Monday, 28 February 2011

Britain is a country with an old and fearless 'BBC Foreign Correspondent' called John Simpson

John Cody Fidler-Simpson is a 67 year old British foreign correspondent who is currently reporting from Libya for the BBC where he is 'The World Affairs Editor' of BBC News. John has has spent all his working life at the Corporation and has reported from more than 120 countries, including 30 war zones and interviewed many world leaders. John is the equivalent to foreign affairs as David Attneborough is to the natural world. He has the 'gravitas' which comes form sharp intelligence and long experience.

Things you probably didn't know about John, that he :

* was born in London and his father was an anarchist.

* was educated in private schools, first Dulwich College, then St Pauls before he went to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he read English.

* in 1966, started as a trainee sub-editor at BBC Radio News.

* became a BBC reporter in 1970 and on his first day the Prime Minister Harold Wilson, angered by the sudden and 'impudent', as he saw it, appearance of John's novice's microphone, punched him in the stomach.

* was by turns, in the 1980's, the BBC's Political Editor, a News presenter, Diplomatic Editor and finally World Affairs Editor in 1998.

* travelled back from Paris to Tehran with the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 in a return which heralded the 'Iranian Revolution'.

* in 1989, avoided bullets at the 'Beijing Tiananmen Square' massacre and reported the fall of Ceauşescu regime in Bucharest later that year.

* spent the early part of the 1991 Gulf War in Baghdad before being expelled by the authorities.

* reported from Belgrade during the Kosovo War of 1999 and was one of a handful of journalists to remain in the Serbian capital after the authorities expelled those from NATO countries.

* was one of the first reporters to enter Afghanistan in 2001, disguised in a burqua and was in Kabul during he US-led invasion.

* was hunted by Robert Mugabe's forces in Zimbabwe.

* was the first BBC journalist to answer questions in a war zone from internet users via BBC News Online.

* while reporting from Northern Iraq in the 2003 War, left deaf in one ear in a friendly fire incident and killed a member of his crew.

* has two daughters, by his first marriage to Diane Petteys, of El Cajon, California and a 5 year old son by his second marriage to Dee Kruger, a South African television producer,

* had a grandmother who was born in Ireland and holds British and Irish citizenship and moved back to London in 2005 after living in Ireland for several years.

* is currently reporting from Libya :

Some of John's books :

I was prompted to write this post by quote by the comedian Dom Joly who said of John :
"When you spot him in airport arrivals, you know your country is in deep doo-doo."

Britain is 'no' country and 'a' country awash with 'Baby Boomer' millionaires

The Guardian newspaper had an article today by Phillip Inman, its Economics Correspondence entitled :

Those retiring now are richer than they think and they are sending Britain broke.
This photo was then captioned :
Many pensioners can look forward to comfortable retirements including foreign holidays

So what has young Phillip got to say about me and my fellow post World War Baby Boomers ? Well, apparently we :

* are 'up in arms', for being criticised for 'stealing from the younger generation'.

* as a group, are far from 'homogeneous' and rich and poor are both found in our cohort, yet the accusation that we are protecting ourselves 'at the expense of everyone else still stands', because 'relatively ordinary' boomers among us will retire as 'millionaires paid for by younger workers'.

* as BT engineers on £60,000, marketing managers on £80,000 or teachers on £35,000, will 'all be in the millionaire bracket' when we retire, after paying only a fraction of the cost.

* as teachers, for example, will qualify for a £20,000-a-year pension which will cost 'between £700,000 and £800,000 to provide' and if we add our house worth £300,000, are millionaires.

* every street in the south-east has a rich one of us, if not 10 and the suburbs of our major cities are no different, with us jetting off on 4 or 5 holidays a year and driving gas-guzzling 4x4s.

* are all 'in the stratosphere compared with everyone else scrabbling for pennies' and with millions more of us having our hand-out as a reward for retiring, we, as a country, will soon be broke.

* have convinced ourselves that we have paid our way while, increasingly, 'there are academic papers showing that this is simply not true' and most of us have no idea that a pension promise or the trebling of house prices was so harmful.

Of the 82 comments the Phillip's article generated, I particularly likes these :

From 'Johnd44' :

'I am over 65. I worked all my life, straight from school, paid into a pension fund, bought a house, paid my mortgage, sent my children to university.

All my money went on giving my children the start in life that I never had. I never went abroad or flew until I was 50. I can count the number of times I've flown or been abroad on the fingers of one hand and that was when I was working.

But, Hey, No problems. I'm a millionaire. Nobody ever told me before. Perhaps that is why I've kept it a secret all these years. I'll just break off writing this to go to the bank and get out some of the money that I never knew I had. I'll give my neighbour a shout so he can come with me and get out some of the money he never knew he had as well.

Another thing that I never knew. I'm a Tory voter. Well I never. I always thought I voted Labour. I need a new pair of glasses so that I can read the ballot paper next time.

Thanks for putting me right. I always thought it was the politicians, big business and the bankers who got us in this mess. I am so very sorry for all the damage I've caused.'

From 'ordinateur' :

So John Major's 'teacher in the woolly sweater and battered sedan' is now a retired millionaire ?
We had similar rubbish on this 'pensioner bashing' theme from this guy last month.
For every pensioner swimming in the warm sea how many more are struggling to pay energy bills ? This is straight from the Goebbels propaganda textbook.
The next article will probably be on re-opening the workhouses ready for Mr. Inman's retirement.

From 'Willbe42' :

Also, retired people should be made to stay at home over the weekend, with all there doddering about and shopping done during the working week so they don't, get in my way driving 20 in a 30 or shuffle down the supermarket fruit aisle 'squeezing things'.
Seriously though, how long till the youth decide to take it back. I am fully expecting no help when i get to retirement age in (currently) 30 years.

P.S. On the subject of 'millionaires', my favourite clip from the comedy series 'Only Fools and Horses' where the 2 brothers, Del Boy and Rodney, who after running a second hand goods business for years and dreaming of becoming millionaires, finally do just that :
Me and Del Boy's car last year :

My posting :

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Britain is a country with a City called Rochester and a retirement home called 'La Providence' for old men with Huguenot blood

Yesterday , in the company of 20 'City of Rochester' guides, I spent part of the afternoon in 'La Providence' in Rochester. It is a retirement home for men and women and possibly their spouses who can trace their ancestry back to one of the the 200,000 French Protestants, known as 'Huguenots' who were kicked out of France by the Catholic King Louis 14th in 1685.

They settled in non-Catholic Europe, the Netherlands, Germany, especially Prussia, Switzerland, Scandinavia and even as far as Russia, where Huguenot craftsmen could find customers at the court of the Czars. The Dutch East India Company sent a few hundred to the Cape to develop the vineyards in southern Africa. About 50,000 came to England, perhaps about 10,000 moving on to Ireland.

Pamphlet literature of the time shows, they could not entirely escape the accusations levelled at immigrants from time immemorial : that their presence threatened jobs, standards of housing, public order, morality and hygiene and even that they ate strange foods!

For at least half a century the Huguenots remained a recognisable minority, making their presence felt in banking, commerce, industry, the book trade, the arts and the army, on the stage and in teaching.

The management of La Providence or 'The French Hospital' is wonderfully medieval :

* Management is still carried on as set out in the first Royal Charter of 1718, though a Supplemental Charter was granted by the Queen in 1953 to allow it to become a housing association.

* The 'General Court' of the Hospital consists of 'between 25 and 50' Directors, who are mostly themselves representative of French Protestant refugee families, and who serve 'for their natural lives'.

* The Court is presided over by the 'Governor', who is elected every three years as are the Secretary and Treasurer.

* The first Governor was Henri de Ruvigny, Earl of Galway, the revered leader of the Huguenots of the diaspora.

* For over 200 years, almost without a break, the office of Governor has been in the Pleydell-Bouverie family, held by the hereditary Earls of Radnor, the present Governor being the 9th Earl.

* The lists of Directors' in cludes the Bosanquets, Cazalets, Champion de Crespignys, Duvals, Minets and Ouvrys and others.

I spoke to one of the residents of La Providence, said the my Grandmother's maiden name was 'Lefevre' who was born and brought up in Lambeth in London in the 1880's and asked him how I would set about proving that she had, and therefore I have, Huguenot blood and I could therefore claim my right to some retirement accommodation in 'La Providence'.

He advised me that I should do some tracking down of ancestors and arm myself with copies of birth certificates, because the names of those original Huguenots who left France were known to the Huguenot Society.

So I've got to do some detective work. You never know, snug retirement accommodation in Huguenot 'safe haven' might come in handy in my twilight years.

This picture of my Granny was taken in 1914, with my Uncle George in Army Uniform. He was 16 years old and had told the recruiting Sergeant that he was 18. My Mother is the little girl.

I mentioned this in an earlier posting :

Here's a virtual tour of La Providence :

Was one of the 50,000 bound for England in 1685 a Monsieur Lefevre, my distant ancestor ?

Friday, 25 February 2011

Britain says "Happy Birthday" to an old actor called Tom Courtenay

Tom Courtenay is 74 today. I remember seeing him on black and white tv in 1963 in a play called 'The Lads'. I was 16 and Tom was 26 when he sang Trevor Peacock's title song called 'Mrs Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter'.

Here he sings the song against a backdrop of clips from the film 'Billy Liar' which he made with the beautiful Julie Christie in the same year :

Mrs. Brown you've got a lovely daughter.
Girls as sharp as her are somethin' rare,
But it's sad, she doesn't love me now,
She's made it clear enough it ain't no good to pine.

She wants to return those things I bought her.
Tell her she can keep them just the same.
Things have changed, she doesn't love me now,
She's made it clear enough it ain't no good to pine.

Walkin' about, even in a crowd, well,
You'll pick her out, makes a bloke feel so proud.

If she finds that I've been round to see you,
Tell her that I'm well and feelin' fine.
Don't let on, don't say she's broke my heart,
I'd go down on my knees but it's no good to pine.

Walkin' about, even in a crowd, well,
You'll pick her out, makes a bloke feel so proud.

If she finds that I've been round to see you,
Tell her that I'm well and feelin' fine.
Don't let on, don't say she's broke my heart,
I'd go down on my knees but it's no good to pine.

Mrs. Brown you've got a lovely daughter.


Things you probably didn't know about Tom, that he :

* was born in Hull where his father was a boat painter and after leaving Kingston High School, studied drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and made his stage début in Edinburgh in 1960.

* took over from Albert Finney in the title role of 'Billy Liar' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1961 and said of himself and Albert : "We both have the same problem, overcoming the flat harsh speech of the North."
Talking about 'Billy Liar' to an audience in 2010 :

* had his film debut in 1962 with 'Private Potter', directed by Finnish-born Caspar Wrede.

* starred in 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner', directed by Tony Richardson and played 'Billy' in the John Schlesinger's film version of 'Billy Liar' in 1963.
The final scene in the first film where he deliberately loses the race, dubbed into a foreign language, but the message is clear :

* was, for his role as the revolutionary leader Pasha Antipov in 'Doctor Zhivago' in 1965, nominated for an Academy Award for 'Best Supporting Actor'.

* played opposite Dirk Bogard in 'King & Country' directed by Joseph Losey and had parts in the War films : 'Operation Crossbow' and 'The Night of the Generals'.

* from the mid-1960s concentrated more on stage work and at the 'Royal Exchange' and played a variety of roles, including in 1999 the lead in 'King Lear' and in 2001, 'Uncle Vanya'.

* in 2000 his memoir 'Dear Tom: Letters From Home' was published to critical acclaim comprising a selection of the letters exchanged between him and his mother, interspersed with his own recollections of life as a young student actor in London in the early 1960s.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Britain is a country which says "Goodbye" to Reg Ward who gave London its beautiful Canary Wharf skyline

Reg Ward, the City of London planner behind the redevelopment of London's Docklands in the 1980's, has died aged 83.

Reg was the first Chief Executive of the 'London Docklands Development Corporation', set up by the Thatcher Government to regenerate the area in East London once occupied by the Capital's defunct docks.

Reg led the massive enterprise which bulldozed sections of the Isle of Dogs, installed basic infrastructure and created the basis for the 'Toronto-on-Thames' which stands in and around Canary Wharf today.

When I was a boy growing up in Deptford on the south bank of the River Thames in the 1950's, the great London docks were still in operation. In fact, my Uncle Charlie was a docker. I remember him as a small sprightly man, a classic docker who used his head to work out how to move massive loads and his quick feet to move out of the way when they moved or fell to the ground.

The London docks died a swift death and between the mid 1960s and 1970s, more than 150,000 jobs were lost and by 1980, half of the area was derelict.

Margaret Thatcher's Government, disenchanted with local government and soon to abolish the Greater London Council, set up the LDDC in 1981 as a no-nonsense solution to the problems of London Docklands. A business-led board was appointed, with Reg as its Chief Executive and he started building new infrastructure, notably a red-brick road into the Isle of Dogs and the first section of the Docklands Light Railway.

Reg was born in Lydbrook in the Forest of Dean, the son of a miner who, after grammar school, went to Manchester University, where he studied medieval history, fine art and architecture. After graduating he joined the Inland Revenue then worked in local government before he stepped into his controversial role at LDDC.

The force and dynamism shown by Reg was necessary to drive through the process of overriding local opposition to the Docklands project. Posters erected by the Development Corporation proclaiming messages such as :
'Canary Wharf. It will feel like Venice and work like New York', were hardly designed to appeal to the East End's close-knit, working-class community.

Canary Wharf in 2011 does have elements of both Venice and New York, although, as was argued by opponents in the early LDDC days, it has provided far more highly paid jobs for people from outside East London, than for those living in the East End itself.

Despite the criticisms however, Canary Wharf's Towers are so much a part of the London skyline that television news uses them as a backdrop to stories about global banking and Reg's 'political management skills' paved the way for an intervention in the British capital's urban form which was recognised worldwide.

Andrew Marr and the Docklands Development :

From 'The Wasteland' by T.S.Eliot in 1922,complete with the sound of the ship's horn :
The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.
Weialala leia
Wallala leialala

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Britain is a country where young boys today will look back, when they are old men in the 2070's, and reflect on the poverty of their youth

Photos of kids in the 'black and white' 1950's when the 'baby boomers' were growing up. The last one shows my friend D.B. on the sea front at Sheerness in Kent, he's the one one the right.

Kids playing in the streets :

And some facts :

* 1.6 million youngsters living in severe poverty.

* unemployment rising and a radical shake up of the welfare system seeing £18bn wiped from benefits, the number of children living without 'the basics' threatened rise unless action is taken.

* more than one in five children living in 'severe poverty' in 29 areas of the country with the highest proportion, 27%, in Manchester and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and more than 20% of children experiencing severe poverty in Birmingham and Liverpool.

* the highest proportion of children living in severe poverty, 14% in Wales, followed by England with 13%, then Scotland and Northern Ireland which have 9% each.

* an expert says : "Children up and down the country are going to sleep at night in homes with no heating, without eating a proper meal and without proper school uniforms to put on in the morning. No child should be born without a chance. It is a national scandal that 1.6 million children are growing up in severe poverty."

Britain in 1950 ?
No :

The points above were based on an article in 'The Guardian' on 23rd February 2011 entitled :
Penury for 1.6million children is a national disgrace, says Charity.

The Charity in question is 'Save the Children'.

A Government survey defines 'severe poverty' as a household with 50% the 'average income' and for a family of 4 this would be annual income of less than £12,500,'material deprivation' and an inability to pay for repairs to appliances or afford insurance.

The Charity said it was concerned that the Government has proposed switching focus from 'traditional anti-poverty measures, based on income', to 'improving children's life chances'. Ministers have defended the controversial move, saying they are treating the 'causes' of disadvantage not its 'symptoms'.

I'm not sure what 'improving children's life chances' means.

Save the Children said: 'You cannot ignore incomes when tackling child poverty.'
and is calling on the Chancellor, George Osborne, to announce an emergency plan in the next budget to create new jobs in the poorest areas and increase financial support for low-income families.

What a sad country, Britain, the once 'care-free' country of my youth, has become :

I live in 'The Medway Towns' in Kent where the number of kids up to the age of 18, living in poverty is 6000 or 12% of the total

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Britain says "goodbye" to an old set designer famed for 'Brideshead Revisited' called Peter Phillips

Peter Phillips, who awarded a 'Bafta' for his lavish, meticulous work on the sets of the tv series 'Brideshead Revisited' in 1982, has died at the age of 85.

Although he had been reluctant to work away from a television studio, Peter was persuaded to take on the task of creating sets on dozens of filming locations for Granada Television's impressive 13-hour production of Brideshead Revisited in 1981.

What most of us didn't know about Peter was that he :

* with his team, he evoked the decadent, opulent world depicted in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead novel about the aristocratic Marchmain family's decline between the two World wars.

* painstakingly transferred the visual details from the pages of the book to the screen, in a television production costing £10m, which was then a record.
This clip illustrates this point :

* along with the leisurely photography and the beautiful period costumes, produced sets which helped to make 'Brideshead Revisited' look sumptuous and these, combined with an Burgon's atmospheric musical score and Jeremy Irons's mesmerising narration, created a production which was a high point in the history of British tv drama.

* was partly responsible, for choosing locations with almost half of the 300 days' filming at 'Castle Howard', in Yorkshire, from the first visit by Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) with his university friend, Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews) to the death of Lord Marchmain (Laurence Olivier) and Charles's Wartime return to Brideshead as an army officer.

* had to work, not just to decorate and dress rooms appropriately, but also create two new ones.

* ensured that at Oxford University, every aspect of Charles's rooms was as described in the novel.

* on the Maltese island of Gozo, which doubled for Morocco, added Arabic arches to passageways.

* for shooting cabin scenes on a choppy Atlantic ship crossing, had a set built on rockers.

* recreated a New York hotel foyer in the entrance hall of a Trafford Park asbestos factory.

* was also the production designer on the serialisation of HG Wells's 'Kipps' (1960), the season of plays 'A Choice of Coward' (1964), 'The Caesars' (1968) and of other classics, including 'War and Peace' (1963), 'Persuasion' (1971) and 'Cat On a Hot Tin Roof' (1976), which starred Laurence Olivier.

Britain is a country where a paper called 'The Daily Mail' and a journalist called Dominic Sandbrook do not love old men who were once 'baby boomers'

Dominic Sandbrook, is a 37 year old historian who writes in the 'Daily Mail'.
His 'Saturday Essay' in the paper was entitled :
The children conceived on VE Day turned 65 this month, having enjoyed lives of unprecedented affluence and opportunity. But thanks to their self-indulgence and hubris, their children face a very different future.

So who is this young journalist, free from the corruption of 'self-indulgence and hubris' ?

Apparently, he was born in the little town of Bridgnorth in Shropshire.

He was educated at the private boarding school called 'Malvern College'.

After leaving school, studied at Balliol College, Oxford.

He then went on to the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

and finally, Jesus College, Cambridge.

Since leaving University Dominic, has lectured in history at the University of Sheffield, been a 'Senior Fellow' of the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University and is now a freelance writer and newspaper columnist.

He has written a 'biography' of the American politician and presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, which McCarthy himself called, 'almost libellous' and has written a series of books covering the history of Britain from 1956 to 1974.

So, what has this young man, who has experienced a life of such breadth and depth, got to say about me and the other 'baby boomers' of my generation ?

Well, apparently we :

* ourselves, have enjoyed lives of affluence, but thanks to our self-indulgence our children face a different future.

* are the richest and most influential generation the world has ever seen and have enjoyed a level of comfort and security that would have astonished our predecessors.

* like no generation before or since, grew up with a powerful sense of our own distinctiveness and conceived amid the rubble of wartime, born and brought up in a society hurtling from austerity to affluence, never ceased to remind ourselves how special we were.

* as teenagers in the 50's and 60's, often scoffed at the conventional, conservative values of our parents, celebrated freedom, tolerance and self-expression and revelled in the consumer comforts of the affluent society, convinced that the boom would never end.

* from free school milk, social security and grammar schools to cheap holidays, women’s liberation and the shopping revolution, have enjoyed comforts our parents could barely have imagined.

* enjoyed an unrivalled balance of freedom which was buttressed by an economic miracle which looked as though it would never end and by the time we entered our teens in the late 50's we already had a strong sense of our own distinctiveness.

* when the economy ran into trouble in the 70's it was us, in our 20's and 30's, who walked out on strike in the catastrophic 'Winter of Discontent'.

* replaced self-restraint with self-gratification and almost doubled the illegitimacy rate and increased the abortion and divorce rates.

* talked a lot about equality and opportunity, but in the world we created, Britain’s young have been cut adrift while we, thanks to our sheer size and power, have been able to maintain an unprecedented monopoly on jobs, houses and income.

For all this, Dominic said about us that he :

wished us ' a long and happy retirement and they will probably be the last generation to retire at 65; the rest of us may end up working until our 70s. In this, as in so much else, they were uncannily lucky. What a shame, though, that they declined to share their good fortune with the rest of us.'

On behalf of all Baby Boomers I'd like to say to Dominic :
" Are you really asking us to share our 'good fortune' with people like you who through Bridgnorth-Malvern College-Balliol-College-St Andrews and Jesus College, have so obviously had such a hard time ?"

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Britain says "Happy Birthday" to an old film and theatre director called Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh, writer, film and theatre director is 68 today.
What you probably didn't know about Mike, that he :

* was born in Welwyn, Hertfordshire, studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the Camberwell School of Art and the Central School of Art and Design.

* began as a theatre director and playwright in the mid 1960's and in the 70's and 80's made films for BBC TV characterized by a gritty 'kitchen sink realism' style.

* begins his work without a script, but with a basic premise which is developed through improvisation by the actors and only after months of rehearsal, the script is finalised with almost no improvisation on camera.

* is a gifted cartoonist, northerner who came south, proud and critical of his roots and Jewish background and he is a child of the 1960s and the explosion of interest in the European cinema and the possibilities of television.

* When he had arrived in London, one of the first films he had seen was 'Shadows', an 'improvised' film by John Cassavetes, in which a cast of unknowns was observed 'living, loving and bickering' on the streets of New York, and Leigh had "felt it might be possible to create complete plays from scratch with a group of actors."

His 'Nuts In May' from 1976, still makes me laugh :

Abigail's Party with Mike's wife, Alison Steadman, from 1977, still makes me cringe :

'Another Year' in 2010, with Mike talking :

Britain is no country for dirty old men who are are 'baby boomer polluters'

An article in The Sunday Times newspaper today was entitled :


It made the following points about us baby boomers that :

* according to Government advisors, we have the biggest 'carbon footprint' of any group in Britain outpacing teenagers and 20 somethings in our 'exploitation of the planet's resources'

* if we continue to consume the same energy at the same pace, we could 'harm the country's battle against global warming'

* we are more likely to travel on holiday overseas, buy power-hungry plasma t.v.'s and dine at the most restaurants which require ingredients to be flown in from abroad

* we have large houses in which children no longer live and gas guzzling cars

* have a 'tendency to stay at home and turn up the heating'

Apparently, 'environmental campaigners' this weekend have suggested that we should :

* become vegetarian because rearing animals for meat leads to land clearance. large amounts of methane and mass grain production

* go for more walks

* visit the cinema, rather than watch t.v. at home

We have a role model in Albert Kemp, age 64, who as the boss of an insurance company, used to fly round the world sometimes visiting 3 countries a day. He's retired now and it would be really good if as many of us could follow in his footsteps and emulate his lifestyle by :

* living on a farm where he keeps sheep and grows vegetables

* installing solar panels to cut electricity consumption by 50%

I assume these are somehow 'non-methane producing sheep' not being raised for meat.

Albert has said :
" I would never have imagined this lifestyle before, but I could never go back. We love the slower lifestyle and reducing our carbon footprint is a big priority. The next step is a wind turbine."

So, all you baby boomers out there in Britain, including those of you who haven't got '2 pennies to rub together', you know what you have got to stop doing at the top of this page and start doing at the bottom and move to a farm and raise sheep like Albert.