How Green was my valley?

Aberfan_disaster,_October_1966

Last weekend we had ex-Hurricane Ophelia.  This weekend we are being battered by storm Brian.  The north Atlantic jet-stream is feeding us our annual diet of gales and storms to blow away the autumn leaves and cleanse the land for the winter ice.

It’s nothing new, for all the talk of climate change.  Perhaps we have made it worse, perhaps not.  Ireland experienced a stronger storm back in 1961 when Hurricane Debbie struck.

In 1966 it was relentless rain combined with unsafe practices of the National Coal Board (NCB) in Britain that resulted in the Aberfan disaster.

The NCB broke regulations when they placed a spoil tip from the coalmine on a hillside peppered with natural springs.  The tip then broke further regulations by being overused.  It should have been shut down but was not.  In Sept/Oct of 1966 South Wales experienced three weeks of almost relentless rain.  The combination of the rain from above and the springs below liquefied the spoil.

On the morning of Oct 21st, 1966 the children of Aberfan sat at their desks at 9am and were beginning the roll call.  It was the last school day before the mid-term break.  The coal tip slipped, liquefaction occurred and the wall of shale, stone and muck became slurry that flowed in a wave down the mountain.

The ‘dark glistening wave’ broke into the village of Aberfan and engulfed the school.  Half the students were killed.  Twenty eight adults and one hundred and sixteen children died.

The good news is that some of the senior managers in the NCB were promoted for their excellent handling of the PR side of the disaster.  They did trojan work supporting the future of Coal in Britain.  No employee of the NCB was ever disciplined for the breaches that caused the disaster.   Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“How green was my Valley then, and the Valley of them that have gone.”  Richard Llewellyn (1939)

Where was God? : by Ron Cook.

Where was God that fateful day
At the place called Aberfan.
When the world stood still and the mountain
Moved through the folly of mortal man.
In the morning hush so cold and stark
And grey skys overhead.
When the mountain moved its awesome mass
To leave generations of dead.
Where was God the people cried
Their features grim and bleak.
Somewhere on their knees in prayer
And many could not speak.
The silence so still like something unreal
Hung on the morning air.
And people muttered in whisper tones
Oh God this isn’t fair.
The utter waste of childhood dreams
Of hope and aspirations.
A bitter lesson to be learnt for future generations
But where was God the people cried.
The reason none could say
For when the mountain moved its awesome mass.
God looked the other way.

 

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Vandalised

Seattle-vandals

Cathage celebrates two really bad days on this anniversary.  Firstly the Carthaginians under Hannibal lost the Battle of Zama on this day in BC 202, and then in AD 439 the Romans lost the city to the Vandals under Genseric.

Genseric, king of the Andals and the Alans,  went on to sack Rome itself, from which we get the modern term “Vandal”.  The Vandals pillaged the city but did not destroy it or set it on fire.  They broke a lot of glass windows, painted walls with graffiti and left with a lot of electronics, TV’s and other valuable consumer goods.  That last bit might be a lie.

From the tribe “Andals” we get Andalucía in southern Spain.  We also get the term popping up in G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.  Jorah Mormont is apparently an Andal.

Furthermore Game of Thrones has a city called Qarth.  The original name of Carthage under the Phonecians was “The New City” or Qart-hadast.

Finally, just to clear up any confusion, the Hex key was not invented by the tribe of Alans.  The clue is in the spelling.  They are Allen Keys, not Alan keys.

 

Demagogues

On this day in 1895 two controversial world leaders were born.

Zog

Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli was born to a wealthy landowning family in Albania.  He was appointed a district governor ahead of his older half brother, perhaps because of his mothers royal connections.  He signed the Albanian declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire and was instrumental in creating Albania as a parliamentary democracy.

He was elected first president of Albania in 1925.  In 1928 he turned Albania into a Kingdom and appointed himself King Zog I, King of the Albanians.  He was not recognized by European royalty who looked down upon self appointed kings, but he was well regarded in the Turkish/Arabic world.

Zog relied heavily on loans from Italy to prop up the Albanian Economy.  His military was run by Italian officers.

In classic Albanian style there were 600 blood feuds against him, and he survived 55 assassination attempts.  His Son and Heir, Leka, was born in April 1939.  At the same time the Italians moved on Albania.  Zog cleaned the gold out of the Central Bank, packed up his wife, child and the cash and fled the country.  He spent the rest of his life living in faded grandeur as a King in exile.

juanandevaperon

The other was Juan Perón, thrice elected President of Argentina, husband to Eva Perón nicknamed Evita, star of the Rice & Webber Musical.

Perón was raised from the entrepreneurial classes in Argentina, with roots in Sardinia.  He was sent to Catholic boarding school and joined the military.  He enjoyed a successful career as an officer and was sent to Mussolini’s Italy to study mountain warfare, for which the Italian Alpini were famous.  He was in Italy in 1939 when Mussolini was invading Albania.

In Europe Perón closely observed the governing structures of Fascim, Military dictatorship, Communism and Social democracy and concluded that the latter was the best form of government.  He preferred social democracy to liberal democracy, a view I share myself.

For everyone who expresses positive opinions on Perón you will find three people who hate him.  Throughout his career he focused on three principles.  Government should be democratic, alleviation of poverty and dignity of work.  Again, I happen to be aligned with him on these.

His three presidencies were interspersed with periods of military dictatorship.  His life was frequently at risk and he had to flee the country and live in exile.  The capitalists hated him because he fought against the exploitation of workers.  The conservative Catholics hated him for passing laws permitting divorce and legalising prostitution.  The socialists and the communists hated him because they felt he was too supportive of the entrepreneurial and capitalist system.  The military dictators hated him as a successful military officer who would not back their coups d’état or support the rule of military Juntas.  All sides contending for rule accused him of corruption, living a life of luxury through embezzlement of the public purse.  Meanwhile he was loved by the people, because he fought for them.

Don’t get me wrong here, I know Perón was no angel.  He was anti-education and I have a major problem with that position.  He was in a constant war with third level institutions.  Slogans abounded on the streets such as “Promote democracy- kill a student” or “Shoes not Books”.  His politics made for some very strange bedfellows.  He was on good terms with Che Guevara and Salvador Allende.  But he was a realist about US involvement in the overthrow of Allende and support for General Pinochet.  He warned the Argentinian People that this could happen to him.  He was also accused of having an affair with a 13 year old girl, on which accusation he commented “13?  I am not superstitious”.

He did his best to steer Argentina down a middle path in the cold war, attempting to maintain relations with both USA and Russia and gaining favour with neither regime.  His motivation was to maintain Argentinian independence.

He made Argentina the strongest economy in Latin America, despite overt attempts by the USA to undermine his reform government.  But Perón avoided turning his nation into another Cuba, or Chile.

A complex politician it is interesting to compare his career with that of Zog, who was a perfect example of someone who profited from rule.  Perón worked all his life for his country, despite the hatred and criticism he faced.  I believe he will go down in history as a good politician and a true patriot and that history will remember him well.

He was desecrated in death, his mausoleum raided and his hands cut off with a chainsaw.  His ceremonial personal effects were stolen.

 

Happy Birthday Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

I could write a lot about the biggest show in the USA down in Texas.  The American media should get an Oscar and a handful of Pulitzers for turning a storm into a thousand stories of human suffering.  They managed this disaster much better than Hurricane Katrina.  What you want is a low body count but powerful images of uprooted lives caused by homes being flooded or slabbed.  Plenty of affirming narratives of ordinary folk helping each other out, instead of those awful stories that were made up about the murders and rapes in the Louisiana Superdome.

Yes indeed cynic that I am I believe the US media organs learned good lessons about reporting from Louisiana.  At the same time we see a federal government that responded correctly, support without interference, Trump got this one right.

Also in the news Kim Jong Un just upped the ante by straddling Japan with a Missile.  That cannot sit.  Watch this space.

More importantly this is the birthday of a great poet.  He is the only person I have come across to date where cause of death was given as “Acute polysubstance abuse”.  Usually you just hear of “drug overdose”, but that’s for heavy metal rock stars, a poet demands something more…elegant, subtle, sophisticated?

Tamer and Hawk; by Thom Gunn

I thought I was so tough,
but gentled at your hands,
cannot be quick enough
to fly for you and show
that when I go I go
at your commands.

Even in flight above
I am no longer free:
You seeled me with your love,
I am blind to other birds—
the habit of your words
has hooded me.

As formerly, I wheel
I hover and I twist,
but only want the feel,
in my possessive thought,
Of catcher and of caught
upon your wrist.

You but half civilize,
taming me in this way.
through having only eyes
for you I fear to lose,
I lose to keep, and choose
tamer as prey.

Rot away Thackeray

On the day of his birthday today I wish William Makepeace Thackeray to go and rot in hell.  One of the most celebrated writers of the Victorian era he was the equal of Charles Dickens in his day.  He thought of himself something of an expert on Irish affairs.  A rabid anti-catholic bigot, under the nom de plume of Hibernis Hibernior he was the chief architect of the British image of Irish people in Punch Magazine.

It was Thackeray who created the image of the sly yet stupid Irish man.  He portrayed us as lazy, brutish, feckless, drunkards, violent, criminal, apeish primitives.  The stereotype of the Irish person he created dragged on for over 100 years, and is still simmering under the surface for certain groups in Britain, amongst Ulster Unionists, British Nationalists, UKIP supporters, Hard Brexiteers.

In particular when the Irish were at their lowest ebb, during the potato famine, Thackeray and his paymasters did not pull their Punches.  Much of his “poetry” is spoken through his imagined voice of Irish protagonists.  I refuse to print it here, or reference it.  I hope it fades away and dies.

His novel “The Luck of Barry Lyndon” was filmed by Stanley Kubrick and is one of my favourite movies.  This is all down the the genius of Kubrick, not to Thackeray.  If you are a fan of Billy Makewar Hack-away then this is not the place for you.

The fenian Guy Fawkes.

Bear Island

Bjørnøya_5

Fans of Game of Thrones know all about Bear Island.  It is the home of the family Mormont who play major roles in all parts of the saga.  In Essos we follow the fortunes of Sir Jorah the Andal, disgraced scion of the house, exiled for slave trading by the Starks.

On the wall serves old Jeor Mormont, Commander of the Nights Watch.

When House Stark under Robb raise the North Maege Mormont and her eldest daughter lead house Mormont in support.  The second daughter of Maege, Alysane, joins with Stannis in his struggle.

Later, when John Snow and Sansa Stark need support the youngest child of Mormont, Lyanna, leads her small force, though only a child.  There is a legend that the Mormont women are skinchangers and I kind of hope this turns out to be true.

Bear Island of course is a real place.  It is the southernmost island of the Svalbard group in the North Atlantic off the coast of Norway.  Bear Island was discovered on this day in the year 1596 by the explorer Willem Barents after whom the Barents Sea is named.  The last available census put the population at 9.  However the Bear Island Nude Swimmers Association (Bjørnøya nakenbadeforening) has over 3,000 members.  So if you are trying to raise an army maybe it is worth a visit after all.

Lyanna

Rule 303

Today a poem from Breaker Morant, the Australian Bush poet who was hanged by the British Army in South Africa during the Boer War.  Today is the birthday of Edward Woodward who played the part of Breaker in the eponymous film.

I also include a clip from the film.  It is the scene from the trial where Woodward, playing Morant, explains the legal clause under which he executed Boers; Rule 303.  This refers to the Lee Enfield 303 British Army standard issue rifle.

The 303 caliber was the British Standard rifle cartridge introduced into service as a black power round in 1888 in time for the first Boer War of 1899.  Originally ammunition for the short lived Lee-Metford Rifle and retained for the Lee Enfield.  It was converted for smokeless powder and remained in service through the Second Boer War, the First and Second World Wars and up to the Korean War in the 1950’s when it was replaced by the standard NATO round.

Westward Ho! ; by Harry Harbord Morant

There’s a damper in the ashes, tea and sugar in the bags,
There’s whips of feed and shelter on the sandridge for the nags,
There’s gidya wood about us and water close at hand,
And just one bottle left yet of the good Glenlivet brand.

There are chops upon the embers, which same are close-up done,
From as fine a four-tooth wether as there is on Crossbred’s run;
‘Twas a proverb on the Darling, the truth of which I hold:
“That mutton’s aye the sweetest which was never bought nor sold.”

Out of fifty thousand wethers surely Crossbred shouldn’t miss
A sheep or so to travellers-faith, ’tis dainty mutton, this –
Let’s drink a nip to Crossbred; ah, you drain it with a grin,
Then shove along the billy, mate, and, squatted, let’s wade in.

The night’s a trifle chilly, and the stars are very bright,
A heavy dew is falling, but the fly is rigged aright;
You may rest your bones till morning, then if you chance to wake,
Give me a call about the time that daylight starts to break.

We may not camp to-morrow, for we’ve many a mile to go,
Ere we turn our horses’ heads round to make tracks for down below.
There’s many a water-course to cross, and many a black-soil plain,
And many a mile of mulga ridge ere we get back again.

That time five moons shall wax and wane we’ll finish up the work,
Have the bullocks o’er the border and truck ’em down from Bourke,
And when they’re sold at Homebush, and the agents settle up,
Sing hey! a spell in Sydney town and Melbourne for the “Cup”.