That was a good idea.
I don’t know if you’ve read my previous post which was the first of my Lock-down Diaries, prompted by the fact that I am entering the third month of house arrest which is what lock-down more or less is and it is slowly eroding what little sanity I had to begin with. It was intended as a bit of light relief for myself and hopefully be of some interest to, and provide some amusement for, anyone who may read it. I doubted anyone would as I don’t use antisocial media and am not much given to self-promotion. Not for the first time I was to be proved wrong as we shall see later.A quick warning before we start, there are some disturbing images further down the page and I do not wish to offend anyone with them. Look for the PG image and just scroll down a few paragraphs as I have not worked out a way to “hide” them.
Years ago, someone told me I was very humble, which was flattering but I was reminded of one of Winston Churchill’s famous quotes, and let’s be honest, he was a master of the one-liner. He was once discussing his political rival Clement Attlee and was asked, “But surely, Mr. Churchill, you admit that Mr. Attlee is a humble man?” to which Churchill replied, “He is a humble man, but then he has much to be humble about!” Brilliant and leading to my first little coincidence of the day.
When I am not slogging away writing proper travel entries on this site, as I continue to do, I am devouring every BBC documentary on the iPlayer. I normally do this whilst eating as I cannot eat and type at the same time, I just haven’t got enough hands! For those following my London LOOP series I thank you and there will be another episode tonight and hopefully I’ll get it finished in a day or two when I’ll have to think of another project, I have a few in the pipeline.
My current online watching is an old series of four one hour-long documentaries about the life of Winston Churchill which is fascinating and I have learned so much new about a man I thought I was reasonably familiar with. Some of this ties in with matters that I have already written about and which I will share with you now. Honestly, these diaries may appear to be a bit “scattergun” but there is some vague method in the madness, it is just a bit hard to spot.
The first thing I learned not five minutes ago was about an incident involving Churchill and a man who has not one but two statues commemorating him within 400 yards of my home, William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. In the interests of gender equality there is also a statue to his wife there. I know I have a picture of her statue somewhere but my filing system is the digital equivalent of someone throwing a hand grenade into a file store and I am damned if I can find it now. The slightly odd image in this group is of the plinth in 2013 awaiting the saintly Catherine’s arrival.
When I searched on the Attlee quote above to find the proper context the first website was the Church History Review which would not normally be required reading for me as I am an atheist and harbour grave reservations about organised religion but there is no need to go into that now. Whilst scrolling down to find the appropriate quote I saw that, when he was Home Secretary, Churchill had met Booth in 1910 to discuss the Salvation Army’s plans for reforming British prisons which were pretty grim then.
I’m not going to bore you with the full history of the “Sally Anne”, as the Salvation Army is often called, as there is plenty online about it if you are interested. Booth started his preaching in the East End in 1865 outside the Blind Beggar pub (image included to break up the monotony) in Whitechapel, where I used to be a regular for many years.
When the meetings got too big and obstructed the pavement, he moved a couple of hundred yards East to a grassy area called Mile End Waste which is still there today and where the statues are situated.
My various rambles round the East End have also led me to another encounter with Booth. In Stoke Newington, a couple of miles from my home is a most wonderful cemetery called Abney Park, which is no longer used and where I have spent many happy hours wandering about. Right at the Church Street entrance is the final resting place of Booth, his wife and various other family members which you can see here.
Obviously, Churchill is well-known for touring the East End during the Blitz but his association with the area extends much further back than that, to very early in 1911, the year after he met Booth and I was reminded of the incident whilst watching the documentary. In December 1910 a group of anarchist Latvian immigrants tried to rob a jeweller’s shop in Houndsditch in the City of London. The robbery was botched and three policemen were shot dead. The gang leader, a man called Gardstein (amongst other things) also died.
By the 3rd January, 1911 the police had information that some of the gang were holed up at an address at 100 Sidney Street. I should mention at this point that I live about ten minutes walk from Sidney Street, I have no shortage of history right on my doorstep. Captain Cook lived just across the road!
There ensued a gun battle involving the criminals, soldiers of the Scots Guards who had been crashed out from guard duty at the nearby Tower of London and police armed with shotguns and revolvers. There was even a field artillery piece deployed from the Artillery Depot in Woolwich, it was a proper shootout. Home Secretary Churchill went to the scene to personally supervise the operation, putting himself in the line of fire which was an action he was much criticised for later but he just loved the smell of cordite.
It is easy to think of Sir Winston as merely a great wartime leader and to forget that he had seen action as a British Army officer and also worked as a war correspondent during the Boer War where he was captured and escaped from prison, some say disguised as a woman. I had heard this story before and discounted it but I was surprised to learn in the documentary that he was only 5’6″ and of slight build at that time so perhaps it is feasible. In his youth he was quite the man of action.
The house in Sidney Street eventually caught fire and Churchill refused to let the Fire Brigade douse the flames on the principle that it was too dangerous for the firemen. When the house was completely burnt out it was searched and two bodies were recovered but there is a persistent story, much contested by historians, that one of the associates of the gang somehow escaped the police cordon. This man had various aliases but is known generally to history as “Peter the Painter”.
For many years there has been a Siege House in the Street, as you can see in one of the above images but in 2008 our local Council decided to name two blocks of flats after Piatkow which understandably annoyed many people, myself included.
Another one of the gang involved in the robbery was Jacob Peters (another immigrant with about a dozen aliases) who was acquitted of the triple murder of the policemen for lack of evidence.
He returned to Latvia, which was then under Russian control and after the Revolution he helped found the Cheka secret police which was a distant forebear of the KGB. He took with him his British wife Maisie and his young daughter and Maisie was effectively imprisoned as she was not allowed to leave Russia again before her death in 1971. All this history within ten minutes walk of my home, it is crazy and I haven’t even got onto the “On This Day” section, which a brief skim read shows is going to be a beauty.
So why did I entitle this section as I did? I’ll tell you. I am at pains to point out constantly on the site that I am not in it to make money as thankfully I can live comfortably as I am. I am not in it to be an “internet influencer” whatever that might be. Those are a couple of the reasons I am not doing it, so I’d better give you some of the reasons why I am.
Firstly, I love writing and I love travelling. Most of all I love writing about travelling as that is like catnip to me and I use that analogy as I don’t do hard drugs. I first discovered this over 15 years ago when I conquered my technophobia enough to start writing for the wonderful and sadly deceased Virtual Tourist website. I’m not going to go on about that again you’ll be glad to know.
Virtual Tourist was brilliant and I am still in touch with many of the friends I made there, it really was the ultimate in an internet travelling community and I use that word advisedly but it was not really a blog site. It was unmatched for first class objective reporting on accommodation, transport, things to do and see, dangers and a host of other topics but I really fancied spreading my writing wings a bit and creating a blog so I began writing one on the blogspot.com site.
That site was fine and please do have a look if you want to know about some of my earlier trips, particularly a wonderful five month jaunt to the Philippines in 2012 for a VT meet. OK, it was only meant to be five weeks but I loved the country and it’s people so much it just went on a bit longer than expected. I’ve included a few images here a) to once again break up the monotony of me rambling on and b) to show you what a great time I had. I still carry my Philippines Aliens Registration Card in my wallet as a memento.
For various reasons too boring to go into and mostly technical, I stopped writing on blogspot, had a few forays on other sites and then, very late one evening and probably with a few pints too many in me, which is when I hatch most of my more idiotic schemes, I laid out a few £££ and found myself the proud possessor of the web domain where you now find yourself, and once again welcome.
I don’t wish to sound maudlin in these trying times and I certainly don’t feel it. Obviously I am disappointed that my plans, such as they were, for travelling this Spring have been completely scuppered although I am definitely not maudlin. The problem is that I am not a young man any more and, after a bit of a health scare last year which you may have read about here (none of us are going to live forever), I realise that my days of travelling as I have done are limited. I may well have to decide on more organised tours in future but I love flying solo and wanted to get as much of it in as I can when I am still able. Time is one thing I cannot afford to waste.
I am an appallingly stubborn brute and I’ll probably live to be 100 just to confound the Doctor’s but, in the event that I don’t, I’d like this site to stand as a bit of a memorial, an epitaph in the ether if you like. Whilst I love people reading and commenting on the site, it is effectively a vanity project.
I checked my stats the day after I posted the first diary and found out that my reading figures have gone up noticeably. By that I mean that you can actually see them on the graph now. No, I am not going to melt down the Google analytics server just yet but it was pleasing. I had visitors from 10 different countries and I can guess who most of them were as my readership is small and I know most of them personally but if my new reader from Qatar reads this, please do get in touch. Incidentally, Qatar are now my favourite airline having displaced the very good Emirates as my #1 although there is little to choose, they are both superb.
I don’t know anyone in Qatar which is why the visit to the site from that country intrigues me and my experience there is limited to a sprint through the massive airport in Doha when I flew to Sri Lanka a few years ago. My already tight connection was made even tighter by a delay taking off at Heathrow and it really was touch and go but I made it.
I thought this upsurge in my readership was a good subject for my
Limerick of the Day
The diary’s become quite a hit,
And my figures have gone up a bit.
I just hope the strain,
Of composing again,
Doesn’t frazzle what’s left of my wit.
OK, it was just a quickie and I’ll try better next time.
Time now to get to another of the hopefully regular features of this diary, if I do decide to keep it up, which is the……..
On This Day Section.
I always like to be totally honest on this site and so, in the interest of fair reporting, I have to tell you that it is now the morning of the 24th and I still have not posted this which refers back to the 21st. Looks like the 22nd and 23rd will have to wait for next year and the way things are going I suspect I’ll still be under house arrest then.
Various things got in my way like eating and sleeping which I suspect will please those that know me as they are both often optional extras in my unusual lifestyle. Friday morning I had my weekly “treat” of going to the supermarket, yippee! There is much talk of the “new normal” whatever that might be. For me the “new normal” is taking a book to read whilst queuing to get into a bloody supermarket.
Since house arrest I have been mostly shopping in my little local Asian supermarket just across the road which carries a remarkable selection for it’s relatively small size and where I am friendly with the staff but it does not do kitchenware and the handle fell off my aged small frying pan yesterday which was something of a cooking crisis for me.
Being of the Northern Irish persuasion I love a fry-up and one pan is just not sufficient.
I would never pretend to be a great cook although I have not yet poisoned anyone to my knowledge. My “signature dish”, if it could be called that, is the “Ulster fry” and again I have gratuitously included a few images to break up the monotony of this monologue. They were all taken when I was cooking Ulster fries in Ulster on various trips back home.
I always think food tastes better on home soil. I know some great and very authentic Thai restaurants in London, where we are spoiled for choice regarding just about every cuisine known to man, but it just seems to taste better in Thailand. I am not a huge fan of Italian food as I prefer Asian cuisines, but on a couple of holidays in Northern Italy with my friend Dani (herself a restaurateur) we had some brilliant meals and yet the various excellent Italian restaurants in London just don’t “light my (presumably wood) fire”.
Five paragraphs after I announced the “on this day” section I suppose I really should get round to it and here is a quick reminder if you didn’t read my last offering. I am not just going to cut and paste all the events of 21st May here as there are any number of websites who already do that brilliantly. What I wish to do in these diaries, whilst I am unable to travel, is to pick selected events if they relate to somewhere I have been or something I have a particular interest in. Let’s have a look.
On this day in 1780 the British prison reformer Elizabeth Fry was born. She is commemorated in the Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate, which I mentioned in the last diary entry, although her memorial is now sadly partially obscured by the new coffee machine! She had made her last home in the town after living much of her life in the East End of London where I live, and she died there of a stroke on 12th October, 1845. So respected was she in the area that the local Coastguard flew their flag at half-mast, an honour previously reserved for a deceased monarch.
On this day in 1916, the UK first introduced the concept of Summer Time i.e. moving the clocks an hour forward in Spring and back in Autumn. Very recently I was writing up my 2013 / 2014 walk on the London LOOP path and specifically a place called Petts Wood near Croydon in South London. One of the many interesting discoveries I made whilst walking and researching was that BST was originally put in place by a guy called Willett who lived nearby and is commemorated with a portion of the wood that is named for him. You can read about him and his wood here.
Not so much to do with my travels but more one of my thankfully infrequent forays into the world of acting next.
On this day in 1541 the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto died of a fever close to the Mississippi river. His soldiers disposed of his body in the river to perpetuate the myth they had spread amongst the indigenous people that de Soto was a God.
His death is a warning against the perils of greed as he was in what is now the USA on a fruitless search for gold and yet he was already wealthy beyond belief from his adventures in South and central America. He was lieuteneant to the more famous Francisco Pizarro who had conquered Peru and subjugated the Sun King Athualpa. That campaign is brilliantly dramatised in a play called “Royal Hunt of the Sun” by the acclaimed playwright Peter Shaffer.
About 1976 or 1977 the dramatic society at my school put on a rather lavish production of the Royal Hunt of the Sun in which I took the part of de Soto. I played opposite a guy called D.D. Huntley (as Pizarro) who went on to be Vomit in the punk band Vomit and the S**tkickers but I am sure he did something more conventional later.
The whole rather grand production was the brainchild of a teacher called John Anderson who went on to produce for both the BBC and UTV as well as having chart hits with his “big band” and as a solo artist. He was some teacher and it was a sumptuous production. I remember distinctly that it cost £1,500 to put on and the Headmaster was unsure about investing what was then a vast sum for a school production but we did make it all back and even turned a small profit at the end of of the run.
The climax of the first act is engraved on my heart. We had a fantastic set, designed by an art teacher called Clive Wilson (if memory serves) who really only taught as a hobby. He was tremendously rich and drove a Jensen sports car which was the envy of pupils and teachers alike. He had designed for us a static set of triangles, half of which were covered in stucco, painted gold and front lit. The alternate panels were gauze and back-lit with various effects. The whole set was semi-circular and allegorical of the sun which is central to the text, hence the name of the piece.
The first act ends with the slaughter of the Incas by the Spanish and we had literally dozens of little first-formers dressed in simple white shifts and barefoot. With all sorts of strobe lighting and cacophonous sound effects we hacked them all down in slow motion in a very stylised fashion. We had borrowed real rapiers from the Fencing Society (capped obviously) and we had to be bloody careful not to injure any of the “victims”. Isn’t it odd how I can remember this in such detail? We even got a good review in the local evening paper. It really was very ambitious for a school play but John was like that. I am really glad I was part of it.
On this day in 1932 Amelia Earhart landed in a farm in Co. Londonderry in Northern Ireland and I spent the first 11 years of my life in the City that gives it’s name to that County. It was the first non-stop solo trans-Atlantic flight by a woman and was coincidentally five years to the day since Charles Lindbergh had landed in Paris on the first ever flight over “the Pond”. Legend has it that when the slightly bemused farmers greeted her, they asked her if she had flown far to which she replied simply, “from America”. I can just imagine their reaction.
On this day in 1950 Vietnamese troops under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh attacked Cambodia, one of my favourite countries. I have been there twice and simply love it so this is a good opportunity for another few images, this time of the Angkor complex which is surely one of the man-made wonders of the world. Cambodia is such a beautiful and historic country and yet it was ripped asunder in the second half of the 20th century and even into the 21st. The manner in which the Khmer people have retained their dignity, charm and often embarrassing kindness and generosity is surely a testament to the power of the human spirit.
On this day in 1964 the Americans started surveillance flights over Laos. The first thing to know about what is still commonly referred to as Laos is that Laos is not the proper name of the country, which is Lao. The people refer to themselves as Lao and I have visas in a couple of old passports which clearly refer to the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao. The s was added to the name by the French colonialists of old. Whilst Laotians are far too polite to correct you, it is not something they particularly like as the colonial past is long gone.
If I love Cambodia, and I do, it is as nothing compared to my affection for PDR Lao. It is one of the most fantastic places on Earth and I even went so far as to consider relocating there, probably to Luang Prabang which may just be my favourite city in the world. The fact that the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site probably tells you all you need to know and this is going to be another opportunity for me to drop in another few images of that amazing city.
PDR Lao was never at war with America as it was technically neutral during what the West calls the Vietnam War and Asians call the American War. Despite it’s neutrality, it became the most bombed nation in the history of warfare. Between 1964 and 1973 the Americans dropped two million tons of ordnance on a country they were not at war with. Just take a moment to let that sink in, two million tons. That works out at one heavy bomber dropping a full payload every eight minutes for nine years, it simply staggers the imagination. They even built a “secret” airbase which at one time housed 40,000 people and was the second largest “city” in the country at the time. This is not a conspiracy theory, I have seen it.
As a result of this bombing and specifically air-dropped AP (anti-personnel) mines Lao now has the largest per capita incidence of amputees on the planet. Again, I have seen this at first hand and one of my favourite T-shirts from a collection of literally hundreds I have, is a UXO (unexploded ordnance) one I bought from a mine clearance charity in Luang Prabang which you can see here.
Being the hugely resourceful people they are, the Laotians have utilised the remains of the ordnance that didn’t actually go bang to make just about everything and I have included here an image of an ashtray made from a small mine, it is very odd to use it. I have seen boats made out of half a huge bomb and even homes partially constructed from old ordnance, it really is incredible.
When I was in Ban Phonsevan in the Northeast of the country I took off one day on my rented motorbike and visited a cave a few miles distant which was the site of one of the most appalling of a complete catalogue of atrocities perpetrated by the Americans on a neutral country. I have included my PG image here as there are disturbing images below, very disturbing and all of which are a direct result of that first illegal surveillance flight.
I have been to some appalling places, and I am not by inclination a ghoul. I have visited Tuol Sleng (S-21) and Chuong Ek, the so-called “Killing Fields” in and just outside Phnom Penh in Cambodia respectively, which I have also included some images of here under my PG banner. I have visited the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and various other sites of “man’s imhumanity to man”.
Somehow the cave at Tham Pio where hundreds of people lived, and ultimately died, underground due to the constant bombing by the Americans may well be the most haunting.
During the relentless campaign of “death from the sky, supposedly to disrupt Viet Cong supply lines into Vietnam from China, the local civilians retreated to the limestone caves and only came out after dark to try and tend their crops and animals (what was left of them). Night was comparatively safe when the foreigners, with whom they had never had any previous issue, were less likely to try to murder them.
One day the Americans got “lucky” and managed to drop a couple of bombs straight down the mouth of the cave with results that I do not wish to consider now, having seen the photographic evidence which you are now privy to. As always, I shall let the reader come to their own conclusion about the morality of such actions and I hope that, if I continue to do these diaries, I get a chance to show you the much more appealing side of this country which amounts to more or less all of it.
I think it is only fair to tell you that this is now the morning of the 24th of May so I can already see how this is going to work out (or not, as the case may be) and I think I have made a bit of a rod for my own back here. Apart from anything else I have spent hours resizing literally thousands of old images to make them more suitable for publishing but hopefully that is a one time job.
I fear the 22nd and 23rd of May are going to have to go by the board and wait for next year when I strongly suspect I will still be denied my basic human right to travel. This CoVid nonsense is going to go on for a long time. I’ll have a go at the 24th later on today but I really should get back to my London LOOP series first. I am so close to the finish now and I’d like to get it sorted out.
I do apologise if this has been rather a heavy entry when my intention for these diaries was to lighten the mood a bit but that is just the way the dice fell. Wyrd bið ful aræd as the Saxons would have it. Let’s hope the 24th is a little more cheerful. If you want to see whether it is or not then stay tuned and spread the word.