About universalunionist

Soldier, Lawyer,Trade Unionist

I could have been Mr. Universe.

I was a skinny kid. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw me today. But I was  real skinny, a proper seven stone weakling. I was forever getting sand kicked in my face. Even in kindergarten, in the sand pit, the other kids would kick sand in my face. And when we lived in Blackpool, well you can guess what happened on the beach. It was the same at Southend on Sea, and Skegness. We lived in Libya for a bit, it was painful in Libya.

Got to the stage I avoided sand, avoided going to the beach. It was too traumatic. Reckon I was suffering from Post Traumatic Sand in the Face Disorder.

When I was about 13 or 14, I saw this advertisement, probably on the back page of one of my comics, or maybe in the Reader’s Digest, but wherever, it seemed to me to be the answer to all my traumas. I clipped the coupon and sent off for the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course. Many a youth did the same, thousands in fact. . Me and Arnold Schwarzenegger for example, who was about the same age as me, and probably clipped the same coupon in the same comic, although, to be fair, he probably took it a bit more seriously than did I.

But the course cost something like Twelve guineas and I didn’t have 12 guineas. I was as weak in the pocket as I was in the body. Of course, these advertisements played upon and exploited all the inadequacies and lack of confidence so common amongst teenage boys, and they knew that somehow such teenagers would find the money, without telling their parents, and take up the offer. So it was that after some diligent saving which included searching for and gathering empty bottles and collecting the 3d refunds thereon, I raised the money. Only by that time it had gone up to 15 guineas.

Charles Atlas claimed that he himself had been a “scrawny weakling” before he discovered the secret of “dynamic tension” and “isotonic exercise”. I never fully understood dynamic tension. Or isotonic exercise. It involved putting your muscles under some stress, pretending to push a wall down, for example, or lifting a stick with pretend weights on it. In fact, I was pretty good at lifting a stick with pretend weights on it. Was a bit disappointed I did not quite develop a Mr. Universe physique by lifting such a stick. I ought to have checked with Arnold Schwarzenegger to see what kind so sticks he was using.

The course was supposed to last about 30 days and there was a money back guarantee. I suspect the guarantee was a bit of a scam. The course did not work for me. I was still getting and kicked in my face after 28 days and I reckon that if I had asked for my money back I would have been told to “Piss off!  year weakling punk, ask for yer money again and I’ll come round and kick sand in your face” Consumer protection laws were not very strong in those days. Yeah, it was probably a scam.

There were other entrepreneurs exploiting teenage boys feelings of angst and dread, their unfocused fears of their inadequacies and the state of the world in general. I clipped a coupon, in the superman comic I think, to stop my hair receding prematurely. And there was a book coupon I clipped for a book on “How to Develop a Super Power Memory” Only thing I can remember about it is that I left it on a train. Can’t even remember where the train was going too. And when I was in the army, training as a recruit, I sent away for a book on “How to win Friends and Influence people”. Someone in my barrack room stole it from me. I know who it was. It was easy to tell. He became the most popular bloke in the regiment.

They all had money back guarantees. All a scam.

I kept up the dynamic tension isotonic exercises for most of my life. The sticks with pretend weights might have become shopping bags that I pretend are quite heavy, but I still try, now and then. And it still hasn’t worked. True I am no longer a seven-stone weakling. More like a 15-stone lazy old git. Had sand kicked in my face in Torremolinos last year. I wonder if that guarantee is still valid?   “Dear Mr Atlas, kindly return my postal order as I am still getting sand kicked in my face”

Sky Q Box review.

The Sky Q box has, in the trade press, received some very favourable reviews, rave reviews even, But me, I’m just a user of the product, not too technically savvy and never before have I reviewed a bit of technology, although I like a gadget as much as the next bloke. But I don’t and won’t take sky’s shilling, and they don’t advertise on my humble blog, so therefore this review is real, for the Sky Q box, contrary to the trade press reviews in publications that rely heavily on sky advertising, is a pretty poor product. In fact its rubbish.

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It is designed to replace the Sky + box and it is perhaps as as well to begin this review by reminding us all of just how good was the Sky + box. Sky has hundreds of channels and a multitude of multi-channel products that you can buy. Scrolling through all those channels looking for the programme you want would be tedious and would produce a very unsatisfactory viewing experience. So they invented the rather fabulous favorites button. On a radio you might well call it a pre-select button. You could chose up to a dozen or so favorite programmes and save them to the little yellow favorites button. Once saved you could flip through your favorites at will, backwards and forwards, up and down, they were always there for you. A wonderful feature, a complete treasure of viewing convenience. It also enabled you to switch between channels with the utmost ease, so if you were watching the History Channel you could quickly switch to the Sports channel and check the score on the match and switch back again in a couple of seconds.
The Sky + box would also record programmes. Another wonderful feature and I, as I am sure many others, often wondered why radio manufacturers hadn’t taken up such a feature so that you could record and pre-record favorite programmes on the radio. Anyway the record feature had a couple of drawbacks. Firstly the storage for recordings was fairly limited and secondly you could not watch one programme and record more than two others at the same time. It was to address these limitations, amongst others,  that they came up with the Q box.
The Q box will allow you to record up to four programmes while watching a fifth programme. And the storage has been beefed up to 1000 hours which, by any measure, is pretty assume.
It is important to note that the Q box does not improve the quality of the picture on the screen. That remains the same HD high quality, unaffected by the new style box.
But. And it’s a very fucking big but, Sky have abandoned the favorites or pre-select function of the old Sky + box!! It is frankly unbelievable that they should do such a thing.
Now you have to scroll through a fairly complex menu of hundreds of programmes to find the one you want. You can’t save the chosen channel to favorites or to a pre-select function. So every time you switch on you have to go through the same menu of sculling channels. Nor can you flick between the channel you are watching and some other channel, for example, for a quick look at the soccer match to check the scores, or perhaps a flick over during advertising to check the news headlines. Well, actually you can, but to do so involves engaging the complex menu and sculling your way backwards and forwards whereas on the Sky + box it merely involved a couple of hits on the yellow button.
It might be difficult to explain. If it was a telephone system, then it would be like one of those corporate answering services. “If want news select 1, if you want documentaries select 2; if you want children’s programmes select 3; if you want movies select 4 etc etc.
So you select movies and press 4. Another menu appears: if you want drama select 1; if you want children’s, select 2, I you want romance select 3; if you want comedy select 4.
And you have to go through this every single fucking time you switch on.
Sky, obviously think such telephone menus are wonderful and have imported the idea into the new Q Box.
I cannot tell you adequately how much this endless sculling through menus reduces the Sky viewing experience. Of course if you knew the channel numbers of your favorite programmes you could just key the number in. But who the fuck knows a dozen numbers, or possibly 500 numbers. You would need a board set up beside the TV with your favorite numbers on it so you could remember them, each time you wanted to watch them, key them in. Now, that is a real advance in technology is it not?
So you watch less of Sky. And you question whether the subscription to Sky is worth the money anymore. And you start looking at the alternatives to Sky and you say fuck you Sky, if you put such a rubbish backward stepping product on the market then why should I bother.
It’s a bit like a buying a new car with all the latest gadgetry on board; sat-nav, heated seats, electronically adjustable seats, self-parking, video cameras front and rear, head up displays on the windscreen, enormous boot and storage space, warning signals for tires and lights, voice controlled central air conditioning, blue tooth super store systems, automatic boot opening and closing sensors and all the rest of the wonders of new cars, but without a fucking steering wheel!
You know they should take out 1 in ten of Sky’s engineering department, and 1 in ten of their sales department and have them shot for putting such a poor product on the market. In fact if the did that it would make a good documentary for the Sky History channel. Trouble is if you wanted to watch it on the Sky Q box you have difficulty finding it.
Oh I know it’s a trite complaint given what is going on in the world. Famine in Africa, incoherence in America, disintegration in Europe and on the Archers, they can’t even muster a cricket team. And here I am complaining about how to select a TV channel. But so be it. It needs to be said. The Q box without a favorites or pre-select function is a piece of junk.

Traffic Warden Hancock and the Union

jk3Traffic wardens can be rather grumpy sods.  It’s a job that attracts the grumpy.   In the early days, and it probably still is the case, they were employed by Police Authorities.   Which is almost certainly why they adopted the blue military style uniform.    Being grumpy sods they often had more grievances than the norm.   And therefore, for trade unions, they were fairly easy to recruit and to unionise.   Trade unions also attract the grumpy sods of the world.  they also, of course, attract committed labour activists, good socialists and defenders of the working class.  Like me.  But there are quite a lot of grumpy sods in the unions as well.  The employers of the traffic wardens, usually local Chief Constables, were not quite used to dealing with uniformed grumpy trade unionists making grumpy demands.  Relationships were therefore often quite fractious.

Traffic warden Hancock was the very essence of the grumpy uniformed officer that we all think of whenever we think of traffic wardens.  Which, thankfully, is not too often.   His patch was West Bridgford in Nottinghamshire and it ran from the city side of Trent Bridge across to the Nott’s County Cricket ground and out into the suburbs of well-heeled well-to-do West Bridgford.    He was a legend out there.   Tall, in his mid ‘50’s, probably about 15 stone, carried his weight well.  Ex-military I think for he had slashed the peak of his traffic warden cap so that it looked like that of a Sgt major in one of the regiments of guards, rather than like, for example the cap of a friendly bus conductor.   He wore fierce looking steel rimmed glasses and he had, this is the absolute truth, a small black toothbrush mustache.   It couldn’t possibly be a coincidence, nor an accident or a fashion statement, that he chose such a mustache.   West Bridgford motorists, or at least some of them, would wind down their windows, stick out their arms and salute him as they drove past.  I may have done it myself. At least once.  He had the most fearsome reputation and you just did not overstay your parking limit in West Bridgford.   You just didn’t do it.

I first engaged with him in rather strange circumstances.  It was nothing to do with the union.  I was at the time, a police photographer and would drive around the county in a blue ford van loaded with photographic equipment, visiting various scenes of crime.  Van had a blue light on top for we often had to get to road traffic accidents in a bit of a rush.    I was driving back to the Central Police Station in Nottingham, from a job in West Bridgford, body in the Trent as I recall.    Driving over Trent Bridge I saw, on the other side of the bridge, coming from the city, a mini car with the bonnet open and smoke pouring from the engine with the occasional lick of flame.  There was a woman in some distress taking stuff out of the car.  Now Police vehicles are quite rightly fitted with fire extinguishers, so I stooped the van on Trent Bridge and leapt out with the extinguisher and ran across and fired the contents into the engine.  There was no doubt I prevented it from developing into fully fledged ball of flame.   Oh I know I’m a hero, but let that, for the moment, pass.   As I stood on the pavement reassuring the distressed female up strolled, hands behind his back, traffic warden Hancock.

 

“Is that your van over there, you can’t park there you know?”

I explained to him that I was a hero (I may have blushed)  and had just put out this fire, that this lady was in distress and that it was an emergency.

“Trent Bridge is a no stopping zone sir, you will have to move that van, you can’t leave it there you know”

I looked him more carefully.  “ I’m a fucking hero you pratt, can’t you fucking see, this fucking engine is still fucking smoking you fucking pratt”  I did not blush.

“No need for that sir, I must ask you to move the van or I shall have to issue a ticket”

“You fucking what?”  I said.  And I considered hitting him with the now empty fire extinguisher.

I didn’t of course.  I left the scene muttering oaths and shaking my head in disbelief.   I had to fill in a form when I got back to explain why I had discharged the fire extinguisher and wrote on it that I nearly got a ticket from traffic warden number, well I can’t remember his number now, but I put in the form.  But nothing happened.

Trent Bridge looking towards the City. The red X marks the spot where the mini was burning.

Trent Bridge looking towards the City. The red X marks the spot where the mini was burning.

I have to admit that I dined out on the story for many years in many a Nottingham pub.   And it might have got a bit enhanced along the way, but it was true.

Many years later.  I mean very many years later, I had moved on form police photography, been to Ruskin College in Oxford and was now a full time trade union organiser for the National Union of Public Employees.    Nottinghamshire was my patch.  If you were low paid and in the public-sector, you were probably being organised by my office.   I loved it!

 

So one morning, I am in my stately offices at Sherwood Rise, busy organising away, when there is a knock on my door and who is it but traffic warden Hancock, who it turns out, was a member of NUPE.    He had been sacked from the traffic warden service and turned now to his Union for help.   He had handled the internal procedures himself, to disastrous effect, and now wanted us to represent him at an Employment Appeals Tribunal.

 

I did not tell him that we had met before!    I thought it discreet not to.  And anyway, if we did well for him at the Tribunal it would assist us in stealing more traffic warden members from our arch rivals who also recruited wardens, the National and Local Government Officers Association.   We were not of course supposed to poach each other’s members,   it was against TUC policy.    But the completion for grumpy traffic warden’s subscriptions was pretty intense.

There must have been great celebrations in the public houses of West Bridgford at the news that traffic warden Hancock had been sacked.   And I would  not have been at all surprised to hear that the Chief Constable had broken out the champagne.      The story was, as he told to me, that he was watching, “observing” was the word he used, a motor car parked in a disabled parking space, complete with disabled parking badge,  waiting for the driver to return to check if he was really disabled.   Upon observing said driver he noted in his book that said driver did not appear to be disabled.   He approached said driver and it was alleged by said driver that he said something to the said driver along the lines,

“You’re not a cripple sir, you can’t park here”

It turned out the said driver had a genuine disability and was highly offended. He and the local disability action group complained traffic warden Hancock to the Chief Constable who duly, and rather hastily, sacked him for gross misconduct.

 

The Employment Appeals Tribunal met in the Birbeck House building on Burton Street, and traffic warden Hancock’s case ran over three days with a lengthy adjournment after day one.  Traffic Warden Hancock wished me to press upon the tribunal that he was a very diligent and efficient traffic warden, that he had sixteen years of unblemished service behind him with a level of productivity in issuing tickets that was un-matched by any of his colleagues.   He told me he had records of every ticket he had ever issued since his first day of employment as a traffic warden and he produced a great box, in fact two boxes, full of black notebooks recording in his neat uniform handwriting, all such tickets;   time; date; car registration; type of vehicle; place parked, limitation period: excess period.   If any of his tickets had been challenged then there was a note about it in red.    The notebooks had a healthy scattering of red entries recording that nearly all such challenges were not upheld.

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My advice to him was that the notebooks should not be entered into evidence as they might be misunderstood and possibly not be very helpful to his case.   But traffic warden Hancock was quite insistent and so, upon his instructions, I advised the tribunal, at the end of the first day, that traffic warden Hancock had, in his time as a traffic warden issued, well I can’t now remember the full number, it was tens of thousands of tickets, and that he wished to put into evidence on the next day of hearing, his notebooks confirming this figure, as evidence of his diligence, efficiency, high productivity and his unblemished record as a traffic warden.

By the time the case came on for the second day of the hearing, some two weeks later, word of his diligent proficiency and his notebook record and his intention to put them into evidence had spread far and wide.   No news editor worth their salt could resist such a story and when we re- entered Birbeck House there was a sizable scrum of news reporters, photographers and TV film cameramen.     We held a brief and impromptu press briefing on the interior staircase of Birbeck House, the main question was a cacophony of “how many tickets?”     I counselled traffic warden Hancock, who was now glorying in his fame, just to say “quite a lot”, but they pressed him, charmed him, encouraged him –  and he couldn’t resist giving them the full number, possibly, for my memory is not too clear, it was 60,000.     They loved him!  They loved his little black mustache!  And there were lots of photographs taken with traffic warden Hancock looking stern through his little mustache holding a small stack of black notebooks and with the light of grievance in his eyes.

I did in fact persuade him that this was not all good and he should re-visit his decision to put the notebooks into evidence.    He somewhat reluctantly agreed.   Given my previous encounter with him on Trent Bridge then I would have enjoyed as much as any motorist, a public humiliation of an over zealous traffic warden.  But in the end he was a union member and I knew where my duty lay.   So the notebooks never went in.

To my astonishment, and to the astonishment of almost everyone in Nottingham, we won the tribunal.  They found the dismissal unfair and  directed he should be re-engaged.   Only person not astonished was Traffic warden Hancock. He absolutely believed, from the very beginning, that he had been treated unfairly and that justice would be done.

There must have been utter despair in the offices of the Chief Constable, they probably broke out the anti-depressants; and in the public houses of West Bridgford there would have been copious weeping into beer.    But it would be tempered by the interpretation of what re-engaged meant.    There was no way in hell that the Chief Constable was going to re-engage him as a traffic warden.  No way in hell.    After long and difficult negotiations during which the representatives of the Chief Constable were showing clear early symptoms of PTSD, they offered him re-deployment, on protected wages, as a boiler man, up at the new police headquarters in Sherwood Forest, which he reluctantly accepted.   If I had any sympathy, and I did not have much, then it would be for the boilers.

And that was it really.   He disappeared into the bowels of the police headquarters, shoveling coal.    I moved on, left the union and became a barrister here in Dublin.   Many years later, I mean many years later, I returned to Nottingham with a friend, a very senior person in the Irish legal profession, for a five day break, to watch England play Australia in a test match at Trent Bridge.    We didn’t have tickets but due to my nefarious contacts from the old days we managed to be made members of the Nott’s County Cricket Club which entitled us to free admission and the use of the member’s pavilion and its rather fine restaurants and bars.

Armed with our newly minted membership cards we approached the reserved entrance for the members only pavilion.   On the door, wearing a long white coat, checking the membership cards with officious scrutiny, was a tall, well-built, familiar looking man with a little grey mustache. Traffic warden Hancock.  He took my card.

“How long have you been a member sir?”

The correct answer was about half an hour. But he did a double take at the name and looked up

“Mr. McGuiggan!   How nice to see you, how the fuck did you get this”

“Hello John” I said “enjoying your retirement?”

“Oh, its good to see you” he said, giving me back my card, “enjoy the cricket”

We walked into the opulent comforts of the member’s pavilion and my friend asked if I knew that chap.

To my surprise, for it had been a banal enough conversation with Traffic Warden Hancock, I found myself rather moved and feeling quite emotional.

“He used to be the man round here for tickets” I said

“For the cricket?”

“Get me a glass of glass of champagne” I said, “and I’ll tell you all about it”

 

 

 

 

The little sods from the !st Monchen Gladbach Scout Troop

scouts-threeIt must have been the summer of 1961. Certainly before the Beatles. The music that year was all Dean Martin and the Drifters, or itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini.* And I recall being in love with a girl in the 4th form at Queens’s school in Rheindalen, Carol, and constantly singing a song to her called “Oh Carol”.** And there was Elvis of course. Anyway, I was in the boy scouts then. Moved on I had from the cubs, left behind all that Akela and dib dib, dib, dob, dob, dob stuff. Cubs had sixers in charge. I had been a sixer when a cub. Born to command I was. Now, in that summer of ’61, I had graduated to the scouts and I was quickly made a Patrol leader. Sometimes I even wore long trousers.

They would meet once a week, Wednesday evening, in St. Georges School in Monchen Gladbach. It was set within the perimeter of Ayrshire barracks,  a huge British military vehicle depot with acres and acres and acres of military Lorries and armoured vehicles and jeeps, motorcycles and trucks of all sorts and sizes, all kept in a high state of readiness for a possible soviet invasion. The school building was possibly the oldest building left in post war Monchen Gladbachscouts-school. It had a chapel at the very top where we would go for Mass on a Sunday, presided over by an elderly Dutch Priest shipped in from Venlo. He had very little English and conducted the Mass in Latin with a Dutch accent. It was an endurance test those masses. No joy, no reflection. Nothing. The school was on the next two floors below. Headmaster was a Mr. Denton. He would laugh a lot, always telling stories and encouraging the children to do the same, he delighted in their company, believed in them. He was perhaps more important a teacher than all those that followed in the fractured educational experience that came the way of service children. He had a gorgeous daughter, Valerie, with whom all the boys were in love. The scouts and cubs met in the basement which was a vast beautifully vaulted space of columns and arches.

We would be taken there in army Volkswagen cars or vans of which the authorities had an inexhaustible store of, and would go out their way to provide them for service families. They were driven by ex-Wehrmacht German soldiers. They still wore they field grey or was it green uniforms and caps. Without, of course the SS flashes or Iron crosses or indeed any insignia or badges at all. They looked rather scruffy and forlorn. Defeated. The Volkswagens would tour the estates of married quarter’s and pick up the children of the service families, convey them to scouts and take them back home afterwards.
We wore a badge on our left shoulder, or perhaps our breast pocket.scouts-badge The same regional badge as the regular army. A Saxon war- axe, which we were told, was modeled on a real axe found by archaeologists when the British Army was building its headquarters up the road in Rheindalen.

Perhaps supervision was a bit of a problem. We found in the vast vaulted basement a large stock of red paint. It was, I think, for painting fire engines. We painted all the vaulted ceilings, the arches and columns in bright red. Even the floor. And possibly a boy scout or two. We were very proud of our extensive work and achievement and reasonably expected to get a painting & decorating “proficiency” badge to wear with our uniforms. Merit badges the Americans call them. But things didn’t quite work out. I was demoted from Patrol leader, busted to simple rank and file boy scout. A rather bitter blow, from which, to be honest, I have never quite gotten over. Thereafter we met in an old Nissan hut and never again graced St. George’s School.

Each summer, and sometimes at Easter, we would go camping. Oh what fun! We camped once at a seaside resort in Holland. We made quite an impression and If there had been a merit badge for shoplifting we would all surely have got it. And we camped up in Paderborn in the mountains. But the place I remember best of all was the forests and hills above the Royal Air Force base at Bruggen near the Dutch boarder.
The tents were of rough green canvas. Six person tents, or in those days, six man tents. scouts-tentsBut you could get eight boy scouts in a six man tent. They would be sited in neat rows and between the rows there were two or three campfires which were kept burning all day and night and upon which we cooked sausages. Lots of sausages. And beans. Lots of beans. And occasionally a fried egg ala twigs. They were set in a valley, the tents, and up at the top of the valley was a wooden hut, about two kilometers away, which served as a tuck shop. One or two afternoons a week a volunteer from the RAF Bruggen scout troop would open the hut to sell confectionery to visiting scout troops, who came to camp from all over the British Army of the Rhine area.

The hut was in truth,  a very tempting target. And we boys, with more merit badges than common sense, highly trained in field craft and rather partial to confectionery decided to raid the tuck shop hut and liberate some of the sweets therein. It was done with military precision. Lookouts posted at strategic positions to warn of any approaching adults. The warning was to be an owl hooting. Terwit terwoo, terwit terwoo. (bird impersonation/merit badge) We had swag sacks to carry away the loot, in reality the sacks that the tent pegs and mallets were stored. There was a signalling system set up with torches. (Morse code/merit badge) The simple lock on the door was prised open with a wood cutters axe. (woodcutting/merit badge)  And suddenly, we were surrounded by all kinds of boxes of sweets.

The sweets and confectionery were divided on a strict basis of equality. Packets of spangles and refreshers, liquorice pipes, scouts-pipessweet cigarettes, Pontefract cakes, Chewits, scouts-cakesImperial mints, wine gums and pastilles,scouts-spangles-2 all religiously distributed regardless of rank age and I suppose, although it didn’t quite figure in our then underdeveloped minds, sexual orientation, there was no merit badge for sexual orientation, although had there been a badge for the philosophy of equality we would all have surely qualified. I might mention the crisps. Two boxes of packets of crisps held in the hut were found, upon being tested, to be not fit for purpose. The crispiness had gone out of them and the little blue bags of salt were a bit damp. Crisp packet technology was not very advanced in those days. We left the crisps behind.

It was late in the afternoon the next day that the RAF Bruggen volunteer tuck shop man was observed approaching the hut (observer/merit badge). He was seen in an agitated condition and shortly afterwards left, only to return sometime later with a landrover following his vehicle in which there were three RAF military policemen. Snowdrops they were called. Now it wasn’t of course the crime of the century and it didn’t need a Sherlock Homes of the Snowdrops to work out who had committed the offence. A wooden hut in the middle of nowhere. Nobody around for a twenty-mile radius except for the green tents of the 1st Monchen Gladbach scout encampment, some two kilometers down the valley. Towards the late afternoon the three snowdrops and the tuck shop hut man began to walk down the valley towards the tents.
We had an early warning system in place with camouflaged observers watching their advance. (camouflage/merit badge) The wooded valley, rather suddenly, filled with the hoots of owls as a mild panic set in amongst the hardy boy-scouts as they desperately attempted to destroy all possible evidence. One of the campfires suddenly burst into fiery life as various packets of sweets were fed to its flames. Some tried to scoff the evidence. I tried, in fact I succeeded, in scoffing a whole box of Pontefract cakes, an act I was later to regret on the primitive latrines of the forested campsite. I recall another of the patrol leaders with a mouth full of sweet cigarettes. By the time the snowdrops special investigation team reached the tents they found a sizable group of scouts gathered around a suspiciously blazing campfire vigorously singing “Ging gang goolle goolie whatcha” with  a rather over the top exaggerated emphasis on the chorus “Shally wally, shally wally, shally wally, shally wally,Oompah, oompah, oompah.” ***
But it was to no avail, they were not impressed. The snowdrops found abundant evidence of the looting. Scouts had pockets full of chewits and spangles wrappers. There were liquorice pipes hidden under pillows and one of our swag bags stuffed with fruit and nu bars and milky ways, tied with a reef knot and a woggle was discovered hoisted half way up a tree. (knot tying/merit badge)
For some reason the German police were not called in. Perhaps because it was Ministry of Defence Property, or was it War Department in those days? Was there a jurisdictional problem, or did they just want to cover it up and avoid all the embarrassment of misbehaving British boy scouts. There was certainly consequences. Reparations had to be made. We had all been told to bring to the camp at least 15 shillings’ pocket money. We scouts-5-bobhad to hand it all over, any shortfall being made up from scout troop scout-10-shillingfunds. And in fairness, they recovered a fair amount of the loot.
Our parents were informed and several scouts, including myself were expelled from the troop and were never again to be allowed to participate in scouting activities. But there were no prosecutions, no arrests, just the eternal shame of it all.   I regret it. Of course I do. I have never again, in all the years since that summer of ’61, never again, sat by a campfire, beneath the stars, the smell of wood-smoke drifting upwards to the open skies, mixed with the odor of burnt sausages, and the scout master strumming his guitar, sitting in the companionship of the best friends you will ever have and singing late and softly into the night, the immortal words of Lord Baden Powell:   Ging,gang,goolie, goolie, whtcha, ging,gang,goo, ging gang goo. ging gang goolie, goolie, goolie watcha, ging, gang goo…… 

Note:  They don’t write lyrics like that anymore::  http://bit.ly/18TKrlJ

The Pleasures of Facebook – A photograph from WWII

I belong to this group on Facebook, Gibraltar Old photos 2 it’s called. It a nostalgia group whose members, mostly from Gibraltar,  post old photographs of life on and around and about the Rock. I lived there once and have many happy and treasured memories upon which I once contributed a piece to the site, some years ago, about being a boy in 1950’s Gibraltar. You can read it here. I still contribute to the site now and then, and to that purpose I was searching google for a film poster of a movie, made in Gibraltar in the early ‘60’s, staring Terry Thomas and called “Operation Snatch”. You need to be a bit careful what you type into google at times!

evacuation-happy-to-be-home
In my search I stumbled across this lovely old photograph the caption of which read “Gibraltar families returning to Gibraltar in 1945 after five years of evacuation during WWII”

I thought it quite an exciting find and duly posted it on the site. I was a little skeptical but the image came from an article by Neville Chipulina, a rather noted Gibraltar historian.

One of the endearing features of the Gibraltar old photos 2 site is that if you post any image of any person in any circumstances at any time over the past one hundred years or so then someone on the sit will know who they are, who their uncles and aunties are and the names of their children and what schools they went to and perhaps even the name of their godmother. It’s a small community on Gib!   So I was anticipating that the families in the photograph would quickly be identified.
Up popped Maurice Valentino who questioned the whole thing saying they don’t look like Gibraltarians at all!  Far too fair in completion. Someone else, Maruchi Golt, suggested they were obviously English families. And no one, no one at all, could identify anyone in the photograph, anyone at all.
Then come Earnest Falquero, one of the stalwarts of the site who referred us all to a post by one Alex Parnay who in turn, confirmed doubts that they were families from Gibraltar and confirmed too that the caption accompanying the photograph was completely wrong. And he disclosed to us the quite astonishing story behind the photograph. They were English families, survivors from a passenger ship torpedoed by German U-Boats!
laconiaresized1RMS Laconica was originally commissioned as an ocean-going luxury passenger ship for the Cunard line. With the outbreak of WWII she was requisitioned by the Admiralty and fitted with eight six inch guns and two three inch guns. She was put to duties as an armed merchant escort ship. Later still she became a troopship and was well known as such in both commercial and military shipping circles. She was deployed ferrying troops to the middle east and carrying prisoners of war back to Blighty. It is quite important to note that. Her military role, unlike that of the Lusitania, made her a completely legitimate target for the U-boats now awaiting her in the Atlantic ocean.
She left the port of Suez loaded with Italian prisoners of war, their Polish guards and many British service families. She steamed down the East coast of Africa, stopping at Durban where more British service families were taken on board, these being families who had escaped from Singapore as the Japanese defeated, overwhelmed and expelled the British from all their colonial possessions in the Far East. She then steamed out into the Atlantic and hundreds of miles to the west she turned North towards the equator and set course for England. She was doing 20 knots and taking a zig zag path to minimise the risk from German submarines.
She was now carrying 463 officers and crew, 80 civilians, 286 British soldiers, 1,793 Italian prisoners and 103 Polish soldiers acting as guards of the prisoners.

It was her smoke that first attracted the attention of U-boat 156.

It was to be a surface attack. In the darkness of the tropical night, at about 10 pm Captain Hartenstein, commander of the U-boat made his calculations as to distance and the time it would take for a torpedo to reach the ship which was now steaming fast and zig zagging at random. He unleashed a torpedo sometime after 10 pm and it struck the Laconia at 10.22. He immediately dived to avoid any possible counter attack. He would have watched from his periscope the explosion as the torpedo found its target below the ship’s waterline. There was no counter attack and he surfaced again and unleashed a second torpedo, this time hitting the forward starboard of the badly listing ship.. It was a successful attack on a known legitimate target and the Captain and his crew celebrated and watched the ship burn and sink. Then they heard the screams of the survivors and became alarmed for they were the screams of women and children.
He dived again and it is clear that for several hours there was a continuous and urgent exchange of signal traffic with Germany, probably on the enigma machines that each U-boat carried. Berlin advised that the Laconia was carrying Italian prisoners of war and ordered that they should attempt to rescue their allies. Hartenstein went well beyond his Berlin Orders. Or the laws of war at sea.

When he again surfaced, his crew began to rescue the civilians as well as the Italians. He took over a hundred survivors into the already crowded submarine, and another hundred or so on the top of the submarine. He collected together some four lifeboats and began to tow them in his wake, passing food and water to the survivors therein. He told Berlin what he was doing and his actions were not only approved by Admiral Donitz, he went further and ordered other submarines to assist Hartenstein in the rescue. And Vichy French forces in North Africa dispatched surface ships to meet the submarines at sea and transfer the survivors.

Red Cross flags were draped on the submarine decks and open signal traffic exchanged with the other boats making clear this was a rescue operation. Open Signals were sent to the British to the same effect, but were ignored, quite deliberately ignored by British forces available in the area and from British bases on the West coast of Africa. Hartenstein rendezvoused with another German Submarine and an Italian submarine and some of his survivors were transferred.laconia-2
He then continued to slowly steam towards another rendezvous with the Vichy French surface ships, his crew’s quarters packed with the civilian survivors, his deck full of even more and still towing four life-boats.

Then came the Americans. They had a secret airbase established on Ascension Ireland and a B-24 bomber was sent out to search for the now missing and lost RMS Laconica. They saw Hartenstein’s submarine, with its red cross flag and its life-boats in tow. And they attacked. Five passes, five bombs.bombing-of-the-laconia They killed over a 100 of the survivors in the lifeboats and Hartenstein was forced to clear the submarine of all remaining survivors and put them in the remaining lifeboats. He cut the tow lines and dived for safety. He kept on board some of the rescued military officers as prisoners of war.
The survivors were now, again, adrift in the Atlantic. But the Vichy French ships were coming and were searching for them and they were rescued again. This time they were taken to Casablanca and interned by the Vichy French who intended to hand them over to the Germans and have them transferred to Germany.
And now history threw its dice again. The survivors had been in internment by the Vichy French for some two months when, in November 1942 the Allies launched Operation Torch. The operation was commanded by General Eisenhower who set up his headquarters in Fortress Gibraltar. Sixty-five thousand Allied troops invaded French north Africa. They were to crush the Vichy French and to expel German influence from the Mediterranean area and advance toward Tunisia.
And the survivors were liberated!
The sources say they were taken by ship to America, for the Americans had provided the main invasion force of North Africa and some of her ships, now empty, had brought the invading troops directly from the American East Coast.
But this group, which Maruchi Golt on the Gibraltar Old Photos 2 site, described as looking “so happy” clearly came to Gibraltar from Casablanca.
They are pictured outside St. Bernard’s Hospital and it is reasonable to assume they had been for a check-up before being transported onwards to England. And of course, as Maruchi Glolt notes, they look so happy! They had survived the Japanese, survived being torpedoed, survived the sea, survived the Americans, survived the sea again and then, capture and internment. They had been rescued twice, once by the very U-boat that had sank their ship. And now they were safe. And on British soil! On Gibraltar. On the Rock. And sure, we can share in their joy and their happiness. Especially can Gibraltarians.
Of course, Facebook did not discover this story. There is nothing original here. The rescue is one of the most famous stories of World War II. There are several books on the incident and documentaries too. And the BBC ran a two-part television film dramatizing the story, written by the legendary Alan Bleasdale. So no one is claiming any Facebook credit for this story. No. What Facebook does, can do, is to bring such stories alive again; to refresh them, recall them, tell them to a new generation. Spark new interest, spread the word. It is one of the great pleasures of Facebook.

Some of those in the photograph are probably still alive. The infant in arms will be in his or her 80’s now. And perhaps some of the younger children still breath. It is certain that the children and the child survivors will be alive. They may even be on Facebook…….

Note: 1113 survivors were rescued. 1619 perished in the torpedo attack, most of them Italian prisoners of war, still locked in the hold as the ship was struck.

Note:  Capt Hartenstein’s submarine U-156,  some six months later was attacked by American aircraft and sank.  there were no survivors.

Pinterest could be for you…

PINTEREST COULD BE FOR YOU…

It’s about images. But it’s much more than just images. For example, if you “pin” and image to the site it is displayed on a sort of board with several option buttons. Like this:. typical-pinX You have probably “saved” the image to the board from some website or other you have visited and found interesting. Once saved, you fill in the caption space on the board. The option buttons include a “visit” button, and perhaps a “read” button. If one of your followers, or someone browsing Pinterest boards clicks on the “read” or “visit#” button they will be taken to the original article or website from which you saved the image. Here’s  a link to another  example of what a typical saved image looks like. http://bit.ly/2eGFi79   Try pressing the visit button and it should take you to a full article on the subject of the pin.. So you can see that this has great potential for saving and displaying not just images, but whole stories, articles, websites and background information related to your saved image. And it is soooo neat!

And it’s the principal reason that Pinterest has seen such saw incredible growth since its launch in 2013, now surpassing email as a sharing medium, and beginning to outpace Facebook.
Once you set up an account, which is free (and without any hidden or subsequent charges whatsoever) then you are prompted to create a pin board of images. First thing to do is browse or cruise existing boards, there are simply millions of them. Every conceivable subject under the sun will have a board dedicated to its author’s favorite subject. You like cats? Books? Philosophy? Survival techniques? Fly fishing? Knitting? Recipes? Stories and images from the holocaust? World War 1 and 2 ? photography?

I defy you to think of a subject not covered by someone’s pin board be it designing a bathroom, decorating a shed, understanding cameras or being in love with Van Gogh. It is endless,
My own interests centre on, but are not confined to, photography. Two sites I “follow” and steal images from are on “Combat Photographers” http://bit.ly/2eTdfSA and “Military Photographers” http://bit.ly/2e8n9hT     The difference between the two seems to be that the Military board deals only with photographers in uniform, those who serve with cameras whereas the Combat board includes embedded civilian photographers and those who work for newspapers and magazines and freelance their way with soldiers in action.
I recently opened a new “board” to display the odd bits of writing from my blog. In fact, I have always been a bit disappointed the way blog sites display your work, the contents pages are difficult and far too boring to navigate. On Pinterest, each piece of my writing gets a separate “pin” and the “visit” or “read” button takes you to the blog article itself. It’s a much more interesting way to display the contents of your blog and you also get a lot more hits! See for yourself: http://bit.ly/2fhaWdu
Another option button that appears with each image, usually at the top of the pinned image, is the heart symbol which you press if you like the image or pin. This will automatically save the image to an automatically created “likes” board on your own pin board, so you can enjoy it at your leisure.

It should come with a strong caveat and warning. For Pinterest, as well as having such an abundance of diverse topics to explore also has a fair share of porn pins. They are separate from the subjects you might enjoy and explore with your family, but they are there.

They cater for any type of fetish and taste in porn you could possibly think of, and for every degree of sexual orientation. There are pages of pretty girls, fashion pages, lingerie pages, racy pages, raunchy pages and hard core porn images and giffs. If you happen to click “like” then the whole world, or at least everyone who follows you, will instantly know that you prefer Wagnerian breasted Bavarian bar maids with steins of frothy Bavarian beer and dressed in jackboots, leather knickers and perhaps a Sam Browne belt. I hasten to add that I don’t know if such an image is on Pinterest and this is merely an illustrative warning and has no connection with my own interests or preferences. Although I would admit to being partial to Bavarian beer and I am rather fond of Wagner. So be careful what you “like”
Another feature of your pin board is the ability to create “secret” pins saved to a secret board. When created, no one else can see the board’s contents except you. Its use is obvious. If, for example, you are a very macho aggressive heterosexual with boards full of survival kit and equipment, perhaps boards of guns and knives and boards of  unarmed combat techniques, but you don’t want people to know that you secretly collect knitting patterns, then the secret option is for you. I have a secret board myself. I use it to keep my pictures of Bavarian beer.
You can follow other people’s boards that you might find interesting. And of course, they can follow your boards. I follow the boards of several photographers who use Pinterest to display their work, wedding photographers, aerial photographers, portrait photographers. And I recently “saved” a pin from a survival site, on how to make a smoke bomb from a ping pong ball, some silver foil and a biro. Don’t ask me why. It may be that sometime in the future I just might need to make a smoke bomb, who knows? It seemed a good idea at the time. And I can always delete it later
I prefer to view Pinterest on a tablet. I have a Surface tablet and find that I can enlarge the images on the tablet with my finger and thumb but cannot enlarge the images on my phone laptop or PC. That, so far, is my only disappointment with the site.
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The Alzheimer’s Carer

This is Stephen Gerard Scullion.  He is  a friend of mine.  A Facebook friend.   I have never met him, never had a coffee with him, never spoken to him.  All I know of him has been gathered from the posts he makes on his timeline.  He posted this image, only a few days ago,  on that very timeline.

Alzheimers  2

The Alzheimer’s Carer

Just look at  him in this daft silly image.   On the surface it is just that, daft and silly and those who know him made comments and observations about “Dads Army”, “It ain’t half hot Mum” and Benny Hill.

But I think it is a most beautiful and poignant image and I shall tell you why.

He is ex Royal Navy and retains a firm affection for the service.  He has an ex-serviceman’s sense of humour and indeed I started to follow him because someone shared with me one of his very funny posts.   They can be fairly politically incorrect at times and are all the more glorious for being so.   He also, occasionally posts images of beautiful women in bikini’s,  for no other reason than that they are beautiful, and that the women know they are beautiful and wish to share their beauty.  I rather like those occasional postings.

He lives in Felling which is in Gateshead, Newcastle, County Durham and he has a fine sense of the importance of local history and is for ever banging on about the history of the old Felling mining community to which his parents and grandparents belonged.   It gives to him, I think, his political values.  Another feature which becomes obvious if you make him a Facebook friend is his absolute abhorrence of any form of cruelty to animals and he has a fairly typical Facebook addiction of posting cute pictures of animals and funny pictures of animals but also, quite often, pictures of animals in distress as a result of cruelty and abuse.

But this image has little or nothing to do with such matters.   He belongs, and only mentioned it almost by accident, to a group of volunteers in Felling who visit care homes for those suffering from Alzheimer’s.  They dress up and perform and do silly things for the Alzheimer residents.   This is him, in his daft army uniform, ready to perform for the residents of the Marigold Court care home, you know, the one,  up by the ASDA store, near the Felling byepass.

Why?   The residents, who live in a condition of scattered confusion, are lonely, isolated, alienated and desperate, they won’t know who the volunteers  are, probably won’t know what they are doing and almost certainly will be unsure what is going on.    The best they can hope for, these volunteers, is perhaps a flicker of a smile, a spark of something remembered, a raised hand, a pointed finger, maybe nothing..   Perhaps some of the residents were soldiers once, or were married to soldiers or had sons and daughters who were soldiers, or just remember “Dads Army” on the tele.

It is hard work. Beautiful work, completely unselfish work, and without reward, or recognition.

And it makes this image a poignant and beautiful portrait.  It reminds us all, for all out  failures, doubts, insecurity’s and problems, with debt or relationships or  work, how good it is possible to be.  Of course it’s not technically, a great photograph. Probably taken on a phone and if that fierce man on Master Photographers, him with the blue glasses saw it, he would certainly be angry at the photographer.  But  it touches my heart.

In Westminster, some very rich very selfish person, who might have given money to the Tory party, will be honoured by the Queen.  Perhaps even ennobled so that they can have a say on the legislation which will govern the resources provided for the Alzheimer’s patients in Felling, County Durham.

I know who I would prefer to honour.

Stephen’s Facebookpage does not carry his own photograph.  Instead there is a photograph of his mother.   She suffers now form Alzheimer’s.