A grisly end for a brave Liddell at St. Botolph’s… Aldgate (Whitechapel).

Whilst doing some research on my new book I got distracted as is so easy to do when you’re into history.  Whilst looking up a new garden in the old City of London I came across a dreadful tale with perhaps some family links.

In 19th-century London graves were allocated to their occupants only until space limitations required them to be reused again and in fact even today it is quite common for grave plots to be requisitioned after a generation or two of descendants have come and gone.

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St. Botolph Without as it was in the 1730’s.

Back in Victorian times mortal remains were then exhumed and interred either in charnel houses in the crypt of the church.  It was during one such situation that a particularly macabre event unfolded on the morning of 7 September 1838, as reported in The Morning Post and other contemporary newspapers.

Edward Cheeper, the Master of the local workhouse, was passing by St Botolph’s churchyard at 11am when he heard the piercing scream of a woman.  Understandably alarmed he hurried over to investigate and found the a distraught woman staring down into a deep, 20-foot grave. The great depth of this new grave was because it was intended as a multi-occupancy burial site for paupers and was designed to accommodate up to 18 bodies.  Peering down to the the bottom he could see  the apparently lifeless body of Thomas Oakes, the parish gravedigger.

All this commotion rapidly drew a crowd of curious gawkers, and local fishmonger Edward Liddell was one of them.   Despite the common consensus from the bystanders was that Oakes was definitely beyond help, Edward volunteered to climb down a ladder into the grave in an attempt to rescue poor Oakes.

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St Botolph as it was 10 years ago.

Eyewitness reports claim that as Edward Liddell reached the floor of the grave and stooped down to put a rope around Oakes’ arms Edward’s body suddenly wrenched “as if hit by a cannonball” and the intrepid though unfortunate fishmonger keeled over and died immediately. In an act of considerable bravery, a third man then tried several times to climb down to retrieve the bodies of both Oakes and Liddell, but the air was so foul, putrid and revolting that he just couldn’t do it.

Ultimately, ropes on hooks had to be used to haul the unfortunate victims back up to the surface. At the subsequent inquest, it was decreed that both men had been fatally overcome by the noxious carbonic acid gas emitted from the thousands of decomposing corpses packed into the relatively tiny churchyard.

This rather morbid event was cited by Dr George Walker in a dossier of evidence he published in 1839 exposing the scandal of the disgusting, overcrowded and unsanitary state of the City’s burial grounds. Walker was a London GP and was extremely concerned at the health implications of the living and the dead being in such close proximity to each other.

Walker’s efforts eventually led to the passing of the Metropolitan Burial Act in 1852, which strictly prohibited any new burials in the churchyards of the City of London on the grounds that these were injurious to public health.  See my blog post from last year Dancing On The Dead.

To alleviate the situation, massive cemeteries were opened beyond the then limits of the city, such as at West Brompton. Here, there was finally ample space to ensure that people could give their loved ones a dignified and permanent place where the dead could genuinely rest in peace.

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The busy gyratory road system that left the church isolated since the 1960’s has been replaced with the new look park and civic amenities.

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I’m going to write a new book!

This is a dangerous thing to say in public but I’m going to write a new book. It’s dangerous because I already have a 60% completed novel and a 20% completed non-fiction book on the go.  Sadly due to my extremely busy work-load I can’t see myself having the time to complete either of them in the next few years.

What also makes it dangerous is that I have hardly any time at all.  Not having had a day off all year, a 12 hour day is a rarity, 15 hours is kind of standard and a few 18 hour days a week is not unusual.

However I’m sick of having the urge to write and not having either the time or energy to do so but I thought if I can find a manageable topic to write about then maybe I can see this one through.  How hard can it be?  I wrote Lest We Forget in 28 days and had found a publisher for it within 30.  If I can write a complete guide to WW1 in a month from scratch and mostly off the top of my head then surely I can do it again even if those 28 days are spread out over hundreds of 15-30 minute slots.   I remember writing How To Get Rich Using Airbnb in about 2 hours whilst sipping lemonade on the patio.  Most of my factual books take around 2-3 weeks to write whilst novels take longer.  My Timeless Trilogy took about 8 years!

So what am I going to write about?  Sacred, Secret Gardens, Ruins and Parks in the old Roman City of London. Ever since I created my tour for Ye Olde England Tours what I thought would be a complete non-seller of a tour has been incredibly popular and every single person who has been on it has absolutely loved it.  In this huge city of millions of people, it is possible to find right in the very centre of the storm, a tranquil oasis of Roman streets, Viking lanes, medieval churches and ancient gardens and usually without seeing another tourist, sometimes without seeing another person.

I’ve discovered three or four new such gardens in the last few weeks and though I can never be certain to have found them all, am aware of about 116 or so of them all in the Square Mile, very few of which are larger than a a small backyard but nearly all of them historic, secluded and for all intents and purposes, secret.

When I started off with the idea of creating such a guide, I thought perhaps that there might be 40 or 50 which would be manageable but way over 100 is a bit daunting so lets hope I find time to make this happen.   I don’t want to “Bite off more than I can chew” as the idiom goes.

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I’m sure it won’t be an international best seller but if there is one thing I have found in both tours and books is if you find a good niche, a book or tour will always sell quite steadily year after year.  It may not be the next Harry Potter but I’ve had category number 1’s in various non-fiction charts in Britain, the USA and Japan which isn’t bad.  Hopefully the book will open up a different side of London to locals and overseas readers alike and whilst anyone can write a book on a mainstream subject, there can be few people better equipped than I to write a guide to the Sacred, Secret Gardens, Ruins and Parks in the old Roman City of London.  Now, if only I knew where to find a Time-Machine 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Why our trains are on the wrong track?

I should be living around 35-40 minutes from the centre of London using public transport.  As the years go by it is becoming less reality and more theoretical.  In fact it can often take me 2-2.5 hours each way and it only seems to be getting progressively worse.

One thing people are always happy to tell you when sat on the train is how reliable they are and how inexpensive the tickets are and just what a pleasant journey it is.  Actually, those are complete lies as obviously very few people get to sit on the trains and I’ve never heard anyone say any of these things.

So far this summer only two one-way journeys have gone without a hitch with my once every 10 minutes bus often not turning up for 40, 50, even 90 minutes and that is before I have left my front street.

So you can imagine how happy we all are to learn that rail fares are set to rise again by as much as 2.8 per cent.  Since WW2, the country that invented trains had a nationalised but integrated system which was privatised and largely done away with in the 1990’s by the John Major government.  It’s notable that John Major is only known for being the successor to Mrs Thatcher, for being Grey and boring, for having an affair with his minister whilst proclaiming traditional values and for messing up the trains.  As such  the debate over whether the UK should renationalise the railways has been ongoing for about 25 years now.

It would be hoped that amongst other things, denationalisation would lead to lower ticket prices as opposed to amongst the highest prices for the most overcrowded and understaffed systems.  The trains are mostly run by private companies and they are subsidised by taxpayers as it was quickly found that it is almost impossible for train companies to make a profit, doubly so when maintaining, improving and expanding upon the oldest and possibly most densely packed system in the world.

However, a significant proportion of the UK’s railways already are under state control, with Network Rail in charge of around 75 per cent of the industry, including the tracks, thousands of stations and signalling operations.  These bits being the expensive parts that make no money from the fare paying customer.

But what of the train operators? There are over 20 operators of franchised passenger services, and discussions about renationalising the railways generally concern returning control of these services to the state. But interestingly, almost all of these operators are (at least partly) state-owned already – only not by the British state.

 

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British Network Rail Map with franchise companies shown.

The above map is by no means a complete map of the many thousands of stations but it shows the main routes and even from this, one can see just how chaotic it is.  Everything is chaotic from booking cheap tickets to working out what platform your train is departing from. Every different coloured line is operated by a different organisation.

It is worth noting that several operators have the same parent companies behind them. Huge companies like Arriva UK Trains, Abellio and Govia run several operators.  For example, Govia runs Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express. The firm is a joint venture between Go-Ahead group and French company Keolis, which itself is 70 per cent owned by the French National Railways Corporation.

Meanwhile Arriva UK Trains is behind the operators, Chiltern, CrossCountry, London Overground, Grand Central, and Northern. In total it runs around a quarter of all British train operating companies, and is part of German firm Deutsche Bahn, in which the German state is the biggest shareholder.  Whilst Abellio is wholly owned by the Dutch national railways company Nederlandse Spoorwegen.

Private firm Virgin will no longer run the West Coast Mainline from December this year and the service will be run by a group consisting of the Italian state railway Trenitalia and private UK company First Group.

In many nations national infrastructure is not open to foreign organisations and what seems to be the case in the UK with transport at least is that they overcharge and provide a terrible service with profits going to provide a cheap and often better service at home.  One can complain all you want but nothing happens, no-one cares as really why would someone in Berlin or Rome give two figs for the downtrodden commuter in London or Manchester?

Of course the foreign companies are only partly to blame, perhaps morally rather than legally as the main issue is with successive British governments of all political persuasions who are happy to allow their citizens to be treated and exploited in this fashion but for the record here is the list of who runs British Rail.

c2c: Italian state

Chiltern: German state

Caledonian sleeper: PRIVATE

CrossCountry: German state

East Midlands: Dutch state

Eurostar: French state

Gatwick Express: French state

Grand Central: German state

Great Northern: French state

GWR: PRIVATE

Greater Anglia: Dutch state

Heathrow Express: PRIVATE

Hull Trains: PRIVATE

LNER: British state

London Northwestern Railway: Dutch state

London Overground: German state

London Underground: British state

Merseyrail: Dutch state

Northern: German state

Northern Ireland Railways: British state

Scotrail: Dutch state

South Western Railway: Hong Kong state

Southeastern: French state

Southern: French state

Stansted Express: Dutch state

TfL rail: Hong Kong state

Thameslink: French state

TransPennine Express: PRIVATE

Transport for Wales: French state

West Coast: Italian state

West Midlands Railway: Dutch state

What’s interesting is that the only network which is always reliable and widely praised is London Underground which is locally run and locally accountable.  Quelle Surprise!

With rail prices expected to rise, and large amounts of planned disruptive infrastructure upgrade work also costing the taxpayer billions, it is unlikely the calls for UK state ownership of rail companies are going to die down soon.

Until that time it seems likely that my arrival and departure from London Euston station every day is going to be like this.  Thankfully no matter who distantly the managers are who run our trains may be, we customers still are world-beaters at queuing.  Perhaps though just a teeny bit of civil disobedience might get someone to do something because I can’t be the only person who is fed up of paying around £5,000 a year to have a hit and miss system, ancient and overcrowded system that has me spending up to 5 hours a day just to go to work and back all of 18 miles away.

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American perceptions on Britain from tourists.

Working with tourists every day, I often find out that they have some interesting observations or preconceptions about what it is like both in London and the rest of the U.K.  Here are a collection of very common comments that I hear on a regular basis with some slightly snide replies from myself!

* Almost everyone is very polite

^^^It’s one of our unique selling points!

* The food is generally outstanding

^^^ 95% of the time, tourists will tell me our food is better than their own, perhaps due to the lack of GM products and processed foods.  The poor food is a hangover from WW2, if you’d spent years under rationing and being bombed every day your food wouldn’t be so great for a while either.

* There are no guns

^^^ Thank heavens!

* There are too many narrow stairs

The trick here is that the narrow stairs were usually built centuries or a millennia ago, more exercise and less food usually makes the narrow stairs more manageable!

* Everything is just a little bit different and we’ve been lucky with the weather.

^^^That’s what you go overseas for surely? And you’re not lucky with the weather, this is how it is.

* The pubs close too early

^^^I guess it depends where you go.  Pubs can stay open all night if they want to.

* The reason they drive on the left is because all their cars are built backwards

^^^What?  We drive on the original Roman side of the road.

* You’d better like peas, potatoes and sausage

^^^ It is true.  Try mushy peas, they are the best!
* Refrigerators and washing machines are very small

^^^ Surely you can only eat so much and wear so much too?  All those big appliances are bad for the planet.

* Everything is generally older, smaller and shorter

^^^ That’s history for you.
* People don’t seem to be afraid of their neighbours or the government

^^^This always makes me laugh.  Why on earth would you be afraid of your neighbours?  If you are then move!  And your government too?  So many American people seem paranoid about their governments.  It makes me think of Russia or North Korea.

* Their paper money makes sense,.

^^^ The colours and sizes are all different so they are easy to distinguish, particularly for visitors and older people.

* Everyone has a washing machine but driers are rare

^^^ I don’t know anyone who has a washing machine but not a drier.  Personally I try to hang my clothes out in the garden to dry as often as possible.  I’ve heard that in some American developments that would be against the rules.  An Englishmans home is his castle and if we want to hang our underwear out then we will do so!

* You have Hot and cold water faucets.

^^^ Some places have mixer style taps but I hate them!

* Pants are called “trousers”, underwear are “pants” and sweaters are “jumpers”

^^^ It’s true, all true I tells you.

* The bathroom light is a string hanging from the ceiling

^^^ It’s illegal to have any plug or switch type device in a bathroom. This is partly due to our sockets and appliances running at a higher voltage which can be deadly with hot steamy bathrooms.
* “Fanny” is a naughty word, as is “shag”

^^^ Fanny is only naughty if you’re about 4.  Shag is about as unshocking a word as is possible for naughty words.  A bit like poo.
* All the signs are well designed with beautiful typography and written in full sentences with proper grammar.

^^^ I get some many comments about how polite and simple to understand all our signs are.  Many people from New York for some reason tell me the subway there has very poor signage and often none whatsoever!

* There’s no dress code

^^^We don’t always live in Downton Abbey
* Doors close by themselves, but they don’t always open

^^^It’s true, we rely on century old technology known as hinges and our hands.

* The English are as crazy about their gardens as Americans are about cars

^^^We do love our gardens
* They don’t seem to use facecloths or napkins or maybe they’re just neater then we are

^^^ Possibly both but no, generally people eat without making a mess.  Maybe it is related to that weird thing you do when you cut up your food and switch hands to use a fork.  I don’t own any facecloths!
* The wall outlets all have switches, some don’t do anything

^^^Another safety feature.  Most switches do something but if the house is really old, the switch may be for something in an entirely different room!
* There are hardly any cops or police cars

^^^ I get told this a lot.
* When you do see police they seem to be in male & female pairs and often smiling

^^^ Police generally go in pairs and yes, why wouldn’t they be smiling?  The British Bobby is the best!
* Black people are just people: they didn’t quite do slavery here

^^^ Yes, some people here hate poor people, others hate rich people but no one hates black or white people.  I’ve had several black Americans cry with happiness on tours this year in London when they tell me how different it feels here and the differences in the whole slavery issue.
* Everything comes with chips, which are French fries. You put vinegar on them

^^^ Salt and vinegar I’ll have you know.
* Cookies are “biscuits” and potato chips are “crisps”
* HP sauce is better then ketchup

^^^It sure is!
* Obama is considered a hero, Bush is considered an idiot.

^^^ I wouldn’t go that far.  Most people do think Bush is an idiot and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think Obama was anything less than a disappointment… though not an idiot.
* After fish and chips, curry is the most popular food

^^^ Chicken Balti with Bombay Aloo for me please.  I can also make my own very fine naan breads.
* The water controls in showers need detailed instructions

^^^ You switch the power on, press the button, move the dial to your preferred temperature.  It’s not really that hard.
* They can boil anything

^^^ Definitely.
* Folks don’t always lock their bikes

^^^ It’s true… or cars for that matter.
* It’s not unusual to see people dressed different and speaking different languages

^^^ This always makes me laugh too.
* Your electronic devices will work fine with just a plug adapter

^^^ Why wouldn’t it?
* Nearly everyone is better educated then we are

^^^ Maybe more widely read and less insular… it all starts with meeting people that are dressed differently I guess.

* If someone buys you a drink you must do the same

^^^ Yes, don’t be a cheapskate.
* There are no guns

^^^ Every… single… tour…. 🙂

* Look right, walk left. Again; look right, walk left. You’re welcome.

^^^ Ideally with an apology thrown in somewhere.
* It’s not that hard to eat with the fork in your left hand with a little practice. If you don’t, everyone knows you’re an American

^^^ That’s not quite true, some unruly local 3-year olds also try and eat with their fork in their right hand until they know better.
* Many of the roads are the size of our sidewalks

^^^ No wonder the stairs are a problem!  Most roads are truly ancient, no-one is going to knock down every roadside house just to lower the skills of drivers
* There’s no AC

^^^ Don’t need to tell me.  It was 103 here two weeks ago and over 140 on the Underground.  Yikes!
* Instead of turning the heat up, you put on a jumper

Yes, you don’t have to make everything easy and perfect and waste resources.  You’ll get by and save money too.
* Gas is “petrol”, it costs about $6 a gallon and is sold by the litre

^^^ I’d think the price is much higher now.
* If you speed on a motorway, you get a ticket. Period. Always

^^^ Never got one yet but some people have problems
* You don’t have to tip, really!

^^^Most jobs are fairly paid.
* Only 14% of Americans have a passport, everyone in the UK does

^^^ I don’t know the exact percentage but yes the reputation is there.
* You pay the price marked on products because the taxes (VAT) are built in

^^^ I’ve only seen the American prices on TV, it sounds a bit crazy not to just put the total price in.
* Walking is the national pastime

^^^ 17 miles yesterday for me!
* Their TV looks and sounds much better then ours

^^^ No adverts on the BBC.
* They took the street signs down during WWII, but haven’t put them all back up yet

^^^ I guess there may be one or two but most were back up decades ago.
* There are no guns

^^^ Yes.
* Dogs are very well behaved and welcome everywhere

^^^ I love dogs and used to have a beagle.
* There are no window screens

^^^ What you on about?
* You can get on a bus and end up in Paris

^^^ You used to be able to get on a bus to Australia just 3 or 4 years ago.  I’m pretty sure you can still go by bus most of the way to China or Singapore.
* Everyone knows more about our history then we do

^^^ I can’t comment, I’m a historian.
* Radio is still a big deal. The BBC is quite good

^^^ Yes
* Beer comes in large, completely filled, actual pint glasses and the closer the brewery the better the beer

^^^ Broadly speaking yes.
* Butter and eggs aren’t refrigerated

^^^ Americans are always so surprised by this.  Not everything has to be freezing cold… whether eggs, beer, diet coke, room temperature.
* The money is easy to understand: 1-2-5-10-20-50 pence, then-£1-£2-£5-£10, etc bills. There are no quarters.

^^^ All the coins are actually different shapes and sizes so old and blind people can pick out the correct change.
* Their cash makes ours look like Monopoly money

^^^ We do sometimes call it that… or Mickey Mouse money.
* Cars don’t have bumper stickers

^^^ No-one does that, it’s so juvenile 🙂 Why would you want the car behind you to know your opinion on something.  You’re not that important for anyone to care and if they do, they might just take aggressive action.  Also why ruin a $40,000 car with a 99 cent sticker?  Would you put a sticker on a diamond ring or an expensive handbag?

* By law, there are no crappy, old cars

^^^ It’s not quite the law but certainly the side effect of various vehicle safety laws.
* Cake is is pudding, ice cream is pudding, anything served for desert is pudding, even pudding

Hhmmm, pudding.
* Very few people smoke, those who do often roll their own

Apparently smoking is due to become extinct in Britain in the next few years.
* You’re defined by your accent

Definitely.  Though personally I love all accents, I just hate people who don’t annunciate properly or use good grammar.
* No one in Cornwall knows what the hell a Cornish Game Hen is

No idea what you’re on about.
* Soccer is a religion, religion is a sport.

^^^ You mean football?  Yes, it drives me mad.  (How football sounds to people that just don’t care) American people seem very very religious for a state that is meant to differentiate religion and government. British people are much less religious by and large but do try to be nice to every one in every day life.  We are also sorry about everything.
* Europeans dress better then the British, we dress worse

^^^ Yes it’s all true.
* The trains work: a three minute delay is regrettable

Three minutes is rather shoddy in London, we can’t rely on a service that is 3 minutes late.  We have places to go, people to see.
* Drinks don’t come with ice

^^^ No, we savour the actual flavour of the drink.  Ice takes that away.
* There are far fewer fat British people

^^^ True but not few enough.
* There are a lot of healthy old folks around participating in life instead of hiding at home watching tv

^^^ This makes me laugh too, it sounds like a terrible way to live.
* If you’re over 60, you get free tv and bus and rail passes.

^^^ I guess that helps… One of the good things about public transport.  We have chauffeurs to drive us everywhere; you might call them bus and train drivers.
* They don’t use Bose anything anywhere

^^^ I have absolutely no idea what this is.
* Displaying your political or religious affiliation is considered very bad taste

^^^ Definitely, and more so on car stickers.
* Every pub has a pet drunk

^^^ Hey, I have a name thank you very much.
* Their healthcare works, but they still bitch about it

^^^ Because it could be even better.

 

* There are still no guns

^^^ This list could go on all day and that wouldn’t change.

 

* Towel warmers!

^^^ Hhhmmmm, towel warmers.

 

Posted in Cool Britannia, Funny & Humour, Life, London, Travel | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Quotable Tennyson

Last week I posted on the birthday of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  It is little known but this Poet Laureate is actually the ninth most quoted literary figure.   Whilst not in the same league as Shakespeare  or perhaps as entertaining as Dr. Johnson, it is likely we all are familiar with at least some of his quotes whether we know their origins or not.

 

1. “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.”

This quote is from The Charge of the Light Brigade.  Perhaps one of the most famous poems in history it tells of the famous and brutal military disaster in the Crimean war. Nowadays, the saying is often used in the workplace and encourages one to press on no matter what the task.  Personally I sometimes recite the third verse when on a hot and airless day on the London Underground, an impossibly importable situation is going to be made worse when the train enters a tunnel….

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
   Rode the six hundred.

 

The jaws of Death and mouth of hell seem very apt in the summer months I can assure you.

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The Charge of The Light Brigade

 

2. “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Perhaps the most well-known of Tennyson’s quotes comes from “In Memoriam”, a tribute to one of his late friends.

The saying, which is most commonly used to console someone after a break-up, tugs at the heartstrings and serves as a comfort for those with tumultuous love lives.

3. “If I had a flower for every time I thought of you… I could walk through my garden forever.”

This romantic sentiment may sound like the message on a greeting card, but it now makes its way into wedding speeches and toasts.

4.“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”

This is one of my favourite Tennyson quotes and comes from the dramatic monologue Locksley Hall, this poem tells the story of a soldier who stays behind to reflect on childhood struggles.

This simple phrase insinuates that knowledge is pieces of information that aren’t always retained, but wisdom is a deeper understanding based on life experiences.

5. “A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.”

Tennyson is a poet that demands thought and contemplation.  Can anyone read this quote and not spend time thinking it over?

6. “I am a part of all that I have met.”

In Ulysses, a dramatic monologue detailing the Greek hero’s escapades, Tennyson succinctly offers his view that humans are shaped by a combination of all life’s experiences.

7. “Better not be at all than not be noble.”

In The Princess, Tennyson tells the story of a heroine who refuses to marry, and instead ends up founding a women’s university. After a long pursuit and a series of trials, the princess eventually falls in love with a prince.

Tennyson’s musing on nobility suggests that there is nothing worse than poor character.

8. “No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not knock those who work with him. Don’t knock your friends. Don’t knock your enemies. Don’t knock yourself.”

This is the kind of maxim that The Office’s David Brent might consider framing.

“Often he composed individual lines before working out where to fit them into a poem, and just as he sometimes treated these lines like pieces of lego he could build up into bigger blocks of writing.  Rather like a modern scriptwriter who manipulates a situation just to be able to insert a pearl of wisdom.

9. “Who are wise in love, love most, say least.”

In Merlin and Viviene, Tennyson tells the passionate love story of a woman seducing a man.

In this particular line of the poem, Tennyson suggests that someone who is in love should show love, not just vocalise their admiration.

10. “Nor is it wiser to weep a true occasion lost, but trim our sails, and let old bygones be.”

Many of Tennyson’s poems are concerned with memory; deducing what we should hold onto from the past, and what we should abandon.

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Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Remembering Alfred, Lord Tennyson on bis birthday

This morning as I write this, or yesterday when this is posted, I was giving an all day tour to a family from New York and we went inside the incredible Westminster Abbey.  As we were there 15 minutes before opening time, despite 60 or 70 people being ahead of us, there were hundreds behind us and knowing the intricacies of the Abbey quite well, we were soon able to get ahead of the crowds.

One of the most popular spots in Westminster Abbey is the area known as Poets Corner which has memorials to seemingly dozens of literary names from Geoffrey Chaucer onwards.  I noticed when there that it was actually the birthday of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  In the Victorian Age, it was said that Lord Tennyson was the third most famous person after Queen Victoria herself and Prime Minster William Gladstone.

He was born at Somersby in Lincolnshire on the 6th August 1809. His father, George Tennyson, was the rector at Somersby but he suffered from epilepsy, mental instability and had a drug and alcohol problem. However, he was a learned man and educated his son at home.

Part of the family heritage was a strain of epilepsy, a disease then thought to be brought on by sexual excess and therefore shameful. One of Tennyson’s brothers was confined to an insane asylum most of his life, another had recurrent bouts of addiction to drugs, a third had to be put into a mental home because of his alcoholism, another was intermittently confined and died relatively young. Of the rest of the eleven children who reached maturity, all had at least one severe mental breakdown. During the first half of his life Alfred thought that he had inherited epilepsy from his father and that it was responsible for the trances into which he occasionally fell until he was well over forty years old.

It was in part to escape from the unhappy environment of Somersby rectory that Alfred began writing poetry long before he was sent to school, as did most of his talented brothers and sisters. All his life he used writing as a way of taking his mind from his troubles. One peculiar aspect of his method of composition was set, too, while he was still a boy: he would make up phrases or discrete lines as he walked, and store them in his memory until he had a proper setting for them.

In 1827 Tennyson went to Trinity College, Cambridge where he soon became friendly with Arthur Henry Hallam a fellow member of The Apostles. Hallam also fell in love with Tennyson’s sister Emily. Unfortunately, in 1833 Arthur Hallam died while travelling in Austria with his father. This event affected Tennyson greatly and prompted him to start writing a series of lyrics which would later became In Memoriam.

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Lord Tennyson

In 1836 Tennyson fell in love with Emily Sellwood – the daughter of a Lincolnshire solicitor – however their marriage was delayed until 1850 due to his precarious financial circumstances and worries by Emily’s family concerning the general mental health of the Tennysons.

Their situation improved dramatically when Tennyson was appointed poet laureate in 1850 following the death of William Wordsworth – possibly on the recommendation of Prince Albert. This enabled him to move to Farringford on the Isle of Wight.

1850 also saw the publication of  In Memoriam to great popular and critical acclaim.

Tennyson was one of the most popular poets of the Victorian age with his reputation was secured by Maud, and Other Poems (1855) and Idylls of the King (1859). Even Queen Victoria was among his admirers.

He was a consummate lyricist – and his work is full of melancholy and a sense of mortality. T.S.Eliot said of him that he had: ‘the finest ear of any English poet since Milton‘.   It is said that sometimes he would scare passersby as he passionately recited poetry as he was going about his business.

There are memorials to Tennyson on the Isle of Wight and in the grounds of Lincoln Cathedral and of course in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey where I visited just a few hours ago.

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At his funeral, his poem Crossing the Bar was set to music by Sir Frederick Bridge.

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,
   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.
   Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;
   For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar.

If you’d like to read about a contemporary poet to this great man, then why not read my post which in passing touches on Robert Browning who is also commemorated at Westminster Abbey. Or venturing further into the past you can read about Christopher Smart and his famous poem about his cat, Jeoffry.

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Sailing away with Flags of Convenience

What have Liberia, Panama and the Marshall Islands have in common?  This might sound like the start of a bad joke but it is a legitimate question.  The answer is that these nations are the leading Flag States in the world for shipping.

Every merchant ship must register with a country, known as a flagged state.  Under the open-registry system, “flags of convenience” as they are sometimes known, can be flown by any vessel regardless of the nationality of the owners.

The term ‘Flags of Convenience’ comes into the news from time to time, usually when something bad has happened.  Two weeks ago the cargo ship Stena Impero was seized by  was sailing under a British flag but it is owned by a Swedish company and has no British nationals on board.

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At one time, the number of ships registered under the UK was by far the largest in the world but now it is only the 9th largest such fleet with around 1,300 vessels and known as the Red Ensign Group, which includes the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies (the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey) and UK overseas territories (Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, St Helena and the Turks and Caicos Islands)

It’s very common for ships to fly the flag of a country that differs from that of the owners.  But why is it done and who benefits?   Chiefly it is for commercial reasons which often includes regulations, taxes and the quality of the service provided.   Greece has the most ship but many of its vessels do not fly a Greek flag as they would have to pay more tax.

More developed nations can have tighter rules on who can own and operate these vessels and higher safety and environmental costs which makes them less desirable for cost-conscious organisations.

Nations who have large flagged fleets such as Panama can earn vital revenue.  The Panamanian ship registry contributes tens of millions of dollars to the country’s economy.  The system allows for the hiring of crew from anywhere in the world, which can lower costs.

However the whole “flags of convenience” has been criticised because of the potential for looser regulation and even the flouting of international maritime rules though international regulations are seen to improving the standards of even the rogue carriers in recent years.

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The Red Ensign

Owners tend to choose to register with a flag state based on reputation or because major shipping registries have a presence in every major port.  The safety record of large open registries is closing in on that of traditional fleets but despite that there is a lingering suspicion of a generally poorer standard and implication ship owners are somehow trying to avoid legitimate regulation for example registering under a different flag makes it more difficult to hold ship-owners to account over wage disputes or working conditions, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

After signing up to a flag, the laws of that country are conferred on the vessel and each country is responsible for ships flying their flag.  This includes ensuring that ships conform to relevant international standards – through survey and certification of ships, says the IMO.

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Flag countries sign up to international maritime treaties and are responsible for enforcing them, with rules set by the IMO in regards to the construction, design, equipment and manning of ships.

Under the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea, flag states are required to take measures for ensuring safety at sea.    Some flag-states don’t even have their registry office in their own country.  Liberia is administered by an American company with its headquarters in Washington DC. Mongolia doesn’t even have a coastline but has a Registry is based in Singapore whilst the Comoros Registry is based in Bulgaria and  Vanuatu has its base in New York.

Obviously the one obvious downside for registering with a nation such as Liberia is that the country is unable to even come close to protecting all its vessels militarily in the unlikely event of hostilities breaking out and similarly are unlikely to easily leverage diplomatic pressure in such circumstances.   On the other hand, such shops are unlikely to be targets in the first place and not many people would see much point in attacking a Panamanian freighter.

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