Parliament fails us again

Under pressure from the Conservative Party whips MPs fail yet again to mitigate the disastrous consequences of Brexit.

"The government has survived an attempt by pro-EU Conservative MPs to change its post-Brexit trade strategy.  The MPs wanted the UK to join a customs union if it does not agree a free-trade deal with the EU.

But the government won by 307 to 301.

Ahead of the vote, Tory MPs were told a defeat would lead to a vote of no confidence in the government" (and so they might lose their cushy jobs in the subsequent general election).

These pathetic losers remind me of the Norman Davies remark about an earlier group of Conservative politicians.

"Under pressure from the ruthless, the clueless combined with the spineless to achieve the worthless."

Plants that changed the World

Many years ago I stopped off in Fiji on my way to Australia.   What struck me most were the differences between the two groups that inhabit the islands.  The native Fijians are Polynesians who came to the islands before 1000 BC. They had exclusive use of the islands until the late 19th century when indentured labourers from India  were brought to the islands  by the English  to work the sugar plantations.

The two groups are physically and culturally very different, and do not get on at all.  The unstable society that now exists is a product of the island's sugar industry.  It is an example of how a plant has changed a society.

One can also think of the movement of Africans to the Caribbean to produce sugar, and to North America to work on cotton plantations.

Historians tended to ignore  the effects of plants on human history until 1985 when Henry Hobhouse wrote 'Seeds of Change'. This book looked at five plants that had significantly changed the world, both politically and economically.

"The secondary title of Seeds of Change was Five Plants that Transformed Mankind and these were Quinine, that allowed Europeans to dominate the Tropics; Sugar, that changed the Caribbean population from Red Arawaks and Caribs to White Masters and Black Slaves; Tea, that inter alia, led to the destruction of classical China through the use by traders of opium in exchange for tea; cotton, that, like sugar in the Caribbean, led to a slave-economy in the Southern United States; and finally, the Potato, which produced huge increases in the Irish population and, when disease struck the potato, famine followed as did the greening of some of the United States.

A new edition has an extra chapter: Coca: how an Andean boon became a scourge on the streets, which tells the story of the Andean use of coca leaves and of the abuse of the modern concentrate, cocaine, which has harmed so many."

Hobhouse, H., 2006a. Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind, Shoemaker and Hoard. 

In 2003 Hobhouse produced another book, 'Seeds of Wealth', which covered a further four plants. The book was subtitled, Four Plants That Made Men Rich'. A later edition added a fifth plant, coffee.


"The chapter on timber is titled The Essential Carpet. In it, Hobhouse discusses how the shortage of timber in the United Kingdom led to the use of coal, which led to scientific advances and ultimately to the industrial revolution. On the other hand, the abundance of timber in the USA spurred the westward march of the country during the 1800s.


In The Grape's Bid For Immortality, the author discusses the growing of vines and making of wine from 600BC to the present. Wine has an enormous potential for the creation of wealth, multiplying profits wherever it is successful.

In the chapter Wheels Shod For Speed, he tells the story of rubber and how it changed the economies of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and indeed the world. 

More Than A Smoke is a fascinating account of how the colony and ultimately state of Virginia owes it wealth to tobacco. Initially this area had a monopoly on tobacco by decree of the king of England. This industry created a landlord class, which amongst them counted certain signatories of the Declaration of Independence, like Washington and Jefferson."

Hobhouse, H., 2006b. Seeds of Wealth: Five Plants That Made Men Rich, Shoemaker and Hoard.

Both are fascinating books.











Diving Andros- Over the Wall to 185'


Because the Caribbean is cut off by the cold Atlantic there is not the same rich variety of underwater life, and the coral and fish life in the Caribbean do not in any way compare to that in the Pacific or in the Coral Sea.

The islands of the Bahamas tend to specialize in other forms of diving. Some islands offer shark diving and the chance to take part in shark feeding sessions. Andros Island’s unique feature is that it has some of the best wall and cave diving in the world. The only area I know that has better cave diving is the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

The underwater caves of Andros are called blue holes. Some of them are accessed from the sea, others have a land entrance. I have written a separate posting  about one of the best inland sites, the Guardian Blue Hole.

On the east side of the island there is an almost vertical wall which falls down 6,000 ft into the Tongue of the Ocean. One of the best dives on this wall is a night dive to 185 ft. The usual procedure with this dive is to first do it as a day dive to check out ones susceptibility to nitrogen narcosis. The effects of nitrogen narcosis start to occur at about 100 ft, though individual resistance varies considerably. The symptoms are similar to those of drunkenness. These include a loss of coordination, a sense of elation and poor judgment. As the condition gets worse a diver may believe he can safely go deeper, or dispense with his breathing apparatus. The onset of nitrogen narcosis is rapid and recovery is equally rapid.

There are other risks associated with diving at this depth. One hundred feet usually is considered the maximum depth for safe diving. At 185 ft there is a very small margin for error.


The night dive starts with a boat ride out to the edge of the underwater wall. After anchoring and equipment checks it’s just a matter of going straight down until you get to a ledge at 185 feet. During the day dive you can hover at this point and look straight down into the abyss. The view is stunning.

At night there is another trick. If you cut open a Cylume [a chemical light stick] the contents of the stick disperse into the water and provide a psychedelic light show. This is a spectacular effect but you have to constantly monitor your air consumption [at this depth you use a lot] and the progression of nitrogen narcosis. You will certainly be suffering from the ‘narks’ but the trick is to start your ascent before the condition gets beyond recovery.

You also have to keep a very good eye on your buddy in case they start showing symptoms, and hope they are doing the same for you. Any mistakes at this point and it is a long fall down to the bottom of the wall at 6,000 ft.

More Fake News

Time had the following on their front cover.


That Trump, what an heartless bastard. Separating a mother and her child. Making a little girl cry.

Except

The reality is rather different. The BBC has the correct story.

Mr Valera said his daughter and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, have been detained together in the border town of McAllen as Ms Sanchez sought asylum. 
Honduran Deputy Foreign Minister Nelly Jerez verified Mr Valera's version of events to Reuters.

Carlos Ruiz, the Border Patrol agent who stopped Ms Sanchez and her daughter, said the mother was asked to set the child down so she could be searched.

"The kid immediately started crying as she set her down," said Mr Ruiz. "I personally went up to the mother and asked her, 'Are you doing OK? Is the kid OK?' 

"And she said, 'Yes. She's tired and thirsty. It's 11 o'clock at night.'"

The BBC published an objective report.  At the time of posting the libtards at the Guardian are still silent.

I wonder if Time will apologise for publishing fake news?

It is remarkable how the libtards are so obsessed by their hatred of Trump that they cannot help stepping into his fake news bear trap.



Amazons second hand ripoff

For the third time this year Amazon has sent me a second hand item, presumably a return from another customer,  when I actually ordered and paid for a new item.

If Amazon wants to sell its returns it has to make it clear that that is what it is offering and price them accordingly.

I think it is dishonest to charge a new item price but actually deliver a second hand item.

When I have tried to mention this in feedback Amazon emails back saying they cannot publish the post.

Mrs May's Kutusov Strategy over Brexit

Many commentators have accused Prime Minister May of being weak and indecisive over Brexit [Britain's withdrawal from the European Union].

Perhaps they are right, but it could also be that she is following a Kutusov strategy. I think she is a remainer, but knows that she is not strong enough in Parliament or the Conservative Party to win a confrontation.

Field Marshall Mikhail Kutuzov was the commander of the Russian Empire's forces during Napoleon's invasion of Russia. His strategy was to avoid as far as possible a confrontation with Napoleon's army. He fought at Borodino in 1812 but the battle was inconclusive. Otherwise Kutuzov's strategy was to draw Napoleon deeper into Russia in the belief that his enemy's situation would worsen with time.

For the following reasons Mrs May has good cause to think that the Brexiteer's situation will weaken as time passes.

1.  The old favoured Brexit and the young favoured EU membership. The old are dying off and more young people are becoming eligible to vote.

2.  The difficulties and disadvantages of Brexit are becoming more apparent over time.

3.  More attention is being paid to some of the people who funded the Brexit campaign and acted behind the scenes. Was Brexit a Russian plot? I do not know but there are obviously questions to be answered.  As more dirt emerges some of the less rabid Brexiteers may begin to quietly slip away into the night and fog.

Cigarette product placements in US films and TV

Have you noticed the increasing number of on-screen smokers in US films and TV series?

I recently watched an episode of a US TV series in which almost everybody lit up a cigarette at every opportunity. That seemed  strange since less than 16% of Americans now smoke tobacco.

I suspect we see so many on-screen smokers because the tobacco industry is paying for product placements. Presumably they are spending their money because they think on-screen smokers make smoking look cool and to persuade the young and gullible to take up this stupid, expensive and very dangerous habit.

The UK has effective legislation on tobacco advertising. These product placements are subverting that legislation.

There is not much that the British government can do to stop this product placement in the US. What it could do is stop smoking scenes being shown in the UK by insisting on the deletion of such scenes from any production being shown in UK cinemas or on UK television. The BBC could take the lead by adopting this policy now, without waiting for government action. [The government might be slow to act because it would have to ask for permission from the US Viceroy Ambassador.]

If a no on-screen smoking policy was in place many US productions could not be shown here. US producers would then have to weigh the money they get from product placement against the loss of UK revenue.

QUIZ - name the product

This is part of an advertisement. What is the product?



Here is another one.

The Addiator


This is an Addiator; a German manufactured mechanical pocket calculator. They were made from 1920 to 1982. A Frenchman called Troncet produced a similar device and such calculators are sometimes known as Troncets.

 Users could add and subtract by moving metal sliders with a stylus. The simplest troncets only did denary arithmetic. 

The one shown is a pocket model. There were more substantial desktop models.

 The Addiator company advertised their machines as also being capable of multiplication and division. This was stretching the truth since they could only do multiplication by repeated addition and division by repeated subtraction.

To overcome this limitation Castell produced an Addiator with a slide rule on its other side. I bought one in an antique shop in Prague many years ago. This was before eBay made collecting such devices much easier [and cheaper].

Some devices could add or subtract eighths of an inch, inches and feet. Others could add or subtract time.



One variant could handle pounds, shillings and pence. [Before Britain introduced decimal coinage in 1971 there were 20 shillings to the pound and 12 pence to the shilling. To add to the fun there were four farthings to the penny. The pound sterling was a character building currency when it came to mental arithmetic.]



A company in the USA produced a version for programmers which could do hexadecimal calculations. These are very rare.


Shopkeepers and tradesmen would not have used addiators. If they had to calculate the cost of seven items at £3/17/6d each they would have turned to a ready reckoner. I have one by me as I type. The calculations were done by a Mr. J Gall Inglis F.R.S.E. and the book was printed by Gall and Inglis of Edinburgh. I suspect they were not only a lot cheaper than Addiators, but also more useful.

Troncets and ready reckoners were gradually displaced by affordable electronic calculators from the mid 1970s onwards.

There must be many people who remember using such devices, but I have never seen them as a prop in an historical film or TV programme.

See also

Volvelles, Wheel Charts and Slide Charts

Planning for the past

In the 1830s the Swedes discovered that the island of Visingso had ideal conditions for growing oak trees. The Swedish Royal Navy thought it might be a good idea to have a source of oak for building sailing ships and particularly for use as masts and spars.



Over the next ten years some 300,000 oak saplings were planted. To ensure that the oaks grew straight and tall other, faster growing species, such as ash, elm, maple, beech and silver fir were planted between the oaks.  If the oak trees wanted light for photosynthesis they had to grow straight.


Today the 900 acre forest has immensely tall and unusually straight trees. Ideal for building Sweden's wooden walls. Unfortunately, oak trees take about 150 years to reach maturity and in that time shipbuilders moved to using iron and then steel for hulls.

In 1670, Louis XIV’s finance minister, Colbert, demonstrated similar foresight and ordered the planting of oak trees to provide masts for the French Navy of 150 years hence. He created the 26,000 acre Forest of Tronçais.  As with Visingso the oaks were planted with beeches and larches to encourage them to grow straight, tall, and free of knots.

As with Visingso, by the time they matured they were no longer necessary. Historian Fernand Braudel wrote, “Colbert had thought of everything except the steamship.”

Over the centuries the trees have been used to make charcoal for iron making and other uses. Only 13 ha of Colberts original forest remains and is now protected. The rest of the oak trees in the forest are the product of regeneration.

Now the older oaks  of Troncais are used to make high quality casks for the wine trade. Coopers use the most suitable parts of  the old oaks and sell their casks to a select number of wine makers.

The Forest of Tronçais is considered by many to be the finest oak forest in Europe.

Other oak forests have been more successful. There are over six million acres of cork oak trees in Southern Europe and North Africa. In Portugal a cork oak cannot be cut down without permission from central government.

The bark of the cork oaks of Portugal is peeled off and used to produce wine bottle stoppers, cork flooring, the cores of cricket balls, badminton shuttlecocks and the  handles of fishing rods. Their acorns are used to feeds pigs which are later converted into delicious and very expensive Jamon de Bellota.



On a different time scale, it used to be the custom amongst the English landed class to plant some willow trees when a daughter was born. Willow trees take about twenty years to reach maturity. When the daughter married the trees would be sold to a cricket bat maker to pay for the wedding. A mature willow tree can be sold for about £300 so several would be needed.   Link

Some other tales of old trees. Link

The Scottish Rapture

Thirteen thousand years ago Scotland was covered by glaciers. Nobody lived there. Then the glaciers retreated and immigrants started to arrive from the south.  The current population of Scotland are the descendants of successive waves of invaders and immigrants. For example, the Vikings came here as invaders and their genes are present in high percentages of the population in certain parts of the country.


As well as creating burghs the remarkable David I brought many members of the French nobility to Scotland to civilise the country during the Davidian Revolution. The Grant, Fraser and Bruce clans [and several others] sound so Scottish but are actually the descendants of French/Norman nobility brought to Scotland by David I.  

The famous Robert the Bruce was actually Robert de Brus [or Robert de Bruys], a descendant of a French/Norman noble family. The name is a derivation of Brix of the Manche department in Normandy, France.

Scotland is a real genetic melting pot.


Between 1815 and 1914 thirteen million Scots emigrated to the USA. Another four million went to Canada and one and a half million to Australia. A total of 18.5 million.  Remarkable figures given that the current population of Scotland is less than five and a half million. It means that over three times as many Scots left Scotland in the century before the First World War as now remain.  


Actually, the above figures underestimate the level of emigration.  They do not include those that went to South Africa and New Zealand or died in some lonely imperial outpost; playing the Great Game in India, growing tea and rubber in Malaya and in the Thin Red Line at Balaclava.  Most importantly, it does not include the numbers who left Scotland to run England.  I do not know the total numbers for Scottish emigration for 1815 to 2010 but I would be surprised if it was less than 30 million. In other words, about six times as many left as now remain.


It has been said of the Portuguese that they have a small country for their cradle but the whole world for their grave.  That is even more true for the Scots.


If you were unkind you could also say that Scotland is currently populated by the sad genetic residue of those who did not have the enterprise to get up and go. The 'left behind' of the Scottish Rapture.

Don't look down






The path above looks as if it is one of the via ferrata paths in the Dolomites. It is actually in the Glacier National Park in Montana.  I would love to walk it, but I doubt if I will be visiting the USA again.

For some 'don't look down' paths that really are in the Dolomites see the  images below.

 



How the British got Habeas Corpus


The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 is a landmark in English law, permitting a prisoner to challenge the lawfulness of his detention.

But Parliament passed it through an absurd miscount:    Lord Grey and Lord Norris were named to be the tellers: Lord Norris, being a man subject to vapours, was not at all times attentive to what he was doing: so, a very fat lord coming in, Lord Grey counted him as ten, as a jest at first: but seeing Lord Norris had not observed it, he went on with this misreckoning of ten: so it was reported that they that were for the Bill were in the majority, though indeed it went for the other side: and by this means the Bill passed.  

That account, by contemporary historian Gilbert Burnet, is borne out by the session minutes. The act remains on the statute book to this day.

The Bible has a quote for Trump

Woe to the land that has a child for a king.  Ecclesiastes 10:16.

Craigievar Castle - a Scottish tower house

 
Craigievar Castle is not a castle but a tower house built in the Scottish Baronial style.  Its walls are thick, its windows high off the ground and it has a yett to protect its door; but it was designed to keep criminals out, not armies.

Tower houses are found elsewhere in Scotland, and in other countries.  Spain has them. The ones in San Gimignano in Italy are well known. Pavia has some nice ones. There are two right in the centre of Bologna. There is a small one a few miles from my house.

Craigievar is located west of Aberdeen in Scotland, close to the  tower houses of Crathes Castle and Castle Fraser.


 I have already posted on Crathes and will post on Castle Fraser. The houses are very similar, partly because they were all worked on by the same family of masons.  Also, no doubt their owners swapped ideas.

Many consider Craigievar the most romantic of the Scottish tower houses. It is certainly the most striking. Especially since it is now pretty in pink.

Craigievar is in a very fine situation with views over open countryside

The castle belongs to the National Trust for Scotland. In the 1970s the castle was covered with a cement harl. That turned out to be a bad idea because cement traps water between the harl and the building, leading to structural and internal damage.

In 2009 the the castle was closed while the cement harl was stripped off and replaced with a lime harl which allows the building to breath. The cement harl had been off white but pigment was added to the lime harl to restore the pink appearance that Craigievar had had in the early 19th century.  The castle now looks fabulous.

It costs £11 to join a guided tour of the castle. The only way to move from floor to floor is by a narrow stone staircase.  Tower houses are not comfortable places. The castle does not have electric lighting in most of its rooms and the only heating is from open fires. Baths were a late addition. They are not for the old or young because steep stone stairs connect the many floors.


Rather annoyingly, the National Trust does not allow photography within the building.

Ightham Mote - a moated manor house

Ightham Mote (pronounced "item moat") is a moated manor house located to the south-east of London. It dates back to 1320 and has been described as "the most complete small medieval manor house in the country [Pevsner]. It is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.




It is a beautiful house in a secluded valley. Before modern roads it must have been hard to find and [in winter] hard to reach, despite being so close to London. There is a story that Cromwell's soldiers wanted to loot the place but could not find it, so they looted another house instead.

It has been owned by a number of families. The Hautes, the Selbys [who had it for three centuries], the Colyer-Fergusons and the American general who founded Colorado Springs. None of the British owners played any great part in national affairs.

When the house fell on hard times it was saved by an American called Charles Robinson. He bequeathed it to the National Trust.


To the left of the house the former stables and staff quarters have been converted into flats.





The Great Hall



The small courtyard. You can see the Grade 1 listed dog kennel to the right. My earlier post on the dog kennel is here.


The house is the work of many hands. For example, the stone part of the tower is thought to date to date to the early 14th century, the stained glass windows to the early 16th century, the brick turret top to the late 19th century and the weathercock to the 1960s.


The house's valuable silver was kept in a safe in the butlers pantry.


The sink and draining board are covered in lead to reduce damage to valuable pottery and silverware.

The private chapel


The First World War was particularly heavy on subalterns and the British aristocracy never recovered from its losses.

The housekeepers room
By the end of the 1980s the house was in poor condition and the National Trust decided on a major restoration. So major that it came close to complete demolition and rebuilding. The NT spent over £10 million rebuilding the house, employing the same building techniques that had been originally employed. There is an exhibition at the house showing what they did and the tools they used. The tools below are for working lead.


I think Britain is fortunate to have an organisation like the NT, which is willing to spend a lot of money to preserve something like Ightham Mote and has the skills needed to do such a good job.

The house has over 70 rooms. Not all of them are open to the public. The ones that are closed are shaded on the plan below. There are more than enough rooms open and furnished to provide a superb experience.

Unlike Harvington Hall  and Baddesley Clinton, Ightham Mote does not appear to have any hidden rooms [aka priest's holes].  You can find my post on Harvington Hall here and on Baddesley Clinton here.


This is my third post on Ightham Mote. My post on its giant dog kennel is here and a post on its porters squint is here.


Unhappy Woods


The above box is 150mm square and 65mm high. It is made out of beech, a very common English wood. The wood has not been treated in any way. What you see is just the natural wood.

After the tree died it became infected with fungi which produced the attractive figuring you can see above. Such figured beech is also known as spalted beech.  Decades ago wood merchants could only sell such wood as firewood. Now it is in such demand that cut logs are left in the weeds after been felled in the hope that they wood will become infected and produce spalting.  The process takes 2 to 3 years to reach the ideal stage.

The black lines are created by different species of fungi erecting barriers around their territory! There are primary colonizers who come first and establish territories and then have to defend them against secondary colonizers who are only able to colonize the wood because the primary colonizers have changed the ph of the wood & its structure. If left unchecked eventually the whole tree is consumed by the fungi,  part of nature’s way  of dealing with dead trees.

I only had a small piece of this wood and the lid had to be made by glueing three very thin pieces together. The rectangular reinforcing bars shown loose on the top of the box will be glued to the underside of the lid.

Unhappy Woods

There are many different types of figuring and many different woods that can become figured.

I refer to figured woods as unhappy woods because their attractive figuring is caused by infections [virus or fungi], beetle infestations [ambrosia figuring is caused by fungi entering a tree through the bore holes created by the ambrosia beetle], physical damage [burrs/burls] and stress [the birdseye figuring sometimes found in maple is believed to be produced when a tree has to  compete for sunlight with surrounding trees but is growing in poor soil].

Birdseye

Baddesley Clinton - a moated manor house

Baddesley Clinton is an medieval moated manor house just to the south east of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.  The Baddesley part of the name comes from a Saxon called Baeddi who cleared the site in the Forest of Arden. The Clinton part comes from the Clinton family who dug the moat in the 13th century.

For 500 years the manor house was the home of the Ferrars family. If that seems a long time for one family to own a house consider that Country Life magazine estimated that there were still over 1500 houses and estates in England that had been owned by the same family for over 500 years.

The house is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.




Visitors to Baddesley Clinton cross the bridge, go through the gatehouse and come to a central courtyard with buildings on three sides. In many such houses there are buildings on all four sides but Baddesley Clinton is unusual.


One side of the courtyard is open. There might have been a great hall on this side at one point but now there is a garden.



Baddesley Clinton has had many owners who have extended or changed the house. Most of the façade is stone, but as you can see above, there is one side faced in brick. Some of the history of the house can be read in its structure.



Baddesley Clinton has three priest holes. These are concealed places where Catholic priests and their adherents could hide if the house was raided by government agents [the government was persecuting Catholics at the time the holes were created and priests faced torture and execution].

Two of the holes are covered up and cannot be seen. The trapdoor below is the entrance to the third, a disused sewer at the rear of the house. Several people hid in this hole for four hours when the house was raided.

If you want to see priest holes you should visit Harvington Hall. That manor house has more priest holes than any in England. It is only 25 miles away. Harvington Hall is to the south west of Birmingham and BC is to the south east of the city. You could also read my post on Harvington Hall.


The National Trust has done a superb job of furnishing the interior.  Some of the furniture belonging to the house was sold during hard times so the Trust has brought in items from other houses, or donations it has received.


The photograph below shows the library.


The house has some superb stained glass.



Other moated manor houses

See my posts on Ightham Mote and Harvington Hall