The Ædifying use of Æ

No, I haven’t been holding down random keys on my keyboard when writing the title of this post though I dare say that it might be the only published article anywhere on the internet today that features Æ.Whilst writing an upcoming blog post, I realised that it contained an awful lot of these things “Æ”.   Whilst I can’t say they are common even to me, I do come across them from time to time when reading or writing history, especially old history.

Whilst writing an upcoming blog post, I realised that it contained an awful lot of these things “Æ”.   Whilst I can’t say they are common even to me, I do come across them from time to time when reading or writing history, especially old history.

Originally to be found in Latin and ancient Greek, Æ is also evident in Scandinavian languages and old English.

An Æ or æ is known as a digraph or a two-letter symbol. Æ also has the properties of a dipthong where one sound eases into another within the same vowel.  In old English, the use of Æ was a routine thing.  It is called an ‘æsc’ or ‘ash’ for speakers of modern English and was a vowel with a pronunciation somewhere between ‘A’ and ‘E’, actually sounding something like the ‘A’ in ‘cat’.

Before the arrival of the Normans in 1066, Æ was used a lot in both words and names but it began to die out from widespread use in around 1300 as the languages diverged and English became more Anglicised.

It retains rare usage in British English, not least due to the lingering influences of Latin.  The odd Æ can still be found in English though it is much more likely to be see as an ‘ae’ largely through the evolution of the language but also from the practicalities of many typewriters not having Æ keys.

In the USA however the usage of AE is much less frequent, let alone the archaic Æ and often the spelling has just simplified into the use if ‘e’ with just a few exceptions such as Cæsar being Ceasar.


I always learnt the word Æon though was familiar with the modernised spelling of Aeon, until today I wasn’t really aware that many use the spelling Eon.  It just doesn’t look right to me.

Wherever I stand on the use of antiquated English, it is just one example that has seen Ædify become Edify.  Æther become Ether and Anæsthetic has become Anesthetic

I’ve even seen that Æsthetic which I know as Aesthetic has in parts of North America turned into Esthetic which just doesn’t seem right to me as someone who thinks of language as an art form with history rather than just a standard method of communication.

One of the last remaining every day uses of Æ is in the word Encyclopædia.


We can see a good example of just how language as evolved even in the last century as the process of Anglicising words from their Latin and Greek words has continued.   The Wright Brothers  ‘invented’ the æroplane.  They set up their company as the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company as Aero has a long history in Greece as mean Air.    This spelling goes with such related terms as aerospace, aerodynamics and aerodrome.  As with other words, the Æ was dropped from common usage.  In the USA æroplane became airplane whilst in the UK the word only evolved into aeroplane.


Whilst using Æroplane isn’t wrong, it has just fallen out of usage.  These days you are most likely to come across Æ in history texts of about 1,000 years or older.  Now that you know what Æ is and how you say it, there is no reason not to enjoy my next blog post which is positively overflowing with the good old English Æ.

Posted in Heritage, history, Life, writing | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Olio – The Food Recycling App #zerofoodwaste

Every now and then the internet actually comes up with something undeniably good and helpful, maybe something that would actually be impossible before the 1990’s rather than just being another channel for selling you junk that you don’t need.

I still think Airbnb is probably the best idea ever realised on the Internet, a true way to democratise travel and give those who are happy for the risk on both sides both make and save a little bit of money whilst meeting new people.   I even wrote a best-selling book on the matter, How To Get Rich Using Airbnb.


However whilst Airbnb might make life easier, happier and richer, it doesn’t actually benefit the planet.  At the end of the day, it is all about making people richer even if it is nice non-corporate people like myself rather than actually improving the planet physically.

Just last month I wrote about the modern obsession with eating out of season food produce, just one of many habits which are wasteful on a global scale.


I really dislike waste and particularly food waste.  I am wearing a top that I bought in a charity shop in 2007 and was no doubt old then.  My general recycling bin is full every 4-6 weeks, largely by plastic items that I can’t readily source without the plastic.  My non-recyclable bin is just never used.  I put something in it the week after Christmas, and I could see something else I had put in it, the week after Christmas 2 years earlier.


Last year I came across an App which I really like called Olio.  The idea behind it is that it unites people with food (and now non-food) items with people who want the food.  No money is exchanged, it is purely done as a service to help people and the planet.


Now it could be that it is precisely the people like myself who don’t waste anything will think this is a great app.  However, it also means that I have very little if anything I give away.  I don’t buy anything I won’t eat and I won’t cook anything that can’t be eaten, frozen or re-purposed into soups or stews.


In January however, I did have a few things to give away so I thought I would try using the Olio app.  People had very thoughtfully given me Christmas and birthday presents, but some of them were things that I couldn’t eat or wouldn’t like to eat.  Now I would never have thrown these items away but rather either given them to a charity or just eaten it and not enjoyed it.  We do so many things in life that we don’t enjoy, why should eating be any different!

So I put up two items on Olio, and within about 20 minutes I got a message from a nurse who would really appreciate them.  We arranged a time for her to drop by and 24 hours later, my unwanted food was safely in the hands of someone who not only would love eat them but who possibly wasn’t rich enough to waste money on non-necessary items… at least non-necessary by way of living.


We were both very happy with this, and she told me that she uses it quite often and picks up all sorts of food items.

There is absolutely no requirement that people who take food must also give it away.  It’s an entirely selfless act, and if someone needs or wants to take away food consistently, then it is still helping by not throwing away unwanted items.


The Olio website is at:  , and you can find their App on the Apple App Store and Googleplay

It’s very quick and easy to get started.  Just create a simple profile. Look on the map for people nearby who are giving away food or alternatively, take a photo of the items you want to give away and a short description of what they are.


Like many things, Olio needs a critical mass of users to make the idea take-off so even if there is no-one in your area then still register and put up an item to see what happens.  In my area, there was only myself a year ago but now there are plenty of people involved.  There are also volunteers who are happy to be drop-off and pick-up points for people who work irregular hours.


Whilst the shame of supermarkets and restaurants throwing away perfectly good food is to blame for a great amount of food waste, and progressive nations such as France are now creating laws to outlaw this practice, like almost everything in life, it is not down to big business or government to make changes but rather for individuals like you and me.


Come on people, stop buying so much food.  Stop wasting so much food.  If I can go all year without throwing out a single bit of food waste, then there is absolutely no reason why anyone else can’t either.  You might even save money by acting more responsibly.

Food waste is entirely the problem of rich people.  If you are reading this on the internet in English, then the chances are that you live in an area that wastes food.  It isn’t about other people or greedy corporations or selfish governments or corrupt banks.  Rather than give money to charities or blaming impoverished people, take a stand and do something really difficult like changing your own behaviour… except it isn’t that difficult.  What could be easier than buying, consuming and discarding less food?


Posted in Life, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Opportunity Knocks… Again! From blogging to the small screen.

I’ve found that blogging has opened no end of doors for me whether it be writing books and articles, my tour company or being invited onto the radio or television however I must admit that I wasn’t expecting what happened last Friday morning when I routinely checked my email as I do working from home, almost on a minute by minute basis.

There was an email from a gentleman working in a senior position at the Commonwealth War Graves Committee who had seen my various blog posts about my relation Reuel Dunn who fought the Red Baron in WW1.

My Lest We Forget WW1 concise history book promo video

I immediately gave him a call as he seemed a nice chap and was very interested in Reuel and what I had done.  We talked for nearly half an hour though it could have been much more if we both didn’t have urgent work to attend to.

It was explained to me that the CWGC who oversee all such military cemeteries were already aware of Reuel and it being almost the 100th anniversary of his fateful encounter with Baron Von Richthofen, they wanted to raise public awareness of the larger battle that he was just a small part of and there are few more famous names in history than the Red Baron to do so.     As a non-profit making organisation, they also wanted a way to demonstrate how the general public can use their website and other services to track down family members, often with only the most brief of details which is of course exactly what I had done.

It transpired that the CWGC might like to meet me in March and making film me in some way to mark the event and kill two birds with one stone.

This sounded tremendously excited as I was wondering how I myself might mark the 100th anniversary on this blog and in the real world and there were various possibilities muted including filming at my house, local museums or even going over to the Western Front to make a short documentary film there.

My In The Footsteps of Heroes book promo video

We ended the call and I tried to give the distinct impression that I was very flexible and enthusiastic to do anything before spending much of the day thinking about what might transpire.

Another surprise email or two later that night and Saturday night and I found myself being invited to France on Sunday.  It all sounded a bit mad to be honest which Tim at the CWGC admitted himself.  To go to Lille with just a few hours notice and meet someone I didn’t know at a place I had never been to and with no return ticket to do…. who knows what?

I always say how I am up for adventure and whatever opportunity comes my way so at 7am on Sunday morning, I made my way first to London and then onwards to northern France.  It was all a little surreal and it made me think of Lawrence of Arabia going off to meet an unknown contact in the desert somewhere, to do… who knows what?


A classic car outside a deserted early morning St. Pancras Station in London.

My contact was a little late due to prior filming commitments but after wandering around the heavily armed precincts of Lille station, we met up and immediately hit it off.  Minutes later we were driving down towards Arras.   Tim was even more fantastic than I thought and with a life time in the media and history/politics was a very interesting colleague but I’d like to think that I had made an impression of my own.16831992_776900329129961_3613566377135056495_n.jpg

We went to a number of places that I had been to 3 years earlier as well as a few that were new to me.  I have a feeling that they only expected me to say a few words but typically of me, I threw myself wholeheartedly into it all and rather than giving 10 second takes, ended up chatting for 3 or 4 minutes at a time about everything and anything.  At one point I found myself driving along and talking to the camera in the front seat, explaining where we were going and why as if I were a professional presenter or documentary maker.  I guess conducting all my tours and chatting away has given me an unusual skill-set!

Your rather youthful looking 43-year-old blogger... if I might say so myself.

Your rather youthful looking 43-year-old blogger… if I might say so myself.

We kind of winged the whole day and did various takes as not only will the video be on the official CWGC website but it is hoped we might even make BBC news!   It was quite an amazing day and Tim himself said it was an adventure and a crazily fantastic day.  I remember laughing a lot and making Tim laugh too, even at the grave of Reuel and I’m sure after 100 years, he must have had fun too if he was watching.

We progressed to various little-known places through little more than my memory and vague hunches which incredibly paid off well and allow me to keep up my tradition of never getting lost with my homing pigeon like sense of direction.



I look after one of the cameras as all the gear is unloaded from the car.


At one cemetery we went to, we visited the grave of a flyer named Charles who had witnessed Reuel and his plane.  Sadly Charles too died 3 weeks later at the tail end of what is known as Bloody April.  Tim had done some research on that day and it was really interesting to learn a little more of what happened.  That cemetery was interesting too for it had French civilians, French and North African troops, British and Commonwealth and also several Germans buried there too and all under the shadow of a volcano like slag-heap, one of many that litter that corner of France.

Fighter pilot Charles F. De Berigny of the Royal Flying Corps who claims he shot up the plane of the Red Baron upon the plane of my relation Reuel Dunn crash land near Givenchy-En-Gohelle. Charles was sadly killed in action 3 weeks later.

Fighter pilot Charles F. De Berigny of the Royal Flying Corps who claims he shot up the plane of the Red Baron upon the plane of my relation Reuel Dunn crash land near Givenchy-En-Gohelle. Charles was sadly killed in action 3 weeks later.

French military graves from WW1 in the foreground with 2 Algerian or Moroccan graves on the right next to the local communal cemetery under the shadow of a large heap of waste materials.

French military graves from WW1 in the foreground with 2 Algerian or Moroccan graves on the right next to the local communal cemetery under the shadow of a large heap of waste materials.

At one point we attracted a local family who if my French understood correctly, took part in the new war film Dunkirk and who gave me warm and possibly slightly inebriated hugs as a thank-you to Reuel, Charles and no doubt over a million others.

Driving to the battle site of April 2nd 1917.  A good a place as any to perfect my talk-to camera when driving on the wrong side of the road approach to filming!

Driving to the battle site of April 2nd 1917. A good a place as any to perfect my talk-to camera when driving on the wrong side of the road approach to filming!


This grave is of an unfortunate German soldier in a British cemetery who sadly died 6 weeks after the end of the war, likely due from a serious injury or possibly disease.

This grave is of an unfortunate German soldier in a British cemetery who sadly died 6 weeks after the end of the war, likely due from a serious injury or possibly disease.


Rather frozen, hungry, and quite needing the toilet, we made our way back to Calais where we were to drive onto the train under the sea before driving back along to London.   There were 2-hour delays at passport control but funnily, considering what I wrote a few days, the time just flew as we chatted and laughed the night away and funnily enough Lawrence of Arabia came up in conversation several times.

It will take a few weeks to edit the film and there is a good possibility we will do something else before April but it is a reminder of what can happen if you can get your blog in front of the right people at the right time.  I was just glad to go back to Reuel on this special year and talk about something I know a little about with some passion.  I’ve been told that I will be able to use the finished film too so hopefully you will see it here on the 2nd April 2017.

Driving in the train that will take us under the English Channel

Driving in the train that will take us under the English Channel


Below is a brief video diary of my day out filming in France.

Posted in history, Travel, WW1 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

A tragic hero, forgotten in his own time but now remembered in ours.

Whilst out with his metal detector on the muddy foreshore of Thameside, amateur historian and enthusiast Tobias Neto stumbled on a very small but very special piece of history in December 2016.   It was a medal, a VC or Victoria Cross, the highest medal for valour possible in the United Kingdom and old Commonwealth nations.

The metal for the medals was originally sourced from captured Russian cannon at the Seige of Sebastapol and since they first came into active use in 1856, only 1358 have been awarded for ” Only most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”.

Obviously, such medals are treasured by those honoured with them and by their families as well as being hugely expensive when they occasionally come up for auction.   To find one just buried in a riverbank is obviously a most unexpected turn of events.


With the help of the Museum of London, Mr Neto discovered that the medal he found was one of 16 awarded for gallantry to British forces at the Battle of Inkerman on Nov 5, 1854 when 13,000 troops defeated around 68,000 Russians in battle.

The story that has now emerged from his chance discovery is one of both tragedy and heroism, culminating in the shooting of a young work colleague by a decorated veteran of the Crimean war who then turned the gun on himself.

With the whereabouts of only two of the Inkerman VCs unaccounted for, the one found by Mr Neto in all likelihood belonged to a private called John Byrne – a man who appears to have been so tormented by what he had witnessed in battle he suffered a catastrophic breakdown.

Byrne, from County Kilkenny in Ireland, was awarded the VC for returning to the front line to rescue a wounded comrade under heavy fire during the battle.  But following his return from the Crimea, his life appears to have spiralled out of control, as a result of suffering what would now be diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

John Byrne's grave in Newport
John Byrne’s grave in Newport

While working as part of an Ordnance Survey team, Byrne became convinced his medal had been taunted by his young work colleague John Watts.

In a fit of rage, the former soldier pulled out a revolver and shot the terrified 18-year-old, wounding him on the arm. Hours later, surrounded by a large crowd and several police officers, Byrne turned his gun on himself and pulled the trigger, taking his own life rather than give himself up.

The inquest into Byrne’s death, following his suicide inside the Crown Inn, in Newport, in July 1879, heard that he had probably imagined the insult.

Watts denied making the insult and told the Coroner he had simply advised Byrne to put out his pipe while on parade, as the men had previously been instructed by their commanding officer.

The Battle of Inkerman in The Crimea War

The Battle of Inkerman in The Crimea War

But Byrne clearly interpreted this as a terrible insult and his landlady, Eliza Morgan, told the inquest how, on returning to her lodging house, he slammed the table in fury, saying: “I served my Queen and country for 21 years and I’ll never be insulted by a curr puppy.”

She said Byrne then stormed out, declaring that Watts “isn’t fit to black my boots”.

A few hours later Byrne – having shot Watts – found himself holed up at the Crown Inn, where he told the landlord, Salter Davy, that he had shot the youth “by accident”.

Mr Davy tried to persuade Byrne to give himself up, but – confronted by a local Sergeant – the soldier, his back to the fireplace, took his gun, put the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Byrne’s troubled state of mind may explain how the VC in which he took so much pride came to end up in the Thames mud.

A Lieutenant Barklie gave evidence that Byrne had arrived in Bristol the previous October in a state of destitution and looking for work, having spent time in a lunatic asylum in the Straits Settlements – in what is now Malaysia and Singapore – before returning to Britain.

It appears that, by the time Byrne arrived in the south-west, he may have lost or even sold his prized medal.

A report of the inquest, carried by the Monmouthshire Merlin and South Wales Advertiser of July 18, 1879, states: “When Byrne came to Bristol for his pension Lieut Barklie asked him if he knew why he had not had his cross, and he seemed rather embarrassed so the question was not pressed.”

John Byrne VC, mentioned in dispatches.

John Byrne VC, mentioned in dispatches.

Given how few VCs have been awarded over the years this was by all measures an incredible discovery.Kate Sumnall, Finds Liaison Officer, Museum of London

Mr Neto, who lives near the Thames at Putney, is convinced that Byrne threw the medal in the Thames “in a fit of regret and despair”.

Byrne was buried beneath a simple gravestone in the Saint Woolos Cemetery, in Newport – his story forgotten until now.

Kate Sumnall, the finds liaison officer at the Museum of London, suggests the lost medal could also have belonged to a Scottish soldier called John McDermond – the other recipient of a VC from Inkerman which has not been accounted for.

During the battle, McDermond saved the life of Colonel Haly, of the 17th Foot Regiment, who was lying wounded on the ground surrounded by the enemy.

With no thought for his own safety, 22-year-old Private McDermond rushed to the rescue and killed the Russian who had wounded the colonel.


John McDermond in battle

A few weeks earlier, he had been wounded in the left hand by grapeshot during the Battle of Alma on Sept 20, 1854.

McDermond spent a total of 15 years in the British Army, serving in Malta, Turkey and Gibraltar, as well as the Crimea, before being invalided out of the army at the age of 33 as a result of injury.


John McDermond VC photographed in 1858. His Victoria Cross clearly visible

Records held by the Royal Chelsea Hospital show he was registered as a Chelsea pensioner in July 1862.

Some accounts have him buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Woodside Cemetery, Paisley – a hero unrecognised in his homeland.

Ms Sumnall said: “Given how few VCs have been awarded over the years, this was by all measures an incredible discovery. We may never establish with certainty to whom it belonged, but the stories that lie behind this medal are truly fascinating.”

Her Majesty Queen Victoria distributing the Crimean Medals to the distinguished recipients. The engraving from the Museum Of London.

Her Majesty Queen Victoria distributing the Crimean Medals to the distinguished recipients. The engraving from the Museum Of London.

Posted in Heritage, history, Life, London | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Queuing by the numbers

There are few things more British than queuing or Standing In Line as it is called in some places.  It’s often said that we will stand behind a queue of one and I’ve seen that quite a few times.

It’s one of those characteristics like a stiff upper lip, a pot of tea, talking about the weather and Fairplay.  Whilst to some it may look like a fairly simple and civilised habit, recent surveys indicate that it is actually a little more complicated than first imagined.


Women applying for just two part-time vacancies at Boydell Toys in Oxford Street (formerly Alpha Toys).  Photo by Bolton Evening News, August 19 1982.

It’s all about the power of six, professors say.  People will generally be more than happy to queue for 6 minutes before becoming dissatisfied. They are also unlikely to join a line of more than six people, researchers at the University College London found.

Interestingly, when it comes to the likelihood of people leaving the queue, it seems this will hardly ever happen if the number of people behind them has grown to six people or more. And in keeping with the theme, the report also revealed that a six-inch radius is the minimum amount of personal space that needs to be afforded to a person in a queue, to avoid increasing stress or anxiety.



A queue for an event at The Royal Albert Hall


The study found that the optimal amount of time a customer is willing to wait in line is 5 minutes 54 seconds. This is the amount of time a customer considers “reasonable” before the wait begins to have a detrimental impact on their satisfaction level, it said.  After five minutes the customer’s satisfaction has gone from 95pc to 85pc. After five minutes 54 seconds, the satisfaction begins to drops at a much quicker rate, decreasing to around 55pc by 8 minutes.

The report also includes a list of queuing “no-nos” which no one should ever do in a queue in Britain. At number one, queue skipping is the ultimate faux pas as it goes against the British social system of linear queuing and the nationally recognised “first come, first served” principle.  According to Prof Furnham, the very public nature of queuing and as such, queue skipping, sparks a huge sense of injustice amongst all members of the queue.   “The British believe that inequalities between people should be minimised, and everyone should have the autonomy to pursue goals with equal opportunity.”



Waiting in a queue for a taxi


Engaging in conversation whilst queuing also made the list of social practices that are viewed as completely unacceptable by British people. However perhaps the most confusing to visitors from abroad is number three on the list: accepting a person’s offer to go ahead of them in the queue. In British queueing culture, not only will acceptance be perceived as impoliteness, it will also lose the individual the respect of the remaining queuers, it said.

The study was based on a review of academic literature on different types of everyday queuing including at banks, ATMs, and buying food at the supermarket.  Obviously for other items, we are happy to queue for as long as it takes.  I remember myself  one time queuing for 7.5 hours.



Waiting in a queue for the bus. Not everyone will get on but look how orderly it all is.




“In a time when Britain is changing rapidly, and the ways in which we queue are shifting, the psychology behind British queuing is more important than ever – it is one of the keys to unlocking British culture.”


I found the following bit of text on a BBC America site about a reporter in London who was tasked on reporting on a Royal Wedding which seems to be a good indicator of the differences between us and everyone else when it comes to queuing!

“My job was to take photographs of the banners and the crowds and all of the accompanying frenzy. I found myself standing with three groups of people, and as is the way of these things, we all got chatting. The first group were two college students from Texas, who’d been vacationing in Europe. Then there was the South African man and his Yorkshire wife, and a gran and her young grandson, both British. The South African man took great pleasure in complaining loudly about people who he felt had pushed in front of him, so that everyone in earshot knew he was fed up, but not fed up enough to complain directly to the people in question. The girls from Texas laughed, and said they were well used to this kind of behavior, as that’s how people back home would react too. The British gran offered round sandwiches and tutted sympathetically. I looked at my shoes. That’s the British reserve”.



Commuters in London. Reading a paper is allowed but just because you’re standing next to people for ages, doesn’t mean we want to talk.

It’s unclear when the art of queuing began but it undoubtedly has its origins in the old-fashioned virtues of chivalry, good manners and a dollop of WW2 rationing.   Queuing is so key to our society, the most famous political poster of the 20th century even features a queue.


It might be a bit odd to others to see people voluntarily queuing but it must surely beat the alternative or pushing and jostling to get the front unfairly.  Now how about a nice cuppa tea?


Posted in Cool Britannia, Culture, Funny & Humour, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

From the Palace to the Jungle

You don’t have to have been to London to know what The Household Cavalry look like.  With their bright red uniforms, highly polish breastplates and distinctive tasseled helmets.   Their traditions date back to 1680 and are the personal mounted escort of The Queen and to a degree, the public face of the Army to the world.

You might have seen them around Whitehall or on television in Horseguards Parade where I took this photo.


Unlike many other guards who ‘protect’ buildings and officials in cities around the world, the soldiers in London are all fighting soldiers.  Their time on public display hopefully on one of their easier duty rotas compared to fighting in Afghanistan for instance.

They aren’t there for tourists, tourists just happen to love them and London no doubt makes lots of money from them but they are there for one reason and that is to protect The Queen and be ready to do their duty


I don’t know about you but I haven’t been in many tropical jungles.  Perhaps one just about cuts it, in Aswan at the very southern tip of Egypt.  Whilst I was wondering around, I could see the odd goat, tropical fruit and keeping my eye out for more deadly jungle animals…. I do deserts well but not jungles.

However looking at the photo above, what do you see?   A pretty serene view at first glance in the jungles of Brunel in SE. Asia.   What if I say there are actually 12 members of the Household Cavalry in full view.  How many can you spot?

Brunel might seem an unusual place to have a large military base but there are few places better to master jungle warfare.

There cannot be many environments in the world where it is considered a physical achievement for an infantry soldier to cover five kilometres of ground in a day.

But with dense vegetation, deep rivers, humidity levels of up to 90% and enough harmful insects to put even the most battle-hardened fighter on high alert, Brunei’s wilderness is one such place.

Here, the Jungle Warfare Instructors’ Course uses the unforgiving climate of South East Asia to teach Service personnel how to live in tropical conditions with only their wits and the contents of their soaking wet Bergens for support.

“Covering five kilometers per day out here means you are making good headway, whereas you could jog that distance in just 20 minutes back home,” explained Maj Pete Houlton-Hart (RGR), the officer commanding Training Team Brunei.

“The terrain is difficult and you can’t see for more than ten metres ahead of you.

“It’s sweaty, uncomfortable and easy to become disorientated.

“Just the effect of being in the jungle can be enough to lose your sense of direction – and that’s before you fight a simulated enemy.”


So next time when a tourist thinks it’s being clever to shout or mock them at their posts, maybe they should remember that the soldier could likely kill them without them even knowing they were there.


Thankfully, all my tourists are always on their best behaviour!

Posted in Life, London, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

10 of the most oppressed minorities around the world

Whilst much of the world is pre-occupied with protesting against Donald Trump, as worthy as that may be,  I’d like to illustrate what real oppression looks like around the world with just some of the longest standing and most severe cases of ongoing injustice around the world.

10. Jewish and Christian people in some Muslim countries

With all the news about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the hate mongering speech against Israel and Jews by officials from Iran and other countries, you may not realise that Jews live in many of those countries. Many Jews lived in Iran until the 1979 Islamic revolution convinced most of them to get while the getting was good.  Of course, historically Jews have been discriminated against pretty severely at times, such as in Spain with the Inquisition and in Germany during the Holocaust. Russia and the Ukraine have historically conducted pogroms against Jews, and other supposedly liberal countries have had many cases of discrimination as well (such as the KKK in the US).  Traditionally Jewish people often found sanctuary in Muslim lands from Christian Europe.

Similarly Christian minorities are frequently intimidated and murdered in many nations.   They suffer from discriminatory practices and even badly invoked blasphemy laws.  Churches can be burnt to the ground with little official protection or justice.  In other places new churches cannot be built and the penalty for becoming Christian is punishable by death.


9. Albinos in Sub-Saharan Africa

Albinos among the Sub-Saharan black populations of Africa are commonly perceived as objects of fear and loathing. Witchcraft performed as part of native religions often results in the murder of human albinos, and to a large extent people afflicted with the disorder are shunned. Suffering from vision problems and sensitivity to the sun in Africa, albinos have it hard enough without the extreme discrimination from their fellow humans.

8. Native Americans in the USA

Whilst the big offences against Native Americans happened long ago and are in no way the blame or responsibility of those alive today, an underlying dismissive attitude towards them is still present in practice if not in law.  Still largely in reservation lands with few natural resources, their views are often ignored if they should clash with progress or corporate interests as is the case with the ongoing pipeline dispute at Standing Rock.

There remains a great detail of insensitivity given to their cultures which can easily be seen in the names of popular American sports teams, the Cleveland Indians (with their Chief Wahoo), Washington Redskins, and Atlanta Braves.   Change the ethnic group to another minority then it is hard to see it being allowed even if it was culturally acceptable 120 years ago.  I could give some examples but it would be clearly racist to do so.

7. LGBT around the world

There are 77 countries in the world where homosexuality being illegal, some places such as Russia have even gone backwards in recent years with regards to the rights of their citizens.

A painting protesting against the position of the LGBT community in Russia depicting Presidents Medvedev and Putin as lovers.

A painting protesting against the position of the LGBT community in Russia depicting Presidents Medvedev and Putin as lovers.




6. People with disabilities

Luckily in most western countries, legal protection is now strengthening to protect this group of people. Nevertheless wherever there are stairs and no lifts or ramps, narrow doorways, high door sills, bathrooms not adapted for handicapped use, street curbs and other monumental obstacles for the mobility of people suffering from limitations there is tremendous disadvantage for them.

Although most people do not say so, handicapped and disabled people frequenty don’t get a job they are qualified for and can ably accomplish because of perceptions that they are less capable or will be a “problem” somewhere down the road in the workplace. Even physical appearance outside the norm (such as burn victims, cancer victims, and other disfigured people) results in discrimination in many aspects of how these people are treated by others. The mobility part of this problem is changing, but the rest is changing ever so slowly if at all.  Let’s not even talk about those with invisible mental health issues such as depression.

5.  Indians and Pakistanis in Africa

Enterprising people from the Indian sub-continent have emigrated to Africa and worked hard to open businesses, becoming a shopkeeper class in many areas. Local native Africans frequently have resented the success of these immigrants and have sometimes reacted violently toward them, venting their envy and resentment. This backlash against newcomers perceived as making money off the poorer natives is manifested around the world.  From Indians, Pakistanis, Koreans, Lebanese, all suffer for the entrepreneurial spirit rather than welcomed for helping improve the wider community.

4.  Muslims in China

Muslim populations in China occasionally make it to the international news when the Chinese government harshly cracks down on them for protesting or advocating change. With 1 to 2% of the Chinese population being Muslim (perhaps 20 to 40 million people) 10 of the 55 Chinese minorities are Islamic. Most of the Chinese Muslim population is well integrated with the rest of the country, but it is the Uyghur people of the far western part of the country that have earned the enmity of the government by advocating for their own separate country. This population of around 8 and a half million people feels oppressed and yearns for independence.

A third of China shouldn't really by Chinese at all and since its conquest in the mid-20th century has been flooded with ethnic Han Chinese.

A third of China shouldn’t really by Chinese at all and since its conquest in the mid-20th century has been flooded with ethnic Han Chinese.

  • Uighurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims
  • They make up about 45% of the region’s population; 40% are Han Chinese
  • China re-established control in 1949 after crushing short-lived state of East Turkestan
  • Since then, there has been large-scale immigration of Han Chinese
  • Uighurs fear erosion of traditional culture

Uighurs are frequently executed or imprisoned, some for simply daring to express their own culture (similar to in Tibet).  Is China not big enough all ready?  If the majority of people anyway want independence is this not their right?

3. Kurds in Turkey and historically Syria and Iraq

Kurdish people understandably wonder how many other ethnic groups have won their own country in recent years.  In Turkey and Iraq the Kurds have been treated like captive people and insurrections are put down harshly. Left wondering what hit them when George H. W. Bush encouraged them to revolt from Iraq in 1991 and the US failed to supply the expected assistance, the Kurds were once again beaten back into submission. Apparently pressure from Turkey, a US Nato ally, keeps the US from orchestrating a Kurdish state on the Iraq-Turkey border.   Yet Kurds have time and again proven to be worthy of their own culture and country. If Kurdish has been banned in Turkey, who can blame them for that?   Even in the last year, Kurdish fighters have proven to be both the best and continually most moderate forces against ISIS.  Their self-governing territory in northern Iraq has become comparatively prosperous and peaceful compared to their Arab neighbours.  It is to be hoped one day soon they gain their own homeland but to do that they will have to overcome several hostile local governments.


2. Palestinians in Israel

Like the Jews in Muslim countries, Palestinians in Israel do not have 100% of the rights and privileges of Jewish citizens. Israelis seem to think Palestinians have a homeland, and that it should be Jordan, but Jordanians think differently. Most other Arab countries do not welcome Palestinians.  The argument that they easily go elsewhere is disingenuous and would be like telling any European to go in another European country or that millions of Americans shouldn’t complain about going to live in Mexico or Venezuela.

The video below is the famous footage of the murder of the terrified little boy Muhammad Al-Durrah.  Unusually, the IDF immediately admitted the crime but following a worldwide outrage backtracked…. the wall behind the boy was demolished a day or two later.  If only it were an isolated incident.   One way or the other, the situation needs to be resolved, not just for Palestinians but also Israelis too and not least us in the rest of the world who see it as a legitimate ongoing grievance that plays in to the hands of Islamic radicals.


  1. Women and girls in much of Africa, the Middle-East and Asia

The largest group of people listed here, female humans are not even a real minority as they outnumber men around the world. Still, in Muslim countries more than others they are discriminated against by law and by public sentiment. Not allowed to drive cars, initiate a divorce, make contracts, go to certain places, and forced to obey dress codes in some countries, women are second-class citizens in parts of the Muslim World.


Only a handful of countries even have laws to protect equality in the workplace for women.

In China with a law limiting families to one child, female babies are sometimes killed, and in modern countries female fetuses are often aborted. A common practice in countries ruled by Islamic laws is “female circumcision” or the removal of the clitoris of young girls, so that as women they are denied even pleasure from sexual activity. In Pakistan sentiment is so strong against girls being taught to read that Malala Yousafza was severely attacked on her school bus. Even in the United States where women are by law “equal” there is controversy today over the statistic that women employees earn only 77% as much as a man doing the same work, and getting a law passed mandating equal pay for equal work seems improbable.

Just last week that kind-hearted Putin in Russia changed the law so that domestic violence in Russia against women is legal and some Russian media even said that women should take pride in their resulting bruises.


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