Looking back at 2018 in cartoons

It’s tradition at the end of a year to look back at the events that we’ve lived through and I thought this year that I would do so with the use of political cartoons.

It’s amongst the finest of British traditions to poke fun at our leaders and pretty much anyone in authority in a way that perhaps doesn’t happen in other places.

Whilst some, even in this country, can’t stand to see their leaders or people they admire lampooned in any way , I’m not that way at all and having weeded out the obvious figures of derision in North Korea and Russia, here are a selection of cartoons that made me laugh out loud.

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The above cartoons are all from January this year and a big theme in British cartoons is of course Brexit.  Here Brexit combines with the Oscars with Prime Minister Theresa May not standing any comparison at all with Winston Churchill whilst in the bottom right we see Boris Johnston copying the tactics from the hit film 3 Billboards

 

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One of the interesting things about cartoons is that they get their point across in an instant without any arguments.  Everyone knows what is meant by them whether they agree with your point of view.  The above cartoon is broadly speaking how much of the rest of the world thought of American gun policy after the mass shooting from the Las Vegas hotel almost a year ago.

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The cartoon above is of Opposition and Labour Party Leader and possible future Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn.  For all his merits, Mr. Corbyn has a serious problem with perceived anti-semitism.  This cartoon gains inspiration from the favourite hero Lord Nelson who ignored the orders from his superiors by raising his telescope to his blind eye and insisted he couldn’t see anything.

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In a bizarre way, Napoleon to British represents the most hated characteristics of anyone, even above Hitler.  This cartoon shows President Trump having taken inspiration from the French Bastille Day Parade wanting but failing to create a similar parade at home.  This time though rather than the heroic and defiant poses of Napoleon, the President is pictured with his hand fondling himself.

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Another cartoon of Jeremy Corbyn above and this one might be my favourite of the whole year.  Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have an anti-Semitic bone in his body because of course here is is portrayed as a Jelly Fish.  This has the bonus of showing his lack of spine and decision making which his opponents make capital out of.   In fact at this time my favourite political quote came out from Mr. Corbyn of when a video came out from decades ago showing him in the background of an terrorist in North Africa.  He told the media that he was present but not involved which I think sums up his leadership very well in deed.

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The cartoon above is inspired by the great old comedy The Addams Family.  A dysfunctional and scary family, albeit with good intentions.  I particularly like Theresa May as Morticia and the hand of Cousin It being Brexit.  It’s incredible just how much Savid Javid looks like his cartoon image of Uncle Fester in real life too.

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After the Brexit Deal almost immediately began to fall apart, Theresa May went to Austria to gain support from European leaders and the EU.  What I love about this cartoon is Jean Claude Junckers at the bottom.  Theresa May is depicted as escaping with her Brexit from the clutches of Europe with a very drunk EU Jean-Claude Juncker who seems to spend most of his life drunk at official functions, even seen wearing odd-socks!

 

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There could have been so many other entries, mostly to do with Donald Trump but I liked this one.  This goes back to the Salisbury poisonings and the idea that if you trace back the orders for the attack, eventually they go back to President Putin.

 

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Christmas Carols at St Paul’s Cathedral & my new favourite hymn ‘Oh Holy Night’

Before we get to the reason I started this post, I thought you might like to see a few photos of when I went to Christmas Carols at St Paul’s Cathedral.

We had to queue for over 2 hours to get in but it was all more than worthwhile.

6pm on Sunday 23rd December 2018

We got seats just 6 or 7 rows from the front which meant that amongst other things I could spend 2 hours sat under this beautiful Dome.

As you can see, St Paul’s is a beautiful building especially at Christmas when over 3,500 visit each of the many Christmas services, It is said that St Paul’s has one of the three top choirs along with Westminster Abbey and Kings College in Cambridge.

I’ve been listening to a lot of hymns this year and I have a new firm favourite.  If anyone has a few minutes to spare they might like to watch/listen to it too.

Adolphe Adam who in 1847 France wrote 'Oh Holy Night'

Adolphe Adam who in 1847 France wrote ‘Oh Holy Night’

Though not a new hymn by any means, Oh Holy Night was written in France in 1847, it has recently won hymn of the year in Britain several years in a row including 2018.

Here is a wonderful rendition from the BBC Carols from King’s (college, Cambridge).

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

Posted in Cool Britannia, Culture, Heritage, history, Life, Religion and Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

My home made Mulled Wine recipe

I always post a short or indeed Christmas post at this time of year and if you’d like to look at some earlier efforts before you make yourself a drink then be my guest.

  1. London as you’ve never seen it before… at Christmas with the voice of an Angel.
  2. Christmas through the ages
  3. When to take the Christmas decorations down? Or When Christmas used to last until February!
  4. 8 Myths About Christmas Debunked
  5. The history of Father Christmas & Santa Claus
  6. The Christmas Truce and football match of 1914.
  7. https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2013/12/23/ghosts-of-christmas-past/

Now down to the important business, the booze!

There are lots of great traditional British foods and drinks that people have enjoyed down through the ages; one of the most popular of these is Mulled Wine.

It might seem a little strange to have a hot alcoholic drink if you live in some places in the world, but if you live somewhere with cold winters and in times past, unheated homes then I can assure you it makes perfect sense and there is nothing nicer.

It’s really quick and simple to make, easier still for myself as I make my own wine from garden grown grapes and when you’ve done that then the mulling process is just the icing on the cake.

So what do you need?

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Ingredients

  • 750ml bottle red wine
  • 1 large cinnamon stick, or 2 small ones
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 strips lemon zest, pared using a vegetable peeler
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 100ml sloe gin if gin is your thing.

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I don’t use gin in mine and I use lemon juice from a bottle rather than lemon zest as I wasn’t going to buy a lemon just for this!

Method

  1. Put the red wine, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, lemon zest and sugar in a large pan. Cook on a low heat for 10 mins.
  2. Remove from the heat and cool, leaving to infuse for about 30 mins.
  3. To serve, heat without boiling, stir in the sloe gin (if using) and pour into mugs or heatproof glasses.

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I hope you like my quick seasonal recipe and for everyone who celebrates it, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

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Top 10 films of 2018

It’s become tradition that every year I do a blog post listing my favourite television programmes and films of the year.

As for the big screen, I don’t think it has been a classic year either.  I don’t think anything has quite touched the brilliance of last years Goodbye Christopher Robin or Arrival .  Here are the my favourites though and the last few do indeed have an air of quality about them.

10. Halloween  – I’m a huge horror fan but I like real horror, not particularly teenage 15-rated slasher films but 18 rated with actual horror and jeopardy, maybe even suspense.  It’s 40 years since the first Halloween film and as a 4 or 5 year old, it is just about 40 years since I watched my first horror, the original Halloween.

Ignoring most of the sequels, this film picks up 40 years since the original film with Jamie Lee Curtis playing her iconic role.  Still understandably unable to put her life back together, she is all ready for the night that can give her closure, presuming she survives.

This film lives up to the original, not quite as slow paced due to the changing nature of films but very obviously in the same mould.  There are some great homages to the original and some terrifically horrific moments.  You certainly don’t want to be in the same garden as Michael Myers when the motion sensors switch the light off!     I love that they retain the music and little touches from the original that give indications of what has or may happen.

 

9. Mission Impossible Fall-Out

I’ll be honest I don’t much like Tom Cruise the person and I don’t rate him as an actor but the sum of all its parts make Mission Impossible to me a surprisingly good action film.  Some really good sequences in Paris and Asia and even knowing that some of the London scenes were physically impossible, they made me almost believe it was real.

I enjoyed this a lot and was glad the bad guy got his comeuppance.

 

8. The Meg

I’ve always been a fan of Shark movies.  It didn’t bother me that Jaws might be hiding under my bed, I watched it as soon as we got a Betamax video copy in the later 1970’s … like Halloween, hugely under-age.  Then in the 1990’s was Deep Blue Sea with that fantastic moment when Samuel L. Jackson gets eaten whole just when you’d least expect it.

The Meg doesn’t pretend to be gory and I think a decision was made during the production to deliberately tone the bloody aspects down as real there aren’t any/  It’s quite suspenseful in places and definitely exciting.  Jason Statham plays his usual hardnut Cockney and the film is really all about him as The Meg.

For me there The Meg has perhaps the best clip of any film in 2018.  The Meg is kind of a dinosaur era shark and as such is much bigger than Jaws and part of the way through the film, we think it has been caught as the massive dead beast is hauled above the ship.

The surprise, horror and total WTF-ness of this massive shark then being eaten by one that dwarfs it is quite something.

A rather braindead film that I really enjoyed.

 

7.  Bad Times at the El Royale

I like Quentin Tarantino films and this one though not made by him, may as well been so.  The El Royale is a hotel in the 1970’s set upon the border of two American states.  It involves a number of characters who are all coming to the hotel for very different reasons but somehow they all come together in to something of a bloody shoot-out.

 

6. Overlord

If you like films about zombies and Nazis in WW2 films then this could very well be your favourite film for a long time.  What could make better villains than Nazi zombies?

This JJ Abrams film follows a platoon of men taking part in Operation Overlord or D-Day as it is known.  The first part of the film is a modern take on a traditional war film and though I enjoyed it, I found the inaccuracies a bit annoying.

Things start getting weird and violent though and that is when the film transposes itself into a zombie horror.

Thinking about it, I can’t think of a much better way to spend a few hours and maybe I should rank this film a little higher just because it is so unique.

 

5. All The Money In The World

This film tells the true-life events of the richest man in the world and the kidnap of his his grandson in Italy just before I was born in 1973.  As a Ridley Scott film, you can expect a certain level of competence and it was certainly set in some lavish locations.

I only vaguely knew the story so the plot twists were enough for me and I really watched it as a big fan of Christopher Plummer who was brought in with hardly any notice to re-film every scene previously starring disgraced actor, Kevin Spacey.

You’d never guess for a moment that Christopher Plummer didn’t have the usual months of preparation and the only bits I noticed that were in continuity was that some of the scenes in Hatfield House were in the summer whilst the reshoots in the autumn had a more solemn looking garden.  You can read more about the film in my review from the beginning of the year.

 

4. Hereditary

Hereditary is nothing if not unsettling.  Right from the first seconds, everything feels a bit off and unnerving.  It follows a family whose Grandmother has just died, the old lady having a particularly strong link with the slightly freaky little daughter.

If you think it might turn out into a lame Twilight Zone-esque story then you could well be blown away.  Gradually a series of at first creepy and then downright disturbing events tears the family apart.  One scene happened and I didn’t quite believe my eyes as it so came out of nowhere, very cool.

Toni Collette is particularly amazing in this film which must get somewhere close to matching her performance in one of my favourite films, Sixth Sense.  The scene near the end when you see her body floating upwards is one of true horror. This is a horror film where evil wins.

Just watching the first few seconds of the trailer below for Hereditary made me come out in goose-pimples.  It was that good.

 

3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

This is a very character driven film about a mother whose daughter vanished from a  small town.  The lady doesn’t believe the police are doing all they can to bring about justice and so mounts her own campaign to shame the police into action.

The film is loaded with great actors, primarily Francis McDormand who if nothing else you may remember her great role in Fargo.  Woody Harrelson plays the kind hearted and sympathetic police chief who just happens to be battling a terminal condition whilst Sam Rockwell plays one of those bigoted racist police that we have all heard about, if not actually met.

The film is all about characters and they all go on some incredible journeys.  It’s also a very unpredictable film which I really liked.

I always have a dilemma between what I think is the best film of the year and what might be my favourite.  Three Billboards may well be my favourite and if you really like me then you might send me a copy on Blu Ray for Christmas/birthday…. sadly Overlord isn’t yet released on home formats.

I remember wanting to see this film for months before it actually came out and it even surpassed those lofty expectations as you can see in my original Three Billboards review here.

 

2. Peterloo

Peterloo won’t be out in the USA until well into 2019 but it came out here a few months, the work of acclaimed Mike Leigh who throughout his 50 year career is best known for small intimate films.

Peterloo is neither small or intimate but rather epic in scope and with a host of interesting characters.  Peterloo is sometimes called Britains Sharpeville which references the famous incident involving the South African state and protesting black people.

Peterloo is such an important incident in British history and yet I’d be surprised if anyone from overseas has heard of it, I’m sure only 2% or less of British people have.  Basically not long after the American and French Revolutions, the working people of the newly industrialised Manchester with those satanic mills have had enough.

60,000 people from all over assemble to assert their demands, taking every care possible to squeeze through the draconian laws designed to keep them in their place.  It ends with one of the most terrible and inhumane moments in British history when the army is ordered violently destroy the peaceful protest.

The day was lost but the sacrifice of the 15 dead and 600 seriously injured changed things forever and quickened the pace to the type of politics and society we have long enjoyed.

It’s interesting that one of the survivors of the massacre went on to create the world famous Guardian newspaper which has fought for the rights of the oppressed ever since.

 

  1. Darkest Hour

There was only ever going to be one contender for the best film of 2018 for me and that of course is Darkest Hour.   No-one led a life quite as full as Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and it is always ripe for telling aspects of his life, almost like a long-lived super-hero.

Darkest Hour picks on a very short period of time after the evacuation of the British Army from the beaches of Dunkirk.  Europe was conquered, the Soviet Union was allied with Germany and the United States was years away from getting involved.  The choice was seemingly one between a negotiated settlement in a humiliating peace treaty with Hitler or invasion, occupation and defeat.

As we go further from WW2, American films have the tendency to get more gung-ho and almost entirely self-centred.  Like the even more epic but less involved Dunkirk film in 2017, this tells the story from a different perspective, by the only people actually fighting at the time and concentrates on the efforts of a once discredited Winston Churchill into firing the country and then the world into fighting back no matter what the very obvious costs (at best) would be for the country.

Gary Oldman is spellbinding in his starring and Oscar winning role.  Fantastic use is made of actual locations and others that look very convincing to almost everyone but experts.  My only slight qualm is that Clement Attlee and Neville Chamberlain both are slightly airbrushed out of the picture somewhat and when depicted, come off slightly negatively.  A truly heroic figure like Churchill can easily stand in comparison to other heroes with Attlee of course going on to run arguably the most incredible peace-time government of the 20th century, at least until Margaret Thatcher decades later.

I think most British people who saw it were deeply touched by it in many ways and it can’t only be myself that wishes for a single politician of the calibre of if not a Churchill then an Attlee or many others in this film.

I didn’t know it at the time but one of my favourite quotes is seemingly a Churchill quote (after Shakespeare, no-one is more quotable) and he says it in this film.  “Here’s to not buggering it up”.  I don’t think the makers of Darkest Hour did.

Incidentally, I, through  Ye Olde England Tours run a very successful Darkest Hour Tour

Incidentally, my worst film of the year was the highlight for many people.  Black Panther…. nearly a year on I haven’t changed my mind one bit.  Truly awful as my review suggests.

 

 

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Dancing on the Dead at Enon Chapel – The Victorian Sensation!

Everyone likes a Christmas party don’t they?  Well except me but that’s because I’m a misery guts and couldn’t think of anything worse than, except for a New Years Eve party of course.

You might think that having parties at overcrowded and somewhat dodgy venues are a modern phenomena but you might be surprised to know that despite their reputation to be prim and proper, the Victorians would sometimes have massive fails.  If you’d like to know how how slums, sewers, corpses, a corrupt clergyman, a pyramid of bones leads to dancing on the dead then you’ve come to the right place.

London in the mid nineteenth century had various unique problems caused by the success of burgeoning industrial and commercial centre.  Recent posts have already dealt with pollution, hidden rivers that became sewers, farting lamps and events such as The Great Stink  In the 1820s there was  a population of around 2.5 million living souls and likely as many if not more dead.

Inner city burial had been carried out in London for close to 2,000 years and it can easily be argued that even today London, is one massive burial site. By the mid nineteenth century fears of disease spread by the miasma from inner city graveyards and a fashion for wealthier people to be buried in suburban cemeteries, meant that London’s remaining inner city burial grounds were often terribly overcrowded and unsanitary. One such place was just off The Strand and known as the ‘Green Ground’ on Portugal Street, a burial ground for the nearby workhouse, was described by George Walker as:

‘[A] mass of putrefaction. The soil of this ground is saturated, absolutely saturated, with human putrescence, the living here breathe on all sides an atmosphere impregnated by the odour of the dead.’ 

Living with the dead

An old cartoon from the satirical Punch magazine entitled A Court for King Cholera and depicting how the lives of the poor are centred upon the remains of the dead.

It was not uncommon for gravediggers to chop into or even discard earlier burials in order to cram new ones into overcrowded graveyards:

‘What a horrid place is St Giles Churchyard! It is full of coffins up to the surface. Coffins are broken up before they are decayed, and bodies are removed to the “bonehouse” before they are sufficiently decayed to make removal decent.’

The Weekly Despatch in September 1838 reported ‘No wonder that women rarely attended burials. Yet these places were often the only resort open to the poor.’

Other letters give the impression that it was a distasteful, illegal but not uncommon site for passersby observing men carrying bodies through the streets.

The consequences, wherever demand exceeded supply, were decidedly unpleasant. Coffins were stacked one atop the other in 20-foot-deep shafts, the topmost mere inches from the surface. Putrefying bodies were frequently disturbed, dismembered or destroyed to make room for newcomers. Disinterred bones, dropped by neglectful gravediggers, lay scattered amidst the tombstones; smashed coffins were sold to the poor for firewood. Clergymen and sextons turned a blind eye to the worst practices because burial fees formed a large proportion of their income. Macabre scenes awaited those who pried too closely into the gravedigger’s work:

Sextons would periodically tap coffins to release the build-up of corpse gas. Sometimes it could be so bad that gravediggers could die from the disturbance of the gas.  Indeed graves were not aerated then occasionally this could result in explosions.  There is a case of such an explosion happening in the vaults of St James’s, Piccadilly, which burned for days.

The ‘Green Ground’ was devoid of trees because the soil was ‘saturated, absolutely saturated with human putrescence.’ The walls dripped with reeking fluids and the smell was so bad no neighbours could open their windows. For the poor the grim internment of the dead was in many ways merely an extension of their living conditions but perhaps nowhere was more terrible or indeed the catalyst for change then the infamous Enon Chapel.

On the west side of St Clement’s lane, an insalubrious neighbourhood was to be found. near The Strand and accessed via a narrow court, Carey Street offered slum housing and overcrowding to the poorest of the poor. It was here in 1822, that an enterprising and cynical Baptist minister, Mr W. Howse, founded his ministry: saving souls and selling burials. Enon Chapel itself, fitted into this down at heel locale, sited, as it was, above an open sewer which ran though its vault.

Whilst in 1822 Burke and Hare had yet to set up their now famous, fearsome and murderous trade in Edinburgh, stealing fresh corpses from graveyards for the anatomists table was an established and at times lucrative profession. It was perhaps the fear of falling victim to this that may have been one of the factors in Mr. Howse’s calculations in setting up his burial business at Enon Chapel. It had a vault. At barely 59 feet by 12 feet it wasn’t a large vault, but Mr. Howse was an enterprising individual and knew how to spin a profit from almost nothing. In 1823 Enon Chapel was licensed for burials.

Burials in the vault at Enon Chapel were a mere 15 shillings. This compared very favourably to the competitors – close by at St Clement Danes it cost £1.17s2d for an adult burial, and £1.10.2d to bury a child – and that only covered a churchyard burial.[2] At a time when poor families would often have to warehouse their dead in their homes until they had saved enough for burial, Enon Chapel had a clear advantage over the competition: offering both secure and, more importantly, affordable burials.

Things went well for Mr. Howse for a number of years, if people marvelled at how capacious the tiny vault was, nobody asked any awkward questions. Being built over an open sewer meant that the chapel could never have been the most inviting of places and from the start worshippers retched into their handkerchieves or collapsed and fainted at the noxious stink that was rife in the chapel, especially in warm weather. Bizarrely nobody thought it so odd or unbearable that they bothered to contact the authorities.

It may have been harder to ignore the long black flies that emerged from the decaying coffins, or the ‘body bugs’ that would infest worshippers hair and clothes, and neighbours of the chapel noted that meat, if left out, would putrefy within an hour or two. By the 1830’s rumours were beginning to circulate, but still nobody suspected the true scale of the horror beneath their feet with up thousands of bodies buried in and about the tiny crypt.

In 1839, following some concerns with goings on at Enon, the Commissioner of Sewers inspected the open sewer under the Chapel with the view that it should be covered or vaulted. However, their investigations took a grusome turn when they discovered human remains, some of them mutilated, discarded in the sewer – whether by design or accident, it was not clear.

Strangely to us perhaps and doubly so knowing the swift and severe justice that so many crimes brought in Victorian Britain, despite the sheer horror of this discovery, the remains were not removed and burials did not stop. Mr Howse continued his profitable venture burying up to 500 people a year in the vault until his death in 1842. In total around12,000 people were buried in a vault measuring only 59 feet by 12.

In part, he appears to have managed to cram so many corpses into so limited a space because he removed the bodies from the coffins which he and his wife would use for firewood and obviously did nothing to help the smell and disease.  The enterprising if rather immoral Mr. Howse dug deep bits and disposed of the occupants as best as he could in these deep pits filled which were filled with quicklime to help the bodies decompose.

It was also said that extensive building work around London at locations such as Waterloo Bridge allowed Mr. Howse to secretly remove upwards of sixty cart loads of decomposed human remains for use as landfill and bone-meal in the building trade; other remains were unceremoniously dumped in the Thames. It said that it was not uncommon to find a disembodied skull rolling down the streets around Enon Chapel. It makes you wonder how many of the Victorian buildings in London are the remains of these poor dead souls.

Mr. Howse died in 1842 and no doubt to the relief of almost everyone involved, burials ceased and Enon Chapel was closed. The new tenant was a fellow by the name of Mr. Fitzpatrick, who took up residence in 1844. Obviously made of tough stuff, despite making the surprising discovery of a large quantity of human bones buried under his kitchen floor, Mr. Fitzpatrick was not put off, and he simply reburied them in the chapel. Later tenants, a sect of Teetotallers, went one better. In the true spirit of Victorian enterprise, combined with a large and profitable dash of Victorian ghoulishness, they reopened Enon Chapel for dances using the great marketing tagline of  ‘Dancing on the dead!’

Dancing on the seat at Enon Chapel

Dancing on the dead at Enon Chapel

Admission was Threepence and no lady or gentleman admitted unless wearing shoes and stockings.  It just goes to show that you can never say that teetotallers don’t know how to have fun!

The Poor Man’s Guardian, somewhat disdainfully, reported on these events in 1847:

“Quadrilles, waltzes, country-dances, gallopades, reels are danced over the masses of mortality in the cellar beneath

The dances seem to have been very popular, proving that even the Victorian poor, many of whom may have known people interred beneath them, had a dark sense of humour. That, or they possessed a pragmatic view of their own mortality and the fleeting nature of pleasure.

George Walker

George Walker

 

Of course, all good things must come to an end and if things could go downhill from here then that is thanks to  George ‘Graveyard’ Walker, a surgeon whose practice was in the vicinity of Enon Chapel, and who had a side-line as a public health campaigner.  George was as Queen Victoria say, Not Amused as you can see from his report having viewed not just Enon Chapel but 47 other London burial grounds.  His findings were published in 1839, Walker described it thus:

‘This building is situated about midway on the western side of Clement’s Lane; it is surrounded on all sides by houses, crowded by inhabitants, principally of the poorer class. The upper part of this building was opened for the purposes of public worship about 1823; it is separated from the lower part by a boarded floor: this is used as a burying place, and is crowded at one end, even to the top of the ceiling, with dead. It is entered from the inside of the chapel by a trap door; the rafters supporting the floor are not even covered with the usual defence – lath and plaster. Vast numbers of bodies have been placed here in pits, dug for the purpose, the uppermost of which were covered only by a few inches of earth….Soon after interments were made, a peculiarly long narrow black fly was observed to crawl out of many of the coffins; this insect, a product of the putrefaction of the bodies, was observed on the following season to be succeeded by another, which had the appearance of a common bug with wings. The children attending the Sunday School, held in this chapel, in which these insects were to be seen crawling and flying, in vast numbers, during the summer months, called them “body bugs”..’ 

As well as a genuine disgust at the way material gain had trumped over moral and religious scruples at Enon Chapel, Walker, and many others at that time, considered the proximity of these putrefying burial grounds to human habitation to be injurious to public health.  It was believed that, similar to sewage, badly overcrowded burial grounds were giving off a deadly graveyard miasma. Walker, himself, had a flair for the dramatic, describing the miasma as ‘the pestiferous exhalations of the dead’.  If you’re knowledge of English isn’t quite up to the task, I’m sure you can get the idea of what he was meaning.

This miasma was believed to cause diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Gravediggers and those living close by cemeteries were at particular risk, but the threat was to the population as a whole.

If you want to know what this miasma was like then helpfully George Walker goes on to explain all and it ranged from general ill health such as pain in the head, heaviness, extreme debility, lachrymation, violent palpitation of the heart, universal trembling, with vomiting to sudden death caused by workers who suffocated by the release of “cadaverous vapours”.

The overall argument in Gatherings was that concentrated graveyard gases caused instant death in man and beast; foul-smelling grounds, constantly releasing more diffused miasma, did not produce sudden death – but they debilitated those living nearby, according to their level of exposure and individual resistance

The public scandal of Enon Chapel and its ilk, along with the tireless campaigning of philanthropists such as George Walker and various social reformers led to a Parliamentary Select Committee being set up in 1842.

This committee was tasked to look at improving London’s overcrowded and unsanitary burial places. The law took it’s time, but pressure from Walker and The National Society for the Abolition of Burials in Towns eventually forced the government into action.

The Mackinnon inquiry of 1842 covered similar ground to Walker’s reports. Among other things, the select committee confirmed the reality of Walker’s accounts of gross and gruesome scenes in churchyards and vaults:

“I have seen them play at what is called skittles; put up bones and take skulls and knocked them down; stick up bones in the ground and throw a skull at them as you would a skittle-ball”.

The Burial Act of 1852 would seal the fate of London’s overcrowded inner city burial places, allowing the government to close them down. It also and allowed the creation of the Magnificent 7 cemeteries which are still well-renowned today such as Highgate and Brompton which were then on the fringes of London and designed to be enjoyed by visitors as much as they were for the burying of the dead.

There was to be one last macabre act in the tale of Enon Chapel and if you think George Walker might not have had a bad bone in his body (I sneaked that one in) then you’d be wrong. In 1848 Walker purchased the Chapel with the promise that he would give the inhabitants of the vault a decent burial, at his own expense, at Norwood Cemetery. This philanthropic gesture however, was somewhat marred by Walkers morbid sense of theatre. Rather than discretely disinterring the bodies and having them respectfully removed to their final resting place, he chose to open the event to the public. To drum up interest he had attendants strolling up and down the street holding skulls, a sure fire way to entice in the average Victorian who loved a bit of the macabre. George knew his stuff and the public came in force with upwards of 6000 punters paying to tour Enon Chapel and to view the immense pyramid of bones unearthed by Walker.

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Of course despite his generally good intentions, there was criticism of his morbid ways of doing things but  Walker defended his approach in a typically Victorian manner by emphasising  that the spectacle was educational in a similar way that others such as Madame Tussaud had sought to elevate dubious work.

Perhaps somewhat fittingly and no doubt the highlight of the whole tour of Enon Chapel was the fact that visitors would come face to emaciated face, with the long-dead proprietor Mr. Howse. A stark and stiff and shrivelled corpse’ identified by his ‘screw foot’ . 

It would be interesting to know what Mr. Howse would make of this ghastly poetic justice.

‘Sadly’ but not surprisingly Enon Chapel was long ago cleared and when the London School of Economics building was put up in the 1960’s on the surrounding site, countless human remains were found (even after the Victorian reburial effort) and their bones reburied with as much grace as could be afforded them given the circumstances in an unmarked communal grave at Norwood in South London.

If you enjoyed this, you might like to see my post on Crossbones Cemetery.

Posted in history, Life, London, Religion and Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Do you have confidence in anyone? Or is the world incompetent?

I don’t know about you but since I was about 3 years of age, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that the world is populated largely by incompetent people.  This is a feeling that has increased exponentially to the level where it is now a genuine surprise and a blessed relief when one encounters someone who has a vague notion of professionalism and competence in whatever position I happen upon them.

You can read my post from 2014 on Bad Bosses and The Peter Principle where one of my most incompetent managers once argued with me on how to spell ‘No’.

Tonight the Prime Minister faces a vote of no-confidence for her rather lacklustre work on Brexit and if she loses then it would set in motion a chain of events that would lead us to having a new Prime Minister.

I do have a bit of sympathy for the Prime Minister as a person as she seems decent enough if one can overlook some of her ineptitude.  Besides, a country can easily get by with an incompetent leader with out too many ‘problems’.   What really causes issues is when we are mired with incompetents or at least led by leaders with no vision or authority.

As such it is hard to get excited about the vote tonight if only because for the life of me, I cannot think of anyone who is actually competent who might be the Prime Minister.  There are number of well-meaning, vaguely competent as perhaps low level paper shufflers but no-one I would want to run anything important like a Pizza Hut restaurant or a nation.

It is no different on the other side, Jeremy Corbyn might have generally good morals but is so banal and indecisive, he must have splinters coming out of his esophagus from sitting on the Brexit fence so long.  His defence of attending a memorial for terrorists of being ‘present but not involved’ kind of sums up his whole leadership.

His Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott seems to be there by virtue that decades ago she was having an affair with her leader.   There is a rumour that photos of this pairing were put in every Chinese bedroom to help lower their birthrate.   Diane Abbott I think is singularly the most over-promoted person I can think of and has been out of her depth every time I have seen her on the news for about 30 years.

One thing she does have going for her is her affected accent.  With every year that goes by, her phoney upper-class accent gets more and more hilarious along with her eminent colleague Keith Vaz who if not so incompetent is seemingly more sleazy.  I guess having so many skeleton in the closest has to make one quick-witted if nothing else!

You can view one of Diane’s more infamous car-crash interviews below.  If she sounds like she is talking nonsense then to pay attention to how she tries to sound posher than the Queen.

They are all so incompetent and it drives me mad.  Last year someone applied for a tour job with myself who very proudly lists on their work-history that they worked in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister…. totally ineptly written and with nothing of relevance for working with myself.

There is a prominent Peer or unelected official by the name of Lord Adonis.  Lord Adonis is a determined campaigner for staying in the European Union.  Earlier in the year he re-tweeted a racist cartoon of an opposing politician with a South Asian heritage before quickly deleting it and apologising for his error in judgement.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never made an error in judgement that has caused me to be racist.  That is a pretty big flaw in a character and if he can’t get the basics right about not distributing racist cartoons then why should anyone trust is judgement on anything at all, let alone something as complex as Brexit?  I did ask him that on Twitter and he promptly blocked me which I think sums up is the strength of my argument and the incompetence of his character.

Of course it isn’t just in Britain where everyone is incompetent.  It is hard to think of a competent leader on the world stage.  Wherever you look, there is ineptitude, incompetence, criminality and immorality.  The only vaguely competent leaders seem to be dictators and even they aren’t what they used to be despite their lives being on the line as opposed to the careers of Western leaders.

I always learned that benign dictatorships are the best form of leadership but then I’ve had enough of that with the EU.  I can’t in all good faith be governed in any way by a man who is regularly so drunk he has to be helped in and out of functions, at least once wearing unmatching socks.

Recently this pile of ineptitude has just become a bit too much for me to bear.  Maybe I am expecting too much.  I don’t think I am all that great but what I do, I at least aim to do perfectly.  I don’t tell lies, I don’t think I have ever made an error of judgement on a basic element of life.  I’m not a very competent plumber or brain surgeon but then I don’t try to work in those fields.  I’d expect my plumber to be 100% brilliant as I am when I am paid for a job, as I expect everyone in their jobs whatever they may be.

Two weeks ago I had an expensive delivery from America costing around £400 or $600.  They had opted to use an expensive delivery company rather than the cheap and effective Royal Mail.  Being out of the house when it arrived unannounced, I expected it might be at a neighbours or perhaps awaiting re-delivery.  There was a bright yellow card sticking out of the letterbox highlighting to potential burglars that I was away from home.  Thankfully it did at least alert me to the delivery too so it wasn’t all bad.

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The card had no details whatsoever except to say that the parcel had been left “In The Back Borch”.   As you might imagine, I was a flummoxed as I don’t have a Back Borch.  Phew!  It was obvious he must have left it in the back porch.  I hurried round the house I have lived in for 12 years before realising I don’t have a back porch either.  This isn’t Georgia or Iowa, no-one in the UK has a back porch and if they did, it would be well guarded and miles from the nearest public road.

I spent 40 minutes in the dark and wet looking for this parcel, in the bushes, in the trees, in the shadows, on the shed room, in the alleys and paved areas but there was nothing.  Rather forlornly I went to my neighbours to see if they had noticed the delivery man.  They hadn’t but incredibly they had found my delivery thrown over the fence into their back garden in the dark and rain.  Even more bizarrely they had been in all day with their lights on so why not just knock on their door?

I’m not asking too much am I?  It then took 5 or 6 messages to the courier company before I even received an acknowledgment of my complaint.

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Even worse than them is my perennially under-performing local bus company Arriva. I say local but of course they are ran from Germany with the sole intention of providing the poorest service possible for locals whilst providing the best corporate profits in Berlin.  Unlike the fantastic and almost to the second buses in London, I who live 6 miles over the border have buses that are meant to run every 10 minutes but which often have gaps of 40, 50 or even 80 minutes with out a bus.

Of course unlike them, I’m not incompetent and I allow an hour or more time for my buses and trains on top of the stated travel time.  Through the course of the summer only once did both my bus and train arrive on time and I got to central London 90 minutes early which says it all.  Hundreds and hundreds of successive bus journeys were late or didn’t show up at all

The buses are terrible.  The fares went up 50% just a few years ago and they closed the local bus garage to further their profits.  The buses are so shoddy the displays on the front don’t work so you don’t know the bus number or destination until it stops.   Frequently the buses don’t turn up at all and when they do, they are missing basic functions like ‘stop’ buttons.    When they do turn up then you can have 5 within a few minutes.  In my street we call it the Woodside Blackhole as the buses for all of Watford get sucked in there and never come back.

The bus company also never apologise or get in touch.  Recently I have learned that if you copy in elected politicians then you at least get the bus company responding to the official if not myself.    Last week after waiting in the cold and rain for 40 minutes I tweeted their Twitter account repeatedly and it took much of the day before I got a reply.  Obviously their PR department is as bad as their service.  It did give me the opportunity to make disparaging remarks about them to the world totally unanswered.

I was only wanting to complain and after months if not years of shoddy service asking to be given a refund for the additional expenses I incurred to make a meeting in London on time after a 15 minute trip turned into a 70 minute torture.

Having received no response I asked them and their over-payed manager whether they were offering me an inept service on the fact of my nationality?  A bit racist perhaps but many foreign companies have admitted they do as such in order to maximise profits.  Perhaps it is because I live in an area of predominantly social (poor) housing?   No of course they wouldn’t stoop that low, obviously they treated everyone with with contempt.  That at least has the virtue of equality.

After many hours I received a reply stating they don’t give refunds.  Obviously they hadn’t even bothered to read my message correctly, I wasn’t asking for a refund, I was asking for compensation.  Being sick as I was of their sheer ineptitude and feeling sorry day after day after month after year of seeing old people missing their hospital appointments, children missing school and everyone, thousands people being inconvenience and ripped off by Arriva Buses.

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An earlier 50 minute wait for a every 10 minute bus.  Look at the line of people at this very quiet suburban street.

Having been advised to submit a complaints form, I informed them that if I didn’t receive what I asking for then I will be taking them to court with a view to claiming back six months work of their £15 weekly tickets as well as other fees.   They rely on the fact that no one bothers to complain but companies offering a public service have a duty to to so with care and skill according to the laws of the land.  Something which there is ample evidence of them not doing.  And a tour guide in January and February isn’t so busy he can’t fill out a form and spend a day in court.

Hundreds of people are in the process of doing similar to trashy low budget airline Ryan Air and so though I would be very glad to receive the small compensation I am seeking, I’d be happy to take it further.  What I really want though is just for people to be competent at what they do.  I have other much more astounding and important events too but I can’t mention them at the moment.

Is it just me or do you suffer this affliction of mediocrity in you life too?

Posted in Life, News, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

When the Plague came to London

This time of year in Britain at least is known as the Flu season. Our highly changeably though at this time of year predominantly chilly and wet weather combined with some particularly overcrowded cities means that we are perhaps uniquely exposed cold and flu.  In fact last year was the first year in over 10 where I haven’t had to go to hospital or some similar emergency medical facility over the Christmas and New Year week which as I have my birthday right in the middle is particularly unfortunate.  It’s a grim way to enjoy Christmas and though I survived to January 17th last year, I ended up with a cold that turned into pneumonia for 8 weeks which wasn’t much fun.

Whilst I get it much worse than most, even I take my hat off to the suffering of my forebears of centuries ago when the plague arrived in London, as it did several times over the years.  Then as now, London was overcrowded and with no modern sanitation, the mortality rates in London and indeed the rest of Britain were said to be the worst in the world with up two thirds of the population succumbing to the awful disease.

Some of the best records anywhere about the Plague are those written by the now renowned diarist Samuel Pepys who recorded exactly what he saw and whose observations can still be found in the publication of his diary in the 1970’s by C L Doughty.

It was a stifling day in June when Mr Samuel Pepys, Clerk of the Acts at the Navy Office, saw the dreaded red crosses for the first time. They had been painted on the doors of three houses in London’s Drury Lane, and the words “Lord Have Mercy On Us” were scrawled below them.

Pepys knew only too well what the crosses meant. The houses had been officially shut up because the people who lived there had caught the plague. Now they would have to survive a full month before being let out again. The tubby little man in fashionable clothes hurried into a shop and bought some chewing tobacco, and soon the taste overcame the stench of the filthy street. But there was no getting away from the fact that the plague was drawing nearer to the heart of London day by day.

It was bubonic plague, and it had arrived on this occasion by way of the rats from a merchant ship that had been trading in the East. It was not an unusual thing to happen in the London of 1665. There were always a few cases of the dreaded disease in every great port, although the victims usually died before the contagion had a chance to spread. But this summer the weather had been almost unbearably hot and still and people told each other that there had been no breath of wind to blow the pestilence away. During the month of May it had crept eastwards across London, seemingly jumping from house to house along Holborn. Now its arrival in Drury Lane was a clear indication that it was beginning to spread south as well.

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys went home to his house in Seething Lane and settled down in his study, for the British navy had just fought a highly successful action against the Dutch and he was eager to record the details in his diary.

It was to be one of his last cheerful entries for some time.

As he scribbled busily in shorthand, this 32-year-old civil servant had no means of knowing that he was nightly compiling what is treasured today as one of the most fascinating chronicles in the English language. Other people’s diaries usually make rather dull reading. Pepys is never dull. Often he is remarkably funny, because in his 1,300,000-word story, we read about the man as he really was. Believing that he wrote for his eyes alone, Pepys kept his diary with absolute honesty, regardless of whether its contents made him look ridiculous or not.

Having finished his report on the sea battle, Pepys then went on to note the unhappy business of his new suit. It was a typical domestic tragedy. The tailor had promised to bring the suit, but had failed to arrive on time, so Pepys had been forced to wear something else. But no sooner had he finished dressing than the tailor had arrived, which meant taking off the old suit and dressing all over again. Finally the Clerk of the Acts showed his wife, Elizabeth, his new finery, only to be told that it did not suit him. It was exactly the sort of thing that was always happening to Pepys, who might have been a man of consequence at the Navy Office but had to tread a good deal more warily at home.

Plague Doctor

Plague Doctors, possibly the worst job in history ever.

The next time Pepys went to the Tower to inspect the latest list of people who had died of plague, he was concerned to find that it had risen to nearly 300 during the past week. With a grim feeling of foreboding, he set about finding a lodging for his wife and servants at Woolwich, in those days considered to be an extremely long way from London. Elizabeth protested, but on this occasion she finally did as she was told.

The next week saw the numbers on the “mortality lists” totalling 700, and the one after that topped the thousand. Now the streets of London were crowded with people making for the country, their belongings piled up on every sort of vehicle from rich coaches to broken-down hand carts. Many of these city folk would find themselves barred from other towns and would end by starving in the fields, but as more and more fell sick, it seemed vital to get out of the stricken city at all costs.

The king and his court were not long in following and found refuge at Oxford. Pepys could easily have gone, too, but something held him back. He wrote lightly to a colleague who had seen action against the Dutch that he had “taken his turn with the sword” and that now it was up to others to take their turn with the pestilence.

Pepys meant what he said, but there were other reasons for staying. England was still at war, and the provisioning and refitting of fighting ships was something that would have to be supervised. Pepys was content that the work should fall on him. What was more, and Pepys did not admit this even to himself, he was filled with curiosity. True, he was very frightened of the plague. But something was happening to his beloved city that might never happen again. However ghastly it might be, he had to be there to record it.

It was ghastly all right. In July, more than 17,000 Londoners died, and Pepys was concerned at the rate the disease was spreading, even in the countryside. Visiting Elizabeth at Woolwich, he passed a farm on which the bodies of no less than twenty-one labourers lay dead in the fields. And within the city itself, the administration was undoubtedly breaking down. At first the authorities had divided the city up into districts and allotted each a staff of nurses and watchmen to keep some kind of order. But when 8,000 people were dying every week, there were just not enough officials to go round any more.

Greatly fearing, but driven by his usual urge to see everything (“God forgive me,” he noted guiltily in his diary), Pepys followed the endless line of carts that bore the dead to the great plague pits that were being dug in areas of open ground. Separate burials had long been abandoned, and he stood aghast at the sight of the huge common graves.

Like most Londoners in those days, Pepys made use of the boatmen on the Thames as a means of easy transport, but the plague had struck them down like everyone else.

“But Lord! What a sad time it is to see no boats on the river,” he wrote, “and grass grows up and down Whitehall Court, and nobody but poor wretches in the streets!”

Anyone who could find a way of leaving London had done so by September. Red crosses were no longer painted on doors, because there was now no means of keeping the sick inside. Many rushed through the streets in their delirium and died where they dropped. Pepys, shuddering, would find himself facing the sick in narrow alleys where it was impossible to keep at a safe distance. He should have been infected a dozen times, but he was one of the lucky ones.

There was certainly an enormous amount of work to be done, for at sea, the war with the Dutch was at its height. Huge quantities of captured goods were brought to port and somehow Pepys accounted for them and stowed them away.

These prize goods were badly needed, for the plague had brought commerce to a standstill and no taxes were being collected. This meant that with no money in the exchequer, the sailors were not being paid. Sick and wounded men were turned off their ships and abandoned. Each day, Pepys had to listen to the “horrible crowd and lamentable groan of the poor seamen that lie starving for lack of money.”

He did what he could for them, helping many from his own pocket. Then, as the weather grew colder with approaching winter, the death rate began to fall. Little by little, people began to creep back to the city and life began again. Out of a population of 400,000, something like 70,000 had died. And if one allows for the fact that two-thirds of the population had fled the city, the true death rate must have been about one in three.

Samuel Pepys survived. His diary makes it clear that he did not consider he had been very brave. He had simply stuck to his post as a man should. The classic remark of British heroes down the centuries.

If you’d like to read a quite incredible account of The Plague, then check out my old post on Eyam Plague Village or for something more contemporary then this post on how engineers come across Plague Pits in London today.

I visit quite a few Pepys related sights on my Ye Olde England Tours.  You can visit the location of his house on my Secret Sacred Spaces Walk or visit the cherry gardens along the Thames where Pepys would pick fruit on my Mayflower Walking Tour   or even see the spot where he buried his priceless Parmesan Cheese to escape the Great Fire of London on my Charles Dickens Walk which also visits a Plague Pit.

Posted in history, London, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments