A Multitude of Maps

I had so many maps from my previous post Messing Around With Maps that I couldn’t fit them all in one post.  So here are another batch.

 

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How the population of the U.K. would fit in the USA

 

This interesting map shows the relative population density of the UK and the USA in an interesting way.  Each coloured zone of the USA has the same population as the UK has a population density of 660 per square mile whilst the figure for the USA is only 85 people per square mile.   Britain as a whole is the twelth most overly populated country in the world and if you consider how empty large parts of the country are, then SE England is similar to that of Hong Kong and other places.  In fact as I type this I can’t even see the screen as too many people are in my face!

 

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Where did everyone go?

 

Half the population of the U.K live within the circle and large parts of the NE and SW in that circle are pretty empty… though I guess they would be packed out by the standards of other places.

 

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Netherlands as a city

 

I didn’t make this map and I very well know there is no such country as Holland!  But the map is interesting at least.  Rather than having the Netherlands as a relatively small and overcrowded country, imagine it against some of the worlds biggest cities.  Compared to some places it looks quite a serene place to live, which of course as any visitor there knows there are few places better.

 

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A White Christmas?

 

Bing Crosby might have been dreaming of a White Christmas but dreaming would be all he could do if he lived in Thessaloniki in Greece which sees a White Christmas just 1% of the time.  You’re not much more likely to see snow on this special day much further nother in Paris and London.  Only in Russia and Scandinavia can it be relied upon.   Out of interest, the reason Christmas is associated with being snowy is all down to Charles Dickens.  In his formative years, London had a whole pile of snow each Christmas and he grew up assuming this to be the norm and traditional when in fact it was a blip.  In the 35 years I have lived in the London area, I’ve seen a white Christmas just 2 or 3 times.

 

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Who is taking all those photos?

 

You can’t move in London for people taking photos.  Mostly it seems to be Chinese and Japanese tourists who seem to take photos of anything and everything.  I once put this theory to the test by pretending to take photos of a totally innoculous building and I soon attracted a small crowed of east Asian tourists doing the same.

Anyway going by the colour coding, the red dots are photos are those uploaded to social media and taken by tourists.  You can see that they stick to relatively small areas of Central London, which in itself is a small area of Greater London.   The blue dots are photos taken by locals and are distributed much more evenly as we’d all rather take a photo of a dog sniffing it’s bum than Big Ben or Buckingham Palace.  Having said that, the yellow dots are where it is unclear if the photos are tourists or locals and as plenty of them are in the parks near Buckingham Palace maybe it could be of a smelly dog and the palace itself.  I don’t I’d snap that!

 

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Who trades with whom?

 

The map above illustrates the largest trading partner of each country.  So the USA gets most of its gear from China whilst Canada gets most of its stuff from the USA. China buys mostly from Japan.  Most of Eastern Europe still buys from Russia but Russia buys from China.  The Republic of Ireland buys British whilst Britain buys German and the Germans buy French.

 

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Did you see where I put my landmass?

 

71% of the surface of our planet is covered in water.  With 96.5% of this being covered by sea-water and the remainder in rivers and lakes.  More than 30% of the planet is the Pacific Ocean and it is so big that you can fit every landmass within its surface area.

 

 

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Dutch Land Reclamation

 

The Low Countries aren’t so named for nothing.  Much of the landmass is at or below sea level with 26% being under the waterline and another 24% being just 1 metre or 3 feet above the sea.  Being clever and ingenious folks, over hundreds of years the Dutch engineers have gradually drained and reclaimed large tracts of land.  To save you working it out, around 17% of the country is reclaimed land which is good for the Dutch but it will of course have marginally increased the sea-level across the rest of the planet.

 

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The future Middle-East

 

Someone with either a lot of time on their hands or not afraid of upsetting half the planet came up with this map to show how the Middle-East might appear in the future if various secession movements proved to be successful such as Kurdistan and Baluchistan.   What looks most sad though is that even in this distant and imaginary future, the status of the Palestinians is still undecided.  That kind of sucks that people can’t even imagine it can be sorted?

 

 

 

 

 

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Walking Hadrian’s Wall For Cancer Research

A different sort of post just for a change.  This week is the birthday of my Mother whose death occurred almost 5 years ago.  She suffered from cancer on several occasions and so  my wife, uncle and I have decided that we are going to do something positive in her memory.  We’re going to walk the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall to raise money for Cancer Research.

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Hadrian’s Wall crossed England and indeed Britain at just about the narrowest point and is 84 miles (about 135km) from the Solway Coast to Wallsend in the East where the River Tyne is so wide that the Romans believed formed an inpenetrable barrier in its own right. Traditionally most people walk from west to east. This is partially because the prevailling winds blow from the west and also as there is limited transport out of Bowness whilst there are no such problems with Newcastle.

Wallsend Metro station, part of the Tyne & Wear Metro. The only public station with signage in Latin.

Wallsend Metro station, part of the Tyne & Wear Metro. The only public station with signage in Latin and where our walk starts. 

We are going to walk this route from East to West which is the way the Romans built it.  There is also the advantage that your first day starts in a big city and ends in the country rather than the less enticing way of finishing your trek spending 6 or 7 hours walking through increasingly busy and noisy surroundings.  Also as I am originally a local, I know where picturesque highlights are no matter what people in faraway London or overseas might say.

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Most people take 7-10 days to do this route but we are going to do it in 5 days.  Whilst it might be something of an achievement, I think if one can’t walk 15-20 miles a day then it is a bit of a poor show.  The hardest bit for me will be because I have asthma and am prone to chest infections, though I suspect this is from the dirty London air it doesn’t help me if I start off ill as walking across the moors is probably not the best way to get better!

Having said that, last time I was in the area and on the first day of my holiday my chest was so sore I could barely walk across the room of my cottage.  It didn’t stop me climbing Skiddaw by it’s hardest route either, maybe I’m just stubborn!

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Another advantage of starting at Wallsend is that you get the hardest parts done earlier on.  I’ve been to the wall several times and driven along the length of it on the old parallel military road hundreds of times but I’ve never walked it in duration.

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There are lots and lots of fortifications and Roman remains along the entire length of the wall and for anouther 30 miles down the western coast so plenty to see and do.

One of the main reasons for doing this though is to raise money for the Cancer Research Charity.  I hope that some of you will be able to spare a donation or two for this very worth cause.

One of the mos famous trees in Britain, Sycamore Gap. Made iconic in the 1991 Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves film. In reality it makes no sense to go 400 miles plus from the Channel to camp here overnight before going to Nottingham... as Nottingham is the half way spot!

One of the mos famous trees in Britain, Sycamore Gap. Made iconic in the 1991 Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves film. In reality it makes no sense to go 400 miles plus from the Channel to camp here overnight before going to Nottingham… as Nottingham is the half way spot! Photo from Flickr by BDK

We’re doing the walk in early July and I will no doubt blog about it and Hadrian’s Wall itself in the future.  For now though the link to the Just Giving page is below.  I know most people put a photo up on these pages but I don’t have a recent photo of me and Mam but if she were here she would be more concerned about me wrapping up warm and not disappearing down an abandoned mine-shaft.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/stephen-liddell1

Posted in Cumbria & The Lake District, Life, Northumberland and Durham, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Messing Around With Maps

I’m a big fan of maps.  I like how they convey details and information but also I just like maps themselves.  Over the last 5 years or so I have posted qutie a few popular posts on maps and so I thought it was high-time I did a few more.

I hope you like them.

 

 

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So whereabouts in England is Scotland?

 

I’m not quite sure what the difficulty is but so many people get confused by ther terms used for the country where I live.  Admittedly its more complicated than Canada being Canada or Peru being Peru but it isn’t that hard.

The British Isles is a georgraphic term for all the islands in the locality.  There is no such country as Britain and getting these terms confused would be like getting North America and the USA confused…. mostly upsetting Canadians.

We are a number of Home Nations, England, Scotland, Wales and what was Ireland.  All once indepedent nations that over the long history came together either by conquest or mutual treaty.  In the 20th Century what is now the Republic of Ireland voted to separate and becmone an Indepedent country.

The United Kingdom is the name given to the combined nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  For Americans, think of them as states.  Our nation is the United Kingdom and this large entity is made up of its component parts just as Florida, California and Delaware are their own territories with similar but different laws under the umbrella of a larger USA nation.

Great Britain covers the main and largest island.  The word ‘Great’ isn’t mean’t to imply we are fantastic, brilliant or amazing though believe that if you like!  Again this is a geographic term to identify the biggest island from the others such as Ireland and the thousands of smaller islands, not forgetting Brittany in NW France.

Is that clear?  Didn’t thin so, let’s go onto something more straight forward like Nazis.

 

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Nazi occupied Europe

 

The map above shows the maximum extent of Nazi German expansion in Europe during WW2.  Nearly all of Europe has been conquered except for neutal Sweden and Switzerland and Nazi sympathising Spain.  Britain stood alone and occupied Iceland to prevent Nazi invasion.  Russia which along with Germany has invaded and occupied Poland was finding itself under a terrible invasion.

 

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Would you fight for your country?

 

I think this is a fascinating map.  It shows that the countries most affected by war are the least likely to have citizens who want to fight.  Obviously Germany here heads the list and not on this map, Japan likewise has a very low figure.

Those countries that are more keen on fighting include neutral Sweden, ex Communist states of eastern Europe and Turkey and Russia where their dubious governments often use patriotism and false historical narratives to keep populations happy and under control.   Generally speaking Europe is the only continent with such low readings, the USA, Africa, Middle East and Asia are all much more happy about fighting.  Perhaps indicating that the experience of having your country destroyed by war understandably makes people want to avoid fighting at all costs.

 

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Gas Pipelines

 

This map shows the network of natural gas pipelines in Europe.  Generally speaking, most of Europe is heavily dependent on Russian supplies which causes major geopolitical headaches.   The North Sea is a gas an oil producing area and as such Norway, the U.K. and Low Countries have enjoyed greater energy security.

 

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Would you mind if your child married a….

 

These maps demonstrate ingrained racist attitudes within European populations. The top two maps show what percentage of people would be comfortable if their child became involved with a Black or Asian person.  The bottom two maps ask the same question but for whether adults would be comfortable with their children becoming involved with Muslim or Jewish people.   The Netherlands, Sweden and the U.K. are signifcantly less racist in their attitudes compared to Western Europe generally and hugely more relaxed compared to Eastern European countries.  These maps also go someway to show that despite Brexit, British people are about the least racist people in Europe whilst many eastern countries that protest about the Brexit decision and want their people to travel freely to richer nations are not at all comfortable with black or Muslim people themselves.

 

 

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The Palestine Archipelago

 

We’re all used to seeing maps of Israel and Palestine and how Palestinian land has been occupied for decades.  This clever maps illustrates what Palestinian territories would look like if they were in the ocean with their territories separated by water rather than Israelis and cleverly shows how disparate the lands are.

 

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Status of Celtic Languages

 

Thousands of years ago, the Celtic languages dominated  Northern France and the British Isles.  Wave after wave of invasion gradually pushed the original Celts into the mountainous extremeties of the north and west.  Since then in many areas, people have simply stopped using these old languages and switched to English.

The map above shows where it is still possible to come across speakers of Celtic Languages.  In many places the languages have a protected status which some think is a good way of protecting heritage whilst others believe is a waste of money to invest into ‘dead’ languages that only a minority can read or speak.

In England, many districts have had old languages and dialetcs wiped out over the centuries.  Cornwall in the far southwest of the country with its Cornish language is the only county with a Celtic language though it is in doubt whether the language can survive following the deaths of the last generation who spoke Cornish as their first language.  It is estimated only a few dozen people at most can speak Cornish to any level of fluency.

 

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Clan Territories in Ireland

 

This colourful map highlights the various clans of Ireland as well as their origins and allegiances to the Vikings, Scottish and Norman (later English) powers.

If you’d like to see more of my posts on Maps then check out Map Madness   Still Lost In The World of Maps    Lost In The World of Maps   and the one that started it all back in 2012, Getting Lost In The world of Maps.

 

 

 

Posted in geography, history | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Fantastic Map of The Roman Empire

Whilst doing a little bit of web browsing when writing my recent series of Roman articles, I came across this wonderful map below of the Roman Empire when it was at its maximum extent.  I don’t write simple posts like this but thought it is a worthy exception especially as my old posts on Maps are still very popular.  (Getting Lost In The World of Maps    Lost In The World of Maps     Still Lost In The World of Maps     May Map Madness    Amazing Maps Tracking the Cargo Ships of the World)   That gives you an idea!mediterranean sea

I’ve inserted it below at a very large resolution so hopefully you can zoom in or download it and spend some time studying it… if maps of the Roman Empire are your thing!

One of the things I find fascinating about the map below is the extent of the Roman Empire.  For its time it was huge.  Many think of the Roman Empire as ‘just’ being Italy, France, parts of Spain and Britain but that is just a small section and in fact the Roman though of Britain as a rather remote and relatively unimportant part of their empire.

A quick study below will show that despite their wonderful and expansive road network, the Roman Empire was really built around the Mediterranean Sea.  When people think of the Romans, how many people think of Morocco, Libya, Arabia and even Iraq and Iran?   a quick look at the map however will show that Carthage in modern-day Tunisia and Algeria was much more integral to Rome than France or Britain.

As well as parts of Eastern Europe such a Romania which the Romans occupied from the Dacians, in no small part no doubt due to the wonderful wine that can be produced there is  Anatolia/ Asia Minor or what we now know of as Turkey.  There are more Roman and Greek ruins in Turkey than any other country.

Map of the maximum extent of the Roman Empire.

Map of the maximum extent of the Roman Empire.

If you’d like to see my visit to the very edge of the Roman Empire then check out this post from 2016 on Hardknott Castle and mountain pass.   And this one of Hadrians Wall and the Roman city of Corbridge.

 

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The Battle of Graveney Marsh – The last battle on British soil.

Most history books have Bonny Prince Charlie’s 1746 defeat at Culloden as the final battle to occur in this country.   Of course that is just the stock answer, the actual final combat on British soil is the the virtually unheard of Battle of Graveney Marsh in the Kent countryside  which took place 194 years later on September 27 1940 between the crew of a downed German bomber and a company of British soldiers who had been holed up in a local pub.

Members of the London Irish Rifles were billeted at the Sportsman Inn in the coastal hamlet of Seasalter when the stricken Junkers 88 plane came down on Graveney Marsh.  The Luftwaffe bomber had just fulfilled its mission over London and was flying eastwards over the Kent countryside before plotting their path back home across the sea.  However, passing Spitfires noticed the plane was of a new type and shot it down.

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Although the British soldiers armed themselves, they fully expected the four-strong Luftwaffe crew to give themselves up without a fight. After all, what point would there be in fighting? They were very much mistaken for as they approached the plane, the Germans opened fire with a machine gun.

The British servicemen hit the deck and returned fire, while a smaller group crawled along a dyke to get within 50 yards of the plane before they too started shooting.  Facing fire from two sides, the crew surrendered after a 20 minutes fight as it was clear to them that they were up against greater firepower. During the heavy exchange of fire with one of the Germans being shot in the foot during the brief battle. Nobody was killed.

In a dramatic twist, commanding officer Captain John Cantopher who handily could speak German, overheard one of the captured crew mention  that the plane should “go up” at any moment.  This was obviously connected to the reason as to why the Germans chose to fight rather than just surrender in the first place.

With that, the captain dashed back to the aircraft, located an explosive charge under one of the wings and threw it into a dyke, saving the prized aircraft for British engineers to examine.  At the time the aircraft was found to be a new marque and as it was only two weeks old it provided the Air Ministry with valuable intelligence.

Incredibly, the British even had a pint of beer with the German airmen back at the pub before the PoWs were picked up.  It seems like a bit of a theme doesn’t it after last weeks blog post on the final attempted invasion of Britain which also ended in a pub.

It took 70 years but the Battle of Graveney Marsh was finally commemorated at the pub where these unexpectedly historic events took place with several surviving participants now in their 90’s.   Just in case anyone thinks the soldiers were alcholic, they were actually billeted at the pub.

In the summer of 1940 the 1st Batallion London Irish Rifles was sent to Kent and deployed on coastal defence duties following the Dunkirk evacuation.

As the threat of invasion by the Germans eased, their task changed to capturing any enemy aircrew brought down in the Kent countryside.

On September 27 a Junkers 88 bomber was attacked by two Spitfires over Faversham following a raid on London.

One of its engines had already been knocked out by anti-aircraft fire when the second was put out of action by the Spitfires.

The pilot, Unteroffizer Fritz Ruhlandt, crash landed on Graveney Marsh, which was seen by elements of A Company who were in the pub.

 

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The downed Junkers

 

According to the regiment’s official records, Capt Cantopher then arrived at the hostelry to inspect the men.

The record states that Sergeant Allworth explained he had sent the men to the downed aircraft.

It reads: “‘They took arms I hope,’ Cantopher said.

‘No sir…’

The sergeant broke off. Sounds of machine gun fire could be heard.

‘It looks as if they should have done,’ commented Cantopher. ‘Forget the inspection, I am going over there. Bring some of your men with rifles and ammo.'”

Mr Wilkinson said: “On approaching the aircraft the men were fired on by the German crew with the aircraft’s two machine guns.

“The London Irishmen got into attack formation and having laid down heavy rifle fire on the aircraft mounted an assault of the Junkers across the marsh.

“By now the enemy air crew had been wounded by the rifle fire and decided to surrender.

“It was at this stage that Captain Cantopher came on the scene. As the prisoners were being taken away Cantopher heard one of them say that ‘the aircraft would go up anytime now’.

“He ran back to the Junkers and after a nerve-wracking search located the device and disarmed it. Cantopher was awarded the George Medal for his bravery.”

Corporal George Willis, 90, the regiment’s piper, was in the Sportsman when the men returned with the Germans.

George, from Greenwich, south east London, said: “The men were in good spirits and came into the pub with the Germans. We gave the Germans pints of beer in exchange for a few souvenirs.

“I got a set of enamel Luftwaffe wings.”

 

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For two very different but incredible military tales why not check out my post on the very first black soldier in the British Army   and the totally incredible I AM THE ARMY tale of William Brydon, you won’t have read anything like it as nothing quite like it ever happened.

Posted in history, Life, WW2 | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How the last invasion of Britain was foiled by a lady with a pitch-fork.

This week sees the anniversary of the last attempted invasion of Britain.  Most people will have heard of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the last time these islands were conquered.  There were a few invasions before that occupied various parts of the country from the Romans in the south to the Vikings in the North.  The Danes, Saxons and Angles in the east to the Irish in the west.

There can be no invasion attempt before or after 1066 quite like the French invasion of 1797. The location was the small fishing village of Fishguard in sourth west Wales and the date was the 22nd February 1797.

In 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte was busy doing what he did best, conquering much of the rest of Europe.  In his absence the newly formed French revolutionary government, the Directory, appears to have devised a ‘cunning plan’ that involved the poor country folk of Britain rallying to the support of their French liberators.

That seems to be the thing about revolutionaries, they all seem to think the oppressed will be all too happy to throw off their shackles.  Stalin came to London a century later hoping for the impoverished to rise up and he got little further than a few punch-ups and bar brawls.  It’s not like ISIS are that appealing to us either despite all the ‘enticements’ they offer!    At heart if Britain is anything, it is a laid-back middle of the road, keep calm and carry on sort of place and we’re just not that into radical changes that always end up to be useless.

However, the French revolutionaries weren’t to know this and some 1400 troops set sail from Camaret on February 18th, 1797.  Remarkably, the man entrusted by the Directory to lead their invasion was another revolutionary but this time an Irish-American septuagenarian by the name of Colonel William Tate.    Tate reportedly disliked the British because his family had been killed by pro-British Native Americans in the American War of Independence, and he advocated Irish republicanism.

Understandably Napoleon had reserved the cream of the French Republican army for invasions elsewhere in Europe and so Colonel Tate’s force comprised a ragtag collection of soldiers including many newly released jailbirds. Tate’s orders were to land near Bristol, England’s second largest city and destroy it, then to cross over into Wales and march north onto Chester and Liverpool.

How not to invade (Bristol) Britain.

Right from the off however, things started to go awry.  Wind conditions made it impossible for the four French warships to land anywhere near Bristol, so Tate made the best of things and instead set a course for Cardigan Bay in southwest Wales.

On Wednesday February 22nd, the French warships sailed into Fishguard Bay to be greeted by canon fire from the local fort.    The French thought the gun fire was part of a well-oiled defence group when in actuality the cannon was being fired as an alarm to the local townsfolk.

The ships warily withdrew and sailed on until they reached a small sandy beach near the village of Llanwnda. Men, arms and gunpowder were unloaded and by 2 am on the morning of Thursday February 23rd, the last invasion of Britain was well underway. The ships returned to France with a special despatch being sent to the Directory in Paris informing them of the successful landing.

Unfortunately for the revolutionaries, the French invasion force appear to have run out of enthusiasm for the invasion as soon as their feet touched dry ground. Perhaps as a result of years of prison rations, they seem to have been more interested in the rich food and wine the locals had recently removed from a grounded Portuguese ship.

 

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Jemima Fawr – Jemima The Great capturing 12 french soldiers wih a pitchfork.

 

During their two days on British soil the French soldiers must have shaken in their boots at mention of name of “Jemima Fawr” (Jemima the Great), a 47-year-old Jemima Nicholas and wife of a Fishguard cobbler. When she heard of the invasion, she marched out to Llanwnda, pitchfork in hand, and rounded up twelve Frenchmen. She ‘persuaded’ them to accompany her back into town, where she locked them inside St Mary’s Church and promptly left to look for some more!

Bizarelly, documents were drawn up by Tate’s officers that referred to the British coming at them “with troops of the line to the number of several thousand.” No such troops were anywhere near Fishguard, however hundreds, perhaps thousands of local Welsh women dressed in their traditional scarlet tunics and tall black felt hats had come to witness any fighting between the French and the local men of the militia.

Is it possible that at a distance, and after a glass or two, those women could have been mistaken for British army Redcoats?

 

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An old photo depicting Welsh ladies in their traditional dress.

 

After a looting spree, many of the invaders were too drunk to fight and within two days, the invasion had collapsed.  Colonel Tate’s force surrendered to a small local militia force led by Lord Cawdor on February 25th 1797.  Fittingly for such a botched and drunken invasion, the terms of surrender were agreed and signed  in the Royal Oak Pub in Fishguard and the events are still remembered on the sign above the front door.

 

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The last invasion of Britain ended in this Royal Oak pub, how fitting!

 

After the battle, Jemima became a Welsh heroine and was awarded a pension of £50 a year for life which in those days was a huge sum of money.    Colonel William Tate and his motley crew suffered brief imprisonment before they were returned to France in a prisoner exchange in 1798.

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This wasn’t quite the last enemy action by a ground force in British history.  For that we can come right up to the Second World War and even lesser known battle at Graveny Marsh.  It shows how long I have been blogging as I assumed I had already written about this but I haven’t so that can be my next blog post!

For two interesting posts of a similar time, why not check out the fascinating story of Peter The Wild Boy  and one of my personal favourite’s Mad Jack. John “Mad Jack” Mytton – The craziest man in history!

 

 

Posted in history, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A World Of Languages

Whilst working on my previous post There’s English and there’s English, I came across this wonderful chart on languages.  There are at least 7,102 known languages alive in the world today. Twenty-three of these languages are a mother tongue for more than 50 million people.

The 23 languages make up the native tongue of 4.1 billion people and the chart below illustrates each language within black borders and then provide the numbers of native speakers in millions by country. The colour of these countries shows how languages have taken root in many different regions.

I love a good chart and I hope you enjoy this one as much as I do.languageshqscmp-3

If you enjoyed this, then check out this Amazing Chart On The Rise & Fall of Civilisations.

Posted in geography, Life, News, Travel | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Black Panther Movie Review

Earlier this week I went to see the Black Panther movie.  Some of you may know that I despise comicbook based movies.  Just going from the trailers they seem very generic, derivative and not very deep; I like science-fiction but there should be an element of intelligence in the story or plot.  However, I do like Africa.  My house has got plenty of African statues and pieces of art.  I’ve been there three times, I have watched African and African set TV shows and films from an early age.  I also studied it’s history and politics at university amongst many Africans from all walks of life.

The hype said that Black Panther was going to be revolutionary and so with nothing better showing on Monday morning, that’s what I went to see.

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T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the king of Wakanda  which is an El-Dorado or Shangri-La.  A magical, powerful land in Africa, hidden to the world by impenetrable jungle and some hi-tech shielding.    Part of the role of being the King is that the individual also gets to wear a black super-heroes outfit which turn them into Black Panther!  Other characters in the film include Michael B. Jordan who plays the villainous Erik Killmonger and he, quite frankly, steals the show from Boseman’s rather stilted, if regal performance. Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s very own “Q,” Shuri is also wonderful.

The plot is rather stagy but at times effective. After the murder of his father, T’Challa comes back home to Wakanda to become king. At the ceremony, he is challenged by Jabari Tribe leader M’Baku, and what ensues is a quite exciting combat sequence between the two, which ultimately has T’Challa prevailing and keeping the throne. Enter Killmonger, now an ex American black ops soldier hellbent on dethroning the king to ship Wakandan weapons, filled with Vibranium, to black operatives all around the world.

Vibranium is what allowed Wakanda to become the place it is today when aeons ago a meteor crashed into this part of Africa containing a mountain full of Vibranium, the strongest substance in the world.   Killmonger follows his goal which is for black people to fight and take control with the use of Wakandian firepower and using agents in New York, London, Hong Kong and elsewhere, lead black people across the planet out of oppression.

The eventual ritual combat for the throne between T’Challa and Killmonger leads to the former’s ousting and a new king being reigned into power. Thinking T’Challa is dead, Killmonger proceeds with his plans for a new world order.  However he doesn’t get very far before a climatic battle, where a down and out T’Challa has to overcome a hellbent arch nemesis, a showdown that leads to final words in a rather  Shakespearian death scene and the revelation that we are all ‘One Tribe’.

Before getting to the alleged politics of the film, let’s take a bit of a look at Wakanda and this Afrofuturistic vision.  Wakanda is hidden behind clouds and mountains, far from the evils of white colonisers.  It’s hinted in the trailer that we will get to see some fantastic natural African sights of vast Savanna scenes and landscapes that couldn’t be anywhere else on earth.  Instead though, we largely are confined to a rather generic and not particularly futuristic looking city.  It seemed a bit of a lost opportunity and not particularly rounded and real though there are the odd exceptional city scene or futuristic shot in the mountain mining complex.

I guess this is part of the problem with it being a Marvel film.  One day it might be New York, the next London or Hong Kong or Dubai but really it is all the same as is the case here.

If the men are at the centre of the film’s plot, the women in “Black Panther” are the actual highlights. There’s Angela Bassett as Ramonda, T’Challa’s widowed mother, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, the one that got away for T’Challa, but most impressively Danai Gurira (best known to many from The Walking Dead) as Okoye, leader of the all-female Wakandan army. Every time she’s onscreen she lights it up. With her head shaven, and a muscular physique, Okoye is the heart and soul of Black Panther.

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A big problem with “Black Panther” is that there simply isn’t all that much excitement to go around. Almost everything you expect to happen happens. There isn’t anything memorable, no moment that sends your pulse pounding, your spine tingling. This is a straightforward telling of a story that on paper should not be straightforward at all or, at the very least, safe.

A minority of people don’t seem to like the film as it is a film with almost entirely a black cast but that doesn’t bother me one bit.  That being said, I don’t understand the need these days that people need heroes that look like them to aspire to.   Growing up, my favourite TV show was Star Trek and I loved Mr. Spock.  I still haven’t met a real life Vulcan but that’s ok as I relate to him despite my lack of pointed ears and him being an alien and all.   Growing up I repeatedly watched the miniseries Shaka Zulu, a largely true-life tale of one of the towering figures of 19th Century black Africa and I hadn’t ever met a black person in real life when watching it.

For a film so supposedly revolutionary then I was actually disappointed.  Unless one is shocked by a film almost entirely featuring black people (which makes sense for most of Africa) then where is the revolution?  If it is for black people in the USA then why not just make a super-hero film with largely a black cast in America which is where it seems it should have been set.     I can’t really see how a character in a fictional African country has that much of a real-life similarity with a black boy in Los Angeles or Paris.  It’s sad if people need someone to look like them to identify with them.  Come to think of it why can’t Superman be black?  Dr Who is now a lady.   I’d rather watch a show about an interesting green walking-talking Grasshopper than watch any old film just because it has a white leading actor or cast.

 

I’d hoped for a more authentic African experience.  Why have so many American and British actors in it with a slightly generic African accent?  Why not have an entirely African cast…. heaven forbid speaking something other than English.  Forest Whittaker is a great actor but he isn’t really any more African than I am except for the superficial skin colour and that shouldn’t be a factor.  Whilst I’m at it, why have a white English actor play an American FBI agent.  Why must the only other second tier baddie in the film be portrayed by another British actor as a stereo-typically villanous South African?  Why not have a real Afrikaans actor who maybe even an actor from the Maghreb who might be African but have an Arab appearance?  Or one of the many Asians from Eastern and Southern Africa.

Though I appreciated some of the mixes between African culture and a futuristic setting, a lot of things seemed to be very generically African.  You have people wearing clothing from all over Africa rather than any one or just from Wakanda.  For example the beautiful colourful blankets from Southern Africa alongside a gentleman wearing a lip plate which is from an entirely different part of this vast continent.  It’s all a bit superficial and Hollywood but if that is what is seen as revolutionary then so be it.  They can’t usually get Britain right so maybe it’s expecting to much for them to give Africa more than a token gesture.

Maybe I am otherthinking things but it’s also very generic and in this case just wrong to have a white American casually dismissed as a coloniser.  Maybe that is why they couldn’t have a black FBI agent?  I know they have them in real life.    Also mention is made of there being Wakanda agents in major Western cities that would be in place if needed.  If this film is to inspire black people, does it mean that white people should fear black people in New York and London for example or even expel them.  Black people whose only home is in these cities and likely been to Africa no more than I have, if at all?  As if they are ISIS agents just waiting to strike terror across the world.  It doesn’t seem well-thought out, especially in this time when the media like to scare people into Islamic terror threats.

I’d rather watch more realistic African films or even African genres.  Why not a police film in Addis Ababa?  A student from Timbuktu who against all the odds gets accepted into a Madrassa.  A small time family drama about a fisherman and his family in Angola with entirely local casts.  That would be my idea of revolutionary.

The film concludes with the “We are all one tribe”, I for one kind of went into the cinema with that taken for granted just as I would have 40 years ago.

If you just want to see what I’d call a brain-dead action film you might like it.  If your sole criteria is to see a film with a black cast (there are countless thousands of others if you look) then this does the trick. But my rating is 4/10  The all black cast were fantastic but everything else… not so much.  Comic book films are so not for me 🙂

Posted in Life, Movies and Films, Opinion, Popular Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

There’s English and there’s English.

Language is very important to all of us, which ever one it is that we speak.  Over 20,000 people a year read my old post on 102 Words That Aren’t In English But Should Be 102 Words That Aren’t In English But Should Be.  A few weeks ago however a report appeared that put the cat amongst the pigeons and it discussed a divergence between British English and the English that people around the world learn as a second or third language.

It all comes down to idioms and the British are proud of the idiomatic humour of their language.  My professor once told me that 3 people can read a page of Persian literature and they would each come to a different conclusion as to what the text is about.  British English isn’t quite like that but it does have its moments.

An academic has argued that that British English and global English is diverging as us British use phrases that are deeply ingrained in our language which are not taught elsewhere.

Professor Jennifer Jenkins, chair of Global Englishes at the University of Southampton, says that people who speak English as a first language are bad at changing their speech to suit non-native speakers, meaning they struggle to be understood.

The divide means those who speak English as a second language speak it very differently to native speakers – and the two groups are increasingly unable to understand each other, she argues.

Native speakers are also unwilling to make allowances for others by changing their speech patterns or slowing them down – meaning they struggle to socialise with non-native speakers who are better able to communicate with each other in English than they are with the British.

The dynamic means the two groups could be unable to understand each other in as little as a decade – putting native speakers at a disadvantage with the rest of the world.

In one case she interviewed Hungarian, German and Italian students who said they could speak to each other perfectly well but only had trouble when a native English speaker joined the conversation.

“Not only did the British keep to themselves but they also said that they get along very well, they understand each other, and the only trouble comes when a really British person comes and joins the conversation,”

In another case, interviews with 34 PhD non-British students who spoke English revealed that they struggled to understand their British counterparts who “didn’t make any allowances for the fact that they came from a different language, they spoke very very fast, used very idiomatic language, they joked a lot, the lecturers joked a lot, using very British-referenced jokes,” she said.

The theory appears in a new book, “Languages After Brexit”, as part of an essay in which Professor Jenkins argues that native English speakers are worse at communicating clearly than people who have it has a second language.

She cites one case where an interviewer on BBC Radio 3 asks Italian opera singer Roberto Alagna whether his trip to London was “going swimmingly”. It was clear that singer did not have any idea of what this idiom meant, and the interviewer, after an uncomfortable pause, realised this and asked instead ‘Is it going well?’

Another interviewer, a Channel 4 news presenter who was bilingual, asked then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron how he would challenge the country’s rightward move by asking “So how would you buck that trend?” leaving Macron confused.

“While in both cases, the interviewer, especially the second one, was able to paraphrase fairly speedily (which is by no means always the case), these two anecdotes demonstrate that native speakers who have experience of speaking English with non-natives, and even those who have other languages, may find it problematic to adjust spontaneously away from their local use of English,” Professor Jenkins adds.

English as spoken by foreign countries is also developing new grammar rules which are seen as incorrect by native speakers but are valued abroad because they are logical and efficient.

For example, nouns which do not become plural in native English, such as “feedback” or “information”, are made plural by foreign speakers into “feedbacks” or “informations”.

Whilst I can see what the research is getting at; I don’t think it is a particular problem with the English language.  It is only that British people are immersed in the language which has shaped our history and culture for thousands of years.  No-one else could be expected to learn the intricacies.  Whilst people say they have learnt English, generally speaking they speak a simplified, approximate form of English to each other, which is to some degree impoverished relative to their respective native languages.   This means having learnt it in books or by repetition at school they can communicate for most everyday purposes such as travel or socialising.  However, they are restricted in what they can express and miss out on precise shades of meaning, specific reasoning, wit, irony, allusions, wordplay etc.
That’s okay though, I can say that I can speak French and German.  I can read newspapers, get around on holiday and chat with varying degrees of success.  However it by no way means I can speak German to anything like the sophistication of a German.  Probably a German 5 year old would have all sorts of slang that isn’t in the text books, let alone a 50 year old.   If I wanted to speak a specific sentence then I might be able to do it in two ways at best in German.  It doesn’t mean I haven’t learn German properly it is just that only Germans can properly speak German.  People aren’t robots and it would be really boring and surprising if they kept precisely to what they encountered when reading as a four year old.
Language isn’t just a method of communication but an important part of culture and that is something that you can’t really teach.  Personally it seems quite obvious that a British speaker or indeed American or Australian etc should simplify their language when speaking to someone who obviously has learnt it as a second language but it also goes to show that just because you qualify in anything, a language, a qualification or even a driving test it doesn’t mean that you know everything and in most cases you really only know the basics with the intricacies all dependent on years of experience.
I really enjoy all the quirks and unsual aspects of foreign cultures and languages; the concepts or ideas that aren’t articulated so well in English but likewise I would hate it for English to become banal and boring, simple and logical just so that everyone can speak it to a lower level.  English isn’t just a tool but like every other language a rich elaborate branch of culture and if a comparative reliance of idioms distinguishes it from the more standardised business English then that’s great.
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Straight From The Horse’s Mouth is available from the UK in Kindle format from Amazon here and paperback format here.      American Amazon readers can squirm their way through the book in Kindle format here and in paperback format here.   As well as being available through Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Nook, you can also get in on the action on your favourite Apple product by purchasing the book on iBooks by clicking below!

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Posted in Cool Britannia, Culture, Life, News, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

James Bulger 25 years on – the crime that shocked the nation.

25 years ago this week, a crime shook Britain and the city of Liverpool in particular with such revulsion that no-one who was alive at the time will ever forget.  It was a crime where society sank to a new low and thankfully in the intervening years, nothing quite so sickening has ever happened since.

It was a relatively common enough event at first, a little 2 year old boy had wandered off from his mother whilst out shopping.  For two days Britain held its breath waiting to see if baby James Bulger would be found.  His famous image along with the creepy CCTV footage of his young abductors filled the airwaves as we hoped against hope for a happy ending.  Not only was the happy ending not to be but the eventual outcome was more shocking than anyone might have imagined.

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It was the first time out that young James had been out shopping and free to walk around outside the confines of his push chair.   In the few seconds when his mother had to let go of his hand to pay the cashier, he was enticed away to his eventual death.

Little James was led away by the depraved duo while his mother , Denise was in a butcher’s shop at the busy shopping centre. A picture taken from CCTV footage shows the tot being taken by the hand in what would become one of the defining images of the shocking case.  His mother immediately left the shop looking for her son who was with her moments ago.  Tragically she turned right and if she had only turned left then she would have seen him being led away just a few feet away.

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The killers walked James for two and half miles and were spotted by 38 people – some of whom challenged the pair. Venables and Thompson told passers-by that the distressed toddler was their younger brother or that he was lost and they were taking him to a local police station.

 

One woman even wanted to take the trio to the station, but was with a dog who was jumping up and was scared the animal would bite the children. She directed them to Walton Lane police station instead.

They three even all stopped at a tropical fish shop, seen tapping the glass to make the fish move.

Hours later they looked across the road to Walton Lane police station before taking little Jamie up the embankment of a comparatively little used railway line.    What happened to the baby next is so shocking that the full details have still yet to be released and likely won’t ever be whilst his parents are alive.

Having earlier all ready dropped him head first to the ground they then poured modelling paint into his eyes, stoned him and clubbed him with bricks, inserted batteries in his mouth and kicked him in the face before finally dropping a heavy 22lbs/10 kg iron bar on the boy before leaving him on the railway line under a pile of bricks to be hit by a train, they hoped it would disguise the method of his death.  Though the train cut his body in two, James was all ready dead.

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After killing the tot they left his body near the tracks where it was discovered two days later.  A pathologist later said that there were so many injuries – 42 in total – that not one could be isolated as causing the little boy’s fatal wound.

CCTV surveillance from the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, Merseyside taken on Friday 12 February 1993 showed Robert Thompson and Jon Venables casually observing children, apparently selecting a target. In fact they had previously led a child away only for them to be stopped by the childs mother as they headed to the doors.

The 10 year old boys were playing truant from school, which they did regularly. Throughout the day, Thompson and Venables were seen stealing various items including sweets, a troll doll, some batteries and a can of blue paint, some of which were later found at the murder scene. One of the boys later revealed that they were planning to find a child to abduct, lead him to the busy road alongside the shopping centre, and push him into the path of oncoming traffic.

 

The police quickly found low-resolution video images of Bulger’s abduction from the New Strand Shopping Centre by two unidentified boys.  The railway embankment upon which his body had been discovered was adorned with hundreds of bunches of flowers. The family of one boy, who was detained for questioning but subsequently released, had to flee the city due to threats by vigilantes. The breakthrough came when a woman, on seeing slightly enhanced images of the two boys on national television, recognised Venables, who she knew had played truant with Thompson that day. She contacted police and the boys were arrested.   Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were only 10-years-old when they became the country’s youngest murderers in 250 years for the murder of 2 year old James Bulger.

Despite their young age Thompson and Venables were charged with murder on 20th February 1993 with their eventual trial in November 1993 at Preston Crown Court seeing numbers of up to 500 protestors outside the court as it took pathologist 33 minutes to run through the various injuries that Jamie had suffered, many after he had been stripped naked from the waist.   Police suspected that there was a sexual element to the crime, since Bulger’s shoes, socks, trousers and underpants had been removed.

The boys, by then aged 11, were found guilty of Bulger’s murder at the Preston court on 24 November 1993, becoming the youngest convicted murderers of the 20th century. The judge, Mr Justice Morland, told Thompson and Venables that they had committed a crime of “unparalleled evil and barbarity… In my judgment, your conduct was both cunning and very wicked.” Morland sentenced them to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, with a recommendation that they should be kept in custody for “very, very many years to come”, recommending a minimum term of eight years.

Due to widespread public outrage, their jail terms were extended on more than one occassion for 15 years but this was reduced as it was seen unlawful by the High Court and the European Court of Human Rights believed that having 11 year olds stand trial in an adult court environment was unfair.

As such and after being through various education and treatment programmes so they were said to no longer be a threat to the public, the boys were released, forbidden from returning to Merseyside or contacting members of the Bulger family and almost uniquely in Britain, were given new identities to safeguard their lives from members of general public who would undoubtedly do them harm.

Little has been heard of Robert Thompson since his release though Jon Venables has repeatedly re-offended having become involved in fracas, twice revealed his true identity to friends and more recently found guilty of possession child pornography.

Their period of incarceration and protection since being released has so far cost several million pounds, the father of James Bulger along with many others publicly state that Venables should lose his hidden identity and his name and whearabouts should be made public in the name of public welfare and the protection of children everywhere.

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Posted in history, Life, News, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments