Sunday, 13 November 2016

Remembrance Sunday 2016

Today I watched the Cenotaph service (who would want my germs?). As the years pass, I feel more and not less compelled by it all. Thanks to daughter I am watching Netflix's The Crown. Claire Foy and Matt Smith carry their character's off so convincingly. To see on the real screen today so many stories. I am glad Corbyn seems to have GOT IT. Dressed in a black suit and with his lips moving to the National Anthem. Service is about putting self aside, the essence of Christ's preaching and of remembrance. What a world gathering. Being British is not about being "white", that is not what the British Empire and its Commonwealth taught. And to those who would disagree whether of the left or the right, the Cenotaph service denies you. Men and women of all creeds and colours from around the world united in Whitehall. A person watcher's dream. The Queen as inscrutable and professional as ever. Some of the other Royals revealing a mite more? Did Charles look baffled? Did the Duke see the past generations of naval men he had known including Mountbatten? Sadiq Khan and Boris Johnson a couple of bodies apart. Prime Minister's past and present, party leaders, but no Nigel Farage to represent God knows how many million, because he is meeting Trump. Now is'nt that weird? That the interim leader of most of our MEPs and with the allegiance of many millions of our nation was not there. And this moves my thinking. What an extra-ordinary year! The Tories lose London, the Brits vote for Brexit and Trump is US President Elect. Would you have bet on all three a year ago? This is a time of momentous change and none of us can really feel safe about where it is going. But for my money one of the most pressing questions posed by today is what is the meaning of Farage meeting Trump and omitting the Cenotaph? In what sense are you a serious person to do this? Is that about stealing nations? Or is it just the accidental froth of the pace of the moment? (It would seem that this year, as last, Farage was not invited. Own goal I think.)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


If you follow my facebook roundabout this upload in time, you will see Fiona and I spent a short break in the Netherlands (number 8 visit for me) in late October 2016. I revisited places like Arnhem and Zutphen I had only been to once before in July 1971. On another level we have through 2016 been referring to Devolution in the UK and how the North East having been on the verge of a seven authority deal spat the dummy out. Currently in October the news is that Newcastle probably with the support of North Tyneside and Northumberland will go it alone. They will have a brand the Great North City (playing on the Great North Run and the Great North Exhibition (to come for 2018)). Now I must tweak this. The North East is not going to be able to do better than Manchester or even Yorkshire. We should go for what is uniquely us and is a good a brand as any. The epithet should be The Great Northumbrian City. Northumbria has various interpretations as a good place but the Tourist Board for years stretched from the Cleveland Hills to the Tees and across to the Pennine Watershed. I am good with that. However that means not only the dissenting factions around the Wear but the Tees Valley needs to be the whole entity. And it does, to compete the whole natural geographical region of Tees, Wear and Tyne, we need to unite.

This does all tie back to the Dutch visit. The Randstad. There was a time not many generations ago when the Northumbria I speak of would have outshone the Randstad. There are many comparisons. The actual area involved is not much different, both are maritime facing regions, both contain numerous competing cities. However broadly since the 1950s, one has been in continual decline, the other has gone onto steroids. I might suggest each extreme is unpleasant. I can see why for many Dutch the ferry from Ijmuiden is to the promised land, we experienced the opposite a week ago. Our open Pennine landscapes fringing the cities, our rocky environment is magical to the outsider. As I did on Saturday to come into the Tyne, take the coach connection into the heart of Newcastle and then the train to Prudhoe is an inspirational ride and the Dutch can understand that.

A lot of the Netherlands is not in The Randstad. Our short break went well beyond it, only Monday and Friday crossed the Randstad and when we did we saw very impressive modern building, yes, but also a  nightmare vision of what development on steroids means. The mass motorways, the railway and metro building, you have to see it to believe it. It is awe inspiring.

I may not want the Randstad for Northumbria and I doubt Northumbrians would but where is there scope to pitch in the middle? I am convinced as plans currently afoot for a Great North Institute in Newcastle suggest, that part of the solution is to understand how the North East exercised genius in the past. A genius which with both the steam and the electric locomotive we exported to the Netherlands. But there is something we can and must learn from the Dutch and which currently the North East with its warring factions is hopeless about. It is understanding that design, detail and integration all matter.

The header photo from Zutphen was of a delicious example of public art on a quayside of a tributary of the Rhine. A simple hydraulic structure to be played with which captures the essence of Dutch genius, hydraulic engineering. Set in an appropriate context, the old quays of a Hanseatic town with a busy railway and barge carrying river behind. The Dutch still try to use all modes of transport appropriately. Who would imagine now that goods should be shipped from Blaydon? Even shipped from Blaydon to Tees-side. We have got right out the habit, even though it is good to say the new North Yorkshire Moors Potash mega mine will ship from the Tees. But we were as good at the transport habit as the Dutch remain, we have to recover it.

Time and again in my blog and on my Facebook, for years now, I have berated the lack of progress with North East public transport. So utterly different to the Randstad. I accept that the devolution plan has itemised many of the items I speak up for but until the devolution is delivered nothing happens. What has been done lately? The A1 Western Bypass upgrade. What a lash up! Destroy the hard shoulders, lanes that vary in width. Ignore every piece of common sense in fast road design when there was a hill through which a tunnel could be driven and through traffic sent through. Lobley Hill. Not difficult. Name the road tunnels of the North East? Three I think: Cradlewell and Tyne 1+2. The Dutch in their flat landscape build tunnels without blinking (TBH they spend vast amounts of money doing it and create much employment).

But leave the infrastructure. For years we have talked about an Oyster card for the North East. The Dutch have had one for years, the OV Chipkaart. We used it for all our travel. And at the smallest detail, in Arnhem, the litter bins wear welly boots. And a city of 70,000 people boasts a two year old library which leaves Newcastle standing. Newcastle's new library is nice, but go to Arnhem's and you will be awestruck. Now much of this difference is because between the Dutch and the Brits for 30 years there has been a pretty large gulph over public society. Our local authorities have been hammered. There have been business successes, Nissan and Port of Tyne prove this.

However unless public authorities can be trusted and given resource, unless the bus companies can be told when and where buses will run, how they will connect with trains (for which Prudhoe is the most laughable example (and so is a new councillor endorsed walking leaflet from Stocksfield station which makes no mention of the train service)), until we can get the North East connected up and given clout to argue its case, the divide and rule which the sceptic will assume is government policy or at least Mandarin think, will remain.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Article 50

At what point is the tipping point reached and the UK government has to admit the referendum was just the silliest thing ever and that no-one will sign article 50 on the back of it? I say that having listened to a spread of news this morning. Matters did not go well for May at the Eu summit. They simply did not go, she got 5 minutes at 1am and not a leader responded. Sky News says 49% of Brits think May does not know how to leave the EU, 34% think she does have a plan. The Poles our usual allies are essentially warning us not to make fools of ourselves. French leaders like Juppe are warning us we can have all the migrants who wish to cross the Channel. It is our treasury saying as starkly as they have said all along, leave the EU and our ports and economy will be chaos. I just heard Anna Soubry Tory saying sausages to the immigration issue, we just have to stay in the single market. What happened this summer will not go away, it was a dreadful Tory created farce and I remain so glad I refused to dignify it. And I am getting more bullish that so far from having to accept the day when we leave the EU (about which bits of me will rejoice), I am more likely to see the day that Britain has to totally back off the whole withdrawal business. You may detect in me a contradiction, at heart I am a leaver but the pragmatist in me which realises prosperity is key has consistently said the process was a farce. Here we are four months from the vote and can you tell me there is a sensible route to leaving the EU, remaining in the market, controlling immigration and saving LOTS of money to spend in the UK? That is what Leave promised, tell me now how it is going to happen? And if you really don't have a clue, be man enough to tell your MP like Guy Opperman, we've made a big mistake.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Max Adams

A speedy U turn . I think what party conference season has revealed is that NONE of the UKIP, Labour or Tory conferences know what to do with the situation Brexit has caused. Cameron claimed it would solve the matter once and for all. At every level he has been proved so wrong. #HIGNFY chair on Friday Nick Clegg was the one man who could have saved his bacon and the electorate utterly humiilated him in 2015. He seemed in good form though. Yesterday Max Adams in Carlisle set the context as being a perpetual yin/yang relationship brought about by our rocky marginal status. He did contend that within our islands, regional identity is more meaningful than national. Being Welsh, British, Irish, English or Scottish means less than being Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, a Norfolkman, a Gallowvidian, an Ulsterman. I get that and I can claim at least the last three. But how do we go forward? It is not "all our fault". Europe has not helped itself or us. In the context Adams spoke off, the loss of control over borders has been a perpectual theme. The Anglo Saxons were appalled at how their relatively civilised order could be snuffed out by the Normans. I do warn against the spoken violence now widespread in British politics and hope it will not turn into physical violence. In a different age the murderer of Jo Cox would have received far swifter and decisive justice to have warned all that violence is abhorrent. But each of these points, Romans, Vikings, Normans, the Reformation, Napoleon, Nazis, the EU has had a different shading. Our moment comes when the power of social media, a new type of mob, is in the ascendent and whose effect we are experimenting with.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Faith Schools

A Tory government with a slim majority is not going to allow that to get in the way of an active and controversial education agenda. Grammar schools are not the only issue, so is allowing faith schools to recruit 100% by faith! It seems we in the UK will not learn good sense. I am not a fan of faith schools, however I can live with them in a way I cannot live with fee paying private schools. But I cannot live with faith schools who create a corral. The only purpose of religion today is that of expansive goodness, of offering hope and understanding. Even as far as teaching people how to be decent with no certainty of an afterlife. I am sure Jesus would teach that if on earth today. I am sure Jesus would applaud meritocracy and not the choice money can allow. It would not surprise me if Jesus could understand streaming in schools so long as merit was the only criterion. I doubt Jesus would endorse any faith school founded on exclusion. I doubt Jesus would look kindly on any religion that continues to practice child abuse (think of all the examples of this of old and new - Castrati, Circumcision, priestly abuse, it is not one religion in the firing line, it is many ( I think that perhaps the Sikhs and the Buddhists may be safe?)). So religions including the Christian Church have a terrible history to be ashamed of and then they want to campaign to create exclusive faith schools. This is madness, the folly of it is writ all over Ireland, it is a road that creates ghettos. It is a folly that enslaves children in the name of God, creating either conformity or the immense pain of defiance. Sensible progressive people of any faith or none would not want to structuralise this in future British society and I find my willingness to be positive about our new prime minister very strained. Brexit is a very important matter one might think absorbing of all the efforts for the foreseeable?

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

MOAS off the Libyan Coast

We start with a link to a hard hitting Sky story. It is not unfamiliar. Thousands of migrants headed for almost certain death off the coast of Libya unless the West intervenes and rescues them, which it does. The policy of a few years ago, which was minimum intervention, let people drown to discourage others being unacceptable to the public. Was it an effective deterent? I don't know. I want to blog because I can see a solution to this very difficult topic.

The Sky story was clear, almost all those rescued would not be recognised as refugees, they would be classed as economic migrants, most from West Africa. As such once taken to Italy and in a process of about a year (spent in open camps) they should be returned home. What a pointless exercise. Although it is rather worse than this. Many will walk out to "freedom". As such they will become illegals and have to exist on the margins of European society. Even worse a number will thereby be drawn into criminality and perhaps be trafficked and at an extreme level effectively become sex slaves. This is documented.

Back at home, the countries they leave will be impoverished by the loss of the dynamic talent that was able to get itself across the Sahara. The same counties will be impoverised too by the money which pays for this trade and goes to essentially criminal gangs who at heart have no interest whatsover in helping the people who pay them. It is in so many ways a terrible example of multi layered human exploitation right from the initial idea that these people think it worthwhile to try to make the journey which for probably the clear majority will end in tragedy, or utter frustation and definitely the loss of money.

So how can this flow be managed? It must certainly not be allowed to succeed. People cannot be allowed to expect to live whereever they want. Proper political refugees are a different matter. Economic migrants are utterly mistaken to assume that apart from the criminal fraternity that coming to Europe will bring recompense and a golden life.

What would be a humanitarian way to deal with this? Yes, we must rescue those in the Mediterranean. And we must discover those who put them there and punish them most firmly. But the error that is being made is to bring these people to open camps in Italy. The destination of those rescued needs to be floating camps using hired in liners docked in locations where escape into Europe is impossible. The mistake is made the moment economic migrants are allowed to set foot in Europe without arriving through proper process. From these floating camps with no prospect of escape, these migrants can then be returned whence they came in a humane fashion. The fruitlessness of this excursion once it becomes clear will become the most effective deterent at stopping people from risking all in this nightmare way.

Public Information

A number of you must be able to visualise Whitby Visitor Centre. A generous sized single storey modern building opposite Whitby Railway Station. Clearly civic pride created it 15 years ago. It is now about to close and wears for sale signs. Hexham's own tourist information closed 1st May this year. A modern building also located like Whitby at a perfect entry point for visitors. Hexham was relocated to the Library and already as I found out today has been downsized from its original incarnation there. At Whitby the plan was to do without, but after much aggro, a smaller facility will run in the harbour office. What do you think? Is public information provision an unnecessary luxury in a modern age? I know our holiday in Whitby was coloured by what leaflets were available. Internet access where we stayed and in the Moors in general is patchy. It was obvious far less leaflets are in print than in the past whether bus timetables or Forestry walks. A case in point was with Falling Foss waterfall, the Hermitage and Littlebeck where we just had to make it up as we went along. In the end two exhausted Dutch Ladies suggested to us the pull up from Littlebeck to the Hermitage was a bit wearing. I am clear what I believe, Libraries, Careers Services, Public Transport offices, Tourist Information Services, all deal in one commodity. The professional provision of information, hard and digital. Nothing can substitute for them because very few people are REALLY REALLY digitally literate, know how to do an information search or write a literature review. I think tourism in areas without physical tourist information centres will suffer. I think every secondary school in Britain should be legally obliged to employ a qualified librarian (who could also serve feeder schools). A National Careers Service should be available to all educational establishments. Pie in the sky, but don't be surprised if without attainment suffers. R4 this morning was on about the failings of modern apprenticeships and in part one could see that those organisations that were not investing in information were letting their students down. There is another aside to this. Heritage Open Weekends are imminent. I asked in Hexham Library for the Northumberland programme, there was none. There was a Hexham leaflet but that only had part of the Allendale programme. The full Allendale programme was pinned onto the railings opposite the front door of the Library.. And did any of you go to the Tall Ships at Blyth? What was your experience like?.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

September 2016

Now Teresa May (in China) is really having to engage with Brexit. Who would like to challenge me if I said Britain has not faced a situation like this since the Reformation? On that occasion, one man King Henry VIII "caused" the situation. Today the populace through the referendum have "caused" it. Otherwise the situation is very similar. The core issue was about who rules (Europe, then Rome) or the nation state. King Henry VIII ( to suit his love life) decided for England. But what it meant, no-one really knew, and in the end England invented its own classic fudge, the sweet reasonableness of Anglicanism in considerable contrast to the other European solutions of Luther and Calvin. This took decades to work out (and a considerable amount of blood). I don't see any early judgement on what Brexit means. Our prime minister clearly does not intend Brexit to mean what many Brexiteers (including some in her cabinet) want it to mean. To be honest, I simply don't know (and doubt many of us do) how to control immigration. It would seem May who has had charge of the issue for several years has no clear idea herself. We are into make your own fudge territory for a long while ahead. What would I have done in the 1530-1660 period? I would have sought to have stayed alive, compromised my principles, encouraged everyone to stop killing one another in the name of God and generally calm down, and welcomed the Restoration with great joy. This application of 21st century reason would probably have got me killed anyway (claiming to deny that you could kill in the name of God, it certainly did not do many Levellers much good). So these are difficult times and in short order that "dammed referendum" will have achieved nothing. Whether in 10-20 years time we will feel more sanguine, and applaud our brave stance against the supra-national state, I have no idea but hope and pray I may last to see whether the vote was wise. For sure this autumn the issue will not leave a screen near you and I do prophesy it still has the power to blast the Tory party apart.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Weekend of Sport

Great Britain has just had an excellent weekend - of sport. I listened to the last story before 8am on R4 Today. It was not thought for the day, it might as well have been. It was Sir David Brailsford in Andorra for Team Sky. It was as if he had Britain's political parties in mind. Team members do not have to be buddies but they do have to be ALIGNED to the objective and critically they need a shared united vision of what the team aims for. Team GB does not have (and has not had for decades, not since Mrs Thatcher came to power) a united all islands, all the people, those who work and don't vision. I noticed how May is positioning herself for all WORKING people. It has been the Tory One Nation mantra for a while but it still omits huge numbers of people. It justifies forcing disabled people into work. Meanwhile the Labour party is in an existential fight over whether Socialism should triumph. JC says never in his lifetime has Labour had a socialist leader. That should tell you all you need to know about his relevance to most of us. To cap it all UKIP iis having a leadership race as well. To anyone from "Westminster" who reads this. You are all cracked! Every one of you who thinks now is the moment for a leadership race just having voted to just leave the EU, you have missed the point entirely. The whole nation rich and poor needs leadership dedicated to EVERYONE in these islands. Corbyn is not, I doubt Leadsom would be. May may be. Anyone in UKIP dedicated to everyone in these islands? It comes to a rich pass if one even thinks Sturgeon could make a better job of it (FACT she does not in Govanhill). I hated compulsory sport but I am suggesting every MP needs to take it up.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Painted People

The early news from the UK Saturday 9th July 2016 was dominated by two threads. Conservative Premier hopefuls Leadsom and May in a tussle led by the former about whether motherhood gave her an added edge over May A most ill advised tack to take in my judgement. I set this beside listening to Simon and Garfunkel The boxer and moved to the next story, thousands of naked blue painted people parading through Hull to create art . I do not warm to Leadsom (the cruel part of me thinks Lead Baloon (no more cruel than denigrating the childless May)) but I did warm to the strippers in Hull. Hull might seem a tad unlikely, with the backdrops of the muddy River Hull (think Struncheon Hill Lock), elderly commercial shipping and caverns of brick warehouses. One part of the pose involved swinging a bridge full of nudes.
We have always been an eccentric nation - us Brits - never particularly wanting to bear the burden of conformity and a European super state. The blue was meant to symbolise the river and seas that surround our islands and in their own way join us to the continent. The blue also reminded me though of two more disparate groups, the Tories whose bizarre politicing over Europe has boiled over these last weeks and shows no signs of bating. And the other group was much older, the painted people, the Celts of these islands whom the Romans reported on.
It is not difficult to see the Euro referendum as a judgement on our willingness to conform, I do not want to be part of a European super state, nor have I ever sought to be part of the European Church. Globalisation and corporatism give me the heeby jeebies. The thousands of painted nudes expressed both rebellion and a different deeper conformity. The conformity of shared humanity stripped of the suits, a return to the waters of the womb, a humble conformity. And certainly not one where the body beautiful, a particular shape, was to be praised. All bodies were present, all ages, all genders. 

This was not some weird celebration of motherhood in pursuit of political ambition. This was a humble statement in the context of one of Britain’s cities where the past and its decline still remain very present. So many ships and crews have left the Hull and the Humber. So many memories of the deep sea trawlers heading north west. The packet ships of Associated Humber Lines like the Kirkham Abbey heading to the Low Countries . The barges sailing and motor heading into the Yorkshire hinterland and up the Trent. The amorphous water world of the Humber expressed in its citizens on a dull July morning far from Westminster.
None of us know what the future holds. By a narrow majority we have said that the bureaucracy of the European Union is not “us”. But I doubt “us” is really blue suited Tory ladies “experienced” in London’s money markets point scoring about motherhood. Somehow I have more faith that “us” is about blue painted nudity and I should be pleased to join in such an installation one day and not care too much over Westminster shennagins.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Two mornings after

So a government, elected by I think 24% of us, offered a straight in/out one vote counts referendum on the BIGGEST subject imaginable. Yes, there has been an answer which has to be respected so the next question is how is one of the most fearsome peacetime tasks you could generate achieved? The Tories will naturally argue for stability so that power can move from one Etonian to another one (who has been scheming to this end for God knows how long). Our friends and allies just look on jaws dropped. It is not insignificant that young versus old seem pitted against one another (the age demarcation chart the BBC had). 

There have been some very sad moments in recent weeks. For me one was seeing the 80 year old ex soldier in tears because he had got his country back. The anti German feeling has been a constant undercurrent. But he is wrong. He has not got his country back, it has been sold under his feet, a point made endlessly on this timeline for weeks. I try to imagine what my own ex soldier father would say. Essentially Tory but also a European he would not wish anti German or anti immigrant sentiments to rule anything. He was a realist, a lawyer. GET THE DEAL. Cameron's deal was terrible. For the life of me I fail to understand why a common market NEEDED tax harmonisation and free movement of labour. National government's controlling borders and using fiscal instruments to compete against one another seems to me a market - not making everyone subject to the same exact rules.

I always wanted to be a member of the Common Market and not the European Union. If that could become the case (and I was asked again, although I do not relish that), I would likely vote not to piss on everyone else from all other the world who has become involved in our affairs. However the end question is do the Tories in any sensible sense have the mandate to do this? Everything they said you could rely on up to and including the Union of this Kingdom, they have smashed in the most inane way through simply not hearing ordinary voters. I know another election adds more discomfort to the mix but I would be really surprised if that does not happen before Christmas.

A comment on some numbers. Was my not voting (one of the 1 in 50) rather insouciant? I was not impressed by Cameron's deal, I did not want to vote FOR the EU. I detested the whole process and campaign in which a Tory party bunflght was inflicted on everyone else (and then I got a Kidney stone so I am typing this and not heading for a railtour from Hexham). However there were surprises, for the second time (why did not Cameron learn?) there was no "Labour vote" to rely on. Their parliamentary party is disconnected to the root. And then in places like Blackburn, Lancaster and Preston the leave figures were really big. It makes me wonder whether in some key places not only was Labour not voting remain but were the ethnic communities staying well away? Were sizeable numbers of people (Muslim women) whose votes might have mattered and whose interests would be served in rather than vote, not even on registers?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Labour and Leave

What would you prefer? Liberal gun control laws or liberal sexuality laws. I know exactly which way I would fall. Which is more than I know about the EU referendum. On that subject two things happened over the weekend. Premier Christian Radio's Ian Britton buttonholed me for an interview. And a firm Labour activist from Blyth (which town's ethnic composition is?) set out to me how he saw things which rather chimed with what I heard on R4 just now, although painted by the gentleman more starkly. His argument approximates to this: if Remain win then Cameron will have pulled off a trio of victories and there will be a Tory government for years to come.

Therefore Corbyn's only chance is to see Cameron unseated and a snap election called. So two strands come together to fill a flood of Labour leave voters, tactics and actual feelings that migration at a quarter a million a year net for the next twenty years is not in the interest of most Labour people. It may be in the interests of the elites, of those whose "EU" connections academic and political take them criss crossing the continent but on the ground where the chaos of EU competition law is worked out for instance on the railways, what a Labour voter sees is simply not what they wish to see. This is a raw argument about what people see in their own lives every day. This is a mass of voters for whom all the economic numbers and warnings don't resonate. You can warn about a pension in the future but what use is that if a Roumanian or a Turk has your job. Remain don't want migration to be the issue, but the raw fact of accomodating a quarter of a million new persons each year will make sure it is. Free movement of people and the free market should not have been connected. Great Britain will need immigrants for years to come but it should be able to choose who they are and to expel them when it has to. Control of Borders is fundamental to a nation state and if we don't have it, the nation state will be Europe, that is the choice. And yes we do have a special relationship on Borders with the EU but it is not preventing a global mass movement into Europe and it is not allowing us to tell people their time is up and remove them.

I truly don't know today how I will vote next week but after this weekend, I probably feel I am becoming clearer where the vote will land. If substantial numbers of Labour are themselves set on ticking Leave, then the story is over and what British politicians will have to do is settle down to implementing the will of the people and many will feel an election will be required for a new set of leaders prepared to undertake this to be chosen. At which point Mr Corbyn can reveal his authentic anti EU colours! After which given the Leave instruction, as a matter of fact the vote does not mean Britain leaves. It is a "guidance note" which then has to be negotiated and that means whoever is in Number 10 can go and seek some rather different end result to the binary in/out question being asked. In a few months time someone might be saying to the EU "oh yes, we will keep our membership, you can have a lot of money, but the right of free movement is not on the table". And there again Remain may win and none of this will be said...........................

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Nearer the referendum

The day inches nearer. My w/e summary. It has been a bad debate because the alternatives are unpalatable. To leave the EU does throw away certain real benefits: ease of travel, even roaming charges! It really does run the risk of substantial economic damage (although the threat to house prices seems as much a benefit as a loss and that "house" business underlies so much).John Band's demonstrations of how much we depend on inward investment weigh heavily with me, So be clear vote leave for a substantial and possibly rough readjustment. It may well also imperil the UK. Scotland will very conceivably go. Ulster will join the smuggling front line. We will bring the chaos of EU land borders onto our own islands. Strong arguments to stay,

And to leave there are two very strong ones. Democracy: the EU is certainly not that. It is a very poor class organisation. It has shown itself inept in managing its own currency and its borders. On those two alone it is very tempting to say fie on you. And there is the numbers game, back to the houses, population growth. I do really think that the UK population growth is a very serious matter. For years in the 1980s, we managed an equilibrium. A nation must control its borders, the world without borders is a progressive's naive dream. You may think I live in the Tyne Valley far from these realities. As we showed last week Fiona's upbringing pitches her right into the heart of it and here in Prudhoe we are promised 800 new homes with NONE of the associated quality infrastructure planning needed. We live in a town whose "town centre development" has been a decades long wrangle. Our road access north and south is prehistoric. Everything should be sweet and rosy in our town, The hillside zoned for a town centre could be one of the best new developments in Britain. We have a Garden Village already existing fit for re-use. It is being flattened, slowly. The much loved three tier schooling is being brought down to two tier LCD. So both poor development and uncontrolled population growth (whether reproductive (and worse at religious behest), EU, non EU) make me think the Great Britain I was proud to grow up in appears headed to a south east akin to Hong Kong with warring Celtic fringes going their own way. Not a well balanced place able to trade around the world WHICH IT WAS.

I am sorry if that sounds gloomy and what it means for my vote, even if I choose to exercise it, I still do not know.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Auden's Paid on Both Sides performed

Last night I attended my first ever performance of an Auden play. There's 5/6 to choose from. All rarely performed. They are a challenge to do. Paid on Both Sides on the hard side, Hadrian's Wall probably the easiest. Was it worthwhile? You bet. The energy and drive Prudhoe's Sixth Form dramatic students put in was powerful. With people in all corners, things happening everywhere, it was an immersive experience. If you approach this work expecting to understand it all, you won't "get" it. It is a wild, even haphazard romp.A ripping yarn, a reiver's tale written by somone who understood our Borderlands and their heritage: "Some say that handsome raider still at large, A terror to the Marches, in truth is love" . Despite the drive of love, this was a broken society, crashed out: if you want to get a feeling for what the inter-war period and specifically the roaring twenties was like down to the actualness of 1928, then this is powerful stuff. This was chaos envisaged for a country house charade. A place of toffs and public school boys, drunkenness, ordinary people trying to go about their business, all conducted under menace. And it does not have a happy ending. It did not have a happy start "For where are Basley who won the Ten, Dickon who tarted the house". Dead Sedburgh School boys from World War One?

The performers offered a warm up act reprising (and singing) their way through some short better known pieces of Auden. One choice was especially apposite September 1st 1939 "the low dishonest decade". A poem Auden distanced himself from, but one people keep returning to. Because it is appropriate. 20 years of "peace" became another World War in which millions died. I have just been reading about the awfulness of Yugoslavia then (not in the 1990s). The power of the ancient rivalry, the feud that would not let go, overwhelmed ordinary lovers by the million.

I always think that all work read or understood by viewers acquires its own interpretation (what the writer means is in an odd way secondary). Approach Paid on Both Sides determined to take what you need and not to try to fathom all of Auden's allusions. Respond to its energy, remember the tragedy that composed it. Remember our landscape and its own tragedies behind it. For a well respected understanding of the work, John Fuller's discussion in W. H. Auden: A Commentary is recommended. Two more chances to see this performed this week. See .

Monday, 18 April 2016

EU and Chancellor's forecasts

Two from my Facebook today

1 The problem with the Chancellor asking me to believe him today is that many of his previous forecasts have been woefully wrong (vide the amount of borrowing) so I am left scratching my head (and that is before a wider history of the Treasury e.g. their views on ERM). However if I follow some convoluted speak, he is saying that in 2030 each household might be £4,300 p.a. worse off (not against their income today but against what it might otherwise be (inflation vectored in? and what otherwise might it be in toto?)). This is hardly telling stuff and it is certainly very biased. How much do you value your independence and the democracy of saying our Parliament ought to be our supreme governor (under our constitutional monarch of course)? Words, words, Wordsworth.

2 The EU debate figures don't really seem to me to run conclusively either way. So why are so many of the big boys like the IMF, the French Economics Minister Macron, Obama, leaning on us so heavily? It has been suggested on my wall (scroll down) that all sorts of shennagins will take place to turn back our No vote if we head there. I don't know about that, I would prefer evidence rather than assertion. But it does occur to me that the sense of desperation by the stay campaign and from these big voices comes down to this? Is Europe sanguinely confident it will prosper without us? Is it going to be unphased at our departure? Perhaps the issue these big boys and elites are not keen on facing is whether our departure exposes the Emperor's new clothes of Europe. It exposes the EU as the fundamentally undemocratic operation it assuredly is, it reveals the weakness in its finances, its fundamentally uncompetitive nature. Germany basically carrying the rest. In other words a No from Great Britain really would precipitate a wider European crisis in "the project". Perhaps it is this prospect (more than whether Britain would really be worse or better off which seems very difficult to call) which is the absolute driver in propelling the remain camp to utter its strident warnings and to seek to involve the American President in our affairs. At some point on this logic, (and following the last Referendum Precedent) our Monarch may be discretely called upon to utter some words. What they are and whether they are issued will be so telling. If She refuses to say anything, I might conclude She thinks the British Commonwealth is worth more to the United Kingdom than the Europundits reckon.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Iain Duncan Smith

My radar has been sufficiently off that I did not see the IDS resignation coming. But I was baffled at how the Chancellor twice (first was Working Tax Credit) has utterly misread what "We'll all in this together means". It now seems entirely possible that a period of deep Tory division will follow. So for the benefit of friends (and I mean friends) as diverse (sincerely meant too) as Brian Bennison, Guy Opperman and Douglas Fox (and many others)), I shall try to set out what I make of the last 24 hours. "We're all in this together" is the litmus test. Regular readers will know I hate labels and I am not keen when people use vilifying langauge about their opponents, one case being when all Tories are simply derided as vile. The reality as with the Labour party is nowhere near as simple. What I want from good government should be capable of being offered by all sensible people. I am impressed by government which can properly defend national interests anywhere, which can live up to the demands of world leadership which having a UN Permanent Security Council seat demands. At home I value politicians who genuinely will share pain (redistributive economics do not worry me (not to make us all the same but certainly to ensure that the extremes of wealth and poverty are outlawed)). Good business and growth are at the heart of prosperity, but with a growing elderly population, we are all in this together suggests soaring social justice bills for decades to come. These bills a wealthy country can afford. The wealthy should rejoice at living in a nation where they can so readily through taxation support these services and in another jibe at current Tory attitudes (so the schools) the best way to deliver many of these things is through strongly resourced and democratically accountable local authorities. Today the Tory party is divided about far more than just Europe, I hope those within it will think carefully about the way ahead, They need to hold as all politicians often should a very diverse hand, for instance I maintain two seemingly divergent strands, in people's own lives libertarianism draws me (theocracy frightens me) but I also strongly feel that the best of the British character which draws on many influences should be rooted in understanding our Christian heritage.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

A Reginald Perrin approach to Industrial Archaeology by Robert Forsythe©

(offered to but not accepted for a conference at Ironbridge in 2009)

This is an auspicious occasion when the luminati of a rather small and specialist profession have assembled. Three anniversaries lie at the heart of this gathering. The 300th anniversary of coke smelted iron, the 50th anniversary of the Museum of Iron and the 30th anniversary of what would coelsce into the Ironbridge Institute are all being celebrated. I was a member of one of the earliest Diploma in Industrial Archaeology cohorts in1983/84 and brought to the subject the background of two degrees in Theology.

Many of us here today will, through the age range suggested by a 50th and a 30th anniversary, have fond memories of the cultural milestones of the 1970s. One such made a great impact then and now upon your speaker. This was David Nobb's series of books and TV programmes called The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin starring Leonard Rossiter.

Reggie was a moderately successful participant in the world of dessert manufacture and sales located with many of the trappings of middle class life in south west London. However he found no satisfaction in this lifestyle and supported by an adoring wife abandoned convention and "disappeared".

After numerous adventures Reggie and his wife create a business called Grot selling Rubbish imagining it doomed to failure. The reverse happens and Reggie finds himself a success who is able to employ various tormentors from his previous existence.

Now, no analogy should ever be taken too far and made too exact. But there are parallels both at the macro (the profession) and micro (my own experience) between Reginald Perrin and Industrial Archaeology. Classical archaeology may be dealing with decay, ruins and rubbish but very often they have been romanticised. They involve heroic empires and tales of daring do like Harrison Ford and Raiders of the Lost Arc. Marine archaeology with its rubber wet suited glamour pusses takes the whole tale of archaeology and fashion to new levels.

Industrial Archaeology evolved as a supremely unfashionable activity promoted at times by individuals characterised by their fraught relationship to society. Contemplate L T C Rolt or Robert Aickman. They were "alternatives" before that word had been coined. How and whether industrial archaeology has become fashionable is another debate. Suffice it to say that the preservation of industrial structures or machines beyond their sell by date tends to be a grotty activity. Investigating an abandoned coal mine complex like Wet Earth Colliery (one of the classic sites) is emphatically about dirt and mud.

The politics of industrial archaeology have triumphed by demonstrating to budget holders that these antics can actually bring value back into the economy. Graham Palmer and the Waterways Recovery Group are an iconic instance active in the 1970s. Operation Ashton and ASHTAC were seminal occasions when rebellious youth willing to be very dirty indulged in what appeared to be utter acts of folly but became pivotal moments in what nowadays is the posh act of canal or waterside regeneration. Canals were an instance of rubbish (literally full of rubbish) having their potential unravelled to sceptical authority.

I grew up in a relatively respectable version of this. My childhood home was not Greater Manchester but the Norfolk Broads. My father was aretired army officer and solicitor. He loved the Broads and they were not "typical" industrial archaeology. But he knew that the trades of Broadland, the Millers, Smithies, the Reedmen, the Boatbuilders (in the 1930s he had worked at Hickling Broad and in Hunter's yard at Ludham) were facing inthe 1960s an era of total change. In fact he had already acted. Even before the Talyllyn Railway was preserved; way back in 1949 my father was one of the founding trustees of the Norfolk Wherry Trust. He was associated with this heritage body until he died in 2004 and Albion is a living testimony today to the vision that individuals had some 60 years ago.

It took for me the move to Durham University and the encounter with a totally different "northern" world, for industrial archaeology to really enter my mind. I think we bought Neil Cosson's classic The BP Book of Industrial Archaeology in 1978. I spent easily as much time at Durham University involved in industrial archaeology as I did studying theology. I think this caused some of my theology tutors considerable consternation. In retrospect this fed a healthy disregard for the norms of academia which I maintain to this day.

There came a certain point when I was undertaking a Theology MA and it was suggested that I study W. H. Auden. I duly did so but at no point in 1982/83 was any link made between Auden, Industrial Archaeology, Theology and the Durham hinterland. I was actually in my IA life exploring the very environment which underpinned Auden's theology and no links were made. Nor was there any interpretation on the ground. It was Grasmere without Wordsworth.

It would be many years before those links were made but one of the wider points of my testimony (which industrial archaeology should appreciate) is THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. This is not a lecture about Auden and Industrial Archaeology (much as I should like to give it). It was about a decade ago that those links were made leading to a book, an exhibition, TV and radio programmes and there remains a long way to go in the full understanding of this major aspect of one of the 20th century's greatest poets. As he said in 1972 in Lullaby "in boyhood you were permitted to meet beautiful old contraptions, soon to be banished from the earth, saddle tank loks, beam-engines and overshot waterwheels. Yes, love, you havebeen lucky" . Auden was not ashamed to admit the romantic attachmentan engine of the Weardale Iron Company could excite.

I had quite some experiences to get through before I met that side of Auden and I truly think that had I encountered it whilst studying theology at Durham (as I should have done), my life might have been quite different. Instead I left Durham and theology and realised I needed to try to make some money, although like Perrin the prospect of doing it in any conformist manner was unappealing.

Instead in 1983 I turned up at Ironbridge. Paul Belford's own words resonate "Many people have passed through the Ironbridge Archaeology unit during this time, some have turned into alcoholic wrecks and others have become glittering stars in the firmament of historical archaeology. Some of course are both". We were a motley crew whose general attitude was that life in a suit did not appeal.

The course passed relatively uneventfully and then there came the matter of finding work. This was 1984 and Thatcher's clash with Scargill. I found my first salaried job with West Yorkshire Metropolitan County and the West Yorkshire Transport Museum in Bradford. What a mistaka to maka. For the first few months it seemed as if long held dreams were fulfilled. I even had access to a County Hall canteen, bliss. Then we were abolished in 1986. I had a job at the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry for two days before my old job was offered back again.

Frankly, between 1986 and 1991 employment, although it had its highs, was pretty turgid. I met my wife on the Firth of Clyde which was to prove very handy. But my working life was spent just jumping through hoops to stay afloat. I had read Rolt's account of being on the streets of Stoke on Trent after Kerr Stuart failed about 1930. This happened to me on the streets of Troon and Irvine (already in a fairly desperate state with the collapse of local shipbuilding) when schemes like Community Programmewere collapsed. I found myself in a job needing to use highly skilled classic tradesmen and unable to secure them. Job no. 2 in Scotland therefore failed and I moved to Job no. 3 in a quiet English market town to discover on my first day that my new boss sat me down and advised me he had paid off one of the two members of staff I had met at interview "in order to pay my wages". This unhappy gentleman was now leading a one man sit in in one of the facilities and it would be my first task to deal with this.

I endured this regime for a year before in a heart to heart with my wife we decided that self employment beckoned for me. Before leaving this brief career account, why does my story hold any interest to this conference? Because in the spirit of the confessional we should all accept that the heritage and museum professions are more often than I rate as acceptable not model employers. There are many tales that I have heard from others to place beside my own. Museums are certainly not and are unlikely to be institutions of perpetuity. Names like Exeter Maritime Museum, Lound Hall(now a care home), Chatterley Whitfield or the Bolton Mining Museum may send some shudders around this room. There are many others[1].

Can I offer three thoughts for why I think industrial archaeology and the heritage world in general can tend to be abusive employers? There is the perception that museums are about enjoyment and pleasure. Ergo, those who work in them enjoy it. That is the first step to employment abuse. The second step is the utter mismatch that can so easily arise between the wish list and what can actually be done. Politicians often carrying trustee
responsibility can be the worst offenders. The result is that the paid officer finds himself heaped upon with good ideas and has to fend off well intentioned suggestions to try and achieve anything.

In the world of industrial heritage the sheer nature of the objects re-inforces this dangerous cycle. Certainly 20 years ago and perhaps in places today,there were industrial museums operating in a very parlous relationship to Health and Safety. Ships, trains, buses, all moving objects, large lumps of metal or wood subject to decay. One of my seminal experiences, probably in 1987, took place on the hatch covers of the Clyde Puffer Spartan. I was holding forth to some movers and shakers including the Director of Planning from Central Region (imagine calling a local authority that) when my life collapsed or so it felt as a hatch cover broke in half and I started to plummet 15 feet into a ships hold. This quick thinking Director managed to grab me and save my life but not my dignity.

From that moment on and allied to the uncertain nature of employment that I had already experienced, a considerable degree of scepticism about industrial archaeology as a profession accompanied my enthusiasm for it. Those of you actually employed in the sector today can tell us whether itis still like this with short term contracts, poor conditions of service and raving ambitions not allied to rigorous funded business planning. By
contrast another seminal experience - positive this time - was playing a key role in the relocation of the Linthouse Engine Shop to the ScottishMaritime Museum. This is a contender in the title for the largest building saved in Britain by relocation.

I moved on in 1991 and elected for self employment in which I would identify subjects that I felt had mileage in them and which I couldcontribute too. My own agenda for life and not others. For a process like that to work some self-examination came up. Initially two subjects came forward. A third which is the Auden and Industrial Archaeology theme introduced itself later. The first two subjects were model railway history and transport publicity ephemera. I shall not say too much about the first although it remains a major research area for me. Enough to mention that Irealised that a quintessentially history based hobby like model railways actually knew, then, very little about its own history. Since then, and I can claim some role in this, a lot more has been recorded. Even so, for a hobby that was established in the last years of Queen Victoria's reign vast swathes of activity have gone into history unrecorded. A basic question might be posed like: narrate the models that have been made on a commercial basis of Stephenson's Rocket. At present the best answer lies
on my computer.

The other subject I turned to was transport publicity ephemera. I shall quote from a paper delivered to the Institute of Railway Studies at York in 2000. The paper was called "Is collecting railway ephemera an archaeological task?" and I stick by that analogy. I quote "Back in 1970 a Cheltenham bookseller Roger Burdett Wilson was the author of Go GreatWestern, a truly pioneering volume in studying one railway's publicity, A book that has not been surpassed in its field. He wrote however something of a cop out when it came to possibly looking at GWR timetables "The history of railway timetables, an intricate and fascinating subject, has yet to be written, and like the evolution of maps, is outside the scope of the present survey". That history of railway timetables as a whole genre has still not been published although I have now written "Are we on time? British Railways Timetables 1948-1997" and have a publisher.

Why the neglect? Another paper "Time and the Timetable" is on the Railway Print Society's website. There I say " My personal response has also been driven by notions of rubbish and (un-) fashionableness. The timetable was an ephemeral item in concept; it was intended for use anddisposal. It has been the butt of humour and is not something that OK or Hello make space for. Yet I have always felt driven to be interested in what is neglected especially if the potential is immense. So it is with timetables. A vast publishing operation has accompanied their production yet in the past all of the breeds of librarian, museum curator and archivist have made their excuses and left. "It does not have an ISBN or ISSN (often)", "It's not a unique manuscript" or "I'm a museum curator and only interested in three dimensions" are all tempting excuses to do nothing.

Never being one to accept these sorts of explanation and always being one who thinks that Catholic and Protestant should be put in the same room and told to sort their differences out, I started collecting timetables. 25 years later, one librarian married and one daughter created, we have a collection of about 250,000 printed pieces of travel and transport ephemera. I use the fuller description there as against the shorthand timetable. Ephemera stands for a whole genre which is now receiving wider recognition in heritage circles. So this helpful definition from Studying Camden a student's guide to Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre, March 2005 page 25:


Ephemera is any kind of apparently trivial item, often produced for a particular event or activity (such as cards, tickets, handbills, even beer mats), that actually reflects very clearly and individually the time, place or event it represents. These bits and pieces add another element to our understanding of the past."

We sign up to that whole heartedly and that is why we have done what we have done”. Of course the result is much more than timetables, important though I think they are. A major base source for history, period. Rather as the ephemera definition suggests I have become interested in a wide printed field which is not being properly archived. This will mean that understanding even recent history like that of the de-regulation of buses will become challenging. Digital resources as opposed to print just adds to the challenge.

Perhaps you think that Industrial Archaeology is immune to this? Well, you must not. A recent Time Team shown in late January 2009 investigated the Rise Hill navvy camp on the Settle Carlisle Railway. It spoke of navvying as if no material remains were left. Yet a restored navvy's hut in its original location remains at Catcleugh Reservoir in Northumberland in the care of the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company. And one of the reasons I know about this is because we have assiduously collected the ephemeral rubbish of industrial heritage interpretation.

Fortunately one of these items refers to the restoration as does Harold Bowtell's magnum opus Reservoir Railways from Durham Dales to the Border. Our own collection grew greatly through the 1990s as we gave it time that working for oneself could afford. The genesis of it all had been schoolboy activity back in 1972 in Norfolk. As a museum curator it was not the forefront of my work agenda but I became well aware that a stream of resources whether in the narrow field of timetables or in a broader sense of interpretational literature was appearing all around me and which was often never given value in its own right. A consequence of this is interesting examples of the re-invention of the wheel. Short dated projects can demonstrably be shown to have undertaken work already done by a different agency only years before because no-one recorded the publicity.

By 2008, our own collection was long overdue a proper institutional home. Up to 250,000 pieces occupying 275' of shelving in a semi is not a comfortable lifestyle. It is therefore with great pleasure that I can conclude this rather personal account of a life on the margins of industrial archaeology over the last 30 years by revealing that early in 2009 the National Railway Museum at York bought the Forsythe Collection of Transport and Travel Ephemera and it has now relocated to the Search Engine archive facility there. Surely Reginald Perrin would be thrilled to know the happy outcome that has befallen this vast pile of waste paper? In all this, although not here today, I must thank my wife Fiona who as a professional librarian (one who undertook the Aberystwyth distance learning Masters whilst working in Newcastle and living with a new baby) has been totally supportive of what we have sought to do and I can absolutely say without her the Forsythe Collection would never have been saved for the nation.

[1] Some others: Hunday National Tractor and Farm Museum, Irvine’s Big Idea, the West Yorkshire Transport Museum, the National Army Transport Museum at Beverley.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016


RUGBY: I speak as someone who went through the entire British private school system and never played a game of Rugby 1967-1978. That took some doing. But these doctors have completely missed the proper point and in so doing reveal so much of what is going wrong in our nation. The proper point is not safety but permission. No-one of whatever age should be forced to play a game of Rugby, it is dangerous. I had worked that out when I was 8. I wanted nothing to do with it. Of course children should be free to play Rugby and run the risks of death. So long as the child makes that choice. And it is no good saying wait until you're 18. As a Rugby player said today, it is about discipline, camraderie and the adrenaldine of risk. We need our children to be able to learn this. Rugby is organised brutality. That appalls me, then and now. But nations need well organised and disciplined forces of brutality. You are naive if you think this world will function without brutality. It is why we in Britain should be proud of our armed forces (which need to be much larger (the Australians are re-arming (Britain needs to re-arm))). And if you disagree that a responsible nation needs to know how to conduct itself in a disciplined and brutal manner then you will find yourselves on the end of Islamacist or Russian brutality. In each case I would rather be dead, because (certainly the former) they glory in causing pain. Rugby does not glory in causing pain or even death. it is the unfortunate but accepted risk of performing in a nobler cause. Those who have signed this appeal completely fail to appreciate the reality of the world they are in, a world that if we lose our ability to defend ourselves and our ability when necessary to be brutal, will eat us for breakfast.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Tynemouth Market 20th February 2016

Every now and again we get to Tynemouth market. Just over 20 miles away, today the excuse was the need to deliver and pick up daughter Clare for Young Archaeologists Club at the University. Normally I slip in and out of the market with under a tenner spent. Today it went a bit different. The heady total was £88.76 which we will break down. Models were all brand new state.

En route we confirmed that Rolling Stock in North Shields has new owners (several years ago) and is very much open. Full on shop premise model railway shops are often said to be a dying breed but the North East has several.

Bachmann 38-678 BR Loco. Dept. Black shunting truck                                                      £12.99
Hornby R6639 Blue Spot fish yan SPV livery (a Mark One coach model)                             £10.99
Corgi OM41401 Tees-side Rail Traction Board trolleybys                                                     £13.99

At the market
Matchbox MOY Y10 LT 1934 AEC Trolleybus                                                                    £6
Matchbox MOY Y8 1917 Yorkshire Steam wagon William Pritchard                                     £2.50

2 Camilleri Montalbano novels Excursion to Tindari The Voice of the Violin                              £3
The Towpath Erie Canal 1945 hardback Merrill                                                                     £1
Haltwhistle and Beyond Parker TUPS                                                                                     £5
Railways on the Screen  Huntley   Ian Allan                                                                              £4
Traction Engines Past & Present D&C 1974                                                                                  £1
7 diecast model catalogues                                                                                                      £7
Edocar 1988 Corgi 1977 1984 1985  Matchbox 1986 Solido 1991

1 savoury carrot and sweetcorn scone                               £1.20
2 cheese scones                                                         £1
1 rye loaf                                                           £1.80
2 filled muffins                                                  £2.40
2 x tea                                                                     £2.40
1 Malteaser traybake                                            £1.50
5 x O'Donnell of Tipperary crisp packets                                                £1
1 tub crabmeat                                                                            £1.80
1 almond milk load                                                                         £2
1 tub cashew nut butter (from Swarland)                                       £4
2 Pork & Apple burgers Moorhouse Farm Stannington                             £1.67

Shiny Sink 6 tablets                                                                        £0.50

                                                                                                                  Total                         £88.76
And four free re-usable plastic bin bags.

Friday, 19 February 2016

John Brown ! Not a shipbuilder, not an American, but a South Shields Leftist author


Another title: From the backstreets of South Shields via the LIBRARY to an Oxford College and the Royal Geographical Society. All before a Russian Nuclear Reactor.

(The collected bibliography will conclude the entry. This entry relies heavily on joint input from Andy Williamson, Support Services Librarian, South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council library service. Fionn Consultancy (Robert & Fiona) have since December 2015 been engaged in intense work on their local studies collection in advance of the opening of The Word see ).

A heads up John Brown ! Not a shipbuilder, not an American, but a South Shields Leftist author born 1907, worked as a Journalist on the Shields Gazette and really well overlooked. No Wikipedia entry, the digital trace requires considerable work. 3 of his 10 books we had catalogued at South Shields library in January/February. Their appearance stimulated more work. Here are some more notes (initially they were headed to some one else) "If you go here you will find a few listings for The Road to Power by John Brown. This is the one that includes the Moscow Metro I think. However I have bought the first listing (the cheapest).

The books prior to 1945 are "I was a Tramp" 1934 (and made it to a third impression), "I saw for myself" 1935, "The Road to Power" 1937 and "Trooper North 1944" about World War Two. On line reviews can be found. I was a tramp in the Sheffield Independent 8th October 1934 p11c3 which reveals more on his life, also the Gloucester Citizen 22nd May 1934 p4c2, the Gloucestershire Echo 28th September 1934. Trooper North is reviewed in the Liverpool Evening Express 2nd May 1944 p2c5 and Aberdeen Journal 9th August 1944 p2c7. From one of the various catalogue records I am digging into I have a Christmas Day 1907 birth date.

Here is a relatively cheap I was a Tramp in the USA.  However the John Mason Brown the hyperlink goes to in that listing goes to a different (American) author I think. This book being his first has certain autobiographical details. Inter alia we learn he was born Christmas Day 1907. His great great grandfather came from Rothesay, his mother was a daughter of an Irishman from Cork. He managed to pick up a Diploma in Economics and Political Science from Ruskin College around 1933. In South Shields he talks about his grandmother's house near the Roman Fort and overlooking the river.

Throughout the thirties and forties Selwyn and Blount was his publisher. The Shields Gazette between the war is also likely to offer a considerable amount under his name. Work into this link . It is one of the few online discussions I have traced about him." Andy Williamson at South Shields has sent me a list (and there probably will be more) of inter-war features and editorial related to John Brown. Most of them require a little bit of websearching as they come from PDFs: Terror Spreads through the Saar 3rd January 1935 Dundee Evening Telegraph p2 c4-6; John Brown in the Saar 7th January 1935 Yorkshire Post p8 c5; Judd School and the League Kent and Sussex Courier p17 c4  22nd February 1935;  Germany's Interest in Peace 6th April 1935 Lancashire Evening Post p5 c2.

As I will keep saying :) I am sure this gentleman represents a great Shields story long forgotten. From my friends perhaps any of Jennifer Hillyard, Sean Matthew Smith, Alastair Fraser, Chris Phipps, Brian Bennison and Mark Benjamin may have leads?

Images are the front and back covers of the 1937 The Road to Power and the author portrait inside (which is SO 1930s). And for a sense of the gems within on page 168:

“On across the desert to Palmyra, the dead city of Zenobia, guarded by dark towers, and looking like an ivory carving. I had always wished to see the city, for not far from my own  home in northern England had been found the tomb of a Palmyran woman, wife of a Roman legionary who had helped guard the frontiers of the empire against the barbarians. What had she thought as she shivered on that northern coast of cold sea-fog and icy  wind and rude strength?”. The Palmyra links to South Tyneside can be explored from and . The problem of interpretation is she becomes a British woman who MARRIES a Palmyran and John Brown is wrong. Which begs the question: what did the guidebook in the 1930's say?

And in another gem John Brown interviews Lord Tweedsmuir AKA John Buchan in Government House, Ottawa in 1937! He refers to an anticipated trip of the Governor's. The photo album of that journey is displayed in the John Buchan Centre in Peebles .

After the war he seems to be away from South Shields. The title Trooper North suggests he had served in an armoured unit in World War Two. Although it seems incongruous, he clearly was writing fiction in the 1950s. Study the cover below, it makes clear this is the same John Brown.

Death in the Silver Ring: Background Books, London & Edinburgh 1950.

His wanderlust remained and in his later life he was involved with the Royal Geographical Society in London. And with the explorer Sebastian Snow he is down as finding the true source of the Amazon. Whilst Brown is Wikipedia light Snow does have an entry here. Both became Fellows of the R.G.S. as this cutting from the Yorkshire Evening Post of 28th August 1952 shows. This also reveals there was a Mrs Dorothy Brown aged 30 at the time.

The later books continue to pose questions! Next will follow the covers for the Amazon and then the following South African expedition books.


Then the inside flap of Two Against the Amazon in which note the appearance of UNESCO.


Then two pages at the start of The Thirsty Land.

Here we have references to boredom at home and being employed by the US Third Air Force in England and evidently doing a lot of globetrotting as a result. What sort of person was John Brown becoming. Because by 1959 he was heading back to the Soviet Union and Russian nuclear reactors. This sounds like something from Boys Own or even Bond? So enjoy the cover of Russia Explored and a very telling extract.


The above brings in a Yale scholarship! Possibly introductions to the US Military. "Produced with War Office approval a book on Armoured Corp Training" should be read with the ACTUAL reviews cited above on Trooper North. It was not a technical manual.

The clear follow up in this is the reference to "thirteen reports.......... for UN agencies". This needs understanding.  A person of this interest should have a wikipedia entry, a blue plaque in their birth town and must at death have left some obituary material?

The Collected Bibilography


I was a tramp
Selwyn & Blount, 1934
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Journalist of South Shields, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

I saw for myself
Selwyn & Blount, 1935
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Journalist of South Shields, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

The road to power
Selwyn & Blount, 1937
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Journalist of South Shields, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

Trooper North
Selwyn & Blount, 1944
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Journalist of South Shields, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

Death in the silver ring
Background, 1950
(author listed on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

Death gets a place
W.H. Allen, 1951
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Writer of Detective Novels, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

Murder each way, etc.
Mark Goulden, 1952
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Writer of Detective Novels, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

Two against the Amazon
Hodder & Stoughton, 1952
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Explorer, and on COPAC as John Brown 1914- (sic))

The Thirsty Land
Hodder & Stoughton, 1954
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Explorer, and on COPAC as John Brown 1914- (sic))

Russia Explored
Hodder & Stoughton, 1959
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Explorer, and on COPAC as John Brown 1914- (sic))