Dickens went so far as to proclaim it “my best beloved churchyard”

“It is a small small churchyard, with a ferocious, strong, spiked iron gate, like a jail. This gate is ornamented with skulls and cross-bones, larger than the life, wrought in stone … the skulls grin aloft horribly, thrust through and through with iron spears. Hence, there is attraction of repulsion for me … and, having often contemplated it in the daylight and the dark, I once felt drawn towards it in a thunderstorm at midnight.” he wrote in “The Uncommercial Traveller.”

A particular favourite of mine is the churchyard of St Dunstan’s in the East.  The ruins of a Wren church have been overgrown with wisteria and creepers to create a garden of magnificent romance, where almost no-one goes. You can sit here within the nave surrounded by high walls on all sides, punctuated with soaring Gothic lancet windows hung with leafy vines which filter the sunlight in place of the stained glass that once was there.

Visiting St Mary Aldermanbury in Love Lane with its intricate knot garden is a must and here we will see the bust of William Shakespeare, commemorating John Hemminge and Henry Condell who published the First Folio and are buried there.

The yard of the bombed out Christchurch Greyfriars in Newgate St is another essential point.  Now only the walls and steeple of the church remain though there is dense border planting that occupies the space where once the congregation sat.


Other beautiful spaces that we will visit include The Guildhall Church of St. Bennet at White Lion Hill,  London City Presbyterian Church, Aldersgate St.,  St Lawrence Jewry-next-Guildhall, Gresham St.,  St Michael Paternoster Royal, College St., St Michael Cornhill and last but not least the hidden gem that is Postman’s Park with its incredible memorials.

Departure Time:10 am
City Location: London
Duration of Tour: 3 hours
(Approximate times as all tours are bespoke)

Standard Adult Prices per person excluding entry fees (child prices available upon request).

1 Adult = £80

2 Adults = £75

3 Adults = £70

4 Adults = £65

5 – 10 Adults = £50

For more information or to make a booking, please email



Posted in Cool Britannia, history, Life, London, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Missing Mam, 4 years on.

It’s now well over 4 years since I unexpectedly lost my mother and though I would very much like to say things have settled into a new normal, they really haven’t.  Or if they have then the new normal really isn’t a very nice place.  However there are a few things that I’d like to say or that maybe might help others if they lose their parents relatively young in life.

Many who have recently lost their parents will tell you they know what you’re going through, they don’t.  I lost my mother when I was in my 30’s with no warning.  Admittedly logically speaking, this is much better than it happening when you’re 15 or even 25 but it’s still not really normal and definitely not pleasant.

Nothing has made me cringe more than when someone says that they completely understand what I’m going through.  Invariably this person might be in their 50’s or 60’s and often older than what my mother was when she died.

Losing a parent when you’re in your late 50’s or 60’s is now near enough the norm and is somewhat natural.    To have someone older than your mother telling you they understand as they have just lost their parent isn’t pairing like with like.   Just as I happily have no idea of what it is like to lose a mother when a teenager, it cannot be the same as a retired person yourself to lose your own parent who is well into their 80’s or beyond and whose death was somewhat forwarned.

People that haven’t experienced this yet just don’t get it, and that’s not their fault.  I realised it isn’t their fault, and I should be happy they don’t understand.  I would never wish this experience on absolutely anyone, and I am grateful that the majority of my friends my age and considerably older are unable to relate to it.

One of the annoying things that people say is that the person you’ve lost are “in a better place”, “they’re watching over you” but even if you do feel their presence sometimes, I really do find it to be the last thing you want to hear.  I don’t want you to tell me they’re watching over me, because it’s not the same as having them in front of me and hearing their voice or laugh.   Is having a picture or soundtrack of a pizza the same as eating a pizza?  Of course not, it’s absolutely no consolation whatsoever.    Extending the principle further, you’d just have dead people doing all the jobs but that would be nonsensical as nothing would get done.  That nothingness is what we who are left behind feel. I know these people mean well when they say these things, but it just hurts more.

I hate it when people complain about their parents to me, because at least they have them.  I cannot emphasise how much I hate this, how much it makes my stomach turn and my heart ache from people again who are much older, even older than my Mother was.

I can understand people complaining or sorrowful if their parent is terminally ill or suffering from a protracted illness but for every day non-event issues, I can’t ever sympathise with these sorts of complaints.

One thing that immediately became apparent to me as my Mother died the evening before Good Friday at Easter is that holidays and important life events will NEVER be the same.   They aren’t just never the same again, they are quite frankly quite awful. Not only are the traditions you held with your parents gone, but you’re also left with the emptiness that their absence left behind. Now you forever wonder what things would be like if they were there, and you wish that they were.

Holidays now carry a gloom, an emptiness that will never be filled. It also causes the memories of the past holidays and traditions to be brought to the surface, opening back up the pain of what used to be. It reminds you that you would do anything to have it back. The people around you are filled with the holiday cheer, unaware that these days bring you so much pain, emptiness and loneliness.

Though I’ve had other negative events in my life since, I can safely say that every single Easter, Christmas, Public holiday, private holiday, birthday and New Year in the last few years have been nothing less than an unending misery almost without exception.

I’ve had perhaps 4 happy days this year which wouldn’t be great on January 17th, let alone July 17th.

As no-one else can understand what  you’re going through, it does mean that those few who do understand or at least those few who entirely sympathise and try to help and understand what you have lost, and the weight you now have to carry around with you.  These people become more important to you.

Not only that, but you now understand how easy it could be to lose someone because you already lost someone so important to you. It makes you cherish the people you have more than ever before, and it makes you want to hold onto them stronger.  The unexpected loss of the single most precious person on the planet demonstrates how important the remaining important people in your life are to you.

In some ways having learnt that losing someone can happen in the blink of an eye, can make you worried and paranoid about all the things that can happen to the people closest to you. When someone is supposed to come over and doesn’t, you worry. When someone doesn’t answer their phone, you worry. You instantly start thinking about worst case scenarios, and everything that could have gone wrong. And the relief you feel when you finally hear from them is unexplainable.

You know you worry too much, and deep down you know they’re probably fine, but you still can’t stop yourself. The potential of losing someone else closest to you is too much to bare again, and you know the risk is always there.   It can probably being annoying or overbearing to those you care about but at least they know that you do care.

You don’t want to lose the people that are still in your life, so you become more attached to them. You want to show them how much they mean to you, remind them all the time.  I can’t explain the feeling unless you’ve experienced this, but once you do, it makes you want to hold on to the people around you tighter, makes you want to show them how important they are to you. It makes you need the affection and love from these people to help you heal from what you have lost, to remind yourself that there are still people in your life that are important and that care about you. That there are still reasons to keep living.

Something else that comes to mins is that going through this sort of situation helps you choose your words more carefully.  I’m well aware of how important last words are, whether the last words to your were good or bad, you understand the weight it holds and the importance it has. It makes me more aware of how I speak with people who are important to me. It makes me say “I love you” before I say goodbye

This is because if this is the last time you talk to them, you want to make sure they know how you feel about them and that you love them. You make sure you tell them all the time how much they mean to you and how much you need or appreciate them. Even when you’re angry with them.

One of the obvious lessons is that you appreciate that there isn’t time to waste either on not doing anything or indeed on doing something you don’t want to do.  You now understand that life is not forever, how time is always ticking away. This teaches you to not take anything less than you deserve, and to never waste time. It makes you more honest and upfront with people because you understand there’s no point in wasting anyone’s time being anything less.

Irealise how important my  time and life is. I won’t waste it on something or someone that doesn’t measure up.  I realise how important your time and life is too and I won’t ever waste one moment of it.

As I understand how quickly life can disappear after losing my mother, you sit there and reminisce on all the lost chances and times you could have had with them. You would give anything to have one more trip, adventure, or even simply a dinner with them.  I would give my entire savings and my car for one last hug or real conversation with my Mother.  However this does make one more likely agree to doing things with other people because what if you never get another chance.

You start to realize how important adventure and time spent with people are. You understand that these are what brings life to, well, your life. You start to seek out anything that will bring meaning to you or that will fill the hole in your chest. You want to experience life for your parent, for everything they are missing out on. You want to make their loss worth it by knowing you gave life everything you had for them.

In the month of June alone, I worked 560 hours on my business.  Obviously this is 3-4 times more than the average person in the Western World.  Partly it is by choice, partly it is to make the most of the opportunity I have of having my own business and partly it is as I have little else to do.  I also know that whatever happens, I gave it my very best shot.  It’s also to ensure a better life in the future, if I’m lucky enough to have one.  I often think of a wonderful quote about entrepeneurs in that for a relatively short time they do things that no-one else will in order to live the life than no-one else can.    I think it is very apt.

Many people feel guilty about their relationship with their mother or wish they could have changed something.  In this regard I am very lucky, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  I never did anything I regretted and I told her I love almost every day and certainly every time we communicated or met.  My only regret is that if I am fortunate, I have to live most of my life without one of the people that I love the most.

After losing someone so important, it is easy to become bitter and resentful towards the world for taking them from you, for robbing you of so much time and love.  You can become so pessimistic about life’s outcomes. You have to learn to let go of the bitterness. You have to reteach yourself to think positively, to not always worry and think the worst case scenarios. You have to learn that this experience does not mean you will never be happy again, and that life will never be good again.   Unfortunately, that is just what people say, I have found no evidence of this whatsoever but hopefully one day I will.

I realise that my Mother would never want me to go through life with this shadow looming over my every thought and action, that she would want me to be happy. Still, this prospect seems as remote as it did several years ago.

Nevertheless, I did this and so far survived it.  Every bad thing that could happen over a life-time has happened to me in a few short years and somehow I am still going strong…ish.    That brings one unexpected bonusy in that you realise that nothing will ever stop me, because none of life’s obstacles will ever amount to this tragedy.  None of the petty complaints that people make a drama of amount to anything in the big scheme of things.  Once you’ve survived this you realise you can survive literally anything life throws at you.   What else can go wrong except for my own demise? Thus, you begin to realise your strengths.  Even if I can’t see them myself, plenty of people spend half their lives telling me them.  Thank-you 🙂

Perhaps the most important lesson in losing my mother as I did is that I don’t take anyone for granted.  You should never take a single person, experience, memory, or moment for granted. Everything you currently have can be lost in an instant, without any warning.

You learn to appreciate every little good thing in your life, and disregard the bad because it’s nothing compared to what has been. You have learned what is important in life, and what is not. Your meaning of life has changed forever.

It’s been 4 years since I lost my mother, an earth-shattering, soul destroying day that may as well have just happened yesterday. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of her or miss her.  There is absolutely no consolation to her loss, there is no aspect of life that is enriched by her not being here and every day is pretty much a nightmare.  Such is the price of a deep love.

If you can relate to this then I’m really sorry for you but I can’t say that time will heal things.  Maybe it can for some people, obviously it can’t for some others.   If you wonder what on earth I’m going on about them I’m really happy for you and not a little jealous.

Candle of rememberance

I love you with all my heart Mama and always will.

Posted in Life, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

15 of the best war films of all time.

It’s only a week now until the release of my most anticipated film of the year, Dunkirk. Despite being pivotal to the entire WW2, the brave and often selfless actions of the British Expeditionary Force and allied French and Belgian troops is often forgotten outside these shores.  A matter that will be surely changed with the forthcoming release of Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan.


Maybe I was just odd, I probably am but I’m sure children were a bit more adult in their television and movie-going experiences… probably adults were too before half the planet ended up watching celebrity nonsense.  Whilst everyone else spent their youth watching cute Disney type films, I was watching action and adventure and likely thousands of people getting killed on celluloid.

In preparation for the new movie, I thought I would post a rundown of 15 of my other favourite war movies and see just what the competition will be.  In no particular order, as that would be way to hard at this time of the morning.


The Great Escape, 1963,

Based on a true story, a group of British escape artist-type prisoners-of-war (POWs) are all put in an ‘escape proof’ camp. Their leader decides to try to take out several hundred all at once. The first half of the film is played for comedy as the prisoners mostly outwit their jailers to dig the escape tunnel. The second half is high adventure as they use boats and trains and planes to get out of occupied Europe.  Sadly most of them don’t make it and are executed on Hitlers personal orders.  Perhaps the most exhilarating moments include Steve McQueen and the sadly entirely fictional attempts to cross over the border fence on a motorbike.

This film is full of great actors and cinematic moments along with some great cinematography and a soundtrack full of pomp.   They might have well just stopped making films after the chase below.


Zulu, 1964.

Again based on actual events. Zululand, South Africa, 1879. The British are fighting the Zulus and one of their columns has just been wiped out at Isandlwana. The Zulus next fix their sights on the small British outpost at Rorke’s Drift. At the outpost are 150 British troops under the command of Lieutenants Bromhead and Chard. In the next few days these 150 troops will fight about 4,000 Zulus in one of the most courageous battles in history.

The film that made Michael Caine famous and the battle that made two enemy nations garner utmost respect for each other.

Colour Sgt. Bourne: Sir, sentries report the Zulus have gone. All of them! It’s a miracle.

Lt. Chard: If it’s a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it’s a short chamber Boxer-Henry point-four-five caliber miracle.

Sgt. Bourne: And a bayonet, sir, with some guts behind it.

Now, everyone get their singing voice ready.  Bonus points to anyone who can sing in Zulu too 🙂  yes, I’ve watched the film that many times.

For more on Zulu and the actual events in the battle, check out my blog post. 

The Password Is Courage, 1962

Another true to life film but this one on with a lower budget and more understated tone.  The man who broke into Auschwitz. When he was captured in France in 1940 Sergeant-Major Charles Coward launched his own private war against the Germans (although he was being held as a prisoner-of-war). For several years he was the most incredible amateur espionage and sabotage agent of World War Two, opposing the Nazis while sending back vital information to England. He escaped from captivity nine times and was, eventually, sent to Auschwitz III (a

He escaped from captivity nine times and was, eventually, sent to Auschwitz III (a labour camp just five miles from Auschwitz II, the extermination camp). He carried guns and dynamite for the Polish underground movement, traded in dead bodies (by swapping the corpses of dead prisoners for Jewish prisoners, allowing the prisoners to escape) and, finally, he smuggled himself into Auschwitz where he witnessed the full horrors of the extermination camp. This is one of the most heroic and extraordinary stories of World War Two. Charles Coward fought the might of the Nazi army and won, his courage is

This is one of the most heroic and extraordinary stories of World War Two. Charles Coward fought the might of the Nazi army and won, his courage is testament to the indomitable human spirit facing overwhelming odds. At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials Coward’s testimony was sensational, allowing over 2,000 Auschwitz survivors to file lawsuits for compensations against their former oppressors.

The film is remarkably quite comedic with the prisoners running hoops round their guards but it all gets serious

Hin und oder hin und zurück?      I made sure I learned the answer when I took up German!


Enemy At The Gates, 2001.

In World War II, the fall of Stalingrad will mean the collapse of the whole country. The Germans and Russians are fighting over every block, leaving only ruins behind. The Russian sniper Vassili Zaitsev stalks the Germans, taking them out one by one, thus hurting the morale of the German troops. The political officer Danilov leads him on, publishing his efforts to give his countrymen some hope. But Vassili eventually start to feel that he can not live up to the expectations on him. He and Danilov fall in love with the same girl, Tanya, a female soldier. From Germany comes the master sniper König to put an end to the extraordinary skilled Russian sniper.

Inspired by true events and with an epic Stalingrad set, this is one tense film.

Kajaki, 2014.

In September 2006, a 3 man patrol of Paras sets off from their outpost overlooking Kajaki Dam in southern Afghanistan, to engage the Taliban. As they make their way across a dried out river bed one of them steps on a mine left from the Russian occupation some 25 years before. His colleagues rush to his aid only to find they are surrounded by mines and every move threatens serious injury or death.

I remember watching this film very vividly and found it to be intensely gripping.  A low budget but incredible modern day war film which I had the pleasure to get to know some of the people involved, both the cinematic and actual heroes.

You can read more about Kajaki here.

Above the Kajaki Dam

Above the Kajaki Dam


Ice Cold In Alex, 1958

John Mills stars in this war story set after the fall of Tobruk in World War II. Two English army officers (John Mills and Harry Andrews) and two young nurses (Sylvia Syms and Diane Clare) are driving an ambulance through occupied North Africa to Alexandria. Along the way they pick up a South African officer (Anthony Quayle), and more than once avoid capture and death while crossing the German lines. However, as the South African officer begins to undermine their confidence, they gradually come to suspect him of being a German spy.

This has to be an all-time classic of any genre with some action, a bit of plot and some heart-wrenching moments.   Having myself spent time looking forward to an Ice Cold (beer) in Alex myself, albeit with out the Nazis, it is one sure way to spend a happy 2 hours.   These days I get the same reaction when driving through London traffic and thinking of a pepperoni pizza.


Platoon, 1987.

Oliver Stone’s award winning film tells the story of a young innocent 19-year-old soldier, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), who is thrown headfirst into the bloody Vietnam conflict. He is forced to fight not only the Viet Cong, but also his own fears and intense anger. As a result of not being able to make any progress against the enemy, the soldiers, led by the strict and unsympathetic Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), are forced to turn their anger and guns on each other. Barnes also has a personal battle with fellow officer Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), who is the more understanding and compassionate of the two officers and helps Sheen to cope with his personal problems.

Platoon was the preeminent of the Vietnam War films that were released in the late 1980’s.  I remember watching quite under-age to be confronted by what would now be classed as one big F-Bomb.

I guess as the film was titled, the first casualty of war is innocence.


Full Metal Jacket, 1987.

One of a series of revisionist Vietnam cinema released in the late 1980s, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is essentially split into two stories linked by a number of characters. The film follows new recruit Joker (Matthew Modine) and his fellow soldiers through their basic training and into combat in Vietnam. The first half is a chilling portrayal of military brutality and de-humanisation, mainly at the hands of Sgt Hartman (played at a level of staggering intensity by ex-Marine Lee Ermey), that centres around the tragic character of Private Pyle, a young man pushed to the edge of his endurance. The tone of the film is no less harsh when transported to the combat zone as we see the results of the training process in action: the young men turned into unquestioning killing machines. Joker is perhaps the one exception, a soldier with “Born to Kill” written on his helmet who also sports a peace sign on his lapel. But the film finds itself caught in the trap of many of the war movies of the time–how to create audience empathy with characters who are essentially in the wrong. It’s a dilemma that

The tone of the film is no less harsh when transported to the combat zone as we see the results of the training process in action: the young men turned into unquestioning killing machines. Joker is perhaps the one exception, a soldier with “Born to Kill” written on his helmet who also sports a peace sign on his lapel. But the film finds itself caught in the trap of many of the war movies of the time–how to create audience empathy with characters who are essentially in the wrong. It’s a dilemma that Full Metal Jacket never really solves, although as a spectacle the film is a masterpiece. Made in the days before CGI became the norm, the battle sequences–filmed, rather bizarrely, in London’s Docklands before its redevelopment–are hugely realistic and are perhaps the key moments of the movie, heightening the disorientation and fear felt by the soldiers. By offering no more than a snapshot of the Vietnam conflict (the action deals with one individual skirmish), Kubrick cleverly leaves any

Made in the days before CGI became the norm, the battle sequences–filmed, rather bizarrely, in London before its redevelopment–are hugely realistic and are perhaps the key moments of the movie, heightening the disorientation and fear felt by the soldiers. By offering no more than a snapshot of the Vietnam conflict (the action deals with one individual skirmish), Kubrick cleverly leaves any judgement on the war to the audience, although clearly attempting to influence them. The fate of the characters who survive is also left in the balance, but we can perhaps imagine what awaits them.

I remember that along with Platoon and the Arnie films of the time, my entire school was gripped by this film.  We all knew it intimately and could have entire conversations just using quotes from the movie.

Jesus Christ Pile!


The Bridge On The River Kwai, 1957.

The film deals with the situation of British prisoners of war during World War II who are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway. Their instinct is to sabotage the bridge but, under the leadership of Colonel Nicholson, they are persuaded that the bridge should be constructed as a symbol of British morale, spirit and dignity in adverse circumstances.

At first, the prisoners admire Nicholson when he bravely endures torture rather than compromise his principles for the benefit of the Japanese commandant Saito. He is an honourable but arrogant man, who is slowly revealed to be a deluded obsessive.

He convinces himself that the bridge is a monument to British character, but actually is a monument to himself, and his insistence on its construction becomes a subtle form of collaboration with the enemy.

Unknown to him, the Allies have sent a mission into the jungle, to blow up the bridge.

This old film swept the Oscars when it came out.  It’s superbly shot and is full of great actors.  No matter how many times you watch it, there is still the excitement at the end of what will happen to the bridge.


Where Eagles Dare, 1968.

During WW2 a British aircraft is shot down and crashes in Nazi held territory. The Germans capture the only survivor, an American General, and take him to the nearest SS headquarters.

Unknown to the Germans the General has full knowledge of the D-Day operation. The British decide that the General must not be allowed to divulge any details of the Normandy landing at all cost and order Major John Smith to lead a crack commando team to rescue him.

Amongst the team is an American Ranger, Lieutenant Schaffer, who is puzzled by his inclusion in an all British operation. When one of the team dies after the parachute drop, Schaffer suspects that Smith’s mission has a much more secret objective.

This is an entirely fictional story based on an Allistair Maclean novel and came into being after star Richard Burton wanted to make a movie his boys could enjoy (you see, it wasn’t just me watching these things when I was 5).

As it isn’t based on true events, the story is no doubt piqued to maximum excitement with a relentless amount of action and shooting which the 5 year old in me enjoyed as well as some espionage and double-agents that I didn’t really get.

Everytime I go on a cable-car, I always remember that fight.    Just watch out for the whole pick-axe in the arm moment!

Broadsword Calling Danny Boy.


Battle of Britain, 1969.

Featuring a stellar cast, including Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave, Robert Shaw and Susannah York, Battle Of Britain is a spectacular retelling of a true story that shows courage at its inspiring best. Few defining moments can change the outcome of war. But when the outnumbered Royal Air Force defied insurmountable odds in engaging the German Luftwaffe, they may well have altered the course of history!

I remember watching this when I was young and found it to be a bit slow and boring at times but that is because it tries to accurately portray the events of the Battle Britain.  These days, it is a stonkingly good film.


The Sands of Iwo Jima, 1949.

During World War Two, hard-bitten sergeant John M. Stryker (John Wayne) earns the enmity of the recruits he trains for action in the Pacific. New recruit Peter Conway’s (John Agar) dislike for his commander turns to respect, however, when the latter saves him from a grenade. The squad are forced to show their mettle when they are sent into Iwo Jima to take Mount Suribachi whilst under constant fire from the Japanese. John Wayne’s performance earned him his first Oscar nomination.

I always like finding a film that is new to me and I found this in the 1980’s.  I particularly liked the early scenes which shows the men training in New Zealand and preparing for the increasingly hellish Pacific battles to come.  I won’t give away the ending but it’s neat that along the way, such a tough Sgt show much he actually cares for his men.

You know my natural dislike of you is gradually turning into a strong hate!


The Dam Busters, 1955.

Something of a cult item among British war movies (and brilliantly spoofed a few years back by a lager ad), The Dam Busters turns a minor World War II incident into a saga of heroic stiff-upper-lippery in the classic British style. A bombing raid is proposed on a strategically vital Ruhr dam, but its position is inaccessible.

Enter eccentric inventor Dr Barnes Wallis (Michael Redgrave in best daffy professor mode) who comes up with a genius idea–a bomb that will bounce on water like a skimmed pebble. Naturally the top brass pooh-pooh it, but gallant Wing Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd) is persuaded, and between them flyer and boffin forge ahead.

The touches of carefully understated emotion now verge on self-parody, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the narrative sweep, especially when the bombers take off on their mission and Eric Coates’ stirring march hits the soundtrack. The modelwork, state-of-the-art for its early 1950s period, still looks impressive.

Watch/listen to the stirring intro below, it will put hair on your chest!


Zulu Dawn, 1979.

Cy Endfield co-wrote the epic prequel Zulu Dawn 15 years after his enormously popular Zulu. Set in 1879, this film depicts the catastrophic Battle of Isandhlwana, which remains the worst defeat of the British army by natives, with the British contingent outnumbered 16-to-1 by the Zulu tribesmen.

The film’s opinion of events is made immediately clear in its title sequence: ebullient African village life presided over by King Cetshwayo is contrasted with aristocratic artifice under the arrogant eye of General Lord Chelmsford (Peter O’Toole). Chelmsford is at the heart of all that goes wrong, initiating the catastrophic battle with an ultimatum made seemingly for the sake of giving his troops something to do. His detached manner leads to one mistake after another and this is wryly illustrated in a moment when neither he nor his officers can be bothered to pronounce the name of the land they’re in (Isandhlwana).

It is a beautiful land nonetheless–superb cinematography drinks in the massive open spaces that shrink the British army to a line of red ants. Splendidly stiff-upper-lipped support comes from a heroic Burt Lancaster and a fluffy, yet gruff, Bob Hoskins.

Although the story is less focused and inevitably more diffuse than the concentrated events of Rorke’s Drift which followed soon after, Zulu Dawn is about the most honest depiction of British Imperial diplomacy ever seen on screen.

Whilst far from the best film even on this list, it is possibly the film I watched the very most at a young age.

Come all this way to get shot by a bullet from Birmingham…SHOOT STRAIGHT YOU BASTARDS!!


Lawrence of Arabia, 1962

To call Lawrence of Arabia a ‘mere’ war-film is no doubt doing it a disservice.     To see my review on Lawrence of Arabia and associated post where I Lawrence of Arabia and associated post where I travelled in his footsteps, do check out here in his footsteps, do check out here.

It’s not just a perfect war film, it is a perfect film, full stop.   Tying in the complex character of Lawrence and his battles with both his superiors and his own skin, we explore the massive geo-political changes of the Middle-East in WW1 with some of the most incredible set-piece battles and cinematography ever seen.

Lawrence and Sherif Ali

Lawrence and Sherif Ali

For a much more recent film set at the same time, in the same location check out the British-Jordanian 2015 flick, Theeb.

I realise I have missed off at least a dozen over classic war films such as Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, Black Hawk Down and many others.  Which is your favourite on my list and which do you think I should have sneaked in?

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Do Accents Hold You Back?

If you were to meet someone on the streets of London, would your opinion of them change if everything else being equal, they approached you with one of these greetings?   Would you think one was a snob or the other an idiot?  Would you answer back as you would normally do or change your greeting to match the tone of theirs?

In short, would you form an opinion of someone because of their accent?   When I moved to the London area, I was always picked on and bullied for speaking differently.  Nobody ever seemed to care or help and that was just how it is in a way that possibly wouldn’t be the case 30 years later.

I love accents and could talk about them all day long. Of course, like everyone, there are some accents I prefer to others.   Some accents are overwhelmingly seen as being positive in the UK, usually happy and enthusiastic voices of Newcastle, Manchester, Edinburgh and Liverpool though the very same Liverpudlian voice can also alienate many others.

In fact in the last 2 or 3 months I have had several marriage proposals from some of my American tourists that I don’t expect they would make if I wasn’t so very British.  I probably wouldn’t have thought about them either if they weren’t so charmingly American.

People make entire careers out of their accents and if accents are important enough that they can make money from then it is understandable if regrettable that poorly perceived accents can be detrimental in life.

I’m always good with accents, I can tell where people come in the UK, in the USA as well as most African and Asian countries and I don’t judge the speakers one way or the other.

One thing that does annoy me though is enunciation, speaking poorly.  Having an accent, even a strong accent doesn’t mean you can’t speak English correctly and I really cant’ abide the modern trend of having television and radio presenters and actors who speak English even less clearly than people I meet in real life.

Your accent is a part of who you are and can say a lot about where you’re from, but one thing it does not do is demonstrate how intelligent or capable you are and it is unfair that people are judged as being slow or backwards just because of how they speak.

Unfortunately, some people are too quick to judge a person negatively because of their accent and hold often utterly false preconceptions about them. Just because you have a northern accent doesn’t mean your family worked in a mine and, in the same guise, just because you have a plain English accent does not mean that you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, are a London gangster or have ambitions to become a criminal mastermind though if you have a guaranteed world dominating plot and need a clever sounding Englishman to deal with your PR then do let me know.

Just as we so often form a first impression of someone from their appearance, so too we seem to judge people based on their accent. I would hope in today’s society, a society in which we are becoming more accepting of differences, people are not held back because of their accents. However, sadly, there are many stories of people being patronised or under estimated because they have a regional dialect.

Like all prejudices in life, whether it be against gay people or stigmatising those with disabilities or mental health issues, we shouldn’t accept it. If someone doesn’t like your accent and treats you negatively because of it then, quite frankly, the question you should be asking is: do you want to be associated with them anyway?

Be loud and bloody proud. Wear your accent with pride though if I can say so, do try and speak clearly and without too much slang if you are outside your usual circle of friends.

Tackling ‘accentism’ – discriminaton against people with regional accents – is as important as the fight against racism, ageism and sexism, it has been claimed.

Prejudice against certain accents is the ‘last taboo’, according to Manchester University linguist Dr Alex Baratta, who says people are made to feel ‘fake’ when they have to ‘posh up’ while talking.

Dr Baratta is calling on employers to promise that job applicants’ accents will not be used against them in the same way as gender, sexual orientation, religion, age and race are ignored.

He said: ‘We should acknowledge that any form of workplace discrimination, to include accentism, should not be tolerated in a society which seeks to be more inclusive.

‘This is why “accentism” should be taken seriously as a problem which affects many of us.

‘Clearly, most people modify their accent not because they lack pride in it, quite the opposite in fact.

‘It’s actually because they fear the negative perceptions others might have of them if they don’t.’

Dr Baratta, who is from originally from Los Angeles, added: ‘George Bernard Shaw’s said; “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”

‘I don’t know if one prejudice is better then the other, you’re the wrong colour, the wrong sex, wrong age, wrong accent.’

His call to battle accentism comes after his research showed many people feel they have to change the way they speak to fit in.

Though accent modification is common, Dr Baratta said it can threaten the way we feel about personal identity, often causing anger and frustration.

Meetings at work with ‘posh’ sounding senior managers, he says, can be especially stressful for an individual with a more pronounced regional accent along with job interviews and even speaking on the phone, he said.

Research shows people with strong accents feel they’ve ‘sold out’ if they change the way they speak at work.Dr Baratta’s research is based on an ongoing survey of children, students and staff from different institutions and schools.It reveals that while most people accept the practice and accent modification, a third of respondents say they feel like a fraud when they consciously change the way they speak.

Though accent modification and the relationship between accent and identity are well researched, it is the first time anyone has attempted to investigate how accent modification in Britain affects the way we feel about ourselves.

Dr Baratta added: ‘Many Brits consciously modify their accent in social situations as a means to create a better impression.

‘While this is a common practice, we should not assume that it is accepted by all speakers without issue.

‘As part of my ongoing research, many participants see accent modification as synonymous with selling out and a clear threat to their sense of self.

‘This is especially true in education, where teachers in particular may feel pressure to modify their regional accent in order to be perceived in a more positive light by students and fellow staff alike.

‘My point is perfectly illustrated by an Ofsted inspector who last year told a Cumbrian teacher working in a Berkshire school to sound “more southern”.’

Personally, I refused to ever consciously change my accent and I was treated differently because of it and more than one person at work told me they felt I was unfairly treated my managers, one of whom managed to ignore every single suggestion I made in over 3 years.

Happily I now run my own company with people with accents from the East End of London, Liverpool, Received Pronunciation and Edinburgh and the tourists love each and every one of them.   Whether they get the marriage proposals, I couldn’t possibly comment.

Check out my blog about UK accents.Was it something I said? – Accents and dialects of the world and Great Britain.




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The story of the first Black Man in the British Army

A few weeks in a new episode of Dr Who, there was something of a story about one of the characters in that weeks episode.  It involved a platoon of Victorian British soldiers who ended up working on some alien mining complex under the surface of the planet Mars.  Rather than the actual setting being held to account for being outlandish, instead what came to prominence is that one of the actors was black.


The Victorian soldier who in Dr Who episode Empress of Mars is named Vincey and played by Bayo Gbadamosi

The writer had been initially uneasy to have this fairly major character portrayed by a black actor on account that the army at the time had no black soldiers… except for one.

I actually have some sympathy for historical accuracy but on a show like Doctor Who, if you can tolerate 19th century soldiers trying to get rich on a Martian mine whilst working for an alien then surely this is not the setting to argue about the accuracy of the ethnicity of a fictional character though the BBC does as the BBC writer put it often shows its desire to become ‘more representational and make everything less homogeneously white’.

However, it got me curious about this black man from Africa who made a name for himself in the British Army.

It all started on 30th December 1885 when the British routed the army of the Mahdi in Sudan. The Arab army had just been defeated but the British still had some mopping up to do.   The Madhi as characterised in the old Charlton Heston classic ‘Khartoum’ was something of a precursor to the current-day Islamic Fundamentalists and he enjoyed a widespread and fervorous following.

The British regiments turned their attention to some enemy barges that held a large stock of arms and ammunition and were thought to be moored several miles north along the River Nile.   If they could be captured or destroyed, perhaps the Islamist fanatic Muhammad Ahmad and his army of Dervishes would finally be kicked out of the Sudan after four years of fighting.

A force of 100 mounted infantrymen was ordered to head downstream. Among them were soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Beauvoir de Lisle, aged just 21.

After covering 35 miles, the British entered the village of Kohehmatto, where the head man revealed — after, in the words of a contemporary account, ‘a little gentle persuasion’ — that one of the enemy’s barges lay some six miles away.

With the light fading fast, de Lisle took 12 volunteers to capture the vessel-.

‘In the dusk we saw the outlines of the masts of the barge,’ de Lisle recalled, ‘and soon after, we came on the party of 30 [Dervishes] pulling her upstream.’

De Lisle and his men dismounted as quietly as possible and crept forward until they were within 50 yards of the barge. Despite being outnumbered, de Lisle had the advantage of surprise and ordered his men to open fire.

Three volleys rang out across the desert, after which de Lisle and his men charged forward with bayonets fixed. The Arabs fled, leaving behind a badly wounded man with a shattered leg — and, standing on the riverbank next to a donkey, a small black boy, clearly less than two years old. Amazingly, the child seemed unaffected by what he had just witnessed. When de Lisle approached, the boy held up his arms and the Lieutenant picked him up, then handed him to Colour Sergeant Stuart.

Incedibly, the child seemed unaffected by what he had just witnessed. When de Lisle approached, the boy held up his arms and the Lieutenant picked him up, then handed him to Colour Sergeant Stuart.

James Durham and Colour Sergeant Stewart

James Durham and Colour Sergeant Stewart shortly after the Battle of Ginnis

Stuart was enchanted by the boy he nicknamed ‘Jimmy Dervish’. The wounded man  whom the British treated revealed that the child’s real name was Mustapha, that his father had been killed and his mother had fled.

The boy kept pointing his finger at de Lisle and shouting ‘Bang! Morto!’ in imitation of a rifle shot and the subsequent result.

Neither Stuart nor de Lisle could bear to abandon him there alone so they took Jimmy back to camp, to decide what to do with him.

As the regimental journal The Bugle was later to record: ‘The night attack on the Nuggar [barge] has certainly altered the course of the lad’s life’.

This was an understatement — and then some. For little Jimmy, or James Durham, as he came to be known, would grow up to become, at the time, the only black soldier in the British Army. He even settled in Britain and married an Englishwoman.

Happily, after such a traumatic childhood, on reaching Britain, Jimmy never seems to have been racially abused. In all the accounts of his life, there is not one mention of him suffering any discrimination or even name-calling.

But even if Jimmy was victimised in this way,  it seems likely that he would have had the determination not to let it get to him.

‘He was absolutely fearless,’ The Bugle recounted, and as a boy would ‘wander round the camp being no respecter of persons. His usual request was “aus laben”, which being interpreted means “I want milk”.’

Jimmy also seems to have been a quick developer. In June 1886 he was examined by two Arab women, who estimated that he was no more than 18 months old. But even so, he was soon able to speak both English and Arabic and, according to The Bugle, could ‘ride a horse bareback to water daily, and give a song and dance on a barrack room table’.

The nearest person Jimmy had to a parent was a grizzled veteran called Jim Birley, who treated the boy as if he were his own son. Around midday every day, Birley would place little Jimmy in a leather bucket, lather him in soap and wash him down with water from a canteen.

Many of Birley’s comrades felt similarly affectionate. In January 1887 the battalion was posted to India and the men hoped Jimmy, then aged two, would go with them. However, the powers-that-be decided he should be cared for in a mission school in Cairo, which met with much opposition. A group of sergeants marched into the orderly room and demanded that Jimmy should go with them.

‘Colour Sergeant Stuart was spokesman,’ The Bugle wrote, ‘and he was quite heartbroken at the thought that Jimmy was not allowed to come to India.’

When the battalion was away, the sergeants all donated one rupee — a day’s pay — each month to Jimmy’s living expenses.

At some point — it is not clear when — Jimmy moved to Britain and was brought up in the northeast of England by the family of a soldier called Sergeant Robson. He appears to have had a happy upbringing and grew very close to Robson’s daughter Stella, whom he regarded as his sister.

‘I hope you will always reckon me as your brother,’ he would later write to Stella. ‘I have known you from when you were a dear little child and I always used to look to your father and dear mother as my mother as well. They have treated me like one of you all.’

Unsurprisingly, Jimmy decided to join the Army. After all, the battalion was his de facto family — and in 1899, when he was about 14, he was enlisted.

Although he doesn’t appear ever to have seen active service, Jimmy played in the band, accompanied the regimental goat on parade and ran the Army Temperance Association in the battalion.

James Durham

James Durham in the Victorian era uniform of the Durham Light Infantry

He was given an Award of Merit by Field Marshal Lord Roberts for his success in this last role, even though he held his temperance meetings in a room above a pub.

Recently, his medal was discovered in a house clearance and is currently for sale on eBay for a highly speculative £99,000.

On July 25, 1908, 23-year-old Jimmy married Jane Green, 22, from Bishop Auckland. Jane was white — and a century ago interracial marriage was, of course, highly unusual. But there is no evidence Jane was shunned by her community.

In November the following year, the new Mrs Durham fell pregnant and Jimmy was posted to Ireland with the battalion without her.

Although he seemed to enjoy Ireland — and even kissed the Blarney Stone, sadly the damp climate was not to his liking.

On August 8, 1910, at the Military Hospital in Fermoy, County Cork, Jimmy died of pneumonia at the age of 25. He would never meet his daughter Frances, who was born just three weeks later and would live until she was 88.

The regimental records state: ‘He always proved a universal favourite and his loss was much regretted by all ranks in the Battalion.’ He was buried with full military honours in Fermoy, his grave surrounded by flowers and with a headstone paid for by the officers, NCOs and men.

The affection for Jimmy continued long after his death. In 1984 his grave was vandalised but quickly repaired, at their own cost, by the people of Fermoy, surely a testament to Jimmy as well as the enduring acceptance of people of all colours to our shores.

Jimmy at Attention

Here Jimmy can be seen towards the centre of the photo, standing to attention at the Ghorpuri Barracks in Poona, India in 1887

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The British who helped build The White House


In a recent interview Dr William Seale, author and historian, said that Scots in particular were sought out for the project given their expertise in stone masonry and that a group of men who had been working on Edinburgh New Town were hired for the job.

They had been found through Edinburgh Lodge Number 1, the oldest masonic lodge in the world, which had a chapter solely made up of working stonemasons. Around eight to 12 men went to Washington from Edinburgh in the early 1790s and were led by master mason, Collen Williamson, of Dyke, Moray.

“The Scots were the greatest stonemasons in the world,” said Dr Seale, whose book, A White House of Stone, has just been published. “It was obvious to the Commission (leading the building project) to try Scotland and they had a local merchant go to Edinburgh where they were building the New Town.”

Burn marks on The Whitehouse

Burn marks on The Whitehouse

Dr Seale, speaking in an interview with the White House Historical Association, said up to a dozen men left Scotland for Washington. “There were about eight to 12 men and they were at the top of their field. They were working in the New Town which exploded in the late 18th Century.”

The building work was, however, to slow down with the outbreak of the British-French wars, Dr Seale said. “These men were about to go broke. They took the offer to built the White House , they illegally left the country from the west shore and arrived in Norfolk (Virginia) and very quickly got to work,” he said. They were to join a work-force of which up to 25% were indentured slaves, Dr Seale added.


Hobans White House Design

The men and their families lived in a workers village that sprung up in the shadows of the construction site. People were married there, babies were born and a community forged. Gardens separated rows of huts, people came from across Washington to shop at its markets, and horse races were held. Churches of various faiths were created an a masonic lodge, which still exists but at different premises, was founded.

“The village was a hive of human activity,” Dr Seale said. Master Mason Williamson was already in America by the time team of Scots stonemasons arrived having emigrated after his business in Scotland fell on hard times. He first met with the Washington Commission driving the White House project in 1793. His cousin ran the Fountain Inn, a busy tavern where men of influence met, and his role was secured.

“Williamson was difficult to get a along with, but he was highly skilled at his job,” Dr Seale said, He clashed repeatedly with James Hoban, the Irish architect hired to design the White House, with Williamson eventually sacked. “Hoban was a young man, only 30, and Williamson was in 60s. He just didn’t think a man as young as Hoban knew what he knew. Williamson was very vocal but Hoban was quiet, he didn’t make a show. “The commission eventually got sick of listening to Williamson.” Williamson left the White House in 1795 and was replaced by the Englishman James Blagden.

Dr Seale said the Craigleith stone used for Edinburgh landmarks such as Register Houe and Charlotte Square was similar to that used in the White House, which took more than eight years to build. As a result, the Scots were instrumental in putting the white into the White House. Used to working with porous material back home, they whitewashed the stone sourced from a Virginia quarry to protect it from water damage.

“The Scots were familiar with white washing stone. The white wash was thick and made with flattened beer and limestone. It was painted on with brooms. “The idea was that years would pass, the rain would wash off the surface, but leave it in the nooks and crannies so that water wouldn’t get in and freeze and split the stone,” Dr Seale said.

The White House was later rebuilt using the original stone after it was torched by British troops in 1814. White paint was then used to cover soot marks left by the fire. Some of the “exquisite carvings” created by the Edinburgh stonemasons, including a “festoon of flowers” over the front door, can still be seen at the White House – as well as a special token of home. “The one Scottish symbol that is incorporated in the White House by the Scots is a rose,” he added. You find it in the caps of the Ionic columns. This is the most voluptuous rose you every saw.

“In 1780, Scots gardeners propagated the Scottish double rose. It took Europe by storm. “The Scots were extremely proud of it. These men knew what they were doing, putting this rose in the columns. The Scots territory was established.” Dr Seale said it was not clear what happened to the Scots stonemasons once the White House was finished. “I wish I knew. These were substantial members of the community. I wish they had told their stories, but I suppose after so many generations it is lost to the wind,” he said.

First photo of The Whitehouse

The first photograph of the White House. Taken 10 years after the original was set ablaze by British troops

Whilst research this post I was quite shocked to find out The White House website has a very basic error.

As the official Website of the White House states, “White paint has nothing to do with covering the burning of the house by the British in 1814, although every schoolchild is likely to have heard the story that way. The building was first made white with lime-based whitewash in 1798, when its walls were finished, simply as a means of protecting the porous stone from freezing. Congressman Abijah Bigelow wrote to a colleague on March 18, 1812 (three months before the United States entered war with England).  <sigh> sadly the Whitehouse website seemingly doesn’t accurately know its own very special origin story by mentioning an 1812 war with England when there was no such nation-state… I think they mean the United Kingdom.  Shall I tell them or will you?  Nothing like a bit of fake news.

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