Roll up, roll up, come one, come all and view what is absolutely not the greatest show on Earth. I know that because I put it together!
If you are one of my regular and very slowly increasing band of readers I thank you as always, you must be a complete glutton for punishment. If you have happened upon this page by some other means, you must have done something pretty bad in a previous life, mustn’t you? Fate guiding your hand to this page, out of the billions on the internet, is just karma’s way of biting you on the bum!
Either way, if you want to see what is contained in my cornucopia of completely asinine ramblings this time, please press the “read more” button below and we’ll see where the road leads us today, Tuesday, 26th May, 2020.
There you are, thanks so much for that leap of faith and let’s see what inanities I can throw at you today.
The first actually involves the word inane itself. Having just woken up and not having finished my first coffee, my typing is even worse than normal and so, when I tried to find a synonym for inane, I accidentally typed anane. Yes, the thessaurus is one of my greatest allies on this blog.
Even my typing isn’t usually so bad as to miss the letter i on my keyboard by seven keys but I did and hit enter without looking. I am a four finger and one thumb typist as you can probably see from my numerous typos so I don’t look at what I type. My dear Auntie Valerie, who reckons she can still type some ridiculously high number of words per minute in her 70’s, would be appalled.
When I looked up to the screen I discovered that Anane, apart from meaning “fourth son” in Ghanain is the name of a fallen angel mentioned in the book of Enoch and I wondered if the cosmos is trying to tell me something. In the extremely unlikely event that I was ever an angel, I have certainly fallen far.
Well, that’s the tone set for the day, a completely absurd observation and it is only 0630. I started yesterday’s piece about this time of the morning and had to rush to finish it before midnight as I wanted to publish it on the appropriate day. Obviously, there were breaks for meals and I did allow myself a a little leisure time with a few documentaries on the BBC iPlayer where I am learning so much.
I joked earlier in this diary series that I should have applied myself to doing an Open University degree and during house arrest. When I watch an interesting documentary and see at the end a link to what amounts to an advertisement for the OU I realise that I have just watched, enjoyed and hopefully understood part of a University curriculum, that pleases me.
Apart from my documentaries and researching my usual blog posts here, not to mention researching these diaries, I am slowly but surely giving myself a bit of an education.
I had a bit of a binge on a series of documentaries called “Home Front Heroes”, the title of which is pretty self-explanatory really. Various celebrities, plus one children’s TV presenter I had never heard of, researched the part their ancestors had played doing vital and often dangerous jobs within the UK during World War Two like ARP (Air Raid Precaution) warden, nurse, auxiliary fireman and so on.
The episode that interested me the most was the one by the comedienne, actress and comedy writer Helen Lederer (remember AbFab)? It transpired that her Mother had worked code-breaking in the famous Bletchley Park complex where they broke the Enigma code, not to mention laying the foundations for the computer I am now using to communicate this lunacy with the world.
As if that was not interesting enough her grandfather, a German-speaking Czech refugee, was involved in something far more secretive and possibly even more important (if that is possible) and which led me, in one of the circles I am so fond of mentioning, to a place I had written about on this blog since lockdown.
As soon at the image appeared on the screen I said to myself, “Trent Park” which is a beautiful old country house in Northwest London which I wrote about here. I have described what happened in Trent Park in detail on the linked page but here is a quick precis if you don’t want to read the whole piece.
In the latter stages of the war, many senior German generals were taken prisoner and, rather than treating them harshly as they no doubt deserved, they were billeted in Trent Park in conditions of extreme luxury. The idea was that under such circumstances, and with enough fine wine and cognac in them, tongues might loosen a bit and this was indeed the case.
The entire place was bugged and monitored by native German speakers, mostly refugees, called “secret listeners”. Even the trees (pictured) in the lovely grounds were bugged so that if the Nazis had a “little chat” whilst out for a walk it was all recorded. It was here that British Intelligence first learned of the V1 and V2 terror weapons that were being developed at Peenemünde and were therefore able to bomb the site, undoubtedly saving countless civilian lives.
Grandfather Lederer was not one of the listeners as Helen was first led to believe, but during the course of filming and using family documents she had provided, the Trent Park historian was able to work out that he had done something of a completely different order of bravery.
There were a few “stool pigeons” in Trent Park, again native German speakers and obviously of a certain social class and bearing, who were passing themselves off as German officers with elaborate cover stories and he was one of them.
Bearing in mind that he still had family living in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia and the consequences of having his cover blown, it was an act of heroism that almost beggars belief. The document I referred to was a personal letter to Mr. Lederer from the head of MI9 (the relevant Intelligence agency) thanking him for his service and the historian, who has obviously studied the whole subject extensively, said she had never before seen anything vaguely similar to it which indicates the level at which the middle-aged Czech gentleman was operating.
It was fascinating stuff and I urge my British readers to have a look on the BBC iPlayer quickly before they take it down again. For overseas readers I am not quite sure how you might access it but it is well worth tracking down if you can.
I think I’ll move on now to my daily section entitled
On this day.
I promise you I don’t look at future days when I am writing these sections so I have no idea what, if anything is coming up. It is as much of a surprise to me as you what happens here.
Oh dear, one quick look later and after all that build up it seems it might be a bit of a sparse day but I’ll see what I can do.
On this day in 1703 Samuel Pepys, the noted diarist died at his home in Clapham which was remarkably in the country at that time, it most certainly is not now.
On the principle that I only write here of events that have some personal relevance to me, tenuous as some of those may be, I have “bumped into” Mr. Pepys many times. Living in fairly central London and having an interest in history it is nigh on impossible to avoid the great man.
First major digression of the day now so either gird your loins (what a lovely expression) or else just pass down a few paragraphs.
I knew when I started this section I had written about Pepys in an entry on myJubilee Greenway project on this site and looked up the appropriate page to link it. Whilst scrolling down and skim-reading to find the relevant portion of the piece (I wasn’t sure which entry it was in) a typing error jumped out at me. I had put the word now instead of new and obviously the spell-check had not found it as they are both valid words. At this point I would like to tip my hat to whoever invented spell-check but why is it always in American instead of English? American is not a language but don’t get me started on that!
Again I’ll come back to my compulsion to get everything just right which I think that some “head Doctor” would charge me a fortune to “diagnose”. Sorry Doc, save your psychobabble for insecure H-list soap opera extras, you are not getting a penny out of me! I am a perfectionist and if that constitutes a “mental issue”, then so be it.
I was compelled (note again the use of that word) to go through the second linked entry above and I found myself making about 50 amendments, be they removing commas and parentheses which I know I use far too often, correcting the odd spelling / typo mistake that the system had not detected and just cleaning up the grammar. I know I had read and re-read that at least 20 times and it was still a mess which annoys me.
Typos are the worst. I once wanted to write the word shot in a piece and obviously, on a standard qwerty keyboard the o is next to the i. I was horrified to read some time later, when the piece had been available to the world for some time, that I seriously reported that Force X had “sh*t at the fort without doing much damage”. No sh*t, and that is not a typo!
Enough of that and back to Pepys.
Pepys was born the son of a tailor in 1633 in Fleet Street which is a thoroughfare I regularly traversed on the old #15 bus when I was still allowed to do such things, not only due to CoVid-19 but due to the removal some years ago of the iconic Routemaster bus. The route still runs with new, clean “green” vehicles but it is not the same without the old open platformed beauties.
For a little perhaps not so light relief, I am including here an image of just such a #15, long after they were needlessly done away with by ridiculous Health and Safety regulations, undoubtedly driven by the Federal States of E (aka EU). It appears the Routemaster is still safe enough for tourists to travel on so why not the people that actually live here? The image was taken, perhaps ironically in light of this piece, in Fleet Street. I really don’t just make this stuff up. OK, I do just make it up but everything I tell you is true.
The image I have chosen, from the few I have, is picked deliberately to show the poor old workhorse disappearing off into the distance which is what has happened to so much of our heritage.
Pepy’s Mother was the daughter of a Whitechapel butcher and that is the area I live in, as you may know already and despite his relatively modest beginnings, Pepys rose quickly in Government circles which in those days were normally the preserve of the rich and privileged. In 1660 he was appointed Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board which was a hugely important civilian post and the oldest naval appointment in Britain, dating back to the reign of King John in the early 13th century.
Despite never having been a seaman in his life, this effectively put Pepys in charge of everything to do with the Navy bar the sailing and fighting. He controlled the provisioning of ships, the Royal dockyards, land-based stores and just about everything required to run a this massive and constantly expanding entity. His prestigious position attracted a salary of £300 p.a. which was a considerable sum in those days.
Again, just to break up the undeniable boredom of my prose, I’ve included an image of one the now mournfully closed and bricked up gates of one of the many huge dockyards Pepys controlled at Deptford in SE London.
Despite his considerable influence in the inner corridors of power, it is undoubtedly for his diary that Pepys is best remembered and that document gives us such an insight into mid / late 17th century life, “warts and all”. Pepys witnessed and recorded some of the most momentous events in London in particular and the UK (as it was later to become) in general.
Our noted diarist was on the ship that brought King Charles II back to England, heralding the Restoration after my country’s relatively brief, and not very happy exprience as a Republic.
Pepys recorded in his diary the horrors of the plague of 1665 / 1666 and here I find myself compelled to quote him as it is so relevant to our current global position.
“But, Lord! how sad a sight it is to see the streets empty of people, and very few upon the ‘Change. Jealous of every door that one sees shut up, lest it should be the plague; and about us two shops in three, if not more, generally shut up”.
The ‘Change Pepys speaks of here was a road running from Cannon Street up to Cheapside, After the German bombing of WWII it was rebuilt, renamed New Change and is now home to a massive office / leisure / shopping complex named, not too inventively, One New Change. I’ve included an image of it here and by way of an insider’s tip it is worth going up to the roof here for the stunning views, particularly of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Thanks to my dear friend Sarah (another old Virtual Tourist hand) for introducing me to it.
The image includes another dear friend of mine from VT days and beyond, Regina from Iceland. I know she will not mind me posting this as she has very graciously given her permission for me to use her image on previous websites I have contributed to. Apart from that, her husband Jon (another great friend) is an internationally renowned magician and will probably turn me into a frog, or something even worse, should I do anything untoward here! I include it here to show the proximity to, and superb views of, the dome of the Cathedral. Another insider’s tip here, that is the best view you’ll get unless you have privileged / expensively paid access somewhere else.
Apart from the archaic language Pepys used to describe the Plague, he could easily have been talking about London over 300 years after his death and a situation which gives rise to these diaries of mine. Am I trying to emulate Pepys? No, I never could nor would I ever attempt to do so as that would be complete arrogance which is one of the few sins I hope I have not fallen prey to. Maybe, just maybe perhaps, in several hundred years some historian may stumble upon this and see it as a “vox populi” view of what was happening in 2020. Of course, that always supposes that this CoVid does not mutate and kill us all off by then.
1666 saw the Great Fire of London which many people, blinded by the almost ubiquitous indoctrination of Judeo-Christian mythology in Europe, saw as God’s retribution on a human race that had not sufficiently bowed the knee to it’s doctrine. It was nothing more than a chance fire in a baker’s shop which was situated in an area of unplanned, densely packed buildings made of frighteningly combustible materials and inevitably grew into a catastrophe.
In terms of natural science, the one possible saving grace of Great Fire was that it served to remove any last traces of that awful Plague which had already ravaged London. Whilst it was totally coincidental, Pepys could barely have been better placed in terms of time and location to record not one but two such momentous events.
As a quick sideline here when speaking of Pepys, he is noted for having buried (and later recovered) a Parmesan cheese which might seem like an eccentric thing to do but the ever money-minded scribe was no mug. Such cheeses were highly prized and even given as gifts between Royal households and diplomatic missions. They also increased in value with age so it was a pretty hard-headed decision to save the parmesan even if he had probably never heard of linguine!
The possession and saving of the cheese, apart from making financial sense, may also point towards gluttony, supposedly one of the “deadly sins” and our diarist was known to like a bit of fine dining now and again, and again and again, just about daily in fact. There is still a reminder of this supposed cause of the conflagration visible today, the chubby little chap you can see here who always reminds me of the Mannekin Pis in Brussels although without the bodily functions.
This is the “Golden Boy of Pye Corner” and, if you cannot read the inscription from the image, it says, “This Boy is in Memmory (sic.) Put up for the late FIRE of LONDON Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony 1666”. The reason for the siting of the statue is that it was here that the fire was eventually brought under control.
It was Pepys that first reported the fire to King Charles II, who you may remember he had accompanied on his journey to reclaim the country. and subsequently went on to assist in the effort to stem the conflagration, which included the blowing up of certain buildings to create a firebreak.
The fairly hapless Lord Mayor of London, Thomas Bloodworth, was running about like the proverbial headless chicken and at one point declared, “Lord! what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it”. Due to his connections with the Navy dockyards, Pepys was able to order the mobilisation of the workers at Deptford to assist in the effort to quell the blaze.
When Pepys had moved his family and most treasured possessions to safety he took himself to watch the progress of the blaze from the Tower of London which was fairly safe due to it’s natural firebreak of the Thames on one side and a large moat on the other three. It also has extremely stout stone walls and, whilst the roofing may have been in danger from catching light from flying sparks, it was as good a place as any. Maybe I’ll tell you about Fergy and the Crown Jewels, which are housed there, one day!
Just by way of something a little unusual here, I have included an image I took of the Tower in 2007 when just about all the major buildings in London were illuminated for some commemoration and / or charity fundraiser which was obviously so important I cannot even remember what it was now but it made for some great images. The image is not retouched in any way, it honestly looked like this. Pretty impressive, eh? I wonder what dear Samuel would have made of this.
It was from the Tower that Pepys witnessed the original St. Paul’s Cathedral, much altered over the years, burning down. Of course, as we all know it was replaced by the iconic structure designed by Sir Christopher Wren which stands to this day and I am going to allow myself another digression at this point.
During the Second World War, there was another “Great Fire”, or more accurately Fires in the plural, as the Germans tried to bring the British population to it’s knees by relentless bombing of major centres of population. I have heard that they were dropping about 10 incendiary devices for every high explosive (HE) bomb and, whilst the HE could have more devastating immediate effect, the incendiaries were possibly the larger threat.
The firefighters of the UK were under incredible strain as cities like Coventry, Liverpool, Bristol, Cardiff and even Belfast (about the limit of operations for a German heavy bomber) were pounded. There is a family story, possibly apocryphal, of my Grandfather sleeping through one such raid on Belfast and finding a piece of shrapnel on his bedroom window sill when it was all over.
Many of the men fighting the fires were volunteers of the Auxiliary Fire Service and, in another of those little twists of fate, I was recently writing about one such AFS crew from Beckenham which is miles away from the East End where I live and which is where they sadly perished. At the time they had driven miles through the blackout and were helping West Ham crews who were fighting the fires at the Silvertown Docks.
It is no coincidence that the National Firefighters Monument is situated just across the road from the Cathedral and that one officer is pointing towards it whilst the other two point the hose in the same direction. In relatively recently de-classified documents, Sir Winston Churchill (yes, him again) apparently gave orders that under no circumstances was the Cathedral to burn down and that other buildings could be left to their fate as long as the St. Pauls was saved. It was deemed that the effect on civilian morale, as famously evidenced in the “Blitz spirit”, would be catastrophic if Wren’s structure was destroyed.
I know for a fact that I have some reasonable images of the memorial but having now spent an hour trying and singularly failing to find them I am forced to resort to another Wikicommons offering. I promise you that when I happen upon my own images whilst searching for something completely different I’ll replace this one.
What I did not know until I came to research this piece was that Pepys was quite a serious mathematician and was engaged in a lengthy correspondence with no less than Sir Isaac Newton on a subject which has passed into mathematical history as the “Newton–Pepys problem”. Pepys proposed this to Newton as he was going to wager on which of the following had the greatest possibility of success.
A. Six fair dice are tossed independently and at least one “6” appears.
B. Twelve fair dice are tossed independently and at least two “6”s appear.
C. Eighteen fair dice are tossed independently and at least three “6”s appear.
I had no idea when I first looked at it and guessed, predicatably incorrectly, that all three were equal. Wrong. This is why I was useless at Maths at school.
I would love to post the answer here as it contains so many crazy symbols and I think it looks brilliant, just the kind of thing for this vaguely hysterical and peripatetic diary, but my computer won’t handle it and nor do I have the technical ability to do cropped screenshots and all that guff. The correct answer is A. Go on, look it up, you know you want to and it will make so much more sense than me making a mess of trying to explain it.
London is a city of such contrasts and this is well illustrated on the wall of the very ancient St. Bart’s Hospital which I am still under the care of after my little recent medical escapade, or at least I would be if my appointments had not all been cancelled now. There will be a piece in my “normal” blog entries in due course on a wonderful day I recently spent exploring Bart’s and it’s environs after an appointment which still did happen.
Not five minutes walk from the “Little Boy” which I managed to get completely diverted from all those many paragraphs ago, there is a plaque on the boundary wall of the hospital commemorating the execution during the reign of Mary of numerous Protestants at that spot by means of burning at the stake and so we are back to fire as a means of cleansing heresy, purging sin etc. etc. I know these diaries look utterly haphazard but, contrary to what you may very understandably think, I do actually consider this rubbish before I commit it to the ether.
I can only imagine what the thoughts of Jesus Christ, an evidently compassionate radical Jewish rabbi of 2,000 years ago, would have been about the appalling fate meted out in his name to so many religious men for thinking differently from what was by then an unimaginably rich, supra-national power-base and still is. I refer, of course, to “the church” and, by extension all organised religion.
At this point I am going to digress yet again, as is my wont. I would like to offer now an invitation for when this CoVid horror blows over and if there are any of us still alive. This mirrors an offer I made on the Virtual Tourist website many years ago and which yielded some utterly joyous days out.
I have not been through the educational mill but, over my many years of living in this endlessly interesting city, I have gathered together a load of unusual facts and I love showing them off! When some form of normality returns, and if any of my still slowly growing band of readers (I am up to 53 followers now!) is ever visiting London and wants to go for a walk round with me, please feel free to get in touch.
I have shown various VT friends round the East End and the City, which are the areas I know best and people have been kind enough to say that they enjoyed the experience so, if you have a free day in London and want to see something away from the usual tourist haunts, I am more than happy to show you the city I have called home for over 30 years. I do not expect payment and I might even buy you a drink in one of the historic pubs we will undoubtedly come upon. If you don’t drink, that’s fine, it is not a pre-requisite of going walking with me!
Tempus fugit, or time flies if you prefer it in English, and I seem to have lost the 26th and 27th of May as you can see from the posting which now looks like being in the morning the of the 28th if I’m lucky. I have spoken before of my sleep disorder and with me such a luxury, seen as a mere normal part of life by most people, is very much either a feast or a famine and it seems to be in feast mode at the moment. Honestly, with this house arrest, one day just melts into another and I rarely know even what day of the week it is.
Before Morpheus overtook me I was writing about Samuel Pepys and his famous diary and so, in an attempt to maintain some semblance of order, I shall continue with that albeit that the anniversary of his death was actually what is now days ago.
I know that it is often said that time goes quicker as you age and I certainly find that to be true but the added burden of being involuntarily housebound means that time is flying even faster than one of the carrier pigeons which were mentioned tangentially in the “Home Front Heroes” series I mentioned earlier. Did you know that the Germans actually employed hawks to prevent the poor pigeons reaching home with their vital coded messages from the various resistance groups and others? Probably not and neither did I.
Am I getting any nearer to this imagined Open University degree I should be studying for yet or am I just becoming Syd Barrett without the drugs? I’ll let you decide.
Pepys time again and I promise I’ll get him out of the way soon.
Not so long ago, albeit that it seems about two lifetimes now, I was walking the Jubilee Greenway long-distance path in fairly central London and it took me through Greenwich, home of the Prime Meridian, the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum and much else of note.
It is a part of London I have long loved although I do not visit as often as I should. If you want to know about the Greenway adventure, you can start hereor if you wish to read more specifically about the Greenwich portion of it then this is the place to look.The superb building you can see here is the Pepys Building and named for our friend when he was doing his bit for King, Country and himself at the Admiralty.
Pepys was, in modern parlance, “a bit of a boy” and had a series of mistresses, all much younger than him and some of them actresses for which he seemed to have had a fondness. He related all these dalliances in his famous diary and he used a fairly crude code of mixing foreign words with English slang and profanity to try to cover his tracks. He rather blew the whole half-hearted charade by leaving, after his death, a book which explained the code, not that it took much working out if you have even a smattering of French or the Iberian languages.
I’ll not relate it here but his account of his wife finding him with his hand up the maid’s skirt is priceless. In the way of things in those times his wife did not leave him but the poor maid got sacked!
Contrary to public belief, and certainly my perceived “wisdom” before I wrote this article, Pepys’ diary was not a lifetime’s work. He only began it in middle age and finished it on 31st May, 1669 when he feared that his writing of it in poor candlelight was affecting his eyesight. He could of course have dictated it to one of his clerks but that would have been too intimate and exposed his rudimentary code, which I am sure Miss Lederer’s polyglot Mother (remember her so long ago in this ramble?) would have cracked in about five minutes flat.
In the event his fears were unfounded and he lived another 34 years without notable further eyesight deterioration before his death in 1703 which I think makes a suitable place to end this (several) day’s discourse, and I’ll leave you with a thought or two that have been suggested to me whilst writing this large piece. I’ll let you guess where.
Thought for the day (another special two for one offer!)
Thought One – don’t you think it is rather cruel that the English word for a speech impediment which precludes someone from pronouncing the letter R correctly is called a rhoticism and leading on from that,
Thought Two – isn’t it strange that there are two different ways of pronouncing the word pronunciation?
I think that is quite enough of my nonsense for now so I shall now spend at least another three hours digging out the relevant images, resizing them, adding hyperlinks and lots of other things I don’t really understand.
If you want to know what, or even when, my next act of almost rabid insanity here is going to be then as always you’ll have to stay tuned and spread the word.